📰 THE HINDU – CURRENT NOTE 17 February
💡 Antarctic sea ice hits record low
- Antarctic sea ice extent has shrunk to the lowest recorded-level in last four decades, scientists say. According to data from the US National Snow and Ice Data Centre (NSIDC), sea ice in the frozen continent covered just 2.26 million square kilometres on 14 Feb, dipping below the earlier 1997 record low.
- The sea ice is likely to decrease further as it usually melts to its smallest for the year by February end in the summer of southern hemisphere, researchers said.
- Sea ice at both poles has been expected to decline as the Earth heats up due to man-made global warming.
- The average extent of sea ice around the South Pole has tended to expand in recent years and hit a record high of around 20.16 million square km in September 2014.
💡 Two-state solution remains ‘only way’ for Israel-Palestine peace, insists UN
- The two-state solution remains “the only way” to meet the aspirations of the Palestinians and Israelis, the UN envoy for the West Asia peace process told the Security Council on 16 Feb.
- The council met to discuss the Israeli-Palestinian conflict a day after President Donald Trump stepped back from the U.S. commitment to a two-state solution as part of a final peace deal.
- The envoy urged Israeli and Palestinian leaders to “carefully contemplate the future”, which he warned could be one “built on perpetual conflict, rising extremism and occupation.
Trump’s Comment & Reactions:
- Trump announced on Wednesday that the U.S. would not insist on a two-state solution to the conflict, in a break from Washington’s decades-old policy and from the international consensus on the peace process.
- Trump’s comments have triggered sharp responses from Muslim countries and organisations.
- Arab League chief Ahmed Abul Gheit said on Thursday resolving the conflict would require a two-state solution. Mr. Gheit affirmed that the conflict “requires a comprehensive and just peace based on a two-state solution with an independent Palestinian state”, a statement said after he met UN chief Antonio Guterres in Cairo.
- Palestinian Liberation Organisation secretary-general Saeb Erekat said the PLO remained committed to two states and would oppose any system that discriminated against Palestinians.
- Secretary General of Hezbollah (Lebanese militant group) Hassan Nasrallah says the remarks made by Prime Minister Netanyahu and President Trump mark the end of the Israeli-Palestinian peace process.
💡 India, Afghanistan take a hard line on Taliban at Moscow conference
- India and Afghanistan took a hard line at the six-nation talks in Moscow on 15 Feb, opposing the dominant view from Russia, China and Pakistan to involve the Taliban in reconciliation efforts.
- External Affairs spokesperson Vikas Swarup said that denying “safe havens or sanctuaries to any terrorist group or individual in countries of our region,” was essential to stabilising the situation in Afghanistan.
- Reconciliation efforts must be driven by the Afghanistan government and could only be facilitated by “friends and well wishers of Afghanistan,” he said, indicating that the previous round of QCG (Quadrilateral Cooperation Group) hosted by Pakistan was not acceptable.
- Ashraf Haidar, Afghanistan’s representative said that it was necessary to “effect a change in the behaviour of certain state actors” in order to end the violence that has reached record levels in the last year.
- Referring to Pakistan’s stand on “good/bad Taliban” echoed by officials in Moscow, and the talks between China and Taliban officials last year, he said: “The key challenge to the process remains a policy selectivity by some to distinguish between good and bad terrorists, even though terrorism is a common threat that confronts the whole region, where if one of us doesn’t stand firm against it, others’ counter-terrorism efforts will not bear the results we all seek.”
- Another point of contention that emerged was over the composition of the talks hosted by Russia. Afghanistan made a strong pitch for the United States to be included as one of its most important partners.
- It said it was a necessary part of all processes to “end war and usher in sustainable peace in Afghanistan”. With U.S. troop levels down to their lowest of about 8,400 at the end of President Obama’s tenure, Afghanistan’s government has been hoping President Trump will increase assistance to the country.
- However, in its final statement at the end of the conference, the Russian government said it proposed to extend the conference to Central Asian states, and didn’t mention the United States.
