Current Affairs from 16th to 22nd Feb for CDS/AFCAT/NDA/IAS
INDIA’S COAL-BASED THERMAL POWER PLANT MOST INEFFICIENT
India’s first-ever environmental rating of coal- based power plants has found that the country’s thermal power generating units are among the “most inefficient” in the world in terms of compliance of pollution norms, use of resources and overall operation efficiency. The study, done under CSE’s Green Rating Project (GRP), analyzed and rated 47 coal-based thermal power plants from across the country on a variety of environmental and energy parameters. About half of all the plants operating in 2011-12 were selected for the rating.
Key recommendations include:
1. Monitoring by regulators should be strengthened – they should be given more powers to enforce compliance.
2. Ash policy should support higher usage of ash.
3. Incentives to ensure improvement in capacity utilization.
4. Old inefficient plants should be closed at an aggressive pace.
5. Clearances for enhanced capacities should be based on best achievable water consumption.
2050 TO WITNESS 20% ELDERLY POPULATION
According to a report by HelpAge India, India needs to devise appropriate social and economic policies to allow the rapid increase in the number of elderly, who will make up as much as a fifth of the population by the middle of this century, Although India will be the youngest country in the world by 2020 with a median age of 29 years, the number of elderly people is likely to increase significantly after that, according to the 2014 State of Elderly in India report released by the non-profit organization.
By 2021, the elderly in the country will number 143 million, the report said. Presently, the elderly in divided into three categories: the young old (60-70) the middle-aged old (70-80) and the oldest old (80 plus).
The increase in life expectancy over the years has resulted in an increase in the population of the elderly. While the overall population of India will grow by 40% between 2006 and 2050, the population of those aged 60 and above will increase by 270%.
Out of this, the oldest old segment, which is the most vulnerable on account of suffering from disabilities, diseases, terminal illness and dementia, is also the largest growing segment of the elderly population, at a rate of 500%.
The report was prompted by the elderly population crossing the 100-million mark in 2014, out of which 51 million live below the poverty line. It draws the attention of policy makers to the dichotomy of the happy picture of increased longevity and the prospect of long years of hopelessness, bereft of family, society or state support.
Out of the people interviewed for it, 18% were state government pensioners, 9% were central government pensioners, 26% were home- makers, and 4% were skilled labourers. “Our report is based on interactions with a very well-distributed sample across India.
$40 BILLION ‘SILK ROAD FUND’ GETS OPERATIONAL
In an initiative to integrate the economies of Asia and Europe along the Eurasian corridor, China has taken a firm step to implement its vision of the Silk Road Economic Belt, by putting into operation its $40 billion infrastructure fund for this purpose. The fund, flagged in last year by Chinese President Xi Jinping, has started functioning on the lines of Private Equity (PE) venture. With China as the fulcrum, it is meant to finance development of roads, rail tracks, fibre optic highways, and much more, that would connect South Asia, Southeast Asia, Central Asia and Europe along an integrated land corridor.
The Chinese President had offered investors from Asia and beyond to join the Silk Road fund for the development of specific projects. Funds can also be allocated for the Maritime Silk Road (MSR), which envisions development of ports and facilities, mainly in the Indian Ocean. These ports will be connected to the hinterland by a string of land arteries, which
will eventually hook up with the main Silk Road Economic Belt at specific junctions.
The purpose of the fund is to “break the connectivity bottleneck” in Asia. The $40 billion fund was in addition to the decision to establish a $50 billion Asian Infrastructure Investment Bank, which is also meant to help finance construction in the region. China has poured part of its foreign exchange reserves in the fund, which include investors such as the China Investment Corp, the country’s sovereign fund, and China Exim-Bank. According to analysts, China has developed large overcapacity in construction material, including cement and steel. China’s “One Road, One Belt” strategy, aimed at establishing new “growth engines” along the Eurasian corridor, could well absorb some of this surplus. This strategy is good for the stabilisation and development of the world economy and China, as it has a large overcapacity in construction materials.
LANKA ADOPTS LAW TO PROTECT WITNESS
Sri Lanka has adopted a witness protection law ahead of an investigation into suspected human rights abuses in a 26-year civil war. This was cited necessary for reconciliation with the Tamil ethnic minority. The United Nations Human Rights Council has separately investigated war crimes in the final stages of the war against Tamil separatists but deferred its report, saying Colombo had shown a new willingness to open up to scrutiny. Under the law passed by the Sri Lankan parliament, the government will set up safe houses for witne-
sses giving testimony to the inquiry commission.
The United Nations estimated in a 2011 report that about 40,000 Tamil civilians were killed in the final weeks of the war that ended in 2009, mostly by the army. The government of the majority Sinhalese country rejected that assertion. But the new administration that took power last month after an election said it was ready for a new investigation that would bring in foreign experts if necessary. Former president MahindaRajapaksa had refused to cooperate with any UN investigation
DAKOTA-3 HANDED OVER TO BANGLADESH
A four-decade-old aircraft, Dakota-3, used during the Bangladesh Liberation War was handed over to Bangladesh recently.
