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Important Current Affairs for CLAT-26th September 2023

The Next Pandemic: Disease X Looms as a Potential Global Threat

Health experts from around the world are sounding the alarm about a potential global pandemic referred to as “Disease X,” which could surpass the lethality of COVID-19 and claim over 50 million lives. They warn that COVID-19 might be just a precursor to more devastating pandemics in the future.

Dame Kate Bingham’s Dire Warning

Dame Kate Bingham, who chaired the UK’s Vaccine Taskforce, issued a grim warning about the severity of Disease X. She emphasized that the world has been fortunate that COVID-19 was not more lethal and cautioned that the next pandemic could be exponentially more deadly.

WHO’s Identification of Disease X

The World Health Organization (WHO) has officially recognized the looming threat of Disease X and suggests that it may already be in motion, posing a significant global health challenge.

The Potential Lethality of Disease X

COVID-19, which emerged in 2019, has already claimed nearly seven million lives worldwide. Dame Kate Bingham suggests that Disease X could be over seven times as deadly as COVID-19 and may originate from an existing virus.

Parallels with the 1918-1919 Flu Pandemic

Drawing parallels with the catastrophic 1918–19 flu pandemic that killed over 50 million people, Dame Kate Bingham underscores the potential devastation Disease X could unleash. She highlights that there are numerous viruses with the capacity to cause such a pandemic, given the high replication and mutation rates of viruses.

Monitoring a Vast Array of Viruses

Scientists are diligently monitoring 25 virus families, each containing thousands of individual viruses, some of which have the potential to mutate into severe pandemics. This surveillance, however, does not account for viruses that may jump from animals to humans, posing an additional threat.

Vaccine Development and Preparedness Efforts

UK’s Vaccine Development Initiatives

In response to the threat of Disease X, UK scientists have initiated vaccine development efforts targeting this unidentified but potentially deadly pathogen. More than 200 scientists are involved in this research, conducted at the high-security Porton Down laboratory complex in Wiltshire.

Focus on Zoonotic Pathogens

The research primarily focuses on zoonotic pathogens, animal viruses that have the potential to infect humans and spread rapidly on a global scale. Among the pathogens under scrutiny are bird flu, monkeypox, and hantavirus, which is transmitted by rodents.

India Allows Export Of 75,000 Tons Of Non-Basmati White Rice To The UAE

The Government of India has recently made a significant decision to permit the export of 75,000 tons of non-basmati white rice to the United Arab Emirates (UAE). This move comes at a time when India had imposed restrictions on the export of non-basmati white rice, aiming to bolster domestic supplies amidst concerns over inflation and the unpredictability of the monsoon season. The Directorate General of Foreign Trade (DGFT) made this announcement on Monday, signaling a shift in India’s export policies.

Export Channel Through National Cooperatives Exports Limited

The export of non-basmati white rice to the UAE will be facilitated through the National Cooperatives Exports Limited (NCEL). NCEL plays a crucial role in ensuring the smooth execution of India’s export initiatives, and its involvement in this endeavor underscores the government’s commitment to balancing domestic and international demands for essential food commodities.

Prioritizing Food Security of Vulnerable Countries

While India has temporarily halted non-basmati white rice exports for domestic reasons, it continues to prioritize its commitments to food security in vulnerable countries and neighboring nations. The Director General of Foreign Trade (DGFT), Santosh Kumar Sarangi, emphasized that the Indian government remains dedicated to providing the necessary quantity of rice or wheat when requested by food-insecure countries. This policy reflects India’s role as a responsible global player in addressing hunger and food shortages.

Expanding Export Horizons

The recent decision to export non-basmati rice to the UAE is part of a broader strategy to extend exports to countries in need. In the previous weeks, India allowed the export of 3 lakh tonnes of wheat to Nepal and 14,184 tonnes to Bhutan. Additionally, non-basmati rice exports were permitted to Bhutan (79,000 tonnes), Mauritius (14,000 tonnes), and Singapore (50,000 tonnes) through NCEL. These measures indicate India’s willingness to collaborate with neighboring nations and fulfill their food security requirements.

A Policy for Broken Rice and Grains

In an effort to bolster the domestic supply of essential grains, the Indian government implemented export bans on various food items. Broken rice exports were restricted to Senegal (5 lakh tonnes), Gambia (5 lakh tonnes), Indonesia (2 lakh tonnes), Mali (1 lakh tonnes), and Bhutan (48,804 tonnes). These measures were introduced to ensure an adequate supply of grains within the country, particularly as inflation, especially food inflation, persisted above the Reserve Bank of India’s (RBI) target range of 2-6%.

