Daily Current Affairs | 30th June 2020

Deal inked for first India-Bhutan joint venture hydroelectric project

India and Bhutan on 29 June 2020 signed a pact for the construction of the 600 MW Kholongchhu joint venture hydroelectric project in Bhutan that is to be completed in five years. The agreement for the project between the Bhutanese government and the Kholongchhu Hydro Energy Limited was signed in the presence of Indian foreign minister S Jaishankar and his Bhutanese counterpart Tandi Dorji. The two ministers joined the event via video link.

  • The Kholongchhu Hydro Energy Limited is a joint venture between Bhutan’s Druk Green Power Corporation (DGPC) and India’s Satluj Jal Vidyut Nigam Limited (SJVNL).
  • The signing of the concession agreement will lead to commencement of construction and other works of this first Joint Venture Hydroelectric Project between India and Bhutan. The project is expected to be completed in the second half of 2025.
  • The 600 MW run-of-the-river project is located on the lower course of the Kholongchhu River in Trashiyangtse district in eastern Bhutan
  • The project includes an underground powerhouse of four 150 MW turbines with water impounded by a concrete gravity dam of 95 metres height.
  • Both Jaishankar and his Bhutanese counterpart talked of the importance of hydropower development within the India-Bhutan sphere of cooperation describing it as “mutually beneficial.”
  • Last year, Prime Minister Narendra Modi, during a visit to Bhutan, had inaugurated the 720 MW Mangdechhu hydroelectric project in the presence of his Bhutanese counterpart.
  • With this, four hydroelectric projects of bilateral cooperation (336 MW Chukha Hydro electric project, the 60 MW Kurichhu Hydro Electric project, the 1,020 MW Tala Hydro Electric Project and the 720 MW Mangdechhu Hydro Electric Project) totalling over 2,100 MW, are operational in Bhutan.

 

Asia’s first-ever Continuous Galvanized Rebar manufacturing facility launched in Punjab

International Zinc Association (IZA), in collaboration with Madhav KRG Group launched Asia’s first-ever Continuous Galvanized Rebar (CGR) manufacturing facility in Punjab on 29 June 2020. The project will be supported by Hindustan Zinc Limited. The new plant was virtually inaugurated near Gobindgarh, Punjab by Dharmendra Pradhan, Union Minister of Steel, Petroleum & Natural Gas, along with Sunil Duggal, Group CEO-Vedanta Limited and Andrew Green – Executive Director, International Zinc Association, Global and other representatives.

  • The first-of-its-kind facility will produce a new product, Continuously Galvanized Rebar (CGR)
  • CGRs are value added rebars for higher life and low maintenance of infrastructure to provide significant cost savings compared to other corrosion resistant rebar systems.
  • With an annual capacity of over 30,000 tonne, the plant will manufacture ZnCoat TempCore TMT bars under the brand name, ‘Jyoti‘. 
  • This will be the first brand in Asia to apply CGR technology that will increase life span of these rebars thereby reducing the overall maintenance cost.
  • In the last ten years, Indian zinc demand has grown at a compounded annual growth rate (CAGR) of 4-5%. However, usage of galvanized rebars and especially CGRs has been limited despite the fact that it bonds in par with concrete than uncoated rebar, thereby doubling the life of big concrete structures. 
  • Galvanized steel and rebars are environment friendly and cost effective and possess properties that enhances life of any structure with minimum maintenance. 
  • The commissioning of the new CGR facility will further increase the usage of zinc in steel industry and will support the much awaited need of supplying galvanized rebar in the construction industry. 
  • Galvanizing has been used for more than 100 years to protect structures exposed to different environmental conditions from corrosion. 
  • Realizing the importance of this technique, Prime Minister Narendra Modi had outlined a plan to spend about USD 1.5 trillion earlier this year, to upgrade and build infrastructure over the next five years to shore up economic growth, boosting the outlook for zinc, use of galvanized steel to prevent corrosion.
  • Over 1,000 delegates (India and International) including ministry officials, opinion leaders, zinc producers, galvanizers, end users of galvanized products, industry executives from Railways, highway authorities, NHSRPL and design consultants attended the launch event.

 

‘Need to be close to our friends’: India holds naval exercise with Japan amid stand-off with China

Amid the ongoing Sino-Indian standoff in Ladakh, the Indian Navy and Japanese Maritime Self Defence Forces (JMSDF) conducted a joint training exercise in the Indian Ocean. The exercise that concluded on 27 June 2020 was held in the backdrop of Japan defence minister Taro Kono expressing concern over not only China’s defence capabilities but also its intention in the Indo-Pacific regionThis was the first such statement from Japan following Beijing’s aggressive posturing in parts of Asia over the past few months.  

