Weekly Current Affairs Prelims (23rd to 29th September, 2018)
Topic: Mosquito population made extinct with genetic tweak
TOPIC IN SYLLABUS: Health, Biotechnology
Why in news:
- Scientists succeeded for the first time in wiping out an entire population of malaria-carrying mosquitos in the lab using a gene editing tool to programme their extinction.
- So-called gene drive technology works by forcing evolution’s hand, ensuring that an engineered trait is passed down to a higher proportion of offspring — across many generations — than would have occurred naturally.
- In experiments with the species Anopheles gambiae, scientists at Imperial College London tweaked a gene known as doublesex so that more females in each generation could no longer bite or reproduce.
- After only eight generations, there were no females left and the population collapsed due to lack of offspring.
- The next step will be to test the technology in a confined laboratory setting that mimics a tropical environment. It will be at least five-to-ten years before it would be considerd to test any mosquitoes with gene drive in the wild
Need to eliminate malaria causing mosquitos
- This breakthrough shows that gene drive can work, providing hope in the fight against a disease that has plagued mankind for centuries.
- Malaria sickened more than 200 million people worldwide in 2016 and killed nearly 450,000. It remains one of the deadliest of infectious diseases.
- 2016 marked the first time in over two decades that malaria cases did not fall year-on-year, despite aggressive and well-funded anti-malarial campaigns.
- Traditional approaches to controlling mosquitoes — especially the use of insecticides — is becoming less effective, mainly due to the build-up of resistance.
- Previous attempts by the same team and others to induce the genetically programmed extinction of mosquitos in the laboratory ran into “resistance” in the form of mutations that fought back against the high-tech engineering.
What is Double sex gene?
The doublesex gene targeted in the experiments is deeply “conserved”, meaning that is formed tens or even hundreds of millions of years ago and is today shared by many insects with only minor variations.
Calls for a moratorium
- Some scientists and technology watchdog groups have called for a moratorium on gene drive research.
- According to critics, the ability to eradicate species and natural populations at will with synthetic gene drive is not to be celebrated but should rather sound an alarm.
- There are ecological risks from manipulating and removing natural populations, such as destroying food webs and shifting the behaviour of diseases, as well as social risks of disrupting agriculture and enabling new weapons.
- The issue will be squarely on the agenda in November in Egypt at a UN Biodiversity summit, which has mandated one of its technical committees to assess gene drive’s potential risks and benefits.
Q) Scientists have succeeded for the first time in wiping out an entire population of malaria-carrying mosquitos in the lab using a gene editing tool to programme their extinction. What is the name of the gene that was tweaked in the experiment?
d) none of these
Topic: Enact ‘strong law’ to cleanse politics: SC
Topic in syllabus: Indian Polity and Governance
Why in news
- The Supreme Court on Tuesday directed political parties to publish online the pending criminal cases of their candidates and urged Parliament to bring a “strong law” to cleanse political parties of leaders facing trial for serious crimes.
- Rapid criminalisation of politics cannot be arrested by merely disqualifying tainted legislators but should begin by “cleansing” political parties, a five-judge Constitution Bench observed.
Onus on Parliament
- The court said Parliament should frame a law that makes it obligatory for political parties to remove leaders charged with “heinous and grievous” crimes, such as rape, murder and kidnapping, to name only a few, and refuse ticket to offenders in both parliamentary and Assembly polls.
- “The nation eagerly awaits such a legislation,” the court told Parliament.
- The Bench made it clear that the court cannot legislate for Parliament by introducing disqualification to ban candidates facing trial for heinous crimes from contesting elections.
- The court directed that candidates should divulge their criminal past to the Election Commission in “block letters.”
- Candidates should make a full disclosure of the criminal cases pending against them to the political parties under whose banner they intend to contest the polls.
- The parties, in turn, should put up the complete details of their candidates on their websites for public consumption.
Cry for decriminalisation of politics
- The N.N. Vohra Committee,which was set up following a public outcry after the blasts, submitted its report in October 1993 after its study of the problem of criminalisation of politics and the nexus among criminals, politicians and bureaucrats in India.
- The committee had concluded that agencies, including the CBI, IB, RAW, had unanimously expressed their opinion that the criminal network was virtually running a parallel government.
- The committee report mentioned how money power was first acquired through real estate and then used for building up contacts with bureaucrats and politicians.
- The voices within Parliament also felt the need to end the bane of criminal politics.
- The 18th Report presented by a parliamentary committeeto the Rajya Sabha in March 2007 expressed a strong “feeling that politics should be cleansed of persons with established criminal background”.
- It said “criminalisation of politics is the bane of society and negation of democracy”.
