Current Affairs for IAS Exams - 08 October 2017

Current Affairs for IAS Exams - 08 October 2017


Devadasi system

  • It’s a practice that is widely believed to have been abandoned decades ago. But NGOs and activists have been bringing to light accounts of young women being initiated into the Devadasi system.
  • The practice of “offering” girl children to Goddess Mathamma thrives in the districts of Chittoor in Andhra Pradesh and Tiruvallur in Tamil Nadu, forcing the National Human Rights Commission to seek report from the two States.
  • As part of the ritual, girls are dressed as brides and once the ceremony was over, their dresses are removed by five boys, virtually leaving them naked. They are then forced to live in the Mathamma temples, deemed to be public property, and face sexual exploitation, according to the NHRC.
  • Mathammas can be found in the villages of Chittoor district, on the border areas with Tamil Nadu but also right in the heart of Tirupati. The system is prevalent in 22 mandals of Chittoor district.
  • The Mathamma system has its equivalent in other regions of Andhra Pradesh and Telangana.
  • The system is called ‘Basivi’ in Kurnool and Anantapur districts, ‘Saani’ in Krishna, East and West Godavari districts, and ‘Parvathi’ in Vizianagaram and Srikakulam districts. Women are unable to leave the exploitative system due to social pressures.

Where fetching drinking water has become a threat to life

  • People living in several villages of Sheopur Kalan district in Madhya Pradesh fetch water from the Parbati, a tributary of the Chambal, every day. As runaway crocodiles from a sanctuary 5 km away have moved up the river near the villages, lives are in danger.
  • Women, who bear the burden of collecting water for their homes, are the most at risk. The Forest Department has put out just a warning sign: “Fetch water at your own risk.”
  • The district administration too has failed to come up with a solution.Drought-like conditions prevail in the region.
  • Water pumps and wells have long gone dry, forcing the people of Icchana Khedi, Malarna and Dalarna Kalan to use the river water for drinking and washing utensils and clothes.
  • The sanctuary for crocodiles and gharials was opened at Palighat two years ago. The big reptiles had ventured outside the protected territory and attacked animals, but the problem went unchecked. The people lost a few of their cows and goats in the past year.
  • The crocodile problem has another social dimension. For over a year, young men in the villages have had to postpone their marriages, with some even facing rejection.
  • Neighbouring villages refuse to give their women in marriage to Ken in the affected villages because of the crocodile threat.

Haj policy 2018-22

  • Abolishing subsidy for Haj pilgrims and allowing women above 45 to travel in a group of at least four without a male member were some of the key highlights of a proposed policy drafted by a committee appointed by the Centre, sources said.
  • The Haj Policy 2018-22, by the panel headed by former Secretary Afzal Amanullah, also recommended bringing down the number of embarkation points (EPs) from which pilgrims could take flights to Saudi Arabia from 21 to nine. The draft was submitted to Union Minority Affairs Minister Mukhtar Abbas Naqvi.
  • Mr. Naqvi said the next Haj pilgrimage would be in line with the policy, which he described as “better, transparent and one ensuring safety of pilgrims”.
  • Sources in the Minority Affairs Ministry said the policy had been drafted in the light of a 2012 Supreme Court order asking the Centre to abolish the Haj subsidy gradually by 2022.
  • A Ministry source said, “The highlight of the policy is abolishing the subsidy. Besides, it proposes another major reform — of allowing women aged above 45 to undertake journey without male Mehram in a group of four.”
  • Till now, women pilgrims could not travel without a male Mehram. The term Mehram refers to a male a woman cannot marry at anytime in her life (i.e. father, brother or son etc).

The tank ‘Vijayanta’ tank displayed in Shillong museum

  • A battle tank used during the India-Pakistan war in 1971 has been placed in a heritage museum here to instil a sense of pride among the people of the State.
  • The ‘Vijayanta’ tank had been placed at the Rhino Heritage Museum at Rilbong crossing earlier this week, they said.
  • The war trophy (tank) was moved over a distance of 3,600 km from New Delhi to Shillong under the aegis of HQ 101 Area, and is now standing majestically on the crossroads of Shillong as a tribute to the valour and spirit of Indian Army in protecting the sovereignty of the nation,” a Defense spokesperson said.
  • He said the tank was first pressed into service in 1966 and phased out in 2004.


