Current affairs for all the upcoming UPSC Papers(NDA/CDS/AFCAT/IAS pre) in detail from 9TH FEBRUARY TO 15TH FEBRUARY, 2015
6 INDIAN METROS IN TOP 100
The Brookings Institution’s 2014 Global Metro Monitor Map that measures and compares growth patterns in the world’s 300 largest metro economies puts Delhi at 18th place, followed by Kolkota (among Indian cities) at 32nd.Mumbai (52) Chennai (57) Hyderabad (76) and Bangalore (87), round up the Indian cities in the Top 100, which expectedly is dominated by Chinese cities. China has 11 cities in the Top 20, and four in the Top 10.Surprisingly, Turkey has four in the Top 10, including Izmir, Istanbul, and Bursa at two, three and four, respectively. Macau got the top spot. The report compares growth patterns in the world’s 300 largest metro economies on two key economic indicators – annualized growth rate of real GDP per capita and annualized growth rate of employment.
These indicators which are combined into an economic performance index on which metro areas are ranked, matters because they reflect the importance that people and policymakers attach to achieving rising incomes and standards of living and generating widespread labour market opportunity.
EC TO CONDUCT ERPAD
According to Chief Election Commissioner H.S. Brahma, the Election Commission will conduct an electoral roll purification and authentication drive (ERPAD) by linking electoral rolls with Aadhaar numbers from March 1 to August 15. The linking will, however, be voluntary and has nothing to do with the right to vote. The exercise will largely help find out duplicate or multiple entries of voters on rolls and fake voter cards. It will also help prevent impersonation during elections. The drive will be completed in 676 districts by August 15 in all States barring Jammu and Kashmir and those in the Northeast, which will be given a couple of months more.The seeding of Aadhaar number with EPIC under the National Electoral Rolls Purification and Authentication Programme (NERPAP), will end duplication of electors database by weeding out fraudulent (duplicate, bogus, ineligible and shifted) EPIC Card holders. NERPAP also proposes linking of mobile number and e-mail address to provide poll-related information to voters. It will also allow electors to voluntarily disclose multiple entries pertaining to him, followed by disposal of such cases by the electoral registration officer (ERO) within 15 days.
FOREST COVER UP BY 5,871 SQ KM
A study conducted by the Forest Survey of India that was recently published points out that West Bengal’s forest cover has increased by 3,810 sq km, which is followed by Odisha where increase in forest cover has been 1,444 km and Kerala where the increase has been about 622 sq km.
The Satellite based remote sensing data that has been used for estimating the change in forest cover has shown that that there has been an increase of 31 sq km of ‘very dense’ forest cover compared to the last assessment carried two years ago. It has also revealed that ‘moderately dense’ forest has decreased by 1,991 sq km while ‘open forests’ have increased by 7,891 sq km, putting the overall increase at 5,871 sq km.
Of the 5,871 sq km increase in the forest cover of India, West Bengal accounts for nearly 64 per cent of this rise. The increase in forest cover in along with other steps the State’s joint forest management, involves thenparticipation of the local people, is one of the reasons for the increase. Increase in the forest cover of the State is mainly due to dense growth of small tress and afforestation inside the forests, growth of commercial plantations and shade trees in tea gardens.
States from northeast like Nagaland, Arunanchal Pradesh, Tripura and Manipur, whose forest cover comprises over 75 percent of the State’s area, have shown a decrease in forest cover.
The current assessment shows a decrease in forest cover to the extent of 627 sq km in the north eastern region. The main reason for this is attributed to the biotic pressure and shifting cultivation in the region.
In Andhra Pradesh, a State with 16.77 percent of its area covered by forest, there has been a decrease of 273 km of forest area. While the forest cover has decreased by 176 sq km in Madhya Pradesh and 53 km in Chhattishgarh, it has increased by 496 sq km in Jharkhand and 446 sq km in Bihar.
INDIA @ 136 IN PRESS FREEDOM INDEX
In the annual World Press Freedom Index (WPFI) produced by Reporters Without Borders (RSF), India’s “abuse score,” which reflects the intensity of violent harassment faced by journalists was 59.58, which is higher than Sri Lanka’s score of 40.6 but below Pakistan’s score of 64.91 and China’s score of 89.64. The WPFI ranks the performance of countries according to a range of criteria that include media pluralism and independence, respect for the safety and freedom of journalists, and the legislative, institutional and infrastructural environment in which the media operate, according to its producers.
India was ranked 136 out of 180 nations worldwide in terms of press freedom in 2015, which marks an improvement from its rank of 140 in 2014, even though its absolute score declined from 40.34 to 40.49.
