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Current Affairs 11 May 2024

  1. ACCESS Survey on Clean Cooking Energy and Electricity
  2. Land Subsidence Reports in Chenab Valley
  3. West Nile Fever
  4. RBI Eases FEMA Regulations for Derivatives Investment
  5. Sickle Cell Disease (SCD)
  6. Global Biofuels Alliance
  7. AlphaFold3


Context:

The Council on Energy, Environment and Water conducted the Access to Clean Cooking Energy and Electricity – Survey of States (ACCESS) in 2014-15, focusing on access to clean cooking energy and electricity in India. The survey revealed that the cost of LPG was the primary barrier to its adoption and sustained use in rural poor households.

Relevance:

GS III: Indian Economy

Dimensions of the Article:

  1. Government’s Efforts to Promote LPG Usage
  2. Consequences of Rising LPG Prices
  3. Suitable Alternatives
  4. Way Ahead

Government’s Efforts to Promote LPG Usage:

Initiatives:
  • Rajiv Gandhi Gramin LPG Vitrak Scheme (2009): Launched to increase LPG distribution in remote areas, resulting in 45 million new LPG connections between 2010 and 2013.
  • Direct Benefit Transfers (DBT) for LPG (2015): Introduced under the ‘PAHAL’ Scheme to streamline LPG subsidy distribution.
  • Direct Home-Refill Deliveries (2016): Implemented for convenience, along with the ‘Give it Up’ program, which saw 10 million consumers voluntarily discontinuing subsidies to support below-poverty-line households.
  • Pradhan Mantri Ujjwala Yojana (PMUY) (2016): Aims to provide LPG connections to 80 million below-poverty-line households by 2020, offering subsidies of ₹200 per 14.2-kg cylinder (increased to ₹300 in October 2023).
Challenges and Considerations:
  • High LPG Prices: Despite government subsidies, India has one of the highest LPG prices globally, affecting affordability for some consumers.
  • Retail Price Components: The retail price of a 14.2 kg domestic LPG cylinder comprises LPG price, dealer’s commission, and taxes, with the cost of LPG itself contributing around 90% of the price.
  • Dependency on Imports: More than 60% of India’s LPG needs are met through imports, highlighting the country’s reliance on external sources for its LPG supply.
Retail Price Determination:
  • Components: The retail price includes LPG cost, dealer’s commission, and taxes, with taxes accounting for around 11% of the cylinder’s retail price.
  • Contrast with Petrol and Diesel Prices: Unlike petrol and diesel, where taxes form the bulk of the price, LPG prices are primarily determined by the cost of the LPG itself.

Consequences of Rising LPG Prices:

  • Dependency on Fuelwood: In Jalpaiguri district, West Bengal, local communities heavily rely on forests for fuelwood, with roughly half of the shops in local markets using it due to the high cost of commercial LPG cylinders (₹1,900).
  • Impact on Poverty: With 38.5% of Jalpaiguri’s population living below the poverty line, the high cost of LPG is a significant burden, especially for those working in tea estates earning a daily wage of ₹250.
  • Environmental Degradation: The persistent use of fuelwood leads to forest degradation and increases the risk of encounters with wild animals, posing environmental and safety concerns.

Suitable Alternatives:

  • Government Schemes: While many households in Jalpaiguri have LPG connections through schemes like PMUY, high prices have deterred frequent cylinder refills.
  • Switch to LPG: Initially, households reported benefits such as faster and smokeless cooking after switching to LPG, but the price hike has made these advantages short-lived.
  • Local Initiatives: Efforts are underway with the West Bengal Forest Department and Joint Forest Management Committees to introduce alternatives such as saplings of high fuelwood value, efficient cooking stoves, and optimized shade tree density in tea plantations.
  • Sustainable Solutions: Focus on locally acceptable and sustainable alternatives to fuelwood, ensuring forest conservation, wildlife protection, and livelihood security.

Way Ahead:

  • Affordability of LPG: Future governments must prioritize making LPG affordable, especially in regions where alternatives to fuelwood are limited and socio-economic deprivation is prevalent.
  • National Policy on Clean Cooking: Implementing a national policy on smokeless cooking stoves that consume less fuelwood can mitigate socio-ecological crises and promote environmental sustainability.

