30th November 2020

What is Mission Covid Suraksha?

The Government of India has announced the stimulus package of Rs. 900 crore for the Mission COVID Suraksha, the Indian Covid-19 Vaccine Development Mission, which will help the development process of the vaccine candidates.

Mission COVID Suraksha is India’s targeted effort to enable the development of indigenous, affordable and accessible vaccines for the country and will complement the ongoing mission of Atmanirbhar Bharat.

    • The Centre had announced this package during the third economic stimulus.
    • The Mission with its end-to-end focus from preclinical development through clinical development and manufacturing and regulatory facilitation for deployment, would consolidate all available and funded resources towards accelerated product development.
  • Grant:
    • Phase-I of the Mission has been allotted Rs. 900 Crore for a period of 12 months.
    • The grant will be provided to the Department of Biotechnology (DBT) for Research and Development (R&D) of Indian Covid-19 vaccines.
  • Stakeholders:
    • It will be led by DBT and implemented by a dedicated Mission Implementation Unit at the Biotechnology Industry Research Assistance Council (BIRAC).
    • The existing activities under National Bio Pharma Mission (NBM) and Ind-CEPI Mission will provide complementary strengths to this Mission.
      • The DBT is supporting the implementation of the Ind-CEPI Mission, “Epidemic preparedness through rapid vaccine development: Support of Indian vaccine development aligned with the global initiative of the Coalition for Epidemic Preparedness Innovations (CEPI)”.
      • The Ind-CEPI Mission was approved in March 2019.
  • Objectives:
    • Accelerating pre-clinical and clinical development.
    • Licensure of Covid-19 vaccine candidates that are currently in clinical stages or ready to enter the clinical stage of development.
    • Establishing clinical trial sites.
    • Strengthening the existing central laboratories and suitable facilities for animal studies, production facilities and other testing facilities to support the vaccine development.
    • Supporting the development of common harmonized protocols, training, data management systems, regulatory submissions, internal and external quality management systems and accreditations.
    • Supporting capabilities for process development, cell line development and manufacturing of GMP batches for animal toxicology studies and clinical trials.
    • Developing suitable Target Product Profile so that vaccines being introduced through the mission have preferred characteristics applicable to India.
  • Vaccine Candidates:
    • A total of 10 vaccine candidates have been supported by DBT so far at both academia and industry and as on date and 5 vaccine candidates are in human trials.
      • Covishield: The Serum Institute of India (SII) is conducting the phase-3 trial of the Oxford-Astrazeneca Covid-19 vaccine.
      • Covaxin: The indigenously developed Bharat Biotech and the Indian Council of Medical Research (ICMR) vaccine has already started the phase III clinical trial.
      • ZyCoV-D: Indigenously developed vaccine by Zydus Cadila has completed the phase-2 clinical trial in the country.
      • Sputnik V: The combined phase 2 and 3 clinical trials of the Russian Covid-19 vaccine Sputnik V in India are about to get started.
      • BNT162b2: India is focusing on training for conducting phase II and III human clinical trials of the Pfizer’s Covid-19 vaccine candidate along lines of India’s regulatory mechanism.

Clinical Trials

  • It is a systematic study to generate data for discovering or verifying the clinical and pharmacological profile (including pharmacodynamic and pharmacokinetic) or adverse effects of a new drug on humans.
  • It is the only way of establishing the safety and efficacy of any drug before its introduction in the market for human use and is preceded by animal trials where the efficacy and side effects are observed in animals and an estimated drug dose is established.
  • Clinical trials of drugs developed in India have to undergo all four phases of trials in India.
    • Phase I or clinical pharmacology trials or “first in man” study.
    • Phase II or exploratory trials.
    • Phase III or confirmatory trials.
    • Phase IV trials or post-marketing phase.

Honey FPOs under the “Formation & Promotion of 10,000 FPOs” Scheme

Recently, the Minister of Agriculture and Farmers’ Welfare has virtually inaugurated the Honey Farmer Producer Organisation (FPO) Programme of the National Agricultural Cooperative Marketing Federation of India Limited (NAFED).

