Current Affairs- 26TH APRIL 2015 TO 2ND MAY, 2015
CABINET CLEARS TOUGH ANTI-CORRUPTION ACT
The Union Cabinet on April 28, 2015 approved amendments to the Prevention of Corruption Act, 1988, that provide for classifying corruption as a heinous crime and longer prison terms for both bribe-giver and bribe- taker. The proposed amendment act will also ensure speedy trial, limited to two years, for corruption cases.
The proposed amendments would fill in perceived gaps in the domestic anti-corruption law and also help in meeting the country’s obligations under the United Nations Convention against Corruption more effectively. The amendments to the Prevention of Corruption Act, 1988 include enhancing punishment from the minimum 6 months to 3 years and from the maximum five years to seven years. The ambit of the existing Act will be enhanced to make commercial entities liable for inducement of public servants. Under the present law, only individuals are liable. The proposed amendment bill also provides for issue of guidelines to commercial organisations to prevent persons associated with them from bribing a public servant.
E-TOURIST VISA SCHEME EXTENDED TO MORE
COUNTRIES India has provided e-Tourist Visa to 31 more countries from May 1, 2015 including France and Canada, enabling citizens of these countries easy entry to the country. The new countries included Anguilla, Antigua & Barbuda, Bahamas, Barbados, Belize, Bolivia, Canada, Cayman Island, Chile, Costa Rica, Dominica, Dominic an Republic, Ecuador, El Salvador, Estonia, France, Georgia, Grenada, Haiti, HolySee (Vatican), Honduras, Latvia, Liechtenstein, Lithuania, Macedonia, Montenegro, Montserrat, Nicaragua, Paraguay, St Kitts & Nevis and Seychelles.
INS TARANGINI DEPARTS FOR ‘LOKAYAN-2015’ INS
Tarangini, the Sail Training Ship of Indian Navy left Kochi on an eight month voyage through Europe to participate in the annual Tall Ship Races and other events organised under the aegis of Sail Training International. During these eight months the ship will travel approximately 17 thousand miles under sails. In addition to the Tall Ship Races in Europe the ship is also scheduled to participate in first ever race with the newly acquired Oman Navy’s Sail Training Ship Shabab Al Oman, from Muscat in Oman to Kochi in India. The Ship was flagged off from the Naval base, Kochi on 27 April 2015. This year’s Tall Ship Races will be conducted primarily off the coast of United Kingdom, Norway, Denmark, Germany and Netherlands. About 300 Sail ships of various sizes from all over the world are expected to participate in this year’s events. Tarangini forms a part of Class A Sail Ships, the largest of the sailing fleet. During this voyage, the Indian trainees would also get an opportunity to sail on foreign vessels as part of exchange of trainees.
CABINET APPROVES SMART CITY PROJECT, ATAL REJUVENATION MISSION
Union Cabinet gave its nod to NDA government’s flagship 100 smart cities project and the new urban renewal mission with a total outlay of about Rs one lakh crore on April 29, 2015. Prime Minister Narendra Modi approved Smart Cities Mission for development of 100 smart cities and Atal Mission for Rejuvenation and Urban Transformation (AMRUT) of 500 cities with outlays of Rs 48,000 crore and Rs 50,000 crore respectively.
Smart City Project is Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s pet project aimed at recasting the urban landscape of the country by making cities more livable and inclusive besides driving the economic growth. Each selected city under the ambitious scheme would get central assistance of Rs 100 crore per year for five years. AMRUT is the new avatar of the Jawaharlal Nehru National Urban Renewal Mission (JNNURM) and has been named after former Prime Minister Atal Bihari Vajpayee.
The Cabinet also approved central funding under AMRUT to the projects sanctioned under JNNURM and not completed. JNNURM projects sanctioned during 2005-2012 and which have achieved physical progress of 50 per cent availing 50 per cent of central assistance released and those sanctioned during 2012-2014 will be supported till March 2017. Accordingly, 102 and 296 projects respectively will get central support for balance funding to complete these projects.
