- A) Schemes, Policies, Initiatives, Awards and Social Issues
- Year Ender 2020—Department of Biotechnology (DBT) (PIB)
- Pradhan Mantri Awaas Yojana – Gramin (PIB)
- B) Indices, Reports, Surveys, Committees and Organisations
- National Startup Advisory Council (PIB)
- C) International Relations
- S-400 Triumf Air-Defense System and CAATSA (TH)
- Darfur Region (TH)
- D) Polity, Bills, Acts and Judgments
- What is Question Hour? (TH)
- E) Science and Technology, Defence, Space
- What are Deepfakes? (TH)
- F) Economic Developments: India and World
- The concepts of Bad Bank and Non-Performing Assets (NPAs) (IE)
- G) Agriculture, Geography, Environment and Biodiversity
- Bandipur Tiger Reserve (BTR) (TH)
- Ammonia in Water Bodies (TH)
- H) Miscellaneous
- Parakram Diwas (PIB)
- Indo-French Exercise Desert Knight-21 (PIB)
A) Schemes, Policies, Initiatives, Awards and Social Issues
Year Ender 2020—Department of Biotechnology (DBT) (PIB)
- UNaTI (Undertaking Nationally Relevant Technology Innovation) Atal Jai Anusandhan Mission has been implemented by DBT with a major focus on improved agriculture, affordable healthcare, clean energy and cutting-edge frontier science.
- This mission includes GARBH-ini– A Mission to promote Maternal and Child Health and develop prediction tools for pre-term berth, IndCEPI – A Mission to develop affordable vaccines for endemic diseases, Development of Biofortified and Protein Rich wheat – contributing to POSHAN Abhiyan, Mission on Anti Microbial Resistance for Affordable Diagnostics and Therapeutics and Clean Energy Mission – Innovative Technology interventions for Swachh Bharat.
- GARBH-ini(interdisciplinary Group for Advanced Research in BirtH outcomes- DBT India Initiative) study aim to discover molecular risk-markers and generate a risk-prediction algorithm for preterm birth which will facilitate timely referral and care for at-risk mothers, thus saving children’s lives and reducing morbidity.
- In addition to the well-known risk factors such as history of preterm birth, short Inter-pregnancy interval and short cervix at 3rd trimester, some less reported factors such as biomass fuel use and exposure to passive smoking as risk factors of PTB have been identified.
- With respect to BMI (Body-Mass Index) at enrolment, both underweight and overweight/obese women were found to have a higher risk of PTB.
- The Department of Biotechnology, Ministry of Science & Technology, and Government of India has been implementing the Ind-CEPI mission ‘India Centric Epidemic Preparedness through Rapid Vaccine Development: Supporting Indian Vaccine Development’.
- The objectives of this mission are aligned with the Global Initiative of Coalition of Epidemic Preparedness for Innovation (CEPI) and aims to strengthen the development of vaccines and associated competencies/technologies for the diseases of epidemic potential in India.
- Translational Health Science and Technology Institute (THSTI), an autonomous institute of the Department of Biotechnology, has now been recognized by CEPI as one of the Global Network of Laboratories for centralized assessment of COVID 19 Vaccines.
- The CEPI network will initially involve six labs, one each in Canada, Britain, Italy, the Netherlands, Bangladesh and India.
- Under the CEPI Global network the Laboratory will use the same reagents and follow a common set of protocols to measure the immune response of multiple vaccine candidates under development and trial.
- This will greatly harmonize the Vaccine trial process and allow different vaccine candidates to be compared and speed up the selection of the most effective candidate.
Coalition of Epidemic Preparedness for Innovation (CEPI)
- CEPI is an innovative global partnership between public, private, philanthropic, and civil society organisations launched in Davos in 2017 to develop vaccines to stop future epidemics.
- Its mission is to accelerate the development of vaccines against emerging infectious diseases and enable equitable access to these vaccines for people during outbreaks.
- CEPI, Gavi and the WHO have launched COVAX to ensure equitable access to COVID-19 vaccines and end the acute phase of the pandemic by the end of 2021.
UNaTI Mission Clean Technologies for Swachh Bharat
- DBT has developed various technology platforms designed to convert different solid, liquid and gaseous wastes into renewable fuels, energy and useful products such as food, feed, polymers and chemicals.
