PRELIMS’20 CA – 4

  1. Union Home Minister Amit Shah recently extolled the Gupta ruler Skandagupta for his administrative virtues and for keeping off the “invasion of the Huns”. Skandagupta’s Bhitari pillar inscription suggests that he restored the Gupta power by defeating his enemies, who may have been rebels or foreign invaders. He repulsed an invasion by the Indo-Hephthalites (known as Hunas in India). He seems to have maintained control of his inherited territory, and is generally considered the last of the great Gupta Emperors. The Gupta genealogy after him is unclear, but he was most probably succeeded by Purugupta, who appears to have been his half-brother. Skandagupta’s predecessor was his father Kumargupta I. The Bhitari pillar inscription of Skandagupta, was discovered in Bhitari, Saidpur, Ghazipur, Uttar Pradesh, and dates to the reign of Gupta Empire ruler Skandagupta (c. 455 – 467 CE). Among other things, the inscription is extremely important in understanding the chronology of the various Gupta rulers. It also mentions the conflict between Skandagupta and the Pushyamitras as well as the Hunas.
  2. After the Balakot air strikes in February, the Army fast-tracked procurement of 155-mm Excalibur precision-guided ammunition from the U.S., and it has recently been inducted. The ammunition gives the artillery guns extended range and the ability to hit targets with very high accuracy. The proposal and acquisition were fast-tracked, thanks to the delegation of financial powers to the Service Headquarters and of emergency powers to the Vice-Chiefs of the Service Headquarters. The Excalibur projectile is developed by Raytheon and BAE Systems Bofors. According to information on Raytheon’s website, the Excalibur provides accurate “first-round effects” at all ranges in all weather conditions and “extends the reach of .39-calibre artillery to 40 km and .52-calibre artillery to more than 50 km. The Army inducted its first modern artillery guns in November last year: M-777 Ultra Light Howitzers (ULHs) from the U.S. and K9 Vajra-T self-propelled guns from South Korea. The Army has the older battle- proven Bofors 155-mm guns in service, and is inducting the 155-mm Dhanush towed gun.
  3. A mode-S transponder is an electronic address which is unique to a country and each plane. These are assigned under different categories — IAF, civilian aircraft and the AAI’s ground equipment.
  4. Indian Navy stealth frigate INS Tarkash joined the UK Royal Navy’s HMS Destroyer in the English Channel for their annual Konkan Exercise in August 2019. Konkan is a long-running exercise designed to test the ability of the two Commonwealth navies to operate side-by-side during war and other crunch scenarios. This was the 14th edition of the annual bilateral exercise.
  5. Aflatoxin-M1 & Maltodextrin are the contaminants in adulterated milk. Aflatoxin-M1 comes in the milk through feed and fodder that are currently not regulated in the country. India is the world’s largest producer of milk. The total estimated milk production in the country was 176.35 million tonnes during 2017-18.
  6. What will be the consequences for Pakistan when it is put in FATF ‘Grey List’ – it would be difficult for the country to get financial aid from the IMF, the World Bank, Asian Development Bank and the European Union.
  7. The second edition of ‘India Myanmar Naval Exercise’ IMNEX-2019 was conducted onboard INS Ranvijay in October 2019. The joint exercise will encompass a variety of operations including anti-air and surface firing exercises, flying exercises using integral helicopter and seamanship evolutions at sea.
  8. The Uttarakhand government has put a total ban on the manufacture, distribution and sale of products like gutka and pan masala, which have a high content of tobacco and nicotine.
  9. The government is in the process of appointing the Deputy Governor in-charge of Monetary Policy at the Reserve Bank of India (RBI). The Financial Sector Regulatory Appointment Search Committee (FSRASC) is responsible for selecting the candidate. The central bank has four Deputy Governors of which two are appointed from outside — one, a commercial banker and the other, an economist. The remaining two are promoted from within the RBI. The importance of the economist-Deputy Governor can be gauged from the fact that the person is on the monetary policy committee that decides on interest rate and also handles the all-important monetary policy department.