  • A Producer Organisation (PO) is a legal entity formed by primary producers, viz. farmers, milk producers, fishermen, weavers, rural artisans, craftsmen, etc.
    • FPO is one type of PO where the members are farmers.
  • Apiculture or beekeeping is the care and management of honey bees for the production of honey and wax. In this method, bees are bred commercially in apiaries, an area where a lot of beehives can be placed.
  • The programme has been launched under the Formation and Promotion of FPOs.
    • It is a new Central Sector Scheme for the promotion of 10,000 new FPOs.
    • Under it, the National Level Project Management Advisory and Fund Sanctioning Committee (N-PMAFSC) had allocated FPO clusters for 2020-21 to all implementing agencies.
      • Initially there will be three implementing agencies to form and promote FPOs, namely Small Farmers Agri-business Consortium (SFAC), National Cooperative Development Corporation (NCDC) and National Bank for Agriculture and Rural Development (NABARD).
      • NAFED has been appointed as the 4th national implementing agency.
      • States may also, if so desire, nominate their implementing agency in consultation with the Department of Agriculture, Cooperation and Farmers’ Welfare (DAC&FW).
    • FPOs will be developed by specialist Cluster Based Business Organizations (CBBOs) engaged by implementing agencies.
  • NAFED, through CBBOs and the Indian Society of Agribusiness Professionals (ISAP) has initiated the formation and promotion of FPOs of beekeepers and honey collectors in 5 states of India.
    • These 5 locations are East Champaran (Bihar), Morena (Madhya Pradesh), Bharatpur (Rajasthan), Mathura (Uttar Pradesh) and Sunderbans (West Bengal).
    • The first Honey FPO has been registered in the state of Madhya Pradesh under the National Beekeeping and Honey Mission (NBHM).
  • Benefits:
    • Skill Upgradation in scientific beekeeping.
    • State of the art infrastructural facilities for processing honey and allied beekeeping products like bee’s wax, propolis, royal jelly, bee venom, etc.
    • Quality upgradation by quality control laboratories.
    • Better supply chain management by improving collection, storage, bottling and marketing centres.
    • Promotion and Formation of FPOs is the first step for converting Krishi into Atmanirbhar Krishi.
  • Other Efforts by Government to Promote Beekeeping:
    • Government is promoting beekeeping as part of its aim to double farmers’ income and ensure tribal upliftment.
    • The Government has allocated Rs. 500 crore towards beekeeping under the Atmanirbhar Abhiyan.
    • Apiary on Wheels:
      • It is a unique concept designed by the Khadi and Village Industries Commission (KVIC) for the easy upkeep and migration of Bee Boxes having live Bee colonies.
    • The National Bee Board has created four modules to impart training as part of the NBHM.
      • Under it, 30 lakh farmers have been trained in beekeeping and are also being financially supported by the Government.
      • Mini Mission 1 and Mini Mission 2 are schemes under the mission.
    • The Government launched NBHM as part of ‘Sweet Revolution’.
      • The ‘Sweet Revolution’ was launched in 2016 to promote beekeeping and associated activities.
National Agricultural Cooperative Marketing Federation of India Ltd

  • It is an apex organization of marketing cooperatives for agricultural produce in India.
  • It was founded on 2nd October 1958 and is registered under the Multi-State Co-operative Societies Act, 2002.
  • NAFED is now one of the largest procurement as well as marketing agencies for agricultural products in India.
  • Objectives:
    • To organize, promote and develop marketing, processing and storage of agricultural, horticultural and forest produce.
    • To distribute agricultural machinery, implements and other inputs, undertake inter-state, import and export trade, wholesale or retail as the case may be.
    • To act and assist for technical advice in agricultural production for the promotion and the working of its members, partners, associates and cooperative marketing, processing and supply societies in India.