India’s is significant peacekeeper

  • Ukrainian Foreign Minister Pavlo Klimkin, on a three-day visit to India, held extensive discussions with his counterpart, Sushma Swaraj, for the upcoming inter-governmental commission dialogue between two sides.
  • He briefed Ms. Swaraj on the situation in eastern Ukraine, which has left a part of its eastern province, Donbas, in the hands of the rebels that Kyiv claims are backed by Moscow.
  • India is already a significant peacekeeper in the region and across the globe and could definitely play a similar role in our region,” said Mr. Klimkin.
  • During last month’s debate on reform of global peacekeeping at the UN Security Council, Ukrainian President Petro Poroshenko asked the organisation to send a peacekeeping mission that would control the violence, which has intensified in the last few weeks.
  • Mr. Klimkin said discussion on India’s participation in the peacekeeping mission was at a preliminary level and further consultations were needed to fine-tune the composition of the mission. “The recipe is simple — Russia should go out of Ukraine,” he said.
  • He also gave details of bilateral talks on the issue and said “Indian and Ukrainian Permanent Representatives at the UN have already met on this issue and we need to discuss conceptual approach for the mission. After we have convinced Russia on such an approach .. it is highly likely we will come back to our Indian friends”.
  • However, an issue with this peacekeeping mission is the location for the troops. While Ukraine insists that the troops should be stationed at the original Ukraine-Russia border, Russian sources indicated that Moscow would prefer the troops to be placed at the ‘Line of Contact’ between Ukraine and the rebel held territory.


Vietnamese economy growing on foreign capital

  • Two years ago, a spanking new international terminal building was added to Hanoi’s Noi Bai Airport. The Japanese ensured that the elegantly designed ultra-modern glass and steel structure would impress foreign visitors, whose numbers were bound to grow as Vietnam opened up to the rest of the world.
  • Vietnam’s focus on its new terminal, which over time will service 15 million passengers, is in itself an indicator of the country’s intent to engage with the globe.
  • Just like China and the ‘Tiger economies’, Vietnam has correctly diagnosed that its prosperity will have to ride on a judicious integration with the world economy. That means inviting foreign capital, which would come owing to the country’s low labour costs and business-friendly rules.
  • A complementary focus on infrastructure — highways, railroads, ports, airports and services — would also ensure that Vietnam soon becomes a significant trading nation.
  • A short distance from the airport, the imposing Nhat Tân Bridge comes into view. This too has been built by the Japanese and is among the largest cable-stayed bridges in Southeast Asia. At night, the five spans of the bridge, representing the five gates of the ancient capital, are each illuminated in distinct colours.
  • The Red river begins its journey in mountains south of Dali, in China’s Yunnan Province and enters Vietnam in the Lào Cai Province. Joined by two major tributaries — the Black river and Lô river — it terminates at the Gulf of Tonkin in the South China Sea.
  • The delta area is the heart of Vietnam’s rice production, and has been central to its food security. The river has also been pivotal for the rise of Vietnam’s Haiphong port.
  • Apart from the Japanese, the Koreans are investing big in Vietnam. In fact, Republic of Korea is, by far, the largest foreign investor in Vietnam. Last year, Seoul pitched in $5.5 billion, edging out Japan, which invested $868 million.
  • Samsung is Korea’s flagship investor. It is estimated that nearly half of its smartphones are churned out by its two factory complexes in Bac Ninh Province and Thai Nguyen Province, near Hanoi.
  • India’s engagement with Vietnam has so far taken a different route, with geostrategy taking precedence over economics. Vietnam is the centrepiece of India’s Act East policy, which has the consolidation of its ties with the ASEAN at its heart. However, there is now a clear recognition of the need to impart a greater balance to New Delhi-Hanoi ties.
  • Indian shipping could also benefit greatly as Vietnam consolidates its position as an international export hub serving the Indian market. Industry specialists point out that rapid development of ports along India’s east coast would be vital if India is to take advantage of its favourable maritime geography.


