25th April, 2018-IAS Current Affairs
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‘Rural road network’
Issue: The Government of India, the Government of Madhya Pradesh and the World Bank today signed a $210 million loan agreement for the Madhya Pradesh Rural Connectivity Project. The Project is expected to improve the durability, resilience and safety of the gravel surfaced rural roads and enhances the capacity of the state to manage its rural roads network.
About the project
1. The Project will cover 10,510 km stretch of rural roads in Madhya Pradesh that fall under the Chief Minister’s Gram Sadak Yojana (CMGSY) program. Of this 10,000 km will be upgraded from existing gravel to bituminous surface roads, while 510 km of new roads will be built to the same bituminous surface standard.
2. This project will undertake resilience measures such as surface sealing of roads, embankment pitching, and balancing culverts to prevent damages caused by extreme flood events.
3. The transport sector is one of the most significant emitters of greenhouse gases. Alternate sealing options for road construction like polymer modified asphalt, asphalt blended with plastic waste, and multiple surface treatment to be piloted on approximately 20 percent of the length will not only be more cost-effective but will also reduce the carbon footprint of the transport sector.
4. This project, on a pilot basis, will engage women self-help groups (SHG) in the post construction maintenance activity. This will involve routine maintenance of off-carriage way parts of the road, while the main carriageway maintenance will remain part of the original contractor’s contract.
What is Self-help group?
A self-help group (SHG) is a village-based financial intermediary committee usually composed of 10–20 local women or men. A mixed group is generally not preferred. Most self-help groups are located in India, though SHGs can be found in other countries, especially in South Asia and Southeast Asia.
Members also make small regular savings contributions over a few months until there is enough money in the group to begin lending. Funds may then be lent back to the members or to others in the village for any purpose. In India, many SHGs are ‘linked’ to banks for the delivery of micro-credit.
A SHG may be registered or unregistered. It typically comprises a group of micro entrepreneurs having homogeneous social and economic background; all voluntarily coming together to save regular small sums of money, mutually agreeing to contribute to a common fund and to meet their emergency needs on the basis of mutual help. They pool their resources to become financially stable, taking loans from the money collected by that group and by making everybody in that group self-employed. The group members use collective wisdom and peer pressure to ensure proper end-use of credit and timely repayment. This system eliminates the need for collateral and is closely related to that solidarity lending, widely used by micro finance institutions. To make the bookkeeping simple, flat interest rates are used for most loan calculations.
‘Pradhan Mantri Rashtriya Swasthya Suraksha Mission (PMRSSM)’
(GS2: Issues related to Health)
Issue: Ministry of Health and Family Welfare organized a National consultation with States/UTs to seek feedback on draft guidelines for implementing PMRSSM
Ayushman Bharat is National Health Protection Scheme, which will cover over 10 crore poor and vulnerable families (approximately 50 crore beneficiaries) providing coverage upto 5 lakh rupees per family per year for secondary and tertiary care hospitalization. Ayushman Bharat – National Health Protection Mission will subsume the on-going centrally sponsored schemes – Rashtriya Swasthya Bima Yojana (RSBY) and the Senior Citizen Health Insurance Scheme (SCHIS).
Salient features of the scheme
* Ayushman Bharat – National Health Protection Mission will have a defined benefit cover of Rs. 5 lakh per family per year.
* Benefits of the scheme are portable across the country and a beneficiary covered under the scheme will be allowed to take cashless benefits from any public/private empanelled hospitals across the country.
* Ayushman Bharat – National Health Protection Mission will be an entitlement based scheme with entitlement decided on the basis of deprivation criteria in the SECC database.
* The beneficiaries can avail benefits in both public and empanelled private facilities.
* To control costs, the payments for treatment will be done on package rate (to be defined by the Government in advance) basis.
* One of the core principles of Ayushman Bharat – National Health Protection Mission is to co-operative federalism and flexibility to states.
* For giving policy directions and fostering coordination between Centre and States, it is proposed to set up Ayushman Bharat National Health Protection Mission Council (AB-NHPMC) at apex level Chaired by Union Health and Family Welfare Minister.
