The HINDU Notes – 19th February

📰 THE HINDU – CURRENT NOTE 19 February


💡 What is Zealandia?

zealandia

  • Zealandia is a new geological continent and consists of a chain of islands which include New Zealand and New Caledonia.
  • It spreads out over 4.9-million-square kilometres of continental crust and was once a part of Australia.
  • It broke off from Antarctica about 100 million years ago, and then from Australia about 80 million years ago.
  • Sea-floor samples show that Zealandia consists of light continental crust and not the dark volcanic rocks that make up nearby underwater plateaus.
  • A piece of seafloor called the Cato Trough still separates Zealandia and Australia by 25 kilometres.

💡 Mexican caves, a home to life dating back 50,000 years

  • In a Mexican cave system so beautiful and hot that it is called both Fairyland and hell, scientists have discovered life trapped in crystals that could be 50,000 years old.

mexican-caves-microbes

  • The bizarre and ancient microbes were found dormant in caves in Naica, Mexico, and were able to exist by living on minerals such as iron and manganese.
  • This isn’t the oldest extreme life. Several years ago, a different group of scientists published studies about microbes that may be half a million years old and still alive. Those were trapped in ice and salt, which isn’t quite the same as rock or crystal.
  • Another set of microbes commonly found in caves in the U.S, Ukraine and elsewhere eat copper sulfate and seem to be close to indestructible.

💡 Jumbo patrol for Corbett

elephant-safari

  • The nine trained elephants from the forest camps of Nagarahole in Karnataka′s dry plains are ready for the long journey to Jim Corbett National Park, in the Himalayan foothills, where they will form an elite patrol group.
  • They are set to aid in combing operations in the tiger reserve around the park.
  • Their relocation comes after a request was made by the Uttarakhand Government to Karnataka two years ago.

💡 Poor connectivity hits border trade

  • India-Bangladesh trade ties are troubled by “poor” rail and river-connectivity at the region bordering Assam as well as a delay in the operationalisation of four “new” ‘border haats’ (or border markets) at the area bordering Meghalaya.

border-trade

  • This is the situation even 20 months after Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s Bangladesh visit that paved way for, among other things, the “historic” ceremony of exchange of instruments of ratification of the India- Bangladesh Land Boundary Agreement, 1974 and its 2011 Protocol.
  • It also resulted in an agreement on several measures to “widen bilateral trade, investment and economic cooperation in a balanced and sustainable manner to mutual benefit but also open up opportunities for regional trade.”
  • Bangladesh was India’s largest South Asian trading partner in 2015-16 — with bilateral trade worth $6.8 billion that fiscal. The trade balance was heavily in favour of India with its exports of $6.03 billion to Bangladesh in FY’16.
  • India’s imports amounted to $5.3 billion from that country.

Mankachar border trade:

mankachar-border

  • Assam, during a meeting with the Centre last month, said road connectivity in the Bangladesh side for Mankachar Border Trade Point (BTP) “is very poor, and trade is possible only in summers.”
  • The Centre responded by stating that the issue may be included in the agenda of the next meeting of the Joint Working Group on Trade and also at the meeting of the subgroup on infrastructure.
  • It wanted Assam to provide more details on issues of road connectivity for Mankachar BTP.
  • Assam also said dredging of the Brahmaputra River on the Bangladesh side was “essential” to make river vessels route navigable.

bangala-min

  • According to the Centre, talks are on to augment National Waterway- 2 (on the Brahmaputra River at the India- Bangladesh border) and the Indo-Bangladesh Protocol Route (related to inland water transit and trade).
  • Though India wants this proposal to be formulated under South-Asia Sub Regional Economic Cooperation, it has not yet been done due to lack of details on dredging under the Protocol Routes on the Bangladesh side and the funds required.
  • On Bangladesh’s proposal for a Regional Waterway Project- 1 (Chittagong-Dhaka- Ashuganj Corridor) for dredging of rivers with World Bank assistance, India has said it will lend support provided Bangladesh promises that in the said proposal, development of India-centric Protocol Route under Indo-Bangladesh Protocol on Inland Water Transit and Trade (PIWTT) would also be considered.
  • Bangladesh has sought guidance and help from Dredging Corporation of India, the Centre said.
  • Meanwhile, Meghalaya has informed the Centre that joint inspection for operationalisation of six “new” ‘Border Haats’ was pending due to an inadequate response from Bangladesh.
  • The Centre said, two of these new border haats are operational and the remaining four are under implementation stage.

Border haats:

border-haat

  • It said Bangladesh has informed that since the Memorandum of Understanding and Mode of Operation on Border Haats have expired in 2013, discussions on the issue should be made only after their renewal.
  • The Centre said India has taken up with Bangladesh the issue of holding the meeting of the Joint Border Haat Management Committees.
  • The Indian Commerce Ministry, in December 2016 said currently, four border haats are operational, along the India-Bangladesh border (two each in Meghalaya and Tripura).
  • The trade at border haats is allowed in Indian Rupees/Bangladesh Taka and on a barter basis, and trade worth Rs. 16.86 crore was carried out at the four border haats in the five-year period ending 2015-16.