💡 ISRO gearing up for second moon mission
- Thiruvananthapuram Buoyed by the success of PSLV- C37 which set a world record by placing 104 satellites in orbit, the Indian Space Research Organisation is turning its attention to India’s second lunar mission, Chandrayaan-2, scheduled for 2018.
- The static test of the lander module of Chandrayaan-2 will be held at ISRO Propulsion Complex, Mahendragiri, by the end of February. An orbiter, lander and rover are part of the mission. The test would measure performance of the lander module propulsion system.
💡 Triple talaq case may go to Constitution Bench
- The Supreme Court on 16 Feb said it had to examine if these personal law practices were the “fundamental traits” of the minority religion. Indicating that a Constitution Bench may hear the question whether triple talaq and polygamy violate the fundamental rights of Muslim women.
- A three-judge Bench, led by Chief Justice of India J.S. Khehar, was hearing a batch of petitions on whether personal law practices like triple talaq (talaq-e-bidat), ‘niqah halala’ and polygamy violate the fundamental rights of Muslim women. The Bench has scheduled the next hearing for March 30, when the case may be referred to a Constitution Bench.
- This is the first time that aggrieved persons — individual Muslim women — themselves have approached the Supreme Court in person to settle the law on whether religious law is immune from constitutional standards enshrined in the fundamental rights. “There are so many nuances in this issue and nothing can be scuttled,” Chief Justice Khehar observed.
- The AIMPLB had submitted that the Supreme Court had no jurisdiction to strike down any provisions of personal law, but organisations and Muslim women from various walks of life across the country urged the court to strike down triple talaq and polygamy as “un-Islamic.”
- The Centre asked the apex court to determine whether personal laws can be brought under the ambit of Article 13 (laws inconsistent with or in derogation of the fundamental rights) of the Constitution.
- The Centre’s question as to “whether personal law is ‘law’ under Article 13” is significant. Article 13, for one, is so inclusive in its ambit that the term ‘law’ in the constitutional provision includes anything from an “ordinance, order, by-law, rule, regulation, notification and even customs and usages” passed or made by the Legislature or any other “competent authority.”
- The Article mandates that any law in force in India before or after the commencement of the Constitution should not violate the fundamental rights of citizens enshrined in Part III of the Constitution. A judicial declaration from a Constitution Bench under Article 13 that personal laws are liable to comply with the fundamental rights guaranteed under the Constitution would bring religious law, even uncodified practices, under judicial review.
- If the Supreme Court agrees that personal laws are included in the definition of laws under Article 13, the door will be opened wide for an aggrieved person to challenge in court a particular personal law of a religion as violative of the fundamental rights. In case the challenge succeeds in court, the personal law shall become void. The courts had made discordant notes about the immunity enjoyed by personal laws.
💡 Some brain regions found to be smaller in children with ADHD
- A study released by Radboud University Medical Centre shows that, people with ADHD have slightly smaller brains than those without the condition, which insisted it is a physical disorder and not just bad behaviour.
- The results of the study, which involved 1,713 people with ADHD and 1,529 people without the condition, were published in The Lancet Psychiatry.
- The largest analysis to date of the brains of people with attention deficit hyperactivity disorder found “structural differences” and evidence of delayed development compared with non-sufferers, researchers reported.
- The results from study confirm that people with ADHD have differences in their brain structure and therefore suggest that ADHD is a disorder of the brain.
- This study will help to reduce stigma that ADHD is ‘just a label’ for difficult children or caused by poor parenting.
- Most often diagnosed in children, ADHD is blamed for severe and repeated bouts of inattention, hyperactivity or impulsiveness that can cause problems at school or home. The symptoms can persist well into adulthood.
- The causes remain in dispute, and some specialists say ADHD is nothing but an excuse for using drugs to subdue children with difficult personalities or bad parents.
- Drugs for treating ADHD, such as Ritalin, have been blamed for side effects, including weight loss or gain, liver damage and suicidal thoughts.
- They measured overall brain volume as well as the size of seven regions thought to be linked to the disorder. The volume overall was smaller in people diagnosed with ADHD, as were five of the brain regions, the team said.
