Current Affairs Mar 22

Attracting international students to India

Why in News?

  • The Ministry of Education is deliberating on measures to increase the number of international students coming to India for higher studies.

Study in India

  • Study in India is a programme of the Govt of India that aims to attract international students to higher education institutions in India .
  • Select 117 institutions are partners under the programme that was launched in 2018. Admissions are merit based and done through a common portal.
  • Around 7500 students from over 50 countries have come to Indian institutions so far under this programme.
  • The Ministry is also looking towards enhanced academic collaborations between Indian and international institutions under Twinning, Joint and Dual degrees with credit transfer mechanism.
  • UGC has already brought out draft regulations in this regard that have currently been put up for stakeholder consultation. There regulations will give a boost to student exchange programmes and short programmes of one or two semesters .




‘Jal Shakti Abhiyan:Catch the Rain’ campaign

Why in News?

  • Prime Minister will launch the ‘Jal Shakti Abhiyan:Catch the Rain’ campaign on World Water Day i.e. on 22nd March 2021.
  • In the presence of the Prime Minister, the signing of historic Memorandum of Agreement between the Union Minister of Jal Shakti and the Chief Ministers of Madhya Pradesh and Uttar Pradesh to implement the Ken Betwa Link Project, the first project of the National Perspective Plan for interlinking of rivers, will also take place.

About ‘Jal Shakti Abhiyan:Catch the Rain’

  • The Campaign will be undertaken across the country, in both rural and urban areas, with the theme “catch the rain, where it falls, when it falls”.
  • It will be implemented from 22nd March 2021 to 30th November, 2021 – the pre-monsoon and monsoon period in the country.
  • It will be launched as a Jan Andolan to take water conservation at grass-root level through people’s participation. It is intended to nudge all stakeholders to create rainwater harvesting structures suitable to the climatic conditions and subsoil strata, to ensure proper storage of rainwater.
  • Gram Sabhas will be held in all Gram Panchayats of each district (except in the poll bound states) to discuss issues related to water and water conservation.
  • Gram Sabhas will also take ‘Jal Shapath’ for water conservation.

About MoA for Ken Betwa Link Project

  • The agreement heralds the beginning of inter- state cooperation to implement the vision of Former Prime Minister Shri Atal Bihari Vajpayee to carry water from areas that have surplus water to drought prone and water deficit areas, through the interlinking of rivers.
  • This project involves transfer of water from the Ken to the Betwa River through the construction of Daudhan Dam and a canal linking the two rivers, the Lower Orr Project, Kotha Barrage and Bina Complex Multipurpose Project.
  • The Project will be of immense benefit to the water starved region of Bundelkhand.




SERB Women Excellence Award

Why in News?

  • Shobhna Kapoor, Assistant Professor at IIT Bombay has received the SERB Women Excellence Award for 2021.

Her Study

  • Study of roles played by lipids in infectious diseases at molecular level and inventorying the pathogenic lipid-induced effects in host cell membrane properties, has tremendous potential to discover and design resistance-free membrane-centric drugs/drug targets for infectious diseases.
  • Lipids are molecules that contain hydrocarbons and make up the building blocks of the structure and function of living cells. Examples of lipids include fats, oils, waxes, certain vitamins (such as A, D, E and K), hormones and most of the cell membrane that is not made up of protein.
  • The award instituted by Science and Engineering Research Board (SERB), Department of Science and Technology (DST), recognises and rewards outstanding research achievements of young women scientists in frontier areas of Science and Engineering.
  • Pathogens, including Mycobacterium Tuberculosis that causes Tuberculosis, and SARs-COV-2 that causes COVID-19, have evolved to use their lipids to modify processes in the host cell during infection as well to mitigate action of drugs.
  • These observations bring biomembranes to the forefront for developing novel anti-infective strategies that rely on affecting membrane structure and function, which has rarely been investigated.
  • Her group has investigated the correlation between host lipid membrane structural modification and modulation of membrane-associated signaling.
  • Their work has substantiated the host cell membrane insertion and modification of cellular immune processes as a previously unknown mode of action of virulent Mtb lipids, wherein Mtb can fine-tune its interaction with the host governed by the nature of its exposed lipids.
  • Their output provides avenues for developing lipid-centric therapeutic approaches against mycobacteria and other infectious agents, which up till now remained unexplored.