Nanomaterial that can mimick 3 major cellular antioxidant enzymes

  • A team of researchers from the Indian Institute of Science (IISc) Bengaluru has fabricated a metal oxide nanomaterial that is capable of mimicking all three major cellular antioxidant enzymes, thereby controlling the level of reactive oxygen species (ROS) inside cells.
  • Based on in vitro test results, the nanomaterial appears a promising candidate for therapeutic applications against oxidative stress-induced neurological disorders, particularly Parkinson’s. The results were published in the journal Angewandte Chemie.
  • Reactive oxygen species, such as superoxide, hydrogen peroxide and hydroxyl radical, which are generated as part of a normal physiological process, are essential for the normal functioning of cells. Excess of ROS generated is usually controlled by the action of three antioxidant enzymes (superoxide dismutase, catalase and glutathione peroxidase).
  • A problem arises when ROS is generated in excess and the enzymes are unable to control the level of ROS. Oxidative stress due to excessive ROS causes damage to DNA, proteins and lipids; oxidative stress is implicated in several diseases such as neurodegeneration, cancer, diabetes and cardiovascular diseases.
  • Theyhave developed a manganese oxide (Mn3O4) nanomaterial which functionally mimics all the three antioxidant enzymes. Earlier, they had shown that vanadium oxide (V2O5) nanowire is capable of exhibiting glutathione peroxidase enzyme activity. This is the first time the activity of all three major antioxidant enzymes are seen in a nanomaterial.”
  • The researchers tried several morphologies and found the flower-like morphology had the best activity of all three enzymes. Pores present on the nanomaterial play an important role as enzyme-active sites and help in scavenging excess ROS.
  • The larger pore diameter and pore volume capable of accommodating all the three ROS were found to be critical in determining the enzyme activity of the nanomaterial.
  • In vitro studies using human neuronal cell lines found that the nanomaterial caused no cellular toxicity when internalised by the cells and hence safe. Metal-based complexes are generally toxic to cells.
  • The nanomaterial was found to protect against neurotoxin-induced cell death by scavenging the excess ROS that was artificially generated inside the cells.
  • The superoxide dismutase enzyme has two forms and one functions in the cytosol and the other inside the mitochondria. “Some amount of nanomaterial gets inside the mitochondria as well and controls the ROS produced there. The nanozymes have therapeutic potential particularly for Parkinson’s disease,” says Prof. D’Silva.
  • Parkinson’s model was tested in the lab. The researchers are trying to design an animal model in mice for in vivo testing.


  • With the 2017 Nobel Prize for physics going to the LIGO-VIRGO collaboration for having directly observed gravitational waves for the first time, black hole mergers have become a byword. The instrumentation to differentiate and detect this faint signal from the noise was a crucial contributions made by Nobel Laureate Rainer Weiss.
  • The first gravitational waves that were detected were small fluctuations of spacetime caused by a violent merging of two black holes about 1.3 billion light years away. We know that light bends due to a change in refractive index of the air near hot objects like a heated asphalt road.
  • Light also bends when spacetime curves due to the presence of massive gravitational fields. When a gravitational wave is incident on the detector, the laser beam behaves in a similar manner.
  • One main difference is the magnitude. The difference between bending of light in cool air and hot air is about 1%, whereas the bending caused by a gravitational wave is about one billion times smaller than the thickness of a human hair.
  • The photodetectors are sensitive to the brightness of the incoming signal. When there is no signal, the two arms of the LIGO detector are arranged so that there is cancellation of contribution of light. There is still some small amount of light coming through. When there is a signal, this light shows a variation.
  • The electronics converts photons into electrons. Like in the human ear, there is an electrical signal which has to be turned into sound. The detection is in the range of frequencies from about 20 Hz to 10 kHz.
  • LIGO’s interferometers are a ten orders of magnitude improved as compared to the first interferometer made by Albert Michaelson in 1881, which was able to measure a displacement in nanometres.
  • Under the high degree of vacuum needed, stainless steel has the problem that the hydrogen separates out. So a special stainless steel called low-hydrogen stainless steel was needed. The steel tubes are also used to house the lasers and have to be very clean. These are being made at Institute for Plasma Research in Ahmedabad.
  • In all, the tubes measure 8 km in length and have a diameter of 1.2 m. “So it’s quite a large empty space, and it’s all one piece. No one had made such a large vacuum chamber earlier, so this is the largest empty space in the world,” Prof. Adhikari smiles.


