Current Affairs Dec 19

India-Australia Economic Strategy Report

Why in News?

  • Minister of Commerce and Industry while Speaking at the Enhancing India Australia Bilateral Economic and Trade Relationship session held by the Confederation of Indian Industry (CII) said that
      • There is tremendous scope for India to get investments from Australia as the Foreign Direct Investment (FDI) norms are eased and different sectors are opened up.
      • Newer areas like space, nuclear energy & defence production will open up good opportunities for our mutual engagement.
  • Launched the India-Australia Economic Strategy Report.
  • The agriculture sector is also open for greater investments in food processing and value addition.
  • Emerging sectors of defence, sports, textiles, textile designing, digital gaming, animation, water management, commercial ship-building, space collaboration & digital engagement in education, hold great promise in our efforts to balance this trade relationship.
  • Recent labour reforms will also enable a new ecosystem for labour regulations and flexibility in employment.
  • With more value-added on our farm produce and greater engagement with the rest of the world, the farmers of India will get better incomes.
  • The 3B objectives–Bigger trade basket – Better trade basket – Balanced trade relationship– there can be a huge and exponential growth in the trade relationship.




Hands Over 3 DRDO Systems to Armed Forces

Why in News?

  • Defence minister handed over three systems developed by the Defence Research and Development Organisation to chiefs of the three armed forces.


  • The Indian maritime situational awareness system (IMSAS) to Navy Chief.
  • The IMSAS is a software system that provides global maritime situational picture, marine planning tools and analytical capabilities to the Indian Navy.


  • The Astra Mk-1 missile system to Air Chief.
  • This missile is the first indigenously developed beyond visual range (BVR) missile that can be launched from Sukhoi-30 and other fighter aircraft.


  • The Border Surveillance System (BOSS), which is an all-weather electronic surveillance system, to Army Chief.
  • The Border Surveillance System (BOSS) is an “all-weather” electronic surveillance system successfully designed and developed by Instruments Research & Development Establishment (IRDE), Dehradun and has been deployed at Ladakh border area for day and night surveillance.
  • It facilitates monitoring and surveillance by automatically detecting the intrusions in harsh high-altitude sub-zero temperature areas with remote operation capability, according to the DRDO.
  • All three systems–IMSAS, Astra Mk-1 and BOSS– have been designed and developed by the Defence Research and Development Organisation (DRDO) only.




Upgrade Power Distribution Network in Uttar Pradesh

Why in News?

  • The Asian Development Bank (ADB) and the Government of India signed a $300 million loan to upgrade rural power distribution networks to provide reliable electricity supply to consumers in the state of Uttar Pradesh.


  • Upgrading the distribution network will help improve the quality and reliability of electricity supply, reduce the aggregate technical and commercial (ATC) losses and restore the financial sustainability of the rural electricity supply in the state of Uttar Pradesh.


  • The project will establish separate feeders for electricity supply to agriculture and residential consumers to promote better rationing and utilization of unmetered power; strengthen financial management of the state power distribution entity and improve bill collection in rural areas through community engagement involving the women’s self-help groups.
  • To improve bill collection, the project will pilot test engaging rural women through women’s self-help groups as community collection agents which will also help increase their family income.

About ADB

  • ADB is committed to achieving a prosperous, inclusive, resilient, and sustainable Asia and the Pacific, while sustaining its efforts to eradicate extreme poverty.
  • Established in 1966, it is owned by 68 members—49 from the region.




Preparation of Infrastructure Projects In Tripura

Why in News?

  • The Asian Development Bank (ADB) and the Government of India signed a $4.21 million project readiness financing (PRF) facility for the preparation of infrastructure development projects to improve urban amenities and develop tourism infrastructure in the northeastern state of Tripura.
  • This is ADB’s first PRF facility for a state in the northeastern region of India.

About Facility

  • The facility will support the Government of Tripura’s priorities of improving urban services and tourism infrastructure through holistic planning by developing key infrastructure investment projects and related reforms in these sectors that will help boost economic development.
  • The facility aims to ensure high readiness of ensuing infrastructure projects through feasibility studies, preparing detailed engineering designs, and capacity building of state level agencies while ensuring climate and disaster resilience, inclusiveness and sustainability of subprojects.
  • The PRF will help finance preparation of integrated infrastructure development plans for 7 districts headquarter towns (DHT) and 13 ULBs focused on water supply, sanitation, storm water drainage, urban roads, and urban amenities.




Indian Railways issues draft National Rail Plan

  • In an endeavour to address the inadequacies of capacity constraints and improve its modal share in total freight eco system of the country, Indian Railways has come up with Draft National Rail Plan.
  • A long term strategic plan called the National Rail Plan has been developed to plan infrastructural capacity enhancement along with strategies to increase modal share of the Railways.
  • The National Rail Plan will be a common platform for all future infrastructural, business and financial planning of the Railways.

