19, April 2017

VIKALP scheme: The Indian Railways will roll out a new Vikalp scheme on April 1, under which wait-listed passengers can get an option to travel in premium trains.

Under the new reservation scheme called ‘Vikalp’, or alternate train accommodation scheme (ATAS), passengers who have booked tickets in other mail or express trains, can avail the option of travelling in premium trains to their booked destinations with no extra cost.

1.unesco heritageFrom forts to fauna: India’s new heritage sites

Source: The Hindu

World Heritage:

Heritage is our legacy from the past, what we live with today, and what we pass on to future generations. Our cultural and natural heritage are both irreplaceable sources of life and inspiration.

  1. 1. The archaeological site of the Nalanda Mahavihara is nothing but the remains of the famed Nalanda University, the “most ancient university of the Indian Subcontinent,” according to UNESCO. It as designed a World Heritage Site in 2016.
  2. Nilgiri Mountain Train, along with the Darjeeling Mountain Train and the Kalka Shimla Railway, made it onto UNESCO’s list in 2008.
  3. Delhi’s Red Fort historic Red Fort went on the UNESCO list a decade ago in 2007. “The Red Fort’s innovative planning and architectural style, including the garden design, strongly influenced later buildings and gardens in Rajasthan, Delhi, Agra and further afield,” says the organisation.
  4. The Complex Du Capitol or Capitol Complex in Chandigarh is the work of famous architect Le Corbusier. The Complex is a part of a series of 17 buildings built all over the world, including places like Tokyo, Argentina, France among others. “These masterpieces of creative genius also attest to the internationalization of architectural practice across the planet,” writes UNESCO. The site was inscribed in 2016.
  5. A view of majestic Mt. Kanchenjunga as seen from the Kanchenjunga National Park in Sikkim. The park was inscribed in the World Heritage List in 2016.
  6. The Rani Ki Vav Stepwell in Patan, some 120 kms. from Ahmedabad got onto the UNESCO list in 2014. The stepwell was built in 11th century AD, as a memorial to a king. It has sevel levels of stairs and more than 500 major sculptures adorning its walls.
  7. Great Himalayan National Park in Himachal Pradesh, a biodiversity hotspot, was included in the UNESCO list in 2014.
  8. The Hill Forts of Rajasthan – Chittorgarh; Kumbhalgarh; Sawai Madhopur; Jhalawar; Jaipur, and Jaisalmer – made it onto the list way back in 2013. Here, we see the majestic Amber Fort.
  9. A view of the hunting lounge of Ranthambore Fort in Rajasthan. Unlike the other Rajasthan forts in UNESCO’s list, the Ranthambore Fort has been subjected to the ravages of wars and time. Among the remaining ruins, the two pavilions, Badal Mahal and Hammirs court and parts of the royal palace give an idea of the old grandeur.
  10. River Kali flowing through Kali Tiger Reserve, earlier known as Dandeli-Anshi tiger reserve (DATR), in the Western Ghats region of Uttara Kannada District, in Karnataka. UNESCO designated Western Ghats as a heritage site in 2012.
  11. The historic Jantar Mantar observatory in Jaipur was built in the 18th century. “This is the most significant, most comprehensive, and the best preserved of India’s historic observatories,” says UNESCO. It was listed as a heritage site in 2010.

UNESCO World Heritage Sites:

  • The United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO) seeks to encourage the identification, protection and preservation of cultural and natural heritage around the world considered to be of outstanding value to humanity.
  • This is embodied in an international treaty called the Convention concerning the Protection of the World Cultural and Natural Heritage, adopted by UNESCO in 1972.

The World Heritage Convention: Credibility, Conservation, Capacity-building, Communication and Communities

  • The most significant feature of the 1972 World Heritage Convention is that it links together in a single document the concepts of nature conservation and the preservation of cultural properties.
  • The Convention recognizes the way in which people interact with nature, and the fundamental need to preserve the balance between the two.

2.IMD expects ‘normal’ monsoon but uncertainty looms

Source: The Hindu

India is likely to get ‘normal’ monsoon rains, according to the first official forecast of the season by the India Meteorological Department (IMD).

  • Rains are likely to be 96% of the 50-year average of 89cm for the monsoon season of June to September. They are expected to fan out favourably and “help agriculture.”
  • There is, however, a significant element of uncertainty in this forecast.

What are the elements?

  • one, there’s the looming threat of El Nino. Secondly, the IMD has adopted a new weather model this year, and it is still a work-in-progress.
  • The IMD’s estimate of 96% rains falls at the bottom edge of what it considers ‘normal’ monsoon rains. Every number forecast by the IMD has a built-in 5% error margin.
  • India saw drought years in 2014 and 2015. As for 2016, it received 3% less than the 89 cm average, despite an IMD forecast of ‘above normal’ rains.
  • Given the deficient pre-monsoon rains over large parts of Karnataka, Tamil Nadu and Kerala, good rains are essential this year to trap enough soil moisture for a healthy kharif crop, which is vital to keep inflation down and rural consumption up.

