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Daily Current affairs 19 July 2019

UPSC - Daily Current Affair

 

SL. NO.

TOPICS   

THE HINDU

PAGE NO.

1

The threat of Ebola 

10 

2

A WASH for healthcare.              

11

3

A hand to mouth Budget

10

4

Creating a fair digital payments market

11

5

12 Indian beaches in the race to crest the ‘Blue flag’ challenge

13





 

Title

1. The threat of Ebola   (The Hindu, Page 10)     

Syllabus

Mains: GS Paper II – Social issues     

Theme

Health 

Highlights

Context:

WHO has declared Ebola outbreak in Congo as a “public health emergency of international concern,” .  The designation by the WHO — an international body charged with coordinating global response to disease — came 11 months after the outbreak began in Congo’s conflict-ridden North Kivu province.

 The deadly virus has since infected more than 2,500 people and killed nearly 1,700, in Congo. Health officials worry it could spill over borders to Uganda, Rwanda, Burundi and South Sudan.   

Ebola Virus

  • Ebola virus disease (EVD), formerly known as Ebola hemorrhagic fever, is a severe, often fatal illness in humans.EVD outbreaks have a case fatality rate of up to 90%.

  • EVD outbreaks occur primarily in remote villages in Central and West Africa, near tropical rainforests. 

  • The virus is transmitted to people from wild animals and spreads in the human population through human-to-human transmission.

  • Fruit bats of the Pteropodidae family are considered to be the natural host of the Ebola virus.

History of Outbreaks 

  • Ebola first appeared in 1976 in two simultaneous outbreaks, in Nzara, Sudan, and in Yambuku, Democratic Republic of Congo. 

  • The latter was in a village situated near the Ebola River, from which the disease takes its name. 

  • Although non-human primates have been a source of infection for humans, they are not thought to be the reservoir but rather an accidental host like human beings.

Transmission

  • Ebola is introduced into the human population through close contact with the blood, secretions, organs or other bodily fluids of infected animals. 

  • In Africa, infection has been noticed among those handling infected chimpanzees, gorillas, fruit bats, monkeys, forest antelope found ill or dead or in the rainforest. 

  • Ebola then spreads in the community through human-to-human transmission, with infection resulting from direct contact (through broken skin or mucous membranes) with the blood, secretions, organs or other bodily fluids of infected people, and indirect contact with environments contaminated with such fluids. 

  • Men who have recovered from the disease can still transmit the virus through their semen for up to 7 weeks after recovery from illness.

  • Health-care workers have frequently been infected while treating patients with suspected or confirmed EVD when infection control precautions are not strictly practiced.

 

Signs and symptoms

  • EVD is a severe acute viral illness often characterized by the sudden onset of fever, intense weakness, muscle pain, headache and sore throat. 

  • This is followed by vomiting, diarrhoea, rash, impaired kidney and liver function, and in some cases, both internal and external bleeding. The incubation period, that is, the time interval from infection with the virus to onset of symptoms, is 2 to 21 days. 

Diagnosis

  • Before a patient is diagnosed as infected with EVD, one should rule out malaria, typhoid fever, shigellosis, cholera, leptospirosis, plague, rickettsiosis, meningitis, hepatitis and other viral hemorrhagic fevers like dengue, yellow fever and kyasanur forest disease etc.

Vaccine and treatment

  • There is no specific treatment nor is any licensed vaccine for EVD available. Several vaccines are being tested, but none are available for clinical use. 

  • Severely ill patients require intensive supportive care. Patients are frequently dehydrated and require oral rehydration with solutions containing electrolytes or intravenous fluids.

 

Prevention and control

  • No animal vaccine against this is available. 

  • Routine cleaning and disinfection of pig or monkey farms (with sodium hypochlorite or other detergents) should be effective in inactivating the virus.

  • If an outbreak is suspected, the premises should be quarantined immediately. Culling of infected animals, with close supervision of burial or incineration of carcasses, may be necessary to reduce the risk of animal-to-human transmission. 

  • Restricting or banning the movement of animals from infected farms to other areas can reduce the spread of the disease.

  • As this viral outbreak in pigs and monkeys have preceded human infections, the establishment of an active animal health surveillance system to detect new cases is essential in providing early warning for veterinary and human public health authorities.