While the top of the list was this year and in previous years dominated by Scandinavian nations such as Finland, Norway and Denmark, at the other end of the scale, Turkmenistan, North Korea and Eritrea, were the worst performers.
Russia, Iran and China also performed poorly, ranking respectively at 152, 173 and 176 place.
The U.S. was down three places at 49 in 2015, which was due to the U.S. government’s persecution of New York Times reporter Jim Risen, as well as the fact that the U.S. continues its war on information in others, such as WikiLeaks.’
ICAO TO AUDIT INDIA’S AVIATION SAFETY
The International Civil Aviation Organization (ICAO), of which India is a member, completed an audit of the Directorate General of Civil Aviation (DGCA) in 2012 and placed the country in its list of 13 worst-performing nations. The United Nations’ aviation watchdog, ICAO has decided to conduct another safety audit of India’s aviation safety in a move that could potentially affect the international expansion plans of new and old Indian airlines. This time its audit will perhaps, as a result of the findings of the earlier one, be even more elaborate. After India addressed some of the issues highlighted by the 2012 audit, it was removed from the list of poor performers.
ICAO operates its safety oversight auditing programme under a Continuous Monitoring Approach.
India has frequently changed the heads of DGCA. Last year, the director general of civil aviation was removed despite the fact that US regulator Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) was in the process of reviewing its downgrade of India’s safety rankings. The FAA launched its own audit after the findings of ICAO were released and effect its own downgrade. Worse, India’s aviation security body Bureau of Civil Aviation Security (BCAS) has had no permanent head for more than two years. No one wants the job as, in terms of hierarchy, it isn’t seen at the same level as other postings for senior officers of the Indian Police Service. A panel was also formed last year to select a BCAS chief but the Union Public Service Commission scrapped that panel citing irregularities. Meanwhile, the workforce of BCAS has shrunk to around 70. Many of its offices across India are not manned. ICAO had recommended a workforce of 150 several years ago, but nothing has been done.
INDIA ‘ACT EAST’ TAKES SERIOUS HIT
As New Delhi has unilaterally extended the deadline for its connectivity projects in Myanmar from 2016 to 2019, India’s “Act East” policy is sure to take a serious hit. It is a clear sign that despite tall claims it just cannot deliver on the ground.
India is responsible for two big projects — Kaladan multi-modal transport project and India- Myanmar-Thailand trilateral highway. Both projects, controlled by MEA, have fallen behind schedule drastically. The projects reflect India’s opportunity to show that it was putting its Look/ Act East policy on an overdrive.On the trilateral highway, India has committed to construct and upgrade about 70 bridges on the Tamu-Kyigone-Kalewa road section and upgrade Kalewa-Yargyi stretch. While the Thais have completed their part of the work, and even the Burmese have made significant progress, India is lagging behind. The government has taken refuge under the excuse that MEA’s budget has been chopped in the past couple of years. A bigger problem is one of management which involves inter- ministerial coordination and that too has slipped up. These critical projects have all been brought under a newly created development partnership department in the MEA.
The trilateral highway starts from Moreh in Manipur and ends at Mae Sot in Thailand. India has completed a little over 132 km of the road work, leaving close to 30 km undone. As part of the Kaladan project, India is building Sittwe Port on BOT (build, operate and transfer) basis. It is also supposed to build jetties at Paletwa (in Myanmar) on the Kaladanriver. India has also offered to upgrade/build Chaungma-Yinmabin section in Myanmar as well as the Yinmabin-Pale- Lingdaw section.
INDIA HAS 4TH LARGEST AREA UNDER GM CROPS
According to the International Service for the Acquisition of Agri-Biotech Applications (ISAAA), India has the fourth largest area planted under genetically modified (GM) crops, Farmers in India planted a total 11.6 million hectares (mh) under transgenics in 2014, behind the corresponding areas for Argentina (24.3 mh), Brazil (42.2 mh) and the US (73.1 mh). The GM crop acreage in India far surpassed China’s 3.9 mh, while equalling that of Canada’s 11.6 mh.
ISAAA, a New York-based crop biotech advocacy group, has estimated the total global area under GM crops to have touched 181.5 mh last year, up from 175.2 mh in 2013.
Since 1996, when farmers first commercially planted transgenics, the area under these crops has risen more than hundredfold from 1.7 mh to 181.5 mh. It represents the fastest ever adoption of any technology in agriculture.
Significantly, the entire 11.57 mh GM crop area in India last year consisted of Bt cotton. Nearly 96 per cent of the country’s cotton area is now covered by Bt hybrids. Bt technology has helped India to treble its cotton output from 13 million bales in 2002 to 40 million bales in 2014.
While India’s GM crop acreage is wholly dominated by Bt cotton, much of it based on the US life sciences giant Monsanto’s proprietary “Bollgard” technology this is not the case with other major countries.
