PRESS INFORMATION BUREAU (PIB) IAS UPSC – 22nd February to 28th February – 2021

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  • March 8, 2021
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Vice President calls for ending low representation to women in Parliament and legislatures

(Topic: Parliament and State Legislatures, structure, functioning, conduct of business, powers & privileges and issues arising out of these)

Inclusion of all sections of society in parliament means better, stronger and more representative democracy that works to preserve, protect and assure the rights of people for the overall development of the nation. The parliament of India still lacks inclusive representation especially of women and minorities.

Representation of women:

India has had a long-serving woman prime minister and speakers of the House. Yet its record of women parliamentarians is woefully poor. Only the 15th, 16th and 17th Lok Sabha changed a previously stagnant representation of under 9% recorded by Indian women MPs since Independence.

The 17th Lok Sabha has the highest number of women MPs (78) elected in the 2019 polls. In comparison, the last election data shows that in 2014, 11.23 per cent of women won, and in 2019 it is around 14.58 per cent, but it is still far below the actual population of women i.e. 49%. Representation of women in Rajya Sabha is also very less with only 26 members out of 235. So, on grounds of fairness, this is an anomaly.

According to Inter-Parliamentary Union (IPU) and UN Women report — Women in Politics 2019, India stood 149th in a 2019 list of 193 countries ranked by the percentage of elected women representatives in their national parliaments, trailing Pakistan, Bangladesh and Afghanistan and dropping three places since 2018, while the world average was 24.3% as on January 1, 2019.

Representation of minorities:

India is the largest democracy in the world, yet there is very little representation of all communities, given their population. In India, religious minorities other than Muslims find better representation in the Lok Sabha. Sikhs have a representation score of 0.3 percentage points while Christians, Buddhists and Jains also have equitable representation as per their population.

According to Census 2011 estimates, Muslims in India accounts for over 14% of the country’s total population. A proportionate representation of the community in the Lok Sabha, at present, would amount to at least 77 parliamentarians but the number of Muslim lawmakers in the 17th Lok Sabha is just 27.

Various factors limit minority representation:

  • Political parties not giving tickets to minority candidates due to Communalization of politics.
  • Delimitation and reservation of constituencies by Election commission: Minority tend to get fielded in seats with larger concentrations of minority voters. Some of these seats are reserved, thus limiting their demographic advantage

Measures to address these issue:

  • Minimum 33 % quotas for women in Parliament.
  • Reservation for women in political parties: Like Norway, Sweden and France, India should have an Election Commission-led effort to push for reservation for women in political parties.
  • Awareness, education and role modelling that encourage women towards politics.
  • Need for greater political will for more inclusivity of minority and women.
  • Delimitation and reservation of constituencies to be done considering the minority population.
  • De-communalization of politics is need of the hour.
  • Political parties, especially Regional parties should consider representation of minorities while giving tickets.
  • Ruling parties, irrespective of their composition, should work beyond the lines of gender, religion and cast. 
  • Existing dedicated ministries and national commissions for minorities and women should be strengthen.

There is documented evidence both at the international level and at the gram panchayat (village) level to suggest that a greater representation of women and minorities in elected office balances the process and prioritizations that elected bodies focus on. A fully representative Parliament leads to a progressive society, with equality of opportunities among all citizens for a better future of a democratic society.

Why do we need women in power?

As representatives, we need women

  • To eliminate the systemic biases and structural barriers that keep our girls out of the tech industry, our victims of gender-based violence in fear and our women’s sports teams under-funded.
  • To dismantle structural barriers, the responsibility falls on working women who have successfully overcome constraints to open the gates for other women.
  • To design laws that encourage better education for girls.
  • To secure financial independence and formal employment for women.
  • To push up our abysmal female labour force participation rates.
  • To ensure that female hygiene products are not taxed as luxury goods.

In addressing systemic biases, exposure to women in office weakens stereotypes about gender roles. Watching women in leadership positions reduces the negative perceptions men have about their effectiveness as leaders. It also induces men to dream better dreams for their daughters, and that is no mean feat.

Over the past few decades, women have made their mark as effective managers, bankers, professors, corporate leaders, lawyers, doctors and civil servants. These are women who know how to solve problems, get things done and manage multiple responsibilities. Electing able women professionals will help us simultaneously achieve better representation and expertise.


  • Kamaladevi Chattopadhyay was the first Indian woman to contest an election.
  • A postal stamp has been brought out in memory of late Smt. Eashwari Bai
    • Smt Eashwari Bai’s contributions to the political and social spheres are truly laudable and left a deep imprint on the public mind
    • She had been the voice of the people as an opposition leader. She constantly advocated the cause of Children, NGOs, Teachers, Agricultural labourers, and the Scheduled Castes and the Scheduled Tribes

City Innovation Exchange (CiX) Launched 

(Topic: Government schemes and policies)

By: Ministry of Housing and Urban Affairs

  • The CiX will connect cities to innovators across the national ecosystem to design innovative solutions for their pressing challenges.
  • The platform will ease the discovery, design & validation of solutions through a robust, transparent and user-centric process that will reduce barriers for innovators and cities to discover fitting solutions.
  • Built on the concept of ‘open innovation’, the platform will help in the flow of ideas ‘outside in and inside out, enhancing the skills and capacity required to deliver smart urban governance.
  • Through interaction with Academia and Businesses/Startups, the platform will benefit cities in the transfer of ideas from ‘labs’ to the real environment.
  • Similarly, by helping urban governments interact with citizens, the platform will ensure the adoption of tested solutions that will be impactful and sustainable.


