A warm winter in the offing
Winter this year could be slightly colder than last year — a record, unusually-warm spell — but would still be warmer than what is usual, the India Meteorological Department (IMD) has suggested in its first ever winter forecast.
Seasonal temperatures across India, from December to February, would be higher than normal with fewer cold waves over north and north-west India than what is typical. In general, minimum and maximum temperatures over most of India would be 0.5-1.0 C higher than average winter temperatures during 1961-1990, with Jammu and Kashmir and Rajasthan expected to show the widest, upward deviations. Normal refers to average, seasonal temperature over a region between 1961-1990.
Last year was the warmest winter recorded in India since 1901, with the mean temperature nearly 1.25 C more than normal.
As per a report, the number and duration of cold waves over India have generally been decreasing over 4 decades. Severe cold waves annually kill about 780 every year. Several deaths were reported in North India during the 2015-16 winter season, in spite of it being extremely warm. The mean temperature between March and May 2016 was also significantly warmer than normal with an anomaly of +1.25 C, which was the second warmest ever spring season since 1901.
A raging El Nino, usually responsible for droughts over India, was believed to cause higher than normal sea surface temperatures and warm winters. So far, the annual mean land surface air temperature averaged over the country during 2016 till October was +0.90C above the 1961-1990 average.
The winter forecast has been made with a Dynamical Extended Range Forecasting System developed by the Indian Institute of Tropical Meteorology, Pune, and uses the same physics and climate models used to track the monsoon.
First private moon mission next year
TeamIndus, a Bengaluru-based private aerospace company, has said it will send a spacecraft to the moon on December 28, 2017, aboard an Indian Space Research Organisation (ISRO) rocket.
The mission’s aim is to land this spacecraft on the moon, have it travel at least 500 metres and beam high- definition video, images and data back to the earth. Were it to be successful, it would likely pip ISRO’s proposed moon-lander mission — Chandrayaan 2 — that is yet to formally announce a launch date. In 2008, Chandrayaan 1 became the first Indian space mission to send a spacecraft that circled the moon.
Except for the launch vehicle, all of the technology that will power the rover and lander is developed in-house by TeamIndus.
TeamIndus has high-profile investors, including Ratan Tata of the Tata Group; Sachin and Binny Bansal, co-founders of Flipkart and Nandan Nilekani, co-founder of Infosys Ltd, and is a 100-member team of engineers, space enthusiasts, former Air Force pilots and former ISRO employees. It is one of the four international teams — and the only one from India — in the running for the Google Lunar XPRIZE, a $30 million (approx. Rs. 200 crore) competition, to encourage private companies to launch space missions.
Two U.S.-based companies, Moon Express and Synergy Moon and one Israeli company — SPACE 1 L — have so far announced agreements with space-launch-vehicle companies such as SpaceX.
The launch agreements are a prerequisite to be in the reckoning for the prize and also require contenders to launch their vehicles before December 28, 2017. TeamIndus is the only one so far to have announced a firm launch date. ISRO’s workhorse Polar Satellite Launch Vehicle (PSLV) would launch the spacecraft in a three-day window centred on December 28 next year and, after completing a rotation around the earth, will ideally land in 21 days at Mare Imbrium, a region in the North-Western hemisphere of the Moon.
Foreigners can enter India through 5 ports
Foreigners will be able to enter India through five seaports — Mumbai, Kochi, Chennai, Goa and Mangalore — with electronic visa (e-visa), in addition of 16 airports where the facility is available.
As part of the new liberalised visa policy, the government has also decided that business visitors and those coming on medical emergency will be issued visa within 48 hours of application.
Separate immigration counters will be set up in all 16 major airports and the five seaports for medical tourists coming to India on e-visa. The government will issue employment visa to foreigners who earn a minimum of Rs.16.25 lakh per annum as salary. For those in the academic field, the minimum annual salary qualification is fixed at Rs.9.10 lakh for employment visa.
India will also allow tourists coming on e-visa to stay up to 60 days instead of the 30 days now. Tourists can also apply for the e-visa four months in advance instead of the 30 days now.
The Union Cabinet gave its approval to merge the conference, tourist, business and medical visas into one. A go-ahead was also given for an ‘internship visa’ for foreigners who want to gain professional experience in India.
It was also decided that the electronic tourist visa (eTV) will now be known as electronic visa and visitors could apply through the existing online portal. This is expected to stimulate economic growth, increase earnings from export of services like tourism, medical value travel and travel on account of business and to make Skill India, Digital India, Make in India and other such flagship initiatives of the government successful.
Anthem redux: How it came back in play
The Supreme Court ruled that all cinemas in the country must play the national anthem prior to the screening of a film, with all doors closed.
In light of the interim order by the Supreme Court to play the national anthem in cinemas, which are the States that have already made it compulsory for theatres to do so?
Maharashtra, Chhattisgarh and Goa are among the States that have passed orders to this effect.
Under what law did these States make it mandatory?
