04 , August 2017

1.Joint Project between NASA and ISRO
Source: PIB

ISRO and NASA are working towards realisation of NASA-ISRO Synthetic Aperture Radar (NISAR) mission by 2021.

  • In NISAR mission, NASA is responsible for development of L-band SAR and ISRO is responsible for development of S-band SAR.
  • The L & S band SAR will be integrated with ISRO’s spacecraft and launched on-board India’s GSLV.
  • NISAR employs a futuristic SweepSAR technique, which enables very wide swath of more than 200 km and very high resolution of the order of 5-10m.
  • The L & S band microwave data obtained from this satellite will be useful for variety of application, which include estimating agricultural biomass over full duration of crop cycle; assessing soil moisture; monitoring of floods & oil slicks; coastal erosion, coastline changes; assessment of mangroves; surface deformation studies, ice sheet dynamics etc.

After the launch in 2021, the plan of action includes

  • calibration of instruments & validation of data products;
  • development of science acquisition plan;
  • development of data processing procedures & applications; and
  • conduct of outreach activities in research institutes & academia.

ISRO and NASA have a framework agreement for cooperation in the exploration and use of outer space for peaceful purposes signed in 2008. Under this framework agreement, ISRO and NASA have executed an implementing arrangement for cooperation in NISAR mission, which is valid until 2034 and provides scope for joint activities on science & applications of NISAR data after the launch.

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2.Breastfeeding Week to promote breastfeeding
Source: PIB

Breastfeeding Week is observed in the first week of August to focus attention on the important aspect of promotion and support of breastfeeding. The theme of this year’s breastfeeding week is ‘Sustaining Breastfeeding’.

  • Breastfeeding is an important efficient and cost-effective intervention promoting child survival and health. Breastfeeding within an hour of birth could prevent 20% of the newborn deaths.
  • Infants who are not breastfed are 15 times more likely to die from pnuemonia and 11 times more likely to die from diarrhoea than children who are exclusively breastfed, which are two leading causes of death in children under-five years of age.
  • In addition, children who were not breastfed are at increased risk for diabetes, obesity, allergies, asthma, childhood leukemia, sudden infant death syndrome etc.
  • Apart from mortality and morbidity benefits, breastfeeding also has tremendous impact on improved IQ.

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3.Development of Radiation Technology
Source: PIB

Bhabha Atomic Research Centre (BARC) – Department of Atomic Energy (DAE) has been engaged in R&D work on the technology of preservation and hygienization of food and agri-products by radiation.

Irradiation is very effective in treating the horticultural produces. Extension of shelf life of horticultural produces is very much depended on the produce, variety and storage conditions. For many fresh agri produce subjected to irradiation and proper storage, substantial shelf life extension has been achieved.

In irradiation, food products are subjected to a low dosage of radiation to treat them for germs and insects, increasing their longevity and shelf life. Radiation treatment is carried out in dosage recommended by the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) and it neither reduces the nutritional value of food nor spoils their taste and appearance.

Unique advantages of radiation processing are:

  • Significant increase in shelf life for many products including fruits, vegetables, cereals, pulses, spices, sea foods and meat products.
  • Effective elimination of harmful bacteria, viruses and insects/pests.
  • Cold & clean process (No temperature raise or residue); and treatment done after final packaging (no repacking necessary).

BARC-DAE has set up two technology demonstration units, one commissioned in the year 2000 for high dose irradiation at Vashi, Navi Mumbai, and another in 2002, for low dose irradiation, KRUSHAK (Krushi Utpadan Sanrakshan Kendra) facility at Lasalgaon, near Nashik.

Recently the harmonization of food irradiation rules with the international regulation through adaptation of class wise clearance of irradiated food items by the Food Safety and Standards Authority of India (FSSAI) has taken place [Food Safety and Standards (Food Products Standards and Food Additives) Sixth Amendment Regulations, 2016] for large scale deployment of this technology.

India and Russia have also signed a pact to set up 25 integrated infrastructure centers for irradiation treatment of perishable food items to improve shelf life and cut post-harvest losses.

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4.NOTA option to stay in Rajya Sabha polls
Source: The Hindu

Supreme Court observation: The ‘None Of The Above’ (NOTA) option will remain on the ballot paper in the upcoming Rajya Sabha elections.

The Court has refused to stay an Election Commission circular issued in January 2014 that introduced NOTA in the Rajya Sabha elections. The court has, however, issued notice to the Election Commission of India, saying the poll body should be heard in detail as any judicial decision on NOTA may have a ripple effect on elections conducted from January 24, 2014, to the present day.

About NOTA

NOTA, or ‘None Of The Above’, option appears at the bottom of EVM or ballot paper, below the names of all the contestants. This option allows a voter to reject all the candidates in any election. It was included in the EVMs and ballot papers by virtue of a Supreme Court judgment in September 2013 which directed the Election Commission to “make necessary provision in the ballot papers/EVMs for “None of the Above (NOTA)” option so that the electors who do not wish to vote for any of the candidates can exercise their right not to vote for any candidate without violation of the secrecy of their decision.”

