10 Jan 2019: UPSC Exam Comprehensive News Analysis

TABLE OF CONTENTS

A. GS1 Related
B. GS2 Related
POLITY AND GOVERNANCE
1. Parliament passes Bill to provide 10% quota for poor
2. SC appoints former S-G as amicus curiae in Puri temple case
INTERNATIONAL RELATIONS
1. Terrorism a critical risk, says Sushma Swaraj
2. Trump insists on steel wall with Mexico
3. U.K. to test immigration proposals in India
C. GS3 Related
D. GS4 Related
E. Editorials
INTERNATIONAL RELATIONS
1. The Great Game is not a zero-sum deal (American pullout from Afghanistan)
2. Korean consensus? (North Korean Leader Visiting China)
SCIENCE AND TECHNOLOGY
1. The space race (China's moon mission)
F. Tidbits
1. J&K IAS topper quits in protest against killings
2. Creating a world record with 10,105 sanitary pads
3. Google Assistant breaks language barriers
4. A ‘bio-safe’ way to fight mosquitoes
5. Why some snakes are deadlier than others?
G. Prelims Fact
1. Parivesh
2. Biological immortality
H. UPSC Prelims Practice Questions
I. UPSC Mains Practice Questions

A. GS1 Related

Nothing here for today!!!

B. GS2 Related

Category: POLITY AND GOVERNANCE

1. Parliament passes Bill to provide 10% quota for poor

Context

  • Parliament on Wednesday cleared the Constitutional Amendment Bill guaranteeing 10% quota in education and employment to economically weaker sections in the general category, following an approval by the Rajya Sabha.
  • The Upper House nod came following an over nine-hour-long heated debate, during which the Opposition accused the government of bringing the Bill in haste with an eye on the coming Lok Sabha election.

Background

  • The Lok Sabha on Tuesday passed a Bill allowing 10% quota in employment and education for the general category candidates who belong to the economically weaker sections.
  • The Constitution (124th Amendment) Bill, 2019, introduced by Minister of Social Justice and Empowerment Thawar Chand Gehlot, was cleared with a majority of the members (319) voting for it, and four against. The Rajya Sabha will take it up on Wednesday.
  • The 10% reservation will be over and above the 50% stipulated by the Supreme Court and is expected to benefit a huge section of upper castes, including Brahmins, Rajputs (Thakurs), Jats, Marathas and Bhumihars and trading castes such as Kapus and Kammas.
  • The economically deprived among the poor in the other religions will also benefit.

Who will the new 10% quota apply to?

  • To all those who are not covered in existing quotas and have a family income below ₹8 lakh a year or agricultural land below 5 acres
  • Those who have a house above 1,000 square feet or a 100-yard plot or above in a notified municipal area or a 200-yard plot or above in a non-notified municipal area are not eligible.

What steps are necessary for its implementation?

  • The 124th Constitution Amendment Bill, 2019, which the Lok Sabha passed on Tuesday, will have to be passed by the Rajya Sabha by a special majority of two-thirds of the members present and voting, which should not be less than one-half of the total strength of the House.
  • If it is not passed by both the Houses within the term of this Lok Sabha, it will lapse. The Bill will also have to be ratified by at least half the State Assemblies.
  • Once the Constitution is amended to add economic backwardness as a ground for reservations, it will most likely have to stand the test of judicial scrutiny, as the Supreme Court had in the Indra Sawhney case capped quotas at 50% of the available seats.

What are the future implications, should the Bill stand judicial scrutiny?

  • If the Supreme Court indeed agrees to lift the 50% cap, all States of India can extend the quantum of reservation and “upper castes” will stand to lose in State services.
  • If the Supreme Court rejects the idea of breaching the 50% cap, Economically Weaker Section (EWS) quotas can be provided only by eating into the SC, ST and OBC quota pie, which will have social and political implications.

