Important news topics from August 6, 2020, which are critical for UPSC CSE Examination

1. Fluorosis[source]

Scientists from the Institute of Nano Science and Technology (INST), an autonomous institute of the Department of Science and Technology, Government of India, have developed an equipment-free fluoride ion detection and quantification in drinking water with the naked-eye. It can be operated by non-experts for household use to evade Fluorosis-based disorders.

  • Fluorosis is a crippling disease resulting from deposition of fluorides in the hard and soft tissues of body due to excess intake of fluoride through drinking water/food products/industrial pollutants over a long period.
  • It results in dental fluorosis, skeletal fluorosis, and non-skeletal fluorosis.
  • Easy detection of fluorides in water can help preventing the public health hazards.

2. Beirut Explosion[source]

Recently, a massive explosion took place in Beirut, capital of Lebanon, which left more than hundred people dead and more than 4,000 injured, according to the reports until now.

  • There were two explosions in the central port area of Beirut which occurred barely within minutes of each other within nearby buildings.
  • The blast affected residents living as far as 10 kilometres away from the site and was felt upto 250 Km.
  • The blast created seismic waves equivalent to a magnitude 3.3 earthquake.
  • The blasts were likely triggered by over 2,700 tonnes of ammonium nitrate that had been confiscated and stored by authorities near the port for over six years.
  • A two-week state emergency has been imposed in Beirut following the blast.
  • Impact of the Blast
    • Economic: Lebanon is an import-dependent country. The badly damaged port facility is Lebanon’s largest maritime gateway and it will make essential items expensive and threaten food security in the country.
      • Lebanon has already been struggling with a huge economic meltdown, with the rapid devaluation of the local currency and a volatile exchange rate on the black market fueling inflation, shuttering businesses, unemployment and poverty.
      • It had also defaulted on a Eurobond repayment in March 2020.
      • It is in talks with the International Monetary Fund for a $10 billion loan program.
      • The blast will pose an additional financial burden of rebuilding the city.
    • Political: Lebanon faced nationwide protests against corruption, economic mismanagement and sectarian politics in October 2019, which forced the resignation of then-Prime Minister Saad Hariri.
      • This blast along with the growing economic crisis can again cause social unrest.
    • Health: The country’s health system is already burdened with the patients of Covid-19 pandemic and the victims of blast will add to this.

2.1. Ammonium Nitrate

  • Ammonium Nitrate (NH4NO3) is a nitrogen-rich white, crystalline chemical which is soluble in water.
  • Uses:
    • It is a common chemical ingredient of agricultural fertilisers.
    • It is used as an ingredient for the production of anaesthetic gases and cold packs.
    • It is also the main ingredient in the manufacture of commercial explosives used in mining and construction.
  • As Explosive:
    • It is the main component of the explosive composition known as ANFO- ammonium nitrate fuel oil.
    • Pure ammonium nitrate is not an explosive on its own. For Ammonium nitrate to be explosive a primary explosive or detonator like RDX or TNT is required.
    • Many Improvised Explosive Devices (IEDs) used by terrorists around the world have ANFO as the main explosive.
    • Stored ammonium nitrate is a fire hazard and can explode in two ways.
      1. It may come in contact with some explosive mixture.
      2. Due to the oxidation process at large scale, heat may be generated starting a fire and then explosion. This seems to be the primary likely cause of the incident at Beirut port.
  • Regulations:
    • Global: It is classified as an oxidising content (Grade 5.1) under the United Nations classification of dangerous goods.
      • The United Nations Committee of Experts on the Transport of Dangerous Goods categorizes the types of dangerous goods, under nine classes like Explosive Materials, Inflammable liquids, Easily oxidising contents etc.
    • India: In India, the manufacture, conversion, bagging, import, export, transport, possession for sale or use of ammonium nitrate is covered under The Ammonium Nitrate Rules, 2012.
      • The Explosives Act, 1884, define ammonium nitrate as the “compound with formula NH4NO3 including any mixture or compound having more than 45% ammonium nitrate by weight including emulsions, suspensions, melts or gels but excluding emulsion or slurry explosives and non explosives emulsion matrix and fertilizers from which the ammonium nitrate cannot be separated”.
      • Storage of ammonium nitrate in large quantities in populated areas is illegal in India.
      • For the manufacture of ammonium nitrate, an Industrial licence is required under the Industrial Development and Regulation Act, 1951.
      • A license under the Ammonium Nitrate Rules, 2012 is also required for any activity related to ammonium nitrate.

3. Constitution Bench for EWS Quota[source]

Recently, the Supreme Court of India referred the petitions challenging the 103rd Constitutional Amendment Act, 2019 to a five-judge constitution bench, saying it involves ‘substantial questions of law’.

  • Petitioners’ Argument:
    • The amendments run contrary to the constitutional scheme, where no segment of available seats/posts can be reserved, only on the basis of economic criterion.
    • The amendments also run contrary to the judgment pronounced in the Indra Sawhney V. Union of India 1992 case, that a backward class cannot be determined only and exclusively with reference to economic criterion.
    • The amendments alter the 50% quota limit set up in Indra Sawhney V. Union of India 1992 case, which according to the petitioner is a part Basic Structure of the Constitution.
    • Reservation in unaided institutions violates the fundamental right under Article 19(1)(g) of the Constitution.
      • Article 19 (1)(g) allows every citizen to practise any profession, or to carry on any occupation, trade or business.
  • Central Government’s Stand:
    The 50% limit in the Indira Sawhney ruling cannot be applied in the present petitions as the Sawhney case dealt with memoranda issued by the government while what is under challenge now is a constitutional amendment.
  • Substantial Question of Law Involved:
    Whether the challenged 103rd Amendment Act violates Basic Structure of the Constitution, with reference to equality provisions of the Constitution.

