Why In News?
- Prime Minister will lay the foundation stone of the permanent campus of IIM Sambalpur on 2nd January 2021.
About IIM Sambalpur
- IIM Sambalpur is the first IIM to implement the idea of flipped classroom where the basic concepts are learnt in digital mode and experiential learning takes place in the class, through live projects from the industry.
- The Institute also outscored all other IIMs in terms of highest gender diversity with 49% girl students in MBA (2019-21) batch and 43% in MBA (2020-22) batch.
India starts exports of Moringa powder
Why in News?
- India has commenced exports of Moringa powder, keeping in mind the rising global demand, because of its nutritional properties.
- Moringa has been used for centuries due to its medicinal properties and health benefits in various forms.
- In a bid to promote Moringa (botanical name Moringa oleifera) products exports from India, Agricultural and Processed Food Products Export Development Authority (APEDA) has been supporting private entities in creating necessary infrastructure.
- APEDA has been constantly facilitating the budding exporter for enhancing the Moringa exports from India.
- With more Moringa processing units being created through support of APEDA, the exports would be increasing in the next few years which would bring benefits to the farmers.
- Globally, the demand for Moringa products, such as Moringa Leaf Powder and Moringa Oil, has been witnessing healthy growth.
10 Lynx U2 Fire Control Systems
Why in News?
- Ministry of Defence (MoD) has signed a contract with Bharat Electronics Limited (BEL) for procurement of 10 Lynx U2 Fire Control systems for frontline warships of Indian Navy at a cost of Rs 1,355 crore under Buy (Indian) category.
- The LYNX U2 GFCS is a Naval Gun Fire Control System designed to acquire, track and engage targets amidst sea clutter.
- It is capable of accurately tracking air/surface targets, generating required target data for predicting weapon aiming points and engaging target.
- The target engagement is carried out with the medium/short range gun mounts like Russian AK176, A190 and AK630 and the SRGM available onboard ships.
- The indigenous content of the system has been continuously increased, generation to generation to eliminate the dependency on foreign OEMs.
- The system will be installed on the NOPV, Talwar and Teg class of ships. The system including the Tracking Radar, Servo and Weapon Control Modules has been completely designed and developed by BEL.
- These will be delivered by BEL, Bengaluru over the next five years.
Why in News?
- Bharat Electronics Limited (BEL) has signed a contract with Indian Navy for initially supply 20 Light Amplification by Stimulated Emission of Radiation Dazlers (Laser Dazzlers).
- The BEL had earlier this month won the contract beating global Original Equipment Manufacturers (OEMs) in buy global category.
- These would be manufactured by BEL, Pune plant.
- The Laser Dazzler is used as a non-lethal method for warning and stopping suspicious vehicles/boats/aircrafts/UAVs/pirates etc. from approaching secured areas during both day and night.
- It is capable of dazzle and thereby suppress the person’s/optical sensor’s action with disability glare in case of non-compliance to orders.
- It disorient/ confuse/blind a person temporarily.
- It also dazzles and distract aircraft/UAVs.
- It is a portable, shoulder operated and ruggedized for military use in adverse environmental conditions. Laser dazzler technology was developed by Defence Research and Development Organisation (DRDO).
- This unique product is indigenously designed and developed for first time for the Armed Forces.
e-Ticketing Website & Mobile App for booking of online Railway Tickets
Why in News?
- Following the vision of ‘Digital India’ of Hon’ble Prime Minister Indian Railways has revamped & upgraded its e-ticketing website www.irctc.co.in and IRCTC Rail Connect Mobile App, which are used for booking of Railway tickets ‘online’.
e-Ticketing services for booking of Indian Railway Tickets:
- In 2014, the Next Generation E-ticketing (NGeT) system was launched to provide seamless e-ticketing services – higher booking loads and better user interface, through IRCTC.
- The upgraded e-ticketing website & App will provide the next level of services and experience to the rail users.
Salient Features of the Upgraded website:
- Complete User personalization linked to the user login, such as
- The booking of meals, retiring rooms and hotels has been integrated and can be directly along with the tickets, thus providing a one stop solution for the needs of the traveller.
- Predictive entry suggestions using Artificial Intelligence to be given to the passenger when he is entering the station or passenger. This will greatly reduce the hassle in searching stations and also save time in ticket booking.
- Simpler checking of the refund status at the user accounts page. Earlier this feature was not easily accessible.