  10. Chief Justice of India Ranjan Gogoi has recommended Justice Sharad Arvind Bobde as his successor and the 47th Chief Justice of India in keeping with convention and the seniority norm, sources said. The Memorandum of Procedure for appointment of judges to the Supreme Court prescribes that the “appointment to the office of Chief Justice of India should be of the senior-most judge of the Supreme Court considered fit to hold the office”.
  11. In October 2019, members of the International Monetary Fund (IMF) agreed to maintain its funding at $1 trillion but postponed changes to its voting structure. USA is the funds largest shareholder. The newly agreed package will leave the IMF quotas (the primary source of IMF funds) unchanged. The IMF quotas determine the voting shares. The quotas will be reviewed before the end of 2023. IMF quotas are distributed according to a four pronged formula that considers a member country’s GDP, its economic openness, its “economic variability” and international reserves. India’s quota is 2.76% and China’s is 6.41%, while the U.S.’s quota is 17.46 % (translates to a vote share of 16.52%) giving it a unique veto power over crucial decisions at the IMF, many of which require a supermajority of 85%.  Quotas are supposed to be reviewed every five years although these reviews can be delayed — as was the case with the 14th review. The 15th quota review is currently under way.
  12. The States need not take the Centre’s approval to define what constitutes unclassified land as forest, the Forest Advisory Committee (FAC) of the Environment Ministry, comprising independent experts and officials in the Centre’s forestry division, has clarified. The freedom to define land, not already classified as forests by the Centre or State records, as forest has been the prerogative of the States since 1996 and stems from a Supreme Court order, called the Godavarman judgment. The FAC is the apex body that deliberates on granting permission to industry to fell forests. The conundrum of defining forests has been around since the 1980s. The 1996 Supreme Court judgment expanded the definition of forest to include lands that were already notified by the Centre as forests, that appear in government records as forests as well as those that fell in the “dictionary definition” of forest. The latter clause allows the States to evolve their own criteria and define tracts of land as forest, and these would then be bound by forest conservation laws.
  13. Fossils of tiny, horseshoe-shaped creatures that inched along the ocean floor in single-line formations some 480 million years ago reveal the earliest known collective animal behaviour, researchers have found. The remains of now-extinct creatures called trilobites were almost perfectly preserved in the Moroccan desert near the town of Zagora, they reported in the journal Scientific Reports. Like all arthropods — a phylum that includes insects, centipedes, spiders and crustaceans — trilobites had a segmented body and an exoskeleton.
  14. According to a latest report by the Environment Ministry, India has 2,967 tigers, with 526 of them in Madhya Pradesh alone — the highest in the country. There are six tiger reserves in Madhya Pradesh — Kanha, Bandhavgarh, Panna, Satpura, Sanjay-Dubri and Pench.
  15. Pettathulal, also known as Petta Kettu, is a historic ritualistic dance held annually on 27th Dhanu at Erumely in the district of Kottayam in Kerala. The bespattering of brightly coloured powders constitutes an indispensable part of the Petta Thullal ritual.
  16. The Union Cabinet has decided to hike the minimum support price (MSP) for rabi crops for the marketing season 2020-21. The increase is based on the principle that MSP should be at least 1.5 times the all-India weighted average cost of production. This MSP policy, whereby the farmers are assured of a minimum of 50% as margin of profit, is one of the important and progressive steps towards doubling farmers’ income by 2022 and improving their welfare substantively. The highest increase has been recommended for lentils (increase of ₹325 to ₹4,800 a quintal) followed by safflower (increase of ₹270 to ₹5,215 a quintal) and gram (an increase of ₹255 to ₹4,875). The MSP of rapeseed and mustard has been increased by ₹225 to ₹4,425. For both wheat and barley, it has been increased by ₹85 to ₹1,925 and ₹1,525 per quintal, respectively. “In the case of cereals, the Food Corporation of India and other designated State agencies would continue to provide price support to the farmers,” the government said. “State governments will undertake procurement of coarse grains with the prior approval of the Government and would distribute the entire procured quantity under the National Food Security Act (NFSA). The subsidy will be provided only for the quantity issued under NFSA.
