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Saturday, July 20, 2019


Context: Scientists from Technion — Israel Institute of Technology have developed a concept they have named the Ramanujan Machine, after the Indian mathematician.

What is it?
It is not really a machine but an algorithm, and performs a very unconventional function.

What it does?
The Ramanujan machine is more of a concept than an actual machine—it exists as a network of computers running algorithms dedicated to finding conjectures about fundamental constants in the form of continued fractions—these are defined as fractions of infinite length where the denominator is a certain quantity plus a fraction, where a latter fraction has a similar denominator, etc.)
The purpose of the machine is to come up with conjectures (in the form of mathematical formulas) that humans can analyze, and hopefully prove to be true mathematically.

Why Ramanujan?
The algorithm reflects the way Srinivasa Ramanujan worked during his brief life (1887-1920). With very little formal training, he engaged with the most celebrated mathematicians of the time, particularly during his stay in England (1914-19), where he eventually became a Fellow of the Royal Society and earned a research degree from Cambridge.
Throughout his life, Ramanujan came up with novel equations and identities —including equations leading to the value of pi — and it was usually left to formally trained mathematicians to prove these.

What’s the point?
Conjectures are a major step in the process of making new discoveries in any branch of science, particularly mathematics. Equations defining the fundamental mathematical constants, including pi, are invariably elegant. New conjectures in mathematics, however, have been scarce and sporadic, the researchers note in their paper, which is currently on a pre-print server. The idea is to enhance and accelerate the process of discovery.

How good is it?
The paper gives examples for previously unknown equations produced by the algorithm, including for values of the constants pi and e. The Ramanujan Machine proposed these conjecture formulas by matching numerical values, without providing proofs. It has to be remembered, however, that these are infinite series, and a human can only enter a finite number of terms to test the value of the series. The question is, therefore, whether the series will fail after a point. The researchers feel this is unlikely, because they tested hundreds of digits.
Until proven, it remains a conjecture. By the same token, until proven wrong, a conjecture remains one. It is quite possible that the algorithm will come up with conjectures that may take years to prove.

Sources: Indian Express.


Sagar Maitri Mission-2:
Context: DRDO Research Ship INS Sagardhwani Embarks on Sagar Maitri Mission-2.
SAGAR MAITRI is a unique initiative of DRDO which aligns with the broad objective of Prime Minister Shri Narendra Modi’s policy declaration “Safety And Growth for All in the Region (SAGAR)” to promote closer co-operation in socio-economic aspects as well as greater scientific interaction especially in ocean research among Indian Ocean Rim (IOR) countries.
  1. Under the aegis of PM’s policy, specific scientific component of DRDO is “MAITRI (Marine & Allied Interdisciplinary Training and Research Initiative)”.
  2. SAGAR MAITRI Mission-2 commemorates the Golden Jubilee Celebrations of India’s lone research ship INS Kistna’s missions as part of the historic International Indian Ocean Expeditions (IIOE), which took place during 1962-65.
  3. As part of the mission, INS Sagardhwani will revisit the selected tracks of INS Kistna and provide NPOL scientists ample opportunities to collaborate and garner a close working relationship with the oceanographic counterparts of the IOR countries
  4. The prime objectives of the SAGAR MAITRI Mission are data collection from the entire North Indian Ocean, focussing on the the Andaman Sea and adjoining seas and establishing long-term collaboration with eight IOR countries in the field of ocean research and development.
  5. The programme also aims at establishing long term scientific collaboration with these countries in the field of ‘Ocean Research & Development’ and data collection with a focus in the Andaman Sea.

Urban Haats:
  • It is an initiative of the Ministry of Textiles of the Government of India.
  • The objective of the scheme “Infrastructure and Technology Support” is to setup a permanent marketing infrastructure in big towns/ metropolitan cities to provide direct marketing facilities to the handicrafts artisans/handloom weavers.
  • The scheme is implemented through State Handicrafts/Handlooms Development Corporations/Tourism Development Corporations/ Urban Local Bodies with sufficient financial resources and organizational capacity to implement the project.
  • The financial ceiling for Urban Haat is Rs. 300 lakh for each unit. 80% of the admissible amount is borne by the Office of the Development Commissioner (Handicrafts) and 20% contributed by the implementing agency.