The first aircraft of the Bangladesh Air Force took part in the crucial para-drop operations in Tangail, 60 miles from Dhaka, on December 11,
1971, four days ahead of Pakistan military’s historic surrender to the India-Bangladesh Joint Command on December 16. The war machine was installed at the Bangladesh Air Force Museum in Tejgaon in Dhaka at an impressive ceremony. It was formally handed over to the BAF by Air Marshal S.B. Deo, Eastern Air Command of the Indian Air Force.
Although the official date of the formation of the BAF is September 28, 1971, the force was launched formally by the wartime Mujibnagar government that led the Liberation War on October 8. As per documents, the Bengali rank and file fixed up the World War II vintage runway at Dimapur and then rigged the Dakota-3 aircraft for combat duty. The Dakota was modified to carry 500-pound bombs, but for technical reasons, it was
only used to transport Bangladesh government personnel. The historic Dakota-3 was a gift to the Bangladesh Liberation Fighters by the Jodhpur Maharaja. The IAF also donated 1 Twin Otter plane and 1 Alouette III helicopter for the newborn Bangladesh Air Force. With these three machines, the BAF launched hit-and-run attacks on sensitive targets inside Bangladesh, causing extensive damage. The aircraft was brought from New Delhi in a dismantled state
14 YEAR OLD CURRENCY SWAP PACT ENDED
Amid deterioration in relations between the two countries, Japan is considering ending its 14-year- old, $10 billion currency swap agreement with South Korea. The deal, launched in 2001 to help each other cope with any financial crisis, will expire on Feb. 23.
At one point, the framework of agreements had grown to as much as $70 billion, but it has fallen since 2012 after ties between the two countries worsened in a wake of a visit by South Korea’s former president to disputed islands, known as Takeshima in Japanese and Dokdo in Korean. Most Asian countries including South Korea have built up huge foreign currency reserves since the Asian currency crisis in 1997 but swap agreements have become common as an additional way to cushion them from external shocks.
OFFENSIVE ON ETHNIC REBELS DEEPENS
Myanmar’s army took an offensive to flush out rebels from areas around a flashpoint town on the north-eastern border with China, that has displaced tens of thousands of people. The conflict flared when ethnic Kokang rebels killed nearly 50 soldiers during a series of attacks on Laukkaing town, has seen at least 30,000 people flee into China, prompting Beijing to call for an end to the clashes. A similar number of people are believed to be displaced within Myanmar’s northern Shan State. The army has struck back against the rebels with air strikes and ground forces, after apparently being caught flat-footed by the pace and ferocity of the initial rebel assault.
The conflict has renewed doubts over a govern- ment attempt to forge a nationwide ceasefire in a
country peppered with bitter ethnic insurgencies. The Kokang, who are mainly ethnic Chinese, have continued ambushes on army convoys despite losing dozens of men in the government push back. They have been joined by other nearby rebel groups, including the Ta’ang National Liberation Army and the powerful Kachin Independence Army, an ominous sign for peace in the country as it opens up and heads towards crunch general election later this year.
Myanmar has blamed Kokang rebel leader Phone Kya Shin for the upsurge of violence after six years of relative peace and called on Beijing to rein in any local officials who might be helping the group on its side of the border.
DRAFT ACCORD REACHED
European Union paymaster Germany, Greece’s biggest creditor, had demanded significant improvements in reform commitments by the Leftist government in Athens before it would accept a six-month extension of euro zone funding. Euro zone Finance Ministers drafted an outline agreement that could form the basis for extending Greece’s financial rescue package. However, there
was no formal deal on a common text in the full 19-nation Euro-group of Ministers.
The deal, to be ratified once Greece’s creditors are satisfied with a list of reforms it will submit next week, ends weeks of uncertainty since the election of a leftist-led government in Athens which pledged to reverse austerity. The agreement offers a breathing space for the Greek government to try to negotiate longer-term debt relief with its official creditors. But it also forced radical young Prime Minister Alexis Tsipras into a major climbdown since he had vowed to scrap the bailout, end cooperation with the “troika” of international lenders and roll back austerity.
The euro rebounded against the dollar and global equity markets surged to record closing highs while Greek government bond yields fell on optimism for a debt deal. The accord requires Greece to submit a letter to the Euro-group listing all the policy measures it plans to take during the remainder of the bailout period.
If the European Commission, the European Central Bank and the International Monetary Fund are satisfied, euro zone member states will ratify
the extension, where necessary through their parliaments. Greece’s partners insisted on the shorter period and tied further disbursements to a satisfactory review at the end. They also obliged Athens to commit to fully funding any new spending measures and obtaining approval from its lenders.
