Current Affairs (20th May 2021)
Nuclear Energy in Space
- The UR Rao Satellite Centre (URSC) of ISRO invited proposals for the three-phase development of a 100-Watt Radioisotope Thermoelectric Generator (RTG).
- URSC is ISRO’s lead centre for design, development, fabrication, and testing of all Indian-made satellites.
- The centre envisions using RTG for power generation and thermal management of ISRO’s deep space missions.
- RTGs are lightweight, compact spacecraft power systems that are extraordinarily reliable.
- RTGs provide electric power using heat from the natural radioactive decay of plutonium-238, in the form of plutonium dioxide.
- The large difference in temperature between this hot fuel and the cold environment of space is applied across special solid-state metallic junctions called thermocouples, which generates an electric current using no moving parts.
- Sometimes referred to as “nuclear batteries”, RTGs are not fission reactors, nor is plutonium the type that is used for nuclear weapons.
- More than 2 dozen US space missions have used RTGs since the first one was launched in 1961 like Cassini, New Horizon and Curiosity etc.
Customs (Import of Goods At Concessional Rate Of Duty) Amendment Rules, 2021
- The Government has brought changes in the existing Customs (Import of Goods at Concessional Rate of Duty) Rules, IGCR 2017 to boost trade facilitation.
- The Central Board of Indirect Taxes and Customs has introduced changes through the Customs (Import of Goods at Concessional Rate of Duty) Amendment Rules, 2021.
- The IGCR, 2017 lay down the procedures and manner in which an importer can avail the benefit of a concessional Customs duty on import of goods required for domestic production of goods or providing services.
- One major change that accommodates the needs of trade and industry is that the imported goods have been permitted to be sent out for job work. The absence of this facility had earlier constrained the industry especially those in the Micro, Small and Medium Enterprises sector which did not have the complete manufacturing capability in-house.
- Importers who do not have any manufacturing facility can now avail the IGCR, 2017 to import goods at concessional Customs duty and get the final goods manufactured entirely on job work basis. However, some sectors such as gold, jeweler, precious stones, and metals have been excluded.
- Another major incentive now provided is to allow those who import capital goods at a concessional Customs duty to clear them in the domestic market on payment of duty and interest, at a depreciated value. This was not allowed earlier, and manufacturers were stuck with the imported capital goods after having used them as they could not be easily re-exported.
New Naming System for Virus Variants
- The World Health Organization (WHO) would unveil a system of naming of coronavirus variants drawn from the way tropical storms are named.
- The initiative, like how hurricanes are labelled, seeks to remove stigma. It will also be easier for the lay public to remember rather than these complicated lineage numbers.
- This has been done to destigmatize and deincentivise countries from making their sequencing results public.
- The WHO and health and science agencies across the world refer to viruses and their variants by formal lineage names, which are a combination of letters and names that point to the relationships between different variants.
- Variants such as B.1.1.7 and B.1.617 suggest that they have certain mutations in common and as well clues to their evolutionary history.
- However, because virus names and their associated diseases have frequently been named after geographical places where outbreaks were first reported or samples first isolated — such as the West Nile virus or Ebola.
- 1.7 started to be known as the ‘U.K. variant’ and B.1.351 as the ‘South African’ variant.
- The dilemma of having names that do not stigmatise places but also are amenable to popular use has to an extent been solved by the system of naming hurricanes, or tropical cyclones.
- The World Meteorological Organisation leaves it to countries that surround a particular ocean basin to come up with names.
- The use of convalescent plasma has been dropped from the recommended treatment guidelines for COVID-19, according to an advisory from the Indian Council of Medical Research (ICMR).
- Though a trial by the ICMR on 400 patients last year — called the PLACID trial — had found no significant benefit from the use of plasma, it continued to find a place in the recommended guidelines.
- Some experts have said the use of such plasma may have even played a role in facilitating new worrisome mutations to the virus.
- Blood plasma is a yellowish liquid component of blood that holds the blood cells of whole blood in suspension. It is the liquid part of the blood that carries cells and proteins throughout the body. It makes up about 55% of the body’s total blood volume.
