Daily Current Affairs

18 August Current Affairs – Daily News



India, Bhutan vow to strengthen ties, ink 10 MoUs #GS2 #IR


Prime Minister Narendra Modi and his Bhutanese counterpart Lotay Tshering held wide ranging talks on Saturday and discussed steps to further expand the bilateral partnership across several sectors. The two countries also signed 10 MoUs to infuse new energy in their ties.


Prime Minister Narendra Modi and his Bhutanese counterpart Lotay Tshering held wide ranging talks on Saturday and discussed steps to further expand the bilateral partnership across several sectors. The two countries also signed 10 MoUs to infuse new energy in their ties.


The two countries signed 10 MoUs in the fields of space research, aviation, IT, power and education. Mr. Modi also launched the RuPay Card in Bhutan by making a purchase at Simtokha Dzong, built in 1629 by Shabdrung Namgyal, which functions as a monastic and administrative centre and is one of the oldest dzongs in Bhutan.


This will further enhance our relationship in digital payments, and trade and tourism. Our shared spiritual heritage and strong people-to-people relationship are key of our relation. On increasing the


currency swap limit for Bhutan under the SAARC currency swap framework, Modi said India’s approach is “positive“. He said an additional $100 million will be available to Bhutan under a standby swap arrangement to meet the foreign exchange requirement.


The two leaders also unveiled an e-plaque on the interconnection between India’s National Knowledge Network and Bhutan’s Druk Research and Education Network. It is a privilege for India to be a major


partner in the development of Bhutan. India’s cooperation in Bhutan’s five-year plans will continue.


The two leaders jointly inaugurated the Ground Earth Station and SATCOM network, developed with assistance from ISRO for utilization of South Asia Satellite in Bhutan. Mr. Modi said India is committed


to facilitating Bhutan’s development through the use of space technology.


He said the collaboration and relationship between Royal Bhutan University and IITs of India and some other top educational institutions are in line with today’s requirements for education and technology.






Restrictions relaxed in a third of Kashmir Valley: police chief- Vijaita Singh #GS2 #Governance #GS3 #Security


Jammu and Kashmir Director General of Police (DGP) Dilbagh Singh said on Saturday that restrictions were relaxed in one-third of the Kashmir Valley, and people were cooperating with the authorities.



Imposition of Section 144 of the CrPc that prohibits the assembly of more than four people is still in place though it was relaxed from 7 a.m. to 1 p.m. in the jurisdiction of 35 police stations in the Valley.


The Valley has been under lock-down since August 5 after Home Minister Amit Shah moved two Bills in the Rajya Sabha to annul the application of Article 370 in the State and downgrade and bifurcate the State into two Union Territories.


Mr. Singh said the total number of politicians or political workers taken into “preventive detention” was not centrally available as the decisions were taken at the local level.


There are 15 zones in Kashmir police zone, which includes Kargil and Leh. Excluding Kargil and Leh, there are around 100 police stations in districts of Anantnag, Awantipora, Baramulla, Bandipora, Budgam, Ganderbal, Handwara, Kulgam, Kupwara, Pulwama, Srinagar, Shopian and Sopore.


Responding to the report, Mr. Singh said, “People had gone for Friday namaz (prayers) to a mosque in Soura. While they were returning one or two mischievous elements threw stones. There were around hundred of them, but not all of them were throwing stones.”






Trump asks Imran Khan to resolve Kashmir issue bilaterally- Sriram Lakshman #GS2 #IR


U.S. President Donald Trump asked Pakistan Prime Minister Imran Khan to resolve the Kashmir issue with India bilaterally during a phone call. The phone call took place before the UN Security Council held closed consultations on the fallout of India’s abrogation of Article 370 (special status for Jammu & Kashmir).


The U.S. sees Pakistan as a crucial player in its attempt to reach a peace deal with the Taliban and pull out from Afghanistan. The two leaders further discussed how they will continue to build on the growing relationship between the United States and Pakistan and the momentum created during their recent meeting at the White House.


India played down the significance of the informal closed consultations held by the UNSC, with India’s UN envoy Syed Akbaruddin saying the abrogation of Article 370 was entirely an internal matter of India.






Tech-based unit to improve quality of education #GS3 #SnT


A virtual field support centre, launched as a tech-based unit at Shiksha Sankul here earlier this week, is set to promote the use of technology for extending the academic and administrative support to



over 1,000 education officers in Rajasthan. The initiative will help impart education to children as per their needs and inclination.


Minister of State for Education Govind Singh Dotasara, who inaugurated the centre, said it would


strengthen the education system and create new opportunities for improving the quality, making new experiments and promoting leadership among the stakeholders. The centre has been launched in collaboration with the Piramal Foundation for Education Leadership.


Mr. Dotasara said the data of the Education department’s work would be stored at the centre for the use of teachers and students. The data will also be utilised for devising strategies to meet new challenges in the academic and administrative fields.






SC clears Chardham highway, forms fresh panel to study environment impact #GS3 #Economy


The Supreme Court has cleared the decks for the Chardham highway project, which will connect four holy places in the hills of Uttarakhand through 900-km all-weather roads, by modifying an NGT order to constitute a fresh committee to look into environmental concerns.


The NGT had constituted a committee headed by a former Uttarakhand High Court Judge to monitor the project. The top court asked the committee to submit its recommendations within four months. The high-powered committee (HPC) shall hold quarterly meetings thereafter to ensure compliance and may suggest any further measure after each review meeting.


The committee shall consider the cumulative and independent impact of the Chardham project on the entire Himalayan valleys and for that purpose, the HPC will give directions to conduct Environmental Impact Assessment by the Ministry of Road Transport and Highways (MoRTH).