According to the ECB, there would be no need for Greece to impose capital controls restricting cash withdrawals after the deal. The bank’s governing council was ready to resume accepting Greek government bonds as collateral for lending once necessary steps were taken for the extension and the bank determined there was a great likelihood that Greece would achieve a positive conclusion to its rescue program.
INDIA AND WORLD
INDIA INKS NUCLEAR PACT WITH SRI LANKA
A civil nuclear cooperation agreement was signed in a sign of a closer strategic partnership between Sri Lanka’s new government and India, President Maithripala Sirisena and Prime Minister Modi. This is Sri Lanka’s first nuclear partnership with any country. Under the deal, India will help Sri Lanka build its nuclear energy infrastructure, including training of personnel. Later, India could also sell light small-scale nuclear reactors to Sri Lanka which wants to establish 600 MW of nuclear capacity by 2030.
The agreement would facilitate cooperation in the transfer and exchange of knowledge and expertise, sharing of resources, capacity building and training of personnel in peaceful uses of nuclear energy, including use of radioisotopes, nuclear safety, radiation safety, nuclear security, radioactive
waste management and nuclear and radiological disaster mitigation and environmental protection.
During this visit both the nation signed three agreements – on agricultural cooperation, a memo- randum of understanding on Nalanda University and an agreement on cultural cooperation.
India had grown increasingly wary of former president MahindaRajapaksa’s pursuit of closer ties with China, which became a key supporter of the island’s economy after its 26-year-civil war ended in 2009. China has built a seaport in the south of the country and signed a deal to develop a $1.5 billion port next to the commercial port in Colombo, raising fears Beijing is seeking influence in the island state with which New Delhi has had historical ties. Ties worsened further after the Rajapaksa govern- ment allowed Chinese submarines to dock last year.
INDIA, OMAN TO REVIVE TALKS FOR UNDERSEA PIPELINE
A project that was considered unviable till a few years back, India discussed with the Turkmenistan leadership, the prospects of sourcing gas from the central Asian country by an under- sea pipeline project from Iran.
While talks on the TAPI pipeline are intended to keep the issue alive, an under-sea pipeline could make the Iran-Pakistan-India gas pipeline irrelevant. The offshore route proposal envisages transporting Turkmen gas to northern Iran and a swap arrangement would bring gas from southern Iran via the proposed “SAGE” (South Asia Gas Enterprise Pvt. Ltd.) pipeline to India.
The SAGE project envisages a Middle-East natural gas gathering system connecting gas sources to the coast of the Arabian Peninsula. From there, the SAGE family of pipelines plan to follow a route surveyed 15 years back and declared unviable at that time as techniques of deepwater pipe-laying and manufacturing had not matured. SAGE is understood to have finalised a memorandum of understanding with National Iranian Gas Export Company for developing gas exports through this
route, bypassing Pakistan. The Gas Authority of India Limited has also entered into principles of cooperation arrangement for this sea route.
Both countries were considering the off-shore pipeline after it had been rejected as too expensive in the 1990s because at a certain point its depth would have been 3,500 meters or four times deeper than any under-sea pipeline laid then. An Indian consortium has already been allocated Block 18 in Oman to prospect for oil and gas.
The new plan proposes to transport oil and natural gas through deep sea pipelines via Oman in a process where Iran, and even Turkmenistan and Azerbaijan energy can feed the pipeline for an ever-growing Indian market. Oman had invested $90 million on this project over a decade ago, but it got no traction then. But now, the technology has come of age, with pipelines being built under the Mediterranean Sea from Algeria to Itali, and under the Black Sea from Russia to Germany. The pipeline could transport gas from Iran, even Qatar, as well as Central Asian states.
Iran has reportedly jumped at the idea. Oman is India’s most trusted partner in the Gulf. Therefore comfort levels are high between New Delhi and Muscat, more than even with Iran. Iran was negotiating separately with Turkmenistan for an overland pipeline to carry its gas to an Iranian terminal and thence to markets like India. If these negotiations succeed, Iran could be a beachhead for gas not only from its fields but from other Gulf suppliers, even Qatar, which is India’s largest supplier of LNG.
The Iranian government has been flipping back and forth on this project. Once complete, Chah-
bahar would also be the entry point for Indian goods travelling to Central Asia and beyond through the international north-south transport corridor. In their conversation, Zarif made a determined pitch for the INSTC, though it has been Iranian tardiness that has delayed a project like this. In 2012, Turkey officially offered to join the north-south corridor, though with their recent troubles with Iran, no one is quite sure whether that still holds true.
