Current Affairs Feb 17


Why in News?

  • Prime Minister will launch the ‘Mahabahu-Brahmaputra’, lay the foundation stone of Dhubri Phulbari Bridge and perform Bhumi Pujan for construction of Majuli Bridge Assam.


  • The launch of Mahabahu-Brahmaputra will be marked by the inauguration of the Ro-Pax vessel operations between Neamati-Majuli Island, North Guwahati-South Guwahati and Dhubri-Hatsingimari;
  • Shilanyas of Inland Water Transport (IWT) Terminal at Jogighopa and various tourist jetties on River Brahmaputra and launch of digital solutions for Ease-of-Doing-Business.
  • The program is aimed at providing seamless connectivity to the Eastern parts of India and includes various development activities for the people living around River Brahmaputra and River Barak.
  • The Ro-Pax services will help in reducing the travel time by providing connectivity between banks and thus reducing the distance to be travelled by road.
  • A permanent Inland Water Transport Terminal will also be built at Jogighopa under the program, which will connect with the Multi-Modal Logistics Park also coming up at Jogighopa.
  • This Terminal will help in reducing the traffic on the Siliguri Corridor towards Kolkata and Haldia.
  • Prime Minister will also launch two e-portals to further Ease of Doing Business. The Car-D (Cargo Data) portal will collate cargo and cruise data on a real time basis.
  • PANI (Portal for Asset and Navigation Information) will act as a one-stop solution for providing information about river navigation and infrastructure.

Dhubri Phulbari Bridge

  • Prime Minister will lay the foundation stone for the four lane bridge over the Brahmaputra between Dhubri (on North Bank) and Phulbari (on South Bank).

Majuli Bridge

  • Prime Minister will perform Bhumi Pujan for the two-lane Bridge on the Brahmaputra between Majuli (North Bank) and Jorhat (South Bank).
  • The bridge will be located on NH-715K and will connect Neematighat (on Jorhat side) and Kamalabari (on Majuli side).




Bangladesh Navy Ship Prottoy

Why in News?

  • Bangladesh Navy Ship (BNS) Prottoy is on a two day visit to Mumbai.
  • This visit of BNS Prottoy to Mumbai is significant in the backdrop that the two countries celebrated 50 years of Bangladesh independence recently.
  • To commemorate the occasion, for the first time, a marching contingent and military band from Bangladesh participated in India’s Republic Day Parade.
  • Since the formation of Bangladesh, both India and Bangladesh have come a long way in nurturing strategic and defence relationships and these bonds are gradually growing in mutual trust and confidence.




E-Chhawani portal

Why in News?

  • Raksha Mantri launched E-Chhawani portal and mobile app in New Delhi.


  • The portal has been created to provide online civic services to over 20 lakh residents of 62 Cantonment Boards across the country.
  • Through the portal, the residents of cantonment areas will be able to avail basic services like renewal of leases, application for birth & death certificates, water & sewerage connections, trade licences, mobile toilet locators and payment of different types of taxes and fees.
  • The portal, jointly developed by eGov Foundation, Bharat Electronics Limited (BEL), Directorate General Defence Estates (DGDE) and National Informatics Centre (NIC), provides a platform to the residents to avail these services from the comfort of their home.





Why in News?

  • An Enrolment Module for TECHNOGRAHIS, has been launched.
  • TECHNOGRAHIS are students from IITs, NITs, engineering, planning and architecture colleges, faculty members, academicians, and stakeholders.
  • Interested candidates can register themselves to visit these Live Laboratories at six LHP sites for learning, consultation, generation of ideas and solutions, experimentation, innovation, and technical awareness.
  • Also launched the LHP E-Newsletter which captures the progress of the projects at each location.
  • The six State-specific LHP booklets are for structured information about each site.
  • They give an idea about the technical specifications, an insight into each technology and other details. These booklets will be one-stop guide for technocrats for information exchange.
  • The Ministry of Housing and Urban Affairs (MoHUA) is promoting six Light House Projects (LHPs) as Live Laboratories for transfer of technology to the field.
  • The primary goal is to encourage large scale participation of people to create technical awareness for on-site learning.
  • The foundation stone of LHPs was laid by Prime Minister on January 1, 2021, at Indore (Madhya Pradesh), Rajkot (Gujarat), Chennai (Tamil Nadu), Ranchi (Jharkhand), Agartala (Tripura) and Lucknow (Uttar Pradesh).
  • LHPs are being built as part of the Global Housing Technology Challenge-India (GHTC- India) initiative under the Pradhan Mantri Awas Yojana-Urban (PMAY-U).
  • The LHPs are model housing projects. About 1,000 houses at each location are being built with allied infrastructure facilities.
  • This technology revolution is cost-effective, environment-friendly, disaster-resilient and promotes speedier construction. The initiative will prove to be a major push towards technical transformation in India.




