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Daily Current Affairs

8-November-2023

1. Zika virus cases: Centre asks States to intensify surveillance

Topic: GS3 – Health sector

Context:

  • Karnataka is awaiting reports on mosquito pool samples from Chikkaballapur that tested positive for the Zika virus.
  • The Indian Centre has written to all states, including Karnataka, urging them to enhance entomological surveillance and intensify vector control activities.
  • This action comes in response to recent Zika Virus Disease (ZVD) cases detected in Kerala and Maharashtra and the finding of the virus in mosquito pool samples from Chikkaballapur district, Karnataka.

About Zika virus:

  • Zika virus is a mosquito-borne virus primarily transmitted through the bite of infected Aedes mosquitoes.
  • It can also be transmitted through sexual contact, blood transfusion, and from pregnant women to their fetuses.
  • Zika virus infection is often asymptomatic, but it can cause mild to severe symptoms, including fever, rash, joint pain, and conjunctivitis.
  • In pregnant women, Zika infection can lead to birth defects, such as microcephaly, in their babies.
  • There is no specific antiviral treatment for Zika, and prevention involves avoiding mosquito bites, using barrier methods during sex, and taking precautions in areas with Zika transmission.
  • Zika outbreaks have occurred in various regions, including South and Central America, the Caribbean, and Southeast Asia.
  • Research and monitoring continue to better understand the virus and develop potential vaccines.

2. Punjab cannot go from granary to desert: apex court

Topic: GS3 – agriculture

Context:

  • The Supreme Court has suggested that the Centre consider the Punjab government’s proposal to phase out paddy cultivation in the state.

What is the news?

  • The aim is to incentivize farmers to switch to traditional crops like millets by providing them with a minimum support price (MSP).
  • This initiative aims to address the issue of widespread burning of paddy stubble and revive the alarmingly low water table in Punjab.
  • The Supreme Court emphasized that Punjab should not transition from being a granary to a virtual desert.
  • Paddy cultivation, which was promoted under the Food Security Act, has led to a significant decline in the water table in Punjab.
  • The state currently cultivates 31 lakh acres of paddy, even though it is not native to Punjab.
  • The proposal suggests diversifying crops and providing MSP for alternative crops like millet and bajra to encourage farmers to shift away from paddy cultivation.

Issues with water intensive cultivation in India:

  • Depleting Water Table: Water-intensive crops like rice and sugarcane have led to a significant drop in the groundwater level in many regions, posing a threat to water availability.
  • Drought Vulnerability: Excessive reliance on water-intensive crops makes regions susceptible to drought, affecting food security and livelihoods.
  • Resource Inefficiency: Water-intensive cultivation often results in low resource efficiency, as a large amount of water is required to produce a relatively small amount of crops.
  • Energy Consumption: Pumping groundwater for irrigation consumes a substantial amount of energy, contributing to higher production costs and environmental impact.
  • Climate Change Impact: Water-intensive agriculture can exacerbate the impacts of climate change, as water resources become scarcer and more unpredictable.

Question: In light of the challenges posed by water-intensive cultivation in India, discuss the significance of promoting sustainable farming practices and crop diversification for ensuring food security and environmental sustainability.

3. Massive displacement in Congo

Topic: GS2 – International relations.

Context:

  • The Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC) has experienced internal displacement of 6.9 million people, with nearly one million displaced in North Kivu due to the conflict with the rebel group M23.

Emergence of conflict and present situation:

  • The conflict in the DRC dates back to the 1990s and involves numerous rebel groups operating in the eastern provinces.
  • Factors contributing to displacement include ethnic intolerance, political uncertainty, regional tensions, and a humanitarian crisis.
  • Prominent rebel groups include M23, the Allied Democratic Forces (ADF), and the Cooperative for Development of the Congo (CODECO).
  • Rwanda and the DRC accuse each other of supporting rebel groups, further increasing tensions in the region.
  • The East African Community (EAC) deployed troops in eastern DRC, leading to protests demanding their withdrawal.
  • Displacement is driven by ongoing violence, political instability, and a lack of international intervention.
  • The humanitarian crisis has left over 1.1 million people in need of food support in North Kivu, Ituri, and South Kivu.
  • Insufficient funding from international actors hampers efforts to address the crisis effectively.