The HPC should consider whether revision of the full Chardham project should at all take place with a view to minimize the adverse impact on the environment and social life. It will identify the sites where quarrying has started recommend measures required to stabilise the area and for safe disposal of muck.


It will also assess the environmental degradation loss of forest lands, trees, green cover, water resources etc. on the wildlife and will direct mitigation measures, it said.


In Bhagirathi Eco-Sensitive Zone (Gangotri to Uttarkashi), the HPC will make special provisions in its report keeping in mind the guidelines given under the notification of the Bhagirathi ESZ to avoid violations and any environmental damage, the court said.


The HPC will also suggest the areas in which afforestation should be taken and the kind of saplings to be planted, it said. In case of non-survival of any sapling, further plantation should be done and compensatory afforestation should be ten times the number of trees cut, the court said.





Soft launch for traders’ pension scheme on Monday- Damini Nath #GS2 #Governance


One of the priorities of Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s government in the first 100 days of its second term, pension scheme for small traders, is likely to have a soft launch on August 19 evening.


According to the Ministry’s 100-day plan, the Pradhan Mantri Laghu Vyapari Maan-Dhan scheme would target enrolling 25 lakh subscribers in 2019-2020 and 2 crore by 2023-2024. Apart from an online portal that would be launched, people would be able to apply for the scheme through the common service centres already in place for other schemes.


Modelled on the pension scheme for unorganised sector workers launched in the first term of the Modi government, the scheme for traders was among the BJP’s promises ahead of the 2019 Lok Sabha elections and was among the proposals passed by the Cabinet on May 31 in its first meeting after re-election. The scheme was notified by the Ministry on July 22, the date from which it would be considered applicable.


Traders aged between 18 and 40 who have an annual turnover of less than ₹1.5 crore are eligible. The subscribers will have to contribute a monthly amount, which will vary depending on the age at which they enter the scheme, that will be matched by the government. Upon turning 60, the subscribers will get ₹3,000 as monthly pension.






The Thimpu space link has a Bengaluru stamp- Madhumathi D.S. #GS2 #IR


There is a Bengaluru stamp on the satellite earth station that Prime Minister Narendra Modi inaugurated in Bhutan’s capital Thimpu. The earth station that will help drive various social services of the South Asia Satellite (SAS or GSAT-9) has been built and set up by the city-based Alpha Design Technologies Ltd.


In a major gesture of regional diplomacy, the Indian government in 2014 offered the services of a dedicated communications satellite to its smaller neighbours Afghanistan, Bangladesh, Bhutan, the Maldives, Nepal and Sri Lanka.


The Indian Space Research Organisation (ISRO) launched the multi-use communications satellite in May 2017.


The SAS is meant to promote tele-education, tele-medicine, television broadcasting, weather forecasting, disaster monitoring and mapping of natural resources, besides aiding with banking



services and governance among the South Asian countries. It also aims to strengthen cooperation among the people of the seven countries. A centralised hub along with radio frequency systems is essential to drive the applications of a satellite,


We completed the ground hub station on the DITT campus in Thimpu in nine months. The earth station in the Maldives has been executed. The Nepal one should be ready around December, we have set up trial sites there. We then take up Afghanistan and the others. The Thimpu station started working in January after ISRO approved its performance.


Col. Shankar said the network was being used for broadcast applications on a 24×7 basis as well as for meeting the social and administrative requirements of Bhutan as planned. Three employees of Alpha Design would remain in Thimpu to operate the station for two years. Over the next three years Alpha must train local personnel and maintain the infrastructure.


The network includes remote VSAT terminals put up at 110 locations across Bhutan and receiver terminals at 50 locations besides five portable terminals.






Key panel to review defence procurement policy, ensure faster acquisitions #GS3 #Economy


Defence Minister Rajnath Singh has approved setting up of a high-level committee to review the existing policy framework on military procurement to ensure seamless flow in acquisition and maintenance of assets.


The Defence Procurement Procedure 2016 (DPP) is due for revision. Officials said the panel will recommend measures to remove procedural bottlenecks and hasten defence acquisition.


The defence minister has approved setting up of a committee under the chairmanship of director general (acquisition) to review the DPP 2016 and Defence Procurement Manual (DPM) 2009. The committee will revise and align the procedures with the aim of ensuring seamless flow from asset acquisition to life cycle support.


Apart director general (acquisition), the panel will have 11 members, not below the rank of joint secretary or equivalent of Major General in the Army. The committee has been given six months to submit its recommendations.


The government has been maintaining that military modernisation is a major focus area. However, acquisition processes of a large number of military platforms and weapons are not moving forward due to procedural delays.



The terms of reference of the committee include simplifying policy and procedures to facilitate greater participation of Indian industry and develop robust defence industrial base in the country, and explore ways hasten defence acquisition.


It has also been tasked to examine, wherever applicable, and suggest ways to incorporate new concepts such as life cycle costing, life cycle support, performance based logistics, lease contracting, codification and standardisation for acquisition of military hardware, officials said.


A key mandate of the committee is to recommend measures to promote government’s policy to promote domestic defence industry and encourage Indian start-ups as well as research and development.






Petition filed in SC against UAPA Act #GS2 #Governance


The government’s decision to give itself discretionary powers to amend the Unlawful Activities (Prevention) Act and declare anyone a terrorist has been questioned in the Supreme Court.


A petition, moved by Delhi resident Sajal Awasthi on Saturday, said the amended law allowed the state to encroach upon the fundamental rights of dignity, free speech, dissent and reputation. It argued that the UAPA Amendment Act, 2019, conferred upon the Centre “discretionary, unfettered and unbound powers” to declare a person a terrorist.


The law could be used by the state to bring disrepute to a person, and even worse, rob him or her of liberty. The heavy burden to prove the state machinery wrong rested with the person, it said.