India’s Delicate Balancing Act: Exporting Non-Basmati White Rice to the UAE

The Government of India’s decision to permit the export of non-basmati white rice to the UAE represents a calculated balancing act between domestic needs and international commitments. While safeguarding domestic supplies remains a priority, India continues to honor its commitments to food-insecure nations and neighboring countries, reaffirming its status as a responsible global player in the food security arena.

Moody’s Concerns About India’s Aadhaar Biometric System

Moody’s Investors Service, a global rating agency based in New York, recently issued a report on “Decentralized Finance and Digital Assets” on September 23, in which it raised concerns about the security and privacy vulnerabilities associated with biometric technologies, particularly India’s Aadhaar program.

Aadhaar: World’s Largest Digital ID Program

Acknowledging Aadhaar as “the world’s largest digital ID program,” Moody’s highlighted the fact that it assigns unique identification numbers to over 1.2 billion Indian residents using biometric and demographic data.

Reliability of Biometric Technologies in Humid Climates

Moody’s expressed doubts regarding the reliability of biometric technologies, specifically in humid climates, citing concerns about the Unique Identification Authority of India (UIDAI) administered Aadhaar system. They noted that the Aadhaar system often leads to service denials, particularly for manual laborers operating in hot and humid conditions, which raises questions about the effectiveness of biometric authentication.

Misuse and Exploitation Risks

The report also raised concerns about the potential misuse or exploitation of certain categories of digital ID systems, especially those under central or federated control. Moody’s emphasized that these concerns become more critical when sensitive biometric data, such as fingerprints or facial recognition information, is involved.

Challenges of Decentralized Digital Identity (DID)

Moody’s report highlighted challenges associated with decentralized digital identity (DID) systems. While DID offers potential solutions to current ID issues, the report pointed out several challenges:

  1. Technical Complexity: Implementing DID systems can be technically complex.

  2. Cyber Risks: DID systems are susceptible to cyber risks.

  3. Interoperability Issues: Different DID frameworks may not seamlessly work together.

  4. Data Exploitation: There is a risk of data exploitation.

  5. Social Repercussions: Potential societal impacts must be considered.

Regulatory Framework and Standards

The report noted that a lack of suitable policies and regulations could hinder the adoption of reusable credentials and create obstacles for DID technology. It emphasized that widespread adoption of decentralized identity systems would likely require new regulations and laws.

Interoperability Challenges

Another challenge highlighted by Moody’s is the lack of well-defined and universally accepted standards within the decentralized digital identity (DID) architecture. This lack of standardization affects components such as data formats, communication protocols, cryptographic methods, and verification procedures, hindering efficient interoperability among different DID systems.

India’s Response to Moody’s Report

The Ministry of Electronics & IT responded to Moody’s report by characterizing their viewpoints on the Aadhaar-UIDAI system as ‘baseless.’ They criticized the report for not providing any primary or secondary data to support its opinions and for failing to seek information from the Unique Identification Authority of India (UIDAI) regarding the raised concerns. The ministry also corrected inaccuracies in the report’s mention of the number of Aadhaar users.

Amazon To Invest Up To $4 Billion In AI Startup Anthropic

E-commerce giant Amazon.com has announced a strategic investment of up to $4 billion in Anthropic, an AI startup, marking a significant move to enhance its presence in generative artificial intelligence. This partnership, as reported by Bloomberg (Software company), not only involves a substantial financial commitment but also provides Anthropic with access to Amazon’s formidable computing power.

Amazon’s Strategic Move in AI

This substantial $4 billion investment in Anthropic reflects Amazon’s commitment to advancing its position in the AI landscape. While it may not have an immediate financial impact on Amazon’s cloud-services unit, it signals the company’s determination to compete with industry leaders, particularly Microsoft, in the realm of artificial intelligence.

Anthropic: A Safer Approach to AI

Anthropic, founded by veterans from OpenAI, has garnered substantial attention and funding with its mission to develop safer AI systems. The startup aims to create chatbots and AI applications that prioritize safety and reliability while performing tasks such as summarization, search, question-answering, and coding. Notably, Google, a major player in the tech industry, previously invested nearly $400 million in Anthropic, demonstrating the widespread interest in the company’s vision for AI safety.