2. SC appoints former S-G as amicus curiae in Puri temple case

Context

  • The Supreme Court on Wednesday appointed senior advocate and former Solicitor-General Ranjit Kumar as amicus curiae to assist it in a matter related to the administration of Jagannath Temple in Puri.
  • During the hearing on Wednesday, the issue of appointing a new amicus in the case arose before a Bench headed by Justice A.K. Sikri. The Bench asked Mr. Kumar, who was present in the court, whether he would assist it, to which he agreed.
  • An advocate, who had filed an application in the court seeking intervention in the case, told the Bench that a person having knowledge about the temple should be appointed as an amicus.

Amicus Curiae

  • In simple language, “amicus curiae” means “friend of the court”.
  • In many high-profile PILs, the courts appoint amicus curiae, to assist them in formulating a viewpoint and to make inquiries and reports.
  • In several major PIL judgments on prison reform, terrorism, environment, mentally deficient litigants, freedom of the media, unauthorised occupation of government premises and unauthorised constructions, decisions have been based on the assistance provided by the amicus.
  • There is another kind of amicus curiae, appointed in cases that are not PILs, where important questions of law are involved and both parties are represented but the court still wants a senior lawyer to assist it. (e.g. Supreme Court appointed Raju Ramachandran as amicus to investigate allegations of Narendra Modi’s complicity in the Gujarat riots.)
  • The “traditional” amicus curiae is the one who is asked to represent the accused in a criminal appeal – when the Accused is too poor and/or requests the court to provide him a lawyer or when the criminal does not engage his own lawyer to defend him against the State.
  • Supreme Court and the high courts maintain panels of lawyers who are assigned amicus work in criminal appeals.
  • The Supreme Court has mandated that legal aid, that is, a lawyer representing a poor accused, is a must in criminal cases.

Category: INTERNATIONAL RELATIONS

1. Terrorism a critical risk, says Sushma Swaraj

Context

  • Terrorism, threat of proliferation of weapons of mass destruction and climate change are the critical challenges that confront us today, External Affairs Minister Sushma Swaraj said here on Wednesday.
  • “Today, no country, big or small, is immune from this existential threat, particularly, terrorism actively supported and sponsored by states. In this digital age, the challenge is even greater, with a greater vulnerability to radicalisation,” Ms. Swaraj said at the Raisina Dialogue jointly organised by the Observer Research Foundation and the External Affairs Ministry.

Raisina Dialogue

  • This is an annual geo-political event, organised by the Ministry of External Affairs and Observer Research Foundation (ORF).
  • It is designed to explore prospects and opportunities for Asian integration as well as Asia’s integration with the larger world. It is predicated on India’s vital role in the Indian Ocean Region and how India along with its partners can build a stable regional and world order.
  • The conference is a multistakeholder, cross-sectoral meeting involving policy and decision-makers, including but not limited to Foreign, Defence and Finance Ministers of different countries, high-level government officials and policy practitioners, leading personalities from business and industry, and members of the strategic community, media and academia.
  • The Raisina Dialogue was born three years ago, in 2016, in the belief that the Asian century that the world was talking about was not about any exclusive geographical region. It was rather about the engagement of global actors with Asia and of Asia with the world.
  • So this dialogue took birth as a platform, where the old and the new could work together, to discover their connections, their inter-dependence. It has today become a crucible for conversations and ideas that while located in India can be owned by the world.

2. Trump insists on steel wall with Mexico

Context

  • President Donald Trump used a prime-time address to the nation on Tuesday to insist on $5.7 billion for a steel wall along the Mexican border that he said would stop the shedding of “American blood” by illegal immigrants.

