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Current General Knowledge: June 2009

QIB: Qualified Institutional Buyer.
QIP: Qualified Institutional Placement.
UIDAI: Unique Identification Authority of India.

IIFA Awards 2009
Lifetime Achievement Award: Rajesh Khanna.
Best Director: Ashutosh Gowariker for ‘Jodhaa Akbar’,
Best Actor: Hrithik Roshan, for ‘Jodhaa Akbar’,
Best Actress: Priyanka Chopra, for her role in ‘Fashion’.
Best Supporting Actor: Arjun Rampal, for his role of a rock-star in ‘Rock On’.
Best Supporting Actress: Kangana Ranaut, for her role of a supermodel in ‘Fashion’.
Best Actor in Negative Role: Akshay Khanna, for his role in the sleek thriller ‘Race’.
Best Newcomer (Male): Farhan Akhtar
Best Newcomer (Female): Asin Thottumkal.
Best Costume Design: Neeta Lulla, for ‘Jodhaa Akbar’.
Best editing: Ballu Saluja.
Best art direction: Nitin Chandrakant Desai for ‘Jodha Akbar.
Best Editing: Resul Pokkutty, for ‘Ghajini’.
Best cinematography: Jason West for ‘Rock On’.
Best choreography: Farah Khan for hit the song ‘desi girl’ in ‘Dostana’.

Renewable Energy Award of the United Nations
Bindeshwar Pathak, Sulabh International founder, has been given the prestigious award for developing low cost toilet technology to produce energy out of human waste. Modelled on the Nobel Prize, this annual awards ceremony draws attention to future energy issues that constitute some of the most urgent challenges facing the world’s leaders today. These awards recognise the achievements of individuals and institutions in response to the crisis of climate change and sustainable global energy resources.

Man Booker International Prize, 2009
Acclaimed Canadian short story writer Alice Munro has received the trophy, along with the award worth £60,000. The 77-year-old author is the third person to win the prestigious award, which is given every two years. The award recognises a living author for his/her contribution to literature and to highlight the author's creativity and development on a global scale.

Indigenous N-sub ready for trial
Over 25 years after India started building an indigenous nuclear-powered submarine, subtly named Advanced Technology Vehicle (ATV), the warship is now ready for testing. Notably, the project is running at least a decade behind schedule.

Having a fleet of nuclear subs is a critical aspect of controlling the Indian Ocean region where China is also flexing its muscles. A nuclear submarine can remain submerged for up to two weeks and is noiseless. On the other hand, diesel powered submarines—that India already has in its fleet—have to re-surface every 48 hours.

If India is successful, it would join a league of select nations like the US, UK, France, Russia and China that have their own nuclear-powered submarine. Many components of the reactor, like the steam generator and the control rod mechanism, have been fabricated in the country even though some Russian help had been taken.

The biggest challenge was miniaturising a nuclear reactor to fit it into the submarine, which is said to be of 5,000 tonne displacement. The submarine is also to have a ballistic missile firing capability. The reactor for the ATV was developed indigenously by Indian scientists.

The only nuclear submarine India ever operated was the former Soviet Union’s Charlie-I class sub that the Indian Navy leased to gain operational experience with nuclear powered submarines. Separately, the Indian Navy is hopeful that Russia's Akula class nuclear-powered submarine “Nerpa” will be handed over to India before the end of 2009.

Scientists discover superatom
Scientists from Virginia Commonwealth University, along with collaborators at the Harish-Chandra Research Institute, Allahabad, and Naval Research Laboratory in the US, have discovered a 'magnetic superatom' which could shrink the size of many electronic devices like computers, make them faster and pack more storage space.

The magnetic superatom—a stable cluster of atoms that can mimic different elements of the periodic table—may also have potential biomedical applications such as sensing, imaging and drug delivery.

The newly discovered cluster, consisting of one vanadium and eight cesium atoms, acts like a tiny magnet that can mimic a single manganese atom in magnetic strength, while preferentially allowing electrons of specific spin orientation to flow through the surrounding shell of cesium atoms.

