Daily Current Affairs for 22nd October 2020

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ICMR nod for low-costCOVID-19 testing device


Mains: General Studies-III: Technology, Economic Development, Bio diversity, Environment, Security and Disaster Management

Why in news?

A new coronavirus diagnostic method, using a low-cost portable unit has been developed by researchers at the Indian Institute of Technology (IIT), Kharagpur,

Key details

  • It is approved by the Indian Council of Medical Research (ICMR) after testing with patient samples showed an accuracy level slightly lower than the gold standard RT-PCR method at a fraction of the cost.
  • The machine cost less than ₹5,000 to make and the test kits would each cost about ₹500, IIT-Kharagpur.
  • Once the viral RNA was extracted, the testing process took about one hour.
  • In parallel testing with 200 samples containing a wide range of viral loads, IIT-Kharagpur’s COVIRAP method correctly detected 108 out of the 115 positive samples identified by an RT-PCR machine, and 83 out of 85 negative samples, meaning that it has a 94% sensitivity and 98% specificity in comparison to RT-PCR.

Ideal for rural areas

  • “The COVIRAP method requires very little equipment, and is ideal for use in rural areas with limited
  • The portable unit can even be placed on a table in a field, without the need for an air-conditioned laboratory. It can be operated by rural youth with minimal training. However, the viral RNA would still have to be extracted in a lab.
  • The machine employed an isothermal nucleic acid amplification method, which did away with need for a thermocycler.
  • Once the sample was processed in the machine after being mixed with solutions developed by the IIT team, treated paper strips — similar to the pregnancy strips — are dipped into it, and the emergence of coloured lines will depict the presence of the virus.


  • FELUDA, a kit developed by the CSIR-IGIB (Institute of Genomics and Integrative Biology), also is a ‘paper strip based test’ but employs a gene editing technology called CRISPR-cas9.
  • Like COVIRAP, it too claims to deliver results in an hour–as compared to 3-4 hours in an RT-PCR– but are ultimately laboratory based tests and depend on skilled personnel to extract the nucleic acid RNA from a nasopharyengal sample prior to the actual testing.


  • Real time RT–PCR is a nuclear-derived method for detecting the presence of specific genetic material in any pathogen, including a virus.
  • Real time RT–PCR is one of the most widely used laboratory methods for detecting the COVID-19 virus.
  • RT–PCR is a variation of PCR, or polymerase chain reaction.
  • The two techniques use the same process except that RT–PCR has an added step of reverse transcription of RNA to DNA, or RT, to allow for amplification.
  • This means PCR is used for pathogens, such as viruses and bacteria, that already contain DNA for amplification, while RT–PCR is used for those containing RNA that needs to be transcribed to DNA for amplification.
  • Both techniques can be performed in ‘real time’, which means results are visible almost immediately, while when used ‘conventionally’, results are only visible at the end of the reaction.


  • DNA is a two-strand molecule that is found in all organisms, such as animals, plants and viruses, and which holds the genetic code, or blueprint, for how these organisms are made and develop.
  • RNA is generally a one-strand molecule that copies, transcribes and transmits parts of the genetic code to proteins so that they can synthetize and carry out functions that keep organisms alive and developing. Different variations of RNA are responsible for copying, transcribing and transmitting.
  • Some viruses such as the coronavirus (SARS-CoV-2), which causes COVID-19, only contain RNA, which means that they rely on infiltrating healthy cells to multiply and survive.
  • Once inside the cell, the virus uses its own genetic code — RNA in the case of the COVID-19 virus — to take control of and ‘reprogramme’ the cells, turning them into virus-making factories.

Detection of Virus

  • In order for a virus like the COVID-19 virus to be detected early in the body using real time RT–PCR, scientists need to convert the RNA to DNA.
  • This is a process called ‘reverse transcription’.
  • They do this because only DNA can be copied — or amplified — which is a key part of the real time RT–PCR process for detecting viruses.

Air pollution now biggest health risk in India, says report


Mains: General Studies-III: Technology, Economic Development, Bio diversity, Environment, Security and Disaster Management

Why in news?

India recorded the highest annual average PM 2.5 concentration exposure in the world last year, according to the State of Global Air 2020 (SOGA 2020) report.

Key details

  • According to the State of Global Air 2020 by the S.-based Health Effects Institute, long-term exposure to outdoor and household air pollution contributed to over 1.67 million annual deaths from stroke, heart attack, diabetes, lung cancer, chronic lung diseases and neonatal diseases in India in 2019.
  • Overall, air pollution was now the largest risk factor for death among all health risks, the report noted.
  • Outdoor and household particulate matter pollution also contributed to the deaths of more than 1,16,000 Indian infants in their first month of life last year. More than half of these deaths were associated with outdoor PM2.5 and others were linked to use of solid fuels such as charcoal, wood, and animal dung for cooking.
  • India faced the highest per capita pollution exposure — or 83.2 μg/cubic metre — in the world, followed by Nepal at 83.1 μg/cubic metre and Niger at 80.1.