Analysis of the issue

  • Since his swearing-in as President, Trump is wasting no time in enforcing his numerous campaign promises. One such order is the use of federal resources to construct a Mexican border wall.
  • The border with Mexico is roughly 1,900 miles long and spans fours state: California, Arizona, New Mexico and Texas.
  • Trump’s thinking is that a giant wall dividing Mexico and the United States will restrict illegal immigrants’ entry into the country, as he feels the border patrol as it currently stands is weak and letting too many, as he puts it, “rapists” onto American soil.
  • Currently 652 miles of the 1,954-mile U.S. Mexico border has some amalgamation of walls, fences and other barriers. In areas closest to cities the wall has multiple layers. The wall is the weakest in more desolate areas and in some areas there is no wall at all. This is frequently because the terrain already provides a natural barrier, such as the widest parts of the Rio Grande River or steep mountain ranges.
  • Analysts believe the majority (possibly vast majority) of illegal immigrants enter America by air. There are two kinds of illegal immigration. President Trump’s rhetoric focuses on “entries without inspection.” But most illegal immigrants actually arrive in America with a visa – and then simply don’t leave. These are called “overstays.”
  • Also, the states where illegal immigration is growing are not on the Mexican border. The states with rising illegal immigration are Washington, Pennsylvania, New Jersey, Virginia, Massachusetts and Louisiana. Texas, New Mexico and Arizona have seen no significant, measurable increase in illegal immigrants. And California, Nevada, Illinois, Alabama, Georgia and South Carolina have seen their illegal immigrant population decline.
  • A border wall does not address the growth of illegal immigrants, as to the extent illegal immigrants are working in the U.S. they are clearly not in the border states.
  • Besides, the number of illegal immigrants living in the U.S. is actually declining. There are more Mexicans returning to live in Mexico than are illegally entering the U.S. Between 2009 and 2014 over 1 million illegal Mexican immigrants willingly returned to Mexico where working conditions had improved and they could be with family.
  • Americans also seem divided by the wall. According to a poll 47% of voters support building a wall, with 45% against. Critics say the wall proposal is pointless because, among other things, most drugs smuggled into the United States pass through legal entry points and are not transported through the desert.
  • The US-Mexico border region is a delicate ecosystem with regular animal and bird migrations moving between the north and south of the American continent. A number of species need to cross the border to mate with their genetically different cousins, including the endangered North American jaguar and black bears, which would be threatened without being able to mate with Mexican bears.
  • If the main intention is to stop illegal border immigrants into the U.S., the best (and least costly) policy would be to cooperate with Mexico to capture these immigrants as they flee Central America and find a solution for either housing them in Mexico or returning them to their country of origin. It is ridiculous to expect Mexico to pay for a wall when it is not Mexico’s citizens creating the purported illegal immigration problem on the border.
  • If the administration would like to stop illegal immigration the best way is to help Mexico create more high-paying jobs (say with a trade deal like NAFTA) so they don’t come to America, and those in America simply choose to go to Mexico.

3. U.K. to test immigration proposals in India

Context

  • British officials are set to test India’s reaction to proposals for a new post-Brexit immigration system unveiled in December.
  • Home Office officials are set to meet with counterparts in India next week, as well as others, for discussions on the ‘Immigration White Paper’ unveiled by Home Secretary Sajid Javid last year, a senior Foreign and Commonwealth Office (FCO) official has said.

Salient features of the UK immigration proposals

  • End to free movement -Everyone will be required to obtain a permission if they want to come to the UK to work or study.
  • Immigration targets – There will be no cap on the numbers of skilled workers but there will be targets. The Tory party has a longstanding commitment, flowing from Theresa May’s time as home secretary of reducing net migration to below 100,000 a year.
  • No access to British welfare system – Those who enter under the new system will have no “right to access to public funds, or to settle.
  • New system will favour skilled workers. The government says the policy “will ensure the UK remains a hub for international talent from the EU and the rest of the world”.
  • Low-skilled workers – To address concerns of employers particularly in construction and social care, it is proposed that low-skilled workers will be able to enter the UK for a maximum of 12 months with a cooling-off period of a further 12 months to prevent people effectively working in the UK permanently. Low-skilled workers in this category will be able to move between employers without sponsorship. No access to public funds, a switch to another visa, or family reunion.
  • £30,000 salary threshold – There will be a salary threshold but this has been put out to a 12-month consultation period, so this could change if government succumbs to pressure from the business community, which says the minimum income is set too high for most sectors.

C. GS3 Related

Nothing here for today!!!

D. GS4 Related

Nothing here for today!!!