El Nino and IOD:

El Niño and La Niña are complex weather patterns resulting from variations in ocean temperatures in the Equatorial Pacific.

  • The El Nino — characterised by surface waters of the equatorial Pacific warming up more than half a degree — is known to dry up monsoon rains every six out of 10 years. This year, international weather models as well as the IMD’s own dynamical global climate forecasting system model indicate that El Nino conditions might set in during the “latter part of the monsoon.”
  • Another climate phenomenon, called the Indian Ocean Dipole (IOD), which refers to a swing in the sea surface temperatures in the western and eastern Indian oceans, is also known to influence the Indian monsoon. A ‘positive’ IOD can counter an ominous El Nino. In its assessment, the IMD expects “weak positive IOD” to develop in the latter half of the monsoon, which means that it’s unlikely to be a potent ally this year.
  • Since 2012, the April forecast has never been able to forecast the monsoon numbers right. In 2015, for instance, it said monsoon rains would be 93%, but India ended up with 86%. In 2014, it predicted 95% and the country ended up with 88%. On both occasions, the forecasts failed to signal the magnitude of the monsoon failure.

India Meteorological Department: Ministry of Earth Science

India Meteorological Department was established in 1875. It is the National Meteorological Service of the country and the principal government agency in all matters relating to meteorology, seismology and allied subjects.

  • To take meteorological observations and to provide current and forecast meteorological information for optimum operation of weather-sensitive activities like agriculture, irrigation, shipping, aviation, offshore oil explorations, etc.
  • To warn against severe weather phenomena like tropical cyclones, norwesters, duststorms, heavy rains and snow, cold and heat waves, etc., which cause destruction of life and property.
  • To provide meteorological statistics required for agriculture, water resource management, industries, oil exploration and other nation-building activities.
  • To conduct and promote research in meteorology and allied disciplines.
  • To detect and locate earthquakes and to evaluate seismicity in different parts of the country for development projects.

3.New data safety regime from TRAI

Source: The Hindu

The Centre informed a Constitution Bench of the Supreme Court that the Telecom Regulatory Authority of India (TRAI) is working on a new regulatory regime to ensure online data protection.

Attorney-General Mukul Rohatgi submitted before the five-judge Bench led by Justice Dipak Misra that with online transactions and presence increasing by the day, data protection needs to be fortified.

Key facts:

Data protection and privacy is all the more important now because the less literate use apps like BHIM and PayTM for cash transactions. So, government has been actively mulling on an overarching data protection framework. TRAI has started work

Right to be forgotten

  • The AG explained the need for online privacy in the light of ‘right to be forgotten’ of an individual.
  • This right, also called the ‘right to be erased’, is one of the major casualties in the Internet age.
  • It deals with the person’s right to wipe out his past demeanours for which has already suffered punishment.
  • “The ‘right to be forgotten’ is practised in the U.K., the U.S. and the E.U. A person commits a minor felony and is punished at the age of 20. But if a search is done on him in the Internet, the information about this felony(crime) is the first to pop up on the screen despite the fact that in the real world it is long past and forgotten.
  • The debate was part of a Constitution Bench hearing for a declaration that a 2016 policy of instant messaging app – WhatsApp – to give Facebook access to information and personal details shared by millions of its users was a violation of their privacy and free speech.

WhatsApp does not share data, voices and messages, so no part of the content which is exchanged between two individuals is ever revealed to third party.

Actions were compliant with Information Technology Act of 2000 and in consonance with the Information Technology (Reasonable Security Practices and Procedures and Sensitive Personal Data or Information) Rules, 2011.

4.Disabled persons granted exemption from standing during National Anthem in movie halls

Source: The Hindu

The Supreme Court has granted an exemption to six categories of disabled people from standing when the national anthem is played before the screening of a film in theatres.

  • The six categories include people suffering from cerebral palsy, Parkinson disease, muscular dystrophy and other categories of disability.
  • The order comes at the backdrop of reported incidents of people with disabilities facing the wrath of people trying to enforce patriotism during the national anthem.
  • In addition, the Court has also issued notice to the union government on the plea seeking Vande Mataram to be made mandatory in schools.
  • The Centre should file its reply in a four weeks time on the plea. The reply should also ascertain the feasibility of singing the national anthem and the national song in Parliament, assemblies, courts, schools and colleges on working days.


On November 30, 2016, the Supreme Court made it mandatory for all the cinema halls across the nation to play the national anthem with the image of the national flag displayed before screening of a movie, when the audience must stand and show respect.

The idea was to instill a sense of committed patriotism and nationalism among people.

5.Watershed programme helps drought-hit village

Source: The Hindu

Till recently, the women folk of Patna village in Chhatarpur, Bundelkhand region, had to walk nearly two-to-three hours to fetch a bucket of potable water.

  • This drought-prone village is situated about 80km from Khajuraho temple town and has 85 families. Over exploitation of ground water resources, along with climate change resulted in drying up of traditional sources.
  • Due to this, the region faced acute scarcity of water forcing people to migrate to cities and towns. Later, the whole region was declared as “super critical drought area”.

