Current Affairs for NDA, CDS, AFCAT, Airforce X&Y Groups – News Analysis from THE HINDU (January 06, 2019)
1. MGNREGA scheme faces fund shortage
The Mahatma Gandhi National Rural Employment Guarantee Act scheme is facing a severe fund crunch, with 99% of money allocated already exhausted three months before the end of the financial year, and 11 States and Union Territories having a negative net balance.
Studies analysing government data show that the scheme faces difficulties in meeting the demand for work and paying wages on time. These issues are likely to be exacerbated by the current fund crisis, according to worried economists, researchers and workers on the ground.
The scheme’s financial statement shows that as on Saturday, the total availability of funds was ₹59,032 crore. The total expenditure, including payment due, stands at ₹58,701 crore. That leaves a slim margin of only ₹331 crore. For 11 States, that margin is non-existent, as their accounts are already in the red.
2. Pay, tenure? This job invitation doesn’t part with information
The Centre’s new advertisement for the remaining four vacancies at the Central Information Commission (CIC) still does not contain details of the tenure and salary of the position.
This is in accordance with the government’s plans to amend the RTI Act to give itself the power to set the tenure and salaries of Central and State Information Commissioners, in a move that critics warn will undermine the autonomy of these institutions.
The advertisement issued on Friday by the Department of Personnel and Training (DoPT) simply says, “The salary, allowances and other terms and conditions of service of the Information Commissioner shall be as may be specified at the time of appointment of the selected candidate.”
The Centre has previously defended such vague language in a Supreme Court hearing by saying that it planned to amend the RTI Act. Following push-back from Opposition parties and RTI activists, the government withdrew its stated plans to introduce the amendment Bill in Parliament during the monsoon session.
3. Australian Open will be different?
What are the changes?
Tennis loves its traditions. But the feeling, at least in the recent past, has been that of a sport trying to slowly chip away at its perceived anachronism. The plethora of changes announced ahead of next week’s Australian Open, the first Grand Slam tournament of the year, is to be seen in that context. Two of them stand out — the introduction of a 10-point tiebreak at 6-6 in the deciding set and ‘Heat Stress Index’ to replace the old Extreme Heat Policy. Other changes include the use of serve clock — to be set at 25 seconds — to help speed up matches, Hawk-Eye review technology on all 16 courts, increase in the number of spots in the women’s qualifying draw from 96 to 128, and the inevitable upgrade in the prize money pool.
Why were they needed?
The tiebreak rule has followed a similar move by Wimbledon, albeit at 12-12 in the decider, to prevent long-drawn matches from messing up the schedule. At Melbourne, where a night session is a huge attraction, a marathon encounter extending into the wee hours is undesirable. The change in heat policy is probably the result of the severe criticism the previous set of rules came under. In the last edition, Novak Djokovic and Gael Monfils were vociferous after being forced to play at temperatures that almost touched 40 degrees Celsius. The hospitalisation of Simona Halep, immediately after the women’s singles final which was played with the roof open, appears to have forced the organisers’ hands. The serve clocks will help enforce the guideline that players have 25 seconds to initiate play after the previous point ends. The additional spots in the women’s qualifying draw is to restore parity with the men, while the use of line-calling technology on all 16 match courts will ensure equal conditions for every player in the draw.
How will it impact players?
A final set super tiebreak means encounters like the one in 2017, where Ivo Karlovic defeated Horacio Zeballos 22-20 in the fifth set, will be a thing of the past. So will be Halep’s memorable 4-6, 6-4, 15-13 win over Lauren Davis and the 6-3, 4-6, 9-7 semifinal triumph over Angelique Kerber, both last year. While it is sure to help players physically, the move has generated criticism, with many arguing that the women’s game could have been spared. If anything, it was the men’s game which needed trimming and there too it was felt that curtailing the end would deprive fans of drama. In the 2008 Wimbledon men’s singles final between Roger Federer and Rafael Nadal, it is the 9-7 final set scoreline that everyone remembers and not the initial phase of the match, went the theory. As to how the new heat policy — which takes into account air temperature, radiant heat, humidity and wind speed — plays out is yet to be seen. But tournament director Craig Tiley’s confirmation that none of 2018’s contentious decisions to continue play would have been overturned under the new system has dampened hopes.
4. The lowdown on blood transfusions
What is the process of donation? What next? How did it come about? What is it?
A young pregnant woman in a government hospital at a rural centre in south Tamil Nadu’s Madurai district made an explosive revelation mid-December. Expecting her second child, she heard from doctors, after she was admitted following a bout of sickness, that she had tested positive for HIV.
Later, as the story unravelled, in full media glare, it turns out she had acquired the virus after a blood transfusion in a district hospital following a diagnosis of anaemia. This opened up a Pandora’s box, and fear and distrust pervaded the community. Besides flagging the issue of the availability of safe blood in the State, it set in motion a sequence of events, mostly tragic, introspection, and some corrective action.
