Daily Current Affairs | 19th May 2020

Scientists spot super-Earth planet in Earth-like orbit

Recently, scientists have discovered a rare new Super-Earth planet. It is among only a handful of extra-solar planets that have been detected with both sizes and orbits close to that of Earth.

  • An exoplanet or extrasolar planet is a planet outside the Solar System.
  • Mass :
    • Host Star:The host star of the Super-Earth’s system has about 10% the mass of the Sun. The lower mass of the host star makes a ‘year’ on the planet of approximately 617 days.
    • Super-Earth Planet:The planet is expected to have a mass between the Earth’s mass and that of Neptune.
  • Orbit:
    • With reference to the Solar system, the Super-Earth planet would orbit at a radius anywhere between that of Venus and Earth in our solar system.
  • Planet Discovery:
    • The Super-Earth planet has been discovered using the gravitational microlensing technique.
    • Gravitational microlensing is an astronomical phenomenon due to the gravitational lens effect. It can be used to detect objects that range from the mass of a planet to the mass of a star,regardless of the light they emit.
      • The microlensing effect is rare, with only about one in a million stars in the galaxy being affected at any given time.
    • Furthermore, such type of observation does not repeat,and the probabilities of catching a planet at the same time are extremely low.
    • The other methods for exoplanets discovery include:
      • Radial Velocity Method:The planet causes the parent star to wobble around in its orbit, and as the planet moves to and fro, it changes the color of the light we see.
      • Transit Method:When an exoplanet passes in front of its star, some of the starlight passes through its atmosphere. Scientists can analyze the colors of this light in order to get valuable clues about its composition.
      • Direct Image Method :The direct image can take pictures of exoplanets by removing the glare of the stars they orbit.
      • Astrometry: The orbit of the planet can cause a star to wobble around in spaces in relation to nearby stars in the sky. This method is quite similar to the Radial Velocity method. However, here scientists take a series of images of a star and some of the other stars that are near it in the sky. In each picture, they compare the distances between these reference stars and the star they’re checking for exoplanets.

Exoplanet

  • An exoplanet or extrasolar planet is a planet outside the Solar System. The first confirmation of detection of exoplanets occurred in 1992.
  • Exoplanets are very hard to see directly with telescopes. They are hidden by the bright glare of the starsthey orbit. So, astronomers use other ways to detect and study exoplanets such as looking at the effects these planets have on the stars they orbit.

 

Ashwagandha can be effective COVID-19 preventive drug, finds research by IIT Delhi and Japan’s AIST

Recently, researchers of IIT-Delhi in collaboration with Japan’s National Institute of Advanced Industrial Science and Technology (AIST) have found that the ayurvedic herb Ashwagandha has “therapeutic and preventive value” against Covid-19 infection.

  • The publication of the coronavirus genome and structure have triggered drug designing, devising and development using informatics and experimental tools across the world.
  • Researchers from IIT-Delhi and AIST have used Ashwagandha and propolis based compoundsto target the main coronavirus’s enzyme, known as the Main protease or Mpro.
    • Mpro plays a key role in mediating viral replication.
    • Enzymesare biological molecules (typically proteins) that regulate the rate of virtually all of the chemical reactions that take place within living organisms. E.g digestion.
    • Replicationis the process by which a DNA molecule is copied to produce two identical DNA molecules.
      • In replication whenever a cell divides, the two new daughter cells contain the same genetic information, or DNA, as the parent cell.
    • The researchers have found that Withanone (Wi-N), a natural compound derived from Ashwagandhaand Caffeic Acid Phenethyl Ester (CAPE), an active ingredient of New Zealand propolis, have the potential to interact with and block the activity of Mpro.
    • Recently, the Indian government has also set up a task force to launch its clinical research studies on some Ayurvedic medicines that can be used to boost the immune system and control coronavirus.
    • The government has also launched the‘AYUSH Sanjivani’ App.
    • The app intends to generate data on usage of AYUSH (Ayurveda, Yoga & Naturopathy, Unani, Siddha, Sowa-rigpa and Homoeopathy)advocacies and measures among the population and its impact in prevention of Covid-19.

Ashwagandha

  • Ashwagandha (scientific name- Withania somnifera) is a medicinal herb.It is reputed as an immunity enhancer.
  • It is classified as an adaptogen,which means that it can help the body to manage stress.
  • Ashwagandha also boosts brain function and lowers blood sugar,and helps fight symptoms of anxiety and depression.
  • Ashwagandha has shown clinical success in treating both acute and chronic rheumatoid arthritis.
    • Rheumatoid arthritis (RA) is an autoimmune diseasethat can cause joint pain and damage throughout your body.
    • An autoimmune disease is a condition in which your immune system mistakenly attacks your body.

