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In news:

Researchers in West Bengal have developed and commercialised a rice variety that is resistant to arsenic.

In Brief:

  • The new rice variety is called Muktoshri, also known as IET 21845.
  • It has been jointly developed by the Rice Research Station at Chinsurah, under
    West Bengal’s Agriculture Department and the National Botanical Research Institute, Lucknow.
  • The cultivation of the new variety of rice will take 125 to 130 days.
  • West Bengal has a high concentration of arsenic in groundwater, with 83 blocks across seven districts having higher arsenic levels than permissible limits.
  • Arsenic is highly toxic in its inorganic form.
  • World Health Organization’s provisional guideline value for arsenic in drinking water is 0.01 mg/l (10 μg/l). The permissible limit of arsenic in India in the absence of an alternative source is 0.05 mg/l (50 μg/l).
  • Long-term exposure to arsenic from drinking-water and food can cause cancer, skin lesions and negative impacts on cognitive development.

Basmati Rice Genome Sequenced

In news:

Scientists have mapped the complete genome of two basmati rice varieties, including one that is drought-tolerant and resistant to bacterial disease.

In brief:

  • Basmati 334 from Pakistan, known to be drought tolerant and resistant to rice-killing bacterial blight,
  • Dom Sufid from Iran, an aromatic long-grain rice that is one of the most expensive on the market.
  • Whole-genome sequencing — which determines an organism’s complete DNA sequence — is an important tool for studying plants and improving crop varieties.
  • Prior research assembled the genome for basmati rice using short-read sequencing — in which DNA is broken into tiny fragments and then reassembled.
  • However, the techniques lead to missing sequences and gaps in the data.
  • Most genetic material in basmati comes from japonica — a rice group found in East Asia — followed by the rice group aus found in Bangladesh.

Bats – Carrier Of Several Viruses

In news:

There’s pretty strong evidence that this is a bat origin coronavirus and probably be the Chinese horseshoe bat.

In brief:

  • One bat can host many different viruses without getting sick. They are the natural reservoir for the Marburg virus, and Nipah and Hendra viruses, which have caused human disease and outbreaks in Africa, Malaysia, Bangladesh and Australia.
  • They are thought to be the natural reservoir for the Ebola virus. They also carry the rabies virus, but in that case the bats are affected by the disease.
  • There are billions of bats and more than 1,300 different species living on every continent except Antarctica.Bats are remarkably long-lived for small mammals, approximately 40 years.
  • During flight, a bat’s body temperature spikes to over 100 degrees Fahrenheit. Its heart rate can surge to more than 1,000 beats per minute.
  • For most land mammals, these are signals that would trigger death
  • Bats have developed special immune systems to deal with the stress of flying.
  • Their bodies make molecules that other mammals don’t have, which help repair cell damage. And their systems don’t overreact to infections, which keeps them from falling ill from the many viruses they carry and also prevents conditions like diabetes and cancer.

Keep Agri, Dairy Products Out Of Trade Deals With U.S.Govt Told

In News:

Farmers groups and lobbies protested the agricultural and dairy free trade provisions of the Regional Comprehensive Economic Partnership (RCEP) leading to India pulling out of those talks, are now urging the Centre to ensure that agricultural products stay out of the ongoing Indo-U.S. trade negotiations as well.

In Brief:

  • With U.S. President set to visit India later this month, Amercian negotiators are pushing hard for the removal of tariff and non-tariff barriers to facilitate access to the Indian market for major crops including corn, cotton, soybean, wheat and nuts.
  • The U.S. is also keen on reaching a deal to open up the Indian dairy market, which had been hindered by the fact that the U.S. cattle feed often includes non-vegetarian elements.
  • Indian farm lobbies worry that this could have a disastrous impact on domestic farmers, already facing a struggle to get remunerative prices for their produce
  • On the other side the U.S. has been pushing for amendments to the Indian intellectual property laws, which do not allow for patents on seeds or plants,
  • If U.S. cotton farmers enter India, they can afford to sell at very low prices and undercut the domestic farmer.
  • The import of genetically modified crops is also a thorny issue. “Most of the U.S. cotton, soy, corn is GM. While Indian farmers also grow GM cotton, India is yet to allow any GM food crop to be grown here.

