IASCLUB Daily Current Affairs : 09 September 2019

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How influenza is classified as H5N1, H1N1 and other kinds

Topic: GS–II: Health

Context:

On September 3, India was again declared free of the H5N1 virus, which causes avian influenza or bird flu, the earlier such declaration having come in 2017. In the last two years, there had been outbreaks of the disease in Odisha, Bihar, and Jharkhand.

  • According to the WHO, influenza is known to affect 5-10% of adults and 20-30% of children across the world every year. The many kinds of viruses causing influenza are identified by a standard nomenclature issued by the World Health Organization (WHO) in 1980.

The four influenza types

  • The WHO defines influenza as “a contagious, acute respiratory illness caused by influenza viruses, usually influenza A or B subtypes.”
  • The influenza virus, which causes the illness, is of four types: A, B, C, and D. According to the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), only the influenza A and B viruses are known to cause epidemics. The C type virus usually causes mild respiratory illness, while the D type virus typically affects cattle and is not known to infect humans.
  • The disease is often confused with a heavy cold, which has the same symptoms — headaches, runny nose, cough, and muscle pains. According to WHO, influenza is known to kill 6.5 lakh people every year, especially affecting young children, the elderly, pregnant women, or those with vulnerable immune systems.

The subtypes

  • Only the influenza a virus is divided into subtypes. The subtype is based on two proteins on the surface of the virus, hemagglutinin (H) and neuraminidase (N).
  • Hemagglutinin has 18 further subtypes while neuraminidase has 11. They are named from H1 to H18 and N1 to N11 in a sequential system that applies uniformly to influenza viruses from all sources.
  • According to the WHO, “Humans can be infected with avian, swine and other zoonotic influenza viruses, such as avian influenza virus subtypes A(H5N1), A(H7N9), and A(H9N2) and swine influenza virus subtypes A(H1N1), A(H1N2) and A(H3N2).”
  • Novel strains of the H1N1 virus have appeared in 1918, 1957, 1968, and most recently in 2009 during the global bird flu outbreak, which the WHO designated a pandemic. The 2009 strain is now known to have replaced the previous strains.

Krishna water dispute

Topic: GS –II: Constitution and Polity

Context:

  • The Krishna river dispute took a new turn this week, when Maharashtra and Karnataka Chief Ministers Devendra Fadnavis and B S Yediyurappa agreed to jointly oppose Andhra Pradesh’s application seeking a relook at the Krishna Water Disputes Tribunal’s 2010 order on water distribution between the riparian states.

What is the Krishna river dispute, and what has been done to resolve it?

  • The Krishna is an east-flowing river that originates at Mahabaleshwar in Maharashtra and merges with the Bay of Bengal, flowing through Maharashtra, Karnataka, Telangana and Andhra Pradesh. Together with its tributaries, it forms a vast basin that covers 33% of the total area of the four states.
  • A dispute over the sharing of Krishna waters has been ongoing for many decades, beginning with the erstwhile Hyderabad and Mysore states, and later continuing between successors Maharashtra, Karnataka and Andhra Pradesh.
  • In 1969, the Krishna Water Disputes Tribunal (KWDT) was set up under the Inter-State River Water Dispute Act, 1956, and presented its report in 1973. The report, which was published in 1976, divided the 2060 TMC (thousand million cubic feet) of Krishna water at 75 per cent dependability into three parts: 560 TMC for Maharashtra, 700 TMC for Karnataka and 800 TMC for Andhra Pradesh. At the same time, it was stipulated that the KWDT order may be reviewed or revised by a competent authority or tribunal any time after May 31, 2000.
  • Afterward, as new grievances arose between the states, the second KWDT was instituted in 2004. It delivered its report in 2010, which made allocations of the Krishna water at 65 per cent dependability and for surplus flows as follows: 81 TMC for Maharashtra, 177 TMC for Karnataka, and 190 TMC for Andhra Pradesh.