The Unlawful Activities (Prevention) Amendment Act, 2019, seeks to substantially modify Chapter VI of the Unlawful Activities (Prevention) Act, 1967, and Sections 35 and 36 therein. The new Section 35 empowers the Central government to categorise any individual as a ‘terrorist’ and add the name of such a person to Schedule 4 of the Act.


The petition said the right to reputation is an intrinsic part of the fundamental right to life with dignity under Article 21 of the Constitution, and tagging an individual as a “terrorist” even before the commencement of trial or application of judicial mind does not amount to compliance with the “procedure established by law”.


“The right of dissent is a part and parcel of the fundamental right to free speech and expression and, therefore, cannot be abridged under any circumstances except for [those] mentioned in Article 19 (2).


The UAPA, 2019, empowers the government, under the garb of curbing terrorism, to impose an indirect restriction on the right of dissent, which is detrimental to our developing democratic society,” the petition said. Instead of preserving the dignity of an individual, the government was trying to encroach upon it, it said.



Why is the auto industry facing trouble?- Yuthika Bhargava #GS3 #Economy



The story so far: In July, the sale of vehicles across categories in the country slumped 18.71% to about 18.25 lakh units, down from about 22.45 lakh units, a year ago in the same month. This has been the steepest fall in nearly 19 years. This data, by the Society of Indian Automobile Manufacturers (SIAM), gives out wholesale figures — i.e. the number of vehicles despatched to dealers by vehicle manufacturers.


The pasenger vehicle segment, which comprises cars, utility vehicles and vans, has been one of the worst performing segments, registering its highest drop in sales since December 2000: almost 31%, to a little over two lakh units from nearly 2.91 lakh units in July 2018. This was also the ninth straight drop in monthly passenger vehicle sales.


In fact, barring a low single digit uptick in October 2018, segment sales have been falling for the past year. With the industry failing to arrest the downturn that started almost a year ago, despite deep discounts and new model launches, it has been forced to undertake production cuts. This has also led to the trimming of over 2.15 lakh jobs in the sector.




























What has happened to the automobile sector?


The industry started off 2018-19 on a good note with vehicles sales across categories growing 18% to nearly 70 lakh units in the first quarter (April-June 2018). During the quarter, passenger vehicle sales were up nearly 20%, commercial vehicles sales were up 51.55%, and that of two-wheelers grew 16%.



However, domestic passenger vehicle sales declined for the first time after nine months in July 2018. In July 2017, vehicle sales spiked due to the benefits extended by the rollout of the Goods and Services Tax (GST). However, demand failed to pick up in August and September, after the floods in Kerala and heavy rainfall in several other States.


Why did inventory pile up?


In the ensuing months, consumer sentiment remained subdued as the total cost of vehicle ownership went up largely due to an increase in fuel prices, higher interest rates and a hike in vehicle insurance costs. In such an environment, the festive season too failed to boost demand, leading to a huge inventory pile-up with dealers.


To add to this, the IL&FS crisis late last year led to a severe liquidity crunch, almost drying up credit for dealers and customers. Nearly half the vehicles sold in rural markets — a segment that has been witnessing a higher growth rate in comparison to urban markets — are financed by non-banking financial companies (NBFCs). Being stuck with higher inventory due to a lacklustre festive season, dealers too needed more working capital.


As a result of all these factors, all vehicle categories, including commercial vehicles and two wheelers, began experiencing negative growth beginning December setting alarm bells ringing. The industry found some solace in the fact that historically, vehicle sales decline in the months preceding elections, and expressed the hope that demand following the elections would pick up. However, this did not happen.


Are people holding off on purchases?


There is also a possibility that some customers are waiting to buy the latest Bharat Stage (BS)-VI emission standard compliant vehicles or are waiting for more incentives from vehicle makers who will be looking to sell off their BS-IV compliant stocks before the April 1, 2020 deadline.


Many industry players have also expressed concern that too much focus on electric vehicles (EVs) by the government may also be encouraging buyers to postpone the purchase of petrol and diesel vehicles.


How many jobs have been lost?


The automobile sector is one of the largest employers in the country, employing about 37 million people, directly and indirectly. The prolonged demand slowdown has triggered production as well as job cuts in the sector.


According to the latest figures that are available, original equipment manufacturers (OEMs) have removed about 15,000 temporary workers in the past two to three months. A lack of working capital amid tepid demand has led to closure of nearly 300 dealerships across the country.


This has led to over two lakh people losing their jobs, according to the Federation of Automobile Dealers Associations (FADA), the apex national body of automobile retail industry engaged in the sale, service and spares of two- and three-wheelers, passenger cars, utility vehicles, commercial vehicles (including



buses and trucks) and tractors. Separately, the Automotive Component Manufacturers Association of India (ACMA) warned in July that 10 lakh jobs were at risk and urgent action was needed to bring the industry back on track.


Why is the current slowdown different?


Edelweiss Research has pointed out that the current slowdown in the sector is very different from the ones that the industry has gone through earlier. First, the slowdown is driven by domestic factors, including the NBFC crisis, while the earlier ones were triggered by global events.


It also pointed out that over FY19-21, vehicle prices are estimated to jump 13-30% due to safety, insurance and emission-related compliance costs. For end consumers, such a steep price hike can prove a hurdle in growth recovery.


Meanwhile, growing competition from the pre-owned cars market is also pulling down sales of new vehicles. For example, in the passenger vehicles segment, while the new vehicles market grew 2% in FY19, the pre-owned market saw double-digit growth.


What does the auto industry want?