States Not Bound To Make Reservation In Promotion, Says SC

In News:

In a recent major judgement, the Supreme Court has said that there is “no fundamental right which inheres in an individual to claim reservation in promotions”, and also no court can order a state government to provide for reservation to SC/STs.

In Brief:

What did the Supreme Court say on reservation?

  • A Supreme Court bench of justices ruled that states are not bound to make reservations, nor is reservation in promotions a fundamental right.
  • The top court said that it cannot order state governments to provide reservations.
  • There is no fundamental right which inheres in an individual to claim reservation in promotions.
  • No mandamus can be issued by the court directing the state government to provide reservations.
  • The state governments can grant reservation to scheduled castes and scheduled tribes at their own discretion, but will have to collect quantifiable data which shows their inadequate representation in public services.
  • The Supreme Court has said that states can grant reservation to certain classes, but “there must be some material on the basis of which the opinion is formed.
  • The Supreme Court decision came against pleas regarding Uttarakhand government’s September 5, 2012 decision to fill up all posts in public services in the state without providing reservations to Scheduled Castes and Scheduled Tribes. The government’s decision was challenged in the Uttarakhand High Court, which struck it down.

It noted that Article 16 (4) and 16 (4-A) of the Constitution and what does it say:

  • Article 16 (4) states: Nothing in this article shall prevent the State from making any provision for the reservation of appointments or posts in favour of any backward class of citizens which, in the opinion of the State, is not adequately represented in the services under the State.
  • Article 16 (4A), which was introduced in 1995, states: Nothing in this article shall prevent the State from making any provision for reservation in matters of promotion to any class or classes of posts in the services under the State in favour of the Scheduled Castes and the Scheduled Tribes which, in the opinion of the State, are not adequately represented in the services under the State.
  • To summarise, the Constitution of India grants state government the power to reserve vacancies for backward sections, and even grant reservation in matters of promotion for posts under it. This can be done if the state believes that the reserved categories are inadequately represented in public services under it.

IRDAI Revises Stewardship Code For Insures

In Brief:

  • Following the recent troubles at a number of non-banking finance companies (NBFCs) and housing finance companies (HFCs), the insurance regulator Insurance Regulatory and Development Authority of India (IRDAI) has issued a revised set of stewardship guidelines for insurance companies to closely
    monitor the companies they invest in, intervene if required and also coordinate with other institutional investors for these invested companies.
  • As per the code, insurer should have a board approved stewardship policy which should identify and define the stewardship responsibilities that the insurer wishes to undertake and how the policy intends to fulfill the responsibilities to enhance the wealth of its policyholders who are ultimate beneficiaries.
  • It has been decided to review the existing guidelines on stewardship code based on the experience in implementation, compliance by the insurers and the recent developments in this regard.
  • Accordingly, a revised guidance on stewardship code has been prepared and placed herewith as Revised Guidelines on Stewardship Code for Insurers in India.
  • All the insurers need to review and update their existing stewardship policy based on the Revised Guidelines on Stewardship Code for Insurers in India within 3 months from the date of issue of the same and the updated stewardship policy needs to be approved by the Board of Directors.
  • The updated policy should be disclosed on the website within 30 days of approval by the Board by all insurers, alongside the public disclosures. Any subsequent change / modification to the stewardship policy should be specifically disclosed at the time of updating the policy document on the website.

About stewardship code:

  • The stewardship code will come into effect from the financial year beginning April 1, 2020.
  • As per the code, insurer should have a board approved stewardship policy which should identify and define the stewardship responsibilities that the insurer wishes to undertake and how the policy intends to fulfill the responsibilities to enhance the wealth of its policyholders who are ultimate beneficiaries.
  • It has been decided to review the existing guidelines on stewardship code based on the experience in implementation, compliance by the insurers and the recent developments in this regard. Accordingly, a revised guidance on stewardship code has been prepared and placed herewith as Revised Guidelines on Stewardship Code for Insurers in India.
  • All the insurers need to review and update their existing stewardship policy based on the Revised Guidelines on Stewardship Code for Insurers in India within 3 months from the date of issue of the same and the updated stewardship policy needs to be approved by the Board of Directors. The updated policy should be disclosed on the website within 30 days of approval by the Board by all insurers, alongside the public disclosures. Any subsequent change / modification to the stewardship policy should be specifically disclosed at the time of updating the policy document on the website.