  17. Thotlakonda Buddhist Complex is situated in Visakhapatnam in Andhra Pradesh. The Telugu name Tolakoṇḍaderived from the presence of a number of rock-cut cisterns hewn into the bedrock of the hillock. Thotlakonda was well within the influence of ancient Kalinga, which was an important source of dissemination of Buddhism to Sri Lanka and various parts of Southeast Asia. It provides an insight into the process of transoceanic diffusion of Indic culture, especially Buddhism. Thotlakonda’s peak activity was between the 2nd century BCE and the 2nd century CE owing to brisk Roman trade and religious missions sent abroad.
  18. Non-Aligned Movement (NAM) is a 120-member movement, which began with the “Bandung Process” in 1956 by India, Indonesia, former Yugoslavia, Egypt and other countries. It is a forum of 120 developing world states that are not formally aligned with or against any major power bloc. After the United Nations, it is the largest grouping of states worldwide.
  19. India will commission its first-ever survey to estimate the population and geographical range of the snow leopard, an elusive and endangered predator. The snow leopard is found along the upper reaches of the Himalayan range and, in India, it is reported to have a presence in Kashmir, Ladakh, Himachal Pradesh, Uttarakhand, Sikkim and Arunachal Pradesh. However, the inhospitable terrain and the reclusive nature of the animal have so far made a scientific estimation impossible. The snow leopard is found in 12 countries — India, Nepal, Bhutan, China, Mongolia, Russia, Pakistan, Afghanistan, Kyrgyzstan, Kazakhstan, Tajikistan and Uzbekistan.
  20. The Indo-Tibetan Border Police is one of the five Central Armed Police Forces of India, raised on 24 October 1962, under the CRPF Act, in the wake of the Sino-Indian War of 1962. The ITBP was intended for deployment along India’s border with Tibet. The ITBP is deployed along the Line of Actual Control (LAC) with China, spanning 3,488 km. There are five pockets, three in Ladakh, one each in Uttarakhand and Arunachal Pradesh, that are not well defined and the territories are claimed by both countries.
  21. The Asia-Pacific Trade and Investment Report (APTIR) is a biennial publication prepared by the Trade, Investment and Innovation Division of the United Nations Economic and Social Commission for Asia and the Pacific to provide insights into the impact of recent and emerging developments in trade and foreign direct investment on countries’ abilities to meet the challenges of achieving sustainable development. As per the 2019 report, non-tariff measures have increased in the past two decades.
  22. Government has taken various steps for generating employment in the country like encouraging private sector of economy, fast tracking various projects involving substantial investment and increasing public expenditure on schemes like Prime Minister’s Employment Generation Programme (PMEGP) run by Ministry of Micro, Small & Medium Enterprises, Mahatma Gandhi National Rural Employment Guarantee Scheme (MGNREGA), Pt. Deen Dayal Upadhyaya Grameen Kaushalya Yojana (DDU-GKY) scheme run by Ministry of Rural Development and Deendayal Antyodaya Yojana- National Urban Livelihoods Mission (DAY-NULM) run by Ministry of Housing & Urban Affairs. The Government has also recently constituted Cabinet Committee on Employment & Skill Development among others.
  23. Gujarat launched India’s first trading programme to combat particulate air pollution on World Environment Day 2019, which has air pollution as its theme. The programme is a market-based system where the government sets a cap on emissions and allows industries to buy and sell permits to stay below the cap. Being initiated in Surat by the Gujarat Pollution Control Board (GPCB), the emission trading scheme (ETS) was designed with the help of a team of researchers from the Energy Policy Institute at the University of Chicago (EPIC), the Economic Growth Center at Yale University and others from The Abdul Latif Jameel Poverty Action Lab (J-PAL). Under the cap and trade system, the regulator first defines the total mass of pollution that can be put into the air over a defined period by all factories put together. Then, a set of permits is created, each of which allows a certain amount of pollution, and the total is equal to the cap. Globally, cap-and-trade systems have been used to reduce other forms of pollution, such as programmes that have successfully reduced sulphur dioxide (SO2) and nitrogen oxides (NOx) in the United States. But the Gujarat programme is the first in the world to regulate particulate air pollution.
