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Here is the list of some important case studies from January 2021 that can be quoted/used in UPSC CSE Mains answers/essays.
Art and Culture
Significance of the world’s oldest cave painting, discovered in Indonesia
Relevance: Cave paintings and their significance.
- Archaeologists have discovered the world’s oldest known cave art, a life-sized picture of a wild pig that was painted at least 45,500 years ago in Indonesia.
About the findings:
- The cave painting uncovered in South Sulawesi consists of a figurative depiction of a warty pig, a wild boar that is endemic to this Indonesian island.
- The central Indonesian island, which occupies an area of over 174,000 sq. km, is situated between Asia and Australia and has a long history of human occupation.
- Painted using red ochre pigment, the pig appears to be observing a fight or social interaction between two other warty pigs.
Significance of the cave painting:
- The archaeologists note that the dated painting of the Sulawesi warty pig seems to be the world’s oldest surviving representational image of an animal.
- The team came across this painting in the limestone cave of Leang Tedongnge while conducting field research.
- These pigs have been hunted by humans for tens of thousands of years and are the most commonly depicted animal in the ice age rock art of the island, which suggests that they have long been used as food and form a “focus of creative thinking and artistic expression” for people of that time.
- The previously oldest dated rock art ‘scene’ at least 43,900 years old, was a depiction of hybrid human-animal beings hunting Sulawesi warty pigs and dwarf bovids.
- The book, “The Archaeology of Sulawesi”, published by the Australian National University press in 2018 mentions that the Sulawesi island contains some of the oldest directly dated rock art in the world and also some of the oldest evidence for the presence of hominins beyond the southeastern limits of the Ice Age Asian continent.
- Hominins include modern humans, the extinct human species, and our immediate ancestors. Homo sapiens are the first modern humans who evolved from their hominid predecessors between 200,000-300,000 years ago. It is estimated that these modern humans started migrating outside of Africa some 70,000-100,000 years ago.
- The early rock art of this island yield even more significant discoveries.
Environment & Ecology
How scientists are counting elephants from space
Relevance: Conservation of species, innovative conservation methods
- Scientists are using very high-resolution satellite imagery to count and detect wildlife species, including African elephants.
Need for the initiative:
- The population of African elephants has plummeted over the last century due to poaching, retaliatory killing from crop-raiding, and habitat fragmentation.
- Therefore, in order to conserve the species, it is important for scientists to track elephant populations.
- It is important that scientists know the exact number of elephants that exist in an area as inaccurate counts can lead to misallocation of conservation resources, which are already limited and have resulted in misunderstanding population trends.
How it is different from the earlier method?
- Before researchers developed the new technique, one of the most common survey methods to keep a check on elephant populations in savannah environments involved aerial counts undertaken from manned aircraft.
- However, this method does not deliver accurate results since observers on aircraft are prone to get exhausted, are sometimes hindered by poor visibility, and may even succumb to bias.
- Further, aerial surveys are costly and logistically challenging.
- It would formerly have taken months can be completed in a matter of hours.
Advantages of the new method:
- In the new method, the images, from a satellite orbiting 600 kilometres (some 370 miles) above the Earth, could survey upward of 5,000 square kilometres (nearly 2,000 square miles) of land in one pass, captured in a matter of minutes.
- The scientists trained the algorithm to recognize only adults among a dataset of 1,000 elephants in the park and then found it was also able to identify calves.
- Such conservation technologies will be embraced as a matter of urgency to protect the world's biodiversity.
Community fishing banned at Assam Ramsar site
Relevance: Environment degradation, Wetlands Conservation, Conservation practices etc.
What is the issue?
- Assam’s only Ramsar site has shrunk by at least 35% since 1991, raising an alarm among conservationists on World Wetlands Day (2nd February).
- The day marks the date of adoption of the Convention on Wetlands on February 2, 1971, in the Iranian city of Ramsar on the Caspian Seashore.
- A Ramsar Site is a wetland designated to be of international importance under this convention.
- According to hydrological experts, the area of the wetland was about 6,000 hectares in the late 1980s. Satellite imagery has revealed that its area has shrunk by at least 35% since 1991.
- Deepor Beel officially has an area of 4,014 hectares or 15.5 square miles.
- The Kamrup (Metropolitan) district administration has prohibited community fishing at Deepor Beel.
- Wetlands of Assam are undergoing rapid degradation in the face of anthropogenic pressure and climatic change.