Oral vaccine for COVID-19

Why in News?

  • An Indian-Israeli collaboration has reportedly developed an oral vaccine, one that can be swallowed like a pill instead of being injected as is the norm, for COVID-19.
  • A preliminary test in animals showed that the vaccine produced the expected antibodies that confer protection.
  • Premas Biotech, a Gurugram-based biotechnology firm and Oramed Pharmaceuticals, a Jerusalem headquartered company, have a long standing collaboration on developing new drug delivery techniques.

About Vaccine

  • The nascent COVID-19 vaccine candidate is a “protein-based VLP (Virus Like Particle) vaccine candidate” that generates “triple protection” against the SARS CoV-2 virus, that is, it is able to target the spike, membrane, and envelope proteins of the coronavirus.
  • These three proteins are critical to the structure of the coronavirus and give it form as well as the ability to replicate inside the body.
  • Typically vaccines are supposed to coax the immune systems into producing antibodies neutralising these antigenic proteins.
  • The challenge with making an oral vaccine is that gastric juices would rapidly degrade any protective layers enclosing the antigen making them useless.




Formal Indigenous Knowledge System School

Why in News?

  • Arunachal Pradesh Chief Minister has inaugurated the state’s first formal indigenous language and knowledge system school in East Kameng district.
  • The school will help in promoting and preserving indigenous traditions, culture and language.
  • ₹3 crore has been earmarked for the development and upkeep of the school.




 Chuktia Bhunjia

Why in News?

  • Protesting the lack of basic amenities, the Chuktia Bhunjia, a particularly vulnerable tribal group from the Sunabeda plateau of Odisha’s Nuapada district, has threatened to relinquish its nativity and become part of Chhattisgarh.
  • Sunabeda has been declared as a wildlife sanctuary.
  • Three families belonging to the Paharia community in Sunabeda have shifted to Chhattisgarh to get the benefit of tribal status. Paharias, who come under the Other Backward Classes in Odisha, are treated as tribals in Chhattisgarh.
  • There are two panchayats — Soseng and Sunabeda — situated inside the Sunabeda Sanctuary. Perched at a height of 3,500 ft above sea level, most villages and hamlets are yet to get power and road connectivity.
  • This forces the forest dwellers to walk long distances to catch buses at Barkote in the foothills.




Places of Worship Act

Why in News?

  • Recently, the Supreme Court asked the Centre to respond to a petition that challenges the constitutional validity of the Places of Worship (Special Provisions) Act, 1991.
  • The law was enacted to freeze the status of all places of worship in the country as on August 15, 1947.
  • An exception was made to keep the Babri Masjid-Ramjanmabhoomi dispute out of its ambit as the structure was then the subject of litigation.

What does the 1991 Act say?

  • The Act says that no person shall convert any place of worship of any religious denomination into one of a different denomination or section.
  • It contains a declaration that a place of worship shall continue to be as it was on August 15, 1947.
  • Significantly, it prohibits any legal proceedings from being instituted regarding the character of a place of worship, and declares that all suits and appeals pending before any court or authority on the cut-off date regarding the conversion of the character of a place of worship shall abate.
  • In other words, all pending cases will come to an end, and no further proceedings can be filed. However, any suit or proceedings relating to any conversion of status that happened after the cut-off date can continue.

The 1991 Act will not apply in some cases

  • It will not apply to ancient and historical monuments and archaeological sites and remains that are covered by the Ancient Monuments and Archaeological Sites and Remains Act, 1958.
  • It will also not apply to any suit that has been finally settled or disposed of, any dispute that has been settled by the parties before the 1991 Act came into force, or to the conversion of any place that took place by acquiescence.
  • Anyone contravening the prohibition on converting the status of a place of worship is liable to be imprisoned for up to three years, and a fine.
  • Those abetting or participating in a criminal conspiracy to commit this offence will also get the same punishment.




Myanmar Refugees Issue

Why in News?

