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Insights Daily Current Events, October 31, 2013


October 31, 2013


Parikh panel wants diesel price hiked by Rs. 5

Recommendations of Kirit Parikh Committee:

  • The Government-appointed Kirit Parikh Committee has recommended a price increase of Rs. 5 per litre in diesel, Rs. 4 per litre in kerosene, and Rs. 250 in LPG cylinder with immediate effect.

  • Subsidised LPG cylinders should be reduced from the present nine to six per annum to each household. It has called for capping the subsidy on diesel at Rs. 6 per litre. At the same time, it has called for elimination of subsidy on diesel within one year. This would cut the subsidy bill (or save the exchequer) by Rs. 72,000 crore.

  • The panel has said that the Government should take steps to pass on the impact of rise in price of diesel to consumers, and move rapidly towards making the price of diesel market-determined.

  • In view of high under-recovery of Rs. 10.51 per litre on diesel, HSD (High Speed Diesel) prices should be raised by Rs. 5 per litre with immediate effect. The balance under-recovery should be made up through a subsidy of Rs. 6 per litre to public sector oil marketing companies (OMCs).

  • In future, OMCs should be permitted to revise the prices above the subsidy cap on their own.

  • The committee is of the view that the PDS kerosene price should be comparable to diesel price to prevent diversion and adulteration. This can be accomplished if PDS kerosene is priced at full market price, and the benefit of the subsidy to the deserving consumers i.e. BPL families, is given through direct cash transfer mechanism. The direct transfer of subsidy to BPL families country-wide should be fast-tracked, and completed within the next two years. Till this is implemented, price of kerosene should be increased by Rs. 4 per litre immediately, and thereafter be revised from time to time at least in line with growth in the per capita agriculture GDP.

Why was Kirit Parikh Committee set up?

  • The Kirit Parikh panel was set up by the Petroleum and Natural Gas Ministry to suggest a methodology for pricing of diesel and cooking fuel.

More about HSD prices

  • HSD is normally used as a fuel for high speed diesel engines operating above 750 rpm i.e. buses, lorries, generating sets, locomotives, pumping sets etc. Gas turbine requiring distillate fuels normally make use of HSD as fuel.


WHO polio report spurs calls for “vaccination ceasefire” in Syria

  • World Health Organisation’s(WHO) report on ‘several cases of polio’ (in Syria), has resulted in call for a “vaccination ceasefire” between government forces and the armed opposition, engaged in fierce fighting

  • The WHO has confirmed 10 cases in Dier al-Zour, where government forces and opposition combatants are fighting to establish full military control. This has prevented humanitarian interventions by health workers, triggering anxieties that the highly contagious virus could rapidly spread to the rest of Syria and beyond.

  • Syria had been free from the ailment since 1999, but after the recent occurrences, nearly 1,00,000 children, under five, are susceptible to polio in Dier al-Zour alone.

  • Caught in the crossfire of violence and its fallout, Syria and its seven neighbours have announced emergency plans to carry out vaccinations on a war-footing.

  • The international children’s charity, Save the Children, has issued an appeal seeking “pauses in fighting to allow vaccination campaigns to take place across both sides of the conflict

  • According to WHO, ‘the Syria outbreak could be from Pakistan; before this, the virus from Pakistan was found in Egypt, Palestine and Israel. Pakistan was responsible for the international spread in 2011 and the virus from Pakistan caused an outbreak in western China’.

  • Pakistan had over 20,000 cases of polio before the WHO started its immunisation programme in 1994 but after that the cases were brought down to 2000.

  • Ever since Taliban leader Hafiz Gul Bahadur’s ban in June 2012, the areas in North and South Waziristan (Pakistan) have become out of bounds for vaccination teams. Following the ban 2,61,000 children in North and South Waziristan could not be reached.

  • The only remaining reservoirs of wild poliovirus type 3 (WPV3) in Asia are in the Khyber Agency and FATA (Federally Administered Tribal Areas) in Pakistan.

  • The WHO has also warned that polio in Pakistan poses a significant risk to neighbouring countries all of which, except Afghanistan, are polio-free.

Is Wild PolioVirus type 3 (WPV3) strain on the verge of eradication?

  • Over the past six months, only one case due to this strain was reported worldwide (from Yobe, Nigeria, on 10 November 2012). These are the lowest ever recorded levels of WPV3 transmission.

