Current Affairs Oct 29

Antarctica Yields Fossils Of Giant Birds


  • Scientists have identified the fossil of a giant bird that lived about 50 million years ago, with wingspans of up to 21 feet that would dwarf today’s largest bird, the wandering albatross.
  • The fossils recovered from Antarctica in the 1980s represent the oldest giant members of an extinct group of birds that patrolled the southern oceans.
  • By comparison, today’s largest bird, the wandering albatross has a wingspan of 11 and-a-half-foot.
  • Called Pelagornithids, the birds filled a niche much like that of today’s albatrosses and travelled widely over Earth’s oceans.
  • Though a much smaller pelagornithid fossil dates from 62 million years ago, one of the newly described fossils — a 50 million-year-old portion of a bird’s foot — shows that the larger pelagornithids arose just after life rebounded from the mass extinction 65 million years ago, when the relatives of birds, the dinosaurs, went extinct.
  • The last known pelagornithid is from 2.5 million years ago, a time of changing climate as Earth cooled, and the ice ages began.
  • Pelagornithids are known as ‘bony-toothed’ birds because of the bony projections, or struts, on their jaws that resemble sharp-pointed teeth, though they are not true teeth, like those of humans and other mammals.
  • The bony protrusions were covered by a horny material, keratin, which is like our fingernails.
  • Called pseudoteeth, the struts helped the birds snag squid and fish from the sea as they soared for perhaps weeks at a time over much of Earth’s oceans.




India Hosts Meeting Of Sco Ministers


  • India hosted the 19th Meeting of the Shanghai Cooperation Organisation (SCO) Ministers responsible for Foreign Economy and Foreign Trade Activities.
  • In his opening remarks, Minister of Commerce and Industry said that the current crisis due to Covid-19 is a clarion call to the SCO countries to leverage the economic strength and explore partnerships that enhance trade and investment in the region.
  • Cooperation should be continued to enhance intra-SCO trade and investment which would be critical in ensuring the speedy recovery from the aftermath of the pandemic. 

In the meeting four documents were adopted.  These were:-

  • Statement on the response to Covid-19. It reinforces the need for greater cooperation for access to medicines and facilitation of trade.
  • Statement on the Multilateral Trading System of Ministers of SCO Countries who are WTO Members. This statement highlights the importance of the rules based multilateral negotiations.
  • Statement on SCO Cooperation on Intellectual Property Rights (IPR). It relates to cooperation of intellectual property and include sharing information/experience on legislation and enforcement, cooperation in international organisations and other areas.
  • Action Plan for Implementation of MOU to stimulate cooperation within the framework of SCO in the field of MSMEs. It looks at  number of areas of cooperation among MSMEs, including exchange of information, organisation of events and collaboration on research and capacity building.




Ntpc Ltd. Enters Into Foreign Currency Loan Agreement


  • In the first funding for NTPC Ltd under Japan Bank for International Co-operation (JBIC)’s GREEN or Global Action for Reconciling Economic growth and Environment preservation initiative,
  • India’s largest power producer today entered into foreign currency loan agreement with Japanese Government’s financial institution for JPY 50 billion (approx. USD 482 million or Rs. 3,582 crore).
  • JBIC will provide 60% of the facility amount and the balance will be given by commercial banks , under JBIC guarantee.
  • The facility is extended under JBIC’s outreach for projects, which ensure conservation of global environment.
  • The loan proceeds will be utilized by NTPC Ltd, the PSU under Ministry of Power, for funding its capex for Flue Gas Desulphurization (FGD) & Renewable Energy projects.
  • FGD, substantially reduces the SOx emission in the flue gases of thermal power plants and is a critical step towards environmental sustainability.



 Initiative to Transform Infrastructure Sector in India


  • NITI Aayog and Quality Council of India launched the ‘National Program and Project Management Policy Framework’ (NPMPF), envisaged to bring radical reforms in the way infrastructure projects are executed in India.
  • India will require an investment of around $4.5 trillion by 2040 to develop the infrastructure for sustaining its economic growth.
  • However, the challenges in infrastructure development that often obstruct the smooth execution of projects can be a detriment.
  • Therefore, along with numerous initiatives by the Government and guidelines advocated by NITI Aayog towards improving performance of infrastructure projects, a task force was also constituted to lay down a national program and project management policy framework.