* States would need to have State Health Agency (SHA) to implement the scheme.
* To ensure that the funds reach SHA on time, the transfer of funds from Central Government through Ayushman Bharat – National Health Protection Mission to State Health Agencies may be done through an escrow account directly.
* In partnership with NITI Aayog, a robust, modular, scalable and interoperable IT platform will be made operational which will entail a paperless, cashless transaction.
The expenditure incurred in premium payment will be shared between Central and State Governments in specified ratio as per Ministry of Finance guidelines in vogue. The total expenditure will depend on actual market determined premium paid in States/ UTs where Ayushman Bharat – National Health Protection Mission will be implemented through insurance companies. In States/ UTs where the scheme will be implemented in Trust/ Society mode, the central share of funds will be provided based on actual expenditure or premium ceiling (whichever is lower) in the pre-determined ratio.
Impact of this scheme
* Increased benefit cover to nearly 40% of the population, (the poorest & the vulnerable)
* Covering almost all secondary and many tertiary hospitalizations. (except a negative list)
* Coverage of 5 lakh for each family, (no restriction of family size)
This will lead to increased access to quality health and medication. In addition, the unmet needs of the population which remained hidden due to lack of financial resources will be catered to. This will lead to timely treatments, improvements in health outcomes, patient satisfaction, improvement in productivity and efficiency, job creation thus leading to improvement in quality of life.
(GS3: Conservation of Environment)
Issue: Genetically engineered coral has been created by a team at America’s Stanford University, in a project they hope will serve as a “blueprint” for future coral conservation.
About the project
For the first time, researchers were able to apply a unique tool called CRISPRCas9 to edit coral genes. In the future they hope to identify genes involved in coral survival, especially those that help them tolerate the rising temperatures that have led to catastrophic reef “die-offs”.
What is Genetic Engineering?
Genetic engineering, also called genetic modification or genetic manipulation, is the direct manipulation of an organism’s genes using biotechnology. It is a set of technologies used to change the genetic makeup of cells, including the transfer of genes within and across species boundaries to produce improved or novel organisms. New DNA is obtained by either isolating or copying the genetic material of interest using recombinant DNA methods or by artificially synthesizing the DNA. A construct is usually created and used to insert this DNA into the host organism. The first recombinant DNA molecule was made by Paul Berg in 1972 by combining DNA from the monkey virus SV40 with the lambda virus. As well as inserting genes, the process can be used to remove, or “knock out”, genes. The new DNA can be inserted randomly, or targeted to a specific part of the genome.
An organism that is generated through genetic engineering is considered to be genetically modified (GM) and the resulting entity is a genetically modified organism (GMO). The first GMO was a bacterium generated by Herbert Boyer and Stanley Cohen in 1973. Rudolf Jaenisch created the first GM animal when he inserted foreign DNA into a mouse in 1974.
Genetic engineering has been applied in numerous fields including research, medicine, industrial biotechnology and agriculture. In research GMOs are used to study gene function and expression through loss of function, gain of function, tracking and expression experiments. By knocking out genes responsible for certain conditions it is possible to create animal model organisms of human diseases. As well as producing hormones, vaccines and other drugs genetic engineering has the potential to cure genetic diseases through gene therapy. The same techniques that are used to produce drugs can also have industrial applications such as producing enzymes for laundry detergent, cheeses and other products.
The rise of commercialized genetically modified crops has provided economic benefit to farmers in many different countries, but has also been the source of most of the controversy surrounding the technology. This has been present since its early use; the first field trials were destroyed by anti-GM activists. Although there is a scientific consensus that currently available food derived from GM crops poses no greater risk to human health than conventional food, GM food safety is a leading concern with critics. Gene flow, impact on non-target organisms, control of the food supply and intellectual property rights have also been raised as potential issues. These concerns have led to the development of a regulatory framework, which started in 1975. It has led to an international treaty, the Cartagena Protocol on Biosafety that was adopted in 2000. Individual countries have developed their own regulatory systems regarding GMOs, with the most marked differences occurring between the USA and Europe.
