Daily Current Affairs : 19th and 20th July 2020

Daily Current Affairs for UPSC CSE

Topics Covered

  1. Vertical transmission of coronavirus across the placenta
  2. Vitamin D
  3. Self Amputation in Lizard
  4. KURMA Mobile App
  5. Chabahar rail project
  6. Plea bargaining
  7. Kaziranga Floods
  8. Section 46(1)(b) of the DM Act, 2005
  9. Facts for Prelims

1 . Vertical transmission of coronavirus across the placenta

Context: A recent study has found evidence that confirms vertical transmission of SARS-CoV-2 virus from the mother to the foetus.

Different Modes of COVID-19 transmission

  • Transmission through droplets and contact with contaminated surfaces seem to be the major routes of novel coronavirus spread.
  • The World Health Organization has recently acknowledged “short-range aerosol transmission” of the virus in specific indoor locations which are crowded, inadequately ventilated and where exposure to the infected person is over a prolonged period of time.
  • The recent study has found evidence that confirms vertical transmission of SARS-CoV-2 virus from the mother to the foetus. The route of infection is through the womb (in utero) well before the onset of labour and delivery of the baby.

Details of Recent Studies

  • About half-a-dozen studies published in medical journals have already suggested vertical transmission as a possible route but have not been able to provide strong evidence about the route of spread — transplacental or transcervical — of the virus from the mother to the child.
  • These studies could not confirm the transmission route because samples of placenta, amniotic fluid and blood of the mother and the newborn were not collected and tested in every mother–infant pair.
  • Now, a study has found evidence that confirms vertical transmission of SARS-CoV-2 virus from the mother to the foetus. The route of infection is through the womb (in utero) well before the onset of labour and delivery of the baby.
  • The results published recently in Nature Communications involving one mother–newborn pair provide strong evidence of “confirmed” vertical transmission of the SARS-CoV-2 virus through the “transplacental” route.
  • To check for vertical transmission, the researchers first collected clear amniotic fluid prior to rupture of membranes. The amniotic fluid tested positive for two genes of the virus. The baby was delivered through caesarean section to avoid infection during normal childbirth; caesarean delivery is routinely done in the case of HIV positive mothers to cut the risk of vertical transmission.
  • To confirm infection in the newborn, the researchers collected blood and bronchoalveolar lavage samples soon after birth and tested them for the virus. Both samples tested positive. They also collected nasopharyngeal and rectal swab samples at three time points — one hour after birth, and three and 18 days of postnatal age. These too tested positive for the virus, confirming infection with SARS-CoV-2.
  • The amount of virus in different tissues both in the mother and newborn varied. “Viral load was much higher in placental tissue, than in amniotic fluid and maternal or neonatal blood,” they write. In the case of the newborn, the nasopharyngeal sample collected on day three after birth had higher viral load, while the blood contained the least amount of the virus.
  • Findings confirm that transplacental transmission is indeed possible in the last weeks of pregnancy, although we cannot exclude a possible transmission and foetal consequences earlier during the pregnancy

About transplacental transmission

  • Transplacental usually refers to the exchange of nutrients, waste products, drugs, infectious organisms, or other substances between the mother and the fetus.
  • The virus first occurs in the mother’s blood and later causes placental infection and inflammation. The virus then gets into the blood of the neonate following placental infection.
  • The neonate also showed clinical manifestation of COVID-19 in terms of neurological signs and symptoms. To check for vertical transmission, the researchers first collected clear amniotic fluid prior to rupture of membranes. The amniotic fluid tested positive for two genes of the virus.

2 . Vitamin D

Context: Importance of vitamin D in these days of the COVID-19 pandemic was recently published in the paper “Perspective: Improving vitamin D status in the management of COVID-19,” in European Journal of Clinical Nutrition

Findings of the paper

  • According to the study Vitamin D deficiency can affect COVID-19 high-risk patients, particularly those who are diabetic, have heart conditions, pneumonia, obesity and those who smoke. It is also associated with infections in the respiratory tract and lung injury.

Importance of Vitamin-D

  • Vitamin D is known to help in having the right amount of calcium in the bones, catalyse the process of protecting cell membranes from damage, preventing the inflammation of tissues and helping stop tissues from forming fibres and weakening bones from becoming brittle, leading to osteoporosis.

