CURRENT AFFAIRS – 14/10/2023

CURRENT AFFAIRS - 14/10/2023

CURRENT AFFAIRS – 14/10/2023

CURRENT AFFAIRS – 14/10/2023

Government mulls partnerships to make semiconductor chips

(General Studies- Paper III)

Source : TH

Six working groups assembled to contemplate the Indian government’s artificial intelligence (AI) roadmap have submitted the first edition of their report.

  • The Minister of State for Electronics and Information Technology, Rajeev Chandrasekhar, revealed some of the recommendations from the report.

Key Highlights

  • Public-Private Partnerships for Semiconductors and GPU Clusters:
    • The report emphasizes the need for public-private partnerships (PPP) in producing semiconductors for AI applications.
    • Additionally, the PPP model will be utilized to create “GPU clusters,” which are essential for resource-intensive graphics processors used in AI applications.
    • These clusters will be made available to Indian startups and researchers.
  • The India AI initiative is set to explore AI applications across various sectors, including agriculture, healthcare, education, fintech, security, and governance.
    • This indicates a broad approach to integrating AI technologies into different domains.
  • India Dataset Platform:
    • The India Dataset Platform, part of the initiative, aims to build one of the largest and most diverse collections of anonymized datasets specifically for Indian researchers and startups.
    • These datasets are critical for training AI models.
  • National Strategy on Robotics:
    • Minister Chandrasekhar also discussed the draft National Strategy on Robotics, which was opened for public input in September.
    • This strategy recognizes the transformative potential of robotics across various sectors, particularly manufacturing.
    • The draft strategy acknowledges that robotics adoption so far has primarily been motivated by economic considerations.
    • Robotics technologies, especially in manufacturing, could bring substantial benefits by achieving economies of scale.
  • Recommendations to Support Robotics Sector:
    • The draft strategy suggests fiscal interventions to promote local manufacturing of robotics hardware and the establishment of demonstration facilities to test and showcase technologies.
    • It also advocates building capacity in the robotics sector.
  • It was also highlighted that robotics should not be seen solely as a source of job losses due to automation.
  • Instead, robotics can contribute to improved quality assessment through computer vision and increased efficiency in various industries.

What are ‘GPU clusters’?

  • GPU clusters are powerful computing systems composed of multiple graphics processing units (GPUs) interconnected to work together.
  • GPUs are highly efficient at handling parallel tasks, making them essential for applications that require vast amounts of computational power, such as artificial intelligence (AI), machine learning, and scientific simulations.
  • A GPU cluster typically consists of several GPU cards, which are designed for data-intensive and parallel computing workloads.
  • These clusters are used to accelerate processing in applications that involve tasks like image and video processing, deep learning, data analytics, and more.

What is a ‘Semiconductor’?

  • A semiconductor is a material that has electrical conductivity between that of a conductor (like copper or aluminum) and an insulator (like glass or rubber).
  • Semiconductors are at the heart of modern electronics and technology because of their ability to control and manipulate electrical currents precisely.
  • One of the most commonly used semiconductors is silicon, but other materials like gallium arsenide are also used.
  • Semiconductors are essential components in the production of semiconductor chips, also known as integrated circuits (ICs) or microchips.
  • A semiconductor chip is a tiny piece of semiconductor material (usually silicon) onto which thousands or even millions of transistors, capacitors, and other electronic components are fabricated.
  • The significance of semiconductor chips lies in their pervasive use across virtually all electronic devices and technology systems.
    • Semiconductors are crucial for the functioning of the following devices:
      • Computing Devices
      • Communications
      • Consumer Electronics
      • Automobiles
      • Medical Devices
      • Aerospace and Defense
      • Internet of Things (IoT)
      • Data Storage 

New e-commerce site to showcase ‘energy efficient’ appliances

(General Studies- Paper III)

Source : TH

Energy Efficiency Services Limited (EESL), a PSU under India’s Ministry of Power, is planning to launch an e-commerce portal dedicated to electric appliances with the highest energy efficiency ratings, aiming to drive demand and consumer adoption of these appliances.

