Current Affairs Feb 8

Wasp-62 b

  • For the first time, astronomers have come across a huge planet with about half the mass of Jupiter which is cloudless and unblocked by haze.
  • Named WASP-62b, this planet was first found in 2012.
  • For the first time, astronomers have come across a huge planet with about half the mass of Jupiter which is cloudless and unblocked by haze.
  • Named WASP-62b, this planet was first found in 2012.




  • Chinese scientists have found a natural mutation in the African swine fever virus they say could be less deadly than the strain that ravaged the world’s largest pig herd in 2018 and 2019
  • at least two new strains of African swine fever had been found on Chinese pig farms, which appeared to be man-made
  • The new strain, called HuB20, had a partial deletion of the CD2v gene and an adjacent 8CR gene.



Water Scarcity in Himalayan Catchment Area

  • Important sources of water for about a billion people who live in the basins of the Indus, Ganges and Brahmaputra rivers.
  • But with rising global temperatures, these snowpacks and glaciers, which are highly sensitive, are affected.
  • This, in turn, affects the Himalayan hydrology.
  • India, Nepal, Pakistan and China hugely depend on these Himalayan rivers for their daily needs and energy production
  • Himalayan rivers are affected by the different components – rainfall-runoff, snow-melt and glacier-melt – and notes that if drier and warmer scenarios continue in the near future (2031–2050), we are more likely to face water stress in these catchment areas.
  • They also note that if there is increased rainfall, this could lead to a water surplus situation
  • Though glacier melt will increase initially, they will shrink in size quickly and the amount of glacier melt will also decline in the latter end of the century,”
  • proper water-management and governance are urgently required. “Changing patterns of precipitation systems — Indian Summer Monsoon and Western Disturbances — are important for the future situation of water resources in Himalayan catchments,”



Tool for genome mutation analysis

An automated computational tool – Infectious Pathogen Detector (IPD) – developed earlier by researchers at the Mumbai-based ACTREC, Tata Memorial Centre, to identify the presence of 1,060 different pathogens in any genome sequence sample and perform mutation and phylogenetic analysis has become even more useful with the addition of a module for SARS-CoV-2 virus.

  • The IPD tool has been already designed to perform analysis of diverse genomic datasets, which came handy while analysing diverse data sets of SARS-CoV-2 genome.



The Cost of Internet Shutdown

  • Indian laws have vague provisions for suspending telecommunication services, including the Internet, during times of public emergencies, or, if required, for protecting ‘public interest’.
  • Meanwhile, the Supreme Court had declared in January 2020 that the right to access the Internet is one of our fundamental rights, alongside the freedom to carry on any trade, business or occupation over the medium of Internet, under Article 19 of the Constitution.
  • During the COVID-19 outbreak, the ones with good connectivity and know-how of digital tools were able to carry on with their lives with relatively fewer disruptions.
  • Meanwhile, the ones without digital literacy or connectivity found themselves completely left out of all social and economic systems.
  • Blanket bans on digital connectivity during the COVID-19 crisis may breed deep-rooted societal difficulties.
  • The most vulnerable among us may be cut off from health and welfare alerts; there could be breaks in vital digital services, including those currently being used by hospitals to monitor the well-being of their patients at risk of infection, including the elderly, and pregnant women;
  • students may lose access to avenues of learning as classes shift online;
  • journalists may find it impossible to do ground-reporting from already volatile areas
  • Today, almost all white-collar employment sectors, including IT, financial and consulting services, are encouraging their employees to work from home.
  • Internet shutdowns will freeze economic activity in affected areas and cause large-scale disruptions in economic output. India is estimated to have lost over ₹20,000 crore in 2020 because of Internet shutdowns
  • As the pace of globalisation, digitisation and connectivity accelerates, balancing civil liberties with security concerns will become an increasingly difficult task.
  • Governments, especially in democracies, will have to create modern, independent institutions that have the authority and expertise to create frameworks that meet these challenges, without falling back on measures that result in state overreach.