China had only 3.9 mh of GM planted area last year — almost fully under Bt cotton. But its government has allowed commercial cultivation of seven other crops — papaya, maize, rice, poplar, tomato, sweet pepper and petunia.
Unlike India, where Monsanto enjoys a near monopoly, China’s GM crops have been developed largely by public sector research bodies such as the Chinese Academy of Agricultural Sciences (Bt cotton), Huazhong Agricultural University (rice and tomato), Beijing University (tomato and sweet pepper) and Research Institute of Forestry (poplar)
SAARC TO REVIEW OBSERVER STATUS
Inone of the fresh attempts by countries like Pakistan for the South Asian regional grouping to accord a more active role to China did not succeed during a SAARC summit in Kathmandu last year, India has persuaded the South Asian Association for Regional Cooperation (SAARC) in placing a five-year moratorium on elevating the status of China and other non-member observer countries to that of dialogue partners.
The eight-member SAARC currently has nine observers at SAARC summits: China, the US, Myanmar, Iran, Japan, South Korea, Australia, Mauritius and the European Union (EU). While representatives of the observer nations are allowed to sit and speak in the inaugural and concluding sessions, they are not allowed to engage in negotiations or vote on matters discussed at summits. India became a sectoral dialogue partner of the ASEAN in 1992, which was upgraded to full dialogue partnership in 1996. India subsequently signed a free trade agreement in goods with the ASEAN in 2009.
In September, during discussions under the working committee meeting of SAARC members in Kathmandu, a majority of members supported a proposal to elevate China’s status to a dialogue partner citing the example of the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN) grouping. Dialogue partners can have much deeper economic and strategic engagement with member countries. The 10-member ASEAN has assigned dialogue partner status to countries such as India, China and Japan with whom it later signed free trade agreements.
NO VOTING RIGHTS FOR ROHINGYAS
In Myanmar, the identity cards for people without full citizenship, including Muslim Rohingya who holds the documents ostensibly as part of a process of applying for citizenship will expire within weeks, snatching away voting rights handed to them just a day earlier after nationalist protests at the move. The move effectively overrides a clause giving them the right to vote in a constitutional referendum in a bill enacted with presidential approval. More than one million Rohingya live in Myanmar, but they are not regarded as citizens by the government.
The so-called white papers were introduced in 2010 by the former military junta to allow the Rohingya and other minorities to vote in a general election. Thein Sein had originally persuaded parliament to grant white-paper holders the vote, but later apparently changed his mind. The UN passed a resolution urging Myanmar to give access to citizenship for the Rohingya, many of whom are classed as stateless.
GENEVA CLIMATE CHANGE TALKS
Countries at the Geneva Climate Change talks agreed on a negotiating text for the 2015 agreement. According to Julie Ann Richards of the Climate Justice Program, there is a new breath of optimism for an ambitious climate agreement in Paris and there is also ownership by countries. It was important to scale up financial support and ensure a high level meeting for loss and damage. The important thing is that there are enough good options in the text including a call to end fossil fuel emissions which were promising. According to Tasneem Essop of the Worldwide Fund for Nature (WWF), a number of countries have to ratify a second commitment period for the Kyoto Protocol. The pre- 2020 ambitions also needed to be enhanced.Keeping up the trend in global climate talks byindustrialised nations to deny historical responsibilities, the U.S. had sprung a new term bifurcation and ending the two different categories of developed and developing countries at the ongoing talks in Geneva. An Indian official here said even if the U.S. uses different words, India would stick to its stand of common but differen- tiated responsibilities.
According to a statement the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCC), a key milestone towards a new, universal agreement on climate change was reached in Geneva following seven days of negotiations by over 190 nations. The agreement is set to be reached in Paris at the end of 2015 and will come into effect in 2020.
IPCC APPROVES DRAFT TEXT FOR CLIMATE NEGOTIATIONS
Efforts to finalize an agreement on climate change gathered pace after 194 countries prepared a draft text for negotiations that includes numerous provisions in five major areas to grapple with the worst existential crisis stemming from the accumulation of greenhouse gases.
The Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC), in its fourth assessment report, suggested the world is on the verge of exceeding what it called the carbon budget in a short period. IPCC said the earth’s atmosphere could absorb around 800-880 giga tonnes of carbon dioxide before global warming raises temperatures by 2 degrees Celsius.
After six days of intense negotiations on elements of the climate change agreement at the Palaise des Nations in Geneva, governments approved the 86-page negotiating draft that includes proposals on mitigation, adaptation, finance, capacity-building, technology transfer, and other institutional provisions.There is still no clarity on whether there will be a legally binding agreement or a voluntary deal without any punitive steps.