  • With the February 1 military coup in Myanmar, Mizoram is caught between a humanitarian urge and India’s policy on refugees.
  • At least 1,000 people from the adjoining Chin State of Myanmar have crossed over to Mizoram, fearing a military crackdown.
  • The Mizoram government favours providing refuge to the Chins, who are ethnically related to the majority Mizos in the State, but the Ministry of Home Affairs has made it clear that “India is not a signatory to the 1951 UN Convention relating to the Status of Refugees and the 1967 Protocol theron”.

Is this the first time this has happened?

  • Extremism, counter-insurgency and sectarian violence have driven people out of Myanmar into India in the past as well. More than 1,200 Buddhists and Christians from Myanmar’s Arakan State had taken refuge in Mizoram’s Lawngtlai district in 2017.
  • Thousands of Chins are said to be living in Mizoram for more than 40 years now.

How porous is the border?

  • Unlike India’s border with Pakistan and Bangladesh, much of the border with Myanmar is without any fence. The Assam Rifles personnel guard the border but a tough terrain comes in the way of maintaining airtight vigil.
  • The two countries had in 2018 agreed to streamline the movement of people within 16 km of the border on either side.
  • There are more than 250 villages with about 3,00,000 people living within 10 km of the India-Myanmar border.





‘Eagle Shark’

Why in News?

  • Scientists have discovered a new species of ancient winged shark, which fed on plankton eons before the emergence of giant manta rays.
  • The species, Aquilolamna milarcae, which lived around 93 million years ago, was discovered in the north east of Mexico.
  • Like modern-day rays, the species, nicknamed “eagle shark”, had extremely long pectoral fins reminiscent of wings.
  • Coupled with a large head and no teeth found on the skeleton — suggesting they were very small or missing entirely, it was more a plankton eater than predator.
  • Until the discovery, scientists had only known of one category of large plankton feeders in the Cretaceous period, a group of large bony fish known as pachycormidae.




Great Nicobar Island

Why in News?

  • More than 150 sq. km. of land is being made available for Phase I of a NITI Aayog-piloted ‘holistic’ and ‘sustainable’ vision for Great Nicobar Island, the southernmost in the Andaman and Nicobar group.
  • This amounts to nearly 18% of the 910 sq. km. island, and will cover nearly a quarter of its coastline.
  • The overall plan envisages the use of about 244 sq. km. – a major portion being pristine forest and coastal systems.
  • Projects to be executed in Phase I include a 22 sq. km. airport complex, a transshipment port (TSP) at South Bay, a parallel-to-the-coast mass rapid transport system and a free trade zone and warehousing complex on the south western coast.

Ecological uniqueness

  • Recently, the Standing Committee of the National Board for Wildlife (NBWL) denotified the entire Galathea Bay Wildlife Sanctuary to allow for the port there.
  • The NBWL committee seemed unaware that India’s National Marine Turtle Action Plan that was under preparation then (it was released on February 1, 2021) had listed Galathea Bay as one of the ‘Important Coastal and Marine Biodiversity Areas’ and ‘Important Marine Turtle Habitats’ in the country.
  • It is included in Coastal Regulation Zone (CRZ)-I, the zone with maximum protection.
  • The October 2020 draft notification for this zero extent ESZ had ironically listed out in great detail the park’s ecological uniqueness – that it is part of a UNESCO World Heritage Site, houses a range of forest types, has one of the best preserved tropical rainforests in the world, is home to 648 species of flora and hosts 330 species of fauna including rare and endemic ones such as the Nicobar wild pig, Nicobar tree shrew, the Great Nicobar crested serpent eagle, Nicobar paradise flycatcher and the Nicobar megapode.
  • It also notes that the park is home to the indigenous Shompen community.
  • Giant leatherback turtle and the Nicobar megapode, two charismatic species for whom Great Nicobar is very important.
  • The beaches here, like at the mouth of the river Galathea in South Bay are among the most prominent nesting sites globally of the Giant leatherback.
  • It for this reason that the bay was declared a wildlife sanctuary in 1997, but has now been denotified to allow for the transhipment port.
  • Nicobar megapode, the globally endangered bird unique to the Nicobars, 90% of this ground nesting bird’s nests to be within a distance of 30 m from the shore.