  • In the absence of effective treatment and a human vaccine, raising awareness of the risk factors for Ebola infection and the protective measures individuals can take is the only way to reduce human infection and death.

 

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Title

2. CM’s panel mulls move to tie State farm reforms to funds               (The Hindu, Page 13)   

Syllabus 

Mains: GS Paper III – Economy 

Theme

Farm sector 

Highlights

Key reforms deliberated:

  • FC grants: Grants of the Central government and fund allocation of the Finance Commission should be linked with the agriculture reforms undertaken in states.

  • Agriculture credit: The Centre provides Rs 13 lakh crore crop loan for farmers. Unfortunately, large number of farmers, especially small and marginal, remain outside the institutional credit mechanism. High on the committee’s agenda is to bring all the farmers within the credit ambit.

  • Syncing agriculture produce demand and supply: The mismatch between agriculture produce demand and supply often results in farmers incurring huge financial losses. There should be greater coordination between the ministries of agriculture and commerce, as the former deals with production, while the latter with marketing.

  • ECA: Some committee members also questioned the utility of the Essential Commodity Act (ECA), 1955, in the food sector. Some CMs called for the scrapping of this act.

  • Use of technology: Effective use of technology, digitisation of entire process from sowing to marketing, use of drones and satellites were also discussed.

  • Private investment: The committee also pitched for promoting contract farming in states. There is a need for boosting private investment in the agriculture sector and promoting contract farming.

  • Others: focus on group farming for sustainable farm practices, promotion of food processing industry etc.

 Essential Commodity Act (ECA): 

  • The ECA was enacted way in 1955.

  • “Essential commodity” means a commodity specified in the Schedule to the Act. The Central Government may add or remove a commodity from the schedule in consultation with the State Governments.

  • The list of items under the Act include drugs, fertilisers, pulses and edible oils, and petroleum and petroleum products.

  • It enables the Government to regulate the production, supply and distribution of, and trade and commerce, in certain commodities. It declares ‘essential’ in order to make them available to consumers at fair prices.

  • The ECA gives consumers protection against irrational spikes in prices of essential commodities.

How it works:

  • If the Centre finds that a certain commodity is in short supply and its price is spiking, it can notify stock-holding limits on it for a specified period.

  • The States act on this notification to specify limits and take steps to ensure that these are adhered to. A State can, however, choose not to impose any restrictions.

  • Anybody trading or dealing in a commodity , be it wholesalers, retailers or even importers are prevented from stockpiling it beyond a certain quantity. This improves supplies and brings down prices.

Criticism:

  • Stocking is essential: Given that almost all crops are seasonal, ensuring round-the-clock supply requires adequate build-up of stocks during the season. So, it may not always be possible to differentiate between genuine stock build-up and speculative hoarding.

  • Farmers lose on profits due to price control: Also, if prices are always monitored, farmers may have no incentive to farm.

  • Storage infra gets affected: With too-frequent stock limits, traders also may have no reason to invest in better storage infrastructure.

  • FPI industry suffers: Also, food processing industries need to maintain large stocks to run their operations smoothly. Stock limits curtail their operations. In such a situation, large scale private investments are unlikely to flow into food processing and cold storage facilities.

  • Not needed today with food surplus: The Act is not in tune with present times. Earlier, with poor transport infrastructure across the country was poor and markets not integrated, a production shock in one part of the country could lead to hoarding and black marketing anywhere. That's not the case any more. Shortages in one part of the country can be countered if there is ample supply somewhere else.

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Title

3. OIC’s curious record on Xinjiang.                                          (The Hindu Page 10)

Syllabus 

Mains: GS Paper II – International relations 

Theme

Organizations 

Highlights

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Title

4. $250-mn ADB loan to rebuild Kerala                               (The Hindu Page 08)      

Syllabus 

Mains: GS Paper III – Economic Issues 

Theme

Development Banks 

Highlights

 

CONTEXT: Following the million dollar loan sanctioned by World Bank recently to rebuild the state which had been affected by the Flood in 2018, Kerala is set to receive a loan of $250 million from the Asian Development Bank (ADB).