  • The CiX platform will be a significant addition to the growing innovation ecosystem of India and focuses on fostering innovative practices in cities.
  • CiX, through an ‘open innovation’ process, engages with innovators to design-test-deliver on solutions to pressing urban challenges.
  • This initiative is among the ongoing efforts to realize PM’s vision of New and AtmaNirbhar Bharat, by making cities more self-reliant and enabled to meet the needs of and provide services to their citizens.
  • The platform in due time will help our cities in adopting solutions that will enhance the quality of life for their residents and significantly improve the Ease of Doing Business.

National Urban Digital Mission (NUDM) & Several Digital Initiatives Launched For Transforming Urban Governance

(Topic: Government schemes and policies)

National Urban Digital Mission will create the ideal space to harness immense synergies from the domain of urban and technology towards creating a citizen-centric governance that reflects Prime Minister Shri Narendra Modi’s vision of ‘minimum government and maximum governance’.

MinistryMinistry of Housing and Urban Affairs and the Ministry of Electronics and Information Technology.

Motto: To deliver on the promise of serving all citizens andthis is what sabkasaath – sabkavikas – sabkavishwas means for urban India today: enhancing the capacity of every city and town to serve citizens, build partnerships, and solve local problems locally.

The National Urban Digital Mission (NUDM) will create a shared digital infrastructure for urban India, working across the three pillars of people, process, and platform to provide holistic support to cities and towns. It will institutionalise a citizen-centric and ecosystem-driven approach to urban governance and service delivery in 2022 cities by 2022, and across all cities and towns in India by 2024.

  • NUDM will create a shared digital infrastructure that can consolidate and cross-leverage the various digital initiatives of the Ministry of Housing and Urban Affairs, enabling cities and towns across India to benefit from holistic and diverse forms of support, in keeping with their needs and local challenges.
  • NUDM is citizen-centric, ecosystem-driven, and principles-based in both design and implementation. NUDM has articulated a set of governing principles, and inherits the technology design principles of the National Urban Innovation Stack (NUIS), whose strategy and approach was released by MoHUA in February, 2019. The principles in turn give rise to standards, specifications, and certifications, across the three pillars of people, process, and platforms.

India Urban Data Exchange (IUDX): The India Urban Data Exchange has been developed in partnership between the Smart Cities Mission and the Indian Institute of Science (IISc), Bengaluru. 

  • IUDX serves as a seamless interface for data providers and data users, including ULBs, to share, request, and access datasets related to cities, urban governance, and urban service delivery.
  • IUDX is an open-source software platform which facilitates the secure, authenticated, and managed exchange of data amongst various data platforms, 3rd party authenticated and authorised applications, and other sources. 
  • As the number of cities on IUDX expands, this will scale up to uniform and seamless sharing between data producers and data consumers across urban India.  IUDX is designed to address the problem of data silos, both within and across cities. 
  • Cities generate large volumes of data, which are recorded by a wide range of entities, both within government and across industry, academia, and civil society. The combination of these datasets can enable rapid innovation, as well as a better understanding of and planning for urban needs and challenges.  
  • IUDX creates a secure and reliable channel for data producers or owners to share their data, with complete control over what is shared and with whom, in order to enable sharing while addressing security and privacy protections by design.

SmartCode Platform: SmartCode is a platform that enables all ecosystem stakeholders to contribute to a repository of open-source code for various solutions and applications for urban governance. 

  • It is designed to address the challenges that ULBs face in the development and deployment of digital applications to address urban challenges, by enabling cities to take advantage of existing codes and customising them to suit local needs, rather than having to develop new solutions from scratch. 
  • As a repository of open-source software, the source code available on the platform will be free to use without any licensing or subscription fees, thus limiting costs to those involved with customising the code and developing a locally-relevant solution.

New Smart Cities Website ver. 2.0 and GMIS: In order to better connect with people on the Smart Cities Missions efforts and achievements, and to make it easier for ULBs and citizens to access resources related to their work, the Smart Cities Mission website has been redesigned to serve as a single stop for all Smart Cities initiatives. The Geospatial Management Information System (GMIS) is integrated with this website. The website creates a single window hub for Smart Cities Mission. A portal that works as a gateway to all the platforms and initiatives launched under the Mission.   

Government notifies Information Technology (Intermediary Guidelines and Digital Media Ethics Code) Rules 2021

(Topic: Government policies and interventions for development in various sectors and issues arising out of their design and implementation)

In a long anticipated move, the government notified guidelines that seek to provide a grievance redressal mechanism for users of digital platforms of all kinds — social media sites, messaging apps, over the top (OTT) streaming services, and digital news publishers.

The Information Technology (Guidelines for Intermediaries and Digital Media Ethics Code) Rules, 2021 mandate that social media and messaging platforms will have to adhere to new requirements in assisting investigative agencies of the government.

What are the new rules?

  • The broad themes of the guidelines revolve around grievance redressal, compliance with the law, and adherence to the media code.
  • Social media platforms like Google or Facebook, or intermediaries, for instance, will now have to appoint a grievance officer to deal with users complaints.
  • intermediaries have to appoint a ‘Chief Compliance Officer, who will have to ensure that the rules are followed; the officer “shall be liable in any proceedings relating to any relevant third party information, data or communication link made available or hosted by that intermediary.
  • The intermediaries will also have to appoint a nodal contact person for “24×7 coordination with law enforcement agencies
  • The other key requirement is that such a social media intermediary would have to “enable the identification of the first originator of the information on its computer resource” as may be required by a judicial order.
  • This means , a problematic message, that is considered “an offence related to the sovereignty and integrity of India, the security of the State, friendly relations with foreign states, or public order, or of incitement to an offence relating to the above or in relation with rape, sexually explicit material or child sexual abuse material”, will have to be traced to its initiator on messaging applications like WhatsApp and Signal.
  • For digital publishers of news and current affairs as well as video streaming services, an identical three tier structure for grievance redressal has been mandated.
  • This structure will look into grievances in relation to a Code of Ethics, which is listed in the appendix to the rules. Among other things, the Code of Ethics includes the ‘Norms of Journalistic Conduct’ as prescribed by the Press Council of India, as also content that shall not be published “content which is prohibited under any law for the time being in force shall not be published or transmitted.
  • The guidelines also require streaming services to classify content based on its nature and type. So, for instance, content “for persons aged 16 years and above, and can be viewed by a person under the age of 16.

