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Showing posts from September 23, 2017

Taper timetable — On quantitative easing in U.S. (hindu)

The conclusion of quantitative easing in the U.S. could affect investment flows into India

Quantitative easing has concluded in the world’s largest economy — at least for now. Almost nine years after the U.S. Federal Reserve started its unprecedented programme of liquidity infusion through the purchase of asset-backed and Treasury securities in the wake of the global financial crisis, Fed Chair Janet Yellen announced on Wednesday that starting next month the central bank would begin the normalisation of its balance sheet. To their credit, Ms. Yellen and her colleagues on the Federal Open Market Committee have walked the talk on their June decision to unwind the mammoth $4.5 trillion balance sheet. Most crucially, they have done it in a manner that precludes the risk of a ‘taper tantrum’ similar to that in 2013 — when Chairman Ben Bernanke had hinted at starting to turn off the tap — by setting out a slow, long-drawn and well-calibrated timetable to shrink the Fed’s holdings. The asse…

Tax trauma — On GST Network (hindu)

Glitches in the GST regime are increasing the anxiety among Indian businesses

For a reform that was cracked up to be India’s biggest tax overhaul since Independence, the roll-out of the goods and services tax is off to a less-than-desirable start. Over 80 days after its introduction, the GST Network, its online backbone, is struggling to keep pace with the millions of invoices and returns being filed electronically by businesses across the country. The government has extended the deadline for filing GST returns for July, the first month of the GST era, twice. And Finance Minister Arun Jaitley has reiterated an appeal to taxpayers to not wait till the last day, to avoid burdening the GSTN. But even those filing returns well before the last date have struggled. It is clear that the network had not been fully tested for chinks before July. A ministerial group formed by the GST Council to resolve the GSTN’s glitches gave an assurance last Saturday that 80% of the problems would be fixed …

From ocean to ozone, the limits of our planet (.hindu)

Transformative changes must be considered to keep Earth safe for the future

The population of vertebrate species on Earth in the wild saw a dramatic fall of about 30% between 1970 and 2006, with the worst effects being in the tropics and in freshwater ecosystems. Destruction of species’ habitats by pollutants and land-use change are obliterating flora and fauna at unprecedented rates. In fact, the ecological footprint of humanity — the natural habitats, such as water and land, transformed or destroyed as a result of human activity — far exceeds the biological capacity of the earth.

In an attempt to understand the natural world, its relationships with human societies and limits, in 2009, Johan Rockström and others from the Stockholm Environment Institute described elements of the biophysical world that link us together. Often regarded as a “safe operating space for humanity”, these planetary boundaries include loss of biodiversity, land-use change, changes to nitrogen and phosphorus c…

From ocean to ozone, the limits of our planet (hindu)

Transformative changes must be considered to keep Earth safe for the future

The population of vertebrate species on Earth in the wild saw a dramatic fall of about 30% between 1970 and 2006, with the worst effects being in the tropics and in freshwater ecosystems. Destruction of species’ habitats by pollutants and land-use change are obliterating flora and fauna at unprecedented rates. In fact, the ecological footprint of humanity — the natural habitats, such as water and land, transformed or destroyed as a result of human activity — far exceeds the biological capacity of the earth.

In an attempt to understand the natural world, its relationships with human societies and limits, in 2009, Johan Rockström and others from the Stockholm Environment Institute described elements of the biophysical world that link us together. Often regarded as a “safe operating space for humanity”, these planetary boundaries include loss of biodiversity, land-use change, changes to nitrogen and phosphorus c…

Agriculture as part of climate mitigation and adaptation (downtoearth)

Discussions on agriculture in the context of climate always focus on productivity and yield under global warming and temperature extremes. While rice, wheat, maize and soybean yields are expected to go down due to warming, there is optimism that genomics will deliver drought-and pest-resistant varieties.

Time-tested methods for sustainable agriculture still have a big role to play in terms of crop rotation, crop diversity, drip irrigation, traditional and genetic breeding, integrated pest management and so on.

Information technology will also play a bigger role via precision agriculture. But the role of agriculture in climate adaptation and mitigation must also be considered in the context of the Intended Nationally Determined Contributions commitments (INDC).