The Asian Development Bank (ADB) is a regional development bank established in 1966, which is headquartered in Manila, Philippines. India joined in 1966.

  • ADB now has 68 members, of which 49 are from within Asia and the Pacific and 19 from outside.

  • It is modeled closely on the World Bank, and has a similar weighted voting system where votes are distributed in proportion with members' capital subscriptions.

  • Japan and United States hold the largest proportion of shares at 15.607%. China holds 6.444%, India holds 6.331%, and Australia holds 5.786%.

  • The president has a term of office lasting five years. Traditionally, and because Japan is one of the largest shareholders of the bank, the president has always been Japanese.

  • The ADB offers "hard" loans on commercial terms primarily to middle income countries in Asia and "soft" loans with lower interest rates to poorer countries in the region. 

 

Eighty percent of ADB's lending is concentrated public sector lending in five operational areas. 

  • Education 

  • Environment, Climate Change, and Disaster Risk 

  • Finance Sector Development 

  • Infrastructure, including transport and communications, energy, water supply and sanitation, and urban development. 

  • Regional Cooperation and 

  • Private Sector Lending 

 

Notable project in India- Rural Road Sector II Investment Program

The overall objective of the Rural Road Sector II Investment Program is to help reduce poverty and deprivation, and support economic growth of rural communities in India by providing them with enhanced access to markets, employment opportunities, and social services, including health and education. The immediate output—better and more efficient physical infrastructure—will lead to improved connectivity between rural and urban communities, and through this, to greater access to markets and economic activity in general.

Criticism

Two major donors, Japan and the United States, have had extensive influence over lending, policy and staffing decisions.

 

Largest countries and regions by voting power at the Asian Development Bank


 

 

RANK

Country

Voting power 

1

https://upload.wikimedia.org/wikipedia/en/thumb/9/9e/Flag_of_Japan.svg/23px-Flag_of_Japan.svg.png Japan

12.840

2

https://upload.wikimedia.org/wikipedia/en/thumb/a/a4/Flag_of_the_United_States.svg/23px-Flag_of_the_United_States.svg.png United States

12.752

3

https://upload.wikimedia.org/wikipedia/commons/thumb/f/fa/Flag_of_the_People%27s_Republic_of_China.svg/23px-Flag_of_the_People%27s_Republic_of_China.svg.png China

5.477

4

https://upload.wikimedia.org/wikipedia/en/thumb/4/41/Flag_of_India.svg/23px-Flag_of_India.svg.png India

5.386

5

https://upload.wikimedia.org/wikipedia/commons/thumb/8/88/Flag_of_Australia_%28converted%29.svg/23px-Flag_of_Australia_%28converted%29.svg.png Australia

4.948

 

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Title

5. Inappropriate template for a legitimate target

Syllabus 

Mains GS paper III – Economy 

Theme

Budget 

Highlights

 

Context: The Economic Survey underlines the need for India to revive private investment if it is to achieve the magical $5 trillion economy status by 2024-25. However, the survey has invoked East Asian model that can help India's floundering investment rates. East Asian model was largely driven by the newly industrialised economies of Singapore, Hong Kong, South Korea and Taiwan and Japan earlier.

 

Goal 1: Increase in Savings Rate

From the 1960s through to the 1990s was to raise gross savings rates. While the rise in household savings was partly due to the positive demographic dividend, other factors such as macroeconomic stability, low inflation, lack of social safety nets, inability to leverage (due to a highly regulated banking system) and forced savings (fully funded Provident Funds) also played a role.

State owned enterprises has to operate with budget constraints. This along with fiscal discipline practised by the economies, ensured that public sector did not crowd out private savings and added to national savings.

 

India has had high savings rate. However, the savings rate has been coming down in the last few years.

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2000 
Gross Domestic Savings Rate: Annual: India 
2005

 

 

 

Goal 2: Private savings are intermediated into the formal financial system

This goals is important for the cost of capital to come down and the availability of capital for investment would be low.  To achieve this, the East Asian economies gave importance was given to the establishment of a safe and secure public sector banking system (usually in the form of postal savings networks) where deposits were guaranteed by the Central bank and interest incomes was taxed lightly. State owned banks were tightly regulated as financial stability 

was cornerstone of overall macroeconomic stability.