Production of Vitamin D

  • It is produced when sunlight (or artificial light, particularly in the ultraviolet region of 190-400 nm wavelength) falls on the skin and triggers a chemical reaction to a cholesterol-based molecule, and converts it into calcidiol (adding one hydroxyl group, also called 25(OH)D technically) in the liver and into calcitriol (or 1, 25(OH)2D) in the kidney. Calcidiol & Calcitriol are the two molecules that are physiologically active.
  • It is suggested that the level of 25-OHD in the range 30-100 ng/ml is thought to be sufficient for a healthy body; levels between 21-29 ng/ml are considered insufficient, and levels below 20 ng/ml mean the individual is deficient in the vitamin.
  • Since sunlight in important for the generation of vitamin D, tropical countries have an advantage over the northern countries.

Indian Perspective

  • India, being a tropical country, one would expect naturally derived vitamin D levels to be good.
  • A study in India reveals that the level of vitamin D ranged between 3.15 ng/ml to 52.9 ng/ml.
  • Vitamin D level among south Indians is (15.74–19.16) ng/ml, yet below 20. Also, females showed consistently lower levels than males.
  • Study concludes that India, a nation of abundant sunshine, is surprisingly found to have a massive burden of vitamin D deficiency among the public irrespective of their location (urban or rural), age or gender, or whether they are poor or even rich. Hence, it is clear that vitamin D supplementation is necessary for most Indians to treat its deficiency.

What problems does vitamin D deficiency cause?

  • Vitamin D deficiency can lead to a loss of bone density, which can contribute to osteoporosis and fractures (broken bones).
  • Severe vitamin D deficiency can also lead to other diseases. In children, it can cause rickets. Rickets is a rare disease that causes the bones to become soft and bend. African American infants and children are at higher risk of getting rickets. In adults, severe vitamin D deficiency leads to osteomalacia. Osteomalacia causes weak bones, bone pain, and muscle weakness.

Way forward

  • Given the deficit in vitamin D (indeed in many other vitamins, and calcium), it is highly desirable for the governments to consult nutrition experts and institutions to advise and suggest the type of nutritive items that can be added to the current ‘ration’ food given to the poor, and the meals given to school children,
  • Supply free of charge, vitamin D, other vitamins and calcium, in consultation with medical and public health experts regarding the dosage, frequency and other details.

3 . Self Amputation in Lizard

How does a lizard lose its tail?

  • Certain animals voluntarily shed a body part in response to attempted predation. Lizards losing their tails when they are pulled by a predator is well known. This self-amputation is called autotomy.
  • The severed tail continues to wiggle for about 30 minutes. Studies have shown that the severed tail follows an elaborate repetitive and diverse motion, which includes flips up to 3 cm in height. The wiggly motion very often distracts the attention of the predator, thus enabling the lizard to escape.
  • Now, researchers at Aarhus University have found the answer to what allows lizards to shed their tails easily.
  • They found that tail autotomy occurs at preformed horizontal fracture planes. In the case of tail autotomy within the vertebra, the tail gets fractured or split at a distinct preformed area of weakness. Studies have shown that lizards aid the process of autotomy by “contracting muscles around the fracture planes”.
  • The muscle contractions are supposed to “facilitate splitting of the skin and muscles to complete the release of the tail”.
  • According to their findings published in December 2012 in the journal PLOS ONE, the mechanism of tail autotomy in Tokay gecko is determined by pre-formed ‘dotted lines’ in the fracture planes, which are maintained by adhesion and microstructures seen at the terminal end of the muscle fibres also likely play a role in releasing the tail.
  • The pre-formed fracture surfaces are found at specified intervals all along the lizard’s tail.

4 . KURMA Mobile app

Context : On May 23, 2020, World Turtle Day, a number of conservation agencies launched a citizen science initiative, a mobile-based application called KURMA, that is aimed at turtle conservation.

About KURMA app

  • The application has been developed by the Indian Turtle Conservation Action Network (ITCAN) in collaboration with the Turtle Survival Alliance-India and Wildlife Conservation Society-India.
  • It serves as a digital database, with a built-in digital field guide covering 29 species of freshwater turtles and tortoises of India, and information on turtle identification, distribution, vernacular names, and threats.
  • With its help, users can identify a species and also identify the location of the nearest rescue centre for turtles across the country.
  • The KURMA App is free to download.

