Rainfall in Greenland summit
- Rain fell at the highest point on the Greenland ice sheet last week for the first time on record, another worrying sign of warming for the ice sheet already melting at an increasing rate, scientists said on Friday, August 20.
- “That’s not a healthy sign for an ice sheet
- Not only is water warmer than the usual snow, it is also darker – so it absorbs more sunlight
- This meltwater is streaming into the ocean, causing sea levels to rise.
- Already, melting from Greenland’s ice sheet – the world’s second largest after Antarctica’s – has caused around 25% of global sea level rise seen over the last few decades, scientists estimate.
- That share is expected to grow, as global temperatures increase
Draft electricity (Amendment) bill 2021
- Opposition parties and several organisations have objected to certain features in the draft Electricity (Amendment) Bill, 2021.
- proposed legislation, according to critics, goes against the federal structure of the Constitution as electricity is in the concurrent list.
- Those opposing the Bill contend that it will lead to more private players in the power sector, making electricity unaffordable for vulnerable sections
- The Electricity Act, 2003, led to thermal generation getting delicensed and States unbundling the vertically integrated State Electricity Boards into generation companies and distribution companies (discoms).
- Though the idea is to promote competition and efficiency, the discoms have, by and large, remained under the control of the States
- Thirty-six out of 56 discoms reported aggregate losses of around ₹32,900 crore as on March 31, 2020.
- With the discoms saddled with structural challenges in governance and regulation, combined with the chronic problems of underinvestment, line losses and issues in billing, metering, and collection, the government has been trying to amend the Electricity Act.
- The present version of the draft Bill was drawn up in April 2020.
- The broad objectives of the legislation, as articulated by Mr. Singh a year ago, are: ensure consumer-centricity, promote ease of doing business, enhance sustainability of the power sector and promote green power.
- The draft Bill has covered nearly a dozen areas, such as distribution franchise and sub-licence, subsidy, and cost-reflective tariff.
- Among the remedies presented by the government through the initiative are direct benefit transfer (DBT) of subsidies, reduction of cross subsidies, role for distribution sub-licensees with regulators’ nod, the adoption of a national renewable energy policy and the establishment of the electricity contract enforcement authority.
- The proposed de-licensing of distribution has unnerved many States, from Tamil Nadu to West Bengal and Maharashtra to Punjab.
- The States feel that a greater role for private distribution companies and franchisees would only lead to “cherry-picking of remunerative areas” by them, leaving it to the State discoms to serve social sector obligations and rural areas.
- This, they feel, will lead to the States incurring massive losses
- The draft Bill is also being opposed by many political parties and farmers on the ground that DBT will do away with the heavily subsidised or free power supply to the farm sector.
- If the Centre and the States can arrive at a broad consensus, at least on two crucial areas of DBT and giving space for private distribution companies and franchisees, the proposed amendment can be a game-changer for the power sector, according to experts.
Trial of HIV vaccine
- Moderna, the Massachusetts-based American biotechnology company, has indicated that it may begin human trials for a vaccine for HIV (human immunodeficiency virus)
- Formally known as mRNA-1644, it is made in a way to stimulate the B cells of the immune system. These are a class of white blood cells that produce antibodies which can bind to invading bacteria and viruses.
- The larger purpose of stimulating the B cells is to generate what are called broadly neutralising antibodies (bnAbs), which are specialised blood proteins that attach to the surface proteins of HIV and disable them by accessing key but hard-to-reach regions on the virus.
- Over the last decade, there have been advances in identifying new bnAbs from HIV-infected individuals that were seen to target very specific sites in the outer envelope of the HIV.
- Lab-based analysis and tests on animals have improved the understanding of how the knowledge of these sites can be used to make immunogens (or parts of a virus or bacteria that elicit an antibody response from the immune system
- One such immunogen that has been designed in the lab is eOD-GT8 60mer, developed by the International AIDS Vaccine Initiative (IAVI) and its partners.
- According to the World Health Organization, there are around 37.7 million living with HIV as of 2020.
