Daily Current Affairs : 14th July 2020

Daily Current Affairs for UPSC CSE

Topics Covered

  1. Chabahar Rail Project
  2. Virus immunity
  3. Afghan trade through Wagah border
  4. IIT-M Research
  5. Second Voluntary National Review of Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) report
  6. Facts for Prelims

1 . Chabahar Rail Project

Context: The Iranian government has decided to proceed with the construction of Chabahar rail project on its own, citing delays from the Indian side in funding and starting the project.

About Chabahar Zadehan Rail Link

  • The rail line will connect Chabahar port (Iran’s only oceanic port in the Gulf of Oman) to Zahedan, along the border with Afghanistan.
  • The agreement for the construction of the rail line was signed between  Iranian Railways and the state-owned Indian Railways Construction Ltd (IRCON) in the year 2016.
  • This railway project was meant to be part of India’s commitment to the trilateral agreement between India, Iran and Afghanistan to build an alternate trade route to Afghanistan and Central Asia.

About the news

  • Recently, Iran has inaugurated the track-laying process for the 628 km Chabahar-Zahedan line, which will be extended to Zaranj across the border in Afghanistan.
  • This railway line, upon completion, will provide an important economic stimulus in the province, as well as provide a link between the Gulf of Oman and the country’s interior, improving the country’s international transport links.
  • Iranian Railways has decided to proceed without India’s assistance citing delays from the Indian side in funding and starting the project as the primary reason.
  • Iranian Railways will be using approximately $400 million from the Iranian National Development Fund for the project.
  • The entire project would be completed by March 2022.
  • The development comes as China has finalised a massive 25-year, $400 billion strategic partnership deal with Iran, which could cloud India’s plans.

Importance of Rail link for India

  • The rail link is a part transit and transportation corridor which would lead to expansion of India’s trade ties with the Central Asian Republics (CARs), which currently stands at a meager $1.5 billion, accounting for just 0.11 percent of India’s overall trade.
  • With the link of Chabahar to the multimodal International North-South Transport Corridor (INSTC), India hopes that it will become a gateway for its trade with Eurasia as well. It is estimated that with the operationalization of Chabahar port and INSTC, India’s trade with Eurasia could touch $170 billion ($60.6 billion in exports and $107.4 billion in import).
  • If Afghan goods come up to Zahedan, they can be transported by a 1,380-km rail link to Chabahar and shipped to India.
  • The railway line with the corridor would spur unhindered flow of commerce throughout the region. Inflow of capital and technology could lead to new industrial infrastructure in Chabahar. This would include gas-based fertilizer plants, petrochemicals, pharmaceuticals and IT

How will this move impact India?

  • This move will distance India from Iran and will affect it in terms of energy security and strategic connectivity. Iran has the world’s richest gas reserves and the fourth-largest oil reserves and it sits at a geostrategic vantage point, along the Strait of Hormuz. Two-thirds of the oil and half the LNG that India imports pass through this Strait.
  • With Iran dropping India, the latter has lost its old and reliable economic and strategic partner and left the ground for China. Only last year, Iran had proposed a tie-up between the Chinese-run Pakistani port at Gwadar and Chabahar, and has also offered interests to China in the Bandar-e-Jask port 350km away from Chabahar, as well as in the Chabahar duty-free zone.
  • The “Comprehensive Plan for Cooperation between Iran and China” impinges on India’s “strategic ties” with Iran and the use of Chabahar port.

Strategic importance of Chabahar port for India

  • The port gives access to the energy-rich Persian Gulf nations’ southern coast and India can bypass Pakistan with the Chabahar port becoming functional.
  • Chabahar port will boost India’s access to Iran, the key gateway to the International North-South Transport Corridor that has sea, rail and road routes between India, Russia, Iran, Europe and Central Asia.
  • Chabahar port will be beneficial to India in countering Chinese presence in the Arabian Sea which China is trying to ensure by helping Pakistan develop the Gwadar port. Gwadar port is less than 400 km from Chabahar by road and 100 km by sea.
  • With Chabahar port being developed and operated by India, Iran also becomes a military ally to India.
  • Chabahar could be used in case China decides to flex its navy muscles by stationing ships in Gwadar port to reckon its upper hand in the Indian Ocean, Persian Gulf and Middle East.
  • With Chabahar port becoming functional, there will be a significant boost in the import of iron ore, sugar and rice to India.
  • Chabahar port will ensure in the establishment of a politically sustainable connectivity between India and Afghanistan. This is will, in turn, lead to better economic ties between the two countries.
  • From a diplomatic perspective, Chabahar port could be used as a point from where humanitarian operations could be coordinated.

