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Thursday, March 11, 2010

Current General Knowledge: November 2009



ABBREVIATIONS
MFSS: Mutual Fund Service System

AWARDS
Kalinga Prize, 2009
Professor Yash Pal of India has been awarded UNESCO's annual Kalinga Prize for the Popularization of Science, jointly with Trinh Xuan Thuan of Vietnam.
Prof Pal was recognized for his participation in many Indian television programs that deal with popular science, including Turning Point and Science is everywhere. He also helped establish the Inter-University Centre for Astronomy and Astrophysics in Pune and the Centre for Educational Communication in Ahmedabad.

Established in 1951, the Kalinga rewards honour a person who has helped interpret science, research and technology for the general public.

Sahara Indian Sports Awards, 2009
Abhinav Bindra and Saina Nehwal have been adjudged Best Sportsman and Best Sportswoman of the year, respectively. Saina also won the Best Young Achiever award in the female category, with tennis ace Yuki Bhambri taking the honours in the male category.

The other winners were P. Gopichand (Coach of the Year), Mithali Raj (Best Female Cricketer), Gautam Gambhir (Best Male Cricketer), Vijender Singh (Boxing), Sushil Kumar (Wrestling), Gaganjeet Bhullar (Golf) and Jayanta Talukdar (Archery), all under the category of Outstanding Performances in Other Sports.

The Indian cricket team was adjudged the Team of the Year, while there was a special award for woman boxer M.C. Mary Kom. Badminton legend Prakash Padukone won the Sporting Legend honour. Sylvanus Dung Dung, a member of the gold medal-winning Indian hockey squad at the 1980 Moscow Olympics, won the Unsung Hero award.

C.K. Nayudu Lifetime Achievement Award, 2009
India’s 1983 World Cup hero, former all-rounder Mohinder Amaranth has been honoured with the Award by the BCCI. The award comprises a trophy and a cheque for Rs 15 lakh. Amarnath scored 4,378 runs from 69 Test matches, in a career that stretched from 1969 to 1988. He also played 85 One-day Internationals, in which he scored 1,924 runs.

Indira Gandhi Prize for Peace, Disarmament and Development, 2009
Bangladesh Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina has been chosen for the prestigious award for her “outstanding contribution to the promotion of democracy and pluralism”. The award carries a cash prize of Rs 25 lakh and a citation.

CYBER SPACE
Net turns truly Indian as .bharat goes online from 2010
During its 40 years, including the last 15 years it grew rapidly, the Internet has been an alien to 800-900 million non-English speaking Indians. The Internet started as an English language phenomenon, but even in the later years, when technology made it possible to have content in local languages, addresses continued to be in English.

Come February 2010, millions of non-English speaking Indians will be able to type .bharat in Devnagari script while accessing popular websites including Google, Yahoo!, MSN and many others.

The first right of refusal for .bharat URLs will be given to those with .in registration. For example, a google.co.in or a yahoo.co.in will get the first right of refusal to have a google.bharat or yahoo.bharat in Indian languages.

Fake online anti-virus software pose threat
For users seeking to quarantine their computers by using anti-virus software available online, fake anti-virus (FAV) is a growing, invisible threat. While it’s much easier to identify a malicious software code received through spam mail, or other suspicious attachments, fake anti-virus (FAV) are making it difficult for users to escape from them. Experts tracking cyber crime say these FAVs can cost anywhere between Rs 500 to Rs 6,000, with malicious code writers making around $10,000 on a good day. According to computer security firm PandaLabs, only 1,000 samples of FAVs were reported during the first quarter of 2008. However, by the second quarter of 2009, such instances have reached 3,74,000. Malware, which is short for malicious software, has been growing exponentially during past few years. In 2008, over 1.5 million attacks were detected by McAfee, and the number has already hit 1.2 million for the first half ending June 2009.

DAYS; YEARS
UN declares July 18 as Nelson Mandela Day
The UN General Assembly has declared July 18 “Nelson Mandela International Day” to mark the South African anti-apartheid leader's contribution to peace. A resolution adopted by consensus by the 192-member world body calls for commemorations every year, starting on July 18, 2010, Mandela's birthday, to recognise the Nobel Peace Prize laureate's contribution to resolving conflicts and promoting race relations, human rights and reconciliation.

Mandela led the fight against apartheid in South Africa as head of the African National Congress' armed wing. He was convicted of sabotage and other crimes and served 27 years in prison. When freed in 1990, he helped lead South Africa's transition toward democracy.

