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Insights Current Events: 5 November 2014

Cabinet clears dissolution of Delhi Assembly

Ending eight months of political uncertainty, the Union Cabinet recommended dissolution of the Delhi Assembly, paving the way for fresh elections in the capital. Delhi has been under President’s rule since February this year.

The Cabinet meeting, chaired by Prime Minister, gave its nod to Lt. Governor’s recommendation to dissolve the 70-member House. The Cabinet’s decision will now be referred to the President, who will dissolve the Assembly.

About Delhi Assembly:

The Legislative Assembly of Delhi, also known as Delhi Vidhan Sabha, is a unicameral law making body of the National Capital Territory of Delhi with 70 Members of the Legislative Assembly (MLA).

Background:

Delhi Legislative Assembly was first constituted on 7 March 1952 under the Government of Part C States Act, 1951. The Assembly had 48 members, and a council of Minister in an advisory role to the Chief Commissioner of Delhi.

However, States Reorganisation Commission set up in 1953, led to the Constitution amendment through States Reorganisation Act, 1956, which came into effect on 1 November 1956. This meant that Delhi was no longer a Part-C State and was made a Union Territory under the direct administration of the President of India. Also the Delhi Legislative Assembly and the Council of Ministers were abolished simultaneously. Subsequently, the Delhi Municipal Corporation Act, 1957 was enacted which led to the formation the Municipal Corporation.

Then in September 1966, with “The Delhi Administration Act, 1966”, the assembly was replaced by the Delhi Metropolitan Council with 56 elected and 5 nominated members with the Lt. Governor of Delhi as its head. The Council however had no legislative powers, only an advisory role in the governance of Delhi. This set up functioned till 1990.

This Council was finally replaced by the Delhi Legislative Assembly through the Constitution (Sixty-ninth Amendment) Act, 1991, followed by the Government of National Capital Territory of Delhi Act, 1991 the Sixty-ninth Amendment to the Constitution of India, which declared the Union Territory of Delhi to be formally known as National Capital Territory of Delhi also supplements the constitutional provisions relating to the Legislative Assembly and the Council of Ministers and related matters.

Sources: The Hindu, Wiki, www.delhiassembly.nic.in/.

Scientists find mechanism for spontaneous HIV cure

A group of French scientists recently unveiled the genetic mechanism by which they believe two men were spontaneously cured of HIV, and said the discovery may offer a new strategy in the fight against AIDS.

In both asymptomatic men, the AIDS-causing virus was inactivated due to an altered HIV gene coding integrated into human cells. This, in turn, was likely due to stimulation of an enzyme that may in future be targeted for drug treatment to induce the same response. This finding represents an avenue for a cure.

Neither of the men, one diagnosed HIV positive 30 years ago and the other in 2011, have ever been ill, and the AIDS-causing virus cannot be detected with routine tests of their blood.

In both, the virus was unable to replicate due to DNA coding changes that the researchers proposed were the result of a spontaneous evolution between humans and the virus that is called “endogenisation”.

The scientists proposed that HIV cure may occur through HIV endogenisation in humans.

Sources: The Hindu.

Harappan drawings found near Hampi

Pictographs of the Sindu (Harappan) culture have been discovered on rocks at the world famous Hampi, Karnataka. As many as 20 drawings were found on a boulder on top of a hill near Talwarghatta, adjacent to river Tungabhadra.

Experts in Gondi script have identified them as Sindu (Harappan) culture-based script in Gondi dialect. They also pointed out that such drawings are found in Chhattisgarh and also in interior structures of Gotuls (learning centres for youths) in Bastar region.


Sources: The Hindu.

NCAER pegs down growth forecast to 5%

In its mid-year review of the economy, the National Council of Applied Economic Research (NCAER) lowered its 2014-15 growth forecast for India to 5 per cent. In July, the think tank had forecast 5.7 per cent growth. The lower projection is despite the 5.7 per cent growth in the first quarter after two successive years of sub-5 per cent growth.

The NCAER’s projection of slower growth during the rest of the year is in line with the RBI’s forecast.

