Andhra Pradesh, Telangana get separate high courts

Over four years after the bifurcation that led to the creation of Telangana, the High Courts that served the two states was on Tuesday split into independent High Courts to serve each state.

Governor E S L Narasimhan administered the oath of office to Acting Chief Justice C Praveen Kumar and 13 other judges at a function held in the twin cities Amravati and Vijayawada.

Earlier in the day before flying to Vijayawada, Governor Narasimhan administered the oath of office to Chief Justice Justice Thottathil Bhaskaran Nair Radhakrishnan as the first Chief justice of Telangana High Court at Hyderabad. Judges were also administered the oath of offices at both Hyderabad and Amravati.

With this, the total number of High Courts functioning in the country has risen to 25. Till now, the high court at Hyderabad had been functioning as the common high court for both Andhra Pradesh and Telangana.

President Ram Nath Kovind had last week issued orders for a separate High Court of Andhra Pradesh.

The Supreme Court had refused to take up for immediate hearing a petition filed by Andhra Pradesh Lawyers’ Association for postponing the shifting of High Court to Amaravati till the construction of High Court building was completed there. The Supreme Court will take up the petition for hearing on Wednesday.

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New Horizons’ Historic Flyby of Ultima Thule

NASA’s New Horizons spacecraft rang in the New Year by making history: the first flyby of an object in the Kuiper Belt in the extreme outer solar system.

This is a historic flyby of the farthest, and quite possibly the oldest, a cosmic body ever explored by humankind.

Ultima Thule is located in the Kuiper belt in the outermost regions of the Solar System, beyond the orbit of Neptune.

It measures approximately 30 km in diameter and is irregularly shaped.

Ultima Thule has a reddish color, probably caused by exposure of hydrocarbons to sunlight over billions of years.

Ultima Thule belongs to a class of Kuiper belt objects called the “cold classical”, which have nearly circular orbits with low inclinations to the solar plane.

New Horizons was launched on 19 January 2006 and has been traveling through space for the past nine years. New Horizon’s core science mission is to map the surfaces of Pluto and Charon, to study Pluto’s atmosphere and to take temperature readings.

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NASA’s OSIRIS-REx Spacecraft Enters Close Orbit around Bennu, Breaking Record

A NASA spacecraft set a new milestone Monday in cosmic exploration by entering orbit around an asteroid, Bennu, the smallest object ever to be circled by a human-made spaceship.

The spacecraft, called OSIRIS-REx, is the first-ever US mission designed to visit an asteroid and return a sample of its dust back to Earth.

OSIRIS-Rex is the first-ever US mission designed to visit an asteroid and return a sample of its dust back to Earth. The $800 million (roughly Rs. 5,600 crores) unmanned spaceship launched two years ago from Cape Canaveral, Florida and arrived December 3 at its destination, some 70 million miles (110 million kilometers) away.

The plan is for OSIRIS-REx to orbit Bennu through mid-February, using a suite of five scientific instruments to map the asteroid in high resolution to help scientists decide precisely where to sample from.

Then, in 2020, it will reach out with its robotic arm and touch the asteroid in a maneuver Rich Kuhns, OSIRIS-REx program manager with Lockheed Martin Space Systems in Denver, described as a “gentle high-five.”

Using a circular device much like a car’s air filter, and a reverse vacuum to stir up and collect dust, the device aims to grab about two ounces (60 grams) of material from the asteroid’s surface and return it to Earth in 2023.

About the mission

OSIRIS-Rex stands for Origins, Spectral Interpretation, Resource Identification, Security-Regolith Explorer.

OSIRIS-REx is the third mission in NASA’s New Frontiers program, which previously sent the New Horizons spacecraft zooming by Pluto and the Juno spacecraft into orbit around Jupiter.

Bennu was selected for the OSIRIS-REx mission from over 500,000 known asteroids, due to it fitting a number of key criteria. These include:

  • In order for OSIRIS-REx to reach its destination in a reasonable timeframe, NASA needed to find an asteroid which had a similar orbit to Earth.
  • Small asteroids, those less than 200m in diameter, typically spin much faster than larger asteroids, meaning the regolith material can be ejected into space. Bennu is around 500m in diameter, so rotates slowly enough to ensure that the regolith stays on its surface.
  • Bennu is a primitive asteroid, meaning it hasn’t significantly changed since the beginning of the Solar System (over 4 billion years ago). It is also very carbon-rich, meaning it may contain organic molecules, which could have been precursors to life on Earth.
  • Additionally, Bennu is of interest as it is a Potentially Hazardous Asteroid (PHA). Every 6 years, Bennu’s orbit brings it within 200,000 miles of the Earth, which means it has a high probability of impacting Earth in the late 22nd Century.
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Government to achieve 100% household electrification ahead of Republic Day, says official

The government is likely to achieve its 100 percent household electrification target in the country ahead of Republic Day as it has already energized 2.39 crore out of the targeted 2.49 crore households under Rs 16,320 crore Saubhagya scheme.

