CURRENT AFFAIRS – MAY 2021

 

CONTENT

 

  1. TERMS IN NEWS
  2. PERSONS IN NEWS
  3. BOOKS IN NEWS
  4. PLACES IN NEWS
  5. 102ND AMENDMENT ACT  (2018) OF THE CONSTITUTION OF INDIA
  6. SIX NEW UNESCO HERITAGE SITES ADDED IN INDIA
  7. JUDICIAL INTERVENTION DURING COVID-19 CRISIS
  8. INDIA BIODIVERSITY AWARDS
  9. INVASIVE WHITEFLIES SPREAD ACROSS INDIA
  10. 100 MILLION-YEAR-OLD BONES OF SAUROPODS DISCOVERED IN MEGHALAYA
  11. ODISHA’S  BLACKBUCK POPULATION DOUBLES IN SIX YEARS
  12. BROADBALK EXPERIMENT
  13. CURIOUSLY HIGH LEVELS OF MERCURY FOUND IN RIVERS LINKED TO GREENLAND ICE SHEET
  14. GLOBAL NITROGEN CONFERENCE
  15. JANUARY 30 – WORLD NEGLECTED TROPICAL DISEASES (NTD) DAY
  16. THE ECONOMICS OF THE CHINA-INDIA-SRI LANKA TRIANGLE
  17. AFGHANISTAN,  INDIA  AND PAKISTAN AFTER WITHDRAWAL OF US TROOPS
  18. INDIA- EU+27 MEET
  19. FLAWS IN INDIA’S CURRENT VACCINATION STRATEGY AND WAY FORWARD

 

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Terms in News

  1. DHRUVHAL’s Advanced Light Helicopter delivered recently to Indian Coast Guards.
  2. MUCORMYCOSIS – It is a Fungal Infection that can affect various vital organs, especially the brain. It is not contagious but can be fatal. Diabetes is the most common cause. Indiscriminate use of high doses of steroids to treat COVID-19 can also lead to Mucormycosis. The main line of cure is anti-fungal drug Amphotericin B.
  3. JUNTAGovernment led by military officers e.g. Myanmar.
  4. A-76 – A new calved iceberg from Antarctica, which has become the world’s largest iceberg now. Periodic calving off of large chunks of those shelves is part of a natural cycle. But some ice shelves along the Antarctic Peninsula have undergone rapid disintegration in recent years, a phenomenon scientists believe may be related to climate change.
  5. CYCLONE TAUKTAE – Cyclone of ‘Very Severe’ category that caused havoc in India’s western coastal states.
  6. CYCLONE YAAS – Cyclone of ‘Very Severe’ category that caused havoc in coastal Orissa and West Bengal.
  7. GHOST FORESTSGlobal warming induced sea level rise is causing oceanic salt water to seep into coastal forests, turning them into dead leafless forests, often known as Ghost Forests. The rising salt water also leaves soil unhealthy and forests unsuitable for new growth. 
  8. LOHAS – An acronym for lifestyles of health and sustainability, It is a term used by marketeers to define a category of people who see the link between the health of the individual with that of the planet.
  9. GEMINI VIRUS – Family of plant virus responsible for a significant amount of crop damage worldwide.
  10. SYNTHETIC LETHALITYIt is defined as the situation when mutation (change) in either of two genes individually has no effect, but combining the mutations leads to death. In case of cancer, cells undergo genetic alterations and become malignant as well as dangerous. However,  it has been found that all cancer cells are dependent on back up genes. The new  treatments can target these backup genes to kill their respective cancel cells.
  11. XYLOPHIS DEEPAKI – A new snake species discovered recently in Tamil Nadu, in India. It is a wood snake, generally found while digging the soil. It is harmless.
  12. NATIONAL TECHNOLOGY DAY –  India celebrates May 11 as ‘National Technology Day’ since 1999. This years theme is  – Science and Technology for Sustainable Future.
  13. WORLD FOOD PRIZE – The World Food Prize is the foremost international honour recognising the achievements of individuals who have advanced human development by improving the quality, quantity or availability of food in the world. It has been awarded since 1986 in Iowa in United States. The Prize is presented each October on or around UN World Food Day (October 16). It is also known as the Nobel Prize for Food and Agriculture. Dr. MS Swaminathan, the father of India’s green revolution, was the first recipient of this award in 1987.  Dr. Shakuntala Haraksingh Thilsted, a global nutrition expert of Indian descent, has won the prestigious 2021 World Food Prize for her groundbreaking research in developing holistic, nutrition-sensitive approaches to aquaculture and food systems.
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Persons in News