Sri Lanka Considering India’s Grant Instead Of China Project

Why in News?

  • In an apparent bid to displace a Chinese company that had won the contract to install renewable energy systems in three small islands off Jaffna Peninsula in northern Sri Lanka, India has offered a grant of $12 million to execute it.
  • Sri Lanka’s government would consider India’s proposal, and that he would present a Cabinet paper on the matter soon.
  • Receiving a grant “is an advantage” that would ease the burden on the Treasury, as opposed to an Asian Development Bank (ADB) loan, as per the original project proposal, that would have to be repaid.
  • The development comes less than a month after the Cabinet cleared a project to install hybrid renewable energy systems in Nainativu, Delft or Neduntheevu, and Analaitivu, located in the Palk Bay, some 50 km off Tamil Nadu.
  • The Cabinet decisions included a proposal to award the contract to Sinosoar-Etechwin Joint Venture in China, with funding from the ADB.




Water Metro project

Why in News?

  • The ₹747-crore Water Metro project of Kochi Metro Rail Limited (KMRL) would emulate Kochi Metro as yet another innovative and sustainable mode of urban commuting in Kochi, providing an eco-friendly and accessible transportation mode, especially for people living in 10 islands off the mainland.
  • The twenty-three 100-passenger capacity, battery-powered, disabled friendly, AC ferries that will be introduced in the project’s first phase will boost the tourism prospects of the islands. There will be zero reliance on fossil fuels.

Panamkutty Bridge

  • Also inaugurated the Panamkutty Bridge that connects Pettah and Thripunithura across the Poorna River, built by KMRL as part of widening the Pettah-S.N. Junction corridor into a four-lane road.




Zinc, vitamin C supplements

Why in News?

  • Taking zinc or vitamin C supplements does not significantly decrease the severity or duration of symptoms in COVID-19 patients, when compared to standard care, according to a study.
  • Researchers noted that zinc is known to be important for immune function, with a role in antibody and white blood cell production and fighting infections. Vitamin C, an antioxidant, can help reduce damage to cells, and has shown to be immune-boosting.
  • At 50% reduction in symptoms, the study showed no significant difference between the usual care, vitamin C, zinc gluconate or the group receiving both vitamin C and zinc gluconate.




Palestinian Territories

Why in News?

  • The International Criminal Court said that the court has jurisdiction over war crimes committed in the Palestinian territories, a ruling that was welcomed by Palestinians and criticized by Israel.

What is the judgment about?

  • According to this ruling, the ICC would have jurisdiction to investigate potential war crimes commited in Palestinian territories.
  • The ruling was delivered by a pre-trial chamber of three ICC judges, provisions of which could lead to criminal investigations of Israel and Palestinian militant groups including Hamas. The report added that no probe was expected in the near future.
  • This means that despite the ruling, there would be no immediate investigations even for those cases that had been brought to the attention of the international community.

How did this happen?

  • This ruling was really a result of the Palestinian Authority gaining formal membership of international criminal court in 2015.
  • Israel is not a member of the ICC.
  • At that time, the Palestinian Authority had not immediately started pressing complaints, in a move that observers had believed was an attempt to avoid direct conflict with the US Congress, which was authorised to freeze US aid to the Palestinian Authority if pursued its own legal cases.
  • This time however, the ICC judges saying that their decision was based on the fact the Palestine Authority had referred the situation to the court. But the judges said the jurisdiction does not “imply any attempt to determine Palestinian statehood, which is uncertain, or national borders.”
  • “The Court’s territorial jurisdiction in the Situation in Palestine… extends to the territories occupied by Israel since 1967, namely Gaza and the West Bank, including East Jerusalem”.

What is India’s stance?

  • India has not responded to Netanyahu’s communication in this regard, but a message was conveyed through diplomatic channels that since India is not a member of the Rome Statute, the founding treaty of the ICC, “it would not want to comment or take a position on any of the court’s decisions or rulings.”




NASA’s Perseverance rover

Why in News?

  • NASA’s Perseverance rover is expected to land at the Jezero Crater on the Red Planet, after which it will resume work to look for signs of past life.

Other missions to Mars

  • Another Mars mission, the UAE’s Al Amal (Hope)–the Arab world’s first such mission–entered the Martian orbit recently. However, this is an orbital mission and does not involve landing on the planet’s surface. Apart from the UAE, China also launched a Mars mission during the July-August window.
  • In light of such ambitious space missions, some astrobiologists have expressed concerns about possible ‘interplanetary contamination’.
  • This means transporting Earth-based microbes to other celestial bodies and bringing extraterrestrial microbes back to Earth.
  • The Committee on Space Research (COSPAR) lays down a ‘planetary protection policy’ that aims to limit the number of microbes sent to other planets, as well as ensuring that alien life does not cause havoc on Earth. 

