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Prelims Booster

26th August – Prelims Booster

Prime Minister’s Award for Excellence in Public Administration 2020

Government of India has instituted a scheme in 2006 namely, “The Prime Minister’s Awards for Excellence in Public Administration” – to acknowledge, recognise and reward the extraordinary and innovative work done by Districts/ Organisations of the Central and State Governments.

Restructuring of the scheme –

  • The Scheme was restructured in 2014 for recognising the performance of District Collectors in Priority Programs, Innovations and Aspirational Districts.
  • The Scheme has been restructured again in 2020, to recognise the performance of District Collectors towards economic development of the District.
  • The Prime Minister’s Awards for Excellence in Public Administration under the restructured scheme shall be conferred by the Hon’ble Prime Minister on Rashtriya Ekta Diwas – October 31, 2020 at the Statue of Unity, Kevadia, Gujarat.

Awards for 2020 –

  • For the year 2020, the scheme for Prime Minister’s Awards for Excellence in Public Administration has been comprehensively restructured to recognise the contribution of civil servants in strengthening of – 
    • Inclusive Development through Credit Flow to the Priority Sector
    • Promoting people’s movements – “Jan Bhagidari” through Swachh Bharat Mission (Urban and Gramin) in the District
    • Improving Service Delivery and Redressal of Public Grievances
  • The scope of the awards has been expanded to identify areas of overall outcome-oriented performance in the districts across sectors. The contribution of District Collectors would be recognised for implementation of Inclusive Credit Flow to the Priority Sector, promoting people’s movements through Jan Bhagidari and Improving Service Delivery and Redressal of Public Grievances.
  • Further the Prime Minister’s Awards for Excellence in Public Administration seek to recognise the efforts of District level officials in Namami Gange Program.
  • The award for the Aspirational Districts Program has been revamped to reward the District having the best overall progress under the Scheme following 2 years of implementation.
  • The Innovations category has traditionally received the highest number of nominations. The scheme has been broad based to recognise Innovations at National/ State / District level in 3 separate categories.

Saliva Tests for COVID-19

Recently, the US Food and Drug Administration (FDA) approved a new method of testing for Covid-19 — processing saliva samples — and termed it “ground-breaking”.

Like RT-PCR, a saliva test too detects the virus. It converts the virus RNA into DNA, then amplifies the DNA to detect presence of the virus. What makes the SalivaDirect kit unique is that the Yale researchers have done away with a separate step or specialised equipment to extract the virus RNA.

Difference between RT-PCR test and SalivaDirect test?

  • RT-PCR test is a traditional molecular test which is invasive and can have false negatives since it triggers irritation. It relies heavily on PPE gear to keep away droplets from infecting healthcare worker.
  • However, the latest SalivaDirect Test is less invasive and it is much safer for healthcare workers collecting sample therefore PPE kit usage is reduced by nearly 90 percent.
  • Unlike the traditional RT-PCR method, the SalivaDirect test does not require saliva collection tubes to have preservatives nor does it require specialised reagents or equipment for nucleic acid extraction.
  • However, there is a concern with SalivaDirect Test. The negative result do not preclude SARS-CoV-2 infection. It will have to be complemented by other clinical observations. Saliva from patients can contain blood or mucus that can make it difficult to pipet (pour).

Asteroid 2018VP1

On November 2 this year, an asteroid that is on a collision course with Earth could come very close to the planet, according to the Centre for Near Objects Studies at NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory.

What is 2018VP1, the ‘Election Day Astroid’?

  • The asteroid, dubbed 2018VP, was first discovered at the Palomar Observatory in California’s San Diego County two years ago. A 13-day observational arc followed, after which the asteroid was not detected again.
  • When it was discovered, the asteroid — which has a two year orbital period — was around 2,80,000 miles away from the Earth, according to Science Alert. This year, however, the asteroid could be as close as 4,700 miles according to NASA’s close approach database.
  • NASA has said there is a 0.41 per cent, or 1 in 240 chance that 2018VP1 would impact the Earth. Even if the asteroid does enter our planet’s atmosphere, it is unlikely to cause any harm on November 2.
  • 2018VP1 has a diameter of all but 2 metres, around the size of a small automobile, and would likely burn up into an impressive fireball after entering the Earth’s atmosphere before reaching the ground. According to NASA, such an event happens about once every year.

DNA Bill

In a draft report, the Parliamentary Standing Committee on Science and Technology has flagged concerns that the DNA Technology (Use and Application) Regulation Bill, 2019 that proposes DNA sampling and profiling of citizens accused of crime or reported missing and storing their unique genetic information for administrative purposes has some alarming provisions that could be misused for caste or community-based profiling.