  • Coinciding with the Indo-Japan defence exercise, the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN) put out a statement that the South China Sea dispute should be resolved in line with international law, stressing on “the importance of non-militarisation and self-restraint”.
  • Indo-Japanese initiative as a goodwill training exercise to promote mutual understanding and trust with the Indian Navy, the timing of the exercise is significant. 
  • The content of this exercise is tactical training and communication training with no specific scenario. 
  • It was the 15th such training exercise between JMSDF and Indian Navy during the past three years following efforts by Delhi and Tokyo to widen defence partnership.
  • The exercise consisted of four warships, two from each country, and the effort was aimed at signalling amid Beijing’s belligerence, noted the person quoted above. 
  • The Indian Navy’s training vessels — INS Rana and INS Kulush — were joined by the Japanese Navy’s JS Kashima and JS Shimayuki
  • Since 2000, the JMSDF is the world’s fourth largest navy by total tonnage and has been steadily expanding its fleet over the past few years amid China’s territorial claims in the Japanese waters.

 

Scientists identify drugs that may block coronavirus from jumping to uninfected cells

Researchers have shown that the novel coronavirus hijacks proteins in its target cells, potentially causing them to form long, arm-like extensions to reach nearby cells and advance the infection, a finding that has led to the identification of clinically approved drugs that may disrupt the process. The scientists, including those from EMBL’s European Bioinformatics Institute (EMBL-EBI), and the University of California San Francisco (UCSF) in the US, noted that viruses, including the novel coronavirus SARS-CoV-2, take control of the machinery of host cells and manipulate it to produce new viral particles.   

  • They said sometimes this hijacking interferes with the activity of the host’s proteins and other important molecules such as enzymes, which change protein activity by making chemical modifications to its structure.
  • In the study, published in the journal Cell, the scientists analysed all host and viral proteins that showed changes in an enzymatic process called phosphorylation after SARS-CoV-2 infection.
  • They explained that in phosphorylation there is an addition of a ‘phosphoryl group’ to a protein by a type of enzyme called a kinase, which plays a key role in the regulation of many cell processes, including cell-to-cell communication, cell growth, and cell death.
  • According to the researchers, by altering phosphorylation patterns in the host’s proteins, a virus can potentially promote its own transmission to other cells and, eventually, other hosts. They found that 12 per cent of the host proteins that interact with the virus were modified.
  • The scientists also identified the kinases that are most likely to regulate these modifications, and suggested that these enzymes are potential targets for drugs to stop the activity of the virus and treat COVID-19.
  • The virus prevents human cells from dividing, maintaining them at a particular point in the cell cycle. This provides the virus with a relatively stable and adequate environment to keep replicating.
  • One of the key findings from the study, according to the scientists, is that SARS-CoV-2 infected cells exhibit long, branched, arm-like extensions, or filopodia, which may help the virus reach nearby cells in the body and advance the infection. However, the researchers said, further study is needed to validate these findings.
  • The distinct visualisation of the extensive branching of the filopodia once again elucidates how understanding the biology of virus-host interaction can illuminate possible points of intervention in the disease.
  • In the study, the researchers also identified dozens of drugs approved by the US Food and Drug Administration (FDA) that target the kinases of interest.

 

India’s Capital to Create Plasma Bank for COVID-19 Treatment

Delhi chief minister Arvind Kejriwal on 29 June2020 stated that a ‘plasma bank‘ will be established in the national capital to help treat COVID-19 patients. The ‘plasma bank‘ will be set-up at the Institute of Liver and Biliary Sciences in Delhi. Anyone who needs plasma will need a recommendation from a doctor. People can take plasma from relatives and known people.   

Plasma therapy

  • Plasma (the yellowish liquid component of blood) from a recovered Covid-19 patient contains antibodies that may help fight the disease when infused into the bodies of another person suffering from Covid-19. These antibodies are capable of fighting the virus that causes the illness and also helps in faster recovery.
  • Because it takes a few weeks for antibodies to form, the hope is that transfusing someone else’s antibodies could help patients fight the virus before their immune system kicks in.

Is it a new treatment?

