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GS-1


Geophysical phenomena

3-fold rise in extreme rainfall events in Central India: (The Hindu)

Context:

According to a study published in the journal ‘Nature Communications’, there has been an increase in the frequency and intensity of extreme rainfall events across the Central Indian belt which extends from Gujarat in the west to Odisha and Assam in the east.

What does the report say?

  • There has been an average 10% decline in summer monsoon (June to September) rainfall over central India between 1950 and 2015.
  • This decline is due to the weakening of the summer monsoon winds.
  • However, the frequency and intensity of extreme rain events (more than 150 mm per day for two-three days covering an area of 250 by 250 km) during the same period, has shown an increase.
  • Climate projection models have also predicted an increase in extreme events over most parts of the Indian subcontinent by the end of this century.

Why is there a decline in monsoon rainfall?

  • The temperature of the central Indian Ocean has increased.
  • However, the Indian peninsular region has not warmed up compared to other regions in the tropics- This has led to a reduction in land-sea temperature difference.
  • As a result of reduced land-sea temperature difference and cooling caused by aerosols, the monsoon winds have weakened and consequently, there is a decline in monsoon rainfall.

Why are extreme rainfall events rising across the Central Indian belt?

  • As a result of the weakening of monsoon winds, there is less supply of moisture to the Indian subcontinent.
  • The temperature in the northern Arabian Sea is rising, leading to more moist air over the Arabian Sea. The Arabian Sea contributes 36% of the total moisture to central India.
  • As a result, there is large fluctuations in the monsoon winds
  • This leads to occasional surges of increased moisture transport.
  • These sudden surges of the monsoon winds bring in plenty of moisture and result in extreme rainfall events.

GS-2


India and neighbors

Can India protect Rohingya, SC asks govt: (The Hindu)

Context

Chief Justice of India Dipak Misra, who leads the three-judge Bench rejects Centre’s stance that decision to deport the community is outside the domain of the Supreme Court

Government stand on rohingya’s refugee

  • On  August 8, 2017 center communicated to all the States to identify Rohingya and aid in their deportation.
  • The government’s claims that the Rohingya refugees will eat into the resources meant for citizens
  • Government is concerned on whether the country can sustain such an influx of refugees.
  • The Centre claims that the Rohingya community is a threat to national security and easy prey for radicalisation.

Argument in  favour of  rohingya’s refugee

  • The obligation to grant asylum was universal. “The Government of India has constantly made efforts to substantiate, enhance the rights of refugees.
  • The fundamental right to life enshrined in Article 21 protects all “persons,” including refugees who fled persecution in their native countries.
  • The Government of India has constantly made efforts to substantiate, enhance the rights of refugees. The August 8 communication is totally contradictory to Article 14.
  • Humanitarian concerns of children, women, the sick and the old outweigh justiciability and cannot be viewed in the same light as “everyone

India set to ink $4.5-bn credit deal with Bangladesh: (The Hindu)

Context:

  • The Finance Minister’s visit to Bangladesh

Why is it important?

  • Both the countries will sign the third Line of Credit (LOC) agreement involving $4.5 billion
  • The Line of Credit is primarily meant for the development of infrastructure and social sector
  • This Line of Credit was announced by India recently during the visit of Bangladesh’s Prime Minister

What are the other pacts to be signed?

  • A pact on investment promotion and protection
  • A new scheme for cashless transactions in visa services run by the State Bank of India.

Awaiting police reforms: (The Hindu, Editorial)

Context

Strong public opinion can move the political class in India to implement the 2006 Supreme Court directives.

Background

  • The Indian Police Foundation was inaugurated to mount pressure on State governments to implement the directions of the Supreme Court on police reforms (Prakash Singh v. Union of India).
  • The court in 2006 had issued seven binding directions to implement those reforms.
  • It took the court a little over 10 years to give its verdict on the writ petition filed by Prakash Singh and me in 1996.
  • Eleven years have passed, but States have taken only some grudging steps to implement the reforms.