Reasons for Degradation:
- One of the reasons the Deepor beel is in a precarious state is that it is losing connectivity with small rivers like Kalmoni, Khonajan and Basistha that used to flow via the Mora Bharalu channel through Guwahati.
- Expansion of the city, encroachment upon the natural channels through Guwahati and from the hills around, and a municipal waste dump at Boragaon almost on the edge of the wetland were the other factors.
- Other wetlands are also fragmented and losing its aquatic wealth.
- Assam has 3,513 wetlands and a majority of them have water with low turbidity.
- High level of siltation, encroachment, detachment of marginal areas due to construction of roads, etc., caused a reduction in the water-spread area from the original area of these wetlands, mostly in the dry season.
- As a result, spawning and reproductive behaviour of the Indian major fishes have been impacted.
Flood in Assam during the rainy season is as severe a problem for the fisheries sector as waterless-ness during the dry season, which makes a wetland all the more vulnerable.
- To cope with the impact of climate change and for promoting sustainable wetland fisheries, various adaptation strategies were identified by scientists.
- These are temporary pre-summer enclosures, deep-pool refuge, autumn stocking, submerged branch pile refuge, and floating aquatic macrophyte refuge (Jeng/katal).
- Enclosure aquaculture in the form of pens and cages can not only prevent fish from escaping during a flood, but these structures can also be shifted to deeper areas of the wetlands in case of reduced water depth during the dry season, making these technologies climate-resilient.
- Enclosure culture technologies are simple but useful tools for producing stocking material (advanced fingerlings) and table fish that potentially can improve socio-economic condition of beel fishers
Polity & Constitution
A New Constitutional Standard For Persons Of Influence?
Relevance: Freedom of speech and expression in India
- In December 2020, the Supreme Court decided on a case that has far-reaching implications for the freedom of speech and expression in India.
- In Amish Devgan v. Union of India, a bench of two judges of the Supreme Court held that those who occupy positions of influence have to be “more responsible” while exercising their fundamental right to freedom of speech and expression.
- This new ‘show me the man and I will show you the rule’ test sets a dangerous precedent that threatens to undermine some of the basic principles which underscore the fundamental right to free expression.
Facts of the case:
- A prominent news anchor hosted a debate on television in which he referred to a beloved religious saint as a “terrorist” and “robber”.
- He later issued an apology and said that he meant to refer not to the saint, but to a tyrannical king who had a similar sounding name.
- Several cases were registered against him under Section 153A of the Indian Penal Code, which makes it a criminal offence for a person to promote enmity or hatred between different groups of people on religious or other grounds.
- He approached the Supreme Court and asked it, among other things, to put an end to all those cases.
- The court refused to do so, directing the police to complete their investigation of the cases, but asking them not to arrest him as long as he cooperated with the investigation.
Supreme Court's observation:
- In arriving at its decision, the Supreme Court made several observations that are certainly commendable and will go a long way in protecting the freedom of speech and expression.
- For instance, borrowing the words of Justice Vivian Bose, the court held that when a question arises as to whether a person’s speech tends to cause public disorder, the words used by that person must be judged from the standard of “reasonable, strong-minded, firm and courageous men”, not those who have “weak and vacillating minds” or “those who scent danger in every hostile point of view”.
- This is a categorical rejection of what is referred to in constitutional law as the “heckler’s veto”.
- This principle can be explained with a simple example.
- Let’s say that an artist has painted a picture, or an author has written a book.
- A mob of unreasonable people decides that what has been painted or written offends their sensibilities.
- They threaten to erupt into spontaneous violence unless the painting is withdrawn, the book forfeited, or the artist or author put behind bars.
- If the mob gets its way, then it would essentially be given a veto over what can and cannot be said in public.
- It can essentially censor any person by threatening to resort to violence on the streets if that person is not censored.
- Rejecting the heckler’s veto in Amish Devgan’s case, the Supreme Court has reiterated the principle that the legality of a person’s speech must not be judged from the standpoint of whether a hypersensitive person has taken offense to it.
- There were several other such principles that the Supreme Court reiterated in its judgment.
- For instance, the court correctly held that every citizen of India has the right to express “divergent” and “extreme” views on “controversial and sensitive topics”.
- Merely expressing an opinion on a heated subject is not a criminal offense.
- Further, a speaker should only be prosecuted if there is a real and serious likelihood that his or her speech will result in “insurrection, riot, turbulence or crimes of violence”.