Watershed management programme: Ministry of Rural Development

(Department of Land Resources)

  • The main objectives of the IWMP are to restore the ecological balance by harnessing, conserving and developing degraded natural resources such as soil, vegetative cover and water.
  • The outcomes are prevention of soil run-off, regeneration of natural vegetation, rain water harvesting and recharging of the ground water table.
  • This enables multi-cropping and the introduction of diverse agro-based activities, which help to provide sustainable livelihoods to the people residing in the watershed area.
  • In addition, there is a Scheme of Technology Development, Extension and Training (TDET) is also being implemented to promote development of cost effective and proven technologies to support watershed management.
  • Department implemented 3 watershed programmes viz. Integrated Wastelands Development Programme, Drought Prone Areas Programme, Desert Development Programme.
  • Since then, they have been brought under a comprehensive programme named Integrated Watershed Management Programme (IWMP) to be implemented under Common Guidelines on Watershed Development,2008.

6.RBI raises red flag over banks’ telecom exposure

Source: The Hindu

  • The Reserve Bank of India (RBI) has raised a red flag over banks’ loans to telecom players and asked the lenders to increase their standard asset provisioning more than what is prescribed so that they can built ‘necessary resilience.’
  • “The telecom sector is reporting stressed financial conditions, and presently interest coverage ratio for the sector is less than one,” according to a circular issued by the central bank to the lenders.
  • Interest coverage ratio of less than one means the company’s EBIDTA (Earnings Before Interest, Taxes, Depreciation and Amortization) is not sufficient to repay interest, let alone principal.

Interest Coverage Ratio

Interest Coverage Ratio = EBIT/Interest Expense.

  • The variable EBIT in the interest coverage ratio formula stands for earnings before interest and taxes. EBIT is also referred to as operating income, which is revenues minus operating expenses. Interest expense refers to the amount of interest the company pays on its debt.
  • Both EBIT and interest expense can be found on a company’s income statement.


  • If the coverage is less than 1, it means the company isn’t making enough money to pay its interest payments. Forget paying back the principle payments on the debt. A company with a calculation less than 1 can’t even pay the interest on its debt. This type of company is beyond risky and probably would never get bank financing.
  • If the coverage equation equals 1, it means the company makes just enough money to pay its interest. This situation isn’t much better than the last one because the company still can’t afford to make the principle payments. It can only cover the interest on the current debt when it comes due.
  • If the coverage measurement is above 1, it means that the company is making more than enough money to pay its interest obligations with some extra earnings left over to make the principle payments. Most creditors look for coverage to be at least 1.5 before they will make any loans. In other words, banks want to be sure a company make at least 1.5 times the amount of their current interest payments.

7.How CERN’s experiment could shake up the Standard Model of particle physics

Source: The Hindu

The Standard Model: The Standard Model explains how the basic building blocks of matter interact, governed by four fundamental forces.

The European organisation for nuclear research (CERN) came out with a news that has more than raised an eyebrow among particle physicists.

The LHCb experiment in CERN has shown a feeble but persistent sign of physics that contradicts a basic assumption of the Standard Model, indicating that this theory which has ruled the roost may not be complete in itself.

What is the Standard Model of particle physics?

  • Nature as know it is governed by four fundamental forces – electromagnetic, strong, weak and gravitational.
  • One of the major programmes in physics is to unify these four forces and have one equation to describe everything – the theory of everything! However, so far scientists have been able to devise a theory that only gives a unified description of the first three forces. This theory is called the Standard Model (SM).

What are the particles in particle physics?

  • It is known that all subatomic particles are composed of quarks.
  • These come in six flavours or types: Up, Down, Truth, Beauty, Charm and Strange. The quarks do not occur as singles, they can come in pairs – forming the mesons (e.g. pions and kaons), or triplets, to form the Baryons (e.g., protons and neutrons).
  • Leaving out gravity, which all particles are subject to, let us look at the list of elementary particles: One set of elementary particles are low-mass leptons (electron, muon, tau) which are not made up of quarks and interact only through electromagnetic and weak interactions.
  • Then come the heavy-mass baryons (protons neutrons etc) which undergo all types of interactions. These are all fermions, or spin ½ particles.

What are the gaps in the Standard Model?

The SM does not include anything like a description of the dark matter particles. So an experimental discovery of a dark matter particle such as a WIMP (weakly interacting massive particle) would be seeing physics beyond the standard model.

What is the “indication” that LHCb experiment found?

  • LHCb has described an “indication” (which is a weaker statement than saying “discovery”) that they have observed a difference in the way electrons and muons behave.
  • They have observed two types of reactions: in one, B meson decays to an excited K Meson and a muon-plus and muon-minus pair.
  • Now the standard model predicts that these two reactions should have the same rate, however, the experimentalists find a significant difference in the rates. This indicates that there is something different from what the Standard Model predicts.

This is a massive announcement. They are cautious to say that the statistical significance is not sufficient for it to be termed a discovery. With the next runs bringing in some five times more data it is very possible that they would get a stronger indication of this.

Leave a Reply