Political stronghold over police

  • The fact is that political authorities still have a stronghold over the police.
  • The result is that the police even today is not trusted by the people.
  • They perceive the force as being partisan, politicised, and generally not very competent.

Importance of implementing Lokpal

  • Much of the problem would not have been if the 2013 Lokpal legislation was put in place.
  • The Lokpal would have the powers to oversee the CBI’s work and would ease the burden of the court.
  • Ultimately, it is only strong public opinion that can move the political class to implement the 2006 directives.
  • But the police has to set examples to win public trust.
  • Reform must start at home. Since the political class has a vested interest in the present system, no amount of pressure will work.

Conclusion

We will have to fall back on the judiciary, which wants an impartial and professional police force because it knows that the criminal justice system cannot function without a healthy police and investigative agency.

GS-3


Infrastructure

‘Recovery in energy demand not abiding’: (The Hindu)

Context

There is a need for sustained energy demand recovery which is still absent

What is the current scenario?

  • The recent up-trend in electricity demand growth has led to a marginal improvement in the all India thermal PLF (plant load factor or capacity utilisation) to 59.9% for the first five months of 2017-18
  • The recently introduced Saubhagya Scheme was launched in order to put a thrust on rural electrification which will improve the energy demand.

What are the concerned problems?

  • A sustained demand recovery, however, is still absent
  • Thus energy demand growth from the relatively high tariff paying industrial and commercial segments remained critical for both State distribution utilities and IPPs (Independent Power Producers)
  • Also, the stressed thermal capacity in private IPP (independent power producers) segment remains sizeable at about 60 GW, despite the various policy level initiatives undertaken by the government.

Strategy to revitalize PPPs in India: (Live Mint, Editorial)

Context

  • India’s infrastructure deficit continues to persist despite the relative catch-up in recent years.

What is the need of the hour?

  • The Asian Development Bank, in its report titled “Meeting Asia’s Infrastructure Needs”, has estimated that $4.36 trillion is needed to fix India’s infrastructure deficit by 2030.
  • That demands more than $300 billion of spending every year for the next 13 years.
  • Broad estimates indicate that the private arm of public-private partnerships (PPPs) will need to contribute at least $90 billion every year for the next 10 years, entailing a potential borrowing of at least $55-60 billion a year.

What are the problems?

  • Much of this fund comes from the private sector, but weak economic growth and the debt overhang problem have constrained both the capacity and flow of private investment in asset creation.
  • The difficult circumstances have prompted the government to step in and increase public expenditure on infrastructure.
  • India’s debt-to-gross domestic product ratio is relatively high (65%) and with already stretched finances, the government’s ability to fund new assets will remain constrained.
  • On credit, the situation has aggravated sharply, with the non-performing assets (NPAs) of domestic lenders mounting.
  • While the international credit and financing market is an avenue, high-quality sponsors and assets remain few.
  • The dearth of bankable projects has contributed partly to the financing challenge, but the inability of project development and procurement agencies to adopt fairer risk-sharing principles and take on contingent financing obligations has contributed equally.

What is government going to do?

  • It means that the government has to hit the reset button on PPPs to address core issues.
  • Three aspects need immediate attention—restructuring PPP contracts through an objective process, broadening and deepening access to long-term credit and tightening procurement processes and timelines.
  • Poor project preparation also remains an issue. Without adequate preparedness and appropriate risk allocation, large capital pools remain out of access.
  • Bonds have worked very well overseas as a source of project finance, given their relative advantages over commercial bank debt.
  • But the corporate or municipal bond market in India is still not deep enough to support long-term credit and refinancing commitments, unless backed by sovereign guarantees, which are difficult to come by. High project risks, poor entity rating and regulatory uncertainties also make yield-based structures difficult to implement.

‘India’s main challenge will be finding jobs amid automation’:

 Context:

India’s major challenge will be to find jobs for its working-age population, according to the chairman of U.K. based Institute for New Economic Thinkings, Lord Adair Tuner.