  • The Supreme Court had justified the inclusion of NOTA by saying that it would force political parties to project clean candidates in an election. The court said that since all citizens have the “right to vote”, one must also have the right to reject all candidates as part of their fundamental right to speech and expression in the Constitution.

Prior to this judgment, there was a similar provision in which one could refuse all the candidates in the fray and exercise his or her right to vote. To do that, a voter had to go to the Presiding Officer at the polling booth and fill form 17A. This, however, did not allow for anonymity.

The Election Commission, in October 2013, issued directions for providing the NOTA option in elections. But then, doubts were raised about its applicability in the Rajya Sabha polls.

  • After examining the issue, the EC on January 24, 2014, directed that the option would also apply for elections to the Rajya Sabha. Immediately thereafter, NOTA was introduced for the biennial elections to the Upper House held in 16 States on February 7 the same year.
  • On February 27, 2014, while extending the NOTA option to the Legislative Council elections, the electoral body gave further directives on its use.

NOTA’s impact will be like abstention

The impact of the decision of MLAs to exercise the NOTA (none-of-the-above) option in elections to the Rajya Sabha will be the same as that of an abstention. Nor does it attract the anti-defection law, though it can be a sign that an MLA is disgruntled with his party leadership or official candidate.

Elections in Rajya Sabha and NOTA

  • In the Rajya Sabha polls, a winning candidate should get a required number of votes calculated through a formula.
  • The total number of votes are divided by the number of seats going to the polls from the State, adding one vote to the number. To this whole, a value of one vote is again added.
  • The polls are held by means of a single, transferable vote, and the candidates reaching the requisite number are declared elected.
  • If a candidate from a party exercises the NOTA option, the total votes will go down. This will bring down the number required to win.

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5.Delhi reports ‘good’ air quality
Source: The Hindu

According to a report by the Central Pollution Control Board (CPCB), for the first time in two years, Delhi has seen two days of ‘good’ air quality in July, 2017.

  • The classifications are made depending on a part of 6-grade, color-coded Air Quality Index (AQI) that the government uses to rate air quality.
  • Officials attribute July’s healthy air to a “combination” of above-normal rain and the various steps taken in the aftermath of the Graded Action Plan, notified this January.
  • The officials further added that although there is no single factor behind this rare phenomenon but weather has played a role. The real test, however, will be during the winter months.
  • Normally, the peak monsoon months of July and August typically see an improvement in air quality because monsoon winds and rain settle noxious particles to the ground.

The average air quality in these months is mostly only ‘moderately’ good, or still not absolutely safe for asthmatics or those with underlying respiratory problems

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6.Centre pings rating agencies on economy in upgrade push
Source: The Hindu

The finance ministry has begun interacting with global rating agencies through teleconferences and e-mails on a more regular basis to give clarifications and update regarding the economy.This is done so to convey India’s pitch for a sovereign rating upgrade better.

  • India has done commendably well on attracting foreign direct investment (FDI).
  • But for some reason, its sovereign credit rating has not improved owing to unfavourable debt and deficit indicators.
  • The information was provided by the Department of Industrial Policy and Promotion (DIPP) to the Parliament’s Standing Committee on Commerce.

Committee’s statement

  • The committee had asked the government to explain the rationale behind rating agencies flagging ‘low private investments’ as a constraint towards raising the country’s rating and whether high FDI flows are not sufficient to improve the country’s business outlook.
  • The government also informed the committee that it had taken several steps to improve India’s sovereign credit rating, including introduction of a structural interaction process with rating agencies.

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7.‘NPAs: Banks need more provisioning’
Source: The Hindu

A joint report by Assocham and rating agency Crisil says “Banks may require an incremental provisioning of 20% against cumulative debt of 50 large stressed assets worth over Rs. 4.3 lakh crore”.

These 50 large accounts are from the sectors such as construction, power and metals, among others and constitute about half of the gross none—performing assets of the banking sector.

  • The banking regulator formed an IAC (Internal Advisory Committee) which in its first meeting selected 12 large corporate loan accounts which can be immediately referred to the NCLT (National Company Law Tribunal) for resolution.
  •  It is also examining the top 50 accounts with an exposure of over Rs 500 and 60 percent of the loan amount has been classified as non-performing asset (NPA).
  • As per the RBI’s provisioning norms, if an account turns into an NPA, banks are required to set aside 15 percent of the loan amount as provisioning in the first year.
  • The provisioning rises to 25 percent in the second year and 40 percent in the third year. After the third year, banks are required to make 100 percent provisioning against the loan.
  • The IAC also recommended that banks should finalise a resolution plan for the 12 and other corporate accounts being filed to NCLT and within six to nine months if a viable resolution plan is not agreed upon, banks should initiate insolvency proceedings under the Insolvency and Bankruptcy code (IBC).