The agriculture sector contributes up to 25 per cent of the total anthropogenic emissions. Organic farming is considered environmentally friendly, but it must be kept in mind that organic food choices are mostly a lifestyle thi…

Improved heat tolerance and drought resistance help pearl millet fight climate change (downtoearth)

As higher global temperatures can affect the nutritional quality of crops and affect their productivity, it is time we develop grains that can withstand the negative effects of climate change.

Pearl millet seems to be the solution for a future when temperatures will soar. Decoding and sequencing the pearl millet grain by a team comprising 65 scientists from across 30 research institutions have proved its adaptive capacity and increasing tolerance to drought. This research has
been published in the journal, Nature Biotechnology.

Research coordinated by the International Crops Research Institute for Semi-Arid Tropics, India, BGI-Shenzhen, China and the French National Research Institute for Sustainable Development used the latest innovations in DNA sequencing and analysis to identify new genetic tools like molecular markers related to drought and heat tolerance, as well as other important traits like better nutrition profile and pest resistance.

This will help farmers grow the crop bet…

Bihar canal collapse brings lack of dam safety in focus (downtoearth)

A part of the Bateshwarsthan Ganga Pump Nahar Priyojna (Bateshwarstahn Ganga Canal Project), in Bhagalpur district of Bihar collapsed on September 19, a day before the state’s Chief Minister Nitish Kumar was supposed to inaugurate it. Release of water in full capacity was blamed for the accident. The cost of the project is estimated at Rs 389.31 crore.

“The breach in canal happened due to release of water in full capacity, the incident has not caused any damage to the newly-constructed part of the project,” the state’s water resources minister Rajiv Ranjan Singh alias Lalan Singh said.

No one was hurt and the damage was limited to water entering the residential areas of the National Thermal Power Corporation’s (NTPC) station at Kahalgaon and adjoining areas such as Siddharth Nagar and Kutahri Kali Sthan, according to the Hindu.

“Rs 389.31 crore dam collapses ahead of inauguration. The CM was to inaugurate the dam with much fan fare. Yet another dam collapses due of corruption,” Tejas…

Did you know fermented foods have rich microbial diversities? (downtoearth)

Fermented foods from jalebi to dosa are common across India. Scientists are now focusing on them as fermented foods are not just a part of food culture but they also harbour microbial diversity.

A study of 'starters’ that are used to prepare ethnic fermented foods in Sikkim and Meghalaya has revealed that they have rich microbial diversities. The novel study was undertaken to find out the type of bacteria and fungi present in two traditionally prepared ‘starters’-marcha and thiat-which are used to ferment a variety of starchy substances to produce a sweet alcoholic beverage popular in the two north-eastern states.

The traditional practice of using marcha and thiat starters in the process of fermentation is an integral part of socio-cultural heritage of Sikkim and Meghalaya respectively. This technique also helps in keeping alive important locally-found bacteria and fungi which could otherwise disappear over time.Marcha and thiat are traditionally-prepared starters similar to star…

The surprising effect of ocean waves on global climate (downtoearth)

Breaking waves are the stuff of romance and poetry, but the spray they generate is serious business. Just ask Vicki Grassian, who thinks about what crashing waves mean for clouds and, ultimately, our ability to understand and adapt to our changing climate.

In more than 20 years as a professor in the University of Iowa’s chemistry department, Grassian earned the title “dust queen” for her studies of how mineral particles make their way from land into the sky. The specialized tools and expertise required to study dust eventually drew her to the Department of Chemistry and Biochemistry and the Scripps Institution of Oceanography at the University of California, San Diego, where investigators have spent much of the past decade tackling a tantalizing question: How does the ocean affect Earth’s atmosphere?

At first glance, the answer would appear to be simple and obvious: Water evaporates at the surface of the sea, eventually rising to form clouds. Grassian, now distingished chair of physi…

India, please don't make the same mistakes we made in industrialised world: Swiss President (downtoearth)

"By the end of this century, we would need 2.8 planets to survive if we are not able to change people’s mindset, industrial processes and our behaviour,” said the President of Switzerland, Doris Leuthard, during her address at a town hall organised by The Energy and Resources Institute (TERI) at the India Habitat Centre on September 1, 2017. She was perhaps alluding to the goal of restricting global temperature rise to well below 2.8°F (1.5°C) by the end of this century.