The objective of the Plan is:

  • To create capacity ahead of demand by 2030, which in turn would cater to growth in demand right up to 2050 and also increase the modal share of Railways from 27% currently to 45% in freight by 2030 as part of a national commitment to reduce Carbon emission and to continue to sustain it. Net Zero Carbon emission by 2030.
  • To assess the actual demand in freight and passenger sectors, a yearlong survey was conducted over hundred representative locations by survey teams spread all over the country.
  • Forecast growth of traffic in both freight and passenger year on year up to 2030 and on a decadal basis up to 2050.
  • Formulate strategies based on both operational capacities and commercial policy initiatives to increase modal share of the Railways in freight to 45% by 2030.
  • Reduce transit time of freight substantially by increasing average speed of freight trains from present 22Kmph to 50Kmph.
  • Reduce overall cost of Rail transportation by nearly 30% and pass on the benefits to the customers.
  • Map the growth in demand on the Indian Railway route map and simulate the capacity behaviour of the network in future.
  • Based on above simulation identify infrastructural bottlenecks that would arise in future with growth in demand.
  • Select projects along with appropriate technology in both track work, signalling and rolling stock to mitigate these bottlenecks well in advance.
  • As part of the National Rail Plan, Vision 2024 has been launched for accelerated implementation of certain critical projects by 2024 such as 100% electrification, multitracking of congested routes, upgradation of speed to 160 kmph on Delhi-Howrah and Delhi-Mumbai routes, upgradation of speed to 130kmph on all other Golden Quadrilateral-Golden Diagonal (GQ/GD) routes and elimination of all Level Crossings on all GQ/GD route.




E20 Fuel

Why in News?

  • The government proposed the adoption of E20 fuel — a blend of 20% of ethanol and gasoline — as an automobile fuel in order to reduce vehicular emissions as well as the country’s oil import bill.
  • The Ministry of Road Transport and Highways has published a draft notification and invited comments from the public for adoption of the fuel.
  • The current permissible level of blending is 10% of ethanol though India reached only 5.6% of blending in 2019.


  • It will help in reducing emissions of carbon dioxide, hydrocarbons, etc.
  • It will help reduce the oil import bill, thereby saving foreign exchange and boosting energy security.
  • Ethanol is a biofuel and a common by-product of biomass left by agricultural feedstock such as corn, sugarcane, hemp, potato, etc.


Skill Development in Power Sector

Why in News?

  • The first Centre of Excellence for skill development in the power sector was inaugurated.
  • It will focus on creating a pool of highly skilled trainers and assessors for further training to increase employability of candidates in the field of Electricity, Automation and Solar Energy Sectors.
  • The Centre of Excellence located in Gurugram is an outcome of collaboration between the Ministry of Skill Development and Entrepreneurship, Government of India, along with the Ministry of National Education and Youth, Government of France and Schneider Electric.
  • The centre will design and deliver Training for Trainers, Instructors, Training of Assessors and other high-end programme in the power and solar sector.
  • The establishment of CoE is a result of the MoU signed earlier between MSDE, Ministry of Education-France and Schneider Electric.




Flood-driven Wildlife Migration in Kaziranga

  • A team of five scientists had followed the movement of the animals in three phases — pre-flood, during, and immediately after a major flood — between 2015 and 2016.
  • Their study covering a 204 sq km strip between Kaziranga and the hilly Karbi Anglong district to its south.
  • The highway runs along the southern boundary of Kaziranga.
  • During high floods, animals of the park cross this highway for the safety of the hills of Karbi Anglong. The survey covered all tea estates, wooded areas, crop lands and bamboo groves.
  • Three of Kaziranga’s Big Five animals — Asian elephant, greater one-horned rhinoceros and Asiatic water buffalo —– were found to prefer bamboo cover on private lands, primarily tea estates, besides woodlands.
  • The other two in this club are the tiger and swamp deer.
  • The elephants also preferred dry surroundings to waterlogged areas beyond Kaziranga.
  • Researchers used three layers of information to better understand these movement decisions.
  • The first pertained to species traits, the second described characteristics of the risky human-dominated space that these animals need to traverse and finally, the extent of the flood itself.
  • The focus of the study was on areas beyond the designated corridors the animals move to, what areas they avoid and whether floods change their preferences.
  • The study linked climate change-induced stress and risks animals face in increasingly human-dominated landscapes.




Sharks, Rays and Chimaeras

Why in News?

  • A recent assessment of sharks, rays and chimaeras by the International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN)’s Shark Specialist Group in the Indian Exclusive Economic Zone (EEZ) has revealed that of the 170 species found across the oceans of the country, 19 (about 11%) are facing high risk of extinction.


