Prelims Monthly Current Affairs Magazine: January 2022

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Table of Contents

 

Art And Culture

Festivals:

Veer Baal Diwas

Context:

  • The nation would henceforth observe December 26 as ‘Veer Baal Diwas’, Prime Minister Narendra Modi announced on Sunday (December 9), the ParkashPurab (birth anniversary) of the tenth Sikh Guru Gobind Singh.

Concept:

  • Veer Baal Diwas — a tribute to the bravery of children — is dedicated to the ChhoteSahibzaade, Zorawar Singh and Fateh Singh, the two youngest sons of Guru Gobind Singh, who were bricked alive on the orders of Wazir Khan, the Mughal faujdar of Sirhind, for refusing to renounce their faith and become Muslim.
  • Zorawar Singh was 9 years old at the time, and Fateh Singh was only 7. Soon after they were walled up alive, their grandmother Mata Gujri (Guru Gobind Singh’s mother) died of shock.
  • Today, Gurdwara Sri Fatehgarh Sahib stands on the site where the two Sahibzaadas were executed on December 12, 1705, which translates to December 26 as per the current calendar.
  • It is believed that after no one in Sirhind town agreed to spare land to cremate them, a rich Hindu trader named DiwanTodar Mal purchased a small piece of land by covering it with at least 7,800 gold coins, and performed the last rites after getting the Sahibzaadas’ bodies released from the Mughals. Later, Gurdwara JyotiSarup was built on this site in Fatehgarh Sahib.
  • Guru Gobind Singh had four sons, the ChaarSahibzaade, all of whom four sacrificed their lives to uphold the identity and dignity of KhalsaPanth against the Mughals. The two elder ones, Ajit Singh and Jujhar Singh died in the battle of Chamkaur Sahib.
  • But the bravery and sacrifice of Zorawar Singh and Fateh Singh is considered unparalleled not just because of the tender age at which they chose death, but also for the cruel and barbaric conditions that the Mughals had created for the children and their grandmother before their execution.
  • JorMela, a religious fair, is organised from December 25-28 every year in memory of the children and their grandmother at Sri Fatehgarh Sahib, which is attended by lakhs of devotees, not just from Punjab but also from other states.

Republic Day Parade

Context:

  • Recently, West Bengal’s tableau for the Republic Day parade was rejected without assigning any reasons or justifications.

Who manages the R-Day Parade?

  • The Defence Ministry is the responsible authority for the Republic Day parade and the celebrations.
  • Around September, it invites all the states, the UTs, Central Government departments, and a few constitutional authorities to participate in the parade through tableaux.

Managing Tableaux

  • The Defence Ministry shares the basic guidelines about what all the tableaux can or should include.
  • The tableaux of two different states/ UTs cannot be too similar, as the tableaux, together, should showcase the diversity of the country.
  • The tableaux cannot have any writing or use of logos, except for the name of the state/ UT/ department, which should be written in Hindi on the front, English on the back, and a regional language on the sides.
  • The Ministry also asks the participants to use eco-friendly material for the tableaux, and avoid the use of plastic or plastic-based products.

How are the tableaux selected?

  • The selection process is elaborate and time-consuming.
  • The Defence Ministry constitutes an expert committee of distinguished persons from fields like art, culture, painting, sculpture, music, architecture, choreography, etc.

Process of selection:

Submission of sketches

  • First, the submitted sketches or designs of the proposals are scrutinised by this committee, which can make suggestions for any modifications in the sketch or design.
  • The sketch should be simple, colourful, easy to comprehend and should avoid unnecessary detail.
  • It should be self-explanatory, and should not need any written elaboration.

Music and Visuals

  • If there is a traditional dance involved with the tableau, it should be a folk dance, and the costumes and musical instruments should be traditional and authentic.
  • The proposal should include a video clipping of the dance.

3D Models

  • Once approved, the next stage is for the participants to come up with three-dimensional models for their proposals.
  • These are again examined by the expert committee for final selection, taking in view several criteria.
  • In making the final selection the committee looks at a combination of factors, looking at the visual appeal, impact on the masses, idea/ theme of the tableaux, degree of detail involved.

Do they have to be of a particular size?

  • The Defence Ministry provides each participant with one tractor and one trailer, and the tableau should fit on that.
  • The ministry prohibits the use of any additional tractor or trailer, or even any other vehicle to be part of it.
  • However, the participant can replace their ministry-provided tractor or trailer with other vehicles, but the total number should not be more than two vehicles.
  • The tractor has to be camouflaged in harmony with the tableau’s theme, and the ministry stipulates a distance of around six feet between the tractor and the trailer for turning and manoeuvering.
  • The dimensions of the trailer on which the tableau will be placed are 24 feet, 8 inches long; eight feet wide; four feet two inches high; with a load-bearing capacity of 10 tonnes.
  • The tableaux should not be more than 45 feet long, 14 feet wide and 16 feet high from the ground.

Padma Awards

What are Padma awards?

  • The Padma awards are the highest civilian honour of India after the Bharat Ratna. They are announced every year on the eve of Republic Day. The awards are given in three categories: Padma Vibhushan (for exceptional and distinguished service), Padma Bhushan (distinguished service of higher-order) and Padma Shri (distinguished service).
  • The award seeks to recognise achievements in all fields of activities or disciplines where an element of public service is involved.
  • The awards are given in certain select categories which include Art, Social Work, Public Affairs, Science & Engineering, Trade & Industry, Medicine, Literature & Education, Civil Service and Sports. Awards are also given for the propagation of Indian culture, protection of human rights, wildlife protection among others.
  • The Padma Awards Were instituted in 1954 along with Bharat Ratna. At that time only Padma Vibhushan existed with three sub-categories – Pahela Varg, Dusra Varg and Tisra Varg.
  • These were subsequently renamed as Padma VibhushanPadma Bhushan and Padma Shri vide Presidential Notification issued on January 8, 1955. During the years 1978 and 1979 and 1993 to 1997, Padma awards were not announced.
  • The awardees do not get any cash reward but a certificate signed by the President apart from a medallion which they can wear at public and government functions. The awards are, however, not a conferment of title and the awardees are expected to not use them as prefix or suffix to their names.
  • A Padma awardee can be given a higher award only after five years of the conferment of the earlier award.
  • Not more than 120 awards can be given in a year but this does not include posthumous awards or awards given to NRIs and foreigners. The award is normally not conferred posthumously. However, in highly deserving cases, the Government could consider giving an award posthumously.

Who is eligible for Padma awards?

  • All persons without distinction of race, occupation, position or sex are eligible for these awards. However, government servants including those working with PSUs, except doctors and scientists, are not eligible for these awards.
  • The award seeks to recognise works of distinction and is given for distinguished and exceptional achievements or service in all fields of activities and disciplines.
  • According to Padma awards selection criteria, the award is given for “special services” and not just for “long service”. “It should not be merely excellence in a particular field, but the criteria has to be ‘excellence plus’.