- These differences are very small — in the range of a few percent — so the unprecedented size of our study was crucial to help identify these. Similar differences in brain volume are also seen in other psychiatric disorders, especially major depressive disorder.
- The regions affected included the amygdala, which is involved in the regulation of emotion. Previous studies which associated changes in brain volume with ADHD had been too small to be conclusive, the team said.
- The differences observed in their study were most prominent in children, but also present in adults with the condition. The findings suggest that delays in the development of several brain regions were characteristic of ADHD, the researchers said.
- Study found no difference between people who were taking or had taken ADHD drugs, and those who had never taken such medications — suggesting that the brain changes were not caused by psychostimulants.
💡 UAE chalks plans to build first city on Mars by 2117
- The UAE has unveiled plans to build the first city on Mars by 2117 as the energy-rich country looks to transport people to the Red Planet over the next few decades.
- Vice-President and Prime Minister of the UAE and Ruler of Dubai Shaikh Mohammad Bin Rashid Al Maktoum and Abu Dhabi Crown Prince and Deputy Supreme Commander of the UAE Armed Forces Shaikh Mohammad Bin Zayed Al Nahyan announced the 100-year national project on which the Gulf State would collaborate with specialised international organisations and scientific institutes.
- The UAE will set a plan to prepare national cadres that can achieve scientific breakthroughs to facilitate the transport of people to the planet over the next decades. The 100-year plan will involve scientific research programmes to nurture national cadres specialised in space sciences at universities in the UAE. It will also entrench a passion for space in younger generations.
- The announcement was made on the sidelines of the World Government Summit in the presence of representatives of 138 governments, six major international organisations, as well as leading international tech companies.
- The new project will be associated with research themes featuring the exploration of transportation means, energy and food on the Red Planet. It will also try to find faster transportation methods for travelling to and from Mars.
- A virtual presentation depicting a preliminary concept for the city on Mars was made during the announcement. The scientific initiative will first be implemented by an Emirati scientific team, and will eventually expand to include international scientists and researchers that will run in parallel with the coordination of human research efforts in the field of exploring and inhabiting Mars.
💡 Potent malaria vaccine on the anvil
- A malaria vaccine that mimics a mosquito bite yielded encouraging results in human trials, raising hopes for thwarting a parasite that kills a child every two minutes.
- The candidate drug, called PfSPZ, provided up to 100% protection for 10 weeks in a trial in Germany, although a trial in real life conditions in Mali gave a lower level of defence, they reported in two separate studies.
- PfSPZ uses a live, immature form of the malaria parasite, called a sporozoite, to stimulate an immune reaction in humans. In one trial, a version of PfSPZ required fewer shots and a lower dose of live malaria parasites than tested to date, researchers reported in the science journal Nature.
- For another form of the vaccine, sporozoites are exposed to radiation to weaken them before being injected into the human bloodstream. A previous trial with the irradiated version saw 44 trial volunteers given five shots, each with up to 1,35,000 sporozoites, or three doses with up to 1.8 million sporozoites in total. The highest dose conferred up to 100% immunity, a 2013 report said.
- The ability to complete an immunisation regime in 10 days will facilitate the use of PfSPZ-CVac in mass vaccination programmes to eliminate the malaria parasite and to prevent malaria in travelers.
- The reason that fewer sporozoites were required was that they were not irradiated before injection. Instead, the vaccine was administered in conjunction with an anti-malarial drug, chloroquine, to stop the parasite causing disease once inside the human body.
- PfSPZ is being developed against the Plasmodium falciparum mosquito-borne parasite, by far the deadliest type. Further trials are to follow in Mali, Ghana, the U.S. and Gabon.
- According to the World Health Organization (WHO), there were 212 million malaria cases in the world in 2015 and 4,29,000 deaths. More than 90% of deaths occur in Africa.
Aiming for efficiency:
- Another vaccine called RTS,S, developed by GlaxoSmithKline, is being tested in children — the most affected population.It is considered the most advanced candidate, but results last year from a Kenyan trial showed it was only about four per cent effective after seven years.
- The developers of PfSPZ are aiming for efficiency of about 80-90% protection lasting for six months to a year.