After the KWDT’s 2010 report

  • Soon after the 2010 report was presented, Andhra Pradesh challenged it through a Special Leave Petition before the Supreme Court in 2011. In an order in the same year, the apex court stopped the Centre from publishing it in the official Gazette.
  • In 2013, the KWDT issued a ‘further report’, which was again challenged by Andhra Pradesh in the Supreme Court in 2014. After the creation of Telangana from Andhra Pradesh in 2014, the Water Resources Ministry has been extending the duration of the KWDT.
  • Andhra Pradesh has since asked that Telangana be included as a separate party at the KWDT and that the allocation of Krishna waters be reworked among four states, instead of three. It is relying on Section 89 of The Andhra Pradesh State Reorganisation Act, 2014, which reads: “89. The term of the Krishna Water Disputes Tribunal shall be extended with the following terms of reference, namely:
  1. shall make project-wise specific allocation, if such allocation has not been made by a Tribunal constituted under the Inter-State River Water Disputes Act, 1956;
  2. Shall determine an operational protocol for project-wise release of water in the event of deficit flows.
  • Maharashtra and Karnataka are now resisting this move. On September 3, the two states said: “Telangana was created following bifurcation of Andhra Pradesh. Therefore, allocation of water should be from Andhra Pradesh’s share which was approved by the tribunal.”

Gujarat’s new system of teachers’ attendance through face recognition

Topic: GS–II: Social Justice  

A new system of marking attendance using face recognition technology kicked into place for primary school teachers in Gujarat on September 5. Teachers had been opposed to the system, citing concerns over privacy and the government’s seeming lack of trust in them.

  • While the government has abandoned the plan to use Microsoft’s Kaizala mobile phone application to mark attendance, it has stuck by the technology of face recognition.

What is the facial recognition attendance system for government primary school teachers?

  • After an online attendance system for nearly 2.5 lakh government and grant-in-aid primary school teachers was introduced in December 2018 along with geo-tagging and geo-mapping for the Block and Cluster Resource Centre (BRCs and CRCs) co-ordinators, the Gujarat education department planned to move a step further by introducing a facial recognition attendance system. The system was launched by Chief Minister Vijay Rupani on Thursday which was celebrated as Teachers’ Day.
  • According to officials in the state Education Department, the app is optimised with an intelligent algorithm that will record facial features of the teachers at the time of the registration, such that a minor variation will not be a hindrance in the recognition. The app has been developed in association with multiple companies as part of their CSR activities and comes free of cost to the government of Gujarat.

Difference between the new app and Microsoft Kaizala

  • In the case of Microsoft’s Kaizala which was earlier chosen for the attendance system, once installed, the teachers would have to take a selfie at a designated time of day, usually, before 11 am, and mark their attendance by uploading it. This system is geo-fenced, so the exact location of the teacher would also be recorded.
  • In a communication last month, all government primary school teachers were asked to download the app and understand its working before its official launch on Teachers’ Day.
  • The new app, which is yet to be christened, according to principal secretary Vinod Rao, is optimised with an intelligent algorithm that will allow the authorities to study both the attendance and location of the teachers. Each school will get special tablets with the app pre-loaded, which will be in the custody of the principal. It will also be the responsibility of the principal to ensure that the attendance is marked on time, and in the required manner.
  • Unlike the earlier idea of having teachers upload selfies to the Kaizala app, the new app allows teachers to simply register their facial biometrics on the tablet. “It is the same technology that is used for facial unlock on smartphones by individuals. This is at a large scale, and we will also plan to take it to the student attendance system soon. It will clock pictures of teachers from various angles and create an algorithm that will enable smart face recognition that will work even if there is a minor change— for instance, missing spectacles,” a technical officer said.
  • With help of the geo-tagging system, the app will enable authorities to study the exact location of the teachers.

 Why have a new system?

  • The government wants to ensure a geo-fencing foolproof system for its 2.5 lakh teachers like CRCs and BRCs, leaving no scope for manipulation. The Education Department says there is a need to secure the online attendance system.This is also seen as an attempt to contain the upper hand of CRCs and BRCs, against whom the department has received complaints of wrongly marking teachers ‘absent’ in the online attendance system even when they were present. Several discrepancies have been detected in the existing online attendance system.
  • Also, parents have complained of “proxy teachers”, especially in the interior rural areas— some teachers have apparently been sending unqualified persons to teach in their place. The geo-fenced biometric attendance system is intended to stop such corruption.

Why were teachers upset?

  • Terming the move as a reflection of “lack of trust in teachers”, and citing privacy concerns and the absence of financial or infrastructural support from the state government, the Gujarat State Primary Teachers’ Association had been protesting ever since the idea was floated.
  • The Association, which claims to have a membership of nearly 2 lakh, had said that the 1.25 lakh-odd women teachers, in particular, feared that their selfies — taken on the Kaizala app— could be misused.
  • Also, teachers had argued that not all of them used smartphones— and demanded that the state government should provide at least one smartphone to each school with internet connectivity. This issue has now been resolved with the distribution of the tablets.
  • Although the government finds Kaizala to be a “robust, tried and tested app”, the Association, days before the launch, had passed a directive on September 1, forbidding all its teacher and principal members from dowloading and installing Kaizala.

