Current Affairs – July 2020
India records largest reduction in number of people living in poverty: UN report
According to a report published by the United Nations (UN), India has recorded the largest reduction in the number of people moving out of multidimensional poverty between 2005-6 and 2015-16.
The report, published jointly by the United Nations Development Programme (UNDP) and the Oxford Poverty and Human Development Initiative (OPHI), shows that out of a total of 75 countries studied, 65 showed a significant reduction in their multidimensional poverty index (MPI) between 2000 and 2019.
The largest reduction was in India, where approximately 273 million people moved out of multidimensional poverty over 10 years, the report stated.
Furthermore, 50 of the 65 countries also showed a decline in the number of people living in poverty.Multidimensional poverty encompasses the lack of various facilities experienced by poor people in their daily lives, such as poor health, lack of education, inadequate living standards, poor quality of work, living in areas that are environmentally hazardous, etc.
National Education Policy 2020 approved
The Union Cabinet gave its approval to the National Education Policy (NEP) on 29 July in order to transform the 34-year-old education system. The new policy aims at developing an education system that ensures equitable access to the highest-quality education for all learners regardless of their social and economic backgrounds.
NEP is based on the principle that education must aid the development of cognitive skills – both foundational skills of literacy and numeracy and higher-order cognitive skills, such as critical thinking and problem solving, as well as social and emotional skills, such as cultural awareness and empathy, perseverance and grit, teamwork, leadership and communication.
Let us take a look at some of the key points of this policy.
1. The current 10+2 structure to be replaced by five years of foundational, three years of preparatory, three years of middle and four years of secondary schooling
2. Flexibility to students to choose subjects from different streams
3. Emphasis on three-language policy with preference to local language medium of instruction till Class 8
4. Progress cards of students to be redesigned based on cognitive, affective, and psychomotor domains
1. Those applying for a degree course would get a certificate after completing the first year, a diploma after the second year and a degree at the end of the programme.
2. Mid-term dropouts would be given academic credit that would enable them to resume the programme after the break.
3. Students intending to take up higher studies will have to opt for 4-year programmes and those wanting to take up jobs will need to opt for 3-year programmes; M.Phil courses are to be discontinued.
4. One common college entrance exam would be conducted twice a year for admissions.
5. Courses to become multidisciplinary in nature with major and minor programmes. For instance, a student can study chemistry as major and interior designing as minor.
Rafale fighter jets arrive in India
The first batch of five Rafale jets from France landed at the Indian Air Force (IAF) base in Ambala on 29 July. The three single-seat and two twin-seat trainers covered a distance of nearly 8,500 kms, led by Commanding Officer of No. 17 Golden Arrows Squadron Group Captain Harkirat Singh.
Defence Minister Rajnath Singh, who took formal delivery of the first jet in France in October 2019, tweeted, ‘The beginning of a new era in our military history. These multirole aircrafts will revolutionise the capabilities of the @IAF_MCC.’
Rafale is an omni-role fighter manufactured by Dassault Aviation, France. It is equipped with 14 hard points for weapons and is capable of performing air superiority and air defence, close air support, in-depth strikes, reconnaissance, anti-ship strikes and nuclear deterrence.
The delivery of the remaining 31 jets, signed in a deal worth ₹59,000 crore between India and France on 23 September 2016, is expected by December 2021. The then Defence Minister Manohar Parrikar had led the negotiations for the procurement of India’s first major fighter jet acquisition in over two decades.
Govt employees retiring during COVID to get provisional pension
The Ministry of Personnel, Public Grievances and Pensions released an official statement on 27 July informing that Central Government employees retiring during the COVID-19 pandemic phase are eligible to get provisional pension till their regular Pension Payment Order (PPO) is issued and other formalities are completed.
It further stated that provisional pension will continue for a period of six months from the day of retirement and could even be extended up to a year in exceptional cases.