  24. Dangerous level of metals have been found in vegetables grown in fields along the River Yamuna which could cause life threatening diseases like cancer, a study has found. Presence of metals like Lead (Pb), Nickel (Ni), Cadmium (Cd) and Mercury (Hg) was noted. Heavy metal toxicity can lower energy levels, damage the functioning of the brain, lungs, kidney, and liver. They can also damage the blood composition and other important organs. Long term exposure of metals may even cause cancer. Possible sources of lead are industries dealing in automobiles, battery, paint, polythene, pesticides and lead processing units.
  25. Internet Protocol version 6 (IPv6) is the most recent version of the Internet Protocol (IP), the communications protocol that provides an identification and location system for computers on networks and routes traffic across the Internet. IPv6 was developed by the Internet Engineering Task Force (IETF) to deal with the long-anticipated problem of IPv4 address exhaustion. IPv6 is intended to replace IPv4.
  26. The government launched PRAKASH (Power Rail Koyla Availability through Supply Harmony) portal. The Portal aims at bringing better coordination for coal supplies among all stakeholders viz – Ministry of Power, Ministry of Coal, Coal India, Railways and power utilities. This is an important step in ensuring adequate availability and optimum utilization of coal at thermal power plants. PRAKASH Portal is developed by NTPC and sources data from different stakeholders such as Central Electricity Authority (CEA), Centre for Railway Information System (CRIS) and coal companies.
  27. The ease of doing business index is an index by the World Bank Group. In the latest ranking for countries in ease of doing business, the World Bank has placed India 63rd out of 190 countries — an improvement of 14 places from its 77th position last year. The country’s score improved from 67.3 last year to 71.0 this year, as per the Doing Business 2020 study. The 10 areas of study are: starting a business, dealing with construction permits, getting electricity, registering property, getting credit, protecting minority investors, paying taxes, trading across borders, enforcing contracts, and resolving insolvency. An 11th area – employing workers – is measured, but not factored into the score. For 11 countries, two cities were selected to construct the indicator – Delhi and Mumbai in the case of India. India also featured, for the third consecutive year, in the list of 10 economies where business climates had improved the most. EoDB rankings – It should also be borne in mind that the rankings are based on samples and audits done in Mumbai and Delhi only (the World Bank has said it would be covering Bengaluru and Kolkata too from next year).
  28. Raksha Mantri Shri Rajnath Singh has approved issuance of two Open General Export Licences (OGELs) for export of certain parts & components and intra-company transfer of technology to select countries. It will give a boost to defence exports and enhance ease of doing business. The application for grant of OGEL will be considered by Department of Defence Production (DPP) on a case-to-case basis. The countries allowed under the OGELs are: Belgium, France, Germany, Japan, South Africa, Spain, Sweden, UK, USA, Canada, Italy, Poland and Mexico. Export of items to a ‘Special Economic Zone’ is not permitted. For acquiring the licences, the applicant is mandatory to have Import-Export certificate. The items permitted under OGEL includes components of ammunition & fuse setting device without energetic and explosive material; firing control & related alerting and warning equipment & related system; and body protective items. Complete aircraft or complete unmanned aerial vehicles (UAVs) and any components specially designed or modified for UAVs are excluded under this licence. The transfer of technology to the countries is subject to the condition that the export is an intra-company transfer from an Indian subsidiary (applicant exporter) to its foreign parent company and/or to subsidiaries of the foreign parent company. The OGEL is a one-time export licence to be granted to a company for a specific period (two years initially). India has made significant strides in improving its defence exports. These have grown seven-fold over the last two years and reached to Rs 10,500 crore in 2018-19. This has been made possible due to the reforms brought in the standard operating procedure and ushering in a portal for online clearance of applications. The processing time has been brought down significantly.