How did the Gujarat government react?

  • After talks with teachers failed, principal secretary, Education, Vinod Rao, through a series of video and audio messages for the teachers, personally appealed to them to accept the new system. Rao tried to explain the security of the system, saying the captured data would be encrypted and stored securely in the state government’s Science and Technology Department’s GIPL server.
  • This was followed by a four-hour-long meeting chaired by the Education Minister Bhupendrasinh Chudasama and senior officials of the Education Department, representatives of the teachers’ Association, and technical experts from Microsoft but all of these failed to convince the teachers.
  • The government, however, was ready with a Plan B. And there were already hints that it would be a biometrics-based system. On the day of launch, Chief Minister Rupani sent out a strong message by taking the protesting teachers head-on, and emphasising that he planned to introduce this attendance system in all government departments. Apprehensions, however, remained— as was evident in the open house conducted by Rupani with the awardee teachers that very day, when some voiced concerns about the engagement with technology.
  • Currently a pilot project, the government plans to launch the android-based app on Google play store once it is operational in government schools. “Right now we are ensuring that it is a tamper-proof system, so it will only be available on the tablets that are provided to the schools,” said a government official.

How vehicles are tested for pollution

Topic: GS-III: Environment

Context:

Since September 1, when the Motor Vehicles (Amendment) Act, 2019 came into force, long queues of vehicles are commonly being seen at pollution control centres in Delhi. After undergoing a pollution under control (PUC) test, a vehicle is certified for a certain period of time.

  • According to the Transport Department, Delhi, 7 tonnes of carbon monoxide is emitted every day by vehicles in the city. Vehicular pollution estimates include 84.1 tonnes of nitrogen oxides and 66.7 tonnes of hydrocarbons per day.

What is a PUC certificate?

  • The PUC certificate is a document that any person driving a motor vehicle can be asked to produce by a police officer in uniform authorised by the state government. According to the Transport Department, Delhi-NCR has 388 authorised pollution checking centres for petrol/CNG vehicles and 273 for diesel vehicles. These issue certificates if a vehicle is found complying with the prescribed emission norms.
  • The fine for PUC violations has now gone up to Rs 10,000; it used to be Rs 1,000 for the first offence and Rs 2,000 for subsequent violations before the amendments came into force. The test costs between Rs 60 and Rs 100. The validity of the test is one year for BS IV vehicles and three months for others. A PUC certificate contains information such as the vehicle’s license plate number, PUC test reading, date on which the PUC test was conducted and the expiry date.

How is a pollution control check carried out?

  • The computerised model for pollution check was developed by the Society of Indian Automobile manufacturers. A gas analyser is connected to a computer, to which a camera and a printer are attached. The gas analyser records the emission value and sends it to the computer directly, while the camera captures the license plate of the vehicle. Subsequently, a certificate may be issued if the emission values are within the limits.
  • In 2017 the Environment Pollution (Prevention and Control) Authority for the National Capital Region was directed by the Supreme Court to carry out a physical inspection of the PUC centres, “to check if credible, authentic and reliable tests are being conducted to identify gross polluters”. There were 971 PUC centres in Delhi at that time. The EPCA noted that access to PUC emissions data is difficult, especially in NCR where data recording is manual. It said that in Delhi, only 1.68 per cent of diesel vehicles fail the smoke density test and about 4.5% of petrol vehicles failed the carbon monoxide and hydrocarbons tests. “Thus, this programme is not even designed to catch 15 to 20 per cent most grossly polluting vehicles in the fleet,” the report said.

Chandrayaan-2, in perspective

Topic: GS -III: Science and Technology

India’s first attempt to land a spacecraft on the Moon has not been successful. The lander of Chandrayaan-2, called Vikram, did not slow down at the expected rate towards the latter part of its descent, and most likely hit the lunar surface at a speed greater than required for safe landing. The ground control station had lost contact with the lander when it was about 2.1 km above the Moon.

So, has Chandrayaan-2 failed?

  • The mission has not failed, although the attempt to land a spacecraft on the Moon certainly has. The mission comprised an orbiter, a lander and rover. The orbiter part is functioning normally. Most of the scientific investigations of the mission are supposed to be carried by instruments onboard the orbiter, including studies to find more evidence of water on the Moon. The lander and rover had a mission life of only 14 days while the orbiter will function for at least one year. Scientists insist that 80-90 per cent of the science output of the mission have to come from the orbiter, and that has not been affected at all.