What does Ploonet mean?
What are they? Researchers have modelled the formation of exomoons around gas giant exoplanets. They projected that the massive planets would kick moons out of orbit and send them on their way — or the researchers believe that angular momentum between the giant exoplanet and moon would allow the moon to essentially escape the gravity of the planet. The remnants of the expelled moon would end up circling its star with an eccentric orbit similar to Pluto’s. The researchers have dubbed these rogue exomoons “ploonets.”


Summaries of important Editorials:

Why Assam is prone to floods and what’s the solution?
ContextAssam is in the grip of yet another flood.

Why are floods so destructive in Assam?
  1. Apart from incessant rainfall during the monsoon, there are many contributory factors, natural and man-made.
  2. At the crux is the very nature of the river Brahmaputra —dynamic and unstable. Its 580,000 sq km basin spreads over four countries: China, India, Bangladesh and Bhutan, with diverse environments.
  3. The Brahmaputra features among the world’s top five rivers in terms of discharge as well as the sediment it brings.
  4. The vast amount of sediment comes from Tibet, where the river originates. That region is cold, arid and lacks plantation. Glaciers melt, soil erodes and all of it results in a highly sedimented river.
  5. By the time the river enters Assam — a state comprising primarily floodplains surrounded by hills on all sides — it deposits vast amounts of this silt, leading to erosion and floods. As the river comes from a high slope to a flat plain, its velocity decreases suddenly and this results in the river unloading the sediment. The river’s channels prove inadequate amid this siltation, leading to floods.
  6. Again, because of the earthquake-prone nature of the region, the river has not been able to acquire a stable character. Following the devastating earthquake of 1950, the level of the Brahmaputra rose by two metres in Dibrugarh area in eastern Assam.
  7. Besides these natural factors are the man-made ones — habitation, deforestation, population growth in catchment areas (including in China) — which lead to higher sedimentation. For example, the sediment deposition itself creates temporary sandbars or river islands.
  8. It is common for people to settle in such places, which restricts the space the river has to flow. When rainfall is heavy, it combines with all these factors and leads to destructive floods. This happens very frequently.

Has the government tried to address the factors that cause floods?
  1. In its master plan on the river in 1982, the Brahmaputra Board had suggested that dams and reservoirs be built to mitigate floods. The idea of dams, however, has traditionally been a double-edged sword. While one of their objectives is to regulate the release of flood waters, the release when it comes can sometimes be beyond the capacity of the channels downstream. In the Brahmaputra basin, locals and environmentalists protested against dam-building plans on grounds of displacement and destruction of ecology, preventing the plans from moving forward.
  2. As such, the government has been using only one approach towards floods: building embankments on the river. Embankments were proposed only as an interim and ad hoc measure for short-term mitigation. Their lack of durability has often been on display. Most embankments built in the 1980s are not strong enough. Since they were temporary measures, the government did not spend on high-specification embankments. These are weak and are regularly breached.
  3. The government also considered dredging, basically digging up the riverbed and making the river “deeper”. However, experts have strongly advised against this simply because the Brahmaputra sediment yield is among the highest in the world.

What’s the issue?
The government’s measures have been “piecemeal” and “short-term”. They are not addressing the problem at the source — they are firefighting.
But, is there a long-term solution?
There needs to be “a basin-wide approach” to the problem. That should ideally bring in all the basin-sharing countries on board.
Besides, interstate relationships, political cooperation and the role of the government are also important.
The government can also try flood-plain” zoning, which is done the US. Depending on the vulnerability of the area, you divide them into categories, and accordingly ban certain activities on it: like farming, building a house etc.



Context: The Government of India is implementing One Stop Centre (OSC) scheme for setting up One Stop Centre since 1st April 2015 to support women affected by violence.

About the scheme:
Popularly known as Sakhi, Ministry of Women and Child Development (MWCD) has formulated this Centrally Sponsored Scheme.
It is a sub – scheme of Umbrella Scheme for National Mission for Empowerment of women including Indira Gandhi Mattritav Sahyaog Yojana. 
Under the scheme, One Stop Centres are being established across the country to provide integrated support and assistance under one roof to women affected by violence, both in private and public spaces in phased manner.
Target group: The OSC will support all women including girls below 18 years of ageaffected by violence, irrespective of caste, class, religion, region, sexual orientation or marital status.