DISCOVERY
ONGC finds Uranium in Assam
Oil exploration firm Oil and Natural Gas Corporation (ONGC) has stumbled upon a reserve of uranium while carrying out exploration work at the Borholla oilfield in Jorhat district. This is the first time that uranium traces have been found in an Assam oilfield although other north-eastern States like Meghalaya have rich reserves.

Surveys conducted by the atomic energy department indicate there could be up to 10,000 tonnes of uranium in and around Domiasiat, about 150 km west of Meghalaya capital Shillong, the area considered to have the largest sandstone-type deposits in India.

Spurred by the recent findings, ONGC is now contemplating setting up a nuclear power plant if its current collaboration with Uranium Corporation results in the discovery of uranium in Assam.

ONGC Assam's oil production is now about 1.2 million tonnes annually. Assam has over 1.3 billion tonnes of crude oil and 156 billion cubic metres of natural gas reserves, of which about an estimated 58 percent is yet to be explored. India produces about 30 million tonnes of crude oil annually, with Assam accounting for about five million tonnes. Apart from ONGC, Oil India Ltd (OIL) is the other major exploration firm operating in the north-eastern State.

EXPEDITIONS
Circumnavigating the world
Commander Dilip Dhonde of the Indian Navy, the first Indian to attempt to circumnavigate the world alone, reached Christchurch in New Zealand on November 21, 2009, after covering 9,000 nautical miles on Mhadei, the Indian Naval Sailing Vessel.

Dhonde, 42, embarked on the solo circumnavigation of the world on August 19, 2009, from Mumbai. Less than 300 people the world over have succeeded in this endeavour till date, with this being the first attempt for an Indian.

Mhadei, during her voyage of over 21,600 nautical miles (38,880 km) under sail will take on the exceptional winds and swell which are prevalent especially below 60 degree south latitude, called the Screaming 60s.

This feat is often compared to conquering of Everest (the highest peak in the world), yet ironically is one that requires greater mettle and much longer time. The perils of the capricious sea and the vagaries of the unpredictable weather in a lonely sail boat become the canvas where this Herculean challenge to the human spirit unravels.

Mhadei will sail for approximately nine months and will be stopping at only four ports—Fremantle (Australia), Christchurch (New Zealand), Port Stanley (Falkland Islands) and Cape Town (South Africa) before returning to Mumbai.

There are four pre-requisites to qualify for a circumnavigation voyage. First, it should start and end in the same port, crossing all meridians of longitude at least once and the equator at least twice. Second, the distance covered should be more than the length of a meridian, 21,600 nautical miles. Third, the boat should not pass through any canals or straits, where use of engines or towing would be unavoidable. Fourth, the boat should round the three Great Capes—Cape Leeuwin (Australia), Cape Horn (South America) and Cape of Good Hope (Africa).

N-POWER
18th plant in India begins operation
India’s nuclear programme crossed a milestone on November 24, 2009, with fifth unit of the 220 megawatt Rajasthan Atomic Power Project (Raps-5) attaining criticality. With this, the number of operating nuclear power reactors in India has gone up to 18, increasing the total atomic power generating capacity from 4,120 MW to 4,330 MW. Attaining criticality in the jargon of the atomic scientists means the start of self-sustaining nuclear fission chain.

PERSONS
Joshi, Prabhash
Noted Hindi journalist, he died on November 6, 2009. He was 72. A Gandhian at heart, Joshi started his career in journalsim from Nai Duniya in his hometown Indore. He was earlier involved with the Sarvodaya movement.

The launch of Jansatta by him in 1983 created reverberations in the world of Hindi journalism when he rejected the existing pedantic style of Hindi writing to introduce the colloquial writing style, later adopted by many a publication. He retired as editor of Jansatta in 1995 and since then was a consulting editor of the paper and wrote his weekly column for the paper.

PLACES
Tawang
Located in Arunachal Pradesh, this Buddhist monastery town was in news due to visit of Tibetan spiritual leader Dalai Lama on November 7, 2009. China had protested against visit of Dalai Lama to Arunachal Pradesh as China considers the area as disputed territory and lays claim to it.

Tawang was once a part of Tibet. In 1914, the MacMahon line was drawn by the British and Tawang became a part of India. Tawang came under effective Indian administration on February 12, 1951, when Major R. Khating led Indian Army troops to relocate Chinese squatters. India assumed sovereignty of the territory and established democratic rule therein.