Key Highlights

  • Objective of the Portal
    • The primary objective of this initiative is to promote the use of high-efficiency electric appliances among consumers.
    • EESL intends to create a platform that features a range of appliances, including electric cookers, fans, refrigerators, and more, all with “five-star and above” energy efficiency ratings.
    • These appliances are designed to be more energy-efficient, which can lead to cost savings and environmental benefits.
    • Initially, the e-commerce portal will be designed for business-to-business (B2B) transactions among enterprises.
    • Later, the portal will be expanded to include retail sales to a broader consumer base.
    • This phased approach allows for the gradual rollout of the platform and ensures a seamless user experience.
  • Challenges in Promoting Energy Efficiency
    • EESL CEO Vishal Kapoor highlighted the challenge of raising awareness among consumers about the importance of choosing energy-efficient appliances.
    • The additional upfront costs associated with these appliances are often offset by energy savings in just two to three years, making them a cost-effective choice in the long run.
  • Star-Rating System for Appliances
    • The Bureau of Energy Efficiency (BEE), an Indian government agency, has implemented a star-rating system for electric appliances, where the highest-rated appliances are awarded “five stars.”
    • The BEE has mandated this rating for 15 types of appliances and made it voluntary for 20 other types in 2023.
    • However, the ratings are subject to periodic revisions, potentially leading to appliances with a high star rating being reclassified with fewer stars over time.
  • Importance of Energy Efficiency
    • Improving energy efficiency is a vital component of India’s energy security strategy.
    • The country has set a target to double its energy efficiency by 2030, from 2.2% to 4%.
    • The BEE’s rating system has played a crucial role in this endeavour, resulting in substantial carbon dioxide (CO2) emissions savings, with an estimated 300 million tonnes of CO2 prevented over the years.
    • The promotion of high-efficiency appliances not only benefits consumers by reducing energy costs but also contributes to India’s sustainability goals.
    • By embracing energy-efficient technologies, consumers can reduce their carbon footprint and environmental impact, aligning with India’s commitment to a cleaner and more sustainable energy future.

About Energy Efficiency Services Limited (EESL)

  • Energy Efficiency Services Limited (EESL) is a joint venture of several public sector undertakings (PSUs) under the Ministry of Power, Government of India.
  • Established in 2009, EESL has a primary mission of promoting and implementing energy efficiency and conservation projects across India.
  • EESL works on a wide range of energy efficiency projects, including the distribution of energy-efficient electric appliances, retrofitting of government and public sector buildings for energy conservation, and the promotion of LED lighting solutions.
  • EESL is responsible for implementing the UnnatJyoti by Affordable LEDs for All scheme.
    • This scheme was formerly known as the Domestic Efficient Lighting Programme.
    • EESL has successfully reduced the prices of LED bulbs by 75%.
    • The initiative aims to make energy-efficient LED bulbs more affordable and accessible to the public.
  • EESL’s energy efficiency solutions have saved India over 47 billion kWh energy annually while reducing 36.5 million tons of carbon emission.

About Bureau of Energy Efficiency (BEE)

  • The Bureau of Energy Efficiency (BEE) is an Indian governmental agency that operates under the Ministry of Power.
  • It was established in 2002 with the primary goal of promoting and coordinating energy efficiency and conservation programs in various sectors of the economy.
  • BEE was formed under the provisions of the Energy Conservation Act, 2001.
  • Star Rating Program:
    • BEE introduced the star rating program for electrical appliances and equipment.
    • Under this program, appliances receive star ratings based on their energy efficiency.
    • Higher star ratings indicate greater energy efficiency.
    • This labeling system helps consumers make informed choices and promotes energy-efficient products.
  • Energy Conservation Building Code (ECBC):

BEE has also developed the Energy Conservation Building Code to encourage energy-efficient designs and practices in the construction and operation of commercial buildings.

Default risk in banks’ unsecured retail loans  rising: UBS

(General Studies- Paper III)

Source : TH

UBS, in a note, has highlighted the increasing risk of unsecured retail loans in Indian banks turning sour.

  • The lending to borrowers with overdue debt has grown, which has raised concerns about the quality of unsecured loans in the banking sector.
  • The pandemic-induced stress on household finances has somewhat eased in recent months, leading to an expansion of unsecured lending portfolios.