 

India:

In the recent years, there has been a decline savings rate, with the household sector entirely contributing to the decline. Households savings declined from  23.6% in 2011-12 to 17.2% in 2017-18. Almost this entire decline is in physical savings of the households, with only marginal decline in financial savings in 2016-17 and 2017-18. Household physical savings comprises gold and silver and physical assets including construction and machinery and equipment, with physical assets forming the major share. The decline in physical savings is reflected in decline in gold imports or low growth of gold imports since 2011-12.

 

Goal 3: Financial Inclusion

It was encouraged, though the focus was on actual use of the deposit accounts rather than just their opening. 

 

While the manufacturing sector was growth engine and open to export competition, the banking sector in all economies except Hong Kong, remained tightly regulated and closed to foreign banks. Even Singapore initially adopted a dual banking structure that sheltered the domestic economy largely from significant short term bank flows.

 

Financial Repression: The East Asian economies were successful in encouraging savings, the cost of capital however was very high. To tackle this, East Asian economies undertook financial repression - conventionally understood as a ceiling price keeping lending rates lower than market equilibrium. 

  

Concept: Financial Repression

Financial repression is a term that describes measures by which governments channel funds to themselves as a form of debt reduction. It results in policies that result in savers earning returns below the rate of inflation" in order to allow banks to "provide cheap loans to companies and governments, reducing the burden of repayments.

 

Features/mechanisms of financial repression:

1. Caps or ceilings on interest rates

2. Governments ownership or control of domestic banks and financial institutions

3. Creation or maintenance of a captive domestic market for government debt

4. Restrictions on entry to the financial industry

5. Directing credit to certain industries

 

Central Banks of these economies maintained tight oversight, and selective capital controls ensured that low yielding savings did not leave their countries of origin, while limited financial development forestalled the possibility

 

Financial sector in India:

Financial inclusion in India has been historically low, however, with the PM Jan Dhan Yojana, financial inclusion got a fillip. However, there has been a change in culture of the people as many of these accounts continue to remain dormant.

Due to the inflation targeting framework and low inflation, India's interest rates are largely market determined. However, real interest rates in India continue to remain very high. (Real Interest rate = Nominal Interest rates - Inflation). This high real interest rates deter investment and credit expansion. 

 

 

Goal 4: Industrial Policies

East Asian economies undertook sophisticated industrial policies to promote domestic investment, much of which was export-led (though not necessarily free market based). Governments understood that a vertical industrial policy (of picking winners) would not work without a sound horizontal industrial policy (dealing with labour and land reforms, bringing about basic literacy and raising women's participation in the labour force). Besides, incentives also had clear guidelines and sunset clauses and mechanisms were in place to phase out support. Thus, winners prospered while losers were allowed to fail.

 

India's last industrial policy was released in 1991 which led to liberalisation, globalisation and privatisation. However, there is still a large presence of PSUs in the economy. Also, much of this reform has been vertical and not horizontal ie reforms in the factor market - Land, Labour, Environmental and other clearances have been slow. Women's participation which was very high in East Asian Economies has been very low in India.

 

Goal 5: Governance Reforms

Bureaucracies of East Asian Economies has embedded autonomy. This allowed state to be autonomous, yet embedded within the private sector and enabled the two to work together to develop policies. This made industrial policy as a process of self-discovery. It is the lack of this embedded autonomy in the next tier NIEs of Malaysia, Thailand and Indonesia that has been partly responsible for them being stuck in the middle income trap.

 

India has failed to modernise its bureaucracy in line with the demand of the modern economy. Civil Service reforms has been slow. There is lack of domain expertise among much of the higher civil service to understand the complexities of modern economy.

 

Thus, much of the investment and export acceleration in East Asian countries was due to heterodox policies and reforms that were carefully calibrated, well-sequenced and implemented at a time when the external environment was far less hostile than it is today. These measures allowed the nations to benefit from their demographic dividends and transform themselves into developed economies in record time.

 

However, due to political and other compulsions, India's reforms since 1991 have been rather haphazard and of 'stop and go' nature with perverse consequences, all of which has made it much more challenging for the country to take full advantage of its demographic dividend.

