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Current Affairs – 29 December 2020

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In News

  • After the introduction of the new National Education Policy 2020, and to move away from unrealistic cut-off marks for admissions to universities, the government is exploring the feasibility of holding a common entrance test for undergraduate admissions across all central universities from the next academic year.


  • The UGC set up a seven-member committee headed by R P Tiwari, “to consider the issue (of) holding common entrance test at undergraduate level only from the next academic year in central universities to provide a single platform for admission”.
  • The new NEP, released in July 2020, advocates reducing the number of entrance tests to “eliminate the need for taking coaching for these exams”.
  • There are 40-odd central universities run by the Ministry of Education (MoE) and, collectively, all of them have about 1 to 1.25 lakh seats across different disciplines at the undergraduate level. Of these, currently about 16 central universities have a common entrance test for Bachelor’s study.

Way Ahead

  • If the NEP suggestion is implemented, the National Testing Agency will be tasked to conduct a common aptitude test as well as specialised common exams for different disciplines at least twice a year, for admission to bachelor’s in central universities.
  • Conducting a common entrance test seems simple but there are several intricacies. For instance, given the range of subjects offered across central universities, this committee will have to identify the disciplines for which separate tests will be needed.
  • While a joint entrance test was a good idea, a sensitive area would be streamlining the exam curriculum for all students. Moving towards a joint entrance exam might encourage more multiculturalism.



In News

  • Botanists have discovered a new species of wild Sun Rose, named Portulacalaljii, from Prakasam district of Andhra Pradesh (Eastern Ghats in India).


  • It has unique features such as a tuberous root, no hair in its leaf axils, a reddish pink flower, prolate-shaped fruits, and copper brown seeds without lustre.
  • These morphological features distinguish the species from other species of genus Portulaca.
  • The flowers, which are reddish pink in colour, are very minute, at about 0.5 mm. The plant was found growing in rocky crevices at an altitude of about 1,800 metres above mean sea level, very close to the ground, at about less than 10 cm.
  • The flowers are very attractive and bloom for months from June to February. The plant can have a rich horticultural value.
  • The plants belonging genus Portulaca are classified in the category Sun Rose because they flower in bright sunshine.
  • The genus was described by Linnaeus in 1753 as a type genus of the flowering plant family Portulacaceae, and presently comprise over 100 taxa which are distributed throughout tropical and sub-tropical regions of the world. In India, earlier studies on the genus Portulaca have revealed the presence of eight species.
  • Portulacalaljii has been named to honour the contribution of LalJi Singh, an eminent botanist of the Botanical Survey of India associated with its Andaman and Nicobar Centre.



In News

  • According to the report, ‘Counting the Cost 2020: A Year of Climate Breakdown’, prepared by the UK based non-profit organization,15 most destructive climate disasters happened in 2020 and 9 of these extreme events, including 2 in India, caused damage worth at least $5 billion.
  • Hurricanes in the US and Central American countries turned out to be the most expensive ($41 billion) floods in India during June-October 2020.


  • Disasters fuelled by weather and climate extremes brought “catastrophic results for millions” across rich and poor nations in 2020, causing thousands of deaths and tens of billions of dollars in losses
  • In fact, India’s floods caused loss of more human lives than casualties in all other 14 destructive climate disasters put together. Floods in Pakistan figured at second spot followed by the US and Central American countries at the third position in the list of 15.
  • Financial costs tend to be higher in richer countries as they have more valuable property, it noted, but some extreme weather events in 2020 were devastating in poorer countries, with generally higher death tolls despite a lower price tag.
  • Cyclone Amphan was one of the strongest storms on record in the Bay of Bengal and the costliest tropical cyclone of the year, with losses amounting to more than $13bn in India, Bangladesh and Sri Lanka. Record temperatures in the Bay of Bengal of 30-33C could have led to the storm’s rapid intensification, said Roxy Mathew Koll, a climate scientist at the Indian Institute of Tropical Meteorology.
  • Six of the 10 most expensive weather events 2020 happened in Asia, five of them associated with an unusually rainy monsoon.

Way Ahead

  • There is a need to keep fossil fuels in the ground, boost clean energy investment and help those who are suffering on the frontline.



In News

  • Researchers have unearthed a thermopolium, Latin for hot drinks counter, in the Roman empire town of Pompeii, one of the world’s largest and most significant archaeological sites.


  • Thermopolium at the Pompeii archaeological park’s Regio V, which was partially excavated in 2019 was found complete with an image of a Nereid riding a sea-horse, decorative still-life frescoes, food residues, animals bones and victims who died during the volcanic eruption of 79 CE.
  • The find is significant because it shows the variety of food consumed by the residents of the town — traces of pork, fish, snails and beef have been found in the containers of the stall. It is also the first time an entire thermopolium has been excavated, complete with pateras, or bronze drinking bowls, ceramic jars used for cooking stews and soups, wine flasks and amphora, usually used for storing and transporting wine and olive oil.

Story of Pompeii

  • Pompeii was a Roman town in Southern Italy’s Campania region situated along the Bay of Naples. The town was completely buried by volcanic ash after the eruption of Mount Vesuvius in 79 CE, over 2000 years ago.
  • However, it was not only the residents of Pompeii who were affected (over 16,000 died), the eruption also destroyed the neighbouring town of Herculaneum. Even so, it is due to the tragedy that the town is well preserved and has given archaeologists vast materials to study daily Roman daily life, as it was centuries ago.
  • Located 8 km from the volcano, Pompeii was as a resort town frequented by Rome’s elite citizens and consisted of villas, cafes, marketplaces and a 20,000-seat arena.