Key Highlights

  • Regulatory Tightening Concerns
    • UBS has shifted its stance on the banking sector to “neutral” and anticipates a higher likelihood of regulatory tightening on unsecured loans.
    • There is an elevated risk associated with lending to borrowers with weaker risk profiles and increased leverage among retail borrowers.
  • Growth in Unsecured Lending
    • As per central bank data, outstanding receipts from credit cards have increased to ₹2.18 trillion ($26.19 billion) as of August 25, up from ₹1.68 trillion a year earlier.
    • Outstanding personal loans have risen by 26% during the same period.
    • The share of lending to borrowers with overdue loans has risen from 12% in fiscal 2018-19 to 23% in fiscal year 2022-23.
    • The number of borrowers with multiple retail loans has increased to 9.3% in fiscal 2022-23 from 3.9% in fiscal 2017-18.
  • Impact on Indian Banks
    • UBS has increased its credit cost forecasts for Indian banks, raising them by 5-10 basis points for the fiscal year ending in March.
    • It has downgraded State Bank of India and Axis Bank to “sell” and “neutral,” respectively, from “buy,” primarily due to rising credit costs.
    • Price targets for SBI and Axis Bank have been lowered, reflecting the concerns.
    • UBS has a preference for HDFC Bank and IndusInd Bank, indicating that these banks may be better positioned to manage the risks associated with unsecured loans.

Credit Cost Forecasts:

  • Credit cost forecasts refer to predictions or estimates regarding the expenses that Indian banks may incur due to credit-related issues.
  • These issues could include loan defaults, non-performing loans, or other credit-related problems.
  • Credit costs are expenses that banks set aside to cover potential losses on loans.

Note: UBS refers to the Swiss multinational investment bank and financial services company, UBS Group AG. It is one of the world’s largest and most prominent financial institutions, providing a wide range of services, including wealth management, investment banking, asset management, and retail banking.

What are ‘unsecured retail loans’?

  • Unsecured retail loans, also known as unsecured personal loans, are a type of borrowing where a financial institution, such as a bank or a lending company, extends credit to an individual without requiring collateral.
  • In contrast to secured loans, like mortgages or auto loans, unsecured loans are not backed by specific assets that the lender can seize in case of default.
  • Instead, approval for these loans is primarily based on the borrower’s creditworthiness, income, and ability to repay the loan.

India’s palm oil imports rose 29%

(General Studies- Paper III)

Source : TH

India’s palm oil imports have surged by 29.21% to reach 90.80 lakh tonnes in the first 11 months of the 2022–23 oil year compared to the previous year.

  • During the same period in the previous oil year, India had imported 70.28 lakh tonnes of palm oil products.

Key Highlights

  • Total Vegetable Oil Imports:
    • India, a major buyer of vegetable oils, has witnessed a 20% increase in total vegetable oil imports, reaching 156.73 lakh tonnes during the November–September period of the 2022–23 oil year.
    • In the corresponding period of the previous year, India imported 130.13 lakh tonnes of vegetable oils.
  • Rise in Palm Oil Share:
    • During November 2022 and September 2023, the import of palm products, especially RBD Palmolein, saw a significant increase, with the share of palm oil rising to 59% in India’s vegetable oil imports.
  • Impact on Palm Oil Refining Industry:
    • The import of RBD Palmolein constituted over 25% of total palm imports, causing a severe impact on the palm oil refining industry.
    • The surge in imports, particularly RBD Palmolein, has affected the refining industry, which already faces overcapacity issues.
  • Soft Oils and Soft Oil Imports:
    • In the case of soft oils, inbound shipments of sunflower and soybean oils experienced significant growth in the last six months.
    • The total import of soft oils during the first eleven months of the current oil year reached 63.87 lakh tonnes, compared to 56.35 lakh tonnes in the year-earlier period.
  • Sources of Palm Oil Imports:
    • India imports palm oil primarily from Indonesia and Malaysia, while a small quantity of crude soft oil, such as soybean, is sourced from Argentina.
    • Sunflower oil is imported from Ukraine and Russia.