4. Sahakar Cooptube NCDC Channel[source]

Recently, the Union Minister of Agriculture & Farmers’ Welfare launched the two initiatives of the National Cooperative Development Corporation (NCDC) – Sahakar Cooptube NCDC Channel and Guidance Videos on ‘Formation and Registration of A Cooperative’.

  • Sahakar Cooptube NCDC Channel:
    • The Channel aims to facilitate involvement of the youth in the cooperative movement.
      • Cooperatives lend strength to farmers to minimize risks in agriculture and allied sectors and act as a shield against exploitation.
    • The channel will give a boost to Atmanirbhar Bharat Abhiyan under which the government has announced a series of transformative measures and sector specific financial packages to help agriculture.
      • The initiatives are steps towards One Nation One Market with the objective for India to become a food factory of the world.
  • Guidance Videos:
    • These have been produced by the NCDC on ‘Formation and Registration of A Cooperative’ for eighteen different states in Hindi and regional languages.
    • These would help strengthen and deepen the major initiatives of the government to promote and form 10,000 Farmer-Producer Organisations (FPOs).
      • One such initiative is the formation of FPOs under the “One-Product One-District” approach.

4.1. National Cooperative Development Corporation

  • Formation: NCDC was established by an Act of Parliament in 1963 as a statutory Corporation under the Ministry of Agriculture & Farmers’ Welfare.
  • Office: NCDC functions through its Head Office at New Delhi and multiple Regional Offices.
  • Functioning:
    • The objectives of NCDC are planning and promoting programmes for agricultural produce, foodstuffs, industrial goods, livestock and certain other notified commodities and services on cooperative principles.
    • The NCDC has the unique distinction of being the sole statutory organisation functioning as an apex financial and developmental institution exclusively devoted to the cooperative sector.
  • Recent Initiatives:
    • Mission Sahakar 22, which aims to double farmers’ income by 2022.
    • Scheme on Internship Programme (SIP) named Sahakar Mitra.

5. Issues With Home-based Learning Programme in MP[source]

Only 30% students in government schools of Madhya Pradesh (MP) have been regularly reached through the Hamara Ghar, Humara Vidyalaya programme.

  • Hamara Ghar, Hamara Vidyalaya Programme:
    • It is a home-based learning programme launched by the Department of School Education, MP.
    • It aimed to reach 22 lakh students after shutting down of schools due to Covid-19 pandemic.
    • The idea behind the programme is to ensure that students study regularly at home and also learn life skills from their elders.
    • Under it, the modular programme airs on Doordarshan Madhya Pradesh on fixed time slots. It has three parts to it which are recap, delivery of a new concept and practice of the concept.
    • Various concepts in the form of videos, practise sheets and quizzes are delivered in sync with TV programmes through WhatsApp-led Digital Learning Enhancement Program (DigiLEP).

5.1. PRAGYATA: Guidelines on Digital Education[source]

Recently, the Ministry of Human Resource Development (MHRD) has released guidelines on digital education titled ‘PRAGYATA’.

  • The guidelines have been prepared by the National Council of Educational Research and Training (NCERT).
  • These are only advisory in nature and state governments can formulate their own rules, based on local needs.
  • The guidelines include eight steps of online/digital learning i.e. Plan- Review- Arrange- Guide- Yak (talk)- Assign- Track- Appreciate.
  • Digital Access:
    • Over 25 crore students across the country have been out of school since mid-March 2020. (owing to Covid-19 pandemic). The guidelines acknowledge that these students live in households which fall into different categories:
      • Those who have computers or smartphones with 4G internet access.
      • Those with smartphones but limited or no internet access.
      • Those with television with cable or DTH.
      • Those with a radio set or a basic mobile phone with FM radio.
      • And those with no communication devices at all.
    • It emphasised the aim of digital classrooms is not to try and recreate Face-to-Face (F2F) classrooms over the internet.
  • Need for Survey: It advises schools to first survey the digital infrastructure available with teachers as well as students, the levels of parental involvement before making decisions about the mode of teaching.
    • Therefore, schools must also make arrangements to reach students who do not have access to any digital infrastructure at home.
  • Duration: For kindergarten, nursery and pre-school, only 30 minutes of screen time per day for interacting with parents is recommended.
    • Schools can hold live online classes for a maximum of 1.5 hours per day for Classes 1-8, and 3 hours per day for Classes 9-12.
  • Synchronous or Real-time Communication: This is real-time teaching and learning that can happen collaboratively at the same time with a group of online learners or individuals, and teachers allowing instant feedback, e.g. online teaching through video conference, audio conference, using satellite or telecommunication facilities.
    • However, schools should not assume that teaching-learning through it is the only requirement in order to support effective digital learning.
  • Asynchronous Learning: Apart from live classes, it offered a number of recommendations for asynchronous learning with tools to allow students to download lessons or listen to radio and TV programmes, communicate through Whatsapp and SMS, study on their own and undertake creative projects.
  • Health Issues: Children exposed to digital technologies or gadgets for a longer time are prone to severe health issues.
    • Hence sitting with digital gadgets for longer hours or their excess use can be avoided by designing age appropriate schedules.
  • Cyber Safety: It also recommends ethical practices including precautions and measures for maintaining cyber safety.
  • Convergence: It envisages convergence with the government initiatives on digital education e.g. SWAYAM Prabha, SWAYAM, DIKSHA and Radio Vahini, Shiksha Vaani.