Current Affairs 17 November
Maternity Benefit ActIn a bid to encourage employers, especially in the private sector, to implement the extended 26-week maternity leave law, the Labour Ministry is planning to refund them for seven weeks’ worth of wages for women workers with a wage ceiling up to ₹ 15,000 per month. The Ministry is in the process of getting budgetary approvals for the ₹400 crore incentive scheme.
Need for incentives:
In March 2017, the Centre amended the Maternity Benefit Act to increase paid maternity leave from 12 to 26 weeks for all women employees in establishments employing ten or more people. However, while implementation of the provision was good in the public sector, it was poor for those with private sector or contract jobs.
There is also a wide perception that private entities are not encouraging women employees because if they are employed, they may have to provide maternity benefit to them, particularly 26 weeks of paid holiday. Therefore, the extended maternity leave has become a deterrent for female employees who are asked to quit or retrenched on flimsy grounds before they go on maternity leave.
The Maternity Benefit Act:
The Maternity Benefit Act, 1961, applies to establishments employing 10 or more than 10 persons in factories, mines, plantation, shops & establishments and other entities.
The main purpose of this Act is to regulate the employment of women in certain establishments for certain period before and after child birth and to provide maternity benefit and certain other benefits. The Act was amended through the Maternity Benefit (Amendment) Act, 2017.
The amendment has brought in major changes to the law relating to maternity benefits. These are:
It extends the period of maternity benefit from 12 weeks to 26 weeks of which not more than eight weeks can precede the date of the expected delivery. This exceeds the International Labour Organisation’s minimum standard of 14 weeks and is a positive development. However, a woman who has two or more surviving children will be entitled to 12 weeks of which not more than six weeks can precede the date of the expected delivery.
Women who legally adopt a child below the age of three months or a “commissioning mother” will be entitled to maternity benefit for 12 weeks from the date on which the child is handed over to her. A commissioning mother is defined as a biological mother who uses her egg to create an embryo implanted in another woman.
It gives discretion to employers to allow women to work from home after the period of maternity benefit on mutually agreeable conditions. This would apply if the nature of work assigned to the woman permits her to work from home
It requires establishments having 50 or more employees to have a crèche facility, either separately or along with common facilities. Further, employers should allow the woman to visit the crèche four times a day, which “shall also include the interval for rest allowed to her.”
It introduces a provision which requires every establishment to intimate a woman at the time of her appointment of the maternity benefits available to her. Such communication must be in writing and electronically.
What to study?
For Prelims: Maternity Benefit Act- key features.
For Mains: Significance of the act and challenges in its implementation, what needs to be done?
How the Antarctic Circumpolar Current helps keep Antarctica frozen?The Antarctic Circumpolar Current, or ACC is changing as the world’s climate warms. Scientists are studying the current to find out how it might affect the future of Antarctica’s ice sheets, and the world’s sea levels.
The Antarctic Circumpolar Current, or ACC, is the strongest ocean current on our planet. It extends from the sea surface to the bottom of the ocean, and encircles Antarctica. It is vital for Earth’s health because it keeps Antarctica cool and frozen.
The ACC carries an estimated 165 million to 182 million cubic metres of water every second (a unit also called a “Sverdrup”) from west to east, more than 100 times the flow of all the rivers on Earth. It provides the main connection between the Indian, Pacific and Atlantic Oceans.
The tightest geographical constriction through which the current flows is Drake Passage, where only 800 km separates South America from Antarctica. While elsewhere the ACC appears to have a broad domain, it must also navigate steep undersea mountains that constrain its path and steer it north and south across the Southern Ocean.
What is the Antarctic Circumpolar Current?
Antarctica is a frozen continent surrounded by icy waters. Moving northward, away from Antarctica, the water temperatures rise slowly at first and then rapidly across a sharp gradient. It is the ACC that maintains this boundary.
The ACC is created by the combined effects of strong westerly winds across the Southern Ocean, and the big change in surface temperatures between the Equator and the poles.
Ocean density increases as water gets colder and as it gets more salty. The warm, salty surface waters of the subtropics are much lighter than the cold, fresher waters close to Antarctica. The depth of constant density levels slopes up towards Antarctica. The westerly winds make this slope steeper, and the ACC rides eastward along it, faster where the slope is steeper, and weaker where it’s flatter.