TRAFFIC report 2019 on turtles and tortoises

  • According to the report, Tortoise and freshwater turtles are among the most trafficked in the country.
  • At least 200 tortoises and freshwater turtles fall prey to illicit poaching and smuggling every week, or 11,000 each year, adding up to over 1,11,130 turtles poached or smuggled between September 2009 and September 2019.
  • One of the major challenges for freshwater turtle conservation in the country is that wildlife crime prevention agencies are not sufficiently equipped to know how to distinguish one species from the other, or their protection status in accordance with CITES (Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species) and the Wildlife Protection Act.

Difference between Turtle and Tortoise

A Tortoise is a reptile from the Chelonian family and dwells well on land.A Turtle is a reptile from the Chelonian family and dwells well in the water.
Found mostly in Asia and Africa but some species exist in Americas too.Africa, America
Mostly large dome shaped shells (with bumps on the top in some species).Mostly flat, streamlined shells.
The shells are heavier.Generally light-weight shell.
Feet are short and sturdy with bent legs.Webbed feet with long claws
Most are herbivores, but some species prefer live food.Eats fruits, veggies, leafy vegetation and meat, hence they are omnivores.

5 . Chabahar rail project

Context: Iran has recently decided to drop India from the Chabahar Rail project.

What ties India to Chabahar?

  • India-Iran relations are historic and New Delhi has sought to maintain these ties in the face of opposition from Iran’s adversaries, namely the United States, Saudi Arabia and Israel.
  • The Chabahar project ties India and Iran together as New Delhi deals with its difficult neighbour to the west, Pakistan.
  • A major trade and connectivity hub on Iran’s coast not only gives India an alternative route to Afghanistan, bypassing Pakistan, but also has the potential to provide an Indian strategic counter to Pakistan’s Gwadar port being developed by China right next door to Chabahar.
  • The Chabahar trade zone could be an important weigh station for India’s energy imports and food and material exports coming from Kandla and Mundra ports.
  • And the rail project will allow India an independent corridor not only to Afghanistan, which Pakistan has denied it, but also to Central Asia and Russia someday.

What happened to the rail project?

  • While the Chabahar port development has moved forward in the last five years, the railway line languished.
  • After several threats and appeals to India, Iran has decided to move ahead to build the Chabahar-Zahedan line on its own this month, with approximately $400 million from the National Development Fund of Islamic Republic of Iran.

What was the hitch?

  • Despite the attractions, India’s investment in Chabahar has always been held hostage to international policy shifts on Iran.
  • U.S. policy in particular has swung wildly in the last two decades. It placed heavy sanctions on Iran until nuclear talks between the P-5+1 (the U.S., the U.K., France, China, Russia and Germany) that began in 2006, ended successfully with the signing of the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA) in 2015.
  • As a result, while India continued to negotiate for Chabahar, it was not until after the sanctions were lifted that talks could make headway.
  • In 2016, the Chabahar agreement, which included the Trilateral Agreement on Establishment of International Transport and Transit Corridor between Afghanistan, Iran and India was signed by Prime Minister Narendra Modi, Iranian President Hassan Rouhani and Afghan President Ashraf Ghani. It also included the port project and the railway line to be built and funded by IRCON for $1.6 billion.
  •  In 2018, however, U.S. President Donald Trump overturned the JCPOA, and re-imposed stringent sanctions on Iran. This meant India’s energy imports from Iran, which was its third largest supplier, had to be dropped to zero. Bilateral trade, which depended on a rupee-rial exchange mechanism also stopped.
  • The U.S. gave Chabahar port and rail line a special waiver or “carve-out”, but the sanctions made it very difficult for companies dealing with the U.S. to participate in the project.

Are other projects hit too?

  • The Ministry of External Affairs (MEA) has disclosed that India’s ONGC Videsh Ltd (OVL) has been cut out of the development of an Iranian gas field project, Farzad B; both sides had been in talks since 2009.
  • The project, which will now go to an Iranian company, had also floundered due to a combination of U.S. sanctions, Iran’s changing conditions and fluctuating prices, as well as India’s delayed responses.
  • On the Chabahar-Zahedan rail project, the MEA said IRCON had completed its feasibility studies by December 2019, three years after the memorandum of understanding was signed, but that it had not heard back from Iran. In the meanwhile, Iranian Railway authorities have begun laying tracks.
  • Both New Delhi and Tehran have left the door open for IRCON to return to the project at a later date, but for the moment, India is not a part of the railway construction.