- The Law Commission of India, in its 244th report, succinctly put it that “instead of politicians having suspected links to criminal networks, as was the case earlier, it was persons with extensive criminal backgrounds who began entering politics.”
- The Law Commission said that in the 10 years since 2004, 18% of the candidates contesting either national or State elections had criminal cases against them (11,063 out of 62,847).
- The Goswami Committee on Electoral Reforms,as early as in 1990, highlighted the crippling effect of money and muscle power in elections.
Q) Which of the following Committee was set up for study of problem of criminalisation of politics?
a) B N Krishna Committee
b) N N Vohra Committee
c) Hota Committee
d) Santhanam Committee
Topic: Railways to roll out smart coaches
Topic in syllabus: Economic and Social Development
Why In news
- The Indian Railways are set to launch their ‘Make in India’ smart coaches with new features like black box and artificial intelligence (AI)-powered CCTVs, matching international standards.
- Named ‘Smart Trains’, the coaches have been equipped with sensors that can detect defects on bearings, wheels, and the railway track, giving constant inputs to those in the control room to avoid accidents, carry out maintenance, and to improve efficiency of operations.
- The maiden smart coach was unveiled at the Modern Coach Factory in Rae Bareli as part of launching 100 such trains in a pilot project to improve the safety and security of commuters, and to boost efficiency.
Features of smart trains
- The black box, being introduced for the first time by Indian Railways, has a powerful multi-dimensional communication interface to provide information on passengers and coach condition on real-time basis.
- The black box will act as a coach control unit with communication interfaces for passenger announcements, GPS-based announcement triggers, emergency intercom for commuters, digital destination boards, train reservation display modules, and CCTVs with remote monitoring.
- Six cameras installed in the coach will provide live recording. The footage can be accessed from the control room, which will be advantageous for law enforcers.
- An emergency talk-back system will enable communication between passengers and the guard during a crisis. A Wi-Fi hotspot information system is another innovative feature.
- The modern infotainment system has been installed to locate the train in real time.
- AI-powered CCTVs will help those in the control room to keep a tab on untoward incidents and on the behaviour of on-board staff
- Commuters will also be able to communicate with Railways officials.
- For wheel, coach and track monitoring, Railways have come up with Internet of things-based system.
- The vibrating-energy-based sensors will monitor the wheels, bearing and hard spots on the track, and will provide data through GPS/GPRS to the remote server for diagnosis and remedial measures.
- The Passenger Information and Coach Computing Unit (PICCU), an industrial grade computer, will monitor the coach maintenance and passenger interface.
- Smart coaches are also laden with water-level indicator technology to know whether the water in the coach is sufficient and when it needs to be filled. An SMS will be sent to the next watering station when the water level falls below half the coach capacity.
Q) Which of the following is/are features of smart coaches to be launched by Indian Railways?
a) The black box, being introduced for the first time by Indian Railways, has a powerful multi-dimensional communication interface to provide information on passengers and coach condition on real-time basis.
b) The black box will act as a coach control unit with communication interfaces for passenger announcements, GPS-based announcement triggers, emergency intercom for commuters, digital destination boards, train reservation display modules, and CCTVs with remote monitoring.
c) An emergency talk-back system will enable communication between passengers and the guard during a crisis. A Wi-Fi hotspot information system is another innovative feature.
d) All of the above
Topic: Model Code of Conduct
Topic in syllabus : Indian Polity and Governance
Why in news:
Election Commission (EC) has announced that Model Code of Conduct comes into force immediately in states where legislative assemblies have been dissolved prematurely.
EC has also held that after dissolution caretaker government as well as the central government is barred from announcing new schemes in particular state from date of dissolution of legislative assembly till new House is elected.
Model Code of Conduct(MCC):
What is MCC?
These are the guidelines issued by the Election Commission of India for conduct of political parties and candidates during elections mainly with respect to speeches, polling day, polling booths, election manifestos, processions and general conduct.
Aim: To ensure free and fair elections.
When it comes into force?
So far, the Model Code of Conduct came into force immediately on announcement of the election schedule by the commission. The Code remains in force till the end of the electoral process.
Status: The need for such code is in the interest of free and fair elections. However, the code does not have any specific statutory basis. It has only a persuasive effect. It contains what is known as “rules of electoral morality”. But this lack of statutory backing does not prevent the Commission from enforcing it.
Evolution: The Commission issued the code for the first time in 1971 (5th Election) and revised it from time to time. This set of norms has been evolved with the consensus of political parties who have consented to abide by the principles embodied in the said code and also binds them to respect and observe it in its letter and spirit.
What it contains?
The salient features of the Model Code of Conduct lay down how political parties, contesting candidates and party(s) in power should conduct themselves during the process of elections i.e. on their general conduct during electioneering, holding meetings and processions, poll day activities and functioning of the party in power etc.
