Current Affairs Dec 29

Ek Bharat Shreshtha Bharat

Why in News?

  • The Prime Minister while inaugurating the first-ever driverless Metro operations, also launched the expansion of National Common Mobility Card to the Airport Express Line of Delhi Metro.
  • The card was started in Ahmedabad last year.
  • This one card will give integrated access to the commuters wherever they travel, whichever public transport they take.
  • During the launch PM dwelled on a very critical aspect of his mantra of ‘minimum government and maximum governance’ i.e. integrations of systems and processes to strengthen the vision of ‘Ek Bharat, Shreshth Bharat’.

PM Says

  • Through such consolidation of systems, the strength of the country is being harnessed in a more coordinated and efficient way.
  • Like One Nation, One Mobility Card, government has done many things in the past years to integrate the systems of the country.
  • One Nation, One Fastag has made travel seamless on highways across the country. This has saved commuters from jam and delays.
  • One Nation, One Tax i.e. GST has ended the complications in the tax system and has brought uniformity in indirect tax system.
  • One Nation, One Power Grid, is ensuring adequate and continuous power availability in every part of the country. Power loss is reduced.
  • With One Nation, One Gas Grid, Seamless Gas Connectivity is being ensured of the parts where gas-based life and economy used to be a dream earlier.
  • One Nation, One Health Insurance Scheme i.e. Ayushman Bharat through which millions of people from India are taking advantage anywhere in the country.
  • Citizens moving from one place to another have got freedom from the trouble of making new ration cards through One Nation, One Ration Card.
  • Similarly, the country is moving in the direction of One Nation, One Agriculture Market due to new agricultural reforms and arrangements like e-NAM.




Consortia for Medicinal Plants

Why in News?

  • National Medicinal Plants Board (NMPB), Ministry of AYUSH envisages the necessity of connectivity between stakeholders in the supply chain and value chain of Medicinal Plants.
  • NMPB Consortia will address/deliberate (not limited to) on Quality Planting Material, Research & Development, Cultivation, Trade of medicinal plants/market linkage etc.
  • To establish the linkage between the farmers and manufacturers, a ‘Seed to Shelf’ approach is being introduced, wherein, aspects related to Quality Planting Materials (QPM), Good Agriculture Practices (GAP’s), Good Post Harvest Practices (GPHP’s) would be addressed.
  • In the first phase NMPB consortia is proposed for medicinal plant species – Ashwagandha (Withania somnifera), Pippali (Piper longum), Aonla (Phyllanthus emblica), Guggulu (Commiphora wightii), Satavari (Asparagus racemosus).




International Blue Flag

Why in News?

  • Minister for Environment, Forest and Climate Change hoisted the international blue flags in 8 beaches across the country.
  • India secured the International Blue Flag Certification for these beaches on 6th October 2020, when an International Jury comprising of member organizations UNEP, UNWTO, UNESCO, IUCN, ILS, FEE etc. announced the award at Copenhagen, Denmark.

About Blue Flag Certification

  • Blue Flag certification is a globally recognised eco-label accorded by “Foundation for Environment Education in Denmark” based on 33 stringent criteria.
  • Hundred more such beaches will be made Blue Flag in coming 3-4 years and cleaning beaches needs to be a made a “Jan Andolan”not only for its aesthetic value and tourism prospects, but more importantly towards reducing the menace of marine litter and making coastal environment sustainable.
  • The beaches where the International Blue Flags were hoisted are: Kappad (Kerala), Shivrajpur (Gujarat), Ghoghla (Diu), Kasarkod and Padubidri (Karnataka), Rushikonda (Andhra Pradesh), Golden (Odisha) and Radhanagar (Andaman & Nicobar Islands).

BEAMS Program

  • India started its journey of sustainable development of coastal regions on World Environment Day in June’ 2018 by launching its beach cleaning campaign – I-AM- SAVING-MY-BEACH simultaneously at 13 coastal states and thereafter implementing ministry’s coveted program BEAMS (Beach Environment & Aesthetics Management Services).
  • Introduction of BEAMS program in 10 coastal states have resulted into international level of cleanliness at beaches with over 500 tonnes of solid waste collected, recycled and scientifically disposed at these beaches reducing the menace of marine litter by over 78% and marine plastic by over 83%.




Country’s First Pneumococcal Conjugate Vaccine

Why in News?

  • Union health minister launched the country’s first pneumococcal conjugate vaccine ‘Pneumosil’ developed by Serum Institute of India (SII) in collaboration with partners like the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation.
  • The world’s largest vaccine manufacturer by doses, SII is also the maker of Covaxin, the Indian version of the AstraZeneca-Oxford coronavirus vaccine.