Boosting Amazon’s In-House Chipmaking

In addition to the financial investment, this partnership will have a significant impact on Amazon’s in-house chipmaking efforts. Amazon has been developing its own processors, including Trainium and Inferentia, designed to power machine learning applications. With the collaboration, Anthropic will leverage AWS chips to build and train foundational models for future AI applications. This marks a synergistic approach to advancing both companies’ AI capabilities.

Amazon’s CEO Andy Jassy on the Partnership

Amazon’s CEO Andy Jassy expressed enthusiasm for the collaboration, stating, “we can help improve many customer experiences, short- and long-term, through our deeper collaboration.” He also highlighted Amazon’s excitement about AWS’s new managed service, Amazon Bedrock, which enables companies to utilize various foundation models for building generative AI applications. Jassy emphasized that the collaboration with Anthropic would further enhance the value delivered to customers through services like Amazon Bedrock and AWS Trainium, the AI training chip.

Indian Banks Attracting Increasing Global Investment: S&P Global Report

S&P Global Market Intelligence has released a report indicating that Indian banks are becoming more appealing to global investors seeking higher returns. Factors such as robust credit growth, improved margins, and stable asset quality have enhanced the outlook for these financial institutions.

Rising Foreign Institutional Investment:

According to S&P Global, foreign institutional investors (FIIs) have been increasingly investing in Indian banks, with their total holdings reaching ₹8.36 trillion as of June 30, up from ₹7.71 trillion the previous year. This marks a significant growth from ₹6.73 trillion in June 2020.

Concentration in Private-Sector Banks:

The report highlights that a substantial 93.5% of FII holdings in Indian banks, as of June 30, were concentrated in the country’s largest private-sector banks. This concentration underscores the attractiveness of these banks to global investors.

Top Picks for FIIs:

Among the preferred choices for FIIs, the top three investees are ICICI Bank Ltd., HDFC Bank Ltd., and Kotak Mahindra Bank Ltd. These banks have been particularly appealing to foreign investors, contributing to the growth in FII holdings.

Private-Sector Banks’ Ascendancy:

The market value of FII holdings in Indian private-sector banks witnessed a notable increase, rising to ₹7.82 trillion as of June, up from ₹7.29 trillion the previous year, and ₹6.37 trillion in June 2020. This trend indicates the strengthening appeal of privately-owned banks.

State-Owned Banks on the Rise:

While private-sector banks have attracted significant FII investment, state-owned banks have also seen growth. The market value of FII holdings in Indian state-owned banks reached ₹541 billion as of June, compared to ₹422 billion a year earlier. This suggests an expanding interest in state-owned financial institutions.

Leading Foreign Investors:

The list of top foreign investors in Indian banks, based on market value, is led by U.S.-based Capital Research and Management Co., followed by BlackRock Inc. and Singapore’s GIC Private Ltd. Capital Research and Management Co. holds a substantial stake of more than 6% in Kotak Mahindra Bank, with a total value of ₹542.90 billion in Indian bank holdings as of June.

Nepal-China Sign 12 Agreements: A Closer Look at the Visit’s Outcome

Nepal’s Prime Minister, Pushpa Kamal Dahal, recently concluded his week-long visit to China, which was expected to address critical issues such as Belt and Road Initiative (BRI) projects, cross-border energy trade, and past agreements. However, the agreements signed during this visit did not cover these key areas. Instead, they focused on various other aspects of bilateral cooperation.

Delegation-Level Talks and Joint Communiqué

The agreements were the result of delegation-level talks between Prime Minister Dahal and Chinese Premier Li Qiang. While some of the expectations and commitments made by the Nepali Prime Minister were not included in the agreements, they may find their way into a joint communiqué.

Positive Tone and Bilateral Relations

The discussions comprehensively reviewed the state of bilateral relations, expressing satisfaction with the close ties between the two nations. The emphasis was on strengthening economic, trade, and people-to-people cooperation.

Chinese Silence

Interestingly, there was no official statement from the Chinese side regarding the meetings and agreements signed during the visit.

Agreements and Memorandums of Understanding

Here are the key agreements and MoUs signed during the visit:

  1. MoU on cooperation between China’s National Development and Reform Commission and Nepal’s National Planning Commission.

  2. MoU on enhancing cooperation on the digital economy.

  3. MoU on cooperation between China’s National Development and Reform Commission and Nepal’s Ministry of Forestry and Environment for green and low carbon development.

  4. Agreements on cooperation for the development of agriculture, livestock, and fisheries.

  5. Formation of a joint technical working group to review and amend the China-Nepal Trade and Payment Agreement signed in 1981.