Q) Which of the following is not correct about model Code of Conduct(MCC)?
a) the Model Code of Conduct comes into force immediately on announcement of the election schedule by the Election commission
b) the code does not have any specific statutory basis. It has only a persuasive effect.
c) The Commission issued the code for the first time in 1984 elections and revised it from time to time.
d) All are correct
Topic: #LooReview Campaign
Topic in syllabus: Economic and Social Development
Why in news:
The Ministry of Housing and Urban Affairs, under the aegis of Swachh Bharat Mission – Urban has partnered with Google to launch the Loo Review campaign.
About the Loo Review campaign:
- It is aimed to encourage all local guides in India to rate and review public toilets on Google Maps.
- This campaign will allow all citizens to locate public toilets in their cities on Google Maps, Search and the Assistant and also provide feedback on the same.
- Local Guides are people who share reviews, photos, and knowledge on Google Maps to help people explore the world.
The joint campaign to be run throughout October and November 2018 is an effort to increase the awareness and ease of locating public toilets across India. 500+ cities in India with more than 30,000 toilets with the name of “SBM Toilet” are currently live on Google Maps.
- One of the objectives of the SBM- U is to provide sanitation coverage through public toilet facilities across cities in India for achieving Open Defecation Free (ODF) status. There is now a need to ensure that the ODF status is sustained through continuous usage and proper maintenance of public toilets. The ‘Public toilets near me’ feature will benefit citizens, particularly women and senior citizens, who often find it difficult to find access to clean toilets in the public space.
- The feedback provide by local guides through the Loo Review campaign will press upon the Urban Local Bodies to take proactive steps to improve public toilet facilities across the country.
Q. Which Ministry under the aegis of Swachh Bharat Mission – Urban, has partnered with Google to launch the Loo Review campaign.
a) Ministry of Drinking water and Sanitation
b) Ministry of Housing and Urban Affairs
c) Ministry of Health and Family Welfare
d) Ministry of Water Resources, River Development and Ganga Rejuvenation
Topic: Sustainable Alternative Towards Affordable Transportation (SATAT) Initiative
Topic in syllabus: General issues on Environmental Ecology, Bio-diversity and Climate Change
Why in news:
The government has launched Sustainable Alternative Towards Affordable Transportation (SATAT) Initiative to set up Compressed Bio-Gas (CBG) production plants and make available CBG in the market for use in automotive fuels.
About the initiative:
- The initiative is aimed at providing a Sustainable Alternative Towards Affordable Transportation (SATAT) as a developmental effort that would benefit both vehicle-users as well as farmers and entrepreneurs.
- Compressed Bio-Gas plants are proposed to be set up mainly through independent entrepreneurs. CBG produced at these plants will be transported through cascades of cylinders to the fuel station networks of OMCs for marketing as a green transport fuel alternative.
- The entrepreneurs would be able to separately market the other by-products from these plants, including bio-manure, carbon-dioxide, etc., to enhance returns on investment.
- It is planned to roll out 5,000 Compressed Bio-Gas plants across India in a phased manner, with 250 plants by the year 2020, 1,000 plants by 2022 and 5,000 plants by 2025. These plants are expected to produce 15 million tonnes of CBG per annum, which is about 40% of current CNG consumption of 44 million tonnes per annum in the country.
- At an investment of approx. Rs. 1.7 lakh crore, this initiative is expected to generate direct employment for 75,000 people and produce 50 million tonnes of bio-manure for crops.
There are multiple benefits from converting agricultural residue, cattle dung and municipal solid waste into CBG on a commercial scale:
- Responsible waste management, reduction in carbon emissions and pollution.
- Additional revenue source for farmers.
- Boost to entrepreneurship, rural economy and employment.
- Support to national commitments in achieving climate change goals.
- Reduction in import of natural gas and crude oil.
- Buffer against crude oil/gas price fluctuations.
This move has the potential to boost availability of more affordable transport fuels, better use of agricultural residue, cattle dung and municipal solid waste, as well as to provide an additional revenue source to farmers.
The initiative holds great promise for efficient municipal solid waste management and in tackling the problem of polluted urban air due to farm stubble-burning and carbon emissions. Use of CBG will also help bring down dependency on crude oil imports.
Bio-gas is produced naturally through a process of anaerobic decomposition from waste / bio-mass sources like agriculture residue, cattle dung, sugarcane press mud, municipal solid waste, sewage treatment plant waste, etc. After purification, it is compressed and called CBG, which has pure methane content of over 95%.
What is CBG?