-Source: The Hindu



Context:

Reports of land subsidence have emerged from various parts of the Chenab Valley, particularly affecting the Ramban, Kishtwar, and Doda districts. This phenomenon has resulted in the destruction of several houses in the affected areas.

Relevance:

GS III: Disaster Management

Dimensions of the Article:

  1. Understanding Land Subsidence
  2. Understanding Land Subsidence in the Chenab Region
  3. Way Forward

Understanding Land Subsidence

  • Land subsidence refers to the sinking or settling of the ground surface due to various natural or human-induced factors, resulting in a gradual lowering of the land elevation.
Causes:
  • Resource Extraction: Extraction of underground resources such as water, natural gas, and oil can lead to decreased pore pressure and increased effective stress, causing the ground to subside.
  • Irrigation: Extensive use of water for irrigation and agricultural purposes can contribute to ground subsidence by depleting underground aquifers.
  • Mining Activities: Mining operations, particularly coal mining, can create large empty spaces underground (goaf), leading to ground subsidence.
  • Construction: The construction of tall buildings and heavy infrastructure can exert pressure on the ground, causing soil deformation and subsidence.
  • Soil Creep: Continuous downhill movement of soil due to gravity, known as soil creep, can gradually deform the foundation and contribute to ground subsidence over time.
Examples:
  • Jakarta, Indonesia: Excessive groundwater extraction has caused severe land subsidence in Jakarta, with rates reaching up to 25 cm per year.
  • Netherlands: Land subsidence has been a significant issue in the Netherlands due to the extraction of natural gas from underground reservoirs.
Impact:
  • Land subsidence can lead to structural damage to buildings, infrastructure, and underground utilities.
  • It can increase the risk of flooding in low-lying areas by altering drainage patterns.
  • Subsidence can also affect ecosystems and natural habitats, leading to changes in land use and biodiversity.

Understanding Land Subsidence in the Chenab Region

Reasons for Land Subsidence:

  • Soft Sedimentary Deposits: The presence of soft sedimentary deposits and alluvial soils makes the region prone to land subsidence, as these materials compact under the weight of structures and external forces like groundwater extraction.
  • Urbanisation Pressure: Urbanisation and unplanned construction in hilly areas exert significant pressure on the land, leading to subsidence.
  • Hydroelectric Projects: Construction of hydroelectric stations can alter natural water flow, impacting land stability. For instance, Joshimath faces subsidence due to its proximity to a hydroelectric station.
  • Inadequate Drainage: Poor drainage systems worsen subsidence by causing waterlogging, increased groundwater levels, soil erosion, and infrastructure damage.
  • Geological Factors: The presence of scattered rocks covered with old landslide debris, including boulders and gneissic rocks with low bearing capacity, contributes to subsidence, especially during monsoons.

Way Forward:

  • Environmental Preservation: Prioritise environmental conservation while developing the Himalayas, leveraging natural resources sustainably.
  • Water Management: Implement efficient water management practices like rainwater harvesting and recycling to reduce groundwater extraction.
  • Monitoring Networks: Establish monitoring networks to track ground movements and seismic activity, providing early warning of subsidence and earthquake-related hazards.
  • Regulatory Measures: Enforce regulations on mining and resource extraction to prevent void formation underground.
  • Climate Change Mitigation: Address climate change by reducing emissions and promoting sustainable practices to slow down glacial melting and associated subsidence.

-Source: The Hindu



Context:

The detection of West Nile fever in 3 Kerala districts has prompted health authorities to issue alerts and intensify preventive measures.

