1. Fuel Conservation Campaign: Saksham
Why in News?
- An annual one-month long “People centric fuel conservation campaign” of the Petroleum Conservation Research Association (PCRA) named “Saksham” has been launched recently.
- This campaign aims to spread the message of fuel conservation and Greener Environment Across India.
About Petroleum Conservation Research Association:
- PCRA is a registered society set up under the aegis of Ministry of Petroleum & Natural Gas.
- As a non-profit organization, PCRA is a national government agency engaged in promoting energy efficiency in various sectors of economy.
- It helps the government in proposing policies and strategies for petroleum conservation, aimed at reducing excessive dependence of the country on oil requirement.
- Its head office is located in New Delhi.
Other Initiatives Taken by the PCRA:
- PCRA in association with the Institute of Petroleum-Dehradun has developed high energy efficient Piped Natural Gas (PNG) burner/Gas stove for household where piped gas is supplied which will save gas as compared to modified LPG stove for PNG.
- An awareness Campaign on 100 busiest intersections of Delhi through the Central Road Research Institute (CRRI) on encouraging the behaviour of switching-off engine at red light was recently carried out by PCRA.
2. Indigenous TB Diagnostic Tool
Why in News?
- Recently, the World Health Organisation (WHO) has endorsed “TrueNat” which is an indigenous molecular diagnostic tool for tuberculosis (TB) diagnosis.
- TrueNat is a polymerase chain reaction (PCR)-based test that, by assaying the genes present in the TB bacteria, not only detect the presence of the bacteria but can also detect drug resistance with the use of chips.
- It was developed by Goa-based Molbio Diagnostics.
- The DNA of the TB bacteria is extracted from the sputum samples collected from the patient and the test can be performed easily and cost-effectively in the primary health care setup.
- It was found to be comparable in accuracy to similar tests currently in use and has been recommended as a Replacement for Sputum Microscopy Tests.
3. Indian Railways signs MoU with RailTel for Phase 2 of e-Office Execution
Why in News?
- After the successful completion of the Phase 1 execution of National Informatics Centre (NIC) e office, Indian Railways has signed MoU with RailTel, a miniratna Public Sector Undertaking (PSU) under Ministry of Railways, for phase 2 of the project.
- NIC e-Office is a cloud-enabled software developed by NIC that is being deployed/hosted from RailTel Tier III certified data centres at Secundrabad and Gurgaon.
- Currently 4 modules (File Management System (eFile), Knowledge Management System (KMS), Collaboration & Messaging Services (CAMS) & Personnel Information Management System (PIMS) are the part of the e-office system being implemented.
- E-Office fosters a paper-less culture which will not only save operational cost but also reduce the carbon footprint which is one of the most urgent needs of the world and directly impacting every citizen of the country.
- RailTel Corporation a “Mini Ratna (Category-I)” PSU of Ministry of Railways, is the largest neutral telecom services providers in the country owning a Pan-India optic fibre network covering all important towns & cities of the country and several rural areas covering 70% of India’s population.
- RailTel is in the forefront in providing nationwide Broadband Telecom & Multimedia Network in all parts of the country in addition to modernization of train operations and administration network systems for Indian Railways.
- With its Pan India high capacity network, RailTel is working towards creating a knowledge society at various fronts and has been selected for implementation of various mission-mode Govt. of India projects in the telecom field.
4. Galapagos Giant Tortoise
Why in News?
- The Galapagos National Park has called off the Giant Tortoise Restoration Initiative (GTRI), as the tortoise population has gone up from 15 to 2,000.
- The Galapagos tortoises are native to seven of the Galapagos Islands, part of Ecuador, located about 1,000 km west of the Ecuadorian mainland.
- With lifespan in the wild of over 100 years, it is one of the longest-lived vertebrates.
- They are the largest living species of tortoise. Modern Galapagos tortoises can weigh up to 417 kg.
- IUCN Red List Status of this tortoise is Vulnerable.
- It is listed on Appendix Iof the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species (CITES) of Wild Fauna and Flora.
5. Harvest Festivals in India
Why in News?
- The harvest festivals like Lohri, Makar Sankranti andPongal have recently been celebrated all across the country. The festivals celebrate the hard work and enterprise of millions of farmers across the country.
About Harvest Festivals:
1. Makar Sankranti:
- Makar Sankranti denotes the entry of the sun into the zodiac sign of Makara (Capricorn) as it travels on its celestial path.
