9 PM Current Affairs Brief – May 18, 2019

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UNDER confers Dr P.K. Mishra Additional Principal Secretary to Prime Minister with the prestigious Sasakawa Award 2019

  1. United Nations Office for Disaster Risk Reduction (UNDRR)  has conferred Sasakawa Award 2019 for Disaster Risk Reduction to Pramod Kumar Mishra, Additional Principal Secretary to the Prime Minister of India
  2. He was awarded for his dedication to improve the resilience of communities most exposed to disasters.
  3. Sasakawa Award is jointly organized by the United Nations Office for Disaster Risk Reduction (UNDRR) and the Nippon Foundation.
  4. The Award recognizes individuals, organizations and initiatives that have contributed to ensure inclusive participation in Disaster Risk Reduction (DRR) activities for all sections of society, especially the poor.
  5. The theme of the 2019 Sasakawa award was “Building Inclusive and Resilient Societies”. The Award gives a maximum of US $50,000 to one or more winners.
  6. The award was founded in 1986 by Chairman of the Nippon Foundation. He had established the following three prizes (a)World Health Organization Sasakawa Health Prize (b)UN Environment Programme Sasakawa Environment Prize and (c)Nations Sasakawa Award for Disaster Reduction.

Grappling with urban exodus and GST, Kalamkari hub faces a fast fade-out

  1. According to a report, kalamkari painting is on a decline due to urban exodus and Goods and Services tax(GST).
  2. The challenges faced by them includes (a)the poor availability of formal credit (b)the lure of taking up screen-printing for a quick buck and the (c)migration of youth to urban areas in search of job.
  3. Further, the imposition of 5% GST on handlooms and Kalamkaris is resulting in losses for the weavers weaning them away from their traditional craft.
  4. Kalamkari is an ancient style of hand painting done on cotton or silk fabric with a tamarind pen, using natural dyes. The word Kalamkari is derived from a Persian word where ‘kalam‘ means pen and ‘kari‘ refers to craftsmanship.
  5. There are two identifiable styles of Kalamkari art – Srikalahasti style (Chittoor district) and Machilipatnam style (Krishna district).Machilipatnam Kalamkari has been accorded geographical indication tag in 2013.
  6. In the Machilipatnam style of Kalamkari,motifs are essentially printed with hand-carved traditional blocks with intricate detailing painted by hands.
  7. On the other hand, Srikalahasti style of painting draws inspiration from the Hindu mythology describing scenes from the epics and folklore. This style holds a strong religious connect because of its origin in the temples

Navy boosts its air warfare capability

  1. The Indian Navy has successfully test-fired a Medium Range Surface to Air Missile (MRSAM), thus, achieving a significant milestone to enhance its anti-air warfare capability.
  2. The test-firing of the missile was undertaken on the western seaboard by Indian naval ships Kochi and Chennai. These Surface to Air Missiles are fitted onboard the Kolkata Class Destroyers and would also be fitted on all future major warships of the Indian Navy.
  3. The test-firing of the missile was carried out jointly by the Indian Navy, Defence Research and Development Organisation (DRDO) and Israel Aerospace Industries.
  4. The DRDO has jointly developed the missile in collaboration with Israel Aerospace Industries. The MRSAM has been manufactured by Bharat Dynamics Limited.
  5. The MRSAM has the capability of providing defence against air, marine and ground threats. It has several systems which include a digital radar, command and control, launchers, and interceptors with advanced homing seekers.
  6. This capability significantly enhances the combat effectiveness of the Indian Navy thereby providing an operational edge over potential adversaries.

Skimming: how devices at ATMs can steal data, help criminals clone cards

  1. Recently, Delhi police had found that Rs 19 lakh had been fraudulently withdrawn from 87 accounts in three ATMs in a span of seven days. This was done with the help of skimming.
  2. Skimming is a procedure in which criminals clone ATM cards with stolen data. A skimmer is a device designed to look like and replace the card insertion slot at an ATM.
  3. The skimmers which cannot be usually spotted by an untrained eye have circuitry that read and store the data on the magnetic strip of an ATM card even as the ATM processes the same data.
  4. Typically, fraudsters install pinhole cameras in inconspicuous places like the top of the cash dispenser, the deposit slot or just above the keyboard. This steals the PIN for the card.
  5. Days after installation, criminals recover the skimming machines and cameras and collect the stolen data, and decode the PIN for a card. Using stolen data, the criminals clone ATM cards and use it.
  6. This can be prevented with the help of (a) alertness of people who load cash in ATMs and bank officials who can spot any illegal devices planted in ATMs (b)posting guards at ATMs (c)installing machines that do not facilitate installation of cameras and skimmers and (d)use of new high-security bank cards that have facilities against theft of data through skimming.