What are the concerns?

  • The committee, in its draft report, pointed out that DNA profiles can reveal extremely sensitive information of an individual such as pedigree, skin colour, behaviour, illness, health status and susceptibility to diseases.
  • Under the provisions of the Bill, access to such intrusive information can be misused to specifically target individuals and their families with their own genetic data. This is particularly worrying as it could even be used to incorrectly link a particular caste/community to criminal activities.
  • The report also red-flagged disregard to an individual’s privacy and other safeguards. In the Bill, if a person is arrested for an offence that carries punishment up to seven years, investigation authorities must take the person’s written consent before taking the DNA sample. But this consent is only “perfunctory”.
  • The Bill refers to consent in several provisions, but in each of those, a magistrate can easily override consent, thereby in effect, making consent perfunctory. There is also no guidance in the Bill on the grounds and reasons when the magistrate can override consent, which could become a fatal flaw.
  • The committee said in the absence of a robust data protection legislation, the security of a huge number of DNA profiles that will be placed with the National DNA Data bank and its regional centres is questionable.

Recommendations of the committee –

The Bill permits retention of DNA found at a crime scene in perpetuity, even if conviction of the offender has been overturned. The committee urged the government to amend the provisions to ensure that if the person has been found innocent his DNA profile must be removed immediately from the data bank.

The committee recommended that independent scrutiny must be done of the proposals to destroy biological samples and remove DNA profiles from the database.

About the ‘DNA Technology (Use and Application) Regulation Bill, 2019’ –  

  • Use of DNA Data: Under the Bill, DNA testing is allowed only in respect of matters listed in the Schedule to the Bill. These include offences under the Indian Penal Code, 1860, and for civil matters such as paternity suits
  • Collection of DNA: While preparing a DNA profile, bodily substances of persons may be collected by the investigating authorities. Authorities are required to obtain consent for collection in certain situations.  For arrested persons, authorities are required to obtain written consent if the offence carries a punishment of up to seven years.  If the offence carries more than seven years of imprisonment or death, consent is not required.
  • DNA Data Bank: The Bill provides for the establishment of a National DNA Data Bank and Regional DNA Data Banks, for every state, or two or more states.  DNA laboratories are required to share DNA data prepared by them with the National and Regional DNA Data Banks.
  • Removal of DNA profiles: The Bill states that the criteria for entry, retention, or removal of the DNA profile will be specified by regulations. However, the Bill provides for removal of the DNA profiles of the following persons: (i) of a suspect if a police report is filed or court order given, (ii) of an undertrial if a court order is given, and (iii) on written request, for persons who are not a suspect, offender or undertrial, from the crime scene or missing persons’ index.    
  • DNA Regulatory Board: The Bill provides for the establishment of a DNA Regulatory Board, which will supervise the DNA Data Banks and DNA laboratories.
  • Functions of the Board: The functions of the Board include: (i) advising governments on all issues related to establishing DNA laboratories or Data Banks, and (ii) granting accreditation to DNA laboratories.  Further, the Board is required to ensure that all information relating to DNA profiles with the Data Banks, laboratories, and other persons are kept confidential. 
  • DNA laboratories: Any laboratory undertaking DNA testing is required to obtain accreditation from the Board.
  • Offences: The Bill specifies penalties for various offences, including: (i) for disclosure of DNA information, or (ii) using DNA sample without authorisation. For instance, disclosure of DNA information will be punishable with imprisonment of up to three years and fine of up to one lakh rupees.

Longest river ropeway of India

India’s longest passenger ropeway across a river was unveiled in Guwahati almost a year after it was completed. The Assam government has inaugurated the 1.8-km ropeway across the Brahmaputra river, and described it as India’s longest river ropeway.

Details –

  • The 1.82-km bi-cable jigback ropeway connects a forest campus near the Kamrup (Metro) Deputy Commissioner’s office in the city on the southern bank of the Brahmaputra and a hillock behind the Doul Govinda temple in north Guwahati on the other.
  • The ropeway passes over the mid-river Peacock Island that houses Umananda, a medieval Shiva temple.

Advantages –

  • Thousands of people commute every day between the capital city of Guwahati and the town of North Guwahati, where IIT Guwahati is located.
  • The ropeway cuts travel time between the two banks to 8 minutes. The current travel options between the two banks are by ferry (30 minutes or more, depending on current and season) or by road through a bridge that usually takes over an hour in the traffic.
  • Apart from substantially reducing travel time, the ropeway will provide a breathtaking view of the mighty Brahmaputra and promote tourism in the State.

Cholinesterase Inhibitors

German doctors have said that medical examinations indicated that Russia opposition figure Alexei Navalny, who is in a Berlin hospital after collapsing on a plane in Russia recently, had been poisoned.