- The day marks the onset of summer and the six months auspicious period for Hindus known as Uttarayan – the northward movement of the sun.
- As a part of the official celebration of ‘Uttarayan’, the Gujarat government has been hosting the International Kite Festival since 1989.
- The festivities associated with the day is known by different names in different parts of the country — Lohri by north Indian Hindus and Sikhs, Sukarat in central India, Bhogali Bihu by Assamese Hindus, and Pongal by Tamil and other South Indian Hindus.
- Lohri is primarily celebrated by Sikhs and Hindus. It marks the end of the winter season and is traditionally believed to welcome the sun to the northern hemisphere.
- It is observed a night before Makar Sankranti, this occasion involves a Puja Parikrama around the bonfire with prasad.
- It is essentially termed as the festival of the farmers and harvest, whereby, the farmers thank the Supreme Being.
- The word Pongal means ‘overflow’ or ‘boiling over’. Also known as Thai Pongal, the four-day occasion is observed in the month of Thai, when crops such as rice are harvested and people show their gratitude to the almighty and the generosity of the land.
- Tamilians celebrate the occasion by making traditional designs known as kolams in their homes with Rice Powder.
4. Makaravilakku Festival in Sabarimala:
- It is celebrated at the sacred grove of Lord Ayyappa at Sabarimala.
- It is an annual seven-day festival, beginning on the day of Makara Sankranti when the sun is in the summer solstice.
- The highlight of the festival is the appearance of Makarajyothi- a celestial star which appears on the day of Makara Sankranthi on top of Kantamala Hills.
- Makara Vilakku ends with the ritual called ‘Guruthi’, an offering made to appease the god and goddesses of the wilderness.
5. Raisinia Dialogue
Why in News?
- The 5thedition of Raisina Dialogue was recently held in New Delhi.
About Raisinia Dialogue:
- It is a multilateral conference committed to addressing the most challenging issues facing the global community. Every year, global leaders in policy, business, media and civil society are hosted in New Delhi to discuss cooperation on a wide range of pertinent international policy matters.
- The Dialogue is structured as a multi-stakeholder, cross-sectoral discussion, involving heads of state, cabinet ministers and local government officials, as well as major private sector executives, members of the media and academics.
- The conference is hosted by the Observer Research Foundation in collaboration with the Ministry of External Affairs, Government of India.
About Observer Research Foundation:
- It is an independent think tank based in New Delhi with three centres in Mumbai, Chennai and Kolkata.
- It seeks to lead and aid policy thinking towards building a strong and prosperous India in a fair and equitable world and helps discover and inform India’s choices. It carries Indian voices and ideas to forums shaping global debates.
- It provides non-partisan, independent, well-researched analyses and inputs to diverse decision-makers in governments, business communities, and academia and civil society around the World.
About the News:
- The title of the Raisina Dialogue this year (2020) is “Navigating the Alpha Century”.
- The conference has hosted 700 participants from more than 100 countries and at least 40% of the speakers will be women.
- The Dialogue has been India’s contribution to global efforts to discover solutions, identify opportunities and provide stability to a century that has witnessed an eventful two decades.
- A session will be held on the Indo-Pacific, including military or naval commanders from the “Quadrilateral or Quad (Australia, India, Japan, and the United States)”. It will also have a French Defence official on the panel this year.
6. Taal Volcano
Why in News?
- A volcano called Taal on the island of Luzon; 50 km from Manila, Philippines erupted Recently.
- Taal is classified as a “complex” volcano by the Philippine Institute of Volcanology and Seismology (PHIVOLCS).
- A complex volcano, also called a compound volcano, is defined as one that doesn’t have just one main vent or cone but several eruption points. Another such example is Mount Vesuviuson the west coast of Italy.
- Taal has erupted more than 30 times in the last few centuries; the most recent was in 1977.
- It needs to be noted that the Philippines is situated at the boundaries of two tectonic plates — the Philippines Sea Plate and the Eurasian plate— thus susceptible to earthquakes and volcanism.
- Other active volcanoes of Philippines are :
1. Mt Mayon Volcano
2. Mt Pinatubo
3. Mt Hibok-Hibok
4. Mt Bulusan
5. Mt Kanlaon
7. Diego-The Giant Tortoise species
- Diego (Chelonoidis hoodensis, or the giant tortoise species) has recently retired from the captive breeding programme in the Galapagos National Park, Ecuador.
