U.P. ordinance on conversion not yet received by MHA #GS2 #Governance
The ordinance on unlawful religious conversions, promulgated by the Uttar Pradesh government last year, has not been sent to the Centre for examination, according to a reply from the Union Home Ministry to a query under the Right to Information Act (RTI).
The Ministry of Home Affairs (MHA) examines bills passed by States that are repugnant to Central laws before they get the President’s assent to become a law.
Article 213 of the Constitution, under which U.P. Governor Anandiben Patel promulgated the ordinance, says the Governor shall not, without instructions from the President, promulgate any such Ordinance if a Bill would have “required the previous sanction of the President” for introduction in the State Legislature.
A similar legislation passed by the Rajasthan Assembly in 2008 under the then BJP government is still pending with the MHA. It is yet to receive the President’s nod as the MHA found that it deviated from national policy. MHA sends State bills for inter-ministerial consultation before they get the President’s nod, only in the following circumstances — when it has repugnancy with central laws, deviates from national or central policy and when it can be challenged for legal validity.
Benefit of the News– About Article 213 & UP conversion ordinance update.
New COVID-19 vaccine likely by June: SII #GS3 #SnT
Serum Institute of India (SII) chief Adar Poonawalla said he is hopeful of launching a new COVID-19 vaccine under the brand name Covovax by June.
The Institute had earlier applied to the Drugs Controller General of India (DCGI) for clearance to conduct a trial for the vaccine in India. According to a government official, the DCGI had reviewed SII’s application and asked them to submit a revised protocol.
Covovax is being developed by American company Novavax. According to a recent press statement, the vaccine was found to be 89.3% effective in a U.K. trial and was nearly as effective in protecting against the U.K. variant. Mr. Poonawalla said SII’s partnership with Novavax, a vaccine undergoing trials for effectiveness against the novel coronavirus, has published “excellent efficacy results”.
Novavax’s vaccine contains a full-length, prefusion spike protein made using their recombinant nanoparticle technology and the company’s proprietary saponin-based Matrix-M adjuvant. The purified protein is encoded by the genetic sequence of the SARS-CoV-2 spike (S) protein and is produced in insect cells.
It can neither cause COVID-19 nor replicate, is stable at 2 degrees Celsius to 8 degrees Celsius (refrigerated) and is shipped in a ready-to-use liquid formulation. Apart from Covovax, four more vaccines are in the pipeline for India.
Benefit of the News–Brief about Novavax
China is still largest source of critical imports for India #GS2 #IR
China still remains the largest source of critical imports for India, from mobile phone components to pharmaceutical ingredients, and India is working on a multi-pronged strategy to reduce this reliance, which is a bigger concern than the imbalance in trade.
A mobile phone requires 85% content coming from one country. If China were to stop the active pharmaceutical ingredients (APIs) for penicillin, we would not be able to produce it in this country. When somebody controls your production, that is a sentiment which raises concern.”
India was working on a multi-pronged strategy to reduce this dependence, ranging from the Production Linked Incentive (PLI) scheme to boost domestic manufacturing, a global effort involving India’s foreign missions to find alternatives to China, and the use of free trade agreements (FTAs) with other trading partners.
COVID-19 had helped accelerate this change. When production in China was hit early in 2020, although its economy would recover by the summer and become the only major economy to avoid contraction last year, India shared with its foreign missions lists of items critically dependent on China, following which the missions linked up with suppliers in their countries.
Mr. Chadha, however, sounded a note of caution, suggesting this process was at the beginning, not the end. “We have to keep in mind China is still our largest source of imports for critical items,” he said, “and our pharmaceuticals and electronics sectors are hugely dependent on China.”
What offered opportunities for India was the push from many countries to not necessarily relocate from China – which still remains integral to global supply chains – but to diversify, with future capacity expansion up for grabs. The PLI scheme is hoping to capture that diversification.
“If 85% of my components [for mobile phones] is dependent on one country, should I not have a production linked incentive to have the big companies come here? We have seen Apple start manufacturing in India. The PLI is going to accelerate that investment.”
