Insights Daily Current Affairs, 20 March 2017

 

 


Insights Daily Current Affairs, 20 March 2017


 

Paper 3 Topic: Awareness in the fields of IT, Space, Computers, robotics, nano-technology, bio-technology and issues relating to intellectual property rights.

 

Telescope upgrade to sniff out solar storms

 

The GRAPES-3 experiment at TIFR’s Cosmic Ray Laboratory in Ootacamund in Tamil Nadu is getting upgraded. The telescope made news last year when it detected the effect of a solar storm that hit the earth in June 2015.

 

Key facts:

  • GRAPES-3 has an important role in understanding the propagation of storms from the L1 point to its impact on the Earth.
  • The upgrade will play a major role in getting precise information about the propagation of storms in ‘the last million miles’ (from the L-1 point) of their journey from the Sun to the earth.
  • The upgraded detector will have an increased coverage of the sky and improved capacity to determine the direction of incident cosmic rays. The latter property, of being able to discern the direction of detected particles, makes it unique among cosmic ray detectors in the world; it can also to measure the intensity of the particles.
  • Since the enhanced facility can cover a wider field of view (from present 37% to 57%), the chances of spotting solar storms will be higher.

 

Background:

The sun is at a distance of 150 million kilometres from the earth, and satellites have been placed at a distance of nearly 1.5 million kilometres, at the so-called L1 point, where they orbit the Sun along with the Earth. Since charged particles from a solar storm will first impact the satellites before hitting the earth, they act as an early warning system. Depending on the speed of the storm, it will take about 20-40 minutes to reach the earth from the L1 point.

 

Need to understand solar storms:

It is important to know the time when plasma will reach the earth, accurately, so that preventive and protective measures can be put into place in case a solar storm were to strike the earth.

  • If the earth’s magnetic field were to be weakened by extreme solar storms, charged particles would shower on to the planet. Apart from rendering electronic devices defunct, charged particles in an extreme solar storm can also short current carrying over-head high voltage lines, leading to large-scale transformers burn out and thereby, power blackouts.
  • A 2008 study conducted by the U.S. National Academy of Sciences estimated that an extreme event could lead to a loss of 40% of transformers in the U.S., which, in turn, could take years to restore.
  • The up side is that the way to prevent such a disaster is well understood: simply switch off the power lines on being informed of an approaching solar storm! And for this to be possible, an accurate determination of the time taken for the solar storm to travel to the earth is needed, which is where the GRAPES-3 set up comes in.

 

About GRAPES 3:

The GRAPES-3 experiment (or Gamma Ray Astronomy PeV EnergieS phase-3) located at Ooty in India started as a collaboration of the Indian Tata Institute of Fundamental Research and the Japanese Osaka City University, and now also includes the Japanese Nagoya Women’s University.

  • GRAPES-3 is designed to study cosmic rays with an array of air shower detectors and a large area muon detector.
  • It aims to probe acceleration of cosmic rays in the following four astrophysical settings. These include acceleration of particles to, (i) ~100 MeV in atmospheric electric fields through muons, (ii) ~10 GeV in the Solar System through muons, (iii) ~1 PeV in our galaxy, (iv) ~100 EeV in the nearby universe through measurement of diffuse gamma ray flux.
  • The observations began with 217 plastic scintillators and a 560 m2 area muon detector in 2000. The scintillators detect charged particles contained in extensive air showers produced by interaction of high energy cosmic rays in the atmosphere.

Sources: the hindu.


 

Paper 2 Topic: Issues relating to development and management of Social Sector/Services relating to Health, Education, Human Resources.

 

The lowdown on India’s plan to eliminate TB by 2025

 

At the end of 50 years of tuberculosis control activities, the disease remains a major health challenge in India. As per new estimates, the number of new cases every year has risen to 2.8 million and mortality is put at 4,80,000 each year. These figures may go up when the national TB prevalence survey is undertaken in 2017-18. Against this backdrop, the Ministry of Health and Family Welfare, in its national strategic plan for tuberculosis elimination (2017-2025), has set a highly ambitious goal of “achieving a rapid decline in burden of TB, morbidity and mortality while working towards elimination of TB by 2025.”

