State of the Climate Report 2020
News: India Meteorological Department (IMD) has released the State of the Climate Report, 2020.The report looks at temperature and rainfall trends annually.
Key Takeaways from the Report:
- Eighth Warmest Year: The year 2020 was the eighth warmest since India started keeping records in 1901.
- Warmest Decade: 12 out of the 15 warmest years were reported between 2006 and 2020 and that the past decade (2011-2020) was the warmest on record.
- Temperature: During the year, the annual average temperature in the country was 0.29 degree Celsius (°C) above normal (29-year average from 1981-2010).
- However, it was much lower than 2016 (+0.71 degrees Celsius), which remains the warmest ever year the country has recorded since 1901.
- Rainfall: The annual rainfall over the country in 2020 was 109% of the Long Period Average (LPA) calculated for the period of 1961-2010.
- Cyclones: Five cyclones formed over the North Indian Ocean in 2020 including the super cyclonic Storm AMPHAN, Very Severe Cyclonic Storms NIVAR & GATI, Severe Cyclonic Storm NISARGA, and Cyclonic Storm ‘BUREVI’. Among these, NISARGA & GATI formed over Arabian Sea while the remaining three cyclones formed over the Bay of Bengal.
- Loss due to Natural Disasters: Bihar & Uttar Pradesh were the most adversely affected States by natural disasters during the year which claimed more than 350 deaths from each State mainly due to thunderstorm, lightning and cold waves.
News: The Ministry of Railways has launched Freight Business Development Portal.
- Freight Business Development Portal: It is an exclusive portal to promote and develop the railways freight business.
- Key Features:
- It ensures that all operations stay customer centric, reduce the costs for logistics providers, provide online tracking facilities for suppliers and also simplify the process of goods transportation.
- It aims to replace physical processes with online ones to minimize the need of human to human interaction.
- The portal has a focus on ease of doing business and to bring more transparency and to provide professional support.
Need for the Portal:
- Indian Railways is the backbone of the country’s logistics sector the portal will improve the logistics capacity of the Railways to the next level.
- Indian Railways embraced a “Freight on Priority” policy to push for aggressive customer-centric approach. The portal will expand the policy further.
News: In a bid to curb the spread of the bird flu or avian flu viruses, Central Government has set up a control room in the national capital to monitor the situation and take stock on a daily basis of the preventive and control measures undertaken by the state authorities.
- What is Bird Flu or Avian Influenza? It is a highly contagious viral disease caused by Influenza Type A viruses which generally affects poultry birds such as chickens and turkeys.
- How does the bird flu spread? Wild aquatic birds such as ducks and geese are the natural reservoir of Influenza A viruses and the central players in the ecology of these viruses.
- Many birds carry the flu without developing sickness and shed it in their droppings.Since birds excrete even while flying, they also provide a nice aerosol of influenza virus, shedding it all over the world.
- Symptoms: Unlike in birds, where it generally infects the gut, the avian influenza attacks the respiratory tract of humans and may cause severe respiratory illnesses such as pneumonia or Acute Respiratory Distress Syndrome (ARDS). Its early symptoms include fever, cough, sore throat, and sometimes abdominal pain and diarrhoea.
- Treatment: Antiviral drugs, especially oseltamivir, improve the prospects of survival in humans.
- Bird Flu in India: India notified the first outbreak of avian influenza in 2006.Infection in humans is not yet reported in India though the disease is zoonotic.There is no direct evidence that AI viruses can be transmitted to humans via the consumption of contaminated poultry products.
- In India, the disease spreads mainly by migratory birds coming into India during winter months i.e. from September – October to February – March.The secondary spread by human handling (through fomites) cannot be ruled out.
Action Plan for Prevention, Control & Containment of Avian Influenza:
- Department of Animal Husbandry and Dairying (DAHD) had prepared an action plan in 2005 which was revised in 2006, 2012 , 2015 and 2021 for guidance of State Government for prevention, control and containment of Avian Influenza in India.The action plan calls for:
- Strengthening the biosecurity of poultry farms, disinfection of affected areas, proper disposal of dead birds/carcasses
- Timely collection and submission of samples for confirmation and further surveillance
- Intensification of surveillance plan as well as the general guidelines for prevention of disease spread from affected birds to poultry and humans.