- ‘Regular’ or ‘Favorite’ journeys can be booked easily by automatically entering relevant details.
- Train search & selection simplified by putting the information on one page to reduce the time used by passengers and enhancing the booking experience.
- All information on one page – Availability for all class are displayed along with respective fares for all trains. Simply scroll the page and choose to ‘Book’ the desired train and class. Earlier each train seat availability and fares could be seen only after clicking on that train individually.
- A ‘Cache system’ has been introduced in the backend to provide availability status. This will avoid delays in loading availabilities.
- In case waitlisted tickets, its ‘confirmation probability’ is displayed. Earlier this had to be checked for each waitlist status separately.
- Availability for other dates can be toggled on the page itself.
- Prompts during the booking process for making it easy for even less computer familiar users. This will save his time in wandering on the website for searching the website.
- The journey details will be shown also at the payment page. It will prompt the user to check and rectify, if there are any typographical errors. These corrections can only be corrected by visiting a PRS centre.
- The website has in-built features for enhancing cyber security by using appropriate captchas.
- IRCTC & CRIS have been working to introduce ‘Smart Booking’ feature to book connecting trains on alternate routes between the pair of stations which do not have direct trains.
Scheme for Remission of Duties and Taxes on Exported Products (RoDTEP)
Why in News?
- Taking a major step to boost exports, Government has decided to extend the benefit of the Scheme for Remission of Duties and Taxes on Exported Products (RoDTEP) to all export goods with effect from 1st January, 2021.
- The RoDTEP scheme would refund to exporters the embedded Central, State and local duties/taxes that were so far not being rebated/refunded and were, therefore, placing our exports at a disadvantage.
- The refund would be credited in an exporter’s ledger account with Customs and used to pay Basic Customs duty on imported goods. The credits can also be transferred to other importers.
- The RoDTEP rates would be notified shortly by the Department of Commerce, based on the recommendation of a Committee chaired by Dr. G.K. Pillai, former Commerce and Home Secretary.
Project linking Kuala Lumpur to Singapore
Why in News?
- Singapore and Malaysia said a deal to build a high-speed rail (HSR) link between the two neighbours will be terminated, after a suspension period to negotiate terms of the long-delayed project expired on Dec. 31.
- First announced in 2013, the project linking Kuala Lumpur to Singapore has been estimated by analysts to cost around $17 billion.
- It was suspended in 2018 shortly after former Malaysian Prime Minister Mahathir Mohamad came to power with a pledge to tighten finances and review major deals made by his predecessor Najib Razak.
- In May, the suspension was extended another six months to allow discussion of changes to the project.
- Malaysia had proposed several changes to the project but was unable to reach an agreement with Singapore on them.
- Construction on the rail link had been scheduled to commencein May 2020, with operations to begin in January 2031.
Fiscal deficit touches 135.1% of FY21 target
Why in News?
- India’s fiscal deficit shot up to 135.1% of the Budget target of nearly ₹8 lakh crore for 2020-21, in the 8 months from April 2020 to November 2020, as per data released by the Controller General of Accounts.
- The figure had stood at the end of November 2019 had stood at 114.8% a year earlier of 2019-20 BE.
- Revenue deficit, which had crossed 125% in the first half of the year, almost touched 140% of the Budget target by November, with just about 40% of the annual estimated revenue receipts coming in.
- The fiscal deficit had reached stood at 120% of the year’s target, or ₹9.53 lakh crore by the end of October. It rose to ₹10.8 lakh crore in November.
- Government spending, including capital expenditure that is considered critical to revive the economy, remained lower than a year ago earlier, though there was a month-on-month uptick in November.
- Just Only 62.7% of the budgeted expenditure for this year had been spent by November, lower than the 65.3% recorded a year earlier at the same time in 2019-20.
- If all the allocations mentioned in the Atmanirbhar programmes are executed, then fiscal deficit will increase to around 9% of GDP — a deficit of around ₹17-18 lakh crore.”
- The expenditure pattern suggests that expansion in fiscal deficit is not due to increased expenditure which has been muted so far. The higher fiscal deficit is primarily originating from lower receipts.
Financial Action Task Force (FATF)
Why in News?
- With the global money laundering and terror funding watchdog expected to undertake a review of India’s mechanisms to deal with suspicious transactions and financial crimes in 2021, State Bank of India’s compliance head has stressed the need for financial institutions to raise the bar on monitoring such activity.
