Current Affairs – June 2020
Government launches schemes for street vendors and migrant workers
The central government launched two schemes in June for street vendors and migrant workers to help them tide over the COVID crisis. The PM SVANidhi or Pradhan Mantri Street Vendor’s Atmanirbhar Nidhi launched by the Ministry of Housing and Urban Affairs (MoHUA) on 1 June aims to provide affordable loans to street vendors whose livelihoods have been adversely affected by the lockdowns. On the other hand, the Garib Kalyan Rojgar Abhiyaan launched on 20 June aims to boost employment and livelihood opportunities for migrant workers returning home following the pandemic.
The scheme for street vendors will provide them with a working capital loan of up to ₹10,000, which can be repaid in monthly instalments in one year. On timely/early repayment of the loan, an interest subsidy @7% per annum will be credited to the bank accounts of the beneficiaries through Direct Benefit Transfer on a quarterly basis. The scheme targets to benefit over 50 lakh street vendors.
In the first phase, 108 cities have been selected for the provision of loans by September 2020. The disbursement of the loan is planned to commence in July.The ₹50,000 crore Garib Kalyan Rozgar Abhiyaan would benefit Bihar, Madhya Pradesh, Uttar Pradesh, Rajasthan, Jharkhand and Odisha. The scheme will work in a mission mode for 125 days in 116 districts across these six states where the maximum number of the migrant workers have returned.
India and Australia sign critical agreements
India and Australia signed nine agreements focused on the crucial areas of defence, cyber security, critical technology and rare earth minerals. The two countries also strengthened their bilateral relationship with a comprehensive strategic partnership and issued a joint declaration on a ‘shared vision for maritime cooperation in the Indo-Pacific’.
In the first virtual bilateral summit for India held on 4 June, Prime Minister Narendra Modi and his Australian counterpart Scott Morrison signed an agreement on cyber and cyber-enabled critical technology cooperation and a memorandum of understanding (MoU) on cooperation in mining and processing of critical and strategic minerals. They also signed an implementing arrangement on cooperation in defence science and technology and a Mutual Logistics Support Agreement (MLSA). Besides, three MoUs on cooperation in public administration and governance reforms, cooperation in vocational education and training and water resources management were also signed.
The Mutual Logistics Support Agreement will facilitate reciprocal access to military logistics facilities, allow more complex joint military exercise and improve interoperability (working in conjunction with each other) between the armed forces of the two sides.
Nitin Gadkari launches campaign to prevent human and animal deaths on highways
Union Minister of Road Transport & Highways Nitin Gadkari launched a national awareness campaign on ‘Prevention of Human and Animal Mortality on Highways’ via video conference on the occasion of World Environment Day on 5 June.
The minister said that India witnesses nearly five lakh road accidents every year, in which about 1.5 lakh lives are lost. The government endeavours to bring down these figures by 20–25 per cent by March next year. He said that over 5,000 black spots have been identified and the process for their rectification including temporary and permanent measures is being carried out on an urgent basis.
Mr Gadkari stated that road safety measures such as rectification of black spots, traffic calming measures, crash barriers, repairing, rehabilitation and reconstruction of dilapidated and narrow bridges, road safety audit, reduction of fatalities on vulnerable roads, highway patrolling, and safety during construction should be focused upon on stretches of national highways.
He also informed that his Ministry is conscious about the need to protect animal life on the roads. The Ministry has requested all agencies to follow the provisions of the manual titled ‘Eco-friendly measures to mitigate impacts of linear infrastructure on wildlife’ issued by the Wildlife Institute of India, Dehradun. He requested NGOs and social organisations to locate black spots for animals on the roads, so that necessary corrective action can be taken.
Union Minister launches COVID Beep for COVID-19 patients
Union Minister of State for Development of North Eastern State and Minister of State in Prime Minister’s Office Dr Jitendra Singh on 7 June launched COVID BEEP, India’s first indigenous wireless physiological parameters monitoring system for the COVID-affected patients. COVID BEEP, which stands for Continuous Oxygenation and Vital Information Detection Biomed ECIL ESIC Pod, is developed by ESIC Medical College, Hyderabad in collaboration with IIT Hyderabad and the Department of Atomic Energy.