E. Editorials

Category: INTERNATIONAL RELATIONS

1. The Great Game is not a zero-sum deal (American pullout from Afghanistan)

Background

  • The Trump administration has decided to withdraw roughly 7,000 troops from Afghanistan.
  • This decision will have major consequences for peace in Afghanistan and the neighborhood, which may result into chaos, a gradual descent into a civil war is likely as various regional stakeholders try to reshape the battlefield in accordance with their own strategic priorities counting on American forces to eventually leave

Concerns for India

The Taliban now controls, or actively contests, the government’s control, in around

45 percent of Afghanistan’s territory. The Afghan security forces are taking heavy casualties, losing on an average, 30-40 members every day. Important urban centres like Ghazni have been taken over by the Taliban, for days

  • A swift military takeover by the Taliban would raise security concerns in India, given the past Taliban role in colluding with the hijackers of IC 814.
  • The Taliban has also provided training facilities and bases for terrorist groups like the Jaish-e-Mohammed, which was responsible for the attack on India’s Parliament.

China’s Role

  • Sharing part of a border with Afghanistan, China has a great interest in its stability.
    • China would be adversely affected by war and chaos, which could spill over into north-western China, Pakistan, and Central Asia.
    • As all these areas are vital in its Belt and Road Initiative (BRI), peace in Afghanistan is critical.
  • China has gained considerable economic and diplomatic influence in Afghanistan.
    • Unsurprisingly, Afghanistan’s President, Ashraf Ghani, made China the destination of his first official trip abroad in October 2014.
    • China then announced its intention to build regional consensus on Afghanistan’s security.
  • It has joined the U.S. and Russia in several peace talks with the Taliban and is part of the four-nation Quadrilateral Coordination Group (with Afghanistan, Pakistan and the U.S.).
    • It is giving military aid to Afghanistan, with the express intent of fighting terrorism and increasing security cooperation.
    • If the U.S. withdrawal exacerbates conflict, southern Russia will also face the threat of an extremist spillover. Therefore, Russia and its Central Asian ‘near abroad’ would be willing to expand their cooperation with China to curb insecurity.
  • Tajikistan and Uzbekistan, which share a border with northern Afghanistan, are concerned about the Taliban and other terrorist groups becoming powerful in Afghanistan, and posing a threat.
    • The SCO’s programme for 2019-21 also calls for combating terrorism, and generally enhancing security cooperation.
  • China never had any intention of contributing troops to NATO’s anti-Taliban campaign.
    • But as Asia’s strongest power and challenger to the U.S., China will shed no tears if the U.S. reduces its military strength or calls it a day after 18 years of a protracted and indecisive war in Afghanistan.

Economic Role in Afghanistan

  • Despite the prevailing instability in Afghanistan, China has used diplomacy and finance to appear influential and generous.
  • It has invested in projects such as mining, roads and railways, and health.
    • A rail link, completed in 2016, and running from far eastern China via Uzbekistan to the river port of Hairatan in northern Afghanistan, could reduce the time taken to make shipments, from six months by road, to just two weeks.
    • Infrastructure problems have halted work on the railway for a while, and the three countries are in talks to resume operations.

China Pakistan Angle

  • Pakistan is known to train and export extremists across the Durand Line. The reason for Taliban’s resilience is the support and succor it receives from Rawalpindi. Pakistan’s leverage in Afghanistan is set to grow.
    • Pakistan continues to provide the Taliban military and intelligence support, together with safe havens and bases on its soil. The Taliban’s Vice-President Sirajuddin Haqqani resides in and operates from Pakistan.
  • It is also blamed for exporting extremists to Uighur in Xinjiang, and for extremist attacks on Chinese workers in the CPEC area.
  • With China investing billions in the China-Pakistan Economic Corridor (CPEC) and Pakistan being the largest recipient of Chinese arms imports (2013-17), Could China have some leverage over Pakistan? Would China’s strategic and economic interests prompt it to press Pakistan to stop exporting terrorists across the Durand Line? These are the big questions.
  • On the other side USA can still play a role by asserting its rights from IMF as the Pakistan’s economy would collapse without assistance
    • The US in the past has also linked such assistance to Pakistan, to the ISI ending support for terrorism.

India’s Current Approach has been of Soft Power in Afghanistan

  • India has certainly contributed much ranging from telecommunications to education, Bollywood movies and pop music.
  • The building for the National Assembly was built with Indian assistance to support Afghanistan’s democracy.
  • Indian reconstruction largesse, amounting to some $3 billion, has earned it goodwill and popularity.