- Under the UNaTI Mission, 10 promising clean technologies have been identified for demonstration with DBT support at different sites across India, in collaboration with local stakeholders such as municipalities and other urban local bodies.
- The identified technologies include bio-methanation, constructed wetland, bio-toilets, chemical & membrane free water purification etc.
- The first five projects under this initiative were formally launched on 01stOct 2020, on the eve of Gandhi Jayanti, with an aim to achieve “Swachh Bharat”.
Mission COVID Suraksha
- It was announced with a provision of Rs. 900 Cr. to DBT for supporting development of a comprehensive ecosystem for enabling the development of a safe, efficacious and affordable vaccine for COVID-19.
National Biomedical Resource Indigenisation Consortium
- NBRIC was constituted by the Department of Biotechnology, Ministry of Science and Technology, Government of India as a Public Private Partnership for convergence of indigenous resources, products and services towards developing diagnostics, vaccines and therapeutics for COVID-19 and beyond for self-reliance in India’s biomedical capabilities.
- NBRIC is a ‘A Make in India’ initiative for Biomedical research and innovative products, towards promoting import substitution and exports.
Unique Methods of Management and treatment of Inherited Disorders (UMMID)
- It is an initiative of the Department of Biotechnology, Ministry of Science and Technology, to tackle inherited genetic diseases of new born babies.
- With a very large population and high birth rate, and consanguineous marriage favoured in many communities, prevalence of genetic disorders is high in India.
- The UMMID initiative aims
- (i) to establish NIDAN (National Inherited Diseases Administration) Kendras to provide counselling, prenatal testing and diagnosis, management, and multidisciplinary care in Government Hospitals wherein the influx of patients is more,
- (ii) to produce skilled clinicians in Human Genetics, and
- (iii) to undertake screening of pregnant women and new born babies for inherited genetic diseases in hospitals at aspirational districts.
Pan India Genome India
- It was initiated a pan India 20 institutions consortium for cataloguing the genetic variation in Indian population with a goal for whole genome sequencing and subsequent data analysis of 10,000 individuals representing the country’s diverse population to help build an exhaustive catalogue of genetic variations in Indian population, and to aid in the design of a genome wide association chip for Indian population.
Mission mode programme on “Minor Oilseeds of India Origin” in various crops
- It was launched which is aimed at sequencing/re-sequencing and phenotypic characterization of available germplasm resources of Minor Oilseeds (Sesame, Linseed, Safflower and Niger) in the country along with exotic lines from diverse agro climatic regions & elite lines of International Institutes.
- Mission mode programme on “Characterization of Genetic Resources” in various crops was initiated for sequencing/re-sequencing and phenotypic characterization of available germplasm resources of Chickpea in country along with exotic lines from diverse agro climatic regions & elite lines of International Institutes has been supported.
Thermophilic and Hyperthermophilic Microorganisms
- Hyperthermophile enzyme hydrolase research centre (HERC) has been set up at IISER Mohali as a repository for thermophilic and hyperthermophilic organisms and their enzymes.
- This centre has cloned and produced several carbohydrate-active enzymes which will be evaluated for use in 2G Ethanol and biorefinery applications.
- Thermophilic and hyperthermophilic microorganisms (growth at temperatures above 55 and 90°C, respectively) are well established as inhabitants of terrestrial and marine hydrothermal systems.
- Hyperthermophiles grow optimally at temperatures between 80 and 110°C. Only represented by bacterial and archaeal species, these organisms have been isolated from all types of terrestrial and marine hot environments, including natural and man-made environments.
- Current theory and circumstantial evidence suggest that hyperthermophiles were the first life-forms to have arisen on Earth.
- Recent studies suggest that these organisms may occupy extensive regions of the earth’s crust and comprise a biomass possibly exceeding all surface-associated biomass.
- Thermophiles and hyperthermophiles, as well as other hydrothermal microbes, exploit subseafloor thermal and chemical gradients associated with deep-sea vents for growth.
- Hyperthermophilic microorganisms have also recently been isolated from oil reservoirs in the North Sea, in the north slope of Alaska, and in continental reservoirs in France.