The Centres will be integrated with a Women Helpline to facilitate access to following services:
  1. Emergency response and rescue services.
  2. Medical assistance.
  3. Assistance to women in lodging the FIR.
  4. Psycho- social support and counselling.
  5. Legal aid and counselling.
  6. Shelter
  7. Video conferencing facility.

Funds:
The Scheme will be funded through Nirbhaya Fund. The Central Government will provide 100% financial assistance to the State Government /UT Administrations under the Scheme.

Need for protection:
Gender Based Violence (GBV) is a global health, human rights and development issue that transcends geography, class, culture, age, race and religion to affect every community and country in every corner of the world.
The Article 1 of UN Declaration on the Elimination of Violence 1993 provides a definition of gender – based abuse, calling it “any act of gender – based violence that results in, or is likely to result in, physical, sexual or psychological harm or suffering to women, including threats of such acts, coercion or arbitrary deprivation of liberty, whether occurring in public or in private life”.
In India, gender based violence has many manifestations; from the more universally prevalent forms of domestic and sexual violence including rape, to harmful practices such as, dowry, honour killings, acid attacks, witch – hunting, sexual harassment, child sexual abuse, trafficking for commercial sexual exploitation, child marriage, sex selective abortion, sati etc.
Context: The Pradhan Mantri Ujjwala Yojana (PMUY) has been a huge success since its launch on May 1, 2016 and is set to meet the next big milestone of achieving 80 million household connections within the first hundred days of the government. 
Till date, the scheme has garnered 72 million connections, with the government fueling the process of achieving the original target in the next 100 days. In other words, about 93 to 94 per cent households now have access to cooking gas

About Pradhan Mantri Ujjwala Yojana:
Pradhan Mantri Ujjwala Yojana aims to provide LPG (liquefied petroleum gas) connections to poor households.
Who is eligible? Under the scheme, an adult woman member of a below poverty line family identified through the Socio-Economic Caste Census (SECC) is given a deposit-free LPG connection with financial assistance of Rs 1,600 per connection by the Centre.
Identification of households: Eligible households will be identified in consultation with state governments and Union territories. The scheme is being implemented by the Ministry of Petroleum and Natural Gas.

Key objectives of the scheme are:
  • Empowering women and protecting their health.
  • Reducing the serious health hazards associated with cooking based on fossil fuel.
  • Reducing the number of deaths in India due to unclean cooking fuel.
  • Preventing young children from significant number of acute respiratory illnesses caused due to indoor air pollution by burning the fossil fuel.

What makes LPG adoption necessary?
  1. A large section of Indians, especially women and girls, are exposed to severe household air pollution (HAP) from the use of solid fuels such as biomass, dung cakes and coal for cooking. A report from the Ministry of Health & Family Welfare places HAP as the second leading risk factor contributing to India’s disease burden.
  2. According to the World Health Organization, solid fuel use is responsible for about 13% of all mortality and morbidity in India (measured as Disability-Adjusted Life Years), and causes about 40% of all pulmonary disorders, nearly 30% of cataract incidences, and over 20% each of ischemic heart disease, lung cancer and lower respiratory infection.

Need of the hour:
The PMUY is a bold and much-needed initiative, but it should be recognised that this is just a first step. The real test of the PMUY and its successor programmes will be in how they translate the provision of connections to sustained use of LPG or other clean fuels such as electricity or biogas.
Truly smokeless kitchens can be realized only if the government follows up with measures that go beyond connections to actual usage of LPG. This may require concerted efforts cutting across Ministries beyond petroleum and natural gas and including those of health, rural development and women and child welfare.
Context: The Union Ministry of Human Resource Development has launched ‘Paramarsh’ – a University Grants Commission (UGC) scheme.

About Paramarsh:
The scheme is for Mentoring National Accreditation and Assessment Council (NAAC) Accreditation Aspirant Institutions to promote Quality Assurance in Higher Education.
The scheme will be a paradigm shift in the concept of mentoring of institution by another well performing institution to upgrade their academic performance and enable them to get accredited by focusing in the area of curricular aspects, teaching-learning & evaluation, research, innovation, institutional values & practices etc.