In a related decision, India will conduct a dry run study in March on the INSTC, through NhavaSheva (Mumbai)- Bandar Abbas (Iran)- Tehran-Bandar Anzali (Iran)-Astrakhan(Russia). This was agreed between India and Azerbaijan during the recent visit of HuseynguluBaghirov, natural resources minister. Iran and Azerbaijan have to build Gazvin-Rasht-Astara (Iran)-Astara (Azerbaijan) railway route for connecting the railway lines of the INSTC.
INDIA, RUSSIA SORT OUT DIFFERENCES
India and Russia have generally agreed upon the amount and division of work during the research and development (R&D) stage of the fifth generation fighter aircraft (FGFA) project. A contract for the R&D phase is being prepared and expected to be signed this year, said YuliSlyusar, president and chairman of Russia’s United Aircraft Corporation (UAC) at Aero India 2015 in Bengaluru.
The work share of Hindustan Aeronautics Limited (HAL) has been a contentious issue as the project will have equal investment between India
and Russia and is likely to cost over $30 billion for about 400 aircraft. India plans to induct 144 of them. But HAL’s share in the work has been limited to a meagre 13 per cent so far which will not build any critical technological gains. Both sides have been holding discussions to sort this out before the final agreement. FGFA is crucial for Indian Air Force’s evolving structure as was recently acknow- ledged by the air chief recently. The final announce- ment could come later this year with President Pranab Mukherjee visiting Moscow in June, and Prime Minister expected to visit Russia twice.
SIX COUNTRIES ADDED TO E-VISA LIST
The tourism ministry has been consistently pitching for higher allocations with the finance ministry to protect, preserve, promote and restore its rich heritage of over 5,000 years of Indian history and indications are suitably impressive and, therefore, the aspirations and expectations of the tourism ministry have already enlivened so that with the higher allocations, the tourism ministry is able to implement the prime minister’s vision for developing its tourism and heritage.
Keeping this in view, India had introduced electronic visa for 44 countries last year along with the six countries recommended by the Ministry to
the Department of Home Affairs for issuance of e- visa this year. These are China, the UK, Spain, France, Italy and Malaysia. Countries that already have the electronic visa authorization or online visa facility include the US, Australia, Japan, Israel, Germany and Russia.
Online visa facility is applicable for visitors traveling to India for recreation, short duration medical treatment and business visit for a stay of 30 days. It is available at nine airports including Delhi, Mumbai, Bengaluru, Chennai, Kochi, Goa, Hyderabad, Kolkata and Thiruvanathapuram.
INVESTMENTS TO BACK RENEWABLE ENERGY PUSH
India, the world’s third-largest emitter of greenhouse gases, has secured pledges from 213 companies for setting up a renewable energy capacity of 266 gigawatts (GW) over the next five years, potentially cutting its overwhelming dependence on fossil fuels and strengthening the country’s position at global climate change negotiations.
The companies include state-run NTPC Ltd, which has agreed to set up 10,000 MW of renewable energy in the next five years. In the private sector, the largest commitment for generation is from SunEdison for 15,200 MW, while ReNew Power has promised 11,500 MW.
While India has so far resisted international pressure to commit to capping emissions, it has also pledged to increase the country’s renewable energy capacity in a bid to reduce the use of fossil fuels. The government is expecting an investment of $200 billion in green energy projects. This chimes in with hopes of a meaningful climate change pact at a UN climate conference in Paris in December. The summit is expected to finalize a global agreement to cut greenhouse gas emissions.
A commitment to finance renewable energy projects totalling 78 GW has also been made by financial institutions, with state-owned State Bank of India (SBI) alone committed to lend Rs.75,000 crore towards 15,000 MW of projects.
According to Yes Bank report, there is also a need to build the pieces together with the support of the society and give access to power for the most deprived section of the society. Viable business models and debt financing will have to take the driver’s seat to achieve the India’s RE (renewable energy) dreams.
During the Re-Invest 2015, India’s first global investors’ meet for green energy, the Prime
Minister said that India is also working to build a consortium of some 50 countries that have abundant solar radiation. This grouping will pool research and technological advances in the field of solar energy in order to improve its accessibility among the poorest of the poor, and in the remotest of locations.
The plan aimed at lowering the cost of solar energy and improving the country’s standing at global climate change and environment protection discussions. The proposal aims to bring together 56 countries that have more than 300 days of good solar radiation each.
India’s National Action Plan on Climate Change recommends the country generate 10% of its power from solar, wind, hydropower and other renewable sources by 2015, and 15% by 2020. India has an installed power generation capacity of 255,013 MW. In the run-up to the Paris summit, much international attention is focused on India’s plans.
HYBRID ANNUITY MODEL TO WOO DEVELOPERS
In its latest bid to revive private investment in highways, the road transport and highways ministry has come out with a new Hybrid Annuity model where government takes most of the risks so that developers get easy finance including from provident, insurance and foreign fund managers. The ministry unveiled the model to private developers and said that bidding for at least 13 highway stretches totalling about 1,100 km and involving Rs 14,500 crore investment would start in the next two months.
