Decline in Imports & Exports, Trade deficit @$15 billion
- The country’s exports fell by 1.7% in January, while imports fell by 0.75%, leading to a trade deficit of $15 billion
- Merchandise exports fall for sixth month amid fears the coronavirus contagion may further dent economy
- Imports fell for eight months in a row
- Prolonged coronavirus contagion in China could hit India’s trade and economy, which has become highly dependent on its northern neighbour with exponential expansion of trade linkages since 2002-03. Trade with China has grown from $4.8 billion in 2002-03 to $87 billion in 2018-19
Where NASA could go next— Venus, moons of Jupiter, Neptune
- NASA announced it has selected four Discovery Program investigations to develop concept studies for possible new missions.
- Two proposals are for trips to Venus, and one each is for Jupiter’s moon Io and Neptune’s moon Triton.
- After the concept studies are completed in nine months, some missions ultimately may not be chosen to move forward. Final selections will be made next year.
DAVINCI+: Deep Atmosphere Venus Investigation of Noble gases, Chemistry, and Imaging Plus. This will analyse Venus’s atmosphere to understand how it was formed and evolved, and if it ever had an ocean. This will advance understanding of the formation of terrestrial planets.
IVO: Io Volcano Observer is a proposal to explore Jupiter’s moon Io, which is extremely volcanically active. This will try to find out how tidal forces shape planetary bodies. The findings could further knowledge about the formation and evolution of rocky, terrestrial bodies and icy ocean worlds in the Solar System.
TRIDENT: This aims to explore Neptune’s icy moon, Triton, so that scientists can understand the development of habitable worlds in the Solar System.
VERITAS: Venus Emissivity, Radio Science, InSAR, Topography, and Spectroscopy will aim to map Venus’s surface to find out why Venus developed so differently from Earth.
Telling Numbers: Arrests at Bangla border decline, 14,800 in enclaves got citizenship
- The numbers of persons arrested by the Border Security Force (BSF) for trying to enter India illegally through the Bangladesh border, as well as the numbers pushed back along the same border, show a declining trend over a period of five years.
- For those arrested and deported, the ministry response in Parliament used the term “illegal infiltrators”. For those living in the country, it used the term “illegal migrants”.
- The data add up to 9,145 arrested between 2015 and 2019, and 21,348 deported during the same period. The arrests declined from 3,426 in 2015 to 1,351 in 2019, while the number of those deported declined from 5,930 to 2,175 during the same period.
A step too far
- Court has proceeded, not just to make it mandatory for parties to publicise the number of serious cases which their candidates face, but also to justify their choice over other hopefuls who may be legally unencumbered.
- Further, the court has dictated that “winnability” cannot be the sole criterion for selection.
- Article 142 of the Constitution — which empowers the court to demand the production of documents, and makes failure to do so a display of contempt — is problematic and threatens to undermine the autonomy of the system of elections and elected legislatures.
- Candidates are already required to file their details in affidavits with the Election Commission.
- This order could infringe upon the role of the poll watchdog.
- Even more problematic is the requirement to justify the choice of candidates. The courts should have no say in the matter, except in particular cases where the Representation of the People Act is violated.
- Besides, the suitability of candidates is a subjective matter, and the justification required by the Supreme Court can only be an opinion, and not an objective fact, making the court’s order effectively unenforceable.
- Perhaps the SC has ventured too far beyond its remit, and while its goal is obviously in the public interest, it could ponder the means further.
Battling the bug
India escaped SARS and MERS outbreaks largely unscathed. This may still be the case with coronavirus, but we need to invest, build capacity and be ready.
- Coronaviruses are a group of animal viruses identified by their crown-like (corona) appearance under a microscope.
- The 2019-nCoV belongs to this group of viruses, six of which, including the 2003 Severe Acute Respiratory Syndrome (SARS) and the 2012 Middle East Respiratory Syndrome (MERS) viruses, were earlier known to cause disease in humans.
- Since the SARS outbreak in 2003, scientists have discovered a large number of SARS-related coronaviruses from their natural hosts — bats.
- 2019-nCoV clearly originated from bats, jumped into humans either directly or through an intermediate host, and adapted itself to human-to-human transmission.
- Bats are a particularly rich reservoir for viruses with the potential to infect humans.
- Examples of these include viruses such as Hanta, Rabies, Nipah, Ebola and Marburg viruses, and others that have caused high levels of mortality and morbidity in humans.
- India has 117 species and 100 sub-species of bats, but we know little about the viruses they harbour and their disease potential.
- India has also responded well to the outbreak in China with calm, coordination and sensible public health measures.
- This includes surveillance of arriving passengers at airports, awareness drives in border states, designation of hospitals with isolation wards and the availability of protective gear (e.g. masks) to health workers.
- There are clear operating procedures for sample collection and its transport to the National Institute of Virology, Pune, which is the nodal testing centre.
- A self-declaration mechanism is in place and a 24×7 telephone helpline has been set up
- While India has put together a good emergency response, there are two areas of concern.
- First, there is mixed messaging promoting AYUSH products that are untested and of questionable efficacy.
- Second, India has been a “hot zone” for the emergence of new zoonotic (animal-derived) pathogens for over a decade. But we continue to lack the capacity to quickly identify, isolate and characterise a novel pathogen.
- China is a good example of how investments in research and public health will allow it to take a lead on developing diagnostic tests, vaccines and drugs for this new virus. We must do the same and prepare for the future.
- The Indian pharmaceuticals industry imports about 85 per cent of its active pharmaceutical ingredients from China.
- Any disruption in this supply chain would adversely affect the availability of medicines in India, which would be required in an outbreak situation.
- India must therefore take steps to correct this imbalance and support the local pharmaceuticals industry in reducing its dependence on China.
- It is also possible that the outbreak spiralled in China due to a combination of factors not present elsewhere, such as population density, food habits and the Chinese New Year, which sees large population movements.
- It is also possible that the pandemic may not sustain outside China and die out like the 2003 SARS outbreak.
- Whatever be the case, surveillance and sensible public health measures will be needed over the next few months.
In India, we escaped the 2003 SARS and 2012 MERS outbreaks largely unscathed. This may still be the case with 2019-nCoV, but the laws of probability are likely to catch up soon. It would help to invest, build capacity and be ready.