Who nominates the awardees?

  • Any citizen of India can nominate a potential recipient. One can even nominate one’s own self. All nominations are to be done online where a form is to be filled along with details of the person or the organisation being nominated.
  • The government opens the Padma awards portal for nominations between May 1 and September 15 every year. It also writes to various state governments, governors, Union territories, central ministries and various departments to send nominations.
  • There is also no rigid criteria or trenchant formula for selection, according to MHA. However, the lifetime achievement of an individual is among the main considerations.

Who selects the awardees?

  • All nominations received for Padma awards are placed before the Padma Awards Committee, which is constituted by the Prime Minister every year. The Padma Awards Committee is headed by the Cabinet Secretary and includes Home Secretary, Secretary to the President and four to six eminent persons as members.
  • The recommendations of the committee are submitted to the Prime Minister and the President of India for approval.

Is the recipient’s consent sought?

  • There is no provision for seeking a written or formal consent of the recipient before the announcement of the award. However, before the announcement, every recipient receives a call from the Ministry of Home Affairs informing him or her about the selection.

Kathak

About:

  • The word Kathak has been derived from the word Katha which means a story. It is primarily performed in Northern India.
  • It was primarily a temple or village performance wherein the dancers narrated stories from ancient scriptures. It is one of the classical dances of India.

Dance Style:

  • Usually a solo performance, the dancer often pauses to recite verses followed by their execution through movement.
  • The focus is more on footwork; the movements are skillfully controlled and performed straight-legged by dancers wearing ankle bells.
  • The tatkaar is the fundamental footwork in kathak.
  • Kathak is the only form of classical dance wedded to Hindustani or North Indian music.
  • Some prominent dancers include Birju Maharaj, Sitara Devi.

Ancient Monuments And Dynasties:

Bhimbetka rock shelters 

Context:

  • The two-horned Sumatran rhino’s depiction in the Bhimbetka rock shelters of Madhya Pradesh has provided researchers with a clue to early human migration in the subcontinent.

About:

  • Bhimbetka is a complex that includes six other hills containing more than a thousand rock shelters providing evidence of human settlement as early as 100,000 years ago.
  • It spans the Paleolithic and Mesolithic periods, as well as the historic period.
  • It exhibits the earliest traces of human life in India and evidence of the Stone Age starting at the site in Acheulian times.
  • It is a UNESCO World Heritage Site that consists of seven hills and over 750 rock shelters distributed over 10 km.
  • Bhimbetka rock art is considered the oldest petroglyphs in the world, some of these similar to aboriginal rock art in Australia and the palaeolithic Lascaux cave paintings in France.
  • It is inside the Ratapani Wildlife Sanctuary, embedded in sandstone rocks, in the foothills of the Vindhya Range.

Gangaikondacholapuram

  • Brick walls unearthed at Maligaimedu in Gangaikondacholapuram.

About:

  • Gaṅgaikoṇḍa Chōḻapuram is a village located near to Jayankondam, Ariyalur district, Tamil Nadu.
  • It became the capital of the Chola dynasty in c. 1025 during the reign of Rajendra Chola I and served as the Chola capital for around 250 years.
  • The city was founded by Rajendra Chola I to commemorate his victory over the Pala Dynasty.
  • Gangaikondacholapuram has an important place in the history of the Cholas. The palace remains are the only surviving examples of the secular architecture of the Cholas in Tamil Nadu.

More:

  • He (Rajendra Chola I) not only built the Gangaikondacholeeswarar Temple, rivalling the Peruvudaiyar Kovil (Sri Brihadisvara/Big Temple) built by his father Rajaraja Chola at Thanjavur, but also a huge lake to the west of the city, named Cholagangam.
  • The lake is considered the jalasthambam, signifying his victorious march up to the Ganges. Known as Ponneri now, it still remains one of the biggest in the region.

Korkai

Context:

  • A reconnaissance survey in the sea off the coast of Korkai in Thoothukudi district, which finds mention in Sangam literature, will be undertaken.

About:

  • Korkai is a small village in the Srivaikuntam taluk of Thoothukudi district in Tamil Nadu.
  • It was called Pandya-Kavada in the Kapatapuram in Kalithogai.
  • It is situated about 3 km north of the Thamirabarani River and about 6 km from the shore of the Bay of Bengal.
  • Korkai was the capital, principal centre of trade and important part of the Early Pandyan Kingdom.
  • At that time, it was located on the banks of the Tamiraparani River and at the sea coast, forming a natural harbour.
  • Due to excessive sedimentation, the sea has receded about 6 km in the past 2000 years, leaving Korkai well inland today.

Thamirabarani River:

  • The Thamirabarani or Tamraparni or Porunai is a perennial river that originates from the Agastyarkoodam peak of the Pothigai hills of the Western Ghats.
  • It flows through the Tirunelveli and Thoothukudi districts of the Tamil Nadu state of southern India into the Gulf of Mannar.
  • It was called the Tamraparni River in the pre-classical period, a name it lent to the island of Sri Lanka. The old Tamil name of the river is Porunai.

Mitākṣarā

  • The Mitākṣarā is a vivṛti (legal commentary) on the Yajnavalkya Smriti best known for its theory of “inheritance by birth.”
  • It was written by Vijñāneśvara, a scholar in the Western Chalukya court in the late eleventh and early twelfth century.
  • Along with the Dāyabhāga, it was considered one of the main authorities on Hindu Law from the time the British began administering laws in India.
  • Vijñāneśvara's commentary “brings together numerous smṛti passages, explains away contradictions among them by following the rules of interpretation laid down in the Purva Mimamsa system.

History

Famous Personalities:

Swami Vivekananda

  • The original name of Swami Vivekananda was Narendranath Dutta (1863-1902) and he became the most famous disciple of Shri Ramkrishna Paramahamsa. In 1886 Narendranath took the vow of Sanyasa and was given the name, Vivekananda. 
  • He preached Vedantic Philosophy. 
  • He condemned the caste system and the current Hindu emphasis on rituals and ceremonies. 
  • Swami Vivekananda participated at the Parliament of Religions held in Chicago (USA) in September 1893 and raised the prestige of India and Hinduism very high. 
  • Vivekananda preached the message of strength and self-reliance. 
  • He asked the people to improve the lives of the poor and depressed classes.
  • He believed that service to mankind is service to God. 
  • He founded the Ramkrishna Mission at Belur in Howrah in 1897. 
  • The objectives of this Mission are providing humanitarian relief and social work through the establishment of schools, colleges, hospitals and orphanages.