  • The find is significant because it shows the variety of food consumed by the residents of the town — traces of pork, fish, snails and beef have been found in the containers of the stall.
  • It is also the first time an entire thermopolium has been excavated, complete with pateras, or bronze drinking bowls, ceramic jars used for cooking stews and soups, wine flasks etc.



In News

  • Due to severe cold wave in Delhi and several other parts of North India, the Indian Meteorological Department (IMD) urged residents to protect themselves from the biting cold by avoiding alcohol.


  • According to the IMD, severe cold wave conditions in parts of Haryana, Punjab, Uttar Pradesh, Delhi and Rajasthan will cause maximum temperature to fall by 3 to 5 degrees Celsius.
  • In its latest advisory, the IMD said the weather conditions were likely to increase the risk of contracting illnesses like the flu, and could also lead to symptoms like runny/stuffy nose and nosebleeds, which usually set in or are aggravated due to prolonged exposure to the cold.
  • The weather department also warned of frostbite, a condition where the skin turns pale, hard and numb and is eventually left with black blisters when exposed to extreme cold conditions.
  • To avoid an adverse reaction to the cold wave, avoid alcohol as it “reduces body temperature”. Limit outdoor activities, moisturise their skin regularly with oil or cream, eat vitamin-C rich fruits and vegetables and drink warm fluids to maintain immunity.
  • According to a study jointly conducted by the Thermal Physiology and the Medicine Division, US Army Research Institute of Environmental Medicine, alcohol can decrease the core temperature of the body and increase the risk of hypothermia during cold exposure.
  • Hypothermia is a severe medical condition where the body loses heat before it can generate it, resulting in a dangerously low body temperature. While normal body temperature lies at around 37 degrees Celsius, the body temperature of a person suffering from hypothermia drops to below 35 degrees Celsius. Common signs include shivering, slow rate of breathing, slurred speech, cold skin and fatigue.
  • Heavy alcohol consumption is often linked to an increased risk of hypothermia and other conditions linked to extreme cold weather.

How does alcohol reduce body temperature?

  • Alcohol is a vasodilator, which means that it causes blood vessels to relax and dilate or open. So after consuming alcohol, the volume of blood brought to the skin’s surface increases, making you feel warmer as a result.
  • As the body begins to believe that it is warm, body also start to sweat — a reaction that automatically reduces overall body temperature. Drinking copious amounts of alcohol may affect your bodies ability to detect the cold properly, which is in place to protect you from frostbite and hypothermia.

What is a cold wave?

  • A cold wave occurs when the minimum temperature dips to 10 degrees Celsius or less and the departure from normal temperature is 4.5 degrees Celsius or lower. In severe cold wave conditions, departure from normal temperature is 6.5 degrees or lower.



In News

  • Union Health Minister inaugurated India’s first pneumococcal conjugate vaccine “Pneumosil”, which has been developed by the Serum Institute of India Private Limited (SIIPL) in collaboration with partners like the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation.


  • SIIPL is the world’s largest manufacturer of vaccines by number of doses and its vaccines are used in 170 countries and every third child in the world is immunized with the manufacturer’s vaccine.
  • SIIPL developed and got the license of the first indigenous Pneumococcal Conjugate Vaccine (PCV) from the Government of India during COVID-19 pandemic lock-down in line with ‘Atmanirbhar Bharat’.
  • Serum Institute’s first Indigenous Pneumococcal Conjugate Vaccine will be available in the market under the brand name “Pneumosil” at an affordable price in a single dose (vial and pre-filled syringe) and Multidose (vial) presentations.
  • Pneumosil has been extensively evaluated in 5 randomized controlled clinical trials and has demonstrated comparable safety and immunogenicity against licensed pneumococcal vaccines across diverse populations of India and Africa, where Pneumosil was administered to adults, toddlers and infants using different vaccination schedules.
  • During clinical trials, Pneumosil was found to be safe and effective in the prevention of Pneumonia disease and based on which Pneumosil has been licensed by Drugs Controller General (India) in July 2020 after approval from Subject Expert Committee (SEC).



In News

  • The Assam government tabled the Assam Repealing Bill, 2020 to abolish all state-run madrassas and convert those into general schools with effect from April 1, 2021.


  • The bill proposes to abolish two existing acts – The Assam Madrassa Education (Provincialisation) Act, 1995, and The Assam Madrassa Education (Provincialisation of Services of Employees and Re-Organisation of Madrassa Educational Institutions) Act, 2018.
  • All madrassa institutes will be converted into upper primary, high, and higher secondary schools with no change of status, pay, allowances and service conditions of the teaching and non-teaching staff.
  • There are 610 state-run Madrassas across Assam with the government spending Rs 260 crore annually.
  • In April 2018, the Education ministry had brought many private Madrassas under the government ambit by introducing The Assam Madrassa Education (Provincialisation of Services of Employees and Re-Organisation of Madrassa Educational Institutions) Act, 2018.

Arguments in favour

  • Madrassas teach theology as a subject. If only Arabic is taught, no issue would have been there. But, as a government we cannot allow teaching of the Quran on public funding.Then tomorrow, Hindus, Christians, Sikhs, Jains and other people will also come seeking support to teach their religious books.

Arguments against

  • It will change the atmosphere of Assam. This bill is aimed at polarisation of votes on religious lines.
  • Madrassas teach Arabic language apart from other general subjects and learning a language cannot be termed communal.Because of learning Arabic, many youths have got lucrative jobs in Arab countries and they are contributing to Indian economy by sending foreign exchanges.
  • Learning of Arabic will open job opportunities in 52 countries and already many Hindus from other states like Kerala are earning lakhs of rupees by working in such places.

Way ahead

  • In fact, Madrassas should be modernized rather than abolishing them.
  • Winding up all government Madrassas is a big decision and it should be sent to the select committee of the house for discussion with all the stakeholders.

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