Propolis

  • Propolis or bee glue is a resinous mixture(a sticky chemical compound) that honey bees produce by mixing saliva and beeswax with gums gathered from tree buds, sap flows, or other botanical sources.
  • Propolis is used against infections caused by bacteria, viruses, fungus etc.

It is used for boosting the immune system and for treating gastrointestinal problems.

 

Finally China gives in, agrees for probe into Covid-19 origin, WHO response

Recently, India joined 61 countries that have moved a proposal at the World Health Assembly to identify the zoonotic source of the coronavirus.

  • The World Health Assembly is the decision making body of the World Health Organisation (WHO).
  • Zoonoticrefers to diseases that can be passed from animals to humans.
  • The Proposal:
    • It is a part of a seven-page draft resolution moved by 35 countriesand the 27-member European Union.
    • It asks the WHO chief to work with the World Organisation for Animal Healthto conduct scientific and collaborative field missions and the route of introduction to the human population (novel coronavirus), including the possible role of intermediate hosts.
    • The countries also demanded an “impartial, independent and comprehensive evaluation”of the World Health Organization’s (WHO) response to Covid-19.
      • Earlier, the WHO was slammed for accepting the findings given by China on face-value. The US has even suspended funding to the body.
    • Signatories of the Proposal:
      • The resolution is supported by three of the five permanent members of the UN Security Council— UK, Russia and France — along with Japan, Australia, South Korea, New Zealand, South Africa and Turkey.
      • From the South Asian Association for Regional Cooperation (SAARC)nations, only India, Bangladesh and Bhutan have signed up.
    • India’s stand:
      • This is the first time Indiahas taken a position in an international forum on the origin of the virus and the need for an independent evaluation of WHO’s response to the crisis.
      • Earlier, India had maintained that it is engaged in the fight against Covid-19, and will revisit the issue after the crisis is over.
        • But Prime Minister Modi did indicate India;s stand at the G20 summit in March where he backed WHO reform and referred to the need for transparency and accountability.
      • The virus has cost loss of livelihoods, poverty increase and economic crisis in each sector of India.
    • Role of China and its Response:
      • The virus is widely believed to have originated from China’s Wuhan, where the first case of Covid-19 was reported.
      • China isaccused of concealing crucial information in relation to its spread and clinical diagnosis.
      • China had stated in its defence that it may support a review “at an appropriate time”,but criticised the politicisation of the virus’s origin by the US and some other countries, and an inquiry “based on the presumption of guilt”.
        • It said that Wuhan city has first reported Covid-19 cases, but that does not mean the virus originated in Wuhan.

 

Nirmala Sitharaman’s 5th tranche covers MNREGA to health and education and more

Recently, the Union Finance Minister announced the measures for providing employment and support to businesses, state governments as well sectors such as education and health as part of the fifth and final tranche of Atmanirbhar Bharat Abhiyan.