Fronts and bottom water:
In the ACC there are sharp changes in water density known as fronts. The Subantarctic Front to the north and Polar Front further south are the two main fronts of the ACC (the black lines in the images). Both are known to split into two or three branches in some parts of the Southern Ocean, and merge together in other parts. Scientists can figure out the density and speed of the current by measuring the ocean’s height, using altimeters.
The path of the ACC is a meandering one, because of the steering effect of the sea floor, and also because of instabilities in the current. The ACC also plays a part in the meridional (or global) overturning circulation, which brings deep waters formed in the North Atlantic southward into the Southern Ocean. Once there it becomes known as Circumpolar Deep Water, and is carried around Antarctica by the ACC. It slowly rises toward the surface south of the Polar Front.
Once it surfaces, some of the water flows northward again and sinks north of the Subarctic Front. The remaining part flows toward Antarctica where it is transformed into the densest water in the ocean, sinking to the sea floor and flowing northward in the abyss as Antarctic Bottom Water. These pathways are the main way that the oceans absorb heat and carbon dioxide and sequester it in the deep ocean.
The ACC is not immune to climate change. The Southern Ocean has warmed and freshened in the upper 2,000 m. Rapid warming and freshening has also been found in the Antarctic Bottom Water, the deepest layer of the ocean.
Waters south of the Polar Front are becoming fresher due to increased rainfall there, and waters to the north of the Polar Front are becoming saltier due to increased evaporation. These changes are caused by human activity, primarily through adding greenhouse gases to the atmosphere, and depletion of the ozone layer. The ozone hole is now recovering but greenhouse gases continue to rise globally.
Winds have strengthened by about 40% over the Southern Ocean over the past 40 years. Surprisingly, this has not translated into an increase in the strength of the ACC. Instead there has been an increase in eddies that move heat towards the pole, particularly in hotspots such as Drake Passage, Kerguelen Plateau, and between Tasmania and New Zealand.
Scientists have observed much change already. The question now is how this increased transfer of heat across the ACC will impact the stability of the Antarctic ice sheet, and consequently the rate of global sea-level rise.
For the first time in more than two years, the OSIRIS-REx spacecraft has unfurled its robotic arm and put it through a series of maneuvers to ensure its space-worthiness after being packed away for launch and a long flight to the asteroid Bennu.
What to study?
For Prelims: About Ramayan Circuit and Swadesh Darshan scheme.
For Mains: Significance of the circuit and the scheme.
Context: The Shri Ramayana Express, a special tourist train to run on the Ramayana circuit to cover major spots related to the Hindu epic was recently flagged off from Safdarjung Railway Station in Delhi. The train will complete its journey till Rameswaram in Tamil Nadu, in 16 days covering all important destinations associated with the life of Lord Ram.
All you need to know about Ramayan Circuit:
Ramayana Circuit is one of the fifteen thematic circuits identified for development under Swadesh Darshan scheme of Ministry of Tourism. Sitamarhi, Buxar, Darbhanga in Bihar are among the fifteen sites identified initially for development under this circuit in the country.
The destinations are chosen according to the places where Lord Ram is believed to have travelled across India.
The 15 destinations are — Ayodhya, Shringverpur and Chitrakoot in Uttar Pradesh, Sitamarhi, Buxar and Darbhanga in Bihar, Chitrakoot in Madhya Pradesh, Nandigram in West Bengal, Mahendragiri in Odisha, Jagdalpur in Chhattisgarh, Bhadrachalam in Telangana, Rameshwaram in Tamil Nadu, Hampi in Karnataka and Nashik and Nagpur in Maharashtra.
This arm and its sampler head, known as the Touch-and-Go Sample Acquisition Mechanism or TAGSAM, is critical to the mission’s goal of retrieving at least 60 grams of material from the surface of Bennu and returning this sample to Earth by 2023. The collection device will act something like a reverse vacuum cleaner.
The launch of the NASA OSIRIS-REx mission took place on September 8, 2016. Since then, the spacecraft has been two years travelling through space to reach its target, primitive asteroid Bennu, in October, 2018.
About the mission:
OSIRIS-Rex stands for Origins, Spectral Interpretation, Resource Identification, Security-Regolith Explorer.
OSIRIS-REx is the third mission in NASA’s New Frontiers program, which previously sent the New Horizons spacecraft zooming by Pluto and the Juno spacecraft into orbit around Jupiter.