The latest version of the device incorporates non-invasive blood pressure (NIBP) monitoring, electrocardiogram (ECG) monitoring and calculation of respiratory rate.
Dr Singh said that COVID BEEP is a perfect example of how synergy amongst the reputed institutes of India can offer solutions to most of the challenges faced by the country with minimum cost and thereby make the country atmanirbhar (self-sufficient) in the true sense.
Gujarat, TN, Maharashtra top Food Safety Index for 2019–20
Gujarat, Tamil Nadu and Maharashtra topped the food safety index for 2019–20 released by Food Safety and Standards Authority of India (FSSAI) on World Food Safety Day, 7 June.
The index ranks states on five parameters: human resources and institutional data, compliance, food testing facility, training and capacity building besides consumer empowerment.
Gujarat, Tamil Nadu and Maharashtra topped the list of larger states on the index. Among the smaller states, Goa came first followed by Manipur and Meghalaya. Chandigarh, Delhi and Andaman & Nicobar Islands secured top ranks among union territories.
This index, themed ‘Food safety is everyone’s business’, is the second one released by FSSAI on the occasion of World Food Safety Day and was dedicated to those in the supply chain who have ensured the uninterrupted availability of safe food during this COVID-19 pandemic.
Gairsain declared Uttarakhand’s summer capital
Gairsain town in Chamoli district of Uttarakhand was officially declared the summer capital of Uttarakhand on 8 June after Governor Baby Rani Maurya gave her nod to the state government’s move. Dehradun, the largest city in the hilly state, will remain the winter capital.
Uttarakhand was carved out as a separate state from Uttar Pradesh in 1998. The state has two divisions – Garhwal and Kumaon – with 13 districts. Gairsain falls on the border of Garhwal and Kumaon region and is around 270 km away from Dehradun.
Gairsain will have a virtual Vidhan Sabha. The state Assembly is located in the capital city Dehradun, but sessions will be held in Gairsain as well.
Adani Green Energy wins world’s largest solar bid
Adani Green Energy Limited (AGEL) on 8 June won a first-of-its-kind manufacturing-linked solar agreement from the Solar Energy Corporation of India (SECI).
The bid is the largest of its type ever in the world and will entail a single investment of ₹45,000 crore ($6 billion) and will create 400,000 direct and indirect jobs. It will also displace 900 million tonnes of carbon dioxide over its lifetime.
As a part of the award, AGEL will develop 8 GW of solar projects and Adani Solar will establish 2 GW of additional solar cell and module manufacturing capacity.
The 8 GW of solar development projects will be implemented over the next five years. The first 2 GW of generation capacity will come online by 2022 and the subsequent 6 GW will be added in 2 GW annual increments through 2025.
The award will take the company closer to its target of achieving an installed generation capacity of 25 GW of renewable power by 2025, which in turn will see it committing an investment of ₹112,000 crore ($15 billion) in the renewable energy space over the next five years.
India becomes founding member of global alliance on AI
India has joined the USA, UK, EU and Australia as a founding member of the Global Partnership on Artificial Intelligence (GPAI). The first-of-its-kind initiative is aimed to guide responsible development and use of AI, grounded in human rights, inclusion, diversity, innovation and economic growth. The multi-stakeholder initiative will work towards evolving better understanding of the challenges and opportunities around AI using the experience and diversity of participating countries. It will also support cutting-edge research and applied activities on AI-related priorities.
By joining GPAI as a founding member, India will actively participate in the global development of Artificial Intelligence, leveraging its experience around use of digital technologies for inclusive growth.
GPAI will be supported by a Secretariat, to be hosted by the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD) in Paris, as well as by two Centers of Expertise – one each in Montreal and Paris.
Sports Ministry launches Khelo India Coach Development Programme
Sports Minister Kiren Rijiju on 1 June launched the Khelo India Community Coach Development programme for 15,000 physical education teachers and coaches around the country. The 25-day programme has been termed as a critical and far-reaching programme which will further boost India’s objective of becoming a sporting nation. He said that his team will work closely with the HRD ministry to take this to every school in India.
The course module will equip physical education teachers and community coaches with the right set of knowledge and skills to help children of all ages to take up a variety of fitness-related activities and conduct age-appropriate fitness tests. Besides, regular sessions will be conducted by eminent educationists in the field of fitness and physical education.