The auto industry has been unable to arrest plunging sales in spite of new launches and offers and has been demanding immediate government intervention. Pointing out that the industry’s turnover is close to half of the manufacturing GDP, accounting for about 11% of the entire GST revenues of the country, the auto sector is hoping that the government will come out with a revival package ahead of the festive season to yield benefits.


The industry’s demands include a reduction in GST to 18% from the current rate of 28%, which will help in an immediate price reduction. It could kick-start demand in the short term, particularly ahead of the coming festive season.


Besides, it has sought measures to handle the NBFC crisis to infuse liquidity into the system, and clarity on policy for electric vehicles and introduction of vehicle scrappage policy, which will also boost demand for new vehicles. These demands were also placed before the Finance Minister, Nirmala Sitharaman, during a recent meeting.


How long will the slowdown last?


That is anyone’s guess. With BS-VI variants to be rolled out April 2020 onward, the prices of vehicles will go up. While the increase for petrol vehicles is likely to be in the range of ₹20,000-₹50,000, in the case of diesel vehicles it could well be between ₹ 1 lakh and ₹1.5 lakh. The transition could also trigger some demand for BS-IV compliant vehicles in the remaining part of the year, given the price difference.


A crisis of legitimacy- K. Venkataramanan #GS2 #Governance



The story so far: The Supreme Court is hearing a writ petition challenging the appointment of P.S. Golay alias Prem Singh Tamang as Chief Minister of Sikkim. The matter last came up on July 30 and was adjourned for three weeks.


The crux of the issue is that the 51-year-old leader of the Sikkim Krantikari Morcha (SKM) could not have been appointed Chief Minister, as he is under a subsisting disqualification. Mr. Golay did not contest the Assembly election held this year, as he is barred from electoral contests after being convicted for corruption in 2016.


He completed his prison term only in August 2018. The petitioner, Bimal Dawari Sharma of the Sikkim Democratic Front party, argues that in view of his disqualification from elections for six years from the date of release, Mr. Golay could not have been appointed Chief Minister.


What was the case against Mr. Golay?


It goes back to his tenure as Minister for Animal Husbandry in 1996. He was held guilty under the Prevention of Corruption Act of misappropriating ₹9.50 lakh, in the purchase of milch cows for distribution. He was sentenced to a one-year prison term. After his conviction was upheld by the Sikkim High Court, he served out a one-year sentence in prison. He was released on August 10, 2018.


What does his conviction for corruption entail?


A person convicted under the Prevention of Corruption Act is not eligible to contest an election for six years from the date of release. This is under Section 8(1)(m) of the Representation of the People Act, 1951. As Mr. Golay’s sentence came to an end in August 2018, he is barred from contesting polls until 2024.


Was he eligible to be appointed Chief Minister?


Going by the law laid down by the Supreme Court in B.R. Kapoor vs State Of Tamil Nadu (2001), Mr. Golay could not have been appointed Chief Minister. This was the judgment that unseated Jayalalithaa after she was controversially appointed to the office by the Governor.


Jayalalithaa’s nomination papers in four constituencies had been rejected then, with three returning officers citing her disqualification arising from conviction for corruption. In Mr. Golay’s case, he chose not to contest the election. Both of them were elected leaders of their respective legislature parties, which won the elections.


What was the principle behind the court’s ruling?


Jayalalithaa’s lawyers had argued that qualification to be a legislator was not a prescribed eligibility norm for appointment as Chief Minister. The Governor was bound to appoint the person elected by the party that enjoyed majority in the House, and that for at least six months, a non-member could continue



until the question of being eligible to contest an election arises. The Supreme Court had rejected this argument. “That non-legislator must be one who, when he is appointed, is not debarred from obtaining membership of the legislature : he must be one who is qualified to stand for the legislature and is not disqualified to do so.”


How does the party, the SKM, view this legal bar?


Mr. Golay’s party, the SKM, has come up with an unusual argument in support of his appointment as Chief Minister. It has claimed that the RP (Amendment) Act, 2002, under which the clause related to disqualification for conviction under the Prevention of Corruption Act was introduced, had been ‘repealed’ by the Repealing and Amending Act, 2015.


It seems unlikely that this argument will be accepted. Even though the Repealing and Amending Act mentions the 2002 Amendment Act as one of the laws that are being repealed, it is quite obvious that it was only being done to get rid of redundant laws from the statute book.


The relevant clause in the repealing Act is clear that provisions that were incorporated through the amendment and have become part of the parent law will continue to be in force.


The ‘savings’ clause says: “The repeal by this Act of any enactment shall not affect any Act in which such enactment has been applied, incorporated or referred to.” In other words, the clause relating to disqualification for a corruption conviction is now part of the RPA,1951, and the 2002 amending law was repealed only because it was no more needed.


Does Mr. Golay have any other option?


The Sikkim Chief Minister has approached the Election Commission of India (ECI) for a waiver of the remaining period of his disqualification. Section 11 of the RPA says the ECI is empowered to remove any disqualification or reduce its duration for “reasons to be recorded”.




What is the UN’s stand on Kashmir?- Kallol Bhattacherjee #GS2 #IR


The story so far: On Friday, August 16, the United Nations Security Council (UNSC) held a “closed consultation” meeting on the situation in Kashmir. On August 5, India had ended the special status of the State of Jammu and Kashmir (J&K) under Article 370 and Article 35A, carving it into two Union Territories: J&K and Ladakh.


The Valley was put on lockdown, and mainstream political leaders were taken into custody. Both India and Pakistan were kept out of the UNSC meeting on Friday. The last time ‘The India-Pakistan Question’ was taken up by the UNSC was in December 1971 when India and Pakistan fought a war leading to the creation of Bangladesh.