  • The announced measures also form a part of the Rs. 20 lakh crore economic stimulus package to deal with theCovid-19 pandemic.
  • Earlier, theEconomic Stimulus-I, the Economic Stimulus-II, the Economic Stimulus-III and the Economic Stimulus-IV were announced.
  • Increase in Allocation for MGNREGA
    • The Government will allocate anadditional Rs.40,000 crore under Mahatma Gandhi National Rural Employment Guarantee Act2005 (MGNREGA).
    • It will help generate nearly 300 crore person daysin total, addressing the need for more work by the migrants who are returning to their hometowns due to the pandemic and lockdown.
    • Creationof a larger number of durable and livelihood assets including water conservation assets which will boost the rural economy through higher production.
  • Health Reforms and Initiatives
    • Public expenditureon health will be increased by investing in grass root health institutions and ramping up health and wellness centres in rural and urban areas.
    • Preparing India for future pandemics:
      • Setting up ofInfectious Diseases Hospital Blocks in all districts.
      • Strengthening of lab networks and surveillance (Integrated Public Health Labsin all districts and blocks)
      • The National Institutional Platform for One Healthby Indian Council of Medical Research (ICMR) will encourage research.
      • Implementation of National Digital Health Blueprintunder the National Digital Health Mission (NDHM).
        • NDHM was recommended to be established as a purely government organization with complete functional autonomy on the lines of Unique Identification Authority of India(UIDAI) and Goods and Services Network GSTN.
      • Technology Driven Education with Equity
        • Government will launch PM eVIDYA,a programme for multi-mode access to digital/online education with immediate effect. It consists of:
          • DIKSHAfor school education in States/UTs: e-content and QR coded Energized Textbooks for all grades (one nation, one digital platform)
          • One earmarked TV channel per class from 1 to 12 (One class, One channel)
          • Extensive use of Radio,Community radio and Podcasts.
          • Special e-content for visually and hearing impaired.
          • Top 100 universitieswill be permitted to automatically start online courses by 30th May, 2020.
        • Manodarpan,an initiative for psycho-social support for students, teachers and families for mental health and emotional well-being will be launched.
        • New National Curriculum and Pedagogical frameworkfor school, early childhood and teachers will be launched.
        • National Foundational Literacy and Numeracy Missionfor ensuring that every child attains learning levels and outcomes in grade 5 by 2025 will be launched by December 2020.
      • Measures Related to IBC
        • Minimum thresholdto initiate insolvency proceedings has been raised to Rs.1 crore (from Rs.1 lakh, which largely insulates Micro, Small and Medium Enterprises-MSMEs).
        • Special insolvency resolution frameworkfor MSMEs under Section 240A of the Insolvency and Bankruptcy Code (IBC) will be notified.
        • Suspension of fresh initiation of insolvency proceedings up to one year, depending upon the
        • Empowering the Central Government to exclude Covid-19 related debtfrom the definition of “default” under the IBC for the purpose of triggering insolvency proceedings.
      • Measures Related to the Companies Act
        • Decriminalisation of Companies Act, 2013violations involving minor technical and procedural defaults (shortcomings in Corporate Social Responsibility (CSR) reporting, inadequacies in Board report, filing defaults, etc).
        • Majority of the compoundable offences sections to be shifted toInternal Adjudication Mechanism (IAM).
        • The amendments willde-clog the criminal courts and National Company Law Tribunal (NCLT).
      • Ease of Doing Business for Corporates
        • Key reforms include:
          • Direct listing of securities by Indian public companies in permissible foreign jurisdictions.
          • Private companies which list Non-Convertible Debentures(NCDs) on stock exchanges not to be regarded as listed companies.
          • Including the provisions ofPart IXA (Producer Companies) of Companies Act, 1956 in Companies Act, 2013.
          • Power to create additional/specialized benches for National Company Law Appellate Tribunal(NCLAT).
          • Lower penalties for all defaultsfor Small Companies, One-person Companies, Producer Companies and StartUps.
        • Public Sector Enterprise Policy for a New, Self-reliant India
          • Government will announce a new policy whereby:
            • List of strategic sectors requiring the presence of Public Sector Enterprises(PSEs) in public interest will be notified.
            • In strategic sectors, at least one enterprise will remain in the public sectorbut private sector will also be
            • In other sectors,PSEs will be privatized (timing to be based on feasibility etc.).
          • Support to State Governments
            • The Centre has decided toincrease borrowing limits of States from 3% to 5% for 2020-21 only which will give States extra resources of Rs.4.28 lakh crore.
            • Part of the borrowing will be linked to specific reforms(including recommendations of the Finance Commission).
            • Reform linkage will be in four areas:
              • Universalisation of ‘One Nation One Ration card’.
              • Ease of Doing Business.
              • Power distribution.
              • Urban Local Body revenues.
            • States can borrow morein the following pattern, notified by the Department of Expenditure:
              • The first 0.5% will be an unconditional increase.
              • Next 1% in 4 tranches of 0.25%, with each tranche linked to clearly specified, measurable and feasible reform actions.
              • The last 0.50% if milestones are achieved in at least three out of four reform areas.

Analysis

  • On Increase in Allocation for MGNREGA
    • The step toallocate more resources to MGNREGA was widely welcomed as it will support rural livelihoods in the time of crisis.
    • However, given that States account for 40% of MGNREGA expenditure,including most upfront costs, they will also have to spend on the scheme.
    • Demand for work under MGNREGA had surged to anine-year high in 2019-20 as 5.47 crore households availed of the scheme, the highest since 2010-11.
  • On Support to State Governments
    • Theexpansion of the fiscal deficit has been welcomed by the states because GSDPs (Gross State Domestic Product) are likely to contract and further shrink the possible borrowing at a time when States are at the frontline of containment and relief operations.
    • However, the conditions on additional loans have been criticisedon the grounds that in future, severe conditions may be imposed on even normal loans.
    • The utilisation of additional 2%borrowing by states can be lower because states may settle on borrowing less to avoid undertaking politically difficult reforms.
    • A likely increase in borrowing cost due to theemerging gap between total Public Sector Borrowing Requirement (PSBR) and available resources will also lead to states not opting for the increased borrowing.
  • On Public Sector Enterprise Policy
    • It was criticised on the grounds that privatising PSUs would find fewer buyers at a time of global recession,while any potential buyer would be spending money which could have gone into fresh investment on a financial transfer instead, effectively contracting demand.

 

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