Is Vikram destroyed?

  • We don’t know as yet, but more likely than not it is. When contact was lost, it was travelling at 50 to 60 metres per second (180 to 200 km per hour). It was decelerating, but not fast enough to slow down to a speed of 2 metres/second (7.2 km/hr) that was required for a safe landing. Vikram was designed to absorb the shock of an impact even at 5 metres/second (18 km/hr). At the rate it was decelerating, it could not even have attained a speed of 5 metres/second before touchdown. It is likely to have hit the Moon at a far greater speed, possibly damaging itself and instruments on board.

So, why is ISRO still trying to look for it and re-establish contact?

  • For very good reasons. Science would not simply accept the assumption that the lander would have been destroyed. It would want to ascertain that, and assess the damage. Locating the lander and restoring contact is just the first step in trying to figure out what exactly happened and why.

Is it possible to do so?

  • The lander has already been located. At the time it had begun to deviate from its pre-programmed flight path, the lander was barely a few kilometres from the Moon. Its final point of landing, therefore, could not be away from the selected location by more than a few km. ISRO eventually used the instruments on the orbiter to locate the lander. The orbiter has only taken a thermal image —possibly because it passed over the site at a time when there was not enough sunlight —and not a normal image, which too is possible
  • The more difficult part is to restore contact with the lander. That would depend on how much damage it has suffered, and whether its communication unit is intact. The individual instruments onboard the lander as well several of its components are capable of sending signals that can be picked up either through other nearby space assets or by the ground station. Every such signal will offer valuable clues to its current state and what it could have gone through.
  • Restoration of contact can be done only in the next two weeks. After that, the Moon will enter its night (14 Earth days) during which temperatures would be so cold that the instruments are unlikely to behave normally.

What is the best-case scenario now?

  • It is possible that some of the instruments on the lander are functional. It is also possible that two-way communication can be re-established with them from the ground station and they are revived. In the best-case scenario, it can be imagined that these instruments perform the functions they were intended to. The lander was supposed to remain stationary on the Moon’s surface, and the four instruments on it, installed on its different sides, were to meant to make observations and collect data. As of now, it is unlikely that the lander is standing vertically as it was supposed to. The instruments, if they can be revived, can possibly take readings and communicate with the ground station.
  • One of these instruments was the NASA-built Laser Retroreflector Array, essentially only a group of mirrors. This was only meant to be deployed on the Moon, not do anything. These mirrors are used by control stations on the ground to reflect signals from the Moon. At least five such reflectors are already on the Moon, deployed by earlier missions. They are used for a variety of purposes. It is by sending signals back and forth to these mirrors that the distance between the Earth and the Moon has been calculated to a very high degree of precision. All these existing retroreflectors are in the equatorial region of the Moon. The one being carried by Vikram lander would have been deployed near the polar region for the first time. If this instrument has not been totally destroyed, it can be used. It is supposed to be a “passive” instrument; it only has to act as a reflector of signals. On the other hand, the rover could have come out of the lander only when it was standing vertically. It is therefore unlikely that the rover and the two instruments on it could be put to any use now.

How big a setback this is to ISRO?

  • ISRO, and other space agencies as well, has gone through several such setbacks in space exploration. It is most probably a good learning experience. Even Chandrayaan-1, launched in 2008, had suffered a partial failure. It had a mission life of two years but remained functional for barely nine months. An issue with heat shielding had created problems within a few weeks of its reaching the orbit, and some of the onboard instruments had to be switched off. They were restored once but many of them developed problems again. By May 2009, less than eight months after reaching its designated orbit of 100 km from Moon’s surface, Chandrayaan-1 had to be moved to a higher orbit of 200 km. A few months later, it became almost a dead spacecraft. It is still going around the Moon but without communicating.
  • However, the main science objectives of Chandrayaan-1 had already been achieved by that time. This included the blockbuster finding of irrefutable evidence of presence of water on the Moon.
  • The science produced by the Chandrayaan-2 mission, too, might remain completely unaffected by what has happened to the lander, though the hype surrounding the landing attempt might not let people forget this failure very soon. But there would also be very important learning for ISRO to be implemented in its future missions.

Editorial section:

 So close, yet so far- The Hindu

Throttled at the grass roots- The Hindu

Trump, Europe and the Iran effect- The Hindu

Italy afloat- The Hindu

 

 

 

 

 

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