India China Coalition to reduce the growth of Taliban

  • The Afghan government would like to see India-China economic cooperation in Afghanistan that could boost progress and enhance human security
  • In a first, India and China started a joint training project for Afghan diplomats. They could expand cooperation by facilitating Afghanistan’s full membership of the SCO
  • China’s leadership role of the SCO and contacts with all parties (the U.S., the Taliban, the Afghan government, Pakistan, Russia and the five Central Asian states) could give it a vantage in crafting a regional solution on Afghanistan.

2. Korean consensus? (North Korean Leader Visiting China)

What’s in the news?

  • Recently, North Korean leader, Kim Jong-un, visited China at the invitation of President Xi Jinping.
  • This meeting is believed to have far-reaching consequences.

Editorial Analysis:

    • The visit to China of North Korean leader Kim Jong-un, at the invitation of President Xi Jinping, is significant for two distinct reasons.
    • Experts believe that this development is evidence of the continuing calm in the Korean peninsula for nearly a year since the thaw between Pyongyang and Washington that culminated in the Singapore summit in June 2018.
    • Further, the meeting also coincides with the resumption of trade negotiations between U.S. and Chinese delegations in Beijing.
    • It is important to note that expectations are that the dialogue between the regional neighbours (i.e. North Korea and China) could impact the trade dispute between the world’s two largest economies (i.e. the U.S. and China).
    • Whereas Mr. Xi is keen on securing sanctions relief for Mr. Kim, U.S. President Donald Trump will be equally eager that his peace deal continues to resonate in the region and beyond, notwithstanding the practical hurdles it has encountered.
    • Experts point out that the Xi-Kim meeting cannot have overlooked the stalled progress on the denuclearisation of the Korean peninsula that Mr. Kim and Mr. Trump agreed on in Singapore.
    • It is important to note that the American and North Korean leaders have in recent days reiterated their willingness to schedule another bilateral summit, a hope they have held out for months.
    • However, unlike the ambiguous promises issued in the Singapore declaration, Mr. Kim now wants to talk specifics. This could raise the stakes beyond diplomatic niceties and sound bites.
    • In his New Year address, Mr. Kim emphasised the easing of economic sanctions as a priority, on which Beijing’s diplomatic clout could prove critical despite the lack of movement on the nuclear question.
    • In that speech, Mr. Kim also insisted on a permanent end to the annual joint military exercises between the U.S. and South Korea. Another demand was for multilateral negotiations to declare a formal end to the Korean war in place of the truce that has obtained since 1953. The latter issues have acquired greater weight in view of the ongoing rapprochement between South Korea and North Korea.
  • This is exemplified by their decision to convert the Demilitarised Zone that separates the two countries into a peace park, and to disarm the joint security area.

Concluding Remarks:

  • In conclusion, it is important to note that formal negotiations between North Korea and the U.S. have made little headway since the Singapore summit.
  • As a matter of fact, access to North Korea’s nuclear installations has proved elusive to U.S. officials.
  • Experts point out that the sudden cancellation of Secretary of State Mike Pompeo’s visit to Pyongyang in August 2018 was an indication of the stalemate.
  • Also, a North Korean test of a new tactical weapon in November 2018 was seen as a way to pressure Washington for concessions, if not a return to the hostile posturing of previous years. The uneasy calm that has been sustained on the peninsula for over a year now is no doubt a respite from Pyongyang’s successive nuclear tests to rattle the U.S. mainland.
  • However, currently, Washington is impatient for information on the North Korean weapons stockpile, whereas Pyongyang is anxious about sanctions relief. A lot remains to be seen as to how this dynamic unfolds.

Category: SCIENCE AND TECHNOLOGY

1. The space race (China’s moon mission)

Introduction:

  • China’s landing on the mysterious “dark” side of the moon, the first by any country, gives Beijing a leg up on Washington over big ticket space exploration.
  • The data that China obtains on the moon’s craters could help it acquire an edge over other countries, including the U.S., in the highly competitive domain of space research.

