Current Affairs summary 28 Aug

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1. Millions in India may face nutritional deficiencies due to CO2 rise: Study

• Millions of Indians are at the risk of becoming nutrient deficient by 2050, as rising levels of carbon dioxide (CO2) are making staple crops such as rice and wheat less nutritious, according to a study.

• Researchers at Harvard T. H. Chan School of Public Health in the US found that rising CO2 levels from human activity could result in 175 million people worldwide becoming zinc deficient and 122 million people becoming protein deficient by 2050.

• The study, published in the journal Nature Climate Change, also found that over one billion women and children could lose a large amount of their dietary iron intake, putting them at increased risk of anaemia and other diseases.

==> India and Malnutrition

• It found that India would bear the greatest burden, with an estimated 50 million people becoming zinc deficient. As many as 38 million people in India are at the risk of becoming protein deficient, and 502 million women and children becoming vulnerable to diseases associated with iron deficiency, the researchers said.

• Other countries in South Asia, Southeast Asia, Africa, and Middle East would also be significantly impacted.

• Presently, over two billion people worldwide are estimated to be deficient in one or more nutrients. In general, humans tend to get a majority of key nutrients from plants: 63% of dietary protein, 81% of iron and 68% of zinc comes from vegetal sources.

• It has been shown that higher atmospheric levels of CO2 results in less nutritious crop yields.

==> Detailed Study

• Concentrations of protein, iron and zinc are 3-17% lower when crops are grown in environments where CO2 concentrations are 550 parts per million (ppm) compared with crops grown under current atmospheric conditions, in which CO2 levels are just above 400 ppm. Researchers sought to develop the most robust and accurate analysis of the global health burden of CO2-related nutrients shifts in crops in 151 countries.

• They created a unified set of assumptions across all nutrients and used more detailed age- and sex- specific food supply datasets to improve estimates of the impacts across 225 different foods.

• The Study showed that by 2050, when atmospheric CO2 concentrations are expected to reach around 550 ppm, 1.9% of the global population – or roughly 175 million people, based on 2050 population estimates – could become deficient in zinc. About 1.3% of the global population, or 122 million people, could become protein deficient.

• Additionally, 1.4 billion women of childbearing age and children under five who are currently at high risk of iron deficiency could have their dietary iron intakes reduced by four percent or more.

• The researchers also emphasized that billions of people currently living with nutritional deficiencies would likely see their conditions worsen as a result of less nutritious crops.


2. Isro plans manned space mission by 2022, to cost $1.4 billion

• India plans to spend $1.4 billion to send a crew of three to space by 2022.

• A module with three astronauts will be launched from Sriharikota, a tiny barrier island in Andhra Pradesh, taking the passengers on a seven-day voyage around the Earth, according to the government. The capsule will then land in the Arabian sea, near the western coastal of Gujarat.

• India, the world’s cheapest space explorer, is competing with the likes of the US, China, Russia and billionaires such as Jeff Bezos and Elon Musk in exploring space. The Indian Space Research Organisation (ISRO), the nation’s equivalent of the National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA), plans to land near the Moon’s south pole early next year — an area where no nation has gone before — and explore the potential for mining helium-3, a source of waste-free nuclear energy that could be worth trillions of dollars.

• The plan, which will put the South Asian nation on track to become the fourth to send humans to space, will create as many as 15,000 jobs and will be preceded by two unnamed test flights, K. Sivan, Isro’s chairman, told reporters in New Delhi on Tuesday. Prototypes of space suits, a crew-escape system and life-support system are already in place, he said.

• India has specialized in low-cost space launches since the early 1960s, when rocket sections were transported by bicycle and assembled by hand inside St. Mary Magdalene Church in Thumba, a fishing village near the tip of the Indian peninsula. It has since conducted missions to Mars and the moon, where an unmanned mission showed the likelihood of water formation.


3. Indian officials arrive in Pakistan to discuss Indus Waters Treaty

• A delegation of Indian officials arrived in Pakistan to hold talks on issues relating to the implementation of the Indus Waters Treaty between the two countries, the first bilateral engagement between the two countries since Prime Minister Imran Khan took office.

• Pakistan Water Commissioner Syed Mehr Ali Shah and additional commissioner Sheraz Jamil received the nine-member Indian delegation led by Water Commissioner P K Saxena on arrival via the Attari-Wagah border crossing, one of the few such border points between India and Pakistan.

• Shah said talks between the two countries will be held on water issues on Wednesday and Thursday in Lahore.

• The talks are the first official engagement between India and Pakistan since Khan became prime minister on 18 August. The last meeting of the Pakistan-India Permanent Indus Commission was held in New Delhi in March during which both sides shared details of the water flow and the quantum of water being used under the 1960 Indus Waters Treaty.

• India and Pakistan signed the treaty in 1960 after nine years of negotiations, with the World Bank being a signatory. The treaty sets out a mechanism for cooperation and information exchange between the two countries regarding their use of rivers. However, there were disagreements and differences between India and Pakistan over the treaty.