  29. In an announcement by the World Health Organisation (WHO) on World Polio Day (October 24), an independent commission of experts declared that wild poliovirus type 3 (WPV3) has been eradicated worldwide. This follows the eradication of smallpox and wild poliovirus type 2. There are three individual and immunologically distinct wild poliovirus strains: wild poliovirus type 1 (WPV1), wild poliovirus type 2 (WPV2) and wild poliovirus type 3 (WPV3). Symptomatically, all three strains are identical, in that they cause irreversible paralysis or even death. But there are genetic and virological differences, which make these three strains three separate viruses that must each be eradicated individually. Wild poliovirus type 3 is globally eradicated. This is a significant achievement that should reinvigorate the eradication process and provides motivation for the final step — the eradication of wild poliovirus type 1. This virus remains in circulation in just two countries, Afghanistan and Pakistan. Global Commission for the Certification of Poliomyelitis Eradication officially declared that wild poliovirus type 3 has been eradicated. The last case of wild poliovirus type 3 was seen in northern Nigeria in 2012. This is the second wild poliovirus to be declared eliminated — the first was in 2015 when type 2 wild poliovirus was declared as eliminated. With two of the three wild polioviruses eliminated, only type 1 wild poliovirus is still in circulation and is restricted to just two countries — Afghanistan and Pakistan. Put simply, it opens up the possibility of switching from the currently used bivalent oral polio vaccine containing type 1 and type 3 to a monovalent vaccine containing only type 1. The globally synchronised switch in April 2016 from a vaccine containing all the three types (trivalent) to a bivalent vaccine was done to reduce the number of vaccine-derived poliovirus (VDVP) cases. Until 2015, the type 2 strain in the trivalent oral vaccine accounted for over 90% of VDVP cases globally. While the type 3 poliovirus in the vaccine is the least likely to cause vaccine-derived polio, it has the greatest propensity to cause vaccine-associated paralytic polio (VAPP). Though the risk of VAPP is small, it is caused when the live, weakened virus used in the vaccine turns virulent in the intestine of the vaccinated child or spreads to close contacts who have not been immunised. VAPP can be greatly reduced if there is a switch from the bivalent to a monovalent vaccine containing only type 1. Alternatively, the risk of VAPP can be reduced 80-90% if every child receives the bivalent vaccine and one dose of inactivated polio vaccine injection. Though India does not count VAPP cases, a 2002 paper and a communication indicated that India had 181, 129 and 109 cases in 1999, 2000 and 2001, respectively. A recent paper suggests that post 2016, India might have 75 VAPP cases annually due to global IPV vaccine shortage and “delay in IPV implementation in India’s national immunisation programme”.
  30. Jan Soochna (public information) portal, which is the Rajasthan government’s latest effort to offer wider and easier access to the State’s increasingly digitised databases. The single window portal aims to increase transparency and accountability in governance. It has 82 different information request options for 32 schemes across 13 departments. It not only explains the schemes but also provides real-time information on beneficiaries, authorities in charge, progress, etc.
  31. Prime Minister Narendra Modi has approved changes to the Prime Minister’s Scholarship Scheme for wards of deceased defence personnel under the National Defence Fund. Mr. Modi approved the increase from ₹2,000 to ₹2,500 a month for boys and from ₹2,250 to ₹3,000 a month for girls. The ambit of the scheme was widened to cover the wards of State police officials martyred in terror or Naxal attacks. The scheme is meant to encourage technical and postgraduate education for widows and wards of deceased personnel of the armed forces, the paramilitary forces and the Railway Protection Force. The National Defence Fund is administered by an executive committee that has the Prime Minister as the chairperson and the Defence, Finance and Home Ministers as members. Under the scheme, new scholarships are given to 5,500 wards of armed forces personnel, 2,000 wards of paramilitary forces personnel and 150 wards of forces under the Railways Ministry every year. The fund is entirely dependent on voluntary contributions from the public and does not get any budgetary support.
  32. To address the challenges of slowing economic growth and inadequate job creation, Prime Minister Narendra Modi constituted two Cabinet committees — one on investment and growth and another on employment and skill development. The PM will chair both the committees. Government of India’s (transaction of business) rules, 1961, empower the Prime Minister to set up, add, reduce or modify the numbers and functions of cabinet committees. Currently, there are eight Cabinet committees. These are on appointments, accommodation, security, economic affairs, investment, parliamentary affairs, political affairs and skill development. The last new cabinet committee — on skill development — was created by the Congress-led UPA government on June 10, 2013. Barring the Committees on Parliamentary Affairs and Accommodation, all six committees will be headed by the Prime Minister. The two remaining committees will be chaired by Home Minister Amit Shah.