- Traditional vaccine approaches have not worked for HIV, and in fact, some of them have gone on to worsen infection.
- RNA-based immunogens are believed to be a promising alternative because they do not involve the use of a live virus, can be made relatively easily, can be quickly deployed and safely administered.
- A drawback of m-RNA vaccines used to be their instability. However, the experience with the coronavirus vaccine has come as a shot in the arm.
- The success of m-RNA vaccines — Pfizer -BioNTech and Moderna — in reducing hospitalisation and mortality has led to confidence in the underlying platform
- Getting essential jabs to the regions where they are most needed is the biggest stumbling block.
- Another challenge with m-RNA vaccines is that they are sensitive to temperature in storage, and is a challenge for developing countries.
- HIV has mutated into several variants and is an insidious virus, and it will be many years before definitive proof of the success of the m-RNA approach can be established.
- In the monsoon session, Parliament passed the Airports Economic Regulatory Authority of India (Amendment) Bill, 2021.
- The Bill, seeks to broaden the category of airports for which the Airports Economic Regulatory Authority (AERA) of India can determine tariff by amending the definition of major airports.
- The AERA regulates tariffs and other charges for aeronautical services rendered at ‘major’ airports.
- Under the AERA Act, 2008, a major airport is one which “has, or is designated to have, annual passenger throughput in excess of three-and-a-half million or any other airport as the Central Government may, by notification, specify”.
- However, it does not provide for determination of tariff for a group of airports.
- The Amendment Bill has amended the definition of a major airport to include “a group of airports” after the words “any other airport”.
- The government hopes the move will encourage development of smaller airports and make bidding for airports with less passenger traffic attractive.
- It plans to club profitable airports with non-profitable ones and offer them as a package for development in public-private partnership mode to expand connectivity.
- “Though this Bill proposes to make changes which appear to be lucrative for the aviation sector, there is a lack of clarity regarding what will be the criterion for deciding which airports get clubbed together
Babbling bat babies
- Human babies are not the only ones who babble, some bats are also very talkative in their infancy.
- Babbling in human children is key to developing the careful control over the vocal apparatus necessary for speech.
- The study, published in the journal Science, indicates that the same practice is seen in the greater sac-winged bat, or Saccopteryx bilineata, native to Central America
- Elephants and killer whales are highly socially organised.
- Giraffes were believed to have little or no social structures, which studies over the last decade have shown otherwise.
- A study from Bristol University finds about 30% of the life of giraffes is in post-reproductive stages, comparable to, say, elephants.
- The study deduces that this helps giraffes engage in co-operative parenting.
- Warming bias A study by MIT researchers published in Science Advances looks at paleoclimate over the last 66 million years and finds a warming bias, that is, there were far more warming events than cooling ones.
- There were many more instances of prolonged global warming that lasted thousands to tens of thousands of years.
- These were multiplied by existing warming.
- A team of marine biologists from the Central University of Punjab have discovered a new species of marine green algae from Andaman and Nicobar Islands.
- It has been named Acetabularia jalakanyakae.
- Jalakanyaka in Sanskrit literally means mermaid, the researchers were influenced by the fairy tale “The Little Mermaid’
- Nuclear fusion is a clean and green route to producing energy, as it does not involve any remnant radioactive waste products. Fusion reactions power hydrogen bombs.
- However, so far, fusion devices that show a net energy gain have not been demonstrated in labs.
- Nuclear fusion is a reaction in which two or more atomic nuclei are combined to form one or more different atomic nuclei and subatomic particles.
- The difference in mass between the reactants and products is manifested as either the release or the absorption of energy
Experiment in US
- An experiment at the U.S. National Ignition Facility (NIF), within the Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory, Livermore, California, comes close to demonstrating this.
- In this lab, using laser beams, tiny pellets of deuterium and tritium (heavier isotopes of hydrogen) have been fused to form helium and release energy that very nearly matches the amount of energy input using the laser
- After the Collegium came into existence, much to the consternation of political class, the selection of suitable judges has become most arduous in as much as the members of the Collegium have to take extra care to ensure that the process of selection remains transparent and the suitability of the persons selected attracts the highest level of approbation.