  1. RAGHUNATH MAHAPATRA – Eminent sculptor, Padma Vibhushan, and Rajya Sabha member who passed away recently.
  2. SUNDERLAL BAHUGUNA – Eminent environmentalist and leader of the Chipko and Tehri dam movements who passed away The Chipko Movement received the 1987 Right Livelihood Award, also referred to as the Alternative Nobel Prize for its dedication to the conservation, restoration and ecologically sound use of India’s natural resources.
  3. SOUMYA SWAMINATHANWorld Health Organisation’s Chief Scientist.
  4. SUBODH KUMAR JAISWAL – Newly appointed CBI Chief.
  5. BILL NELSON – Newly appointed chief of NASA.
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Books in News

  1. THE MAKING OF A PROTEST – A new book by former Foreign Secretary and Ambassador to China, Vijay Gokhale, who revisits for the first time his first-hand experience of the Tiananmen Square incident (1989), which he witnessed as a young diplomat, and explains why, 32 years on, its legacy remains significant for both China and the world.
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Places in News

  1. KAWAL TIGER RESERVE – It is located in Telangana. Govt of India declared Kawal wildlife sanctuary as Tiger Reserve in 2012.
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102nd Amendment Act  (2018) of the Constitution of India

  1. The amendment inserted Articles 338B and 342A into the Indian Constitution
    1. Article 338-B provides Constitutional status to National Commission for Backward Classes (NCBC). It deals with its structure, duties and powers.
    2. Article 342-A deals with the power of the President of India to notify a particular caste as a Socially and Educationally Backward Class (SEBC) and the power of the Parliament to change the list.
  2. A Supreme Court Constitution Bench by a 3-2 verdict ruled that the 102nd Amendment did take away the power of the states to identify socially and educationally backward classes under their territory for providing reservations in admissions and employment. According to the judgement, only the President has the power to notify a particular caste as SEBC. The states have lost their power to identify backward classes under their territory after the 102nd Amendment. This is a very important judgement as it makes it clear that states cannot declare any class or community as backward on its own discretion, which certain states have been doing for getting political benefits by promising such reservations. The states can now only make suggestions to the President or the NCBC for removing, adding or modifying the list of backward classes.
  3. However, the power of the states to make reservations in favour of the communities, decide on the nature of reservations, and the nature of benefits, (that is, other than identifying the communities/castes) remains intact.
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Six new UNESCO heritage sites added in India

  1. Heritage status provides an area with legal protection.
  2. World Heritage Sites are designated by UNESCO for having cultural, historical, scientific or other form of significance.
  3. UN’s World Heritage Site Convention was signed in 1972 and entered in force in 1975.
  4. The six new sites to be added to the UNESCO heritage site list are:
    1. Satpura Tiger Reserve (Madhya Pradesh)
    2. Ghats of Varanasi (Uttar Pradesh)
    3. Megalithic Site of Hire Benkal (Karnataka)
    4. Maratha Military Architecture (Maharashtra)
    5. Bhedaghat-Lametaghat in Narmada Valley- Jabalpur (Madhya Pradesh). Also known as Grand Canyon of India.
    6. Temples of Kanchipuram (Tamil Nadu). Constructed by Pallava Dynasty of 6th and 7th Century AD. Situated on the banks of River Vegavathi.
  5. Italy has the most number of UNESCO World Heritage Sites. India stands 6th in the list so far with 40 sites.
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Outreach and overreach: On judicial intervention during COVID-19 crisis

