Daily Current Affairs - 07-05-2021

The Telangana Government recently imposed a total ban on Glyphosate.

About Glyphosate

Why do farmers prefer HTBt cotton?

The cost of HTBt seeds is Rs 1,500 per 450 gram pack. This is higher than the Bollgard Cotton II which costs Rs 740 per 450 gram pack. Still farmers prefer HTBt cotton for its overall low cost of production.

A normal cotton grower spends Rs 15,400 in rainfed land and Rs 23,500 per acre in irrigation to grow GM (Genetically Modified) cotton. Of this around 20% to 25% is spent in removing weeds. On the other hand, HTBt cotton farmers can save this expenditure on weed management. They can simply spray Glyphosate as it won’t affect HTBt. This is because, the normal cotton cannot withstand Glyphosate, while HTBt cotton can.

What is the issue?

Around eight to ten lakh acres of land in Telangana are under herbicide tolerant HTBt cotton. These cultivations have not received proper permission for commercial use. The Genetic Appraisal Engineering Committee (GEAC) has not yet approved HTBt cotton.

The Glyphosate leaches into food and water and causes chronic kidney diseases in humans.

The Glyphosate is also used as Crop Desiccant. A crop desiccant is applied to the crops just before harvest. The crop desiccants kill out leaves/plants allowing the plants to dry quickly and evenly from environmental conditions.

Steps by Telangana Government

In 2018, the Telangana Government had put restrictions on the sale of Glyphosate. This was done to curb the illegal use of herbicide-tolerant BT cotton. In spite of the restrictions, the usage did not stop. Again in 2019, the Telangana Government increased the restrictions on usage of Glyphosate. With no outcomes to restrictions being imposed, the State Government has now completely banned the herbicide.

Other States

Other countries

The United Nations recently announced that the world food prices increased for the eleventh consecutive month in April 2021. It reached the highest level since May 2014. This announcement was made based on the Food Price Index released by the Food and Agriculture Organisation.

Food Price Index

The Food Price Index measures monthly changes of a basket of food grains such as oil seeds, cereals, dairy products, sugar and meat. In April 2021, the Food Price Index was 120.9. It was 118.9 in March 2021. This basket of grains are subjected to changes and are not constant.

Key findings

Forecasts

In 2021-22, the Food and Agriculture Organisation predicted that wheat production is to increase by 0.5% as compared to that of 2020-21. The forecast is mainly based on the fact that the countries such as China, Brazil, US and Ukraine have increased their planted areas.

More than one hundred and seventy seals were washed up dead over the shores of Caspian Sea in Russia. Experts believe that the seals might have died due to industrial pollution or might have got caught in the nets.

Caspian Sea

Caspian Sea is the largest inland water body in the world. It is bounded by five countries namely Kazakhstan, Russia, Iran, Azerbaijan and Turkmenistan.

Seals in Caspian Sea

Shrinking of Caspian Sea

Caspian Sea Pollution

The United Nations Environment Programme says that the Caspian Sea is suffering from huge pollution. This includes the following:

Volga River

Volga is the longest river in Europe. It is located in Russia.

Tehran Convention

The Tehran Convention entered into force in 2006. It was signed by all the five Caspian bordering countries such as Iran, Russia, Turkmenistan, Kazakhstan, Azerbaijan. It was the first legally binding instrument signed by the Caspian states. It lays down requirements and for environmental protection in the Caspian Sea.

Caspian Summit

The Caspian Summit, 2018 was held in Aktau. The Convention on the legal status of the Caspian Sea was signed at the summit. It was signed by all the five Caspian countries. The summit provides jurisdiction over 24 km of territorial waters to each country. Additionally, an exclusive fishing rights on the surface was also granted. The rest is international waters.

India and South Africa proposed for IP waiver at the World Trade Organisation in 2020. This has now been backed by the United States. The US will further negotiate at the World Trade Organisation to waive Intellectual property for COVID-19 vaccines. This will help in large scale production of COVID-19 vaccines in middle income countries.

What is Intellectual Property Waiver for COVID-19 vaccines?

IP right is a monopoly granted by a government to an inventor. It means that the others cannot copy their invention. It can be a process patent or a product patent.

The developing countries are arguing that the intellectual property is an obstacle in increasing the production of vaccines.

The production of COVID-19 vaccines in the middle-income countries has been happening through the licensing or technology transfer agreements. Thus, in order to ramp up the production of COVID-19 vaccine production, it is essential to waive off (remove) the Intellectual Property Rights for COVID-19 vaccine.

In simple terms, IPR waiver means that when a company has produced a vaccine, the others can immediately copy its composition, produce their own. By this the vaccine production will increase and also the vaccine cost will come down.