Context and need of guidelines

  • A 2018 Supreme Court observation and a 2020 Supreme Court order in Sudarshan TV case, in addition to discussion in Rajya Sabha once in 2018 and then through a report laid by a committee in 2020 asked the need for coming up with rules to “empower the ordinary users of digital platforms to seek redressal for their grievances and command accountability in case of infringement of their rights”.
  • the government said that it wanted to create a level playing field in terms of rules to be followed by online news and media platforms vis-à-vis traditional media outlets.
  • Citing instructions from the Supreme Court and the concerns raised in Parliament about social media abuse, the government released guidelines.
  • The big push came in the form of the violent incidents at the Red Fort on January 26, compromised our honour on republic day, following which the government and Twitter were embroiled in a spat over the removal of certain accounts from the social media platform.
  • Section 79 of the Information Technology Act provides a “safe harbour” to intermediaries that host user-generated content, and exempts them from liability for the actions of users.
  • The new guidelines notified on Thursday prescribe an element of due diligence to be followed by the intermediary, failing which the safe harbour provisions would cease to apply.
  • The recent campaign of misinformation on media during the CAA protests, farmers protests, toolkit case, Sudarshan tv case calls for more responsible regulation of these platforms. Social media is used to tarnish image of India is a matter of concern
  • Government can regulate some content but it has to be in reasonable limits. Self-regulation by OTT and social media platforms is the best way forward. OTT platforms are providing very explicit porn content with no option of parental regulation. It is creating more problems of sexual abuse and harassment.
  • Social media and OTT platforms are too big to control in terms of the information they generate, this does not mean that regulation cannot be done. A more proactive vigil and accountability from big platforms like Facebook and twitter will pave way for the harmonious balance of oversight.
  • In the times of daily abuse, rape threats, hatred and unregulated pornographic content, social engagement has become matter of responsible and careful behaviour. We should not ignore elephant in the room and tame the giant before it goes out of control.

Cabinet approves 

Production Linked Incentive Scheme for Pharmaceuticals: The Scheme will 

  • Benefit domestic manufacturers
  • Is expected to contribute to the availability of wider range of affordable medicines for consumers
  • Promote the production of high value products in the country and increase the value addition in exports.  Total incremental sales of Rs.2,94,000 crore and total incremental exports of Rs.1,96,000 crore are estimated during six years from 2022-23 to 2027-28.
  • The scheme is expected to generate employment for both skilled and un-skilled personnel, estimated at 20,000 direct and 80,000 indirect jobs as a result of growth in the sector.
  • Promote innovation for development of complex and high-tech products including products of emerging therapies and in-vitro Diagnostic Devices as also self-reliance in important drugs.  
  • Improve accessibility and affordability of medical products including orphan drugs to the Indian population.  The Scheme is also expected to bring in investment of Rs.15,000 crore in the pharmaceutical sector.

The scheme will be part of the umbrella scheme for the Development of Pharmaceutical Industry. The objective of the scheme is to enhance India’s manufacturing capabilities by increasing investment and production in the sector and contributing to product diversification to high value goods in the pharmaceutical sector. One of the further objectives of the scheme is to create global champions out of India who have the potential to grow in size and scale using cutting edge technology and thereby penetrate the global value chains.

Production Linked Incentive Scheme for IT Hardware: The scheme proposes production linked incentive to boost domestic manufacturing and attract large investments in the value chain of IT Hardware. The Target Segments under the proposed Scheme include Laptops, Tablets, All-in-One PCs and Servers.

  • The Scheme shall, extend an incentive of 4% to 2% / 1% on net incremental sales (over base year i.e. 2019-20) of goods manufactured in India and covered under the target segment, to eligible companies, for a period of four (4) years.
  • The scheme will enhance the development of electronics ecosystem in the country. India will be well positioned as a global hub for Electronics System Design and Manufacturing (ESDM) on account of integration with global value chains, thereby becoming a destination for IT Hardware exports.
  • The scheme has an employment generation potential of over 1,80,000 (direct and indirect) over 4 years.
  • The Scheme will provide impetus to Domestic Value Addition for IT Hardware which is expected to rise to 20% – 25% by 2025

India-EU joint steering committee on science and technology

(Topic: India and international organisations)

The India-EU joint steering committee on science and technology has agreed to develop and adopt a long-term strategic perspective for India-EU collaboration in research and innovation at the 13th Joint Steering Committee on Science and Technology Cooperation meeting hosted by the European Commission recently.

Taking into account the Joint Statement and the ‘EU-India Strategic Partnership: A Roadmap to 2025’, adopted at the EU-India July Summit, both sides have shown keen interest for possible cooperation on ICT, in particular, cyber-physical-systems (ICPS), including artificial intelligence and robotics, circular economy and resource efficiency (waste-to-energy; plastics; etc.), electric mobility and sustainable agri-food processing and so on.

The important role of Mission Innovation to concentrate efforts on research and innovation to accelerate the clean energy transition, necessary for a carbon-neutral planet, was underlined, cooperation on health beyond Covid-19 pandemic areas through global fora was also reinforced. Both sides also underlined the cooperation on polar sciences and discussed future cooperation under Horizon Europe at the virtual meeting.