  • Of the 19 species that have been assessed as critically endangered, there are seven species of sharks, five species of guitar fishes, two sawfishes, four wedge fishes and one species of stingray, the Maculabatis arabica, a recently discovered species.
  • Of the 170 species, another 30 are classified as Endangered (EN) as per the IUCN Red List for threatened species.

Compare with Last Assessment

  • Since the last assessment of this group of marine fishes, which was carried around 2014, there has been a significant change.
  • In the last assessment, only 3% sharks, rays and chimaeras were Critically Endangered (CE), which increased to 11% in 2020.
  • Similarly, for the Endangered (EN) category, the number of the species increased from 5% in 2014 to 18% in 2020.

Indian Swellshark

  • This Red List update, which was made public a few days ago, marks for the first time one deep-water Indian swellshark Cephaloscyllium silasi as critically endangered due to very limited geographic range, and population decline.
  • The Indian swellshark is a small deep-water catshark known from the coast of Kollam, Kerala and Sri Lanka, and also from the Andaman & Nicobar Islands.
  • It occurs on the continental slope at depths of 100-500m.
  • The species is caught as incidental catch by intensive deep-water trawl fisheries.

Other Species

  • There are certain species like the Smooth hammerhead shark (Sphyrna lewini) and the Oceanic white-tip shark (Carchahinus longimanus), which were classified as endangered in an earlier assessment and are now listed as critically endangered because of a decline in their populations.


  • Scientists behind the assessment in India have also expressed concern over the slow-growing dwarf gulper shark Centrophorus atromarginatus, which has high amounts of squalene in its liver and has been classified as critically endangered.
  • Squalene is a natural organic compound found in shark liver oil and used in pharmaceutical industry.
  • Shark and rays numbers in Indian waters have fallen drastically in recent years due to target fishing (when a particular type of fish is targeted) and by-catch (other fish that get caught alongside).




Koothambalam of Guruvayur temple

Why in News?

  • The renovated Koothambalam of the Sreekrishna temple, Guruvayur, has been selected for the UNESCO Asia-Pacific Award for cultural heritage conservation.
  • It received the Award of Distinction.
  • The UNESCO introduced the special award to acknowledge the role and contribution of cultural heritage to sustainable development.
  • The UNESCO Asia-Pacific Award for cultural heritage conservation, since 2000, has been recognising the efforts of private individuals and organisations that have successfully restored, conserved and transformed structures and buildings of heritage value.
  • TVS Motor Company has sponsored the renovation programme of the Koothambalam.
  • This is the second time UNESCO is recognising the heritage conservation works of temples in Thrissur district. In 2015, Sree Vadakkunnathan Temple, Thrissur, was selected for UNESCO ‘Award of Excellence’ for the preservation of heritage.




Minorities Rights Day

  • The Minorities Rights Day is observed in India every year on December 18. The day is important as it helps us understand the issues facing the minorities in India and create awareness about their rights.
  • Ministry of Minority Affairs was set up in India in 2006
  • The ministry was carved out of the Ministry of Social Justice and Empowerment.
  • The communities that have been notified as minorities in India are Christians, Muslims, Sikhs, Zoroastrians (Parsis), Jains, and Buddhists.
  • The National Commission for Minorities (NCM) was established under the National Commission for Minorities Act, 1992.
  • The Constitution of India guarantees equal rights for all its citizens including safeguarding the rights of people from religious, linguistic, ethnic minorities.
  • The Minorities Rights Day in India was first observed on December 18, 2013. On 18th December 1992, the United Nations had declared the Statement on the Individual’s Rights belonging to Religious or Linguistic National or Ethnic Minorities.
  • The UN statement emphasised that the rights of minorities shall be respected, protected and preserved by the states and within individual territories.




SolarWinds Hack

Why in News?

  • The ‘SolarWinds hack’, a cyberattack recently discovered in the United States, has emerged as one of the biggest ever targeted against the US government, its agencies and several other private companies. In fact, it is likely a global cyberattack.
  • It was first discovered by US cybersecurity company FireEye.

How did so many US government agencies and companies get attacked?

  • This is being called a ‘Supply Chain’ attack: Instead of directly attacking the federal government or a private organisation’s network, the hackers target a third-party vendor, which supplies software to them.
  • In this case, the target was an IT management software called Orion, supplied by the Texas-based company SolarWinds.
  • Orion has been a dominant software from SolarWinds with clients, which include over 33,000 companies.
  • SolarWinds says 18,000 of its clients have been impacted.
  • The hackers gained “access to victims via trojanized updates to SolarWinds’ Orion IT monitoring and management software.
  • Once installed, the malware gave a backdoor entry to the hackers to the systems and networks of SolarWinds’ customers.




Human Enzyme ACE2

Why in News?