While banks may have already provisioned for a part of these exposures, they need to adequately capitalise to absorb such losses which could fuel credit growth and support the next leg of economic growth.

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8.Services sector PMI falls most in 4 years on GST
Source: The Hindu

After the manufacturing sector, India’s services sector also plunged into the contraction mode in July which is caused by the GST rollout.GST rollout triggered a dip in new business orders.

The Nikkei India Services Purchasing Managers’ Index (PMI)

  • Measure of services sector output on a monthly basis, plunged to 45.9 in July, the lowest since September 2013.
  • A reading above 50 indicates expansion, while a score below this mark means contraction.
  • This is the first time in six months that the services index has slipped into contraction territory
  • Private sector activity dipped for the first time since the demonetisation shock and to the greatest extent since early 2009, mirroring the sales trend

The PMI data for manufacturing and services sector will also bolster calls for further rate cuts by the Reserve Bank, which lowered its key lending rate by 0.25 per cent. This move is likely to translate into lower interest rates for home, auto and other loans as also boost economic activity.

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9.‘GPS facility to raise handset costs’
Source: The Hindu

The government has made it mandatory to install Global Positioning System (GPS) in all mobile phones, including feature phones that will be sold in India, from January 1, 2018 so as to locate subscribers in emergency situations especially for women

The Telecom Ministry will hold a meeting with handset makers shortly to review the policy’s implications.

  • India Celluler Association (ICA), which represents majority of mobile phone companies in India, has written to the government to use A-GPS technology which can help in locating callers using mobile towers near their location.
  • GPS is the main tool regarding location details of the subscriber in emergency, so government has decided to implement it in all the mobile phone handsets from 1 January 2018 in a positive manner.
  • ICA had said feature phones retail for Rs 500-700 for which bill of material (BOM) used is to the tune of $ 5 (around Rs 330- 350). Adding GPS in such phones will increase the production cost to $ 9-11 per unit.

Controversy between government and companies

  • Handset makers had suggested using an alternate method of triangulation of telecom towers to detect location even when there’s no data connection available.
  • However,  DoT argued that Public Safety Awareness Point operator – part of the central system to handle distress calls on emergency number 112 – cannot accurately detect the location using the triangulation method as effectively as it can with GPS.
  • The representative said that more that 40% of the mobile market still comprises features phones which are sold at an average of about Rs. 1,500.

Global Positioning System , a feature that enables tracking the location of a device- to a feature phone is not only technically challenging, but will also lead to at least a 40%-50% jump in the prices of such devices.The GPS device will need more power and memory and it will also increase the cost . It would not be of any use as data connectivity is not there across the country.

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10.Red light for Spanish racer’s dream run
Source: The Hindu

Despite a successful trail, the train from Spain that could have drastically shortened the duration of a journey appears to have come to a halt. The government is unable to move forward on its plan to rope in Spanish locomotive firm Talgo.

The issue:

A series of problems has been highlighted with the ambitious project, including the inability to enlist a single bidder for a large order size, technical changes to train design, and high lease costs.

The successful field trail of Talgo:

  • The Indian Railways had conducted trials of Talgo coaches last year to validate their speed potential and examine the time saved for a journey between New Delhi and Mumbai.
  •  The trains clocked a top speed of 180 km per hour. They completed the 1,384 kilometre journey between the two metros in just 11 hours and 40 minutes, compared to the 15 hours and 50 minutes taken by the Rajdhani Express.
  • This was the first time that the Indian Railways had allowed a foreign train company to conduct a field trial on its tracks.
  • Notably, the successful trial of Talgo’s trains was even highlighted in the list of the NDA government’s achievements in its first two years.

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11.India’s first private missile production facility unveiled
Source: The Hindu

  • India’s first private sector missile sub-systems manufacturing facility Kalyani Rafael Advanced Systems (KRAS) plant was inaugurated near Hyderabad, capital of Telangana.
  • It is 51:49 joint venture between India’s Kalyani Group and Israel’s Rafael Advanced Defence Systems Ltd.
  • It has been established line with the ‘Make in India’ initiative and Government’s policy to encourage private sector participation in defence production.
  • KRAS aims to be a one-stop solution provider to locally re-design, develop, re-engineer and manufacture various land and airborne products and systems in India.
  • It has invested in designing, developing and manufacturing of weapon systems including Spike Anti-Tank Guided Missile (ATGM) systems and remote weapon systems. Besides, it will develop a wide range of advanced capabilities that include command control and guidance, remote weapon systems, electro-optics, precision guided munitions and system engineering for system integration.
  • It will be supplying defence equipment to the Indian Army and also export to South East Asian countries.
  • The plant would employ more than 300 engineers and provide indirect employment to 1,000 people. The localisation content of the plant is 90% and most of the vendors are in and around Hyderabad.

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