This framework aims to formulate radical reforms in the way large and mega infrastructure projects are managed in India, with an action plan to:

  • Adopt a program and project management approach to infra development
  • Institutionalize and promote the profession of program and project management and build a workforce of such professionals,
  • Enhance institutional capacity and capability of professionals.



Electricity Access & Utility Benchmarking Report


  • NITI Aayog, Ministry of Power, Rockefeller Foundation, and Smart Power India launched the ‘Electricity Access in India and Benchmarking Distribution Utilities’
  • Based on a primary survey conducted across 10 states––representing about 65% of the total rural population of India and with a sample size of more than 25,000,
  • including households, commercial enterprises and institutions––the report assesses 25 distribution utilities.

Aimed at capturing insights from both the demand (electricity customers) as well as supply side (electricity distribution utilities), the report seeks to:

  • Evaluate the status of electricity access in India across these states and distribution utilities along all dimensions that constitute meaningful access
  • Benchmark utilities’ capacity to provide electricity access and identify the drivers of sustainable access
  • Develop recommendations for enhancing sustainable electricity access 

Key findings of the report:

  • As much as 92% of customers reported the overall availability of electricity infrastructure within 50 metres of their premises; however, not all have connections, the primary reason being the distance of households from the nearest pole.
  • Overall, 87% of the surveyed customers have access to grid-based electricity. The remaining 13% either use non-grid sources or don’t use any electricity at all.
  • The hours of supply have improved significantly across the customer categories to nearly 17 hours per day.
  • Nearly 85% of customers reported to have a metered electricity connection.
  • Access to electricity is observed in 83% of household customers.
  • A satisfaction index was created to assess the overall satisfaction level of customers with utility services. The study suggested that a total of 66% of those surveyed were satisfied––74% of customers in urban areas and 60% in rural areas.
  • The report highlights the benefits of government-led schemes such as Pradhan Mantri Sahaj Bijli Har Ghar Yojana and Deen Dayal Upadhyaya Gram Jyoti Yojana, which have been well received in rural as well as urban areas.’
  • NITI Aayog advised Rockefeller foundation to focus on solving issues highlighted in the report in close partnership with the Ministry of Power, and highlighted three key areas:
  • learnings from DBT schemes in Punjab;
  • tariff simplification and rationalization; and
  • best practices from high-performing Indian discoms.
  • The key recommendations provided in the report in the areas of policy and regulation, process improvement, infrastructure and capacity-building of utilities would be gainfully utilized for improving the power distribution sector. 



ISRO to launch earth observation satellite EOS-01


  • India would launch its latest earth observation satellite EOS-01 and nine international customer spacecraft onboard its PSLV-C49 rocket from the spaceport of Sriharikota in Andhra Pradesh on November 7.
  • This is the first launch by the Indian Space Research Organisation since the COVID-19-induced lockdown came into force in March.
  • EOS-01 is intended for applications in agriculture, forestry and disaster management support.
  • The customer satellites are being launched under commercial agreement with NewSpace India Limited (NSIL), Department of Space.
  • This will be the 51st mission of ISRO’s workhorse, the Polar Satellite Launch Vehicle.


Feni Bridge


  • The 1.8 kilometre long Feni bridge connecting Sabrum in India with Ramgarh in Bangladesh will be completed by December this year.

Feni river and dispute

  • The Feni river, which forms part of the India-Bangladesh border, originates in the South Tripura district, passes through Sabroom town on the Indian side, and meets the Bay of Bengal after it flows into Bangladesh.
  • According to the Indian government, there has been no water-sharing agreement between the countries on the Feni previously.
  • The dispute over the sharing of the river water has been long-standing.
  • It was taken up between India and Pakistan (before the independence of Bangladesh) in 1958 during a Secretary-level meeting in New Delhi.