ICC approves interim regulation changes in light of COVID-19
The International Cricket Council (ICC) on 9 June approved interim changes to its playing regulations to mitigate the risks posed by the COVID-19 virus and ensure the safety of players and match officials when cricket resumes. The changes were recommended by the ICC Chief Executives’ Committee (CEC) led by former India captain Anil Kumble. The following recommendations have been approved:
Ban on the use of saliva to shine ball: Players will not be permitted to use saliva to shine the ball. A team can be issued up to two warnings per innings but repeated use of saliva on the ball will result in a five-run penalty. Whenever saliva is applied to the ball, the umpires will be instructed to clean the ball before play recommences.
COVID-19 replacements: Teams will be allowed to replace players displaying symptoms of COVID-19 during a Test match. The match referee will approve the replacement. The regulation, however, will not be applicable in ODIs and T20Is.
Non-neutral umpires: The requirement to appoint neutral match officials will temporarily not be applicable for all international formats owing to the current logistical challenges with international travel. The ICC can appoint locally based match officials from the Emirates ICC Elite Panel of Match Officials and the Emirates ICC International Panel of Match Officials.
Additional DRS reviews: The CEC has confirmed an additional unsuccessful Decision Review System (DRS) review for each team in each innings of a match, keeping in mind that there may be less experienced umpires on duty at times. This will increase the number of unsuccessful appeals per innings for each team to three for Tests and two for the white-ball formats.
The ICC Cricket Operations team will support match referees when processing Code of Conduct breaches, and a neutral Elite Panel match referee will conduct any hearing remotely via video link.Additional logo allowed: The CEC has approved a relaxation of rules on apparel logos for the next 12 months. A logo, not exceeding 32 square inches in size, may be placed on the chest of the Test match shirt and sweater in addition to the three other logos allowed as per regulations. As of now, logos on chests are only allowed in ODIs and T20Is.
IWF clears Indian weightlifter Sanjita Chanu of doping charges
The International Weightlifting Federation (IWF) on 9 June dropped the doping charge against Indian weightlifter K Sanjita Chanu due to ‘non-conformities’ in the handling of her sample.
The IWF made the decision based on the recommendation of the World Anti-Doping Agency (WADA). The IWF admitted to committing a mistake in giving the exact sample number of Chanu’s sample in its report.
The Commonwealth Games gold medallist has demanded an apology and compensation from the IWF for the trauma endured by her and the lost opportunity to qualify for Tokyo Olympics and win the coveted Arjuna Award.
Chanu had tested positive for the anabolic steroid testosterone by the United States Anti-Doping Agency (USADA) prior to the World Championships in America in November 2017. She was put under a provisional suspension on 15 May 2018 and her ‘B’ sample (second sample) also returned positive on September 11 in the same year. Chanu had challenged the suspension and maintained innocence ever since.
World Athletics appoints Laurent Boquillet as Head of Global Development
World Athletics (formerly called the International Amateur Athletic Federation) on 22 June announced the appointment of Laurent Boquillet as the Head of Global Development to support its vision to ‘use the power and accessibility of athletics and our athletes to create a healthier and fitter world’.
Boquillet has served in diverse roles in more than four decades of his athletic career, most recently as CEO of the European Athletics Championships Paris 2020. He will start with World Athletics on 1 July and will be based in Monaco at the World Athletics head office.
Bouquillet started out as a professional triathlete between 1984–1990, being crowned European Champion in 1986. He has also worked in the commercial and marketing side of athletics, managing elite athletes and their development programmes as well as event organisation and management for a number of national, regional and international meetings. He has also developed and delivered coaching and kids programmes across a number of different countries and continents. For the last five years, he has chaired the largest athletics club in France – Entente Sarthe Athletisme – with 2,500 members.
Boquillet hopes that his new role would help drive development with the member federations and the six area associations and support the growth of athletics across the world.
Massive fuel spill in Arctic Circle; Russia declares state of emergency
In a disastrous oil spill accident, 20,000 tonnes of diesel leaked into the Ambarnaya River in Russia, turning its surface crimson red. The river is part of a network that flows into the environmentally sensitive Arctic Ocean.