China still remained the biggest source of India’s imports, but imports last year fell 10.8%, the lowest since 2016. Two-way trade in 2020 reached $87.6 billion, down by 5.6%, while the trade deficit declined to a five year-low of $45.8 billion.
Mr. Chadha noted that steel imports had fallen from a high of $2.8 billion to less than $1 billion, with China replaced by South Korea in part because of an FTA. India in 2019 withdrew from the Regional Comprehensive Economic Partnership (RCEP), which would have put India and China in the same trading bloc. “The FTA,” he said referring to the example of steel, “is resulting in diversification for free.”
On the trade front with China, India’s exporters had struggled for years but made little headway because of a number of non-tariff barriers. In 2018, both sides signed a number of protocols, including for rice and tobacco, but “none of this materialised in substantial trade”. India’s exports to China did, however, cross $20 billion for the first time last year.
Benefit of the News– India China trade relations & PLI
7% of those aged 10 years or older exposed to virus by August 2020’ #GS3 #SnT
Approximately one in 15 individuals aged 10 years or older in India is likely to have gone through a SARS-CoV-2 infection by August 18, 2020, according to the findings of a survey published in the Lancet Global Health .
Adult sero-prevalence increased approximately tenfold between May and August, 2020, said the survey that was funded by the Indian Council of Medical Research. The study, titled ‘SARS-CoV-2 antibody sero-prevalence in India, August-September 2020’, found that sero-prevalence was highest in urban slums.
The survey added that the lower infection-to-case ratio in August than in May reflected a substantial increase in testing across the country. Serum samples were collected from 29,082 individuals from 15,613 households between August 18-September 20, 2020.
The findings noted that the second nationwide serosurvey indicated that nearly 7% of India’s population aged 10 years or older had been exposed to SARS-CoV-2 infection by August, 2020, with an estimated 74 million infections. Sero-prevalence did not differ by age group or sex, but was higher in urban areas, especially in the slums, when compared to rural areas.
Sero-prevalence among adults increased by about ten times, from 0.7% in May to 7.1% in August. All 70 districts surveyed showed a rise in IgG seropositivity between the two serosurveys, although the change was highly variable.
The first serosurvey was done in May–June, 2020, among adults aged 18 years or older from 21 States. It found a SARS-CoV-2 IgG antibody sero-prevalence of 0.73% .
The sero-prevalence of SARS-CoV-2 antibodies is important to understand the transmission dynamics of the virus, estimate total infections, including mild and asymptomatic individuals who might not receive testing and inform the possibility of transmission interruption through the depletion of susceptible individuals, if sero-conversion is associated with robust immunity.
Benefit of the News– Sero-prevalence
India proposes law to ban cryptocurrencies, create official digital currency #GS3 #Security
The Centre plans to introduce a law to ban private cryptocurrencies such as bitcoin and put in place a framework for an official digital currency to be issued by the central bank. The law will “create a facilitative framework for creation of the official digital currency to be issued by the Reserve Bank of India [RBI].
The legislation, listed for debate in the current parliamentary session, seeks “to prohibit all private cryptocurrencies in India, however, it allows for certain exceptions to promote the underlying technology of cryptocurrency and its uses.
In mid-2019, a government panel recommended banning all private cryptocurrencies, with a jail term of up to 10 years and heavy fines for anyone dealing in digital currencies.
The panel has, however, asked the government to consider the launch of an official government-backed digital currency in India, to function like bank notes, through the Reserve Bank of India.
The RBI had in April 2018 ordered financial institutions to break off all ties with individuals or businesses dealing in virtual currency such as bitcoin within three months. However, in March 2020, the Supreme Court allowed banks to handle cryptocurrency transactions from exchanges and traders, overturning a central bank ban had that dealt the thriving industry a major blow.
Governments around the world have been looking into ways to regulate cryptocurrencies but no major economy has taken the drastic step of placing a blanket ban on owning them, even though concern has been raised about the misuse of consumer data and its possible impact on the financial system.
Benefit of the News– India planning for a new crypto currency
Electricity will be the backbone of our entire energy system #GS3 #Economy
What is the grid of the future?