What Vaccine do?

  • The vaccine targets the pneumococcal bacterium, which causes pneumonia and other serious life-threatening diseases such as meningitis and sepsis, and is estimated to cause nearly four lakh deaths in children under five years of age each year worldwide.
  • Pneumococcal disease is a significant contributor under-five mortality rate worldwide.
  • In view of its widespread fatality, the World Health Organization in 2018 recommended the inclusion of the pneumococcal conjugate vaccine (PCV) in routine childhood immunisation programmes in all countries.
  • The unique feature of the WHO pre-qualified PCV is its composition which is specially tailored to the serotype of the bacterium, S penumoniae, in India and other regions of the world.
  • The vaccine also makes SII the world’s third supplier of PCVs under the pneumococcal Advance Market Commitment, and the first developing country vaccine manufacturer to access the global PCV market.




7th NHM National Summit on Good, Replicable Practices

Why in News?

  • Union Minister of Health and Family Welfare digitally inaugurated the 7th National Summit on Good, Replicable Practices.
  • Also launched New Health Management Information System (HMIS) along with the Operational Guidelines for TB services at Ayushman Bharat Health and Wellness Centres, AB-HWCs and the Operational Guidelines 2020 on Active Case Detection and Regular Surveillance for Leprosy.

Earlier Summits

  • The first one was held in 2013 at Srinagar to recognize, showcase and document various best practices and innovations in public healthcare system, the last was held at Gandhinagar, Gujarat.

This Year

  • In the year 2020, 210 new initiatives were uploaded by the States and UTs in the National Healthcare Innovation Portal.
  • The ultimate goal of these innovations is to improve the health status of the people on one hand and strengthen Public Health Systems in a sustainable manner on the other.
  • Digital transformation has enabled us to develop a national digital health ecosystem that supports Universal Health Coverage in an efficient, accessible, inclusive, affordable, timely and safe manner.
  • The new Health Management Information System (HMIS) provides a seamless online platform through the provision of a wide range of data, information and infrastructure services, duly leveraging open, interoperable, standards-based digital systems.
  • The optimal information exchange has helped in achieving better health outcome, better decision support system, and facilitating improvement in the reforms of public health care at State and National level.
  • Department of Health and Family Welfare has recently won a very prestigious Digital India award 2020 under Open Data Champion category for the e-Sanjeevani digital platform.
  • Prime Minister has set a bold target of a TB-free India by 2025, five years ahead of the SDG targets of 2030.
  • To achieve this goal, we need to work together for early diagnosis of TB, treat all TB patients at first interface along with ensuring suitable patient support systems, and break the chain of TB transmission in the community.




‘My Stamp’

Why in News?

  • The postal department in Kanpur began an inquiry after postage stamps bearing photographs of jailed underworld don Chhota Rajan and gangster Munna Bajrangi, who was shot dead in a Baghpat jail in 2018, were printed and released by it.
  • The stamps were issued under the ‘My Stamp’ scheme run by India Post for personalised sheets of postage stamps.

About Scheme

  • Under the scheme, any person may submit soft or hard copies of their photographs or of that of their relatives or friends or any other image including logo, symbols, heritage places or wildlife to get them printed and published on stamps. Each stamp sheet would cost the applicant ₹300.
  • For the personalisation, the postal department prints a thumb nail image of the customer’s photograph and logos of institutions, or images of artwork, heritage buildings, famous tourist places, historical cities, wildlife and other items on a selected template sheet having postage stamps.
  • The applicant would also have to produce an identity card issued by a government authority.
  • ‘My Stamp’ was first introduced during the World Philatelic Exhibition, ‘INDIPEX-2011’.
  • This scheme is available in selected Philatelic Bureaux and counters, important post offices and post offices situated at tourist places.




Gastronomy Flagship Project

Why in News?

  • Sony AI has launched the ‘Gastronomy Flagship Project’ to help enhance the creativity and techniques of chefs around the world.
  • The Japanese technology company’s new project consists of an artificial intelligence (AI)-powered recipe creation app, a chef assisting cooking robot, and a community co-creation initiative.
  • The tech giant’s recipe creation app will aid top-level chefs in their creative process of ingredient pairing, recipe design and menu creation.
  • It will be driven by proprietary AI algorithms, and developed using diverse information sources including recipes and ingredient data, such as taste, aroma, flavour, molecular structure, and nutrients.
  • The cooking robot will be designed to assist chefs from preparation to the plating.
  • The development process involves collaborating with world-renowned chefs as well as training the robot with sensors and AI for skill acquisition.