4. Understanding the fundamentals of how electricity is transmitted

Topic: GS3 – science and technology

Power Transmission Basics

  • Transmission efficiency is higher at lower current and higher voltage.
  • Transformers increase voltage and reduce current before feeding into transmission lines.
  • Transmission cables can be seen transporting current at 115 kV,230 kV, 
  • Cables have some resistance,which results in some energy loss.
  • The longer the distance of transmission,the lower the transmission cost.

Three-Phase AC Power

  • The most common way to transfer electric power is in the form of three-phase AC.
  • AC frequency is equal to the voltage flipping frequency.
  • In a three-phase AC circuit,there are (at least) three wires.
  • All three wires transport AC power.

Power Transmission

  • In a three-phase AC circuit,each wire transmits an AC current in a different phase.
  • Wires are routed to transformers that step-up their voltage.
  • Wires are suspended from transmission towers.
  • Insulators in contact with the wires draw away some current if there is a surge in the line.
  • Circuit-breakers ‘break’ the circuit if there is too much current.
  • Towers are also grounded and equipped with arresters.
  • Dampers prevent vibrations in the wires from affecting the towers’
  • Switches are used to control the availability of current and to move currents between different lines.

Power Grids

  • A national grid includes all three components of power supply:generation, transmission, and distribution.
  • Grids have storage facilities that store electrical energy when there’s a surplus supply and release it in times of deficit.
  • Grids also have sources like gas turbines that can provide power on short notice.
  • Grids need to respond to failure in different parts of the network.
  • A grid becomes a wide-area synchronous grid if all the generators connected to it are producing an AC current at the same frequency.

5. Don’t bypass judges’ names over political links, SC tells Centre

Topic: GS2 – Indian polity

Context:

  • The Supreme Court has warned the Centre against selectively bypassing individuals recommended by the collegium for judicial appointments based on their political connections or defense of cases against the government.
  • The court emphasized the need for a balanced approach considering the involvement of lawyers with political parties and the expertise of criminal lawyers.
  • It expressed concern over the government’s pick-and-choose policy in the appointment and transfer of High Court judges, urging an end to such practices.

Issues with political interference in judicial appointments:

  • Threat to Judicial Independence: Political interference in judicial appointments poses a significant threat to the independence of the judiciary, which is essential for upholding the rule of law.
  • Erosion of Merit: Appointments based on political considerations rather than merit can lead to less-qualified individuals becoming judges, undermining the quality of justice delivered.
  • Undermining Collegium System: The interference can undermine the role of the judiciary’s collegium system, which is designed to recommend appointments based on a consensus among senior judges.
  • Diminished Public Trust: Public trust in the judiciary may erode when political considerations, rather than legal acumen and integrity, drive appointments.
  • Influence on Judicial Decisions: Judges who owe their appointments to political interference may be more susceptible to making decisions that align with the interests of the appointing authority.
  • Unpredictable Judicial Outcomes: Political interference may result in unpredictable judicial outcomes that are inconsistent with established legal principles.
  • Potential for Corruption: Politically influenced appointments may create opportunities for corruption in the judiciary.
  • Challenges to Checks and Balances: An independent judiciary is crucial for maintaining checks and balances within a democracy, and political interference can disrupt this equilibrium.

Question: Discuss the implications of political interference in judicial appointments on judicial independence and its role in upholding the rule of law. Suggest measures to ensure a transparent and merit-based judicial appointment process in India.

6. Curbs on fireworks binding on all states: Supreme Court

Topic: GS3 – air pollution.

Context:

  • The Supreme Court clarified that its orders to minimize air and noise pollution caused by firecrackers apply to all states in India, not just the Delhi National Capital Region.
  • Justices M.M. Sundresh and A.S. Bopanna emphasized the need for moderation and responsible celebrations during festivals like Deepavali.

