Current Affairs September 2020
EPCA on Early Burning of Crop Residue
The Supreme Court-appointed Environment Pollution (Prevention and Control) Authority (EPCA) raised concerns about the early burning of crop residue in Punjab and Haryana.
- According to a SAFAR (System of Air Quality and Weather Forecasting and Research) under the Central government estimate which uses the INSAT-3, 3D, and the National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA) satellite, the fire counts have increased from zero to 42 in a few days.
- In 2019, about 9.8 million tonnes of the total estimated crop residue of 20 million tonnes were burnt in Punjab.
- Similarly, in Haryana, of a total of 7 million tonnes, 1.24 million tonnes of stubble was burnt.
DRDO Successfully test-fired Laser-Guided ATGM
DRDO successfully test-fired Laser-Guided Anti Tank Guided Missile (ATGM) from MBT Arjun Tank at KK Ranges, Armoured Corps Centre and School (ACC&S) Ahmednagar on 22 September 2020.
The missile has been developed with multiple-platform launch capability. The ATGM is currently undergoing technical evaluation trials from the gun of MBT Arjun.
Laser Guided Anti Tank Guided Missile (ATGM):
- ATGM was developed by Armament Research & Development Establishment (ARDE) Pune in association with High Energy Materials Research Laboratory (HEMRL) Pune, and Instruments Research & Development Establishment (IRDE) Dehradun.
- During the test, ATGM successfully defeated a target located at 3 km.
- Using Laser designation, the Laser guided ATGMs lock and tracks the targets to ensure precision hit accuracy.
- The missile employs a tandem high-explosive anti-tank (HEAT) warhead to defeat Explosive Reactive Armour (ERA) protected armored vehicles.
All about Essential Commodities (Amendment) Bill, 2020
The Parliament passed the Essential Commodities (Amendment) Bill, 2020. The Bill replaces an Ordinance promulgated in June 2020 and amends the Essential Commodities Act (ECA), 1955.
- Removes commodities like cereals, pulses, oilseeds, edible oils, onion and potatoes from the list of essential commodities.
- Aims to remove fears of private investors of excessive regulatory interference in their business operations.
- Ensures that interests of consumers are safeguarded by regulating agricultural foodstuff in situations such as war, famine, extraordinary price rise and natural calamity.
- However, the installed capacity of a value chain participant and the export demand of an exporter will remain exempted from such regulation so as to ensure that investments in agriculture are not discouraged.
- The ECA 1955 was used to curb inflation by allowing the Centre to enable control by state governments of trade in a wide variety of commodities.
- The states imposed stock limits to restrict the movement of any commodity deemed essential. It helped to discourage hoarding of items, including food commodities, such as pulses, edible oils and vegetables.
- However, the Economic Survey 2019-20 highlighted that government intervention under the ECA 1955 often distorted agricultural trade while being totally ineffective in curbing inflation.
- Such intervention does enable opportunities for rent-seeking and harassment.
- Rent-seeking is a term used by economists to describe unproductive income, including from corruption.
- Traders tend to buy far less than their usual capacity and farmers often suffer huge losses during surplus harvests of perishables, since large stocks held by traders can be outlawed under the ECA 1955 anytime.
- This led to farmers being unable to get better prices due to lack of investment in cold storage, warehouses, processing and export.
- Also with the Food Corporation of India (FCI) controlling stocks before, there were less investment and buyers.
Brucellosis disease and new Brucellosis Vaccine by ICAR
• Recently, several thousand people in northwest China tested positive for the bacterial disease named Brucellosis
• The infection spread among people working in a state-owned pharmaceutical plant in Lanzhou city, which produces animal vaccines.
• The biopharmaceutical plant had used expired disinfectants for producing Brucella vaccines for animals last year.
• Subsequently, the contaminated gas from the factory formed aerosols containing the bacteria, which was then carried by wind to a nearby Lanzhou Veterinary Research Institute. This resulted in infecting close to 200 people there as well in December last year.
• There are 3,245 people who have contracted Brucellosis and another 1,401 people also tested as an early positive for the disease.
What is Brucellosis?
• It is a bacterial disease caused by various Brucella species, which mainly infect cattle, swine, goats, sheep and dogs among others.