The researchers believe that the superatom can have significant impact in the area of molecular electronics and spintronics in which attempts are made to use conducting properties of small molecules to design electronic devices.

The researchers have proposed that by combining gold and manganese, one can make other superatoms that have magnetic moment but will not conduct electricity. These superatoms may have potential application in healthcare.

Lahaul-Spiti to get cold desert biosphere reserve
The Lahaul-Spiti and Leh-Ladakh areas are set to be on the world’s network of biosphere reserves based on the UNESCO’s Man and Biosphere Programme. The cold desert biosphere will extend from the Pin Valley National Park in Lahaul-Spiti to the Hemis National Park in Ladakh. The Man and Biosphere Committee (MBC) of the Ministry of Environment of Forests (MOEF) is giving “final touches” to the project.

The Ramser site of Tsomoriri, wetlands of Tsokar and Pangong Tso in Ladakh and Chandertal wetland in Lahaul attract thousands of tourists and migratory birds every year. The Ramser site is the country’s only breeding ground for the rare bar-headed geese and the black-necked crane.

The idea behind the cold desert biosphere project is to protect wildlife, plants and local communities from the onslaught of mass tourism and environmental degradation. This biosphere is source to Spiti and Pin, tributaries of the Sutlej, Chandrabhaga, Chenab, and Indus rivers.

It will be first cold desert biosphere in the Indian Himalayan region spanning over 97, 665 sq km area. The two national parks, wetlands and the protected areas would form the core zone while other areas would form the buffer zones of the cold desert biosphere.

ONGC scores a hat-trick of oil and gas discoveries
India’s biggest oil explorer ONGC has struck oil and gas in three new blocks. One of the finds is most significant in decades and holding the promise of significantly narrowing the energy-starved India’s demand-supply gap in the natural gas sector.

The gas find at Krishna Godavari (KG) basin off the Andhra coast could prove similar to the Reliance Industries’ D-6 block, which, at its peak, is expected to double India’s current natural gas output. The other two discoveries included an oil find at the Charada-3 offshore block in Cambay basin and an oil and gas find at Matar in Vadodara district, both in Gujarat.

Kumar, Meira
She has become the first woman Speaker of Lok Sabha. An interesting coincidence is that both Lok Sabha and Rajya Sabha now have presiding officers formerly belonging to Indian Foreign Service (IFS). Meira Kumar is the second Bihari to occupy the Speaker’s post. The first to become Speaker from Bihar was Baliram Bhagat, who occupied the chair for a brief period of 14 months, from January 1976 to March 1977.

Born in 1945, Ms Kumar is second of the two children of former Defence Minister of India Jagjivan Ram. The soft-spoken five time MP could well be said to have grown up in the corridors of power. Her father became the youngest minister in the Jawaharlal Nehru’s provisional government in 1946. From then on till 1978, Mr Ram served virtually uninterrupted in one capacity or another in successive governments.

Ms Kumar’s formal politics came in 1985, barely a year before her father passed away. She became yet another successful professional, who had the added advantage of family involvement, to join politics after Rajiv Gandhi assumed the office of Prime Minister. Her first venture electoral venture was in Bijnore in Uttar Pradesh, from where she was elected to the eighth Lok Sabha. However, it proved to be beginner’s luck, Ms Kumar lost the next two elections. In 1996, she contested from the Karol Bagh Parliamentary Constituency in Delhi, which she won. Ms Kumar retained the seat in the twelfth Lok Sabha. Once again, in 1999, she was voted out. For her next electoral venture in 2004, Ms Kumar chose to return to Sasaram, a seat her father had held for nearly three decades. She won the elections and was made Minister for Social Justice and Empowerment.