Highlights of the views by Supreme Court:

  • The judges noted that children are more aware of the environmental impact of firecrackers, and it is often adults who engage in excessive and polluting fireworks displays.
  • The court urged authorities and individuals to sensitize the public about the importance of protecting the environment and reducing pollution.
  • The application before the court highlighted increased pollution in Rajasthan despite previous orders aimed at curbing the use of firecrackers.
  • The court stressed that state governments should take proactive measures to minimize air and noise pollution not only during festivals but also on a regular basis, and that its orders are binding on all states.

7. ‘GST regime has brought tax rates down very efficiently’

Topic: GS3 – Indian economy

Context:

  • Finance Minister Nirmala Sitharaman stated that the Goods and Services Tax (GST) has efficiently reduced tax rates and resulted in consumers paying lower levies than under the previous indirect tax

Views of the Finance Minister:

  • She urged businesses that are not part of the GST system to join, emphasizing that the informal sector’s economic activity needs to be formalized for a comprehensive assessment of India’s true economic strength.
  • Sitharaman highlighted that GST has eliminated double taxation and overlaps, resulting in lower tax payments for essential goods and services, benefiting consumers.
  • She cautioned businesses that believe they can benefit by avoiding taxes, stating that they might lose out on potential customers and emphasizing the importance of a transparent tax regime with everyone’s participation.

8. Setbacks and Challenges at the Subansiri Lower Hydroelectric Project

Topic: GS3- Environment

Context:

  • Since work on the Subansiri Lower Hydroelectric Project started in 2005, there have been several obstacles and setbacks.

  • When completed, this project is supposed to be the largest hydroelectric project in India.
  • A huge setback happened on October 27, when a sizable section of the hill on the left side of the dam collapsed into the reservoir, obstructing the only diversion tunnel that worked and stopping the water flow into the Subansiri River, a vital Brahmaputra tributary.
  • This tragedy adds to the project’s already lengthy schedule of delays and casts doubt on its future.

About Subansiri Lower Hydroelectric Project (SLHEP)

  • It is the largest hydroelectric project ever constructed in India.
  • It is a run-of-river system on the Subansiri River.
  • The project is located near North Lakhimpur on the Arunachal Pradesh-Assam border.
  • Capacity: 2000 MW
  • It will produce up to 7.4 billion kWh of electricity per year.
  • The project includes the construction of a surface powerhouse and a 116m-high concrete gravity dam from the river bed level.
  • The dam will be 284 meters long.
  • The dam is in Assam’s Dhemaji district, but the powerhouse is in Arunachal Pradesh’s Subansiri district.
  • The National Hydro Power Corporation (NHPC) is in charge of its development.

Dam Construction and Spillway Operation:

  • Once the location of the dam has been determined, temporary diversion tunnels and a coffer dam, an earthen barrier are usually constructed to avoid the building site.
  • When the dam is prepared, water flows via the controlled spillways and the diversion tunnels are closed, guaranteeing a controlled release of water.
  • Water is also transported by a system of tunnels from the reservoir to the powerhouse, where it powers the turbines, and then back to the river.\

Recent Events at Subansiri:

  • The single diversion tunnel in operation became shut after a portion of the slope collapsed into the reservoir, greatly reducing the amount of water flowing downstream.
  • The water flow stopped when the spillway gates opened regularly due to the landside.
  • In an attempt to restore water flow, the spillways were fully opened, which resulted in the water eventually leaving the reservoir around eleven hours later.

Neglected Recommendations and Landslide Incidents:

  • In April 2022, the Central Electricity Authority recommended assessing the effect of the diversion tunnels on slope stability at the project site.
  • The implementing authority, NHPC Ltd., rejected this advice, arguing that no additional evaluation or stabilizing actions were necessary.
  • In light of the project site’s history of landslides, this neglect is especially worrisome.
  • Six landslides have occurred since the CEA issued its warning, resulting in damage, blockages, or collapses of diversion tunnels.