National Bee Board

  • SFAC registered the NBB as a society under the Societies Registration Act, 1860 in 2000 and it was reconstituted (with the secretary as chairman) in June 2006.
  • Objective:
    • Overall development of beekeeping by promoting scientific beekeeping in India to increase the productivity of crops through pollination and increase the honey production for increasing the income of the beekeepers/farmers.
  • Presently NBB is implementing National Horticulture Mission(NHM) and Horticulture Mission for North East and Himalayan State (HMNEM).
Indian Navy leases two Sea Guardian drones from US to enhance surveillance over IOR
Recently, two American MQ9B Sea Guardian unarmed drones have been inducted by the Indian Navy.

  • The drones would be on lease with India for one year.
  • MQ9B Sea Guardian:
    • It is the maritime variant of the Predator MQ9 Unmanned Aerial Vehicle (UAV).
    • It has a maximum endurance of 40 hours and a maximum flying altitude of 40,000 feet.
    • It has a 3600 maritime surveillance radar and an optional multimode maritime surface search radar.
    • It can be used in operations such as Anti-Surface Warfare, Anti-Submarine Warfare, Humanitarian Assistance/Disaster Relief, Search and Rescue, Law Enforcement (Drug Trafficking, Illegal Immigration and Piracy), etc.
  • Procurement:
    • The Navy has for the first time inducted two surveillance drones through a lease agreement with an American firm, using the emergency powers granted by the Centre to the Armed forces amid the China standoff.
      • Under the emergency power, the government has granted emergency funds up to Rs. 500 crore per procurement project to the three armed services to buy ammunition and weapons in view of the escalating border standoff with China.
    • Drones were procured under the option for leasing military platforms introduced in the Defence Acquisition Procedure (DAP) 2020.
  • Significance:
    • The drones are meant for carrying out surveillance in the Indian Ocean Region and can be deployed on the China border if asked for and if needed.
      • Already the Navy’s P8I Poseidon aircraft have been deployed in Ladakh.
      • The P-8I aircraft is a variant of the P-8A Poseidon aircraft that have been developed by Boeing company.
      • Boeing’s P-8A Poseidon is designed for long-range Anti-Submarine warfare (ASW), Anti-Surface Warfare (ASuW), and intelligence, surveillance and reconnaissance (ISR) missions.
    • As part of its force restructuring to offset budgetary constraints, the Navy is looking to induce more unmanned solutions in future.
    • Till the time the government approves buying the drones, which has to get the Defence Acquisition Council’s nod, leasing is a more economic and viable option.
      • The Defence Acquisition Council is the highest decision-making body in the Defence Ministry for deciding on new policies and capital acquisitions for the three services (Army, Navy and Air Force) and the Indian Coast Guard.

ICMR approves dry swab RT-PCR method for Covid detection

Recently, the Council of Scientific and Industrial ResearchCentre for Cellular and Molecular Biology (CSIR-CCMB) has got the permission of the Indian Council of Medical Research (ICMR) to commercially use the dry swab RNA-extraction free testing method for the Covid-19.

    • Dry swab method has a consistency of 96.9%.
    • The comparison of conventional (swab-VTM-RNA extraction-RT-PCR) and the simplified (direct elution from dry swab-RT-qPCR) protocols suggested that dry swabs eluted directly into a simple buffered solution can support molecular detection of SARS-CoV-2 via endpoint RT-PCR without substantially compromising sensitivity.
  • Conventional Method:
    • In the conventional testing method, nasopharyngeal or oropharyngeal swab samples are collected by sample collection centres from the suspected coronavirus patients. These are then transported to testing centres, sometimes even hundreds of kilometres away.
      • The nasopharynx is the upper part of the pharynx (throat) behind the nose.
      • The oropharynx is the middle part of the pharynx just beyond the mouth and includes the back part of the tongue (base of tongue), tonsils, soft palate (back part of the roof of the mouth), and the sides and walls of the throat.
    • The swab samples are generally placed in a liquid called Viral Transport Medium (VTM) and to avoid leakage, the samples are packed heavily that adds on to sample processing times at both the sample collection and testing centres.
    • RNA extraction, even with automation, takes four hours for roughly 500 samples. VTM and RNA extraction both add a significant burden on money and time required for mass testing.
  • New and Simplified Method:
    • Dry swab technique does not require VTM and RNA extraction process, and can be directly used for RT-PCR testing.
    • It has the potential of bringing the costs and time of testing by 40-50% and the screening can also be enhanced several-fold with immediate effect while, at the same time, making the whole process safer.
    • It is easy to implement with no requirement of new kits and existing manpower can perform this with no additional training.
  • Benefits:
    • It will scale up the testing.
    • More economical than conventional RT-PCR tests.
    • Quicker results
RT-PCR Test