- The lack of exogenous seawater in the French reservoirs, which could act as a source of hyperthermophile contamination, suggests that these hyperthermophiles are native inhabitants of this environment as well.
- Furthermore, viable thermophilic bacteria have been found in drill core samples collected more than 2000 m below the surface and in deep-sea marine sediments more than 500 m below the sea- floor in the Pacific Ocean.
- Each of these reports suggests that thermophiles and hyperthermophiles live deep below the surface, though little is known about the microbial ecology of these environments.
- Current uses and potential applications of thermophilic and hyperthermophilic enzymes include: research reagents, catalysts for industrial processes like starch processing, paper pulp bleaching, cellulose degradation and ethanol production etc.
Engagement with MI Community:
- India has been actively participating in MI Ministerial(s) and at the 5th Mission Innovation Ministerial (MI-5) held virtually on 23rd September 2020 hosted by Kingdom of Saudi Arabia.
Mission Innovation (MI)
- Mission Innovation (MI) is a global initiative of 24 countries and the European Commission (on behalf of the European Union).
- These 25 members have committed to seek to double public investment in clean energy RD&D and are engaging with the private sector, fostering international collaboration and celebrating innovators.
- Member countries are (as on 20th January 2021): Australia, Austria, Brazil, Canada, Chile, China, Denmark, European Union, Finland, France, Germany, India, Indonesia, Italy, Japan, Mexico, Morocco, Netherlands, Norway, Republic of Korea, Saudi Arabia, Sweden, United Arab Emirates, United Kingdom and United States.
- Under the LOTUSHR project in collaboration with Netherlands, a toolbox of wastewater treatment technologies has been established on site at Barapullah drain to facilitate selection of treatment combinations for optimum treatment of wastewater.
Phytopharmaceutical Mission for North East Region
- The North East Region (NER) of India is one of the 12 mega-biodiversity rich zones of the world and forms a distinctive part of the Indo-Burma Hotspot that ranks 8th among the 34 biodiversity Hotspots of the world.
- The plant bioresources of the region includes not only tropical and sub-tropical biota but those of temperate and alpine regions due to its altitudinal gradient.
- Taking a clue of the global trends and opportunities in plant-based medicines, in India, DCGI promulgated guidelines for Phytopharmaceutical drug development (similar to US-FDA botanical guidance) in 2015.
- Keeping in view the above, the DBT has launched Phytopharmaceutical Mission in NER with the following three major objectives:
- Captive cultivation of selected medicinal plants of NER, which have great demand to ensure supply of authentic and quality botanical raw material to the user industries in the country.
- Development of technology packages for production of GMP grade medicinal plant extracts for export markets.
- Production of safe and efficacious phytopharmaceuticals from medicinal plants of NER for unmet medical needs using modern scientific tools and following global standards.
Turmeric Mission programme
- It was launched to generate high-quality raw material for developing nutraceutical products / dietary supplements from turmeric for global market as well as developing curcuminoids / curcumin-based therapeutics for various disease segments.
Indian Bioresource Information Network (IBIN)
- It has been created to bring together all the available database and information on the bio-resources and biodiversity of the country in one platform.
- The satellite telemetry tracking of Jacobin Cuckoo is a part of IBIN project in collaboration with Wildlife Institute of India to monitor the changes in Indian monsoon patterns and could help in planning the conservation and climate monitoring programmes.
- It has created a platform in each of 15 agro-climatic zones of the country, which aims to connect farmers and scientists to promote Agriculture Innovation and take the new interventions to the farmers and farms.
- Biotech-KISAN Hubs have been established at pilot-scale level in all agro-climatic zones.
- The programme has now been scaled up and expanded its activities covering 105 Aspirational Districtsin the country.
- Focusing on the threat of climate change, the department collaborated with European Union for the “Green Deal” under Horizon 2020 framework to help build a low-carbon, climate-resilient future.
Eureka-Global Stars India initiative
- Eureka-Global Stars India initiative is mandated to cooperate in such a manner that Indian academic/research institution can collaborate with industrial partner from Eureka member country leading to translation-based research.
- This collaboration led to launch of two joint calls with Eureka member countries in the area ofone health in 2018 and Key Enabling Technologies for Healthcare, Agriculture and Water in 2020 respectively.