ICC Awards

  • Virat Kohli headlined the ICC top honours for the decade, winning the Sir Garfield Sobers award for the best male cricketer of the past 10 years.
  • Kohli was also picked for the ODI Cricketer of the Decade award.
  • Former India skipper MS Dhoni won the ”ICC Spirit of Cricket Award of the Decade”, chosen by fans for his gesture of calling back England batsman Ian Bell after a bizarre run out in the Nottingham Test in 2011.
  • The other nominees of the ICC Male Cricketer of the Decade were R. Ashwin, Joe Root, Kumar Sangakkara, Steve Smith, Ab de Villiers and Kane Williamson.
  • The world governing body named Australian batting mainstay Steve Smith the Test Cricketer of the Decade and Afghanistan star Rashid Khan as the T20 Cricketer of the Decade.
  • Australia’s Elysse Perry swept the women’s awards, securing the ICC Female Cricketer of the Decade honours alongside ODI and T20 Cricketers of the Decade award.

The award winners:

  • Virat Kohli (Sir Garfield Sobers Award for ICC Male Cricketer of the Decade).
  • Ellyse Perry (Rachael Heyhoe-Flint Award for ICC Female Cricketer of the Decade).
  • Steve Smith (ICC Men”s Test Cricketer of the Decade).
  • Virat Kohli (ICC Men”s ODI Cricketer of the Decade).
  • Ellyse Perry (ICC Women”s ODI Cricketer of the Decade).
  • Rashid Khan (ICC Men”s T20I Cricketer of the Decade).
  • Ellyse Perry (ICC Women”s T20I Cricketer of the Decade).
  • Kyle Coetzer (ICC Men”s Associate Cricketer of the Decade)
  • Kathryn Bryce (ICC Women”s Associate Cricketer of the Decade)
  • MS Dhoni (ICC Spirit of Cricket Award of the Decade)




Zero Coupon Bonds

Why in News?

  • The government has used financial innovation to recapitalise Punjab & Sind Bank by issuing the lender Rs 5,500-crore worth of non-interest bearing bonds valued at par.
  • The funds raised through issuance of these instruments, which are a variation of the recapitalisation bonds issued earlier to public sector banks, are being deployed to capitalise the state-run bank.
  • Though these will earn no interest for the subscriber, market participants term it both a ‘financial illusion’ and ‘great innovation’ by the government where it is using Rs 100 to create an impact of Rs 200 in the economy.
  • Since these bonds are not tradable, the lender has kept them in the HTM bucket, not requiring it to book any mark-to-market gains or losses from these bonds.

What kind of bonds are these?

  • Unlike the previous tranches of recapitalisation bonds which carried interest and were sold to different banks, these “non-interest bearing, non-transferable special GOI securities” have a maturity of 10-15 years and issued specifically to Punjab & Sind Bank.
  • These recapitalisation bonds are special types of bonds issued by the Central government specifically to a particular institution.
  • Only those banks, whosoever is specified, can invest in them, nobody else. It is not tradable, it is not transferable. It is limited only to a specific bank, and it is for a specified period … it is held at the held-to-maturity (HTM) category of the bank as per the RBI guidelines. Since it is held to maturity, it is accounted at the face value (and) no mark-to-market will be there.
  • Though zero coupon, these bonds are different from traditional zero coupon bonds on one account — as they are being issued at par, there is no interest; in previous cases, since they were issued at discount, they technically were interest bearing.




R P Tiwari Committee

Why in News?

  • After the introduction of the new National Education Policy, at moving away from unrealistic cut-off marks for admissions to universities, the government is exploring the feasibility of holding a common entrance test for undergraduate admissions across all central universities from the next academic year.
  • The UGC set up a seven-member committee, headed by Vice-Chancellor of Central University of Punjab R P Tiwari, “to consider the issue (of) holding common entrance test at undergraduate level only from the next academic year in central universities to provide a single platform for admission”.
  • The new NEP, released in July this year, advocates reducing the number of entrance tests to “eliminate the need for taking coaching for these exams”.




Not To Drink Alcohol during the Cold Wave

Why in News?

  • Predicting a severe cold wave in the national capital and several other parts of North India, the Indian Meteorological Department (IMD) urged residents of India’s northernmost states to protect themselves from the biting cold by avoiding alcohol.

What did the IMD say in its recent impact-based advisory?

  • The weather conditions were likely to increase the risk of contracting illnesses like the flu, and could also lead to symptoms like runny/stuffy nose and nosebleeds, which usually set in or are aggravated due to prolonged exposure to the cold.
  • Also warned of frostbite, a condition where the skin turns pale, hard and numb and is eventually left with black blisters when exposed to extreme cold conditions.