  • Plasma therapy is a century-old remedy that was used to fight infection before modern medicine came along. 
  • In 1918, during the outbreak of flu pandemic, plasma therapy was used on patients and the then reports had suggested: “patients are less likely to die“.
  • Thousands of coronavirus patients have been treated with plasma therapy across the world.
  • In the US, Mayo Clinic is working in collaboration with industry, academic and government partners for the ‘Expanded Access Program‘. 
  • The program has so far attended over 38,000 patients.

Platina  

  • Maharashtra chief minister Uddhav Thackeray on 29 June 2020 launched convalescent plasma therapy-cum- trial project for treatment of critical Covid-19 patients with a state medical education department official calling it the largest initiative of its kind in the world
  • Convalescent plasma therapy, also called passive antibody therapy, seeks to obtain plasma from the blood of people who have recovered from the infection to inject into patients undergoing treatment.
  • The project, titled ‘Platina‘, is the largest convalescent plasma therapy-cum-trial project in the world
  • The trial will be held in 17 medical colleges under the department of medical education and drugs, and four BMC- run colleges in Mumbai.
  • All critical patients will receive two doses of 200 ml convalescent plasma free of cost.

 

Air defence missile systems in Eastern Ladakh sector

Amid heightened Chinese fighter aircraft and helicopter activities along the Line of Actual Control (LAC), the Indian armed forces have deployed their advanced very quick-reaction surface-to-air missile defence systems in the Eastern Ladakh sector. As part of the ongoing build-up in the sector, the air defence systems of both Indian Army and the Indian Air Force have been deployed in the sector to prevent any misadventure by the Chinese Air Force fighter jets or the People’s Liberation Army choppers there, government told.

  • In the last couple of weeks, the Chinese forces have brought in heavy air superiority aircraft like the Sukhoi-30 and its strategic bombers to the rear locations which have been detected flying near the Indian territory maintaining the 10 km plus distance from the boundary.
  • India is also very shortly getting a highly capable air defence system from a friendly country which can be deployed and the entire area can be taken care off to prevent any enemy flying there.
  • The Chinese choppers have been flying their very close to the Indian LAC in all the troubled sectors including the Sub Sector North (Daulat Beg Oldie sector), Galwan valley near Patrolling Point 14, Patrolling Point 15, Patrolling Point 17 and 17A (Hot Springs area) along with the Pangong Tso and Finger area where they are now moving closer to the Finger 3 area.
  • The Indian quick reaction air defence missile includes the Akash missile which can take down very fast-moving combat aircraft and drones in few seconds and many modifications and upgrades have already been done in it to make it suitable for deployment in the high mountainous terrain.
  • The fighter aircrafts of the Indian Air Force have also been very active in the Eastern Ladakh area as they are coming into the troubled theatre fully loaded after taking off from the nearby air bases in the plains in a few minutes.
  • The surveillance gaps have also been plugged and no enemy aircraft would be able to go undetected from the eyes of defence forces.
  • Chinese started transgressing into Indian territory into the May first week, the Indian Air Force had sent its Su-30MKIs to Eastern Ladakh after they were found close to entering the Indian air space there. 
  • The Chinese choppers have been coming frequently up to their claim lines in the Ladakh sector including a construction site close to the Galwan valley there. 

Galwan Valley

  1. The valley refers to the land that sits between steep mountains that buffet the Galwan River.
  2. The river has its source in Aksai Chin, on China’s side of the LAC, and it flows from the east to Ladakhwhere it meets the Shyok river on India’s side of the LAC.
  3. The valley is strategically located between Ladakh in the west and Aksai Chin in the east, which is currently controlled by China as part of its Xinjiang Uyghur Autonomous Region.
  4. At its western end are the Shyok river and the Darbuk-Shyok-Daulet Beg Oldie (DSDBO) road.
  5. Its eastern mouth lies not far from China’s vital Xinjiang Tibet road, now called the G219 highway.

 

India among top 3 nations getting Swiss info

India figures among the top-three countries getting detailed information from Switzerland about bank accounts and beneficiary ownership of entities established by their residents in the Alpine nation, according to the latest study by OECD’s Global Forum on transparency and exchange of information for tax purposes. In its latest peer review report on exchange of information on request, the Global Forum, which is tasked to assess the standard of exchange of information on request by various jurisdictions worldwide and their compliance, said Switzerland is rated ‘largely compliant‘.