  • Kary Mullis, the American biochemist invented the PCR technique. He was awarded the Nobel Prize for Chemistry in 1993.
  • Under the test, copies of a segment of DNA (deoxyribonucleic acid) are created using an enzyme called Polymerase.
    • The ‘chain reaction’ signifies how the DNA fragments are copied exponentially, where one is copied into two, the two are copied into four, and so on.
  • A fluorescent DNA binding dye called the “probe” is added to DNA, which shows the presence of the virus on a fluorometer.
  • Covid-19 is made of RNA (ribonucleic acid), so to detect it, RNA is converted into DNA using a technique called reverse transcription.
    • Then the copies of the DNA are then made and amplified.

 

USA – President’s Powers to Pardon

Recently, the President of the United States of America (USA) has exercised his powers under the constitution to pardon his former National Security Advisor.

  • Unlike the USA President, whose powers to grant pardons are almost unrestrained, the President of India has to act on the advice of the Cabinet.
  • Pardoning Power of the President in the USA:
    • The President of the USA has the constitutional right to pardon or commute sentences related to federal crimes.
      • Clemency is a broad executive power, and is discretionary which means the President is not answerable for his pardons, and does not have to provide a reason for issuing one. But there are few limitations.
      • The USA has a Presidential system.
    • The USA Supreme Court has held that this power is granted without limit and cannot be restricted by Congress (legislature).
    • Limitations:
      • All Presidents shall have power to grant Reprieves and Pardons for offenses against the United States, except in cases of impeachment.
      • Further, the power only applies to federal crimes and not state crimes.
      • Those pardoned by the President can still be tried under the laws of individual states.
  • Pardoning Power of the President in India:
    • Under Article 72 of the Constitution, the President shall have the power to grant pardons, reprieves, respites or remissions of punishment or to suspend, remit or commute the sentence of any person convicted of any offence where the sentence is a sentence of death.
    • Limitation:
      • The President cannot exercise his power of pardon independent of the government.
      • In several cases, the Supreme Court (SC) has ruled that the President has to act on the advice of the Council of Ministers while deciding mercy pleas. These include Maru Ram vs Union of India in 1980, and Dhananjoy Chatterjee vs State of West Bengal in 1994.
    • Procedure:
      • Rashtrapati Bhawan forwards the mercy plea to the Home Ministry, seeking the Cabinet’s advice.
      • The Ministry in turn forwards this to the concerned state government; based on the reply, it formulates its advice on behalf of the Council of Ministers.
    • Reconsideration:
      • Although the President is bound by the Cabinet’s advice, Article74 (1) empowers him to return it for reconsideration once. If the Council of Ministers decides against any change, the President has no option but to accept it.
    • Under Article 161, the Governor in India too has pardoning powers.
    • Difference Between Pardoning Powers of President and Governor:
      • The scope of the pardoning power of the President under Article 72 is wider than the pardoning power of the Governor under Article 161 which differs in the following two ways:
        • Court Martial: The power of the President to grant pardon extends in cases where the punishment or sentence is by a Court Martial but Article 161 does not provide any such power to the Governor.
        • Death sentence: The President can grant pardon in all cases where the sentence given is the sentence of death but the pardoning power of the Governor does not extend to death sentence cases.

 

Why have the protests against Bru resettlement in Tripura flared up?

Recently, parts of north Tripura have witnessed violent protests over the proposed resettlement of Bru tribals.