Under this new model the government will provide 40% of the project cost during construction period and for maintenance during the entire contract period. The payment of the rest of the
amount to private player would come in instalments spread over 10-20 years as annuity.
Learning from past experience of projects getting stuck due to lack of land availability and statutory clearances, the new model has clear cut provisions of at least 90% land availability and green clearances as preconditions for awarding any project. Moreover, there are provisions for incentive to private developers for completing projects early as well as a penalty that will be imposed for delayed work beyond 90 days of the set deadline. Even government agencies failing to meet the contract conditions will have to pay damage charges to the private contractors.
RULES ON FDI CAP IN INSURANCE NOTIFIED
The government notified rules for raising the foreign investment limit in insurance with economic reforms through legislation in the budget session of Parliament recently. The increase in the foreign investment limit in insurance joint ventures from an earlier 26% was brought about through an ordinance promulgated in December.
Only if shareholders approve, FPI investment can go up to 49 per cent.
The rules also say that Indian insurance companies should ensure that ownership and control remains in the hands of resident Indian entities.
FDI proposals up to 26 per cent of the total paid-up equity of an Indian insurance company will be allowed on the automatic route, and FDI proposals which take total foreign investment above 26 per cent and up to the cap of 49 per cent, will require Foreign Investment Promotion Board approval.
The central government has stipulated that foreign direct investment (FDI) up to 26 per- cent will be allowed under automatic route.
According to the notification, any increase of foreign investment of an Indian insurance company shall be in accordance with the pricing guidelines specified by the Reserve Bank of India (RBI) under the Foreign Exchange Management Act(FEMA).
Portfolio investments will also be counted for calculating the FDI cap.
However, in case of a bank allowed to function as an insurance intermediary, the foreign equity investment caps applicable in that sector (banking) shall continue to apply, subject to the condition that the revenues of such entities from their primary (i.e. non- insurance related) business must remain above 50 percent of their total revenues in any financial year.
The Ministry also clarified the foreign equity investment cap of 49% shall also apply to insurance brokers, third-party administrators, surveyors and loss assessors and other insurance intermediaries appointed under the provisions of the IRDA Act, 1999. IRDA is short for Insurance Regulatory and Develop- ment Authority. It said these rules have been prepared based on extensive consultations with the relevant departments and organiza- tions. These rules incorporate the recent amendments in the law into the standing/ prevalent practices being followed hitherto with respect to the treatment of foreign investment in Indian Insurance Companies under extant applicable regula-tions and the FDI policy of Government of India.
AADHAAR- BASED DBT TO COVER ALL SCHEMES
According to an office memorandum of the Finance Ministry, for all the schemes, Central sector or Centrally-sponsored, the new framework will be implemented by all the Ministries and Departments. The Ministry will implement a common framework for Direct Benefit Transfer (DBT) across the country, covering all the schemes being funded by the Centre. The 12-digit unique identification number ‘Aadhaar’ will form the base of the framework, which is to be implemented from April 1.
Central sector schemes are those that are implemented by a central agency and are 100 per cent funded by the Centre on subjects within the Union list, such as scholarships, Janani Suraksha Yojana and Dhanlakshmi schemes. Centrally- sponsored schemes are those that are funded directly by Central ministries/departments and implemented by States or their agencies, irrespective
of the pattern of financing. Currently, DBT is for 35 Central sector/Centrally-sponsored schemes and modified scheme for LPG (PAHAL). With this new framework, the number of schemes coming under DBT’s ambit is likely to go up.
For all Central sector schemes, the framework prescribes that each Ministry/Department will transfer funds electronically to each beneficiary. A digitised list of beneficiaries will be prepared and then seeded with the Aadhaar number by June 30. For all Centrally-sponsored schemes, the Centre will work with States to ensure that the cash component in each scheme is transferred electronically to each beneficiary. The framework has fixed a deadline of March 31 for preparing a digitised list of benefi- ciaries and fully seeding them with Aadhaar by June 30. Over 70 crore Aadhaar numbers have already been issued and the target is to issue 100 crore in the current fiscal.
INDIA COMES UP WITH NEW ACCOUNTING STANDARDS
India has come up with a completely new set of accounting standards, taking a big step towards convergence with IFRS. The Corporate Affairs Ministry issued 39 new Indian accounting standards (Ind-AS) and notified the roadmap for their adoption by companies in India. However, companies in the financial sector, banks, insurers and NBFCs have been kept out of this.
Nearly 125 countries in the world currently required the use of International Financial Reporting Standards (IFRS), a set of globally recognised standards for all or most of their listed companies and financial institutions.