Important observations made:

  • The NCAER is predicting a slower growth for the economy unlike other forecasts. The fundamentals of the economy remain weak with uncertainties prevailing. Though it found the weakening of inflation and the foreign direct investment inflows to be redeeming features, whether they will help it revive the growth prospects will depend on factors such as the extent of damage on agriculture due to deficit rainfall.
  • Another cause for concern, according to the NCAER, is that after recording a strong performance of double-digit growth in May and June 2014, export growth slowed down in subsequent months with a growth rate of just 2.73 per cent in September.
  • The 2014-15 farm sector growth projected at 2 per cent on account of the uneven distribution and the 17 per cent deficiency in rainfall has pulled down the mid-year GDP projection. Last year, the sector had grown 4.7 per cent.
  • Industry is projected to grow at 2.3 per cent. Official figures put last year’s growth at 0.4 per cent.
  • Services, which account for more than half of the GDP, are projected to grow at just under 7 per cent, marginally faster than in the previous year.
  • Manufacturing proved the biggest disappointment. Manufacturing sector growth rate contracted by (-) 1 per cent in July and (-) 1.4 p.c. in August respectively. The NCAER has also projected the Centre’s fiscal deficit at 4.3 per cent of GDP against the Budget target of 4.1.

 

Sources: The Hindu.

Drones beam real-time videos to help police monitor crowds

The Delhi Police prefer drones that are less than two metres long and one metre wide and weigh less than two kilos to cover an area of about 1,000 sq. metres. They beam real-time videos. This helps in taking decisions on movement of police personnel, to scan trouble spots and monitor crowds.

Drones, also known as unmanned aerial vehicles (UAVS), are aircraft either controlled by ‘pilots’ from the ground or increasingly, autonomously following a pre-programmed mission.

But the Delhi Police department does not have its own drones yet.

Disaster management and rescue is another area where drones, or Unmanned Aerial Vehicles, can be put to good use. The Armed Forces operate Israeli drones named Heron and Searcher for surveillance, as well as the indigenous Lakshya and Nishant models. DRDO is developing Rustom I & II medium and long endurance drones for military use. A combat UAV (UCAV) is also on DRDO’s drawing board.

UAVs of the IAF have been used to track movement of Maoists in Jharkhand and Chhattisgarh and the DRDO has offered Nishant customised for the role.

Recently, drones were also used to track tigers and spot poachers.

Sources: The Hindu, Wiki.

Measures to reduce fossil fuel emissions vital for India

In the light of the Synthesis Report of the Inter-governmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) released recently, it is vital for India which is vulnerable to a whole range of climate change impacts, to create capacity in local institutions for extreme events. The floods in Jammu and Kashmir and cyclone Hudhud clearly exposed India’s lack of preparedness to deal with such events.

Important observations made by the Report:

  • The report pointed out that India should consider the co benefits of reducing greenhouse gas emissions and energy security benefits from a low carbon growth path.
  • The report says limiting climate change would require substantial and sustained reductions in greenhouse gas emissions which, together with adaptation, can limit climate change risks.
  • The report also makes it clear that one can’t achieve sustainable development without dealing first with climate change. The risks of climate change have to be an integral part of sustainable development.
  • The report also sets the tone for the climate talks in Lima next month and countries will have to push up their targets on emission cuts. The main question is about funds from the developed world to transition to a low carbon economy which will be a bone of contention. Along with funds, transfer of technology assumes more urgency than ever.
  • The Report says adaptation and mitigation are complementary strategies for reducing and managing the risks of climate change. Substantial emissions reductions over the next few decades can reduce climate risks in the 21st century and beyond, increase prospects for effective adaptation, reduce the costs and challenges of mitigation in the longer-term, and contribute to climate-resilient pathways for sustainable development.
  • The Report stressed that sustainable development and equity provide a basis for assessing climate policies.

The report provides both an opportunity and a challenge for India. The IPCC recognises that a climate policy focused on ‘co-benefits’ has merit.

Sources: The Hindu.

Japanese honour for Manmohan

Japan will bestow its highest imperial honour on former Prime Minister Manmohan Singh in Tokyo in recognition of his significant contributions to the enhancement of relations and the promotion of friendship between Japan and India for about 35 years.

Dr. Singh had been selected in particular for his work as Prime Minister in building the India-Japan strategic and global partnership signed in 2009, which became the “mainstay of bilateral ties.”

It is a “high level National Order” and a rare honour awarded to those who are recognised for their distinguished contribution. Manmohan Singh is the first Indian recipient of this Order.

He is among 57 foreign recipients named for the 2014 Autumn Imperial Decorations.

Sources: The Hindu.

RITES suggests dredging of Pamban channel

RITES Limited, an engineering consultancy company specialising in transport infrastructure, has submitted a feasibility report to the Ministry of Shipping, suggesting that the Sethusamudram Ship Channel project could be implemented through the existing Pamban channel, which separates the mainland from Rameswaram island.