Changes within EU

  • After its invitation to British Prime Minister and arch Brexiteer Boris Johnson to visit India, New Delhi plans to start negotiations on investment and trade agreements with the European Union (EU).
  • discussions that began on a comprehensive free trade agreement in 2007 but were aborted due to differences on movement of professionals, labour, human rights and environmental issues and India’s high tariffs, inconsistent tax regime and non-payment of arbitral award.
  • Being the largest democracies and unions of linguistically, culturally and ethnically diverse States, both the EU and India are well suited for a special relationship.
  • The EU now finds itself in an unusually turbulent situation. COVID-19, Brexit and international tensions caused by former U.S. President Donald Trump have unsettled the EU and exacerbated internal discords.
  • The crises of 2020 obfuscated the structural lack of unity in the EU, because despite its desire for greater integration, it faces obstacles from adherence to the rule of law to a strategy for dealing with China, Russia, Turkey and Iran.
  • After months of tortuous negotiation over Hungary and Poland’s objections, member States finally agreed on a long-term budget and a COVID-19 recovery package of $2 trillion.
  • It was not only Britain that spawned a populist movement agitating to leave the EU.
  • Europe’s many Eurosceptic parties now focus on preventing closer unity, which has been lacking on the eurozone and migration crises and implementing COVID-19 lockdowns.
  • Elections are due in many EU States, including Germany and the Netherlands, which both have strong Eurosceptic movements.
  • The Alternative für Deutschland (Alternative for Germany) is the official opposition in Germany, while in the Netherlands, Geert Wilders leads the largest opposition party.
  • The Trump presidency forced Europe to reassess its relationship with America, which stimulated the EU’s drive for greater self-reliance in security, economics, supply chains and climate change, and an attempt to emerge as a major global pillar alongside the United States and China.




Fiscal consolidation Vs Infrastructure push

  • The fiscal year 2020-21 has been an extraordinary one, where India had to face an acute economic crisis triggered by a non-economic factor — a pandemic.
  • Proposed growth in central expenditure, both in 2020-21 Revised Estimates (RE) and in 2021-22 Budget Estimates (BE), indicates the extent of contemplated fiscal stimulus.
  • The accumulated food subsidies amounting to ₹2,54,600 crore given to the Food Corporation of India through National Small Savings Fund (NSSF) loans.
  • The balance of subsidies amounting to ₹1,68,018 crore would be the food subsidy pertaining to 2020-21 (RE). This is a desirable change towards transparency.
  • A good part of expenditure for the last quarter of 2020-21 may also pertain to clearing unpaid dues of various stakeholders including the private sector, autonomous bodies and government-aided institutions.
  • Clearing these payments is desirable and would add to demand. It is these overdue expenditures which would enable the government to reach the high expenditure growth levels in the last quarter of this fiscal year.
  • Significant increases are planned in non-tax revenues and non-debt capital receipts. From a contraction of 35.6% in 2020-21 (RE), non-tax revenues are budgeted to grow by 15.4% in 2021-22.
  • This increase is mainly predicated on higher dividends from non-departmental undertakings and spectrum sales. In the case of non debt capital receipts, mainly covering disinvestment, a budgeted growth of 304.3% in 2021-22 stands.
  • An important initiative pertains to the launching of a National Monetisation Pipeline.
  • This would be the first practical step towards asset monetisation. The pipeline may eventually start yielding revenues
  • The budgeted increase in capital outlay would provide the central government’s share to the National Infrastructure Pipeline.
  • Some of the proposed Budget initiatives include setting up of a Development Finance Institution (DFI) with an initial capital of ₹20,000 crore, to serve as a catalyst for facilitating infrastructure investment.
  • In order to manage non-performing assets of public sector banks, there is a proposal to set up an Asset Reconstruction Company and an Asset Management Company.
  • These institutional initiatives may prove to be effective
  • In the action taken report, the Union government has accepted the recommended vertical share of 41% for the States in the shareable pool of central taxes.
  • The government has accepted the Fifteenth Finance Commission’s recommendation for revenue deficit grants, local body grants and disaster-related grants.
  • The scope of revenue deficit grants has been extended to cover 17 States in the initial years.
  • The COVID-19 shock has fortified the sharp upsurge in fiscal deficits in 2020-21 and 2021-22.
  • The Fifteenth Finance Commission has also proposed a revised fiscal consolidation road map for the Centre and States.
  • The Fifteenth Finance Commission has recommended the setting up of a High-Powered Intergovernmental Group to re-examine the fiscal responsibility legislations of the Centre and States
  • The issue of debt sustainability can be certainly re-examined by taking into account the evolving profiles of debt, interest payments, and primary deficits relative to GDP.