Pandit Ishwar Chandra 

  • Pandit Ishwar Chandra was a great educator, humanist and social reformer.
  • He rose to be the Head Pandit of the Bengali Department of Fort William College. 
  • In 1850, he became the principal of Sanskrit College. 
  • He was determined to break the priestly monopoly of scriptural knowledge, and for this he opened the Sanskrit College to non-brahmins. 
  • He introduced western thought in Sanskrit College to break the self-imposed isolation of Sanskritic learning. 
  • Also, as an academician, he evolved a new methodology to teach Sanskrit. 
  • He also devised a new Bengali primer and evolved a new prose style.
  • Vidyasagar founded many schools for girls. He helped J.D. Bethune to establish the Bethune School. 
  • He founded the Metropolitan Institution in Calcutta. 
  • He protested against child marriage and favoured widow remarriage which was legalised by the Widow Remarriage Act (1856). 
  • It was due to his great support for the spread of education that he was given the title of Vidyasagar.

Mahatma Gandhi

Context:

  • The 74th anniversary of Mahatma Gandhi's death gives us a chance to reflect on his life and contributions as a major figure in world history. To praise a historical figure, one usually tries to enumerate their qualities in order to demonstrate how amazing they were in all aspects of life.  

The ideology of Mahatma Gandhi:

  • For many people, Gandhi has become an iconic figure, a symbol of many things.
  • The twenty-first century has evolved into a materialistic and pompous world ruled by greed, malice, and hatred, with spiritual and moral values dwindling.
  • Respect, understanding, acceptance, and appreciation, the four basic principles of ahimsa or nonviolence, have lost their identity, depth, and value in the twenty-first century.
  • His techniques have universal appeal, making them appropriate not only for today but for all times and ages.

Gandhiji's Golden Rule: Peace comes from simplicity:

  • The most important ethical rule Gandhi derived from his reading of the Gita, which he dubbed the Golden Rule, is that all acts that cannot be performed without attachment are forbidden.
  • Great men all over the world, including Martin Luther King Jr. and Nelson Mandela, were inspired by these ideals. Their lives are a testament to their unwavering determination and courage in putting their ideas into action.
  • As a result, India's youth must be inspired and learn how to peacefully confront intolerance and violence.
  • The two sides of the same coin are intolerance and violence. During India's struggle for independence, Mahatma Gandhi successfully weaponized truth, satyagraha, and peace.

Even during pandemics, Gandhian ideology holds true:

  • During the freedom struggle, Gandhiji's emphasis on khadi and village industries is especially relevant today; a Bharat that is atmanirbhar, or self-sufficient, is the Bharat of Bapu's dreams.
  • The COVID-19 pandemic has taught us a number of important lessons, the most important of which is the concept of atmanirbharta, which has come to symbolise self-esteem.
  • “The best way to find yourself is to lose yourself in the service of others,” Mahatma Gandhi wisely observed.
  • The nation's youth should chart the course of India's development with ingenuity and innovation, bolstering the concept of vocal for locals.

Rani Velu Nachiyar

  • Rani Velu Nachiyar was an 18th-century queen from Sivagangai district in Tamil Nadu, who is known as the first queen to have fought against the British colonial power
  • Born in 1730, she is hailed for her campaign against the East India Company.
  • She is known among Tamils as Veeramangai.
  • She was the princess of Ramanathapuram and the only child of Raja Chellamuthu vijaya ragunatha Sethupathy and Rani Sakandhimuthal of the Ramnad kingdom.
  • During her reign, the queen formed a women's only army called Udaiyaal.
  • For more than 10 years, Velu Nachiyar proudly ruled Sivagangai before she died in 1796 of an illness.

Fatima Sheikh

  • She is widely considered to be India's first Muslim woman teacher.
  • Sheikh, alongside fellow pioneers and social reformers Jyotirao and Savitribai Phule, co-founded the Indigenous Library in 1848, one of India's first schools for girls.
  • Fatima Sheikh was born on this day in 1831 in Pune. She lived with her brother Usman, and the siblings opened their home to the Phules after the couple was evicted for attempting to educate people in lower castes.
  • The Indigenous Library opened under the Sheikhs' roof. Here, Savitribai Phule and Fatima Sheikh taught communities of marginalized Dalit and Muslim women and children who were denied education based on class, religion, or gender.
  • Sheikh was a champion of the ‘Satyashodhak Samaj’ (Truthseekers’ Society) – the equality movement by the Phules to provide educational opportunities to the downtrodden communities – and went door-to-door and invited the members in her community to learn at the Indigenous Library to escape the rigidity of the Indian caste system.

Prarthana Samaj

  • In 1863, Keshub Chandra Sen helped found the Prarthana Samaj in Bombay. It was an off-shoot of Brahmo Samaj. 
  • Here the emphasis was on monotheism, on 'works' rather than on faith. 
  • They relied on education and persuasion and not on confrontation with Hindu orthodoxy. 
  • There was a four-point social agenda also: (i) disapproval of the caste system, (ii) women's education, (iii) widow remarriage, and (iv) raising the age of marriage for both males and females. 
  • It was a reform movement within Hinduism and concentrated on social reforms like inter-dining, inter-marriage, widow remarriage and uplift of women and depressed classes. 
  • Justice M.G. Ranade and R.G. Bhandarkar joined it in 1870 and infused new strength to it. 
  • Justice Ranade promoted the Deccan Education Society.

Guru Ravidas Jayanti

Context

  • Recently, the Punjab elections have been postponed to 20th February from the earlier 14th February. This was done because of the Guru Ravidas Jayanti, an annual occasion during which Ravidassias travel to Varanasi in large numbers.

Who is Guru Ravidas and who are considered Ravidassias?

  • Guru Ravidas was a mystic poet-saint of the Bhakti Movement from the 15th and 16th centuries. He founded the Ravidassia religion. It is believed that he was born in Varanasi in a cobbler’s family. He gained prominence due to his belief in one God and his unbiased religious poems. His devotional songs made an instant impact on the Bhakti Movement.
  • Around 41 of his poems were included in ‘Guru Granth Sahib’, the religious text of the Sikhs.

About Guru Ravidas

  • Ravidassias are a Dalit community, that mostly live in the doaba region of Punjab. The Dera Sachkhand Ballan is their largest dera with 20 lakh followers worldwide.

Why do devotees visit Varanasi to celebrate Guru Ravidas Jayanti?

  • After identifying the birthplace of Guru Ravidas at Seer Goverdhanpur village near Banaras Hindu University, the dera established the temple there.
  • Since then, several followers started visiting the temple and, gradually, it became a practice to celebrate Guru Ravidas Jayanti in Varanasi.

How did the Dera Sachkhand Ballan establish?