💡 GST Council clears compensation law

  • The Goods and Services (GST) Council on 18 February 2017 cleared the final version of the Compensation Law which stipulates how the States will be recompensed in the event of a loss due to the implementation of GST, Union Finance Minister Arun Jaitley said after the Council′s meeting in Udaipur.

gst-compensation-bill

  • The other draft laws — the Central GST law, State GST law, and the Interstate GST law — will come up for legal vetting during the next meeting of the Council on March 4-5, Mr. Jaitley added.
  • He said that the issue of antiprofiteering did not come up for discussion.
  • “The GST compensation law, that if a state has a loss, then for the first five years they will be compensated, the legally vetted draft has been formally approved by the GST Council,” Mr. Jaitley said during a press conference.
  • “It will go before the Cabinet, which will give its approval and we will seek to place it before Parliament in the second half of the Budget session starting on March 9.”
  • The Finance Minister said that the vetting of the legal language of the CGST, SGST, and IGST laws raised a few issues that needed to be clarified to the legal committee of the GST Council.
  • Some of the issues included the eligibility of membership to the appeal tribunals in the Centre and states, the delegation of powers, the exemptions that can be given during the transition phase, the treatment of work contracts where service tax and VAT is applied, and issues related to the definition of agriculture.
  • “These issues came up during the time of legal vetting of the draft laws, and the legal committee has received its clarifications from the Council,” Mr. Jaitley said.
  • “The legal committee will incorporate these changes and on March 4-5, the GST Council will meet again in Delhi and approve these laws.”
  • Following the next meeting of the Council, Mr. Jaitley said that the rates committee will begin deciding which commodities will fall in each rate slab.
  • This, he said, would require one more major meeting of the Council to give its approval to the specific items in each of the slabs.

💡 Regulator to review tariff policy

  • Telecom regulator TRAI will review the rules of tariff assessment with regard to promotional offers and predatory pricing, issues that have triggered a public spat between Reliance Jio and incumbent operators.

trai-on-tarrif

  • These contentious issues would be debated as part of a consultation paper on ‘Regulatory Principles of Tariff Assessment’ issued by TRAI.
  • “The consultation paper deals with emergent issues and challenges… related to regulatory principles of tariff assessment, for example, transparency, promotional offers, disclosures and non— discrimination, adherence to the principle of non—predatory pricing, meaning of predatory pricing, relevant market, assessment of dominant position,” a TRAI statement said.
  • TRAI said the consultation “aims to bring about greater clarity in interpretation of various regulatory principles set out in the Telecom Tariff Order in consonance with the best global practices“.
  • The industry and other stakeholders have been asked to submit written comments on these issues by March 17, 2017.
  • The issues to be debated include new measures that need to be prescribed by the regulator to ensure transparency in the tariff offers made by telecom operators, and strengthening of definition relating to “non—discrimination“.
  • TRAI has sought views on which tariff offers should qualify as “promotional offers” and the need to limit the number of promotional offers that can be launched by an operator in a year one after another.
  • It also seeks suggestions on definition and criteria for “dominance” in relevant telecom markets.
  • “How to assess significant market power in each relevant market? What are the relevant factors which should be taken into consideration,” are questions that have been posed by TRAI in the latest consultation paper.
  • It will also review the methods and processes that should be applied by the regulator to assess predatory pricing by a service provider in a relevant market.
  • The review comes amid a standoff between newcomer Reliance Jio and incumbent operators such as Bharti Airtel, Vodafone and Idea Cellular on issues such as predatory pricing, market dominance and extension of promotional offers.
  • The tribunal is currently hearing a plea by Bharti Airtel and Idea Cellular challenging the regulator’s decision to allow Reliance Jio to continue free promotional offer beyond the stipulated 90 days.

💡 ‘Retro-tax disputes to run course’

direct-tax-code-india

  • Not one company came forward to avail of the retrospective tax dispute resolution window announced last year and the closure of the window on January 31 now means that such companies will have to go through the normal procedures to resolve their disputes, Revenue Secretary Hasmukh Adhia told.
  • Adhia said that the Budget announcement of the removal of the applicability of indirect transfer provisions is only for Foreign Portfolio Investors and would apply to companies transferring their entire ownership abroad.

International arbitration:

  • “Some companies are in international arbitration. They believe zero tax is payable. In the window, tax would have to be paid of about 15%,” Girish Vanvari, Partner and Head, Tax, at KPMG India said.
  • “They also believe that they have a strong chance of winning their cases in arbitration.”
  • Two notable cases in this regard involve Vodafone and Cairn, against both of which the Income Tax Department has pending tax demands.
  • “Using the normal arbitration procedures will mean that this will take a long time to resolve,” Mr. Vanvari added.
  • Transfer provisions The Union Budget 2017-18 clarified that indirect transfer provisions would not apply to foreign portfolio investments, but Mr. Adhia said that they would certainly apply for other companies. “This is for FPIs only. It does not mean it is for other companies,”Mr. Adhia said.