The decision has been taken due to the difficulties faced by the retiring government officials in submitting their pension forms to the Heads of Offices or in forwarding the claim form and service book to their concerned Pay and Accounts Office as a result of the lockdown. This is especially difficult for those public servants who have the two offices located in different cities.
India’s first public EV charging plaza inaugurated in Delhi
Union Power Minister R.K.Singh inaugurated India’s first public electric vehicle (EV) charging plaza at Chelmsford Club, Delhi on 22 July. The charging plaza aims at promoting e-mobility and enhancing energy efficiency.
It has five chargers of different specifications and has been established jointly by Energy Efficiency Services Ltd (EESL) and New Delhi Municipal Council (NDMC).
Emphasising on the need for such initiatives, the minister said, ‘The EV charging plaza is a new avenue for making e-mobility ubiquitous and convenient in India. Such innovative initiatives are imperative for the creation of a robust e-mobility ecosystem in the country’.
Indian Navy completes Operation Samudra Setu
The Indian Navy completed Operation Samudra Setu by bringing 3,992 Indian citizens back to their homeland from three countries amidst the coronavirus pandemic.
The Indian naval ships Jalashwa, Airavat, Shardul and Magar participated in this operation for over 55 days covering more than 23,000 kilometres by sea. The greatest challenge for the Indian Navy was to prevent any sort of COVID-19 infection on board the ships during the evacuation operation.
The ships made a total of five repatriation trips to Male (Maldives), two to Bandar Abbas (Iran) and one to Colombo (Sri Lanka) as part of the operation.
International cricket resumes with England Vs WI Test series
After a 116-day suspension of play in the wake of COVID-19 pandemic, international cricket resumed on 8 July with a three-match Test series between England and West Indies. The last international cricket match was the one-day international played between Australia and New Zealand on 13 March with no spectators.
This is the maiden series to be played without any spectators in the 143-year long history of Test cricket. The ICC has laid down several rules to combat coronavirus, such as no crowds, saliva ban to shine the ball and limited celebrations. In addition, teams are now allowed to replace players with symptoms of COVID-19 during a Test match.The match referee will approve the replacement.
Babita Phogat, Kavita Devi appointed Haryana sports deputy directors
The Haryana government appointed wrestler-turned-politician Babita Phogat and world-famous kabaddi player Kavita Devi as deputy directors in its Sports and Youth Affairs department on 29 July.
Both the athletes have been appointed under the Haryana Outstanding Sportspersons (Recruitment and Conditions of Service) Rules, 2018 and are required to join the department within a month.
Babita won silver at the 2010 Delhi Commonwealth Games (CWG),bronze in the 2012 Alberta World Wrestling Championships, gold at the 2014 Glasgow CWG and silver at the 2018 Gold Coast CWG,, besides other medals. On the other hand, Kavita won gold in women’s weightlifting 75 kg at the 12th South Asian Games.
Pakistani cricketer Umar Akmal’s ban reduced to 18 months
Pakistan batsman Umar Akmal’s three-year ban for failing to report two match-fixing approaches made to him was reduced to 18 months on 29 July on compassionate grounds. However, the cricketer expressed his disappointment with the ruling and commented that he would move the courts for a complete lifting of the ban.
‘There have been many cricketers before me who have committed corruption but none of them were given a punishment as severe as mine. I will appeal once more to get my sentence reduced,’ Akmal was heard saying after the decision was announced.
The 29-year-old was banned for three years in April after the Pakistan Super League (PSL) found him guilty of breaching Article 2.4.4 of the anti-corruption code, i.e. after he failed to report a spot-fixing approach in the PSL on 17 March.
He had accepted his mistake but tried to justify his position.
Akmal has played 58 T20s, 157 ODIs, and 53 Tests for the national team till date. He played the last cricket match in the T20 home series against Sri Lanka in October 2019. According to the current orders, he can resume playing from 19 August 2021.