Relevance:

GS II: Health

Dimensions of the Article:

  1. About West Nile Fever
  2. Global Prevalence
  3. India’s prevalence
  4. Measures of Prevention

About West Nile Fever

  • WNV was discovered in a woman in Uganda’s West Nile district in 1937.
  • In 1953, it was discovered in birds in the Nile delta region. WNV was not considered pathogenic to birds prior to 1997.
  • WNV-related human infections have been reported in many countries for over 50 years.
Transmission
  • WNV is an infectious disease that is spread by infected mosquitos. The bite of an infected Culex mosquito transmits it from birds to humans. In humans, it can cause a fatal neurological disease.
  • According to the World Health Organization, the virus causes West Nile fever in approximately 20% of cases (WHO). It shares similarities with the Zika, Dengue, and Yellow Fever viruses.
  • According to the CDC, birds are the primary host of the virus, and mosquitoes become infected by biting birds.
  • According to health officials, it cannot be passed from person to person through casual contact.
What are the signs and symptoms of West Nile virus?
  • According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, most people infected with West Nile virus experience no symptoms or only mild to moderate illness.
  • According to the CDC, approximately one in every five people develop a fever, along with other symptoms such as headaches, body aches, joint pains, diarrhoea, vomiting, or a rash.
  • And about one in every 150 infected people develops severe illness affecting the central nervous system. High fever, headaches, neck stiffness, disorientation, coma, vision loss, or paralysis are all symptoms.
  • According to health officials, those over the age of 60 are at the greatest risk of severe illness. In New York City, the median age of people with positive cases is 62. People who have certain medical conditions, such as cancer, diabetes, or high blood pressure, are also at a higher risk of severe illness.
  • Recovery from a severe West Nile infection can take several weeks to months, but central nervous system damage can be permanent.
  • A West Nile infection can be detected through a blood test.
  • There are no vaccines or medications available to treat West Nile virus infections. Some symptoms can be relieved with over-the-counter pain relievers, but hospitalisation may be required in more severe cases.

Global Prevalence

  • WNV outbreak sites can be found along all major bird migration routes.
  • The virus is most commonly found in Africa, Europe, the Middle East, North America, and West Asia.
  • In most countries, WNV infections peak during the period when mosquito vectors are most active and the ambient temperature is high enough for virus multiplication.

India’s prevalence:

  • Human antibodies against WNV were first discovered in 1952 in Mumbai.
  • The virus’s activity has since been reported in southern, central, and western India.
  • WNV was isolated from Culex vishnui mosquitos in Andhra Pradesh and Tamil Nadu.
  • It was isolated from Culex quinquefasciatus mosquitos in Maharashtra.
  • It has been isolated from humans in Karnataka.
  • Human serum from Tamil Nadu, Karnataka, Andhra Pradesh, Maharashtra, Gujarat, Madhya Pradesh, Odisha, Rajasthan, and Assam also contained WNV neutralising antibodies.
  • Serologically confirmed cases of WNV infection were reported in Vellore and Kolar districts in 1977, 1978, and 1981, respectively, and in West Bengal in 2017.
  • In 2013, the complete genome sequence of WNV was isolated during an acute encephalitis outbreak in Kerala.
  • The link between WNV and eye infection was clearly established in Tamil Nadu during an epidemic of mysterious fever in the first half of 2010.

Measures of Prevention

  • Preventive measures should include the establishment of an active animal health surveillance system to detect new cases in birds and horses.
  • Because WNV outbreaks in animals precede human cases, early warning for veterinary and human public health authorities is essential.
  • The European Centre for Disease Control and Prevention (ECDC) has proposed that the European Union implement 28-day blood donor deferral or nucleic acid testing of prospective donors who have visited or lived in an affected area (EU).
  • Furthermore, donors of organs, tissues, and cells who live in or return from an affected area must be tested for WNV infection.

-Source: The Hindu



Context:

The Reserve Bank of India (RBI) has relaxed Foreign Exchange Management Act (FEMA) regulations to streamline foreign investment in derivatives. Derivatives are financial instruments agreed upon by two or more parties, encompassing various forms such as stock, bond, and economic indicator derivatives. This move aims to facilitate smoother foreign investment processes in derivatives markets.

Relevance:

GS III: Indian Economy

Dimensions of the Article:

  1. Recent FEMA Regulations
  2. Foreign Exchange Management Act, 1999 (FEMA)

Recent FEMA Regulations:

Introduction: The recent amendments to the Foreign Exchange Management Act (FEMA) regulations aim to streamline margin management for trading in permitted derivatives, both domestically and internationally.

Foreign Investment Facilitation: The amendments by the Reserve Bank of India (RBI) make it easier for foreign investors to participate in derivative instruments.