  • India is also rated as ‘largely compliant‘ by this OECD (Organisation for Economic Cooperation and Development) body.
  • The Global Forum review said Switzerland has made “significant improvements in the areas of availability of legal ownership informationexchange of information on deceased persons and requests based on stolen data”.
  • It, however, said some challenges remain with regard to availability of beneficial ownership information and proper implementation of rights and safeguards to ensure effective exchange of information and confidentiality requirements.
  • While the issue of alleged black money parked by Indians in Swiss banks has been a political hot potato in India for many years, Switzerland has been trying hard for a long time now to ward off a widely-prevailing perception about its financial institutions being used to hide undeclared wealth by people from various countries.
  • Under mounting global pressure, the famed secrecy walls surrounding Swiss banks have already crumbled over the last few years and Switzerland has been making an all-out effort to present itself as a clean global financial centre while dispelling the long-held perception of its banks being secret wealth vaults.
  • With regard to India itself, Switzerland has shared detailed information in more than 500 cases over the past one year regarding the accounts in Swiss financial institutions of Indian individuals and enterprises suspected to have indulged in tax frauds and other financial irregularities, while the numbers increase multi-fold after taking into account such cases from across the world.
  • In addition to such exchange of information on request and on submission of prima facie evidence about financial wrongdoings, Switzerland has entered into pacts with more than 100 countries, including India, for automatic exchange of information on tax matters.
  • The latest peer review by the Global Forum, referring to the period from July 2015 to June 2018, named India among the top-three jurisdictions to which Switzerland provided information on request. The other two countries were France and Germany.
  • The review also named Italy, Netherlands and Spain among other significant EOI (Exchange of Information) partners for Switzerland.
  • Without disclosing the numbers for individual countries, the Global Forum review report said Switzerland received 3,252 individual requests for information.
  • These requests related to legal ownership information (128 cases)beneficial ownership information (100 cases)accounting information (318 cases), and banking information (1,748 cases).
  • In addition, Switzerland received eight group requests and 16 bulk requests with a total of 99,893 cases.
  • Overall, Switzerland received around 100,000 requests from various foreign tax authorities between 2015 and 2018.

Global Forum

  • The Global Forum noted that Switzerland has increased its staff resources and optimised its procedures in order to deal with the growing number of requests.
  • In the Global Forum’s view, there is a need for improvement regarding the availability of information on beneficial owners, the rights of individuals and legal entities that are the subject of administrative assistance requests (notification and right of appeal), and confidentiality requirements.
  • While Switzerland provided a full response within 90 days in case of more than one-fifth of the requests, almost half of the requests were replied to fully within 180 days. In case of 70 per cent requests, full response was provided within a year, while 16 per cent requests took more than a year for a complete reply.
  • Information was declined with ‘valid reasons‘ in case of nearly 7 per cent requests, while requests were withdrawn by the requesting jurisdiction in 3 per cent cases. Another 3 per cent requests were pending at the date of the review, the Global Forum report said.
  • The Global Forum uses peer reviews to assess the application of the international standard on the exchange of information upon request (administrative assistance) in individual states.

Criterion

  • The second round for Switzerland began at the end of 2018 and, as with all Global Forum members, involved stricter evaluation criteria, such as the quality of administrative assistance requests, group requests and the identification of beneficial owners.
  • While Switzerland has been sharing details with India under the ‘exchange of information on request‘ for many years, the first set of data under the new automatic information exchange framework was shared by it in September 2019 and the second round would take place in September this year.
  • Under the exchange of information on request, important details have been shared in hundreds of cases so far, helping India launch prosecution against a large number of alleged tax evaders.
  • These details pertain to a large cross-section of people and enterprises ranging from the erstwhile royal family members to real estate tycoons to little-known software companies suspected to have links with large corporates.
  • A number of trusts set up in overseas tax havens using a complex maze of entities have come under the scanner of Indian and Swiss authorities for suspected tax evasion by parking of illicit funds in Switzerland-based banks and their details have also been shared.

Flashback

  • The Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD) is an intergovernmental economic organisation with 37 member countries founded in 1961 to stimulate economic progress and world trade. 
  • It is a forum of countries describing themselves as committed to democracy and the market economy, providing a platform to compare policy experiences, seek answers to common problems, identify good practices and coordinate domestic and international policies of its members. 
  • The new global standard on Automatic Exchange of Information (AEOI) reduces the possibility for tax evasion. 
  • It provides for the exchange of non-resident financial account information with the tax authorities in the account holders’ country of residence. 
  • Participating jurisdictions that implement AEOI send and receive pre-agreed information each year, without having to send a specific request.
  • The OECD and G20 developed the Standard with the input of other jurisdictions and in consultation with the financial industry. 