The GST’s issue

  • The Goods and Services Tax (GST) rolled out across the country on July 1. Since then, a number of teething issues have emerged — some more serious than others.
  • The most pressing problem is to do with the availing of input tax credits by exporters.
  • The problem, according to exporters, is that they have to wait an inordinate amount of time before the refunds are processed and paid. As a result, they say a large part of their working capital — estimated at about Rs. 65,000 crore — is stuck, rendering their businesses untenable.
  • Another pressing problem is the capacity of the GST Network portal for filing tax returns. Since the rollout, the portal has fared poorly in the face of peak traffic. According to Finance Minister Arun Jaitley, the portal can process 1 lakh returns an hour, which translates to 24 lakh returns in a day.
  • The third issue being faced by the government is that taxpayers are missing the deadlines to file returns and so it cannot accurately estimate how much revenue GST is yielding.
  • Input tax credits offset the taxes paid for inputs from the tax payable on the final output produced. The procedure is that a company pays the tax on both inputs and output and then applies for a refund for the tax paid on the inputs. The refund process, according to exporters, takes many months and so results in a large part of the working capital being locked up.
  • According to Mr. Jaitley, the problem of the online portal crashing is in large part due to the fact that businesses are waiting till the last moment to file their returns.
  • Tax experts, however, say that uncertainty over GST rules and rates is such that companies are using all the available time to make sure there are no errors in their returns.
  • The missed deadlines, according to the GST Suvidha Providers, are due to a variety of factors, including poor taxpaying habits, a clashing of deadlines, and the fact that the government has so far been lenient about missed deadlines.
  • The exporters’ input tax credits being locked up is an issue because a large number of Indian exporters are small companies which cannot afford to have a significant portion of the working capital unavailable.
  • Two days later, the GST Council met and took a slew of decisions to ease the compliance burden on exporters and small businesses. First, the Council announced that it would expedite the pending input tax credits payouts — the payment for July is to be completed by October 10, and for August by October 18.
  • Exporters will have to pay a nominal 0.1% tax on exports until March 31, 2018. The government is planning to roll out a system of e-wallets that would ease the input tax credit refund process.
  • Companies with a turnover of up to Rs. 1.5 crore a year can also file returns and pay taxes once a quarter.

USFDA approves Zydus Cadila’s tablet for treating depression

  • Drug firm Zydus Cadila has received final approval from the United States Food and Drug Administration to market Amitriptyline hydrochloride tablets, used for treatment of depression, in the American market.
  • The company has received final approval to market the tablets in strengths of 10 mg, 25 mg, 50 mg, 75 mg, 100 mg and 150 mg, Cadila Healthcare, the listed entity of the group, said.
  • The drug, used in treating depression, will be manufactured at the group’s formulations facility at SEZ Ahmedabad.

Exports picking up a positive sign in textile industry

  • Exports of textile machinery are expected to pick up this fiscal, after a year of marginal growth due to tepid international demand in 2016-2017.
  • According to data available with the Textile Machinery Manufacturers’ Association, machinery exports in 2016-2017 were worth Rs. 2,438 crore compared with Rs. 2,351 crore the previous year. Total production of textile machinery in the country was to the tune of Rs. 6,650 crore, including spares and accessories.
  • S. Chakraborty, secretary for the association, said the international market did not see much growth last year. Further, for exports to grow in a particular market, the manufacturers needed to have local facilities to provide after sales and service support.
  • This year, export of equipment for spinning, spinning accessories, weaving preparatory and of other accessories was likely to see an increase in the range of about 15-20%, he said. The association data also showed that only about 32% of domestic demand was met indigenously. Imports amounted to Rs. 10,098 crore in the last fiscal year.
  • Demonetisation and GST had hampered domestic investments, he said. However, this was expected to correct in five to six months and investments would pick up, he added.
  • Textile industry sources said the Centre should promote local manufacturing of machinery through foreign direct investment or joint ventures. While spinning and processing machinery were mostly available in the country, machinery for weaving and garment sectors were largely imported.

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