ICC Super League 2020 launched
The International Cricket Council (ICC) launched the inaugural ICC Men’s Cricket World Cup Super League on 27 July. The tournament began with England hosting Ireland in three ODIs from 30 July.
What is the ICC Men’s Cricket World Cup Super League?
It is a new ODI competition which will take place across two years. The main objective of the league is to raise the stakes of bilateral 50-over games. In its first edition, the Super League will act as a qualifier for the ICC Men’s Cricket World Cup in India in 2023.
How many teams are participating?
A total of 13 teams – 12 full member nations and the Netherlands – are playing the League.
How does this format work?
Each team will play a series of three ODI matches against eight of the 12 other teams, thus playing a total of 24 matches each. They will play four series at home and four away.
How many teams will qualify for the 2023 World Cup?
The host team India and the next seven highest placed teams will automatically qualify for the 2023 World Cup. In addition, the remaining five nations will play along with five associate sides and two teams from among them will qualify for the 10-team World Cup in India.
How does the point system work?
Each team will get 10 points for a win, five points for a tie/ no result/ abandoned match and zero for a loss.
Dom Sibley becomes first cricketer to violate ICC’s ‘saliva ban’
England’s Dom Sibley became the first cricketer to breach the saliva ban rule accidentally on the fourth day of the second test series between England and West Indies at OId Trafford, Manchester. The incident occurred when Dom was bowling the penultimate over before lunch.
He instantly realised his mistake and informed the umpires Michael Gough and Richard Illingworth about it. The umpires then disinfected the ball by using wipes.
Bowlers and fielders apply saliva on the cricket ball to help in shining it, which helps in conventional and reverse swings. However, according to the new rules laid down by the International Cricket Council (ICC), only sweat can be used to shine the ball as coronavirus can be transmitted through saliva.
According to the protocol, a team will receive two warnings for the use of saliva on the ball before being handed a five-run penalty.
Science & Technology
ISRO’s MOM captures image of Mars’ largest moon
The Indian Space Research Organisation’s (ISRO) Mars Orbiter Mission (MOM) captured the image of the mysterious moon of Mars, called Phobos, on 1 July. MOM was at a distance of about 7,200 km from Mars and 4,200 km from Phobos when the image was captured.
The image shows Stickney, the largest crater on Phobos, as well as other craters such as Shklovsky, Roche and Grildrig.
The Mars Orbiter Mission, also known as Magalyaan, was launched on 5 November 2013 with an objective to study the Martian surface with the help of indigenous scientific instruments. India’s ₹450-crore mission is the first one by an Asian nation to reach the Martian orbit.
Scientists discover a protective gene for Alzheimer’s
Scientists from the Queen Mary University of London have discovered a gene that can naturally suppress the signs of Alzheimer’s in human brain cells. The study was published in the journal Molecular Psychiatry. The team has also developed a new rapid drug-screening system that can be used as a treatment to delay or prevent the disease.
The main challenge in testing Alzheimer’s drugs in clinical trials is that the participants generally show no symptoms. Once they do show some symptoms, it is usually too late for treatments to have a significant effect as many brain cells have already died by then.
Thus, for the study, the researchers collected hair cells from people with Down Syndrome (DS) as these people have 70% chance of developing Alzheimer’s during their lifetime. The hair cells were reprogrammed to become stem cells, and then turned into brain cells. The researchers observed that the brain cells displayed the three telltale signs of Alzheimer’s progression, i.e. progressive neuronal death, amyloid plaque-like lesions (thickened area of the skin formed due to the deposit of protein in the body) and abnormal accumulation of a protein called tau inside the neurons in these brain cells.
On achieving this feat, lead researcher Professor Dean Nizetic from Queen Mary University of London said, ‘This system opens up the prospect for screening for new drugs aimed at delaying or even preventing Alzheimer’s before neuronal death starts.’