  1. To ensure that no political agendas are set behind COVID-19, Supreme Court has set up a 12-member national task force for the effective and transparent allocation of medical oxygen to the States and Union Territories on a scientific, rational and equitable basis. In other words, the national task force has become a judicially empowered group that may significantly guide the handling of the health crisis set off by the second pandemic wave.
  2. Several High Courts and the Supreme Court are examining different aspects of the pandemic response, including availability of beds and oxygen. The trend did raise concerns about the judiciary encroaching on the executive domain.
  3. There is some merit in the argument that allocation of resources by Union to a State is indeed an executive function. However, as the daily infection numbers and death toll have acquired frightening levels, it becomes evident that there have been lapses on part of the executive in performing their duties effectively. Since the constitutional courts have the obligation to protect the right to life and good health of the population, it is absolutely essential that they pass suitable directives to the executive to ensure so.
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India Biodiversity Awards

  1. Ministry of Environment, Forest and Climate Change in association with UNDP India, started the India Biodiversity Awards in 2012, to recognise excellence in biodiversity governance across the country.
  2. It is awarded in following categories:
    1. Conservation of wild and domesticated species
    2. Sustainable use of biological resources
    3. Replicable mechanisms for access and benefit sharing
    4. Best Biodiversity Management Committee
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Invasive Whiteflies spread across India

  1. The first invasive spiralling whitefly reported in Kerala in 1995 is now distributed throughout India except Jammu & Kashmir.
  2. The invasive whiteflies have been increasing due to their polyphagous nature (ability to feed on various kinds of food) and prolific breeding (ability to produce large number of babies).
  3. The whiteflies are difficult to control by using synthetic insecticides. However, these can be controlled through
    1. Naturally occurring insect predators
    2. Parasitoids (an organism that spends its larval stage in or on another organism, also known as a host) 
    3. Entomopathogenic fungi (fungi that can kill insets).
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100 million-year-old bones of sauropods discovered in Meghalaya

  1. Sauropods is a species of dinosaurs that had very long necks, long tails, small heads relative to the rest of their body, and four thick, pillar-like legs. They are one of the largest animals to have ever lived on land and were terrestrial herbivores found in Gondwana lands in Southern Hemisphere.
  2. Meghalaya the fifth state in India after Gujarat, Madhya Pradesh, Maharashtra, and Tamil Nadu and the only state in the North-East to report Sauropod bones.
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Odisha’s blackbucks double in 6 years

  1. The blackbuck is a Schedule-1 animal according to the Wild Life (Protection) Act, 1972 (amended in 1992) and is considered as ‘Vulnerableaccording to the Red Data Book. The blackbuck is listed under Appendix III of CITES.
  2. Characteristics – 
    1. Blackbuck is native to India and Nepal.
    2. The blackbuck is active mainly during the day.
    3. The blackbuck is a herbivore and grazes on low grasses, occasionally browsing as well.
    4. Gestation is typically six months long, after which a single calf is born.
    5. The lifespan is typically 10 to 15 years.
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Broadbalk Experiment

  1. The aim of the Broadbalk experiment is to test the effects of different organic and inorganic fertilisers on soil fertility and study the optimum nutrition requirements to improve crop yield
  2. The field in Hertfordshire county of southern England has been under continuous scientific experiments for the past 178 years, making it the world’s oldest and longest running study. 
  3. After 175 years of study, the scientists have come up with some interesting observations:
    1. Yield from the sections where wheat was grown with a two-year break, was higher than from sections where wheat was grown continuously. 
    2. The effects of soil-borne pests and diseases are minimised in case the field gets a two-year break.
    3. Initially the fields treated with inorganic manure yielded more crops than the ones treated with organic manure but over the years, the yields reached similar levels in both the cases.
    4. Higher the amount of nitrogen, the greater is the yield. The highest average yield was in wheat treated with N6 fertiliser, grown in both continuous and rotational manner. However, since most of the nitrogen gets converted to nitrate, any residue not retained in soil may convert to nitrous oxide, a greenhouse gas that leaks when water drains through the soil. Nitrous oxide has up to 300 times higher global warming potential than carbon dioxide.
    5. It was found that the amount of organic carbon (C) in topsoil (0-23 centimetres) in organic manure treated plots was more than double of that in fertiliser treated plots.
    6. Use of herbicides increases the crop yield.
  4. Long-term experiments are really needed when the world is talking about evidence-based agronomy. We need to learn from these instead of taking decisions, political or otherwise, based on one or two years of research.
  5. India has also been conducting its own long-term experiments, especially related to fertiliser and nutrient management. Long-term fertiliser experiments are being carried out at 17 Indian Council of Agricultural Research (ICAR) centres since 1970 to study changes in soil quality, crop productivity and sustainability. According to ICAR, these experiments show that it is not possible to sustain productivity without external supply of nutrients. The research has led to the development of integrated plant nutrient supply and management strategies. The results shows application of N alone has a detrimental effect on soil productivity, but a balanced use of NPK can help maintain organic carbon in soil.
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Curiously high levels of mercury found in rivers linked to Greenland Ice Sheet