But is alcohol really bad in cold weather?

  • An alcoholic beverage to beat the chill on a cold winter night might seem like a good idea to many, but the IMD and several health experts have warned otherwise.
  • While alcohol may make you feel warmer, it actually reduces body temperature and compromises your immunity if you then venture out into the cold
  • Alcohol can decrease the core temperature of the body and increase the risk of hypothermia during cold exposure.
  • Hypothermia is a severe medical condition where the body loses heat before it can generate it, resulting in a dangerously low body temperature.
  • While normal body temperature lies at around 37 degrees Celsius, the body temperature of a person suffering from hypothermia drops to below 35 degrees Celsius.
  • Common signs include shivering, slow rate of breathing, slurred speech, cold skin and fatigue.
  • Alcohol has psychological and behavioural effects, which can impact a person’s ability to correctly perceive how cold it is.

How does alcohol reduce your body temperature?

  • Alcohol is a vasodilator, which means that it causes blood vessels to relax and dilate or open.
  • So after consuming alcohol, the volume of blood brought to the skin’s surface increases, making you feel warmer as a result.
  • This is also what causes an intoxicated person to look flushed.
  • As the body begins to believe that it is warm, you also start to sweat — a reaction that automatically reduces overall body temperature.

What is a cold wave?

  • A cold wave occurs when the minimum temperature dips to 10 degrees Celsius or less and the departure from normal temperature is 4.5 degrees Celsius or lower.
  • In severe cold wave conditions, departure from normal temperature is 6.5 degrees or lower.




Most-destructive 2020 Climate Disasters Impacted India

Why in News?

  • A new global report in its analysis of 15 most destructive climate disasters of 2020 has found that nine of these extreme events, including two in India, caused damage worth at least $5 billion.
  • Though hurricanes in the US and central American countries turned out to be the most expensive ($41 billion), floods in India during June-October period caused the loss of highest number of human lives.




  • India’s floods, which killed 2,067, caused loss of more human lives than casualties in all other 14 destructive climate disasters put together.
  • Floods in Pakistan which claimed 410 lives figured at second spot followed by the US and central American countries (400 lives lost in hurricanes) at the third position in the list of 15.
  • The report, ‘Counting the Cost 2020: A Year of Climate Breakdown’, prepared by the UK based non-profit organisation Christian Aid.
  • The cyclone ‘Amphan’, which struck the Bay of Bengal in May, had caused financial losses valued at $13 billion in just a few days in India and Bangladesh and caused loss of 128 human lives.




Portulaca Laljii

What is it & Why in News?

  • Botanists have discovered a new species of wild Sun Rose from the Eastern Ghats in India.
  • The new species, named Portulaca laljii , discovered from Prakasam district of Andhra Pradesh has unique features such as a tuberous root, no hair in its leaf axils, a reddish pink flower, prolate-shaped fruits, and copper brown seeds without lustre.
  • These morphological features distinguish the species from other species of genus Portulaca.
  • The plant was found growing in rocky crevices at an altitude of about 1,800 metres above mean sea level, very close to the ground, at about less than 10 cm.
  • The flowers are very attractive and bloom for months from June to February.
  • The plants belonging genus Portulaca are classified in the category Sun Rose because they flower in bright sunshine.
  • In India, earlier studies on the genus Portulaca have revealed the presence of eight species.
  • The plants belonging to genus Portulaca show various degrees of succulence in their vegetative parts like roots, stems and leaves.
  • For instance, all the vegetative parts of Portulaca oleracea are succulent, whereas in Portulaca tuberosa the highest succulence is found in the roots compared with the leaves.
  • The species are widely distributed in both forests and agricultural fields, unlike the new Portulaca laljii which only grows naturally in rocky crevices.
  • Portulaca laljii has been named to honour the contribution of Lal Ji Singh, an eminent botanist of the Botanical Survey of India associated with the Andaman and Nicobar Centre of the Botanical Survey of India.
  • The species has been placed under the ‘Data Deficient’ category of the IUCN List of Threatened Species because very little information is available about the population of the species.




Two New Species of Ginger Found From Northeast

What is it?