About Diego-The Giant Tortoise:
- IUCN Red List Status is Critically Endangered.
- It is 100 years old and joined the breeding programme in 1976. The tortoise population has since gone up from 15 to 2,000.
- It is responsible for about 40% of the offspring produced. Another male tortoise ‘E5’ has generated about 60% offspring.
- It has a long leathery neck, dull-yellow face and beady eyes. Fully stretched out, he extends to about five feet and weighs about 176 pounds.
- The long neck is critical for his species’ survival, helping the tortoises crane their necks to feed on cacti.
Threats for Diego:
- Feral goats on the islands posed another danger, competing for food, destroying the tortoises’ habitat.
- Tortoises on the Galápagos Islands served as an excellent source of food for seafarers in the 1800s so a large number were picked up from the Islands.
8. Henley Passport Index 2020
- Recently, Henley & Partners, the residence and citizenship planning firm has published the Henley Passport Index for 2020 according to the number of destinations the respective passport holders can access without a prior visa.
About Henley Passport Index 2020:
- The ranking is based on data from the International Air Transport Association (IATA), a trade association of some 290 airlines, including all major carriers.
- The index includes 199 different passports and 227 different travel destinations. It was launched in 2006 with the aim of providing a global picture of freedom of travelling.
- Japan has the world’s strongest passport whereas Afghanistan (107th rank) has the weakest. It has been topping the Index for three years continuously.
- Singapore, in second place (same as in 2019) followed by Germany and South Korea both shares the third position in the index.
- The Indian passport is closer to the bottom, ranked 84th in the world. The Indian passport ranked higher in both 2019 (82nd) and 2018 (81st).
- Serbia is the only European country to which Indian passport holders can travel visa-free. There is no major or developed country to which Indian passport holders have visa-free access.
- The USA and the UK both countries are in eighth place in 2020; a significant decline from the rank 1 they jointly held in 2015.
- The top 10 most powerful passports for 2020 are Japan, Singapore, South Korea, Germany, Italy, Finland, Spain, USA and UK, Luxembourg, Denmark.
9. Oldest Material on Earth Found Inside Meteorite
Why in News?
- A meteorite that crashed into rural south-eastern Australia in a fireball in 1969 contained the oldest material ever found on Earth, stardust that predated the formation of our solar system by billions of years.
- The oldest of 40 tiny dust grains trapped inside the meteorite fragments retrieved around the town of Murchison in Victoria state dated from about 7 billion years ago, about 2.5 billion years before the sun, Earth and rest of our solar system formed.
- All of the dust specks analysed in the research came from before the solar system’s formation – thus known as “presolar grains” – with 60% of them between 4.6 and 4.9 billion years old and the oldest 10% dating to more than 5.6 billion years ago.
- Many of the grains were concentrated at particular time intervals, which provided clues about the rate of star formation in the Milky Way galaxy, and hinting at bursts of stellar births rather than a constant rate.
- Stardust forms in the material ejected from stars and carried by stellar winds, getting blown into interstellar space.
- During the solar system’s birth, this dust was incorporated into everything that formed including the planets and the sun but survived intact until now only in asteroids and comets.
- Dust grains floating through space get bombarded by high-energy particles called cosmic rays. These rays break down atoms in the grain into fragments, such as carbon into helium.
- These fragments accumulate over time and their production rate is rather constant. The longer the exposure time to cosmic rays, the more fragments accumulate.
- The researchers counted these fragments in the laboratory, enabling them to calculate the stardust’s age.
- Scientists previously had found a presolar grain in the Murchison meteorite that was about 5.5 billion years old, until now the oldest-known solid material on Earth.
- The oldest-known minerals that formed on Earth are found in rock from Australia’s Jack Hills that formed 4.4 billion years ago, 100 million years after the planet formed.
10. Breakthrough in Fight against Malaria
Why in News?
- Scientists at the CSIR- Centre for Cellular and Molecular Biology (CCMB) have announced development of an alternative and economic way of gene delivery within the Plasmodium Falciparum cells, responsible for majority of severe cases of malaria and deaths, called the ‘Lyse-Reseal’ method.
- World Health Organisation (WHO) estimates 3.4 billion people across 92 countries to be at risk of being infected with Plasmodium parasites and suffering from malaria.
- Malaria occurs when Plasmodium parasites grow in the oxygen-carrying Red Blood Cells (RBCs) in the body. A malaria biologist has to cross a four-membrane layer to reach the genes.