Palm Oil: Overview

  • Palm oil is derived from the fruit of the oil palm tree (Elaeisguineensis).
  • Palm oil is a type of vegetable oil known for its high saturated fat content, making it semi-solid at room temperature.
  • It has a distinct reddish-orange color due to its high content of beta-carotene, a precursor of vitamin A.
  • The oil is commonly used in various food products, including cooking oil, margarine, and processed foods.
  • Major palm oil-producing countries include Indonesia and Malaysia, which are among the world’s largest producers.
  • Uses:
    • Food Industry: Palm oil is widely used in cooking and food processing due to its stability at high temperatures and versatility in various culinary applications.
    • Non-Food Applications: It is also used in non-food products like cosmetics, detergents, and biofuels.
    • Biodiesel: In some regions, palm oil is used to produce biodiesel, a renewable energy source.
    • Industrial Uses: It is used in manufacturing various industrial products and is utilized as a lubricant and in the production of candles.
  • The palm oil industry has faced criticism for its environmental impact, including deforestation, habitat destruction, and loss of biodiversity, primarily in tropical regions.
  • The high saturated fat content in palm oil has led to debates over its potential health effects, particularly on cardiovascular health.
  • Current Import and Cultivation Status:
    • India imports approximately 9 million tonnes (MT) of palm oil annually, amounting to around Rs. 40,000 crore.
    • Palm oil imports constitute about 56% of the total imports of edible oil in India.
    • The total potential area for oil palm cultivation in India is around 28 lakh hectares.
    • However, only 3.7 lakh hectares are currently under oil palm cultivation.

About National Mission on Edible Oil-Oil Palm

  • The National Mission on Edible Oil-Oil Palm (NMEO-OP) is a mission initiated by the Government of India to promote the cultivation of oil palm in the country.
  • The primary objective of NMEO-OP is to increase domestic oil palm cultivation to reduce India’s dependence on edible oil imports.
  • This mission aims to enhance oilseed production, especially palm oil, to meet the growing demand for edible oils in the country.
  • NMEO-OP is implemented by the Ministry of Agriculture and Farmers Welfare, Department of Agriculture, Cooperation, and Farmers Welfare.
  • It is part of the National Food Security Mission (NFSM).
  • Key Components:
    • Area Expansion: The mission focuses on increasing the area under oil palm cultivation by providing support to farmers.
    • Hybrid Oil Palm: It promotes the planting of high-yielding and disease-resistant hybrid oil palm varieties.
    • Replantation: The mission supports the replanting of old and unproductive oil palm plantations with high-yielding varieties.
    • Quality Planting Material: It ensures the availability of high-quality planting material to farmers.
    • Capacity Building: Training and capacity-building programs are conducted to educate farmers on best practices in oil palm cultivation.
  • Targets for Oil Palm Area Expansion (by 2025-26):
    • Increase in Oil Palm Area:
      • The mission aims to expand the area under oil palm cultivation to 10 lakh hectares by 2025-26.
      • This would involve adding 6.5 lakh hectares to the existing 3.5 lakh hectares.
      • 22 lakh hectares are targeted for general states.
      • 28 lakh hectares are targeted for North Eastern states.
    • Crude Palm Oil (CPO) Production:
      • The mission seeks to increase CPO production from 0.27 lakh tonnes during 2019-20 to 11.20 lakh tonnes by 2025-26.

State of Edible Oil Sector in India:

  • India is among the world’s largest oilseed producers.
  • The oil sector is a crucial part of the agricultural economy.
  • India is the world’s second-largest consumer and the largest importer of vegetable oil.
  • India’s edible oil consumption rate exceeds domestic production.
    • Approximately 55% to 60% of India’s edible oil demand is met through imports.
    • Major imports include palm oil, soybean oil, and sunflower oil.
  • Types of Oils Commonly Used in India:
    • Groundnut, mustard, rapeseed, sesame, safflower, linseed, niger seed, and castor are traditionally cultivated oilseeds in India.
    • Soybean and sunflower have gained importance in recent years.
    • Coconut is a key plantation crop.
  • Non-conventional oils like rice bran oil and cottonseed oil also play significant roles in the Indian edible oil market.