Compressed Bio-Gas is exactly similar to the commercially available natural gas in its composition and energy potential. With calorific value (~52,000 KJ/kg) and other properties similar to CNG, Compressed Bio-Gas can be used as an alternative, renewable automotive fuel. Given the abundance of biomass in the country, Compressed Bio-Gas has the potential to replace CNG in automotive, industrial and commercial uses in the coming years.
Compressed Bio-Gas can be produced from various bio-mass/waste sources, including agricultural residue, municipal solid waste, sugarcane press mud, distillery spent wash, cattle dung and sewage treatment plant waste. The other waste streams, i.e, rotten potatoes from cold storages, rotten vegetables, dairy plants, chicken/poultry litter, food waste, horticulture waste, forestry residues and treated organic waste from industrial effluent treatment plants (ETPs) can be used to generate biogas.
The potential for Compressed Bio-Gas production from various sources in India is estimated at about 62 million tonnes per annum. Going forward, Compressed Bio-Gas networks can be integrated with city gas distribution (CGD) networks to boost supplies to domestic and retail users in existing and upcoming markets. Besides retailing from OMC fuel stations, Compressed Bio-Gas can at a later date be injected into CGD pipelines too for efficient distribution and optimised access of a cleaner and more affordable fuel.
Q. Which of the following is correct about Compressed Bio Gas?
a) Compressed Bio-Gasis exactly similar to the commercially available natural gas in its composition and energy potential.
b) Compressed Bio-Gas can be used as an alternative, renewable automotive fuel.
c) Compressed Bio-Gas can be produced fromvarious bio-mass/waste sources, including agricultural residue, municipal solid waste, sugarcane press mud, distillery spent wash, cattle dung and sewage treatment plant waste.
d) All are correct
Topic: National Digital Communications Policy-2018
Topic in syllabus: Indian Polity and Governance
Why in news:
The Union Cabinet has approved the National Digital Communications Policy-2018 (NDCP-2018) and re-designation of the Telecom Commission as the “Digital Communications Commission”.
- The NDCP-2018 envisions supporting India’s transition to a digitally empowered economy and society by fulfilling the information and communications needs of citizens and enterprises by establishment of a ubiquitous, resilient and affordable digital communications infrastructure and services.
- The ‘Customer focused’ and ‘application driven’ NDCP-2018 shall lead to new ideas and innovations, after the launch of advanced technology such as 5G, IOT, M2M, etc. which shall govern the telecom sector of India.
The key objectives of the policy are:
- Broadband for all.
- Creating four million additional jobs in the Digital Communications sector.
- Enhancing the contribution of the Digital Communications sector to 8% of India’s GDP from ~ 6% in 2017.
- Propelling India to the Top 50 Nations in the ICT Development Index of ITU from 134 in 2017.
- Enhancing India’s contribution to Global Value Chains.
- Ensuring Digital Sovereignty.
- These objectives are to be achieved by 2022.
The policy aims to:
- Provide universal broadband connectivity at 50 Mbps to every citizen.
- Provide 1 Gbps connectivity to all Gram Panchayats by 2020 and 10 Gbps by 2022.
- Ensure connectivity to all uncovered areas.
- Attract investments of USD 100 billion in the Digital Communications Sector.
- Train one million manpower for building New Age Skill.
- Expand IoT ecosystem to 5 billion connected devices.
- Establish a comprehensive data protection regime for digital communications that safeguards the privacy, autonomy and choice of individuals.
- Facilitate India’s effective participation in the global digital economy.
- Enforce accountability through appropriate institutional mechanisms to assure citizens of safe.
- Secure digital communications infrastructure and services.
The policy advocates:
- Establishment of a National Digital Grid by creating a National Fibre Authority.
- Establishing Common Service Ducts and utility corridors in all new city and highway road projects.
- Creating a collaborative institutional mechanism between Centre, States and Local Bodies for Common Rights of Way, standardization of costs and timelines.
- Removal of barriers to approvals.
- Facilitating development of Open Access Next Generation Networks.
As the present world has entered the era of modern technological advancements in the Telecom Sector such as 5G, loT, M2M etc., a need was being felt to introduce a ‘customer focused’ and ‘application driven’ policy for the Indian Telecom Sector, which can form the main pillar of Digital India by addressing emerging opportunities for expanding not only the availability of telecom services but also telecom based services.
Accordingly, the new National Digital Communications Policy – 2018 has been formulated, in place of the existing National Telecom Policy-2012, to cater to the modern needs of the digital communications sector of India.
Sample Question :
Q. Which of the following is not an objective of National Digital Communications Policy?
a) Provide universal broadband connectivity at 50 Mbps to every citizen.
b) Provide 10 Gbps connectivity to all Gram Panchayats by 2020 and 50 Gbps by 2022.
c) Ensure connectivity to all uncovered areas.
d) Train one million manpower for building New Age Skill.