- The Financial Action Task Force (FATF) had deferred its once-a-decade evaluation of India’s anti-money laundering regime scheduled for this year, citing the COVID-19 pandemic, and indicated that the onsite review to be conducted by global experts may now take place in early 2021.
- The FATF undertakes peer reviews of each member on an ongoing basis to assess the implementation of its recommendations and provides a detailed analysis of each country’s system for preventing criminal abuse of the financial system.
- India’s banks had already begun using artificial intelligence and machine learning tools to identify transactions that don’t follow the usual pattern.
COVID-19 Vaccine Close To Approval
Why in News?
- Drug Controller General India (DCGI) indicated that India was close to approving a COVID-19 vaccine.
- The Subject Expert Committee, which is an expert body of the DCGI, that is perusing applications by companies developing vaccines in India, is expected to review applications by the Serum Institute of India (SII) and Bharat Biotech (BB) for emergency use authorisation.
- Under this, companies are given permission to market the vaccine even if they haven’t furnished all the evidence normally required to establish the product’s safety and efficacy.
- SII has partnered with AstraZeneca to bring to market the Oxford vaccine, which has been approved by health authorities in the United Kingdom.
- Both SII had BB are testing the vaccine in ongoing phases-3 trials in India, the results of which have not been publicised yet.
Why in News?
- US President Donald Trump has extended the freeze on the most sought-after H-1B visas along with other types of foreign work visas by three months to protect American workers.
- The decision will impact a large number of Indian IT professionals and several American and Indian companies who were issued H-1B visas by the U.S. government for the fiscal year 2021 beginning October 1.
- The H-1B visa is a non-immigrant visa that allows U.S. companies to employ foreign workers in speciality occupations that require theoretical or technical expertise.
- The technology companies depend on it to hire tens of thousands of employees each year from countries like India and China.
- It would also impact a large number of Indian IT professionals who are seeking renewal of their H-1B visas.
Babies to be born on Jan 1
Why in News?
- Nearly 60,000 babies in India and a total of 3.7 crore worldwide are expected to be born on the New Year’s Day, according to the UNICEF.
- Fiji in the Pacific will welcome 2021’s first baby and the United States will welcome its last.
- Globally, over half of these births are estimated to take place in 10 countries — India (59,995), China (35,615), Nigeria (21,439), Pakistan (14,161), Indonesia (12,336), Ethiopia (12,006), the United States (10,312), Egypt (9,455), Bangladesh (9,236) and the Democratic Republic of the Congo (8,640).
- In total, an estimated 140 million children will be born in 2021. Their average life expectancy is expected to be 84 years. The life expectancy for Indian babies will be 80.9 years.
- The UNICEF used vital registration and nationally representative household survey data to estimate the monthly and daily fractions of births in countries and annual live births numbers and period life expectancy from the U.N.’s World Population Prospects (2019) to estimate the babies born on January 1, 2021, and their life expectancy.
Britain leaves Europe’s single market
Why in News?
- Brexit becomes a reality as Britain leaves Europe’s customs union and single market, ending nearly half a century of often turbulent ties with its closest neighbours.
- Brexit has dominated British politics since the country’d narrow vote to leave the bloc in June 2016.
- Legally, Britain left the EU on January 31, but it has been in a transition period during fractious talks to secure a free-trade agreement with Brussels, which was finally clinched on Christmas Eve.
- Once the transition ends, EU rules will no longer apply, with the immediate consequence being an end to the free movement of more than 500 million people between Britain and the 27 EU states.
- Britain — a financial and diplomatic big-hitter plus a major NATO power — is the first member state to leave the EU, which was set up to forge unity after the horrors of World War II.
- British fishermen are disgruntled at a compromise to allow continued access for EU boats in British waters.
- Northern Ireland’s border with EU member state Ireland will be closely watched to ensure that movement is unrestricted — a key plank of a 1998 peace deal that ended 30 years of violence over British rule.
Lung Immune Cells
Why in News?
- In Covid-19 and many other disease caused by virus attacks, immune cells in the lungs can contribute to worsening the attack.
- In a new study, researchers describe how different kinds of immune cells develop in the lungs, and which of them may be behind severe lung diseases.
- The structure of the lungs exposes them to viruses and bacteria from both the air and the blood.
- The study looked at what happens to certain immune cells, called macrophages, during a virus attack.
