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Current General Knowledge: December 2009

Solar-powered aircraft  to create flight history
History is being created inside a hangar at Dubendorf Air Base (Switzerland) that will radically change the way an aircraft flies. The prototype of an aircraft, to be propelled entirely by solar power even at night, has already been successfully tested for a ‘flea hop’ or a short flight at this airbase.

Scientists and engineers are working full-steam to fly the aircraft around the world for 36 hours through day and night in the spring or summer of 2010.

Indian engineers and students have also shown a keen interest in being part of this historic feat but are yet to become part of the 70-member team which is working on making the project a reality.

The aircraft, bearing call sign HB-SIA, has a weight of only 1,600 kg but has a wingspan of 63 metre, length of 21.85 metre and 6.4 metre height. Its weight can be compared to a family car and the engine power to a scooter’s. It generates power from 11,628 photovoltaic solar cells spread over the wings having a span of an Airbus A-340.

The aircraft is expected to be flown about 8,000 km each in five legs, having five stops in five continents. The stoppages would be in Europe, the US, Pacific (probably Hawaii), the Emirates and China.

The idea is to take off an hour before sunrise, climb to the maximum altitude of 8,000 metres and not use energy stock in the battery. When the sun goes down, the aircraft would go down to an altitude of about 1,000 meters to use lesser energy.

The aircraft has been designed for short take-offs and landings. Its Version-II, to be called HB-SIB, would be built by 2013 to undertake a Trans-Atlantic flight.

Bertrand Piccard is the force behind the project and its test-pilot, which probably means taking forward a family tradition of innovation and adventure. His grandfather went in a balloon to the stratosphere and his father reached the bottom of the ocean in one of the first submarines.

Shakti Bhatt First Book Prize, 2009
Mridula Koshy's If It is Sweet, a collection of short stories, has bagged the award. The New Delhi-based author will get Rs 1 lakh and a citation. 

In 2008, Pakistani author Mohammed Hanif's A Case of Exploding Mangoes had won the award.

The Shakti Bhatt Foundation is a non-profit trust set up by the late writer/editor's family to keep her memory alive.

Sahitya Akademi Awards, 2009
Renowned Hindi poet Kailash Vajpeyi has been honoured with the Sahitya Akademi award for his work, Hawa mein hastakshar (Signature in the wind).

The other poets honoured with Sahitya Akademi award are: Praduman Singh Jindrahia (Dogri), Jess Fernandes (Konkani), Raghu Leishangthem (Manipuri), Vasant Abaji Dahake (Marathi), Phani Mohanty (Oriuya), Damayanti Beshra (Santhali) and Puviarasu (Tamil).
Those who won awards for collections of short stories include Vaidehi (Kannada), late Manmohan Jha (Maithili), Samiran Chhetri ‘Priyadarshi’ (Nepali), Major Ratan Jangid (Rajasthani), Prashasya Mitra Shastri (Sanskrit) and Anand Khemani (Sindhi).
Well-known novelists Dhrubajyoti Bora (Assamese), late Manoranjan Lahary (Bodo), U.A. Khadar (Malayalam) and Yarlagadda Laxmi Prasad (Telugu) were also honoured with the 2009 awards.

Lokmanya Tilak National Journalist Award, 2010
N. Ram, Editor-in-Chief of the Hindu newspaper, has received the prestigious award, which is conferred for excellence in journalism on a personality making important contribution to the field of journalism at national level. Vir Sanghvi of Hindustan Times was the recipient of the Tilak Award in 2009.

First consignment of Navy MIGs arrives
The first four Russian-made MiG-29K fighters to be deployed on the aircraft carrier INS Vikramaditya, formerly the Admiral Gorshkov, when it is inducted into the Indian Navy have been received in a knocked-down condition and will now be assembled in this country. The jets arrived in the country on December 4, celebrated as Navy Day.

The jets were purchased by the Navy as part of a $1.5 billion deal signed with Russia in January 2004 for the Admiral Gorshkov. Of this $740 million was meant for the aircraft and the balance for the refitting of the carrier. Russians have now upped the price to between $2.2 billion and $2.9 billion.