- Gene delivery into the target cells is a popular choice to manipulate and study gene functions with the widely used method ‘electroporation’ where pores are created in the cell membrane using electric field to send desired chemicals like DNA.
- The team working with Plasmodium ‘Falciparum’ has been able to fill in RBCs by opening them up, a process also called ‘lyse’, with circular DNA of their choice. The RBCs are then resealed to close the pores and these are infected with Plasmodium ‘Falciparum’.
- The parasite goes inside the RBC and passively takes up the DNA from RBC. The DNA eventually ends up in the parasite’s nucleus with its own genes.
- The group has shown the technique to be as effective as ‘electroporation’ with two different Plasmodium ‘Falciparum’ strains and claim it works with 10 times lesser DNA than what is needed in ‘electroporation.
- The scientific group also demonstrated that RBCs of blood group ‘O+’ provide the most efficient delivery of DNA into Plasmodium ‘Falciparum’ in vitro.
- Ease of making genetic alterations in the parasite will help in better understanding the biology of malaria pathogen and, thereby, help in control of the malaria parasite better.
11. Bru-Reang Refugee Crisis
Why in News?
- Union Minister for Home Affairs, presided over the signing of an agreement between the Government of India, Governments of Tripura and Mizoram and Bru-Reang representatives to end the 23-year old Bru-Reang refugee crisis.
- This historic agreement is in line with PM Modi’s vision for the progress of the North East and the empowerment of the people of the region.
- Under the new agreement, around 34,000 Bru refugees will be settled in Tripura and would be given aid from the Centre to help with their rehabilitation and all-round development.
- These people would get all the rights that normal residents of the States get and they would now be able to enjoy the benefits of social welfare schemes of Centre and State governments.
- The settlement has been reached after detailed discussions held by the Union government with the State governments of Mizoram and Tripura and the representatives of Bru tribes.
- The Home Minister informed that under the new arrangement, each of the displaced families would be given residential plots, in addition to the aid under an earlier agreement of a fixed deposit of Rs. 4 lakhs, Rs. 5,000 cash aid per month for 2 years, free ration for 2 years and Rs. 1.5 lakhs aid to build their house.
- The government of Tripura would provide the land under this agreement.
Bru-Reang Refugee Crisis:
- Around 5,000 families consisting of around 30,000 Bru-Reang Tribals were forced to flee Mizoram and seek shelter in Tripura following ethnic tension.
- These people were housed in temporary camps in North Tripura.
- The Union government had been assisting the two-State governments for taking care of the refugees.
- An agreement was signed between the Union government, the two-State governments and representatives of Bru-Reang refugees in 2018, as a result of which the aid given to these families was increased substantially and 328 families consisting of 1369 individuals returned to Mizoram under the Agreement.
12. Assam Inland Water Transport Project
Why in News?
- The Government of India, the Government of Assam and the World Bank have signed a loan agreement of $88 million for the implementation of the Assam Inland Water Transport Project. The Assam Inland Water Transport Project will help develop a modern, efficient and safe river transport system for the large volume of passengers and cargo carried by the vessels.
- A majority of Assam’s ferry routes cross the Brahmaputra, providing a crucial means of transport to thousands of commuters in both the urban and rural areas of the Brahmaputra Valley.The Assam Inland Water Transport Project (AIWTP) will help Assam improve the passenger ferry infrastructure and its services and strengthen the capacity of the institutions running the inland water transport.
- Technically better-designed terminals and energy-efficient vessels (both new and retrofitted) will make the ferry services more sustainable with least disruption to nature.
- The Government of Assam has taken on the challenge of modernizing the ferries sector which, though vital to the state, remains largely informal.
- The project will support the Government of Assam’s efforts to corporatise its own ferry activities. The Assam Shipping Company (ASC) will operate the government ferries and the Assam Ports Company (APC) will provide terminals and terminal services on a common-user basis to both public and private ferry operators.
- Loan of $88 million from the International Bank for Reconstruction and Development (IBRD) has a final maturity of 14.5 years including a grace period of five years.
- The project will improve facilities for people using the ferry services and give special attention to the safety and security of women and girls.
- The terminals will have better access, lighting and signages while the new vessels will allow for individual seats and separate toilets. Inland Water Transport is also a more sustainable mode of transport. It provides low-carbon and low-cost options when compared to the cost of constructing and maintaining flood-resilient roads and bridges across the long stretches of the Brahmaputra River.