The grid of the future is all about renewable penetration and increased electricity consumption. The Railways has an ambition to electrify their entire network; besides, electric vehicles (EVs) will be one of the biggest growth drivers spurring electrification in the country. There will be growing electrification of utilities, industry and buildings. In addition, we will see a rise in sustainable energy carriers such as green hydrogen which will transform our energy systems.
This is what the future of the grid, the future of power systems looks like. It means that electricity will soon be the backbone of our entire energy system.
How will it be different from what it is today?
The grid has been there, and it has been there since electricity was invented 200 years back. We now see smart grids transforming ways utilities communicate with their customers. Supported by digital technologies, power grids can quickly respond to demand/supply changes and enable electricity producers to enhance power reliability, availability and efficiency. They can also bring cost savings, not only for utilities but also for customers. Besides, an efficient grid will allow faster restoration of power outages and support better integration of large-scale renewable energy sources, bringing environmental benefits.
What is the way ahead?
Every penny that goes into the system now needs to be future ready. That means, if you invest one dollar in an asset today, you must think about how this asset will serve you in the long term. That means taking care of your grid’s future aspects such as digitalisation, optimisation at the time of buying itself.
What are the challenges?
Regulation is one challenge for digitalisation. The second challenge is availability of technology and the right skill sets. We must also consider the environmental costs as we strive to achieve carbon neutrality.
We need to have very clear, holistic ways of investment as well.
What are the benefits of an efficient grid?
The main benefits are reliability and flexibility. Today, so much renewable energy is getting added that there has to be predictability in generation and supply. Say, the government is now planning to put 7.5 GW of solar capacity in Leh, Kargil. What would happen when suddenly there is a cloud for a few minutes? The 7.5 GW capacity would go out of your energy system. How do you manage the flexibility? These are the challenges.
Besides, in India, we are at a nascent stage of e-mobility. Once it catches on, just imagine the number of cars that will need to be powered and the strain they will put on the grid. A smart grid can better handle this.
How has COVID-19 enabled faster transformation in the sector?
COVID-19 has directed everyone to look at sustainability, the way society is working, from a carbon-neutral lens. The whole power ecosystem is adapting. We are now talking about 3 Ds: decentralisation, de-carbonisation, digitalisation on the whole. COVID-19 brought about an increased utilisation of digital technologies, remote technologies in particular.
Take us for example, we went for remote commissioning of projects which was unheard of previously. We commissioned a large substation without any of our people going to the site; even the client was not present physically.
Tropical cyclones move closer to land except for Atlantic hurricanes #GS1 #Geography
Tropical cyclones across the globe, except Atlantic hurricanes, are moving closer to land in recent decades, a new study found.
Tropical cyclones generally have been moving westward by about 30 kilometres per decade since 1982, putting them closer to land and making them more dangerous, a study published in Science said. Each decade since the 1980s, an additional two cyclones have come within 200 kilometres of land, the study said
Researchers do not quite know why this is happening, but it adds to other ominous trends in cyclone activity. Past studies have found that the most intense storms are getting stronger and storms in general are getting wetter, shifting poleward, moving slower and are keeping their power longer after hitting land.
It’s mysterious that, unlike other areas, the Atlantic hurricane basin didn’t show any significant westward shift, but that could be because the Atlantic hurricane zone is more closely surrounded by continents, Wang said. The busiest tropical cyclone basin is in the western Pacific, where there are the most landfalls and the shift westward is twice as big as the global average.
Storms generally move east to west because of trade winds in the tropics, so a greater westward shift usually puts them closer to where the land is, Wang said. Storms that form just west of land, such as in the Pacific off the California and Mexican coasts, are usually moving away from land already, so this shift doesn’t spare more land.
Changes in atmospheric currents that steer storms tend to be pushing cyclones farther west, but why is still an open question. He said it could be only partly explained by some natural long-term climate cycles.
Other shifts in atmospheric patterns have been connected to human-caused climate change and that’s a possible factor in the shift but not something researchers can prove yet, he said.