The Navy will eventually be getting 12 MiG-29K single-seater aircraft and four MiG-29KUB twin-seat trainer aircraft, some in flyaway condition.

The Navy has named its MiG-29K squadron the Black Panthers. As the 45,000-tonne Kiev class aircraft carrier is scheduled to be delivered by 2012, the jets will undertake shore-based sorties from Goa.

Delhi girl Reena becomes first Indian woman to Ski to South Pole
For 38 days, Reena Kaushal Dharmshaktu, a mountaineer and outdoor instructor based in Delhi, along with seven other women skied for eight to 10 hours a day, traversing a 915 km path through one of the coldest and most desolate regions of the world. At 11.09pm on December 30, 2009, Reena reached the trademark mirror-ball in the middle of nowhere that marks the geographic South Pole, becoming the first Indian women to ski to the southern-most tip of the Earth.
She was part of the Kaspersky Commonwealth Antarctic Expedition mounted to mark the 60th anniversary of the Commonwealth.

For 38-year-old Reena, who had edged out 116 compatriots to get the right to represent India in the expedition, it marked a unique achievement. Her mountaineer husband, Love Raj Singh Dharmshaktu, climbed Mt Everest in May 2009. “That is the highest point on Earth and I will be skiing to South Pole, the lowest point on Earth,” Reena had written in the expedition’s web-page.

It was an arduous journey through the incredibly cold, all-white expanse of the continent, where the team had to negotiate hundreds of metres deep crevasses. The expedition left behind nothing in the icy wilderness, even carrying back human waste on 80 kg sledges that each member towed.

India to raise oil reserve to 8.5mt by 2012
India will create a five million tonne strategic petroleum reserve by 2012, raising the country’s total storage capacity to 8.5 million tonnes—enough to meet 90-days consumption.

 “To cater to situations like wars and natural calamities, we have established an SPV (special purpose vehicle) called Indian Strategic Petroleum Reserve Limited (ISPRL) that will create a storage facility of five million tonnes by 2012,” according to Minister of State for Petroleum Jitin Prasada.
ISPRL says it would create the storage facilities at Visakhapatnam, Mangalore and Padur (near Udupi). The proposed storages would be in underground rock caverns near the east and west coasts so that they are readily accessible to the refining sector. Underground rock caverns are considered the safest means of storing hydrocarbons.

RIL makes third gas discovery in KG basin
On December 22, 2009, Reliance Industries (RIL) announced its third successive discovery of natural gas in 2009. All three finds have been in the Krishna-Godavari (KG) basin off India’s eastern coast.
The commercial potential of the discovery in the block, known as KGD3, was being evaluated by gathering more data, RIL said in a statement. RIL holds a 90% equity stake in the block, which covers 3,288 square kilometres, and UK-based Hardy Oil holds the rest.

Dharamshaktu, Reena Kaushal
Reena Kaushal Dharmshaktu, a mountaineer and outdoor instructor based in Delhi reached the trademark mirror-ball in the middle of nowhere that marks the geographic South Pole, on December 30, 2009, becoming the first Indian women to ski to the southern-most tip of the Earth. She was part of the Kaspersky Commonwealth Antarctic Expedition mounted to mark the 60th anniversary of the Commonwealth.

38-year-old Reena did her mountaineering training from the Himalayan Mountaineering Institute in Darjeeling and has been on IMF expeditions to Gangotri 1, the first ascent of Argan Kangri, Fluted Peak, Stock Kangri, Phawararang, Mt Nun and others.

She is currently a freelance instructor with the US-headquartered National Outdoor Leadership Schools (NOLS) that teaches outdoor skills to people. Her father was an Armyman and during his posting in Darjeeling, Reena fell in love with the mountains. “Being from an Army background, we used to go for long walks with our father which set the groundwork for my tilt towards mountaineering,” said Reena, who now wants to spread awareness about conserving the environment.

A landmark and largest ever UN climate summit was held here in December 2009. Copenhagen is the capital and largest city of Denmark. It is situated on the islands of Zealand and Amager.