  1. CAUSECaused not due to anthropogenic (human) activities but due to weathering of Mercury rich bedrock during the slow movement of glaciers due to global warming.
  2. EFFECTThe large volumes of the metal can find its way into the coastal food webs through bioaccumulation and impact the Arctic ecosystem.
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Global Nitrogen Conference

  1. International Nitrogen Initiative (UN-INI) holds Global Nitrogen Conference triennially (once every three years). It seeks to
    1. optimise nitrogen’s beneficial role in sustainable food production
    2. minimise nitrogen’s negative effects on human health and the environment resulting from food and energy production.
  2. The International Nitrogen Initiative (INI) is an international program, set up in 2003 under sponsorship of the Scientific Committee on Problems of the Environment (SCOPE) and from the International Geosphere-Biosphere Program (IGBP).
  3. The first INI conference was held in The Netherlands
  4. The last INI conference was held in Melbourne, in December 2016.
  5. The next INI conference will be held in Berlin, Germany, in 2021 (delayed due to COVID).
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JANUARY 30 – World Neglected Tropical Diseases (NTD) Day

  1. United Nations’ World Health Assembly has declared January 30 as World Neglected Tropical Diseases (NTD) Day.
  2. NTDs are a group of infections that are most common among marginalised communities in the developing regions of Africa, Asia and the Americas. They are caused by a variety of pathogens such as viruses, bacteria, protozoa and parasitic worms. Some examples of NTDs include snakebite envenomation, scabies, yaws, trachoma, Leishmaniasis and Chagas disease. These diseases generally receive less funding for research and treatment than malaises like tuberculosis, HIV-AIDS and malaria. NTDs affect more than a billion people globally, according to the WHO. They are preventable and treatable. However, these diseases and their intricate interrelationships with poverty and ecological systems continue to cause devastating health, social and economic consequences.
  3. The proposal to recognise the day was floated by the United Arab Emirates.
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The Economics of the China-India-Sri Lanka Triangle