The draft text will be further streamlined in Bonn, Germany, in June, as it is replete with provisions in various areas in square brackets,implying that there is no final agreement among the members yet on any of the elements in the text. Despite efforts to prepare a small, concise negotiating text based on what was informally agreed in Lima, Peru, last year, the Geneva meeting produced a long and unwieldy text that will be put to another round of intense negotiations in Bonn. Several industrialized nations remained unhappy with the Geneva meeting as it failed to generate a discussion on substantive issues such as mitigation efforts by countries.
WB’s AID FOR CLIMATE CHANGE MITIGATIONAn agreement was signed between India and the World Bank for an assistance of $8 million to take up various adaptation measures in rural areas to deal with the threat of climate change. The money will be used to implement special projects to improve adaptive capacity of the rural poor, engaged in farm-based livelihoods, to climate change in Bihar and Madhya Pradesh.
The assistance fund, under Sustainable Livelihoods and Adaptation to Climate Change (SLACC), will be for projects that will help community institutions of the rural poor, particularly women farmers, to foster improved resilience in the production system in collaboration with government programs such as MGNREGS.
The National Rural Livelihoods Mission (NRLM) is the implementing agency of these projects. This fund is in addition to what the government had set up last year as `National Adaptation Fund’ and set aside Rs 100 crore for taking up agriculture adaptation measures.
The environment ministry has initiated the process to select agencies for implementing climate change mitigation and adaptation projects using the Green Climate Fund (GCF) -a global fund meant to assist developing countries in promoting low- emission and climate-resilient development.
PEACE DEAL IN UKRAINE
An agreement aimed at ending the fighting in Ukraine has been reached, following marathon talks in Belarus. The leaders of Russia, Ukraine, Germany and France announced that a ceasefire would begin on 15 February. The deal also includes weapon withdrawals and prisoner exchanges, but key issues remain to be settled.
European leaders have warned Russia that it faces additional sanctions if the Minsk agreement is not respected. The fiercest battles were over control of the town of Debaltseve, a strategic town in between rebel-held areas.
Main Points of the Agreement
The new cease-fire agreement reached in Minsk between Ukraine, Russia and the militants Russia is backing in east Ukraine builds on two earlier deals that failed to stop the fighting.
A summary of the main points of the new agreement:
Impose a cease-fire from midnight.
Withdraw heavy weapons to create a 50- kilometer “safe zone.” Ukraine will pull its weapons back in relation to the current front line, while separatists will move theirs back from the “contact line” agreed in September talks. The withdrawal should start no later than the second day after the cease-fire and be completed in two week.
The OSCE will monitor and verify the cease- fire and withdrawal of heavy weapons.
On the day after the withdrawal, start a dialogue on carrying out local elections according to a Ukrainian law that establishes temporary self-governance for rebel-held areas. Within 30 days of the deal’s signing, pass a parliament resolution on territories covered by the law.
Release and exchange all prisoners on both sides by the fifth day after heavy weapons are withdrawn.
Provide for the safe access of humanitarian aid according to international mechanisms.
Find a way to restore social and economic ties between Ukraine and rebel-held areas, including pensions and other payments.
Restore Ukrainian control of the state border beginning the day after local elections and finishing by the end of 2015 if point 11 is implemented.
Withdraw all foreign fighters and disarm illegal groups.
INDIA AND WORLD
MEA IN NO MOOD TO AMEND N-LIABILITY LAW
After India and the US agreed on a break- through understanding on the nuclear liability issue in the Indo-US civilian nuclear deal, India sought to lift the veil on the understanding agreed between the two sides: firstly, the “right to recourse” will be part of the contracts between Indian operators and suppliers. Secondly, it cited parliamentary proceedings and templates from other domestic laws to say that suppliers cannot be sued by victims under the tort law. Stoutly rejecting that India agreed to amend its nuclear liability law (Civil Liability for Nuclear Damage Act of 2010 and the CLND rules of 2011), the Ministry of External Affairs said that there is no proposal to amend the Act or the rules.
According to the government, on the “right to recourse” section, the Section 17 states that the operator shall have a right to recourse and added that this is not a mandatory but an enabling provision. In other words, it permits but does not require an operator to include in the contract or exercise a right to recourse. So, even though there is no mandatory legal requirement under the CLND Act to provide for a right of recourse in a contract, there may be policy reasons for having a risk sharing mechanism, including a right of recourse.
On the broad scope of section 46 — which addresses the issue of victims suing suppliers under the tort law, the language in section 46 of CLND Act 2010 is similar to such language in several other legislations such as
Telecom Regulatory Authority Act, Electricity Act, SEBI Act, Insurance Commission Act.