• It also known as Malta fever or Mediterranean fever
• Humans generally acquire the disease through direct contact with infected animals or eating, drinking contaminated animal products or by inhaling airborne agents.
• The US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention states that person-to-person transmission of brucellosis is “extremely rare” but some symptoms may reoccur or never go away.
Symptoms of Brucellosis:
• Symptoms include headaches, muscle pain, fever and fatigue and some symptoms can become chronic or never go away, like arthritis or swelling in certain organs
Treatment and prevention:
• It is usually treated with antibiotics, including rifampin and doxycycline.
• Avoiding raw/unpasteurised dairy products and taking safety precautions such as wearing rubber gloves, gowns or aprons, when handling animals or working in a laboratory can help prevent or reduce the risk of getting brucellosis.
• Other preventive measures include cooking meat properly, vaccinating domestic animals, etc.
New Brucellosis Vaccine by ICAR:
• ICAR-Indian Veterinary Research Institute has developed a Brucella abortus S19A per vaccine for Brucellosis.
• Brucellosis is one of the most important zoonotic diseases worldwide and also endemic in India causing huge economic losses to dairy industry.
• Humans can get impacted by coming in contact with animals or having contaminated animal products (meat, milk etc). Human to human transmission is rare.
Mains Paper 3: Science and Tech
Prelims level: Brucellosis Vaccine
Mains level: About the Brucellosis Vaccine and its applications
Govt to set hydrogen energy development targets, costs to fall (Current Affairs September 2020)
• The government plans to set targets for hydrogen energy development, which is currently not included in its plan to develop 175 Gigawatts of renewable power by 2022.
• As a part of a hydrogen mission, this committee would be focused towards creating volumes, addressing regulations,
supporting demonstrations, and research and development.
• Currently, hydrogen is not included in India’s plan to develop 175 GW of renewable power by 2022.
• Hydrogen is one of the cleanest fuels, which on being burnt in air produces only water as a by-product and no carbon-based emissions are released. Possible applications include:
• Transportation applications that include buses, trucks, passenger vehicles, and trains.
• Stationary power applications include backup power units, grid management, power for remote locations, stand-alone power plants for towns and cities etc.
• Portable applications for fuel cells include consumer electronics, business machinery, and recreational devices.
• Hydrogen can be divided into grey (produced from fossil fuels), blue (produced from fossil fuels with carbon capture and storage), or green (produced from renewable electricity).
• Challenges faced: high production costs, difficulty in storage, Hydrogen is highly flammable, Low demand inhibits the development of production capacity, etc.
Steps taken in India:
• National Hydrogen energy Roadmap, Ministry of New and Renewable energy to launch a Hydrogen fuel cell-based bus project in Leh etc.
Mains Paper 2: Economy
Prelims level: Hydrogen energy
Mains level: Steps taken towards achieve hydrogen energy targets
Parliament passes three Labour bills (Current Affairs September 2020)
• Parliament passed 3 bills namely Industrial Relations Code, 2020, Code on Occupational Safety, Health and Working Conditions Code, 2020 and Social Security Code, 2020.
• 29 labour laws are being subsumed in the simplified, easy to understand and transparent 4 labour codes. Out of the 4 labour codes, Code on Wages has already been passed by Parliament.
Labour Code on Social Security and Welfare:
• It subsumes 9 Labour Acts like: Employees’ Compensation Act, 1923, Maternity Benefit Act, 1961, etc.
• Social security funds for unorganised workers, gig workers and platform workers.
• National Social Security Board for administering schemes for unorganised sector workers, gig workers and platform workers.
• Extended definition of certain terms like definition of employees’ to include workers employed through contractors, definition of inter-state migrant workers to include self-employed workers from another state etc.
• A national database for unorganised sector workers would be created which helps in ‘Targeted Delivery” of social security to unorganised sector workers.
• Bill adds new clauses, like reduction in employer’s/ employee contribution for PF etc, which may become applicable in the cases of an epidemic.
Labour Code on Occupational Safety, Health and Working Conditions:
• It subsumes 13 Labour Acts like: Factories Act, 1948, Plantation Labour Act, 1951, Mines Act, 1952 etc.
• The Code sets up occupational safety boards at the national and state level to advise the central and state governments on the standards, rules, and regulations to be framed under the Code.