Advantages of this move over other countries to China

  • The Chinese could also steal a march over the Americans by launching advanced rockets, which would explore new frontiers in space.
  • Unlike earth, the moon has an abundance of helium-3. In the far future, this can serve as the ideal fuel to power a new generation of spaceships, with the moon as the launchpad, instead of earth.
  • The Chinese may have also taken the lead over peers in exploring the possibilities of human habitation on the moon.
  • The Yutu-2, the rover of the ongoing Chang’e-4 mission, is programmed to explore the South Pole-Aitken Basin. This vast impact region, 13 km deep and 2,500 km wide, has copious reserves of ice. The promise of water has persuaded international space scientists to peg the site as suitable for a permanent lunar outpost, which is on China’s radar.

Areas of Competition

  • The promise of the moon’s natural resources can add another layer of rivalry between the Chinese and the Americans.
    • Space exploration buffs have considered asteroids as lucrative sources of precious metals such as gold, platinum, silver and iridium in the future.
    • But if the relatively more accessible surface of the moon could yield precious resources, the race for lunar colonisation would begin, providing China a substantial early-mover edge.
  • NASA may not actively engage in space collaboration with China leading to further bleak applauses.
  • This would amplify the mood within Washington’s political class which has been soured by the sentiment to contain China’s rise.
  • The recent arrest of high profile Huawei executives has also hurt the sentiments of Chinese which could intensify the tussle between technological giants

Conclusion

  • A new generation of Chinese and American peace advocates, global citizens and cyber-activists have their task cut out — to step up their game and prevent outer space from becoming another arena of a budding Cold War between Washington and Beijing.

F. Tidbits

1. J&K IAS topper quits in protest against killings

  • Shah Faesal, the Jammu & Kashmir resident who topped the Indian Administrative Service examination in 2010, resigned from service on Wednesday, citing the “marginalisation” of Muslims and the continued killings in the State as reason.
  • “To protest against the unabated killings in Kashmir, and lack of any sincere reach out from the Union Government; the marginalisation and invisiblisation of around 200 million Indian Muslims at the hands of Hindutva forces reducing them to second-class citizens; insidious attacks on the special identity of the J&K State and growing culture of intolerance and hate in the mainland India… I have decided to resign from the Indian Administrative Service,” said Mr. Faesal, 35.
  • He asserted that the current regime’s subversion of public institutions like the Reserve Bank of India, the Central Bureau of Investigation and the National Investigation Agency had the potential to decimate the constitutional edifice of the country and it needed to be stopped.
  • “I wish to reiterate that voices of reason in this country cannot be muzzled for long and the environment of siege will need to end if we wish to usher in true democracy,” he added.
  • Former Chief Minister and National Conference vice-president Omar Abdullah welcomed Mr. Faesal’s move. “The bureaucracy’s loss is politics’ gain. Welcome to the fold,” tweeted Mr. Abdullah.
  • Sources said Mr. Faesal is likely to join the NC and may be fielded by the party as a Lok Sabha candidate from north Kashmir.
  • Faesal became a poster boy in 2010 when he became the first ever candidate from J&K to top the prestigious examination.

2. Creating a world record with 10,105 sanitary pads

 

  • In a bid to promote menstrual hygiene, especially among adolescents, gynaecologists attempted a Guinness world record by creating the ‘longest line of sanitary pads’ at the 62nd All India Congress of Obstetrics and Gynaecology (AICOG) that began in the Bengaluru on Wednesday.
  • Over 1,500 gynaecologists, led by the organising chairperson Hema Divakar, created a line of 1,078 metres using 10,105 sanitary pads. Depicting women’s health, the sanitary pads were designed in the shape of a uterus.
  • The Federation of Obstetric and Gynaecological Societies of India (FOGSI), which is organising AICOG 2019, collaborated with a pharma company for the attempt. The Guinness record certificate will be presented to the organising chairperson of AICOG 2019 on Thursday.
  • According to the organisers, the pads will be donated to four city-based schools — Indira Priyadarshini Girls High School; RSPAVK High School, Jayanagar; Gokul Vidya Kendra and Mirambika School for New Age — for distribution among their students. According to the National Family Health Survey (NFHS) report published in December 2017, only 58% of women in the country in the age group of 15 to 24 use a hygienic method of menstrual protection.