  • The two sides reiterated their commitment to human capital development, including researchers’ training and mobility, based on mutual interests and reciprocal promotion of each other’s equivalent programmes, aiming at a more balanced flow of researchers between Europe and India.
  • Indian side presented the key elements of new Science, Technology and Innovation Policy (STIP 2020), which aim to create a fit for purpose, accountable research ecosystem promoting translational as well as foundational research; indigenous development of technology, technology indigenization; facilitating open Science; equity and inclusion.
  • The Indian side proposed Implementation Arrangement (IA) for co-funding future joint projects under India-EU Science, Technology, and Innovation Cooperation to streamline the process of collaboration and to address certain issues on project evaluation, selection, funding, monitoring, and also IPR sharing/data sharing/materials/equipment transfer mechanism and so on.
  • During 2014-2020, 42 collaborative projects amounting to a total of EUR ~157 Million funding (EUR 113 from H2020 & EUR 44 from Government of India) have been funded. The majority of these collaborations took place in the form of flagship calls on water, a new generation influenza vaccine, and smart grids cooperation. The mobility of researchers from both sides was significantly increased over the years, and cooperation among scientists and research organisations from India and Europe strengthened.

India and Mauritius sign Comprehensive Economic Cooperation and Partnership Agreement (CECPA)

(Topic: India and international organisations)

CECPA  is the first trade Agreement signed by India with a country in Africa. The Agreement is a limited agreement, which will cover Trade in Goods, Rules of Origin, Trade in Services, Technical Barriers to Trade (TBT), Sanitary and Phytosanitary (SPS) measures, Dispute Settlement, Movement of Natural Persons, Telecom, Financial services, Customs Procedures and Cooperation in other Areas 

Impact/benefits: CECPA provides for an institutional mechanism to encourage and improve trade between the two countries. The CECPA between India and Mauritius covers 310 export items for India, including food stuff and beverages (80 lines), agricultural products (25 lines), textile and textile articles (27 lines), base metals and articles thereof (32 lines), electricals and electronic item (13 lines), plastics and chemicals (20 lines), wood and articles thereof (15 lines), and others. 

  • Mauritius will benefit from preferential market access into India for its 615 products, including frozen fish, speciality sugar, biscuits, fresh fruits, juices, mineral water, beer, alcoholic drinks, soaps, bags, medical and surgical equipment, and apparel. 
  • As regards trade in services, Indian service providers will have access to around 115 sub-sectors from the 11 broad service sectors, such as professional services, computer related services, research & development, other business services, telecommunication, construction, distribution, education, environmental, financial, tourism & travel related, recreational, yoga, audio-visual services, and transport services. 
  • India has offered around 95 sub-sectors from the 11 broad services sectors, including professional services, R&D, other business services, telecommunication, financial, distribution, higher education, environmental, health, tourism and travel related services, recreational services and transport services.
  • Both sides have also agreed to negotiate an Automatic Trigger Safeguard Mechanism (ATSM) for a limited number of highly sensitive products within two years of the Signing of the Agreement.

The India-Mauritius CECPA will further cement the already deep and special relations between the two countries.

India at UNSC – Addressing climate-related risks to international peace and security

(Topic: India and international organisations)

Important to ensure that no parallel tracks for climate negotiations are created brushing aside the fundamentally agreed principles


  • Stressed that the idea of climate action should not be to move the climate ambition goal post to 2050 and it is important for countries to fulfill their pre-2020 commitments.
  • United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC) and the Paris Agreement negotiated under the Framework are the central mechanisms for climate action in a nationally determined manner based on certain fundamental agreed principles, the foremost amongst which is “Common but Differentiated Responsibility and Respective Capabilities”
  • Citing the 2019 IPCC Special Report “Climate Change and Land” which says that extreme weather and climate or slow-onset events may lead to increased displacement, disrupted food chains, threatened livelihoods, and could contribute to exacerbated stresses for conflict, India put forward the point that even the best science available claims that Climate Change only exacerbates conflict and is not a reason for conflict and does not threaten peace and security and therefore it is important, to ensure that no parallel tracks for climate negotiations are created brushing aside the fundamentally agreed principles.
  • While climate change does not directly or inherently cause violent conflict, its interaction with other social, political and economic factors can, nonetheless, exacerbate drivers of conflict and fragility and have negative impacts on peace, stability and security; and therefore it is for precisely this reason that developing country’s’ Nationally Determined Contributions under the Paris Agreement included information on adaptation activities, and the need for finance, technology development and transfer, capacity building, and transparency
  • Reiterated that the commitment by developed countries to jointly mobilize $100 billion per year by 2020 in support of climate action in developing countries has not been realized and also stated that there is an urgent need to promote and support the meaningful participation of women and marginalized groups in national-level climate change policy and planning processes.
  • India is the only country on track among the G20 nations to meet its climate change mitigation commitments. We are not only meeting our Paris Agreement targets but will also exceed them. The Minister highlighted the International Solar Alliance (ISA) and the Coalition for Disaster Resilience Infrastructure (CDRI), the two initiatives by India that have been launched to addressing challenges of climate change and adaptation.
  • Commenting on post COVID-19 recovery, India believes that there is a significant opportunity for countries to integrate low-carbon development in their COVID-19 rescue and recovery measures and long-term mitigation strategies that are scheduled to be announced for the reconvened 26th session of the Conference of the Parties (COP 26) in 2021.

Government of India & AIIB sign a $304 million Assam Intra-State Transmission System Enhancement Project

(Topic: India and international organisations)

Aim: To improve reliability, capacity and security of the power transmission network in the State of Assam.