- EUREKA is a publicly-funded, intergovernmental network, involving over 40 countries.
- EUREKA’s aim is to enhance European competitiveness by fostering innovation-driven entrepreneurship in Europe, between small and large industry, research institutes and universities.
- It is a leading open platform for international cooperation in innovation.
- It remains to this day the only initiative of its kind committed to the ‘bottom-up’ principle – ensuring that any R&D project with a good business plan receives the support it deserves, independent of its technological nature, or the type of organisations involved.
- The Global Stars initiative was adopted during the EUREKA network meeting in June 2016 – its aim is to facilitate international R&D&I cooperation between EUREKA countries, including associated countries, and non-EUREKA partner countries.
Pradhan Mantri Awaas Yojana – Gramin (PIB)
- Context: Prime Minister will release financial assistance of around Rs. 2691 crores to 6.1 lakh beneficiaries in Uttar Pradesh under Pradhan Mantri Awaas Yojana – Gramin (PMAY-G).
- Under PMAY-G, each beneficiary is given 100% grant of Rs.1.20 lakh (in plain areas) and Rs. 1.30 lakh (in Hilly States/North Eastern States/Difficult areas/UT of J&K and Ladakh/IAP/LWE districts).
- The beneficiaries of PMAY-G, in addition to the unit assistance, are also provided support of unskilled labour wages under Mahatma Gandhi National Rural Employment Guarantee Scheme (MGNREGS) and assistance of Rs. 12,000 for construction of toilets through Swachh Bharat Mission-Gramin (SBM-G), MGNREGS or any other dedicated source of funding.
- The scheme has provisions for convergence with other schemes of Government of India and State/UTs for providing LPG connection under Pradhan Mantri Ujjwala Scheme, electricity connection, access to safe drinking water under Jal Jeevan Mission etc.
- For complete details refer to the 21st Nov file.
B) Indices, Reports, Surveys, Committees and Organisations
3.National Startup Advisory Council (PIB)
- Context: The Central Government has now decided to nominate the non-official members on the National Startup Advisory Council representing various stakeholders.
- The National Startup Advisory Council is chaired by Minster for Commerce & Industry.
- The Council consists of the non-official members, nominated by Central Government from various categories like founders of successful startups, veterans who have grown and scaled companies in India, persons capable of representing interests of investors into startups, persons capable of representing interests of incubators and accelerators and representatives of associations of stakeholders of startups and representatives of industry associations.
- The term of the non-official members of the Startup Advisory Council is for a period of two years.
- The nominees of the concerned Ministries/ Departments/Organisations, not below the rank of Joint Secretary to the Government of India, are ex-officio members of the Council.
The council shall, inter alia, suggest measures to:
- Foster a culture of innovation amongst citizens and students in particular;
- Promote innovation in all sectors of economy across the country, including semi-urban and rural areas;
- Support creative and innovative ideas through incubation and research and development to transform them into valuable products, processes or solutions to improve productivity and efficiency;
- Create an environment of absorption of innovation in industry;
- Facilitate public organizations to assimilate innovation with a view to improving public service delivery;
- Promote creation, protection and commercialization of intellectual property rights;
- Make it easier to start, operate, grow and exit businesses by reducing regulatory compliances and costs;
- Promote ease of access to capital for startups;
- Incentivize domestic capital for investments into startups;
- Mobilize global capital for investments in Indian startups;
- Keep control of startups with original promoters;
- Provide access to global markets for Indian startups.
C) International Relations
4.S-400 Triumf Air-Defense System and CAATSA (TH)
- Context: As India prepares to receive the first batch of S-400 long-range air defence system by year-end, the first group of Indian military specialists are scheduled to depart for Moscow soon to undergo training courses on the S-400, the Russian Embassy here said in a statement.
Darfur Region (TH)
- Context: Sudanese troop presence helped restore calm in Darfur after three days of inter-ethnic violence that claimed at least 155 lives and displaced tens of thousands.
- In July 2020, about 500 armed men targeted the Masalit community in west Darfur’s Masteri town.
- These incidents are a reminder of the unfinished task of restoring stability in Darfur racked by a conflict between the nation’s dominant Arab rulers and the African ethnic communities demanding greater autonomy from Khartoum.