Importance of India-Bangladesh MoU

  • In August 2019, India and Bangladesh held a water secretary-level meeting of the Joint Rivers Commission (JRC) in Dhaka, where it was agreed to collect data and prepare water-sharing agreements for seven rivers — Manu, Muhuri, Khowai, Gumti, Dharla, Dudhkumar, and Feni.
  • The MoU stands to benefit Sabroom town on the southern tip of Tripura.
  • The present supply of drinking water to Sabroom town is inadequate. The groundwater in this region has high iron content. Implementation of this scheme would benefit over 7000 population of Sabroom town.
  • In Tripura, a 150-metre long, 4-lane bridge across the Feni is being built between India and Bangladesh, where the river forms the border between the two countries.
  • Once ready, it would connect Tripura with Chittagong port in Bangladesh, which is only 70 km away from the Indo-Bangla border, and would play an important role in the proposed economic corridor through India, Bangladesh, China and Myanmar.
  • Sabroom is expected to transform into the largest transit hub in the Northeast after the bridge is ready.


Parampara Series


  • The annual Parampara Series — National Festival of Music and Dance organised by Natya Tarangini and Kuchipudi exponents Raja Radha Reddy and Kaushalya Reddy, will be held online this year.
  • Pt Hariprasad Chaurasia (flute), Vidushi Kishori Amonkar (vocals), Vyjayanthimala Bali (Bharatanatyam danseuse-actor), L Subramaniam (carnatic vocalist-violinist), Vikku Vinayakram (percussionist – ghatam) — and many other maestros are part of the stellar line-up of the 24th edition of this event.
  • Archives of previous performances at this festival will be telecast on the YouTube channels of United Nations India.
  • Parampara Series started in 1997, to bring the best of the best.
  • Venkaiah Naidu, Vice President of India, inaugurated this month-long event on October 27, marking the World Day for Audiovisual Heritage celebrations by United Nations.
  • And starting October 29, every weekend there will be a live telecast of recently recorded talks/discussions and archival, legendary performances of the classical doyens.




 Institutes With eminence Tag


  • The Centre has decided to adopt the parameters used in top international ranking such as QS and Times rankings for higher education institutes to assess the progress of 20 institutes that have been granted the prestigious ‘institute of eminence’ (IoE) tag.
  • The decision comes following the recommendation by a panel comprising of IIT directors that had been tasked to recommend ways to improve perception and international rankings of the institutes with the tags.
  • The main parameters that are used in international rankings of universities include academic and employer reputation, faculty-student ratio, research citations per faculty, international faculty and international student ratios.
  • Over the last two years, 20 institutes of higher education — 10 each in private and public sectors, including some yet to be opened universities — have been given the ‘IoE’
  • Through the status, the government has offered additional monetary assistance to public institutions and greater autonomy in setting and running the campuses in case of private institutions.
  • There are also plans to adopt recommendations from the newly released National Education Policy, such as multiple entry and exit, online degrees, multidisciplinary and internationalization among others to ensure the success of IoEs.
  • Last year, the final list of public institutes granted the status included Banaras Hindu University, IITs in Delhi, Bombay, Madras and Kharagpur, Indian Institute of Science, Delhi University, Hyderabad University and Jadavpur University.




IFSCA Authority Board approves two Regulations


  • In the meeting of the International Financial Services Centres Authority (IFSCA) the Board, after detailed deliberations, approved the following regulations:
  • International Financial Services Centres Authority (Bullion Exchange) Regulations, 2020.
  • The Government of India, on the recommendation of IFSCA, notified the bullion spot delivery contract and bullion depository receipt (with bullion as underlying) as Financial Products and related services as Financial Services under the IFSCA Act, 2019 on August 31, 2020.
  • IFSCA has been tasked with the responsibility of operationalization of this bullion Exchange.
  • For the first time in India a single regulator will be regulating both the bullion spot and derivative contracts that would be traded on the Exchange.
  • The Authority approved the draft bullion regulations in its meeting, which paves the way for setting up the entire ecosystem for bullion trading, namely, bullion exchange, depository, clearing house and vaults.