Tanvir, Habib
World-renowned theatre personality, he died on June 8, 2009. Born in Raipur (now in Chhattisgarh), Tanvir was educated in the Aligarh and Nagpur Universities. Along with Sahir Ludhianavi, Kaifi Azmi, Ali Sardar Jafri, Balraj Sahni and Sadat Hasan Manto he was a part of a galaxy of extremely talented and equally committed artistes. He helped found Indian People’s Theatre (IPTA).

He produced outstanding dramas in Chhattisgarhi dialect and his “Naya Theatre” tapped the talent of ordinary people—rickshaw-pullers, panwallahs and small shopkeepers. Whether it be “Mitti ki gadi”, “Charandas Chor” or “Agra bazaar”—his theatre productions almost always carried a message.

Michael Jackson
The King of pop, who first enraptured audiences as a child star and eventually moon-walked his way into hearts of millions around the world, died on June 26, 2009. He was 50. Born in 1958, Jackson made his musical debut with four of his older brothers in the “Jackson Five” before embarking on a solo career. His 1982 album Thriller—which included the hits “Beat It”, “Billie Jean” and “Thriller”—is still the best-selling album of all time, with more than 26 million copies sold.

In 1994, Jackson married Lisa Marie-Presley, daughter of another music icon Elvis Presley. The marriage lasted less than two years. Jackson later married Debbie Rowe, a 37-year-old nurse he met while undergoing plastic surgery in 1997. They had two children—Prince Michael and Paris Michael Katherine—before divorcing in 1999. Jackson had a third child, Prince Michael II, whose mother’s name has never been made public.

Jackson leaves behind a complex legacy. A multimillion-dollar grossing star, he donated a significant portion of his fortune to charities and noble causes. But in recent years, the megastar found himself down on his luck—first plagued by child molestation lawsuits and then financial trouble.

Even as his appearance altered dramatically over the years, Jackson consistently denied undergoing plastic surgery. Rev Al Sharpton, a civil rights activist, described Jackson as a “historic figure”, saying: “Michael Jackson made culture accept a person of colour way before Tiger Woods, way before Oprah Winfrey, way before Barack Obama.”

Hyderabad is all set to host country’s first-ever helicopter manufacturing unit. The Andhra Pradesh government has signed a Memorandum of Understanding (MoU) with the Tata group for manufacturing helicopters at the aerospace special economic zone near the international airport at Shamshabad.  US-based Sikorsky Aircraft Corporation is shifting its Japan unit to Hyderabad, through a tie up with Tata Motors. The project involves an investment of Rs 1,000 crore and the operations will commence by 2010.

Located 180 km from Kolkata, since last one year Lalgarh had been simmering as the red lava of Maoist rage flowing out of this West Midnapore town. The ruling Left Front’s oppression and dispossession left this tribal area as the most undeveloped area of West Bengal, leading to the Maoists exploiting the situation and virtually converting the area into a powder keg. In June 2009, Maoists went on a bloody rampage, bodies piled up, CPM leaders were massacred in their homes, and even Kolkata was held hostage for a day by armed Maoist-backed tribals before the alarming situation forced the West Bengal government to wake-up and take concrete steps to counter the naxalite violence and take virtual control over the area.

IIFA 2009 Film awards ceremony was held here.

The World Council for Corporate Governance organised the Global Convention on Climate Security at Palampur, near Dharamshala in Himachal Pradesh, in June 2009. Experts from around the world pondered on why the climate crunch is more catastrophic than credit crunch. Another major topic was: “how climate change can prove as an opportunity for creating employment.

The Air Force station at Tezpur in north Assam now host Sukhoi-30 elite combat aircraft of the Indian Air Force (IAF). This is the third Sukhoi-30 aircraft hub in the country and the first one in the North East. The airfield in Tezpur was constructed by the British Royal Indian Air Force during the Second World War in 1942 and subsequently developed into a full-fledged air force base in 1959. It was upgraded recently to make it suitable to host new generation combat aircraft. Tezpur air base is very important from the strategic point of view as it lies surrounded by China, Bhutan, Tibet, Myanmar and Bangladesh on different directions. It is about 150 km away (aerial distance) from the frontier with China in Arunachal Pradesh.