 

Borrowing limit under MSF enhanced

Amid the ongoing economic woes created by the coronavirus pandemic, the Reserve Bank has decided to extend the enhanced borrowing facility provided to the banks to meet their liquidity shortages till September 30. The RBI, as a temporary measure, had increased the borrowing limit of scheduled banks under the marginal standing facility (MSF) scheme from 2 per cent to 3 percent of their Net Demand and Time Liabilities (NDTL) with effect from March 27, 2020.

  • Under the MSF, banks can borrow overnight funds at their discretion by dipping into the Statutory Liquidity Ratio (SLR). This relaxation, which was granted till June 30, 2020, has now been extended till September 30.
  • On a review, it has now been decided to extend this enhanced limit till September 30, 2020, the Reserve Bank of India (RBI) said in a circular.
  • Banks may continue to access overnight funds under the MSF against their excess SLR holding. The marginal standing facility rate currently stands at 4.25 per cent.
  • The RBI has also extended the relaxation on the minimum daily maintenance of the Cash Reserve Ratio (CRR) at 80 per cent for a further period of three months till September 25, 2020.
  • On March 27, the minimum daily maintenance of the CRR was reduced from 90 per cent of the prescribed CRR to 80 per cent till June 26, 2020. 
  • This was done in view of the continuing of hardships faced by banks in terms of social distancing of staff and consequent strains on reporting requirements.

Flashback

  • Marginal standing facility (MSF) is a window for banks to borrow from the Reserve Bank of India in an emergency situation when inter-bank liquidity dries up completely.
  • Banks borrow from the central bank by pledging government securities at a rate higher than the repo rate under liquidity adjustment facility or LAF in short. 
  • The MSF rate is pegged 100 basis points or a percentage point above the repo rate. 
  • Under MSF, banks can borrow funds up to one percent of their net demand and time liabilities (NDTL).

 

Agree on Blue Nile dam deal

Egypt, Ethiopia and Sudan will agree a deal to fill the giant Blue Nile dam in two to three weeks, following mediation by the African Union to broker a deal to end a decade-long dispute over water supplies. Tortuous negotiations over the years have left the two nations and their neighbour Sudan short of an agreement to regulate how Ethiopia will operate the dam and fill its reservoir, while protecting Egypt’s scarce water supplies from the Nile River.

  • Ethiopia’s water minister, Seleshi Bekele, said that consensus had been reached to finalise a deal within two to three weeks, a day after leaders from the three countries and South African President Cyril Ramaphosa, who chairs the African Union, held an online summit.
  • The Grand Ethiopian Renaissance Dam (GERD) is being built about 15 km (nine miles) from the border with Sudan on the Blue Nile, the source of most of the Nile’s waters.
  • Ethiopia says the $4 billion hydropower project, which will have an installed capacity of 6,450 megawatts, is essential to its economic development.
  • Ethiopia’s Prime Minister’s Office said that the three countries agreed that the Nile and the Grand Renaissance Dam “are African issues that must be given African solutions.”
  • The deal to delay the filling, brokered by the African Union, ends months of stalled negotiations and signals the intention to solve the issue without foreign intervention.
  • Ethiopia’s statement said the African Union, and not the UN Security Council, will assist the countries in the negotiations and provide technical support.
  • Cairo had appealed to the Council in a last-ditch diplomatic move aimed at stopping Ethiopia from filling the dam. The Council was expected to hold a public meeting on 29 June 2020 to discuss the issue.

  • The Grand Ethiopian Renaissance Dam (GERD), formerly known as the Millennium Dam, is under construction in the Benishangul-Gumuz region of Ethiopia, on the Blue Nile River.
  • It is located about 40km east of Sudan. The project is owned by Ethiopian Electric Power Corporation (EEPCO).
  • The site of the dam was identified when the US Bureau of Reclamation first made a survey of the Blue Nile river between 1956 to 1964.
  • The planning phase of the project was carried out under a name called Project X, which was later changed to Millennium Dam and finally to its present name.
  • As of October 2019, the work stood at approximately 70% completion.

 

Banking Regulation Ordinance 2020 promulgated

President Ram Nath Kovind has promulgated the Banking Regulation (Amendment) Ordinance, 2020 to bring all urban cooperative banks and multi-state cooperative banks under the supervision of the RBI in order to protect the interest of depositors. The Ordinance amends the Banking Regulation Act, 1949 as applicable to cooperative banks, an official statement said on 27 June 2020. 