The salient aspects of the Bullion Exchange Regulations include:

  • Functions and general obligations of a bullion exchange and clearing corporation
  • Ownership and governance structure of a bullion exchange and clearing corporation
  • Rights and Obligations of Bullion Depositories, Participants and Beneficial Owners
  • The grant of registration to a vault manager by the Authority
  • The role of bullion depositories
  • Other operational aspects of the bullion exchange 
  • International Financial Services Centres Authority (Global In-House Centres) Regulations, 2020
  • On October 16, 2020, Government of India, on the recommendation of IFSCA, had notified Global In-House Centres (GIC) as financial service to provide services relating to financial products and financial services.

Some of the salient features of the regulations approved by the Authority are as follows:

  • A GIC may conduct its business in any mode permitted by the Authority, including branch mode.
  • The applicant entity shall exclusively cater to its financial services group wherein the entities served must be located in a Financial Action Task Force (FATF) compliant jurisdiction.
  • A financial services group is defined as any entity which is regulated by a financial services regulator or any other competent body regulating financial services activities in its home jurisdiction and include its holding, subsidiary or associate companies, branch, or subsidiary of a holding company to which it is also a subsidiary.
  • The support services provided by the applicant entity to its financial services group should be for the purpose of carrying out a financial service in respect of a financial product.
  • A GIC set up within the IFSC shall be entitled to avail itself of all concessions including tax holiday applicable to IFSC units.
  • These GIC regulations issued by IFSCA has the potential to put GIFT-IFSC in the leagues of leading FinTech cities, generating significant employment opportunities.





Muslim-Hindu demography of Jammu and Kashmir


  • The land laws that were amended and notified by the Centre for the Union Territory of Jammu and Kashmir recently have omitted the protection earlier available to its “permanent residents”.
  • It allows the purchase of non-agricultural land by outsiders, even though the government may provide some protection through notifications.
  • The Census of 2011 showed that the religious make-up of the erstwhile state of Jammu and Kashmir had remained almost entirely unchanged over the previous half century.
  • The special status of Jammu and Kashmir under the Constitution was removed on August 5, 2019, and the state was split into two Union Territories.

What was the demographic make-up of the state of Jammu and Kashmir before Independence?

  • The pre-Independence Census of 1941 recorded Muslims as constituting 72.41% of the population, and Hindus 25.01%.
  • Thereafter, the proportion of Muslims in the state’s population fell gradually.


So how did the demography of Jammu and Kashmir change between Independence and now?

  • Jammu and Kashmir was not a part of independent India’s first Census in 1951.
  • The 1961 Census showed that Muslims, with a population of 24.32 lakh, constituted 68.31% of the state’s population of 35.60 lakh, while Hindus, numbering 10.13 lakh, made up 28.45%.
  • A full 50 years later, these percentages came out identical: the Census of 2011 recorded the Muslim population at 85.67 lakh — again, 68.31% of the total population of 125.41 lakh (1.25 crore).
  • And the Hindu population was 35.66 lakh —43% of the total.

What is the share of migrants in the population of (the erstwhile state of) Jammu and Kashmir?

  • Only about 1.64 lakh (1.31 per cent) of the 1.25 crore population of Jammu and Kashmir (as per the 2011 Census) are people who stay there, but who were born elsewhere.
  • In India as a whole, 4.64 per cent of the population lives in a state in which they were not born.