What is the China angle?

  • The announcements on the two projects come even as news filters in of a China-Iran 25-year partnership for $400 billion to build infrastructure and energy resources in Iran, giving the impression that Iran may be relying more and more on Beijing.

Has India lost an opportunity?

  • India’s stakes in Chabahar remain strong, and no matter who builds the railway line, Indian trade could still find its way to Afghanistan and Central Asia.
  • India’s monetary losses are minimal, as it had not invested money or material on the rail line yet.
  • However, there is the worry of reputational damage from the idea that India gave in to U.S. sanctions, a departure from the past.
  • China’s growing inroads in Iran could make Indian projects there more unviable.
  • The largest worry is that Chabahar, the enduring symbol of India-Iran friendship, could become collateral damage in a larger proxy war between the U.S. and China.

6 . Plea bargaining

Context : Many members of the Tablighi Jamaat belonging to different countries have obtained release from court cases in recent days by means of plea bargaining.


  • Many members of the Tablighi Jamaat belonging to different countries were accused of violating visa conditions by attending a religious congregation in Delhi.
  • These foreign nationals have walked free after pleading guilty to minor offences and paying the fines imposed by the court.
  • These cases have brought the focus on plea bargaining as a practice by which time consuming trials can be avoided.

About Plea Bargaining

  • Plea bargaining refers to a person charged with a criminal offence negotiating with the prosecution for a lesser punishment than what is provided in law by pleading guilty to a less serious offence.
  • It is common in the United States, and has been a successful method of avoiding protracted and complicated trials. As a result, conviction rates are significantly high there.
  • It primarily involves pre-trial negotiations between the accused and the prosecutor. It may involve bargaining on the charge or in the quantum of sentence.
  • In India, the concept was not part of law until 2006. There has always been a provision in the Code of Criminal Procedure for an accused to plead ‘guilty’ instead of claiming the right to a full trial, but it is not the same as plea bargaining.
  • The Law Commission of India, in its 142nd Report, mooted the idea of “concessional treatment” of those who plead guilty on their own volition, but was careful to underscore that it would not involve any plea bargaining or “haggling” with the prosecution.
  • Plea bargaining was introduced in 2006 as part of a set of amendments to the CrPC as Chapter XXI-A, containing Sections 265A to 265L.

In what circumstances is it allowed? How does it work?

  • Unlike in the U.S. and other countries, where the prosecutor plays a key role in bargaining with the suspected offender, the Indian code makes plea bargaining a process that can be initiated only by the accused; further, the accused will have to apply to the court for invoking the benefit of bargaining. Cases for which the practice is allowed are limited.
  • Only someone who has been chargesheeted for an offence that does not attract the death sentence, life sentence or a prison term above seven years can make use of the scheme under Chapter XXI-A.
  • It is also applicable to private complaints of which a criminal court has taken cognisance. Other categories of cases that cannot be disposed of through plea bargaining are those that involve offences affecting the “socio-economic conditions” of the country, or committed against a woman or a child below the age of 14.
  • The applicant should approach the court with a petition and affidavit stating that it is a voluntary preference and that he has understood the nature and extent of punishment provided in law for the offence.
  • The court would then issue notice to the prosecutor and the complainant or victim, if any, for a hearing.
  • The voluntary nature of the application must be ascertained by the judge in an in-camera hearing at which the other side should not be present.
  • Thereafter, the court may permit the prosecutor, the investigating officer and the victim to hold a meeting for a “satisfactory disposition of the case”.
  • The outcome may involve payment of compensation and other expenses to the victim by the accused. Once mutual satisfaction is reached, the court shall formalise the arrangement by way of a report signed by all the parties and the presiding officer.
  • The accused may be sentenced to a prison term that is half the minimum period fixed for the offence. If there is no minimum term prescribed, the sentence should run up to one-fourth of the maximum sentence stipulated in law.

What is the rationale for the scheme? What are its benefits?

