IAS UPSC Prelims and Mains Exam – 3rd April 2019
(PRELIMS + MAINS FOCUS)
Enzyme to curb bacteria cell growth discovered
Part of: GS Prelims and Mains III – Science and Technology; Achievements
- Scientists at the Centre for Cellular & Molecular Biology (CCMB) have discovered a new enzyme which helps in breaking cell walls of bacteria and hence offers a potential for a new drug delivery route to arrest the anti-bacternal resistance through existing antibiotic drugs.
- In order to understand the anti-bacterial resistance to currently available antibiotics, it is crucial to know how cells grow in bacteria.
- Scientists all over the world are trying to understand this phenomenon and has been working on how e. coli bacteria cells function, divide and grow to understand diseases like cholera, leprosy and tuberculosis for the past decade.
Indian space debris may have doubled after Mission Shakti
Part of: GS Prelims and Mains III – Science and Technology; Space Missions
- The amount of Indian space debris may have almost doubled in the aftermath of the Mission Shakti anti-satellite strike.
- But this is still significantly less than the existing space debris generated by China, Russia and the U.S.
Do you know?
- NASA criticised India for the test, describing it as a “terrible, terrible” thing that had endangered the International Space Station (ISS) and led to the creation of nearly 400 pieces of orbital debris.
- According to data from SPACE-TRACK.org, a public access repository maintained by the U.S. defence wing that tracks space activity, only 80 pieces of “space debris” attributable to India in orbit.
- However, this doesn’t include debris from MICROSAT-R, the DRDO satellite that was pulverized by India’s anti-satellite missile.
- Prior to the March 27 test, for India’s 80 pieces, there were 4,091 pieces of debris by the U.S., 4,025 by Russia and China’s 4,038, according to SPACE-TRACK.
- According to the European Space Agency (ESA), there are about 34,000 debris objects >10 cm, 900 000 objects from 1 cm-10 cm and 128 million objects from 1 mm to 1 cm, orbiting the earth.
Orbital debris are tracked by a variety of ground-based radar and space stations. The speeds at which these objects between 1mm to 10 cm across hurtle through space travel makes them extremely dangerous, various studies have showed.
For instance, a collision with a 10 cm object would entail a catastrophic fragmentation of a typical satellite, a 1 cm object will most likely disable a spacecraft and penetrate the ISS’ protective shields, and a 1 mm object could destroy subsystems on a satellite.
ISRO to launch a string of ‘defence’ satellites from May month
- Space above India looks set to see an unprecedented rush of satellites meant solely or mainly for the country’s military.
- Starting May, the ISRO plans to send up at least eight earth observation (EO) satellites of varied hues and at the rate of almost one a month.
Do you know?
- Until now, such defence-use satellites were spaced out over a few years; or were put up only once a year as in the case of the Cartosat-2 series high-resolution imaging satellites.
Early brain function affected in poor kids
Part of: GS Mains II – Health issue; Welfare/Social issue
According to research from the University of East Anglia (UEA) –
- Children born into poverty show key differences in early brain function.
- Children from lower income backgrounds, where mothers also had a low level of education, had weaker brain activity and were more likely to be distracted.
- Each year, 250 million children in low and middle income countries fail to reach their developmental potential. Therefore, there is a growing need to understand the global impact of poverty on early brain and behavioural development.
- Using a portable ‘functional near infrared spectroscopy’ (fNIRS) device, they measured the brain activity of 42 children aged between four months and four years in rural settings.
- The research team found that the children in India from families with low maternal education and income showed weaker brain activity and poorer distractor suppression in the left frontal cortex area of the brain that is involved in working memory.
Do you know?
- Previous work has shown that poverty and early adversities significantly impact brain development, contributing to a vicious cycle of poverty. But few studies have looked at brain function early in development.
‘FATF may blacklist Pak. due to lobbying by India’
- Pakistan could be blacklisted by the Financial Action Task Force (FATF) due to “lobbying by India”.
- Pakistan could suffer a loss of $10 billion annually if it remains in the watchdog’s grey list.
Do you know?
- In June last year, the Paris-based FATF had placed Pakistan on the ‘grey list’ of countries whose domestic laws are considered weak to tackle the challenges of money laundering and terrorism financing.
- A group of experts from the FATF recently visited Pakistan to review whether Islamabad had made enough progress on global standards against financial crimes to warrant its exclusion from the ‘grey list’.
- During the visit, a delegation of the Asia-Pacific Group on money laundering, a regional affiliate of the FATF, expressed serious reservations over insufficient physical actions on ground against banned groups to block flow of funds and activities.
- The delegation reportedly raised questions over specific actions against each of the eight organisations proscribed under international requirements.
- It said activities of banned organisations and NGOs were still unchecked at the provincial, district and grass roots level, where they can still raise funds and hold meetings and rallies.