Implementation:
The Scheme will be operationalized through a “Hub & Spoke” model wherein the Mentor Institution, called the “Hub” is centralized and will have the responsibility of guiding the Mentee institution through the secondary branches the “Spoke” through the services provided to the mentee for self improvement.

Significance and impact of the scheme:
  1. The scheme is expected to have a major impact in addressing a national challenge of improving the quality of Higher Education in India.
  2. This allows a centralized control over operational efficiency, resource utilization to attain overall development of the mentee institution.
  3. The scheme will lead to enhancement of overall quality of the Mentee Institutions and enhance its profile as a result of improved quality of research, teaching and learning methodologies.
  4. Mentee Institution will also have increased exposure and speedier adaptation to best practices.
  5. The scheme will also facilitate sharing of knowledge, information and opportunities for research collaboration and faculty development in Mentee Institutions.
  6. Mentor-Mentee relationship will not only benefit both the institutions but also provide quality education to the 3.6 crore students who are enrolling to Indian Higher Education system at present.

Context: Ebola outbreak in DR Congo has been declared as a global health emergency by the World Health Organization (WHO).

What is public health emergency of international concern?
Public health emergency of international concern is defined as an “extraordinary event that is determined to constitute a public health risk to other States through the international spread of disease and to potentially require a coordinated international response.” The public emergency announcement is the highest level of alarm that is only raised during the gravest of outbreaks.

Background:
This is the fifth time in history that WHO has declared a public health emergency. The previous declarations were for the devastating Ebola outbreak in West Africa in 2014-2016 that took lives of more than 11000 people, spread of Zika virus in Latin America, 2009 Swine flu epidemic and for polio in 2014. WHO only declares a disease or outbreak a global emergency when it threatens to affect other countries and requires a coordinated international response.

How will declaration of global health emergency help?
The declaration of a global health emergency will bring larger international focus on the alarming issue and it will also help bring in more financial and technical support. At the same time, the declaration can cause governments of neighbouring nations to panic and overreact by shutting down borders.

What you need to know about Ebola?
Ebola virus disease (EVD), formerly known as Ebola haemorrhagic fever, is a severe, often fatal illness in humans.
Transmission: The virus is transmitted to people from wild animals and spreads in the human population through human-to-human transmission.
The average EVD case fatality rate is around 50%. Case fatality rates have varied from 25% to 90% in past outbreaks.
Prevention: Community engagement is key to successfully controlling outbreaks. Good outbreak control relies on applying a package of interventions, namely case management, surveillance and contact tracing, a good laboratory service and social mobilisation.
Early supportive care with rehydration, symptomatic treatment improves survival. There is as yet no licensed treatment proven to neutralise the virus but a range of blood, immunological and drug therapies are under development.

Sources: the Hindu.

What to study?
For prelims and mains: Whip- meaning, need, misuse and the need for reforms.

What is it?
A whip in parliamentary parlance is a written order that party members be present for an important vote, or that they vote only in a particular way.
The term is derived from the old British practice of “whipping in” lawmakers to follow the party line.

How is it used?
In India all parties can issue a whip to their members. Parties appoint a senior member from among their House contingents to issue whips — this member is called a Chief Whip, and he/she is assisted by additional Whips.

Kinds of Whips:
one-line whip, underlined once, is usually issued to inform party members of a vote, and allows them to abstain in case they decide not to follow the party line.
two-line whip directs them to be present during the vote.
three-line whip is the strongest, employed on important occasions such as the second reading of a Bill or a no-confidence motion, and places an obligation on members to toe the party line.

Defiance of Whip:
In India, rebelling against a three-line whip can put a lawmaker’s membership of the House at risk. The anti-defection law allows the Speaker/Chairperson to disqualify such a member; the only exception is when more than a third of legislators vote against a directive, effectively splitting the party.

Importance of whips in our political system:
In the parliamentary form of Government, Whips of various political parties are the vital links of the internal organization of parties, inside the legislatures. The efficient and smooth functioning of Parliament and State Legislatures depends, to a considerable extent, upon the office of the Whip. The Whips can be rightly said to be the managers of the parties within the legislatures.

Sources: Indian Express.