The story did not end, or even begin, there. The blood donor, who had donated as a replacement donor when a pregnant relative required a transfusion, only discovered his HIV positive status after a test for a job interview. He rushed back to the hospital, laden with guilt, to inform authorities. By then, his blood had been transfused to the pregnant woman, and she had tested positive. His blood donation history retrospectively exposed chinks in the blood donation and transfusion cycle in at least two instances. He had already donated blood in 2016, but his blood was discarded after he tested positive for HIV. However, though the HIV law mandates that the patient be informed with counselling about his/her status, in this case the donor remained in the dark. In the second instance, when he donated his blood in November last year, two years after the first, the lab failed to test and/or detect his infection, which was clearly not in the ‘window period’ where the virus may avoid detection. The donor was distraught, and attempted suicide, and died in hospital later.
A few days later, another pregnant woman claimed she had been transfused with HIV-infected blood at Kilpauk Medical College and Hospital in Chennai. While her claim has been contested stoutly, the two incidents have, nevertheless, rocked the State that once won plaudits for its prevention of transmission programmes.
There is a chain of approved processes to be followed in blood donation, aimed at quality control and negating the possibility of transmitting infections. Every qualified donor is put through a basic clinical evaluation (blood pressure and pulse). If normal, a sample of the blood donated is tested for HIV, Hepatitis B and C, sexually transmitted diseases and malaria. Meanwhile, the donated blood is stored separately in an ‘unscreened refrigerator.’ If the sample clears these tests, or if the tests turn negative, the blood will then be moved to the ‘screened refrigerator.’ If it tests positive for any of the infections, another sample from the same blood bag is tested again. If positive, the bag is discarded. The HIV Act mandates that the blood bank inform the positive donor, besides referring to the appropriate department for further treatment. When a requirement crops up, the blood bank does a grouping to confirm that the group is the same, does a cross-match with the recipient and releases it to the ward.
5. Silver atoms of nanoparticles are mobile, IIT Madras team finds
While atoms in silver metal remain in their positions forever in bulk material, their behaviour changes completely at the nanoscale, researchers at Indian Institute of Technology (IIT) Madras have discovered.
When nanoparticles made of two silver isotopes (107Ag and 109Ag) having just 25 atoms each were mixed in solution, a team led by Prof. T. Pradeep of the Chemistry Department found that the atoms from the two particles rapidly exchanged their positions. New particles composed of nearly 50% mixture of both isotopes were formed. This is akin to the exchange of hydrogen and deuterium atoms when normal and heavy water (D2O) are mixed. Even in an alloy of silver and gold, a rapid exchange of silver atoms was seen.
The rapid exchange of silver atoms in solution might have implications in real-life situations. “The properties of nanoparticles such as catalysis, drug delivery, and biological sensing may all be viewed differently in view of this rapid atom exchange,” Prof. Pradeep says. “In homogeneous catalysis involving nanoparticles, the site at which chemistry occurs could be changing continuously,” the authors write.
The silver particles composed of 25 atoms were protected by ligands to form clusters. Despite the protection offered by the ligand, the atom exchange between the two clusters happened in millisecond time-scale. The new cluster, which was formed by mixing of atoms belonging to two isotopes, had almost 50:50 ratio of the isotopes.
The researchers found that the rate at which the atoms exchanged could be controlled by changing the temperature. While the exchange was rapid at room temperature, at –20 degree C, the exchange rate was slower and took about 30 seconds to attain equilibrium distribution. The relatively longer time taken to reach equilibrium allowed the researchers to observe the in-between states of atom exchange. They found that the atom transfer rate is similar to that in water.
6. Carbon microneedles: Low-cost, painless injections
Tiny needles less than 1 mm in size have been developed by researchers from Indian Institute of Technology (IIT) Kharagpur. When arranged on a patch, the tiny hollow microneedles can be used for painless drug delivery.
Last year, the team had developed microneedles from a widely used photosensitive polymer (SU-8). Since the needles were not hard enough and biocompatible, they modified it using a simple process of extreme heating or pyrolysis. This produced glassy carbon needles which were almost 300 times stronger than the original ones. Since it was made of carbon it was also biocompatible.
Heating removed most of the nitrogen and oxygen in the polymer and the needle were solely made of carbon. The needles showed no toxicity when tested on mice models, says Prof. Bidhan Pramanick who completed his post-doctoral research from the institute. He is one of the corresponding authors of the work published in Nature Microsystems & Nanoengineering.
The needles were arranged in a patch (10 X10) and tested for drug delivery. The patch was attached to a 5 ml syringe and flow rate studied. They found the flow corresponds to the inlet pressure suggesting that drug delivery can be controlled by managing the pressure.