  • It was founded in the early 20th century by Baba Sant Pipal Das. After the death of Sant Pipal Das, his son Sant Sarwan Das headed the dera from 1928 to 1972. There have been three more heads Sant Hari Das, Sant Garib Das and Sant Niranjan Das after that and none was chosen by heredity.
  • The dera severed their decades-old ties with Sikhism in 2010 and announced to follow the Ravidassia religion. It replaced Guru Granth Sahib with its own Granth, Amritbani, carrying 200 hymns of Guru Ravidas, in Ravidassia temples and gurdwaras.

What was the reason behind severing ties with Sikhism?

  • There had been a deadly attack by fundamentalists on Shri Guru Ravidas Temple in Vienna in 2009. They killed the Dera Sachkhand Ballan’s then second-in-command, Sant Ramanand, and injured 30 people.
  • The Vienna attack triggered riots in doaba, mainly in Jalandhar, where a curfew was imposed for 15 days. This event led to severing Ravidas community ties with Sikhism. Ravidassias even demanded a separate column for their religion in the 2021 Census.

Battles And Organization:

Sikh Takht

Context:

  • The Delhi Assembly has passed an amendment Bill to the Delhi Sikh Gurdwara Act, 1971, recognizing Takht Damdama Sahib as the fifth Takht of Sikhs.

What is a Sikh Takht?

  • A Takht, which means a throne, is a seat of temporal authority for Sikhs.
  • There are five Sikh Takhts, three in Punjab and one each in Maharashtra and Bihar.

Akal Takht

  • Located in Amritsar, it is the oldest of the Takhts, and considered supreme among the five.
  • It was set up in 1606 by Guru Hargobind, whose succession as the sixth Guru after the execution of his father, Guru Arjan Dev, is considered a turning point in Sikh history.
  • The Akal Takht, a raised platform that he built in front of the causeway leading to the sanctum sanctorum of the Harmandir Sahib (Golden Temple).
  • It symbolised the coming together of the temporal authority and the political sovereignty of the Sikh community (Miri) with the spiritual authority (Piri).
  • It is seen as the first marker of Sikh nationalism.
  • The other four Takhts are linked to Guru Gobind Singh, the tenth Sikh Guru.

Takht Keshgarh Sahib

  • Located in Anandpur Sahib in Punjab. It was here that Guru Gobind Singh raised Khalsa, the initiated Sikh warriors, in 1699.

Takht Patna Sahib

  • Guru Gobind Singh was born here in 1666.

Takht Hazur Sahib

  • In Nanded, where Guru Gobin Singh spent time and where he was cremated in 1708.

Takht Damdama Sahib

  • In Talwandi Sabo of Bathinda. Guru Gobind Singh spent several months here.
  • What does the amendment to the Delhi Sikh Gurdwara Act mean?
  • Simply put, it adds one more ex officio member in the Delhi Sikh Gurdwara Managament Committee (DSGMC) house.
  • Earlier, there were four ex officio members in the house — the chiefs (jathedars) of the other four Sikh Takhts.

Is it the first time it has been recognised as the fifth Takht?

  • It was back in 1999 that Takht Damdama Sahib was recognised as the fifth Sikh Takht by the Union Home Ministry.
  • It included it as such in the Sikh Gurdwaras Act, 1925 (Punjab Act VIII of 1925) with a notification dated April 23, 1999.
  • Before that, an SGPC sub-committee had declared it the fifth Takht of Sikhs back in November 1966 after Punjab was carved out as a separate state through the Punjab Reorganisation Act, 1966.

How politically significant is the move?

  • It comes ahead of the Punjab Assembly elections, where Delhi’s ruling party, has high stakes.

What is the role of the Sikh Takhts?

  • The Takhts are known to issue hukumnamas (morality orders) from time to time on issues that concern the Sikh community.
  • Akal Takht is supreme among them because it is the oldest and was created by a Sikh Guru himself, say Sikh scholars.
  • Any edict or order concerning the entire community is issued only from Akal Takht.
  • It is from Akal Takht that Sikhs found to be violating the Sikh doctrine and code of conduct are awarded religious punishment (declared tankhaiya).

Who appoints the jathedars of the Takhts?

  • The three Takhts in Punjab are directly controlled by the SGPC, which appoints the jathedars.
  • The SGPC is dominated by SAD members.
  • It is widely understood that SAD puts the final seal on the appointment of these three jathedars.
  • The two Takhts outside Punjab have their own trusts and boards.

Geography

Cold Wave in North Delhi

Context:

  • The winter of 2021-22 in India, particularly in North India, has been extremely cold and unusually long. The days have felt chillier and colder than normal.

What are the key points?

Colder:

  • Maximum temperatures in the North, Northwest, and Central India regions have persistently been below normal since December 2021, leading to “cold day” conditions. Technically, this refers to more than just a cold day.
  • A cold day is one in which the temperature falls below 16 degrees Celsius, which is common during the winter months in India's northern plains.

Wetter:

  • Light to moderate rainfall is also typical in surrounding parts of North India throughout the winter.
  • However, significant rain has fallen in India's central, northwestern, eastern, northern, and northeastern regions in January.
  • This month, as many as 24 states or union territories have experienced rainfall ranging from excess to large excess.
  • There is less fog than normal
  • The months of December and January are known for the formation of dense fog in North India.
  • The national capital was fogged in for 252 hours in January 2022, compared to the usual 292 hours.
  • According to IMD officials, the current winter has produced the lowest fog hours over Delhi since 1991-92.

What are the Causes?

Western Disturbances:

  • Until January 25th, 2022, seven western disturbances passed over India, practically all of which were severe enough to generate widespread rain, snowfall, and unstable weather throughout large geographical areas between Pakistan and Northeast India.
  • These systems brought hailstorms to northern Maharashtra and heavy rains to Tamil Nadu.

La Nina:

  • La Nina is connected with the more frequent and highest numbers of western disturbances.
  • At the moment, moderate-intensity La Nina conditions exist, which manifest as cooler-than-normal sea surface temperatures in the equatorial Pacific Ocean.

Cold Winds from the far North:

  • After a western disturbance sweeps India, cold winds from the country's far north penetrate to lower latitudes, reaching as far south as Telangana and Maharashtra, resulting in colder weather and, in some cases, cold waves conditions.

Moisture and low-lying clouds:

  • The availability of moisture and the presence of low-lying clouds along the Indo-Gangetic plains favoured cold day conditions and the additional chill factor felt during the day.
  • This was the season's longest and most intense spell so far.

Central Ground Water Authority (CGWA)

  • Central Ground Water Board (CGWB) is the apex organization of the Ministry of Water Resources dealing with groundwater and related issues.
  • The Central Ground Water Board has a mandate to “Develop and disseminate technologies, and monitor and implement national policies for the scientific and sustainable development and management of India’s groundwater resources, including their exploration, assessment, conservation, augmentation, protection from pollution and distribution, based on principles of economic and ecological efficiency and equity”.

