The HINDU Notes – 25th February
📰 THE HINDU – CURRENT NOTE 25 February
💡 Rare luminous nebula poses cosmic puzzle
- Astronomers have spotted an enormous, glowing blob of gas in the distant universe, with no obvious source of power for the light it is emitting.
- Enormous Lyman-alpha nebula” (ELAN), it is the brightest and among the largest of these rare objects, only a handful of which have been observed, the researchers said.
- The newly discovered nebula was found at a distance of 10 billion light years in the middle of a region with an extraordinary concentration of galaxies.
- Researchers found this massive overdensity of early galaxies, called a “protocluster,” through a novel survey project.
- The newly discovered ELAN is known as MAMMOTH-1.
💡 Arctic vault receives new seed deposits
- Nearly 10 years after a “doomsday” seed vault opened on an Arctic island, some 50,000 new samples from seed collections around the world, including India, have been deposited in the world’s largest repository built to safeguard against wars or natural disasters wiping out global food crops.
- The Svalbard Global Seed Vault, a gene bank built underground on the isolated island in a permafrost zone some 1,000 kilometres from the North Pole, was opened in 2008 as a master backup to the world’s other seed banks, in case their deposits are lost.
- The latest specimens sent to the bank, located on the Svalbard archipelago between mainland Norway and the North Pole, included more than 15,000 reconstituted samples from an international research centre that focuses on improving agriculture in dry zones.
- They were the first to retrieve seeds from the vault in 2015 before returning new ones after multiplying and reconstituting them.The specimens consisted of seed samples for some of the world’s most vital food sources like potato, sorghum, rice, barley, chickpea, lentil and wheat.
- Speaking from Svalbard, Aly Abou-Sabaa, the head of the International Center for Agricultural Research, said that borrowing and reconstituting the seeds before returning them had been a success and showed that it was possible to “find solutions to pressing regional and global challenges.”
- The agency borrowed the seeds three years ago because it could not access its gene bank of 141,000 specimens in the war-torn Syrian city of Aleppo, and so was unable to regenerate and distribute them to breeders and researchers.
- “The reconstituted seeds will play a critical role in developing climate-resilient crops for generations,” Mr. Abou-Sabaa said.
- The newly deposited 50,000 samples were from seed collections in Benin, India, Pakistan, Lebanon, Morocco, Netherlands, the US, Mexico, Bosnia and Herzegovina, Belarus and Britain. It brought the total deposits in the snow-covered vault with a capacity of 4.5 million to 940,000.
💡 Diet high in sugar linked to Alzheimer’s disease
- A diet high in sugar could lead to Alzheimer’s disease, according to a study that has found a link between sugar consumption and the brain impairment.
- According to researchers from the University of Bath and King’s College London, the study offers the first evidence to explain why abnormally high blood sugar levels, or hyperglycaemia, have an impact on cognitive function.
- When levels of sugar pass the threshold, they restrict the performance of a vital protein, which normally fights the brain inflammation associated with dementia, researchers said. Brain samples of 30 patients were used in the study.
💡 Israel bans Human Rights Watch worker
- Israel has denied a work permit to a Human Rights Watch researcher, accusing the group of doing the work of Palestinian propagandists, a move the U.S.-based organisation called unprecedented and an “ominous turn”.
- Foreign Ministry spokesman Emmanuel Nahshon said the decision had been taken because of HRW’s “extreme, hostile anti-Israel agenda which was working at the service of Palestinian propaganda in a totally biased manner.
- The U.S. State Department said it strongly disagreed with Israel’s characterisation of HRW which it considers a credible human rights organisation. Even though we do not agree with all of their assertions or conclusions, given the seriousness of their efforts, we support the importance of the work they do,” acting State Department spokesman Mark Toner said.
- HRW said it had been granted access to Israel and the West Bank for three decades and it was “disappointing that the Israeli government seems unable or unwilling to distinguish between justified criticisms of its actions and hostile political propaganda.”
💡 Baloch leader says he’ll seek India’s help
- One of the key voices demanding Balochistan’s freedom has said that he would approach friends like India to seek help for their cause.
- Amir Ahmed Suleman Daud, officially known as His Highness the Khan of Kalat, welcomed Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s intervention in favour of Balochistan during his Independence Day address from the Red Fort last year.
- Daud, who has been living in exile in Wales in the U.K. for the last few years, indicated that he plans to approach India and other friendly countries like the U.S. to seek help for the cause of Balochistan’s independence.