Vande Bharat Express crosses another milestone

  1. Recently, Vande Bharat Express(Train 18) has completed 1 lakh running kilometres without missing a single trip. It has also become the first train in India to clock average speed of over 100 Kmph between Delhi and Prayagraj.
  2. Train 18 is India’s first indigenously built engineless train capable of running at a speed of up to 160 kmph, It is also referred to as a successor to the 30-year-old Shatabdi Express.
  3. Train 18 is a self-propelled engine-less train and is energy-efficient as its coaches are fitted with LED lights.Self propelled engine-less train means instead of being pulled by a locomotive, they are powered by traction motors fitted underneath each coach to render them self-propelled.
  4. The fully air-conditioned semi-high speed train has also cut the travel time by 15% as compared to the Shatabdi. It has been manufactured under ‘Make in India’ initiative by the Integral Coach Factory (ICF).
  5. The features of the train includes (a)modern air-conditioned coaches (b) touch free automatic doors (c) GPS-enabled passenger information system and (d) onboard uninterrupted Wifi and infotainment system.

Peace pact with Taliban is unlikely before September polls

  1. Addressing a gathering at the Indian Council of World Affairs (ICWA), Chief Executive of the Afghan High Peace Council has said that Afghanistan would not compromise on fundamental issues with the Taliban.
  2. Further, he has also said that the US-Taliban talks has given the Taliban a higher political profile even though they are not the real representative of the people of Afghanistan.
  3. He also acknowledged that Pakistan had played the role of facilitator for talks between the Taliban and the U.S.
  4. ICWA was established in 1943 by a group of Indian intellectuals as think tank.It was established as non-official, non-political and non-profit organisation under Registration of Societies Act 1860.
  5. It was declared as an institution of national importance by Indian Council of World Affairs (ICWA),2001 enacted by Parliament.
  6. The Vice President of India is the ex-officio President of ICWA.ICWA is devoted exclusively for the study of international relations and foreign affairs.

Democrats concerned over Trump’s India policy

  1. US Democratic lawmakers has criticized US President for his failure to appoint a confirmed head of the state department’s South and Central Asia (SCA) bureau. This department conducts diplomatic relations with India, Pakistan, Afghanistan and other countries.
  2. US President had announced his South Asia policy in 2017 calling for a greater development role for India in Afghanistan and had asked Pakistan to end its support for terrorism.
  3. The US administration had also sought increased defence cooperation and engagement with India and had changed the name of U.S. Pacific Command to U.S. Indo-Pacific Command in 2018.
  4. However, the trade-related issues such as (a)India’s Data localisation rules which forced foreign companies to store their data locally (b)Price controls on medical devices(Cardiac stents) (c)Tariff on ICT products (d)Lack of greater market access for the US dairy industry and (e)India’s e-commerce policy are yet to be resolved.
  5. Further, US President announcement that (a)preferential trade benefits for India under the U.S Generalized System of Preferences(GSP) will be withdrawn and (b) to end the sanctions waiver provided to India to purchase Iranian crude oil has added strain on the relationship.