Future Plans and Challenges:

  • Recently, representatives from the Geological Survey of India and the CEA, along with the NHPC board of directors, visited the location to evaluate the situation.
  • Slope stabilization will be the project’s top priority moving ahead. One potential approach is to isolate the under-construction spillway gates within the reservoir by building temporary sheet pile dykes, which are metal barriers with steel bracing.
  • The project’s budget and schedule, as well as any possible effects on aquatic life forms and the riverine ecosystem, are still unknown.

Way Forward:

  • The Subansiri Lower Hydroelectric Project is still beset with difficulties. The timing for the project has been further thrown off by the hill’s recent slide into the reservoir.
  • In order to finish building the spillway gates, the authorities are currently concentrating on slope stabilization and looking into possible options.
  • Attention should also be paid to the project’s effects on the river ecology and compliance with minimal downstream flow requirements.

9. India’s hypertension map

Topic: GS2- Health

Context:

  • Significant differences exist between Indian states and districts when it comes to the frequency, diagnosis, treatment, and control of hypertension, according to a study of National Family Health Survey data that was recently published in the JAMA journal.
  • The study highlights the necessity for focused, decentralized remedies in light of the significant district-level differences in hypertension that are hidden by national mean values.

Hypertension Care in India

  • Larger percentages of people with hypertension go undiagnosed nationwide, and even among those who are, many don’t start therapy.
  • Few people who do begin treatment are able to effectively manage their blood pressure.
  • Notably, the research clarifies the unique variations in continuum of care levels between states and districts.

State-level Status of Hypertension

  • According to the report, the prevalence of hypertension is higher than the national average even if it is equivalent in the southern states.
  • But in these states, the percentage of individuals having a hypertension diagnosis is similar to that of the rest of India.
  • Positively, there is a greater likelihood of successful blood pressure control and treatment commencement in these states.

District-level Status of Hypertension

  • The study finds considerable differences within states.
  • In Meghalaya, for example, the prevalence of hypertension is equal across various districts, although the rates of diagnosis vary significantly.
  • In Karnataka, four districts have comparable prevalence rates, but two have clearly higher treatment and control rates.

Influence of Age, Gender, Education:

  • Depending on factors like gender, age, socioeconomic status, and educational attainment, there are also notable differences at the national level.
  • Surprisingly, women are more likely to be diagnosed with hypertension, receive treatment, and manage their blood pressure than men, despite men having greater incidence of the condition.
  • The socioeconomic status of the population also has an impact on the prevailing patterns; the wealthiest fifth of the population has the highest rates of diagnosis, treatment, and control.

Significance of Inter-State and Inter-District Variability

  • Experts emphasize the significance of looking at district-level data, which can help state governments allocate resources for efficient healthcare systems.
  • This data helps local governments understand the unique demands of various districts, which facilitates continuing care for non-acute disorders like hypertension that call for a particular management approach.

Reformation Strategies for Hypertension Control

  • A recent WHO analysis indicates that if blood pressure is managed in half of the hypertensive population, approximately 4.6 million deaths in India could be avoided by 2040.
  • The Indian government started a program in 2021 to treat 75 million patients with diabetes or hypertension by the year 2025 in order to accomplish this.
  • However, managing hypertension necessitates not only the expansion of infrastructure but also continuing patient follow-ups, medication availability, therapy, and screening.

10. NFSA and PM’s free grains promise for 5 years: what it means, costs

Topic: Schemes

Context:

  • At recent election rallies in Madhya Pradesh and Chhattisgarh, Prime Minister Narendra Modi announced that the National Food Security Act (NFSA), 2013, which established the national government’s free foodgrain program, will be extended for an additional five years.

  • At least 80 crore individuals are anticipated to gain from this extension, and suspicion has mounted regarding its possible use as a selling point in the BJP’s Lok Sabha election campaign despite prior opposition to “freebies” has been aroused.

About PM-GKAY:

  • Beginning on January 1, 2023, the Pradhan Mantri Garib Kalyan Anna Yojana (PM-GKAY), a relief initiative that gave all NFSA participants an extra 5 kg of free foodgrains since April 2020, was stopped.
  • But under the NFSA, foodgrains which were already extensively subsidized were rendered free until the end of 2023, and an additional five years of free grain supplies have been committed to.