- He accuses Pakistan of “colonising” the sovereign state of Kalat.
💡 Wind tariffs at a low of Rs. 3.46 per unit
- Wind power tariffs closed at Rs. 3.46 per kWh in India’s first ever auction for wind energy projects as the country aims to tap renewable energy to overcome its power shortages. The bid was called by government- owned Solar Energy Corporation of India for 1 GW of wind capacity.
- Mytrah Energy, Green Infra, Inox and Ostro Energy each won the rights to set up 250 MW of wind capacity in a location of their choice and to sell the energy generated to state-run Power Trading Corporation. The two states under consideration for these projects are Tamil Nadu and Gujarat.
- Such low tariffs in wind energy come on the back of historically low solar tariffs achieved in a recent auction of a total capacity of 750MW.
- The reverse auction completed in Rewa in Madhya Pradesh saw solar tariffs fall to Rs. 2.97 per unit and Rs. 3.3 per unit when levelised over the 25-year power purchase agreement period.
- The auctions have been hard fought and have led to tighter pricing than one would have foreseen even a few months earlier. This speaks to the growing confidence of the players in their ability to deliver projects on terms that are globally competitive.
- However low tariffs could prove to be a problem for developers since the focus will now have to shift to ensuring low costs.
- “Prima facie, the viability would depend on the plant load factors, capital costs, and getting long-term debt at competitive rates,” Girish Kadam, vice president at ICRA said.
💡 Plan to allow larger firms to shut shop sans govt. nod
- The Labour Ministry has proposed that factories with up to 500 workers be allowed to lay off workers or shut shop without seeking government permission, in a bid to give firms flexibility in hiring and firing employees.
- The Ministry is set to discuss the proposed Labour Code on Industrial Relations at the next meeting of the Group of Ministers (GoM), scheduled for March 8. The GoM is headed by Union Finance Minister Arun Jaitley.
- At present, factories with up to 100 workers are allowed to go in for retrenchment, lay-off or closure without seeking government permission, according to the Industrial Disputes Act, 1947.
- There has been demand from the industry to increase the threshold limit for factories to seek permission for retrenchment from 100 workers to 500 workers. We need to discuss the proposal with the GoM before taking a final call.
- In May 2015, the Labour Ministry had proposed integrating three labour laws — the Trade Unions Act, the Industrial Disputes Act and the Industrial Employment (Standing Orders) Act — into a single code for industrial relations.
- The Labour Ministry may back its latest proposal to increase the threshold limit for applicability of chapter V-B of the Industrial Disputes Act, citing hard data from Sixth Economic Census released in 2016.
- The data shows that around 99% of a total of 4.53 crore non-agricultural establishments employed less than 100 workers in 2013-14 and were allowed to retrench workers or close without government permission.
- Most of the establishments in India needn’t take government permission to retrench workers or close their set up. So, the amendments will only impact a very small proportion of the total establishments. But a political call needs to be taken on increasing the threshold limit for the I-D Act
💡 ‘Bad bank’ to help speed up stressed-assets resolution: Fitch
- The creation of a ‘bad bank’ will speed up resolution of stressed assets in the banking system, but it will also require significant capital infusion in the state-run banks to meet any shortfall, says a report.
- The recent economic survey mentioned about formation of a bad bank that will purchase stressed assets and take them to resolution.
- The country’s banks have significant asset quality problems that are putting pressure on profitability and capital, as well as constraining their ability to lend.
- The rating agency Fitch said the banking sector will require around $90 billion in new total capital by financial year 2018-19 to meet Basel III standard and ongoing business needs.
- This estimate is unlikely to be significantly reduced by the adoption of a bad-bank approach, and could even rise if banks are forced to crystallise more losses from stressed assets than currently expected, the rating agency said.
- It said bad bank’s most likely form would be that of a centralised asset-restructuring company (ARC).
- Bad bank’s proponents believe it could take charge of the largest, most complex cases, make politically tough decisions to reduce debt, and allow banks to refocus on their normal lending activities.
💡 FDI inflows zoom 18% to $46 billion in 2016
- Foreign direct investment in India grew 18% during 2016 to touch $46 billion, data released by the Department of Industrial Policy and Promotion showed.
- The country attracted FDI of $39.32 billion in 2015. The main sectors which attracted the highest inflows were services, telecom, trading, computer hardware and software and automobile.