Kerala first Indian state to tap into masala bond market

  1. Kerala Infrastructure Investment Fund Board(KIIFB) has issued Masala Bonds to raise funds from the overseas market.
  2. KIIFB has become the first regional entity in India to enter the offshore international masala bond market. The bond has been listed on the London Stock Exchange’s International Securities Market.
  3. Masala bonds are bonds issued by an Indian entity in a foreign market in the rupee denomination. It is a way for an entity to borrow from foreign investors and is due to be paid at a fixed end date.
  4. Masala bonds can only be issued in a country and subscribed by a resident of such a country that is a member of the Financial Action Task Force and whose securities market regulator is a member of the International Organisation of Securities Commission.
  5. Further, it can also be subscribed by multilateral and regional financial institutions where India is a member country.
  6. According to RBI, the minimum maturity period for Masala Bonds raised up to Rupee equivalent of USD 50 million in a financial year should be 3 years and for bonds raised above USD 50 million equivalent in INR per financial year should be 5 years.
  7. According to RBI, any corporate, body corporate and Indian bank is eligible to issue Masala bonds overseas. But the money raised through such bonds cannot be used for real estate activities other than for development of integrated township or affordable housing projects. It also can’t be used for investing in capital markets, purchase of land and on-lending to other entities for such activities as stated above.

E-payments panel submits report to RBI

  1. The Reserve Bank of India(RBI) appointed a committee,  headed by Nandan Nilekani has submitted its suggestions on promoting digital payments to RBI Governor.
  2. RBI had set up the five-member panel on deepening digital payments with a view to encouraging digitisation of payments and enhance financial inclusion through digitisation.
  3. The panel was tasked with reviewing the (a)existing status of digitisation of payments in the country (b)identifying the current gaps in the ecosystem and suggesting ways to bridge them and (c)assessing the current levels of digital payments in financial inclusion.
  4. Further, it was also asked to undertake cross country analyses with a view to identify best practices that can be adopted in our country to accelerate digitisation of the economy and financial inclusion through greater use of digital payments.
  5. Earlier this week,RBI had released a vision document for ensuring a safe, secure, convenient, quick and affordable e-payment system with an aim making India a ‘cash-lite’ society.
  6. The ‘Payment and Settlement Systems in India: Vision 2019 – 2021’, with its core theme of ‘Empowering Exceptional (E)payment Experience’, envisages to achieve “a highly digital and cash-lite society” through the goal posts of competition, cost effectiveness, convenience and confidence (4Cs).

India surpasses China in fintech funding in March quarter: Report

  1. According to the Global Fintech Report, India has surpassed China as the leading fintech start-up hub in Asia by attracting almost 50% more funding than their Chinese counterparts.
  2. Fin Tech or financial technology is an industry comprising companies that use technology to offer financial services. These companies operate in insurance, asset management and payment and numerous other industries.
  3. China has always remained a dominant player in the fintech startup space in Asia but overtime the situation has reversed with cautious investors and a tighter regulatory environment.
  4. India has seen leading global companies such as Google, Amazon expanding their reach into the fintech space while there is also a growing number of new startups among a market with industry leaders like Paytm and Phonepe.
  5. According to NITI Aayog, India is one of the fastest growing Fin Tech markets globally and industry research has projected that USD 1 Trillion or 60% of retail and SME credit, will be digitally disbursed by 2029.The Indian Fin Tech ecosystem is the third largest in the world, attracting nearly USD 6 billion in investments since 2014.

Refurbished mobile imports certified by BIS get govt nod

  1. India has decided to allow the import of refurbished or second mobile phones subject to the condition that they are certified by the Bureau of Indian Standards (BIS).
  2. Earlier, the government was against the import of refurbished electronics products into the country. It feared that companies may use it to dump hazardous electronic waste. Also, it would negate the effect of Make in India initiative.
  3. However, there are some concerns such as how will the BIS be able to certify refurbished phones as they lack in uniformity. For instance, new phones have a uniform standard and can be examined for certification purposes by picking up a sample. But such uniform sampling is not possible in the case of refurbished mobile phones.
  4. The Bureau of Indian Standards (BIS) is the national Standards Body of India working under the aegis of Ministry of Consumer Affairs, Food & Public Distribution.
  5. BIS was established by the Bureau of Indian Standards Act,1986.The Minister in charge of the Ministry or Department having administrative control of the BIS is the ex-officio President of the BIS.
  6. BIS is mandated for harmonious development of activities of standardization, marking and quality certification of goods and for matters connected