  • If WPV3 is eradicated completely, then it would be the second wild poliovirus strain to follow suit. The Wild poliovirus type 2 (WPV2) was eradicated in 1999 (WPV1 & WPV3 is yet to be eradicated).

  • The danger with WPV3 is that it is less virulent than WPV1.It causes cases at a rate of approximately 1 in 2,000 infections, compared with 1 in 200 infections for WPV1. Causing fewer cases is a good thing, of course, but it also means that the virus can transmit more widely and longer, without being detected. “It’s a sneaky virus, in that sense, so one has to be more cautious.

  • The other challenge is that the last known remaining WPV3 reservoirs (Khyber Agency, and Borno and Yobe states in northern Nigeria), are areas where access is compromised due to insecurity.

  • The world has a unique opportunity to get rid of the second strain of wild poliovirus. It would be a significant milestone for the global eradication effort, and would have significant operational benefits.

Courtesy –

Sri Lanka’s Northern Province Chief Minister invites Manmohan to visit Jaffna

  • Sri Lanka’s Tamil community wants India to remain engaged on issues important to them.

  • Sri Lanka’s Northern Province Chief Minister C.V. Wigneswaran has invited Manmohan Singh to visit Jaffna (capital of the Tamil majority province). India’s role in persuading the Sri Lankan government to hold the Northern Province elections under the 13th Amendment was applauded by the CM.

  • Basically, Mr. Wigneswaran would like Dr. Singh to engage both in Colombo and Jaffna. This also shows that Sri Lanka’s Tamil community wants India to remain engaged on issues important to them such as national reconciliation, political devolution of power and resettlement of the displaced.

  • Apart from trying to persuade Colombo to provide more autonomy to the Northern Province, India is also involved in rehabilitation and resettlement programmes.

  • (But taking note of the allegations of human rights abuses during the conflict and problems faced by Tamil Nadu fishermen, the TN govt had passed a resolution calling on the Centre to completely boycott CHOGM. However, there needs to be cautious approach taken in this regard, since giving in to sentimental and emotional reasons would not be correct. This is a crunch time in the region and India’s strategic, security and national interests should come first)

Russia threatens gas war with Ukraine

  • There is a possibility of a new “gas war” between Russia and Ukraine, as the Russian state energy giant Gazprom complained that Kiev (Turkey) had outstanding debts of over half a billion pounds and demanded swift payment.

  • This move of payment of arrears is seen as punishment on Turkey for aligning with EU

  • The complaint brought back memories of crises in 2006 and 2009 in which Russia turned off the gas to Ukraine, leaving many European nations that rely on pipelines passing through the country without energy in the middle of winter.

  • Russia wants Ukraine to join its own Customs Union of former Soviet states, and has repeatedly warned that by signing the deal with Europe, Ukraine will lose billions of dollars and face myriad problems.

  • This would also lead to “political and social unrest” and Russia could cease to recognise Ukraine’s status as a sovereign state.

  • Russia had made a number of concessions to Ukraine, including paying for transit of gas across it in advance, and giving discounts. Nevertheless, Ukraine had failed to pay $882m for gas deliveries that were due by October 1 at the latest.

  • Gas prices are a controversial issue in Ukraine – according to the current government, the deal forced Ukraine into paying unfairly high prices for gas. It is said that Ukraine had overpaid by over $20bn over the past three years for Russian gas.

  • Ukraine is due to sign the association agreement on closer trade links with the EU on November 29, 2013 but the European leaders have asserted that the deal will be possible only if Ukraine’s President, Viktor Yanukovych, agrees to release Ms. Tymoshenko from custody. (The former premier, Yulia Tymoshenko, was jailed for seven years in 2011 on charges of abuse of office, related to a gas deal she had brokered with Russia in 2009 when she was Prime Minister). The case against her has been widely denounced as politically motivated.

Israel –Palestine issue continues

  • Israel freed a group of Palestinian prisoners, as part of a deal to set peace talks in motion. Soon after this Israel has announced new construction in east Jerusalem — an area the Palestinians demand for their future state.

  • The building is seen as an attempt by Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu to make up for the prisoner release, for which he has been sharply criticised at home. The prisoners were jailed for deadly attacks on Israelis.

  • The Palestinians had long refused to resume peace negotiations with Israel unless it ends construction in territories that Palestinians seek for their state. But then Israel had refused, insisting that settlements and other core issues, including security, should be resolved through negotiations.