- Bulk of the FDI came in from Singapore, Mauritius, the Netherlands and Japan.
💡 India, ADB ink pact for industrial corridor
- India and Asian Development Bank have signed a $375 million pact for loans and grants to develop 800-km Visakhapatnam-Chennai Industrial Corridor, which is the first phase of a planned 2,500-km East Coast Economic Corridor. ADB had last September approved $631 million in loans and grants for the corridor.
- The ADB said in a statement that it approved loans comprising a $500 million multitranche facility.
💡 India building a supercomputer juggernaut
- India will likely unveil its most powerful supercomputer in June, 2017. If its processors operate at the full capacity of 10 petaflops (1 followed by 15 zeroes of floating point operations per second), a clock speed a million times faster than the fastest consumer laptops, it could earn a place among the world’s top 10 fastest supercomputers.
- India has built or hosted supercomputers since the 1990s, it held a ‘top 10’ spot only once, in 2007, thanks to the EKA built by the Computational Research Laboratories, which is part of the Tata group. This position was lost, though several ultra-fast machines exist in Indian academic institutions: they feature in the 100s or 200s in global rankings.
- The as-yet-unnamed machine will be jointly hosted at the Indian Institute of Tropical Meteorology, Pune and the National Centre for Medium Range Weather Forecasting at Noida in Uttar Pradesh. For the first time, colleges and other research institutions can log in and harness its power to address problems, ranging from weather modelling to understanding how proteins fold.
- The government has sanctioned ₹400 crore for the project this year. Most of the machine’s computing power will help in monsoon forecasting, using a dynamical model. This requires simulating the weather for a given month — say March — and letting a custom-built model calculate how the actual weather will play out over June, July, August and September.
💡 Delhi allows Dhaka use of border roads
- India has decided to throw open its border roads to help Bangladesh construct border outposts in Chittagong hill tracts, known for its inhospitable terrain.
- Areas in Chittagong, bordering Tripura and Mizoram, have no motorable roads and India has decided to allow the Border Guard Bangladesh to construct 13 border outposts using the road connectivity available in the two States.
- The proposal was first mooted during the annual Home Secretary-level talks last year. A 19-member Indian delegation, mainly comprising BSF officials, which concluded its Dhaka visit last week, informed the BGB that the proposal had been approved. While six BOPs would come across the Tripura border, another seven would be along the Mizoram border.
Hideout and insurgent camps:
- India has on multiple occasions handed over details of insurgent camps operating from the Bangladesh soil, particularly in the dense Chittagong Hill Tract area. Following the leads, the neighbouring country has acted against these camps and demolished them.
- BSF sought further cooperation from BGB for destruction of reported hideouts of Indian Insurgent Groups in Bangladesh and safe release of Indian Nationals whenever abducted by the insurgents.
- BGB stated that there are no insurgent camps/ hideout in Bangladesh and that it does not allow her soil to be used by any entity or element hostile to any country.
- The BGB will be criss-crossing over 100 km of road distance in India to ferry construction material from Bangladesh to Chittagong area. There are no roads here and since India has a good road network, they will use it.
💡 Aga Khan Trust to restore Telangi’s tomb in Delhi
- Baoli gate road, is a low blue door, the sole entrance to the grave of Maqbul Khan or, as he was known, Khan-i-Jehan Telangi. Born Nagayya Ganna Vibhudu, he changed his name to Maqbul Khan after changing his religion.
- The tomb was built sometime around 1388 by his son Junan Shah, nine years after Maqbul Khan passed away. At his death, he was at the height of his power as the counsellor and minister of Firuz Shah Tughlaq’s tottering empire.
- The AKTC, which has restored the Humayun’s Tomb complex as well as the Jamaat Khana Masjid, one of the oldest in Delhi and built during Alauddin Khilji’s time, has been entrusted the task of conserving the monument.
- The outer facade is octagonal, and features a ring of eight smaller domes covered with a shell of red sandstone. Three other doorways have been plastered shut over centuries by the occupants; even the windows on the first floor were walled up as neighbourhood families coveted the real estate on the ceiling.
- The Delhi quartzite arches still retain inscriptions from the Quran carved on them. The task of restoration of the monument will be tough and time-consuming as we cannot bring in heavy equipment. The narrow street does not allow vehicles to pass, making the removal of waste material or bringing in construction material difficult.