Relevant News / Current Affair for UPSC CIvil Service Exam 31-10-2013

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Maintain fixed tenure for bureaucrats: SC

[hindu]

In a path-breaking verdict, the Supreme Court on Thursday said
bureaucrats should not act on verbal orders given by political bosses as
it sought an end to frequent transfers and suggested a fixed tenure to
insulate them from political interference.

Suggesting sweeping reforms in the functioning of bureaucracy, a bench
headed by Justice K.S. Radhakrishnan said Parliament must enact a law to
regulate postings, transfers and disciplinary action against
bureaucrats.
Holding that much of the deterioration in bureaucracy is because of
political interference, it said that civil servants should not act on
verbal orders given by political executives and all actions must be
taken by them on the basis of written communication.
The bench also comprising justice P.C. Ghose said giving a fixed minimum
tenure to a civil servant will not only promote professionalism and
efficiency, but also good governance.
It asked the Centre and all State governments along with Union
Territories to issue directions within three months for providing fixed
tenure to civil servants.
The bench also said Civil Services Board be constituted at the Centre and State-levels.
The verdict, which is on the line of apex court’s earlier order on
police reforms for giving fixed tenure to senior police officers in
Prakash Singh case, will go a long way in giving freedom and
independence to the functioning of bureaucracy.
The judgement comes close on the heels of controversies surrounding
Ashok Khemka, IAS officer of Haryana cadre over DLF-Robert Vadra land
deal, and Durga Sakhti Nagpal, U.P. cadre IAS officer, who was targeted
by the State government for alleged misconduct.
The apex court passed the verdict on a PIL filed by 83 retired
bureaucrats including former Cabinet Secretary T.S.R. Subramanian
seeking its directions for insulating bureaucracy from political
interference.
The petitioners also include former Indian Ambassador to the U.S. Abid
Hussain, former Chief Election Commissioner N. Gopalaswami, former
Election Commissioner T.S. Krishna Murthy, former IPS officer Ved
Prakash Marwah, and former CBI directors Joginder Singh and D.R.
Kaarthikeyan. 

Farmers to protest against Gadgil report

Allege bias in labelling 123 villages as ecologically fragile 

[hindu]

Farmers’ organisations led by the Indian Farmers’
Movement (Infam) have decided to stage dharnas and take out protest
marches on November 1 in Kozhikode and Malappuram districts to protest
against the recommendations of the Kasturirangan and Madhav Gadgil panel
reports which they believe are a threat to their livelihood and are
aimed at forcing farmers in the Western Ghats regions to abandon their
land.
Leaders of the joint action council formed by
these organisations also alleged at a press conference here on
Wednesday, that there was clear discrimination in labelling 123 villages
as ecologically fragile land where strict controls on farming and
building activities have been recommended.
As
example they pointed out that ecologically sensitive areas in and around
Wagamon and Silent Valley had been exempted from this category.

Population density

They
also pointed out that the Kasturirangan report had labelled as
ecologically fragile land 123 villages where density of population was
as high as 250 though the reports stated that places having population
density above 100 should not be treated as ecologically fragile land.
The
inclusion of rubber, tea, coffee, pepper, cashew, cardamom, arecanut
and coconut on the list of commercial crops that should not be allowed
in protected parts of Western Ghats would ruin the State’s economy as
also the farmers, they said and added it had been pointed out by Coffee
Board, Spices Boards, and many agricultural scientists.
The
farmers action council also questioned the validity of the
Kasturirangan recommendation that chemical fertilizers and pesticides
should not be allowed and said many scientists were of the view it was
not advisable to abandon their use. The farmers’ action council alleged
that the ultimate aim of the Kasturirangan and Gadgil panel reports was
eviction of farmers from hill ranges.
The ban on
cash crops recommended in these reports and attacks from wild animals
would force farmers to leave the land in hill ranges which they had been
cultivating for decades and on which they had clear ownership rights,
the council said.

A tale of two handshakes

[hindu]

While the Prime Minister fanned the warmth and strength of India’s
relationship with Russia, he also conveyed the message that ties with
China can continue to grow if impediments are dealt with speedily