- Macrophages are immune cells that, among other things, protect the lungs from such attacks. But under certain conditions, lung macrophages can also contribute to severe lung diseases, such as COPD and Covid-19.
- Researchers discovered how blood monocytes become human lung macrophages.
- Classical monocytes migrate into airways and lung tissue and are converted into macrophages that protect the health and function of the lungs.
- Identified a special kind of monocyte, HLA-DRhi, which is an intermediate immune cell between a blood monocyte and an airway macrophage.
- These HLA-DRhi monocytes can leave the blood circulation and migrate into the lung tissue.
- The non-classical monocytes, however, develop into macrophages in the many blood vessels of the lungs and do not migrate into the lung tissue.
- In an infection with the novel coronavirus SARS-CoV-2, researchers believe that protective, anti-inflammatory macrophages are replaced with pro-inflammatory lung macrophages from blood monocytes.
- Patients with severe Covid-19 also have fewer HLA-DRhi monocytes in their blood, probably because they move away from the blood into the lungs.
- Given their important role in rapid inflammatory responses, future treatments should focus on inflammatory macrophages and monocytes to reduce lung damage and mortality from severe COVID-19.
Why in News?
- Lightning strikes have caused 1,771 deaths between April 1, 2019 and March 31, 2020, according to a report published on December 31 on lightning incidents in India.
- The report has been prepared by Climate Resilient Observing Systems Promotion Council (CROPC), a non-profit organisation that works closely with India Meteorological Department (IMD) along with Indian Institute of Tropical Meteorology (IITM), India Meteorological Society (IMS) and World Vision India to disseminate early lightning forecasts.
- Uttar Pradesh with 293 deaths, Madhya Pradesh 248, Bihar 221, Odisha 200 and Jharkhand 172 deaths together accounted for more than 60 per cent of the numbers, which are 33 per cent of total fatalities from all natural disasters during the time period.
- In 2018-19 period, there were 2,800 deaths and the drop has been attributed to the efforts of various stakeholders, including CROPC.
- A large number of deaths occur due to this as not much awareness has been undertaken.
- As per the report, interestingly, the Government of India and most states have not notified lightning as a disaster.
- There has always been a large number of animal fatalities due to lightning.
- Although the Ministry of Animal Husbandry has an Animal Disaster Management Plan, there hasn’t been any compliance pertaining to lightning fatalities.
So, how does lightning occur?
- Lightning is the process of occurrence of a natural ‘electrical discharge of very short duration and high voltage between a cloud and the ground or within a cloud’, accompanied by a bright flash and sound, and sometimes thunderstorms.
- Inter cloud or intra cloud (IC) lightning which are visible and are harmless.
- It is cloud to ground (CG) lightning, which is harmful as the ‘high electric voltage and electric current’ leads to electrocution.
How can deaths be minimised?
- Every lightning strikes around a fixed period and almost similar geographical locations in similar patterns.
- As per the report, Kalbaishakhi—Norwesters, which are violent thunderstorms with lightning—claims life in eastern India; pre-monsoon lightning deaths occur mostly in Bihar, Jharkhand, Chhattisgarh and UP.
- So as per CROPC, early lightning warning to farmers, cattle grazers, children and people in open areas is key.
- Then a local lightning safety action plan, like installing Lightning Protection Devices, is also need to prevent deaths.
What kind of technology is used to forecast lightning strikes?
- CROPC has a MOU with the India Met Department (IMD), Ministry of Earth Science (MoES), Government of India to disseminate early lightning forecasts which uses satellite observations, inputs from ‘network of Doppler and other radars’, ‘lightning detection Sensors’ among others.
Argentina’s Legalisation of Abortion
Why in News?
- Argentina’s Congress legalised abortions up to the 14th week of pregnancy this week, in what was a ground-breaking decision in a country that has some of the world’s most restrictive abortion laws.
What does this bill mean?
- Prior to the passing of the bill, abortions were only permitted in cases of rape or when the woman’s health was at serious risk. Activists have been campaigning for years, calling for an overturning of this law that has been in existence since 1921.
- The bill calls for greater autonomy for women over their own bodies and control of their reproductive rights, and also provides better healthcare for pregnant women and young mothers.
Why is it a landmark bill?
- Prior to this, girls and women were forced to turn to illegal and unsafe procedures because abortion was against the law in Argentina.