- Coordination with the forest department for reporting any unusual mortality of birds was also suggested to the States.
- To keep a vigil on any unusual mortality amongst birds and to report immediately to take necessary measures.
News: Union Cabinet has approved the signing of a Memorandum of Cooperation(MoC) between India and Japan on a Basic Framework for Partnership for Proper Operation of the System Pertaining to “Specified Skilled Worker”.
- Details of the Memorandum: Under the Memorandum of Cooperation, an institutional mechanism for partnership and cooperation between India and Japan on sending and accepting skilled Indian workers who have qualified the required skill and Japanese language test, to work in fourteen specified sectors in Japan.These Indian workers would be granted a new status of residence of “Specified Skilled Worker” by the Government of Japan.
- Implementation Strategy: A Joint Working Group will be set up to follow up the implementation of this MOC.
- Major Impact: The Cooperation would enhance people-to -people contacts, foster mobility of workers and skilled professionals from India to Japan.
- Beneficiaries: Skilled Indian workers from fourteen sectors viz. Nursing care; Building cleaning; Material Processing industry; Industrial machinery manufacturing industry; Electric and electronic information related industry; Construction; Shipbuilding and ship-related industry; Automobile maintenance; Aviation; Lodging; Agriculture; Fisheries; Food and beverages manufacturing industry and Food service industry would have enhanced job opportunities to work in Japan.
News: Lancet has released a first of its kind study to estimate the effect of air pollution on pregnancy loss across the South Asia region.
- About the Study: The study combined data from household surveys on health from 1998-2016 (from women who reported at least one pregnancy loss and one or more live births) and estimated exposure to PM2.5 during pregnancy through combining satellite with atmospheric modelling outputs.
Key Highlights of the Study:
Air Quality and Pregnancy Loss:
- Poor air quality is associated with a considerable proportion of pregnancy loss in India, Pakistan, and Bangladesh.
- An estimated 349,681 pregnancy losses per year in South Asia were associated with exposure to PM2.5 concentrations that exceeded India’s air quality standard (more than 40 µg/m³) accounting for 7% of annual pregnancy loss in the region from 2000-2016.
- Gestational exposure to PM2.5 was also associated with an increased likelihood of pregnancy loss and this remained significant after adjusting for other factors.
- Each increase in 10 µg/m³ was estimated to increase a mother’s risk of pregnancy loss by 3%. The increase in risk was greater for mothers from rural areas or those who became pregnant at an older age, compared to younger mothers from urban areas.
How Air Quality Can Cause Pregnancy Loss?
- The reason behind the air pollution to cause pregnancy loss is that the fine particles have been reported to cross the blood placenta barrier and harm the embryo directly.
- Exposure to poor air quality can cause disorders such as inflammation, oxidative stress and blood pressure elevation which can act as factors to increase the risk of pregnancy loss.
News: Securities and Exchange Board of India (SEBI) has proposed a new framework for ownership of Market Infrastructure Institutions(MII) to facilitate new entrants to set up stock exchanges and depositories.
- What is Market Infrastructure? It is a system administered by a public organisation or other public instrumentality, or a private and regulated association or entity, that provides services to the financial industry for trading, clearing and settlement, matching of financial transactions and depository functions.
- Examples: Examples of MIIs include stock exchanges, depositories and clearing corporations. These are systemically important institutions whose failure could lead to bigger cataclysmic collapses bringing down the economy.
- A resident promoter setting up an MII may hold up to 100% shareholding, which will be brought down to not more than (either 51% or 26%) in 10 years.
- A foreign promoter from Financial Action Task Force FATF member jurisdictions setting up an MII may hold up to 49% shareholding, which shall be brought down to not more than (either 26% or 15%) in 10 years.
- Foreign individuals or entities from other than FATF member jurisdictions may acquire or hold up to 10% in an MII.
- Any person other than the promoter may acquire or hold less than 25% shareholding.
- At least 50% of ownership of the MII may be represented by individuals or entities with experience of five years or more in the areas of capital markets or technology related to financial services.
News: The Bombay High Court has held that the sale of items, claiming that they possess miraculous or supernatural powers via television advertisement is illegal.