First documented in the 11th century, Copenhagen became the capital of Denmark in the beginning of the 15th century and during the 17th century under the reign of Christian IV it became an important regional centre. With the completion of the transnational Oresund Bridge in 2000, Copenhagen has become the centre of the increasingly integrating Oresund Region. Within this region, Copenhagen and the Swedish city of Malmö are in the process of growing into one common metropolitan area.

With around 2.7 million inhabitants within a 50 km radius, Copenhagen is one of the most densely populated areas in Northern Europe.

Till September 1948, Telangana region was part of Nizam's dominion, which was the biggest Muslim State in India under British rule, known as the Hyderabad State. After Hyderabad's merger in the Indian Union a year after Indian became independent, it was divided in to three parts. While some districts went to Karnataka and Maharashtra, Telangana region retained its identity of a separate State till 1956.

Under sustained pressure from the coastal Andhra region (earlier part of Madras presidency under British rule) the government of India merged Telangana, including Hyderabad, with the Andhra State comprising of thirteen districts of coastal Andhra and Rayalaseema region. But complaining of injustices and discrimination, the people of Telangana continued their fight for a separate State.

The biggest agitation was witnessed in 1969, when more than 400 hundred people died in government crack-down and the demand went on to the backburner.

Several agreements were reached between Andhra and Telangana on ensuring justice in river water sharing, government jobs and sharing of funds, but they were never kept.

K. Chandrasekhara Rao revived the demand in 2001 after he left Telugu Desam Party. The region today has 35 million population spread in ten districts including Hyderabad, the State capital. Most of its area is arid and dependent on rains for agriculture, though both the big rivers of the state—Godavari and Krishna—pass through the region.

Rosa Power plant
The 77th birth anniversary of late Dhirubhai Ambani, on December 28, 2009, was chosen by Anil Dhirubhai Ambani group (ADAG) to switch on its Rosa Power plant in Uttar Pradesh.

After synchronising with the State grid, it became northern India’s first thermal power plant in the private sector to do so.

The total capacity of the project, costing Rs 6,000 crore, is going to be 1,200 MW. The first unit of 300 MW would get fully operational by April 2010. The second stage of 600 MW is likely to get operational by March 2012.

What makes the project significant for UP is that 900 MW would be supplied to the UP Power Corporation Limited (UPPCL). The rest 300 MW would be used as ‘merchant capacity’— company can sell it to others.
Spreading over an area of around 1,500 acres, the construction of the project started in June 2007. The plant would take water from Garrah river which flows nearby. Around 75 cubic metres of water taken in would then be heated into steam to turn turbines of over 250 tonnes at a pace of 3,000 rotations per minute in order to generate the requisite power.

India’s first solar power plant opened in Amritsar
The sun virtually rose in the border belt of Punjab with Union Minister for New and Renewable Energy Farooq Abdullah inaugurating India’s first-ever 2-MW solar power plant at Awan, near Amritsar, Punjab, on December 15, 2009.

The plant, set up by US company Azure Power in the independent power producers (IPP) mode in this sleepy village, started functioning as Dr Abdullah switched on its button. The 2MW plant will subsequently be expanded to enable it to produce 5 MW of power.

Lung, skin cancer genes decoded
Scientists have identified all the changes in cells of two cancers to produce the first entire cancer gene maps, calling the findings a “transforming moment” in their understanding of the disease.  The mapping of the complete genetic codes of melanoma skin cancer and lung cancer will set the stage for a medical revolution in which every tumour can be targeted with personalized therapy.

The studies by international scientists and Britain’s Wellcome Trust Sanger Institute in Cambridge are the first comprehensive descriptions of tumour cell mutations and lay bare all the genetic changes behind the two cancers. Such a detailed picture of the fundamental causes of the disease will lead to earlier detection, new breeds of drugs and better understanding of what causes the disease, scientists claim.

The scientists sequenced entire DNA from both tumour tissue and normal tissue from a melanoma patient and a lung cancer patient, using a technology called massively parallel sequencing. By comparing the cancer sequences with the healthy ones, they were able to pick up all changes specific to cancer.