 

Successive governments have neither had the tool sets and the policy space nor autonomy needed to drive the industrial transformation as in the East Asian countries.

 

Way forward for India to follow:

  • Reducing policy uncertainty

  • Ensuring fiscal expenditures do not crowd out private savings 

  • Enhancing efficiency of financial intermediation

  • Dealing with land acquisition and environmental clearances

 

The above steps are all essential to reignite investment, we do not need to invoke the East Asian example to understand the importance of these.

 

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Relevant articles from PIB:

GS Paper 2:

Topics covered:

  1. Development processes and the development industry the role of NGOs, SHGs, various groups and associations, donors, charities, institutional and other stakeholders.

 

One Stop Centre Scheme

 

What to study?

For prelims and mains: key features, need for and significance of the scheme.

 

Context: The Government of India is implementing One Stop Centre (OSC) scheme for setting up One Stop Centre since 1st April 2015 to support women affected by violence.

 

About the scheme:

Popularly known as Sakhi, Ministry of Women and Child Development (MWCD) has formulated this Centrally Sponsored Scheme.

It is a sub – scheme of Umbrella Scheme for National Mission for Empowerment of women including Indira Gandhi Mattritav Sahyaog Yojana. 

Under the scheme, One Stop Centres are being established across the country to provide integrated support and assistance under one roof to women affected by violence, both in private and public spaces in phased manner.

Target group: The OSC will support all women including girls below 18 years of ageaffected by violence, irrespective of caste, class, religion, region, sexual orientation or marital status.

 

The Centres will be integrated with a Women Helpline to facilitate access to following services:

  1. Emergency response and rescue services.
  2. Medical assistance.
  3. Assistance to women in lodging the FIR.
  4. Psycho- social support and counselling.
  5. Legal aid and counselling.
  6. Shelter
  7. Video conferencing facility.

 

Funds:

The Scheme will be funded through Nirbhaya Fund. The Central Government will provide 100% financial assistance to the State Government /UT Administrations under the Scheme.

 

Need for protection:

Gender Based Violence (GBV) is a global health, human rights and development issue that transcends geography, class, culture, age, race and religion to affect every community and country in every corner of the world.

The Article 1 of UN Declaration on the Elimination of Violence 1993 provides a definition of gender – based abuse, calling it “any act of gender – based violence that results in, or is likely to result in, physical, sexual or psychological harm or suffering to women, including threats of such acts, coercion or arbitrary deprivation of liberty, whether occurring in public or in private life”.

In India, gender based violence has many manifestations; from the more universally prevalent forms of domestic and sexual violence including rape, to harmful practices such as, dowry, honour killings, acid attacks, witch – hunting, sexual harassment, child sexual abuse, trafficking for commercial sexual exploitation, child marriage, sex selective abortion, sati etc.


GS Paper 2:

Topics Covered:

  1. Schemes for the vulnerable sections of the society.

 

PMUY

 

What to study?

For Prelims: PMU- key features.

For Mains: PMUY- objectives, features, significance and measures needed to sustain the momentum.

 

Context: The Pradhan Mantri Ujjwala Yojana (PMUY) has been a huge success since its launch on May 1, 2016 and is set to meet the next big milestone of achieving 80 million household connections within the first hundred days of the government. 

Till date, the scheme has garnered 72 million connections, with the government fueling the process of achieving the original target in the next 100 days. In other words, about 93 to 94 per cent households now have access to cooking gas

 

About Pradhan Mantri Ujjwala Yojana:

Pradhan Mantri Ujjwala Yojana aims to provide LPG (liquefied petroleum gas) connections to poor households.

Who is eligible? Under the scheme, an adult woman member of a below poverty line family identified through the Socio-Economic Caste Census (SECC) is given a deposit-free LPG connection with financial assistance of Rs 1,600 per connection by the Centre.

Identification of households: Eligible households will be identified in consultation with state governments and Union territories. The scheme is being implemented by the Ministry of Petroleum and Natural Gas.

 

Key objectives of the scheme are:

  • Empowering women and protecting their health.
  • Reducing the serious health hazards associated with cooking based on fossil fuel.
  • Reducing the number of deaths in India due to unclean cooking fuel.
  • Preventing young children from significant number of acute respiratory illnesses caused due to indoor air pollution by burning the fossil fuel.

