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 Twenty Sixth Edition of The First Forum we would be covering the following topics:
1. Politics
2. Society and Culture 
3. Science and Technology

(By Shruti Jha, Nikunj Gulati, Kanika)

Politics

Chandrababu Naidu objects to AP government move to hold local body polls
Andhra Pradesh CM YS Jaganmohan Reddy’s decision to remove the State Election Commission Ramesh Kumar as he refused to hold elections at a time like this. Therefore, Ramesh Kumar has been replaced by former Justice V.Kanagaraj of Madras High court as the new SEC who is determined to hold the polls soonest. Read MoreMeanwhile, he has also gone to the High Court challenging his unceremonial removal. Telugu Desam Party president N.Chandrababu Naidu raised an objection to Andhra Pradesh CM for holding a meeting with officials to discuss the fresh schedule for elections amid the COVID-19 crisis. Naidu asked if it was a “joke” that at a time when the entire world is focused on fighting with the coronavirus pandemic, the ruling party is planning to hold elections. The state government was considering taking South Korea as an example where the elections were held despite the epidemic threat.

White House defends Ivanka Trump’s personal travel amid lockdown
The White House has defended senior adviser Ivanka Trump and her family’s visit to New Jersey to celebrate Jewish pilgrimage festival Passover even as federal guidelines advise Americans to remain at home. According to current federal coronavirus guidelines, people should avoid discretionary travel, shopping trips and social visits. Read MoreDefending Ivanka’s travel, the White House said that her travel was not commercial and she chose to spend a holiday in private with her family. Further White House added that the “travel was no different than had she had been travelling to/from work”, and ” the location was less populated than the surrounding area near her home” in Washington. Philip Rucker, the White House bureau chief for The Washington Post tweeted, “federal guidelines against discretionary travel and DC’s stay at home order apparently don’t apply if you’re Ivanka Trump or Jared Kushner”.

Doordarshan is not a private property of BJP: CPI(M)
Public Broadcaster Doordarshan has been broadcasting reports showing people across the country thanking PM Narendra Modi and stating how they have benefited from different schemes of the government. CPI(M) General Secretary Sitaram Yechury lashed out at the broadcaster Doordarshan. He said the broadcaster is not “the private property of the BJP” doing their “Public Relations”. Read MoreHe also alleged the government has “all along benefitting rich cronies” at a time of crisis posed by the novel coronavirus pandemic. Yechury tweeted, “The public broadcaster runs on public money and is meant to perform public service. It is not the private property of the BJP or Modi, where it does their PR. Those in charge must be held accountable for this deliberate distortion in the critical times of a public health emergency”.

Rahul Gandhi thanks the government for amending FDI policy
Rahul Gandhi thanked the Central Government for taking note of his warning and amending Foreign Direct Investment policy to check opportunistic takeovers of Indian companies amid the coronavirus pandemic. His warning regarding FDI at this time of crisis came on a day when the People’s Bank of China purchased a stake in mortgage lending major Housing Development Finance Corporation (HDFC). Read MoreThe Commerce and Industry Ministry said that government approval is mandatory for FDI from countries that share a border with India. The revised FDI rule seeks to curb opportunistic takeover of Indian companies due to the COVID-19 pandemic.

Trump warns China could face ‘consequences’ over pandemic
President of the U.S. Donald Trump has warned the Chinese government that it’ll face grave consequences if it was ” knowingly responsible” for the coronavirus pandemic that has killed hundreds of thousands of people worldwide. He also said it doesn’t rule out that novel coronavirus was spread accidentally from laboratory researching bats in Wuhan but has admitted that China would suffer consequences if the US finds out that China deliberately released the virus. Read MoreHe also casts disbelief on official Chinese figures showing the country has suffered just 0.33 deaths per 100,000 people. The number is impossible, he said. The chart showed the U.S. had 11.24 deaths per 100,000 people while France had 27.92 and Spain 42.81. They said they’re doing an investigation,” the president continued. “So, let’s see what happens with their investigation. But we’re doing investigations also.”

Protesters demand an end to lockdown across the United States
Protesters gathered in several states across the country to demand an end to stay at home orders that were put in place to stop the spread of the coronavirus, a day after the President posted a series of tweets calling for demonstrators to ‘liberate’ certain states. Many of the protesters broke social distancing rules and carried signs that had phrases like, “This is tyranny, not quarantine” and “shut down the shutdown”. Read MoreMany of those wearing Donald Trump hats and shirts but not protective face masks, gathered in Texas capital Austin chanting “USA! The USA!” and “let us work” because many seem concerned with their inability to work due to business closures, a worry spreading across the country as unemployment claims rose to 22 million in one month.


