Current Affairs 17th February

4 cases of South Africa variant of virus found #GS3 #SnT

Four cases of the South Africa variant of SARS-CoV-2 and one case of the Brazil variant have been detected in the country. India has so far reported 187 cases of the U.K. variant.

South African variant of SARS-CoV-2 which has spread to 44 countries has entered India. The strain has been detected in four different SA returnees this past month — Angola (1), Tanzania (1) and South Africa (2). All travellers have been tested, quarantined and ICMR-NIV is attempting to isolate and culture the SA variant.”

Earlier this month, one case of the Brazilian variant, which emerged independently in that country, was reported in India.

Benefit of the NewsDifferent variant of Covid.

India, China pull back troops from Pangong #GS2 #IR

With the withdrawal of tanks from the forward areas on the south bank of Pangong Tso (lake) completed, India and China have started pulling back troops in large numbers from the north and south banks and also restoring land that was dug up during the heavy build-up of defences last year.

‘Good pace’

Videos released by the Army show the People’s Liberation Army troops dismantling tents and bunkers and moving equipment in vehicles. Infantry troops can be seen moving out on foot as well as long convoys of vehicles with stores and troops as part of the disengagement agreement. 

“The de-induction of troops from the frontline is going on at a good pace. Indian troops too are withdrawing from the heights of the Kailash range as per the agreement. On the south bank, tanks and troops of both sides had been deployed dangerously close to each other, and they have now been pulled back by some distance.

Stating that it doesn’t mean they all go back to their original barracks, another official said they had moved back from the frontline now. The overall pullback of troops and armaments from across the LAC to farther behind would be discussed once the disengagement from all the friction areas was over, the official said. Chinese troops have started clearing out from the ridgelines of Finger 4, which has been a major area of contention. On the north bank, Chinese troops will withdraw to the east of Finger 8, while Indian troops will move to the Dhan Singh Thapa post near Finger 3.

Benefit of the NewsIndia- China border disputes

Leopard population tracking gets new approach #GS3 #Environment

Wildlife specialists have for long faced challenges estimating the density of leopards in areas where some of the spotted cats are melanistic or black.

Experts from three organisations, one of them Assam-based Aaranyak, have come up with a system that helps in properly estimating the leopard population in areas sustaining a mix of rosette and melanistic individuals.

Rosettes are jagged black circular marks on the tawny coat of a leopard. Like the tiger’s stripes, the rosettes of each leopard are unique in shape and size, making the species identifiable individually. But melanistic leopards — commonly called black leopards or black panthers or ghongs (Assamese) — have been difficult to estimate as their rosettes are invisible.

U.S.-based Panthera is the only organisation in the world devoted exclusively to the conservation of the world’s 40 wild cat species and their ecosystems. Melanism has been documented in 14 of these species, including the leopard.

When a population has only rosette leopard, estimating their population size becomes easy because all the individuals can be identified. Unlike rosette leopards, a black leopard can often not be reliably identified individually, although special cases exist. We are, therefore, unable to completely estimate population sizes of leopards, a metric that is very critical for their conservation.

‘Acute problem’

This problem is acute in the tropical and subtropical moist forests of South and Southeast Asia where the frequency of melanistic leopards is high and leopards also face the greatest threat. No precise estimates of leopard population could thus be done in protected areas and non-protected areas in India except on some occasions.

The population density of leopards in Manas is 3.37 per 100 sq km. In the study, about 22.6% images of the leopards were of the melanistic kind.

‘Major development’

“In the SMR models, we then borrow the capture history of the rosette leopards and apply the information on the melanistic leopards to estimate the entire population size of leopards. This is a significant analytical development that can help assess the population of leopards across a great part of the species range from where population estimates are scant.

The SMR method is expected to make it easier to assess the population status of leopards for informed conservation measures by applying the conventional camera trapping field method.

Benefit of the NewsLeopard estimation method

Lab study to trace origin of disaster #GS3 #DM

A week after a landslip claimed 58 lives in Chamoli, Uttarakhand, a team of scientists at the Wadia Institute of Himalayan Geology (WIHG) in Dehradun are analysing fragments of ice, rock and mud in their labs to better understand the origins of the disaster.