Himalayan meltdown

  • Number of glaciers in Hindu Kush Himalayan region is rising.
  • Glaciers are typically located in polar regions and at high elevations in mountains like the Himalayas where the climate is cool and conducive to the conditions required to form them.
  • This is because they are made up of fallen snow that over many decades compresses down into larger, denser masses of ice.
  • Rapid warming of the region leads to not only melting of glaciers but also fragmentation.
  • The number of glaciers in the Himalayan area has increased in the last five decades.
  • How severe glacier melting has been due to global warming, says the first-ever assessment of climate change impacts on the Hindu Kush Himalayan (HKH) region.
  • Factors responsible for increase in number of glaciers
  1. Primarily due to glacier fragmentation that big ones are splitting into smaller ones.
  2. Due to consistent loss in areas the glaciers occupy.
  3. The main reason glaciers have begun to melt is because of human activity.
  4. Carbon dioxide emissions are one big culprit
  5. Ice melt is the warming of the oceans.
  6. Building large dams around glaciers could slow erosion from arctic melting.

Effects Of Glaciers Melting

  • Rise in sea level and flooding of coastal areas
  • Increased frequency of extreme weather events
  • Collapse of ocean-based industries
  • Loss of species
  • Loss of freshwater

Why in news ?

  • Number of glaciers in Hindu Kush Himalayan region is rising.
  • Overall, snowfall and accumulation has been coming down in this region. Since 2000, snow-covered area of HKH has reported a decline.
  • Since 1960s, an analysis of ice cores on the Tibetan Plateau shows, snow accumulation has been decreasing at high altitudes.



Glacial lake outburst Floods

What is a GLOF ?

  • Glacial lake outburst Flood (GLOF) is a phenomenon used to describe a sudden release of a significant amount of water retained in a glacial lake.
  • GLOFs are characterized by extreme peak discharges.
  • Often several times in excess of the maximum discharges of hydrometeorological induced floods.
  • GLOF is Erosion/transport potential.
  • They can turn into flow-type movements.
  • GLOF-induced debris flows.

Factors responsible for GLOFs

  • Rapid slope movement into the lake
  • Heavy rainfall and snowmelt
  • Cascading processes (flood from a lake situated upstream)
  • Digging mountains for industrial purpose
  • Earthquake
  • Melting of ice incorporated in dam/forming the dam
  • Volcanic activities
  • Blocking of subsurface outflow tunnels

How Glacial Lake are formed ?

  • Glacial lakes are formed by melting glaciers.
  • Sudden discharge of large volumes of water and debris from them is is termed glacial lake outburst flood or GLOF.
  • Sikkim at risk of devastating floods from glacial lake outbursts

Why GLoFs in news ?

  • Glacier breaks in Uttarakhand’s Chamoli, district
  • Sikkim is surrounded by potentially dangerous glacial lakes that can burst and cause floods any time.
  • The inventory of glacial lakes in Sikkim Himalaya, prepared using temporal satellite data, shows the presence of 320 glacial lakes.

Analysis of data through satellite

  • Data revealed that a lake has formed at the snout of South Lhonak glacier.
  • It is at a height of about 7,000 metres.
  • The lake is bounded only by loose soil and debris called moraine that could cause havoc downstream if it ruptures.
  • According to scientists at the National Remote Sensing Centre (NRSC) in Hyderabad analysis, a sudden outburst can create devastating floods downstream.
  • The glacial lake hazard vulnerability studied in Shako Chhu lake in Sikkim Himalaya shows a high risk of GLOF.