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

(By Ankita Punjani, Ayush Harlalka, and Divyansh Gupta)

Politics

India asks Pakistan high commission to cut staff strength by 50%
In a major downgrading of diplomatic ties, India on Tuesday asked Pakistan to reduce the staff in its high commission hereby half in the next seven days and announced a reciprocal trimming of staff strength in its high commission in Islamabad. The Ministry of External Affairs said the Charge d’Affaires of Pakistan High Commission was summoned and informed about the decision which was based on instances of involvement of Pakistani officials in “acts of espionage” and “dealings with terrorist organizations”. Read MoreThe activities of the two Pakistani mission officials caught red-handed and expelled on 31 May 2020 was one example in that regard, MEA said in a statement. In Islamabad, Pakistan Foreign Office issued a statement, which said, it rejected and condemned the allegations made by the Indian Ministry of External Affairs as a pretext to seek 50 percent reduction in the staff strength of its high commission in New Delhi. According to a mutual arrangement, the sanctioned staff strength of the Indian and Pakistani high commissions is 110 each. However, both high commissions are not operating at full strength currently. Officials said both sides will have to reduce staff strength by 40-45 people in view of India’s decision.

US Alleges Discrimination, Moves to Regulate Air India’s Vande Bharat Flights
The US Department of Transportation has barred Air India from operating chartered flights between India and the United States from July 22 without its prior approval, in apparent retaliation for the Indian government not allowing American carriers to operate between the two countries. Scheduled international passenger flights have been suspended in India since March 25 due to the coronavirus pandemic. Read MoreAir India started international chartered flights under Vande Bharat Mission from May 6 to help people stranded abroad to return home amid the pandemic. It has been operating chartered flights on Indo-US routes since May 18 where tickets on both the legs are sold. While tickets on the India-US leg are sold through Air India’s website to the public, the seats on the US-India leg have to be purchased after contacting the Indian Embassy in the US. The US Department of Transport said it appears that Air India may be using its passenger repatriation charters as a way of circumventing the Government of India-imposed prohibition of all scheduled international services. The Third Freedom rights under Chicago Convention rules allow an airline to operate flights from one’s own country to another country. The Fourth Freedom rights allow an airline to fly from another country to one’s own country.

India elected as a non-permanent member of UNSC
India was elected as a non-permanent member of the United Nations Security Council for a two year period beginning from January 2021. Along with India, Norway, Mexico, and Ireland also secured their position. A 2/3rd majority was required, where India garnered 184 votes from the 192 Member States present for voting. Read MoreIndia has now been elected eight times with the first time being as early as 1950-51 and the latest being recently in 2011-12. Russia, which is one among the five permanent members of the UNSC, has strongly endorsed the inclusion of India as a permanent member of the UN Security Council in the context of a reformed multilateral order after the virtual RIC meet held between Russia, India, and China. India has been pushing for reforms stating that the composition of the UNSC is not representative enough and does not reflect current realities.

China to join global arms trade treaty
The People’s Republic of China has decided to join the United Nations Arms Trade Treaty (UN-ATT) to enhance peace and stability in the world and support multilateralism. UN-ATT, which came into force on December 4, 2014, is a multilateral treaty designed to control the international trade and flow of weapons with an aim to promote international peace. Read MoreChina’s decision comes after US President Donald Trump decided to pull out of the agreement in 2019. Chinese foreign ministry spokesman Zhao Lijian said that China has always controlled the export of military products and such export is made only to sovereign countries. As of September 2019, 105 countries are part of the treaty that includes 50% of the world’s top 10 arms producers.


Society and Culture

Assam Government Sets up Six-Member Transgender Welfare Board
A six-member transgender welfare board has been set up by the Assam government and members from the state’s transgender community have now been incorporated into the welfare board. This was confirmed by a state government notification. The establishment of the state transgender welfare board has been a welcome change for the transgender community. With its creation, as per the All Assam Transgender Association (AATA), Assam is the seventh state in the country to have such a welfare board. Read MoreThe Assam state government in February approved a draft policy for the welfare of the state’s transgender community. This paved the way for the transgender welfare board. The setting up of the transgender welfare board, which will have quasi-judicial powers with the power to issue the summons, will now seek to end discrimination in the employment sector, end sexual harassment faced by members of the transgender community almost on a daily basis, and other issues that make the community vulnerable. The board will now aim at implementing schemes meant for the transgender community’s overall development. Swati Bidhan Baruah, a transgender activist who has been fighting for the state’s transgender community for the last few years, has been incorporated into the transgender social welfare board as an associate vice-chairperson.

Supreme Court Agrees to Allow Rath Yatra, But Only at Puri and With Restrictions
Four days after staying the historic Lord Jagannath Rath Yatra at Puri, the Supreme Court indicated it would allow the event, saying the court cannot “micro-manage” the rituals and left it to the state government, the Centre and the temple management to deal with that issue. Read MoreA bench headed by Chief Justice S.A. Bobde was informed by the Odisha government that it will coordinate with the temple management and the Centre to make things smooth during Rath Yatra, which is attended by lakhs to people from around the world, and ensure compliance with health guidelines in view of the coronavirus (COVID-19) pandemic. The top court said that it is considering the issue of conducting Rath Yatra in Puri only and not at other places in Odisha. Three heavily-built wooden chariots of Lord Jagannath, Lord Balabhadra and Devi Subhadra are traditionally pulled by thousands of devotees over a distance of three kilometers twice during the nine-day festival of the Trinity at Puri.