It had been discussed during the 1965 war too when Indian and Pakistani forces clashed in Kashmir and the western borders. After the abrogation of Article 370 last Monday, Pakistan wrote to the UNSC. China, a permanent member of the UNSC, and an ally of Pakistan, sought a meeting of the UNSC to discuss the developments in Kashmir.


What did the UNSC discussion throw up?


The UNSC has not yet put out a statement, but after the meeting India insisted that issues around Article 370 and special status to J&K were an internal matter. The Indian Ambassador to the UN, Syed Akbaruddin, accused Pakistan and China of attempting to impart greater significance to the meeting than was warranted.


One question that has been raised is about the situation in the Kashmir Valley now. Is the ground reality in the formerly undivided princely State of J&K similar to that of the late 1940s when key UN resolutions, including the UNSC Resolution 47 recommending plebiscite, were passed?


When did the UNSC first discuss J&K?


The Kashmir issue at the UN debuted on January 1, 1948 as India urged the UNSC to discuss the conflict that had erupted three months earlier when Pakistan sent irregulars, tribals and camouflaged soldiers into Kashmir prompting the Maharaja of the princely Indian State to accede to India.


The submission of India detailing the violence unleashed by the irregulars on the local population and infrastructure became the foundation upon which the “Jammu and Kashmir Question” was created at the UNSC. The title was changed on January 22, 1948 to “The India-Pakistan Question”. From its origin till 1971, the topic featured prominently at the UNSC especially when both countries clashed.


Under Resolution 39 on January 20, 1948, the UNSC set up a three-member UN Commission for India and Pakistan (UNCIP). Disagreement between India and Pakistan led to the first failure as the commission failed to materialise.


The commission was finally reconstituted with five members on April 21, 1948 and it was mandated to plan a mechanism to ensure a plebiscite in the State. (This was part of the UNSC Resolution 47). The UNSC Resolution 47 passed on this date urged India and Pakistan to hold a plebiscite after restoration of law and order. The UNCIP passed a resolution on January 5, 1949 that provided the mechanism for holding a “free and impartial plebiscite” in Kashmir.


At this juncture Pakistan managed to get an upper hand as the UNSC, under the influence of the United Kingdom, agreed to a ceasefire proposal without first ensuring Pakistan’s withdrawal from the area that it had gained during the early tribal raid in Kashmir. This allowed Pakistan to hold on to territory that would ultimately contribute to undermining the terms of the plebiscite itself.


Why did the plebiscite plan fall through?



The 1947-48 India-Pakistan war ended in a ceasefire but the Kashmir solution remained elusive. A key condition for the plebiscite was withdrawal of Pakistan from the areas under its control and India withdrawing individuals who were not residents of the State.


However, neither of this happened. Instead both sides firmed up their presence in the areas under their control. India took the Kashmir issue to the UN for “prompt and effective action” but as pointed out by scholars, the big powers ensured that the issue lingered on and became a part of the global concern on conflicts.


What is the relevance of the Simla Agreement to the Kashmir issue?


Under the Simla Agreement of July 2, 1972, India gained Pakistan’s commitment that the Kashmir conflict would be resolved bilaterally. Pakistan, however, kept the issue alive by hosting the Islamic Summit of 1974 where Pakistan began courting the Islamic world for its major foreign policy goals.


After the Simla Agreement, Pakistan proceeded to further entrench territorial status quo as Prime Minister Zulfikar Ali Bhutto on November 7, 1973 ruled out an independent status for Azad Kashmir.


The Northern Areas and Azad Kashmir were territories of the princely Indian State of Jammu and Kashmir that were awaiting plebiscite but the case for “accession” ruined the chance of Pakistan acting in accordance with the conditions of plebiscite, writes Aman M. Hingorani in Unravelling the Kashmir Knot. Under these circumstances, Kashmir as a legal problem appears far more daunting than Kashmir as a political problem that can be addressed by two powers of South Asia.


What have the members of the UNSC said?


Several of them have urged India and Pakistan to resolve the issue bilaterally — as India too has argued. Pakistan’s Foreign Minister Shah Mahmood Qureshi had gone to the UN with China’s support but the heightened military tension on the Line of Control and the ground situation on both sides show that the conditions in which the UNSC had passed its early resolutions on Kashmir do not exist any longer.


Discussing the issue under UN auspices will be difficult for several reasons. First, the two parties (India and Pakistan) have continued the process of assimilation of territories under respective control into their union of states. Second, both sides had agreed to deal with it bilaterally.





What makes the new drug-resistant TB medicine promising- R. Prasad #GS3 #SnT


Treating drug-resistant tuberculosis — multidrug-resistant TB (MDR-TB) and extensively drug-resistant TB (XDR-TB) — got a shot in the arm on August 14 when the U.S. Food & Drug Administration (FDA) approved a new drug Pretomanid. Pretomanid is only the third new anti-TB drug approved for use by FDA in more than 40 years.



The drug was developed and tested in clinical trials by New York-based non-profit organisation TB Alliance. TB Alliance has granted a licence to Pennsylvania-based Mylan to manufacture and commercialise the drug.


Pretomanid drug is expected to be available in the U.S. by the end of this year. TB Alliance has submitted pretomanid as part of the three-drug regimen for drug approval by the European Medicines Agency (EMA). It has also provided data to the World Health Organisation (WHO) for consideration of inclusion in treatment guidelines for highly drug-resistant TB.


What makes the new drug so promising?


The duration of treatment for drug-resistant TB can be drastically cut from 18-24 months to just six-nine months when pretomanid drug is used along with two already approved drugs — bedaquiline and linezolid. The all-oral, three-drug regimen can also vastly improve the treatment success rate and potentially decrease the number of deaths due to better adherence to treatment.


