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Top-notch toilets to usher in change
- A quarter of new public restrooms in Indian cities will soon have high-end features, including luxurious bath cubicles, touchless flushing, and breast-feeding rooms.
- These high-end public restrooms will be known as “aspirational toilets” and will be indicated on Google Maps.
- State governments have been directed to ensure that 25% of new public toilet seats are “aspirational toilets”.
- Guidelines specify features such as stain-free facilities, low-height toilets for children, and greenery around the restrooms.
- Start-ups are being engaged to build these toilets, with 30 proposals already finalized.
- Business models being explored include attaching these toilets to other public services for self-sustainability.
- The aspirational toilets scheme was launched in September 2022 as part of the Swachh Bharat Mission (SBM) 2.0, with a significantly increased budget allocation of ₹1,41,600 crore.
- The aim is to make cities open defecation free and improve sanitation facilities for the public.
Rakhi, critical drugs imports eased
- India’s new Foreign Trade Policy (FTP) tightens provisions for gifts from overseas, including those purchased from global e-commerce portals.
- Import of goods as gifts through post or courier is prohibited, except for life-saving drugs/medicines and Rakhi.
- Customs duty will be levied on all imports as gifts, except for Rakhis and life-saving medicines.
- The rationale for this change is to prevent misuse of the gift category and ensure proper customs duty collection.
- Further clarity may be needed on the definition of “life-saving drugs” and setting a monetary threshold for gifts.
Upcoming FTAs will boost India’s exports: MoS for Commerce
- India’s upcoming free trade agreements (FTAs) with countries are expected to boost exports, including those from the chemicals sector, according to Minister of State for Commerce and Industry, Anupriya Patel.
- The chemicals industry has benefited from the FTAs already concluded, and negotiations are underway with the U.K., the European Union, and Canada, with more FTAs expected to be finalized by year-end.
- The intention is to create balanced FTAs that are favorable to both countries and provide global access to Indian exporters.
- The chemicals sector is the fastest-growing sector in terms of exports, contributing $30 billion out of the total exports of $770 billion achieved for FY23.
- The growth in chemicals exports has been steady, and it is expected to make a significant contribution to overall exports in the coming years.
Omicron variants evolve strategies to evade T cell immunity
- SARS-CoV-2, the virus causing COVID-19, can evade CD8 T cell-mediated clearance by modulating major histocompatibility complex class I (MHC I) expression in infected host cells.
- MHC I molecules play a crucial role in alerting the immune system to virally infected cells by presenting viral antigens on the cell surface.
- SARS-CoV-2 has evolved multiple strategies to inhibit MHC I expression in infected cells, allowing the virus to establish a safe niche for prolonged replication and evade immune clearance.
- The Omicron subvariants of SARS-CoV-2 show a superior ability to suppress MHC I levels compared to other variants, indicating an enhanced capacity to evade recognition by CD8 T cells.
- The study suggests that the ability of SARS-CoV-2 to reduce MHC I expression remains unchanged throughout the evolution of variants of concern, indicating a redundant strategy for MHC I evasion.
- Inhibition of MHC I expression may impair both the recognition and killing of infected cells by CD8 T cells and the priming of T cell responses, potentially contributing to immune evasion by SARS-CoV-2.
- Further research is needed to understand the cellular mechanisms and consequences of enhanced MHC I inhibition by Omicron variants on infection and disease.
Magnetoresistance: one more thing graphene does differently
- Researchers in the U.K., led by Nobel laureate Andre Geim, have discovered that graphene displays an anomalous giant magnetoresistance (GMR) at room temperature, which could have potential applications in various fields such as computing, biosensors, automotive sensors, and medical imagers.
- Graphene-based devices do not need to be cooled to very low temperatures to sense magnetic fields, unlike conventional counterparts, due to the high magnetoresistance observed in graphene, which was found to be almost 100 times higher than that observed in other known semimetals in the same magnetic field range.
- The effect is attributed to the presence of a ‘neutral’ plasma consisting of equal numbers of thermally excited electrons and holes in graphene, which results in zero total charge and high electron mobility, allowing for high magnetoresistance at room temperature.
- The researchers used an “extremely clean” setup and graphene without defects to achieve these results, and the graphene-based GMR device showed robustness at high temperatures, making it potentially useful for applications that require magnetic-field sensing in extreme conditions.
- Graphene-based GMR devices cannot replace existing devices due to differences in resistivity evolution during the application and removal of magnetic fields, but they may find novel applications in specific conditions where high-temperature performance is desired.
- Further research is needed to explore the potential applications of graphene-based GMR devices and to better understand the underlying mechanisms of the observed anomalous magnetoresistance in graphene at room temperature.
Antiviral-resistant H1N1 spreads from wild ducks to chickens
- High usage of the antiviral drug oseltamivir during influenza seasons can result in the drug entering the water system and potentially driving antiviral resistance in avian influenza viruses.
- Avian influenza strains with oseltamivir resistance mutations can transmit from wild ducks to chickens and spread between chickens in experimental settings, indicating a potential risk for natural transmission.
- The oseltamivir-resistant virus strains can retain their resistance even in the absence of oseltamivir in the environment, indicating stable persistence of the resistance mutation.
- Limited interspecies transmission was observed between wild-type and oseltamivir-resistant virus strains, suggesting that the resistant strain does not face significant barriers to spreading between different bird species.
- This study highlights the importance of responsible use of oseltamivir and surveillance for the development of antiviral resistance, in order to mitigate the risk of an oseltamivir-resistant pandemic influenza virus strain.