As the Centre did not want to disturb the Ram Sethu and there was opposition to implementing the project through other alignments, RITES has suggested that the Pamban channel could be dredged to 12 metres and the 65.23-metre-long rolling type Scherzer span replaced to pave the way for the passage of vessels in the 30,000 tonne class.

In the second phase, RITES Limited would explore tunnel railway under the sea for allowing heavier class vessels to pass through the channel.

The existing manual Scherzer span would be replaced with a modernised and mechanised horizontal orientation type span after widening it to 90 metres. The modernised span could be operated by the press of a button. Simultaneously, the navigational spans in the rail bridge would be widened and strengthened.

Ram Sethu:

Adam’s Bridge, also known as Rama’s Bridge or Rama Setu is a chain of limestone shoals, between Pamban Island, also known as Rameswaram Island, off the southeastern coast of Tamil Nadu, India, and Mannar Island, off the northwestern coast of Sri Lanka. Geological evidence suggests that this bridge is a former land connection between India and Sri Lanka.

The bridge is 30 km long and separates the Gulf of Mannar (southwest) from the Palk Strait. Some of the sandbanks are dry and the sea in the area is very shallow, being only 3 ft to 30 ft deep in places, which hinders navigation. It was reportedly passable on foot up to the 15th century until storms deepened the channel: temple records seem to say that Rama’s Bridge was completely above sea level until it broke in a cyclone in AD 1480.

The sea separating India and Sri Lanka is called Sethusamudram meaning “Sea of the Bridge”.

The earliest map that calls this area by the name Adam’s bridge was prepared by a British cartographer in 1804, probably referring to an Abrahamic myth, according to which Adam used the bridge to reach a mountain (identified with Adam’s Peak) in Sri Lanka, where he stood repentant on one foot for 1,000 years, leaving a large hollow mark resembling a footprint.

The government of India constituted nine committees before independence, and five committees since then to suggest alignments for a Sethusamudram canal project. Most of them suggested land-based passages across Rameswaram island and none suggested alignment across Adam’s bridge. The Sethusamudram project committee in 1956 also strongly recommended to the Union government to use land passages instead of cutting Adam’s bridge because of the several advantages of land passage.

In 2001, the Government of India approved a multi-million dollar Sethusamudram Shipping Canal Project that aims to create a ship channel across the Palk Bay cutting across Rama Setu. The channel is expected to cut over 400 km (nearly 30 hours of shipping time) off the voyage around the island of Sri Lanka. Various organizations have opposed the project based on religious, economic and environmental grounds and have sought the implementation of one of the alternative alignments considered during the earlier stages of the discussion.

Opposition to dredging through this causeway also stems from concerns over its impact on the area’s ecology and marine wealth, potential loss of thorium deposits in the area, and increased risk of damage due to tsunamis. Some organisations completely oppose this project on economic and environmental grounds and claim that proper scientific studies were not conducted before undertaking this project.

Sources: The Hindu.

Fight to save Indus dolphins

Indus River dolphin, the gentle, blind mammal is under threat from a combination of uncontrolled fishing and damage to its habitat caused by man-made dams.


Conservationists are fighting to save the dolphin as well as the river’s black spotted turtle, at risk from poachers who hunt it to sell to collectors and traditional medicine dealers.

The dolphin, which can grow up to 2.5 metres, is one of the world’s rarest mammals, with a population of just 1,400 living scattered along a 1,200-kilometre stretch of the Indus, which rises in the Himalayas and flows out into the Arabian Sea near Karachi.

They are classed as endangered on the International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN) red list of threatened species, which says the population has fallen by more than 50 percent since 1944. Functionally blind, they use echolocation — a form of natural sonar — to find fish, shrimp and other prey in the muddy river waters.

The series of dams and barrages built across the Indus since the late 19th century to help irrigate farmland have divided the dolphin’s habitat into 17 separate sections. The dolphin has died out in 10 of these sections, according to a recent and the sub-populations are left more vulnerable by their isolation.

When the river recedes after the heavy rains of the monsoon, the dolphins can become stranded in isolated ponds and tributaries, starving them of food and making them vulnerable to predators.

Another threat to the dolphin, whose pinkish-grey skin breaks the surface of the turbid waters as it comes up to breathe, comes from fishing.

The WWF has set up a network of fishing communities on both banks of the river and the link canals to keep vigil.

Legend has it that Pakistan’s Indus River dolphin was once a woman, transformed by a curse from a holy man angry that she forgot to feed him one day

Sources: The Hindu.

