The First Forum is an initiative which focuses on covering the latest happenings in a brief format. This is in lieu with the importance of knowledge about current happenings in this fast changing world.
In the Eighteenth Edition of The First Forum we would be covering the following:
1. Politics
2. Society and Culture 
3. Science and Technology

(By Shruti Jha, Nikunj Gulati, Kanika)


Taliban Afghan govt intakes on prisoner release to break the peace process logjam
The US and the Taliban had signed a pact on 29 February that would allow Washington to bring down its troops from the country. The release of Taliban prisoners was a key element of the February peace deal. US special envoy for Afghanistan Zalmay Khalilzad and Taliban technical talks on prisoner release via Skype video conferencing late Sunday to come to a decision soon amid the coronavirus pandemic. Read More“Everyone clearly understands the coronavirus threat makes prisoner release that much more urgent” Khalilzad said in a tweet. Prisoner release by both sides is an important step in the peace process as started in the US-Taliban agreement and critical for humanitarian reasons. President Ghani said that he was prepared to release only 1,500 Taliban prisoners at first and as the intra-Afghan talks progressed would release others – a proposal the Taliban rejected. Sunday’s talks were aimed at breaking this logjam.

Politicians hail Omar Abdullah’s release, demand freedom of other retainees
Several political parties in Jammu and Kashmir on Tuesday hailed the release of National Conference vice-president Omar Abdullah from over seven months detention after nullification of Art 370 and demanded the release of all detainees in the Union Territory. Read MoreWelcoming the release of its vice-president, Jammu and Kashmir National Conference also sought the release of all political detainees and others languishing in jails inside and outside J&K since the nullification of Article 370 and revocation of J&K special status. NC president Farooq Abdullah expressed happiness over the revocation of Omar’s PSA detention, but said total redemption of the situation was not possible until all political detainees were not released. Several other party leaders, including Members of Parliament, also welcomed the release of the party’s vice president. The leaders also asked for the immediate release of party general secretary Ali Mohammad Sagar who is also detained under PSA. The party has also demanded the release of all political leaders who are under house detention including NC’s Kashmir unit’s provincial president Nasir Aslam Wani, besides leaders Chowdhary Ramzaan, Mohammad Shafi Uri, A R Rather, Shameema Firdous and others.

US to cut $1 bn in aid to Afghanistan after Pompeo’s unannounced visit
With a crisis looming over the stability of the Afghan government threatening to derail a peace deal signed by the US and Taliban last month, the Donald Trump administration decided to slash assistance to Afghanistan. The administration decided to cut $1 bn in aid due to Afghanistan’s inability to form a government, reported the Washington Post. Read MoreAccording to Associated Press, the Trump administration threatened further reductions in all forms of cooperation after the country’s rival leaders failed to agree on forming a new government. The announcement came from Secretary of State Mike Pompeo on Monday after he made an unannounced visit to Kabul to meet with Ashraf Ghani and Abdullah Abdullah to resolve a clash between the two leaders. Each has declared himself president of the country after disputed elections last year. In an unusually harsh statement, Pompeo slammed the two men for being unable to work together and threatening a potential peace deal that could end America’s longest-running conflict.

Shivraj Singh Chouhan returns as Madhya Pradesh CM for the fourth time
Shivraj Singh Chouhan returned as Madhya Pradesh chief minister for the fourth time after the Bharatiya Janata Party’s (BJP) legislative party picked him for the top job in a meeting held in Bhopal on Monday. Chouhan was sworn in by governor Lalji Tandon in a simple ceremony at Raj Bhavan. Read MoreHe was the only leader to be administered the oath in view of the health protocols necessitated by the Coronavirus outbreak. “Rest of the things will take place later. Right now there is an emergency to fight Covid-19,” state BJP president Vishnu Dutt Sharma said. The legislative party meeting was held three days after the resignation of Congress chief minister Kamal Nath. Chouhan lost power to Nath in December 2018 after the BJP failed to return to power in the state for the fourth consecutive time.

India imposes lockdown on 1.3 bn people for 21 days
In an unprecedented measure, Prime Minister Narendra Modi on Tuesday announced a national lockdown for the next 21 days all across the country. Every state, district, and village across India will be under lockdown, Prime Minister Narendra Modi said during his second 8 pm address on the Covid-19 pandemic. Read MorePrime Minister Narendra Modi’s announcement came at a time when the number of positive Covid-19 cases are increasing across states. PM Modi, during his address, said that even developed nations are struggling to control the spread of the novel coronavirus and if the situation got out of hand, India would have to pay an unimaginable price. PM Modi announced that the national lockdown is going to last for the next 21 days. “If the situation is not controlled in 21 days, India could go 21 years behind,” PM Modi said.