The team also found proof of the existence of a naturally-functioning Alzheimer’s suppressor gene (BACE2 gene). The increased activity of this gene helps in preventing/slowing down Alzheimer’s in human brain tissue, similar to tumour suppressor genes in cancer.
UAE launches first-ever Arab space mission to explore Mars
The United Arab Emirates (UAE) became the first Arab nation to launch the first interplanetary mission, Hope to Mars on 19 July. The historic mission was launched from the Tanegashima Space Center off the southern coast of mainland Japan. It is expected to reach the red planet in February 2021.
On the launch of UAE’s maiden Mars mission, Prime Minister of UAE, Sheikh Mohammed bin Rashid Al Maktoum tweeted, ‘The Hope probe will travel 495 million km to space with a cruise speed of 121,000 km/hr in the first ever Arab mission to the red planet. The data gathered by the probe will add a new dimension to human knowledge. This is our latest contribution to the world.’
The primary objective of this mission is to monitor the weather conditions of the Martian atmosphere at different times of the day, provide updates on dust storms and ice clouds on Mars, and track seasonal changes. In addition, it will study hydrogen and oxygen in the Martian atmosphere, and help to identify how Mars lost its atmosphere over the years.
NASA launches Perseverance rover 2020
National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA) launched Perseverance rover along with the Mars helicopter called Ingenuity from the Kennedy Space Center in Cape Canaveral, Florida on July 30. The rover is expected to land in a river delta within Jezero Crater in February 2021.
The main objective of the Perseverance rover is to find traces of ancient life on Mars which will help us prepare for future robotic and human exploration. The rover will also try an experiment to convert the elements of the carbon dioxide-rich Martian atmosphere into propellant for future rockets. The rover is expected to return to Earth with rock and soil samples.
Third unit of Kakrapar atomic power plant achieves criticality
Kakrapar Atomic Power Project-3 (KAPP-3) developed by the Nuclear Power Corporation of India Limited (NPCIL) in Gujarat achieved its first criticality at 9:36 am on 22 July. This means that it has reached the normal operating condition of a reactor and the plant is now ready to generate power.
KAPP-3 is India’s first 700 MWe (megawatt electric) unit and the biggest indigenously developed variant of the Pressurised Heavy Water Reactor (PHWR). Currently, four units of the 700MWe reactor are being built at Kakrapar (KAPP-3 and 4) and Rawatbhata (RAPS-7 and 8).
The PHWRs comprise steel lined inner containment, passive decay heat removal system, containment spray system, hydrogen management system, and other advanced safety features.
According to a statement released by the Department of Atomic Energy in January 2019, India plans to put into operation 21 new nuclear power reactors, including 10 indigenously designed PHWRs, with a combined generating capacity of 15,700 MWe by 2031.
Singapore’s ruling party wins general elections
Singapore’s People Action Party (PAP) won the general elections held on 10 July with 61.2% of the votes. However, its vote share slipped to an all-time low since PAP came into power in 1965 after its independence.
While the ruling party secured 83 out of 93 seats in parliament, the main opposition Workers’ Party won 10 seats. The figures are the lowest for the People Action Party and highest for the Workers’ Party till date.
After the results were declared, PM Lee Hsien Loong was quoted saying, ‘The results reflect the pain and uncertainty that Singaporeans feel in this crisis… This was not a feel-good election.’
Since the elections took place amidst the coronavirus pandemic, the voters were given only two-hour slots to cast their votes and avoid overcrowding. Furthermore, the citizens who had recently returned from abroad were given the facility of mobile ballot boxes.
UN designates Pakistan Taliban chief Noor Wali Mehsud as global terrorist
The United Nations blacklisted the Tehreek-e-Taliban Pakistan (TTP) terror group’s leader Noor Wali Mehsud and designated him as a global terrorist on 16 July.
This move came as a result of Mehsud’s financing, planning and perpetrating acts associated with al-Qaeda. He has been added to the sanctions list of individuals and entities subject to the assets freeze, travel ban and arms embargo.