 

Challenges ahead:

  • Though the Revised National Tuberculosis Control Programme (RNTCP) has treated 10 million patients, the rate of decline has been slow.
  • Providing universal access to early diagnosis and treatment and improving case detection were the main goals of the national strategic plan 2012-17. But RNTCP failed on both counts, as the Joint Monitoring Mission report of 2015 pointed out.
  • Going by the current rate of decline, India is far from reaching the 2030 Sustainable Development Goals — reducing the number of deaths by 90% and TB incidence by 80% compared with 2015.
  • The latest report for TB elimination calls for reducing TB incidence from 217 per 1,00,000 in 2015 to 142 by 2020 and 44 by 2025 and reduce mortality from 32 to 15 by 2020 and 3 per 1,00,000 by 2025.

 

What’s there in the new plan:

The TB control programme plans to do away with the strategy of waiting for patients to walk in to get tested and instead engage in detecting more cases, both drug-sensitive and drug-resistant. The emphasis will be on using highly sensitive diagnostic tests, undertaking universal testing for drug-resistant TB, reaching out to TB patients seeking care from private doctors and targeting people belonging to high-risk populations.

  • The other priority is to provide anti-TB treatment — irrespective of where patients seek care from, public or private — and ensure that they complete the treatment. For the first time, the TB control programme talks of having in place patient-friendly systems to provide treatment and social support.
  • It seeks to make the daily regimen universal; currently, the thrice weekly regimen is followed by RNTCP, and the daily regimen has been introduced only in five States.
  • There will be a rapid scale-up of short-course regimens for drug-resistant TB and drug sensitivity testing-guided treatment. In 2013, India “achieved complete geographical coverage” for MDR-TB (multi-drug-resistant tuberculosis) diagnosis and treatment; 93,000 people with MDR-TB had been diagnosed and put on treatment till 2015.
  • It envisages a countrywide scale-up of Bedaquiline and Delamanid.
  • In a marked departure, the report underscores the need to prevent the emergence of TB in susceptible populations. One such segment is those in contact with a recently diagnosed pulmonary TB.
  • Acknowledging that the business-as-usual approach will not get the Health Ministry anywhere close to the goals, it has earmarked critical components that will be addressed on priority. These include sending customised SMSes to improve drug compliance, incentivising private doctors to notify cases and providing free medicines to patients approaching the private sector, facilitating nutritional support to TB patients, including financial support, rewarding States performing well in controlling TB, and using management information systems to monitor all aspects of TB control.

The ultimate impact of this national strategic plan will be transformational improvements in the end TB efforts of India. It plans to take a “detect-treat-prevent-build approach” in its war against TB.

Sources: the hindu.


 

Paper 2 Topic: India and its neighbourhood- relations.

 

Why is the World Bank keen on resolving Indus divide?

 

After her recent visit to India and Pakistan, World Bank Chief Executive Officer Kristalina Georgieva reiterated that the Bank was keen on resolving the disagreements between the two nations over the interpretation of the Indus Waters Treaty (IWT) following the construction by India of two hydroelectric power plants.

 

Background:

Though the two nations have had no fresh conflict over the sharing of river waters for more than five decades, differences cropped up after Pakistan opposed the construction of the Kishenganga (330 MW) and Ratle (850 MW) power plants by India on the Jhelum and Chenab in Jammu and Kashmir, over which Pakistan has unrestricted rights under the treaty.

 

Why did the Bank intervene?

Even before Partition, the Indus had created problems among the states of British India. The problems became international after the creation of two nations as the political boundary was drawn right across the Indus basin. The World Bank (then IBRD), under the presidency of Eugene Black, helped in 1952 to settle the dispute between the two nations on the sharing of the Indus river basin waters. He had said the escalation of the dispute would damage the economic development of the Indian subcontinent. After eight years of hard negotiations, Prime Minister Jawaharlal Nehru and President Ayub Khan signed the IWT on September 19, 1960. The Bank is also a signatory to the treaty. The IWT is a complex instrument, comprising 12 articles and eight annexures. It sets forth provisions of cooperation between the two countries in their use of the rivers, known as the Permanent Indus Commission (PIC).