- In other words, the possibility of public disorder must not be “remote, conjectural or farfetched”.
- The words which have been spoken must not be over-zealously interpreted by a court to find tenuous hidden meanings embedded within them.
- In short, if a person has merely said that two plus two equals four, a court should not infer that the speaker also meant to say that two plus two equals five, six, seven, and eight.
- In arriving at its decision, the Supreme Court made several observations that are certainly commendable and will go a long way in protecting the freedom of speech and expression.
- Since “persons of influence” have great “reach, impact and authority”, the court said that they “owe a duty and have to be more responsible” while exercising their right to freedom of speech and expression.
Building a future from rubble
- Jharkhand cadre IAS officer has started a unique task initiative, of setting up rural libraries in remote villages of Jamtara so that the poor are motivated to read and write.
What's the initiative:
- The abandoned government buildings have been transformed into 30 libraries under different panchayats of the district.
- The idea is to provide a better environment to develop reading habits and space at the doorstep of rural youths so that they can clear competitive exams without moving out to cities and towns.
- The renovated buildings libraries are provided a general set of books, chairs, tables, and other amenities through crowd-funding and under the Corporate Social Responsibility funds.
- These libraries are then handed over to local villagers for day-to-day management by forming a committee.
- It has especially benefited girls whose parents are reluctant to send them to a city for education.
- The initiative serves two purposes:
- The dilapidated buildings are put to use after renovation and,
- Secondly, it develops a community feeling among the villagers.
- It can help in removing the tag of ‘hub of cyber-crimes’ for Jamtara.
- Cyber-crimes possibly spread due to the lack of education in the region.
Billionaires’ wealth increased by $3.9 trillion during the pandemic, while millions slipped into poverty: Oxfam
Relevance: Issues relating to the development and management of Social Sector/Services relating to Health, Education, Human Resources, poverty and hunger.
- Recently, the Inequality Virus Report, released by Oxfam International at the Davos summit, has found that the Covid pandemic deeply increased the existing inequalities in India and around the world.
- The report says that the wealth of billionaires worldwide increased by $3.9 trillion between March 18 and December 31 last year, even as an estimated 200 million and 500 million people slipped into poverty.
- The increase in the wealth – just since the crisis began – of the world's 10 richest billionaires is “more than enough to prevent anyone on Earth from falling into poverty because of the virus, and to pay for a COVID-19 vaccine for everyone”.
- Indian billionaires increased their wealth by 35% during the lockdown to ₹ 3 trillion, ranking India after the U.S., China, Germany, Russia and France.
- Out of these, the rise in fortunes for the top 100 billionaires since the lockdown in March is enough to give every one of the 138 million poorest Indian people a cheque for ₹94,045 each.
- The wealth of just the top 11 billionaires during the pandemic could easily sustain the MGNREGS or the Health Ministry for the next 10 years, which underscored the deepening inequalities due to COVID-19 where the wealthiest escaped the worst impact of the pandemic while the poor faced joblessness, starvation and death.
- Mukesh Ambani, who emerged as the richest man in India and Asia, earned ₹90 crores an hour during the pandemic when around 24% of the people in the country were earning under ₹3,000 a month during the lockdown.
- Statistically, an unskilled worker would take a whopping 10,000 years to make as much money as Reliance Industries’ Mukesh Ambani made in an hour during the pandemic.
- The increase in his wealth alone could keep 40 crores informal workers out of poverty for at least five months.
The report also delved deeper into different forms of inequities, including educational, gender and health, which meant that facilities to wash hands and maintain distance, essential to prevent the spread of Coronavirus, was impossible for a majority of the population.
- Only 6% of the poorest 20% have access to non-shared sources of improved sanitation, compared to 93.4 % of the top 20 %.
- 59.6 % of India’s population lived in a room or less, which meant that protocols necessary to prevent the spread of COVID-19 cannot be followed.
- The spread of disease was swift among poor communities, often living in cramped areas with poor sanitation and using shared common facilities such as toilets and water points.
- While the government took steps to make COVID-19 services affordable by including them under Ayushman Bharat-PMJAY, the scheme only covered BPL (below poverty line) population leaving out the uninsured poor and the middle class.
- Till October, 32 crores students were hit by the closure of schools, of whom 84 % resided in rural areas and 70 % attended government schools.
- Dalits, Adivasis and Muslims were likely to see a higher rate of dropout.