Introduction:

  • India’s working age population is forecast to increase from about 740 million to 1.3 billion by 2050.
  • Information, communications technology driving unequal world, Mr Tuner said.
  • For emerging economies such as Africa, a very rapidly growing working population is a major challenge. India is in an intermediate position.

UN Labour report:

  • According to the UN Labour report released recently, Job creation is not expected to pick up in 2017 and 2018 and unemployment in India is projected to increase from 17.7million in 2016 to 17.8 million in 2017 and 18 million next year.
  • In percentage terms, unemployment rate will remain at 3.4% in 2017-18, according to the report.
  • 2008 crisis:
  • The former Chairman of the U.K.’s Financial Services Authority pointed out that at least five decades before the financial crisis of 2008, there had been a surge in private debt. It went from 50% of global gross domestic product in 1950 to 170% in 2007.
  • Most of that debt came under the category of real estate-mortgage or commercial real estate.

Challenges:

  • The challenge in this global economy is that the total amount of debt has not gone down.
  • The total debt as a percentage of global GDP has gone up.
  • Very low interest rates encourage people to create more debt which may create more problems in the future.
  • India has a large concentration of bad debt.
  • In India, the problem has been lending for large industrial class.
  • The global economy is moderately in a good position for the next couple of years. But debt overhang is fundamentally not addressed.
  • An increasing effect of information and communication technology on the automation of jobs.
  • U.S and China:
  • After 2008, the U.S. and some European countries saw a significant number of households and corporates having to deal with the situation and public debt in the U.S. and in China shot up.

Solutions:

  • Allow public sector entry in areas like health, education, infrastructure etc.
  • Capacity building towards maintaining information technology.

GST: Disruptive but developmental: (Live Mint, Editorial)

Context

  • GST is a regime that is bringing about changes in the national value system.

What are the achievements of GST Council?

  • The big unqualified win is the emergence of the GST Council as India’s first federal institution; genuinely federal and fully functional.
  • In the last 70 years, despite repeated efforts, no federal institution has emerged. Be it the Finance Commission, Planning Commission or its new avtaar, the NITI Aayog, or even the Inter-State Council.
  • The GST Council has changed all that. In the years to come, this Council will not only be the centrepiece of the new federal fiscal architecture, but will also be a role model for future federal institutions that are bound to come up.

What is the impact of GST Council on federalism?

  • Apart from its composition, what has made the Council remarkably federal is the process of decision making.
  • Every single decision has been made by building a consensus. Nothing has been put to vote. This decision by consensus has not only set a precedent but has also become the DNA of this institution.

What are the systemic changes brought by GST Council?

  • The big systemic gain is that somewhere along the way the country has discovered an alternative way of formulating laws.
  • On many occasions, the GST Council converted itself into a drafting committee.
  • Finally, at the institutional level, GST in India is a bold experiment of pooling of sovereignty by the centre and the states in matters of taxation.
  • This can have huge implications on the political economy of the nation as also on how our polity can be structured for functional purposes in the years to come.

What is the gain in the policy framework?

  • In terms of policy framework, the big gain is that for the first time there are uniform rates for commodities across the country.
  • There is still a long way to go before the one tax-one nation goal is achieved in letter and spirit. But there is no denying that one tax on one commodity is a reality.
  • Coming from a regime of extreme dispersion of rates, not only across states but within commodity groups, this has been a big move forward.
  • The move away from commodity-specific exemptions, which was the fountainhead of corruption and granting largesse, is also a giant step towards transparency.

Tax slabs and GST

  • Given the fact that GST as a tax regime is still work-in-progress, the multiple rate slabs will converge overtime.
  • It is very likely that the two slabs of 12% and 18% will converge to 14.5% sooner than later.
  • Along with this, the number of commodities attracting 28% tax will have to be trimmed.

What is causing compliance issue?