Wittingly or unwittingly, Prime Minister Manmohan Singh gave two
different meanings to handshakes when he visited Moscow and Beijing last
week. At the Moscow State Institute of International Relations, Dr.
Singh said on October 21: “Every handshake reveals the warmth of the
ties between our two people. Together, they create an unmatched platform
for the future.” Two days later, in Beijing, the Prime Minister said
after talks with Premier Li Keqiang: “We account for 2.5 billion people.
When India and China shake hands, the world takes notice.”
The first handshake referred to the comfort of a strategic relationship
that had defined India’s diplomacy over the years; the second placed
India and China in the domain of “re-emerged” nations, whose import the
world is still contending with.
At a time when considerable time and energy are being expended in
pushing China and India to take the stage as rivals, the repeated
contacts between the two countries take some of the sting out of this
narrative. With the United States keen on curbing Chinese influence,
India is seen as the obvious counter-weight to China, a prospect Delhi
has rejected time and again in public. In nuanced references, Dr. Singh
made it plain last week that the India-Russia handshake was time-tested;
the one with China was new and continued to attract global attention
given the economic strength of the two Asian nations.
The Prime Minister’s two terms at the helm will be known for a strategic
embrace of the U.S. and its policies, but his praise for Russia and
what it had done for India was generous and full-throated. “India has
benefited enormously from Russian support in every aspect of India’s
national development efforts — be it the development of heavy industry,
the power sector, our space programme or… our defence needs… Russia
has stood by India at moments of great international challenge, when our
own resources were limited and our friends were few… it is this last
fact that Indians will never forget,” Dr. Singh said.
Special and privileged
Referring to the relationship with Russia as special and privileged, the
Prime Minister was generous in his praise for Moscow. “Russia offered
us partnership in nuclear energy when the world still shunned nuclear
commerce with us. I take particular joy in informing this august
audience that the first unit of the Kudankulam nuclear power plant,
built with Russian assistance, went critical in July this year and that
the second one should be commissioned early next year. The Indian oil
company ONGC’s largest overseas presence is in Russia,” he stressed.
Beyond the comfort zone of Russia, the Prime Minister, who flew to
Beijing from Moscow, reflected a new confidence when it came to raising
difficult issues in public with China. Given that this was his third
meeting in 2013 with the top Chinese leadership, his comments should
silence some of his harsh, hawkish critics at home.
After listing a host of common concerns and the need for a joint
approach, Dr. Singh possibly became the first Indian leader to put his
concerns to the Chinese publicly on Chinese soil. Usually, these
concerns are placed off-the-record to accompanying Indian mediapersons.
“Naturally, there are also concerns on both sides — whether it is
incidents in the border region, trans-border rivers or trade imbalances.
Our recent experiences have shown that these issues can become
impediments to the full exploitation of the opportunities for bilateral
and multilateral cooperation between India and China…,” he said at the
Chinese Communist Party’s central party school.
So, recent tensions on the India-China boundary, concerns about Chinese
activity on the Yarlung Zangbo-Brahmaputra river system, as well as
issues of trade imbalance figured in these full-spectrum remarks.
Beyond bilateralism
Going beyond the pure bilateral domain, Dr. Singh spoke about the need
to put in place a rule-based security architecture which, he hoped,
would promote security and stability in the larger Asia-Pacific region.
“Above all, India and China need a stable, secure and prosperous
Asia-Pacific region. The centre of gravity of global opportunities and
challenges is shifting to this region. In the coming decades, China and
India, together with the United States, Japan, Korea and the ASEAN
community, will be among the largest economies in the world.”
In an obvious reference to China’s many unresolved maritime disputes
with its neighbours, Dr. Singh said: “While this region embodies
unparalleled dynamism and hope, it is also one with unsettled questions
and unresolved disputes. It will be in our mutual interest to work for a
cooperative, inclusive and rule-based security architecture that
enhances our collective security and regional and global stability.”
A job politely but directly done. There was no anger here, just an
expression of concern. Given India’s and China’s high stakes in peace
and stability, raising concerns before a key audience in China is surely
something that Indians concerned about China should appreciate.
Setting out a larger strategic direction for bilateral relations, Dr.
Singh said: “More than ever before, the world needs both countries to
prosper together. We were not destined to be rivals, and we should show
determination to become partners. Our future should be defined by
cooperation and not by confrontation. It will not be easy, but we must
spare no effort.”
After visits to the U.S., Russia and China, the Prime Minister’s high
noon of foreign policy is, clearly, coming to a close. The intent of his
remarks in Russia and China could well indicate his desire to spell out
his legacy, and a direction for the future. While he fanned the warmth
and strength of India’s relationship with Russia, Dr. Singh also
conveyed a solid message that our ties with China can continue to grow
if impediments are dealt with speedily. A clearer message to China and
its leadership could not have been conveyed.
As India hurtles to a fractious and noisy election, Dr. Singh’s China
visit has passed without cries of a “sell-out” from the principal
opposition, whose interest in global politics and bilateral relations
appears to be both selective and limited. At a time when Russian and
Indian leaders meet annually in Moscow or New Delhi, and there are
repeated bilateral interactions with the Chinese, there is need to move
beyond immediate outcomes in the form of agreements in assessing the
quality of bilateral relationships.
Not a dampener
Although hopes of a possible deal on Kudankulam getting two additional
Russian nuclear reactors were raised before Dr. Singh left for Moscow,
in the end these did not materialise. Given the complex and tortuous
nature of concerns surrounding any new deal, the lack of agreement
hardly comes as a surprise. In a situation where both Russia and India
remain engaged in dialogue, the inability to reach an agreement should
not come as a dampener.
The media, perhaps, need to shed its obsession with the “immediate” in
India’s dealings with key nations and instead look at the long-term
trajectory of relations with these countries. Engagement, it seems, is
going to be a continuous process. Days after Dr. Singh concluded his
visit to Russia and China, there will be a dialogue of
Russia-India-China Foreign Ministers on the sidelines of the Asem
(Asia-Europe Meeting) Foreign Ministers’ meeting in New Delhi on
November 10-11, another sign of consistent engagement.
That is the nature of modern-day diplomacy. It’s never-ending. 

A tiny step for a giant leap?

[hindu]

There are divisions over whether ambitious science missions like the
Mars project are worth the investment by a country where large sections
do not have basic amenities.