The spill was caused by an industrial plant at the Siberian city of Norilsk on 29 May when the oil products from its tank leaked. The plant is operated by a subsidiary of Norilsk Nickel, the world’s largest producer of palladium and one of the largest producers of nickel, platinum and copper.
Russian Prime Minister Vladimir Putin while expressing his displeasure at the delay and the mode of intimation of the disaster (it was up on social media first) declared a state of emergency on 3 June to call in more resources for the clean-up operation.
Considered the second largest in modern Russian history in terms of volume, the spill has reportedly contaminated a 350 sq km (135 sq mile) area. The clean-up cost is estimated to be 100 billion roubles or $1.5 billion and may take between 5 to 10 years. Norilsk Nickel is not new to oil spillages. In 2016, it turned a nearby river red due to an accident at one of its plants.
India experiences its second cyclone in two weeks
After the devastating supercyclone Amphan, India was struck by Cyclone Nisarga on 4 June, less than two weeks after the former. It was the first cyclone to have impacted Maharashtra in over 100 years. The cyclone made landfall in Alibaug near Mumbai accompanied by heavy rainfall and massive winds that reached upto 140 km/hr.
Several trees were uprooted and poles toppled in the coastal town of Alibaug, snapping power supply in the area indefinitely. Alibaug is a favourite weekend destination for many, and often referred to as ‘the Hamptons’ of Maharashtra.
Tens of thousands of people along the coast were moved to safer locations and alerts were issued for the others to stay indoors and keep safe from the first cyclone that has formed in the Arabian Sea in a very long time.
A total of six fatalities were reported, including three from Pune. Mumbai, however, narrowly escaped the eye of the cyclone.
Global CO2 levels hit record high amid COVID-19 lockdowns
Global levels of the heat-trapping carbon dioxide gas hit another record, despite reduced emissions because of the coronavirus pandemic.
The World Meteorological Organization (WMO) reported on World Environment Day that May 2020 was the warmest May on record and carbon dioxide levels also hit a new high despite the economic slowdown from COVID-19. The organisation has urged the member states to renew their efforts to tackle climate threats.
As per the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA), measurements of carbon dioxide (the chief greenhouse gas produced due to human activities), averaged 417.1 parts per million at Mauna Loa, Hawaii in May, when carbon levels in the air peak. That’s 2.4 parts per million higher than a year ago.
NOAA senior scientist Pieter Tans explained that short-term reductions such as those during the lockdown did not have a large effect because carbon dioxide can stay in the air for centuries. He stressed on the monumental task of bringing emissions down, while pointing out that we are ‘really committing the Earth to an enormous amount of warming for a very large time.’
Siberian heat wave alarming
The Russian Arctic town of Verkhoyansk, known for being frozen for the major part of the year, recorded an exceptional temperature of 38 degrees Celsius (100.4 degrees Fahrenheit) on 20 June. This added another layer to the argument of steady global environmental degradation caused by human activities.
Much of Siberia has reported unseasonably warm temperatures this year. According to the climate science non-profit Berkeley Earth, the average temperature in north-central Siberia from January through May has been about 8 degrees Celsius (14 degrees Fahrenheit) above average.
Such prolonged Siberian warmth hasn’t been seen for thousands of years. According to University of Michigan environmental school dean Jonathan Overpeck, it is another sign that the Arctic amplifies global warming even more than we thought.
The increasing temperatures in Siberia have been linked to prolonged wildfires that grow more severe every year and the thawing of the permafrost (ground that is permanently frozen) — a huge problem because buildings and pipelines are built on them. Thawing permafrost releases more heat-trapping gases and dries out the soil, which increases wildfires, said Vladimir Romanovsky, who studies permafrost at the University of Alaska Fairbanks.
India’s Culture Ministry to celebrate Sankalp Parva
The Ministry of Culture, Government of India will celebrate Sankalp Parva from 28 June to 12 July this year. The initiative was launched following a call by Prime Minister Narendra Modi to plant at least five trees in the office premises or wherever possible in order to ensure a clean and healthy environment for the country.
As part of the celebrations, the Ministry of Culture expects its subordinate offices, academies, attached institutions as well as affiliated institutions to plant trees on its campus or in the surroundings. The Ministry has recommended five trees which represent the herbal heritage of the country – Awla, Bel, Pepal, Bargad and Ashok – to be planted as part of the drive.