Taking the audience through the history of Switzerland’s energy policy, Leuthard highlighted how the country phased out coal as early as the 60s and switched to nuclear plants. But the accident at the Lucens reactor in 1969 was a rude awakening for the people who started talking about the safety concerns of nuclear power plants. ”We realised that the risk was not very attractive,” she added.

For a country, whose one-third of power supply comes from nuclear power plants, it was a bold move that Switzerland took t…

Yes, it is possible to forecast outbreak of dengue (health)

Given its close link with both temperature and rainfall, it is possible to forecast outbreak of dengue. But for such disease forecasting to be effective it should be based on models specific for different climatic zones in the country, a new study has shown.

Scientists have reached this conclusion after evaluating the relationship of climatic factors in the spread of dengue in different climatic zones in the country – Punjab, Haryana, Rajasthan, Gujarat and Kerala. They focused on changes in a factor called ‘extrinsic incubation period (EIP) of the dengue virus by taking into account daily and monthly mean temperatures in these areas.

Dr. Mutheneni (second from right) with his team at IICT, Hyderabad. Credit: India Science Wire
Dr. Mutheneni (second from right) with his team at IICT, Hyderabad. Credit: India Science Wire
The extrinsic incubation period (EIP) is the time taken for incubation of the virus in the mosquito. During this period, after the mosquito draws virus rich blood me…

Why India's local health traditions need to be formalised (downtoearth)

A few months ago, Tony, a colleague of mine in Gudalur—a small tribal town in Tamil Nadu’s Nilgiris district—complained of mouth ulcers. He whined about black circles, lack of sleep and loss of appetite. Maadhan, another colleague from the local Adivasi community, advised him to eat the tender fruits of manathakkali (Solanum nigrum), a wild herb. Tony ate the ripe fruits diligently for two to three days and the ulcers eventually disappeared. Normally, as a biomedically trained dentist, I would have prescribed an anaesthetic ointment and vitamin supplements. I did not realise the cure for the ulcers was right in the garden attached to my workplace.

Tony’s ulcers happened at a time when I was enquiring, as a part of a research project, about the legitimacy of the Local Health Tradition (LHT) practices among Siddha vaidyars (healers) and Adivasi healers in Tamil Nadu. The study aimed to understand “LHT’s revitalisation”.

In Tony’s case, the herbal treatment received was primary and affo…

During 2015-16 Nepal blockade, medicine export from India fell drastically: study (downtoearth)

During the economic blockade on India-Nepal border between September 2015 and February 2016, just after the huge earthquake killed more than 9,000 people and injured more than 22,000 people, shortage of energy supply like gas and petroleum had garnered media attention. However, public health—a not-so-talked-about issue—was badly affected by the blockade. This is because of Nepal’s dependence on India for medicine and medical equipment.

A new research on the impact of blockade claims that it had badly affected the medicine supply. It is understandable as Nepal receives nearly 60 per cent of its overall imports of all commodities, including most medicines and health commodities, from India.

The paper, published in Globalization and Health journal on August 22, has found out that during the blockade, the volume of all retail medicines traded across the India-Nepal border reduced by 46.5 per cent compared to same months in 2014–2015.

Researchers Abhishek Sharma and Warren A Kaplan—both a…

We are running out of antibiotics, says WHO (downtoearth)

A World Health Organization report—Antibacterial agents in clinical development–an analysis of the antibacterial clinical development pipeline, including tuberculosis—paints a scary picture of antimicrobial resistance (AMR). It says that those antibiotics, which are almost in the pipeline as far as research goes, will fail to combat the growing threat of AMR.

Most drugs currently in the clinical pipeline stage are modifications of existing classes of antibiotics and are only short-term solutions. The report finds very few potential treatment options for those antibiotic-resistant infections identified by the international health agency as posing the greatest threat to public health. This includes drug-resistant tuberculosis, which kills around 250,000 people each year. Among all candidate medicines, only eight have been categorised by the health agency as innovative drugs that will add value to the current antibiotic treatment.

“Antimicrobial resistance is a global health emergency t…

Trump must confront climate challenge, but will he? (downtoearth)

Donald Trump’s entry into the White House must not lead to the triumph of climate change denial. That’s the prayer on everyone’s lips as the 45th President of the United States takes the Oath of Office just ten weeks after stunning the world by winning the US election.  As the US has already started witnessing climate refugees and a broad scientific consensus seems to emerge on how human activity is the primary cause of global warming, the Donald Trump’s presidential administration has lot to learn and unlearn.