“The 100 percent household electrification under ‘Pradhan Mantri Sahaj Bijli Har Ghar Yojana’ (Saubhagya) would be achieved ahead of Republic day (January 26, 2019). The government has energized 2.39 crore households under the scheme till today,” the official said.

However, the state power ministers meet chaired by Power Minister R K Singh in Shimla in July 2018, had resolved to complete the task of energizing all households in the country by December 31, 2018, against the deadline of March 31, 2019.

Now, it said that only about 10.48 lakh households are left to be electrified in 4 states like Assam, Rajasthan, Meghalaya, and Chhattisgarh. These states are also taking all concerted efforts to achieve, at the earliest, saturation of household electrification in their respective states.

Since the launch of Saubhagya in Uttar Pradesh, 74.4 lakh households have been electrified and the state has declared saturation of all 75 districts.

The government of Uttar Pradesh has launched a special campaign in all parts of the state to identify any left out un-electrified households and to provide electrical connections to such households.

Under the campaign, a special vehicle ‘Saubhagya Rath’, is moving around in villages/towns and any left out households may approach them to avail electricity connection under the scheme. Also, any left out household requiring electricity connection may dial 1912 to avail the facility.

The Centre had launched Saubhagya scheme in September 2017, to achieve the goal of universal household electrification in the country by March 31, 2019.

The scheme envisages providing last mile connectivity and electricity connections to all remaining households in rural as well as urban areas.

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India submits Sixth National Report to the Convention of Biological Diversity (CBD)

India today submitted its Sixth National Report (NR6) to the Convention on Biological Diversity (CBD). The report was submitted online to the CBD Secretariat.  The Minister also released the document ‘Progress on India’s National Biodiversity Targets: A Preview’ on the occasion.

The submission of national reports is a mandatory obligation on parties to international treaties, including the CBD. As a responsible nation, India has never reneged on its international commitments and has earlier submitted on time five national reports to the CBD.

The report provides an update of progress in the achievement of 12 National Biodiversity Targets (NBT) developed under the convention process in line with the 20 global Aichi biodiversity targets.

The report highlights that while India has exceeded/ overachieved two NBTs, it is on track to achieve eight NBTs and with respect to two remaining NBTs, the country is striving to meet the targets by the stipulated time of 2020.

According to the report, India has exceeded the terrestrial component of 17% of Aichi target 11, and 20% of corresponding NBT relating to areas under biodiversity management.

Also, India has been investing a huge amount on biodiversity directly or indirectly through several development schemes of the central and state governments, to the tune of Rs 70,000 crores per annum as against the estimated annual requirement of nearly Rs 1,09,000 crore.

About CBD:

At the 1992 Earth Summit in Rio de Janeiro, world leaders agreed on a comprehensive strategy for “sustainable development” — meeting our needs while ensuring that we leave a healthy and viable world for future generations. One of the key agreements adopted at Rio was the Convention on Biological Diversity.

The Convention on Biological Diversity is the international legal instrument for “the conservation of biological diversity, the sustainable use of its components and the fair and equitable sharing of the benefits arising out of the utilization of genetic resources” that has been ratified by 196 nations.

The 12 National Biodiversity targets of India are:

  1. By 2020, a significant proportion of the country’s population, especially the youth, is aware of the values of biodiversity and the steps they can take to conserve and use it sustainably.
  2. By 2020, values of biodiversity are integrated into national and state planning processes, development programmes and poverty alleviation strategies.
  3. Strategies for reducing the rate of degradation, fragmentation and loss of all natural habitats are finalized and actions put in place by 2020 for environmental amelioration and human well-being.
  4. By 2020, invasive alien species and pathways are identified and strategies to manage them developed so that populations of prioritized invasive alien species are managed.
  5. By 2020, measures are adopted for sustainable management of agriculture, forestry, and fisheries.
  6. Ecologically representative areas under terrestrial and inland water, and also coastal and marine zones, especially those of particular importance for species, biodiversity and ecosystem services, are conserved effectively and equitably, based on protected area designation and management and other area-based conservation measures and are integrated into the wider landscapes and seascapes, covering over 20% of the geographic area of the country, by 2020.
  7. By 2020, genetic diversity of cultivated plants, farm livestock, and their wild relatives, including other socio-economically as well as culturally valuable species, is maintained, and strategies have been developed and implemented for minimizing genetic erosion and safeguarding their genetic diversity.
  8. By 2020, ecosystem services, especially those relating to water, human health, livelihoods, and well-being, are enumerated and measures to safeguard them are identified, taking into account the needs of women and local communities, particularly the poor and vulnerable sections.
  9. By 2015, Access to Genetic Resources and the Fair and Equitable Sharing of Benefits Arising from their Utilization as per the Nagoya Protocol are operational, consistent with national legislation.
  10. By 2020, an effective, participatory and updated national biodiversity action plan is made operational at different levels of governance.
  11. By 2020, national initiatives using communities’ traditional knowledge relating to biodiversity are strengthened, with the view to protecting this knowledge in accordance with national legislation and international obligations.
  12. By 2020, opportunities to increase the availability of financial, human and technical resources to facilitate effective implementation of the Strategic Plan for Biodiversity 2011-2020 and the national targets are identified and the Strategy for Resource Mobilization is adopted.

The ‘Aichi Targets’ were adopted by the Convention on Biological Diversity (CBD) at its Nagoya conference. It is a short-term plan provides a set of 20ambitious yet achievable targets, collectively known as the Aichi Targets. They can be divided into:

  • Strategic Goal A: Address the underlying causes of biodiversity loss by mainstreaming biodiversity across government and society.
  • Strategic Goal B: Reduce the direct pressures on biodiversity and promote sustainable use.
  • Strategic Goal C: To improve the status of biodiversity by safeguarding ecosystems, species, and genetic diversity.
  • Strategic Goal D: Enhance the benefits to all from biodiversity and ecosystem services.
  • Strategic Goal E: Enhance implementation through participatory planning, knowledge management, and capacity building.
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Pakistan Cabinet approves issuance of ‘Panda bonds’ in Chinese currency

Pakistan’s cabinet has approved the issuance of first-ever renminbi-denominated bonds to raise loans from China’s capital markets, as the country moved a step forward to give the Chinese currency status at par with the US dollar.

The ‘Panda Bonds’ was approved in a Cabinet meeting, led by Prime Minister Imran Khan, on Thursday, The Express Tribune reported.

The Finance Ministry did not seek the Cabinet’s nod for the size of the bond, but it expects to raise $500 million to $1 billion in various tranches, of which at least one is expected in the current fiscal.

The Philippines has also raised RMB1.46 billion through renminbi-denominated bonds with an interest rate of 4.75 percent. Since the Asia-Pacific nation has a better credit rating than Pakistan, the country will have to pay nearly 1 percent higher.

The approval for issuing bonds in the Chinese capital markets came on the heel of the Finance Ministry’s decision to delay issuance of dollar-denominated Eurobonds, worth $3 billion.

The government successfully continues its multi-pronged approach for bridging the foreign financing needs and building foreign exchange reserves, Finance Ministry spokesperson Najeeb Khaqan was quoted as saying in the report.

He said the approval of Panda Bond’s by the Cabinet was part of the strategy.

This is a well-thought-out decision after several rounds of discussions with Chinese banks, investment groups, regulatory authorities, stock exchange, and traditional financial advisers, the minister added.

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Is Centre’s ‘Ujjwala Sanitary Napkin’ Scheme A Ploy To Counter Odisha Govt’s ‘Khushi’?

The Centre inaugurated ‘Ujjwala Sanitary Napkins’ manufacturing units in Odisha which are being seen as an attempt to counter the ‘Khushi’ scheme launched by the State government.

About Khushi Scheme:

As part of its initiatives to empower women, the Odisha government, last year, launched this scheme to provide free sanitary napkins to school girls across the state.

The scheme will be implemented by the health and family welfare department of the state at a cost of 70 crores per year.

Under this scheme, the Health Department of Odisha Government aims to provide free sanitary pads to 1.7 million girl students from grade 6th to 12th in government and government-aided schools. Also, it aims to promote health and hygiene among school going girls and higher retention of girls in school.

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Don’t allow new colleges from 2020, review every two years: Panel to engg body

With more than half the engineering seats falling vacant every year, a government committee, headed by IIT-Hyderabad chairman B V R Mohan Reddy, has advised the All India Council for Technical Education (AICTE) to stop setting up new colleges from 2020 and review the creation of new capacity every two years after that.