- For girls and women from socio-economically disadvantaged backgrounds, the scope of access to safe medical procedures for abortion was even narrower.
- According to Human Rights Watch, unsafe abortion was the leading cause of maternal mortality in the country.
- The Catholic Church and the evangelical community wield immense power and influence in Argentina and had strongly opposed the passing of this bill. In fact, for several decades, following the beliefs of the Catholic Church, even the sale of contraceptives was prohibited in the country.
What impact will this have in Latin America?
- Activists are hopeful that the passage of this law will have an impact in other countries in Latin America.
- At present, abortions are illegal in Nicaragua, El Salvador and the Dominican Republic.
- In Uruguay, Cuba, Guyana, and in some parts of Mexico, women can request for an abortion, but only in specific cases, and each country has its own laws on the number of weeks of pregnancy within which the abortion is legal.
Kolar Leaf-Nosed Bat
Why in News?
- Till several years ago, the Kolar Leaf-Nosed Bat was found in only two caves in the village of Hanumanahalli in Kolar district of Karnataka.
- For reasons that are still unknown, the bat became locally extinct in one of the two caves.
- And now, the Karnataka Forest Department, along with the Bat Conservation India Trust (BCIT), is on a war footing to save the remaining bats, which are endemic to the area, from extinction.
- The BCIT, which has been entrusted with drawing up a conservation plan, has also been awarded a grant to conduct further research on this species of bats. It has received funding from the Habitats Trust to carry out the project.
- Bats are one of the least studied mammals in the country, though there are 130 species in India.
- They are very adaptable creatures and therefore can often be found near human habitation or even in urban settlements, which makes them vulnerable.
- They also have a bad image in the public eye, as carriers of diseases.
- But the truth is, bats are absolutely vital for the ecology as they are pollinators, their main diet being nectar.
- The plants that bloom at night are entirely dependent on bats and moths for pollination. Bats also help in insect control and therefore, help in the protection of crops.
- There are five species of bats that live in the caves of Hanumanahalli, of which the Kolar Leaf-Nosed Bat is just one. According to recent estimates, there are just 150 Kolar Leaf-Nosed Bats left in these caves.
Entire Nagaland declared ‘Disturbed Area’ under AFSPA
Why in News?
- The entire Nagaland was declared a “disturbed area” for six more months by the central government, enabling the continuation of the controversial AFSPA which empowers security forces to conduct operations anywhere and arrest anyone without any prior warrant.
- The Armed Forces (Special Powers) Act (AFSPA) has been in force in Nagaland for several decades.
- The AFSPA has not been withdrawn even after a framework agreement was signed on August 3, 2015 by Naga insurgent group NSCN-IM general secretary Thuingaleng Muivah and government interlocutor R N Ravi in the presence of Prime Minister.
- The framework agreement came after over 80 rounds of negotiations spanning 18 years, with the first breakthrough in 1997 when the ceasefire agreement was sealed after decades of insurgency in Nagaland.
- However, the peace process has been stuck for some time as the NSCN-IM has been pressing for a separate flag and Constitution, a demand rejected by the central government.
EU-China Investment Agreement
Why in News?
- Chinese and European Union leaders agreed to make it easier for companies to operate on each other’s territory, a significant geopolitical victory for China when criticism of its human rights record and handling of the pandemic have left it increasingly isolated.
- A large faction in the European Parliament, which must ratify the agreement before it can take effect, opposes the accord on the grounds that it does not do enough to stop human rights abuses in China.
- In addition, a top aide to President-elect Joseph R. Biden Jr. has signaled that the incoming administration is not happy with the deal.
- Chancellor Angela Merkel of Germany has made the agreement a priority because of its importance to German carmakers and other manufacturers with large operations in China.
- This year, China edged out the United States as the European Union’s largest trading partner, with 480 billion euros, or $590 billion, in two-way trade through October.
- The pact would loosen many of the restrictions imposed on European companies working in China, including a requirement that they operate through joint ventures with Chinese partners and share sensitive technology.
- The agreement would also open up China to European banks and contains provisions intended to curtail secret government subsidies.
- Foreign companies often complain that the Chinese government secretly subsidizes domestic firms to give them a competitive advantage.
- Concluding the pact now is a diplomatic victory for China, which has seen its international standing battered over its handling of the coronavirus pandemic, its crackdowns in Hong Kong, and the forced labor and mass internment of Uighurs and other Muslims in the far western region of Xinjiang.