COVID-19 pandemic: is it a decline after the peak? #GS3 #SnT
The COVID-19 pandemic that originated in China presumably in September of 2019, took the world by storm in 2020, wreaking havoc on global health and economy. Each country responded to the pandemic in its own way.
The importations of the coronavirus were early and more numerous in countries with heavy travel to and from China, Italy, for example. Such countries were surprised with early start and rapid spread of the epidemic, overwhelming even their well-organised and robust healthcare systems.
The test-treat-trace-isolate policy of the Western world, and non-pharmacological personal protective measures – cough etiquette, mask wearing, maintaining physical distance and hand washing with varying degrees of acceptance – were able to flatten the initial wave of the epidemic curve. However, the virus was too infectious; the emergent variants even more so. Premature relaxation of curbs on assembly and personal protective measures led to resurgence of infections and larger second waves during the last quarter of 2020, spilling over to January 2021.
Countries which adopted universal mask-wearing and provided easy access for PCR testing for infection – such as Taiwan and South Korea, escaped with fewer cases and fewer deaths compared to many others.
The socio-cultural-cum-political situations in countries like the U.S. and the U.K. led to public resistance to accept restrictions of personal freedom with consequent aggravation of the epidemics. However, for the last four months, all countries were eagerly waiting for a respite – by way of decline of the epidemic, which had to follow a peak. We believe the peak is just past, good tidings to the worst affected countries.
The pandemic is a composite of epidemics in all countries, hence a statistical construct, not reflecting any country-specific epidemic; some countries like India peaked earlier, some like Indonesia and Portugal may see a later epidemic peak, but this will not influence the world peak.
Thirty-five countries started rolling out vaccination in 2020 – China and Russia in September; the U.K., the U.S. and Canada in the second week of December and others by late December. More countries, including India have initiated vaccination programme in January 2021. Only very few have started giving the second dose – therefore vaccination has not started contributing to the decline of the epidemic in any country.
Remember, it takes two weeks after second dose – or six weeks from the date of the first dose, to confer immunity against COVID and have an impact on the epidemic curve. Therefore, vaccination has so far not contributed to the decline of the epidemic in any country.
The graph tells us that the global peak occurred around January 10, with decline in the ensuing 2 weeks. The weekly number of deaths are still on the ascent. This is expected in view of the four-week delay between infection and death. We expect the mortality graph to reach peak shortly and then decline. If that turns out to be true, our conclusion about the pandemic peak and decline will also be true.
What does the peak signify? The herd immunity threshold for COVID-19 coronavirus infection is approximately 60%, and at the peak of the epidemic, half that level, about 30% of the world population would have been infected. The peak is the half -way mark and in the absence of vaccination, a further 30% of the population would get infected before endemic phase is reached.
Effect of mass vaccination
Mass vaccination in countries which have not reached endemicity already, should accelerate the rate of decline of infections and take the world to a ‘pan-endemic’ state. If vaccination strategy is purposefully tailored, the programme carried out seamlessly and efficiently and universal acceptance is achieved through proper information-education -communication, we can prevent further deaths due to COVID-19 globally. We will even have an opportunity to eradicate COVID-19.
For this, all nations of the world should act in unison, helping each other, with support and leadership from WHO and cooperation of philanthropic agencies. This will pave the way for rapid and smooth global economic recovery. India has already set an example by sharing the vaccine with its neighbours, a fact much appreciated by the WHO.
In this pandemic, the world has learnt an important lesson. Any disturbance in ecological balance and health of species anywhere in the world may come with a heavy price. Among other ill effects, such imbalance may lead to animal-to-human transmission of serious infectious disease and threaten the fabric of socio-cultural and economic stability of mankind. All human developmental activities should be in tune with nature enabling all creatures to live peacefully in their respective habitats.