During the course of the vote on various clauses of the Bill, in the Rajya Sabha two amendments were moved for clause 46 that finally became Section 46 of the CLND Act that inter-alia sought to include suppliers in this provision. Both those amendments were negative. It added that Section 46 does not exempt the operator from any other procee- dings instituted against him, apart from this Act, nor derogates from any other law in force in India. At the same time it does not create the grounds for victims to move foreign courts.
The government concluded that it will now be up to the companies to follow up with their own negotiations and come up with viable techno-commercial offers and contracts consistent with law and practice, so that reactors built with international collaboration can start contributing to strengthen India’s energy security and India’s clean energy options. The US companies were also part of the process.
The contact group, comprising representatives from Ministry of External Affairs, Department of Atomic Energy, Nuclear Power Cor- poration of India Ltd (NPCIL), Ministry of Finance, Ministry of Law and Justice, in addition to the representatives from US Government, also had an interface with the companies — NPCIL on the Indian side and Westinghouse and General Electric on the US side.
INDIA MORE UNSAFE THAN SYRIA: NDBC
According to latest data released by National Bomb Data Centre (NBDC), Pakistan witnessed the maximum number of blasts in the world with 313 explosions followed by Iraq which suffered 246 blasts. Afghanistan with 129 blasts is far behind India. In 2014, India witnessed 190 IED explosions, putting it just behind Pakistan and Iraq in the list of countries worst affected by bomb blasts. Syria, which has seen pitched battles between ISIS, Kurdish Peshmargas and NATO forces, has seen only 32 blasts. These five countries have together account for almost 85% of the 1,127 blasts across the world.
India, however, has been able to reduce the number of explosions and casualties in 2014. While 2013 witnessed 99 casualties in 212 explosions, 75 people lost their lives in 2014. This is in keeping with the trend across the world.
In 92% of explosions in India, high explosives were used recording an increase of four percentage points over 2013. This indicates the ease with which anti-national elements are able to lay their hands on explosives and electronic detonators. Internally too, India is witnessing a geographical shift in pattern of blasts. Jammu and Kashmir which has witnessed a 30% drop in explosions is no more among the top danger areas. Ditto for Manipur which has seen a 45% drop from 66 blasts in 2013 to just 36 in 2014. Conversely, Chhattisgarh and Jharkhand witnessed an increase of 33% and 50% respectively in number of explosion
RISING GLOBAL DEBT SCARY
According to a new report from McKinsey, the global consulting firm, a debt affects the economy in two ways: First, for every debtor there is a creditor, and, in theory, an economy should be able to hum along just fine whether a country’s citizens have a great deal of debt or none. A company’s ability to produce things depends on the workers and machines it employs, not the composition of its balance sheet, and the same can be said of nations. Second, in practice this is completely wrong, and debt plays an outsize role in creating boom-
bust cycles across the world and through history.
High debt increases the amplitude of economic swings. To think of it in terms of the corporate metaphor, high reliance on borrowed money may
not affect a company’s level of output in theory,
but makes it a great deal more vulnerable to bankruptcy.
The data was compiled by researchers on the full range of debt that countries owe – not just their governments, but corporations, banks and households, as well. The results: Since the start of the global financial crisis at the end of 2007, the total debt worldwide has risen by $57 trillion, rising to 286 per cent of global economic output from 269 per cent.
Combining these different types of debt is useful because it creates a richer picture of how a country’s finances really work. A country with high debt levels can get into economic trouble regardless of whether its debts are most heavily owed by the government (Greece, Italy), households (Spain, the U.S.), or financial institutions (Ireland, Britain).
INDIA SOON TO BE THE FASTEST GROWING ECONOMY
In a projection by the International Monetary Fund (IMF) in its latest World Economic Outlook Update, India is projected to become the world’s fastest-growing major economy by 2016-17 with a growth rate of 6.5%, topping China’s 6.3%.
Last year, the IMF projected that China’s growth in 2015 and 2016 will be lower than its estimates by 20 and 30 basis points, respectively. One basis point is one-hundredth of a percentage point. The Chinese authorities are now expected to put greater weight on reducing vulnerabilities from recent rapid credit and investment growth and hence, the forecast assumes less of a policy response to the underlying moderation. This lower growth is affecting the rest of Asia.
As per the IMF, in India, the growth forecast is broadly unchanged, however, as weaker external demand is offset by the boost to the terms of trade from lower oil prices and a pickup in industrial and investment activity after policy reforms.
IMF also pared down global economic growth for 2015 to 3.5% from 3.8% projected in October, mostly due to slower-than-expected perfor-mance by emerging market economies, especially Russia, China, Brazil, Saudi Arabia and Nigeria. The US is the only major economy for which growth projection has been raised to 3.6% in 2015 from 3.1% projected earlier.