    • Bru or Reang is a community indigenous to Northeast India, living mostly in Tripura, Mizoram and Assam. In Tripura, they are recognised as a Particularly Vulnerable Tribal Group.
    • In Mizoram, they have been targeted by groups that do not consider them indigenous to the state.
    • In 1997, following ethnic clashes, nearly 37,000 Brus fled Mamit, Kolasib and Lunglei districts of Mizoram and were accommodated in relief camps in Tripura.
    • Since then, 5,000 have returned to Mizoram in eight phases of repatriation, while 32,000 still live in six relief camps in North Tripura.
    • In January 2020, a quadrilateral agreement was signed by the Centre, the two state governments and Bru representatives to allow the remaining 32,000 to permanently settle in Tripura.

2020 Agreement

  • After the agreement was made in January 2020, the state has planned 12 resettlement spots across six districts with 300 families each.
  • The Centre has announced a special development project with funding of Rs. 600 crore.
    • Each resettled family will get an estimated 0.03 acres of land for building a home, Rs. 1.5 lakh as housing assistance, and Rs. 4 lakh as a one-time cash benefit for sustenance, a monthly allowance of Rs. 5,000 and free rations for two years from the date of resettlement.

Reason for the Protest

    • The 2020 agreement led to protests from Bengali and Mizo groups in Tripura. They claim that settling thousands of migrants permanently in Kanchanpur sub-division of North Tripura district would lead to demographic imbalance, exert pressure on local resources and potentially lead to law and order problems.
    • They alleged that 650 Bengali families from around Kanchanpur and 81 Mizo families from Jampui Hill range, who fled due to “atrocities” by Brus, were yet to be resettled two decades on.

Conditions of the Brus

    • They are in fear and uncertainty as they suffer an economic blockade due to these protests.
    • They haven’t received foodgrains as per their relief package this month and if the protest continues, their condition will deteriorate further.

 

Why has Northeast monsoon remained subdued this year?

Rainfall over the southern peninsular region has been deficient so far, indicating that the northeast monsoon has remained subdued this year.

  • Pattern of Rainfall in India: India receives rainfall during two seasons:
    • About 75% of the country’s annual rainfall is received from the Southwest monsoon between June and September.
    • The Northeast monsoon occurs during October to December, and is a comparatively small-scale monsoon, which is confined to the Southern peninsula. It is called the winter monsoon.
  • Northeast Monsoon and Rainfall:
    • After the complete withdrawal of the Southwest monsoon from the country takes place by mid-October, the wind pattern rapidly changes from the south-westerly to the north-easterly direction.
    • The period after the Southwest monsoon season, from October to December, is the peak time for cyclonic activity in the North Indian Ocean region covering the Arabian Sea and the Bay of Bengal.
      • The winds associated with the formation of low pressure systems, depressions, or cyclones influence this monsoon, and therefore, the rainfall.
  • Regions associated with Northeast Monsoon:
    • The rainfall associated with the Northeast monsoon is important for Tamil Nadu, Puducherry, Karaikal, Yanam, coastal Andhra Pradesh, Kerala, north interior Karnataka, Mahe and Lakshadweep.
    • Tamil Nadu records about 48% of its annual rainfall during these months, making it the key factor for undertaking agricultural activities and reservoir management in the state.
    • Some South Asian countries such as Maldives, Sri Lanka and Myanmar, too, record rainfall during October to December.
  • Reasons for deficient rainfall this Northeast monsoon:
    • Prevailing La Niña conditions in the Pacific Ocean:
      • La Niña conditions enhance the rainfall associated with the Southwest monsoon, but has a negative impact on rainfall associated with the Northeast monsoon.
      • La Niña (Spanish for ‘little girl’) refers to the large-scale cooling of the ocean surface temperatures in the central and eastern equatorial Pacific Ocean, coupled with changes in the tropical atmospheric circulation, namely winds, pressure and rainfall.
      • It usually has the opposite impacts on weather and climate as El Niño, which is the warm phase of the so-called El Niño Southern Oscillation (ENSO).
        • El Niño (Spanish for ‘little boy’) is the abnormal surface warming observed along the eastern and central regions of the Pacific Ocean (region between Peru and Papua New Guinea).
        • La Nina and El Nino are large-scale ocean phenomena which influence the global weather winds, temperature and rainfall.
        • They have the ability to trigger extreme weather events like droughts, floods, hot and cold conditions, globally.
        • Each cycle can last anywhere between 9 to 12 months, at times extendable to 18 months and re-occur after every three to five years.
    • Inter Tropical Convective Zone (ITCZ):
      • The current position of the ITCZ has also contributed to the poor rainfall during the ongoing monsoon season.
      • The ITCZ is a low-pressure belt, whose northward and southward movements along the equator determine the precipitation in the tropics.
      • Currently, the ITCZ is located to the north of its normal position.