ImmunoACT’s cell therapy to treat blood cancer gets CDSCO nod

(General Studies- Paper III)

Source : TH

Immunoadoptive Cell Therapy (ImmunoACT), an IIT Bombay-incubated company with a 34% stake held by Laurus Labs, has received marketing authorization approval from the Central Drugs Standard Control Organisation (CDSCO).

  • The approval is for the first humanized CD19-targeted Chimeric Antigen Receptor T cell (CAR-T cell) therapy product.
  • The CAR-T cell therapy, known as NexCAR19 (Actalycabtageneautoleucel), is designed for relapsed/refractory B-cell lymphomas and leukemia.

Key Highlights

  • Development Collaborations:
    • NexCAR19 is the result of a decade-long collaborative effort between IIT Bombay and the Tata Memorial Centre (TMC).
    • It was designed and developed at IIT Bombay and underwent integrative process development and manufacturing under current Good Manufacturing Practices (cGMP) at ImmunoACT.
    • Clinical investigations and translational studies were conducted by teams at TMC.
  • Laurus Labs’ Involvement:
    • Laurus Labs has been an early supporter of ImmunoACT and has invested over $18 million to facilitate research and development and commercialization efforts.
    • This investment has played a significant role in scaling up the CAR-T cell therapy project.
  • Impact and Vision:
    • ImmunoACT aims to provide a high-quality and affordable CAR-T cell therapy platform to a broader section of society.
    • The availability of NexCAR19 is expected to benefit patients in India and other resource-limited countries, offering them access to life-saving therapy at an affordable cost.
    • The successful completion of clinical trials places India on the world map of advanced cell-and-gene therapies.
  • Clinical Trials and Results:
    • A multi-center Phase I/II pivotal clinical trial was conducted, involving 60 patients with relapsed/refractory B-cell lymphomas and leukemia.
    • The clinical data indicates an overall response rate of approximately 70%.
    • The safety profile of NexCAR19, particularly regarding cytokine release syndrome and the absence of neurotoxicity, is seen as an improvement over other commercially approved CD19-directed CAR-T cell therapies.

Note: ImmunoACT was established in 2018 under the aegis of SINE (Society for Innovation and Entrepreneurship) with the goal of translating academic research into a commercially viable product.

What is CAR-T cell therapy?

  • CAR-T cell therapy, or Chimeric Antigen Receptor T-cell therapy, is an innovative and personalized approach to treat certain types of cancer, especially blood-related cancers like leukemia and lymphoma.

About B-cell lymphomas and Leukaemia

  • B-cell Lymphomas:
    • B-cell lymphomas are a type of non-Hodgkin lymphoma, which is a cancer that originates in the lymphatic system.
    • The lymphatic system is a part of the immune system and includes lymph nodes, spleen, and bone marrow.
    • B-Cells:
      • B-cells are a type of white blood cell that plays a crucial role in the immune system.
      • In B-cell lymphomas, these cells become cancerous and start to multiply uncontrollably.
    • Types:
      • There are various subtypes of B-cell lymphomas, including diffuse large B-cell lymphoma, follicular lymphoma, and Burkitt lymphoma, each with distinct characteristics and treatments.
    • Symptoms:
      • Common symptoms of B-cell lymphomas may include swollen lymph nodes, fatigue, unexplained weight loss, and night sweats.
    • Leukemia:
      • Leukemia is a type of cancer that primarily affects the blood and bone marrow.
      • It is characterized by the rapid production of abnormal white blood cells, which may crowd out healthy blood cells.
      • Types:
        • Leukemias are broadly categorized into acute and chronic forms.
        • The main types are acute lymphoblastic leukemia (ALL), acute myeloid leukemia (AML), chronic lymphocytic leukemia (CLL), and chronic myeloid leukemia (CML).
      • Blood Cells:
        • Leukemia typically involves white blood cells (although in some cases, it can affect other blood cell types).
        • In acute leukemia, the disease progresses rapidly and requires immediate treatment.
        • Chronic leukemia progresses more slowly and may not cause symptoms for a long time.
      • Symptoms:
        • Symptoms of leukemia can include fatigue, frequent infections, unexplained bruising or bleeding, and bone pain.