Even as top ministers sparred with each other over there not being
enough toilets for the country, India is making an open attempt to beat
its Asian rival, China, in reaching distant Mars riding on the Mars
Orbiter Mission.
The irony cannot be missed. Looking at the country’s state of abject
poverty, malnutrition and underdevelopment, some have questioned the
profligacy of India heading to the Red Planet on a mission that costs
Rs.450 crore.
As questions are being asked, is India’s mission to Mars a giant leap or tiny step?
The criticism
Jean Drèze, a development economist, famously said, “I don’t understand
the importance of India sending a space mission to Mars when half of its
children are undernourished and half of all Indian families have no
access to sanitation.” Others who believe in pushing the frontier and
going where no Asian nation has ever gone before, like Dr. K.
Radhakrishnan, Chairman of the Indian Space Research Organisation
(ISRO), Bangalore, say “the Mars mission is a historical necessity,
since after having helped find water on the moon, looking for signatures
of life on Mars is a natural progression.”
Later this month, India will send a 1,350-kg unmanned satellite aptly
called “Mangalyaan” which means “Mars craft” made by a team of 500
scientists from ISRO in a record 15 months, the shortest time frame for
any of the over 100 space missions India has ever undertaken.
In a manner that has similarities with the clarion call given by John F.
Kennedy in 1961 that Americans will land on the moon, Prime Minister
Manmohan Singh, in his Independence Day speech on August 15, 2012,
described the Mangalyaan mission as a “huge step for us,” proclaiming
that “our craft will soon go to Mars and collect important scientific
information.”
The modest mission ISRO acknowledges is more of a “technology
demonstrator” but the Rs.150-crore spacecraft made in India by Indians
and to be launched from Indian soil using an Indian rocket will also
carry five homemade scientific instruments which will study the thin
Martian atmosphere looking for signatures of life.
In this 100-metre dash to meet the deadline for the November launch, the
risks are high. Since 1960, about 45 missions to Mars have been
launched with a third having ended in disaster and no single nation
succeeding in its maiden venture.
Calling it “fantastic,” NASA chief General Charles Bolden, talking to
NDTV endorsed India’s maiden mission to Mars saying, “It’s always
exciting to have as many countries as possible participating in
exploration efforts, particularly Mars … a place that we don’t know a
lot about. We are providing support through communications, data
transmission. We are in partnership.”
The rush to beat the 2013 deadline has been both a geopolitical and
planetary necessity. Many viewed the Prime Minister’s announcement as
the start of an Asian space race, since this could well be a daring
100-metre dash in India’s marathon to reach the Red Planet, especially
when in November 2011, the maiden Chinese orbiter to Mars called
Yinghuo-1 piggybacked on the Russian satellite Phobos Grunt, ended in
disaster after it failed to be boosted into space. This failure now gave
India an opportunity to possibly march ahead of not only China but even
Japan, which had made an unsuccessful attempt in 1998. In most other
aspects of space fairing China has already beaten India, so here was an
opportunity for the elephant to march ahead of the dragon. Dr.
Radhakrishnan discounts this view saying, “We are not racing with
anyone” but accepts that “boosting national pride” is a big driver for
such bold and ambitious missions. The more rational reason given for
“fast-tracking” this mission is that 2013 offered an opportune launch
window to go to Mars since planetary juxtapositions permit such attempts
once every 26 months.
So later this month, even as some 600 million people sit under the sky
for their ablutions they could possibly catch a glimpse of India’s
smaller rocket, the Polar Satellite Launch Vehicle, begin what would be
India’s long march of sending a robot some 400 million kilometres away
to study Mars in what is being considered the cheapest interplanetary
mission ever.
Science and cyclones
To some diehard critics of the Indian Mars mission, the recent Phailin
cyclone in Odisha should be an eye-opener, where the loss of life was a
mere 44. In comparison, about 10,000 people lost their lives in the
supercyclone of 1999 and 3,00,000 people died in the Sunderbans and
Bangladesh in the Bhola Cyclone of 1970. The crucial difference now is
that India today had as many as half-a-dozen satellites, all made by
ISRO, keeping a constant vigil on the cyclone as it roared over the Bay
of Bengal, while the string of Doppler Radars that line the coast along
the Bay of Bengal also helped. None of this cutting-edge capability
would have been possible had the government heeded the advice of the
critics who consider India’s investment in space a waste of resources.
According to ISRO, for every rupee spent the agency has given back more
than two in return. At the same time, how do you put a price on the over
10,000 lives saved in Odisha during Phailin.
So who knows? This small step by India could well turn out to be one
giant leap for mankind in answering that big question: are we alone in
the universe?

The culture and crisis of kushti

[hindu]

Grapplers from Pakistan and Iran have a large fan following in rural Maharashtra.