The committee was appointed to come up with a medium and short-term perspective plan for expansion in engineering education.

Important recommendations made by the committee:

Stop setting up new colleges from 2020 and review the creation of new capacity every two years after that.

No additional seats should be approved in traditional engineering areas such as mechanical, electrical, civil and electronics and institutes should be encouraged to convert current capacity in traditional disciplines to emerging new technologies.

For approving additional seats in existing institutions, the AICTE should only give approvals based on the capacity utilization of concerned institute.

Introduce undergraduate engineering programmes exclusively for artificial intelligence, the blockchain, robotics, quantum computing, data sciences, cybersecurity, and 3D printing and design.

More than half the engineering seats fall vacant every year. There were no takers for 51% of the 15.5 lakh B.E/B.Tech seats in 3,291 engineering colleges in 2016-17.

Besides, current capacity utilization in traditional disciplines is just 40% as opposed to 60% seat occupancy in branches such as computer science and engineering, aerospace engineering and mechatronics.

There were glaring gaps in regulation, including alleged corruption; a vicious circle of poor infrastructure, labs, and faculty; non-existent linkages with industry; and the absence of a technology ecosystem to nurture the classroom. All this accounted for low employability of graduates.

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At science congress, Modi to hold ‘chai pe charcha’

Prime Minister Narendra Modi, who is slated to inaugurate the Indian Science Congress (ISC)-2019 at Lovely Professional University (LPU) on January 3, will hold ‘chai pe charcha’ with three Nobel laureates, two scientists and two students.

The theme of ISC – Future India: Science and Technology

“Government’s aim is to deliver the benefits of Science & Technology to the last man in the society and scientists being a pivot should put their heart and soul into finding new solutions to the problems facing the nation and improve the quality of life of common man”.

It is the only second time for a University of Punjab to organize their herculean science spectacle.

The Indian Science Congress Association (ISCA) owes its origin to the foresight and initiative of two British Chemists, namely, Professor J.L. Simonsen and Professor P.S. MacMohan.

  • To advance and promote the cause of science in India.
  • To hold an annual congress at a suitable place in India.
  • To publish such proceedings, journals, transactions, and other publications as may be considered desirable.
  • To secure and manage funds and endowments for the promotion of Science.
  • The first meeting of the Congress was held from January 15-17, 1914 at the premises of the Asiatic Society, Calcutta.
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Releases commemorative stamp on Maharaja Suheldev

The Prime Minister, Shri Narendra Modi, visited Ghazipur in Uttar Pradesh today. He released a commemorative postage stamp on Maharaja Suheldev. He also laid the Foundation Stone of a Medical College in Ghazipur.

The Prime Minister recalled Maharaja Suheldev, like a brave warrior, and a hero who inspires the people. He spoke of the martial and strategic prowess and administrative skills of Maharaja Suheldev. The Prime Minister said the Union Government is determined to preserve the legacy of all those who contributed to the cause of India’s defence and security, and to its social life.

The Prime Minister said that the Union Government and the State Government in Uttar Pradesh, are both sensitive to the concerns of the people. He said the mission is to ensure a life of dignity for everyone.

The Prime Minister said that the medical college for which the Foundation Stone has been laid will provide the region with modern healthcare amenities. He said this has been a long-standing demand of the people of this region, and it shall soon become a reality. He said this is one of many important hospitals that are being set up to improve healthcare facilities in the region. In this context, he also mentioned hospitals that are coming up in Gorakhpur and Varanasi.

The Prime Minister said that healthcare is receiving this magnitude of attention from the Union Government, for the first time since independence. He mentioned the Ayushman Bharat Yojana, and treatment being offered to patients. He said that in just 100 days, over 6 lakh people had benefited from the Pradhan Mantri Jan ArogyaYojana.

The Prime Minister also mentioned the insurance schemes launched by the Union Government and said 20 crore people across the country have joined the Jeevan Jyoti or Suraksha Beema schemes.

The Prime Minister mentioned several projects in the region, which are associated with agriculture. These include the International Rice Research Institute in Varanasi, cargo centres in Varanasi and Ghazipur, fertilizer plant in Gorakhpur, and Bansagar irrigation project. He said such initiatives will benefit farmers and help improve their incomes.

The Prime Minister emphasized that steps taken only for immediate political gain, do not help solve the country’s problems. He said the Union Government has fixed MSP of 22 crops based on 1.5 times the cost. He mentioned various other initiatives taken for the agriculture sector.

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