REGIONAL RURAL BANKS BILL PASSED BY PARLIAMENT
A bill to amend the Regional Rural Banks Act was passed by Parliament on April 28, 2015. The Regional Rural Banks (Amendment) Bill, 2014, which got the assent of the Rajya Sabha by voice vote, seeks to help Regional Rural Banks (RRBs) raise their authorised capital and will enable them to mop up funds from capital market to help strengthen them. Lok Sabha had earlier passed the Bill in December 2014. The Bill seeks to amend the Regional Rural Banks Act, 1976. The government stated that it was necessary to empower such financial institutions which are the “jewel in the crown” of the country’s financial system. “Moving the bill for passage, Minister of State for Finance Jayant Sinha revealed that 57 RRBs have been playing an important role in financial inclusion of villages, covering every district and having nearly 80,000 employees. The need for amendments has been felt for some time to strengthen the RRBs for which capital is needed. Through the amendment in the Act, the government was giving them flexibility and strengthening them.
RAJYA SABHA PASSES BILL TO PROTECT RIGHTS OF TRANSGENDERS
A private member’s Bill protecting and providing rights for transgenders was passed by the Rajya Sabha in April 2015. The Bill also guarantees reservation in education and jobs, financial aid and social inclusion. This is the first time in 45 years that a private members’ Bill has been passed by the House. The Rights of Transgender Persons Bill, 2014, paves the way for a law on the matter in the near future. The government assured the House that it would bring an updated Bill in the Lok Sabha. In its current form, the private member’s Bill protecting and providing rights for transgenders, that was passed by the Rajya Sabha has aspects that concern at least nine different ministries. The government had initially asked DMK member Tiruchi Siva to withdraw his Bill but he refused to relent. The government tried to explain that there are some anomalies in the Bill that need further work, but the Opposition that has a majority in the House [Rajya Sabha] did not accept the government’s assurance of bringing in some more provisions in the Bill. There is a need for more inter-ministerial consultation.
PARLIAMENT PASSES PAYMENTS AND SETTLEMENT BILL
The Payments and Settlement Systems (Amendment) Bill, 2014 was passed by Rajya Sabha on April 28, 2015 by voice vote, with members cutting across party lines extending their support to the bill. The bill that seeks to address the problem of insolvency in the payment and settlement system by increasing transparency and stability and bring India’s banking payment system in sync with international practices. The bill was passed by Lok Sabha on December 9, 2014. Finance Minister Arun Jaitley stated that it was needed to address the issue of insolvency so that there is protection for payments. The amendment to the Payment and Settlement Systems Act, 2007, was proposed to update the regulations in line with globally accepted standards. The amendment seeks to protect funds collected from the customers by the payment system providers and to extend the Act to cover trade repository and legal entity identifier issuer. A Legal Entity Identifier is an unique ID associated with a single corporate entity.
DRAFT NEW NATIONAL TOURISM POLICY, 2015
The Ministry of Tourism, Government of India is in the process of formulating a National Tourism Policy 2015 for development and promotion of tourism in the country. The Ministry of Tourism released the Draft National Tourism Policy 2015 on May 1, 2015 after re-visiting National Tourism Policy 2002. The objective of the Draft National Tourism Policy 2015 is to increase India’s share in world tourist arrivals from the present 0.68% to 1% by 2020 and increase to 2% by 2025 and position tourism as a priority on the National political and economic agenda.
HUNDREDS DEAD AS 7.8-MAGNITUDE EARTHQUAKE STRIKES NEPAL
A powerful earthquake measuring 7.8 on the Richter scale struck central Nepal on 25 April 2015, damaging buildings in the country’s capital, Kathmandu, and sending tremors across northern India, Bangladesh and as far afield as Pakistan. The tremors of this quake were felt in north Indian states of Bihar, Jharkhand, Uttar Pradesh, Rajasthan, Assam, Delhi, Madhya Pradesh, West Bengal, Haryana, and Punjab. The epicenter of the earthquake was located about 50 mi (80 km) northwest of Kathmandu, according to the U.S. Geological Survey (USGS), which said the quake struck Nepal just before noon at a shallow depth of only about 9 mi (15 km) below ground. The intensity of this earthquake was high due to its shallower depth which had more destructive power. More than 6.6 million people are in the area affected by the earthquake, according to the U.N. Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs in Bangkok.