During the Sino-Indian war of 1962, Tawang fell under Chinese control. The valiant last stand of Mahavir Chakra awardee Jaswant Singh Rawat took place in Tawang. After the withdrawal of Chinese troops, Tawang once again came under Indian administration. In recent years, China has occasionally voiced its claims on Arunachal Pradesh, especially Tawang, and Chinese troop incursions continue to occur frequently. India has rebutted the claims by Chinese government.
Today, Tawang serves as a centre for tourist attractions, thanks to the well-preserved beauty of the Tawang Monastery.

Belgaum
Aerospace and Engineering major QuEST Global has launched India’s first aerospace special economic zone (SEZ) at Belgaum, Karnataka, on November 14, 2009, for development and manufacture of aerospace precision engineering products. The SEZ has come up on a 300 acre site at an investment of Rs 150 crore.

Rome
A UN summit on the plight of the planet’s one billion hungry was held in Rome in November 2009. Pope Benedict XVI was among the inaugural speakers at the meeting at the Rome headquarters of the Food and Agriculture Organisation.

Darrah National Park
Rajasthan will soon have its third tiger reserve after Ranthambore and Sariska. The new tiger reserve will come up at Darrah National Park, 50 km from Kota. The National Tiger Conservation Authority (NTCA) has given a nod to the project and the first tiger is likely to be relocated to Darrah by 2011.

At present, Darrah National Park is spread over an area of 250 sq km and is separated from Ranthambore by another 250 sq km stretch which houses Ramgarh Vishdhari Wildlife Sanctuary. The park has three wildlife sanctuaries—Darrah, Chambal and Jaswant Sagar. The park has another positive side—a permanent source of water from the Chambal Basin.

Meanwhile, with an aim to protect and increase tiger population, the state government has finalised a proposal to form a tiger conservation foundation. The foundation, which will also deal with rehabilitation of the big cats to reserve parks with lesser population, is being set up as per the provisions of the Wildlife Conservation Act.

PROJECTS
India targets 1000 MW solar power in 2013
India is all set to open a new front, with the Solar Mission under National Action Plan on Climate Change, aiming to generate 1,000 MW of power by 2013. The country currently produces less than 5 MW every year. In the first phase, between 2010 and 2013, the government is proposing to generate 200 MW of off-grid solar power and cover 7 million square metres with solar collectors. By the end of the final phase in 2022, the government hopes to produce 20,000 MW of grid-based solar power, 2,000 MW of off-grid solar power and cover 20 million square metres with collectors.

Making sea water potable @ 7 paise/litre
Scarcity of potable water could soon be a thing of the past, at least in coastal and island States. The Low Temperature Thermal Desalination System (LTTD) converts saline seawater into potable water—that too for six to seven paise a litre! The first plant set up at Kavaratti in the Lakshadweep archipelago has been converting seawater into potable water for 10 paise a litre.

Three similar plants of one-lakh litre per day capacity are proposed to be set up at Agatti, Androth and Minicoy in the Lakshwadeep Islands. The technology—based on indigenously designed, developed and demonstrated desalination techniques by the National Institute of Ocean Technology (NIOT)—uses warm surface sea-water, flash evaporated at low pressure. The vapour is then condensed with cold deep-sea water to get potable water.

A scheme is also being formulated for large-scale desalination units at coastal power plants and the remaining three islands of Lakshadweep Islands on public-private partnership basis.

Experts say global water consumption is doubling every 20 years—more than twice the rate of human population growth. The world’s water use is expected to triple in the next 50 years. Almost half of the world’s population lives in 263 international river basins, but two-thirds of these basins have no treaties to share water. The world’s population is already using about 54 per cent accessible freshwater. By 2025, the human share will be 70 per cent. If per capita consumption of water continues to rise at its current rate, human-kind could be using over 90 per cent of all available freshwater within 25 years, experts say.

Kisan Vision Yojna
Kisan Vision Yojana is an ambitious project of Indian Railways to set up cold chain facilities across the country for fresh fruit and vegetables. The first pilot project is being set up at Singur in West Bengal. The aim of the project is to provide linkage between production clusters with consumption centres.

As much as Rs 35,000 crore worth of farm produce is wasted every year due to lack of proper storage. If this pilot project is successful, Railways will build similar perishable cargo centres at Nashik, Azadpur Mandi in Delhi, New Jalpaiguri, Dankuni and Mecheda.