History of the Scheme:

  • The PM-GKAY was originally designed to last three months, until June 2020, and was introduced in April 2020 in response to the Covid-19 epidemic.
  • It was then repeatedly extended, frequently in the run-up to state assembly elections.
  • Finally, on December 24, 2022, the program was ended, and it was announced that qualifying NFSA beneficiaries would receive free foodgrains for the entire year 2023.

Access to Food under NFSA:

  • Enacted by the UPA-2 administration and implemented on July 5, 2013, the NFSA provides approximately 67.5% of the population with access to sufficient, high-quality food at reasonable costs through the Targeted Public Distribution System (TPDS).
  • The Act specifies the subsidized grain prices and quantities.
  • Antyodaya Anna Yojana (AAY) households and Priority Households (PHs) are the two types of beneficiary households covered under the NFSA.

Financial Implications:

  • Over time, foodgrains have become more expensive.
  • The food subsidy bill for the government reached its highest point in 2020–21 at Rs 5,41,330.14 crore, and then dropped to Rs 2,86,469.11 crore in 2021–2022.
  • For 2022–2023, the cost of providing free grains under the NFSA came to almost Rs 2 lakh crore.
  • Up till the program’s conclusion, the government spent over Rs. 15000 crore every month on PM-GKAY, or roughly Rs. 3.91 lakh crore.

Potential Savings for Beneficiaries:

  • AAY families received 99.75 lakh tonnes of foodgrains from the government in the fiscal year 2022–2023.
  • Each family is entitled to 35 kg of food per month, meaning that they will save an estimated Rs 2,705 crore overall.
  • Likewise, 423.86 lakh tonnes of foodgrains were allotted to Priority Households, enabling them to save over Rs 11,142 crore annually.

11. NATO formally suspends Cold War-era security treaty as Russia pulls out

Topic: GS2- IR

Context:

  • In response to Russia’s previous departure from the Treaty of Conventional Armed Forces in Europe (CFE), NATO has declared the official suspension of its membership in the agreement.
  • According to the alliance, its signatory members have frozen their involvement in the agreement.

Background on the Treaty

  • The goal of the CFE, which was signed in November 1990, was to stop rivals in the Cold War from amassing weapons or gathering forces in close quarters.
  • It wasn’t ratified in its entirety until 1992. The treaty, which placed restrictions on the quantity of tanks, combat vehicles, and other conventional weapons that may be stationed in Europe, was signed by the majority of NATO’s 31 partners.

NATO’s Decision

  • According to NATO, “a situation whereby Allied state parties abide by the Treaty, while Russia does not, would be unsustainable,” necessitated the alliance’s response.
  • President Vladimir Putin’s measure criticizing the CFE was approved by both chambers of the Russian parliament, and Moscow announced earlier in the day that it had completed its withdrawal from the treaty.

Russia’s Withdrawal

  • In 2007, Russia withdrew from the CFE, and in 2015 it declared its desire to leave the accord entirely.
  • The agreement was one of several significant agreements between the US and Russia during the Cold War that have recently expired.
  • Without going into detail, Russia’s Foreign Ministry stated that the official withdrawal from the treaty had been finalized.

Implications

  • According to NATO, its members will keep debating and evaluating the effects of the present security landscape on the alliance’s overall security.
  • In reaction to Russia’s withdrawal and in order to safeguard the security of its members, NATO is perceived to have taken a major step when it decided to suspend participation in the CFE.

12. India had highest number of TB cases globally in 2022: WHO

Topic: GS2- Health

Context:

  • According to the World Health Organization’s (WHO) 2023 Global TB report, India has become the nation with the greatest number of tuberculosis (TB) cases globally in 2022, making up an astounding 27% of the global burden.
  • This figure demonstrates the enormous difficulty that tuberculosis creates in India.

High Burden TB Countries

  • The analysis also shows that in 2022, 30 high-burden TB nations accounted for 87% of all TB cases worldwide.
  • Following India among the top eight heavy load nations were Indonesia (10%), China (7.1%), the Philippines (7.0%), Pakistan (5.7%), Nigeria (4.5%), Bangladesh (3.6%), and the Democratic Republic of the Congo (3.0%).