JAPAN AND THE US REVISED DEFENCE DEAL AFTER 18 YEARS
The United States and Japan have unveiled new rules for defense cooperation in a historic move that will give Japanese armed forces a more ambitious global role amid concerns over China’s rising sway. Under the revised guidelines, Japan could come to the aid of US forces threatened by a third country or, for example, deploy minesweeper ships to a mission in the Middle East. Although it has been said that the new doctrine is not aimed at China, there has been increasing concern over moves by Beijing to try to scoop up disputed areas of the South China and East China seas. Under the previous rules, Japanese forces could assist American troops only if they were operating in the direct defense of Japan. The amended guidelines were drawn up to reflect a reinterpretation of Japan’s constitution by Abe’s government last year, which allows for “collective defense”.
PETER JAN GRAAFF OF NETHERLANDS APPOINTED AS HEAD OF UNITED NATIONS MISSION FOR EBOLA EMERGENCY RESPONSE
United Nations Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon announced the appointment of Peter Jan Graaff of the Netherlands as his Acting Special Representative and Head of the United Nations Mission for Ebola Emergency Response (UNMEER). In his role as Acting Special Representative, Mr. Graaff will work closely with the Special Envoy on Ebola, Dr. David Nabarro, and with the Governments in the region and other partners. Mr. Graaff will succeed Ismail Ould Cheikh Ahmed of Mauritania. The Secretary-General expresses his sincere gratitude to Mr. Ould Cheikh Ahmed for his exceptional work and leadership of UNMEER, and for his commitment to ensuring the affected countries are on the road to recovery from the unprecedented Ebola outbreak.
SUDAN’S OMAR HASSAN AL-BASHIR RE-ELECTED WITH 94% OF VOTE
Sudanese President Umar al-Bashir won 94 percent of the vote in an election boycotted by the main opposition parties, extending his quartercentury rule over the North African nation. AlBashir, 71, received about 5.2 million votes and the turnout was 46.4 percent. The ruling National Congress Party won 323 of the 426 seats in the national assembly. Al-Bashir, indicted by the International Criminal Court for alleged crimes against humanity during Sudan’s decade-long Darfur conflict, took power in a 1989 coup. He won a 2010 presidential election, the legitimacy of which was questioned by international observers, including the European Union.
MOHAMMED BIN NAYEF APPOINTED AS CROWN PRINCE OF SAUDI ARABIA BY KING SALMAN BIN ABDULAZIZ AL-SAUD
King Salman of Saudi Arabia issued a series of surprise royal decrees shaking up the line of princes slated to succeed him to the throne, replacing a number of ministers and further enhancing the power of his own line. In moves announced on Saudi state television, Salman replaced Crown Prince Muqrin bin Abdulaziz and named the powerful interior minister, Prince Mohammed bin Nayef, as next in line. He also named his son, Prince Mohammed bin Salman, as deputy crown prince and relieved the long-serving foreign minister, Prince Saud al-Faisal, who has shaped the kingdom’s foreign policy for nearly four decades.
SEYCHELLES BECAME 161ST MEMBER OF WTO
The World Trade Organisation (WTO) welcomed Seychelles as its 161st member, ending 20 years of negotiating its accession terms. Seychelles officially became a WTO member after the 30-day countdown to its WTO membership was activated on March 27. On March 25, President of Seychelles James Michel signed the “instrument of acceptance” of Seychelles’ accession protocol, confirming its membership terms, at a plenary meeting of the cabinet of ministers in Victoria, Seychelles. Seychelles also became the 33rd government to accede to the rules-based multilateral trading system through Article XII negotiations since the WTO was established in 1995. This is a major step forward in the trade integration of Seychelles into the rulesbased multilateral trading system and the global economy.
SRI LANKAN PARLIAMENT ADOPTED THE 19TH AMENDMENT TO THE CONSTITUTION
The Sri Lankan Parliament adopted the 19th Constitutional Amendment with an overwhelming majority. The legislation envisages the dilution of many powers of Executive Presidency, which had been in force since 1978. The 19th amendment (19A) received 215 votes in favour with just one vote against it in the 225-member assembly.