There are numerous benefits that will come the way of India Inc from the latest move. It will further
strengthen India’s ability to attract foreign capital through inbound investments or through access to global capital markets. Currently, India is not looking at wholesale adoption of IFRS, but taking sure footed steps (like the latest one) towards converging with IFRS. India can now claim to have financial reporting standards that are contemporary and virtually on a par with the best global standards. This will in turn improve India’s place in the global ranking on corporate governance and transparency in financial reporting.
SCIENCE AND TECHNOLOGY
ADVANCED MEDIUM COMBAT AIRCRAFT
India is all set to kick-off its own fifth-generation fighter aircraft (FGFA) development project this year to build on the expertise gained in the long developmental saga of the indigenous Tejas light combat aircraft.
According to sources, the preliminary design stage of the futuristic fighter called the advanced medium combat aircraft (AMCA), with collabo- ration among IAF, DRDO and Aeronautical Development Agency, is now over. Once the project definition and feasibility is completed in the next few months, the defence ministry will go to the cabinet committee on security for approval. It will require Rs 4,000-5,000 crore for the initial design and development phase.
The aim is to fly the first twin-engine AMCA prototype by 2023-2024, which will be around the time deliveries of Tejas Mark-II fighters will be underway. IAF is slated to get its first Tejas Mark-I in March this year, over 30 years after the LCA project was first approved in August 1983. But the Tejas Mark- II jets, with more powerful engines, will start to come only by 2021-2022.
India, of course, is also trying to sort out its differences with Russia over their proposed joint development of the Indian perspective multi- role fighter based on the latter’s under- development FGFA called Sukhoi T-50 or PAK- FA. India had told Russia it cannot wait till 2024-2025 to begin inducting 127 of these single-seat fighters, which will entail an overall expenditure of around $25 billion. But India also wants its own home-grown AMCA project in the long-run for strategic and economic reasons.
A swing-role FGFA basically combines advanced stealth, supercruise (capability to achieve supersonic cruise speeds without use of after-burners), super-manoeuvrability, data fusion and multi-sensor integration on a single fighter. But the 20-year long development of the American F/A-22 “Raptor”, the only fully- operational FGFA in the world today, has shown that such a project is an extremely complex and costly affair. The US shut down the production of Raptors in 2012 after inducting 188 of them at an overall cost of $67 billion due to huge costs, technical glitches and time overruns. The US is now finally moving towards operationalizing a more advanced FGFA, the F-35 “Lightning-II” joint strike fighter. With the project yet to overcome all technical and software glitches, the overall cost for the planned induction of almost 2,500 such fighters stands at around $400 billion.
MIGRANT CHILDREN FACE HIGH MALNOURISHMENT
The level of malnourishment is high among children whose parents migrate in search of livelihood. Inherent malnourishment in mothers, lack of food and nutrition security, feeding and dietary practices and illnesses are some of the reasons identified for high levels of malnourish- ment. This has been proved in a study ‘Under- standing hunger and malnutrition among high migrant communities’ conducted in south Rajasthan by Aajeevika Bureau and EdelGive Foundation has revealed that more than half the children were underweight in those communities where migration was high. Stunting or retarded growth was reported in 53 per cent of the children with 28 per cent of them severely so; 33 per cent are wasted (debilitated growth) with over 9 per cent of them severely so and one-fourth severely underweight.
South Rajasthan, broadly Udaipur division, is a semi-arid region with a largely tribal population which owns small land holdings. Small land holdings are unable to help them sustain a livelihood which results in high levels of migration.
Each panchayat, where the study was done, had 550-600 migrants. The study was done in four panchayats in one block- two had high levels of migrations and the other to low migration. The sample of 884 households, which had less than three children, was picked up from 13 villages.
A total of 695 children under the age of three were weighed and measured as were 607 mothers. The median BMI (body mass index) of mothers was 18.1 with 58 per cent having a BMI of less than 18.5. An analysis has suggested inter-generational transfer of under-nutrition. When the mother is under- nourished, children are 1.8 times more likely to have severe malnutrition.
Less availability of food items, small land holdings resulting in low produce and caring practices caused malnutrition. Roti was the only food item eaten by children daily and more than 60 per cent had access to it. Only 58 per cent were breastfed, and less than one per cent had daliya which is supposed to be highly nutritious.
Children of migrating families were less likely to be enrolled at the anganwadi centres where the government provides supplemen- tary food to pre-school children. Importantly, the anganwadi centres were less functional in areas with high migrating population. When a mother goes for work, the primary caretakers are grandparents in 57 per cent of the cases, father in just 4 per cent and elder brother in 5 per cen
ALL YOU WANT TO KNOW ABOUT EBOLA
Ebola is a severe and often deadly disease caused by a virus. Symptoms include fever, diarrhea, vomiting, bleeding, and often, death.Ebola can occur in humans and other primates (gorillas, monkeys, and chimpanzees).The 2014 Ebola outbreak in West Africa is the largest in history. About 70% of the people who have gotten Ebola in this outbreak have died.Ebola was discovered in 1976 near the Ebola River in the Democratic Republic of the Congo. Since then, several small outbreaks have occurred in Africa. The 2014 outbreak is the largest.