Society and Culture

ICMR asked states to pause rapid tests
The Indian Council of Medical Research (ICMR) asked states to stop using the newly distributed Chinese rapid testing kits to detect coronavirus for the next two days after a huge variation in the accuracy of results were noticed. India procured five lakh rapid antibody testing kits from China last week and they were distributed to States for the districts with a huge burden of the infection. Read MoreRapid testing kits take roughly 15 minutes to deliver results, compared to the currently used RT-PCR tests which are conducted in the laboratory and take 6 hours. Rajasthan is the first state in the country to conduct rapid tests for COVID-19 and has decided to stop using the kit any further as it delivered only 5.4 per cent accurate results against the expectation of 90 per cent accuracy.

Maharashtra CM seeks guidelines from the centre on migrant workers
Maharashtra CM Uddhav Thackeray has demanded that the Centre issues guidelines by this month-end on sending the migrant workers to their native places in the wake of the coronavirus enforced lockdown. In a video conference with a central government, Thackeray said his government has opened shelter camps for over six lakh migrant labourers and they are being looked after well. Read MoreBut these people want to go to their native places and are also protesting some time. He further said that if the central government feels the coronavirus spread will be more from April 30 till May 15,  it should consider if the stranded labourers can be sent back to their homes before that. If it is possible, guidelines in this regard should be issued.

The government must deposit money in the bank account of the poor, revive MSME sector
The Congress panel has discussed the significant issues such as the revival of the MSME sector, smooth crop procurement and migrant issues amid the nationwide lockdown due to COVID-19. It will soon prepare a detailed plan for revival of Micro Small and Medium Enterprises (MSME) and will put it before the central government. Read MoreCongress stressed that priority should be given to the MSME sector because it’s social and economic importance as it is one of the largest job providers in the country after agriculture. It also urged the government to submit through direct benefit transfers of Rs.7,500 in all Jan Dhan accounts, all pension accounts and those under PM Kisan Scheme.

Doctors call off protest after Amit Shah assures security against attacks over COVID-19
The Indian Medical Association (IMA) has withdrawn its protest after Amit Shah assured the doctors of all help and security. IMA has threatened that they will observe a ‘Black day’ if no action is taken by the government as protesting doctors demanded an urgent law to protect the medical professional that is risking their lives to battle the coronavirus but are also facing attacks. Read MoreTherefore the government has brought in an ordinance to amend the epidemic disease Act making attacks on doctors, paramedic staff and ASHA workers a non-bailable offence under IPC punishable up to seven years in prison and fine up to 5 lakh. A statement issued by IMA that considering the immediate high-level response by the government and solid assurance by the Home Minister, it has withdrawn the protest to maintain the unity and integrity of our country.

Communal politics is played on the Palghar lynching incident
The Criminal Investigation Department of the Maharashtra police took over the investigation of the lynching of three men in Palghar district. Maharashtra Home Minister Anil Deshmukh shared the list of 101 people taken into custody in connection with the lynching and said none of those arrested was Muslim. Read MoreMoreover, he accused the opposition of giving communal colour to the incident. He said such politics is being played at a time when the entire state is engaged in the battle against coronavirus. This is not the right time to play politics and urged all to engage in collective efforts to defeat the pandemic. Maharashtra CM had accused people there was no communal angle in the incident and said that all accused in the Palghar lynching case will be brought to justice.

Science and Technology

Gas storage method could help next-generation clean energy vehicles
A research team led by Northwestern University has designed and synthesized new materials with ultra-high porosity and surface area for the storage of hydrogen and methane for fuel cell-powered vehicles. These gases are attractive clean energy alternatives to carbon dioxide-producing fossil fuels. The designer materials, a type of a metal-organic framework (MOF), can store significantly more hydrogen and methane than conventional adsorbent materials at much safer pressures and at much lower costs. Read MoreAdsorbents are porous solids that bind liquid or gaseous molecules to their surface. Thanks to its nanoscopic pores, a one-gram sample of the Northwestern material (with a volume of six M&Ms) has a surface area that would cover 1.3 football fields. The new materials also could be a breakthrough for the gas storage industry at large because many industries and applications require the use of compressed gases such as oxygen, hydrogen, methane, and others. Hydrogen and methane-powered vehicles currently require high-pressure compression to operate. The pressure of a hydrogen tank is 300 times greater than the pressure in car tires. Developing new adsorbent materials that can store hydrogen and methane gas onboard vehicles at much lower pressures solving a major problem.