From freakishly warm Arctic winter to coral bleaching in Great Barrier Reef and Japan, the signs of global warming are getting more and more evident.

The President, who wants to ‘Make America Great Again’, cannot ignore the fact that the US has suffered climate-related losses worth $27 billion in 2016. As the global temperature is expected to rise by 2.9°C to 3.4°C by this century, the climate change believers must turn up the heat on Trump so that he doesn’t water down Obama&…

Climate change blues: ‘everyday monsoon’ foxes Mizoram farmers (downtoearth)

As the debate continues on connection of climate change with growing intensity of hurricanes like Harvey and Irma, climate change is already becoming a ground reality for scores of farmers in the hill state of Mizoram. Changing rainfall pattern and rising temperatures are forcing them to move away from traditional farming and grow exotic crops that are heat-resistant and can survive erratic rains.

This year has been particularly bad. There has not been a single day when it has not rained. “Farmers are completely confused. They don’t know whether it was early monsoon or it is ‘everyday monsoon’. All important dates on the agriculture calendar have been missed,” pointed out Dr James Lalnunzira Hrahsel, a scientist with the Mizoram State Climate Change Cell.

Data of the past 30 years shows a rise in average temperature of Aizawl in the month of January. The lowest maximum was 18.7 degree in 1992 while the highest was 28.2 degree in 2005. This January it was 26.3 degree. On the other han…

Current Affairs MCQ for UPSC Exams – 5 August 2017

Q- 1 Which of the following statements regarding IRNSS-1A correct?

A) Provides positional information on India and beyond the borders for about 1,500kms
B) It has 3 rubidium atomic cloaks which are critical for keeping time
C) It was launched on board by PSLV-C22
1) A,B
2) A,C
3) B,C
4) A,B,C


Q- 2Which of the following countries are part of Horn of Africa

A) Somalia
B) Ethiopia
C) Egypt
D) Djibouti
E) Eritrea
1) A,B,C
2) A,C,D,E
3) A,B,C,D,E
4) A,B,D,E


Q- 3 Arrange in ascending order the weightage these sectors in Bharat 22( a new exchange traded fund)

A) Basic materials
B) Energy
C) Finance
D) FMCG
E) Industrials
F) Utilities
1) A<B<C<D<E<F
2) B<A<C<F<E<D
3) A<D<B<F<D<E
4) A<B<F<D<E<C.
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 Answer 1-4, 2-4, 3-3

Current Affairs MCQ for UPSC Exams – 4 August 2017

Q-1 Consider the following statements regarding NOTA

a) It was introduced by Election Commission in 2013
b) 2015, Bihar Assembly polls saw the highest NOTA votes polled so far
Which of the above statements are correct?
1) a only
2) b only
3) Both a and b
4) Neither a and b


Q- 2 ‘Blue Whale’ recently seen in news is related to?

a) Conservation of Whales in Arctic region
b) Online game that encourage young users to break law and even commit suicide
c) Terrorist operation
d) None of the above


Q- 3 Consider the statements regarding minimum wages norms

A) These norms are based on recommendations of the Indian Labour Conference in 1957
B) For industries it is fixed based on spending estimates of a working class family on 2,700 calories of food per person, 72 yards clothes, minimum housing rent and education and light and fuel
Which of the above statements are correct?
1) A only
2) B only
3) Both A and B
4) Neither A nor B.
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 An…

Current Affairs MCQ for UPSC Exams – 3 August 2017

Q- 1 Which of following statements are correct regarding Repo rate.

a) Repo rate is the rate at which the central bank of a country lends money to commercial bank.
b) Central banks decrease repo rate in case of inflation
1) a only
2) b only
3) Both a and b
4) Neither a nor b


Q- 2 The policy “one nation one licence” is related to?

a) Telecom
b) Pharmaceuticals
c) Fertilisers
d) Coal


Q- 3 Consider the following

1) Carbon dioxide
2) Oxides of Nitrogen
3) Oxides of Sulphur
Which of the above is/are the emission/emissions from coal combustion at thermal power plants ?
1. 1 only
2. 2 and 3 only
3. 1 and 3 only
4. 1, 2 and 3.
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Ans1-1,  2-A  3-4