What was the matter?
- A petition was filed seeking a direction and injunction to prevent advertisements on television channels that promote the sale of articles like Hanuman Chalisa Yantra.
- The petitioner had come across advertisements in 2015 on TV claiming special, miraculous and supernatural properties/qualities in Hanuman Chalisa Yantra prepared by one Baba Mangalnath who had achieved ‘siddhi’ (supernatural powers) and was blessed by Lord Hanuman.
What is the Judgement?
- The court held that using the name of any God and claiming that it has supernatural qualities is “illegal” and falls under the Maharashtra Prevention and Eradication of Human Sacrifice and other Inhuman, Evil and Aghori Practices and Black Magic Act.
- The court observed that the objectives quoted in the Black Magic Act can be achieved mainly through education.
- Section 3 of the Black Magic Act prohibits not only commission of acts of black magic, evil practices but also propagation and promotion of such practices and magic. Section 3(2) of the Act provides that abetment of such propaganda is also an offence.
- Quoting the fundamental duty to develop the scientific temper, humanism and the spirit of inquiry, the Court said that the reformists like Mahatma Phule and Babasaheb Ambedkar who worked to remove evil practices and spread awareness against superstition, were born on this soil.
News: The Government of India has released the Draft Science, Technology and Innovation Policy 2020.
- Prepared by: The policy is initiated jointly by the Office of the Principal Scientific Advisor (Office of PSA) and the Department of Science and Technology (DST).
- Aim: The policy aims to reorient Science Technology & Innovation (STI) in terms of priorities, sectoral focus and strategies.
Why India needs a new STI Policy now?
- Since 2013 when the last policy was formulated, India made some unprecedented progress in STI.
- STI in India is undergoing rapid transformation in recent years in terms of relevance, scope and scale
- COVID-19 is likely to have short and medium term impact on STI Resources, Strategies and Priorities
- Prime Minister gave a clarion call for achieving a “Atmanirbhar Bharat” that might need greater focus on development of indigenous technologies and encouragement to grass root level innovation
- Rise of disruptive and impactful technologies and challenges, opportunities
- Strongly connecting S&T to Innovation, Industry and Society
India’s Progress in STI in Recent Years:
- India’s Gross Expenditure on R&D(GERD) has increased by more than 3 times during last 10 years
- India’s per capita R&D expenditure at PPP got doubled in last 10 years
- India is ranked at 3rd Position in terms of no of publications in SCI journals (5th in 2014)
- Women participation in R&D got doubled in last 6 years
- India is the 3rd Largest Higher Education System of the world. It is positioned 3rd in terms of No of Startups (~32,000) and ranked 9th rank in terms of Resident Patent filing.
- India is ranked 48th in terms of Global Innovation Index (from 81st position in 2015).
- India has moved up by 79 places in the last 6 years in its World Bank Global Ranking in Ease of Doing Business (from 142nd to 63rd).
Key Features of the STIP Policy:
- A National STI Observatory as a central repository for all kinds of data related to and generated from the STI ecosystem
- INDSTA (Indian Science and Technology Archive of Research) – a dedicated portal to provide access to the outputs of all publicly-funded research (including manuscripts, research data, supplementary information, research protocols, review articles, conference proceedings, monographs, book chapters, etc.).
- Open Data Policy for Publicly Funded Research – All data used in and generated from public-funded research will be available to everyone under FAIR (findable, accessible, interoperable and reusable) terms.
- One Nation, One Subscription: The Government will negotiate with journal publishers for a “one nation, one subscription” policy whereby, in return for one centrally-negotiated payment, all individuals in India will have access to journal articles.
- Research Excellence Framework for HEIs in India(REFI) will be evolved for research assessment to secure the continuation of a holistic, dynamic and responsive research base across the full academic spectrum within India’s higher education ecosystem.
- Creation of ‘Engaged Universities’ to the needs of the community by conducting interdisciplinary projects involving scientific and technological and social science-based interventions.
- Innovation and Entrepreneurship centres will be established at regional levels in a collaborative approach with the participation of local Academic and R&D institutions, industries, MSMEs, Startups, etc.