  1. Sri Lanka’s relation with China are mostly economic, primarily due to long distance between the two. Meanwhile with India, its relationship extends much beyond, especially in political, and cultural arena. India played a key role in helping Sri Lanka fight with insurgent group LTTE, and more recently in the passage  of 13th Amendment Act that led to  greater devolution of powers.
  2. While Sri Lanka’s growing economic relations with China are depicted as Sri Lanka falling into a Chinese debt trap, the growing bilateral economic relations between the two nations go far beyond debt.
  3. Sri Lanka’s economic relationship with China falls under three broad categories
    1. Debt – Currently, the Sri Lankan economy is grappling with serious external sector issues. The country is struggling to meet its foreign debt repayments due to insufficient foreign currency inflows. With the COVID-19 pandemic, the situation  worsened, largely due to the significant loss of tourism earnings, which constitute a major foreign currency inflow for Sri Lanka. In addition to meeting its Balance of Payment (BoP) liabilities, Sri Lanka also needs money for fuelling its economy through various development projects. This compelled successive governments to seek solutions to escape from economic troubles, which resulted in stronger economic ties with China, which is the second largest lender to Sri Lanka. However, China owns a little over 10 percent of Sri Lanka’s outstanding foreign debt stock.
    2. InvestmentDuring the decade of 2010-2020, China has been the largest foreign investor in Sri Lanka. The investments coming from China are more than double of that coming from India. Additionally, the number of Chinese investments in Sri Lanka has been state-led and governed by strategic interests. The two best examples of such investment are Colombo Port City and Hambantota port, both of which serve strategic purposes for China. 
    3. TradeChina has become the largest exporter to Sri Lanka. The reason for is the type of goods imported from China. Sri Lanka relies heavily on cheap raw material imports from China in textile and garment sector, which constitute more than 45 percent of Chinese exports.
  4. Let us see how India fares in the above three categories –
    1. DebtIndia herself is dealing with trade deficit in excess of USD 100 billion and as such has limited lending capacity. Up until this year, Sri Lanka had been relying on India to manage its foreign exchange problems by obtaining currency swaps. However, citing weak economic conditions in Sri Lanka, India has refused to extend the swap facility unless Sri Lanka enters into an IMF program.
    2. InvestmentSri Lanka has received very little FDI from India, and most of these are from private sector only. There have been very less strategic investments by the government of India in Sri Lanka.
    3. TradeTrade has been the strongest part of the economic relationship between India and Sri Lanka. Until recently, India used to be largest exporter to Sri Lanka. The very first free trade agreement (FTA) of Sri Lanka was signed with India in 1998 and interestingly, the Indo-Sri Lanka Free Trade Agreement (ISFTA) was the very first FTA for India as well. This FTA has been in effect for a little over two decades now and there have been a few efforts to expand the FTA to an Economic and Technology Cooperation Agreement. Moreover, while more than 70 percent of Sri Lanka’s export to India are routed through the FTA, only 10-20 percent of India’s exports to Sri Lanka are routed through the same. Sri Lanka relies more on India as an export market, especially as most of its products can enter India tariff-free, thanks to their FTA. What is interesting to note is that China has overtaken India as the largest exporter to Sri Lanka without having an FTA with Sri Lanka, and thus without any tariff-free access.
  5. Thus far, Sri Lanka has excessively relied on China to tackle its external sector vulnerabilities while economic relations with India seem to remain stagnant. In recent years, its military and political with China have also grown. At the same time, Sri Lanka tries not to irritate India. Against this backdrop, Sri Lanka is now struggling hard to balance between China, India, and domestic nationalists, all the while trying to save the country from a potential economic crisis. 
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Afghanistan,  India  and Pakistan after withdrawal of US troops

  1. It was the then US President Donald Trump who started negotiations with the Taliban in 2018, aimed at ending the 18-year-long war in Afghanistan. An agreement known as the Doha Accord was signed in early 2020 between the US and Taliban that proposed a roadmap for the withdrawal of international troops from Afghanistan within 14 months and paved a way for the start of intra-Afghan negotiations (i.e. negotiation among various political groups in Afghanistan).
  2. Pakistan shares a treacherous 2,670 kilometre border with Afghanistan. The mountainous border region has long served as a safe haven for many militant groups including the Afghan Taliban. Since the early 1990s, Pakistan has supported the Taliban in Afghanistan in an attempt to push its regional security interests. As such, Pakistan has supported militant groups in Afghanistan rather than elected governments. Pakistan was one of the few countries that established diplomatic relations when the Taliban’s government came to power in Kabul. However, increased instability in Afghanistan will produce spill over effects e.g. increases in refugee flows, a more robust drug trade, the heightened risk of cross-border terrorism, which Pakistan doesn’t want as it is already struggling with its economy. As such, since the beginning of the peace talks three years ago, Pakistan has earned a good reputation by playing an effective role as a mediator. Pakistan played an important role in pushing the Taliban to sign the agreement with the US. It wants Taliban to be in power, which doesn’t yet have close relations with India, and plays to the tunes of Pakistan. However, it knows that Taliban would need to revamp itself on democratic lines than a purely terrorist outfit, to be acceptable by Afghan people and the wider international audience.
  3. India has invested in Afghan reconstruction in a big way. India has long supported the government in Kabul while distancing itself from the Taliban. From the 2001 Bonn conference, which paved the way for the formation of an interim government following the collapse of the Taliban regime up to the present day, India has continued a consistent policy of engaging with successive Afghan governments. The current scenario directly threatens India’s political, security, and economic interests in Afghanistan and elsewhere. It is about time that India reorient its policies in Afghanistan, particularly its relationship with the Taliban. US would also like India to follow this policy approach given that the group is poised to return to power in one form or another, and India’s engagement with the Taliban can ultimately serve the United States’ interests as well. Moreover, it is possible that Taliban shows interest in fostering diplomatic ties with India for following reasons –
    1. India’s engagement with the Taliban offers the group greater political and diplomatic legitimacy.
    2. It further diversifies its international linkages.
    3. It fosters the organisation’s independence and makes it less reliant on Pakistan’s support or demands.
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India- EU+27 meet