  • Earlier in 2013, Mr. Kerry (U.S. Secretary of State) had managed to persuade Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas to drop the settlement issue as a condition for restarting negotiations. In exchange, Israel agreed to the prisoner release. In all, 104 Palestinian convicts are to be released in four rounds over the coming months.

  • The East Jerusalem construction move might have an impact on the two states vision.

NSA faces surveillance restrictions

  • Whistleblower Edward Snowden’s exposes on covert mass surveillance by the U.S. National Security Agency (NSA) appears to be finally giving leverage to changes in the degree of freedom allowed to the shadowy agency to snoop on Internet communications in the name of counterterrorism.

  • In the U.S. Congress a bill proposing curtailments to NSA’s powers was introduced.

  • In the House of Representatives, Republican Congressman Jim Sensenbrenner of Wisconsin, also an “author of the Patriot Act,” introduced the “USA Freedom Act”, aimed at stopping both the NSA’s bulk domestic phone records collection and its searches of foreign communications databases for identifying information on Americans.

What is USA Patriot Act?

  • Uniting and Strengthening America by Providing Appropriate Tools Required to Intercept and Obstruct Terrorism Act of 2001

  • An Act to deter and punish terrorist acts in the United States and around the world, to enhance law enforcement investigatory tools, and for other purposes.

Courtesy – Wikipedia

Oman detects MERS infection

  • Oman has discovered the first case of the MERS coronavirus in the Gulf sultanate.

  • The Middle East Respiratory Syndrome Coronavirus (MERS—CoV) has so far claimed 62 lives worldwide, with most of the deaths occurring in Saudi Arabia, where the disease first appeared in September 2012, according to the WHO. The WHO said last week there was a total of 144 confirmed cases of the respiratory disease worldwide

Israel prepares for another existential threat: cyber attacks

  • The Military chief has said that the greatest threats Israel might face in the future, would be computer sabotage; he warned that a sophisticated cyber attack could one day bring the nation to a standstill.

  • Recently, a Trojan horse attack had targeted the security camera system in the Carmel Tunnels toll road. It caused an immediate 20-minute lockdown of the roadway. The next day it was shut for eight hours, causing massive congestion.

  • (A Trojan horse is a malicious computer program that users unknowingly install that can give hackers complete control over their systems)

  • While Israel is a frequent target of hackers, the tunnel is the most high-profile landmark known to have been attacked.

  • In June, 2013 Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu had said Iran and its proxies Hizbollah and Hamas have targeted Israel’s “essential systems”, including its water system, electric grid, trains and banks.

  • Under constant threat, Israel has emerged as a world leader in cybersecurity, with the military forming its first cyberdefence unit last year.

Turkey’s underwater rail link opened, to connect Asia to Europe

  • Turkey has opened an underwater railway tunnel linking Europe and Asia, and the two sides of Istanbul, realizing a plan initially proposed by an Ottoman sultan about 150 years ago.

  • The Marmaray tunnel runs under the Bosporus, the strait that connects the Black Sea to the Sea of Marmara and divides Istanbul between Asia and Europe. The tunnel is 13.6 kilometres long, including an underwater stretch of 1.4 kilometres.

Courtesy Google images &

  • It is among a number of large infrastructure projects under the government of Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan that have helped boost the economy but also have provoked a backlash of public protest.

  • The projects have provoked charges that the government is moving ahead with city-changing plans without sufficient public consultation. The concern fueled protests that swept Turkey in June, 2013.

Significance of the Tunnel:

  • The tunnel would ease some of Istanbul’s chronic traffic (estimated upto 1.5 million passengers a day) particularly over the two bridges linking the two sides of the city. In future, the tunnel may become part of a new train route for rail travel between Western Europe and China.

  • Started in 2005 and scheduled to be completed in four years, the project was delayed by important archaeological finds, including a 4th century Byzantine port, as builders began digging under the city.

  • The tunnel is designed to withstand a massive 9.0 magnitude quake.

  • (Japan’s Seikan tunnel linking the Japanese islands of Honshu and Hokkaido is the world’s deepest, getting 140 meters (460 feet) below the seabed and 240 metres below sea level)

Courtesy- Google Images


Government hikes tariff value on imported gold

  • Though there is short supply of gold in domestic market during the festival season, the government has hiked the import tariff value of gold to $442 per ten gram in line with global prices of the precious metal.

