- A) Schemes, Policies, Initiatives, Awards and Social Issues
- Major e-Governance Programmes (PIB)
- 1000 Springs Initiative (PIB)
- B) Agriculture, Geography, Environment and Biodiversity
- Red Sanders (TH)
- Deepor Beel: Assam’s only Ramsar site (TH)
- C) Science and Technology, Defence, Space
- Why people with prior infection still need vaccination (TH)
- India and the race for vaccine development (TH)
- D) International Relations
- The Brexit Deal (TH)
- Iran plans to enrich uranium well beyond the threshold set by 2015 Vienna accord (TH)
- E) Economic Developments: India and World
- Balance of Payment (BOP) (TH)
- F) Miscellaneous
- National Metrology Conclave 2021(PIB)
- Police K9 Cell (TH)
- Swasthya (PIB)
- C40 Cities (TH)
- Woolly rhino from the Ice Age found in Russia (TH)
- New insights on Malaria (TH)
- The first life forms (TH)
- Tampon Tax (TH)
A) Schemes, Policies, Initiatives, Awards and Social Issues
Major e-Governance Programmes (PIB)
- Major e-Governance programs and activities are undertaken by MeitY (Ministry of Electronics & IT) during 2020, including the support given during the pandemic, are as follows:
- Aarogya Setu, contact tracing app, for predicting potential COVID-19 hotspots.
- MyGov, the citizen engagement platform of the Government of India, and UN Women, held the COVID-19 Shri Shakti Challenge to encourage and involve women-led start-ups to develop innovative solutions to fight against Coronavirus.
- DigiLocker, the digital platform for issuance and verification of documents issued by Government and private departments.
- National Center of Geo-Informatics (NCoG) is a Geographic Information System (GIS) based decision support system platform, under National e-Governance Division (NeGD). It geo-enables e-Governance to facilitate location based information for all.
- UMANG, a mobile app (Android, iOS and KaiOS), is a unified platform aggregating major govt services (center, state and local bodies); the app is integrated with Aadhaar, DigiLocker, Payment Gateway etc.
- Open Forge, a software repository and collaborative platform for software developers for managing project lifecycle.
- India’s first global summit on Artificial Intelligence (AI), RAISE 2020.
- Digital Skilling initiative launched by MeitY and NASSCOM in emerging technologies; the initiative aims to cover 7 lakh IT professionals in the next 5 years.
- Electronic Transaction Aggregation & Analysis Layer (eTaal) dashboard (iOS and Android app available) for aggregated view of online transactions through e-Governance projects across Central, State and Local level.
- Jeevan Pramaan, a biometric-enabled digital service for pensioners to submit their Digital Life Certificates (DLC) online, processed 4.31 crore DLCs till November 2020.
1000 Springs Initiative (PIB)
- Springs are natural sources of groundwater discharge and have been used extensively in the mountainous regions across the world, including India.
- However, in the central and eastern Indian belt with more than 75% tribal population, it remains largely unrecognized and under-utilized.
- The ‘1000 Springs Initiative’ by the Ministry of Tribal Affairs and United Nations Development Programme aims to harness the potential of perennial springs to meet the water needs of the remote tribal communities.
- Under this initiative, young tribal youths from the rural belt of three districts of Odisha namely, Kalahandi, Kandhamal and Gajapati have been trained as barefoot hydro geologists by combining traditional and scientific knowledge for identification and mapping of springs and undertaking rejuvenation and protection measures in their habitations.
B) Agriculture, Geography, Environment and Biodiversity
3.Red Sanders (TH)
- Context: 34 red sanders smugglers caught in Andhra Pradesh.
Deepor Beel: Assam’s only Ramsar site (TH)
- Context: Authorities ban community fishing in Deepor Beel, a wetland on the south-western edge of Guwahati and Assam’s only Ramsar site, to prevent over-exploitation.
Deepor Beel Wildlife Sanctuary
- Deepor Beel (Beel means wetland or large aquatic body in Assamese) located in Guwahati and is considered one of the large and important riverine wetlands in the Brahmaputra Valley of lower Assam, India.
- Deepor Beel is an open lake basin connected with a set of inflow and outflow channels.
- Deepor Beel has both biological and environmental importance besides being the only major storm-water storage basin for Guwahati city.
- It is considered one of the staging sites for migratory birds in India; and some of the large congregations of aquatic birds in Assam during winter.
- Because of the richness of avian fauna it enjoyed, Deepor Beel has been selected as one of the Important Bird Area (IBA) sites by Birdlife International.
- Deepor Beel has also been designated as a Ramsar Site in November 2002.
C) Science and Technology, Defence, Space
5.Why people with the prior infection still need vaccination (TH)
- Context: Since vaccine shortage is expected to last at least for a few months, it may seem appealing to delay or avoid vaccinating those who have been naturally infected. But does science support such a decision?
- A small minority of those with even symptomatic infection do not end up making high levels of antibodies, and another small minority of such naturally infected people do not make long-lasting antibodies.
- While highest levels of binding antibodies are seen in people with the most severe disease, asymptomatic infections may result in low antibody levels or even no antibodies being measured in up to 20% of people.
