Organisation of Islamic Cooperation
Calling on the Indian government to take steps to protect Muslim minorities who are being “negatively profiled”, facing “discrimination and violence” amidst the COVID-19 crisis, the 57-member Organisation of Islamic Cooperation (OIC) has criticised what it called ‘growing Islamophobia’ in India.
About OIC –
- OIC is the 2nd largest intergovernmental organisation in the world after the United Nations, with 57 member states spread over four continents.
- It envisages safeguarding and protecting the interests of the Muslims from all around the world in the spirit of promoting international peace and harmony.
- The OIC is represented by permanent delegations in the United Nations and the European Union.
- India is not a member of the OIC, but was invited to the recently concluded Abu Dhabi meeting as the guest of honour.
- In 1969, the invite to then union minister was withdrawn at Pakistan’s insistence.
Fish gills for electro-catalysts
Scientists at the Institute of Nano Science and Technology (INST), Mohali, an autonomous institute under the Department of Science and Technology have recently come up with an efficient, low-cost electro-catalyst from fish gills that can help develop environmentally friendly energy conversion devices.
- This bio-inspired carbon nanostructure can help overcome the bottleneck in the realisation of several renewable energy conversion and storage technologies such as fuel cell, biofuel cell, and metal−air battery.
- It enriches a route to synthesise low-cost, highly efficient bio-inspired electro-catalyst that is better than commercial Platinum on carbon (Pt/C) catalyst and could be utilised as next-generation non-precious carbon-based electro-catalyst for energy conversion and storage applications.
Intangible Cultural Heritage
Manipur’s tradition of making rice beer, the practice of tying turbans in Rajasthan and several different dances, forms of music and festivals from across the country were among the 106 items listed as intangible cultural heritage in a draft released by the Union Culture Ministry.
Major heritages included in the list –
- The initiative is a part of the ministry’s Vision 2024 programme.
- The 13 traditions of Indian intangible cultural heritage were already recognised by UNESCO and the national list was an attempt to further awareness and protection to more such elements.
- As per the 2003 UNESCO Convention for Safeguarding of Intangible Cultural Heritage, the list has five broad categories — Oral traditions, performing arts, social practices, knowledge and practices related to nature and traditional craftsmanship.
- The list includes the traditional folk festival of Pachoti in Assam, where the birth of a baby, particularly a male infant as the tradition “relates to the birth of Krishna”, is celebrated with relatives and neighbours.
- The oral traditions of the transgender community called Kinnar Kanthgeet and compositions of Ameer Khusro are among the entries from Delhi.
- Gujarat’s Patola silk textiles from Patan with its geometric and figurative patterns also made it to the list. The practice of tying a turban or safa across Rajasthan was a part of the list.
- From Jammu and Kashmir, the Kalam Bhat or Qalambaft gharana of Sufiana music in Budgam district and from Ladakh, the Buddhist chanting across both Leh and Kargil districts were on the list of intangible cultural heritage.
- The making of khor, a rice beer, by the Tangkhul community in Manipur as well as other crafts associated with it, like making gourd vessels and wicker baskets, were also on the list.
- Kerala’s martial art form, Kalaripayuttu, and the practice of making designs at the entrance of homes and temples called kolam in Kerala, Andhra Pradesh, Tamil Nadu and Andhra Pradesh were also included in the list.
- Different forms of shadow puppet theatre — Chamadyacha Bahulya in Maharashtra, Tolu Bommalatta in Andhra Pradesh, Togalu Gombeyatta in Karnataka, Tolu Bommalattam in Tamil Nadu, Tolpava Koothu in Kerala and Ravanchhaya in Orissa — have also been included.
Reverse Repo Rate
With the threat of Indian economy falling into a recession, like most other central banks in the world, the Reserve Bank of India, too, has tried to cut interest rates to boost the economy. However, unlike in the past, when the RBI used its repo rate as the main instrument to tweak the interest rates, today, it is the reverse repo rate that is effectively setting the benchmark.
What are repo and reverse repo rates?
- The repo rate is the rate at which the RBI lends money to the banking system (or banks) for short durations. The reverse repo rate is the rate at which banks can park their money with the RBI.