7. Detecting ultralow levels of mercury in water
Mercury levels in water need to be checked carefully as it is a toxic substance that contaminates the food chain. A team at Jawaharlal Nehru Centre for Advanced Scientific Research (JNCASR), Bengaluru, has found an innovative way to develop a sensor that operates using Surface Enhanced Raman Spectroscopy and has high sensitivity (60 X 10-18 M which is 0.01 parts per quadrillion), far better than other methods of detecting mercury in water.
Mercury is a heavy metal that is predominant in the environment. It mixes with the environment due to both natural (e.g. volcanic activity) and anthropogenic (e.g. electrical appliances such as mercury lamps) activity. Studies have shown that industrial effluents can have higher mercury levels than that allowed by the WHO and Indian guidelines. With allowed levels of mercury in drinking water and effluents being in the range of 1–10 microgram per litre, it becomes necessary to develop sensors that can measure mercury levels in water with high sensitivity and selectivity.
The small molecule — histidine conjugated perylene diimide (HPH) —when dissolved in water shows green fluorescence under laser light. When water contaminated with mercury is added to this solution, the fluorescence is absent, and the molecules form a hydrogel. This method can detect only up to 5 nanomolar (0.1 parts per billion) of mercury in water. However, the sensitivity drastically improves with a novel technique developed by T. Govindaraju’s group in collaboration with that of Suresh Bhargava of RMIT, Australia.
8. Scientists unearth Asia’s first fossil Dioscorea yam leaf
Speak of fossils, and dinosaurs first come to mind. A quaint fossilised leaf is one of the most recent finds throwing light on India’s past. The leaf fossil is the first of Dioscorea yams from Asia and hints at a Gondwanan origin to these plants, claim scientists.
When scientists R. C. Mehrotra and Anumeha Shukla from Lucknow’s Birbal Sahni Institute of Palaeosciences were leading a dig in the Eocene-era (38-56 million years ago) Gurha lignite mine in Bikaner in western Rajasthan, they obtained two well-preserved fossils of large leaves. “They are about 16 cm long,” wrote co-author Dr. Shukla in an email.
Referring to herbarium sheets available at Dehradun’s Forest Research Institute, the team identified it as a species of Dioscorea, a kind of yam that grows as a herbaceous vine in the humid tropics of India and other countries. They also used the morphological features of the leaves — venation and leaf shape — to rule out other plants that look very similar to it. When they compared it to the other Dioscorea fossils obtained from Europe, Africa and America, they found it to be very distinct.
9. Saliva test for malaria
A new saliva-based test can rapidly identify individuals who harbour infectious reservoirs of the malaria parasite, according to a new study by researchers in the U.S. and Africa.
The assay, while still at the proof-of-concept stage, could provide a non-invasive tool to epidemiologists and clinicians to track down and target this parasite reservoir (which is responsible for most malaria transmission) in low-resource settings. Malaria is a massive drain on public health across areas of the world such as sub-Saharan Africa, where it kills approximately 500,000 children each year. Curtailing transmission of the malaria parasite has proved difficult because some individuals infected with malaria have no symptoms.. The test-developers examined saliva samples from 12 children with subclinical malaria and discovered 35 protein markers of the Plasmodium falciparum parasite, which causes most malaria infections in humans. They selected one protein marker, named PSSP17, and have designed a point-of-need diagnostic test based on a fluorescent antibody that detects the protein in saliva samples in three to 30 minutes (depending on how much of the protein is in the sample).
10. Gender responses to brain cancer therapy
Chemotherapy for a deadly form of brain cancer called glioblastoma is more effective in women than in men, a new study in the U.S. has found. The
research sheds light on the molecular basis of sex differences in glioblastoma treatment and suggests that tailoring therapies to sex differences could lead to improved patient outcomes. The scientists used MRI-based techniques to analyse tumour growth every two months in a group of 63 glioblastoma patients (40 males and 23 females) who received standard-of-care treatments such as surgery and the chemotherapeutic drug, temozolomide (TMZ). The imaging revealed that the female patients displayed lower tumour growth rates in response to TMZ than male patients, indicating the female patients benefited more from standard-of-care treatment. The findings appear in Science Translational Medicine.
11. New source for hepatitis vaccine
A relatively abundant human gene family, VH1-69, may be a good place to source antibodies that may help make a vaccine for the highly diverse hepatitis C virus (HCV). The number of new HCV infections in the U.S. increased threefold from 2010 to 2015, largely due to the increase in injection drug users caused by the opioid crisis. Hepatitis C can be cured by certain drugs, but these are expensive, thus limiting them to a small number of people. The broadly-neutralising antibodies (b-Nabs) from the gene family target a region called the AR3 of the virus. The study, discovered three new antibody-complex structures — AR3A, AR3B and AR3D — that target AR3. In further studies, the scientists said the VH1-69 gene family encoding this viral region leads to HCV-specific bNAbs. The findings appear in Science Advances.