  33. The LOP is leader of the largest party that has not less than one-tenth of the total strength of the house. It is not a constitutional but a statutory post defined in the Salaries and Allowances of Leaders of Opposition in Parliament Act, 1977. The Act extends to LoPs in the Lok Sabha and the Rajya Sabha the same official status, allowances and perks that are admissible to Cabinet Ministers. In the case of the Lok Sabha, however, this is subject to recognition of the leader by the Speaker.  In 1969, when Indira Gandhi was the Prime Minister, the Congress split to form the Indian National Congress (Requisitionists) and the Indian National Congress (Organisation). The Leader of INC(O), Ram Subhag Singh, became the first person to be formally recognised as LoP in the Lok Sabha. Until 1977, there were no emoluments and perks attached to the position of LoP. There is no provision in the Constitution or even in the Lok Sabha Rules of Procedure in regard to the recognition of the LoP. Right from the first Lok Sabha, the practice has been to recognise the leader of the largest party in Opposition as the LoP provided that party has a strength that is enough to constitute the quorum for a sitting of the House, or one-tenth of the total membership of the House — at present that comes to 55 members. From the 9th to the 15th Lok Sabhas, since the requirement of having a minimum strength of 55 members was fulfilled, the Lok Sabha had duly recognised Opposition parties and LoPs, including Rajiv Gandhi, L.K. Advani, Atal Bihari Vajpayee, P.V. Narasimha Rao, Sharad Pawar, Sonia Gandhi and Sushma Swaraj. The 1977 Act defines LoP as that member of the House who is the “Leader in that House of the party in opposition to the Government having the greatest numerical strength and recognised as such by the Chairman of the Council of States or the Speaker of the House of the People, as the case may be.” The Speaker’s decisions in this regard have so far been determined by Direction 121(c) which laid down one of the conditions for recognition of party or group as having “at least a strength equal to the quorum fixed to constitute a sitting of the House, that is one-tenth of the total number of members of the House”. The Leaders and Chief Whips of Recognised Parties and Groups in Parliament (Facilities) Act, 1998 also refers to a recognised party in the Lok Sabha as a party that has not less than 55 members. Since there is no constitutional provision, the 1977 law does not provide for the requirement of 55 members as an essential pre-requisite. As it all depends on the Speaker’s directions and discretion.
  34. IndiGen programme aims to undertake whole genome sequencing of thousands of individuals representing diverse ethnic groups from India. The objective is to enable genetic epidemiology and develop public health technologies applications using population genome data and create a pilot dataset to enable genetic epidemiology of carrier genetic diseases towards enabling affordable carrier screening approaches in India. We also hope to mine allele frequencies for genetic variants for estimating population scale prevalence for diverse clinical applications. The human genome data sets would also be utilized for prioritizing Pharmacogenomics variants specific for Indian population for optimizing therapy and minimizing adverse events. IndiGen is funded by the Council for Scientific and Industrial Research (CSIR) India.
  35. The Environment Pollution (Prevention & Control) Authority (EPCA) has been constituted under the provisions of the Environment (Protection) Act, 1986. Though it has existed for 20 years, its term is extended by specific notifications issued by the Government of India. The reason why EPCA is an authority, and not just an advisory committee, is because it has powers similar to those enjoyed by the Centre. Specifically, it can issue directions in writing to any person, officer or authority, including for – but not limited to – stoppage of electricity, water and other services. If its directions are not followed, it has powers to file criminal complaints (under section 19 of the Act) before courts. The EPCA, which is a Supreme Court empowered committee, is tasked with taking various measures to tackle air pollution in the National Capital Region. The EPCA is also mandated to enforce Graded Response Action Plan (GRAP) in the city as per the pollution levels.
  36. ICICI Bank has exited the GST Network, a company which facilitates collection of goods and services tax, by selling its entire 10% stake to 13 State governments for ₹1 crore. ICICI Bank has exited the company following the government’s decision to make GST Network into a public sector entity last year. As per the decision, the Centre will own a 50 per cent stake in the GST Network and the remainder will be held by the states on a pro-rata basis in the new structure. Goods and Services Tax Network (GSTN) is a Section 8 (under new companies Act, not for profit companies are governed under section 8), non-Government, private limited company. It was incorporated on March 28, 2013. The Company has been set up primarily to provide IT infrastructure and services to the Central and State Governments, tax payers and other stakeholders for implementation of the Goods and Services Tax (GST).