Mission:

  • To develop groundwater policies, programmes and practices to monitor and enable effective use of the country’s groundwater resources in a sustainable manner with the active involvement of all stakeholders.
  • To put into place scientific systems and practices, which would result in a sustained increase in groundwater use efficiency.
  • To disseminate information, skills and knowledge, which would help in capacity building and mass awareness in the groundwater sector.
  • The need for adopting rainwater harvesting is
    • To overcome the inadequacy of surface water to meet our demands.
    • To arrest the decline in groundwater levels.
    • To enhance the availability of groundwater at specific places and times and utilize rainwater for sustainable development.
    • To increase infiltration of rainwater in the subsoil which has decreased drastically in urban areas due to paving of open areas.
    • To improve groundwater quality by dilution.
    • To increase agriculture production.
    • To improve the ecology of the area by an increase in vegetation cover etc.

Tiwa Community

  • Tiwa (Lalung) is an ethnic group mainly inhabiting the states of Assam and Meghalaya in northeastern India.
  • They are also found in some areas of Arunachal Pradesh, Manipur and Nagaland.
  • They are recognized as a Scheduled tribe within the State of Assam.
  • Tiwa is spoken in northwestern Karbi Anglong district and further north in parts of Morigaon District / Nagaon District in the plains of Assam. There is a cluster of Tiwa villages in the northeastern Ri-Bhoi District of Meghalaya.
  • The main festivals of the Tiwa tribes are: Three Pisû (Bihu), Borot Kham (Borot Utsav), Chunbîl Melâ (Jonbeel Mela), Kablâ Phûja, Khel Cháwa Kham, Langkhôn Phûja, Sôgra Phûja, Wanshúwa Kham (Wanshuwa), Yanglî Phûja, etc. (Note: Pisû = Bihu Kham = Festivals, Phûja = Puja).

Lignite

  • Lignite, often referred to as brown coal, is a soft, brown, combustible, sedimentary rock formed from naturally compressed peat.
  • It has a carbon content of around 25–35% and is considered the lowest rank of coal due to its relatively low heat content.
  • Lignite is mined all around the world and is used almost exclusively as a fuel for steam-electric power generation.
  • The combustion of lignite produces less heat for the amount of carbon dioxide and sulfur released than other ranks of coal.
  • As a result, environmental advocates have characterized lignite as the most harmful coal to human health.
  • Indian lignite deposits occur in the Tertiary sediments in the southern and western parts of the peninsular shield particularly in Tamil Nadu, Puducherry, Kerala, Gujarat, Rajasthan and Jammu & Kashmir.

Society

Women:

Marital Rape

Context:

  • In 2005-06, the National Family Health Survey discovered that 93% of the 80,000 women polled said their current or former husbands had sexually abused them.
  • The Delhi High Court recently received a slew of petitions seeking to make marital rape a crime.

About Marital Rape:

  • Marital rape (also known as spousal rape) is when one spouse engages in sexual activity without the consent of the other.
  • In India, rape persists because of the patriarchal mindset that women are the property of men after marriage, with no autonomy or agency over their bodies.
  • They deny married women equal protection under the Indian constitution's laws.
  • IPC Section 375 defines rape and lists seven notions of consent that, if vitiated, would constitute the offence of rape by a man. The crucial exemption: “Sexual intercourse or sexual acts by a man with his own wife, the wife not being under eighteen years of age, is not rape.”
  • This exemption essentially allows a marital right to a “husband”, who can with legal sanction exercise his right to consensual or non-consensual sex with his “wife”. This exemption is being challenged as unconstitutional as it undermines the consent of a woman based on her marital status.

The legality of Marital Rape in India:

  • More than 100 countries have criminalised marital rape today, but India is one of only 36 countries where the crime remains unpunished.
  • According to the National Family Health Survey (NFHS) from 2015-16, 99.1% of sexual assault cases go unreported, and the average Indian woman is 17 times more likely to face sexual violence from her husband than from others.

What are the difficulties in criminalising marital rape?

  • Threat to Women: It will exacerbate the threat to a woman's life posed by her husband and in-laws. Any attempt to oppose them may result in more atrocities and an assassination attempt on her life.
  • Patriarchal Beliefs: The marital rape exception is an affront to the constitutional goals of individual autonomy, dignity, and gender equality enshrined in fundamental rights such as Article 21 (the right to life) and Article 14 (the right to equal protection under the law) (the right to equality).
  • Eye witness: There are issues because these crimes are committed in an area where there are no eyewitnesses. However, this is also true for other crimes such as rape and POCSO.

Recommendation of the Justice J. S. Verma Committee:

  • While some of its recommendations influenced the Criminal Law (Amendment) Act of 2013, its most radical recommendations, such as those on marital rape, were ignored.
  • Marriage is regarded as a sacred institution, so most husbands receive protection in the name of marriage.

Government’s View:

  • Distancing Effect on Marriage Institution: Until now, the government has repeatedly stated that criminalising marital rape will endanger the institution of marriage and infringe on the right to privacy.
  • Abuse of Legal Provisions: There is growing abuse of Section 498A of the IPC (harassment of a married woman by her husband and in-laws) and the Protection of Women from Domestic Violence Act, 2005.

Way Ahead:

  • The legislature should address this legal flaw and bring marital rape under the purview of rape laws by repealing Section 375 (Exception) of the IPC. Women will be safer from abusive spouses if this law is repealed.
  • Marriage and divorce must be brought under secular law, and there should be no difficulty in developing a common code of law for all communities, at least for marriage and divorce.
  • It is critical that the legal prohibition of marital rape be accompanied by changes in the attitudes of prosecutors, police officers, and members of society in general.

Cyber Crime Against Women

Context:

  • The online 'sale' of 100 or so Muslim women on a GitHub app is shocking and outrageous. Last year, a similar app staged an 'auction' of community women using language that dehumanised them into 'deals of the day.'
  • Sulli Deals, a website with profiles of around 80 Muslim women, was launched in July of last year, describing them as “deals of the day.”

About Cybercrime:

  • Cybercrime is a global phenomenon, and with the advancement of technology, women's victimisation and cybercrime are on the rise, posing a serious threat to their safety.
  • According to the National Crime Records Bureau (NCRB), only 251 cases of defamation or morphing of women's photos and 354 cases of their fake profiles were reported under the Indian Penal Code, IT Act, and Indecent Representation of Women (Prohibition) Act in “Crime in India 2020.”
  • According to NCRB statistics, India's total cybercrimes in 2020 were 50,035, with only 10,405 specifically targeting women. These figures only scratch the surface of the situation.