Details –

The clinical findings indicate poisoning by a substance from the group of active substances called cholinesterase inhibitors.

About Cholinesterase inhibitors –

  • Cholinesterase inhibitors are drugs that can increase communication between nerve cells in the brain. They are sometimes used to temporarily improve or stabilise the symptoms of people with dementia.
  • Common side effects of cholinesterase inhibitors include vomiting, muscle cramps, headache and hallucinations.
  • Certain chemical classes of pesticides work against bugs by interfering with, or ‘inhibiting’ cholinesterase but they can also be poisonous, or toxic, to humans in some situations.

Who is Alexei Navalny?

Navalny is an opposition leader who is a critic of Russian President Vladimir Putin. He recently collapsed on a plane after drinking tea while on his way to campaign in Siberia. He has been a thorn in the Kremlin’s side for more than a decade, exposing what he says is high-level graft and mobilising crowds of young protesters.

Bondas

The COVID-19 pandemic has reached the Bondas, a tribal community residing in the hill ranges of Malkangiri district in Odisha. Four members of the community have tested positive for COVID-19.

Who are ‘Bondas’?

  • Bondas, a particularly vulnerable tribal group (PVTG), live in settlements comprising small hutments in the hills of the Khairaput block in Malkangiri district of Odisha.
  • They are members of a group of Austroasiatic tribes, they are believed to be part of the first wave of migration out of Africa about 60,000 years ago. They are the first forest settlers in India.
  • Their population is around 7,000.
  • They are often led to bonded labour through marriage, also known as diosing. A form of dowry (known as Gining) is paid for brides.

What are PVTGs?

  • There are certain tribal communities who have declining or stagnant population, low level of literacy, pre-agricultural level of technology and are economically backward. They generally inhabit remote localities having poor infrastructure and administrative support.
  • These groups are among the most vulnerable section of our society as they are few in numbers, have not attained any significant level of social and economic development.
  • 75 such groups have been identified and categorised as Particularly Vulnerable Tribal Groups (PVTGs).

Libyan Crisis

Rival authorities have backed a ceasefire in Libya, raising the prospect of a de-escalation in the country’s long-running conflict.

What is the conflict?

  • Khalifa Haftar’s self-proclaimed Libyan National Army (LNA) has been battling forces aligned with the Tripoli-based, internationally recognised Government of National Accord (GNA). Both sides are formed from local armed factions, whose shifting loyalties have helped steer the course of the conflict. Both have depended heavily on foreign allies pursuing strategic and political goals in Libya.
  • Turkey stepped up its military support for the GNA in January after signing a maritime deal with Tripoli, allowing it to repel a 14-month LNA offensive against the capital.
  • Haftar has long enjoyed backing from countries including the United Arab Emirates, Egypt, Russia and Jordan.

Background –

  • Libya’s fault lines surfaced nine years ago as local groups took different positions in the NATO-backed uprising that toppled Muammar Gaddafi. An attempted democratic transition slid out of control as armed groups built local power bases and coalesced round rival political factions.
  • After a battle for Tripoli in 2014, one faction moved east and set up a parallel government and institutions. It recognised Khalifa Haftar as military chief as he began a long campaign against Islamist groups and other opponents in Benghazi.
  • The Government of National Accord (GNA) emerged from a December 2015, UN-backed agreement struck as Islamic State gained a foothold in Libya and migrant smuggling to Europe surged. But eastern factions spurned the deal. Instead, Haftar consolidated control of the east and swept south in early 2019 before launching his offensive on Tripoli.

Areas under control –

Front lines are drawn at LNA-held Sirte, roughly the midpoint of Libya’s Mediterranean coastline and a gateway to major oil ports.The GNA and affiliated groups control Libya’s densely populated northwest and the LNA holds the east. Allegiances in the south are more tenuous.

What is happening now?

  • Fighting stopped in June 2020 but both sides have continued to mobilise. The ceasefire call by GNA head Fayez al-Sarraj proposed demilitarising Sirte, allowing an oil restart by freezing revenues until a political deal is reached, and elections in March. But it is unclear how much backing those ideas have in the west, let alone the east.
  • The LNA dismissed the Sarraj’s announcement as a ploy. A parallel ceasefire call by Aguila Saleh, head of an eastern parliament aligned with Haftar, proposed Sirte as the seat of a new government.
  • The United Nations is pushing the two sides to resolve issues including oil revenue distribution, the make-up of a unity government and the status of armed groups. Foreign powers officially back the process, but have also shipped arms to their allies, undercutting diplomatic efforts.

Daily MCQs

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