HOW EBOLA CAN SPREAD
Ebola does not spread as easily as more common illnesses such as colds, the flu, or measles. There is NO evidence that the virus that causes Ebola is spread through the air or water. A person who has Ebola CANNOT spread the disease until symptoms appear.Ebola can only spread between humans by direct contact with infected body fluids including but not limited to urine, saliva, sweat, feces, vomit, breast milk, and semen. The virus can enter the body through a break in the skin or through mucous membranes, including the eyes, nose, and mouth.
The time between exposure and when symptoms occur (incubation period) is 2 to 21 days. On average, symptoms develop in 8 to 10 days.
Early symptoms of Ebola include:Fever greater than 101.5°F (38.6°C), Chills, Severe headache, Sore throat, Muscle pain, Weakness, Fatigue, Diarrhea,Vomiting. Late symptoms include:Bleeding from the mouth and rectum, Bleeding from eyes, ears, and nose, Organ failure. A person who does not have symptoms 21 days after being exposed to Ebola will not develop the disease.
There is no known cure for Ebola. Experimental treatments have been used, but none have been fully tested to see if they work well and are safe.People with Ebola must be treated in a hospital. There, they can be isolated so the disease cannot spread. Health care providers will treat the symptoms of the disease.Survival depends on how a person’s immune system responds to the virus. A person also may be more likely to survive if they receive good medical care.
Ebola virus disease
NEW FORM OF HIV ACCELERATES AIDS RISK
Recently, scientists have found out that a new aggressive form of HIV can progress to AIDS in just three years – so rapidly that patients may not even realize they were infected.
Engaging in unprotected sex with multiple partners increases the risk of contracting multiple strains of HIV. Once inside a host, these strains can recombine into a new variant of the virus. “One such recombinant variant appears to be much more aggressive than other known forms of HIV. Before it can enter human cells, HIV must first anchor
itself to them. The virus does this via anchor points, or co-receptors, which are proteins on the cell membrane. In a normal infection, the virus first uses the anchor point CCR5. In many patients, after a number of healthy years, the virus then switches to the anchor point CXCR4. This co- receptor switch coincides with a faster progression to AIDS.
Researchers at KU Leuven’s Laboratory for Clinical and Epidemiological Virology in Belgium have described a recombinant form of HIV observed
KEY TO BLOCK ALZHEIMER’S DISCOVERED
British researchers have identified a molecule that can block the progress of Alzheimer’s disease at a crucial stage in its development. A molecular chaperone has been found to inhibit a key stage in the development of Alzheimer’s and break a toxic chain reaction that leads to the death of brain cells. “Alzheimer’s disease is one of a number of conditions caused by naturally occurring protein molecules folding into the wrong shape and then sticking together – or nucleating – with other proteins to create thin filamentous structures called amyloid fibrils. Proteins perform important functions in the body by folding into a particular shape, but sometimes they can misfold, potentially kick-starting deadly processes.
The research provides an effective basis for finding candidate molecules that could be used to treat the condition. Scientists have shown that a molecular chaperone, a type of molecule that occurs naturally in humans, can play the role of an inhibitor part-way through the molecular process that is thought to cause Alzheimer’s, breaking the cycle ofevents that scientists believe leads to the disease.
Specifically, the molecule, called Brichos, sticks to threads made up of malfunctioning proteins, called amyloid fibrils, which are the hallmark of the disease. By doing so, it stops these threads from coming into contact with other proteins, thereby helping to avoid the formation of highly toxic clusters that enable the condition to proliferate in the brain.
This step is considered to be one of the most critical stages in the development of Alzheimer’s in sufferers. By finding a molecule that could prevent the disease, prevents it from occurring, scientists have moved closer to identifying a substance that could eventually be used to treat it. The discovery was made possible by an overall strategy that could now be applied to find other molecules with similar capabilities, extending the range of options for future drug development.
POLLUTED AIR CUTS SHORT LIVES BY 3YEARS
Using a combination of ground-level in situ measurements and satellite-based remote sensing data, a new study by economists from three U.S. universities — Chicago, Harvard and Yale has calculated that 660 million people live in areas that exceed the Indian National Ambient Air Quality Standard (NAAQS) for fine particulate matter (PM 2.5) pollution. Over half of India’s population is exposed to deadly air pollution and live in areas where fine particulate matter pollution is above the country’s standards for what is considered safe.
The study ‘Lower Pollution Longer Lives, Life Expectancy Gains if India Reduced Particulate Matter Pollution’, by Michael Greenstone, Janhavi Nilekani, Rohini Pande, Nicholas Ryan, Anant Sudarshan and Anish Sugathan was published recently.