  • The human enzyme ACE2, which enables the novel coronavirus to infect the cell, is also key in protecting against cardiovascular, lung and kidney diseases.
  • And, new research has found, it may be offering protection to women against Covid-19 disease.
  • The research has looked at why female COVID-19 patients face less severe disease complications and a lower risk of dying than male patients, and found that it is thanks to hormones and chromosomes that contribute to a stronger immune response.
  • And the highlight of the study is how the sex differences in Covid-19 are linked to ACE2.
  • Because of their chromosomes, women have two copies of the ACE2 gene and men have only one copy.
  • This does not seem to make women more susceptible to Covid-19 infection, it rather protects them from the complications associated with the virus.
  • ACE2 is a gene linked to the X chromosome. And women have twice as many active genetic instructions to make ACE2.




Singapore’s Foodie “Hawker” Culture

Why in News?

  • Singapore’s tradition of communal dining at hawker centres, open air food courts popularised by celebrity chefs and hit films such as ‘Crazy Rich Asians’, has been recognised by UNESCO for its cultural significance.
  • The United Nations’ cultural agency announced it had added the city-state’s “hawker culture” to its Representative List of the Intangible Cultural Heritage of Humanity, nearly two years after Singapore submitted a bid to be included in the list.
  • Singapore’s hawker centres were set up to house former street vendors, or “hawkers” in an effort to clean up the island in the 1970s and serve a variety of cheap, no-frills dishes to locals as well as providing a social setting.
  • Singapore must submit a report every six years to UNESCO, showing the efforts made to safeguarding and promoting its hawker culture.




National Security Directive on Telecommunication Sector

Why in News?

  • The Cabinet Committee on Security approved the setting up of a new National Security Directive on telecommunication sector with an intent to classify telecom products and their sources under the ‘trusted’ and ‘non-trusted’ categories.
  • The move could potentially make it more difficult for Chinese telecom equipment vendors like Huawei and ZTE to supply equipment to Indian telecom players.
  • The two companies have been under global scrutiny for allegedly installing ‘backdoor’ or ‘trap door’ vulnerabilities and spying for the Chinese government and have been banned by several countries.
  • The committee, which will be called the National Security Committee on Telecom, will be headed by the deputy NSA, and have members from other departments and ministries, and independent experts as well as two members from the industry.
  • As a part of the new national security directive, a list of sources from whom no product can be procured will also be provided to the telecom service providers.
  • The new directive, which will come into place 180 days after approval, will not ask telecom service providers to mandatorily replace the old and existing equipment.
  • Apart from the directive, the government will release at regular intervals new guidelines for effective monitoring and effective control of the network security of the telecom service providers.




Declining Plant diversity in Germany

  • Germany’s plant diversity decreased by over 15 per cent in over 70 per cent of the 2,000 species examined in the last 60 years.
  • These declines were not limited only to already rare or particularly endangered species.
  • The average decline in species was around two per cent a decade.
  • This was when every grid field of approximately five by five kilometres across the entire Germany was analysed.
  • Especially vulnerable were the archaeophytes; species brought to Germany by humans but before the discovery of America.
  • Among others, the species in decline included a large proportion of accompanying field flora, such as the corn marigold and the large Venus’s looking glass.
  • Several neophytes — the species that reached Germany after 1492 — grew in number, including the Himalayan balsam and the narrow-leaved ragwort.
  • The increase, however, could not compensate for the loss in the number of species per unit of area.




Kerala’s ‘Pink Phenomenon’

Why in News?

  • The widespread growth of an aquatic plant has painted the water bodies pink, in Avalapandi — a sleepy, remote agrarian village in Kerala’s Kozhikode district.
  • The plant behind the ‘pink phenomenon’ is forked fanwort, which comes from the family of Red Cabomba (Cabomba Furcata).
  • Cabomba is a submerged perennial aquatic plant that grows in stagnant to slow-flowing freshwater. It dominantly belongs to Central and South America.
  • The plant will spread in the water bodies across the state, choking them as well as the drainage canals.
  • It requires a huge amount of oxygen to grow and that could badly affect freshwater biodiversity.
  • Among the measures to contain the spread of Cabomba include
      • Mechanical removal of Cabomba furcata and its drying on land;
      • Habitat modification to increase shading (planting trees);
      • Tarpaulin shade over Cabomba-infested area, especially where it cannot be mechanically removed;
      • Regular weeding on both aquatic and terrestrial habitats based on inputs from monitoring.
  • Cabomba prefers nutrient-rich habitats.
  • They can spread fast via stem fragments and form dense stands in water bodies.
  • The plant has a high natural dispersal potential due to its ability to readily fragment and spread both actively and passively.
  • Its main habitats include freshwater bodies such as rivers, reservoirs, ponds, irrigation canals and other shallow wetlands.


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