What is Australia’s Indigenous Voice referendum?

(General Studies- Paper II)

Source : IE

Australians will participate in a referendum on October 14, with the aim of deciding whether the country should formally consult its indigenous peoples in the law-making process.

  • The referendum question is centredaround altering the Constitution to recognize Australia’s First Peoples and establish an Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Voice.
  • Recent polling suggests the referendum is unlikely to pass, indicating significant opposition.

Key Highlights

  • Identification of the ‘First Peoples of Australia’:
    • The term ‘First Peoples of Australia’ refers to the indigenous inhabitants of the continent, who have occupied the Australian mainland and surrounding islands for tens of thousands of years before the arrival of Europeans in the early 17th century.
    • The Torres Strait Islands, mentioned in the referendum question, are an archipelago of small islands situated in the Torres Strait, a narrow body of water between the northern tip of Queensland and Papua New Guinea.
  • Objectives of the Referendum and Significance:
    • The referendum seeks to recognize indigenous Australians in the country’s Constitution.
    • Additionally, it aims to establish an indigenous “Voice to Parliament,” which would advise lawmakers on matters affecting indigenous lives.
    • Notably, Australia’s 122-year-old Constitution does not mention Aboriginals.
  • Challenges and the Indigenous Population’s Status:
    • Indigenous Australians account for approximately 3.2% of the country’s population and experience below-average socio-economic outcomes.
    • They face numerous challenges, such as a life expectancy that is 8 years shorter than non-indigenous Australians, higher rates of disease, infant mortality, and a suicide rate double that of non-indigenous Australians.
    • The proposed body, the “Voice to Parliament,” intends to address these disparities by ensuring a voice for the original inhabitants and addressing the historical legacy of failed programs and policies.
  • Minister for Indigenous Australians’ Perspective:
    • Australia’s Minister for Indigenous Australians, Linda Burney, has expressed the importance of the proposed body.
    • She believes it’s an opportunity to correct the poor outcomes resulting from past programs and policies and listen to the concerns and perspectives of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people.
  • Australia’s Ancient History:
    • Ancient rock carvings indicate human habitation in Australia dating back approximately 45,000 years.
    • European contact with Australia began with Dutch explorer Willem Janszoon’s landing on the western side of Cape York peninsula in 1606.
    • Terra Australia Incognita, or Unknown South Land, was an earlier term used by Europeans to describe the southern landmass, although there is no confirmed evidence of landings before Janszoon’s arrival.
  • European Arrival and Early Settlers:
    • Captain James Cook’s famous voyages to Australia occurred in the latter half of the 18th century.
    • Early British settlers in Australia were largely composed of convicts and criminals transported to serve prison sentences.
    • From 1788 to 1868, over 162,000 convicts from Britain and Ireland were sent to Australia as punishment.
  • Impact of Government Policies on Indigenous People:
    • Colonial settlers and their policies contributed to the marginalization of indigenous communities.
    • Indigenous people experienced disparities in areas like education and life expectancy.
    • The Infants Welfare Act of 1935 led to the removal of indigenous children from their families, placing them with non-indigenous families and institutions, causing cultural separation and often subjecting them to abuse.
    • These children are now known as “The Stolen Generation,” affecting a significant proportion of indigenous communities.
    • In recent years, legislation has been introduced to address indigenous rights, including voting rights in 1962 and the recognition of native title over specific lands.
  • Why the Referendum May Fail:
    • For the referendum to pass, more than 50% of voters must vote in favor at the national level, as well as secure a majority in most Australian states.
    • Opposition parties, including the Liberal Party of Australia and the Nationals, have been against the referendum, arguing that key details about the proposed body’s composition and powers have not been adequately clarified.
    • Opponents of the referendum, part of the “No” campaign, assert that approving it could lead to racial divisions in Australian society.
    • Some indigenous groups have also rejected the idea of a consultative body, considering it powerless, and have instead advocated for a formal treaty that would transfer significant power from the government to indigenous people.
    • The uncertainty regarding the structure and effectiveness of the proposed indigenous “Voice to Parliament” has contributed to its contentious nature.