How does a spacecraft reach Mars?

  • Typically, a trip to Mars, which is about 300 million miles away, takes about seven-eight months.
  • Perseverance was launched on July 30, 2020 during the window when Mars and Earth were the closest to each other.
  • This window is important since the two planets orbit around the Sun at different speeds and every two years, the planets are in a position where they are the closest to each other.

What will the Perseverance rover do on Mars?

  • Perseverance will spend one Mars year (two years on Earth) on the planet during which it will explore the landing site region.
  • The Jezero crater where it will land was once the site of an ancient river delta.
  • If Mars once harboured a warmer atmosphere enabling water to flow in its ancient past (3.5-3.8 billion years ago), and if microbial life existed on it, it is possible that it exists in “special regions” even today.
  • One of the most interesting instruments aboard the rover, however, is called MOXIE, which will produce oxygen from Martian atmospheric carbon dioxide.
  • If this instrument is successful, then future astronauts (as of now, no human has kept foot on Mars) can use it to burn rocket fuel for returning to Earth.
  • The rover will also carry Ingenuity, the first helicopter to fly on Mars. This will help collect samples from the surface from locations where the rover cannot reach. Overall, the rover is designed to study signs of ancient life, collect samples that might be sent back to Earth during future missions and test new technology that might benefit future robotic and human missions to the planet.




Raja Suheldev

Why in News?

  • Prime Minister laid the foundation stone of the statue of Raja Suheldev in Bahraich district of Eastern Uttar Pradesh.
  • Also laid the foundation stone for tourism-oriented development works at Chitaura Jheel.

The legend of Suheldev

  • The legend goes that that over a millennia back when invaders were conquering one region after another in India, it was Raja Suheldev of Shravasti who gathered heads of different communities likes Tharu and Banjara as well as small kings to block the invasion.
  • It is said that it was his army which defeated and killed Ghazi Salar Masud, the nephew of Mahmud of Gazni at Bahraich. In local folklore, Suheldev is said to be a Rajbhar.




Future of SARS-CoV-2

Why in News?

  • A recent modeling study suggests that in a few years, SARS-CoV-2 may be no more virulent than the common cold, much like other benign human coronaviruses that are currently circulating in the population and do not cause severe illness.

What happened to other coronaviruses?

  • Out of the seven coronaviruses known to infect humans, the ones that have emerged since the last two decades, including SARS (fatality rate of 10 percent), MERS (fatality rate between 35-36 percent) and now SARS-CoV-2, are the ones that are a cause for worry since they are capable of causing severe illness and even death.
  • Out of these three, while humans are still dealing with SARS-CoV-2 and are likely to continue doing so in the coming few years, SARS (emerged in China) and MERS (emerged in Saudi Arabia) were locally contained.
  • The last case of SARS was detected in 2003, however, MERS is still circulating.
  • Even so, while attempts have been made to develop a vaccine for these two coronaviruses, none of them have been approved by the US Food and Drug Administration (FDA) as of now.
  • In the case of SARS-CoV-2, it was not easily contained and spread rapidly around the world. One reason for this is the spike protein of the virus, which makes it easier for the virus to enter human cells and infect the individual.
  • While other coronaviruses also have a spike protein, this protein is slightly different in the COVID-19 causing virus compared to its close relatives.
  • The spike protein in SARS-CoV-2 has a site on it that is activated by an enzyme in host-cells called furin. Furin is found in lots of human tissues including the lungs, liver and small intestines.
  • This leaves four other coronaviruses known to infect humans which include 229E, OC43, NL63 and HKU1. The first of these was identified in the mid-1960s.
  • But since these four human coronaviruses were mostly associated with the common cold, a need for developing vaccines for them was not felt.
  • These four have now become endemic, which means that they keep circulating in the human population, some of them, seasonally.

What does it take to eradicate a disease?

  • Coronaviruses, in general, are capable of adapting to new environments through mutation and recombination with relative ease, health threats from them are constant and long term. Therefore, it is important to control their spread.
  • Significantly, since coronaviruses are RNA viruses, they have much higher rates of mutations when compared with DNA viruses.
  • Only two diseases in the world are known to have been eradicated–smallpox and rinderpest.
  • Smallpox existed for nearly 3000 years, causing millions of deaths before it was eradicated by the use of a vaccine.
  • The vaccine was created by Edward Jenner in 1796 and was the first successful vaccine to be developed. The last known case of the disease was detected in Somalia in 1977.
  • Rinderpest, a viral disease of cattle, on the other hand, was eradicated in 2011, with its last known case occurring in Kenya in 2001.
  • But there are more than one definition of eradication.
  • According to the American Society for Microbiology, some believe that eradication of a disease means the extinction of the pathogen, by which definition rinderpest and smallpox are not eradicated since samples of both viruses still exist in the world.