Deterrents

The pharma companies such as AstraZeneca and Pfizer have opposed the IP waiver. According to them, this might undermine public confidence in vaccine safety and might create a barrier to information sharing.

The other barriers in COVID-19 vaccine production are trade barriers, scarcity of raw materials, unwillingness of rich countries to share doses with poorer countries.

Current Scenario

100 countries of the 164 members are in favour of waiving the IP. Recently Australia and New Zealand also agreed on the waiver.

The Stop Tokyo Olympics is an online campaign that is wanting to stop the Tokyo Olympics Games. It has gathered more than 200,000 signatures within two days of its launch. However, the organisers of the Olympic Games are to go ahead in conducting the games. The Pfizer agreed to donate their vaccine to help inoculate sportsperson participating in the games.

Background

Japan is currently battling against the fourth wave of COVID-19 with a sluggish vaccination campaign. Majority of the public are also opposing the Olympics games that is to be held in Japan in July, 2021.

2020 Summer Olympics

The 2020 Summer Olympics was originally planned to be held in July 2020. But was postponed due to COVID-19 pandemic. This is the second time Japan is hosting the Olympics. Earlier Japan hosted Olympics in 1964. Also, 2020 Olympics is the second of the three consecutive Olympics in Asia. The first was held in South Korea in 2018, second to be held in Japan in 2021 and third has been planned to be held in China in 2022.

The new games to be introduced in 2020 Olympics are BMX, three by three basketball and madison cycling.

Biosecurity Protocols

The International Olympics Committee released biosecurity protocols for officials, athletes, press and other staff in February 2021.

The participants will be asked to use the Exposure Notification.

Exposure Notification

It is originally known as the Preserving Contact Tracing Project. It is a protocol specification developed by Google and Apple. It provides digital contact tracing during COVID-19 pandemic. Digital Contact Tracing is a method of contact tracing based on mobile application. It is used to determine the contact between the infected person and a user.

The Prime Minister Narendra Modi is to take part in the European Council (to be held on May 8, 2021) meet. This year, in 2021, the India-European Union Leaders’ Meeting is to be hosted by Portugal. Portugal currently holds the chair of the grouping.

About the meet

The PM Modi is to participate in the meet along with other Government heads of the members of the European Union. The leaders are to exchange views on COVID-19 and also will foster sustainable and inclusive growth.

The fifteenth India-EU Summit was held in July 2020.

Key discussions

India and European Union is expected to discuss the free trade deal. They will discuss about agreements regarding Geographical Indications and also investment protection agreement. The Investment protection agreement is to “Europeanise” the agreements India has had so far with the individual member states.

European Union Council

The Council meets at least twice in six months. All the twenty seven heads of the member states participate in the meet. The high representatives of the foreign countries also take part in the meet when the foreign affairs are discussed.

TRIPS

During the meet, the European Union is to discuss about the TRIPS waiver on COVID1-9 vaccine. TRIPS is Trade Related Aspects of Intellectual Property Rights. The US has agreed and the European Union is yet to make a decision on this.

Treaty on Pandemics

Around twenty-five members of the European Union have been wanting to sign the “Treaty on Pandemics” along with WHO. It will focus on bringing vaccines to global community as quickly as possible. This treaty is to be discussed during the meet.

The scientists at the John Hopkins University have simulated the interior of the Saturn. The simulations say that a thick layer of Helium rain influence the magnetic field of the planet.

Background

Saturn stands out in the Solar system as its magnetic field is almost perfectly symmetrical around its rotational axis. The Cassini Mission of NASA helped scientists to understand the deep interior of the planet where the magnetic field is generated.

About the Simulations

The scientists have created two powerful computer simulations of the magnetic field of NASA based on the data from the Cassini mission. The simulations will help the scientists measure the rate at which Saturn rotates. This has been one of the several problems that vexed (difficult) scientists for decades.

Interior of the Saturn

The center of Saturn is a dense core of metals such as iron and nickel. This dense core is surrounded by rocky materials. Further it is enveloped by liquid metallic hydrogen inside a layer of liquid hydrogen. Its core is almost similar to the core of the Jupiter but considerably smaller.

Cassini

Cassini is a joint space mission of European Space Agency, NASA and Italian Space Agency. It was called Cassini-Huygens mission. The Cassini space probe entered the orbit of Saturn and the Huygens of the European Space Agency landed on the Titan (the largest moon of Saturn). Cassini was the first space probe to enter the orbit of the Saturn and the fourth space probe to visit Saturn.

The researchers from the Garvan Institute of Medical Research have mapped the Osteocytes for the first time.