India’s TB Statistics

  • In India, 2.8 million cases of tuberculosis were reported in 2022, with a 12 percent case fatality rate.
  • According to the paper, TB is estimated to have killed 342,000 people in India, the bulk of whom were HIV-negative.
  • The research also draws attention to the alarming problem of multidrug-resistant tuberculosis (MDR-TB), of which 110,000 cases were reported in India in 2022.

Global Recovery and TB Services

  • After two years of disruptions brought on by the COVID-19 pandemic, WHO’s Global TB Programme saw a global recovery in the number of persons diagnosed with and receiving treatment for TB in 2022.
  • Better access to and delivery of health care in many nations is credited with this turnaround.
  • India, Indonesia, and the Philippines were key players in the global decline in the number of new TB diagnoses in 2020 and 2021, accounting for more than 60% of those decreases.

Positive Trends in TB Services

  • The WHO report highlights a noteworthy global rebound in the expansion of tuberculosis diagnosis and treatment services in 2022, indicating a positive trend aimed at mitigating the negative consequences of COVID-19 interruptions on tuberculosis services.
  • According to the report, which includes data from 192 nations and regions, 5 million people received a TB diagnosis in 2022-the largest number since the WHO started tracking the disease globally in 1995.
  • A worrying development in the fight against tuberculosis, however, is that the incidence rate of the disease (new cases per 100,000 people annually) rose by 3.9% between 2020 and 2022, reversing the declines seen over the previous 20 years.

13. Army plans to start replacing Chetak, Cheetah helicopters in next 3-4 years

Topic: GS3- Defence

Context:

  • The Indian Army is getting ready to replace its outdated Chetak and Cheetah helicopters with Light Utility Helicopters (LUH) manufactured in the country and other options that may be rented for a set amount of time.
  • It is anticipated that over the following three to four years, this modernization program will be implemented.
  • It is anticipated that the total replacement of the Chetak and Cheetah helicopters will take ten to twelve years. The Army is eager to improve its surveillance and reconnaissance capabilities, and it is projected that some 250 light helicopters would be needed to do so.

Ramping Up the Unmanned Aerial Vehicle (UAV) Fleet

  • Over the next five years, the Indian Army intends to considerably increase the number of Unmanned Aerial Vehicles (UAVs) it has in addition to modernizing its fleet of helicopters.
  • The Israeli Heron Mk 2 and Hermes Starliner, among other UAVs, will be acquired as part of this expansion.
  • In addition, the current fleet of Heron Mk 1 UAVs will receive improvements that will allow them to utilize satellite communication.

Exploring Multiple Options for Helicopter Replacement

  • The Army is presently evaluating a number of alternatives to replace its helicopters, the Chetak and Cheetah.
  • While obtaining domestic helicopters is still the major priority, officials admit that Hindustan Aeronautics Limited (HAL) might run into capacity issues.
  • Consequently, the Army is looking into other options, like short-term helicopter leasing.
  • It is anticipated that a variety of strategies would be employed, with an emphasis on local solutions.

Progress on the LUH

  • One of the main elements of the helicopter modernization strategy is the Light Utility Helicopter (LUH).
  • It has an autopilot system installed, and testing for this system is still going on. By December 2024, the first batch of LUHs should be delivered; an estimated 30-35 helicopters per year will be produced each year to suit the demands of the three services.
  • In terms of weight carrying capacity, the LUH is thought to be a major upgrade over the Cheetah, and its capabilities are anticipated to be further enhanced by the autopilot system, especially in high-altitude regions.

Inductions of Other Helicopters

  • Additionally, the Army is raising one squadron of Light Combat Helicopters (LCH) as part of its induction procedure. It is anticipated that the remaining LCH helicopters would be delivered over the course of 18 to 20 months.
  • Furthermore, in accordance with an agreement reached in February 2020, the Army is getting ready to receive six Apache attack helicopters from the US in the first few months of the following year.
  • Together, these initiatives show a strong commitment to upgrading the Indian Army’s operational capabilities and modernizing its aviation assets.

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