  6. Protocol of Phytosanitary Requirements for Export of Plant-derived Medicinal Materials for Chinese Medicine from Nepal.

  7. Agreement between the Chinese Department of Press and Publication and the Ministry of Culture, Tourism, and Civil Aviation to translate and publish classical texts.

  8. Exchange of the MoU on Production and Living Materials for the Northern Hilly Region of Nepal, originally signed six years ago.

  9. Cooperation in the fields of science, technology, and innovation between Nepal’s Ministry of Education, Science and Technology and China’s Ministry of Science and Technology.

  10. MoU on disaster materials, human resources, and construction of the Hilsa-Simkot road.

  11. Agreement on the construction of the Nepal-China Power Grid Interconnection Project (Chimile-Kerung), a 220 kV cross-border transmission line, funded by China.

Critical Voices and Geopolitical Balancing Act

Despite these agreements, some critics argue that Nepal is struggling to balance its geopolitical interests, particularly in maintaining a non-aligned foreign policy. Strengthening diplomatic capabilities and adhering to non-alignment are seen as crucial for Nepal’s international relations.

India Gets Its First Green Hydrogen-Run Bus That Emits Just Water

On September 25, 2023, the Indian Oil Corporation (IOC) achieved a significant milestone in India’s transition to clean energy by unveiling the nation’s first green hydrogen-powered bus. This groundbreaking initiative marks a crucial step towards reducing the nation’s dependency on fossil fuels while promoting eco-friendly transportation alternatives.

The Green Hydrogen Revolution

IOC is leading the charge in harnessing the power of green hydrogen, produced through the electrolysis of water using electricity from renewable sources. This green hydrogen will be utilized to fuel two buses, which are slated for trial runs in the national capital region.

Oil Minister Hardeep Singh Puri, during the ceremonial flag-off of these innovative buses, emphasized that hydrogen is set to become India’s transitional fuel, paving the way for a cleaner, more sustainable future. The IOC’s Research and Development Center in Faridabad is spearheading the production of green hydrogen for the initial pilot run.

Hydrogen: A Clean and Efficient Energy Source

Green hydrogen is gaining prominence as an eco-friendly energy source with several advantages over traditional fossil fuels. When burned, hydrogen emits only water vapor as a by-product, making it a clean and environmentally friendly choice. Furthermore, it boasts three times the energy density of conventional fuels, offering enhanced efficiency for various applications.

Producing green hydrogen is a resource-intensive process, requiring approximately 50 units of renewable electricity and 9 kg of deionized water to generate one kilogram of this clean fuel. However, the benefits it offers in terms of sustainability and reduced emissions make it a compelling choice for India’s energy transition.

A Promising Future

Oil Minister Puri outlined IOC’s ambitious plans, aiming to scale up the number of green hydrogen-powered buses to 15 by the end of 2023. These buses will undergo operational trials on designated routes in Delhi, Haryana, and Uttar Pradesh. This initiative aligns with India’s commitment to low-carbon development and emerging clean energy technologies.

India’s extensive synchronous grid infrastructure, capable of managing intermittent renewable energy sources, positions the nation as a global leader in hydrogen production and export. With the combination of low-cost solar energy, a robust grid, substantial demand, and engineering expertise, India is poised to emerge as a hub for green hydrogen production.

Meeting Decarbonization Targets

Hydrogen is hailed as the fuel of the future and holds immense potential in aiding India’s decarbonization efforts. Globally, the demand for hydrogen is expected to surge, with estimates ranging from four to seven times current levels, reaching 500-800 tonnes by 2050. Domestically, India’s demand for hydrogen is projected to quadruple, from the current 6 tonnes to 25-28 tonnes by 2050.

Oil and gas public sector units (PSUs) have committed to producing approximately 1 million tonnes of green hydrogen annually by 2030. This ambitious goal reflects India’s dedication to reducing its carbon footprint and embracing sustainable energy solutions.

Transforming Transportation and Energy

In closing, Minister Puri emphasized that the green hydrogen-powered bus project has the potential to revolutionize urban transportation in India. This groundbreaking initiative has garnered the attention of not only the nation but also the world, positioning India to shift from being a net importer of fossil energy to a net exporter of clean hydrogen energy. Furthermore, India is poised to provide global leadership in technology transfer while becoming a significant green hydrogen producer and supplier of manufacturing parts.

The successful deployment of green hydrogen-powered buses represents a pivotal moment in India’s journey towards a sustainable and environmentally responsible future, demonstrating the nation’s commitment to clean energy and innovation.

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