Current Affair – June 7, 2021

Ciber 2 – Counting the number of stars

  • On June 6, a NASA-funded rocket’s launch window opened at the White Sands Missile Range in New Mexico, USA.
  • The aim of this mission is to count the number of stars that exist in the Universe.

· While this is not the first time that such a mission has been undertaken, the CIBER-2 instrument has been improved upon to see if any stars had been undercounted in the previous counting attempts.

Count of stars till now

  • In order to roughly estimate the number of stars in the Universe, scientists have estimated that on average each galaxy consists of about 100 million stars, but this figure is not exact. The figure of 100 million could easily be an underestimation.
  • To put this into perspective, an average of 100 million stars in each galaxy (there an estimated 2 trillion of them as per NASA), would give a total figure of one hundred quintillion stars or 1 with 21 zeroes after it. NASA notes that if this figure is accurate it would mean that for every grain of sand on Earth, there are more than ten stars.

· But this calculation assumes that all stars are inside galaxies, which might not be true and this is what the CIBER- 2 instrument will try to find out.

About CIBER-2

  • This instrument will launch aboard a sounding rocket, a small suborbital rocket that will carry scientific instruments on brief trips into space before it falls back to Earth for recovery.
  • Once the instrument is above Earth’s atmosphere, it will survey a patch of sky that will include dozens of clusters of galaxies. It will not actually count individual stars but it will instead detect the extragalactic background light, which is all of the light that has been emitted throughout the history of the Universe.
  • From all of this extragalactic background light, the CIBER-2 will focus on a portion of this called cosmic infrared background, which is emitted by some of the most common stars. Essentially, this approach is aiming to look at how bright this light is to give scientists an estimate of how many of these stars are out there.
  • The European Space Agency infrared space observatory Herschel also counted the number of galaxies in infrared and measured their luminosity previously.
Source: Indian Express

Indemnity Clause

The Union government is in talks with foreign manufacturers of COVID19 vaccines on their demand for indemnity from liability as a condition for selling their vaccines to the country.

What is indemnity?

  • Indemnity is a form of contract.

· The law on drugs in India does not have a provision for indemnity related to the grant of approval for any new drug or vaccine in the country.

  • If at all any indemnity is to be granted to any company for a particular drug or vaccine, it can only be in the form of an indemnity bond executed on behalf of the government of India, or a clause or set of clauses in any contract that the government may sign with the supplier. There appears to be no precedent for any company getting such indemnity in India for any drug.
  • Section 124 of the Indian Contract Act, 1872, defines a contract of indemnity as one by which one party promises to save the other from any loss caused to the latter.


Once the government of India grants such indemnity to the vaccine manufacturer or importer, it would mean that if a particular vaccine is perceived to have caused death or any lasting damage to a recipient, any claim of compensation arising from it will have to be met by the government, and not by the company. In the event of a court ordering payment, the company will be in a position to recover the amount from the government.

What does India gain by giving indemnity?

  • In the absence of indemnity, overseas manufacturers may load the risk onto the price of the vaccines, making each dose more expensive. By indemnifying the companies in respect of these vaccines, the government of India may be able to negotiate lower prices and higher volumes.
  • On the flip side, the government may be forced to make it a level playing field for local manufacturers, too, by extending indemnity to them, and thereby inviting upon itself the entire risk associated with more than a billion vaccine shots.
Source: The Hindu

US tariff against digital service tax

  • Recently, United States announced and then immediately suspended a 25% tariff on $2 billion of imports from six countries, as a retaliatory measure against each of these countries’ imposition of a digital services tax.
  • Other than India, the countries slapped with this tariff proposal are Austria, Italy, Spain, Turkey, and the United Kingdom.

Basis of U.S.’s action

A “Section 301” investigation initiated by the Trump administration in June 2020 found digital services taxes imposed by each of these countries to be discriminatory against U.S. tech firms.