  • The Justice Malimath Committee on reforms of the criminal justice system endorsed the various recommendations of the Law Commission with regard to plea bargaining. 
  • Some of the advantages it culled out from earlier reports are that the practice would ensure speedy trial, end uncertainty over the outcome of criminal cases, save litigation costs and relieve the parties of anxiety.
  • It would also have a dramatic impact on conviction rates.
  • Prolonged incarceration of undertrials without any progress in the case for years and overcrowding of prisons were also other factors that may be cited in support of reducing pendency of cases and decongesting prisons through plea bargaining. Moreover, it may help offenders make a fresh start in life.

Do courts have reservations?

  • Case law after the introduction of plea bargaining has not developed much as the provision is possibly not used adequately.
  • However, earlier judgments of various courts in cases in which the accused enter a ‘guilty’ plea with a view to getting lesser sentences indicate that the judiciary may have reservations.
  • Some verdicts disapprove of bargaining with offenders, and point out that lenient sentences could be considered as part of the circumstances of the case after a regular trial.
  • Courts are also very particular about the voluntary nature of the exercise, as poverty, ignorance and prosecution pressure should not lead to someone pleading guilty of offences that may not have been committed.

7 . Floods in Kaziranga

Context : As a fresh wave of floods ravages Assam, killing 73 and affecting nearly 40 lakh people across the state, 85 per cent of the Kaziranga National Park and Tiger Reserve (KNPTR) remains submerged. Yet, the annual deluge is considered essential for the survival of the UNESCO World Heritage Site. We explain the role of floods in Kaziranga’s ecosystem, how increasing high floods can become a problem, and what can be done to keep it in check.

What is the role of floods in Kaziranga’s ecosystem?

  • Assam is traditionally flood prone, and the 1,055 sq km KNPTR — sandwiched between the Brahmaputra river and the Karbi Anglong Hills — is no exception.
  • Among experts there is a consensus that floods are necessary for Kaziranga by virtue of its ecosystem.
  • It is a riverine ecosystem, not a solid landmass-based ecosystem. The system won’t survive without water. The entire area of Kaziranga — formed by alluvial deposits from the Brahmaputra and its tributaries — is centred around the river. Floodplain eco system” has not only been created by floods but also feeds off it.
  • The regenerative nature of floods helps replenish Kaziranga’s water bodies and maintain its landscape, a mix of wetlands, grasslands and semi-evergreen deciduous forests. Saikia said the floodwaters also function as a breeding ground for fish. “The same fish are carried away by the receding waters into the Brahmaputra — in a way, the park replenishes the river’s stock of fish too,” he said.
  • The waters also help get rid of unwanted plants such as water hyacinth which collect in huge masses in the landscape. In a herbivore-dominated area like Kaziranga, it is important to maintain its grassland status. If it were not for the annual floods, the area would become a woodland
  • Many also believe that floods are a way of natural selection. “A number of animals — especially the old, weak — cannot survive the floods. Only the ones with superior genes survive

Can the floods become problematic for Kaziranga?

  • “Earlier, a big flood would come once in ten years, now, they happen every other year, adding that massive deforestation in catchment areas or release of waters by dams upstream may be contributory factors. Climate change models, too, predict that floods will become increasingly devastating with each year.
  • Barring 2018, the years between 2016 and 2020 have all featured high floods (or floods which submerge more than 60 per cent of the park) killing and injuring hundreds of animals.
  • Animals adapt naturally to floods but when the waters hit a certain level, they gravitate towards safer, higher ground in the Karbi Anglong hills.
  • While in the past, Kaziranga and Karbi Anglong were part of the same landscape, the animals now have to cross the bustling National Highway 37 which cuts across the park. “Over the years, the highway is getting increasingly tough to cross. A few of the nine wildlife corridors on the highway — Panbari, Haldibari, Bagori, Harmati, Kanchanjuri, Hatidandi, Deosur, Chirang and Amguri — are choked by traffic. Mushrooming of hotels, restaurants, shops, and ancillary structures of the tea industry has not helped either.
  • As a result, animals that venture out of the park, die either under the wheels of speeding vehicles on the highway, or are killed by poachers who take advantage of their vulnerability. In recent years, due to vigilant patrolling, these numbers have decreased. Those that remain in the park — often young or the very old — die by drowning, entangled in the debris under water as they try to swim.