 

What makes LPG adoption necessary?

  1. A large section of Indians, especially women and girls, are exposed to severe household air pollution (HAP) from the use of solid fuels such as biomass, dung cakes and coal for cooking. A report from the Ministry of Health & Family Welfare places HAP as the second leading risk factor contributing to India’s disease burden.
  2. According to the World Health Organization, solid fuel use is responsible for about 13% of all mortality and morbidity in India (measured as Disability-Adjusted Life Years), and causes about 40% of all pulmonary disorders, nearly 30% of cataract incidences, and over 20% each of ischemic heart disease, lung cancer and lower respiratory infection.

 

Need of the hour:

The PMUY is a bold and much-needed initiative, but it should be recognised that this is just a first step. The real test of the PMUY and its successor programmes will be in how they translate the provision of connections to sustained use of LPG or other clean fuels such as electricity or biogas.

Truly smokeless kitchens can be realized only if the government follows up with measures that go beyond connections to actual usage of LPG. This may require concerted efforts cutting across Ministries beyond petroleum and natural gas and including those of health, rural development and women and child welfare.


GS Paper 2:

Topic covered:

  1. Issues related to education.

Paramarsh scheme

 

What to study?

For prelims and mains: Key features and significance of the scheme.

 

Context: The Union Ministry of Human Resource Development has launched ‘Paramarsh’ – a University Grants Commission (UGC) scheme.

 

About Paramarsh:

The scheme is for Mentoring National Accreditation and Assessment Council (NAAC) Accreditation Aspirant Institutions to promote Quality Assurance in Higher Education.

The scheme will be a paradigm shift in the concept of mentoring of institution by another well performing institution to upgrade their academic performance and enable them to get accredited by focusing in the area of curricular aspects, teaching-learning & evaluation, research, innovation, institutional values & practices etc.

 

Implementation:

The Scheme will be operationalized through a “Hub & Spoke” model wherein the Mentor Institution, called the “Hub” is centralized and will have the responsibility of guiding the Mentee institution through the secondary branches the “Spoke” through the services provided to the mentee for self improvement.

 

Significance and impact of the scheme:

  1. The scheme is expected to have a major impact in addressing a national challenge of improving the quality of Higher Education in India.
  2. This allows a centralized control over operational efficiency, resource utilization to attain overall development of the mentee institution.
  3. The scheme will lead to enhancement of overall quality of the Mentee Institutions and enhance its profile as a result of improved quality of research, teaching and learning methodologies.
  4. Mentee Institution will also have increased exposure and speedier adaptation to best practices.
  5. The scheme will also facilitate sharing of knowledge, information and opportunities for research collaboration and faculty development in Mentee Institutions.
  6. Mentor-Mentee relationship will not only benefit both the institutions but also provide quality education to the 3.6 crore students who are enrolling to Indian Higher Education system at present.

 

Relevant articles from various news sources:

GS Paper 2:

Topics covered:

  1. Issues related to health.

 

Ebola virus

 

What to study?

For Prelims: Ebola- the disease, spread, causes, treatment and vulnerability.

For Mains: Epidemics- spread, global concern and joint efforts in this regard.

 

Context: Ebola outbreak in DR Congo has been declared as a global health emergency by the World Health Organization (WHO).

 

What is public health emergency of international concern?
Public health emergency of international concern is defined as an “extraordinary event that is determined to constitute a public health risk to other States through the international spread of disease and to potentially require a coordinated international response.” The public emergency announcement is the highest level of alarm that is only raised during the gravest of outbreaks.

 

Background:

This is the fifth time in history that WHO has declared a public health emergency. The previous declarations were for the devastating Ebola outbreak in West Africa in 2014-2016 that took lives of more than 11000 people, spread of Zika virus in Latin America, 2009 Swine flu epidemic and for polio in 2014. WHO only declares a disease or outbreak a global emergency when it threatens to affect other countries and requires a coordinated international response.

 

How will declaration of global health emergency help?
The declaration of a global health emergency will bring larger international focus on the alarming issue and it will also help bring in more financial and technical support. At the same time, the declaration can cause governments of neighbouring nations to panic and overreact by shutting down borders.