CHINA’S NDRC RELEASED NEW ACTION PLAN ONE BELT, ONE ROAD INITIATIVE
China’s top economic planning agency, the National Development and Reform Commission (NDRC), released a new action plan outlining key details of Beijing’s “One Belt, One Road” initiative. Chinese president Xi Jinping has made the program a centerpiece of both his foreign policy and domestic economic strategy. Initially billed as a network of regional infrastructure projects, this latest release indicates that the scope of the “Belt and Road” initiative has continued to expand and will now include promotion of enhanced policy coordination across the Asian continent, financial integration, trade liberalization, and people-to-people connectivity. China’s efforts to implement this [ 1 4 ] Weekly Current Affairs 26th April 2015 to 2nd April, 2015 www.ias100.in initiative will likely have an important effect on the region’s economic architecture—patterns of regional trade, investment, infrastructure development—and in turn have strategic implications for China, the United States, India and other major powers.
RUBELLA (GERMAN MEASLES) ERADICATED FROM AMERICAS
North and South America have become the first regions of the world to eradicate rubella, or German measles, after no home-grown cases in five years. The virus – spread by sneezes or coughs – can lead to serious birth defects if contracted by pregnant women. Up to 20,000 children were born with rubella in the Americas every year until mass vaccinations started. But the last endemic cases registered in the region were in Argentina and Brazil in 2009. The fact no new cases have been declared in five consecutive years, apart from those imported into the region, allowed global health chiefs to declare the Americas free of the virus. During the last major rubella outbreak in the region, between 1964 and 1965, close to 20,000 children were born with CRS in the United States. The country managed to wipe out the virus by 2004.
INDIA & WORLD
ACTION AGENDA FOR INDIA-JAPAN INVESTMENT AND TRADE PROMOTION AND ASIA-PACIFIC ECONOMIC INTEGRATION SIGNED
The Commerce Minister of India Nirmala Sitharaman and Japanese Minister of Economy, Trade and Industry Yoichi Miyazawa April 30, 2015 signed an action agenda for India-Japan investment and trade promotion and Asia-Pacific economic integration in the capital. The Japanese Trade Minister Mr. Yoichi Miyazawa stated that the action agenda contains five items that are absolutely integral in furthering the trade relations between India and Japan. The Japanese Trade Minister informed that the five agenda points included in the action agenda are:
Development of selected townships in India as Japanese industrial townships. l Promotion of investment and infrastructure development. l Further development and cooperation in information technology. l Enhancing cooperation in strategic sectors. l Asia-Pacific economic integration. The Japanese Minister noted that the investments by Japan into Indian companies will double in the next 5 years. He revealed that signing of this action agenda is a step further in improving the trade relationship between India and Japan as a follow-up of India’s Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s visit to Japan in 2014. Signing of action agenda was in line with Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s vision of Make in India. The minister expressed satisfaction on the progress of trade relationships between India and Japan and said that excellent relations were building up between the two countries which would provide opportunity and potential for people in both the countries as a win-win situation.
JOINT STATEMENT DURING VISIT OF PRESIDENT OF AFGHANISTAN TO INDIA
Mohammad Ashraf Ghani, President of Afghanistan, paid a state visit to India from April 27-29, 2015. This was the first visit of Mohammad Ashraf Ghani to India after assuming the Presidency in September 2014, which continues the tradition of regular high-level exchanges between the two countries that has been established since 2002.
CAPGEMINI ACQUIRES IGATE FOR $4 BN IN ALL-CASH DEAL
Capgemini, the France-headquartered global IT services major, announced the acquisition of iGATE, the US-listed company with a significant employee presence in India in an all-cash deal valued at $4 billion. This acquisition will enhance Capgemini’s presence in the North American market and also take its employee headcount in a key delivery location like India to over 1 lakh by end of 2015. iGATE derives 70% of its revenues from North America with clients like GE, MetLife and Royal Bank of Canada, and has a global headcount of 33,000 with over three-fourths of them based in India. The merger will help add capabilities in analytics, BPO and engineering services. Capgemini’s management expects normalised EPS (excluding restructuring costs and amortisation of intangible assets) to be boosted by 12% in 2016 and 16% in 2017. The merger would result in the IT firm achieving an estimated revenue of 12.5 billion euros in 2015, an operating margin above 10% and nearly 1.9 lakh employees. The talk of iGATE’s impending sale began as soon as Apax Partners converted its debt holding into an equity stake of 29% in February this year. Apax had funded iGATE’s acquisition of Patni in 2011. iGATE had ended 2014 with a revenue of $1.3 billion with 281 clients. India has the presence of giant MNC IT firms like IBM and Accenture which have an headcount of over 1 lakh in the country.