Other Important Atmospheric Circulation

  • Madden-Julian Oscillation (MJO): The MJO can be defined as an eastward moving ‘pulse’ of clouds, rainfall, winds and pressure near the equator that typically recurs every 30 to 60 days.

 

Why is land-attack version of BrahMos supersonic cruise missile significant?.

Recently, India has successfully test-fired a land-attack version of the BrahMos supersonic cruise missile from the Andaman and Nicobar Islands.

  • The test by the Army comes over a month after the Naval version of BrahMos was successfully test fired from Indian Navy’s indigenously-built stealth destroyer INS Chennai.
  • Features of New Land-attack Version:
    • The range of the missile has been extended to 400 km from the original 290 km but its speed has been maintained at 2.8 Mach or almost three times the speed of sound.
    • The test was done in a “top-attack” configuration.
      • Most modern missiles, including BrahMos, can be fired in both top-attack and direct attack modes.
      • In top attack mode, the missile is required to climb sharply after launch, travel at a certain altitude and then fall on top of the target.
      • In direct attack mode, the missile travels at a lower altitude, directly striking the target.
  • Significance of the Test:
    • These tests are a display of India’s tactical cruise missile triad, i.e. launch capability from land, sea and air platforms.
      • India has already deployed a sizable number of the original BrahMos missiles and other key assets in several strategic locations along the Line of Actual Control (LAC) with China in Ladakh and Arunachal Pradesh.
    • The test marks the achievement of a critical milestone in enhancing India’s capability of engaging enemy’s vitally important targets in depth areas.
    • In the last two-and-half months, India has test fired a number of missiles including an anti-radiation missile named Rudram-1 which is planned to be inducted into service by 2022.
  • Various versions of BrahMos, including those that can be fired from land, warships, submarines and Sukhoi-30 fighter jets, have already been developed and successfully tested in the past.
    • A hypersonic version of the missile, capable of reaching a speed of 5 Mach, is under development.

BrahMos Missile

  • An amalgamation of the names of Brahmaputra river and Moskva river (Russia), BrahMos missiles are designed, developed and produced by BrahMos Aerospace.
    • BrahMos Aerospace is a joint venture company set up by the Defence Research and Development Organisation (DRDO) and Mashinostroyenia of Russia.
  • It is a medium-range supersonic cruise missile which can be launched from submarines, ships, aircraft or land.
    • Cruise missiles are defined as “an unmanned self-propelled guided vehicle that sustains flight through aerodynamic lift for most of its flight path and whose primary mission is to place an ordnance or special payload on a target.”
    • Depending upon the speed, such missiles are classified as Subsonic (around 0.8 Mach), Supersonic (2-3 Mach) and Hypersonic cruise missiles (more than 5 Mach).
  • It is the world’s fastest supersonic cruise missile, as well as the fastest anti-ship cruise missile in operation.
  • It operates on the “Fire and Forget” principle, i.e it does not require further guidance after launch.
  • The missile has a flight range upto 290-km. However, India’s entry into the Missile Technology Control Regime (MTCR) has extended the range of the BrahMos missile to reach 450-600 km.
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