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January 02

    Improving Academic Excellence

    • Issues

    • Faculty hiring in Indian universities: In India,excellence is at best one of multiple criteria in faculty hiring. Extraneous considerations abound.These considerations define a large fraction of hiring across India, and often precede considerations of merit.

    • While academics freely criticise personality cults in the political sphere, they are happy to cultivate those of their own. Within an institution, the leader may provide partisan support for their own subject of expertise and restrain the progress of rivals.

    • In many Indian institutions, there is increasing democratic participation of junior academics in hiring and promotions. One hopes that this would propel excellence to the top of the desirable attributes. Unfortunately even in this set-up, research areas that are of global importance are often, out of sheer ignorance, treated with disdain. This is a key point. In the ethics of excellence, ignorance cannot be an excuse.

    • The atmosphere in which academics work has a profound impact on their achievements. Academic leaders need to offer support and mentorship but also impose a standard of excellence. Instead, too often, they veer to an extreme: either scattering resources indulgently or interfering in every minor matter. In the worst cases, they are vindictive towards those who show signs of exceptional achievement.

  • How top foreign universities handle the same situation?
  • • One is the rank and file of academia which tends to be more professional than ours. Personality cults are met with a sharp push back and conflicts of interest are openly challenged. Even when disputes take place, excellence does not take a back seat.

    • The other corrective comes from the top; institution leaders are evaluated by their funding and accreditation agencies, and made aware that their future leadership opportunities are diminished by every petty action and slipshod committee work. Ultimately, the system is accountable because it is committed to an ethical standard — the standard of excellence.

  • Way forward
  • • There must be a sincere and stated commitment to cultivating excellence as a goal.

    • An advertisement put out by Stanford University recently: “We seek exceptional individuals who can develop a world-class program of research, and have a strong commitment to teaching at both the graduate and undergraduate levels.” Loss of the candidate to a rival institution is considered a serious failure, as excellence is seen to be a precious commodity, with the heads of such institutions held accountable.This must be encouraged in Indian universities.

    Index of Eight Core Industries

    The Eight Core Industries comprise 40.27 per cent of the weight of items included in the Index of Industrial Production (IIP). The combined Index of Eight Core Industries stands at 123.9 in November, 2017, which was 6.8 per cent higher as compared to the index of November, 2016. Its cumulative growth during April to November, 2017-18 was 3.9 per cent.

    Coal

    Coal production (weight: 10.33 per cent) declined by 0.2 per cent in November, 2017 over November, 2016.

    Crude Oil

    Crude Oil production (weight: 8.98 per cent) increased by 0.2 per cent in November, 2017 over November, 2016.

    Natural Gas

    The Natural Gas production (weight: 6.88 per cent) increased by 2.4 per cent in November, 2017 over November, 2016.

    Refinery products

    Petroleum Refinery production (weight: 28.04 per cent) increased by 8.2 per cent in November, 2017 over November, 2016.

    Fertilizers

    Fertilizer production (weight: 2.63 per cent) increased by 0.3 per cent in November, 2017 over November, 2016.

    Steel

    Steel production (weight: 17.92 per cent) increased by 16.6 per cent in November, 2017 over November, 2016.

    Cement

    Cement production (weight: 5.37 per cent) increased by 17.3 per cent in November, 2017 over November, 2016.

    Electricity

    Electricity generation (weight: 19.85 per cent) increased by 1.9 per cent in November, 2017 over November, 2016.

    Prelims Facts

    The Index of Industrial Production (IIP) is an abstract number or ratio which measures the growth of various sectors in the economy. In India, IIP is a representative figure which measures the general level of Industrial activity in the country. Being an abstract number, it does not show volume of activity and only shows the magnitude which represents the status of production in the industrial sector for a given period of time as compared to a reference period of time.

    Percentage Weightage of Core Industries

    The eight Core Industries are Fertilizers, Electricity, Refinery Products, Natural Gas, Steel, Cement, Crude Oil and coal which comprises of 40.27% of IIP.

    On the basis of weightage, the arrangement of the core industries in decreasing order is as follows.

    Refinery Products > Electricity> Steel> Coal> Crude Oil> Natural Gas> Cement> Fertilizers

    Secularism in Indian Context

    • What is the issue?

    • Statements made by the Minister of State for Employment and Skill Development, Anantkumar Hegde,“Secular people,” he declared, “do not have an identity of their parental blood.” “We (the BJP),” he added, “are here to change the Constitution”.

    • The argument: ‘India has never been a secular state, that the Constitution, as it was originally adopted, did not contain the word “secular”, which was inserted into the Preamble only through the 42nd amendment.’ They also point to B.R. Ambedkar’s pointed rejection of proposals during the Constitution’s drafting to have the word “secular” included in the Preamble. The endeavour here is to steadily strike at the secular values that the Constitution espouses, to defeat it not so much from within, but first from outside.

  • What is secularism in indian context?
  • • Our Constitution doesn’t acquire its secular character merely from the words in the Preamble, but from a collective reading of many of its provisions, particularly the various fundamental rights that it guarantees.

    • Now, it is certainly true that the Constituent Assembly explicitly rejected a motion moved by Brajeshwar Prasad from Bihar to have the words “secular” and “socialist” included in the Preamble.The assembly virtually took for granted India’s secular status. To them, any republic that purports to grant equality before the law to all its citizens, that purports to recognise people’s rights to free speech, to a freedom of religion and conscience simply cannot be un-secular.

    • Two differing visions of secularism in Constituent assembly: one that called for a complete wall of separation between state and religion, and another that demanded that the state treat every religion with equal respect.Ultimately it was the latter vision that prevailed.