The States have done this under the Prevention of Insults to National Honour Act, 1971. The Act got presidential assent on December 23, 1971. It has been amended twice since then.
What does this Act entail?
The Act, which addresses insults to the Constitution, the national flag and the national anthem, has its genesis in Article 51 (a) of the Constitution, which enjoins a duty on every citizen of India to abide by the Constitution and respect its ideals and institutions, the national flag and the national anthem.
The Act states that whoever intentionally prevents the singing of the national anthem or causes disturbances to any assembly engaged in such singing, shall be punished with imprisonment for a term, which may extend to three years, or with fine, or with both.
Why was the Act given punitive provisions?
The objects and reasons for this Act said that cases involving deliberate disrespect to these national symbols were discussed in both Houses of Parliament and members urged the government to prevent the recurrence of such incidents.
How was the national anthem played in theatres before?
Yes, it was a practice to play the national anthem after a film ended. But with people walking out even as the anthem was playing, the practice was discontinued.
In Tamil Nadu for instance, the anthem was played in all theatres until about 30 years ago. Even now a few theatres do. Given that people were not standing in attention as it played, the practice was given up.
A petitioner went to the Madurai Bench of the Madras High Court last year asking for a ban as people were moving about when the anthem is played. The court dismissed the petition.
Can the recent interim order of the Supreme Court be reviewed?
Yes, those aggrieved can file a modification application to address the omissions and contradictions in the recent Supreme Court Order.
Who can file the interventions?
The Cinema Owners Exhibitors’ Association of India can, for instance, plead that the order is in contradiction of an earlier Supreme Court order ordering cinema theatres to keep their doors open, after a fire killed 59 people in Uphaar Theatre in 1997. Organisations of differently abled people can seek exemptions from the order.
Delhi High Court reverses ban on combination drugs
The Delhi High Court quashed the ban on 344 fixed dose combination (FDC) drugs stating that the Centre had acted in a haphazard manner and did not take the advice of the statutory bodies under the Drugs and Cosmetics Act before issuing the March 10 notification.
The Centre had imposed the ban under Section 26A of the Drugs and Cosmetics Act. The court said the section gave no carte blanche to impose a ban. The Bench said the Centre first claimed that licences for manufacture of the FDCs between September 1988 and October 2012 were wrongly granted by the State licensing authorities and had no approval of the Drug Controller. Instead of cancelling those licences, the manufactures were asked to apply for licences. Rather than the Drug Controller, 10 committees were constituted to consider the applications and when these committees failed to do their job, the Kokate committee was constituted. The Kokate committee, instead of considering the applications for approval, went into the aspects of risk to consumers, leading to the notifications.
Noting that the power cannot be exercised in public interest for any reason other than the drug being risky or not having any therapeutic value, the Bench said the same had to be decided based on scientific technical reasons on the advice of the Drugs Technical Advisory Body (DTAB) and the Drugs Consultative Committee (DCC) constituted under the Drugs Act. The court wondered why the Centre took advice of Kokate Committee and not the DTAB and DCC.
The Union Health Ministry plans to appeal against the Delhi High Court’s decision to set aside the ban on 344 drugs considered unsafe.
Fixed dose combinations are drugs with two or more active ingredients in a single dosage, acceptable only when the drugs so combined have a therapeutic advantage. The Health Ministry had banned the sale and distribution of 344 of them — considered unsafe and with no therapeutic justification — based on the recommendations of the Kokate expert committee. This is the third attempt by the government to clamp down on irrational use of medicines. The previous attempt in 2007 to ban 294 FDCs was set aside by the Madras High Court. Similar attempts in the late 1970s and in 1988 met with resistance.
Health experts maintain that the FDCs were promoting injudicious use of antibiotics and exposing patients to unnecessary risk of adverse drug reactions and antibiotic resistance.
Wild silk protein helps in faster, scar-free healing of wounds
Indian researchers have developed a wound-healing nanofibrous mat that interacts with the body to help it heal faster and without scarring. The mat is made of a non-protein polymer (PVA) mixed with silk protein and coated with an antibiotic and epidermal growth factor. It heals wounds that have all the layers of the skin removed and are as big as 6 mm in diameter.
While conventional dressing materials only absorb fluids and blood, the smart material expedites the healing process. It will be a big boon for diabetics, for whom wound-healing is very slow. When wound healing takes place normally, body cells in and around the wound along with progenitor cells are brought to the wound site for repair. But the recruitment of the cells to the wound site is slow and hence the healing takes time. But in this case, the wild silk has an amino acid sequence (RGD – arginine glycine aspartate), which possibly attracts more cells thus accelerating the healing process and also allowing the cells to attach better. Mulberry silk does not have this amino acid sequence and so the healing is comparatively slower.
While the epidermal growth factor promotes the development of cells, the antibiotics inhibit the growth of commonly seen bacteria. Generally, antibiotics have a short life span. So the antibiotic is embedded in the matrix so that the drug gets released for up to 80 hours or more.