- Expansion of the STI Funding Landscape: Each department/ministry in the central, the state and the local governments, public sector enterprises, private sector companies and startups to set up an STI unit with a minimum earmarked budget to pursue STI activities.
- Each State to earmark a percentage of the state allocation for STI-related activities under a separate budget head.
- Foreign Multinational Companies (MNCs) – Partnerships and collaborations with domestic private (SMEs and start-ups) and public sectors entities (HEIs and research organizations) to work on projects aligned to national needs and priorities.
- Incentivisation for STI investments: Boosting fiscal incentives for industries investing in STI through incremental R&D based tax incentives, tax credit for investing in facilities for commercialization, tax holidays, tax waivers, target-based tax incentive for specific domains, tax deduction, expatriate tax regimes, remodeling of patent box regime etc.
- Joint appointments across government, academia and industry at both the national and the international levels will be facilitated to attract the best talent into the research ecosystem.
- Research solutions should address solutions for different regions/ socio-economic strata including a focus on rural problems in the country.
- Innovation and Entrepreneurship: An institutional architecture for integrating traditional knowledge systems (TKS) and grassroots innovation into the overall education, research and innovation system.
Technology Development and Indigenization
- Indigenous Development of Technology: Indigenous technologies will be promoted even if better technologies exist internationally. Key products or components imported by Indian companies for their manufacturing plants will be identified and a provision will be made to fund such product-based R&D with industry-academia collaborations
- Technology indigenization: To strengthen India’s local R&D capabilities in the production of technologies that are largely being imported, infrastructure will be set up and existing mechanisms will be strengthened to adapt existing technologies to suit the local needs.
- Sustainable Technology Push: Policy push for development and deployment of sustainable technologies to address major socio-economic challenges and changing aspirations of the people.
- Set up a Strategic Technology Board(STB) to act as a connecting bridge between different strategic departments and to monitor and recommend technologies to be bought or indigenously made in the strategic departments or in private sector or in academic institutions in line with self- reliant India.
- Set up a Strategic Technology Development Fund(STDF) to encourage the private sector and HEIs to develop strategic technologies. STDF to be managed by the independent body STB to avoid conflict of interest.
Equity and Inclusion
- Institutionalising Equity and Inclusion: An Indian Centric E&I Charter will be developed for tackling discriminations in STI, based on gender, caste, geography, language, disability and other exclusions and inequalities.
- Ageism-related issues and minimisation of career breaks are to be addressed for effective retention of trained women into the STI workforce. In this case, all professional career milestones, such as recruitment, awards and funding schemes, age cut-offs will be implemented considering academic age rather than biological/physical age.
Science Communication and Public Engagement
- Capacity Building and Research: Creative and cross-disciplinary platforms of Science Communication will be promoted to enable dialogue and knowledge transfer between researchers, science communicators and the public.
- Community-centric programmes and regional science centres will be encouraged to promote science communication in regional languages with local and hyper-local contexts for last-mile connectivity.
- Mainstreaming Science Communication: Every public-funded institution and department will have a dedicated wing set-up for science communication and public engagement in STI-related activities.
International STI Engagement
- Engagement with Diaspora: Fellowships and internships schemes and research opportunities in India will be expanded and widely promoted across different ministries to attract diaspora.An engagement portal exclusively for Indian scientific diaspora will be created (e.g, Pravasi Bharatiya Academic and Scientific Sampark- PRABHAS).
- Proactive STI Diplomacy Strategy: International Knowledge Centres, preferably Virtual, will be established to promote global knowledge and talent exchange by creating avenues such as visiting fellowships, joint research schemes, training programmes, invited lectures etc.
- An inter-sectoral, inter-ministerial national level STI Governance mechanism will be set up at the highest level, for building synergy and improving coordination among various ministries/ departments/ organizations to strengthen the national STI ecosystem.
- Standardized Research and Innovation Excellence Frameworks (RIEF) based on international benchmarks, will be formulated to ensure cohesive and transparent evaluation of all kinds of research and innovation.
- A suitable metric will be developed to evaluate and recognize the outcome and impact of research activities with respect to its direct relevance to Indian needs, while continuing to maintain international comparability.
- An STI Policy Institute with a strong national and international connect, will be established with a mandate to serve all aspects of STI policy governance.