MEASURES TO IMPROVE EASE OF DOING BUSINESS
The government has taken up a series of measures to improve ease of doing business in India that emphasised on simplification and rationa- lisation of the existing rules, timeline for clearance of applications and de-licensing manufacturing of many defence products.
According to the Department of Industrial Policy and Promotion (DIPP), the emphasis has been on simplification and rationalisation of the existing rules and introduction of information technology to make governance more efficient, effective, simple and user-friendly. Defence products’ list for industrial licensing has been issued, wherein large number of parts/components, castings/forgings etc. have been excluded from the purview of industrial licensing.
The process of applying for industrial license(IL) and industrial entrepreneur memorandum (IEM) has been made online and this service is now available to entrepreneurs on 24×7 basis at the eBiz website, without human interface.
This will lead to ease of filing applications and online payment of service charges and ensure that no entrepreneur has to come to the ministry to file his/her application or make payment. A maximum timeline of 12 weeks has been finalised by the home ministry for grant of security clearance on industrial licence applications.
GAAR DEFERRED INDEFINITELY
The government has planned to defer imple- mentation of the General Anti Avoidance Rules (GAAR) until the time the tax administration is able to rebuild trust with companies on the controversial issue. According to a document produced by tax consultancy Ernst & Young, GAAR is a set of broad principles-based rules within a country’s tax code designed to counteract the perceived avoidance of tax. According to sources, given the low level of confidence in tax authorities, investors fear that the provisions may result in harassment. The finance ministry is keen to avoid any dent in investor confidence at the moment and is looking at postponing the implemen- tation for now. The view that has emerged in discussions is to defer implementation for now and not disturb the positive sentiment. The announce- ment is likely to be made in the 2015-16 Budget and could act as a major boost to investor confidence.
The government is working to revive growth and create jobs and getting the investment cycle back on track. It has taken a number of measures to ensure that tax policies are predictable and the revenue department projects a friendly image. It also wants to held high the image of tax adminis- tration and regain investor confidence over the next few years before implementing GAAR, which is an internationally accepted norm. In recent moves, the government has decided against appealing a high court verdict on transfer pricing cases involving Vodafone and Shell. This has been seen as a signal to investors that the government is keen to ensure that tax policies are stable. The government has also firmed up a framework for resolving transfer pricing cases, involving multinational companies from the US.
NEW NORMS TO KEEP DOWN SWINE FLU NUMBERS
India has reported 5,157 cases of H1N1 since January 1 — 505 of them on February 10. There have been 407 deaths in the first 41 days of 2015 almost double the total toll of 2014 at 216.
Facing an unprecedented spike in swine flu casualties, guidelines have been issued by the Health Ministry not to test flu patients for H1N1, unless essential. This would mean that these patients would still be treated for the disease, but would not add to the already explosive swine flu statistics across the country.
The Health ministry in its revised guidelines classified flu cases into category A (who do not need testing and can stay at home but must avoid contact with high-risk family members), category B (who do not need H1N1 tests but may need Oseltamivir) and category C (who may have symptoms like breathlessness blood pressure drop etc who should be tested and hospitalised).
While the directive may keep numbers down, for health workers it would mean working with or without personal protective equipment. Doctors in several city hospitals, including private ones, said they are often required to see flu patients without protective gear just because the H1N1 Real time Polymerase Chain Reaction test, which confirms the infection, has not been performed and hence the patient is not categorised as swine flu.
Categorisation of H1N1 patients
Category A: Patients with mild fever with cough/sore throat. With or without body ache, headache, diarrhoea, vomiting. Do not require testing, hospitalisation or Oseltamivir but have to avoid public places or contact with high-risk family members. Need monitoring
Category B: Additional symptoms like high- grade fever. May need Oseltamivir, especially if pregnant, senior citizens, children, patients with lung/kidney/liver disease/cancer/AIDS etc. No need to test.
Category C: Have chest pain, breathlessness, drowsiness, blood pressure fall etc. Need testing and hospitalisation.
INDIA TO GET LABS TO TEST MEDICAL DEVICES
India has no nationally recognized medical device testing laboratory. That is set to change with the Commerce Ministry’s decision to fund the setting up of three medical device testing laboratories in Noida (UP), Haryana and Gujarat, which already have device manufacturing clusters. This is the first step towards recognizing medical devices as an industry separate from the pharmaceuticals industry and requiring different regulatory standards.
These laboratories are being set up to provide a boost to the domestic manufacturing sector by providing adequate infrastructure for device testing based on project proposals and technical support given by the National Health Systems Resource Centre (NHSRC), a technical support institution under the health ministry. While the Haryana and Gujarat governments have promised to allot land for the labs, in Noida, HLL Lifecare Ltd, a PSU, will be providing its campus for setting up the laboratory.