Marginal decline

  • The government has claimed that average pollution levels in India are declining over the past three years but these have been marginal, particularly in the Indo-Gangetic plains which see extremely high particulate matter pollution especially during winter.
  • After a decline in pollution due to the nationwide lockdown in late March and the months-long process of reopening, pollution levels are again rising and air quality has dipped to ‘very poor’ category in several cities.
  • However, The report said that India has been recording an increase in PM 2.5 pollution since 2010 contrary to Centre’s claims that annual air pollution levels in the country are coming down.
  • Out of the 20 most populous countries, 14 have recorded a gradual improvement in air quality but India, Bangladesh, Niger, Pakistan and Japan are among those that have recorded a modest increase in air pollution levels.

Image showing pollution drop during Lockdown

State of Global Air 2020 (SOGA 2020) report

  • SOGA, released by US-based Health Effects Institute and Global Burden of Disease (GBD), uses both data from ground monitors and satellite to make their assessments.
  • To estimate the annual average PM2.5 exposure, or concentrations, GBD scientists link the concentrations in each block (they divide the globe in blocks or grids) with the number of people living within each block to produce a population weighted annual average concentration.

Affects of Air Pollution

  • Long-term exposure to air pollution contributed to around 6.7 million deaths globally from stroke, heart attack, diabetes, lung cancer, chronic lung diseases, and neonatal diseases in 2019 with China (1.8 million) and India (1.6 million) together accounting for more than half of such deaths, says the annual ‘State of Global Air 2020’
  • Air pollution is globally the fourth highest cause of death, the report says it is the largest risk factor for deaths for India, followed by high blood pressure.

Swaraj India report highlights deficiencies in crop procurement


Mains: General Studies- II: Governance, Constitution, Polity, Social Justice and International relations.

Why in news?

Problems are highlighted by Jai Kisan Andolan and Swaraj Abhiyan in their report on deficiencies in the ongoing procurement process for kharif crops in Haryana. The report also offers 17 suggestions to the government for improvement.

Key details

  • Delayed payments, grossly insufficient numbers of farmers scheduled for sales per day, arbitrary quantitative limits on procurement and the lack of a grievance redress system are some problems highlighted by the report.
  • Titled ‘Deficiencies in Procurement System and Difficulties Faced by Farmers in Haryana,’ the report has been handed over to Haryana Agriculture Minister Jai Prakash Dalal in Bhiwani by a delegation of Swaraj India.
  • Based on the Swaraj Abhiyan team’s visit to a dozen mandis across six districts in South Haryana, the report claimed that notwithstanding the government’s claim to make payment within 72 hours, they “did not come across any farmer or trader who supported this claim’”.


  • This is putting farmers to great distress in this festival and wedding season. This delay acts as severe disincentive for the farmers and pushes them towards the private traders at severe losses”.
  • The report pointed out that only 5-11% of the total registered farmers in four districts – Bhiwani, Mahendragarh, Charkhi Dadri and Rewari – had managed to sell their crops in the first two weeks of the six-week procurement session.
  • The slow procurement process forced the farmers to sell their crop to private traders at a price much lesser than Minimum Support Price and the commission agents were also forced to work much below their capacity.


  • It suggested that 500-600 farmers be scheduled per day and all registered farmers cleared by mid-November.
  • Purchase must take place on all days, without any break for holidays.
  • The eight quintal and 33 quintal per acre limit on procurement of bajra and paddy respectively was irrational and punished the farmers for producing more.
  • The limit fixed using the arithmetic average of the production in the state defied logic and the ceiling, if imposed, should be the upper end of statistical range.
  • The online registration at “Meri Fasal Mera Byora” had increased, but in backward areas like Mewat, many farmers were still not aware about the requirement of registration and thus lost out on this opportunity for a fair price for their produce.
  • The farmers should be sent a voice message along with an SMS to inform them of their scheduled date for procurement at least two days in advance, the schedule for the entire period of procurement must be prepared and made public, penal interest be paid at 18% per annum to farmers in case of delayed payment and commission agents must be authorised to purchase cotton on behalf of Cotton Corporation of India in those mandis where there are no corporation centres.

M.S Swaminathan Committee Report: National Commission on Farmers

  • The National Commission on Farmers (NCF) was constituted on November 18, 2004 under the chairmanship of Professor M.S. Swaminathan.
  • The Terms of Reference reflected the priorities listed in the Common Minimum Programme.
  • The final report was submitted on October 4, 2006. The reports contain suggestions to achieve the goal of “faster and more inclusive growth” as envisaged in the Approach to 11th Five Year Plan.