The board above the school entrance says taleem (Urdu for “education”). But the first thing you see within is an image or statue of Hanuman, the deity of pehelwans here. The culture is a colourful blend. Wrestling schools in rural western Maharashtra are called taleems, not akharas. That’s a throwback to pre-Partition Punjab with whose taleems they
developed strong links over a hundred years ago. Particularly in the
time of Shahu Maharaj, ruler of the erstwhile princely state of
Kolhapur. Well-known as a social reformer, he was also a great wrestling
enthusiast who brought grapplers from all over undivided India, many of
them from the Punjab, to Kolhapur.
To this day there are huge tournaments in rural western Maharashtra
which feature top wrestlers from Pakistan, Iran, Turkey, and even some
African nations. The fighters from Pakistan and Iran have a
fan-following among the overwhelmingly Hindu male audiences here. “The
crowds are riveted by the outside wrestlers,” says Vinay Kore, MLA (and
former minister) from Kolhapur. Mr. Kore, who heads the Warana
cooperative sugar factory and dairy complex, is the chief organiser of
the biggest international wrestling tournament in the State — the one at
Warananagar in Kolhapur district which has the largest wrestling maidan in Maharashtra. It is held on December 13 every year.
“Up to three lakh people can gather,” says Mr. Kore. “Sometimes there
are huge headaches with visas. One year, visas for the Pakistanis came
very late. Their wrestlers had to then fly from Islamabad to Delhi, from
there to Pune, from where we picked them up and drove them to Warana.
Meanwhile, a crowd of lakhs waited patiently for them for 12-13 hours.”
In instruction, a blend
At the taleems, Maharashtra’s wrestling gurus lay emphasis on an
ethical and moral instruction that blends the spiritual and the secular.
Many teachers tell their students about the legendary Gama pehelwan,
the one undefeated wrestler of his time who vanquished the world’s
greatest. Gama, born Ghulam Muhammad in the Punjab, was a Muslim who
stayed on in Pakistan after 1947. Teachers tell their students of the
time he stood like a rock outside the colony of his Hindu neighbours,
facing down a violent mob during Partition riots. “That is how a
wrestler should be,” is the refrain.
“The great teachers are all agreed that ethical training is crucial,”
says Appasaheb Kadam, one of Maharashtra’s wrestling greats, at his taleem in Kolhapur town. “A wrestler without a moral grounding will be a disaster,” he says. Pehelwans in Maharashtra, many point out, haven’t earned the dubious reputation those in some other States have.
There is also a culture of local hospitality and generosity around the
sport. Whether at the Kundal or the Warananagar mega-events, people want
us to understand this. “You should know that the lakhs flocking to the
event from outside are treated as guests by the villagers here. Hundreds
of dinners are prepared at local homes for the visitors.”
The taleems are an assembly of twisted and devastated ears. “The
bona fide certificate of the wrestler,” chuckles legendary wrestler,
former Olympian and guru, Ganpatrao Andhalkar. The owners of those
battered lobes, teachers included, are all from rural families. Farmers
or labourers. This is particularly true of western Maharashtra.
Kushti, sugarcane fields and tamasha (a Marathi folk theatre form) are closely linked,” says Asiad, Commonwealth Games and national medallist Kaka Pawar at his taleem in Pune. “Why tamasha? Both rest on the performers’ discipline and crowd support.”
While the audiences are largely Hindu, wrestling itself shows more
diversity than in the past. Where once Marathas dominated, there are now
champions from the Dhangar (shepherd) community. In Sholapur, a top
wrestling district, young champions are emerging in the Muslim
community.
The gurus of Maharashtra’s wrestling culture are an articulate and
analytical lot. They dismiss the brief debate on whether wrestling could
be dropped from the Olympics. “They include sports played by 30
nations,” scoffs Kadam. “Wrestling is a culture in 122 countries. Can
they drop it?”
They’re more concerned about how wrestling is treated in Maharashtra. Across the many taleems and
wrestlers we visited, the complaints were similar. The agrarian States
of Punjab and Haryana treat wrestling far more seriously than rapidly
urbanising Maharashtra.
“There, recognition with jobs at decent levels in the police and other
security forces are quick,” says one teacher. “Here, those who quit kushti become labourers.” Some gifted wrestlers have ended their careers as watchmen at sugar factories.
Political interest
The political class is seen as opportunistic. “They used to come because kushti brings
the crowds.” But though they become the heads of federations, nothing
happens for the sport. “Union Minister Sharad Pawar is the head of the
Wrestling Federation in this State,” says one organiser. “We know that. I
wonder if he knows or remembers it.” Another says: “We have two former
wrestlers as MLAs. They don’t even look our way.”
Changes in society and culture, the decline of small-holder farming, a
recurring water-crisis and State neglect have combined to undermine what
is perhaps the most deep-rooted sport in the rural economy. “A
wrestler’s life,” says Andhalkar, “is a kind of invisible tapasya. A small injury to a cricketer will play a thousand times in the media. A wrestler dies, no one cares.”
 [Science And Tech Section Hindu]

Geno-mom, mito-mom, geno-dad: a 3-parent baby?