The reports released outlined the basic requirements, work flow, infrastructure and human resources required for establishing medical testing laboratories for testing of biomaterials and implants and for testing electrical and electronic medical devices. Released at a conference on patient safety and medical devices, the reports were prepared by the NHSRC in collaboration with the World Health Organization (WHO) country organization with inputs from Underwriter Laboratories (UL), a US- based international safety science company and technical support on implants from the Sri Chitra Tirunal Institute of Medical Sciences and Technology, Trivandrum.
Though medical devices have a huge potential in India, 70-75% of the market continues to be import- based. To grow the industry and achieve the $25 billion target, the need is to lay greater emphasis on developing standards and making regulatory amendments to the existing Drugs and Cosmetics Act.
SYNTHETIC VACCINE TO FIGHT POLIO
As polio disease is very close to being eradicated, with only a few hundred cases now reported worldwide each year, an international team of scientists is trying to develop a wholly artificial vaccine to combat polio. There is hope is that the new approach can address some shortcomings in an existing vaccine, and so help eliminate polio altogether. The project was announced at the annual meeting of the American Association for the Advancement of Science in San Jose, California. The World Health Organization and the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation are providing a $674,000 (£438,000) grant.
Polio is from the same family of viruses and
works in very similar ways. The team feels it is already some way down the road to achieving its goal because of the success it had in developing a synthetic vaccine to combat the foot and mouth disease virus (FMDV). One of the obstacles the team had to overcome in producing the FMDV solution was to find a way to maintain the shape of the particle when it had no genetic material inside.
The scientists stress that a synthetic approach is just part of the strategy required to totally eliminate polio, and they warn that vaccination would have to continue for some years beyond the last recorded case to make sure it had no chance of re-establishing itself.
The Nayudamma Award
Two eminent women scientists, who have made a mark in defence research development and space research have been chosen as joint recipients of Dr.Y. Nayudamma Memorial Award 2014.Dr.Tessy Thomas, director, Advanced Systems Laboratory of the Defense Research and Development Organization (DRDO), Hyderabad and Geeta Varadan, Project Director (Mission) of Agni V, and Director, Advanced Data Processing Research Institute at ISRO, have been chosen for presenting the award for their outstanding performance in the field of science and technology.
The two distinguished awardees join the galaxy of recipients like Prof. Jayant Vishnu Narlikar, Dr.Lalji Singh, Dr.Rajendra Pawar, Dr. V. Shanta, Dr. V.K. Saraswat, Dr. T. Ramasami, Dr. A. Sivathanu Pillai, Dr.Nori Dattatreyudu, Dr. Sam Pitroda, Dr. Kota Harinarayana, Dr. V.K. Atre, Dr. R. Chidambaram, Dr. R.A. Mashelkar, Prof. J.S. Bajaj, Dr. K. Kasturirangan, Dr.Verghese Kurien, Dr. S.Z. Qasim and Dr. M.S. Swaminathan.
Dr.Tessy Thomas, popularly known as ‘Missile Woman of India,’ is native of Alappuzha, Kerala. In her career spanning 27 years, she has contributed in various fields, such as Guidance, Control, Inertial Navigation, Trajectory Simulation and Mission Design. She is also the Project Director (Mission) for the long range Agni-5 system. Making a mark in missile technology, a traditionally male bastion, she has designed the guidance scheme for long range missile systems which is used in all Agni missiles.
Geeta Varadan started her career with electronics & radar development establishment in Bangalore in 1976. After a three-year stint with DRDO, she joined the National Remote Sensing Agency (NRSA) in 1979. As ISRO’s Programme Director (Special Projects), she has conceptualised and operationalised the Cartosat 2A/2B and the GSAT-7 programmes for remote sensing and communications respectively
The 57th Grammy Awards was held on February 8, 2015, at the Staples Center in Los Angeles.
A Grammy Award is an accolade by the National Academy of Recording Arts and Sciences (NARAS) of the United States to recognize outstanding achievement in the music industry. The annual presentation ceremony features performances by prominent artists, and the presentation of those awards that have a more popular interest. It shares recognition of the music industry as that of the other performance arts: Emmy Awards (television), the Tony Awards (stage performance), and the Academy Awards (motion pictures). The first Grammy Awards ceremony was held on May 4, 1959, to honor the musical accomplishments by performers for the year 1958. Following the 2011 ceremony, NARAS overhauled many Grammy Award categories for 2012.