‘Tropical Polar Bear’
(GS3: Conservation of Environment)
Issue: Singapore on Wednesday mourned the death of the first polar bear born and bred in the tropical island city, put down by wildlife authorities after a five-year battle with health difficulties stemming from old age
Inuka, a 27-year-old animal who grappled with challenges ranging from arthritis to dental problems and ear infections, carried until his last days a green tinge in his fur blamed on algae growth.
About Polar Bear
The polar bear is a carnivorous bear whose native range lies largely within the Arctic Circle, encompassing the Arctic Ocean, its surrounding seas and surrounding land masses.
Although it is the sister species of the brown bear, it has evolved to occupy a narrower ecological niche, with many body characteristics adapted for cold temperatures, for moving across snow, ice and open water, and for hunting seals, which make up most of its diet. Although most polar bears are born on land, they spend most of their time on the sea ice. Their scientific name means “maritime bear” and derives from this fact. Polar bears hunt their preferred food of seals from the edge of sea ice, often living off fat reserves when no sea ice is present. Because of their dependence on the sea ice, polar bears are classified as marine mammals.
Because of expected habitat loss caused by climate change, the polar bear is classified as a vulnerable species, and at least three of the nineteen polar bear subpopulations are currently in decline. However, at least two of the nineteen subpopulations are currently increasing, while another six are considered stable. For decades, large-scale hunting raised international concern for the future of the species, but populations rebounded after controls and quotas began to take effect. For thousands of years, the polar bear has been a key figure in the material, spiritual, and cultural life of circumpolar peoples, and polar bears remain important in their cultures. Historically, the polar bear has also been known as the white bear.
(GS2: Effect of policies of developed countries on India’s interests)
Issue: In a move that would impact nearly a 100,000 spouses of Indian workers, mostly women, the Trump administration plans to revoke a policy which enables them to obtain an employment authorization document (EAD).
Effect of this policy
1. It is the end of the road for spouses of H-1B workers in the US as they will no longer be able to seek employment, or set up their own business
2. High cost of living on a single income.
3. Remittances from this region may be affected due to this new policy
‘Global Financial Stability Report’
(GS3: Indian Economy)
Issue: IMF, in its recently published Global Financial Stability Report, says emerging markets (EMs) have benefited immensely from a prolonged period of easy money policies and low interest rates worldwide. However, it also says that financial vulnerabilities that have accumulated during this period of low rates pose a threat to global economy. It points towards the risks of a sudden liquidity squeeze by global central banks which could cost EMs a fortune.
Highlights of the report
1. Even in a best-case scenario of a smooth tightening process by the US Federal Reserve in which there is no increase in investor risk aversion, EMs could experience a massive outflow of foreign money
2. If inflation in the US rises faster than expected, possibly owing to recent fiscal expansion, the Federal Reserve may respond to it by tightening monetary policy more forcefully than currently anticipated.
3. In such a scenario, financial conditions could tighten sharply, generating adverse spillovers to other advanced and emerging market economies, as well as adversely affecting internationally active banks that rely on dollar funding
4. Fears of trade wars and rising protectionism do not bode well for the global economy. But even before any impact on trade, it could lead to decline in confidence and a tightening in financial conditions, making it a separate and substantial headwind to growth
(GS3: Environmental pollution)
Issue: India is tying up with the United States and Finland to develop a pollution-forecast system that will help anticipate particulate matter (PM) levels at least two days in advance and at a greater resolution than what is possible now. The Ministry of Earth Sciences (MoES) will be coordinating this exercise and the plan is to have a system in place by winter
Currently, the System of Air Quality and Weather Forecasting and Research (SAFAR), run out of the Indian Institute of Tropical Meteorology, Pune, serves as the apex forecaster of pollution trends in Delhi, Mumbai, Pune and Ahmedabad. It generates a likely air quality profile, a day in advance, for these cities. IITM is an organisation under the MoES.
About the new system
The new system, to be jointly developed with expertise from the Finnish Meteorological Institute and the U.S.’ National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, will use a different modeling approach as well as computational techniques from that employed in the SAFAR model.