- Nertiti town in central Darfur has become the epicentre of the growing opposition in the region.
- Darfur is a desert plain in western part of Sudan.
- The volcanic highlands of the Marrah Mountains dominate the central part of this plain.
- In the north, they merge into the Libyan Desert.
D) Polity, Bills, Acts and Judgments
6.What is Question Hour? (TH)
- Context: The Question Hour, which had been suspended by the government during the monsoon session, will resume when Parliament meets for the Budget session from January 29.
- The government had claimed that the suspension of the Question Hour, which gives the Opposition an opportunity to hold the government accountable, was an additional precautionary measure to tackle the COVID-19 pandemic.
E) Science and Technology, Defence, Space
7.What are Deepfakes? (TH)
- Deepfakes — synthetic media, meaning media (including images, audio and video) that are either manipulated or wholly generated by Artificial Intelligence.
- India has not enacted any specific legislation to deal with deepfakes, though there are some provisions in the Indian Penal Code that criminalise certain forms of online/social media content manipulation.
- The Information Technology Act, 2000 covers certain cybercrimes. But this law and the Information Technology Intermediary Guidelines (Amendment) Rules, 2018 are inadequate to deal with content manipulation on digital platforms.
- (The guidelines stipulate that due diligence must be observed by the intermediate companies for removal of illegal content.)
- Blockchains are robust against many security threats and can be used to digitally sign and affirm the validity of a video or document.
F) Economic Developments: India and World
8.The concepts of Bad Bank and Non-Performing Assets (NPAs) (IE)
- Context: With commercial banks set to witness a spike in NPAs, or bad loans, in the wake of the contraction in the economy as a result of the Covid-19 pandemic, Reserve Bank of India (RBI) Governor Shaktikanta Das recently agreed to look at the proposal for the creation of a bad bank.
What’s a bad bank and how does it work?
- Technically, a bad bank is an asset reconstruction company (ARC) or an asset management company that takes over the bad loans of commercial banks, manages them and finally recovers the money over a period of time.
- The bad bank is not involved in lending and taking deposits, but helps commercial banks clean up their balance sheets and resolve bad loans.
- The takeover of bad loans is normally below the book value of the loan and the bad bank tries to recover as much as possible subsequently.
- Former RBI Governor Raghuram Rajan had opposed the idea of setting up a bad bank in which banks hold a majority stake.
- US-based Mellon Bank created the first bad bank in 1988, after which the concept has been implemented in other countries.
- The bad bank concept is in some ways similar to an ARC but is funded by the government initially, with banks and other investors co-investing in due course. The presence of the government is seen as a means to speed up the clean-up process.
Do we need a bad bank?
- ARCs have not made any impact in resolving bad loans due to many procedural issues.
- For complete details, refer to19th Dec file.
G) Agriculture, Geography, Environment and Biodiversity
9.Bandipur Tiger Reserve (BTR) (TH)
- For years, the two National Highways, NH 181 (linking Karnataka with Tamil Nadu) and NH 766 (linking Karnataka with Kerala), cutting through the tiger reserve had turned into a deathtrap for the wildlife, with more than 40 different species of animals getting killed every year on the road.
- It was then that the Karnataka High Court, hearing a writ petition in 2009, ordered closure of the NHs for night traffic, thus upholding the animals’ right to live.
- However, the ban on night traffic, even though hailed by Tamil Nadu, has not gone well with the neighbouring Kerala, which has based its argument on the reason that its mountain district’s economy, predominantly supported by tourism, has gone for a toss.
- Karnataka, on the other hand, has been complying with all the orders of the courts, like laying out an alternative road (Hunsur to Kutta), deployment of additional staff and infrastructure development.
- In September 2013, the National Board for Wildlife (NBWL), the apex advisory body to the central government on all wildlife-related matters, said no to new roads through protected forests, but was open to the widening of existing roads with adequate mitigation measures irrespective of the cost, only if alternative alignments were not available. The government accepted this as policy in December 2014.
- In February 2018, the NBWL made it mandatory for every road/rail project proposal to include a wildlife passage plan as per guidelines framed by Wildlife Institute of India, an autonomous wildlife research body under the Environment Ministry.