  • What is causing compliance distress is not the returns per se but the frequency of filing; from a quarterly cycle, businesses have had to move to a monthly cycle.
  • It should be possible for the GST Council to address this issue based on the emerging revenue patterns.
  • Depending on the size-class frequency distribution of businesses and their revenue contributions, the filing frequency can be calibrated and changed.
  • It is, however, important to recognize that the compliance burden is not due to the obsessions of the tax bureaucracy. The compliance framework aids a major structural change: the formalization of the Indian economy.
  • As such these are troubles of transition not to a new tax regime but to a new form of business organization.

Impact from formalization through GST

  • The formalization will lead informal workers out of poverty, powerlessness, exclusion and vulnerability.
  • The formalization through GST can also mean that entrepreneurs in the informal segment can more easily access capital and credit, and invest it in their businesses to obtain higher productivity and sustainability.

What are the various sectoral issues?

  • At present, there are some serious sectoral issues that have surfaced.
  • The main among these being the exporters and handicrafts which need to be resolved.
  • The effective tax burden on exports as well as handicrafts has become very high compared to the previous tax regime. It is not just hurting growth but impairing survival.

What are the issues with GST Council?

  • From a systemic point of view, there are two issues that the GST Council needs to deliberate on.
  • First is the relevance of a maximum retail price (MRP) system—an anachronism from control raj days—in a GST regime.
  • The MRP system was relevant in a pre-liberalized economy operating with producer taxation.
  • The producers would work out the costs and margins of the distribution chain and allocate that within the MRP.
  • Now it is a consumption tax, with final payment of tax at the last stage. Here, it becomes an anomaly to have an MRP. It over-determines the system.
  • It is time to examine if it is right or even the mandate of the manufacturer to set the price at which a product will be sold to the end-user.
  • Under GST, the MRP is more likely than not to create a retail price collusion as it becomes the de facto uniform price.
  • Second is an unstated business ethics issue which is coming to the fore under the transition to GST.
  • It is an open secret that businesses in India have been operating different accounts to avoid paying taxes.
  • There is a fear among the business and trading community that after full implementation of GST, tax officials can analyse turnover, other details and arrive at estimates of possible tax evasion over past years.
  • This fear of possible retrospective tax inspection and survey lies at the heart of the chorus against GST and its implementation.
  • To boost their confidence in doing so, the GST Council could get a clarification issued that cases under the earlier tax regimes will not be reopened due to a change in volume of transactions or turnover or some other parameters under the GST regime. This done, the chorus against the so-called tardy implementation of GST will stop.

The cold facts: (The Hindu, Editorial)

Context:

  • Ever since the influenza virus known as H1N1 ushered in India on 2009 pandemic, outbreaks have been an annual occurrence.
  • But India’s surveillance systems are poor and underestimate the influenza burden substantially.

How accurate are these official figures in India?

  • The problem with these official figures is that they only capture H1N1 numbers, a practice that has been adopted in response to the severity of the 2009 pandemic.
  • But influenza was present in India even before 2009 in the form of H3N2 and Influenza B virus types
  • Out of these, H3N2 is capable of causing outbreaks as big as H1N1, and yet India does not track H3N2 cases as extensively as it does H1N1.
  • A surveillance project for acute febrile illnesses, anchored at the Manipal Centre for Virus Research in Karnataka, has found that influenza accounts for nearly 20% of fevers across rural areas in 10 Indian States fevers that are often undiagnosed and classified as mystery-fevers.
  • All this indicates that India’s surveillance systems are significantly poor.

What are the consequences of these inaccurate figures?

  • As of 2015, India submits a woefully small number of H1N1 genetic sequences to global open-access databases for a country of its size and population.
  • Sequencing is important because it can detect mutations in genetic material that help the virus evade human immune systems, making it more deadly.
  • Because India does not sequence a large enough sample of viral genomes, it would be missing mutations that could explain changes in the lethality of the virus.

A theory is validated, revelations are promised: ‘Indian Ligo’ rolls: (Indian Express, Explained)

Context

  • ‘Indian Ligo’ would become operational in 2024.

Detection of gravitational waves

  • The detection of gravitational waves came as a fundamental discovery.
  • The detection of gravitational waves by the US-based Ligo (Laser Interferometer Gravitational-Wave Observatory) detectors was an experimental validation of an existing theory.