💡 High-quality graphene created using soybean
- In a breakthrough, scientists in Melbourne have used the humble soybean to make the world’s strongest material graphene commercially more viable. Graphene is a carbon material that is one atom thick.
- Scientists at Commonwealth Scientific and Industrial Research Organisation (CSIRO) in Australia have developed a novel “GraphAir” technology that grows graphene film in ambient air with a natural precursor, making its production faster and simpler.
- This ambient-air process for graphene fabrication is fast, simple, safe, potentially scalable, and integration friendly,” CSIRO scientist said.
💡 SEBI-stung NSE to reset co-location code
- The National Stock Exchange (NSE) is strengthening its policies and procedures related to co-location facilities even as the Securities and Exchange Board of India (SEBI) is looking into allegations of some brokerages having got preferential access at the exchange.
- The NSE plans more safeguards and protocols and has hired an independent consultant to guide it on the implementation of the new procedures, which are expected to be put in place by the end of this month.
- Co-location refers to the facility where brokerages can house their servers inside the exchange to get better speed for trade execution. Since the broker’s server is placed close to that of the exchange, the latency is reduced. NSE started offering this facility in February 2010 and currently co-location accounts for about 20% of the cash market turnover and 30% of derivatives volume.
- The review that will be exhaustive in nature comes in the midst of regulatory concerns related to the systems and processes at NSE, which are being addressed both, by the NSE board and SEBI’s Technical Advisory Committee (TAC).
- NSE will be rewriting entire policies and codes related to co-location. All protocols will be clearly laid down in black and white, including those relating to escalation of issues. Also, all logs related to co-location would be recorded and maintained for a longer period of time.
- Deloitte, which conducted a forensic audit of NSE, had highlighted in its report that there were some lapses related to procedures and processes and it could have been that an NSE employee was also involved.
- It also stated that the technology used by NSE earlier to offer co-location service was prone to manipulation in terms of lags in information dissemination. Based on the Deloitte report, NSE decided to look at every single aspect of co-location to ensure everything is above board, transparent and nothing is left to unstated practices.
- SEBI received an anonymous complaint against the exchange in January 2015, alleging that certain brokers with co-location servers were getting access to market data before the others who also had such facilities within NSE. The complaint also alleged that employees of NSE were involved in the irregularities.
- Incidentally, when NSE had started the co-location facility, it used a technology called TCP/IP in which there was a lag in information being shared between the co-location servers. Starting 2014, NSE moved to multicast technology wherein all the servers received the information at one go.
- While NSE is going ahead with its plans to implement a new code for co-location, SEBI is also reviewing whether the exchange needs to be issued further directions based on the Deloitte report and its own internal findings.
- At its latest board meet on February 11, SEBI took note of the matter and said that the NSE board, as advised by the regulator, had done an independent forensic audit and that the concerns were being addressed.
- As part of its investigations, SEBI had also sent some officials and TAC members to the exchange, which had submitted a huge amount of data to both the regulator and Deloitte.
💡 Dassault, Reliance form JV for Rafale
- Reliance Aerostructure Limited has incorporated a 51:49 joint venture with Dassault Aviation to capture a major share of the offset business arising from the €7.87 billion deal for Rafale fighter jets.
- The joint venture, Dassault Reliance Aerospace Limited (DARL), will have Mr.Eric Trappier, Chairman of Dassault Aviation France, as its chairman and Mr.Anil Ambani, chairman of Reliance Group, as its co-chairman. India and France signed a purchase agreement for the supply of 36 Rafale fighter jets for €7.87 billion in September last year.
- The contract includes a 50% offset obligation or about ₹30,000 crore, the largest-ever offset contract in India. DRAL will aim to grab a major share of this business, including components and parts.
- The facility will come up at Dhirubhai Aerospace Park at Mihan, Nagpur and the construction work on the greenfield facility will start in May 2017, according to a company statement.
- The joint venture will execute the offset in phases with Phase I resulting in the generation of more than 700 highly-skilled direct jobs and 2,800 indirect jobs. DRAL will support the Centre’s “Make in India” and “Skill India” policies and develop major Indian programmes with high levels of technology transfer to benefit the entire aerospace sector.