Illegal GM brinjal was second crop,officials destroy plants

  1. The Haryana horticulture department has uprooted and deeply buried the illegal cultivation of genetically modified brinjal.
  2. Recently,farmers in Haryana and experts had expressed fears of widespread contamination of GM brinjal in the state as farmer was found cultivating Bt brinjal illegally.
  3. The Bt brinjal refers to a group of transgenic brinjals created by inserting a crystal protein gene(Cry1Ac) from the soil bacterium Bacillus thuringiensis into the genome of various brinjal cultivars. This was developed to give resistance against lepidopteran insects in particular the Brinjal Fruit and Shoot Borer.
  4. It was developed by Mahyco (Maharashtra Hybrid Seeds Company) in collaboration with the Dharwad University of Agricultural Sciences and the Tamil Nadu Agricultural University. In 2010,the government had placed an indefinite moratorium on commercial release of Bt brinjal.
  5. Government had said that the moratorium will last till independent scientific studies establish the safety of Bt brinjal from the point of view of its long term impact on human health and environment. However, the same Bt brinjal variety was subsequently approved for commercial cultivation in Bangladesh in 2013.
  6. GM Crops are plants used in agriculture, the DNA of which has been modified using genetic engineering.GM is a technology that involves inserting DNA into the genome of an organism. To produce a GM plant, new DNA is transferred into plant cells. Usually, the cells are then grown in tissue culture where they develop into plants. The seeds produced by these plants inherit the new DNA.

Varanasi has only one air quality monitoring station

  1. According to Let Me breathe, the average air quality in Varanasi for PM 2.5 from 2017-2019 had improved to 104 from 206 in 2016. However, the maximum PM levels breached continued to be above 200, or in the “very poor” category.
  2. Let Me Breathe is a portal that investigates how people cope with poor air quality. It had queried civic officials and the Uttar Pradesh Pollution Control Board with Right to Information requests to check what progress Varanasi had made in improving its air quality.
  3. According to Central Pollution Control Board’s 2015 dataset, Varanasi had one of the most toxic air in India in 2015. Out of 227 days measured in 2015, the city had zero ‘good-air’ days. This had been attributed to heavy levels of industrial pollution, biomass burning, vehicular emissions, brick kilns and diesel generator sets.
  4. Further, WHO has ranked Varanasi 3rd among cities with most polluted air on earth. 14 out of the top 15 cities are from India with Kanpur ranking first in the list followed by Faridabad. Despite these statistics, Varanasi has only one online air quality monitor, capable of measuring PM2.5 and PM10.
  5. Varanasi is one of the cities that is part of the National Clean Air Programme. NCAP has been launched in 2019 for prevention, control and abatement of air pollution in India. It is a five-year action plan with 2019 as the first year.
  6. It aims at 20%–30% reduction of PM2.5and PM10 concentration by 2024, taking 2017 as the base year for the comparison of concentration.
  7. The programme targets 102 non-attainment cities which were identified by Central Pollution Control Board (CPCB) on the basis of their ambient air quality data between 2011 and 2015.
  8. Non-attainment cities are those which have been consistently showing poorer air quality than the National Ambient Air Quality Standards (NAAQS).

Ex-servicemen status for Nursing Service

  1. The Defence Ministry and the Army has approved ex-servicemen status to the Military Nursing Service (MNS) cadre. MNS was set up as an auxiliary force in 1943 and has only women officers with permanent commission, who serve as nursing staff in all three forces.
  2. The issue of seeking ex-servicemen status was first raised by some MNS officers in an appeal filed with the Armed Forces Tribunal. The AFT ruled in their favour in 2010. This led the defence ministry to challenge the judgement in the Supreme Court and the court had asked the Ministry and the Army to submit their reply.
  3. At present, MNS has commissioned status and is already entitled to the Ex-servicemen Contributory Health Scheme (ECHS) and Canteen Stores Department (CSD) facilities.
  4. With the ex-servicemen status, on retirement, MNS officers would get a number of benefits such as ex-servicemen identity card, reemployment opportunities and their children getting preference during admissions at colleges and universities.
  5. Further, important benefit has also been given to serving MNS officers. It allows MNS officers at the rank of Brigadier and above to have star plates (identifies rank of the officer) on their official vehicles