    • K.M Munshi: ““The non-establishment clause (of the U.S. Constitution) was inappropriate to Indian conditions and we had to evolve a characteristically Indian secularism… We are a people with deeply religious moorings. At the same time, we have a living tradition of religious tolerance — the results of the broad outlook of Hinduism that all religions lead to the same god… In view of this situation, our state could not possibly have a state religion, nor could a rigid line be drawn between the state and the church as in the U.S..”

    National

    • Exchange of list of prisoners between India and Pakistan.

    Agreement on Consular Access between India and Pakistan 2008 paved the way for this. Lists includes fishermen and civilians.

    This is a home secretory level talk which also had mentions about the terrorism and drug trafficking in the countries.

  • Enforcement Directorate has identified more shell companies.
  • Shell Company

    • A non-trading company used as a vehicle for various financial manoeuvres or kept dormant for future use in some other capacity.shell companies include multiple layers of companies that have been created for the purpose of diverting money or for money laundering.

    • There is no clear definition of what shell company is in the Companies Act, or any other Act. But typically shell companies include multiple layers of companies that have been created for the purpose of diverting money or for money laundering. Most shell companies do not manufacture any product or deal in any product or render any service. They are mostly used to make financial transactions. Generally, these companies hold assets only on paper and not in reality. These companies conduct almost no economic activity.

    Initiatives by the Government to curb the menace

    • on the request of SEBI, stock exchanges started to take actions against the suspected shell companies. Ministry of Corporate affairs cancelled the registration of the number of shell companies and the Ministry of Finance directed banks to restrict the transactions of the suspected companies.

  • National Register of Citizens.
  • The National Register of Citizens (NRC) contains names of Indian citizens. The NRC was prepared in 1951, after the Census of 1951. It was prepared by recording particulars of all the persons enumerated during that Census.

    • Assam has published the first draft of the NRC with 1.9 crore names against 3.29 crore applicants.

    • This process is strictly under the observation of Supreme court.

    Background

    • Assam was the only state prepared NRC in 1951 as they were suspicious of the Bangladeshi immigration. In that document there were 80 lakhs people. Recently supreme court ordered that the NRC should be updated as there are more than 30 lakhs suspected documents.

    • Agitations against the illegal immigrants had started in 1979 itself by the All Assam Students Union(AASU). It resulted into the signing of the Assam Accord in 1985.

  • Union extends the Nagaland’s position as a disturbed area for six more months
  • • Nagaland will continue as a “disturbed area” for 6 more months under AFSPA.

    • The AFSPA has been in force in Nagaland for several decades. It has not been withdrawn even after a framework agreement was signed on August 3, 2015, by Naga insurgent group NSCN-IM general secretary ThuingalengMuivah and the government’s interlocutor R N Ravi in presence of Prime Minister Narendra Modi.

    • Disturbed area

    • The government (either the state or centre) considers those areas to be ‘disturbed’ “by reason of differences or disputes between members of different religious, racial, language or regional groups or castes or communities.”

    • Section (3) of the AFSPA Act empowers the governor of the state or Union territory to issue an official notification on The Gazette of India, following which the centre has the authority to send in armed forces for civilian aid. It is still unclear whether the governor has to prompt the centre to send in the army or whether the centre on its own sends in troops.

    Once declared ‘disturbed’, the region has to maintain status quo for a minimum of three months, according to The Disturbed Areas (Special Courts) Act, 1976.

    • AFSPA

    • The Armed Forces (Special Powers) Act was enacted in 1958 to bring under control what the government of India considered ‘disturbed’ areas.

    • The Act has often faced flak from human rights groups as it gave sweeping powers and immunity to the army in conflict-ridden areas.

    International / World

    • U.S. has drastically cut aid to Pakistan

    News

    • U.S. President Donald Trump said on Monday the United States has “foolishly” handed Pakistan more than $33 billion in aid over the last 15 years while getting nothing in return, and pledged to put a stop to it.

    • A National Security Council official on Monday said the White House does not plan to send $255 million in aid to Pakistan “at this time” and said “the administration continues to review Pakistan’s level of cooperation.”

    • The U.S. has also made disbursement of Pentagon’s Coalition Support Funds (CSF) conditional.

    • CSF pertains to reimbursement to Pakistan for its logistical and operational support for U.S.-led military operations.

    Analysis

    • This move by US has the potential to deteriorate further, the weakening relationship with Pakistan.

    • The move will be watched with considerable interest by India, as India has been consistently raising the double take by Pakistan on terrorism in International forums.

    • Weakening cooperation with Pakistan can however cause problems in the US led efforts in Afghanistan.

  • Ancient jumping genes may give corals new lease of life
  • • Scientists have identified a gene that improves the heat tolerance of the algae that live symbiotically with coral species, and could potentially help the corals adapt to some warming.

    Symbiodinium is a unicellular algae that provides its coral host with photosynthetic products in return for nutrients and shelter.

    • However, high sea temperatures can cause the breakdown of this symbiotic relationship and lead to the widespread expulsion of Symbiodinium from host tissues, an event known as Coral Beaching. If bleached corals do not recover, they starve to death, leaving only their white, calcium-carbonate exoskeleton.

    • Now, researchers from King Abdullah University of Science and Technology (KAUST) in Saudi Arabia have identified special genes, called Retrotransposons, which could help the algae adapt more rapidly to heat stress.

  • What is coral bleaching?
  • When corals are stressed by changes in conditions such as temperature, light, or nutrients, they expel the symbiotic algae living in their tissues, causing them to turn completely white.

    Other Sources/Reference: NOAA (National Oceanic & Atmospheric Administration)