About Financial Action Task Force (FATF):
- It is an intergovernmental organization founded in 1989 on the initiative of the G7 to develop policies to combat money laundering.
- In 2001 its mandate expanded to include terrorism financing.
- It monitors progress in implementing the FATF Recommendations through “peer reviews” of member countries.
- The FATF Secretariat is housed at the OECD headquarters in Paris.
Adding egg or milk can reduce stunting in young children: study
- About 38% of children in India below the age of five years are stunted.
- Reason for this is that young children consume mainly cereal-based food, which lacks quality protein that can be well digested and is limited in the content of certain essential amino acids such as lysine.
Do you know?
- Studies found that the risk of stunting in children aged 1 – 3 years (in the National Family Health-4 survey) was reduced by 10% when high quality proteins such as egg and milk were consumed along with a combination of cereals and pulses.
- Young children’s diet between the age of 1-3 years should contain a minimum of 100 grams of cereal (rice or wheat) and 45 grams of legume per day. Unfortunately, this is not followed in a consistent way anywhere in India.
- The equivalent will be the addition of an egg or 200 ml of milk or milk products to the diet every day, which makes it expensive for many people.
Person in news: Vikram Patel
- Vikram Patel, a psychiatrist and professor of global health at Harvard Medical School, has won the prestigious John Dirks Canada Gairdner Global Health Award.
- Patel has led research generating knowledge on the burden and determinants of mental health problems in low and middle-income countries and pioneered approaches that use community resources for the prevention and treatment of mental health problems in India with global impact, a press release said.
- Laureates receive a $100,000 cash honorarium and will be formally presented with their awards on October 24, 2019 at the annual Canada Gairdner Awards Gala in Toronto.
TOPIC: General studies 3
- Infrastructure: Energy
- Indian Economy and issues relating to planning, mobilization of resources, growth, development and employment.
How to achieve 24×7 power for all?
- Almost every willing household in India now has a legitimate electricity connection.
- Pradhan Mantri Sahaj Bijli Har Ghar Yojana, or Saubhagya – the household electrification scheme – has been implemented at an unprecedented pace.
- However, the efforts under Saubhagya have come upon decades of hard work preceding it.
- Electricity Act, in 2003 and Rajiv Gandhi Grameen Vidyutikaran Yojana, in 2005 – Enactment and introduction of these schemes expanded electrification infrastructure to most rural areas.
- But the rollout of the Saubhagya scheme, in 2017, gave the required impetus to electrify each willing household in the country.
However, despite such massive efforts, the battle against electricity poverty is far from won. The erection of electricity poles and an extension of wires do not necessarily mean uninterrupted power flow to households.
According to Access to Clean Cooking Energy and Electricity Survey of States (ACCESS) report –
- While the median hours of supply increased from 12 hours in 2015 to 16 hours a day in 2018, it is still far from the goal of 24×7.
- Similarly, while instances of low voltage and voltage surges have reduced in the last three years, about a quarter of rural households still report low voltage issues for at least five days in a month.
About ACCESS Report:
- It is released by the Council on Energy, Environment and Water (CEEW)
- It highlights the gap between a connection and reliable power supply.
How to achieve 24×7 power for all?
Following are some of the suggestions:
Real-Time Monitoring of Supply at the End-User Level
- We achieve what we measure. While the government is bringing all feeders in the country online, we currently have no provision to monitor supply as experienced by households.
- Only such granular monitoring can help track the evolving reality of electricity supply on the ground and guide discoms to act in areas with sub-optimal performance.
- Eventually, smart meters (that the government plans to roll out) should help enable such monitoring.
- However, in the interim, we could rely on interactive voice response systems (IVRS) and SMS-based reporting by end-users.
- Discoms need to focus on improving the quality of supply as well as maintenance services.
- Adequate demand estimation and respective power procurement will go a long way in reducing load shedding.
- Many states reported at least two days of 24-hour-long unpredictable blackouts in a month. Such incidents are indicative of poor maintenance, as opposed to intentional load-shedding.
- Discoms need to identify novel cost-effective approaches to maintain infrastructure in these far-flung areas.
Better Customer Service and Innovative Solution for Greater Revenue Realisation:
- The improvement in supply should be complemented with a significant improvement in customer service, which includes billing, metering and collection.
- Around 27% of the electrified rural households in the six States were not paying anything for their electricity.
- Despite the subsidies, constant loss of revenue would make it unviable for discoms to continue servicing these households in the long run.
- Low consumer density along with difficult accessibility mean that conventional approaches involving meter readers and payment collection centres will be unviable for many rural areas.
Other Innovative Approaches
- We need radically innovative approaches such as the proposed prepaid smart meters and last-mile rural franchisees to improve customer service and revenue collection.
- Rural renewable energy enterprises could especially be interesting contenders for such franchisees, considering the social capital they already possess in parts of rural India.