What will the OSIRIS-Rex do?
OSIRIS-REx will spend two years travelling towards Bennu, arriving at the asteroid in August 2018. The probe will orbit the asteroid for 3 years, conducting several scientific experiments, before returning to Earth, with the sample capsule expected to land in Utah, USA in September 2023.
Scientific Mission Goals:
During its three year orbit of Bennu, OSIRIS-REx will be conducting a range of scientific experiments in order to better understand the asteroid.
As part of this, the asteroid will be mapped using instruments on the probe, in order to select a suitable site for samples to be collected from.
The aim of the mission is to collect a sample of regolith- the loose, soil-like material which covers the surface of the asteroid.
In July 2020, the probe will move to within a few metres of Bennu, extending its robotic arm to touch the asteroid’s surface. The arm will make contact with the surface for just 5 seconds, during which a blast of nitrogen gas will be used to stir up the regolith, allowing it to be sucked into the sample collector.
OSIRIS-REx has enough nitrogen on board for 3 sample collection attempts, and NASA are hoping to collect between 60 and 2000g of regolith material to bring back to Earth.
Why was Bennu chosen?
Bennu was selected for a the OSIRIS-REx mission from over 500,000 known asteroids, due to it fitting a number of key criteria. These include:
Proximity to Earth: In order for OSIRIS-REx to reach its destination in a reasonable timeframe, NASA needed to find an asteroid which had a similar orbit to Earth. Around 7000 asteroids are ‘Near-Earth Objects’ (NEOs), meaning they travel within around ~30million miles of the Earth. Out of these, just under 200 have orbits similar to Earth, with Bennu being one of these.
Size: Small asteroids, those less than 200m in diameter, typically spin much faster than larger asteroids, meaning the regolith material can be ejected into space. Bennu is around 500m in diameter, so rotates slowly enough to ensure that the regolith stays on its surface.
Composition: Bennu is a primitive asteroid, meaning it hasn’t significantly changed since the beginning of the Solar System (over 4 billion years ago). It is also very carbon-rich, meaning it may contain organic molecules, which could have been precursors to life on Earth.
Additionally, Bennu is of interest as it is a Potentially Hazardous Asteroid (PHA). Every 6 years, Bennu’s orbit brings it within 200,000 miles of the Earth, which means it has a high probability of impacting Earth in the late 22nd Century.
What to study?
For Prelims and Mains: OSIRIS-Rex mission and facts on asteroid bennu.
Experimental Advanced Superconducting Tokamak (EAST)China has announced that its Experimental Advanced Superconducting Tokamak (EAST) reactor — an “artificial sun” designed to replicate the process our natural Sun uses to generate energy — just hit a new temperature milestone: 100 million degrees Celsius (180 million degrees Fahrenheit).
For comparison, the core of our real Sun only reaches about 27 million degrees Fahrenheit — meaning the EAST reactor was, briefly, more than six times hotter than the closest star.
About Experimental Advanced Superconducting Tokamak (EAST):
It is an experimental superconducting tokamak magnetic fusion energy reactor in Hefei, China. The Hefei-based Institute of Plasma Physics is conducting the experiment for the Chinese Academy of Sciences. It has operated since 2006. It was later put under control of Hefei Institutes of Physical Science.
How it works?
The EAST stands at 11 metres tall, has a diameter of 8 metres and weighs about 360 tonnes.
It uses a ring to house heavy and super-heavy isotopes — atomic variations — of hydrogen known as deuterium and tritium.
The isotopes are heated by powerful electric currents within the tokamak, tearing electrons away from their atoms and forming a charged plasma of hydrogen ions.
Powerful magnets lining the inner walls of EAST then contain the plasma to a tiny area to maximise the chance that the ions will fuse together.
When the ions fuse they give off a large amount of energy, which can then be harnessed to run a power plant and produce electricity.
Not only is EAST’s new plasma temperature milestone remarkable because, wow, it’s really hot, it’s also the minimum temperature scientists believe is needed to produce a self-sustaining nuclear fusion reaction on Earth.
Now that China’s “artificial sun” is capable of heating plasma to the necessary temperature, researchers can focus on the next steps along the path to stable nuclear fusion.
What to study?
For Prelims and Mains: Experimental Advanced Superconducting Tokamak (EAST) reactor- key features, significance, how it works and about fusion energy.