 

Has there been any violation?

According to the IWT, India has control over three eastern rivers of the Indus basin — the Beas, the Ravi and the Sutlej — and Pakistan has control over the three western rivers — the Indus, the Chenab and the Jhelum. All six rivers flow from India to Pakistan. Among other uses, India is permitted to construct power facilities on these rivers subject to regulations laid down in the treaty. India had asked the bank for appointment of a neutral expert following Pakistan’s objections to two projects, while Pakistan demanded the formation of a court of arbitration, alleging that India had violated the treaty. In December 2016, the Bank announced a ‘pause’ and asked both parties to resolve the issue amicably by the end of January 2017.

 

What stand did the Bank take?

India welcomed the Bank’s neutral stand, while Pakistan sought intervention of the Bank after being unable to find an amicable solution to the dispute through the commission. Given that India has remained the Bank’s single largest borrower since its inception with cumulative borrowings from IBRD and IDA touching $103 billion, the bank did not perhaps want to upset it.

With buoyancy in foreign exchange reserves, the Bank needs India more than the other way round and this has created some anxiety in the Bank circles about the future direction of their relationship.

 

Why is the Bank playing a role again?

This is because India and Pakistan are important partners and clients of the Bank. In South Asia, Pakistan ($2,280 million) received the highest lending from the Bank after India ($3,845 million) during the fiscal 2016. Moreover, there are not too many borrowers with a credible record like India.

The Bank maintained its aid could be effectively used if both nations kept the peace and ensured better management of the waters, on which lakhs of farmers depend. As both nations have failed to resolve the dispute amicably, the Bank CEO has initiated a dialogue. Changing its stance, India has agreed to attend a meeting of the commission in Lahore next week. Like in the 1950s, Bank officials are again playing the role of mediator.

Sources: the hindu.


 

Paper 2 Topic: Issues relating to development and management of Social Sector/Services relating to Health, Education, Human Resources.

 

1.04 cr hit by arsenic contamination in Bengal

 

A recent report tabled in the Lok Sabha stated that West Bengal has the highest number of arsenic-affected people in the country.

 

Key facts:

  • According the report, Bengal topped the list with more than 1.04 crore arsenic-affected persons as on March 4, 2017. Bihar comes second with 16.88 lakh persons, with Assam in third spot with 14.48 lakh victims. The total number of arsenic-affected people in the country is about 1.48 crore.
  • There are 83 blocks in eight districts — Bardhaman, Malda, Hooghly, Howrah, Murshidabad, Nadia, North and South 24 Paraganas — where ground water is affected by arsenic contamination.

 

Background:

According to the WHO’s guidelines for drinking water quality (2011), the permissible limit of Arsenic in groundwater is .01 mg per litre. However, in India the permissible limit in drinking water has recently been revised from .05 mg per litre to .01 mg per litre.

 

Arsenic in groundwater:

Arsenic in ground water is a geogenic contaminant i.e. caused by natural geologic processes. Arsenic-containing groundwater in Ganga River basin is hosted by the sediments deposited by the rivers during the late Quaternary or Holocene age (<12 thousand years). Incidence of high arsenic in groundwater reported from various parts of the country, particularly in the Ganga- plains is a serious threat to the health of human being.

  • Over the last three decades numerous measures have been initiated which includes alternate arrangement for supply of arsenic free water to the affected populace and providing arsenic removal plants. Arsenic occurrences in ground water in these areas is highly sporadic in nature and all the sources in these areas are not necessarily contaminated.
  • Technological options to combat arsenic menace, in groundwater, to ensure supply of arsenic free water, in the affected areas can be in-situ remediation of arsenic from aquifer system, ex-situ remediation of arsenic from tapped groundwater by arsenic removal technologies, use of surface water source as an alternative to the contaminated groundwater source, tapping alternate safe aquifers for supply of arsenic free groundwater or combination of above techniques.

Sources: the hindu.