- Girls were also most vulnerable as they were at risk of early and forced marriage, violence and early pregnancies.
- Over the past year as education shifted online, India saw the digital divide worsening inequalities.
- On the one hand, private providers experienced exponential growth yet, on the other, just 3% of the poorest 20% of Indian households had access to a computer and just 9% had access to the internet.
- Unemployment of women rose by 15% from a pre-lockdown level of 18 %, which could result in a loss of India’s GDP of about 8 % or ₹15 trillion.
- Women who were employed before the lockdown were also 23.5% less likely to be re-employed compared to men in the post lockdown phase.
- The pandemic also fueled domestic violence against women. As of November 2020, cases of domestic violence rose by almost 60% over the past 12 months.
- There is an urgent need for policymakers to tax the wealthy individuals and rich corporates and use that money to invest in free quality public services and social protection to support everyone, from cradle to grave.
- The report has recommended reintroducing the wealth tax and effecting a one-time COVID-19 cess of 4% on taxable income of over ₹10 lakh to help the economy recover from the lockdown.
- According to its estimate, a wealth tax on the nation’s 954 richest families could raise the equivalent of 1% of the GDP.
- Reducing inequalities is very important but it should be a medium-term target. Between growth and distribution, India must get the sequencing right.
- India needs to grow first before it can distribute. Otherwise, it can get stuck in a low-income equilibrium.
Science & Technology
Blockchain-aided voting trials to begin in India
Relevance: Science and Technology- developments and their applications and effects in everyday life; Achievements of Indians in science & technology; indigenization of technology and developing new technology.
Context: Election Commission (EC) officials are exploring the potential of using blockchain technology to enable remote voting. The aim is to overcome the geographical hurdles in voting.
- Remote voting has gained some priority during the COVID-19 pandemic in order to address social distancing.
- It may take place in person somewhere other than an assigned polling station or at another time, or votes may be sent by post or cast by an appointed proxy.
How will blockchain voting work?
- A blockchain remote voting process would involve voter identification and authorisation using a multi-layered IT-enabled system (with the help of biometrics and web cameras) at the venue.
- It does not mean voting from home. After a voter's identity is established by the system, a blockchain-enabled personalised e-ballot paper will be generated.
- Voters will have to reach a designated venue during a pre-decided period of time to be able to use this facility.
- When the vote is cast, the ballot will be securely encrypted and a blockchain hashtag generated. This hashtag notification will be sent to various stakeholders the candidates and political parties.
- The encrypted remote votes so cast will once again be validated at the pre-counting stage to ensure that they have neither been decrypted nor tampered with or replaced.
- Suppose there is a Lok Sabha election and a Chennai voter is in Delhi.
- Instead of returning to vote in his or her constituency or missing out on voting, the voter can reach a pre-designated spot set up by the EC, say in Connaught Place, in a particular time window and can cast his vote.
- Voters may have to apply in advance to their returning officers to exercise the option.
What is the need for blockchain voting?
- Growing concern over election security, voter registration integrity, poll accessibility, and voter turnout has led governments to consider blockchain-based voting platforms as a means to increase faith and participation in essential democratic processes.
- Electronic voting has been used in varying forms since the 1970s with benefits over paper-based systems such as increased efficiency and reduced errors.
- Even the EC had used a one-way electronic system for service electors (consisting of personnel belonging to the armed forces, central paramilitary forces and central government officers deployed at Indian missions abroad) i.e. Electronically Transmitted Postal Ballot System (ETPBS) in 2019 Lok Sabha Elections.
- Blockchain’s decentralized, transparent, immutable, and encrypted qualities could potentially help minimize election tampering and maximize poll accessibility.
- The two most recent elections in the United States were marred by unfounded accusations of vote manipulation, whether by Russian collusion or rigged vote counting.
- The rise of blockchain technology has led some to suggest its ability to secure cryptocurrencies could also be applied to the election process.
- The focus should be on improving existing technologies, encryption tools and machine learning algorithms to near 100% accuracy.
- An initial pilot could be conducted in non-statutory elections that could provide cases to analyze performance and then scale nationally.
- Beyond the vulnerabilities faced by any Internet-based system, blockchains also introduce issues related to complexity and their management.
- The ECI should exercise caution before deploying this method in elections, besides subjecting it to a rigorous public appraisal.
- The Indian government’s principal scientific advisor, K. Vijay Raghavan, agreed blockchain-based mock voting combined with EVMs could be a great way to test the system.