How is a baby born? Biology tells us that the father’s
sperm (containing his genetic material) enters the mother’s egg cell
(containing her genetic material) and upon fertilization an embryo is
formed and in time the baby is born.
But note, the
mother’s egg cell has one minor, but important component called the
mitochondrion (mitochondria in plural; from the Greek mito meaning threadlike and chondrio
meaning granular). These are bacteria-like cells that have colonized
fungal, plant and animal cells since a billion years ago, and act not as
parasites but symbionts. They help in taking our metabolic path to
completion by oxidizing the food molecules we eat and generate energy.
Indeed, without mitochondrial help, the efficiency of converting food
into energy would be far less. They add the extra steps, using oxygen
for “burning” the molecules and increasing energy production almost a
dozen-fold. In addition, they also interact with the ‘host’ cell
machinery, helping in signalling and coordinating several molecular
events there. Mitochondria are thus often referred to as cellular
powerhouses.
The mitochondrion comes with its own
genetic material, which it does not share with the DNA contained in
nucleus of the host cell that houses it. Autonomy is maintained in this
collaborative living together. An important point to note here is that
the developing baby inherits its mitochondria from the mother — from her
egg cell which contains mitochondria.
The father
simply injects his genes through the sperm. (Sperm cells do have
mitochondria in their tails, powering the speedy movement of the sperm.
But when the sperm enters the egg, this tail with its mitochondria is
discarded). Mitochondria are thus an exclusive maternal gift to the
baby.
What if her mitochondria had defects? She would
then pass them on to the child. Indeed, it is estimated that one in
6500 babies born in UK (and 1 in 4000 in the US, no data in India yet)
have mitochondrial disorders such as liver and heart disease,
respiratory problems and so forth. How does one solve this problem?
Should we repair them or replace them? With the technology currently
available, it would be easier to replace than repair.
Why
not remove the defective mitochondria from the mother’s egg, replace
them with healthy ones from a donor lady who is willing to offer her egg
cells or embryo? This way we have the genetic or nuclear mother (who
passes on her genomic DNA to the baby) and the ‘mitochondria mother’
(who has donated healthy cellular powerhouses). Now when the sperm of
the father-to-be enters and fertilizes the modified egg, the baby has
three ‘parents’: the geno-mom, the mito-mom and the geno-dad.
How
can this be done? In much the same way as the sheep Dolly was produced
by Dr Ian Wilmut in 1996, or the first test-tube baby Louise Brown was
born using in vitro fertilization (IVF) method of Dr Edwards in 1968.
Take
the nucleus of a lady carrying defective mitochondria and transfer it
to the egg cell of another lady who has healthy mitochondria, but before
doing so remove the nuclear material from the egg-donor lady. This way
the genetic material (genomic DNA) of the baby-to-be will be from the
first lady while the egg donor simply offers her mitochondrial genes —
and not her nuclear genetic material. This hybrid egg is now fertilized in vitro using the sperm (and thus the genomic material) from the father-to-be through the now conventional IVF method.
Such
three-parent babies are now a reality. UK has given the go ahead a few
months ago for clinical trials and is also drafting regulations covering
the safety, efficacy and the ethical and societal aspects involved in
such a method.
The Food and Drugs Administration
(FDA) of the US has just convened a meeting to consider the biological,
ethical and legal issues involved in this technology.
What
are the scientific issues? Among several, let us focus on one. We are
still not sure whether the imported ‘new’ mitochondria work seamlessly
with the host cell machinery in the same manner as the original (albeit
defective) ones did. This issue of compatibility needs to be understood.
Work by Dr. Mitalipov of the Oregon Health & Science University at
Beaverton, OR, USA on rhesus monkeys suggests no difficulty on this
score.
These three-parent-monkeys are now four years
old and healthy. Clinical trials on a few chosen humans will help us
understand if this works as safely with us as well.
What
are the ethical and legal issues? The Nuffield Council on Bioethics, UK
concludes that if this novel technique is proven to be safe and
effective, it would be ethical for families to use the method in order
to help the child. It also concludes that “mitochondrial donation does
not indicate, either biologically or legally, any notion of the child
having either a third parent or a second mother”.
In
other words, the phrase “Three Parent Baby” might be a misleading one. I
wonder what Indian society has to say on this. We have welcomed IVF but
banned human cloning (a decision which is both socially and ethically
sound and sagacious). 

Mars mission: charting a course

Two spacecraft will set out shortly from opposite sides
of the globe to study Mars and its atmosphere. India’s Mars Orbiter
Mission is scheduled to leave next Tuesday (Nov. 5) aboard a Polar
Satellite Launch Vehicle (PSLV) from Sriharikota. America’s MAVEN — an
acronym for ‘Mars Atmosphere and Volatile Evolution’ mission — will
follow about a fortnight later.
They will, however,
follow different paths to their destination. MAVEN will be making the
first leg of its journey on an Atlas V, a rocket considerably more
powerful than the PSLV. It will be able to put the spacecraft on a
direct course for the Red Planet, a luxury the Indian probe will not
enjoy.
The PSLV will leave the spacecraft in an
elliptical orbit 250 km at its closest to Earth and 23,500 km at its
farthest. To get to Mars, the orbiter must repeatedly fire its own
liquid propellant engine. In doing so, it will become the first Indian
spacecraft to cross Earth’s escape velocity of 11.2 km per second, the
threshold beyond which Earth’s gravity can no longer pull it back.
As
the amount of propellant remaining at the end of the journey will be an
important factor in determining the spacecraft’s life, scientists and
engineers of the Indian Space Research Organisation (ISRO) have done
their best to hold down its consumption during these manoeuvres.
The
onboard engine will be fired five times, each time lengthening the
spacecraft’s elliptical course around Earth. With multiple burns, the
engine’s performance and the velocity imparted to the spacecraft on each
occasion can be taken into account in planning the next firing.
Thus
the necessary velocity can be added more accurately, reducing need for
corrections later. This strategy was successfully used when India sent
the Chandrayaan-1 probe to the Moon in 2008.
The
sixth firing of the engine, scheduled for November 30, will push the
probe beyond escape velocity and put it on a carefully chosen
propellant-saving trajectory for Mars. The probe will take nearly 300
days to traverse some 400 million km.
As the
spacecraft gets close to Mars, its engine must again fire, this time to
reduce velocity and put it into orbit around that planet.
Charting
the spacecraft’s course accurately requires elaborate modelling,
according to the ISRO chairman, K. Radhakrishnan. The effect of Earth’s
gravity as well as that of the Sun, Moon, Mars, the two Martian moons
and the other planets are among the many factors that needed to be
incorporated in the calculations.
“When the probe
leaves Earth’s orbit on November 30, the position of its arrival near
Mars on September 21, 2014 has to be estimated with a precision of 50
km,” Dr. Radhakrishnan told this correspondent.
The
results from ISRO’s models had been benchmarked against computations
carried out by Jet Propulsion Laboratory in the U.S., which has overseen
many interplanetary missions.
Once the spacecraft
successfully enters Martian orbit, its scientific instruments can be
switched on. Given the high failure rate of missions to Mars, ISRO will
be keeping its collective fingers crossed.