According to the WHO, the treatment success in MDR-TB patients is about 54%, while it is just 30% in the case of XDR-TB patients. Most drugs are ineffective in people with XDR-TB and so a combination of eight drugs for more than a year is need for XDR-TB treatment.


Treatment success in XDR-TB patients depends on many other factors — the extent of the drug resistance, the severity of the disease, whether the patient’s immune system is weakened, and adherence to treatment.


Drugs used for treating MDR-TB and XDR-TB can cause serious adverse effects such as deafness. The drugs are highly toxic thus reducing adherence to treatment.


How widespread is MDR-TB and XDR-TB?


People with TB who do not respond to at least isoniazid and rifampicin, which are first-line TB drugs are said to have MDR-TB. People who are resistantto isoniazid and rifampin, plus any fluoroquinolone and at least one of three injectable second-line drugs (amikacin, kanamycin, or capreomycin) are said to have XDR-TB.


As per the World Health Organisation’s Global Tuberculosis Report 2018, an estimated 4.5 lakh people across the world have MDR-TB and nearly 37,500 people have XDR-TB. India has 24% of MDR-TB cases in the world. By the end of 2017, XDR-TB had been reported from 127 countries, including India.


Which category of drug-resistant TB patients will benefit from this new drug?


Pretomanid drug along with bedaquiline and linezolid is meant for treating adults with XDR-TB. In the case of MDR-TB, the three-drug regimen containing pretomanid can be used only in those patients who cannot tolerate the MDR-TB treatment or do not respond to standard MDR-TB treatment regimen.



The three-drug regimen is meant only for treating pulmonary TB and should not be used for treating extra-pulmonary TB, drug-sensitive or latent TB.


How effective is the drug in treating XDR-TB and MDR-TB?


The three-drug regimen consisting of bedaquiline, pretomanid and linezolid — collectively referred to as the BPaL regimen — was studied in the pivotal Nix-TB trial across three sites in South Africa. The trial enrolled 109 people with XDR-TB as well as treatment-intolerant or non-responsive MDR-TB.


According to TB Alliance, 95 of the first 107 XDR-TB patients as well as treatment-intolerant or non-responsive MDR-TB were successfully treated with a six-month regimen. There was successful outcome in two other patients when the treatment duration was extended to nine months. The overall treatment success rate is nearly 91%.


How safe is the drug for clinical use?


Besides the Nix-TB trial, the safety and efficacy of the drug has been evaluated either alone or as part of the combination therapy in 19 clinical trials conducted in 14 countries involving 1,168 patients.


The FDA has approved the drug based on limited clinical safety and efficacy data, and so should the drug should be restricted to specific population of patients. Safety and effectiveness of the drug has been studied and established only when used in combination with bedaquiline and linezolid. Other than these two drugs, the safety of pretomanid has not been studied when used along with any other anti-TB drug.


The three-drug combination should not be used in patients for whom bedaquiline and/or linezolid drug is not receommended (contraindicated).


The drug has not been tested in pregnant women. Similarly, safety and effectiveness of the drug has not been established in children.


What are the adverse reactions caused by the drug?


In the Nix-trial, the three-drug regimen was reported to have caused serious adverse reactions including liver toxicity (hepatotoxicity), suppression of bone marrow activity leading to reduced production of red blood cells, while blood cells and platelets (myelosuppression), as well as peripheral and optic neuropathy.


Pretomanid drug was found to cause a reduction in the size of the testes and probably even the function (testicular atrophy) and impaired fertility in male rats. According to the prescribing information, patients should be “advised of reproductive toxicities seen in animal studies and that the potential effects on human male fertility have not been adequately evaluated”.


The drug can cause lactate to accumulate in the body leading to sharp reduction in the pH of the blood (lactic acidosis).



Prolongation of the QT interval of ECG (due to changes in the electrical activity of the heart) was reported when the three-drug regimen was used. The QT prolongation can lead to an abnormal and potentially fatal heart rhythm. The QT prolongation is caused by bedaquiline.


Other common adverse reactions seen were peripheral neuropathy, anaemia, indigestion (dyspepsia), lower respiratory tract infection, visual impairment, hypoglycaemia, abnormal loss of weight, and diarrhoea to name a few.


What is the recommended dosage of the three drugs?


All the three drugs are to be administered orally. The dosage for pretomanid is 200 mg drug once every day for 26 weeks, while 1,200 mg of linezolid once daily for up to 26 weeks. In the case of bedaquiline, the dosage and frequency change mid-course.


For the first two weeks the dosage is 400 mg once daily. The dosage reduces to 200 mg three times a week with at least 48 hours gap between doses for the remaining 24 weeks.


If due to serious adverse reactions or for any other reason if either bedaquiline or pretomanid is discontinued, then intake of the entire combination should be discontinued. If linezolid is permanently discontinued during the initial four consecutive weeks of treatment, then the other two drugs should also be discontinued.


On the other hand, if linezolid is discontinued after the initial four weeks of consecutive treatment,then the other two drugs — bedaquiline and pretomanid — can be continued to be administered. If necessary, the duration of treatment can be extended beyond 26 weeks.






App uses AI to detect banana pest, diseases- Aswathi Pacha #GS3 #SnT


Identifying diseases and pests on banana crops will now be just a click away. Researchers have developed a new artificial intelligence system (AI) which can look at photographs and tell what disease the plant has and also give recommendations and treatment options to the farmers. The results showed that the model was over 90% accuracy.


Training the network


The neural network was given about 20,000 images showing diseased and healthy plants. “Just like teaching a kid to tell an elephant from a horse, we taught the AI to identify leaf, root, fruit diseases and pests. Pictures from Uganda, Colombia, Congo and India were fed into the system for the training,” says Dr. Sivalingam Elayabalan from the Department of Biotechnology, Imayam Institute of Agriculture and Technology (IIAT), Trichy, Tamil Nadu. He is one of the authors of the study published in Plant Methods.