Present Mechanism:

  • RBI categorizes interest rate derivatives (e.g., interest rate swaps, forward rate agreements) and foreign currency derivatives (e.g., currency swaps, currency options) as permitted derivative contracts.
  • In the equity market, permitted derivatives include forward contracts, futures contracts, options contracts, and swap contracts.

Recent Changes:

  • Permission for ADs: Authorized Dealers (ADs) in India are now permitted to allow non-residents to open and maintain interest-bearing accounts in Indian Rupees and/or foreign currency for collecting margin in India for permitted derivative contracts.
  • Consistency with Previous Provisions: The permitted derivative contracts remain similar to the previous provisions under the present mechanism.

Benefits for Non-Residents:

  • Interest-Bearing Accounts: Non-residents can now open and maintain interest-bearing accounts with ADs in India for margin-related purposes. This allows them to earn interest on these funds instead of keeping them idle.
  • Ease of Margin Management: Dedicated accounts for margin requirements facilitate easier management of margin obligations and funds related to permitted derivative contracts in India for non-residents.

Foreign Exchange Management Act, 1999 (FEMA):

Overview: The Foreign Exchange Management Act, 1999 (FEMA) serves as the legal framework governing foreign exchange transactions in India.

Classification of Transactions: Under FEMA, foreign exchange transactions are classified into two categories: capital account transactions and current account transactions.

  • Current Account Transactions:
    • Current account transactions are those undertaken by a resident that do not alter their assets or liabilities outside India.
    • Examples include payments related to foreign trade, expenses for foreign travel, and educational expenses abroad.
  • Capital Account Transactions:
    • Capital account transactions involve altering the assets or liabilities of a resident outside India.
    • Examples include investments in foreign securities and acquisition of immovable property abroad.

Definition of Resident Indians:

  • According to Section 2(v) of FEMA, a “person resident in India” includes:
  • Individuals who have resided in India for more than 182 days during the preceding financial year.
  • Any person or body corporate registered or incorporated in India.

-Source: Business Line



Context:

Recently, a 12-year-old boy from USA, became the first person in the world with sickle cell disease to begin a commercially approved gene therapy that may cure the condition.

Relevance:

GS II: Health

Dimensions of the Article:

  1. Sickle Cell Disease (SCD)

Sickle Cell Disease (SCD):

 Sickle Cell Disease (SCD) is an inherited blood disorder characterized by flawed hemoglobin, the molecule in red blood cells (RBCs) responsible for carrying oxygen to the body’s tissues.

Mechanism:

  • People with SCD have atypical hemoglobin molecules known as hemoglobin S, which can distort RBCs into a sickle or crescent shape.
  • This abnormal hemoglobin interferes with the delivery of oxygen to the tissues.

Effect on Blood Flow:

  • Normally, RBCs are disc-shaped and flexible, allowing them to move easily through blood vessels.
  • In SCD, genetic mutations cause RBCs to become sickle-shaped, hindering their ability to bend and flow smoothly.
  • These sickled RBCs can block blood flow to various parts of the body.

Cause:

  • SCD is caused by a defective gene, known as the sickle cell gene.
  • An individual develops SCD only if they inherit two sickle cell genes, one from each parent.

Symptoms:

  • Early Stage: Symptoms may include extreme tiredness, fussiness from anemia, swollen hands and feet, and jaundice.
  • Later Stage: Symptoms can worsen to severe pain, anemia, organ damage, and susceptibility to infections.

Treatments:

  • Bone Marrow Transplant: A bone marrow transplant, also known as a stem cell transplant, can cure SCD.
  • Symptomatic Treatment: Treatments are available to alleviate symptoms, reduce complications, and prolong life expectancy.
  • Gene Therapy: Gene therapy is being explored as a potential cure for SCD, with the UK recently approving gene therapy treatment for the condition.

-Source: The Times of India



Context:

The Global Biofuel Alliance (GBA) has adopted a work plan focused on assessing country landscapes, drafting policy frameworks, and conducting biofuel workshops, petroleum and natural gas ministry officials said recently.