• Shah said Pakistan raised objections on the 1,000 MW Pakal Dul and 48 MW Lower Kalnai hydroelectric projects on River Chenab, and would like India to either modify the designs to make them compliant to the 1960 Indus Waters Treaty or put the projects on hold until New Delhi satisfied Islamabad.

• The two sides will also finalise the schedule of future meetings of the Permanent Indus Commission and visits of the teams of the Indus commissioners.

• The water commissioners of Pakistan and India are required to meet twice a year and arrange technical visits to project sites and critical river head works.


4. After Saubhagya, govt plans induction stoves for the poor

• The government is working on an ambitious plan to provide induction stoves to poor households in rural and urban India.

• The scheme being explored by the Union power ministry will help reduce import of fossil fuels and generate fresh demand for electricity and consequently support underutilized power plants.

• The shift to induction cooking will be possible after the Rs 16,320 crore Pradhan Mantri Sahaj Bijli Har Ghar Yojana (Saubhagya) is implemented. The scheme is expected to increase India’s electricity demands, with the centre setting a December 2018 deadline to provide electricity connections to more than 40 million rural and urban households.

• This comes against the backdrop of non-performing assets (NPAs) in power generation accounting for around 5.9% of the banking sector’s total outstanding advances of Rs 4.73 trillion, according to the second volume of the Economic Survey 2016-17 released in August.

• Any substitution of fuels for cooking and heating will improve India’s per capita power consumption of around 1,200 kWh, which is among the lowest in the world. According to the government, the Saubhagya scheme will require an additional 28,000 megawatts of power, considering an average load of 1 kilowatt per household for eight hours in a day.

• The government is exploring a series of measures to boost electricity demand in the country. A total of 34 coal-fuellled power projects, with an estimated debt of Rs 1.77 trillion, that have been identified by the department of financial services, have been reviewed by the government. These projects face problems such as paucity of funds, lack of power purchase agreements and absence of fuel security. Of the projects accounting for 75,000 MW facing problems, those accounting for 40,000 MW can be salvaged, it was found.

• The measures to boost demand include setting up a pan-India power distribution company, given that the segment will be key to the long-term fortunes of the power sector. Distribution companies (discoms) have so far been the weakest link in the electricity value chain. Poor payment records of state-owned discoms have not only adversely affected power generation companies, but have also contributed to stress in the banking sector.

• The country’s energy demand is likely to go up by 2.7-3.2 times between 2012 and 2040 and hence the need to scale new frontiers, according to the government’s policy think tank, NITI Aayog. India’s per capita energy demand is expected to reach 1,055-1,184 kilogram of oil equivalent (kgoe) in 2040 from 503kgoe in 2012.

• Induction cooking is more efficient as energy is directly transferred to the pan.

• India is the biggest emitter of greenhouse gases after the US and China, and among the countries most vulnerable to climate change. India plans to reduce its carbon footprint by 33-35% from its 2005 levels by 2030, as part of its commitments to the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change adopted by 195 countries in Paris in 2015.

• The government is also working towards ensuring stable electricity supply in the country. Its aim is to provide “24X7 clean and affordable power for all” by March 2019, with the state governments and Union territories on board for the objective.


5. Centre allows law enforcement agencies to hold banned currency notes

• The Centre has come to the rescue of law enforcement agencies like tax department and Enforcement Directorate, which are faced with a situation of holding confiscated currency notes beyond specified limits, by making changes in the law.

• A notification in this regard has been issued by the Ministry of Finance allowing agencies such as Central Board of Direct Taxes, Central Board of Indirect Taxes and Enforcement Directorate to hold banned currency notes.

• Under the Specified Bank Notes (Cessation of Liabilities) Act, 2017, banned currency notes beyond a certain limit could be held only by the Reserve Bank, its agencies, or other person authorized by it, and in pursuance of court order.

• An individual is not allowed to hold more than 10 banned notes. Besides, not more than 25 such notes could be kept for study, research or numismatics.

• According to the Finance Ministry’s notification, law enforcement agencies had seized or confiscated the Rs 500/1,000 notes on or before December 30, 2016 without specific directions from the court and need to deposit or exchange those on production of the documents authorizing the seizure or confiscation.

• However, there is no provision in the Act to authorize such deposits of the specified bank notes seized or confiscated by the enforcement agencies.

• To deal with the difficulty, the government has come out with an order ‘Specified Bank Notes (Cessation of Liabilities) Removal of Difficult Order, 2018’ using its power under Section 12 of the Act.

• Now, besides others, the law enforcement agencies, such as the Central Board of Direct Taxes, Central Board of Indirect Taxes and Enforcement Directorate on production of the documents authorizing such seizure or confiscation, as the case may be can hold the banned currency notes.

• In an order to check black money and terror financing, the government had banned the Rs 500/1000 notes in November 2016 and people were given time up till December 30, 2016 to exchange or deposit such notes with them. There was also a grace period to exchange/deposit the notes for people who were not in India during that period.

• The move had led to huge cash shortage currency notes, which eventually eased with following introduction of Rs 2,000 notes and new Rs 500 notes.

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Hemant Bhatt
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