2 . Virus immunity

Context: A study by researchers from King’s College London have stated that patients who recover from COVID-19 infections may lose their immunity to reinfection within months.

Key Findings of the study

  • The study examined the levels of antibodies in more than 90 confirmed virus patients and how they changed over time. Blood tests showed even individuals with only mild COVID-19 symptoms mounted some immune response to the virus.
  • Of the study group, 60% showed a “potent” viral response in the first few weeks after infection. However, after three months only 16.7% had maintained high levels of COVID-19-neutralising antibodies, and after 90 days several patients had no detectable antibodies in their bloodstream.
  • This study suggests that immunity cannot be taken for granted and may not last more than a few months, as is true with other viruses such as influenza.

Importance of the Study

  • These findings could have a “significant” influence on how governments manage the pandemic and organise vaccine research and development.
  • It further emphasises the need for us to better understand what a protective immune response looks like if we are to develop an effective vaccine
  • The research reiterated the need for everyone to continue taking measures to mitigate the virus spreading

3 . Afghan trade through Wagah border

Context: Pakistan has decided to allow Afghanistan to send goods to India via the Wagah border from July 15.

About the news

  • Pakistan had closed the Wagah border with India in mid-March in the wake of the coronavirus pandemic.
  • Decision by Pakistan is a part of Islamabad’s commitment under the Pakistan-Afghanistan Transit Trade Agreement.
  • Pakistan and Afghanistan share 18 crossing points. The most commonly used ones are Torkham and Chaman. Relations between the two neighbours have been rocky in recent years as both sides accuse each other of supporting and providing sanctuaries to militants.
  • This move is expected to boost Afghanistan’s exports to India.

Pakistan-Afghanistan Transit Trade Agreement

  • Afghanistan–Pakistan Transit Trade Agreement (also known as APTTA) is a bilateral trade agreement signed in 2010 by Pakistan and Afghanistan that calls for greater facilitation in the movement of goods amongst the two countries.
  • The 2010 agreement supersedes the 1965 Afghanistan Transit Trade Agreement, which granted Afghanistan the right to import duty-free goods through Pakistani seaports, mostly notably from Karachi. The 1965 agreement did not offer Pakistan reciprocal rights to export goods to the Soviet Union, nor to the Central Asian Republics after the fall of the USSR
  • The 2010 APTTA allows for both countries to use each other’s airports, railways, roads, and ports for transit trade along designated transit corridors. The agreement does not cover road transport vehicles from any third country, be it from India or any Central Asia country.
  • The APTTA agreement allowed Afghan trucks to transport exports to India via Pakistan up to the Wagah crossing point.
  • But the APTTA does not provide for imports from India into Afghanistan through Wagah and so this would continue to be excluded

Importance of Trade through Wagah border for India

  • Attari-Wagah is the only land route for trade between the India and Pakistan
  • Trade through wagah border would help in changing the livelihoods of people living across border areas
  • With trade, there will be an improvement in trade-related infrastructure which will facilitate greater commercial activity and create employment opportunities.
  • Trade through wagah border will also lead to reduction of trade costs and inclusive development.

4 .IIT-M research on cancer cure

Context: Researchers from the Indian Institute of Technology-Madras have shown that the active compound from the common household spice turmeric – curcumin – can enhance cancer cell death.

About the news

  • Researchers have found that treating leukaemia cells that cause cancer of the blood and bone marrow with curcumin, enhances cell death.

