Politics & the Nation
  • Liberhan Commission to submit report before March?
    • The longest serving commission of inquiry, inquiring into Babri Masjid demolition, is slated to submit its report before March 31 this year.
    • But will it?  It has been 17 years since it was formed.
Finance & Economics
  • What are the tools that a government will have in its hands to tackle incipient depression?
    • Inflation, credit policy, monetary policy and fiscal policy.  Bradford Delong succinctly explains the merits and demerits of each of these tools in this marvelous piece.  A must read.
    • Let us just see how he explains inflation as a tool to tame recession:
      • The government prints up lots of banknotes, and spends them. The extra cash in the economy raises prices. As prices rise, people don’t want to hold cash in their pockets or their bank accounts — its value is melting away every day — so they step up the pace at which they spend, trying to get their wealth out of depreciating cash and into real assets that are worth something. This spending pulls people out of unemployment and into jobs, and pushes capacity utilisation up to normal and production up to “potential” levels. 
      • But sane people would rather avoid inflation. It is a very dangerous expedient, one that undermines standards of value, renders economic calculation virtually impossible, and redistributes wealth at random. 
  • Why should there be restrictions on usage of prepaid card balances?
    • Reserve Bank of India (RBI) is opposed to the idea of allowing prepaid mobile phone balances to be used in lieu of cash and to buy goods and services other than mobile content, such as ringtones and talktime.   The RBI is worried that it defeats the efficacy of monetary policy, if the prepaid card balances are used for other purposes.
    • Prepaid cards are four types: Open, Closed, Semi-open and Semi-closed.
    • Cards that have the widest acceptance and can be used for drawing cash from ATMs, are ‘open system’ payment instruments. Closed-system instruments are those that can be used only at the issuer’s establishment and cannot be exchanged for cash. ‘Semi-closed’ and ‘semi-open’ system instruments have wider acceptance, but cannot be used to withdraw cash. 
  • Can you state some reasons why ethanol for blending with fuels still needs to be pursued?  
    • In the wake of slide in petro prices, there is temptation to go slow on biofuels.  This is not good; argues an ET editorial.  Some excerpts from it:
    • The use of cane as feedstock to distil ethanol — for blending with petrol — does make it a sustainable fuel substitute with potential for raising output. 
    • Also, the plantation of biodiesel plants like jatropha in wastelands, pan-India, would boost blending with diesel, the most used automotive fuel. 
    • Crude prices can be expected to harden in the foreseeable future, thus making biofuels all the more attractive. 
    • The direct employment potential in the ethanol production chain can be many times that of a petroleum refinery. 
    • Besides, the use of ethanol-blended petrol can mean a significant reduction in tailpipe exhausts of toxics, greenhouse-effect causing gases and sundry particulate matter. It’s clearly green.  
  • AQ Khan freed
    • The restrictions imposed by the Musharaff regime on this Pakistani nuclear scientist are removed by the Islamabad High Court in Pakistan.  The restrictions were imposed in 2004 in an apparent bid to mollify the West.
  • Indians show their intent to take stem cell therapy
    • AS PROGRESS in the area of stem cell research promises to dramatically change the way diseases are treated, Indians are turning up in large numbers at specialised ‘banks’ to store the body’s master cells as a potential biological repair kit. 
    • According to the Indian Council of Medical Research (ICMR), while most transplants have taken place from stem cells derived from the bone marrow, the trend will shift towards embryonic stem cells by 2015. 
    • Stem cells act as building blocks of our tissue, blood and immune systems. They can be derived from bone marrow, embryos and the blood that remains in the umbilical cord after a baby is born.  According to Indian Council of Medical Research (ICMR) guidelines, only embryos up to 14 days old can be used for therapy and they should not be generated for the sole purpose of obtaining stem cells. And only surplus or spare embryos can be used after obtaining the consent of parents. 
    • It costs Rs 70,000-1,00,000 to store stem cells for 21 years at private cord blood stem cell banks in India. 
    • BTW in India about 26mn births are being registered every year.