- Vaccines are made to induce a good immune response, which is expected to be more predictable than the response to infection.
- Another reason why skipping vaccination in people already infected might not be advisable is the way the virus in general primes the immune system.
- Immune responses to natural infection can be modified by immune evasion mechanisms of the virus.
- But vaccine formulations do not include those viral tricks, and therefore, immune responses to the vaccines are more likely to be uniform and predictable.
- “Yes, it is possible that vaccines can result in an immune response that does better than natural infection. We have known this for a long time,” adds a scientist.
- There is no evidence for how long on average protection from natural infection lasts.
India and the race for vaccine development (TH)
- Advanced biotechnology laboratories and large-scale vaccine manufacturing facilities made India a front runner, if not the best bet, to win the vaccine race in the world outside of China.
- We had two more advantages: representation in two global initiatives– the Global Pandemic Preparedness Monitoring Board and Coalition for Epidemic Preparedness Innovations, the latter advising the world to prepare for vaccine development.
- India’s vaccine manufacturing facilities are highly rated, globally. They have in-house research and development laboratories. However, they are concerned with research of a practical nature, for refining processes and products, rather than basic and fundamental research necessary for designing new vaccine candidates.
D) International Relations
7.The Brexit Deal (TH)
- Context: What is in store for Britain and the European Union after the former’s exit from the trading bloc on January 31, 2020?
What are the main features of the agreement?
- The UK-EU Trade and Cooperation Agreement, which came into force on January 1, 2021, retains the ‘zero tariffs’ and quotas trade regime of the past on all imports of goods.
- It thus averts the potentially catastrophic consequences for Britain of leaving the bloc without any agreement.
- A hard exit would have resulted in levies of 50% and higher and duties on dairy and food products, besides tariffs on manufactured goods.
- Northern Ireland will continue to remain within EU jurisdiction, avoiding a hardening of its border with the Republic of Ireland.
- On access for EU fisheries to British seas — a contentious issue — the agreement “recognises U.K. sovereignty over her fishing waters”.
What are some new hurdles the U.K. will face?
- An exit from the customs union means the return of customs controls at the U.K. borders and checks on rules of origin to prevent abuse of the zero-tariffs regime.
- The millions of customs declarations U.K. businesses will have to complete from now onwards are estimated to cost around £7 billion annually.
How does the European Union plan to enforce a level playing field?
- The K. is free to set its own standards on labour laws and environmental protection.
- Access to EU markets could, however, be restricted and tariffs imposed wherever arbitrators rule that businesses have been granted unfair advantage.
- London has succeeded in breaking free from the jurisdiction of EU law and the European Court of Justice, which U.K.’s eurosceptics regard as an affront to national sovereignty.
- British and EU companies will be able to challenge state subsidies awarded to their rivals in relevant national courts if they suspect any violation of common provisions set out in the agreement.
How serious could be the impact of the exclusion of services from the accord?
- As the services sector accounts for about 80% of the U.K.’s economy, the fallout from leaving it outside the purview of the new accord will be hard.
- The agreement covers data flows in some areas of policing and law enforcement, while decisions on personal data transmissions are to be dealt with separately.
- Given London’s status as the premier global financial hub, the exclusion of financial services from the agreement is likely to cause uncertainty.
- Both sides have reached an understanding that the terms of access to each other’s markets would be subject to a unilateral declaration by one party that the regulatory framework of the other was equivalent to its own.
Iran plans to enrich uranium well beyond the threshold set by 2015 Vienna accord (TH)
- Context: Iran has informed the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) that it intends to produce uranium enriched to up to 20% purity in its Fordow underground plant, well beyond the threshold set by the 2015 Vienna accord (Iran nuclear deal was reached in Vienna).
- According to the latest report available from the UN agency, published in November, Tehran was enriching uranium to levels greater than the limit provided for in the Vienna agreement (3.67%) but not exceeding the 4.5% threshold, and still complied with the Agency’s very strict inspection regime.
- But there has been turmoil since the assassination in late November of Iranian nuclear physicist Mohsen Fakhrizadeh.
- In the aftermath of the attack, blamed on Israel, hardliners in Tehran pledged a response and Parliament passed a controversial law calling for the production and storage of “at least 120 kg per year of 20% enriched uranium” and to “put an end” to the IAEA inspections intended to check that the country is not developing an atomic bomb.
What was agreed?
- Under the accord, Iran agreed to limit its sensitive nuclear activities and allow in international inspectors in return for the lifting of crippling economic sanctions.
- Under the nuclear deal, Iran agreed to have less than 300 kilograms of uranium enriched to a maximum of 3.67% far below the 90% needed to produce weapons for 15 years.
Abu Musa and the Greater and Lesser Tunb islands
- Abu Musa and the Greater and Lesser Tunb islands are located in the Persian Gulf near the entrance to the strategic Strait of Hormuz, through which a fifth of world oil output passes.
- The islands are under Iranian control but are also claimed by the UAE.
E) Economic Developments: India and World
9.Balance of Payment (BOP) (TH)
- Context: The trade deficit (the difference between imports and exports) at $15.71 billion was highest since July 2020. The country had witnessed trade surplus in June 2020.