  1. Tensions with China have prompted the two to view each other in a new light as valuable partners in diversifying supply chains, reducing economic dependencies on China, and securing the Indo-Pacific.
  2. The two sides met in their first ever EU+27 Leaders Meeting format, where not just the European Commission and Council but also 27 European heads of state were present to meet with Indian Prime Minister virtually. The extension of this rarely used format to India signals the importance EU now attaches to its partnership with India. Following are the key priority areas between the two –
    1. COVID-19 – Pandemic relief by strengthening global health preparedness and supply chains.
    2. COMMERCE – Agreements on Free Trade, Protection of Investments and Geographical Indicators.
    3. CONNECTIVITY – India-EU connectivity partnership, visualized as an alternative to the BRI that will focus on energy, transport and digital infrastructure, and collectively shape the norms around regional connectivity. 
    4. CLIMATE CHANGE
    5. Strengthening Multilateralism including WTO reforms.
    6. Digital Transformation and Artificial Intelligence.
  3. However, India is still apprehensive about FTA as it would mean competition to India’s agriculture and automobile sector. As such, the real test of the partnership lies within deliverables and implementation.
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Flaws in India’s current vaccination strategy and way forward

  1. Although India sold as well as gifted COVID-19 vaccinations to other countries, the proportion of these is quite small when compared to vaccinations used domestically. Moreover, as member of International Vaccine Alliance, India was obliged to provide vaccine to other nations who had either passed their technology to India or had invested to ramp up India’s vaccine production capabilities. Also, the production of vaccination doses was never enough for the entire population to get vaccinated. However, there have been certain flaws in India’s vaccination policy which need to be addressed to make vaccination drive more effective.
  2. FLAWS
    1. Less investment in augmenting capacity of hospitals and producing more vaccines.
    2. Making online registration mandatory in a country where still a lot of people don’t have access to mobile or network or lack the ability to use these.
    3. Making vaccinations available at hospitals and designated centres which themselves are turning into COVID-19 hotspots owing to heavy crowding and social distancing.
  3. WAY FORWARD
    1. Government needs to increase its spending on health sector to atleast 3 percent of GDP.
    2. Rather than making it mandatory for people to register online for vaccination, using door to door mass vaccination strategy similar to India’s polio vaccination program.
  4. Ultimately, India’s vaccine diplomacy could not be labelled as a mistake because of the following reasons –
    1. India helped those countries that needed assistance and then later received assistance from those that could offer it. The list of recipients of New Delhi’s vaccine generosity differs vastly from the list of nations that later helped India with medical equipment. 
    2. It has put India firmly on the map of global health politics.
    3. It has helped India win goodwill of nations, which can be leveraged for furthering India’s geopolitical ambitions, e.g. securing permanent seat in United Nations.
    4. It established grounds for a fruitful international health alliance in the future, with Western countries sharing the know-how (including licenses) with India, a country with a massive workforce and cheap manufacturing conditions, in order to supply the world with affordable vaccines. 
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