Three dead as paramilitary and Army clash in Sudan
- Three civilians died in clashes between Sudanese paramilitaries and the regular Army, with reports of air strikes by the Army.
- Paramilitaries claimed control of the presidential palace and Khartoum airport, which was denied by the Army.
- Civilian leaders called for an immediate ceasefire to prevent Sudan from further collapsing.
- Tensions have been escalating between military leader Abdel Fattah al-Burhan and his deputy, paramilitary commander Mohamed Hamdan Daglo, over the integration of Daglo’s Rapid Support Forces (RSF) into the regular Army.
- The RSF, formed in 2013, has been accused of war crimes in the past.
- U.S. Secretary of State Antony Blinken expressed deep concern and called for an end to the violence.
Constitution Bench formed in same-sex marriage case
- The Supreme Court of India has formed a new Constitution Bench headed by Chief Justice D.Y. Chandrachud to hear petitions seeking legal recognition of same-sex marriages.
- The Associate Judges on the Bench are Justices Sanjay Kishan Kaul, S. Ravindra Bhat, Hima Kohli, and P.S. Narasimha.
- Justice Kaul, the senior-most judge after the Chief Justice, joining as an Associate Judge provides added significance to the hearing.
- The hearing is scheduled to begin from April 18 and is expected to be streamed live.
- The government has expressed concerns about the potential impact of same-sex unions on Indian social ethos and the psychological well-being of children.
- The Solicitor-General has highlighted that the court will be shouldering a heavy burden in deciding the case and its potential implications on society’s development.
PM’s meditation cave in Kedarnath pulls tourists after pandemic lull
- The Rudra meditation cave, located about 1 kilometer from Kedarnath in Uttarakhand, India, is fully booked for April, with 75% booking for May and 65% for June.
- The cave gained popularity after Prime Minister Narendra Modi spent 17 hours in it during his visit to Uttarakhand in 2019, during the final day of the Lok Sabha election.
- The cave offers a window to the spectacular Kedarnath valley and is one of three meditation caves or kutirs in the area.
- In 2019, the meditation caves were booked 103 times, but due to the onset of COVID-19, bookings dropped to 36 times in 2020 and had no takers during the 2021 yatra due to pandemic restrictions.
- In 2022, 64 people placed bookings for the meditation caves.
- The concept of the meditation cave was the brainchild of the Prime Minister himself, with the vision of providing pilgrims with a place to meditate in solitude during their visit to the shrine after its renovation post the 2013 cloudburst disaster.
- The Rudra meditation cave offers amenities such as a bed, bell, heater, geyser, and table with a lamp, with the main cave priced at ₹3,000 a night and the others at ₹1,500 plus GST.
Chinese dual use facilities in Myanmar and Sri Lanka raise security concerns in India
- Satellite images have shown the construction of a military facility on Coco Islands, located close to the Andaman and Nicobar island chain, with new hangars, a causeway, and an accommodation block visible.
- The facility on Coco Islands is being connected to the southern landmass with a new bridge, and there are concerns that it could be used by the Chinese military for surveillance and other purposes.
- China’s expanding ground stations in the region, including the proposed satellite receiving ground station system in Sri Lanka, could potentially intercept sensitive information about Indian assets, including satellite launch facilities and missile test ranges.
- Satellite tracking facilities are inherently dual-use in nature, and China’s civil space program is known to work closely with the Chinese military.
- The recent instance of a Chinese research and survey vessel docking at Hambantota in Sri Lanka raises concerns about coordination between ground stations and such vessels to gather vital information in the region.
- Space tracking and surveillance ships can perform similar functions as ground stations, with the added benefit of mobility, allowing for potential surveillance activities across the region.
- The construction of military facilities and satellite receiving ground stations with Chinese assistance raises concerns about possible surveillance activities by China, including interception of sensitive data and potential threats to India’s security interests in the region.
Families of fishermen jailed in India, Pakistan cry for help; 749 languish in prisons for years
- Fishing community outfits in India and Pakistan have urged the Prime Ministers of both countries to immediately release the 749 fishermen who are currently in prisons on both sides of the border for years.
- The community leaders have appealed for the release of these fishermen during the month of Ramzan as a humanitarian act.
- There are currently 666 Indian fishermen who are languishing in jails in Pakistan, with 559 from Gujarat, 46 from the Union Territory of Diu, 30 from Maharashtra, 23 from Uttar Pradesh, four from Bihar, and one from Goa.
- Similarly, there are 83 Pakistani fishermen in Indian jails, of which 50 have completed their sentences.
- The community leaders have emphasized that these fishermen are extremely poor and their families live in extreme poverty with no means of subsistence.
- Fishermen often cross the International Maritime Border in the Arabian Sea between India and Pakistan during fishing expeditions and are caught by the respective agencies, charged with violation of the Passport Act, and sentenced for a period of three to six months.
- The release of arrested fishermen and the reconstitution of the Joint Judicial Committee on prisoners have been highlighted as key issues by the community leaders.
- The community leaders have urged both Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi and his Pakistani counterpart Muhammad Shehbaz Sharif to release the fishermen unconditionally.
- There have been instances of Indian and Pakistani fishermen dying in each other’s jails, and the release of these fishermen is sought as a humanitarian gesture.
- The letters written to the Prime Ministers of both countries have signatories from various organizations, including the National Fishworkers Forum (India), South Asian Solidarity Conclave, Pakistan Fisherfolk Forum, and Pakistan India People’s Forum for Peace and Democracy.
Source: The Hindu Epaper
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