Key Findings

Causes for farmers’ distress

  • Agrarian distress has led farmers to commit suicide in recent years. The major causes of the agrarian crisis are: unfinished agenda in land reform, quantity and quality of water, technology fatigue, access, adequacy and timeliness of institutional credit, and opportunities for assured and remunerative marketing.
  • Adverse meteorological factors add to these problems.
  • Farmers need to have assured access and control over basic resources, which include land, water, bioresources, credit and insurance, technology and knowledge management, and markets.
  • The NCF recommended that “Agriculture” be inserted in the Concurrent List of the Constitution.


  • Distribute ceiling-surplus and waste lands;
  • Prevent diversion of prime agricultural land and forest to corporate sector for non-agricultural purposes.
  • Ensure grazing rights and seasonal access to forests to tribals and pastoralists, and access to common property resources.
  • Establish a National Land Use Advisory Service, which would have the capacity to link land use decisions with ecological meteorological and marketing factors on a location and season specific basis.
  • Set up a mechanism to regulate the sale of agricultural land, based on quantum of land, nature of proposed use and category of buyer.

Minimum Support Prize

  • Minimum support price (MSP) is a “minimum price” for any crop that the government considers as remunerative for farmers and hence deserving of “support”.
  • It is also the price that government agencies pay whenever they procure the particular crop.
  • The Centre currently fixes MSPs for 23 farm commodities —
  • 7 cereals (paddy, wheat, maize, bajra, jowar, ragi and barley),
  • 5 pulses (chana, arhar/tur, urad, moong and masur),
  • 7 oilseeds (rapeseed-mustard, groundnut, soyabean, sunflower, sesamum, safflower and nigerseed) and
  • 4 commercial crops (cotton, sugarcane, copra and raw jute).

‘Singapore will reach out on travel bubble’


Mains: General Studies- II: Governance, Constitution, Polity, Social Justice and International relations.

Why in news?

According to High Commissioner of Singapore to India Simon Wong, Singapore is looking at ways of rebuilding air travel in a way that is safe for travellers and residents.

Key details

  • India is an important partner for Singapore and the strong air connectivity between our countries prior to the pandemic had been critical to driving the flow of trade and investment, and people-to-people exchanges.
  • The High Commissioner thanked the Indian government for its support in helping repatriate around 400 Singapore citizens on two flights during the pandemic.
  • Around 50-60 Singaporeans are still in India as they feel safe here and want to continue their work in India.
  • Despite the restrictions during COVID-19, Singapore investments are still coming in to India, although it has slowed down a little bit.
  • The government in Tamil Nadu was very serious about working with foreign investors, and Singapore was happy to be a part of this, economically.
  • In the past one year, between August 2019 and 2020, Singapore companies had invested close to $500 million in Tamil Nadu. Between 2018 and now, Singapore companies had invested about $1 billion in Tamil Nadu.

Benefit of travel bubble

  • Creating a travel bubble involves reconnecting countries which have successfully contained the COVID-19 pandemic domestically.
  • This would allow the members of the group to restart trade ties with each other and open travel and tourism.

India- Singapore relationship

  • The close ties between India and Singapore have a history rooted in strong commercial, cultural and people-to-people links.
  • Following the conclusion of Comprehensive Economic Cooperation Agreement (CECA) of 2005, this robust relationship was elevated to a Strategic Partnership in 2015 during the visit of Prime Minister Shri Narendra Modi and on the occasion of the 50th anniversary of the establishment of diplomatic relations.
  • 5 S of Trade, Economic and Development Cooperation

Five areas of cooperation – referred to as 5-S Plank- were agreed during the visit of EAM to Singapore in August 2014 to enhance and direct bilateral relationship towards–

(i) Scale up Trade & Investment;

(ii) Speed up Connectivity;

(iii) Smart Cities and Urban Rejuvenation;

(iv) Skill development; and

(v) State focus.

Economic relations

  • Singapore is India’s 2nd largest trade partner among ASEAN countries. Bilateral trade expanded after the conclusion of CECA from US$ 6.7 billion in FY 2004-05 to reach US$ 17.67 billion in 2017-18. In FY 2018- 19, the bilateral trade reached US$ 15.4 billion till October.
  • Singapore is working with the Central and state Governments as well as Government organisations to establish skill development centres in various sectors. A World Class Skill Centre (WCSC) has been set in Delhi in 2003.

Defence cooperation

  • In 1994, India and Singapore began their annual naval combat exercise, now called “SIMBEX” Several warships from India and Singapore took part in this interoperable combat exercise.
  • In 2003, India and Singapore signed a Defence Cooperation Agreement, allowing Singapore army and air force to conduct training on Indian soil.
  • On 24 November 2015, India and Singapore signed the agreement for the “strategic relationship” across the board including defence and military, security and intelligence cooperation, political exchanges, enhancing trade and investment, improving financial linkages, improving air connectivity and cooperation in multilateral forums.