THE RESERVE BANK OF INDIA (RBI) HAS REVAMPED PRIORITY SECTOR LENDING (PSL) NORMS.
The spectre of farmer suicides due to crop failure seems to have prompted the Reserve Bank of India to revise priority sector lending guidelines for banks, doing away with the distinction between direct and indirect agriculture lending and ensuring loan disbursal to the farm sector is evenly spread out throughout the year. In its revised guidelines for priority sector lending for banks, the central bank said the present distinction between direct and indirect agriculture is dispensed with. Henceforth, lending to the agriculture sector will include farm credit (which will include short-term crop loans and medium/long-term credit to farmers), agriculture infrastructure and ancillary activities. Bank loans to food and agro processing units will form part of agriculture. The salient features of the guidelines are as under:- (i) Categories of the priority sector: Medium Enterprises, Social Infrastructure and Renewable Energy will form part of priority sector, in addition to the existing categories. (ii) Agriculture: The distinction between direct and indirect agriculture is dispensed with. (iii) Small and Marginal Farmers: A target of 8 percent of ANBC or Credit Equivalent Amount of Off-Balance Sheet Exposure, whichever is higher, has been prescribed for Small and Marginal Farmers within agriculture, to be achieved in a phased manner i.e., 7 percent by March 2016 and 8 percent by March 2017. (iv) Micro Enterprises: A target of 7.5 percent of ANBC or Credit Equivalent Amount of OffBalance Sheet Exposure, whichever is higher, has been prescribed for Micro Enterprises, to be achieved in a phased manner i.e. 7 percent by March 2016 and 7.5 percent by March 2017. (v) There is no change in the target of 10 percent of ANBC or Credit Equivalent Amount of Off-Balance Sheet Exposure, whichever is higher, for Weaker Sections.
RBI IMPOSED A FINE OF 1.5 CRORE RUPEES EACH ON THREE PUBLIC SECTOR BANKS FOR VIOLATING KYC NORMS
The Reserve Bank of India imposed Rs 1.5 crore penalty each on three banks — Dena Bank, Oriental Bank of Commerce and Bank of Maharashtra — for violation of Know Your Customer/Anti Money Laundering norms. In aggregate three banks have to pay Rs 4.5 crore fine for failing to comply with the guidelines. Besides, the RBI has cautioned eight other banks — Central Bank of India, Bank of India, Punjab and Sind Bank, Punjab National Bank, State Bank of Bikaner & Jaipur, UCO Bank, Union Bank of India and Vijaya Bank — to put in place appropriate measures and review them from time to time to ensure strict compliance of KYC requirements in future.
THE LOK SABHA PASSED THE FINANCE BILL 2015
The Lok Sabha passed the Finance Bill 2015, after the Finance Minister Arun Jaitley moved as many as 41 official amendments. The capital gains made by foreign investors will be exempted from Minimum Alternate Tax (MAT) if the normal tax rate on such income is lower than 18.5 percent. www.ias100.in www.ias100.in  However, it did not provide relief for past liabilities. The amendments include slew of tax concessions to foreign companies on the minimum alternate tax (MAT) front, exempting the sponsors/ promoters of real estate investment trusts from MAT on the notional gains arising from shares of a special purpose vehicle to a business trust in exchange of units allotted by that trust. The biggest relief to foreign companies is that they will not henceforth be subjected to MAT on any interest, royalty or fees for technical services. This would mean that incomes earned by foreign companies (including foreign institutional investors) on investments in Government and other fixed income securities will not be covered under MAT provisions.