The tool is now incorporated into an App called Tumaini, meaning hope in Swahili, and being tested.



The team is planning to add more diseases based on regions and also make the App available in local languages. “When users take the photo, it gets uploaded to a global system for large-scale monitoring. Also, it is automatically GPS-tagged so we know what and where the problem is.


We are also planning to incorporate high-resolution satellite monitoring to check the health of large fields,” explains Dr. Michael Gomez Selvaraj, from the International Center for Tropical Agriculture (CIAT), Colombia in an email to The Hindu. Dr. Selvaraj is the senior author of the paper. The App can detect symptoms on any part of the crop, and is even trained to read images of lower quality.


Major Indian diseases


The app is now being tested across many countries and when the confidence of 100% is reached it will be available for free download. “Yellow leaf spot and Fusarium wilt are the major fungal diseases in India and farmers spend a lot of money on fungicides.


Apart from the fungal disease, the viral disease such as Banana Bunchy top virus is a big problem in hilly areas of Tamil Nadu, Kerala and Northeast region. The App can tell the farmers in advance bringing down the treatment costs,” says Dr. Elayabalan.


We are now testing the App in Tamil, and it will soon be available in Hindi and Malayalam. The National Research Centre for Banana (NRCB) and the Indian Council of Agricultural Research (ICAR) have shown interested in the App.”






New species of freshwater fish found- Shiv Sahay Singh #GS3 #Environment


Scientists of the Zoological Survey of India have discovered two new species of freshwater fish from the north-eastern and northern parts of the country.


While Glyptothorax gopii, a new species of catfish was found in Mizoram’s Kaladan river, Garra simbalbaraensis was found in Himachal Pradesh’s Simbalbara river. Both fish, measuring less than seven centimetres, are hill stream fauna and are equipped with special morphological features to suit rapid water flow.


Glyptothorax gopii (measuring 63 mm standard length without caudal fin) is dark brown on its dorsal surface, and its ventral surface is of a yellowish-light brown. Garra simbalbaraensis (measuring 69 mm standard length without caudal fin) has a yellowish-grey colour fading ventrally.


The details of the two discoveries were published in Zootaxa earlier this month. While Glyptothorax gopii has been named to celebrate the contribution of taxonomist K.C. Gopi, Garra simbalbaraensis takes its name from the Simbalbara river.



Both these species were discovered from remote areas, for instance, Glyptothorax gopii was discovered from Champai district in Mizoram near the India-Myanmar border. Garra simbalbaraensis has been found from Sirmour district of Himachal Pradesh,” said L. Kosygin Singh, one of the scientists behind the discoveries.


Mr. Singh said that Glyptothorax gopii has an axe-shaped anterior nuchal plate (bone below dorsal fin), which makes it distinct from other species of the genus Glyptothorax. The elliptical thoracic adhesive apparatus and plicae (folds of tissue) present on the ventral surfaces of the pectoral-fin spine help the fish cling to rocks.


Garra simbalbaraensis has a prominent unilobed and rounded proboscis with tubercles that help the fish in manoeuvrability. The scientist, who heads the freshwater fish section of ZSI, has earlier discovered four species of Gara (which has an evolved disc to attach to rocky surfaces).


The discoveries include Garra compressa in the year 1998, G. elongata (2000), G. tamangi (2016), and G. chindwinensis (2018). Among catfish (characterised by whiskers), the scientist earlier discovered Myersglanis jayarami (1999), Glyptothorax senapatiensis (2015), and Olya parviocula (2018), all from north-eastern India.


Experts suggest that the origin or evolution of the fishes in the Himalayas and north-eastern parts of India must have been the consequence or after-effects of orogenic events (geological movement) at various stages in the Himalayas’ uplift.


Detailed surveys can provided valuable information about the evolutionary trends and many rare groups of fishes can be discovered




AI is learning from humans. Many humans #GS3 #SnT


Namita Pradhan sat at a desk in downtown Bhubaneswar, India, about 40 miles from the Bay of Bengal, staring at a video recorded in a hospital on the other side of the world.


The video showed the inside of someone’s colon. Ms. Pradhan was looking for polyps, small growths in the large intestine that could lead to cancer. When she found one — they look a bit like a slimy, angry pimple — she marked it with her computer mouse and keyboard, drawing a digital circle around the tiny bulge.


She was not trained as a doctor, but she was helping to teach an artificial intelligence system that could eventually do the work of a doctor.


Ms. Pradhan was one of dozens of young Indian women and men lined up at desks on the fourth floor of a small office building. They were trained to annotate all kinds of digital images, pinpointing everything from stop signs and pedestrians in street scenes to factories and oil tankers in satellite photos.


The Bits newsletter will keep you updated on the latest from Silicon Valley and the technology industry.


A.I., most people in the tech industry would tell you, is the future of their industry, and it is improving fast thanks to something called machine learning. But tech executives rarely discuss the labor-intensive process that goes into its creation. A.I. is learning from humans. Lots and lots of humans.


Before an A.I. system can learn, someone has to label the data supplied to it. Humans, for example, must pinpoint the polyps. The work is vital to the creation of artificial intelligence like self-driving cars, surveillance systems and automated health care.


Tech companies keep quiet about this work. And they face growing concerns from privacy activists over the large amounts of personal data they are storing and sharing with outside businesses.


Earlier this year, I negotiated a look behind the curtain that Silicon Valley’s wizards rarely grant. I made a meandering trip across India and stopped at a facility across the street from the Superdome in downtown New Orleans. In all, I visited five offices where people are doing the endlessly repetitive work needed to teach A.I. systems, all run by a company called iMerit.