The lung tumour carried more than 23,000 mutations and the melanoma had more than 33,000. A smoker develops one mutation for every 15 cigarettes smoked.

Scientists now have to track specific mutations that lead to cancer. This would help in producing drugs to suppress these mutations. By about 2020, cancer patients could have their tumours analysed to find the genetic defects that drive them.

Now, chill with a tea pill
The tiny tea tablet developed by scientists in Tocklai Experimental Station (TES) of the Tea Research Association (TRA), located amid lush green tea gardens in Jorhat in Upper Assam, may soon become an alternative for the age-old tea bag, a favourite with tea drinkers all over the world.

Tea tablets can be chewed or added to a cup of hot water for a cup of tea. Chewing a tablet will freshen and cheer up a person with nearly the same effect as having a hot cup of brewed tea.

The tea pill is one of the innovations of the TES in Jorhat, the oldest and the largest research station of its kind in the world. Since its inception in 1911, TES has become synonymous with the research on its scientists have developed many technologies for boosting the tea production, especially in the North-east India.

Some of major contributions of the TES to the tea industry include technique for vegetative propagation of tea by inter-nodal cuttings, development of 30 high-yielding and better quality clones and l4 hybrid seeds, selecting 154 region specific clones. TES also takes up collaborative projects with some leading research institutes of the country, which include making tea manufacture a continuous process by an integrated monitoring system, studies on the pharmacological, physiological and medicinal values of tea, tissue culture.

First map of earth gravity field 
European researchers have drawn up the first full map of the Earth gravity field on the basis of information supplied by the GOCE probe of the European Space Agency (ESA). The research vehicle was launched from Russia's Plesetsk spaceport in March 2009 with a Rokot rocket.

The map confirmed earlier hypothesis that the gravity force is not constant throughout the plane due to geological and other peculiarities. For instance, St Petersburg is the area with largest gravity in the European part of Russia.

India’s first human genome sequence
A team of scientists of the CSIR have declared success in decoding the genome sequencing of an Indian citizen, a move that opens vistas for low-cost health care and predictive medicine for the masses.

The sequencing of the genome puts India in a select group of countries, including the USA, the UK, Canada, Korea and China, which have demonstrated such capability.

The Indian genome sequence, achieved in about nine weeks, was among sequences of 14 persons available worldwide. The first genome sequencing was a global effort achieved by several scientists across the world over a period of 13 years, beginning in 1990.

The sequencing opens up vistas for accurate treatment of individuals or a group of population whose genome has been mapped.

Scientists at the CSIR could achieve this feat by adopting new technology and by effectively integrating complex computational and bio-informatics tools with high throughput analytical capability using super-computers.

Russia to knock out Earth-bound asteroid?
Russia is considering sending a spacecraft to a large asteroid, Apophis, to knock it off its path and prevent a possible collision with Earth.
When the 270-m asteroid was discovered in 2004, astronomers estimated the chances of it smashing into Earth in its first flyby in 2029 were as high as 1-in-37, but have since lowered their estimate.  Further studies ruled out the possibility of an impact in 2029, when the asteroid is expected to come no closer than 29,450 kilometers above Earth’s surface, but they indicated a small possibility of a hit on subsequent encounters. According to NASA, another close encounter in 2068 will involve a 1-in-330,000 chance of impact.
Calculations show that it’s possible to create a special purpose spacecraft within the time on hand, which would help avoid the collision without destroying the asteroid and without detonating any nuclear charges.

“Super Earth” just 80 light years away
US astronomers have detected the second smallest exo-planet ever discovered with a mass just four times heavier than the Earth, adding to a growing number of low-mass planets dubbed “super-Earths.”

The exo-planet, a name given to planets outside our solar system, has been dubbed HD156668b, and is located around 80 light years from Earth in the direction of the Hercules constellation. A light year is rough 9,460 billion kilometres.

The planet orbits around its parent star in just over four days.

The smallest exo-planet previously discovered by astronomers was Gliese 581 e, detected by a Swiss astronomer in April 2009 some 20.5 light years from Earth in the Balance constellation. But it orbits much closer to its star, making its temperature much higher than that on Earth.