- Balance of Payment (BOP) statement acts as an economic indicator to identify the trade deficit or surplus situation of a country.
- Analyzing and understanding the BOP of a country goes beyond just deducting the outflows of funds from inflows.
- There are various components of BOP and fluctuations in these accounts which provide a clear indication about which sector of the economy needs to be developed.
What is ‘Balance of Payment’?
- Balance of Payment (BOP) is a statement which records all the monetary transactions made between residents of a country and the rest of the world during any given period.
- This statement includes all the transactions made by/to individuals, corporates and the government and helps in monitoring the flow of funds to develop the economy.
- When all the elements are correctly included in the BOP, it should sum up to zero in a perfect scenario.
- This means the inflows and outflows of funds should balance out. However, this does not ideally happen in most cases.
- BOP statement of a country indicates whether the country has a surplus or a deficit of funds i.e. when a country’s export is more than its import, its BOP is said to be in surplus. On the other hand, BOP deficit indicates that a country’s imports are more than its exports.
- Tracking the transactions under BOP is something similar to the double entry system of accounting. This means, all the transaction will have a debit entry and a corresponding credit entry.
Why balance of payment is vital for a country?
- BOP of a country reveals its financial and economic status.
- BOP statement can be used as an indicator to determine whether the country’s currency value is appreciating or depreciating.
- BOP statement helps the Government to decide on fiscal and trade policies.
- It provides important information to analyze and understand the economic dealings of a country with other countries.
- By studying its BOP statement and its components closely, one would be able to identify trends that may be beneficial or harmful to the economy of the county and thus, then take appropriate measures.
10.National Metrology Conclave 2021(PIB)
- The Prime Minister of India will dedicate ‘National Atomic Timescale’, and ‘Bhartiya Nirdeshak Dravya’ to the nation, and lay the foundation stone of the ‘National Environmental Standards Laboratory’ at the National Metrology Conclave on 4th January 2021.
- The National Atomic Timescale generates Indian Standard Time with an accuracy of 2.8 nanoseconds.
- Bhartiya Nirdeshak Dravya is supporting testing and calibration of laboratories for quality assurance, at par with international standards.
- The National Environmental Standards Laboratory will aid self-reliance in the certification of ambient air and industrial emission monitoring equipment.
- National Metrology Conclave 2021is being organised by Council of Scientific and Industrial Research-National Physical Laboratory (CSIR-NPL), New Delhi, which is entering into its 75th year of inception.
- The theme of the conclave is ‘Metrology for the Inclusive Growth of the Nation’.
Police K9 Cell (TH)
- A special ‘Police K9 Cell’ was established in November 2019 under the Police Modernization Division of the Ministry of Home Affairs with the mandate of ‘Mainstreaming and Augmentation of Police Service K9s i.e. Police Dogs in the country’.
- It is a first-of-its-kind e-portal of the Ministry of Tribal Affairs, providing all health and nutrition-related information of the tribal population of India in a single platform.
C40 Cities (TH)
- C40 is a network of world’s 97 (as on 3rd Jan 2021) megacities committed to addressing climate change. C40 supports cities to collaborate effectively, share knowledge and drive meaningful, measurable and sustainable action on climate change.
- Indian cities that are a part of this initiative: Chennai, Delhi NCR and Kolkata. Bengaluru and Jaipur are temporarily inactive.
Woolly rhino from the Ice Age found in Russia (TH)
- Recent years have seen major discoveries of mammoths, woolly rhinos, Ice Age foal, and cave lion cubs as the permafrost increasingly melts across vast areas of Siberia because of global warming.
New insights on Malaria (TH)
- Malaria is caused by Plasmodium parasites and is carried to humans via the bites of infected female Anopheles mosquitoes.
- A new study (PLOS Pathogens) has shown that if a mosquito has multiple bouts of blood meal, it can shorten the incubation period of the parasites and increase the malaria transmission potential. This poses new challenges to the current malaria elimination strategy.
- Malaria-transmitting mosquitoes in endemic regions feed on blood roughly every two to three days and the study shows that this natural behavior strongly promotes the transmission potential of malaria parasites, in previously unappreciated ways.
- The study found that malaria transmission potential in the sub-Saharan Africa region is higher than previously thought, making disease elimination even more difficult.
- It also noted that parasites can be transmitted by younger mosquitoes, which are less susceptible to insecticides.
- For further details on this topic, refer to 3rd Dec file.
The first life forms (TH)
- Chemists have come up with a new proposition for how life may have begun.
- In a study, the researchers showed a simple compound diamidophosphate could have knitted together the building blocks of DNA to form the primordial structures.
- The possibility is that DNA and RNA arose together and that the first life forms were a mixture of the two.
Tampon Tax (TH)
- UK began 2021 by abolishing a 5 per cent Value Added Tax (VAT) on women’s sanitary products, often referred to as the “tampon tax” and which many activists had described as sexist.
- It now joins the list of countries that have already eliminated this tax, which includes India, Australia and Canada.
- The measure is part of a wider UK government effort called ‘End Period Poverty’.