Comprehensive Economic Cooperation Agreement (CECA)

  • In 2005, both nations signed the Comprehensive Economic Cooperation Agreement (CECA) and have organised the India-Singapore Parliamentary Forum and the Singapore-India Partnership foundation with active support from the Federation of Indian Chambers of Commerce and Industry (FICC), the Confederation of Indian Industry (CII) and the Singapore Business Federation to promote trade, economic development and partnerships.
  • The CECA eliminated tariff barriers, double taxation, duplicate processes and regulations and provided unhindered access and collaboration between the financial institutions of Singapore and India.
  • The CECA also enhanced bilateral collaboration related to education, science and technology, intellectual property, aviation and allowed Indian professionals in information technology, medicine, engineering and financial fields.
  • Singapore has invested in projects to upgrade India’s ports, airports and developing information technology parks and a Special Economic Zone (SEZ).
  • India has become Singapore’s 4th biggest tourist destination and more than 650,000 Indians visited Singapore in 2006. Both nations have worked to collaborate on aviation, aerospace engineering, space programmes, information technology, biotechnology and energy.

Govt. to widen manufacturing PLI plan


Mains: General Studies-III: Technology, Economic Development, Bio diversity, Environment, Security and Disaster Management

Why in news?

  • The production-linked incentive (PLI) scheme for manufacturing investments will soon be extended to eight more sectors, and the government is close to finalising its policy for the strategic sale of public sector enterprises (PSEs).

Key details

  • This is an outcome- and output-oriented scheme… incentives will be paid only if the manufacturers make the goods.
  • This scheme will give cash incentives for five to seven years and all the sunrise and important sectors are proposed to be covered in this.

 Green shoots

  • The steel producers had just now informed the Finance Ministry that they were back to using their full capacity. If steel and cement are doing well, it augurs very well for the economy.
  • There are certain things in which we have not only seen improvements, but have also gone up year-on-year.

Manufacturing sector in India

  • The domestic electronics hardware manufacturing sector faces lack of a level playing field vis-à-vis competing nations.
  • The sector suffers disability of around 8.5% to 11% on account of lack of adequate infrastructure, domestic supply chain and logistics; high cost of finance; inadequate availability of quality power; limited design capabilities and focus on R&D by the industry; and inadequacies in skill development.
  • The vision of National Policy on Electronics 2019 (NPE 2019) is to position India as a global hub for Electronics System Design and Manufacturing (ESDM) by encouraging and driving capabilities in the country for developing core components and creating an enabling environment for the industry to compete globally.

Production Linked Incentive Scheme (PLI)

  • Production Linked Incentive Scheme (PLI) for Large Scale Electronics Manufacturing launched on April 01, 2020 offers a production linked incentive to boost domestic manufacturing and attract large investments in mobile phone manufacturing and specified electronic components, including Assembly, Testing, Marking and Packaging (ATMP) units.
  • The Scheme would tremendously boost the electronics manufacturing landscape and establish India at the global level in electronics sector.
  • The scheme shall extend an incentive of 4% to 6% on incremental sales (over base year) of goods manufactured in India and covered under target segments, to eligible companies, for a period of five (5) years subsequent to the base year as defined.
  • The Scheme will be implemented through a Nodal Agency which shall act as a Project Management Agency (PMA) and be responsible for providing secretarial, managerial and implementation support and carrying out other responsibilities as assigned by MeitY from time to time.


  • This will enable more Indian MSMEs to invest in electronic component manufacturing and create more job opportunities in the sector.
  • Such a PLI scheme could be operated with a much smaller budget compared to the existing PLI scheme and will give a major boost to establish an Atmanirbhar electronics manufacturing value chain.
  • New strategy of export-led growth will help create expansion of manufacturing in India and will help to achieve scale.
  • This will also help in expanding the value chain of components etc. Further, this will also enable Indian manufacturers of both finished products and components to participate in global value chains

  • The Scheme for Promotion of Manufacturing of Electronic Components and Semiconductors (SPECS) was also launched on April 01, 2020 will help offset the disability for domestic manufacturing of electronic components and semiconductors in order to strengthen the electronics manufacturing ecosystem in the country.
  • The scheme will provide financial incentive of 25% on capital expenditure for the identified list of electronic goods that comprise downstream value chain of electronic products, i.e., electronic components, semiconductor/ display fabrication units, ATMP units, specialized sub-assemblies and capital goods for manufacture of aforesaid goods, all of which involve high value added manufacturing.
  • The Scheme will be applicable to investments in new units and expansion of capacity/ modernization and diversification of existing units. Application under the Scheme can be made by any entity registered in India.
  • The capital expenditure will be total of expenditure in plant, machinery, equipment, associated utilities and technology, including for Research & Development (R&D).

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