- With both kinds of repo, which is short for repurchase agreement, transactions happen via bonds — one party sells bonds to the other with the promise to buy them back (or repurchase them) at a later specified date.
- In a growing economy, commercial banks need funds to lend to businesses. One source of funds for such lending is the money they receive from common people who maintain savings deposits with the banks. Repo is another option.
Significance of repo rates –
Under normal circumstances, that is when the economy is growing, the repo rate is the benchmark interest rate in the economy because it is the lowest rate of interest at which funds can be borrowed and, as such, it forms the floor rate for all other interest rates in the economy — for instance, the interest rate consumers would have to pay on a car loan or the interest rate they will earn from a fixed deposit etc.
What has changed now?
- As such, the banking system is now flush with liquidity for two broad reasons: on the one hand, the RBI is cutting repo rates and other policy variables like the Cash Reserve Ratio to release additional and cheaper funds into the banking system so that banks could lend and yet, on the other, banks are not lending to businesses, partly because banks are too risk-averse to lend and partly because the overall demand from the businesses has also come down.
- The excess liquidity in the banking system has meant that during March and the first half of April, banks have been using only the reverse repo (to park funds with the RBI) instead of the repo (to borrow funds). As of April 15, RBI had close to Rs 7 lakh crore of banks’ money parked with it. In other words, the reverse repo rate has become the most influential rate in the economy.
- Recognising this, the central bank has cut the reverse repo rate more than the repo twice in the spate of the last three weeks. The idea is to make it less attractive for banks to do nothing with their funds because their doing so hurts the economy and starves the businesses that genuinely need funds.
The drug remdesivir has been under the spotlight as a possible treatment for critical cases of novel coronavirus disease (COVID19). While the drug is yet to get approval in any country to treat COVID-19, recent studies have claimed they have found promising results.
What is ‘remdesivir’?
- It is a drug with antiviral properties that was manufactured by US-based biotechnology company in 2014, to treat Ebola cases. It was also tried in patients of MERS and SARS, both caused by members of the coronavirus family, but experts said it did now show promising results back then.
- Coronaviruses have a single-strand RNA as their genetic material. When the novel coronavirus SARS-CoV2 enters a human cell, an enzyme called RdRP helps the virus replicate. Remdesivir works by inhibiting the activity of RdRP.
India’s stand –
The Indian Council of Medical Research (ICMR) has said it can consider using the drug if local manufacturers are willing to procure it. Remdesivir is currently not available in India. The ICMR plans to wait and watch for the results of WHO’s Solidarity trials to make an assessment on the efficacy of remdesivir for COVID-19 treatment.
Other drugs under trial –
- Hydroxychloroquine, an anti-malarial drug, is undergoing multiple trials to assess if it can be used to treat severe COVID-19 cases. It works by decreasing the acidity in parts of the cell where the virus is present, thereby inhibiting it.
- Again, ritonavir and lopinavir are two antiviral drugs used for treatment of HIV. These too work by inhibiting the virus’s RNA. Specifically, they target the enzyme that helps the virus split proteins.
Ways and Means Advances
RBI has recently announced a 60% increase in the Ways and Means Advances (WMA) limit of state governments over and above the level as on March 31, 2020, with a view to enabling them “to undertake COVID19 containment and mitigation efforts” and “to better plan their market borrowings”.
What is ‘Ways and Means Advances” (WMA)?
- It is a facility for both the Centre and states to borrow from the RBI. These borrowings are meant purely to help them to tide over temporary mismatches in cash flows of their receipts and expenditures. In that sense, they aren’t a source of finance per se.
- Section 17(5) of the RBI Act, 1934 authorises the central bank to lend to the Centre and state governments subject to their being repayable “not later than three months from the date of the making of the advance”.
- The interest rate on WMA is the RBI’s repo rate, which is basically the rate at which it lends short-term money to banks. That rate is currently 4.4%.
- The governments are allowed to draw amounts in excess of their WMA limits. The interest on such overdraft is 2 percentage points above the repo rate, which now works out to 6.4%. But, no state can run an overdraft with the RBI for more than a certain period.