Bandipur Tiger Reserve
- The Bandipur, Nagarahole, Wayanad, Mudumalai and Sathyamangalam Tiger Landscape is spread across the states of Karnataka (Bandipur-Nagarahole), Tamil Nadu (Mudumalai-Sathyamangalam) and Kerala (Wayanad).
- The Bandipur Tiger Reserve along with Nagarahole, Mudumalai, Sathyamangalam & Wayanad Landscape is the source population in the Western Ghats landscape complex, having one of the largest Wild population of Tigers in the world.
- The Bandipur Tiger Reserve forms a very important component of 5520.00 Sq. Km. landscape, the first Biosphere Reserve in the country i.e. Nilgiri Biosphere Reserve, notified under the Man and Biosphere (MAB) Programme of the IUCN.
- This Landscape of Bandipur, Nagarahole, Mudumalai & Wayanad complex is home to single largest Asian Elephant population in the world.
Ammonia in Water Bodies (TH)
- Context: The Supreme Court had taken suo motu cognisance of the contamination of rivers by sewage effluents through lapses committed by municipalities, saying “open surface water resources including rivers are the lifeline of human civilisation”.
- It was concerned about increased ammonia level which has impaired water treatment plants and a drinking water and health crises loom large in Delhi.
- “Deterioration of quality of fresh water has a direct co-relation with the quality of public health… The right to clean environment, and further, pollution-free water, has been protected under the broad rubric of the right to life (Article 21 of the Constitution),” a three-judge Bench led by the Chief Justice had said.
- Ammonia is one of several forms of nitrogen that exist in aquatic environments. Unlike other forms of nitrogen, which can cause nutrient over-enrichment of a water body at elevated concentrations and indirect effects on aquatic life, ammonia causes direct toxic effects on aquatic life.
Ammonia and its sources
- Ammonia is a common industrial chemical used:
- for synthesis of nitrogen-containing organic and inorganic chemicals
- for manufacture of fertilisers
- for use as a fertiliser itself by direct injection into soils
- The most common sources of ammonia entering surface waters and groundwaters are domestic sewage and industrial effluents.
- Natural sources of ammonia include the decomposition or breakdown of organic waste matter, gas exchange with the atmosphere, forest fires, animal and human waste, and nitrogen fixation processes, atmospheric lightning and volcanism.
- Ammonia can enter the aquatic environment via direct means such as municipal effluent discharges and the excretion of nitrogenous wastes from animals, and indirect means such as nitrogen fixation, air deposition, and runoff from agricultural lands.
- Ammonia is the preferred nitrogen-containing nutrient for plant growth. Ammonia can be converted to nitrite (NO2) and nitrate (NO3) by bacteria, and then used by plants. Nitrate and ammonia are the most common forms of nitrogen in aquatic systems. Nitrate predominates in unpolluted waters.
Harmful effects of Ammonia
- When ammonia is present in water at high enough levels, it is difficult for aquatic organisms to sufficiently excrete the toxicant, leading to toxic buildup in internal tissues and blood, and potentially death.
- Environmental factors, such as pH and temperature, can affect ammonia toxicity to aquatic animals. Toxicity increases as pH decreases and as temperature decreases.
- Plants are more tolerant of ammonia than animals, and invertebrates are more tolerant than fish.
- Hatching and growth rates of fishes may be affected.
- In the structural development, changes in tissues of gills, liver, and kidneys may also occur.
- Toxic concentrations of ammonia in humans may cause loss of equilibrium, convulsions, coma, and death.
H) Clever Picks (Miscellaneous)
11.Parakram Diwas (PIB)
- In order to honour and remember Netaji Subhas Chandra Bose’s indomitable spirit and selfless service to the nation, Government of India has decided to celebrate his birthday on the 23rdday of January every year as “Parakram Diwas.”
Indo-French Exercise Desert Knight-21 (PIB)
- Indian Air Force and French Air and Space Force will conduct a bilateral Air exercise, Ex Desert Knight-21 at Air Force Station Jodhpur from 20 to 24 Jan 21.
- Mains Question: How is food security different from nutrition security? Do you think that the time has come to switch the focus of our approach from food security to nutrition security?