💡 NIO begins fingerprinting tar balls to track oil spills

  • Following the leakage of huge quantities of crude oil into the sea off Ennore coast near Chennai in January 2017, forensic experts working in the environment sector started collecting samples from the spill which will be fingerprinted at the National Institute of Oceanography (NIO), Goa, shortly.

oil-spill-at-tamilnadu

  • Tracking the source of oil pollution through fingerprinting is significant as it could identify the polluters and thus fix responsibility.
  • It will help in evaluating the spills and devising methods for averting them.
  • Crude oil explored from each well has specific characteristics.
  • A comparison of the characteristics of oil spills or tar balls with the crude oil will reveal the location from which the oil originated.
  • Besides the scientific identification of the source of oil pollution, the fingerprinting would reveal the residence time of the oil residues/tar balls in water and the deposit of the balls on the coast.

💡 Ceres chemistry

  • Complex aliphatic organic compounds, which are carbon compounds that form chain structures, have been detected on Ceres, the largest object in the asteroid belt.
  • Together with other compounds detected earlier, this supports the existence of complex prebiotic chemistry on it at some point, according to an article in Science.

💡 Pleating membranes into compact forms

  • A team of researchers, which includes faculty from TIFR Centre for Interdisciplinary Sciences, Hyderabad, has proposed a novel method to fold micron-sized sheetlike objects to spontaneously crumple into a compact space.
  • They suggest using a special type of force field to catapult the soft object from a flat to a pleated compact form by inducing a “first-order phase transition” – the sort of transition that we see when water freezes.
  • A definite type of fold, or pleat, called the Miura Ori tessellation is a way of making “flat foldable” forms – forms that pop-up when released.
  • Such a folding technique can be immensely useful –some examples include compact packing of a sail or a foldable solar panel that can be used in a spaceship or folding soft membranes for use in nanoscale capacitors.
  • The team proposes a way in which applying an external field will cause an elastic membrane to spontaneously fold itself into pleats.
  • The resulting structure could be of different types and is determined by the magnitude of the field and the external strain.
  • The field acts by setting up “cameras” and “laser traps” whose positions may be adjusted by a feedback mechanism to give a bias to the fluctuations of atoms.
  • This is used to calculate the forces to be applied locally to enact the phase transition into a pleated structure.

💡 Vaccine hope for Zika

  • Amid concerns that the Zika virus may be transmitted through infected semen, new findings suggest that a potential vaccine, which works by ringfencing the virus and appears to protect the testes from infection, in mice, may be on the anvil.

zika-vaccine

  • Though historically known as a virus causing no more than a mild fever and rash, the 2015 epidemic caused a global scare as it was linked with microcephaly, a congenital anomaly resulting in an abnormally small brain in newborns of zika-infected mothers.
  • While the World Health Organisation deemed the outbreak to be over last November, it still sends out advisories on the need to refrain from non-essential travel to zika-affected areas if pregnant or contemplating pregnancy, and, in case of men, to abstain from sex or avoid unprotected intercourse for six months after return from an area with zika.
  • These precautions were affirmed by a February 14 study published in the New England Journal of Medicine, which found that zika RNA can persist for as long as 125 days, after onset of symptoms.
  • Zika is said to be endemic in India, with many believed to be buffered by antibodies against the virus.
  • However, given that the zika-carrying Aedes mosquitoes are widely spread in India, Bangladesh and Pakistan, the Indian government has surveillance-programmes in place for the virus, apprehending infections due to the vector’s presence.
  • Interestingly, India′s own efforts at vaccine development were announced before that of others at the peak of the outbreak last year. ICMR is collaborating with the vaccine maker and efforts are under way to test the vaccine in clinical trials later this year.

💡 ‘Smart drugs’ a step closer, says study

  • Scientists have developed the first DNA computer capable of detecting several antibodies in the blood, paving the way for smart drugs for better delivery of medication for conditions such as rheumatism and Crohn’s disease, with fewer side-effects and at lower cost.

tb-drugs

  • Researchers at Eindhoven University of Technology (TU/e) in the Netherlands said the method works in a similar manner as a security system that opens the door depending on the person standing in front of it.
  • “Research into diagnostic tests tends to focus on the ’recognition’, but what is special about this system is that it can think and that it can be connected to actuation such as drug delivery,” said Maarten Merkx, professor at TU/e.
  • To be able to perform such an action, ‘intelligence’ is needed, a role that is performed in this system by a DNA computer.
  • DNA is best known as a carrier of genetic information, but DNA molecules are also highly suitable for performing molecular calculations.
  • The sequence within a DNA molecule determines with which other DNA molecules it can react, which allows a researcher to programme desired reaction circuits.
  • To date biomedical applications of DNA computers have been limited because the input of DNA computers typically consists of other DNA and RNA molecules.
  • To determine whether someone has a particular disease, it is essential to measure the concentration of specific antibodies — agents that our immune system produces when we are ill.
  • Merkx and his colleagues are the first to have succeeded in linking the presence of antibodies to a DNA computer.
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