  • The Ordinance seeks to protect the interests of depositors and strengthen cooperative banks by improving governance and oversight by extending powers already available with RBI in respect of other banks to Co-operative Banks as well for sound banking regulation, and by ensuring professionalism and enabling their access to capital.
  • The amendments do not affect existing powers of the State Registrars of Co-operative Societies under state co-operative laws.
  • The amendments also do not apply to Primary Agricultural Credit Societies (PACS) or co-operative societies whose primary object and principal business is long-term finance for agricultural development, and which do not use the words “bank”, “banker” or “banking” and do not act as drawees of cheques.
  • The Ordinance also amends Section 45 of the Banking Regulation Act, to enable making of a scheme of reconstruction or amalgamation of a banking company for protecting the interest of the public, depositors and the banking system and for securing its proper management, even without making an order of moratorium, so as to avoid disruption of the financial system.
  • There are 1,482 urban cooperative banks and 58 multi-state cooperative banks having about 8.6 crore depositors with a total savings deposit of about Rs 4.85 lakh crore.
  • The decision assumes significance in the wake of scams in cooperative banks, including the Punjab and Maharashtra Cooperative (PMC) Bank, affecting lakhs of customers who are facing difficulty in withdrawing their money due to restrictions imposed by the Reserve Bank of India (RBI).
  • The RBI had placed regulatory curbs on PMC Bank on September 23, 2019, after finding out certain financial irregularities and misreporting of loans given to real estate developer HDIL.
  • Earlier this month, the RBI had put restrictions on withdrawals from People’s Co-operative Bank, Kanpur, Uttar Pradesh.
  • Finance Minister Nirmala Sitharaman had introduced ‘The Banking Regulation (Amendment) Bill, 2020’ in the Lok Sabha on March 3, 2020, which is pending approval. 
  • The proposed law sought to enforce banking regulation guidelines of the RBI on cooperative banks.
  • In her February 1 Budget speech, Sitharaman had proposed amendments to the Banking Regulation Act with an aim to increasing professionalism and improving governance among the cooperative banks.
  • Co-operative banks are financial entities established on a co-operative basis and belonging to their members
  • This means that the customers of a co-operative bank are also its owners. These banks provide a wide range of regular banking and financial services. However, there are some points where they differ from other banks.
  • Broadly, co-operative banks in India are divided into two categories – urban and ruralRural cooperative credit institutions could either be short-term or long-term in nature
  • Further, short-term cooperative credit institutions are further sub-divided into State Co-operative BanksDistrict Central Co-operative BanksPrimary Agricultural Credit Societies.
  • Meanwhile, the long-term institutions are either State Cooperative Agriculture and Rural Development Banks (SCARDBs) or Primary Cooperative Agriculture and Rural Development Banks (PCARDBs).
  • On the other hand, Urban Co-operative Banks (UBBs) are either scheduled or non-scheduled. Scheduled and non-scheduled UCBs are again of two kinds- multi-state and those operating in a single state.

  • In India, co-operative banks are registered under the States Cooperative Societies Act. They also come under the regulatory ambit of the Reserve Bank of India (RBI) under two laws, namely, the Banking Regulations Act, 1949, and the Banking Laws (Co-operative Societies) Act, 1955.
  • They were brought under the RBI’s watch in 1966, a move which brought the problem of dual regulation along with it.
  • The problem of rural credit was the key reason behind the advent of the co-operative movement in India, which began with the passage of the Co-operative Societies Act in 1904.
  • The next addition was the Co-operative Societies Act, 1912, which focussed on the need for regulation of such societies and hence the establishment of appropriate bodies to oversee their functioning.

 

Ozone levels have increased in Indian cities

new analysis of summer air quality trends during the national lockdown that started on March 25, 2020, reveals a mixed trend. While the PM2.5 and NO2 curves fell and flattened dramatically in cities – a phenomenon that hogged the national attention — tropospheric ozone pollution increased and even breached standards in several cities, according to a study conducted by Centre for Science and Environment (CSE). The study has emerged from a new analysis of 22 mega and metropolitan cities in India.  