Osteocytes

They are oblate shaped bone cells. They are found in bone tissues. They live as long as the organism lives. There are more than 42 billion Osteocytes in human body. The Osteocytes do not divide. Their average half life is twenty-five years.

The skeleton of the humans keeps changing structurally throughout his life. Osteocytes are the most abundant cell present in bones. These osteocytes form a network similar to the neurons in the brain. There are more than 23 trillion connections between 42 billion osteocytes. This network is responsible for monitoring bone health. It responds to ageing. Also, they send signals to other cells in the bone to build or break down an old bone. The diseases such as osteoporosis is caused due to imbalance in these processes.

Key Findings of the study

The researchers have outlined the genes that are switched on and off in osteocytes. This will help in diagnosing bone diseases that have genetic component.

For the first time, the researchers have pictured the whole landscape of osteocytes. They have found that majority of the genes that are active within osteocytes had no role in bones. This means that they only give commands. This discovery will help to understand what controls the skeleton actually.

Development of Bones

During Bone formation osteoblast is left behind. Osteoblasts are cells that synthesize bones. The process of bone formation is still not known completely.

The Belgian Government sites were recently knocked offline due to DDoS attack. Several government sites and Internet Service Providers of the public sector of the country were hit hard by DDoS.

What is DDoS?

DDoS is Distributed Denial of Service. It is a cyber threat that seeks to disrupt the normal traffic of a targeted server. This is done by controlling a network of malware infected devices.

This is like an unexpected traffic jam arriving at a destination.

What happened in Belgium?

Malware was sent into the Belnet Network. This network hosts the government websites, police services and government universities and research institutes. After the network was infected with the Malware virus, the entire network was remotely controlled.

Working of DDoS

The attack is carried out with a network of Internet connected devices. Malware is first sent to infect a network of computers and other devices. These infected devices and computers are called bots. A group of such bots in the DDoS are called Botnet.

First a Botnet is established in DDoS attack. Now the attacker is able to send direct instructions to each bot in the Botnet. The Bots will then send requests to the targeted IP address. The server eventually becomes overwhelmed and results in denial of service to the normal traffic.

How to identify DDoS attack?

When a DDoS attack occurs, the following shall be noticed:

The National Aeronautics and Space Administration recently celebrated Asian American Pacific Islander Heritage Month.

About Asian American Pacific Islander Heritage month

The month is celebrated to honour the contributions made by the Pacific Islanders and Asian Americans to the culture, history and achievements of United States.

The Month of May was chosen to celebrate as it was the first time when the Japanese immigrants arrived to the US. In 2021, NASA has organised several events to celebrate the month in the following theme:

Theme: Advancing Leaders Through Purpose-Drive Services

Legislation

The hate crimes against Asian Americans and Pacific Islanders had been increasing in the US lately. The US Senate in April 2021, passed a bill to combat the rise of hate crimes against the Asian Americans and Pacific Islanders. The bill supports the local law enforcements in controlling the hate crimes. The hate crimes are the highest in California. Of all the states in the US, California has the highest Asian population.

Who is Pacific Islander?

The Pacific Islanders, also called Pasefika, Pasifika, Pacificer are people belonging to the Pacific Islands. It is a geographic term used to describe inhabitants of the three main sub regions namely Micronesia, Melanesia and Polynesia. Micronesia is in the Northern hemisphere. Melanesia is located between the Equator and Tropic of Capricorn in the Southern Hemisphere.

New Zealand has the largest population of Pacific Islanders in the world.

Asian Americans

They are naturalised Americans who immigrated from Asia. Naturalisation is a legal act by which a non-citizen of a country can acquire citizenship.

The European Union recently approved the requests of Norway, Canada and United States to participate in Permanent Structured Cooperation (PESCO) defence initiative. This is the first time; the European bloc has allowed a third state to participate in the PESCO project. The countries will now participate in the Military Mobility Project in Europe.

What is PESCO?

It is a part of the European Union security and defence policy. It was introduced based on the Treaty of European Union introduced by Treaty of Lisbon in 2009.

PESCO and NATO

Around four-fifths of the PESCO members are also NATO members. NATO is North Atlantic Treaty Organisation.

US And PESCO

The United States has raised concerns against PESCO several times. According to analysts, it is the sign that US fears loss of influence in Europe. The US sells 1 billion Euros of weapons to the European Union countries every year.

Military Mobility Project

It is to aid the free movement of military units in the European Union through improvement of infrastructure and removal of bureaucratic barriers. It mainly revolves around two areas namely bureaucratic barriers (like passport checks) and requirement of advance notice. During NATO emergency, the troops can move freely and fastly. However, during peacetime, advance notice is required.