12. What is inhalable m-RNA?
Messenger RNA, which can induce cells to produce therapeutic proteins, holds great promise for treating a variety of diseases. The biggest obstacle to this approach so far has been finding safe and efficient ways to deliver mRNA molecules to the target cells. Researchers in the U.S. have now designed an inhalable form of mRNA. They say this aerosol could be administered directly to the lungs to help treat diseases such as cystic fibrosis. The researchers also showed that lung cells in mice could produce a target protein, in this case, a bioluminescent protein. If the same success rate can be achieved with therapeutic proteins, this could be high enough to treat many lung diseases, they say.
Book – The British in India: Three Centuries of Ambition and Experience
Writer – David Gilmour
Description – Exploring experiences of East India men and women, intrigues and intimacies
Book – The Long Drive Home
Writer – Rishad Saam Mehta
Description – An insight on journeys and more from a trip across continents
Book – Being Reshma
Writer – Reshma Qureshi with Tania Singh
Description – Surviving an acid attack to tell a story of resilience
Book – The Great March of Democracy: Seven Decades of India’s Elections
Writer – Edited by S.Y. Quraishi
Description – As India gears up for the Lok Sabha elections, the Election Commission of India marks the beginning of its 70th year. This book celebrates seven decades of India’s democracy and the Election Commission’s excellence and rigour, with a collection of essays written by analysts, politicians, social workers and public servants.
Book – Ideology & Identity: The Changing Party Systems of India
Writer – Pradeep K. Chhibber, Rahul Verma
Description – Indian party politics, commonly viewed as chaotic and corrupt, is a model for deepening democracy and accommodating diversity. Using survey data from election studies and evidence from the Constituent Assembly debates, Chhibber and Verma show how education, the media, and religious practice transmit the competing ideas.
Book – A Stranger Truth: Lessons in Love, Leadership and Courage from India’s Sex Workers
Writer – Ashok Alexander
Description – Based on the writer’s personal experience of over a decade, this book brings alive the world of people most vulnerable to HIV/AIDS, and some of the unlikely heroes among them. He gathered the stories while running the Gates Foundation’s HIV/AIDS prevention programme Avahan. These are true stories of the lives of sex workers in India.
Book – China Imagined: From European Fantasy to Spectacular Power
Writer – Gregory B.Lee
Description – An exploration of the idea of China, from the naming and mapping of its territory and peoples to the creation and rise of the modern nation-state. China’s early history describes a multilingual space, ruled by a homogenous elite — a far cry from Maoism’s mass culture, or Xi Jinping’s state-controlled digital society today.
Book – On Leaders and Icons: From Jinnah to Modi
Writer – Kuldip Nayar
Description – In this freewheeling narrative, finished weeks before he passed away, a veteran journalist recounts his experiences of meeting men and women who shaped the destiny of free India. Interspersed with political reminiscences is a delightful account of Meena Kumari’s encounter with Lal Bahadur Shastri on the sets of Pakeezah.
14. Federer clinches a record third title
Roger Federer became the most successful player in Hopman Cup history after leading Switzerland to a 2-1 win in an enthralling final of the mixed teams tournament here on Saturday.
In what is tipped to be the final edition of the unique tournament, the best was saved for last as Federer became the first player to win three Hopman Cups, teaming with Belinda Bencic for the duo’s second consecutive title.
For the second year in a row, the Swiss beat the German pairing of Alexander Zverev and Angelique Kerber by claiming a deciding mixed doubles rubber loaded with drama.
It was Switzerland’s fourth title overall, behind only the USA with six. Federer first won the Hopman Cup back in 2001 when he teamed with Martina Hingis.
15. Sabalenka is champion at Shenzhen
Top seed Aryna Sabalenka won the Shenzhen open on Saturday defeating three-time finalist Alison Riske 4-6, 7-6, 6-3. This was the Belarusian’s fifth WTA final in the last 10 months and her first international trophy. The World No. 13 had a breakthrough season last year when she won titles at Wuhan and New Haven.
MGNREGA (Mahatma Gandhi National Rural Employment Guarantee Act)
Board of Control for Cricket in India (BCCI)
17. Improve your Vocabulary:
Meaning – A sudden and unaccountable change of mood or behaviour.
Example – ‘the caprices of the electorate’
Synonyms – whim, whimsy, vagary, fancy, notion, fad, freak, humour, impulse, quirk, eccentricity, foible, crotchet, urge
fickleness, changeableness, volatility, inconstancy, capriciousness, fitfulness, unpredictability