  • CSE researchers point out that ozone is primarily a sunny weather problem in India that otherwise remains highly variable during the year. 
  • It is a highly reactive gas; even short-term exposure (one hour) is dangerous for those with respiratory conditions and asthma. That is why ozone has a short-term standard – one hour and eight hours, as opposed to 24 hours for other pollutants.
  • Ozone is not directly emitted by any source but is formed by photochemical reactions between oxides of nitrogen (NOx) and other volatile organic compounds (VOCs) and gases in the air under the influence of sunlight and heat. Ozone can be controlled only if gases from all sources are controlled.
  • This pandemic-led change in air quality has helped us understand summer pollution. Normally, every year, winter pollution is what draws our attention
  • The characteristics of summer pollution are different: there are high windsintermittent rains and thunderstorms, and high temperature and heat waves
  • This is in contrast to winter — with its inversion, lower mixing height of air, and cold and calm conditions that trap the air and the pollutants in it, said Anumita Roychowdhury, executive director-research and advocacy, CSE.
  • Studies from the Indian Institute of Technology- Kanpur in 2015 and a joint study by The Energy Research Institute (TERI) and the Automotive Research Association of India (ARAI) in Delhi in 2018 have shown that during summer, Delhi experiences relatively higher contribution of dust compared to winter; also, the share of secondary particles that form from the gases in the atmosphere, is comparatively lower.
  • This pandemic has shown that big reduction is possible only if all regions clean up together and at a scale and with speed across all critical sectors including vehicles, industry, power plants, waste, construction, use of solid fuels for cooking and episodic burning. 
  • There is a need for an agenda for a ‘blue sky and clear lungs’ for the post-pandemic period to sustain the gains. This action must also ensure the co-benefit of reducing both particulate and gaseous emissions, including ozone.

How CSE analysed

  • CSE has analysed trends in PM2.5, PM10, NO2, and ozone in 22 cities across 15 states and the National Capital Territory of Delhi for the period January 1, 2019 to May 31, 2020. This also includes spatial trend analysis of ozone in selected cities.
  • The most granular data (15-minute averages) has been sourced from the Central Pollution Control Board’s (CPCB) official online portal,the Central Control Room for Air Quality Management – All India. 
  • This has analysed over 23 million data points recorded by 116 air quality monitoring stations or about 50 per cent of the existing network under the Continuous Ambient Air Quality Monitoring System (CAAQMS) of the CPCB.
  • All cities with three or more CAAQMS stations are included in this analysis; more have been chosen to ensure geographical and demographical representation. However, this study does not include modelling to isolate the impacts of lockdown or any other impacts.

Cities Covered by CSE

  • The cities covered by the CSE analysis: Delhi-NCR (including Faridabad, Ghaziabad, Gurugram and Noida), KolkataChennaiMumbaiAhmedabadUjjainBengaluruHyderabadJaipurJodhpurPatnaVishakapatnamAmritsarHowrahPuneGuwahatiLucknow and Kochi.
  • Ozone is a problem during spring and summer in the north, central and the arid parts of western India. It can even increase during warmer winters in the southern and coastal cities.
  • Even when PM2.5 and NO2 levels plummeted to the lowest in most cities during the lockdown and caught public attention, invisible ozone raised its ugly head on several days and in several cities. 
  • For analysis of ozone trends, CSE has adopted the global best practice of considering the maximum rolling eight-hour average during 24 hours, as opposed to the fixed time slot of 8AM to 4PM daily that the CPCB has adopted. 
  • The CPCB’s method fails to capture the worst part of the day that poses a higher health risk — most of the time, ozone peaks after 4pm.
  • If the maximum eight-hour average during 24 hours is considered (as the US Environment Protection Agency does to capture the health risks), then more than two-thirds of the lockdown days in Delhi-NCR cities and Ahmedabad had at least one station that exceeded the standard. 
  • In Ahmedabad, the city-wide maximum eight-hour average exceeded the standard of 43 days; in Ujjain, it exceeded 38 days.
  • The city-wide maximum average in Gurugram exceeded the standard on 26 days — at least one station exceeded the standard on 57 days. 
  • The city-wide eight-hour maximum average in Ghaziabad exceeded the standard on 15 days, with at least one station exceeding on 56 days. 
  • In Noida, the city-wide maximum average exceeded the standard on 12 days; at least one station exceeded on 42 days. In Delhi, the maximum eight-hour average exceeded the standard on four days, and at least one station exceeded the standard on 67 days.
  • In Kolkata, the city-wide average exceeded on eight days; at least in one station exceeded 17 days. Chennai and Mumbai did not register a single day of excess at the city-wide level, but at least one station in both exceeded the standard on 61 days and five days, respectively.