Aerosol Microdroplets Ineffective At Spreading Coronavirus


  • Aerosol microdroplets, which are tiny particles that linger in the air longest after we talk, cough, or sneeze, may be ineffective at spreading the virus that leads to Covid-19, according to a new study.
  • If someone enters a space even a few minutes after a mildly symptomatic carrier of the coronavirus has coughed in that area, the probability of infection is rather low.
  • It is even lower if that person was only talking.
  • Aerosol transmission is a possible but perhaps not a very efficient route, in particular from non-symptomatic or mildly symptomatic individuals that exhibit low viral loads.
  • In the research, the scientists used laser technology to measure the distribution of droplets released when people speak or cough.
  • Test subjects spoke or coughed into a laser beam, and a jet nozzle was used to mimic tiny aerosol microdroplets.
  • Using this set-up, the scientists measured how droplets spread and how likely they are to pass along SARS-CoV-2.
  • While the lingering microdroplets are certainly not risk-free, due to their small size they contain less virus than the larger droplets that are produced when someone coughs, speaks, or sneezes directly on us.
  • The highest probability of infection occurs when a person enters a poorly ventilated and small space where a high emitter has just coughed, and inhales virus-carrying droplets.





Women Startup Summit 2020


  • As Kerala Startup Mission (KSUM) began its six-day programme that aims to boost female presence in entrepreneurial ventures, the October 31 ‘Women Startup Summit 2020’ gained key focus as a culminating event providing tips for success in businesses.
  • The month-end summit will feature speeches by corporate captains, marking the highlight of the KSUM initiative that is part of the state government’s dynamic measures to promote women-led industry ventures.
  • The summit, which features a startup competition named ‘She Loves Tech India 2020’, is being co-organised by Startup India, TiE Kerala and Indian Women Network of Confederation of Indian Industry.
  • The programme began with a Hackathon Orientation. Titled ‘InnovatHer’, it was led by KSUM, ICFOSS and TCS.
  • KSUM is the state government’s nodal agency for entrepreneurship development and incubation activities.



Consolidated FDI Policy


  • The government has come up with a ‘Consolidated FDI Policy circular of 2020’ incorporating the restrictions notified earlier this year on Foreign Direct Investment
  • from entities or citizens of neighbouring countries sharing land border with India, including China, allowing such investments to be made only through the government route.
  • The latest Consolidated Policy also weaves in the 26 per cent cap on FDI in uploading or streaming of news and current affairs through digital media.
  • An entity of a country, which shares land border with India or where the beneficial owner of an investment into India is situated in or is a citizen of any such country, can invest only under the government route.
  • In the event of the transfer of ownership of any existing or future FDI in an entity in India, directly or indirectly, resulting in the beneficial ownership falling within the restriction/purview of the para 3.1.1(a), such subsequent change in beneficial ownership will also require government approval.
  • The Centre had come up with the amendments in April 2020 to prevent opportunistic takeovers of Indian companies from neighbouring nations, due to increased vulnerability suffered by some companies on account of the Covid-19 pandemic.
  • The amended rules do not stop investment flows from the bordering country, but ensures that all investments would be closely scrutinised.
  • The FDI rules, however, remain the same for Pakistan.
  • A citizen of Pakistan or an entity incorporated in Pakistan can invest, only under the Government route, in sectors/activities other than defence, space, atomic energy and sectors/activities prohibited for foreign investment.




India-UK Ink Pacts On Sustainable Finance


  • India and the UK reached landmark agreements on financial services, infrastructure and sustainable finance, helping to boost jobs and investments in both countries.
  • These agreements came at the 10th Economic and Financial Dialogue (EFD) between the UK and India, jointly chaired by Finance Minister and the UK Chancellor.
  • The agreements include a new strategic partnership to accelerate the development of Gujarat International Finance Tec (GIFT) City as an international financial centre, including regulatory capacity building support for the new International Financial Services Centre Authority.
  • A new UK-India Partnership on Infrastructure Policy and Financing to support the Indian National Infrastructure Pipeline with UK commercial expertise and financing was also signed.
  • Both sides agreed to strengthen cooperation on mobilising private capital into green investment, including through a new UK-India Sustainable Finance Forum and greening the financial system.
  • Both sides agreed to create a new Financial Markets Dialogue to remove regulatory and market access barriers for UK and Indian firms.
  • Also agreed to explore ways to boost investment in insurance through an increase in India’s foreign investment limit.
  • UK-India Fast Track Start-up Fund backed by SIDBI and the UK Government will fund early-stage tech start-ups with technical assistance focussed on capacity building, policy advocacy and deepening entrepreneurial connection with the UK.




