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Current Affairs - 20 October 2018


New skin gel protects from some pesticides
  • Indian researchers have developed a gel which, when applied on the skin, can inhibit some pesticides from getting absorbed into the body, thus averting serious adverse effects and even death.
  • Organophosphate-based pesticides, which are commonly used by farmers in India, are toxic to the nervous system and heart, and can cause cognitive dysfunction. When esters present in organophosphate-based pesticides enter the body they bind and inhibit an enzyme (acetylcholinesterase or AChE) critical for nerve and muscle function. This causes neurological disorders, suffocation, paralysis, and even death. 
  • A team led by Dr. Praveen Kumar Vemula from the Institute for Stem Cell Biology and Regenerative Medicine (inStem), Bengaluru, an autonomous institute under the Department of Biotechnology, used a chemical reaction to convert the ester into acid by using a catalyst to make the pesticide inactive.
  • Since the majority of organophosphate-based pesticides are absorbed through the skin (the nasal/inhalation route constitutes about 10-15%) the researchers made a gel for topical application. The active ingredients of the gel are attached to chitosan (a substance found in the hard outer shells of crab and shrimp) so the gel does not penetrate the skin.
  • Studies on rats found that the gel was effective in a range of temperatures (20°-40° C) and a single application could protect the animals for four continuous days of pesticide exposure. 
  • The gel does not act like a physical barrier but chemically deactivates the pesticides thereby limiting the inhibition of the enzyme.
  • None of the rats that received the gel application showed any visible signs of toxicity. Brain tissue harvested from these rats showed that the gel was effective in preventing the inhibition of the enzyme in the brain. 
HAL faces grim scenario as it has no new orders
  • Hindustan Aeronautics Ltd.’s new CMD recently mentioned an order book of over ₹61,000 crore. The production scene, however, looks grim beyond 2020 unless the government-owned military aircraft maker lands new orders for aircraft mainly for the Indian Air Force, according to information gathered from multiple sources in the company.
  • Such a scenario has not been seen since 1990, said an old-timer familiar with the ground situation.
  • The lack of new orders means that 25% of workers across HAL's fixed-wing factories do not have work. Älso, orders should be placed soon as it takes five years from sourcing components to building a full aircraft.
  • For the year ended March 2018, HAL posted a turnover of ₹18,284 crore — which is not much higher than the previous year’s turnover of ₹17,604 crore.
  • In recent weeks, the PSU has found itself in unwanted limelight in the contract for outright purchase of 36 Rafale fighters from French manufacturer Dassault Aviation.
  • If the government had not revised in 2015 an earlier, bigger and decade-old aircraft purchase plan, HAL says it would have produced 108 of the 126 Rafale fighter jets under licence.
  • Now HAL is handling two prime fixed-wing plane orders: the Bengaluru complex is producing the first batch of 20 LCA fighters (Light Combat Aircraft) for the Air Force. The MiG Complex at Nashik is wrapping up an order for another fighter aircraft, the Sukhoi-30 MKI.
  • The MiG Complex at Nashik has been manufacturing most of the 272 Russian-origin Su-30MKIs under licence. However, by 2019-20, the last 20-plus would be delivered to the IAF and the Nashik unit “has nothing after them,” the then HAL CMD T. Suvarna Raju had said last year, raising fears about HAL’s future.
  • Another person familiar with production-related activities said that post-Sukhois, the accessories units in Lucknow, Hyderabad, Kanpur, Korwa and Kasaragod would also suffer.
  • The rotary or helicopter side is relatively better placed but fixed wing aircraft work means better revenues. The helicopter unit in Bengaluru is busy with Advanced Light Helicopters, which, too, will be completed around 2020.
  • HAL now banks on getting the first order for 15 Light Combat Helicopters which the DAC cleared last December.
India, Japan, U.S. plan joint air exercise
  • India, Japan and the U.S. are set to elevate the bilateral ‘Cope India’ air exercise to a trilateral format. The three countries already conduct naval war games under the expanded Malabar naval exercise.
  • The U.S. had proposed a trilateral air exercise between India, Japan and the U.S. For this, the Cope India exercise will be elevated to a trilateral level in phases, two official sources independently confirmed on condition of anonymity.
  • The next edition is scheduled to be held in December for which the Final Planning Conference to finalise the modalities of the exercise is scheduled next week in Kalaikunda [West Bengal], a defence official said.
  • At the annual Defence Ministerial Meeting in August between Defence Minister Nirmala Sitharaman and her Japanese counterpart Itsunori Onodera, it was agreed that Japan will send observers for the next round of Cope India exercises between India and U.S. to be hosted by the Indian Air Force.
  • The level of interoperability in the exercises, both bilateral and trilateral, is expected to go up with India recently signing the Communications Compatibility and Security Agreement with the U.S..
Fines fail to deter stubble burning
  • Between September 27 and October 14, the Punjab Pollution Control Board (PPCB) imposed ₹8,92,500 as fines — or “environmental compensation cess” as it is officially called — on farmers burning paddy stubble. However, they collected only ₹3,05,000, according to figures from the organisation.
  • The Centre and the States — Punjab, Haryana and Uttar Pradesh — have in several meetings through the year declared a “zero tolerance” policy on the burning of stubble for farmers, which, according to various studies, contributes anywhere from 17% to 78% to the particulate matter-emission load in the city during winter.
  • To discourage farmers in Punjab and Haryana — who are responsible for the bulk of such fires — the government has also disbursed ₹591 crore to these States to sell subsidised farm implements that can do away with stubble without having to burn them.
  • Officials in the PPCB, on the condition of anonymity, told The Hindu that they were frequently “lenient” when they caught farmers in the act of burning stubble — an offence that invites fines of at least ₹2,500 an acre.
  • Officials said satellite images alert them to fields set afire by farmers but actually confronting a guilty farmer is a complex process.
  • Despite a vigorous focus by governments on making mechanised farm implements — combine harvesters-cum-straw management system, seed drillers, rotary harvesters — available to farmers, it’s still inaccessible to many farmers with landholdings less than 5 acres or those not rich enough to invest in such machines.
  • “These machines, at best, can harvest 10 acres a day. There are only three or four machines available (for a variety of tasks from cutting the straw, planting wheat, baling the straw) for all of us,” a farmer told. That works out to 120 days for managing the fields. However, farmers have barely two months — between mid-September and mid-November — to clear out the field.
  • This year, delayed rains have shrunk the window further and different regions in Punjab have different harvesting times, in keeping with subtle weather differences. Then there’s the spike in diesel prices. 
  • Krunesh Garg, Member Secretary, PPCB, said that change would take “some time.” “We’re educating farmers that burning the soil also destroys soil nutrients, and increases their fertilizer requirement. We’ve run advertisements. Using farm equipment is only slightly costlier — just ₹300 more per acre — than burning the field and helps preserve the environment as well as their health,” he said in a media briefing.
Arunachal, Assam on alert after barrier breaches
  • The Arunachal Pradesh and Assam governments on Friday readied National Disaster Response Force (NDRF) and SDRF teams in districts along the Siang and Brahmaputra rivers following a report from China via the Central Water Commission that the barrier formed on the Tsangpo upstream due to a landslide has breached about 5 p.m., discharging water at a speed of 18,000 cubic metres per second.
  • “The water is likely to reach Tuting [near the China border] in 10-14 hours and will take another 8-10 hours to reach Pasighat from the time of overflow of the barrier upstream in Tsangpo,” said Bidol Tayeng, Secretary of the Arunachal Pradesh Disaster Management department.
  • The Deputy Commissioner has asked the authorities to keep a close watch on more than a dozen villages in the district’s Mebo subdivision that were affected by floods less than two months ago.
  • Earlier, Ji Rong, spokesperson of the Chinese Embassy in India, said, “Beijing had informed New Delhi soon after a landslip took place near Jiala village in Milin county in the lower ranges of the Yaluzangbu (Tsangpo) river in Tibet Autonomous Region of China on October 17. The Chinese side will closely monitor the situation, and continue to notify the Indian side the follow-up developments through bilaterally agreed channels timely.”