(GS2: Issues related to Health)
Issue: The Supreme Court on Tuesday asked the Centre and all States to remove references to leprosy as a disability from statute books, saying leprosy is curable and patients should not be victims of social stigma.
Current scenario in our country with respect to Leprosy
There are 119 laws that discriminate against persons affected by leprosy in broadly the following five ways: (i) cause stigmatisation and indignity to persons affected by leprosy
(ii) isolate/segregate persons affected by leprosy
(iii) Deny them access to public services
(iv)Impose disqualifications on them under personal laws, or
(v) Bar them from occupying or standing for public posts or office
What is Leprosy?
Leprosy, also known as Hansen’s disease (HD), is a long-term infection by the bacterium Mycobacterium leprae or Mycobacterium lepromatosis. Initially, infections are without symptoms and typically remain this way for 5 to 20 years. Symptoms that develop include granulomas of the nerves, respiratory tract, skin, and eyes. This may result in a lack of ability to feel pain, thus loss of parts of extremities due to repeated injuries or infection due to unnoticed wounds. Weakness and poor eyesight may also be present.
Leprosy is spread between people. This is thought to occur through a cough or contact with fluid from the nose of an infected person. Leprosy occurs more commonly among those living in poverty. Contrary to popular belief, it is not highly contagious. The two main types of disease are based on the number of bacteria present: paucibacillary and multibacillary. The two types are differentiated by the number of poorly pigmented, numb skin patches present, with paucibacillary having five or fewer and multibacillary having more than five. The diagnosis is confirmed by finding acid-fast bacilli in a biopsy of the skin or by detecting the DNA using polymerase chain reaction.
Leprosy is curable with a treatment known as multidrug therapy. Treatment for paucibacillary leprosy is with the medications dapsone and rifampicin for six months. Treatment for multibacillary leprosy consists of rifampicin, dapsone, and clofazimine for 12 months
(GS1: India’s natural resources)
Issue: Indian researchers have discovered the world’s smallest land fern hiding in the Ahwa forests of the Western Ghats in Gujarat’s Dang district. According to a recent study in Scientific Reports, an international journal that publishes multidisciplinary research, the fingernail-sized fern belongs to a group known as the adder’s-tongue ferns, named after their resemblance to a snake’s tongue
About this new discovery
1. A look at the plant’s minuscule seeds (called spores) under a powerful electron microscope revealed it had a unique thick outer layer which similar species lacked.
2. Initial observations suggest that the ferns are seasonal and grow with the first monsoon rains
3. The ferns are not very common even in the locality they are found in.
‘Graphene based concrete’
Issue: Scientists have developed a new greener, stronger and more durable concrete using the wonder-material graphene, which they say could revolutionize the construction industry.
About the new material
1. The new composite material, which is more than twice as strong and four times more water resistant than existing concretes, can be used directly by the construction industry on building sites
2. The graphene-reinforced concrete material also drastically reduced the carbon footprint of conventional concrete production methods, making it more sustainable and environmentally friendly.
3. The new technique, described in the journal Advanced Functional Materials, could pave the way for other nano-materials to be incorporated into concrete, and so further modernize the construction industry worldwide.
4. By including graphene, researchers can reduce the amount of materials required to make concrete by around 50 per cent – leading to a significant reduction of 446kg per tonne of the carbon emissions.
Graphene is a semi-metal with a small overlap between the valence and the conduction bands (zero band-gap material). It is an allotrope (form) of carbon consisting of a single layer of carbon atoms arranged in a hexagonal lattice. It is the basic structural element of many other allotropes of carbon, such as graphite, diamond, charcoal, carbon nano-tubes and fullerenes.
Graphene and its band structure and Dirac cones, effect of a grid on doping. It can be considered as an indefinitely large aromatic molecule, the ultimate case of the family of flat polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons.
Graphene has many uncommon properties. It is the strongest material ever tested, efficiently conducts heat and electricity, and is nearly transparent. Graphene shows a large and nonlinear diamagnetism, greater than that of graphite, and can be levitated by neodymium magnets.