The project aims to strengthen Assam’s electricity transmission system by

  1. constructing 10 transmission substations and laying transmission lines with the associated infrastructure;
  2. upgrading 15 existing substations, transmission lines and existing ground wire to optical power ground wire; and
  3. providing technical assistance to support project implementation.

The programme would strengthen the existing intrastate transmission network of Assam by augmenting it with newer networks to achieve affordable, secure, efficient and reliable 24×7 power. This would, in turn, bring Assam closer to ensuring long-term sustainability of its electricity supply.

Government of India and World Bank Sign Project to Improve Quality of India’s Education in Nagaland

(Topic: India and international organisations)

The Government of India, Government of Nagaland and the World Bank today signed a $68 million project to enhance the governance of schools across Nagaland as well as to improve teaching practices and learning environments in select schools.

The “Nagaland: Enhancing Classroom Teaching and Resources Project” will improve classroom instruction; create opportunities for the professional development of teachers; and build technology systems to provide students and teachers with more access to blended and online learning as well as allow better monitoring of policies and programs. Such an integrated approach will complement conventional delivery models and help mitigate the challenges posed by COVID-19. About 150,000 students and 20,000 teachers in the government education system in Nagaland will benefit from the statewide reforms in schools.

Today, Nagaland faces challenges of weak school infrastructure, lack of opportunities for the professional development of teachers and limited capacity on the part of communities to partner effectively with the school system. The COVID-19 pandemic has further accentuated these challenges and created additional stress and disruptions to the state’s school education system.

Strengthening Nagaland’s Education Management and Information System (EMIS) will enable wider access to education resources; support professional development and performance evaluation systems for teachers and education managers; facilitate school leadership and better management; and support examination reforms. As part of that strategy, approximately 15 out of Nagaland’s 44 higher secondary schools will be developed into school complexes that operationalize the envisioned learning environment during the project period.

Is India’s “vaccine diplomacy” of being the supplier of choice for the world’s vaccine demands is well-placed and offers hope for the global community?

Publicly available data on the progression of the COVID-19 pandemic, caused by the SARS-CoV-2 virus, indicates that the number of infections in India peaked sometime in September 2020, and has been consistently declining ever since. From a maximum of 97,655 daily new cases on September 11, 2020, the daily new case count is 11,924 by first week in February 2021, with half of it from Kerala. According to the projections of the COVID-19 National Supermodel Committee set up by the Department of Science and Technology, the number of active cases will drop to the low tens of thousands by the end of March.

All this connotes only the end of the first phase of our fight against the virus.  It is crucial to ensure that the number of cases does not start increasing again, as it has in many countries such as Italy, the UK, and the USA.  According to both serological surveys as well as model predictions, a substantial fraction of India’s population currently has immunity against the virus, coupled perhaps with some natural form of immunity.  Although the current evidence is suggestive of long lasting immune memory, the immunity afforded by the presence of antibodies might be expected to last for only several months and not longer, while T-cell mediated immunity might last longer.  The most reliable longer-term protection is, however, provided through vaccination.  It has been suggested recently that vaccination offers much stronger immune response than natural infection, and therefore is the key to controlling the spread of the disease.  While this issue has not yet been settled decisively, some medical researchers are of the opinion that the presence of antibodies (caused by a previous infection) offers less protection against reinfection from a mutation of the virus, compared to vaccination.  Hence, it is imperative that the nationwide vaccination program be completed as early as possible with the approved vaccines. Interestingly, the breadth of antibody response generated by a killed virus vaccine is likely to offer greater protection against mutated viruses, compared to vaccines that generate antibodies against the spike protein.

In the context of the need for nationwide vaccination, the regulatory authorities in India have given approval to two vaccines, one of them (Covishield) unconditionally and the other (Covaxin) in the clinical trial mode.  Both vaccines have satisfied the expert committees as to safety and immunogenicity requirements.  We wait for the Phase III data on Covaxin to become available so that its efficacy can be assessed.

The requirement that any vaccine must have 50% efficacy before it can be approved for emergency approval comes from the WHO.  Even at 40% efficacy, a vaccine affords some protection, and even at 80% efficacy, some vaccine recipients would still be left unprotected. Therefore, we trust the regulatory authorities to take an informed decision, and not be bound by this arbitrary guideline.  A corollary to the above is that, even if everyone in the target population is vaccinated (basically, everyone over the age of 18), it is imperative for the public to continue observing safety protocols.

While there have been thousands of mutations observed in the SARS-CoV-2 virus to date, the so-called UK variant is the first one to have demonstrated increased transmissibility, and perhaps, greater lethality after infection.  The world has thus far been fortunate in this regard.  However, the longer the virus is allowed to spread among an unprotected public, the greater the opportunities for the virus to mutate into a more virulent form.   This is all the more reason to start vaccinations with all available resources.  In this connection, it is heartening that a preprint deposited in Biorxiv suggests that Covaxin is effective against the UK variant.  We quote: “A comparable neutralization activity of sera of the vaccinated individuals shown against UK-variant and the heterologous strain with similar efficiency, dispel the uncertainty of possible neutralization escape.”

The above line of reasoning suggests that we must stop the virus spreading and mutating and for that it is not enough that everyone in India only are vaccinated. In order to see an end to the pandemic, it is essential for the rest of the world also to be vaccinated as quickly as possible.  India is well-poised to meet not just its own vaccine requirements, but also that of the world at large, in this critical area.  It also suggests that India’s “vaccine diplomacy” of being the supplier of choice for the world’s vaccine demands is well-placed and offers hope for the global community.