UNION GOVERNMENT APPROVED CONTINUATION OF 1000 RUPEES MONTHLY PENSION SCHEME UNDER EPS
Union Government on 29 April 2015 approved continuation of 1000 rupees Monthly Pension Scheme under Employees’ Pension Scheme, 1995 (EPS) beyond 2014-15 on perpetual basis. The scheme, which was effective from September 2014, had expired on March 31, 2015 after which EPFO had restored to the earlier provision that had led to widespread protests from trade unions. Providing a minimum pension of Rs 1000 per month is an effort to provide meaningful subsistence to pensioners who have served in the organized sector. The present proposal is likely to benefit approximately 20 lakh pensioners under EPS. A large number of member pensioners under the EPS, 1995 received low pensions, either because it was calculated on the basis of pensionable service or on average of last sixty months’ wages, which was not commensurate with the growing cost of living. The UPA-II government had in February 2014 accorded approval to the proposal for ensuring a minimum pension of Rs 1000 per month for the pensioners of EPS for the financial year 2014-15 and provided a budgetary support of Rs 1217.03 crore. However, the proposal could only be implemented by the BJP-led NDA government with effect from September 1 last year after necessary amendments to the EPS Act.
SCIENCE & TECH
INDIA’S ASSOCIATE MEMBERSHIP IN CERN
The Centre has approved the long-standing demand of Indian scientists that the country be an associate member of CERN (European Organisation for Nuclear Research) on May 2, 2015. Currently, India has observer status in CERN, which has 21 member states. CERN is the world’s biggest laboratory of particle physics and operates the Large Hadron Collider (LHC). The Centre has approved India’s associate membership of CERN. In February 2015, India was in the last iteration of applying for CERN’s associate membership. An associate member of CERN is represented in the council, which is responsible for the crucial decisions of the organisation.
INDIGENOUS CRYOGENIC ENGINE TEST SUCCESSFUL
The Indian Space Research Organisation (ISRO) successfully tested an indigenous cryogenic engine CE-20 for 645 seconds on April 28, 2015 which will allow launch vehicles to carry satellites of up www.ias100.in www.ias100.in  to four tonnes. The engine tested will enable India to put satellites of up to 4 tons in geostationary orbit. This significant development can push India into a bigger league of nations launching satellites weighing up to five tonnes. The event also marks a landmark in India’s effort to develop a big cryogenic engine that can put GSLV Mark-III into geostationary orbit by the end of 2016. Although the Geosynchronous Satellite Launch Vehicle (GSLV Mark III) successfully launched an unmanned capsule that could be used for manned missions in December, it had a passive cryogenic stage. While GSLV Mark III is India’s largest launch vehicle, carrying up to four-tonne vehicles will only be possible with a cryogenic engine with the capacity. India has till now been dependent on foreign launch vehicles to send heavier satellites to the required orbits. There was a special test set up in Mahendragiri to see if the engine developed the exact thrust required to launch payloads of that weight. Mahendragiri in Tamil Nadu is home to the ISRO Propulsion Complex, where cryogenic engines are tested.
GAGAN BECOMES FULLY OPERATIONAL
The Indian Space Research Organisation (ISRO) announced the complete operationalisation of the GPS Aided Geo Augmented Navigation (GAGAN) on May 25, 2015. Now, India has become the fourth nation after the US, Europe and Japan to have inter-operable Satellite Based Augmentation System (SBAS). Countries including Australia, Japan, Korea and Russia have expressed interest for cooperation in satellite navigation and applications with India. In the area of satellite navigation, India has established GPS Aided Geo Augmented Navigation (GAGAN) system primarily for the use by aviation sector. GAGAN provides improved position accuracy over the Indian region. This system is based on Global Positioning System (GPS) of USA. The ISRO has undertaken a project for developing an indigenous regional positioning system for India known as Indian Regional Navigation Satellite System (IRNSS), which consists of seven satellites in a constellation, three satellites in geostationary orbit (GEO) and four satellites in geosynchronous orbit (GSO). IRNSS will provide positioning and navigational services in Indian mainland and surrounding region upto 1500 Km. Out of the 7 satellites required in the constellation, four satellites namely, IRNSS-IA, 1B, 1C and 1D have already been successfully placed in the orbit.