Significance of Section 301

  • Under Section 301 of the Trade Act of 1974, the USTR enjoys a range of responsibilities and authority to investigate and take action to enforce U.S. national interests under trade agreements and respond to certain foreign trade practices.
  • Trump administration trained its Section 301 guns on China, leading to an escalating tariff war.

Impact on India

  • The Finance Bill, 2021, introduced an amendment imposing a 2% digital service tax on trade and services by non- resident e-commerce operators with a turnover of over ₹2 crore.
  • Scaling back of this tax would imply that a part of the revenue would be lost to the exchequer, depending on the final rate agreed.
  • On the other hand, close to $118 million of India’s exports to the U.S. would be subject to the tariff proposed by the USTR, impacting 26 categories of goods, including basmati rice, cigarette paper, cultured pearls, semi precious stones, certain gold and silver jewellery items and specific types of furniture products.
  • India would seek to avoid getting into any escalating matrix of retaliatory taxation with the U.S., as that would damage its growth prospects. However, it will also not be able to simply abandon its articulated intent to tax global tech firms, which have generally enjoyed low tax operations across numerous jurisdictions.
Source: The Hindu

Avian flu

China has confirmed the first instance of human infection from H10N3, a rare strain of a virus that normally infects poultry.

What is avian influenza?

  • H5N1 is the most common virus causing bird flu, or avian influenza. Though largely restricted to birds, and often fatal to them, it can cross over to other animals, as well as humans.
  • According to the WHO, the H5N1 was first discovered in humans in 1997 and has killed almost 60% of those infected. Though it is not known to transmit easily among humans, the risk remains.
  • There are several subtypes of the avian influenza virus. Since 2003, these avian and other influenza viruses have spread from Asia to Europe and Africa.
  • The U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention says, “All known subtypes of influenza A viruses can infect birds, except subtypes H17N10 and H18N11, which have only been found in bats.
  • Only two influenza A virus subtypes (i.e., H1N1, and H3N2) are currently in general circulation among people. Some subtypes are found in other infected animal species. For example, H7N7 and H3N8 virus infections can cause illness in horses, and H3N8 virus infection cause illness in horses and dogs.
Source: The Hindu

Performance Grading Index

  • Education Ministry has released PGI for the year 2019-20. This is the third edition of the index.
  • The index monitors the progress that the States and Union Territories have made in school education with regard to

learning outcomes, access and equity, infrastructure and facilities, and governance and management processes.

  • It uses 70 indicators to measure progress. Of these, the 16 indicators related to learning out comes remain unchanged through all three editions, as they are based on data from the 2017 National Achievement Survey, which tested students in Classes 3, 5,8and10.
  • The next NAS was scheduled to be held in 2020, but was postponed because of the pandemic. The remaining 54 param- eters use Central databases, collating information from the school and district level, and have been updated for 2019-20.

States Performance

  • Punjab, Tamil Nadu and Kerala have all scored higher than 90% in the Index.
  • Gujarat dropped from 2nd to 8th rank in the index. Madhya Pradesh and Chhattisgarh are the only States which have seen actual regression in scores over this period.
  • Punjab recorded the highest score of almost 929 out of a possible 1,000, showing a huge jump from 769 last year. It topped the charts in terms of equity, infrastructure and governance, and shared the top spot in the domain of access with Kerala.
  • Tamil Nadu also overtook Kerala, with a score of 906.
  • Gujarat, which had the 2nd highest score in the previous edition, dropped to 8th place. It regressed in the key domain of access, which measures enrolment of students in school and the ability to keep them from dropping out as well as mainstreaming out of school students. Its progress in other areas also did not keep pace with other States.
  • Madhya Pradesh and Chhattisgarh saw a glaring drop in their scores, pushing both States to an overall performance that was worse than in the previous edition.
  • The new Union Territory of Ladakh was included separately for the first time in this edition, and had the lowest score of just 545.
Source: The Hindu

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