Union Minister of State for Culture and Tourism (Independent Charge) Prahlad Singh Patel said that the organisations must ensure that each employee plants at least one tree of his/her choice over and above these five trees. The institutions must also ensure that the employee takes care of the plants planted by them during the year and ensure that they survive.
Patel has urged everyone to participate in the Sankalp Parv and share the photo of their plants using the hashtag #संकल्पपर्व or #SankalpParv with the Ministry of Culture.
Science & Technology
Astronomers unveil the solar corona magnetic field
A new study by a graduate student Benjamin Boe from the University of Hawaii Institute for Astronomy (IfA) published 3 June in the Astrophysical Journal has revealed vital details about the solar corona, the outermost atmosphere of the sun which expands into interplanetary space.
The corona is most easily seen during a total solar eclipse — when the moon is directly between the Earth and the sun, blocking the bright surface of the sun. The properties of the solar corona are a consequence of the sun’s complex magnetic field, which is produced in the solar interior and extends outward.
The study used total solar eclipse observations to measure the shape of the coronal magnetic field with higher spatial resolution and over a larger area than ever before. Boe traced the pattern of the distribution of magnetic field lines in the corona, using an automatic tracing method applied to images of the corona taken during 14 eclipses across the past two decades. This data provided the chance to study the changes in the corona over two 11-year magnetic cycles of the sun.
Boe found that the pattern of the coronal magnetic field lines is highly structured and changes with time. To quantify these changes, he measured the magnetic field angle relative to the sun’s surface. During periods of minimum solar activity, the corona’s field emanated almost straight out of the sun near the equator and poles, while it came out at a variety of angles at mid-latitudes. On the other hand, during maximum solar activity, the coronal magnetic field was far less organised and more radial.
This work has further implications in other areas of solar research, including the formation of solar wind, which impacts the Earth’s magnetic field and can have effects on the ground, such as power outages.
NASA appoints first female head of a human spaceflight programme
NASA on 12 June appointed Commercial Crew Program Manager Kathy Lueders as the next associate administrator of the Human Exploration and Operations (HEO) Mission Directorate, making her the first female head of a human spaceflight programme.
Leuders joined NASA in 1992 and has been directing NASA’s efforts to send astronauts into space on private spacecraft since 2014. She also oversaw the inaugural private crewed flight Demo-2 from the Kennedy Space Center in Florida in May.
NASA head Jim Bridenstine said that Kathy has successfully managed both the Commercial Crew and Commercial Cargo programmes, and is the right person to lead the HEO as NASA prepares to land the first woman and the next man on the Moon by 2024.
Japan’s supercomputer named fastest in world
Japanese supercomputer Fugaku was named the fastest supercomputer by Top500, a project that ranks the most powerful non-distributed computer systems in the world, on 22 June, carrying out 2.8 times more calculations per second than an IBM machine in the US.
Fugaku’s victory broke a long run of US–China dominance in the supercomputer category, returning Japan to the top for the first time in 11 years. Its performance was measured at 415.53 petaflops, 2.8 times faster than second-place American supercomputer Summit’s 148.6 petaflops. A supercomputer is more than 1,000 times faster than a regular computer.
The room-sized machine housed in the city of Kobe was developed over six years by Japanese technology firm Fujitsu and the government-backed Riken Institute. Fugaku has been helping fight the coronavirus, simulating how droplets would spread in office spaces with partitions installed or in packed trains with the windows open. Experts are hoping the machine which will become fully operational next year will be able to help narrow down the search for effective treatments for the virus. Fujitsu’s CEO, Naoki Shinjo also hopes that the supercomputer will play a role in forming Japan’s Society 5.0 project – a technology-based society pulling together AI, big data and the internet of things.
G20 pledge over 21 billion dollars to fight COVID-19 pandemic
The member countries of the Group of 20 (G20), along with invited countries, on 6 June pledged more than $21 billion to fight the COVID-19 pandemic. The pledges will be directed towards diagnostics, vaccines, therapeutics, and research and development.
In their statement, the group said that the emergency measures aimed at protecting health will be targeted, proportionate, transparent, and temporary.