Different types of Cybercrimes:

  • Cyberstalking is one of the most talked-about internet crimes in today's world, and it entails following a person's online movements.
  • Email harassment is similar to letter harassment in that it includes blackmailing, threatening, bullying, and even cheating via email.
  • Cyberbullying is the intentional and repeated infliction of harm through the use of computers by sending intimidating or threatening messages.
  • Morphing: This is the process of an unauthorised user editing an original photograph. It has been observed that photographs of women are downloaded from websites by fake users and then re-posted on different websites by creating fake profiles after being edited.
  • Email spoofing: A spoofed email is one that misinterprets its origin, making it appear as if it came from somewhere other than where it actually came from.
  • Cyber defamation: Another common crime against women on the internet is cyber tort, which includes libel and defamation.
  • Trolling and gender bullying: On the internet, women are targeted; troll posts are primarily related to provocative postings intended to elicit a large number of frivolous responses.
  • The increased use of cyberstalking as a form of harassment is due to the availability of free email and website space, as well as the anonymity provided by chat rooms and forums.
  • India ranks third in the world, behind China and Singapore, in terms of cyberbullying, and the number of suicides linked to cyberbullying has increased over the last decade.

Way Ahead:

  • The registration of a criminal case sets the law in motion, allowing the rogues to be tracked down, arrested, and prosecuted even if they are located outside the country.
  • Better infrastructure, more cyber cells and police stations, regular training, and ongoing collaboration with cyber experts are all required.
  • Strengthening forensic laboratories' capabilities can lead to the collection of evidence of cyberbullying, threatening, morphing, and profiling in a timely manner.
  • Fast trail Courts for Cybercrimes: According to the NCRB, court trials in only nine cases of cyber blackmailing and threatening were completed in 2020, with a 66.7% conviction rate — 393 such cases are still pending in courts.
  • Increase awareness of cyber safety and security so that youth, particularly young girls and women, take appropriate precautions
  • Similarly, 29 cases of cyberstalking and bullying of women and children were completed, with a conviction rate of 27.6%; 1,508 cases are still pending in courts.

Gender stereotyping in India

Context:

  • Parochialism is characterised by a lack of regard for and knowledge of cultures other than one’s own. A patriarchal society, mired in its own history, is frequently responsible for the barriers it sets up in the way of women exercising their inherent freedom of choices.

Gender stereotyping:

  • Glass ceiling: In corporate India, there have been enough debates about glass ceilings for women to climb up the corporate ladder.
  • -Women are thought to be soft-spoken, more caring, and to have maternal instincts. This “Emotional Quotient” is designed to prepare them for careers as artists, teachers, doctors, nurses, and other professionals.
  • Institution of Marriage: For example, It is believed that a young woman who was compelled (apparently willingly) to serve her husband’s family rather than assist her husband in running the family business, as she desired.
  • Not valuing household work: Housework is nearly always believed to be done by the lady, and it is not uncommon for society to rejoice when a man does it.
  • Even in the domain of entrepreneurship, most women encounter scepticism from society at large and even family members that being an entrepreneur is an insecure pursuit.
  • The Supreme Court of India directed the National Defence Academy must admit women to its programmes, offering them the same opportunity as males to join the armed forces from the Academy.
  • In 2020, India is placed 108th out of 153 nations in the global gender inequality index, up from 130th out of 155 countries in 2015.
  • India has achieved gender parity in primary school enrollment and increased female literacy from 54% in 2001 to 66% (2011).

Covid and Woman Workforce:

  • Covid Widows: Thousands of individuals have died as a result of the Covid-19 pandemic, which has wreaked havoc on economies all across the world. Unfortunately, more males have died, leaving a large number of Covid widows.
  • Most of them would never have worked a single day in a formal workforce to make a living and will now be compelled to become the family’s major breadwinner.
  • In many cases, the properties are recorded in the name of a male family member, and most women are unaware of the legal nuances of succession and property rights, making it difficult for them to battle for what is really theirs.
  • Necessary educational qualification, employability-skillsets, familial &/or social acceptance in our already cocooned parochial society, is the need of the hour.

Way Ahead:

  • COVID-19 is a chance to reflect on our human spirit as well as a challenge for our worldwide healthcare systems. The global pandemic crisis has provided an opportunity to revisit the ingrained socio-historical patriarchal domination in order to equalise the playing field. It would take a long time to change people's attitudes. But now, more than ever, it is desperately needed.
  • We must understand and demonstrate that India's true soft power is 'Nari Shakti,' not just demographic power.

Health:

Fall of Fertility Rate and its challenges 

Context:

  • As the fertility rate falls below replacement, according to National Family Health Survey, new challenges such as increased dependency, rising healthcare, and social security needs will arise. India needs to take the necessary policy steps.

About:

  • Impact of this fall infertility on Demography.
  • With fewer births, the youth population will continue to decline. As the number of young people declines, the number of older people will outnumber the young.
  • India will need to rethink its approach to social security and make investments to ensure that the growing number of senior citizens have better access to healthcare, financial security, and social safety nets.

Challenges in Health:

  • India’s health policies and programmes have focused on family planning, maternal and child health, and communicable diseases.
  • This percentage is expected to rise in the near future, necessitating a significant policy shift toward the prevention and management of morbidities such as diabetes, cardiovascular disease, and cancer.
  • However, due to their declining social and economic bargaining power, older adults are still at risk of food and nutrition insecurity; 6% of Indians over the age of 45 have experienced insufficient food in the home. With the growing number of older adults, this number is expected to rise.
  • Despite this, the number of noncommunicable diseases is already outnumbering infectious diseases as the population ages. According to the WHO, non-communicable diseases account for nearly 60% of all deaths in the country.

Increase Fiscal Costs:

  • A rising dependency ratio will be a fiscal challenge as the fertility rate declines. The dependency ratio in India increased from 5.4 in 1960 to 9.8 in 2020 and will reach more than 20.3 in 2050, as measured by the number of people aged 65 and up compared to the population aged 15 to 64.

Gender Issues:

  • Women's life expectancy is expected to be two years longer than men's at 65 years in the next three decades. According to UN estimates, women will account for 56% of India's population by 2050, when they reach the age of 80.
  • The average number of years spent in school among women between the ages of 40 and 45 is not encouraging. Many older women will be less empowered and more vulnerable to social insecurity as a result.

Way Ahead:

  • Moving forward, a new dimension must be added to the gendered approach to health care, food security, and overall well-being: old age. India's old-age pension contribution, which currently stands at 1% of GDP, needs to be increased.
  • Even though the effects of the demographic transition will not be felt immediately, India must begin the process as soon as possible, as the shift in the socio-cultural landscape towards the elderly will take time.
  • Old-age pension plans and other social safety nets should make a concerted effort to ensure the health and nutrition security of older and underserved women.

Anganwadi in Early childhood care

Context:

  • Early childhood care and education (ECCE) is critical for a young child's early cognitive, social, and emotional development, as stated in the National Education Policy 2020. Only 13.6% of children are enrolled in pre-primary schools, according to the National Family Health Survey-5 (NFHS-5).
  • As a result, the nearly 1.4 million anganwadis of the Integrated Child Development Services (ICDS) in India must provide ECCE to millions of low-income children.