- This plasma contains viral antibodies that have treatment potential for severe cases of the disease.
- Plasma therapy is a medical procedure that uses the blood of a recovered patient to create antibodies on those infected individuals.
- Medically known as convalescent plasma therapy, this treatment uses antibodies found in the blood taken from a recovered Covid-19 patient. It is then used to treat those with severe SARS-CoV-2 infection to aid recovery.
- The Ministry of Home Affairs has revealed that 13 officers have been retired in public interest.
- An order of compulsory retirement is not a punishment.
- It does not imply any stigma or any suggestion of misbehaviour.
- The order must be passed by the government on forming the opinion that it is in the public interest to retire a government servant compulsorily.
- The Supreme Court issued important principles regarding compulsory retirement in the Baikunth Nath v Chief Medical Officer (1992) case.
- The SC said, Principles of natural justice have no place in the context of an order of compulsory retirement.
- However, this does not mean that judicial scrutiny is excluded altogether.
- While the High Court or the Court would not examine the matter as an appellate Court, they may interfere if they are satisfied that the order passed is:
- mala fide
- based on no evidence
- arbitrary – in the sense that no reasonable person would form the requisite opinion on the given material.
- According to an RTI reply, electoral bonds worth ₹695 cr. sold during the recent Assembly polls in West Bengal.
- The amount sold was the highest-ever for any Assembly elections since the scheme started in 2018, according to the numbers provided in the reply.
- The scheme allows any Indian citizen or company to purchase the bonds sold by the SBI in denominations of ₹1,000, ₹10,000, ₹1 lakh, ₹10 lakh and ₹1 crore and give them to political parties anonymously.
- Introduced with the Finance Bill, 2017, the Electoral Bond Scheme was notified on January 29, 2018.
- An Electoral Bond is like a promissory note that may be purchased by a person who is a citizen of India or incorporated or established in India.
- A person being an individual can buy Electoral Bonds, either singly or jointly with other individuals.
- The bonds are like banknotes that are payable to the bearer on demand and are interest-free.
- Only the Political Parties registered under Section 29A of the Representation of the People Act (RPA), 1951 (43 of 1951) and which secured not less than one percent of the votes polled in the last General Election to the House of the People or the Legislative Assembly of the State, shall be eligible to receive the Electoral Bonds.
- One can purchase these bonds only digitally or through cheques.
- Electoral Bonds shall be valid for fifteen calendar days from the date of issue and no payment is being made to any payee Political Party if the Electoral Bond is deposited after expiry of the validity period.
Supreme Court’s Stance:
- The Supreme Court (SC) agreed that the scheme protects the identity of purchasers of electoral bonds in a cloak of anonymity, but highlighted that such purchases happened only through regular banking channels.
- In 2019, the Supreme Court asked all the political parties to submit details of donations received through electoral bonds to the ECI. It also asked the Finance Ministry to reduce the window of purchasing electoral bonds from 10 days to five days.
- The Election Commission of India (ECI) also told the Supreme Court of India that while it was not against the Electoral Bonds Scheme, it did not approve of anonymous donations made to political parties.
Digital Transformation of Tribal Schools
- The Ministry of Tribal Affairs and Microsoft have signed an MoU for digital transformation of Tribal Schools such as Eklavya Model Residential Schools and Ashram Schools.
- Under the program, 250 Eklavya Model Residential Schools (EMRS) have been adopted by Microsoft out of which 50 EMRS schools will be given intensive training.
- The MoU was signed in an online event “Empowering Youth For Success”.
- The collaboration seeks to skill educators and students in next-generation digital technologies including Artificial Intelligence (AI).
- The students from schools under the Ministry will be mentored on projects that involve AI applications for societal good and the UN’s Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs).
- Students would get the required skill set through digital transformation and it would open a new chapter with AI and coding being a part of the curriculum.
- Teachers will also be trained for using productivity technologies like Office 365 and AI applications in teaching, helping them deliver blended or remote learning experiences to students in a more personalized, productive, and secure manner.