Successful Launches of VL-SRSAM Missile System

(Topic: Space and Technology)

By: Defence Research & Development Organisation (DRDO)

From: The launches were carried out today from a static vertical launcher from Integrated Test Range (ITR), Chandipur off the coast of Odisha. The current launches were carried out for demonstration of vertical launch capability as part of its maiden launch campaign. On both occasions, the missiles intercepted the simulated targets with pinpoint accuracy. The missiles were tested for minimum and maximum range. VL-SRSAM with Weapon Control System (WCS) were deployed during the trials.

  • Indigenously designed and developed by DRDO for Indian Navy, VL-SRSAM is meant for neutralizing various aerial threats at close ranges including sea-skimming targets. 
  • The present trials have proved the effectiveness of the weapon system and few more trials will be conducted shortly before deployment on Indian Naval ships. Once deployed, the VL-SRSAM system will prove to be a force multiplier for the Indian Navy.

1st dedicated commercial launch of PSLV-C51/Amazonia-1 Mission

(Topic: Space and Technology)

  • By NSIL and ISRO
  • This ushers in a new era of Space reforms in the country. 18 co-passengers included four small satellites that showcase dynamism and innovation of our youth

Three Patents filed by NMPB, MoA as part of sponsored research projects

(Topic: Science and Technology)

The National Medicinal Plants Board (NMPB), Ministry of AYUSH has initiated a special drive to identify the patentable projects which were / are sponsored under the ‘Research and Development Component’ of Central Sector Scheme (CSS) on “Conservation, Development and Sustainable Management of Medicinal Plants”. NMPB generally sponsors various R&D programs under CSS to both government as well as private organizations across the country.

Under these sponsored / financially supported research projects, NMPB so far identified three unique projects which are novel in nature and patentable. They are: 

(1.) Bio-production of secondary metabolites from Aegle marmelos which is commonly known as Bel (R&D/TN-04/2006-07); 

(2.) In vitro production of secondary metabolites from tree species of Dashmoola (10 roots used in Ayurveda) through hairy root cultures (R&D/TN-0112013-14-NMPB); and 

(3.) Development of anti-cancer and anti-inflammatory agents from Dioscoria floribunda (R&D/UP-04/2015-16). 

While the first two projects belong to the Institute of Forest Genetics and Tree Breeding (IFGTB), Coimbatore, the third project was carried out by Central Institute of Medicinal and Aromatic Plants (CIMAP), Lucknow. The CIMAP filed patent is titled as “A synergistic polyherbal formulation exhibiting potential cancer activity.”

New platform to measure DNA modifications can have potential application in early detection of Cancer, Alzheimer’s & Parkinson’s

(Topic: Science and Technology)

Scientists have developed a new technique to measure DNA modifications that can have applications in early diagnosis of multiple diseases like Cancer, Alzheimer’s, and Parkinson’s diseases.

Alteration in DNA affects their expression and functions. DNA controls cell survival through the genetic code as well as via modifications to its structure. There is a demand for techniques with very high resolution to measure such modifications of DNA structures and observe and understand the molecular mechanisms associated with it to track rare diseases.

The novel nanopore-based platform developed by the scientists can directly measure such modifications or branched DNA properties with the single-molecule resolution even with extremely low amounts of sample.

The measurement principle of the novel platform is analogous to the Archimedes principle. Individual analyte molecules are driven through a nanopore under an applied voltage, which, during translocation, results in a tiny electrical blip. Charges excluded by the analyte  (supercoiled  DNA)  in the  nanopore is directly proportional to the volume of the particle and is directly measured as the current change. This method utilizes extremely low amounts of sample and can measure DNA structural changes ranging to a few nanometers resolution in the axis perpendicular to the translocation and few tens of nanometers along the translocation axis.

Further optimization of the technique can help in the development of portable nano-bio sensors for detection and quantification of protein aggregates and cell-free DNA or nucleosomes. This may help in the early diagnosis of many diseases like Cancer, Alzheimer’s, and Parkinson’s diseases. Currently, researchers at RRI are also exploring applications of this method for virus detection.

JNCASR Scientists develop a new molecule that could be a potential drug candidate for the treatment of Alzheimer’s

(Topic: Science and Technology)

Scientists have developed a small molecule that disrupts the mechanism through which neurons become dysfunctional in Alzheimer’s disease (AD). The molecule could be a potential drug candidate to halt or cure the leading cause of dementia (70-80%) worldwide.

In the Alzheimer’s brain, abnormal levels of naturally forming protein clump together to form plaques that collect between neurons and disrupt cell function. This is caused by production and deposition of the amyloid peptide (Aβ) that accumulates  in the central nervous system. The multifactorial nature of Alzheimer’s disease (AD) attributed to multifaceted amyloid toxicity has kept researchers from developing effective treatment.

The detailed studies established the molecule called TGR63 as the lead candidate to rescue neuronal cells from amyloid toxicity. Remarkably, the molecule was also found to reduced amyloid burden in the cortex and hippocampus, or a complex part embedded deep into the temporal lobe, thereby reversing cognitive decline. This research has been published recently in the journal Advanced Therapeutics.

Currently available treatments provide only temporary relief, and there are no approved drugs that directly act on the disease mechanisms of Alzheimer’s disease. Thus, there is an unmet need to develop drug candidates to halt or cure Alzheimer’s disease.

Way to predicting solar cycles– Kodaikanal Solar Observatory Digitized Data probes Sun’s rotation over the Century

(Topic: Space and Technology)

Scientists have estimated how the Sun has rotated over a century from data extracted from old films and photographs that have been digitized. This estimation would help study magnetic field generated in the interior of the Sun, which causes sunspots and results in extreme situations like the historical mini-ice age on Earth (absence of sunspots). It could also help predict solar cycles and their variations in the future.