- The members of the Collegium are all the senior most judges who have in their own way helped shape the ethos of the highest judiciary.
- With their keen intellect, long years of experience at the Bench and an admirable ability to discern merit in individuals.
- Article 142 (1) contains the concept of ‘complete justice’ in any cause or matter which the Supreme Court is enjoined to deliver upon.
- The citizens of the country look up to the Supreme Court for complete justice.
- So, while selecting a judge to adorn the Bench, the fundamental consideration should be his/her ability to do complete justice
- In the Supreme Court Advocates-on-Record Association and Another vs Union of India (1993), the Court spelt out the parameters within which to accomplish the task of selecting candidates for appointment to the higher judiciary.
- The most crucial consideration is the merit of the candidates
- The merit is the ability of the judge to deliver complete justice.
- “In the context of the plurastic [pluralistic] society of India where there are several distinct and differing interests of the people with multiplicity of religions, race, caste and community and with the plurality of culture .
- it is inevitable that all people should be given equal opportunity in all walks of life and brought into the mainstream so that there may be participation of all sections of people in every sphere including judiciary”.
- The overriding concern of the Supreme judiciary is to ensure equal opportunities to all classes of people
- India is perhaps the only country where the judges select judges to the higher judiciary.
- It is, therefore, necessary to make the norms of selection transparent.
- Political violence has long been a feature of West Bengal politics.
- Whether it is due to a sense of mass empowerment, or an outcome of political awareness, or the partisan nature of electoral politics, the phenomenon has been a subject of debate as well as a cause for concern.
- The court’s decision to get the National Human Rights Commission to form a panel, including representatives of the State Human Rights Commission and the State Legal Services Authority, to make a field assessment
- The main judgment by Acting Chief Justice Rajesh Bindal has explained the reasons for handing over the probe to the central agency: the lack of concrete action, the absence of first information reports, or diluted ones registered after a committee had pointed out such cases, and the tendency to downplay many cases.
- Further, when faced with allegations of police apathy and inaction, only an investigation by an independent agency will inspire confidence.
- In a separate opinion, Justice I.P. Mukerji said that there was nothing to show that the ruling party intended to promote political violence, but agreed that the CBI probe was needed to ensure a fair investigation into heinous crimes.
- The State government may appeal against the verdict
- The Indian SARS-CoV-2 Genomics Consortium (INSACOG), jointly initiated by the Union Health Ministry of Health, and Department of Biotechnology (DBT) with Council for Scientific & Industrial Research (CSIR) and Indian Council of Medical Research (ICMR), is a consortium of 28 National Laboratories to monitor the genomic variations in the SARS-CoV-2.
- INSACOG is a multi-laboratory, multi-agency, Pan-India network to monitor genomic variations in the SARS-CoV-2 by a sentinel sequencing effort.
- The network carries out whole genome sequencing of SARS-CoV-2 virus across the nation, aiding the understanding of how the virus spreads and evolves, and provide information to aid public health response.
Non communicable diseases
- Nearly 71% of all deaths worldwide occur due to non-communicable diseases (NCDs) such as hypertension, diabetes, cardiovascular diseases, chronic respiratory diseases, and cancer.
- Cardiovascular diseases such as stroke, heart attacks and coronary artery disease are the top cause of global deaths.
- One out of every four deaths occurs due to cardiovascular diseases, especially among younger patients.
- In the Indian subcontinent, there is early onset and rapid progression of such diseases, and a high mortality rate.
- Premature loss of life due to NCDs in the age group of 30- 69 years is also very high among Indians.
- Half the deaths due to cardiovascular diseases occur in the age group of 40-69 years.
- To address this growing burden of NCDs, the National Health Mission launched the National Programme for Prevention and Control of Cancer, Diabetes, Cardiovascular Diseases and Stroke, in 2010, focusing on strengthening infrastructure, promoting good health, human resource development, early diagnosis, management and referral.