What does ‘green tax’ mean for vehicle owners? #GS3 #Economy
The story so far: Union Transport Minister Nitin Gadkari has announced his Ministry’s approval of a ‘green tax’ on vehicles of specified vintage, as a means of dissuading people from using polluting vehicles. Among the major features of the measure is a 10%-25% additional green tax on the road tax payable by commercial transport vehicles that are older than eight years at the time of fitness certification renewal, and for personal vehicles after 15 years. The policy provides exemptions for tractors, harvesters and tillers used in farms, hybrid, electric, ethanol, liquefied petroleum gas (LPG) and compressed natural gas (CNG)-powered vehicles, and a lower green tax for public transport vehicles such as buses; conversely, a higher additional 50% of road tax is proposed for vehicles in highly polluted cities, as well as differential tax based on fuel and vehicle type, such as diesel. Vehicles of government departments and public sector units that are older than 15 years are to be deregistered and scrapped. Green tax funds are to be kept in a separate account to help States measure pollution and tackle it. State governments must now comment on the proposal. The policy is scheduled to come into force on April 1, 2022 (https://bit.ly/3pCcSNA).
Does scrapping old vehicles carry big benefits?
India has been working on a scrappage policy for years that could, on the one hand, give a boost to the automobile industry and related businesses by stimulating demand, and lead to recovery of steel, aluminium, plastic and so on for recycling, on the other. Newer vehicles conforming to stricter emissions and fuel efficiency standards are more environment-friendly, and have modern safety features. In 2016, India notified the Corporate Average Fuel Economy (CAFE) Standard for passenger vehicles to boost efficiency. Those with not more than nine seats and weighing less than 3,500 kg were covered from April 1, 2017. The average fuel consumption standard is given by the Power Ministry’s Bureau of Energy Efficiency (BEE) as less than 5.49 litres per 100 km (https://bit.ly/3acj34k). A second round of tighter efficiency norms is scheduled for 2022. Separate standards for light, medium and heavy commercial vehicles exist. CAFE also regulates CO2 emissions, while other pollutants such as carbon monoxide, oxides of nitrogen and sulphur are covered by Bharat Stage fuel standards. The benefits from vehicle replacements can be gauged from Transport Ministry data: commercial vehicles making up 5% of the vehicle fleet but contribute an estimated 65-70% of total vehicular pollution.
The Centre provided funds under the Jawaharlal Nehru National Urban Renewal Mission (JNNURM) to State governments to augment bus fleets, and help the recession-hit bus industry in 2009. Globally, accelerated vehicle replacement schemes have been used in several countries. The most notable were those in Europe, besides the high-profile, $3 billion “Cash for Clunkers” or CARS (or Car Allowance Rebate System) programme in the U.S. after the 2008 recession. The official evaluation of the U.S. scheme was that it led to an average mileage efficiency increase of 58%, and upgraded vehicles generally were high on environmental benefits such as lower air pollution. Some critics say the U.S. scheme was not carefully targeted to primarily help those who could not afford a replacement. The BEE estimates that higher efficiency norms could result in a fuel use reduction of 22.97 million tons by 2025 in India.
Is the proposed policy for scrappage workable?
In 2015, as the Transport Ministry was drafting it, Mr. Gadkari said the idea was to give a certificate to owners selling off old vehicles of specified age, which could be redeemed for a discount of Rs. 30,000 to Rs. 50,000 for new passenger vehicles. For a commercial vehicle, the benefits including taxes would be an estimated Rs. 1.5 lakh. This idea did not progress, however, and among those who expressed reservations on high costs was NITI Aayog. The Aayog was concerned that some sections may not be in a position to retire old vehicles because of the high capital cost. The proposals in earlier drafts also envisaged tax discounts for those who exchanged old motors for new ones. The present initiative, however, has the limited objective of nudging the owners of older vehicles to sell them off rather than pay a green tax penalty. Without sufficient incentive or penalty, and careful targeting of vehicles with knowledge of their condition, a tax penalty could be less of a disincentive to commercial vehicle owners, since the tax would be far lower than its resale value and earnings potential; there would be no compulsion to retire it. Continued operation of the vehicles would defeat the clean air objective and bring no cheer to the automobile industry.
What are the options available to tweak the policy?
For a clean-up, commercial transport vehicles are of highest concern: on fuel efficiency, emissions and safety. The Centre could offer a green new deal with financial options such as loans and grants to smaller operators to scrap their junk vehicles, while escalating the green tax annually to achieve the nudge effect. A second stimulus to bus companies could help green the fleet and cut pollution.