Society and Culture

Ensure a supply of midday meals amid closure: SC
The Covid19 cases continue to increase in the country everyday as most states have temporarily shut down all educational institutions including Anganwadi to prevent the spread of the virus. The Supreme Court issued a notice to a state government and UT seeking their plans to ensure students get midday meals during the shutdown. Read MoreThe court also mentioned the example of Kerala Government which has taken action to ensure the midday meals are provided to the children at their homes in the wake of the temporary closure of schools. Students in the age group of 6 to 14 years in classes to 1 to 8 across the government schools are the beneficiaries of the scheme. The budget for the scheme for the year 2020-21 is Rs. 9,299.67 crore. The HRD Ministry set to ask all states to make arrangements of either delivering the food goods or cooked meals to the homes of the beneficiaries or depositing money on their parents account until such time as schools remain shut.

Alcohol poisoning kills Iranians seeking Virus protection
Iranians have died from alcohol poisoning in the Khuzestan and Alborz provinces of Iran in the mistaken belief that industrial-grade ethanol and methanol prevent infection from coronavirus. However, there is a ban on alcohol among Muslims citizens in Iran, some have poisoned by drinking industry alcohol sold in the market for sanitizing purposes. Read MoreIran has been hit hardest in the middle east by Covid19 and the health sector is already struggling to cope with the pandemic, with 17000 infected and more than 1100 have died. The report noted that nationwide over 1000 have been treated for alcohol poisoning related to ‘home remedy’ attempts to disinfect themselves. The treatment reportedly began as a rumour which authorities have been lately strived to combat. Meanwhile, “preventive measures by citizens to check the spread of coronavirus in the form by use of counterfeit alcohol has led to tragedy.

SC directs States, Union Territory do set up a panel to consider the release of prisoners on parole
The Apex Court said prisoners convicted of or charged with offences having prison terms up to seven years can be given parole to decongest the jails. A bench headed by Chief Justice S.A. Bobde said the high-level committees would work in consultation with the state level service authority for release of prisoners. Read MoreThe court made it clear that prisoners are being released in an attempt to avoid overcrowding as it is difficult for jail inmates to maintain social distancing to prevent the spread of coronavirus which has been declared as a pandemic by WHO. If preventive measures are not taken, the situation might worsen in India. Expressing the concern over the overcrowding of prisons, the top court had said that there are 1,339 prisons in the country housing approximately 4,66,089 inmates. And several prison staff enter the prisons regularly and so do visitors and lawyers and therefore, there is a high risk of transmission to the prison inmates.

Modi on Janta Curfew – the beginning of the long battle
During the global covid19 pandemic, India on Sunday practised social distancing on a never-before scale through a “Janta Curfew” that kept the country’s 1.3 billion population indoors all day as PM Narendra Modi’s call for social distancing to curb the spread of highly contagious coronavirus. Read MoreResponding to the call of PM Modi, citizens came out and clapped to show appreciation to the medical professionals combating the virus outbreak. The Health Ministry has thanked the people of the country for observing “Janta Curfew”. PM Narendra Modi thanked citizens for participating in Janta Curfew initiative to express gratitude towards people who are providing relentless service in a battle against corona, which has infected more than 400 people so far. He asked people not to consider a curfew as a success. This is the beginning of a long battle. He further asked people to follow the instructions being issued by the central and the state govt.

“Humanitarian Solidarity”: Even Under U.S. Sanctions, Cuba Sends Doctor Brigade to Italy and More
As Italy’s death toll soars past 6,000, Cuba has sent medical brigades to combat COVID-19. Cuba has also deployed doctors to Venezuela, Nicaragua, Jamaica, Suriname and Grenada. “The arrival of a medical brigade from Cuba to Italy is pretty historic. Read MoreYou have a leading European nation accepting support in the form of a medical team from a small Caribbean island,” says our guest, Peter Kornbluh, director of the Cuba Documentation Project at the National Security Archive at George Washington University. “It just goes to the history of Cuba’s deep and long-lasting commitment to humanitarian solidarity with other countries.” Kornbluh covers Cuba for The Nation magazine.