 

Paper 2 Topic: Issues relating to development and management of Social Sector/Services relating to Health, Education, Human Resources. 

 

Tamil Nadu in the cycle of drought and floods

 

Tamil Nadu is emerging as a State of climate paradoxes with its volatile weather patterns. It’s a bitter irony for the State that witnessed unprecedented floods in its north coastal districts in 2015 that pushed its north-east monsoon rainfall to an excess of 52% to now be in the grip of a severe drought. The devastating blow to agriculture and water resources came with 2016 turning out to be one of the driest years.

 

Why this drought?

  • The State was hit by the worst annual rainfall in 140 years as it received just 543 mm of rain against the yearly average of 920 mm. This is the lowest recorded after 1876 when Tamil Nadu registered 534 mm, leaving a shortfall of 42%.
  • While a weak La Nina over the equatorial Pacific that followed a year of strong El Nino is cited as one of the reasons for the drought, mismanagement of surface water resources, over-exploitation of groundwater to compensate for the loss of resources in dry waterbodies and the lack of timely policies have pushed the State into a drought.
  • Meteorology experts note that the south-west monsoon rainfall often complements or compensates the State’s rainfall during the north-east monsoon, which accounts for a major share of the yearly rainfall, though it may not have the same impact as in the neighbouring States. Last year was particularly bad for farmers across all districts as both monsoons failed to bring sufficient rain.
  • Population density in many regions of Tamil Nadu, which is higher than other drier regions like Rayalaseema in Andhra Pradesh, also influences the impact of drought.

 

Concerns:

  • The lack of water resources for crops is feared to lead to a shortfall in paddy cultivation, influx from other States and a hike in the prices of essential commodities.
  • Experts have raised concerns over the failure to obtain target crop yields, including tree crops, owing to soaring temperatures.
  • Drought has dealt farmers a double blow as the paddy crop failure will increase the fodder crisis, hitting livestock production.
  • Several parts of the State are already experiencing acute drinking water shortage. Given the climate variability in which rainfall intensity is set to be higher and distribution will be limited to a few days.

 

Way ahead:

The State government must chalk out plans to augment the storage capacity of waterbodies and protect waterways and encourage farmers to adopt crop diversification, create farm ponds and use fewer water-intensive crops. Unless the State government draws up a long-term strategy to manage its resources, prioritise agrarian needs and come up with better crop insurance policies, Tamil Nadu will not be able to break the vicious cycle of droughts and floods.

Sources: the hindu.


 

Paper 1 Topic: Indian culture will cover the salient aspects of Art Forms, Literature and Architecture from ancient to modern times.

 

Reviving Assam’s ancient ink

 

By unravelling the science behind Assam’s ancient herbal ink ‘mahi’, researchers are planning to recreate the lost techniques of manuscript writing. They say their efforts could boost heritage tourism.

 

Background:

‘Mahi’ was used in early and medieval Assam for writing on ‘sancipat’ (folios made of the bark of the sanci tree) manuscripts. Some folios were gifted by Kumar Bhaskar Barman, the then King of Pragjyotishpura (ancient Assam) to Harshavardhana, an emperor who ruled north India from 606 to 647 C.E., a testimony to the period of use.

 

About mahi ink:

The technique involves extracting ‘mahi’ using cow urine from a cocktail of fruit pulp and tree bark such as haritaki, amla, bibhitakhi or bhomora, mango and jamun — often infused with the blood of eels or catfish. Rust from iron tools or nails was added for an intense black hue.

  • The endurance of the ink is proven by the stability of sancipat manuscripts. The key factor for this long-lasting marriage between ‘mahi’ and ‘sancipat’ is the herbal concoction’s resistance to aerial oxidation and fungal attacks.
  • The major phytochemical constituents in ‘mahi’ have been identified as phenolic acids, flavonoids and tannins and their complexes with iron. Though there are several recorded recipes for ‘mahi’ formulation, one commonality exists for all: the season during which it is concocted.
  • Another interesting feature is that the pH of mahi remains neutral because of cow urine and the absence of acidic ingredients like vinegar. No stabiliser is used in mahi.