Small operators such as autorickshaws could be offered low-interest loans, particularly to move to electric vehicles.
Testing vaccines against SARS-CoV-2 variants #GS3 #SnT
The story so far: Bharat Biotech, the makers of Covaxin, and the Indian Council of Medical Research (ICMR) reported results of a study that showed the vaccine appeared to be working against B.1.1.7, better known as the U.K. variant or a new variant of SARS-CoV-2. Pfizer and Moderna, whose vaccines have been approved after demonstrating efficacy, have also undertaken studies to check if their vaccines are effective against new variants.
Why and how are such studies done?
Covaxin, among the two vaccines being used to inoculate Indian health-care workers — the other being Covishield — was still in clinical trial mode when it was approved for restricted emergency use. Among the reasons advocated by the government for doing so was the possible infection by mutant strains, like the U.K. variant. The B.1.1.7 variant, with many mutations, some in the spike protein, was linked to a sharp spike in coronavirus cases in the United Kingdom and many other countries. In India, the variant has been confirmed in 165 people (January 28), all with a travel history to the U.K.
Another variant, B.1.351, first identified in South Africa, has been reported from several countries. With most vaccines targeting the spike protein, a variant with mutations that helps SARS-CoV-2 evade the immune system could defeat their purpose. One way to find out the ability of a specific antibody to neutralise a virus is through a serological test called the Plaque Reduction Neutralisation Test (PRNT).
Blood serum, that contains antibodies, is taken from people who have been infected or have been vaccinated. This antibody soup is diluted and mixed with the virus and evaluated in customised plates to see the extent to which neutralising antibodies were successful in containing the virus spread.
To check the antibodies’ capabilities against mutant variants, scientists at the National Institute of Virology, Pune, used antibodies obtained from people who had been vaccinated in the Covaxin trials and tested them against virus extracted from those infected with the U.K. strain and another un-named strain, hCoV27 19/India/2020Q111, reportedly a strain with provenance from Iran.
What did the study find?
The objective of PRNT is to find out the antibodies needed to reduce a given amount of virus by a fixed proportion. What emerged was that irrespective of the SARS-CoV-2 strain tested, roughly the same number of antibodies were needed to kill the virus.
This implies that Covaxin generated antibodies that were as effective against the mutant U.K. variant as the virus used to make the vaccine. Tests by Pfizer and Moderna had found similar results, though there has been no such test reported on the AstraZeneca Covishield vaccine.
What does it imply?
The latest study attests to the fact that Covaxin is a promising candidate to be tested in large trials. A laboratory study that quantifies the antibodies generated against a virus does not correlate with a vaccine’s efficacy or effectiveness in the field. That can only be done via a phase-3 trial that compares it in different sets of the population.
A limitation of the Covaxin study, which has not been peer reviewed, is that it does not discuss other important aspects. For instance, an important mutation in the South African variant, called E484K, has been found to help the virus evade detection.
How long does antibody protection last?
There is considerable uncertainty if antibody protection can last over six months. It is not clear whether a mutant can evade lower concentrations of antibodies. The promoters of Covaxin and scientists at the ICMR say the strength of a vaccine lies in it being a whole-inactivated virus — that means a larger surface area of the virus is visible to the immune system and thereby a wider range of antibodies are produced.
However, the evidence so far is that antibodies from all vaccines are largely targeted at the spike protein, or the operative region where the virus binds to the cell; therefore, more does not necessarily mean better.
What remains to be tested?
A challenge governing all vaccines is that it must induce a calibrated response from the immune system — just enough so that antibodies guard against a future, actual infection and not so much that too many weakly neutralising antibodies (aiding a condition called antibody-dependent enhancement) are produced.
January 2020 Hindu & IE Editorial Compilation & Imp. Article for quoting as an example
February 2020 Hindu & IE Editorial Compilation & Imp. Article for quoting as an example
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April 2020 Hindu & IE Editorial Compilation & Imp. Article for quoting as an example
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