It shows that if India reverses this trend to meet its air quality standards, those 660 million people would gain about 3.2 years onto their lives, and compliance with Indian air quality standards would save 2.1 billion life-years.
It suggests improved monitoring, civil penal- ties and pricing scheme to reduce pollution.
All 600 districts were covered in India and wherever available, direct measurements from the Central Pollution Control Board (CPCB) monitoring stations were used and when that was not available, satellite data was used.
The relationship between particulates and life expectancy estimated in the China study and applied it to the Indian levels of air pollution to produce central estimate of about three years reduction in life expectancy.
Using only CPCB data, the highest air pollu- tion levels on average have been recorded in the National Capital Region of Delhi, followed closely by Gwalior
The Golden Bear Prize
The Golden Bear top prize was given to Iranian director JafarPanahi at the Berlin film festival. Taxi is Panahi’s third picture smuggled out of the country in defiance of an official 20-year filmmaking ban, imposed for a documentary he tried to make on the unrest following Iran’s disputed 2009 presidential election. Panahi’s last
movie shot in secret, 2013’s elegiac Closed Curtain, won a Silver Bear in Berlin for best screenplay, drawing protests from the Iranian government.
The Golden Bear is the highest prize awarded for the best film at the Berlin International Film Festival. The bear is the heraldic animal of Berlin, featured on both the coat of arms and flag of Berlin
MCC life membership for Ganguly
Former Indian captain SouravGanguly has been awarded the honorary life membership of the prestigious Marylebone Cricket Club (MCC).
Ganguly, who has also been a member of the MCC World Cricket committee since July 2014, averaged over 40 in Tests and One Day Internationals for India and took 132 wickets across 424 matches. He made his Test debut at Lord’s in 1996, scoring 131 in his first innings and etching his name on the famous Lord’s Honours Board in the process.
Ganguly was made India captain in 2000 and went on to lead his country in 195 internationals. He also captained India to a famous victory in the 2002 NatWest Series Final at Lord’s – a match which was voted the greatest ever Lord’s match in a poll conducted by The Times and Lords.org last year as part of the Ground’s bicentenary celebrations.
The India golf awards powered by Golfing Indian.com, is the country’s foremost awards for recognising and rewarding golf excellence.
Anirban Lahiri and Vani Kapoor were awarded the best golfers of the year in the male and female categories respectively at the second edition of the Take Solutions India Golf Awards. Lahiri won the Indonesian Masters and the Venetican Macau Open in the previous year. The 27-year-old also finished
second in the Asian Tour Order of Merit. He also represented Asia in the inaugural EurAsia Cup.He is continuing his ascendancy with his victory in the Malaysian Open 2015 and is ranked 37th in the world. Lahiri pipped experienced S.S.P. Chowrasia and young Rashid Khan for the award.
The rising golfer title in the male category went to S. Chikkarangappa, while Vaishavi Sinha won the award in the female segment. The title for best coach was given to Vijay Divecha, who has been Lahiri’s mentor for 13 years.
NEW CENTRE-STATE FISCAL PACT
Paving the way for a complete overhaul in Centre-state fiscal relations, the Fourteenth Finance Commission has suggested a 10% jump in the tax devolution to states to 42 for the five-year period starting April 1, 2015. But the panel has also recommended a number of measures to spruce up government functioning and improve the fisc.
Devolution of tax to states increased to 42% from 32%. Total devolution at 45%
Performance-based grant of Rs 2.87 lakh crore to local bodies for the five year period — Rs. 2 lakh crore to panchayats and Rs. 87,148 crore to municipalities.
Eleven states given a post-devolution revenue deficit grants of Rs. 1.94 lakh crore to wipe out revenue deficit.
Of the 20 suggested, Centre to de-link 8 Centrally-sponsored schemes from Central support.
Up to 10% of grants in state disaster relief fund can be used for occurrences considered as disasters.
. Public Utilities :
. Amend the Electricity Act, 2003, to levy penalties for delays in the payment of subsidies by states. PSUs :
Enterprises be categories into ‘high priority’, ‘priority’, ‘low priotiry’ and ‘non-priority’ to decide current policy and future course of actions.
The National Investment Fund to be wound up, proceeds from stake sales to go in
Consolidated Fund, part of it shared with state where PSU is located.
States to review tax on entertainment and profession, local bodies to impose advertise- ment tax
Royalties from mining to be shared with local body where the mine is located
Local bodies, states explore issuing municipal bonds
Strengthen the judicial system by using fiscal space provided by the tax devolution Cooperative Federalism: Inter-state Council to be expanded for co- operative federalism to identify sector specific grants to states GST: Autonomous GST Compensation Fund through legislative actions to give assurance to states