Background

  • Albert Einstein had postulated the existence of gravitational waves through his work on the general theory of relativity, and created the mathematical foundation for it.
  • The concept of gravitational waves flowed from Einstein’s attempt to explain two inexplicable facets of an otherwise extremely successful and beautiful theory of gravitation proposed by Isaac Newton in the 17th century.
  • The discrepancies in Newton’s theory were resolved by Einstein’s proposal that massive objects actually bend space-time around them, just like a large ball, when placed on a rubber sheet, creates a depression around it. And, it is this curvature of space-time that forces smaller bodies to feel ‘attracted’ towards more massive objects.

About the Indian Ligo

  • The Ligo detectors at two sites in the US are among the most sophisticated scientific facilities in the world.
  • The Indian Ligo, as it has come to be called, will be a replica of the two US observatories, and the three will together to form an array of Ligo facilities.
  • The Indian Ligo is slated to begin scientific operations in 2024.

Conclusion

  • By the time the Indian facility comes online, it is expected that detection of gravitational waves would become a frequent affair.
  • The novelty and excitement of first detection will no longer be there, but the data from every such instance would continue to be valuable.
  • Scientists expect that very soon gravitational waves would become as common a tool as light and other electromagnetic waves are today in unveiling the secrets of the universe.
  • Prelims Related News

U.S. trio wins physics Nobel for gravitational waves:

  • Phenomenon was predicted by Einstein a century ago as part of his theory.

Context

  • The 2017 Nobel Physics Prize was divided, one half awarded to Rainer Weiss, the other half jointly to Barry C. Barish and Kip S. Thorne
  • They were awarded for decisive contributions to the LIGO detector and the observation of gravitational waves.

Background

  • Ripples in the fabric of space-time, first predicted a century ago by Albert Einstein, sparked a revolution in astrophysics when their first detection was announced in early 2016.
  • How were the gravitational waves detected?
  • Triggered when super-dense black holes merge, the waves were detected using laser beams at the Laser Interferometer Gravitational-Wave Observatory (LIGO).
  • The waves detected by the laureates came from the collision of two black holes some 1.3 billion light years away. A light year is about 9.5 trillion km.
  • Einstein was convinced that gravitational waves could never be measured. The laureates used laser devices to measure a change thousands of times smaller than an atomic nucleus.
  • Gravitational waves are always created when a mass accelerates, like when an ice-skater pirouettes or a pair of black holes rotates around each other.

Nobel prize in Physics, 2017: Detectors of ripples in space-time:

Context

  • Nobel Physics Prize 2017 has been awarded to 3 scientists for discoveries in gravitational waves.  
  • Last year, Nobel Foundation honoured theoretical work in the topology of matter, ignoring the Laser Interferometer Gravitational-Wave Observatory (Ligo), which had detected gravitational waves 12 months before the ceremony
  • This year, the Royal Swedish Academy of Sciences has made amends by honouring the Ligo leadership — Rainer Weiss, who designed the most sensitive instrument ever made by the human race, Kip S Thorne, who narrowed down the signals and frequencies it was designed to seek, and Barry C Barish, who built the project hands-on.

What is Ligo’s exemplary contribution?

  • It detected the signature of the first gravity wave on September 15, 2015, which was translated into a sound that was between a chirp and a ping.

What exactly did Ligo see or hear?

  • It heard the collision of two massive black holes that had spun around each other at maniacal velocities and then collided 1.3 billion years ago, when life on earth had barely begun
  • The cosmic incident was not visible, since light cannot escape the event horizon of a black hole, but it can be inferred by radiation in the vicinity of the maelstrom of matter and energy
  • It also spread gravitational waves, ripples propagating at the speed of light across the fabric of space-time

Background

  • When the first Homo sapiens walked the plains of Africa millennia ago, the waves were sweeping through the Magellanic Cloud, and they reached Earth in September 2015, producing tiny disturbances at Ligo’s laser interferometers in Louisiana and Washington state, apart from the Virgo instrument in Italy.
  • It produced a tiny chirp that shook the world of quantum physics.