3. Google Assistant breaks language barriers

 

  • At the Consumer Electronics Show (CES) 2019 currently on in Las Vegas, Google has unveiled a new feature: the ‘interpreter mode’ in Google Assistant, its voice-based Artificial Intelligence (AI). This would enable Google’s virtual assistant to serve as a real-time language translator between two people.
  • With this feature, which will be rolled out over the next few weeks on Google Home devices and Smart Displays, one can just tell the Google Assistant “Hey Google, be my Japanese interpreter”, and it would function as one. Currently, this feature supports 27 languages, including English, Hindi, Polish, Indonesian, Swedish, Thai, German and Korean.
  • For starters, the company is piloting the Interpreter Mode this week at the concierge desk in Caesars Palace in Las Vegas, at the Hyatt Regency in San Francisco, and Dream Downtown hotel in New York City.
  • “By bringing the best of Google services and AI to the Assistant, we’re focussed on building the most helpful digital assistant when you’re at home, in your car, or on the go,” said the company in its blog.
  • Google, which has to contend with Amazon’s Alexa as it strives to position Google Assistant as the consumer’s preferred voice-based assistant, also unveiled Google Assistant Connect, a platform that will enable third party device manufacturers to bring Google Assistant into their products “in an affordable and easy-to-implement way.”
  • Later in 2019, the Assistant will be coming to more popular media and entertainment devices, including television sets from Samsung. “You’ll be able to use your voice to turn on the TV, change volume and channels, and switch between inputs.”
  • Even at this year’s CES, some of the company’s partners, including Sony, Hisense, Philips, TCL, Skyworth, Xiaomi and Haier, are showcasing Android TV devices that come with Google Assistant.
  • Google pointed out that its Assistant works with over 1,600 home automation brands and over 10,000 devices. Interestingly, Amazon announced around 70 products at its ‘Alexa event’ held at its headquarters in Seattle in September last year.

4. A ‘bio-safe’ way to fight mosquitoes

 

  • Scientists in the United States said on Tuesday they had taken a major step toward developing a “mosquito birth control” drug to curb the spread of malaria and other killer diseases blamed for hundreds of thousands of deaths a year.
  • Researchers at the University of Arizona said they had discovered a protein unique to female mosquitoes which is critical for their young to hatch.
  • When the scientists blocked the protein, the females laid eggs with defective shells causing the embryos inside to die.
  • The team said developing drugs which targeted the protein could provide a way to reduce mosquito populations without harming beneficial insects such as bees.
  • Mosquitoes are one of the world’s deadliest insects, according to the World Health Organization (WHO) which has warned that global progress against malaria is stalling.
  • The disease infected around 216 million people in 2016, killing 445,000 of them, predominantly babies and young children in sub-Saharan Africa. Other diseases spread by mosquitoes include Zika, chikungunya, yellow fever, West Nile virus and dengue, which has risen 30-fold in recent decades, according to the WHO.

5. Why some snakes are deadlier than others?

 

  • Scientists have uncovered why the venom of some snakes makes them so much deadlier than others.
  • Some species, such as cobras, boomslangs and rattlesnakes, have far more venom than they apparently need. Why venoms vary so much in their ability to kill or incapacitate potential prey animals has long puzzled scientists.
  • The study, published in the journal Ecology Letters, tackled this puzzle by comparing records of venom potency and quantity for over 100 venomous snake species.
  • The research showed that the amount of venom a snake has depends on both its size and the environment it lives in.
  • “Like all substances venom is dosage-dependent,” said Andrew Jackson, Associate Professor at Trinity College Dublin. “We found that big terrestrial species have the most venom, while smaller tree-dwelling or aquatic species had the least.”