On-site study

Five WIHG researchers travelled to the disaster site and later undertook aerial surveys right up to the vicinity of the Raunthi glacier, near the Nandadevi biosphere reserve, in the Himalayas.

A portion of this glacier is believed to have crumbled down and caused an avalanche that destroyed the Rishiganga and Tapovan hydropower projects in Chamoli as well as trapping at least 150, many fatally, in muck and slurry.

We have collected several samples. We also have sediment samples from glaciers in the region from previous expeditions. We can now compare them and be more certain of the glacial origin of the avalanche. An outstanding research question that the scientists are poring over is what might have caused the rock to break off.

The current hypothesis is that it was a natural process of freezing and thawing of the icy mountains over eons that might have caused cracks to develop, weakening the structure and causing it to crumble.

Another suggestion is that a heavy mass of snow may have fallen over the glacier, which was already partially melting, causing it to break off.

Benefit of the NewsTrace the origin of disaster

Oxford jab gets WHO green light #GS3 #SnT

The World Health Organization (WHO) listed two versions of the AstraZeneca-Oxford COVID-19 vaccine for emergency use, giving the green light for them to be rolled out globally through COVAX. The vaccines are produced by AstraZeneca-SKBio (Republic of Korea) and the Serum Institute of India (SII).

WHO said the Emergency Use Listing (EUL) assessed the quality, safety and efficacy of the vaccines, a prerequisite for COVAX Facility vaccine supply. “It also allows countries to expedite their own regulatory approval to import and administer vaccines.

Countries with no access to vaccines to date will finally be able to start vaccinating their health workers and populations at risk, contributing to the COVAX Facility’s goal of equitable vaccine distribution.

It said there was a need to keep up the pressure to meet the needs of priority populations everywhere and facilitate global access. The world body had also listed the Pfizer/BioNTech vaccine for emergency use on December 31.

Benefit of the News– WHO nod for vaccine

NBFCs’ stressed assets may rise to Rs. 1.5-1.8 lakh cr. by March-end’ #GS3 #Economy

Stressed assets of non-banking financial companies (NBFCs) are likely to touch Rs. 1.5-1.8 lakh crore, or 6-7.5% of their assets under management (AUM) by the end of this fiscal. However, the one-time COVID-19 restructuring window, and the micro, small and medium enterprises’ (MSME) restructuring scheme of the Reserve Bank of India (RBI) will limit the reported gross non-performing assets (GNPA).

“This fiscal has brought unprecedented challenges to the fore for NBFCs. Collection efficiencies, after deteriorating sharply, have now improved, but are still not at pre-pandemic levels.

Increase in overdues

“There is a marked increase in overdues across certain segments and players. He expects gold loans and home loans to stay resilient, with the least impact among segments. The RBI, in its Financial Stability Report released last month, had said GNPAs of NBFCs increased to 6.3% as of March 2020 from 5.3% as of March 2019.

The report had said the asset quality of NBFCs is expected to deteriorate further due to disruption of business operations caused by the pandemic, especially in the industry sector, a major recipient of NBFC credit.

GDP to contract 1% in Q3: BofA #GS3 #Economy

Against the majority view of a rebound in the growth numbers for the December quarter, the house economists at the Wall Street brokerage Bank of America Securities pencilled in a 1% contraction in India’s GDP for the third quarter.

On an average, economists at almost all the rating agencies and brokerages have forecast a 0.4-0.7% positive growth for the economy that had contracted by a record 23.9% in the first quarter and 7.5% in the second quarter of the current fiscal. The contraction in the first half of the current financial year ending March 31 was 15.7%.

Expecting a rebound in the second half, Bank of America Securities India has pencilled in a contraction of only 7-7.7% for the year, still making it the worst on record and the third since Independence. BofA’s negative 1% GDP growth assessment comes despite its activity indicator recording a 1.7% growth in December after declining for nine months on the trot.

As per BofA, credit growth slipped to 5.6% in late January from 6.2% on January 1. This shows that the economy remains weak and the only relief is that the real lending rates are coming off with the real MCLR falling by 230 basis points since March 2019 on sustained RBI easing, the brokerage added.

On balance, BofA said that it expects the RBI to remain on hold throughout FY22 and raise rates by 100 basis points in FY23.

Benefit of the NewsEstimated GDP

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