 

Immune cells involved against Covid-19 identified

Patients suffering from severe respiratory symptoms due to the novel coronavirus infection can rapidly generate an immune response in the form of virus-attacking T cells, suggests a new study which may lead to new vaccine development strategies against COVID-19. The study, published in the journal Science Immunology, assessed T cells from 10 COVID-19 patients under intensive care treatment. According to the researchers, including those from the University of California in the US, two out of 10 healthy individuals without prior exposure to the virus also harbored SARS-CoV-2-reactive T cells

  • Based on this observation, they said these T cells may be cross-reacting to the novel coronavirus, SARS-CoV-2, due to past infection with related coronaviruses that cause common cold symptoms.
  • The findings, according to the researchers, address the poorly understood question of whether SARS-CoV-2-specific T cell responses vary in patients over time depending on disease severity.
  • They said the study may help understand whether patients with more severe symptoms can generate protective virus-specific T cells at all, and offer clues regarding the cells responsible for excessive immune responses which has led to the deaths of many COVID-19 patients.
  • In the research, scientists, including Daniela Weiskopf from the La Jolla Institute for Immunology in the US, extracted blood cells from 10 patients at weekly intervals starting soon after they were admitted to the ICU for COVID-19.
  • They exposed these cells to “megapools” of known SARS-CoV-2 protein components in a technique meant to capture a large fraction of total viral-reactive T cells.
  • The researchers found that SARS-CoV-2-specific CD4 helper T cells were active in all 10 patients, and CD8 “killer” T cells were present in 8 out of 10 patients.
  • They also characterised the cells’ production of specific inflammation-triggering cell-cell signalling molecules called cytokines.
  • The strongest responses were directed to the virus’ spike (S) surface protein, supporting prior work that has pointed to this protein as a promising target to induce virus-specific T cells.
  • On screening all patients at 0, 7, and 14 days after inclusion in the study revealed that SARS-CoV-2-specific T cells were present relatively early during the course of infection, and increased in these patients over time.
  • Using the same T cell stimulation technique in age-matched healthy controls, the researchers found SARS-CoV-2-reactive T cells in 2 out of the 10 individuals.
  • They believe a future study of how preexisting SARS-CoV-2-specific T cells in healthy controls correlate to protection against COVID-19 can help shed more light on the disease and “and also inform vaccine design and evaluation.

 

Govt allows use of dexamethasone

An inexpensive, widely used steroid ‘dexamethasone’ was included in the treatment protocols for COVID-19 patients in moderate to severe stages of illness among other therapeutic measures by the Union health ministry on 27 June 2020. The updated protocol includes the advice to use dexamethasone as an alternative choice to methylprednisolone for managing moderate to severe cases of COVID-19. The change has been made after considering the latest available evidence and expert consultation. 

  • According to the revised ‘Clinical Management Protocols for COVID-19’, dexamethasone which is already used in treating lung infections besides in a wide range of conditions for its anti-inflammatory and immunosuppressant effects can be used as an alternative to methylprednisolone which already existed in the treatment guidelines.
  • The health ministry on June 13 had also allowed the use of antiviral drug ‘remdesivir’ for restricted emergency use and off-label application of tocilizumab, a drug that modifies the immune system or its functioning, and convalescent plasma for treating COVID-19 patients in moderate stage of the illness as an ‘investigational therapy’.
  • It also recommended hydroxychloroquine in patients during the early course of the disease and not on critically ill patients.
  • The use of these drugs continues to be included in the revised treatment protocols under the ‘investigational therapy’.
  • The revised treatment protocols for moderate cases advised considering methylprednisolone 0.5 to 1 mg/kg or dexamethasone 0.1 to 0.2 mg/kg for three days, preferably within 48 hours of admission or if oxygen requirement is increasing and if inflammatory markers are increased. The duration of administration should be reviewed as per clinical response.
  • For patients having respiratory distress requiring mechanical ventilation, both non- invasive and invasive, the ministry said methylprednisolone 1 2mg/kg/day or dexamethasone 0.2 to 0.4 mg/kg per day should be considered for 5-7 days in two divided doses, if not given already.
  • The revised treatment protocols were issued as India’s COVID-19 tally raced past the five-lakh mark on 27 June 2020 with the biggest single-day surge of 18,552 cases while the death toll climbed to 15,685 with 384 fatalities, the updated figure at 8 am showed.
  • According to WHO, the corticosteroid dexamethasone was tested in hospitalised patients with COVID-19 in the United Kingdom’s national clinical trial ‘RECOVERY’ and was found to have benefits for critically ill patients.
  • According to preliminary findings shared with WHO, for patients on ventilators, the treatment was shown to reduce mortality by about one-third, and for patients requiring only oxygen, mortality was cut by about one-fifth.
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