Some 423 exo-planets have been identified by astronomers so far, according to specialist site, but none appear to be similar to Earth or capable of supporting life.

However, astronomers generally express confidence that either the Kepler telescope or the European Corot telescope will eventually find exo-planets like Earth.

Hottest star in galaxy
Astronomers have discovered one of the fieriest stars in the galaxy which is 35 times hotter than the sun. The dying star which has a surface temperature of 200,000 degrees was captured by astronomers at Jodrell Bank Centre for Astrophysics in the University of Manchester by using the recently refurbished Hubble Space Telescope (HST).

The star was located at centre of the Bug Nebula which is about 3,500 light years away in the constellation Scorpius. This is the first time the star has been pictured.

“This star was so hard to find because it is hidden behind a cloud of dust and ice in the middle of the nebula,” explained Prof Albert Zijlstra from the University of Manchester.

World’s fastest train launched by China
Imagine zipping between Mumbai and Delhi in four hours flat on a superfast train. Well, Indians may have to dream about it for a long time to come but China, on December 26, 2009, launched what it described as the world’s fastest train, one that can travel at an average speed of 350 kph.

On its inaugural run, the train covered the 1,068 km between Wuhan in central China and Guangzhou in the south in two hours 45 minutes.
By comparison, the average for high-speed trains in Japan is 243 kph while in France it is 277 kph.

The high speed line will use technology developed in co-operation with companies such as Siemens, Bombardier and Alstom.

China’s new rail service is expected to act as a catalyst in the development of central parts of the country by linking it to highly developed industrial hubs in the south.
The Chinese government has also announced plans to build 42 high-speed lines by 2012 in order to spur economic growth amid the global downturn. The goal is to take the rail network from the current 86,000 km to 120,000 km.

Indians can fly Tricolour at night
Indian citizens can now fly the national flag even at night, provided the flagpole is above 100 feet and the flag is well-illuminated.  The Home Ministry took the decision following a proposal by industrialist and Congress MP Naveen Jindal, who had earlier won a court battle to make flying the Tricolour a fundamental right for every citizen.

In a representation to the Ministry in June 2009, Jindal had sought permission to fly a mammoth-sized national flag on huge flagpoles at night. Jindal had said the national flag is to be flown “as far as possible between sunrise and sunset” as per Flag Code of India, but it was a common practice worldwide for massive national flags to be flown day and night on flagpoles of 100 feet and above in height. Citing the example of countries like Malaysia, Jordon, Abu Dhabi, North Korea, Brazil, Mexico and Turkmenistan where monumental flags are flown at night, Jindal proposed that such flags to be flown in India also.
The Ministry said that such flagpoles could be installed, provided there was adequate arrangement for proper illumination of flags at night with backup in case of power failure and the flags are replaced immediately as soon as they get damaged due to vagaries of nature.

Climate-change index
Scientists, on December 9, 2009, unveiled a Dow Jones-style “climate-change index” aimed at showing in user-friendly form the perils posed by man-made global warming. The index takes a basket of complex factors—carbon dioxide (CO2), temperature change, sea level and sea ice—and distils them into a single figure that is more easily understandable for the public, they said.

In 1980, the index stood at 34, its creators, the International Geosphere-Biosphere Programme at the Royal Swedish Academy of Sciences, said.

But from 1997, the barometer leapt suddenly, adding dozens of points each year as evidence of climate change accumulated. As of 2007, the index stood at 574.


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13.1 Introduction

13.2 Initiatives towards Constitutional Status to Local Governance

13.2.1 Features of 73rd Constitutional Amendment

13.2.2 Features of 74th Constitutional Amendment

13.2.3 Decentralised Planning in Context of 73rd and 74th Constitutional Amendment Act

13.3 Initiatives after Economic Reforms

13.4 Functioning of PRIs in Various States after 73rd Amendment

13.5 Functioning of Local Governance after 73rd and 74th Constitutional Amendment: Observations

13.6 Conclusion

13.7 Key Concepts

13.8 References and Further Reading

13.9 Activities


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1.1 Introduction

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