- Electricity is the driver for India’s development. As we focus on granular monitoring, high-quality supply, better customer service and greater revenue realisation at the household level, we also need to prioritise electricity access for livelihoods and community services such as education and health care.
- Only such a comprehensive effort will ensure that rural India reaps the socio-economic benefits of electricity.
Connecting the dots:
- Electricity is the ‘guiding light’ towards attaining the goal of ‘developed India’. Critically analyse with respect to new scheme launched recently.
- The Power for all by 2022 target would require robust and innovative tools to measure and monitor the progress on a multi-dimensional level, rather than just counting the number of connections. Discuss.
TOPIC: General studies 2 and 3
- Government policies and interventions for development in various sectors and issues arising out of their design and implementation.
- Indian Economy and issues relating to planning, mobilization of resources, growth, development and employment
SC order on RBI’s controversial ‘February 12 circular’
- The Supreme Court struck down a Reserve Bank of India circular giving lender banks six months to resolve their stressed assets or move under the Insolvency Code against private entities who have defaulted on loans worth over ₹2,000 crore.
- The central bank’s controversial ‘February 12 circular’ which tightened the framework for the resolution of stressed assets has been struck down by the Supreme Court.
RBI’s February 12 circular:
- RBI’s February 12 circular replaced all its earlier instructions on the subject.
- The circular introduced a new one-day default norm “As soon as there is a default in the borrower entity’s account with any lender, all lenders singly or jointly shall initiate steps to cure the default.
- Banks were required to immediately start working on a resolution plan for accounts over Rs 2,000 crore, which was to be finalised within 180 days. In case of non-implementation, lenders were required to file an insolvency application.
However, the companies said the circular violated Article 14 of the Constitution.
Several companies from the power and shipping sectors had challenged the circular, arguing that the time given by the RBI was not enough to tackle bad debt.
Power producers, for instance, had argued that the RBI’s ‘one-size-fits-all’ approach was impractical since the sector had to confront external factors that were beyond its control, and which made an early revival difficult for them. These factors included the unavailability of coal and gas, and problems arising out of the failure of state governments to honour power purchase agreements.
The court found favour with the companies’ arguments that a general direction by the RBI, applying the 180-day- limit to all sectors, without going into the special problems faced by each, would “treat unequals equally”.
What did the “Resolution of Stressed Assets Revised Framework” replace?
- The circular went into effect on the same day that it was issued, and all existing schemes for stressed asset resolution were withdrawn with immediate effect.
- These included the Framework for Revitalizing Distressed Assets, Corporate Debt Restructuring Scheme, Flexible Structuring of Existing Long Term Project Loans, Strategic Debt Restructuring Scheme (SDR), Change in Ownership outside SDR, and Scheme for Sustainable Structuring of Stressed Assets (S4A).
- All the above schemes allowed more lenient terms of resolution than the February 12 circular which specifically said that the resolution process must begin from day one of the default.
- The circular was ostensibly intended to stop the “evergreening” of bad loans — the practice of banks providing fresh loans to enable timely repayment by borrowers on existing loans.
- The RBI warned banks that not adhering to the timelines laid down in the circular, or attempting to evergreen stressed accounts, would attract stringent supervisory and enforcement actions.
The government had earlier asked the RBI to make sector-specific relaxations in the timeline for the implementation of the circular.
What impact will Supreme Court order have?
- The order provides immediate relief to companies that have defaulted in repayments, especially those in the power, shipping and sugar sectors.
- However, many financial sector experts argued that the verdict could delay the process of stressed assets resolution, which had of late picked up pace. Since banks will have the choice of devising resolution plans or going to the National Company Law Tribunal under the IBC, the urgency that the RBI’s rules had introduced in the system could be impacted.
- There will be no impact on resolution cases that have already been completed or are under process, as they were done with the approval of the majority of the banks and not specifically because of the RBI’s circular.
- However, if insolvency proceedings were begun based on the RBI’s circular, then such proceedings will be deemed to be void following the Supreme Court’s judgment.
- Analysts and lawyers says that it will lead to deterioration of borrower behavior and increase delays and litigation.
Rating agency on this verdict:
- Rating agency Moody’s said the Supreme Court’s decision is ‘credit negative’ for Indian banks. It said resolution of stressed assets may now be delayed.
- ICRA estimates the total debt impacted by the circular at Rs 3.8 lakh crore across 70 large borrowers, including Rs 2 lakh crore across 34 borrowers was in the power sector.
- As of March 31, 2018, 92% of this debt had been classified as non-performing, and banks have made provisions of over 25-40% on these accounts, ICRA said.
Connecting the dots:
- Which major sectors contribute the maximum to bad loans or NPAs in India? What is the way out? Analyse.
- NPAs or stressed assets have adversely affected the banking system in India. In this light, identify the factors that have led to this status and also examine the steps taken by the Government and the RBI to address the same.
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