  • The tariff value, the base price at which the customs duty is determined to prevent under-invoicing, stood at $418 per 10 gram for gold during the last fortnight (October).

  • The tariff value has been revised upward taking into account the price volatility of the precious metal in the global market.

  • However, the import tariff value of silver has been kept unchanged at $699 a kg and so with other imported items such as brass scrap, poppy seeds, areca nut and some edible oils.

Read this article- this is in reference to TB disease

Read this article keeping ethical & legal issues in mind.


ISRO gearing up for Mars Mission on November 5

  • The Indian Space Research Organisation (ISRO) will initiate a dry run of the Mars Orbital Mission-‘‘Mangalyan’ on board the PSLV C25 that is scheduled for lift-off from the spaceport (Sri Harikota) on November 5.

  • The dry run will simulate the entire command sequence of the eight-and-a-half hours of the countdown, leading to the lift-off, barely six days before the PSLV rocket actually zooms away into space. The dry run will demonstrate mission-readiness.

  • There have been only 51 missions to Mars, predominantly by the U.S., Russia and the European Union consortium, and the success rate has been under 50%. India has made a bold attempt to “engage in meaningful scientific experiments” on a relatively modest budget of about Rs. 450 crore.

  • This cost-effective mission would showcase Indian capability to reach and orbit around the red planet.

  • PSLV C25, would be on its silver jubilee flight after achieving a remarkable success rate of 96 %.The mass at lift-off is 1,340 kg.

  • One of the unique features of the mission arises from the larger ‘Argument of Perigee’ in transferring the orbiter from the earth’s orbit to that of Mars. Unlike previous missions, this one will have fairly long flight regime of 43 minutes in respect of this.

  • The spacecraft would intersect the orbit of Mars almost simultaneously. According to scientists, such a rare trajectory — that occurs when the Earth, Mars and the Sun form an angle of 44 degrees — can offer substantial minimum energy opportunities and occur only at intervals of about 780 days, with the next window possible only in January 2016 and then in May 2018.

  • Hence missing the date means, India would have to look at 2016-18 for its first interplanetary mission (On December 1, the satellite would be injected into trans-Martian orbit and begin a long cruise of 300 days).

Comparison with US Mars Mission:

  • America’s MAVEN (Mars Atmosphere and Volatile Evolution’ mission) will follow about a fortnight later.

  • However, both Mangalyan & MAVEN would follow different paths to their destination. MAVEN will be making the first leg of its journey on an Atlas V, a rocket considerably more powerful than the PSLV. It will be able to put the spacecraft on a direct course for the Red Planet, a luxury the Indian probe will not enjoy.

  • Outlining the spacecraft’s course accurately requires elaborate modeling. The effect of Earth’s gravity as well as that of the Sun, Moon, Mars, the two Martian moons and the other planets are among the many factors that needed to be incorporated in the calculations. To get to Mars, the orbiter must repeatedly fire its own liquid propellant engine. At first spacecraft is injected into an elliptical path around the earth in a geocentric phase, then a heliocentric phase, where the flight path is roughly one half an ellipse around the sun.


  • In doing so, it will become the first Indian spacecraft to cross Earth’s escape velocity of 11.2 km per second, the threshold beyond which Earth’s gravity can no longer pull it back( The insertion into Martian orbit is expected on September 24, 2014)

  • This would help ISRO in investigating the Martian atmosphere for traces of methane (which are signs of biological origin or geological origin) to determine signs of life.

  • The primary aim and objective of the Mars Orbiter mission is to demonstrate India’s technological capability (i.e., to develop technologies required for design, planning, management and operations of an interplanetary mission) to reach Martian orbit.

  • This will also pave the way for future scientific missions, and bring a strategic advantage to India. The Mars Orbiter mission would also generate national pride and excitement in the young minds.

Courtesy- pib

Another shot at GSLV with indigenous cryogenic engine

  • After the failure of ISRO’s previous Geosynchronous Satellite Launch Vehicle (GSLV) programme in August, owing to a fuel leak, ISRO is all set to have another try at its indigenous cryogenic upper stage Geosynchronous Satellite Launch Vehicle (GSLV) programme, the GSLV D5 mission on December 15.

  • The expert committee had attributed the fuel leak (in the previous mission) to stress corrosion cracking of the tank filled with propellants. However, why this happened was “a research problem” that remains to be investigated. The next GSLV mission would switch to a better aluminium alloy material for its propellant tanks.