Micro-device to detect bacteria, viruses; next-generation miniature lab device
Engineering researchers developed a next-generation miniature lab device that uses magnetic nano-beads to isolate minute bacterial particles that cause diseases. Using this new technology improves how clinicians isolate drug-resistant strains of bacterial infections and difficult-to-detect micro-particles such as those making up Ebola and coronaviruses. Read MoreThe lab team is interested in the detection of bacterial infection, especially in bodily fluids. One of the major problems for detection is how to better isolate higher concentrations of pathogens. The device is a sophisticated lab environment that can be used in field hospitals or clinics and should be much faster at collecting and analyzing specimens than the commercially available membrane filters. Its wide, shallow channels trap small bacteria molecules that are attracted to packed, magnetic microparticles. We can bring this portable device to a lake that has been contaminated by E. coli. It will be possible to take a few milliliters of the water sample and run it through the device so the bacteria can be trapped and concentrated. We can either quickly detect these bacteria in the device or release them into certain chemicals to analyze them. The goal was not only isolating and detecting bacteria in water and human plasma but also working with whole blood samples to understand and detect blood infections such as sepsis.

Seeing ‘under the hood’ in batteries with high-sensitivity X-ray technique
From next-gen smartphones to longer-range electric cars and an improved power grid, better batteries are driving tech innovation. And to push batteries beyond their present-day performance, researchers want to see “under the hood” to learn how the individual ingredients of battery materials behave beneath the surface. Read MoreThe technique being used for battery research, known as high-efficiency mRIXS (mapping of RIXS), has attracted particular interest from researchers studying designs for electrodes, which are the battery components through which current passes into and out of the battery. Previously, RIXS was known primarily as a tool for exploring fundamental physics in materials. During a battery’s operation, the oxygen atom in a battery electrode can be reduced (gaining electrons) and oxidized (losing electrons), which is known as an “oxygen redox” reaction. Such a change in oxygen states has been found to hamper battery performance in studies of so-called lithium-rich electrodes, which potentially offer more lithium storage and thus higher capacity.

Researchers challenge the accuracy of methods that analyze trees of life
While paleontological evidence provides insights on how and why patterns of biodiversity have changed over geological time, fossil finds for many types of organisms are too scant to say anything. An alternative approach relies on using identifiable changes in an organism’s genetic makeup, but the signal in this type of data can be misleading. This finding casts serious doubts over thousands of studies that use phylogenetic trees of extant data to reconstruct the diversification history of taxa, especially for those taxa where fossils are rare, or that found correlations between environmental factors such as changing global temperatures and species extinction rates. Read MoreIn their paper, the researchers note that long-used methods extract information about evolution from still-living organisms, using variants of a mathematical birth-death process. These, however, cannot possibly extract information about both speciation and extinction rates, especially for a majority of taxa, such as bacteria, that have left no fossil record. The paleontological approach estimates the number of species that have appeared and disappeared in various intervals based on discovered fossils and their estimated minimum and maximum ages. In the phylogenetic approach, information is extracted from evolutionary relationships between existing species, using mostly genetic data, and structured in phylogenetic trees known as time trees. The new mathematically driven approach clarifies precisely what information can be extracted from extant time trees under the generalized birth-death model. The researchers introduce new identifiable and easily interpretable variables that contain all available information about past diversification dynamics and how they can be estimated.

A climate-driven megadrought is emerging in the western US, says study
With the western United States and northern Mexico suffering an ever-lengthening string of dry years starting in 2000, scientists have been warning for some time that climate change may be pushing the region toward an extreme long-term drought worse than any in recorded history. A new study says the time has arrived: a megadrought as bad or worse than anything even from known prehistory is very likely in progress, and a warming climate is playing a key role. Read MoreObservators are no longer looking at projections, but at where we are now. We now have enough observations of current drought and tree-ring records of past drought to say that we’re on the same trajectory as the worst prehistoric droughts. The new study is the most up-to-date and comprehensive long-term analysis. It covers an area stretching across nine U.S. states from Oregon and Montana down through California and New Mexico, and part of northern Mexico. The researchers say that rising temperatures are responsible for about half the pace and severity of the current drought. If this overall warming were subtracted from the equation, the current drought would rank as the 11th worst detected — bad, but nowhere near what it has developed into. Since temperatures are projected to keep rising, it is likely the drought will continue for the foreseeable future; or fade briefly only to return, say the researchers.

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