The Sun rotates more quickly at its equator than at its poles. Over time, the Sun’s differential rotation rates cause its magnetic field to become twisted and tangled. The tangles in the magnetic field lines can produce strong localized magnetic fields. When the Sun’s magnetic field gets twisted, there are lots of sunspots. The sunspots which form at the surface with an 11-year periodicity are the only route to probe the solar dynamo or solar magnetism inside the Sun and hence measure the variation in solar rotation.

The team compared the consistent digitized data with manual data of rotation taken earlier and said that they have been able to differentiate the behaviors of the bigger and smaller solar spots for the first time. Such digitized data and differentiation of bigger and smaller sun spots can improve understanding of solar magnetism and sun spots, paving the path towards predicting solar cycles in the future. 

Prelims-oriented news

Location of the artificial lake which has formed in the wake of the avalanche incident in 2021: In the upper catchment of the Rishiganga River in Chamoli District of Uttarakhand

World’s Largest Cricket Stadium With A Capacity of 1.32 Lakh Spectators: Narendra Modi Cricket Stadium in Ahmedabad

Second Edition of Maritime India Summit: From 2nd to 4th March 2021 – to promote both international and domestic investment in the Ports and Maritime Sector

Mahamrityunjaya temple in Naogaon, Assam: World’s tallest 126 feet high Shivalinga

Borodua pilgrimage in Assam: The birthplace of Mahapurush Shrimant Shankardev

India hosts First Meeting of BRICS Finance and Central Bank Deputies

  • India assumed the BRICS Chairship in 2021, at a time when BRICS is celebrating its 15th anniversary. Under the theme BRICS@15: Intra-BRICS Cooperation, India’s approach is focused on strengthening collaboration through Continuity, Consolidation and Consensus.
  • This was the first meeting on the BRICS Financial Cooperation under India Chairship in 2021. During the meeting, India shared priorities under financial cooperation agenda   and issues for discussion during 2021 such as Global Economic Outlook and Response to COVID-19, Social Infrastructure Financing and Use of Digital Technologies, New Development Bank (NDB) Activities, Fintech for SME and Financial Inclusion, BRICS Contingent Reserve Arrangement (CRA), among others.

New material found can efficiently convert waste heat to electricity to power small home equipment & vehicles

  • Scientists have found a new Lead (Pb) free material which can efficiently convert waste heat to power our small home equipment and automobiles.
  • Thermoelectric energy conversion allows generation of electrical voltage when one end of a material is heated while keeping the other side cold. Finding an efficient material to realize this scientific principle has been a daunting task for scientists. It entails fitting in three seemingly different properties into a single material– high electrical conductivity of metals, high thermoelectric sensitivity of semiconductors, and low thermal conductivity of glasses.
  • Most efficient thermoelectric materials developed by scientists so far use Lead (Pb) as a major constituent element, restricting their use for mass-market applications.

PM-Kisan scheme completes two years

  • The scheme was formally launched on February 24, 2019, with the aim to augment the income of the farmers by providing income support to all landholding farmers’ families across the country.
  • Under the scheme, an amount of 6000 rupees per year is transferred in three instalments of 2000 rupees directly into the bank accounts of the farmers. Landholding farmers’ families from both urban and rural areas can apply for the scheme. However, farmers who pay income tax, institutional landowners and retired pensioners with monthly pensions over 10,000 are not eligible for the scheme.
  • Special provisions have been made in the scheme for the north-eastern states where land ownership rights are community-based and in Jharkhand, which does not have updated land records and restrictions on the transfer of land.

Global Bio-India 2nd edition

The Biotechnology sector has emerged as an integral part of the Indian economy over the past few decades, and the Government of India is playing a transformative and catalytic role in building a USD 150 billion bio-economy by 2025. The sector is recognized as one of the key drivers for India to achieve its USD 5 trillion target.

  • To showcase the strength and opportunities of the India’s biotechnology sector at national level and to the global community, the second edition of Global Bio-India will be organised from 1-3 March 2021 on digital platform. 
  • Theme for this year is “Transforming lives” and tag line “Biosciences to Bioeconomy”. Global Bio-India is one of the largest biotechnology stakeholders’ conglomerates that is being co-organised by the Department of Biotechnology, Ministry of Science & Technology, Government of India along with its Public Sector Undertaking, Biotechnology Industry Research Assistance Council (BIRAC) in partnership with industry association Confederation of Indian Industry (CII), Association of Biotechnology Led Enterprises (ABLE) and Invest India.
  • Global Bio-India 2021 is expected to have representatives from 50+ countries with Switzerland being the partner country and Karnataka as its state partner
  • Global Bio-India is expected to facilitate recognition of India as emerging Innovation Hub and Bio-manufacturing Hub for the world. It will facilitate scaling of India’s Biotech innovation ecosystem, investments, global networking and collaborations, Make In India for the Atmanirbhar Bharat.

Clinical Breast Examination: A Woman-Friendly Alternative to Mammography

A 20-year landmark study by Tata Memorial Hospital(TMC) in Mumbai has proved that clinical breast examination is a woman friendly and cost-effective alternative to mammography to check for breast cancer. If implemented as a breast screening method in India, CBE would save 15,000 deaths from breast cancer each year, and 40,000 lives globally in low and middle income countries (LMICs). All this at a fraction of screening cost, thereby reducing stress on the overburdened healthcare systems.

Breast cancer is the most common cancer among women globally and in India. The incidence of breast cancer is increasing in all countries of the world, but particularly so in low and middle income countries (LMICs). In Mumbai, the incidence of breast cancer has risen by nearly 40% between 1992 and 2016 and breast cancer has become the leading cause of death from cancer in India.