How helpful are Kaziranga’s artificial highlands?

  • Over the years, another mitigation measure has been artificial highlands (111 in the Nineties, 33 in 2016-17) built inside the park for wild animals to take refuge in during the flood.
  • While these highlands have helped a fair bit in reducing the number of animal casualties during floods, some feel that it is not a ‘permanent solution’.
  • “Animals do take refuge there — especially rhino and swamp deer — but it is not viable to build more highlands since such constructions will ruin the natural ecosystem,” said Sarma, terming the highlands a “temporary refuge.” “These 33 highlands cannot accommodate all animals of Kaziranga, and the older ones are more or less dilapidated,” he said.
  • According to Honorary Wildlife Warden Saikia, some animals do not take to the highlands naturally. “They have been migrating to natural highlands of Karbi Anglong for centuries; suddenly these artificial constructions do not inspire confidence, they do not find it secure,” he said.

So what is the solution?

  • Experts believe that emphasis needs to be put on securing animal corridors and ensuring a safe passage to the Karbi hills.
  • To that end, a 35-km-long flyover constructed over NH-37 was proposed by the Centre in September 2019.
  • “While this flyover will help, 35 km is a lengthy stretch and might take time to build,” said Sivakumar, “So the focus should be on doing it quickly, using modern technology that will cause minimal disturbance to the animals during construction.”
  • In April 2019, the Supreme Court banned all types of mining and related activities along the park’s southern boundary and in the entire catchment area of the rivers that originate in the Karbi Anglong hill ranges and flow into Kaziranga, as well as new construction activities in private lands on nine animal corridors.
  • Apart from facilitating safe and unhindered wildlife movement, Dr. Goswami of Conservation Initiatives recommends the need for a landscape-scale conservation approach that recognises the value of the Karbi Anglong hills to the south. “Kaziranga, with its rich grassland habitats has a primary role to play in supporting these wildlife populations, but the highlands of Karbi Anglong, where these animals take refuge, are the lifeline of the park during the floods.

8 . Section 46(1)(b) of the DM Act, 2005

Context: The Centre has applied an unused provision in the Disaster Management Act, 2005 to allow any person or institution to contribute to the National Disaster Response Fund (NDRF) for the purpose of disaster management.

About the news

  • The Ministry of Home Affairs (MHA) has “laid out the modalities for receipt of contributions/grants from any person or institution for the purpose of disaster management” in the NDRF as per Section 46(1)(b) of the DM Act, 2005.

Section 46 in the Disaster Management Act, 2005

46 National Disaster Response Fund. —

(1) The Central Government may, by notification in the Official Gazette, constitute a fund to be called the National Disaster Response Fund* for meeting any threatening disaster situation or disaster and there shall be credited thereto—

(a) an amount which the Central Government may, after due appropriation made by Parliament by law in this behalf provide;

(b) any grants that may be made by any person or institution for the purpose of disaster management.

(2) The National Disaster Response Fund shall be made available to the National Executive Committee to be applied towards meeting the expenses for emergency response, relief and rehabilitation in accordance with the guidelines laid down by the Central Government in consultation with the National Authority.

9 . Facts for Prelims


  • Marumakkathayam was a system of matrilineal inheritance prevalent Kerala.
  • Descent and the inheritance of property was traced through females
  • The elder male was considered the head known as karanavar and the entire assets of the family were controlled by him as if he was the sole owner. The properties were not handed to his sons but to the daughters of his sons or to their sisters.
  • The word literally means inheritance by sisters’ children, as opposed to sons and daughters. ‘Marumakkal’, in the Malayalam language, means nephews and nieces. The joint family under the matrilineal system is known as Tharavad and formed the nucleus of the society in Malabar. 

Seismic Reflection data

  • The team looked at seismic reflection data, which are routinely collected by exploration companies looking for oil and gas.
  • In this method, seismic waves are produced by small explosions at multiple sources, and many recorders called geophones record the sound echoing off layers beneath the surface.
  • The signals are combined to make an image that looks like a slice showing layers through the top few kilometres of the Earth’s crust.
  • The researchers were able to identify the faults because the pattern of layers showed bends.
  • This network of faults show that the Himalayan deformation reaches further [about 40 kilometres further south] than previously thought.

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