 

What you need to know about Ebola?

Ebola virus disease (EVD), formerly known as Ebola haemorrhagic fever, is a severe, often fatal illness in humans.

Transmission: The virus is transmitted to people from wild animals and spreads in the human population through human-to-human transmission.

The average EVD case fatality rate is around 50%. Case fatality rates have varied from 25% to 90% in past outbreaks.

Prevention: Community engagement is key to successfully controlling outbreaks. Good outbreak control relies on applying a package of interventions, namely case management, surveillance and contact tracing, a good laboratory service and social mobilisation.

Early supportive care with rehydration, symptomatic treatment improves survival. There is as yet no licensed treatment proven to neutralise the virus but a range of blood, immunological and drug therapies are under development.

 

Sources: the Hindu.


GS Paper 3:

Topics covered:

  1. Awareness in S&T.

Ramanujan Machine

 

What to study?

For prelims and mains: Ramanujan Machine- features, how it works? And what are Conjectures?

 

Context: Scientists from Technion — Israel Institute of Technology have developed a concept they have named the Ramanujan Machine, after the Indian mathematician.

 

What is it?

It is not really a machine but an algorithm, and performs a very unconventional function.

 

What it does?

The Ramanujan machine is more of a concept than an actual machine—it exists as a network of computers running algorithms dedicated to finding conjectures about fundamental constants in the form of continued fractions—these are defined as fractions of infinite length where the denominator is a certain quantity plus a fraction, where a latter fraction has a similar denominator, etc.)

The purpose of the machine is to come up with conjectures (in the form of mathematical formulas) that humans can analyze, and hopefully prove to be true mathematically.

 

Why Ramanujan?

The algorithm reflects the way Srinivasa Ramanujan worked during his brief life (1887-1920). With very little formal training, he engaged with the most celebrated mathematicians of the time, particularly during his stay in England (1914-19), where he eventually became a Fellow of the Royal Society and earned a research degree from Cambridge.

Throughout his life, Ramanujan came up with novel equations and identities —including equations leading to the value of pi — and it was usually left to formally trained mathematicians to prove these.

 

What’s the point?

Conjectures are a major step in the process of making new discoveries in any branch of science, particularly mathematics. Equations defining the fundamental mathematical constants, including pi, are invariably elegant. New conjectures in mathematics, however, have been scarce and sporadic, the researchers note in their paper, which is currently on a pre-print server. The idea is to enhance and accelerate the process of discovery.

 

How good is it?

The paper gives examples for previously unknown equations produced by the algorithm, including for values of the constants pi and e. The Ramanujan Machine proposed these conjecture formulas by matching numerical values, without providing proofs. It has to be remembered, however, that these are infinite series, and a human can only enter a finite number of terms to test the value of the series. The question is, therefore, whether the series will fail after a point. The researchers feel this is unlikely, because they tested hundreds of digits.

Until proven, it remains a conjecture. By the same token, until proven wrong, a conjecture remains one. It is quite possible that the algorithm will come up with conjectures that may take years to prove.

 

Sources: Indian Express.


GS Paper 2:

Topics covered:

  1. Parliament and State Legislatures – structure, functioning, conduct of business, powers & privileges and issues arising out of these.

What is a whip?

 

What to study?

For prelims and mains: Whip- meaning, need, misuse and the need for reforms.

 

What is it?

A whip in parliamentary parlance is a written order that party members be present for an important vote, or that they vote only in a particular way.

The term is derived from the old British practice of “whipping in” lawmakers to follow the party line.

 

How is it used?

In India all parties can issue a whip to their members. Parties appoint a senior member from among their House contingents to issue whips — this member is called a Chief Whip, and he/she is assisted by additional Whips.

 

Kinds of Whips:

one-line whip, underlined once, is usually issued to inform party members of a vote, and allows them to abstain in case they decide not to follow the party line.

two-line whip directs them to be present during the vote.

three-line whip is the strongest, employed on important occasions such as the second reading of a Bill or a no-confidence motion, and places an obligation on members to toe the party line.