What I saw didn’t look very much like the future — or at least the automated one you might imagine. The offices could have been call centers or payment processing centers. One was a timeworn former apartment building in the middle of a low-income residential neighborhood in western Kolkata that teemed with pedestrians, auto rickshaws and street vendors.


In facilities like the one I visited in Bhubaneswar and in other cities in India, China, Nepal, the Philippines, East Africa and the United States, tens of thousands of office workers are punching a clock while they teach the machines.


Tens of thousands more workers, independent contractors usually working in their homes, also annotate data through crowdsourcing services like Amazon Mechanical Turk, which lets anyone distribute digital tasks to independent workers in the United States and other countries. The workers earn a few pennies for each label.


Based in India, iMerit labels data for many of the biggest names in the technology and automobile industries. It declined to name these clients publicly, citing confidentiality agreements. But it recently revealed that its more than 2,000 workers in nine offices around the world are contributing to an online data-labeling service from Amazon called SageMaker Ground Truth. Previously, it listed Microsoft as a client.


One day, who knows when, artificial intelligence could hollow out the job market. But for now, it is generating relatively low-paying jobs. The market for data labeling passed $500 million in 2018 and it will reach $1.2 billion by 2023, according to the research firm Cognilytica. This kind of work, the study showed, accounted for 80 percent of the time spent building A.I. technology.



Is the work exploitative? It depends on where you live and what you’re working on. In India, it is a ticket to the middle class. In New Orleans, it’s a decent enough job. For someone working as an independent contractor, it is often a dead end.


There are skills that must be learned — like spotting signs of a disease in a video or medical scan or keeping a steady hand when drawing a digital lasso around the image of a car or a tree. In some cases, when the task involves medical videos, pornography or violent images, the work turns grisly.


When you first see these things, it is deeply disturbing. You don’t want to go back to the work. You might not go back to the work,” said Kristy Milland, who spent years doing data-labeling work on Amazon Mechanical Turk and has become a labor activist on behalf of workers on the service.


“But for those of us who cannot afford to not go back to the work, you just do it,” Ms. Milland said. Before traveling to India, I tried labeling images on a crowdsourcing service, drawing digital boxes around Nike logos and identifying “not safe for work” images. I was painfully inept.


I had to pass a test prior to starting the work. Even that was disheartening. The first three times, I failed. Labeling images so people could instantly search a website for retail goods — not to mention the time spent identifying crude images of naked women and sex toys as “NSFW” — wasn’t exactly inspiring.


A.I. researchers hope they can build systems that can learn from smaller amounts of data. But for the foreseeable future, human labor is essential.


“This is an expanding world, hidden beneath the technology,” said Mary Gray, an anthropologist at Microsoft and the co-author of the book “Ghost Work,” which explores the data labeling market. “It is hard to take humans out of the loop.”




Planet 10 times Earth’s mass may have smacked Jupiter long ago #GS3 #SnT


Jupiter, the solar system’s largest planet, may have been smacked head-on by an embryonic planet 10 times Earth’s mass not long after being formed, a monumental crash with apparent lasting effects on the Jovian core, scientists have said.


The violent collision, hypothesized by astronomers to explain data collected by NASA’s Juno spacecraft, may have occurred just several million years after the birth of the sun roughly 4.5 billion years ago following the dispersal of the primordial disk of dust and gas that gave rise to the solar system. Under this scenario, the still-forming planet plunged into and was consumed by Jupiter.


Jupiter, a gas giant planet covered in thick red, brown, yellow and white clouds, boasts a diameter of about 1,43,000 km. Interior models based on Juno data indicated Jupiter has a large “diluted” core representing about 5% to 15% of the planet’s mass comprised of rocky and icy material unexpectedly mixed with light elements like hydrogen and helium.



Juno measures Jupiter’s gravity field to an extraordinary precision. Scientists use that information to infer Jupiter’s composition and interior structures,” said Shang-Fei Liu, associate professor of astronomy at Sun Yat-sen University in Zhuhai, China, and lead author of the research published in the journal Nature.


Computer models indicated that a head-on collision with a protoplanet — a planet in its formative stages — of roughly 10 Earth masses would have broken apart Jupiter’s dense core and mixed light and heavy elements, explaining Juno’s findings, the researchers said.






DGCA examining introduction of multi-crew pilot license system #GS3 #Economy


Aviation watchdog DGCA is looking at the option of introducing a new pilots training programme that will focus more on competitive assessment rather than just fixed flying hours.


The introduction of Multi-Crew Pilot License (MPL) programme—which is in place in many European countries—could be an alternate mode that would be more efficient and quicker, a senior DGCA official said.


The Directorate General of Civil Aviation (DGCA) has constituted a committee to look into the “pros and cons of MPL”, as per an order issued by the regulator. The MPL programme shifts the focus from “prescriptive flying hours requirements to competency-based training and assessment”, it said.


As per a document from the global airlines’ grouping IATA, MPL is a state-of-the-art ab-initio airline pilot training programme, seamlessly integrated with an airline type rating, with continuous multi-crew focus. The MPL training is dynamic, rather than hours-prescriptive (the traditional ab-initio commercial pilot license training approach), according to the document.


The committee is expected to examine the implication of adoption or otherwise of MPL and submit its recommendations by September 16, 2019 for further action,” the order stated.


In case the MPL programme is introduced in the country, it would be as an option. Currently, an individual has to undergo training, clock a specified flying hours and clear examinations for a commercial pilot license.


The programme is expected to help in bridging the supply and demand gap for pilots. Around 350 pilots pass out from flying schools every year but the requirement is estimated to be 600 to 800 pilots annually, the official said.


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