This town in Italy hosted an international meet on Afghanistan and Pakistan in last week of June 2009. India, along with other key global powers and regional players were invited to discuss the terrorism problem affecting the Afghanistan-Pakistan region. The meeting was held on the sidelines of the G-8 Foreign Ministers’ meeting.

Formerly Sverdlovsk, it is a major city in the central part of Russia, the administrative center of Sverdlovsk Oblast. Situated on the eastern side of the Ural mountain range, it is the main industrial and cultural center of the Urals Federal District. The annual summit of the Shanghai Cooperation Organization (SCO) and the first meeting of BRIC (Brazil, Russia, India and China) leaders were held here in June 2009.

Project Saraswati—ONGC digs water in Thar
After successfully having drilled ‘black gold’ in several locations around the world, the Oil and Natural Gas Corporation (ONGC) has now dug out water in the parched desert area of Rajasthan. ONGC has achieved the rare feat in Thar desert by using its expertise in geological studies and drilling capabilities under its ‘ONGC Project Saraswati’.

Initiated in 2007 as part of its corporate social responsibility, the pilot project led the ONGC drillers and geologists to find underground water aquifer that has now started providing 76,000 litres of water per hour. The site, ‘Saraswati-1’, is located around seven km away from Jaisalmer (on the Dabla road) and the bore had to be dug 554 metres deep.

ONGC took a cue from the Libyan experience where during deep oil drilling in the 1950s, water was found under a desert. Notably, four major underground basins have been located during exploratory drilling for oil in Libya, which contain fresh water at a depth ranging between 800-2,500 metres. This has led to a gigantic irrigation project there, which is now known as Libya’s Great Man-Made River Project.

In the second phase, the ONGC has plans to extend the project to other areas of Rajasthan, Haryana and Gujarat.

Unique Identification Card Project
The Rs 150,000 crore biometric Unique Identification Card project is now on track with the Union government appointing the co-founder of Infosys, Nanadan Nilekani as the head of the project. The project will put India in the club of about 56 countries around the world, which have some form of national identity cards. These include most of continental Europe (not UK), China, Brazil, Japan, Iran, Israel and Indonesia.

The card has been designed by the National Institute of Design, Ahmedabad, which captured the essence of India, drawing inspiration from various motifs and rangoli patterns. It also has the colours of Indian textiles and essence of Indian ethos.

The Smart Card will have details like name, date of birth, sex, finger print and a chip which will contain all necessary personal data of the card-holder. The process of issuing this card has begun in coastal areas of the country in accordance with the National Population Register.

The first step in issuing ID cards is building a complete computerized record of all citizens above the age of 18. It needs to be computerized so that it is accessible and it can be updated constantly. The task is being done by the Registrar General of India (RGI) under the Home Ministry, because they have the requisite experience. The RGI carries out the census every decade. In fact, this database is going to be generated along with the next Census, slated for 2011. It will be called the National Population Register.

The technical challenge is to create a tamper-proof smart card, which can function in Indian conditions. Sophisticated software called SCOSTA will be used for creating the cards. The cards would contain as many as 16 pieces of personal information. This information will be stored in microchips embedded in the card and it will be accessible only to authorized users, like police officials. Apart from carrying personal details like photo, age, address and fingerprints, the MNIC will contain a National Identity Number, which will be unique to the individual.

The other challenge is to computerize the civil registration system across the country so that all births and deaths are entered into the population register.

Traces of ancient lake on Mars
US researchers have uncovered traces of an ancient lake on Mars boosting hopes of discovering evidence that billions of years ago the Red planet hosted life. The lake, which dates back some 3.4 billion years, appears to have covered as much as 207 sq kilometres and was up to 500 metres deep. The identification of the shorelines and accompanying geological evidence has allowed researchers to calculate the size and volume of the lake. Analysis of the images has shown the water carved out the canyon in which it was found, which then opened out into a valley, depositing sediment which formed a delta.


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