 

Defiance of Whip:

In India, rebelling against a three-line whip can put a lawmaker’s membership of the House at risk. The anti-defection law allows the Speaker/Chairperson to disqualify such a member; the only exception is when more than a third of legislators vote against a directive, effectively splitting the party.

 

Importance of whips in our political system:

In the parliamentary form of Government, Whips of various political parties are the vital links of the internal organization of parties, inside the legislatures. The efficient and smooth functioning of Parliament and State Legislatures depends, to a considerable extent, upon the office of the Whip. The Whips can be rightly said to be the managers of the parties within the legislatures.

 

Sources: Indian Express.


 

Facts for prelims:

 

Sagar Maitri Mission-2:

Context: DRDO Research Ship INS Sagardhwani Embarks on Sagar Maitri Mission-2.

SAGAR MAITRI is a unique initiative of DRDO which aligns with the broad objective of Prime Minister Shri Narendra Modi’s policy declaration “Safety And Growth for All in the Region (SAGAR)” to promote closer co-operation in socio-economic aspects as well as greater scientific interaction especially in ocean research among Indian Ocean Rim (IOR) countries.

  1. Under the aegis of PM’s policy, specific scientific component of DRDO is “MAITRI (Marine & Allied Interdisciplinary Training and Research Initiative)”.
  2. SAGAR MAITRI Mission-2 commemorates the Golden Jubilee Celebrations of India’s lone research ship INS Kistna’s missions as part of the historic International Indian Ocean Expeditions (IIOE), which took place during 1962-65.
  3. As part of the mission, INS Sagardhwani will revisit the selected tracks of INS Kistna and provide NPOL scientists ample opportunities to collaborate and garner a close working relationship with the oceanographic counterparts of the IOR countries
  4. The prime objectives of the SAGAR MAITRI Mission are data collection from the entire North Indian Ocean, focussing on the the Andaman Sea and adjoining seas and establishing long-term collaboration with eight IOR countries in the field of ocean research and development.
  5. The programme also aims at establishing long term scientific collaboration with these countries in the field of ‘Ocean Research & Development’ and data collection with a focus in the Andaman Sea.

 

Urban Haats:

  • It is an initiative of the Ministry of Textiles of the Government of India.
  • The objective of the scheme “Infrastructure and Technology Support” is to setup a permanent marketing infrastructure in big towns/ metropolitan cities to provide direct marketing facilities to the handicrafts artisans/handloom weavers.
  • The scheme is implemented through State Handicrafts/Handlooms Development Corporations/Tourism Development Corporations/ Urban Local Bodies with sufficient financial resources and organizational capacity to implement the project.
  • The financial ceiling for Urban Haat is Rs. 300 lakh for each unit. 80% of the admissible amount is borne by the Office of the Development Commissioner (Handicrafts) and 20% contributed by the implementing agency.

 

What does Ploonet mean?

What are they? Researchers have modelled the formation of exomoons around gas giant exoplanets. They projected that the massive planets would kick moons out of orbit and send them on their way — or the researchers believe that angular momentum between the giant exoplanet and moon would allow the moon to essentially escape the gravity of the planet. The remnants of the expelled moon would end up circling its star with an eccentric orbit similar to Pluto’s. The researchers have dubbed these rogue exomoons “ploonets.”


 

Summaries of important Editorials:

 

Why Assam is prone to floods and what’s the solution?

ContextAssam is in the grip of yet another flood.

 

Why are floods so destructive in Assam?

  1. Apart from incessant rainfall during the monsoon, there are many contributory factors, natural and man-made.
  2. At the crux is the very nature of the river Brahmaputra —dynamic and unstable. Its 580,000 sq km basin spreads over four countries: China, India, Bangladesh and Bhutan, with diverse environments.
  3. The Brahmaputra features among the world’s top five rivers in terms of discharge as well as the sediment it brings.
  4. The vast amount of sediment comes from Tibet, where the river originates. That region is cold, arid and lacks plantation. Glaciers melt, soil erodes and all of it results in a highly sedimented river.
  5. By the time the river enters Assam — a state comprising primarily floodplains surrounded by hills on all sides — it deposits vast amounts of this silt, leading to erosion and floods. As the river comes from a high slope to a flat plain, its velocity

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