MESSENGER CRASHES INTO MERCURY
NASA’s Messenger spacecraft has crashed into the surface of Mercury, ending its historic 11-year mission that provided valuable data and thousands of images of the planet. Mission controllers at the Johns Hopkins University Applied Physics Laboratory in Maryland confirmed that the Mercury Surface, Space Environment, Geochemistry and Ranging (Messenger) spacecraft impacted the surface of Mercury, as predicted, on April 30, 2015. Messenger, launched on August 3, 2004, began orbiting Mercury on March 18, 2011. The spacecraft completed its primary science objectives by March 2012. Because Messenger’s initial discoveries raised important new questions and the payload remained healthy, the mission was extended twice.
FIRST SINGLE-MOLECULE DEVICE CREATED
A team of Columbia Engineering researchers led by an Indian-American scientist Latha Venkataraman has created a single-molecule electronic device which has a potential of realworld technological applications for nanoscale devices. Researchers created a single-molecule diode which performs 50 times better than all prior designs. Constructing a device where the active element is only a single molecule, has long been a tantalising dream in nanoscience. This new device represents the ultimate in functional miniaturisation that can be achieved for an electronic device. With electronic devices becoming smaller every day, the field of molecular electronics has become more critical in solving the problem of further miniaturisation. Single molecule represents the limit of miniaturisation.
ECOLOGY & ENVIRONMENT
AIR POLLUTION AND POVERTY AFFECTS CHILD’S IQ
Material hardship can increase the adverse affects of physical ‘stressors’ like air pollutants as researchers have found that the toxic combination of air pollution and poverty could lower the intelligence quotient (IQ) of kid. The findings showed that children born to mothers experiencing economic hardship, who were also exposed during pregnancy to high levels of PAH (polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons), scored significantly lower on IQ tests at age 5 compared with children born to mothers with greater economic security and less exposure to the pollutants. The findings support policy interventions to reduce air pollution exposure in urban areas as well as programs to screen women early in pregnancy to identify those in need of psychological or material support. PAH are ubiquitous in the environment from emissions from motor vehicles, oil, and coal-burning for home heating and power generation, tobacco smoke, and other combustion sources.
SILICON BOOSTS SUSTAINABLE RICE PRODUCTION
Silicon (Si) is the second most abundant element on the earth’s crust after oxygen and the new findings suggest availability of this element can determine health of rice plants. Irrigation water, as against rain water, can provide a considerable amount of the Si that is taken up by plants, the findings by researcher. Another major source of plant-available Si is the dissolution of solid soil particles. The researchers from the interdisciplinary LEGATO project on sustainable rice production looked in more detail at the cycle of plant-available Si in contrasting regions of Vietnam and the Philippines to provide insights on the importance of this element on rice production. The data from Laguna province of the Philippines showed that the irrigation water can provide a considerable quantity of the Si that is taken up by plants.
ANTARCTICA’S DRY VALLEYS BRIMMING WITH MICROBIAL LIFE
A team of researchers has found brines or salty water form extensive aquifers below glaciers, lakes and within permanently frozen soils on April 28, 2015. These unfrozen materials appear to be relics of past surface ecosystems. They now provide deep subsurface habitats for microbial life despite extreme environmental conditions. The researchers used a transient electromagnetic AEM sensor called SkyTEM, mounted to a helicopter, to produce extensive imagery of the subsurface of the coldest, driest desert on our planet – the McMurdo Dry Valleys. Using a helicopter to make the observations allowed large areas of rugged terrain to be efficiently surveyed. Prior to this discovery, scientists considered the lakes to all be isolated from one another and the ocean.
WORM INDEX LINKED TO NATION’S HUMAN DEVELOPMENT
A team of researchers has developed the worm index, which they found to have a strong association with a nation’s human development index. With the Millennium Development Goals established by the UN coming to an end in 2015, experts have developed a new tool to show why neglected tropical diseases should be an essential component of these goals. Such tropical diseases are considered the most common infections of the world’s poor. Now, work is on to evolve new Sustainable Development Goals that will entail a set of targets for the future of international development.
NEW VACCINE CAN IMPROVE HIV TREATMENT
A vaccine has been found to boost a human immunodeficiency virus (HIV)-infected patient’s immune system and increase effectiveness of antiretroviral drugs in a phase II clinical trial, researchers have reported. Researchers have proved for the first time that antiretroviral therapy may be intensified by a vacciney. These results open new scenarios to investigate, namely whether this vaccine may help with virus control where patients have low adherence to antiretroviral therapy, simplify treatment, and reduce transmission of the disease.