Details of the Research

  • TNF-related apoptosis-inducing ligand (TRAIL) is an agent with the ability to programme cell death (apoptosis) and has triggered many preclinical studies the world over. While the anti-tumour activity of TRAIL in preclinical studies had been strong, in clinical trials, the results were so far unsatisfactory as cancer cells, when exposed long-term, seem to acquire resistance against TRAIL.
  • The next round of research has been to find chemicals that can reverse resistance and increase sensitivity of cancer cells to TRAIL
  • The IIT-M research team chose curcumin as it is known to inhibit carcinogenesis and induce apoptosis in various cancer cells.
  • The researchers isolated leukaemia cells from cancer patients and found that non-toxic concentrations of curcumin can significantly increase the efficiency of TRAIL-induced cell death.
  • The findings showed clearly that even a small concentration of curcumin could potentially enhance the sensitiveness of leukaemic cells to TRAIL
  • However, they added that the reactions were carried out with isolated cells outside the human body in a test tube. It is yet unclear if the same results can be obtained in vivo, that is inside the body. Their caution stems from the fact that absorption of curcumin in the blood from the gut and its bio-availability for therapeutic purpose is generally poor.
  • A few researchers have shown that compounds such as quercetin found in onions and green tea and piperazine, found in black and green pepper, enhance absorption of curcumin by the body

5 . Second Voluntary National Review of Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) report

Context : NITI Aayog presented India’s second Voluntary National Review (VNR) at the United Nations High-level Political Forum (HLPF) on Sustainable Development, 2020. The HLPF is the foremost international platform for follow-up and review of progress on the 17 Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs). 

About United Nations High-level Political Forum (HLPF) on Sustainable Development

  • The HLPF meets annually in July for eight days under the auspices of the Economic and Social Council (ECOSOC) of the UN.
  • The VNRs presented by Member States at the HLPF are a critical component of the review of progress and implementation of the 2030 Agenda and the SDGs.
  • The reviews are voluntary and state-led and are aimed at facilitating the sharing of experiences, including successes, challenges and lessons learned.
  • The process of preparation of a country’s VNR provides a platform for partnerships, including through the participation of various relevant stakeholders. NITI Aayog prepared and presented India’s first VNR in 2017.

India VNR 2020

  • India presented its VNR along with other second time presenters like Bangladesh, Georgia, Kenya, Morocco, Nepal, Niger, Nigeria and Uganda. The presentation also included a short film which encapsulated the processual aspects of the second VNR and captured some of India’s major progress areas on the SDGs.
  • India’s VNR this year has undertaken a paradigm shift in terms of embodying a “whole-of-society” approach in letter and spirit.
  • NITI Aayog engaged with sub-national and local governments, civil society organizations, local communities, people in vulnerable situations and the private sector. As part of this process, NITI Aayog partnered with UN in India and Civil Society Organisations to curate a consultative process which saw more than 50 national and sub-national consultations with over 1000 CSOs from fourteen population groups including women, children, elderly, Persons with Disabilities (PWDs), People Living with HIV (PLHIV), among others .

Decade of Action: Taking SDGs from Global to Local

  • The India VNR 2020 report was also unveiled during this event. The report is a comprehensive account of the adoption and implementation of the 2030 Agenda in India. Apart from presenting a review of progress on the 17 SDGs, the report discusses at length the policy and enabling environment, India’s approach to localising SDGs, and strengthening means of implementation.
  • The report also includes a chapter which draws from the rich body of data, knowledge and analysis that emanated from the CSO led community-centric consultations, which took place across the length and breadth of the country. The chapter presents a summary of the key concerns and the recommendations voiced by the stakeholders from civil society, non-governmental and community organisations. Similarly, the segment on business integration highlights the important role which businesses and the private sector are envisaged to have in the decade of action.
  • Leveraging science, technology and innovation for SDGs, and costing and financing of SDGs are the two levers of strengthening means of implementation which have been introduced this year.
  • In line with the theme of Taking SDGs from Global to Local, the goal-wise account of progress on the SDGs has been appended with examples of a range of diverse good practices and success stories of interventions from the States, especially Aspirational Districts.
  • NITI Aayog has the mandate of overseeing the adoption and monitoring of SDGs at the national and sub-national level. The India VNR 2020 represents NITI Aayog’s efforts in embodying the whole-of-society approach and its commitment towards localisation of the Sustainable Development Goals.

6 . Facts for Prelims / Mains valued addition Materials

Google to invest $10 billion (₹75,000 crore) in India over the next five to seven years

  • Technology giant Google will invest $10 billion (₹75,000 crore) in India over the next five to seven years with a focus on digitising the economy and building India-first products and services.
  • Investments will focus on four areas key to digitisation — enabling affordable access and information for every Indian in their own language, building products and services that are deeply relevant to India’s unique needs, empowering businesses on their digital transformation journey, and leveraging technology and AI for social good in areas such as health, education and agriculture.

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