US suspended H-1, L-1 visas till year-end
US President Donald Trump has decided to execute an order to extend the suspension of H-1B, L1, and other work permits until December 31. Earlier in April, Trump announced the suspension of these permits for a two months period which will now be extended till year-end. This decision comes at a time when more than 20 million US workers lost their jobs in key industries to the novel coronavirus.Read More The US tech employers said that the decision would hurt innovation and delay economic recovery. H-1B visa allows employers to get foreign workers in specialty jobs that require technical expertise. Major tech giants like Google, Microsoft, and Indian IT companies like Wipro, TCS, and Infosys that hire from other countries are not happy with the decision.

Saudi cancels hajj pilgrimage
Saudi Arabia has announced to drastically reduce the number of pilgrims for Hajj to below 10,000 which last year drew close to 2.5 million pilgrims from all around the world. The country’s Hajj and Umrah Minister announced that no international pilgrims will be allowed for the annual Islamic pilgrimage to Mecca this year. Read MoreThe decision cams as a result of the ongoing coronavirus pandemic which is bound to affect several pilgrims if the annual pilgrimage goes on as usual. This will hit the country’s economy and people who had saved and planned for Hajj this year.  All the pilgrims this year will be from the kingdom itself but will include other nationalities as well. How the pilgrims will be chosen has not yet been revealed.

Science and Technology

LIGO & VIRGO detect a collision between a black hole and a mystery object
In the first, the LIGO and Virgo gravitational wave detectors have spotted a collision between a black hole (illustrated left) and a mystery object (right), which could be either the heaviest neutron star ever discovered or the lightest black hole. A new analysis of the gravitational waves emanating from the merger tells a different story. It shows that a black hole about 23 times as massive as the sun crashed into a compact object of about 2.6 solar masses. Black holes usually team up with partners of similar heft. Read MoreMost mergers detected by LIGO and Virgo have involved fairly equally matched black holes. However, the larger black hole implicated in this merger was about nine times as massive as its enigmatic counterpart, raising questions about what could have brought such a strange couple together. Unfortunately, this lone merger did not leave behind enough clues for astronomers to figure out the identity of the enigmatic 2.6-solar-mass object. After the U.S.-based Advanced Laser Interferometer Gravitational-Wave Observatory, or LIGO, and its sister experiment in Italy, Advanced Virgo, detected the merger, dozens of ground-based and space telescopes scoured the sky for light radiating from the crash site.

Astronomers detect regular rhythm of radio waves, with origins unknown
A team of astronomers, including researchers at MIT, has picked up on a curious, repeating rhythm of fast radio bursts emanating from an unknown source outside our galaxy, 500 million light-years away. This new FRB source, which the team has catalogued as FRB 180916.J0158+65, is the first to produce a periodic, or cyclical pattern of fast radio bursts. The pattern begins with a noisy, four-day window, during which the source emits random bursts of radio waves, followed by a 12-day period of radio silence. Read MoreThe astronomers observed that this 16-day pattern of fast radio bursts reoccurred consistently over 500 days of observations. From September 2018 to February 2020, CHIME picked out 38 fast radio bursts from a single source, FRB 180916.J0158+65, which the astronomers traced to a star-churning region on the outskirts of a massive spiral galaxy, 500 million light-years from Earth. The source is the most active FRB source that CHIME has yet detected, and until recently it was the closest FRB source to Earth. CHIME consists of four large antennas, each about the size and shape of a snowboarding half-pipe, and is designed with no moving parts. Rather than swiveling to focus on different parts of the sky, CHIME stares fixedly at the entire sky, using digital signal processing to pinpoint the region of space where incoming radio waves are originating. Since the first FRB was observed in 2007, astronomers have cataloged over 100 fast radio bursts from distant sources scattered across the universe, outside our own galaxy.

19% of the ocean floor mapped
In just 3 years from its launch in 2017, Nippon Foundation-GEBCO Seabed 2030 Project has mapped 1/5th of the ocean floor said Jamie McMichael-Phillips, the project director. When the project first began only 6% of the ocean floor was mapped. The figure now stands at 19%, up 4% from the previous year. Read MoreThe remaining 81% area, considered to be twice the size of Mars is planned to be mapped in the coming decade. The project helped by 133 contributors and partners is important for seafloor maps, navigation, fisheries management, underwater cables, and improving human understanding of the oceans. The project director has stressed on partnerships in order to complete the project successfully with support from governments, industries, academicians, philanthropists, and scientists.

India approves Fabiflu for mild patients
Glenmark Pharmaceuticals became the first Indian Pharma company to get regulatory approval for favipiravir for the treatment of mild to moderate COVID-19 patients. The antiviral drug favipiravir- under its brand name Fabiflu, can now be manufactured and marketed by Glenmark. The drug is set to be priced at Rs. 103 per tablet and can be consumed only after prescription. Read MoreClinical trials have shown improvements in up to 88% COVID-19 patients with a rapid reduction in viral within 4 days from the age group of 20 to 90. The dose is said to be 9 tablets twice a day on Day 1 and 4 tablets twice a day from Day 2-14. Favipiravir was initially approved for the treatment of Influenza in Japan. It is orally administered; hence it serves a more convenient way of treatment over other available medications.

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