What remained unattended?

  • The Higgs boson was the last element of the standard model of physics which remained unobserved in the wild.
  • With the discovery of the Higgs boson, the laboratory caught up and theory was vindicated.
  • However, the century-old prediction of gravitational waves remained untested — actually, it dates back to Henri Poincare’s postulate of 1905.

What is Ligo’s contribution with regard to the untested gravitational waves?

  • Now, Ligo has provided yet another assurance of the patency of the standard model.

Why gravitational wave astronomy is so significant?

  • Gravitational wave astronomy will give humanity access to parts of space and time which have remained invisible.
  • Unlike electromagnetic radiation like light, which traverses space-time, they are ripples within the very fabric of space-time.
  • They are not scattered by matter, and will allow instruments to peer impossibly far into the gulfs of space — and correspondingly far back in time.
  • Parts of the universe which have remained dark to optical and radio telescopes will now become visible.
  • Black holes and neutron stars — bodies so dense that a spoonful of their substance would weigh as much as the earth — will yield up secrets never seen before.

How are gravitational waves formed?

  • Anything with mass produces gravitational waves when it accelerates.
  • We produce scads of gravitational waves every time you dance, but they are not strong enough to be picked up by instruments.
  • But anything with a gigantic mass, like a black hole or a neutron star, would generate measurable waves, rendering hitherto hidden phenomena visible.

Drosophila melanogaster: The story of the little pest and the famed prize:

Context:

  • Nobel Prize for medicine awarded for insights into internal biological clock.

Introduction:

  • The 108th Nobel Prize in physiology or medicine has been awarded to a trio of American scientists for their discoveries on the molecular mechanisms controlling circadian rhythms.
  • The prize shared between American scientists Jeffrey C Hall, Michael Rosbash and Michael W Young for work on the internal clock of living organisms

Area of discovery:

  • The team identified a gene within fruit flies that controls the creatures’ daily rhythm, known as the “period” gene. This gene encodes a protein within the cell during the night which then degrades during the day.
  • The team’s discoveries also helped to explain the mechanism by which light can synchronise the clock.
  • The work was important for the basic understanding of life.
  • The 2017 Prize underlines the continuing importance of Drosophila in the world of genetics and the Nobel.

Drosophila:

  • Drosophila melanogaster is a prolific breeder and has a short generation time, and that its genome has just four pairs of chromosomes.

Why do scientists investigate flies?

  • After the genome was sequenced in 2000, it was found that an astounding 60% of fruit fly genes are also present in humans in a similar form.
  • Germany’s Max Planck Society says that “around 75% of the genes which are known to cause illnesses in humans also occur in flies, and Drosophila possesses more than 90% of the genes that can trigger cancer in humans.
  •  Scientists worked to create disease-free organisms (eugenics).
  • It was discovered that it was easy to modify the fruit fly genome to understand how genotype alters phenotype.

Significance of research in this field:

  • Research on the body clock has helped scientists improve health. Many drugs now on the market work best when taken at the right time. The cholesterol-cutting drug Mevacor, for example, is taken at night because levels of the enzyme it targets are highest then. The same is true for low-dose aspirin used to reduce blood pressure.

Previous prize winners:

  •  Herman Muller, won the 1946 Prize in Physiology or Medicine for discovering that the fruit fly gene could be altered by radiation.
  • George W Beadle who, along with Edward L Tatum won one half of the 1958 Prize for their discovery that genes act by regulating definite chemical events.
  • In 1995, three development biologists, Edward B Lewis, Christiane Nusslein-Volhard and Eric F Wieschaus, won the Prize for discovering the role of key genes in the development of the fruit fly embryo that also plays a crucial role in human embryonic development.
  • Last year the prize was won by  Yoshinori Ohsumi, a Japanese cell biologist who unpicked the mechanisms by which the body break downs and recycles components of cells – a process that guards against various diseases, including cancer and diabetes.
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