Heat waves to intensify in India from next year: Study

  1. According to a recent study titled “Future Projections of Heat Waves over India from CMIP5 Models”, frequency of heat waves and their duration in India might increase from early 2020. The study has been conducted by Indian Institute of Tropical Meteorology (IITM). It has been published in the journal Climate Dynamics.
  2. The study examined nine climate models to understand how the frequency, intensity and duration of heat waves in India will increase. The models used in the study identified 54 heat-wave events in India between 1961 and 2005. The study predicts that this number is likely to increase with the probability of 138 heat-wave events between 2020 and 2064.
  3. The study has noted that El Nino Modoki could be responsible for the increase in heat waves in India. Further, depletion of soil moisture and transfer of heat from the earth to the atmosphere would also trigger them.
  4. A heat wave is a period of abnormally high temperatures-more than the normal maximum temperature that occurs during the summer season. Heat wave is considered if maximum temperature of a station reaches at least 40°C or more for Plains, 37°C or more for coastal stations and at least 30°C or more for Hilly regions.
  5. El Niño Modoki is a coupled ocean-atmosphere phenomenon in the tropical Pacific. Modoki is a Japanese word that means “same, but different”.
  6. The El Nino Modoki was named to represent the phenomenon in 2004 that had a maximum Sea surface temperature (SST) anomaly in the central tropical Pacific, differing from the conventional El Nino. Modoki results in the central tropical Pacific and cooling in the eastern and western tropical Pacific

Taiwan legalises same-sex marriage in first for Asia

  1. Taiwan has legalised same-sex marriage, making it the first Asian country to do so.
  2. In 2017, the Taiwan’s apex Court had ruled that same-sex couples have the right to marry under the Taiwanese Constitution. It also directed the government to make necessary changes to the law with two years.
  3. Taiwan has now joined a host of countries where same sex marriage is legally recognised. Examples: Denmark, Finland, France, Germany, South Africa, Canada, USA etc.
  4. Same-sex marriage is still illegal in China, however; homosexuality was decriminalised in the country in 1997. It was removed from its list of mental illnesses in 2000.
  5. In a historic decision, in September 2018, the Indian Supreme Court had decriminalised same-sex relationships by partially striking down the provisions of Section 377 of the Indian Penal Code (IPC).
  6. In April 2019, Brunei announced strict new Islamic laws that made same-sex relationship and adultery offences punishable by stoning to death. However, later it extended a moratorium on the legislation in the backdrop of global backlash against the country led by international human rights groups and celebrities.

Mizoram to increase maize yield despite pest outbreak

  1. The Mizoram Agriculture Department has decided to take steps to increase maize production despite an outbreak of the Fall Army Worm (FAW) in the state. So far, FAW outbreak has infested 68% of the maize cultivation areas in Mizoram.
  2. The Fall Armyworm (FAW), or Spodoptera frugiperda is an invasive agricultural pest. It was first reported in West Africa in 2016. In India, its infection was first reported in Karnataka in 2018
  3. It is a lepidopteron pest that feeds in large numbers on the leaves and stems of more than 80 plant species, causing extensive damage to crops such as maize, rice, sorghum and sugarcane. It also attacks vegetable crops and cotton.
  4. FAW can be controlled with a) Seed treatment and use of resistant varieties, b) intercropping- e.g. Growing inter crops like legumes will reduce infestation, c) bio control agents- Naturally existing enemies-e.g. Parasitoids.

Textile machinery expo in Africa

  1. The India International Textile Machinery Exhibitions Society (India ITME Society) will organise ITME Africa 2020 between February 14 and 16, 2020 at Addis Ababa, capital of Ethiopia.
  2. The theme for ITME Africa 2020 is “Prosperity for AFRICA through Textile Technology”. The event is supported by both Govt. of India and Govt. of Ethiopia.
  3. The exhibition will be under four major categories — a) textiles, b) textile engineering, c) financial institutions and d) allied segments.
  4. It will have country pavilions of Italy, Turkey, China and Switzerland, showcasing technology and engineering expertise in textiles. The pavilion of Engineering Export Promotion Council of India (EEPC) India will support engineering units from India to connect with African countries.
  5. EEPC India is the premier trade and investment promotion organization in India. It is sponsored by the Ministry of Commerce & Industry and caters to the Indian engineering sector. It was established in 1955.
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