Paediatric TB: should Xpert molecular test replace smear microscopy?

Xpert MTB/RIF rapid molecular diagnostic test is certainly superior to smear microscopy

Unlike adults, children under five years of age are particularly
vulnerable to getting infected with TB and may develop the disease very
soon after infection. This is all the more true in the case of those
from households where an adult has been recently diagnosed with sputum
smear positive active pulmonary TB.
India’s Revised National TB Control Programme (RNTCP) estimates that
children account for about 12 per cent of the total TB caseload in the
country. As WHO had pointed out, the estimated caseload in India, like
in other countries, is a gross underestimation.
The main reason is that correct diagnosis of pulmonary TB infection and
disease in children, especially in those under five years, is a big
challenge. For instance, unlike adults, young children are unable to
produce sputum — the most vital and basic sample to confirm
infection/disease.
As a rule, only very few TB bacilli are present in the sputum sample of
young children. This is particularly true in the case of children who
are less ill. Other diagnostic methods — tuberculin skin test and chest
X-ray — have their own limitations and challenges. And clinical symptoms
can only serve as a useful indicator but cannot be used in isolation as
children exhibit non-specific symptoms.
First diagnostic tool
Smear microscopy is the first diagnostic tool used to microbiologically
confirm TB infection/disease. Unfortunately, smear microscopy performs
poorly in children, especially in those under five years.
The sensitivity of microscopy — depending on the child’s age, disease
severity and mycobacterial burden — is about 15-20 per cent. Hence, even
many active TB cases show up as sputum smear negative (meaning that the
child is free of disease).
Culture is the gold standard in diagnosing TB. “[But] culture is not
infallible — it has sensitivity limitations and takes time [several
weeks] to yield a clinically useful result,” a November 5, 2012 paper
published online in The Lancet points out. “Where optimum culture
facilities are available, confirmation is delayed and the combination
of sputum smear and culture tests still misses many cases of childhood
tuberculosis.”
“The sensitivity of culture varies between 20 per cent and 60 per cent,
depending on what you look at,” Dr. Anne Detjen, Technical Consultant,
The Union North America Office, childhood TB/child lung health, said in
an email to this Correspondent.
For these reasons, researchers are looking for an alternative test that
is more sensitive than smear microscopy and takes less time than culture
to yield useful results. And the one that is currently available is
Xpert MTB/RIF — a rapid molecular test. In 2010, WHO endorsed Xpert for
rapid diagnosis of drug-sensitive and multi-drug resistant TB. Several
studies have been done to test its usefulness in diagnosing TB in
children and the results appear encouraging.
A WHO policy update released a few days ago on the use of Xpert in
adults and children with pulmonary and extrapulmonary TB clearly states
that the “overall pooled sensitivity of Xpert MTB/RIF against culture in
children presumed to have TB was 66 per cent in 10 studies where
expectorated sputum (ES) or induced sputum (IS) was used and 66 per cent
in seven studies where gastric lavage aspirates (GLA) were used.
Pooled specificity of Xpert MTB/RIF against culture as the reference standard was over 98 per cent.”
In the case of culture-negative specimens, the pooled sensitivity
against clinical TB as the reference was very low at four per cent for
ES or IS and 15 per cent for GLA.
“It is likely that the apparent poor performance of Xpert was the result
of a clinical TB reference standard that lacked specificity,” the
policy update notes.
Xpert’s sensitivity
Xpert’s sensitivity in ES/IS among children with smear-negative results
ranged from 25 per cent to 86 per cent. But in the case of
smear-positive results, the pooled sensitivity of Xpert in either ES or
IS was 96 per cent. “The pooled sensitivity estimate in smear-positive
children was 96 per cent and 55 per cent in smear-negative children. The
findings were similar for Xpert in GLA, with an overall sensitivity of
95 per cent among smear-positive and 62 per cent among smear-negative
children,” the update states.
“Xpert MTB/RIF may be used rather than conventional microscopy and
culture as the initial diagnostic test in all children presumed to have
TB (conditional recommendation acknowledging resource implications, very
low-quality evidence),” states the update.
Systematic review
“We have indeed performed a systematic review and meta-analysis of
available data on Xpert MTB/RIF in children that contributed to the
revised WHO policy guidance,” Dr. Detjen said.
“The Xpert MTB/RIF Policy Guidance Update was reviewed by the WHO
Guidelines Review Committee (GRC),” Dr. Christopher Gilpin, Scientist,
Global TB programme, WHO, Geneva, said in an email to this
Correspondent.
“The systematic reviews included studies with children below five years
and stratified pooled sensitivity and specificity estimates for Xpert
MTB/RIF (in expectorated and induced sputum) were determined for
children aged 0-4 and 5-15 years. Xpert MTB/RIF in gastric lavage
aspirates estimated accuracy for 0-4 year age group only,” Dr. Gilpin
stated.
“Xpert performs clearly superiorly to smear microscopy but is not good
in children that are culture negative,” Dr. Detjen noted.
She also pointed out other positive outcomes that would come once Xpert
is made widely available. “It will increase the number of confirmed TB
cases and can detect drug resistance. Health-care workers may actually
start taking sputum specimens from children since the new tool is
certainly more promising than microscopy. Currently, specimens are often
not even taken in places where the only test that can be done is smear
microscopy,” she pointed out.
Fewer TB bacilli needed
The reason why Xpert performs much better than microscopy is because
fewer TB bacilli are required to be present in the sputum sample. If
Xpert’s lower limit of detection is 131 colony forming units (CFU)/ml,
and culture’s is 10-100 CFU/ml, it is much higher in the case of smear
microscopy.
But Xpert is very unlikely to become available in India for contact
screening of children. There are currently 32 Xpert diagnostic machines
and the government is in the process of procuring 300 more. But these
are only for testing drug-resistant TB.