Science and Technology

Energy Industry Game-Changer: Using Rust and Organic Waste to Produce Hydrogen Fuel
In a recent narrative of climate change, pollution, and diminishing resources, one fuel could be a game-changer within the energy industry: hydrogen. When burned in a combustion engine or in an electrical power-plant, hydrogen fuel produces only water-making it far cleaner than our current fossil fuels. Although it is not widely used, there are two reasons for this. Read MoreFirst, hydrogen is highly flammable and leaks very easily from storage tanks, causing potential explosion hazards during storage and transport. Second, although pure hydrogen occurs naturally on Earth, it is not found in quantities sufficient for cost-effective utilization. Hydrogen atoms must be extracted from molecules like methane or water, which requires a large amount of energy. Although several techniques exist to produce hydrogen fuel, scientists are yet to make this process “efficient” enough to make hydrogen a commercially competitive fuel on the energy market. There have been many experiments lately using rust as a catalyst which gave surprising results. The results show that rust was 25 times more active than the titanium dioxide catalyst used in previous research, supporting stable hydrogen production for more than 400 hours which makes it a real game-changer.

Chemists Develop a Way to Measure How Old is a Fingerprint Found at a Crime Scene
While using a computer algorithm to objectively analyze the degradation and spread of fingerprint ridges over time, it was found out that the unsaturated fatty oils in a fingerprint were disappearing from measurements. Read MoreEventually, the research group found answers: As the unsaturated fats disappeared from the data, other compounds resulting from reactions with ozone started showing up leading to numerous trials and steps to confirm that ozone was causing the degradation of the unsaturated fats in fingerprints. Although, currently the technique can measure precisely to only days and also confirms that powder used to make fingerprint visible has no effect on the effectiveness of the technique. The researchers are also looking at how environmental factors such as humidity could affect reactions with ozone.

Using Fish Scales to Make Wearable Electronics More Sustainable
Flexible temporary electronic displays may one day make it possible to sport a glowing tattoo or check a reading, like that of a stopwatch, directly on the skin. In its current form, however, this technology generally depends on plastic. New research in ACS Nano describes a way to make these displays, which would likely be discarded after a single use, more environmentally friendly using a plentiful and biodegradable resource: fish scales. Read MoreWithin such displays, electricity-conducting and light-emitting components are layered onto a transparent film. To make them flexible enough to withstand the bending required to stay on skin or other soft surfaces, in an attempt to replace plastic researchers have settled on gelatin derived from collagen in fish scales, which are usually thrown away. In tests, they found the film had the attributes, including flexibility and transparency, needed for use in wearable devices. The film also appeared unlikely to linger in landfills: It dissolved within seconds in hot water and could then be recycled into a new film. When buried in soil, it degraded within 24 days. The team used the film to build a working alternating current electro luminescent device that continued to glow even after being bent and relaxed 1,000 times.

Space Foam Formed Inside Fluid Science Laboratory on the International Space Station
The Foam-Coarsening experiment, developed by Airbus for ESA, is set to be activated this month shows that the liquids held in cells are already bubbling as planned. The foams come in self-contained cells and hold liquids that are shaken by pistons and analyzed with laser optics and high-resolution cameras for the scientists on Earth. Read MoreResearchers are keen to observe how foams behave in microgravity. On Earth, the mixture of gas and liquid that makes up a foam quickly starts to change. Gravity pulls the liquid between the bubbles downwards, and small bubbles shrink while the larger ones tend to grow at the expense of others. As the liquid is drawn downwards due to gravity the bubbles lose their strength and rupture, collapsing back to a liquid state. This is annoying for researchers as it limits the time they can study foams and interferes with their experiments. But in space foams are more stable as the liquid does not drain to the bottom in weightlessness. After just ten seconds, the fluids stabilized more quickly and produced more foam than on Earth. Scientists discovered that it was possible to create super-stable foams in zero gravity.

New “Human Tissue Replacement” Created Using Nanostructured Rubber-Like Material
In the development of medical technology products, there is a great demand for new naturalistic materials suitable for integration with the body. Introducing materials into the body comes with many risks, such as serious infections, among other things. There is a need for new, more adaptable materials. The foundation of the material is the same as plexiglass, a material that is common in medical technology applications. Read MoreThrough redesigning its makeup, and through a process called nanostructuring, they gave the newly patented material a unique combination of properties. The material turned to be very soft, flexible and extremely elastic. The structure of the new nano-rubber material allows its surface to be treated so that it becomes antibacterial, in a natural, non-toxic way achieved by sticking antimicrobial peptides – small proteins that are part of our innate immune system on its surface. Because the new material can be injected and inserted via keyhole surgery, it can also help reduce the need for drastic surgery and operations to rebuild parts of the body and also the material can also be 3D printed into specific structures as required. A further advantage of the material is that it contains three-dimensionally ordered nanopores. This means it can be loaded with medicine, for various therapeutic purposes such as improving healing and reducing inflammation.

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