RUBELLA VIRUS ERADICATED FROM AMERICAS
North and South America have become the first regions of the world to eradicate rubella, or German measles, after no home-grown cases in five years. The virus – spread by sneezes or coughs – can lead to serious birth defects if contracted by pregnant women. It is generally a mild illness, involving a [ 2 6 ] Weekly Current Affairs 26th April 2015 to 2nd April, 2015 www.ias100.in three-day rash and low-grade fever. Up to 20,000 children were born with rubella in the Americas every year until mass vaccinations started. But the last endemic cases registered in the region were in Argentina and Brazil in 2009. The fact no new cases have been declared in five consecutive years, apart from those imported into the region, allowed global health chiefs to declare the Americas free of the virus.
Women’s World Team Chess Championship 2015 Georgia’s female chess team became world champions after winning the final game in the World Women’s Team Chess Championship against home team China. The Chinese were beaten 2.5 to 1.5, which ensured that Georgia were world champions for the first ever time in their history. Georgia scored 17 points in the competition and won every game except a draw against Russia. Georgia took the gold medal with 17 match points, Russia won the silver medal and China is third with 11 match points, claiming the bronze. They defeated Egypt, Poland, Kazakhstan, Ukraine, USA, India and Armenia en-route to the title. Beating China was their eight win in a row in the tournament. Bela Khotenashvili, Lela Javakhishvili, Salome Melia, Meri Arabidze and Nino Batsiashvili were the title winning team which has created history for Georgian sport. In 1992, 1994, 1996 and 2008, Georgia’s female team won the Chess Olympiads, a biennial chess tournament in which teams from all over the world compete. As for the World Championship tournament, the best result for the Georgian team was third place, which the team achieved in 2013 in Astana, Kazakhstan. Georgia will also host the European Woman’s Individual Championship, 2015 in May. India may have missed the podium narrowly at the World Women’s team chess championship, which concluded at Chengdu, China, but Koneru Humpy and Dronavalli Harika ensured that the team did not return empty-handed, as they won individual board medals. Harika took the silver medal on the second board, with 5.5 points from eight rounds, behind Lilit Mkrtchian of Armenia. Humpy won the bronze on the top board, with 5.5 points from nine rounds, behind Georgia’s Bela Khotenashvili and Russian Valentina Gunina. FIDE World Team Chess Championship 2015 China won the FIDE men’s world team chess championship for the first time in Tsaghksdzor, Armenia, after beating India 3-1 in the last round on April 28, 2015. The Chinese team of Bu Xiangzhi, Ding Liren, Yu Yangyi, Wei Yi and Wang Chen, finished with 15 points from nine rounds in the round-robin tournament which featured the world’s best 10 teams. Ukraine took the silver with 12 points, and hosts Armenia had bronze with 11 points. After Ukraine obtained only four ties early in the last round, China were already assured of the title regardless of their results against India. China also captured its first men’s Chess Olympiad cup last year. It finished the runner-ups at the FIDE world championship in 2005, 2011 and 2013. The world team chess championship, played every two years, is an international team chess event, eligible for the participation of 10 countries whose chess federations dominate their continent. In chess, the world championship and the Chess Olympiads are the premier international tournaments. 5th Senior Men National Hockey Championship Indian Railway Hockey Team (Men) participated in 5th Hockey India Senior Men National Hockey Championship held at Pune from 16th to 29th April 2015 and won Gold Medal by beating Uttar Pradesh in final with a score of 5-3. For third place, Air India outplayed Gangpur 5-3. Indian Railway Hockey Team (Men) had won Gold Medal on last occasion in the year 1997 by beating Tamil Nadu. Awards: Best goalkeeper: Arpit Choudhary (Jharkhand); best defender: Amit Rohidas (Railways); best mid-fielder: Jasjit Singh (Railways); best forward: Lalit Upadhyay (Uttar Pradesh); Promising player of the championship: Vikramjit Singh (Punjab); Promising player from Maharashtra: Akash Chikte (goalkeeper).