UN to eliminate statelessness in 10 years

Ten million people worldwide have no nationality, leaving them in a devastating legal limbo, the UN refugee agency said recently, launching a campaign to eradicate statelessness within a decade.

According to the report Every 10 minutes a new stateless person is born.

With its “I Belong” campaign, UNHCR aims to highlight the “devastating life-long consequences of statelessness” and push countries to rectify their laws to ensure no person is denied a nationality.

The report said that Statelessness makes people feel like their very existence is a crime. Often they are excluded from cradle to grave, being denied a legal identity when they are born, access to education, health care, marriage and job opportunities during their lifetime and even the dignity of an official burial and a death certificate when they die.

People can become stateless due to a range of reasons, like discrimination based on ethnicity, religion or gender, or when a nation state falls apart. War and conflict also often make it difficult to register births.

The report does not count the case of the Palestinians, since the UN General Assembly had recognised the State of Palestine.

The largest number of stateless people are to be found in Myanmar, which denies citizenship to some one million Rohingya Muslims.

Myanmar considers the Rohingya illegal migrants from Bangladesh, which in turn considers the ones who cross the border illegal migrants from Myanmar. In both countries, the group viewed by the UN as one of the world’s most persecuted people facing widespread restrictions, including curbs on movement, education and marriage.

When nation states break apart, people are often also left in limbo, with more than 600,000 people for instance still left stateless after the disintegration of the Soviet Union more than 20 years ago. In situations of war, conflict and turmoil, it also often becomes difficult to register births, especially among refugees, leaving them stateless.

Sources: The Hindu.

Sunderbans water getting toxic: scientists

Climate change is causing toxic metals trapped in the sediment beds of the Hooghly estuary in the Indian Sunderbans to leach out into the water system due to changes in ocean chemistry, say scientists, warning of potential human health hazards.

They predict that after about 30 years, increasing ocean acidification — another dark side of spiked atmospheric levels of carbon dioxide — could in fact unlock the entire stock of metals like copper and lead gathered in the sediment layer, and release them into the water system, leading to health issues.

Oceans act as cleansers by taking up a chunk of carbon dioxide emitted into the atmosphere. As atmospheric carbon dioxide levels shoot up, the levels absorbed by oceans increase, lowering their pH (indicator of acidity) and making them more acidic (ocean acidification).

Through the water, toxic metals are finding their way into the muscles and tissues of certain edible finfish, popular in the Indian Sunderbans area in West Bengal and because of the food chain, they pose a threat to human health as well, say researchers.

This ocean acidification is leading to release of the toxic, carcinogenic metals into the water. The study based on 30 years of real-time data (from 1984 to 2013) forecasts a significant lowering of pH after a period of 30 years due to ocean acidification. This is an offshoot of climate change.

Sunderbans is the world’s largest mangrove forest and home to the endangered Royal Bengal tiger. More than two-thirds of the forest lies in Bangladesh and the rest in West Bengal.

It is also recognised as “Unesco’s World Heritage Site”.

 

Sources: The Hindu.

Commemorative Stamp on Liver Transplant Released

The Department of Posts, Ministry of Communications & IT has brought out a Commemorative Postage Stamp on Liver Transplantation in India.

Sources: PIB.

The India-Russia Working Group on Culture and Tourism Meets

India and Russia have expressed their keenness for cultural exchanges/cooperation in the fields of exhibitions, libraries, visits of crafts persons, visit of writers’ delegation, contemporary and visual arts, archives, theatre art, contemporary visual art etc. Both the countries will renew the Cultural Exchange Programme 2015-2018. This was decided in the 20th meeting of the India-Russia Working Group on Culture and Tourism of India-Russia Inter-Governmental Commission on trade, economic, scientific, technical and cultural cooperation held recently.

The meeting is alternatively held in India and Russia every year as per the provisions laid down in the Russian-India Inter-Governmental Commission on Trade and Economic, Scientific and Technical and Cultural Cooperation.

Both the sides agreed to assist each other in sending information on forthcoming international book fairs in both countries and also for exchange of film related events, reciprocal participation in the International Film Festivals to be held in both countries in accordance with their respective regulations.

The two sides agreed to hold the following activities in 2015:

  • To hold Festival of India in Russia in Russian Federation in 2015.
  • To renew the Cultural Exchange Programme 2015-2018
  • To strengthen links with Roerich International Memorial Trust in the village of Naggar in Kullu Valley.
  • To provide assistance in the development of direct ties and contacts between the Prasar Bharati and the All Russian State Television and Radio Company.

Sources: PIB.

 

 

 


 

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