The TTP terror group, also known as Pakistan Taliban, was also blacklisted by the UN on 29 July 2011 for its association with al-Qaeda. Last year, the UN had designated Jaish-e-Mohammed chief, Masood Azhar as a global terrorist.
Polish President Andrzej Duda wins second term
Andrzej Duda was announced the winner of the presidential elections held in Poland on 12 July. Duda with 51.2% votes narrowly beat his opponent Rafal Trzaskowski having 48.97% to win his second term.
During the election campaign, the Polish president was heavily criticised for commenting that LGBT rights were an ideology more destructive than communism.
Duda belongs to the Law and Justice Party (PiS) and plans to make amendments to the judiciary. This has been heavily criticised by the European Union (EU) as well as many other international organisations as it undermines Poland’s traditional rule of law. This, in turn, has also led to tensions between Poland and the EU.
The next elections will be held after three years.
Greta Thunberg wins first Gulbenkian Prize for Humanity
Seventeen-year-old climate activist Greta Thunberg was awarded the first Gulbenkian Prize for Humanity on 23 July for her efforts in sensitising and mobilising the youth towards climate change.
In a video posted on Twitter, Thunberg announced that she would donate the prize money of one million euros to various environmental groups who have been fighting for a sustainable world. She pledged to donate 1,00,000 euros to SOS Amazonia Campaign led by Friday for Future Brazil to tackle the COVID-19 pandemic in the Amazon and 1,00,000 euros to the Stop Ecocide Foundation.
A total of 136 nominees from 46 countries were nominated for the award, which was launched by the Calouste Gulbenkian Foundation, a Portuguese philanthropic organisation.
The Gulbenkian Prize for Humanity recognises people and groups from across the world who have contributed significantly towards mitigating and adapting to climate change.
MIT chemists make tough plastics recyclable
Scientists from the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) have created a degradable version of a thermoset plastic called pDCPD. This plastic can also be powdered and as a result, used to create more pDCPD. The study was published in the journal Nature.
The research that was funded by the National Science Foundation and the National Institutes of Health showed that the new version of thermoset plastics makes them easier to break down while retaining their mechanical strength and durability. This solves one of the major drawbacks of thermosets as they cannot be easily recycled or broken down after use due to their strong covalent bonds.
The researchers are now working towards the formation of a company to license and commercialise the technology.
India’s 2018 tiger census sets Guinness world record
The fourth cycle of India’s 2018 tiger census entered the Guinness Book of World Records on 11 July for being the world’s largest camera trap wildlife survey.
In the survey conducted in 2018-19, camera traps (photographic devices fitted with motion sensors that start recording when an animal passes by) were placed in 26,838 locations across 141 sites and an area of 121,337 square kilometres was surveyed. In total, the camera traps captured 34,858,623 photographs of wildlife (76,651 tigers, 51,777 leopards; the remainder, native fauna). From these photographs, 2,461 individual tigers (excluding cubs) were identified using stripe-pattern-recognition software.
Pulitzer winner Siddhartha Mukherjee and Prof. Raj Chetty among ‘2020 Great Immigrants’ honourees
Famous biologist and oncologist Siddhartha Mukherjee and Professor of Economics at Harvard University Raj Chetty were among those honoured as ‘2020 Great Immigrants’ by the Carnegie Corporation of New York on 1 July. The Indian-American duo who have played a significant role in combating the Covid-19 pandemic is among 38 naturalised US citizens who have been awarded. This honour is conferred upon immigrants who have been making notable contributions to the progress of American Society.
Mukherjee’s ‘The Emperor of All Maladies: A Biography of Cancer’ won the 2011 Pulitzer Prize. He was also awarded the Padma Shri, one of India’s highest civilian honours, in 2014.
Raj Chetty, on the other hand, is one of the youngest professors to be granted tenure (job for life) in the history of Harvard University.