- Disruption in NCD services
- Data from the National Health Mission’s Health Management Information System in India show that emergency services for cerebrovascular diseases dropped by about 14%..
- In most countries, staff working in the area of NCDs were reassigned to support patients with COVID-19, and public screening programmes were postponed. Shortage of medicines, diagnostics and technologies were the main reasons for discontinuing services
- India’s response plan to address the growing burden of NCDs must include tobacco cessation activities as tobacco consumption has been indisputably linked to hypertension, cardiovascular diseases and stroke.
- There is an urgent need for national and State health policymakers to draw up a road map which gives equal weight to patients living with NCDs.
- Utilising the existing network of NGOs while respecting local factors will go a long way in tackling the growing burden of NCDs.
- Campaigns on maintaining a healthy lifestyle need innovation.
- Strategies must include mitigation efforts to address administration challenges, a strong health workforce, infrastructure, supplies, maintaining the standard of care, and continued access and care for the vulnerable populations.
- Also, the importance of physical activity and mental health due to restrictions on movement should be brought to the forefront.
- The use of alternative modalities such as online platforms for disseminating information on exercise and mental health management must be made available to the marginalised.
- Telemedicine can reduce travel expenses, thus lowering patients’ expenditure burden
- The Quad countries — India, the U.S., Australia and Japan — will carry out the next edition of the Malabar naval exercise from August 26 to 29 off the coast of Guam amid mounting global concerns over China’s growing military muscle-flexing in the Indo-Pacific region.
- Indian stealth frigate INS Shivalik and anti-submarine warfare corvette INS Kadmatt arrived in Guam, an island territory of the U.S. in the Western Pacific.
- The exercise is taking place in the midst of growing convergence of interests in the maritime domain as well as military cooperation among the Quad nations in the face of China’s increasing assertiveness.
- Though the exercise is not part of the framework of cooperation under Quad, it is seen as a reflection of the increasing partnership among the four countries
- China has been suspicious about the purpose of the exercise as it feels that the annual war game is an effort to contain its influence in the Indo-Pacific
The Jan Shikshan Sansthan (JSS)
- The Jan Shikshan Sansthan (JSS), a Union government initiative for skill development in rural areas, has brought high-speed internet to some of the remotest tribal hamlets deep inside the Nilambur jungle in Kerala.
- Jan Shikshan Sansthan (formerly known as Shramik Vidyapeeth) provide vocational skills to non-literate, neo-literates as well as school drop-outs by identifying skills that have a market in the region of their establishment.
- The Scheme of Jan Shikshan Sansthan has been transferred from Ministry of Human Resource Development to Ministry of Skill Development and Entrepreneurship in July-2018.
- Socio-economically backward and educationally disadvantaged groups of rural/urban population.
- Main target include non-literate, neo-literates, person education upto 8th standard, school drop-outs, in the age group of 15-35 years.
- Priority given to women, SC, ST, OBC and Minorities in rural areas and urban slums.
Conflict in Afghanistan
- Afghanistan’s current predicament is only a small part of a much bigger story pertaining to American foreign policy.
- Seen in conjunction with what has happened to Iraq, Libya and Syria, the moral flaw in American foreign policy and the U.S.’s contribution to destroying nations becomes apparent.
- The 2020 Doha Agreement between the U.S. and the Taliban merely eased the process and brought forth a rare consensus
- The current mess in Afghanistan, and in Syria, Libya and Iraq, once more reaffirms that in the domain of foreign policy, there is very little ideological difference between the Republicans and Democrats who alternately govern the U.S.
- Aside from the extremist nature of the Taliban, what poses an equally dangerous threat to Afghanistan is that it remains the site of a power struggle among big and regional powers.
- At this juncture, a new equation seems to be emerging in the security game in the region.
- There is a China Pakistan axis vis-à-vis an India-U.S. one. Russia, Iran and a few others have their own spin to the game