Today's Headlines

Today's Headlines - 01 April 2023

Tactical nuclear weapons in Belarus

GS Paper - 2 (International Relations)

The Russian President Vladimir Putin’s announcement that he intends to deploy tactical nuclear weapons on the territory of Belarus appears to be another attempt to raise the stakes in the conflict in Ukraine. It follows Putin’s warnings that Moscow is ready to use “all available means” to fend off attacks on Russian territory, a reference to its nuclear arsenal.


  1. Putin said that President Alexander Lukashenko of Belarus has long urged Moscow to station its nuclear weapons in his country, which has close military ties with Russia and was a staging ground for the invasion of neighbouring Ukraine on 24 Feb. 2022.
  2. Russia already has helped modernize Belarusian warplanes to make them capable of carrying nuclear weapons — something that Belarus’ authoritarian leader has repeatedly mentioned.
  3. In remarks broadcast 25 March 2023, Putin said the immediate trigger for the deployment of Russia’s tactical nuclear weapons to Belarus was the UK government’s decision to provide Ukraine with armour-piercing shells containing depleted uranium.


  1. Tactical nuclear weapons are intended to destroy enemy troops and weapons on the battlefield.
  2. They have a relatively short range and a much lower yield than nuclear warheads fitted to long-range strategic missiles that are capable of obliterating whole cities.
  3. Unlike strategic weapons, which have been subject to arms control agreements between Moscow and Washington, tactical weapons never have been limited by any such pacts, and Russia hasn’t released their numbers or any other specifics related to them.
  4. The U.S. government believes Russia has about 2,000 tactical nuclear weapons, which include bombs that can be carried by aircraftwarheads for short-range missiles and artillery rounds.
  5. While strategic nuclear weapons are fitted to land- or submarine-based intercontinental ballistic missiles that are constantly ready for launch, tactical nuclear weapons are stored at a few tightly guarded storage facilities in Russia, and it takes time to deliver them to combat units.

One of the biggest known black holes discovered

GS Paper - 3 (Space Technology)

Astronomers have discovered one of the biggest black holes ever found, thanks to something called gravitational lensingGravitational lensing is the name given to the phenomenon where a foreground object—a galaxy or a black holebends the light from a more distant object behind it, magnifying it in the process.

More about the discovery

  1. In order to make the discovery, the researchers used supercomputer simulations that simulated light from a faraway galaxy travelling through the Universe hundreds of thousands of times.
  2. Each of the simulations had a black hole of a different mass, changing the light’s journey to Earth.
  3. When the researchers included an ultramassive black hole in one of the simulations, the path taken by the light exactly matched the path seen in actual images captured by the Hubble Space Telescope.
  4. This helped them discover the ultramassive black hole, over 30 billion times the mass of our Sun, in the foreground galaxy. According to the University of Durham, this is a scale that is rarely ever seen by astronomers.
  5. The results of the research are published in the journal Monthly Notices of the Royal Astronomical Society.
  6. This particular black hole, which is roughly 30 billion times the mass of our Sun, is one of the biggest ever detected and on the upper limit of how large we believe black holes can theoretically become, so it is an extremely exciting discovery.
  7. This new approach taken by the researchers could make it possible to study inactive black holes in distant galaxies, which is not currently possible with other existing techniques.

Drugsfor Rare Diseases Get Customs Duty Relief

GS Paper -3 (Economy)

All drugs and food for special medical purposes, imported for personal use for the treatment of all rare diseases listed under the National Policy for Rare Diseases 2021, have been exempted from basic customs duty by the central government.

More about the news:

The government has also fully exempted Pembrolizumab (Keytruda) used in the treatment of various types of cancer from basic customs duty.

How does the new duty exemption work?

  • The exemption has been granted by the Central Board of Indirect Taxes and Customs (CBIC) by substituting “Drugs, Medicines or Food for Special Medical Purposes (FSMP)” instead of “drugs or medicines”.
  • In order to avail of this exemption, the individual importer has to produce a certificate from the central or state director health services or district medical officer/civil surgeon of the district.
  • While exemptions have already been provided to specified drugs for treatment of spinal muscular atrophy, the government has been receiving many representations seeking customs duty relief for drugs and medicines used in treatment of other rare diseases.
  • It is estimated that for a child weighing 10 kg, the annual cost of treatment for some rare diseases, may vary from Rs 10 lakh to more than Rs 1 crore per year with treatment being lifelong and drug dose and cost, increasing with age and weight.
  • This exemption will result in substantial cost savings and provide much needed relief to the patients.

The tax on life-saving drugs and medicines:

  • Drugs/medicines generally attract basic customs duty of 10 per cent, while some categories of lifesaving drugs/vaccines attract a concessional rate of 5 per cent or nil.
  • In its meeting in September 2021, the GST Council had reduced tax rates for several life-saving drugs. Life-saving drugs Zolgensma and Viltepso used in the treatment of spinal muscular atrophy were exempted from GST when imported for personal use.
  • At that time, the GST rate for Keytruda was cut to 5 per cent from 12 per cent.

Quality Control Orders for fibres

GS Paper -3 (Economy)

Quality Control Orders (QCO) have been issued for fibres such as cotton, polyester and viscose that constitute the basic raw materials for the majority of the Indian textile and clothing industry. While the standards were available earlier too, these are now revised and made mandatory for a few, and yet to be finalised for others.

More about the news:

International manufacturers of these fibres, who supply to India, are also mandated to get a certificate from the Bureau of Indian Standards (BIS), which is the certifying authority for the QCOs.

Reason for fibres covered under QCOs:

  • The Indian textile and clothing industry consumes both indigenous and imported fibres and filaments.
  • The imports are for different reasons such ascost competitiveness, non-availability in the domestic market, or to meet a specified demand of the overseas buyer.
  • The main aim of the QCO is to control import of sub-quality and cheaper items and to ensure that customers get quality products.

Challenges the new mandates bring:

  • India imports annually 50,000 - 60,000 tonnes of viscose fibre and its variants such as Modal and Tencel LF from nearly 20 countries.
  • In the case of polyester, almost 90,000 tonnes of polyester fibre and 1.25 lakhs tonnes of POY (Polyester Partially Oriented Yarn) are imported annually.
  • The supply of some fibres to India is in small quantities. Getting the certificate from the BIS involves a cost and hence not all are interested in getting the certificate. The Indian textile manufacturers who are dependent on these suppliers for the raw material will have to either look at other suppliers or lose orders.

Way forward:

  • Different varieties of the fibre are bundled in the QCO and thus have uniform quality standards. The textile industry imports just small quantities of such fibres and restricting its availability will deny Indian consumers of niche products.
  • The textile industry is of the view that import of speciality fibres that are used as blends with other fibres should be made available without restriction.
  • Any overseas applicant for the BIS certificate should get it without delay after inspection.