South African strain of Covid-19

Why in News?

  • The government said that four cases of the South African variant of Covid-19 have been detected in the country.

What is the South African variant?

  • This is a mutation of the Covid-19 virus that was discovered in South Africa and announced in December.
  • Similar to the UK mutation that India has been dealing with this year, the South African strain (501Y.V2) is more transmissible. However, it also affects the younger population more.
  • Unlike the UK variant, there is no evidence to suggest that the South African variant is potentially deadlier.

Are the Covid-19 vaccines currently in use in India effective against this variant?

  • So far, the government has rolled out two vaccines as part of its campaign against the novel coronavirus — Covishield by Serum Institute of India and Covaxin by Bharat Biotech.
  • While Bharat Biotech released a pre-print study suggesting that Covaxin was capable of eliciting an immune response against the UK variant, it did not test the vaccine’s effectiveness against the South African variant.




Elderly abuse a growing concern in India

  • At least five per cent of India’s elderly population (aged 60 years and above) stated they experienced ill-treatment in 2020, according to Longitudinal Ageing Study in India (LASI).
  • LASI is a national survey of scientific investigation of the health, economic, and social determinants and consequences of population aging in India
  • Abuse of the elderly is a growing international problem with several manifestations in different countries and cultures. It is a fundamental violation of human rights and leads to several health and emotional problems.
  • The abuse can classified as physical, sexual, psychological or financial. The ill-treatment is relatively more frequent among elderly women and those living in rural areas.
  • The pervasiveness of the practice among the elderly was proportionately more in Bihar (12 per cent), Karnataka (10 per cent), West Bengal (8 per cent), Uttar Pradesh (6 per cent), Chandigarh (6 per cent) and Chhattisgarh (6 per cent).
  • Among the elderly who felt ill-treated, 77.3 per cent complained of verbal / emotional ill-treatment that can harm their self-worth or emotional well-being.
  • Close to a quarter experienced economic exploitation (26.5 per cent), which means misuse of an elderly person’s money, property and assets. More than half experienced neglect (52.6 per cent).
  • Among those who reported as experiencing ill-treatment, the victims of physical ill-treatment were the highest in Arunachal Pradesh (45 per cent), Uttar Pradesh (43 per cent), Tamil Nadu (40 per cent) and Puducherry (41 per cent).
  • The obstacle of elder abuse cannot be adequately solved if older people’s essential needs for food, shelter, protection and access to healthcare are not met.




Caelocanth species

  • Palaeontologists claimed they have discovered fossils of coelacanth, a giant fish that have been even around before the dinosaurs.
  • They pegged the fossil to be 66 million years old — putting it in the Cretaceous era. Coelacanths, which can grow as big as white sharks, were thought to be extinct.
  • There was something unique about the bone. It was composed of many thin bone plates rather than being a single structure.
  • Coelacanths first evolved 400 million years ago — 200 million years before the first dinosaurs. It had long been believed to be extinct, but in 1938, a living coelacanth was found off South Africa.




Multi-stellar System

  • The discovery of a special exoplanetary system in which two exoplanets are orbiting backward around their star.
  • This surprising orbital architecture was caused by the protoplanetary disk in which the two planets formed being tilted by the second star in this system.
  • This is unlike our own solar system, where all the planets are revolving in the same direction as the sun’s rotation.
  • This isn’t the first known case of a ‘backwards’ planetary system—the first ones were sighted more than 10 years ago.
  • But this is a rare case in which we think we know what caused the drastic misalignment, and the explanation is different from what researchers have assumed might have happened in the other systems.
  • In any planetary system, the planets are thought to form in a spinning, circular disk of material that swirls around a young star for a few million years after the star itself is born, the so-called protoplanetary disk.
  • Usually, the disk and the star are spinning the same way. However, if there is a neighboring star (where ‘neighboring’ in astronomy means within a light-year or so), the gravitational force from the neighboring star might tilt the disk.
  • The underlying physics is connected to the behavior a spinning top displays, when its rotation slows down and the axis itself starts to rotate in a cone.
  • One implication of the discovery is that astronomers can no longer assume that the initial conditions of planet formation exhibit alignment between stellar rotation and planetary orbits.
  • Importantly, while other theories that aim at explaining misalignments in exoplanet systems tend to work best on large, Jupiter-like planets in short period orbits, the disk-tilting mechanism applies to planets of any size.
  • There may be another Earth-like world, for example, that travels over the north and south poles of its home star.