During the Extraordinary G20 Leaders’ Summit convened by the Saudi G20 Presidency in March 2020, the world body had called for a coordinated global response to fight the pandemic, adopting measures to safeguard the global economy, minimising trade disruption and steps to enhance global cooperation.
The G20 leaders also agreed to contribute to the WHO-led COVID-19 Solidarity Response Fund on a voluntary basis.
COVID-19 to drive global economy to its deepest recession since World War II
The global economy will plunge into its deepest recession, shrinking by 5.2% this year, due to the coronavirus pandemic and the measures taken to contain it, said the World Bank Global Economic Prospect report on 8 June. This would represent the deepest recession since the Second World War.
Advanced economies are anticipated to shrink 7% in 2020 as domestic demand and supply, trade and finance have been severely disrupted. Emerging market and developing economies (EMDEs) are expected to shrink by 2.5% this year, their first contraction as a group in at least 60 years. Per capita incomes are expected to decline by 3.6%, which will push millions of people into extreme poverty this year, the report said.
Countries where the pandemic has been the most severe and where there is heavy reliance on global trade, tourism, commodity exports, and external financing will be hit the hardest. While the magnitude of disruption will vary from region to region, all EMDEs have vulnerabilities that are magnified by external shocks. Moreover, interruptions in schooling and primary healthcare access are likely to have lasting impacts on human capital development.World Bank Group Vice President for Equitable Growth, Finance and Institutions, Ceyla Pazarbasioglu said that the global community must unite to find ways for a robust recovery to prevent more people from falling into poverty and unemployment.
UN honours KK Shailaja for her efforts to combat COVID-19
The United Nations honoured Kerala Health Minister KK Shailaja for having effectively controlled the spread of COVID-19 in her state by inviting her to speak on the occasion of United Nations Public Service Day on 23 June. She spoke in a webinar with several other world leaders.
Shailaja, often referred to as Shailaja Teacher, was the only speaker from India to speak about what has come to be known as the ‘Kerala model’ of combatting COVID-19.
In the web conference, Shailaja was praised for maintaining low mortality rates in the state due to early intervention. Kerala, which recorded India’s first coronavirus cases, has been successful in flattening the curve with aggressive testing, contact tracing and quarantining.
Kerala had made preparations to fight the virus well ahead in time, having learnt lessons from the previous Nipah outbreak. Only days after news of a novel virus emerging in China broke, Shailaja organised the first meeting of the state’s rapid response team. The primary control room was set up in January itself, with instructions given to medical officers in all of Kerala’s 14 districts to do the same. By the time the first case was confirmed, the state had already implemented the pandemic protocols issued by the World Health Organization, long before the Indian Council of Medical Research recommended them.
Micheál Martin takes over as Irish PM in historic Irish coalition pact
Ireland’s Indian-origin Prime Minister, Leo Varadkar, has stepped down to make way for the new Irish Prime Minister Micheál Martin as part of a historic coalition deal on 27 June which will see him return as the PM in over two years’ time.
The office of Taoiseach, as the Irish PM is known, is to rotate between Ireland’s two centrist parties — Varadkar’s Fine Gael and Martin’s Fianna Fail — after they agreed on ambitious climate targets to seal a power-sharing deal with the Green Party.
Martin is expected to lead Ireland until December 2022, when Varadkar will take over again as Taoiseach. It marks the first time in history that former Civil War rivals Fianna Fáil and Fine Gael have governed together.
Speaking to the Dáil (Irish lower house) as the new Taoiseach at a special sitting for the first time, Martin said his focus would be on the social, economic, and cultural recovery from the coronavirus.
Varadkar has been functioning as Caretaker Taoiseach since the Irish General Election in February, which ended in a hung result.
Javed Akhtar becomes first Indian to win Richard Dawkins Award
Renowned Indian poet, writer and lyricist Javed Akhtar has won the 2020 Richard Dawkins Award for critical thinking, holding religious dogma up to scrutiny, and advancing human progress and humanist values.
Akhtar has become the first Indian to be given the honour, which recognises distinguished individuals from the field of science, scholarship, education, or entertainment, who publicly proclaim the values of secularism and rationalism and uphold scientific truth.
The award is named after famous English evolutionary biologist Richard Dawkins, a fierce advocate of empirical science over superstition.