  37. The disabled and people over 80 years of age can now cast their vote through postal ballot, the government said on Saturday, in a move that will help increase voter turnout. At present, voting through postal ballot is available to armed forces and those assigned poll duties.
  38. The Indian Ocean Rim Association is a dynamic inter-governmental organisation aimed at strengthening regional cooperation and sustainable development within the Indian Ocean region through its 22 member states and 10 dialogue partners. It was established on March 7, 1997 with headquarters at Ebene, Mauritius. In the recently held Indian Ocean Rim Association ministerial meeting in Abu Dhabi, two of India’s important partners, the United Arab Emirates and Bangladesh, took charge as the new chair and vice-chair of one of the largest regional maritime organisations for the duration of 2019-21. The 19th IORA Council of Ministers meeting was held on November 7, 2019 in Abu Dhabi with the theme of “Promoting a Shared Destiny and Path to Prosperity in the Indian Ocean”.
  39. The Supreme Court has banned the use of barium nitrate, a key pollutant in crackers. Traditionally, firecrackers have been made with barium nitrate, antimony and a range of metals that, over the years, have been linked to respiratory diseases and even cancer. The Nagpur-based NEERI (National Environmental Engineering Research Institute, a part of the Council of Scientific and Industrial Research (CSIR)) eventually hit upon formulations that substituted barium nitrate with potassium nitrate and zeolite. The ‘green’ versions of the ‘flower pot’, one of the most popular fireworks, has a mixture of water and lime that is chemically stored in the cracker. When lit, the effulgence also triggers water and the makers claim that the moisture wets the dust-and-smoke particles. NEERI claims that tests in its laboratories have seen a reduction of nearly 30% in particulate matter (PM) and also reduced a release of sulphur dioxide and nitrous oxide emissions. Green sparklers use 32% potassium nitrate, 40% aluminium powder, 11% aluminium chips, and 17% “proprietary additives” to reduce particulate matter PM10 and PM2.5 to 30%. Similarly, a new formulation of a ‘bomb’ named ‘SWAS’ (or safe water releaser) uses 72% of a “proprietary additive”, 16% potassium nitrate oxidiser, 9% aluminium powder, and 3% sulphur to reduce PM10 and PM2.5. Fireworks manufacturers were also hopeful of legal clarity on a sub-category of green crackers called “improved crackers”. This version continues to use barium nitrate but in extremely reduced amounts; when its explodes, harmful chemicals do not spray as much as earlier into the air.
  40. Researchers from IIT Bombay have discovered special properties in a class of materials called “semi-Dirac metals” that have been recently talked about in the scientific literature. Examples of semi-Dirac metals are systems such as TiO2/V2O3 nanostructures. Through calculations, the researchers have shown that such materials would be transparent to light of a given frequency and polarisation when it is incident along a particular direction. The material would be opaque to the same light when it falls on it from a different direction. There are many known applications for transparent conducting films – the common example being touch screens used in mobiles.
  41. Excavations in the tiny hamlet of Keeladi prove that an urban civilisation existed in Tamil Nadu in the Sangam era on the banks of the river Vaigai. The cultural deposits unearthed during the fourth excavation at Keeladi in Sivaganga district could be safely dated to a period between 6th century BCE and 1st century CE. These place Keeladi artefacts about 300 years earlier than previously believed. The first round of excavation, undertaken by the Archaeological Survey of India (ASI), unearthed antiquities that “may provide crucial evidence to understanding the missing links of the Iron Age [12th century BCE to 6th century BCE] to the Early Historic Period [6th century BCE to 4th century BCE] and subsequent cultural developments.” (Tamil Sangam, an assembly of poets, had its seat in Madurai between 4th century BCE and 2nd century BCE. The works of this period are collectively called Sangam Literature). Roman coins found at the site point out the extensive trade at the place.
  42. Hyderabad the city of biryanis, kebabs, haleem, kallu, shikampur and chowki dinners, has now been officially designated as a UNESCO Creative City of Gastronomy. is among the 66 cities named by the UNESCO in the list of new Creative Cities, which aims at pushing the Sustainable Development Goals through innovative thinking and action.