Breast cancers in LMICs are frequently detected in advanced stages, and consequently, more than half the global deaths from breast cancer occur in these countries. Mammography is the standard screening technique for early detection of breast cancer which is widely used in the Western world. Although intuitively appealing, self-breast examination has not been found to be effective in reducing mortality from breast cancer. The study by TMC establishes Clinical Breast Examination as an effective technique which suits LMICs as it is highly affordable in comparison to mammography.

The use of mammography for screening for breast cancer requires expensive machinery, highly trained radiologists and radiographers and a high level of quality control. In India the cost of a digital mammography machine is approximately Rs. 3 crores, and each examination cost around Rs. 2000. Clearly India cannot afford mass screening by mammography for all its women. CBE on the other hand, is low-cost, technically simple, woman-friendly and a touch-sensitive procedure, without the discomfort of compression or the hazard of radiation.

TB Free India by 2025:

While the National Tuberculosis Elimination Programme continues to augment efforts to further strengthen TB management and service delivery, it is only when the wider population uses the essence of democracy and the spirit of Jan Andolan through generation of awareness, encouragement of health care seeking behaviour within their communities, and de-stigmatization of TB, would the movement against the disease be a success.

National Technical Support Unit (NTSU) is proposed to be set up in collaboration with development partners to support the Government of India’s efforts, both nationally and in states, to help strengthen on-ground program delivery by employing various advocacy and communications approaches to generate demand and create awareness on the services available under the TB program.

Tuberculosis is a social disease because of following reasons

  • Due to overcrowding and malnutrition, it disproportionately affects the poor and the marginalised.
  • The stigma and myths associated with this disease lead to underreporting and under-diagnosis. 
  • The long-drawn multi-drug treatment leads to poor compliance and drug-resistance, which hamper recovery.
  • Complications increase with a pre-existing illness like diabetes or co-infection with HIV. 
  • Finally, the chronic nature of the disease and propensity to damage multiple organs increase mortality risk.

The lessons learned during the COVID-19 battle can do a lot in controlling TB i.e. Community driven efforts can help government’s target of TB-free India by 2025

  • Since TB spreads through droplets of infected persons, physical distancing can reduce disease transmission.
  • Patients with TB must wear a mask to prevent the spread of infection, and persons in the patient’s regular contact should wear a mask for self-protection.
  • Early diagnosis and treatment are the keys to success. One should use new diagnostic techniques that gives rapid and ultraprecise results compared to the traditional sputum test. 
  • Finally, instant case notification helps in better case tracking and contact monitoring.
  • The fight against COVID-19 has led to increased awareness of respiratory infections, which may help remove the stigma associated with TB. 
  •  India’s efforts to contain the coronavirus succeeded due to improved coordination among central and state governments and innovative media campaigns which can be replicated for TB

Value Addition

  • Nikshay Poshan Yojana (NPY) is a direct benefit transfer (DBT) scheme for nutritional support to TB patients rolled out in April 2018 by Ministry of Health and Family Welfare.
  • Under the Yojana, financial incentive of Rs.500/month is to be provided for each notified TB patient (registered on NIKSHAY portal) for duration during which the patient is on anti-TB treatment.
  • NPY is a Centrally Sponsored Scheme under National Health Mission
  • ‘TB Harega Desh Jeetega’ Campaign was launched in Sep 2019 consisting of three pillars – clinical approach, public health component and active community participation – as a part of strategy to eliminate TB by 2025

Swachh Iconic Places – Ministry of Jal Shakti announces selection of 12 sites for transforming them into ‘Swachh Tourist Destinations’under Phase-IV

  1. Ajanta Caves, Maharashtra
  2. Sanchi Stupa, Madhya Pradesh
  3. Kumbhalgarh Fort, Rajasthan
  4. Jaisalmer Fort, Rajasthan
  5. Ramdevra, Jaisalmer, Rajasthan
  6. Golconda Fort, Hyderabad, Telangana
  7. Sun Temple, Konark, Odisha
  8. Rock Garden, Chandigarh
  9. Dal Lake, Srinagar, Jammu & Kashmir
  10. Banke Bihari Temple, Mathura, Uttar Pradesh
  11. Agra Fort, Agra, Uttar Pradesh
  12. Kalighat Temple, West Bengal

The initiative aims at enhancing the experience of both domestic and foreign visitors by improving the sanitation and cleanliness standards at and around the sites.The objective of SIP is to achieve a distinctly higher level of Sanitation/Cleanliness at these places, especially on the peripheries and in approach areas. This project is being coordinated by the Department of Drinking Water and Sanitation (DDWS), Ministry of Jal Shakti in association with the Ministry of Housing and Urban Affairs (MoHUA), Ministry of Tourism, Ministry of Culture and the concerned State/UT governments.

Guru Ravidas: A North Indian mystic poet-sant of the bhakti movement during the 14th to 16th century CE. Venerated as a guru (teacher) in the region of Punjab, Uttar Pradesh, Rajasthan, Maharashtra and Madhya Pradesh the devotional songs of Ravidas made a lasting impact upon the bhakti movement.

He was a poet-saint, social reformer and a spiritual figure. He is considered as the founder of 21st-century Ravidassia religion, by a group who previously were associated with Sikhism He gave the people a message of peace, harmony and fraternity. He made people aware of the evils of discrimination and urged overcoming them.

Bir Chilaray: 

  • The younger brother of Nara Narayan, the king of the Kamata Kingdom in the 16th century. He was Nara Narayan’s commander-in-chief and got his name Chilarai because, as a general, he executed troop movements that were as fast as a chila.
  • Chilaray was the third son of Maharaja Biswa Singha (1523–1554 A.D.).
  • It was only due to his Royal Patronage that Sankardeva was able to establish the Ek Saran Naam Dharma in Assam and bring about his cultural renaissance.

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