• Welfare facilities, working conditions and work hours for different types of establishments and workers will be prescribed by the central or state governments through rules.
• Women will be entitled to be employed in all establishments for all types of work.
• Free health checkup once a year by the employer for workers, who are more than a certain age.
Labour Code on Industrial Relations:
• It subsumes 3 labour acts: Trade Union Act, 1926; Industrial Employment (Standing orders) Act, 1946; Industrial Disputes Act, 1947.
• An establishment having at least 300 workers (earlier 100) is required to seek prior permission of the government before closure, lay-off, or retrenchment.
• If there is more than one registered trade union of workers functioning in an establishment, the trade union having more than 51% of the workers as members would be recognised as the sole negotiating union.
• Any dispute in relation to discharge, dismissal, retrenchment, or otherwise termination of the services of an individual worker to be an industrial dispute. The worker may apply to the Industrial Tribunal for adjudication of the dispute.
• Provision for Re-Skilling fund which aims to re-skill those workers who have been fired from their jobs.
Mains Paper 2: Polity
Prelims level: Labour bills
Mains level: Key features of the three labour bills
MSP Raised for Rabi Crops (Current Affairs September 2020)
The Cabinet Committee on Economic Affairs has marginally increased the Minimum Support Price (MSP) of six rabi crops for 2021-22.
- MSP rates were hiked for wheat, barley, gram, masoor dal (lentil), safflower, and rapeseed and mustard.
- However, the MSP has seen a lower hike compared to 2020-21. The wheat MSP has seen an increase of just 2.6% — the lowest increase in 11 years.
- The increase in MSP is in line with the principle of fixing the MSPs at a level of at least 1.5 times of the All-India weighted average Cost of Production as announced in Union Budget 2018-19.
- The increase in MSP comes in the midst of a vehement protest by farmers, who fear that new agricultural marketing reforms will result in the phasing out of MSP and public procurement.
O-SMART Scheme (Current Affairs September 2020)
The Ocean Services, Modelling, Applications, Resources and Technology (O-SMART) Scheme was approved by the Union Cabinet in August 2018 and is implemented by the Ministry of Earth Sciences.
- It aims at stepping up ocean research and setting up early warning weather systems.
- It addresses ocean development activities such as services, technology, resources, observations, and science and provides the necessary scientific and technological background required for the implementation of various aspects of the Blue Economy.
- To generate and regularly update information on Marine Living Resources and their relationship with the physical environment in the Indian Exclusive Economic Zone (EEZ).
- To periodically monitor levels of seawater pollutants for health assessment of coastal waters of India, to develop shoreline change maps for assessment of coastal erosion due to natural and anthropogenic activities.
- To develop a wide range of state-of-the-art ocean observation systems for the acquisition of real-time data from the seas around India and to cater to the testing and sea trial activities of ocean technology.
- To generate and disseminate a suite of user-oriented ocean information, advisories, warnings, data, and data products for the benefit of society.
- To develop high-resolution models for ocean forecast and reanalysis systems.
- To develop algorithms for validation of satellite data for coastal research and to monitor changes in the coastal research.
- Acquisition of Coastal Research Vessels (CRVs) for coastal pollution monitoring, testing of various underwater components, and technology demonstration and to support their operation and maintenance.
- To develop technologies to tap the marine bioresources, generate freshwater and ocean energy, and develop underwater vehicles and technologies.
African Elephant dying due to Cyanobacteria (Current Affairs September 2020)
Neuro-toxins in water produced by cyanobacteria killed more than 300 African elephants in the Okavango delta region, Botswana (country in Southern Africa).
Neuro-toxins are substances that damage, destroy, or impair the functioning of neural tissue.
- Cyanobacteria, also called blue-green algae, are microscopic organisms found naturally in soils and all types of water.
- These single-celled organisms (bacteria) live in fresh, brackish (combined salt and freshwater), and marine water.
- These organisms use sunlight to make their own food.
- In warm, nutrient-rich (high in phosphorus and nitrogen) environments, cyanobacteria can multiply quickly.
- Not all produce toxins but scientists say toxic ones are occurring more frequently as climate change drives up global temperatures.
- Climate Change and Algal Bloom: An algal bloom is a rapid increase in the population of algae or cyanobacteria in an aquatic system.