The full rundown of all the Grammy winners for 2015 is given below:
Record of the Year
Sam Smith – “Stay With Me (Darkchild Version)”
Song of the Year
Sam Smith – “Stay With Me (Darkchild Version)”
James Napier, William Phillips & Sam Smith, songwriters
Album of the Year
“Beck – Morning Phase“
Best New Artist Sam Smith
Best Pop Duo/Group Performance
“A Great Big World With Christina Aguilera – “Say Something”
Best Traditional Pop Vocal Album
Tony Bennett & Lady Gaga – Cheek To Cheek
Best Pop Solo Performance Pharrell Williams – “Happy”
Best Pop Vocal Album
Sam Smith – In The Lonely Hour
Best Rock Performance Jack White – “Lazaretto”
Best Rock Album
“Beck – Morning Phase
Best Rap Performance Kendrick Lamar – “I”
Best Rap Song
Kendrick Lamar – “I”
K. Duckworth & C. Smith, songwriters
Best Rap Album
Eminem – The Marshall Mathers LP2
Best R&B Performance
Beyoncé Featuring Jay Z – “Drunk In Love”
Best Urban Contemporary Album Pharrell Williams – Girl
Best R&B Album
Toni Braxton & Babyface – Love, Marriage & Divorce
Best Contemporary Instrumental Album
Chris Thile& Edgar Meyer – Bass & Mandolin
Best Dance/Electronic Album Aphex Twin – Syro
Best Dance Recording
Clean Bandit Featuring Jess Glynne – “Rather Be”
Best Country Album
Miranda Lambert – Platinum
Best Country Solo Performance
Carrie Underwood – “Something In The Water”
The prestigious $500,000 National Science Foundation CAREER award was won by Gurpreet Singh, an Indian-origin scientist, who is an assistant professor of mechanical and nuclear engineering at Kansas State University. He has received the award to develop ultrathin metal sheets that can help produce better rechargeable batteries.
Singh will use the award to develop ultrathin metal sheets that can help produce better rechargeable batteries, super-capacitors and catalysts for photo-electrochemical hydrogen production. With his CAREER award, Singh will study large-scale production of ultrathin sheets — a few atoms thick and several micrometres wide, of transition metal dichalcogenides, or TMDs. Nearly 40 types of TMDs have been identified, including naturally occurring molybdenite. Little is known about the structure of TMDs and their mechanical, electrical and electrochemical properties. Some of TMDs’ physical and chemical properties can address energy-related concerns. For these TMDs to improve technology, they must be produced in ultrathin sheets.
Bulk quantities of nano-sheets are necessary for energy applications, including rechargeable batteries, super-capacitors and catalysts for photo- electrochemical hydrogen production. No current method is available to cost-effectively produce atomically thin TMDs in large quantities. His research aims to make that possible. Singh’s other research has focused on using graphene oxide to improve sodium and lithium ion flexible batteries and creating carbon nanotubes for better laser detectors and rechargeable batteries.
Indians’ legacy in craftsmanship
For the first time scientists have used technology to analyse an Indian sword made in the 18th century and concluded that Indians were master craftsmen of weapons. Scientists and conserva- tionists from Italy and the UK collaborated to study a curved single-edged sword called a `Shamshir’.
The study, led by Eliza Barzagli of the Institute for Complex Systems and the University of Florence in Italy, looked at the 75-centimeter-long sword from the Wallace Collection in London. It was made in India in the late 18th or early 19th century. The sword’s design has a Persian origin, from where it spread across Asia and eventually gave rise to a family of similar weapons called scimitars, forged
in various south-east Asian countries.
The carbon content of at least 1% shows it is made of wootz steel. This type of crucible steel was historically used in India and central Asia to make high-quality swords. Its band-like pattern is formed when a mixture of iron and carbon crystallizes into cementite. This forms when cast pieces of metal are allowed to cool down very slowly, before being forged at low temperatures.
Barzagli’s team reckons that the craftsmen of this particular sword allowed the blade to cool in the air, instead of plunging it into a liquid. Results explaining the item’s composition have also led the researchers to presume that the sword was probably used in battle.
35th National Games
The 2015 National Games of India, also known as the 35th National Games of India, is being held from 31 January 2015 to 14 February 2015 across seven districts in Kerala, India. It is the second time that Kerala is hosting the national games after it hosted the 27th National Games in 1987.
The opening ceremony of 35th National games Kerala was hosted at Green field stadium Karya-
vattam, Trivandrum on 31 January 2015. Former cricket captain Sachin Tendulkar was selected as the goodwill ambassador for the games
The mascot of the 35th National Games is “Ammu”, The Great Hornbill, or the Great Indian Hornbill, the State bird of Kerala. The 15-day event will see competitions for a total of 365 gold medals, an equal number of silver medals and 477 bronze medals.