Present Early Childhood Care Education:

  • The current system caters to children aged 3-6 years old at best, ignoring infants and toddlers.
  • A child's early learning begins at birth, first through stimulation, play, interactions, nonverbal and verbal communication, and then gradually through observation and cues from the immediate environment, as well as increasingly structured activities.
  • Unfortunately, disadvantaged households are unable to provide an early learning environment due to a lack of parental awareness compounded by the daily stresses of poverty.

Challenges for Anganwadi’s providing ECCE:

  • More workload: Due to the high workload of Anganwadi workers, some educationists believe that ECCE in anganwadis will remain a non-starter.
  • Heavy Investment: Building over a million classrooms with a million nursery teachers and helpers would require a massive investment For example, even a conservative estimate puts the additional annual outlay at over Rs 30,000 crore.
  • Upskilling of Anganwadis: It is a huge task to Upskill the Anganwadi teachers and maintain a good quality ECCE.
  • All government primary schools should open pre-primary sections, with anganwadis limiting themselves to the 0-3 age group.

Steps to be Taken to Implement ECCE in Anganwadis are below:

  • To design and implement a meaningful activity-based ECCE framework that recognises the realities on the ground and is autonomous enough to reflect the local context and setting.
  • Reduce the assigned work: Many anganwadi assistants have completed matriculation. Helpers can be reclassified as childcare workers and handle routine tasks with training and an additional incentive.
  • Anganwadi hours can be increased by at least three hours by increasing staff remuneration, with the extra time devoted to ECCE.
  • By prioritising and monitoring ECCE, ICDS requires a shift in policy mindset at both the national and state levels. This will also necessitate full ECCE training for all ICDS staff, including assessment through group activities and child observation.
  • Effective Engagement between Teachers and Parents: Because responsive parenting necessitates both parents participating actively in ECCE activities at home, Anganwadi workers should be asked to engage with fathers as well.
  • ICDS must provide age-appropriate activity-based play material in sufficient quantities on a regular basis, with Anganwadi workers encouraged to use it liberally.
  • States should invest in early childhood education research and training and ensure that the ECCE programme is not a downward extension of schooling.
  • Karnataka is already ahead of the pack; its anganwadis are open from 9 a.m. to 4 p.m. This will also serve as a partial daycare facility, allowing poor mothers to earn a living.
  • Appropriate messaging and low-cost, easily accessible teaching materials can be created and made available to parents.

Society and Education:

Unity of India

Context:

  • As Indians are always proud of their “unity in diversity,” it would be a travesty of justice, equity, and fair play to hear an open call for the annihilation of minority groups.  

Different Diversities in India:

  • Linguistic: The main linguistic composition of India is Hindi (35%); Bengali (8.12 %); Telugu (7.20 %); Marathi (7 %); Tamil (5.95 %); Urdu (5.02 %); Gujarati (4.48 %); Kannada (3.70 %); Malayalam (3.21 %); Odiya (3.21 %); Punjabi (2.84 %); Assamese (1.30 %); Maithili (1.18 %); Bhili/Bhilo (0.0013 % ).
  • Religious: Hindus (75 %); Muslims (15 %); Christians (3 %); Sikhs (2.5 %); Buddhists (0.80 %); Jains (0.60 %); Bahais (0.17 %); Zoroastrians/Parsis (0.17 %);
  • Racial diversity: According to the 1931 census, India's racial diversity was classified as follows: Negrito, Proto-Australoid, Mongoloid, Mediterranean, Western Brachycephals, and Nordic.

Factors threatening India's unity include:

  • Regionalism: Regionalism prioritises the interests of a specific region or region over national interests. It can also have a negative impact on national integration.
  • Divisive politics: Politicians will sometimes invoke ascriptive identities such as caste, religion, and so on in order to gain support.
  • Inter-religious conflicts: Inter-religious conflicts not only harm relations between two communities by spreading fear and mistrust, but they also harm the country's secular fabric.
  • Inter-state conflicts: This can give rise to feelings of regionalism. It may also have an impact on trade and communication between conflicting states. For example, consider the Cauvery River dispute between Karnataka and Tamil Nadu.
  • This kind of divisive politics can lead to violence, mistrust, and suspicion among minorities.
  • Development imbalance: An uneven pattern of socioeconomic development, insufficient economic policies, and the resulting economic disparities can lead to a region's backwardness.

Way ahead:

  • As a result, the Constitution and its values must serve as guiding principles in our society. Any society that has attempted to homogenise itself has experienced stagnation and, eventually, decline. The most prominent example, in this case, is Pakistan, which attempted to impose culture on East Pakistan, eventually leading to the formation of Bangladesh.

Polity

Executive:

AFSPA (Armed forces special power act)

  • Context:
    • Recently, the army operation resulted in the tragic death of 14 civilians in Nagaland, due to mistaken identity as insurgents. According to a report from Kohima, the government agreed to compensate the victims, but the incident led to the protest against the Armed Forces Special Powers Act (AFSPA) once again in the region.
    • In June 2021, the Ministry of Home Affairs had declared the entire State of Nagaland as a “disturbed area” for six more months under the AFSPA.
  • About the AFSPA:
    • AFSPA was first promulgated in 1942, by Linlithgow,  in response to the Quit India movement in 1942. Its aim was “to confer special powers upon certain officers of the armed forces.
    • After Independence, the Act was retained by the ordinance enacted in 1958, to control increasing violence in the North-eastern States, which the State governments found difficult to control. In simple terms, AFSPA gives armed forces the power to maintain public order in “disturbed areas”.
    • What is a “disturbed area” under AFSPA?
      • According to Section 3 of the AFSPA, an area can be declared disturbed due to differences or disputes between members of different religious, racial, language, or regional groups or castes or communities.
      • The Central Government or the Governor of the State or administrator of the Union Territory can declare the whole or part of the State or Union Territory as a disturbed area.
    • Powers given to armed forces under AFSPA:
      • Authority to prohibit a gathering of five or more persons in an area,
      • Can use force or even open fire after giving due warning if armed forces feel a person is in contravention of the law.
      • Can arrest a person without a warrant, enter or search premises without a warrant, and ban the possession of firearms.
  • Need for AFSPA:
    • Provide legal powers to Army: The Armed forces have no constitutional authority or legal powers to use force or firearms against anyone except in 1. War, 2. When guarding the international border, 3. They were in “aid to civil authority”, But a magistrate must be present at each spot to authorize the use of force in writing on a particular form.
    • A magistrate’s presence cannot be ensured with the current modus operandi of terrorists, insurgents, and militants. So, separate legislation is necessary.
    • Better counterinsurgency in border areas: Northeast India is an area of immense geostrategic importance, which shares boundaries with five countries, including Myanmar and China. It is important that the insurgency situation is brought under control. So, the Act gives security forces sweeping powers of arrest and to continue counterinsurgency operations without getting any hesitation.
    • Further, Security forces are not charged for their actions to protect the morale and integrity of the army.
    • So, the Army is of the opinion that the Act helps to control insurgency operations and protect the borders.
    • Reduce the cost of court hearings for Armed forces: The only legal right a soldier has, apart from AFSPA, is the right of “private defense” (of life or property), which must be proved post-facto in a court of law, and this takes many years of court hearings.
    • Defending such cases, in courts, would, obviously, leave no time or resources for any other military responsibilities, for years. Under AFSPA, only the person given the order to fire is responsible.
  • Criticism:
    • The Act provides the security personnel with absolute powers without accountability. This leads to various issues.
    • In 2013, the Supreme Court appointed Hegde Commission. The commission found that all seven deaths in the six cases it investigated were extrajudicial executions. The commission also said that the AFSPA was widely abused by security forces in Manipur. This commission report applies to other areas where the AFSPA is in force.
    • Human rights violations: In over 20 years, the Centre has denied prosecution sanctions under AFSPA in all cases recommended by the J&K government against army men.
    • Till today, no security personnel involved in serious criminal offenses in the Northeast has been charged or put behind bars. This is a violation of Human Rights under the Universal Declaration of Human Rights and the UN Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples.