Relevance:

GS II: International Relations

Dimensions of the Article:

  1. Global Biofuels Alliance
  2. Significance of the Alliance
  3. Biofuel

Global Biofuels Alliance:

The Global Biofuels Alliance is an initiative led by India, with the goal of forming an alliance consisting of governments, international organizations, and industry stakeholders to promote the adoption of biofuels.

Membership:
  • The alliance has garnered participation from a total of 19 countries and 12 international organizations. Among the participants are both G20 member countries and non-member countries.
  • Founding members of the alliance include India, Brazil, and the United States.
Objectives:
  • The primary objective of the Global Biofuels Alliance is to facilitate cooperation and promote the use of sustainable biofuels, particularly in the transportation sector.

Significance of the Alliance:

The alliance holds several key significance factors:

  • Market Strengthening: It aims to strengthen biofuels markets, facilitate global trade in biofuels, share policy lessons, and provide technical support for national biofuels programs worldwide.
  • Capacity Building: The alliance will support the global development and deployment of sustainable biofuels by offering capacity-building exercises along the entire biofuels value chain and technical assistance for national programs.
  • Virtual Marketplace: It will establish a virtual marketplace to assist various stakeholders, including industries, countries, ecosystem players, and technology providers, in mapping demand and supply and connecting technology providers with end users.
  • Standards and Regulations: The alliance will also facilitate the development, adoption, and implementation of internationally recognized standards, codes, sustainability principles, and regulations to incentivize the adoption and trade of biofuels.

Biofuel:

  • Biofuel is a type of fuel produced from biomass within a relatively short timeframe, in contrast to the slow natural processes involved in the formation of fossil fuels like oil.
  • Biomass refers to organic materials, primarily derived from plants and animals, which can be used as a source of energy.
Generations of Biofuel:

First Generation:

  • First-generation biofuels are produced from consumable food items that contain starch (e.g., rice and wheat) or sugar (e.g., beets and sugarcane) for bioalcohols, as well as vegetable oils for biodiesel.
  • These biofuels are primarily derived from crops that are traditionally considered food sources.

Second Generation:

  • Second-generation biofuels are mainly obtained from non-food feedstocks, such as agricultural residues, forest biomass, and industrial waste, as well as used vegetable oils.
  • This generation of biofuels focuses on using non-food sources to avoid competition with food production.

Third Generation:

  • Third-generation biofuels, often referred to as “algae fuel,” are derived from algae and can take the form of both biodiesel and bioalcohols.
  • Algae-based biofuels are seen as a more sustainable and efficient source of bioenergy.

Fourth Generation:

  • Fourth-generation biofuels are also produced from non-arable land, similar to third-generation biofuels.
  • However, unlike third-generation biofuels, fourth-generation biofuels do not require the destruction of biomass, making them more environmentally friendly and sustainable.

-Source: Times of India



Context:

Google Deepmind has unveiled the third major version of its “AlphaFold” artificial intelligence model, designed to help scientists design drugs and target disease more effectively.

Relevance:

Facts for Prelims

Introducing AlphaFold3:

Development and Features:

  • Collaboration: AlphaFold3 is a collaborative effort between Google DeepMind and Isomorphic Labs.
  • AI Model: It’s an advanced AI model capable of predicting the structure and interactions of various molecules with unprecedented accuracy.
  • Scope: AlphaFold3 maps the behavior of all life’s molecules, including proteins, DNA, RNA, and small molecules like drugs.
  • 3D Structure Prediction: The model can generate the joint 3D structure of molecules, revealing how they interact and fit together.
  • Chemical Modifications: AlphaFold3 can also model chemical modifications in molecules, crucial for understanding cellular processes and disease mechanisms.
  • Diffusion Network: It assembles predictions using a diffusion network, similar to those used in AI image generators.
Significance:
  • Complexity Revealed: AlphaFold3 provides scientists with a comprehensive view of cellular systems, uncovering the complexity of molecular structures, interactions, and modifications.
  • Biological Insights: This insight helps researchers understand how molecular connections impact biological functions, such as drug actions, hormone production, and DNA repair processes.
Implications:
  • AlphaFold3’s capabilities open new avenues for drug discovery, disease understanding, and biotechnological advancements, revolutionizing the field of molecular biology and medicine.

-Source: The Hindu


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