      Rwanda announces ‘gender-balanced’ Cabinet
      • Two days after Ethiopia announced one of the world’s few “gender-balanced” Cabinets with 50% women, Rwanda has done the same.
      • The East African nation announced that women now make up half of the slimmed-down, 26-seat Cabinet.
      • Rwanda joins a handful of countries, mostly European, where women make up 50% or more of ministerial positions, according to the Inter-Parliamentary Union and UN Women.
      • The country has received international recognition for female representation in government, with women making up 61% of Parliament members.
      • Ethiopia’s move this week was the latest in a series of dramatic political and economic reforms under Prime Minister Abiy Ahmed, who took office in April. Mr. Abiy reportedly told lawmakers that women are less corrupt than men.

            RBI steps in to ease NBFC woes
            • The Reserve Bank of India (RBI) has decided to increase the single-borrower exposure limit of banks for non-banking finance companies (NBFCs) which do not finance infrastructure, to 15% from the existing 10% of their capital funds.
            • This would be effective till December 31, the RBI said in a statement.
            • The move must be read in the context of the IL&FS imbroglio-induced liquidity crisis in the system.
            • The central bank has been taking several initiatives, including intermittent open market purchase of government securities, ever since the occurrence of a series of payment defaults by IL&FS and its arms .
            • The Reserve Bank has also permitted banks to use government securities, equal to their incremental outstanding credit to NBFCs, over and above their outstanding credit to them as on October 19,to meet the liquidity coverage ratio requirement.
            • “It has been decided that, with immediate effect, banks will be permitted to also reckon government securities held by them up to an amount equal to their incremental outstanding credit to NBFCs and housing finance companies (HFCs), over and above the amount of credit to NBFCs and HFCs outstanding on their books as on October 19, 2018, as Level 1 HQLA((high quality liquid assets) under FALLCR (Facility to Avail Liquidity for Liquidity Coverage Ratio) within the mandatory SLR (statutory liquidity ratio) requirement,” the RBI said.
            • This would be in addition to the existing FALLCR of 13% of NDTL and limited to 0.5% of the bank’s NDTL (net demand and time liability), the RBI said. The additional window will be available up to December 31, 2018, the notification said.
                      RBI opposes move for independent Payments Regulatory Board
                      • The Reserve Bank of India (RBI) has opposed the move to have an independent Payments Regulatory Board (PRB) as envisaged by the draft proposal for amendments to the Payment & Settlement Systems Act, 2007.
                      • In a dissenting note to the Inter-Ministerial Committee for finalisation of amendments, the RBI said, “There is no case of having a regulator for payment systems outside the RBI.” The Watal Committee, it said, had recommended the establishment of the PRB within the overall structure of the RBI. “Since banks are regulated by the RBI, a holistic regulation by RBI will be more effective and not result in increased compliance costs,” it said.
                      • “There needs to be integrated operations and not co-ordination. Co-ordination is required across different but related functions, which is not the case for payment systems. This is also the basis for reiterating that the Governor of the RBI should be the chairman of the proposed PRB,’’ the note said. Objectives for the PRB, the RBI said, were best avoided to be mandated by law. For, it felt that law might not provide the much-needed flexibility. “The views of the Ministry of Law could also be taken into account on jurisdictional conflict. Further, innovation is generally not mandated — it evolves based on requirements,” it added.
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