Koala Bears


  • Scientists say Australia’s iconic koala bear is at risk of extinction due to stress on its immune systems caused by bushfires and habitat destruction.
  • Koala populations have steadily declined mostly due to disease – the most common reason that they’re admitted into care – with chlamydia being the most common condition, they found.
  • But bushfires and destruction of their habitat by humans – to create new building developments, for example – have made koalas more susceptible to disease by stressing their immune systems.
  • Stress from these events triggers the production of a class of hormones called glucocorticoids.
  • The excessive production of glucocorticoids can leave the animal with a compromised immune system and therefore likely to contract a disease.
  • There is an urgent need to strengthen on-ground management, bushfire control regimes, environmental planning and governmental policy actions that should hopefully reduce the proximate environmental stressors.
  • In Australia’s metropolitan areas, meanwhile, dog attacks and vehicles are threats for the distinctive eucalyptus-eating species.
  • Koalas are listed as ‘vulnerable to extinction’ by both the International Union for the Conservation of Nature (IUCN) and the Australian government’s Threatened Species Scientific Committee.
  • However, the species could be soon be officially uplisted from its current status of ‘vulnerable’ to ‘endangered’.







  • Winged reptiles like the pterodactyls may have ultimately become ‘deadly masters of the sky’ — but it took then 150 million years to reach this point, a study has found.
  • Pterosaurs — which first emerged around 245 million years ago — included one species whose wingspans could grow to as large as 39 feet (12 metres) across.
  • This creature — Quetzalcoatlus northropi — was the largest known creature to have ever taken to the skies, and would have been the size of a small aircraft.
  • The new research suggests that the evolution process among such flying reptiles took much longer than scientists had previously assumed.
  • Pterosaurs were cousins of the dinosaurs — and both groups were wiped out around 66 million years ago when an asteroid impacted the Yucatán Peninsula in Mexico.
  • ‘Pterosaurs were a diverse group of winged lizards, with some the size of sparrows and others with the wingspan of a light aircraft.
  • Over time, pterosaur adapted their shape and size as so they could fly while expending 50 per cent less energy — even while increasing their body mass by up to tenfold. Some of the reptiles weighed almost a third of a ton.
  • One group — the so-called azhdarchoids — did not improve their flight performance over time.
  • Although these animals were competent fliers, they probably spent much of their time on the ground.
  • While it was once thought that pterosaurs took off by running or jumping, recent studies has suggested they they instead used their powerful forelimbs to launch themselves into the air.




The ‘God Of Chaos’


  • An asteroid named after the God of Chaos is gaining speed as it travels on a path towards Earth – and could strike our planet in 48 years
  • The massive asteroid Apophis has accelerated on its path due to non-uniform radiation, which acts like a tiny thruster.
  • Prior to the discovery, the impact was said to impossible, but the new findings suggest the asteroid has a chance of crashing into Earth on April 12, 2068 – and it could be catastrophic.
  • Apophis is more than 1,000 feet wide and an impact would be equivalent to 880 million tons of trinitrotoluene (TNT) exploding all at once.
  • Apophis was discovered on June 19, 2004 by astronomers at the Kitt Peak National Observatory in Arizona.
  • Since then the asteroid has been tracked as it orbits the sun, which it completes less than one Earth year.
  • Researchers spotted Aphophis with the Subaru telescope earlier this year and determined it had picked up speed following the analysis, known as the Yarkovsky effect.
  • When the asteroid’s body heats up in sunlight, it re-radiates the energy away as heat, which acts as tiny thrusters for the cosmic object.
  • Astronomers said that before the effect happened an impact in 2068 was impossible, but they have since changed their tune.
  • Apophis has also been given the title of the third-highest threat on NASA’s Sentry Risk Table.
  • The table estimates that there is a one in 150,000 chance of the asteroid hitting Earth in 48 years.