Background

In November 2020, the European Union allowed non-EU members to participate in PESCO. Following this, Canada, US and Norway had requested to participate in PESCO.

Neutral States in PESCO

Four of the states in European Union declare themselves as neutral. They are Austria, Ireland, Finland and Sweden.

The SpaceX of Elon Musk recently launched SN15. Earlier the initial attempts made to launch the rocket ended in explosions in mid air.

Why are SpaceX rockets exploding?

There have been several situations of SpaceX rocket explosions in the past. This is mainly due to the methane-based propellant used by SpaceX.

The first two prototypes of Starship rockets that were launched in December 2020 and February 2021 failed to land properly and exploded.

The SN8 rocket of SpaceX that was launched in December, 2020 exploded as the engines failed to slow the rocket after it flipped and started descending towards the earth. The pressure in the fuel header tank was low that increased the touch down velocity and exploded the rocket.

The SN9 that took off in February 2021, failed to correct its angle and speed and exploded upon landing.

Latest Test

The latest test that launched SN15 has overcome all the earlier hurdles. This is the first test flight of SpaceX in SN series that did not explode. The pervious prototypes in SN series achieved multiple objectives. However, they all exploded after landing.

The SN15 flew till ten kilometres and then flipped and descended.

What is the issue?

The Raptor engine of SpaceX uses liquid methane and subcooled liquid oxygen as propellants. The engine is designed to use deep cryogenic propellants, that is, the propellants cooled near to their freezing point. Such propellants increase engine performance, propellant density and also allows to store more propellant in vehicle tanks. However, the issue is that at such low temperatures, the pressure is too low. To the contrary the pressure outside is extremely high where the rocket is burning the fuel to create a forward thrust against the gravity. The scientists believe that the pressure differences probably causes the explosion.

The Supreme Court recently pronounced that only President can take decisions in declaring the Socially and Economically Backward Community. The judgement was pronounced upholding the 102nd constitutional amendments.

About the Judgement

The Apex court said that the 102nd constitutional amendment has taken away the powers of state governments to designate Socially and Economically Backward Classes.

What is the issue?

The State Governments have been expanding the list of Socially and Economically Backward Classes to entitle the recipient communities with quota benefits.

Indra Sawhney Case

The State Government has full powers to identify a backward class. The Sawhney Case verdict directed the appointment of National Backward Classes Commission and State Backward Classes Commission. Thus, 102nd constitutional amendment was brought in and the commissions were established.

102nd Constitutional Amendments

The 102nd Constitutional Amendment inserted Articles 338 B and Article 342 A, The Article 338 B deals with the structure, powers and duties of National Commission for Backward Classes and the Article 342 A deals with the power of the president to notify a particular caste as Socially and Economically Backward.

Constitutional Provisions

Article 366 and Article 342 says that only President shall identify SECC.

Why did the issue pop up?

The Maharashtra State Government declared the Maratha Community as the Socially and Economically Backward Class. The Supreme court has struck down the Maratha reservation provided by the State Government under SEBC act, 2018..

The Bombay High Court recently upheld the Maharashtra Socially and Economically Backward Classes Act, 2018. This was challenged in Supreme Court by various petitions.

The Reserve Bank of India recently launched a host of measures to protect individual borrowers and the small and medium enterprises in the country.

What are the measures announced?

Who are eligible?

The enterprises that have an aggregate exposure till Rs 25 crores and had not availed restructuring framework are eligible for restructuring under this framework.

Denmark has passed a law to allow the screening of foreign investments so that they do not pose any threats to the National Security.

Why the new law?

The new law has been legislated to protect the country against Huawei of China and its objectives to build 5G network in the country. However, the law does not mention China.

About the law

Under the law, the foreign investors will be assessed on their potential link to foreign governments and armed forces. They will also be assessed for connection to criminal activities.

The law is not applicable to Greenland and Faroe Islands. They are sovereign territories under the Kingdom of Denmark.

Why is Huawei a threat to National Security?

Several countries in the world are making new legislation and other key measures to protect their National security against Huawei. This includes US, Australia as well. The UK has ordered to strip Huawei technology from UK by 2027. India and Germany too have raised concerns against Huawei.

Huawei manufactures kits such as gateways, network switches and bridges. They are core infrastructure devices that touch everything traversing the internet. They are critical for proper functioning of the system. This means that the Governments should take extra care in protecting their data.

Huawei was founded in 1987 in China by Ren Zhengfei. He was a former engineer in the People’s Liberation Army. He has strong connections with the Communist Party of China and also to the military. This is being cited as a security concern. Countries fear that the Chinese Government might use Huawei as a backdoor to breach into the national security system.