Container Corporation of India (CONCOR), which operates inland container depots for Railways, will provide container facilities between production clusters and consumption points. CONCOR’s subsidiary, Farm and Health Enterprises will provide infrastructure support to these facilities.

RESEARCH
DRDO developing herbal shield for N-war
In the backdrop of nuclear, biological and chemical (NBC) weapons being a major factor in the geo-political security environment, the DRDO is developing herbal protective measures to guard the fallout of the use of such weapons. This is the first such project of its kind in the world where extracts from herbal plants are being used to produce agents to protect humans against radioactivity. Besides military applications, the spin-off of this project will also have spin-offs in civilian sectors like nuclear medicine and radiology.

At present there is only one chemical agent available to combat radioactivity, but that is very toxic and hence dangerous to handle. The herbal products would counter this drawback. Extracts of two plants, podophylum hexandrum and the well-known seabuckthorn, are being used in the project being undertaken by three different DRDO laboratories at Leh, Delhi and Gwalior.

The plants grow only in high altitude areas above 9000 feet and are native only to the Himalayas. Efforts are on to cultivate the plants in the DRDO laboratories to ascertain their characteristics and their ability to adapt to other geographical conditions for mass-scale production.

Some other herbal products developed by the DRDO for use by the armed forces include UV protection agents, high energy food items and insect repellents. So far, NBC warfare and protection items worth about Rs 800 crore, developed by the DRDO and manufactured by the industry, have been supplied to the armed forces. These include sensors, detection systems, individual and collective protection systems and medical equipment.

MISCELANEOUS
Goods and Services Tax (GST)
A comprehensive Goods and Services Tax (GST) has been proposed and the Centre and the Empowered Committee of State Finance Ministers. GST is to have two components; one levied by the Centre (central GST or CGST) and the other by States (State GST or SGST). The regime is to be implemented through multiple statutes, one for CGST and the rest for the respective SGST statutes. While there would be some flexibility for each State in formulating its SGST regime, the basic features related to chargeability, definition of what’s taxable, valuation, classification will be uniform and consistent.

The dual GST (CGST and SGST) would be imposed on all transactions in goods and services except exempted transactions and certain goods and services kept outside the GST’s purview. The threshold limit for CGST is proposed as Rs 1.5 crore for goods and Rs 10 lakh for services. The threshold for SGST is proposed as a cumulative total of Rs 10 lakh for both goods and services.
   
GST will subsume central levies like central excise duties, service tax, additional customs duty, special additional customs duty, surcharges and cesses and State levies such as State-VAT/sales tax, entertainment tax, luxury taxes, taxes on lottery, betting and gambling, State cesses and surcharges and entry tax (not including octroi and local government levies).

Taxes on alcohol, certain petroleum products (viz fuels); octroi and similar levies at local authority level will not be covered in GST.

The GST model has taken the conflicting needs and concerns of States and Centre into consideration. However, this has diluted the vision of a single GST regime in India and may, therefore, achieve only a part of the objectives and benefits available under a single GST model. There is also a significant risk that if the present GST model is not implemented properly after taking into account the needs of trade and industry, it may be as complex as the existing indirect tax regime.

Language issue and the Indian Constitution
Article 343 of the Constitution and the Official Languages Act says that the official language of the Union will be Hindi. However, the attempt to adopt Hindi as the official language was strongly opposed by several non-Hindi speaking States, especially Tamil Nadu, which erupted in violent protests leading to a compromise in allowing the use of English also for official purposes. Thus, the Constitution and the act allowed English to be used for transaction of business in Parliament, by Centre and States and for certain purposes in High Courts for 15 years. Later, the act was amended in 1967 to allow continuation of English for official purposes.

Originally, the Constitution listed fourteen languages—Assamese, Bengali, Gujarati, Hindi, Kannada, Kashmiri, Malayalam, Marathi, Oriya, Punjabi, Sanskrit, Tamil, Telugu, and Urdu—in Eighth Schedule, in 1950. Since then, the list has been expanded thrice, once to include Sindhi, second time to include Konkani, Manipuri and Nepali and yet again to add four more languages—Bodo, Santhali, Maithili and Dogri—bringing total to 22 Scheduled languages.

The three-language formula recommends the study of a modern Indian language, preferably a south Indian language, apart from Hindi and English in Hindi-speaking States and the study of the regional language along with Hindi and English in non-Hindi speaking States.

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