Colossal waste for India

By the turn of the century India could catch up with
some of the world’s most affluent countries in at least one indicator of
urban growth: garbage production.
In the next 12
years alone, South Asia — and “mainly India” — will be the fastest
growing region for waste generation, says a paper published today (Oct
31) in Nature. Garbage generation in South Asia will increase
eight-fold by year 2100 to reach two million tonnes a day, bringing the
region at par with the conglomerate of the world’s 34 most developed
countries including U.K., U.S., Australia and Japan, which make up
Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD) countries.
By
2100 “India’s total waste generation will be 70 per cent of all the
high income and OECD countries put together,” Perinaz Bhada-Tata,
co-author and solid-waste consultant in Dubai, United Arab Emirates,
told this Correspondent.
While India’s per capita
waste generation rate will still be lower than most affluent countries,
“the sheer size of its population and expected increase in urbanization
and a rapidly-expanding middle class,” will account for the colossal
amount of waste it generates in total, she added.
With
India becoming the most populous country in the world before 2030 and
its projected economic growth rate, “it is likely only a matter of time
before India is the world’s largest municipal solid waste generator,”
Daniel Hoornweg, lead author and associate professor of energy systems
at the University of Ontario Institute of Technology in Oshawa, Canada,
told this Correspondent.
“A country’s total solid
waste is a function mainly of the number of middle class (and above) who
almost all live in cities… India will probably surpass the U.S. and
then China as the world’s single largest solid waste generator,” he
added.
The research paper describes the staggering trajectory of global urban growth and waste generation over the last century.
In
1900, the world’s 220 million urban residents produced less than
300,000 tonnes of rubbish per day, comprising relatively innocuous
“broken household items, ash, food waste and packaging” per day. 
By
2000, 2.9 billion people were living in cities; and by 2025 garbage
production will reach 6 million tonnes a day, a quantity that will be
“enough to fill a line of rubbish trucks 5,000 kilometres long every
day.”
The world’s cities together will be producing
garbage in excess of 11 million tonnes per day by 2100, which is over
three times today’s figure. 
However, “as city dwellers become richer, the amount of waste they produce reaches a limit,” says the paper.
While
the authors do not believe that this ‘peak’ will happen this century,
they say that through a move to stabilise population growth, manage
cities better, and with greater equity and use of technology, the peak
could come forward to 2075. “This would save around 2.6 million tonnes
per day.”

 

Urbanisation making us more susceptible to natural disasters, says global report 

[dte]

Rapid growth in the number of people living in urban areas is
increasing the world’s susceptibility to natural disasters, warns a
recent global report by the Institution of Mechanical Engineers
(IMechE), a London body representing engineers from various fields.
The report, titled Natural Disasters: Saving Lives Today, Building Resilience Tomorrow,
calls for a much greater focus on preparing people for possible extreme
natural events and building disaster resilience among locals.
It says that about 78,000 people are killed annually in natural
disasters and another 200 million (or about 3 per cent of the human
population) are directly affected by them. Economic loss from these
tragedies stretches across the globe and ranges around US $100 billion a
year, the report says, while citing the instance of tsunami that hit
Japan in 2011.
According to the report, the trend of global urbanisation shows that
75 per cent of the world’s population would be living in towns and
cities by 2050, with 95 per cent of this expansion being anticipated in
developing countries. The movement of more and more people into less
resilient areas like coastal regions, flood plains and earthquake-prone
zones has been cited as one of the factors responsible for more natural
disasters. Degradation of natural environment is another reason for
increasing calamities. The report cites unplanned expansion and
development in disaster-prone areas as another reason for increased
disasters and mentions recent flood fury in Uttarakhand in India as an
example.
Building back better
The report stresses on the need to prioritise the next phase of
rebuilding affected areas after any tragedy in cooperation with
communities which are more resilient. For this, it suggests putting in
place long-term infrastructure redesign and re-engineering, and
incorporating knowledge from across the globe on the ways to build and
scale up preparedness and resilience against future events, often termed
as “building back better”.
“When extreme natural events like earthquakes, tsunamis and cyclones
occur, it is crucial that engineers are involved in early response
activities, not only to assess damage and ensure safety of the remaining
buildings and structures, but also to ensure that decisions are made
for a longer-term,” said Tim Fox, head of energy and environment at
IMechE, during the release of the report.
“As was seen earlier this week in India in case of cyclone Phailin,
given adequate levels of preparedness and resilience many disasters
could be avoided and lives and communities saved,” he added.
Fox also explained that engineering can play a big role in
strengthening preparedness and reducing the impact of unavoidable
disasters. “Engineers are critical to planning and developing specific
and local resilience as they are the ones who can assess the gravity of
issues like the availability of potable water, energy, sanitation,
transport links for food supplies and interconnectedness of essentials
like water and electricity,” said the IMechE head.
The report recommends that governments around the world should be
more focused on building local capacity through planning and knowledge
transfer and embedding long-term engineering perspectives along with
short-term responses.
The report also reveals how the involvement of the private sector can
be instrumental in overcoming the challenge of transferring technical
ability to developing nations and their resilience programs.
Key findings of the report:

  • On
    an average, about 78,000 people are killed annually in natural
    disasters, with a further 200 million (or about 3 per cent of the human
    population) directly affected by it and economic losses running into
    about US $100 billion.
  • Man-made changes have removed the natural barriers which had been protecting the Earth against extreme natural events
  • Rapid
    growth of economic activity, human population and urbanisation in
    Asia-Pacific countries has rendered the region more vulnerable to the
    effects of extreme natural events
  • Between
    1980-2009, about 38 per cent of disaster-related economic losses, from
    across the globe, occurred in Asia, which shows the continent is 25
    times more susceptible to natural disasters than Europe

Higher sex ratio among tribal, SC groups: census

[hindu]

Despite having lower literacy rates than “others”, scheduled caste
households have higher sex ratios, and tribals the highest of all, newly
released Census data shows.
While census data is not yet available by religious group, the primary
data of scheduled castes and scheduled tribes was made available by the
office of the Registrar General of India and Census Commissioner on
Monday.
The data shows that although the numbers are improving, scheduled
castes, who comprise 16.6% of the population, and scheduled tribes, who
make up 8.6% of the population, have lower literacy rates than the
Indian average. The literacy rate for female STs is still under 50% and
just 57% for SC women, while the numbers are slightly higher for men.
Yet despite the common belief that education will improve attitudes to
female children, the data shows that India’s least educated social
groups are those with better sex ratios. The child sex ratio (girls for
every 1000 boys aged 1-6) is 957 for STs and 933 for SCs as compared to
910 for “others”. In urban areas, the child sex ratio of the
non-scheduled caste, non-tribal population is just over 900, meaning
there are 100 less girls for every 1000 boys.
Better sex ratios among tribals could reflect a combination of positive
and negative factors; cultural gender parity as well as lack of access
to pre-natal diagnostic technology. Dr. Abhay Bang, the award-winning
doctor and social activist from Gadchiroli in Maharashtra who is a
member of the central government’s new High-Level Committee on Status of
Tribal Communities, says that both factors could co-exist. “It is true
that there is no social bias against women in tribal communities such as
there exists among the middle castes, especially landed ones. Women can
ask for a divorce, and in many communities, money is paid to the girl’s
family at the time of marriage,” Dr. Bang told The Hindu.
Simultaneously, most tribal communities either do not know of pre-natal
sex determination, or do not have access to it, Dr. Bang said. “But
among more educated tribals, those who get government jobs, sex
selection has begun,” he said.
Similarly, the female work participation rate – the proportion of women
who are in the workforce – which is considered an indicator of female
empowerment, is highest among STs, followed by SCs and then “others”. In
fact, the proportion of female STs in the workforce is nearly double
that of women in the “other” category; 44% as against 23%.
Social group
Child sex ratio
Sex ratio
Effective female literacy rate (in %)
Females in workforce (in %)
ST
957
990
49.35%
43.49%
SC
933
945
56.46%
28.30%
Others
910
937
68.19%
22.76%
India
919
943
64.64%
25.51%
Within caste groups, location matters. The child sex ratio among SCs is
far lower in states like Haryana, Punjab and Delhi which have low sex
ratios for all social groups. Within these states, however SCs do better
than other social groups. Similarly, the literacy rate of SCs in Kerala
is higher than that of “others” in Bihar.
The new numbers also show that tribals are undergoing a massive
occupational change. While there has been a fall in the proportion of
people working as cultivators and a rise in agricultural labour across
the country, this shift is most marked in the case of STs. Nearly 10
lakh fewer tribals reported being cultivators in 2011 as compared to ten
years ago, while there were 73 lakh more tribal agricultural labourers.

India slips to 106th spot in World Prosperity Index

[ie]

India has slipped by five places to 106th spot, way below neighbouring Bangladesh, Nepal, Sri Lanka and China in the World Prosperity Index, largely due to poor ‘safety and security’ environment.
In the ‘Prosperity Index’ ranking of 142 countries compiled by London-based Legatum Institute, India dropped from 101st position last year, while Norway continues to remain at the top.
Besides, India has fallen down the prosperity index rankings consistently over the last five years, the report said.
The 2013 Legatum Prosperity Index evaluates nations in eight categories, including education, health, economy, safety and security.
India’s position has dropped below neighbouring China (51), Sri lanka (60), Nepal (102) and Bangladesh (103).
At the top of the index, Norway defended its numero uno position for the fifth year. Switzerland is at second place, followed by Canada at third, Sweden at fourth and New Zealand at fifth.
Besides, in the ‘Ease of Doing Business’ report by World Bank and International Finance Corporation (IFC) released earlier this week, India was ranked at 134th place while neighbours like China, Pakistan, Nepal and Bangladesh were placed at better positions.
According to the report, India has slipped in the safety and security category by 21 places to 120 “due to an increase in property being stolen, assault rates, group grievances, and drop in the perception of feeling safe walking home alone at night.”
Besides, the country has dropped by 45 places to 100 on personal freedom segment “due to a drop in the tolerance of immigrants and a drop in civic choice variables.”
Moreover, the country ranked low on health ground (109 in the index), entrepreneurship and opportunity (104) and education (97).
Meanwhile, on the lower end of the rankings Chad stood at 142, Central African Republic (141), Congo (140), Afghanistan (139), Pakistan (132) and Iraq (130).

***will be updated ***

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