  • The Mahabharatha epic describes Bhima, the second among the five pandava brothers, going in search of the Kalyanasaugandhika, a flower with a heavenly fragrance, to satisfy Panchali’s desire.
  • Scientists have deduced that the mythological plant described by Vyasa is Hedychium coronarium, also known as white ginger lily.
  • Now researchers have discovered a close relative of Hedychium coronarium from the northeastern region.
  • It was during a floristic expedition in the eastern Himalayas that the team came across the new species Hedychium mechukanum from a location at Quing and Tato near the Mechuka valley in Shi-Yomi district, Arunachal Pradesh, at an altitude of 1,400 m.
  • The species has large white flowers with a pleasant fragrance. It was found to be largely similar to other plants of the Hedychium genus found in northeast India and China, but different in several attributes.
  • Flowering is from mid-June to September and fruiting from September to November.
  • The species was named after the small town Mechuka bordering China.
  • They have assessed the species as Data Deficient under the IUCN guidelines.

Second species

  • The second new species named Amomum arunachalense was collected from Nirjuli in Papum Pare district, Arunachal Pradesh
  • As many as 11 species of the Amomum genus are distributed in the northeastern and southern regions of India and the Andaman and Nicobar islands.
  • The new species is distinguished from others in the genus mainly by a white rhizome with a pale brown centre.
  • Deforestation and extraction of shoots for medicinal purposes are major threats to the species.




Country’s youngest Mayor

Why in News?

  • Twenty-one-year-old Arya Rajendran of the Communist Party of India (Marxist) [CPI(M)] was sworn in as the Mayor of the Thiruvananthapuram city Corporation, after she secured 54 votes in the 100-member council in the election.
  • She has become the youngest Mayor till date in the country.




Proxima Centauri

Why in News?

  • Astronomers running the world’s largest initiative to look for alien life have recently picked up an “intriguing” radio wave emission from the direction of Proxima Centauri, the closest star to our Sun.
  • The news has sparked renewed interest in Proxima Centauri, one of whose planets is believed to revolve in the star’s habitable zone, giving rise to the possibility that it could have, or does, sustain life.

The mysterious radio signal

  • Astronomers at the $100 million Breakthrough Listen project, started by the legendary physicist Stephen Hawking, regularly spot blasts of radio waves using two powerful telescopes– the Parkes Observatory in Australia or the Green Bank Observatory in the US.
  • All of their findings so far, though, have been attributed either to natural sources or interference caused by humans.
  • Unlike the project’s previous findings, the beam picked up from the direction of Proxima Centauri–which has been named BLC1 or Breakthrough Listen Candidate 1– has two interesting characteristics.
  • First, its signal frequency is 982 Mhz– a narrow-band value that is not transmitted by human-made spacecraft or satellites. Neither do we know of a natural astronomical phenomenon that can generate such a radio signal.
  • Second, the apparent shift in this frequency is reportedly consistent with the movement of the planet.
  • This raises the possibility that the emission could be an alien “technosignature”, meaning something which provides evidence of alien technology, and could have arisen from some form of advanced extraterrestrial intelligence (ETI).
  • There are also reasons to believe that the signal might not mean ‘aliens’. Since only the Parkes observatory has picked up the signal, which has not appeared since, it would be impossible to verify that it came from Proxima Centauri.
  • Another possibility could be that the signal could have been caused by something behind Proxima Centauri, or by a natural phenomenon whose existence we so far do not know of.

The interest in Proxima Centauri

  • Proxima Centauri is 4.2 light-years away from the Sun – considered a close distance in cosmic terms. Its mass is about an eighth of the Sun’s, and it is too dim to be seen with the naked eye from Earth.
  • Proxima b, one of the two planets that revolve around the star, is the subject of significant curiosity.
  • Sized 1.2 times larger than Earth, and orbiting its star every 11 days, Proxima b lies in Proxima Centauri’s “Goldilocks zone”, meaning the area around a star where it is not too hot and not too cold for liquid water to exist on the surface of surrounding planets.
  • To give an example, the Earth is in the Sun’s Goldilocks zone.




Bill to Abolish State-Run Madrassas

Why in News?

  • The Assam government tabled a Bill in the Assembly to convert all state-run madrassas into regular schools amid objections by a united Opposition.
  • It proposes to abolish two existing laws:
      • Assam Madrassa Education (Provincialisation) Act, 1995, and
      • Assam Madrassa Education (Provincialisation of Services of Employees and Re-Organisation of Madrassa Educational Institutions) Act, 2018.
  • At present, Assam has two kinds of state-run madrasas: 189 high madrasa and madrasa higher secondary schools run under the Board of Secondary Education, Assam (SEBA) and the Assam Higher Secondary Education Council (AHSEC); and 542 pre-senior, senior and title madrasa and arabic colleges run by the State Madrasa Education Board.
  • All madrasa institutes will be converted into upper primary, high, and higher secondary schools with no change of status, pay, allowances and service conditions of the teaching and non-teaching staff.










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