G. Prelims Fact

1. Parivesh

 

  • Pro-Active and Responsive facilitation by Interactive, Virtuous and Environmental Single-window Hub
  • An ambitious web-based single-window system ‘Parivesh’ will be rolled-out at state levels by January 15, bringing an end to the clearance nightmare for entrepreneurs. The automated system for submission, clearance and monitoring has already been implemented at the Central level.
  • It is an environmental single window hub for Environment, Forest, Wildlife and CRZ clearances. This Single-Window Integrated Environmental Management System has been developed in pursuance of the spirit of ‘Digital India’ initiated by the Prime Minister and capturing the essence of Minimum Government and Maximum Governance.
  • “PARIVESH” is a workflow based application, based on the concept of web architecture. It has been rolled out for online submission, monitoring and management of proposals submitted by Project Proponents to the Ministry of Environment, Forest and Climate Change (MOEFCC), as well as to the State Level Environmental Impact Assessment Authorities (SEIAA).
  • It seeks to give various types of clearances (e.g. Environment, Forest, Wildlife and Coastal Regulation Zone Clearances) from Central, State and district-level authorities.
  • The system has been designed, developed and hosted by the Ministry of Environment, Forest and Climate Change, with technical support from National Informatics Centre, (NIC).
  • It provides single registration and single sign-in for all types of clearances (i.e. Environment, Forest, Wildlife and CRZ), unique-ID for all types of clearances required for a particular project and a single Window interface for the proponent to submit applications for getting all types of clearances (i.e. Environment, Forests, Wildlife and CRZ clearances).
  • PARIVESH offers a framework to generate economic growth and strengthens Sustainable Development through e- Governance. With automatic highlighting of non-compliance by the system, PARIVESH helps in improving the overall performance and efficiency of the whole appraisal process.
  • It also helps the processing authorities, as it has a Single Window System for Central, State and District level clearances.
  • The facility of Geographic Information System (GIS) interface for the Appraisal Committee will help them in analyzing the proposal efficiently, automatic alerts (via SMS and emails) at important stages to the concerned officers, committee members and higher authorities to check the delays, if any.
  • It also enables project proponents, citizens to view, track and interact with scrutiny officers, generates online clearance letters, online mailers and alerts to state functionaries in case of delays beyond stipulated time for processing of applications.

2. Biological immortality

  • This refers to the biological state where certain organisms like the bristlecone pine and the jellyfish can live forever.
  • These organisms can be killed by external causes like injuries caused by harmful predators, catastrophic changes in their environment and fatal diseases, but they do not get fatally affected by the ageing process like in the case of other organisms.
  • They are considered to be biologically immortal as they can possibly live forever by endlessly replicating their dying cells. Some scientists, however, have argued that such resistance to ageing may decrease over time.

H. Practice Questions for UPSC Prelims Exam

Question 1. The Election Commission of India conducts the election for the vacant post of the
  1. President
  2. State Legislative Assemblies
  3. Speaker

Select the correct answer using the code given below:

  1. All of the above
  2. Only 1 and 3
  3. Only 1 and 2
  4. Only 2

See

Answer
Question 2. Which of the following elections are conducted by indirect system of election?
  1. The head of the Panchayats
  2. Vice President of India
  3. Members of Legislative Assemblies

Select the correct code:

    1. All of the above
    2. Only 2
    3. Only 1 and 2
    4. Only 1

 

See

Answer
Question 3. Which of the following statements about Jovian planets is incorrect?
  1. They are also known as Gas Giant Planets.
  2. Jovian planets are Jupiter like planet.
  3. Most of them are much larger than the terrestrial planets
  4. These planets are formed in the different period as compared to the terrestrial planets.

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Answer

I. Practice Questions for UPSC Mains Exam

  1. The Lok Sabha has passed the DNA Technology (Use and Application) Regulation Bill, 2018 that allows regulated use of DNA technology to establish the identity of certain defined categories of persons, including offenders, suspects, and undertrials. It is expected that the expanded use of DNA technology would result not only in speedier justice delivery but also in increased conviction rates. Discuss (12.5 Marks; 200 words)
  2. The plan to introduce reservation in jobs for economically weaker sections of the upper castes in India points out the growing concerns about employment growth in India. In this context write a note on the jobless growth of India suggesting some feasible solutions. (12.5 Marks; 200 words)

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