Sources: the hindu.


 

Paper 3 Topic: Science and Technology- developments and their applications and effects in everyday life Achievements of Indians in science & technology; indigenization of technology and developing new technology.

 

New Wi-Fi system to offer super-fast connectivity 

 

Scientists have developed a new wireless Internet based on infrared rays that is reportedly 100 times faster than existing Wi-Fi networks. A light-based system, also known as ‘Li-Fi,’ could make wireless networks much more secure.

Key facts:

  • The wireless network not only has a huge capacity — more than 40 Gigabits per second (Gbit/s) — but does away with the need to share Wi-Fi as every device gets its own ray of light.
  • The wireless data comes from a few central ‘light antennas’, which can be mounted on the ceiling, that are able to precisely direct the rays of light supplied by an optical fibre.
  • The antennas contain a pair of gratings that radiate light rays of different wavelengths at different angles (‘passive diffraction gratings’).
  • Changing the light wavelengths also changes the direction of the ray of light. A safe infrared wavelength is used that does not reach the retina in the eye.
  • If a user is walking about and a smartphone or tablet moves out of the light antenna’s direction, then another light antenna takes over.
  • The network tracks the precise location of every wireless device using its radio signal transmitted in the return direction.
  • Different devices are assigned different wavelengths by the same light antenna and so do not have to share capacity.
  • Current Wi-Fi uses radio signals with a frequency of 2.5 or five gigahertz. The new system uses infrared light with wavelengths of 1,500 nanometres and higher.

Sources: the hindu.


 

Paper 1 Topic: Indian culture will cover the salient aspects of Art Forms, Literature and Architecture from ancient to modern times. 

 

Move to get world heritage status for Sankaram

 

The Buddhist Heritage sites at Salihundam (Srikakulam district) and Sankaram near Anakapalle in Visakhapatnam district, in addition to Lepakshi (Anantapur district) and the Nagarjunakonda International Museum (Guntur district) are likely to find a place in the list of Unesco World Heritage Sites.

  • In this regard, the Archaeological Survey of India (ASI) has sought a proposal from its Hyderabad unit, for sending it to the Unesco World Heritage Centre for tentative listing.
 Salihundam (Srikakulam district)

Salihundam (Srikakulam district)

Key facts:

  • Sankaram, also known as Bojjannakonda, was excavated under the aegis of Alexander Rim in 1906. A gold coin belonging to the Samudragupta period, copper coins of the Chalukya king, Kubja Vishnu Vardhan, coins of Andhra Satavahanas and pottery were discovered at the site.
  • An interesting aspect of the Bojjannakonda finds is that they feature all the three phases of Buddhism: Hinayana, Mahayana and Vajrayana. A stairway leads to a large double-storeyed cave on a hill. The rectangular cave has a doorway and is flanked by ‘dwarapalakas’ on either side.
  • There is a rock-cut stupa, standing on a square platform, at the centre of the cave. A series of rock-cut caves and monolithic structures standing on rock platforms are seen on the northern side of the hill.
  • The upper cave has a rectangular doorway, flanked by figures of the Buddha on either side. The imposing figures of the Buddha in a seated meditative posture and the stupa are the main attractions for tourists at Bojjannakonda.
  • To the west of Bojjannakonda is another hillock, Lingalakonda or Lingalametta, where a number of monolithic and structural stupas can be seen.
  • The caves at Bojjannakonda and those in Takshasila are similar. The word ‘Sangrama’ was in use at Takshasila but was never used in Andhra Pradesh. These two features suggest that Bojjannakonda was influenced by Buddhist practices in northern India.

Sources: the hindu.


 

Facts for Prelims

 

J&K gets India’s longest road tunnel:

  • India’s longest road tunnel connecting Chenani and Nashri in Jammu and Kashmir will shortly be opened.
  • This engineering marvel is being called the ‘Tunnel of Hope’ in Kashmir.
  • The structure ensuring all-weather connectivity will reduce the distance between Jammu and Kashmir by 38 km.
  • It has taken nearly six years for the project’s completion, since the work started in May 2011 in the lower Himalayan mountain range.