Threat to Shompen

  • Similar concerns exist about the impact on the Shompen community.
  • The proposed project areas are important foraging grounds for this hunter-gatherer nomadic community and the official Shompen Policy of 2015 specifically noted that the welfare and integrity of these people should be given priority “with regard to large-scale development proposals in the future for Great Nicobar Island (such as trans-shipment port/container terminal etc.)”.




Helium in India

Why in News?

  • Helium is colourless, odourless, tasteless, inert and a noble gas. Yet, it finds many applications, mainly in magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) scans, in rockets and in nuclear reactors. India imports helium for its needs, and with the U.S. appearing set to cut off exports of helium since 2021, Indian industry stands to lose out heavily.

Helium on Earth

  • In 1906 a young Englishman by the name of Moris Travers arrived in Bangalore, to take up the position of the Director of Indian Institute of Science.
  • Travers extracted helium in small quantity by heating up monazite sand abundantly available in Kerala beach.
  • The U.S. became the most important exporter of helium across the world.
  • S. was also the biggest store house of helium.
  • The U.S., now, is planning to switch off export of helium from 2021. Qatar is a possible exporter but acute political and diplomatic wrangles have made Qatar unreliable.
  • Every year, India imports helium worth Rs 55,000 crores from the U.S. to meet its needs.
  • The area called Rajmahal volcanic basin around Bakreswar and nearby Tantloi, now in Jharkhand, were floating on an ocean of helium.




Legacy of Tomar king Anangpal II

Why in News?

  • The government has recently formed a committee to popularise the legacy of 11th-century Tomar king, Anangpal II.
  • Crediting him with giving Delhi its present name and also repopulating it, the National Monument Authority — which functions under the Ministry of Culture — has embarked on a mission to present “correct history” to the people through the works of historians, academics and archaeologists.

Who was Anangpal II?

  • Anangpal II, popularly known as Anangpal Tomar, belonged to the Tomar dynasty that ruled parts of present-day Delhi and Haryana between the 8th and 12th centuries.
  • The capital of Tomars changed many times from being initially at Anangpur (near Faridabad) during the reign of Anangpal I (who founded the Tomar dynasty in the 8th century), to Dhillikapuri (Delhi) during the reign of Anangpal II.
  • The Tomar rule over the region is attested by multiple inscriptions and coins, and their ancestry can be traced to the Pandavas (of the Mahabharata).
  • Anangpal Tomar II was succeeded by his grandson Prithviraj Chauhan, who was defeated by the Ghurid forces in the Battle of Tarain (present-day Haryana) after which the Delhi Sultanate was established in 1192.




World Water Day

  • World Water Day is observed on March 22 every year. It seeks to focus attention on the global water crisis.
  • World Water Day will focus on the theme, Valuing Water this year.
  • This target will extend beyond concerns of cost to include the environmental and socio-cultural value placed on water resources.
  • World Water Day 2021, is about what water means to people, it’s value and how we can protect this essential life resource.

History of the Day

  • The idea for this international day goes back to 1992, the year in which the United Nations Conference on Environment and Development in Rio de Janeiro took place.
  • That same year, the United Nations General Assembly adopted a resolution by which 22 March of each year was declared World Day for Water, to be observed starting in 1993.




International Day of Forests

  • The United Nations observes March 21 as the International Day of Forests, commemorating the green cover around the world and reiterating its importance.
  • The theme of the International Day of Forests for 2021 is “Forest restoration: a path to recovery and well-being”.

Why is the International Day of Forests celebrated?

  • The United Nations General Assembly proclaimed March 21 as the International Day of Forests (IDF) in 2012.
  • The Day is celebrated by the United Nations Forum on Forests and the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations (FAO), in collaboration with governments, the Collaborative Partnership on Forests and other relevant organisations in the field.
  • This year’s theme aims to emphasise how restoration and sustainable management of forests can help address climate change and biodiversity crisis. It can also help produce goods and services for sustainable development, fostering an economic activity that creates jobs and improves lives.
  • Themes of the International Day of Forests are aimed to fit into the UN Decade on Ecosystem Restoration (2021-2030), which calls for the protection and revival of ecosystems around the world.