- The proposed strategic partnership between Dassault and Reliance will also focus on promoting research and development projects under the IDDM programme (Indigenously Designed, Developed and Manufactured), an initiative of Defence Minister Manohar Parrikar, according to the statement.
💡 RBI plans to rejig MDR for cards
- The Reserve Bank of India (RBI) plans to rationalise the merchant discount rate (MDR) for debit cards – the rate which banks charge a merchant when the customer uses a card for a transaction – and said there would be different charges for different kinds of merchants.
- According to the draft norms on MDR, the merchants have been categorised in four categories, small merchants with turnover outside the ambit of GST (less than ₹20 lakh per annum), government transactions (railways, VISA fees etc), special category of merchants (utilities, hospitals, Army canteen etc), and all other category of merchants with turnover within the ambit of GST.
- For small and special category of merchants, the MDR has been capped at 0.4% of the transaction value for physical point-of-sale (PoS) machines and 0.3% for digital PoS. For all other categories of merchants, MDR is capped at 0.95% of transaction value for physical PoS and 0.85% for digital PoS. For government transactions, a flat fee of ₹5 has been proposed for transaction value up to ₹1,000.
💡 Set up mechanism to delete sex determination ads: SC
- The Supreme Court on 16 Feb ordered three Internet giants — Google, Microsoft and Yahoo — to immediately set up their own in-house expert bodies to keep tabs on and delete online pre-natal sex determination advertisements.
- The court said the intent of the order was to make these search engines “responsive to Indian law.” Section 22 of the Pre-conception and Pre-natal Diagnostic Techniques (Prohibition of Sex Selection) Act of 1994 prohibits advertisements relating to pre-natal determination of sex and imposes punishment.
- However, ads continue to appear online, rendering the law toothless. “Since 2001, this court has expressed its concern with regard to reduction of sex ratio in this country. It has gone to the extent of stating that when there is decrease in sex ratio, it is a disaster signal to the mankind,” a Bench of Justices Dipak Misra and R. Banumathi referred to the scant regard for the anti-female foeticide law.
- The Supreme Court has made the search engines themselves liable for preventing illegal sex determination ads from appearing online. This step is in addition to the Ministry of Health and Family Welfare’s move to set up a nodal agency to receive complaints on violation of Section 22 of the 1994 Act.
- In-house experts The court ordered that the search engines “shall appoint their ‘In-House Expert Body’ which shall take steps to see that if any words or any key words that can be shown on the Internet which has the potentiality to go counter to Section 22 of the 1994 Act, should be deleted forthwith.”
- The court observed that the in-house expert body “shall on its own understanding” delete anything that violates the letter and spirit of language of Section 22 of the 1994 Act. In case of doubt, they are free to approach the Ministry’s nodal agency and be guided by the latter.
- The whole problem is that they [search engines] do not have respect for the law of the country,” Justice Misra orally remarked. However, the companies countered the accusation, saying they had always complied with the local laws.
💡 Take lead in jet project: Russia
- The fifth generation fighter aircraft to be developed jointly by India and Russia will be an entirely new machine based on the Russian fifth generation jet which is already flying, a senior Russian industry official has said.
- The two countries are negotiating the contract. This year, India and Russia are likely to conclude several big-ticket deals worth billions of dollars. They include the S-400 long range air defence systems, Kamov-226T utility helicopters and additional Mi-17 helicopters.
- This is an entirely new project [FGFA] for building a new aircraft. We have designs and plans but we cannot commit ourselves unless we see a willingness to continue from India,” said Victor N. Kladov, Director of International Cooperation and Regional Policy of Rostec, Russian state corporation.
- In 2010, India and Russia signed a preliminary design agreement to jointly produce the FGFA for use by both the countries, after which each had invested $295 million for preliminary design.
- But despite several rounds of discussions, the two countries have so far failed to reach a contract. On the S-400 Triumf, Mr. Kladovv observed that negotiating a contract took “no less than a year,” as there were thousands of documentations to be discussed. “We made our initial request to India.