EWS Quota and NEET Examinations

  • Context:
    • On January 1, 2021, A special committee has submitted a report to the Supreme Court on reservation for Economically Weaker Sections (EWS).
    • A special committee was created to review the eligibility criteria of 10% reservations for Economically Weaker Sections (EWS) in government institutes and jobs. Petitions have been filed in the Supreme Court, to challenge the income criteria for the EWS quota in the NEET exam, which determines admissions to medical colleges. While hearing the petition, the court asked the central government how it arrived at Rs 8 lakh income limit. Following this, an expert committee was proposed to review the EWS quota criteria.
  • Key Recommendations:
    • In a report, the panel has suggested implementing the recommendations only from the next admission cycle and not from the ongoing session.
    • This is so because sudden change will cause major disruption across educational institutes as well as create complications for authorities and beneficiaries.
    • Committee has suggested dropping the existing criteria on residential asset size. It also suggested retaining the Rs 8 lakh annual income limit.
    • It recommends continuing the existing process, which is in effect since 2019, for the current admission cycle
    • It further suggests using ‘a a three-year feedback loop cycle’ for monitoring the actual outcomes of these criteria and then using them to adjust in the future.
    • It also suggests using data exchange and information technology activities for verifying income & assets as well as improving targeting for EWS reservations.
    • It suggests removing residential asset criteria, because mere possession of a residential house may not reflect the economic condition of the candidate or his family.
  • About:
    • The 10% EWS quota was introduced under the 103rd Constitution (Amendment) Act, 2019 by amending Articles 15 and 16.
    • It inserted Article 15 (6) and Article 16 (6).
    • It is for economic reservation in jobs and admissions in educational institutes for Economically Weaker Sections (EWS).
    • It was enacted to promote the welfare of the poor not covered by the 50% reservation policy for Scheduled Castes (SCs), Scheduled Tribes (STs) and Socially and Educationally Backward Classes (SEBC).
    • It enables both the Centre and the states to provide reservation to the EWS of society.

Reservation 'not at odds' with merit, SC upholds 27% OBC quota in NEET

  • Context:
    • The Supreme Court has pronounced its decision upholding the constitutional validity of providing a 27% quota to Other Backward Classes (OBC) in NEET All India Quota (AIQ) seats for UG and PG medical courses.
    • The issue:
      • The petitioners, several NEET aspirants, had argued that since the top court had limited reservation to 50% in the Indira Sawhney judgment, the government should have first applied to the court before tinkering with the quota calculations.
      • The court further confirmed that there was no need for the Centre to have got the prior consent of the Supreme Court before introducing the OBC quota in the AIQ seats under NEET.
      • The court reasoned that the material affluence of certain individual members of a socially backward group or ‘creamy layer’ could not be used against the entire group to deny it the benefits of reservation.
    • Key observations of the Apex Court:
      • The SC has held that reservation is not at odds with merit.
      • It observed that ‘merit’ could not be narrowed to the limit of success in open competitive exams.
      • The merit of a person is a sum total of “lived experiences” and his or her struggle to overcome cultural and social setbacks, observed the SC.

Deputation of Cadre Officers

  • Context:
    • The Department of Personnel and Training (DoPT) wrote to the States on January 12 that the Union Government proposes to amend Rule 6 (Deputation of cadre officers) of the Indian Administrative Service (Cadre) Rules 1954.
    • The proposed rules will provide overriding powers to the Union Government to transfer IAS and IPS officers for Central deputation.
  • The present rules for the deputation of cadre officers:
    • Rule 6(1) of the IAS Cadre Rules says an officer may, “with the concurrence of the State Governments concerned and the Central Government, be deputed for service under the Central Government or another State Government…” It says “in case of any disagreement, the matter shall be decided by the Central Government and the State Government or State Governments concerned shall give effect to the decision of the Central Government.”
    • The Establishment Officer in the DoPT invites nominations from the State governments. Once the nomination is received, their eligibility is scrutinized by a panel, and then an offer list is prepared, usually with the State government on board. The Centre would choose officers only from among those “on offer” from the States.
    • The States would relieve the officers picked up by the Centre at the earliest. Before any officer of the AIS is called for deputation to the Centre, his or her concurrence is required. Further, the officers have to get a no-objection clearance from the State government for the Central deputation
    • States have to depute All India Services (AIS) officers, including the Indian Police Service (IPS) officers, to the Central government offices and at any point, deputation cannot be more than 40% of the total cadre strength of the state.
  • Proposed amendments to Rule 6 (deputation of cadre officers):
    • If the State government delays posting a State cadre officer to the Centre and does not give effect to the Central government’s decision within the specified time, “the officer shall stand relieved from cadre from the date as may be specified by the Central government.”
    • The number of deputed officers will be decided by the Centre: The Centre will decide the actual number of officers to be deputed to the Central government in consultation with the State. For that, the State should make eligible the names of such officers.
    • The decision of the Centre will be supreme: In case of any disagreement between the Centre and the State, the matter shall be decided by the Central government and the State shall give effect to the decision of the Centre “within a specified time.”
    • Mandatory deputation in case of public interest: In a specific situation where services of cadre officers are required by the Central government in “public interest,” the State shall give effect to its decisions within a specified time.

Legislature:

Suspension of MLA's

  • Context:
    • 12 Maharashtra BJP MLAs have gone to Supreme Court against their year-long suspension from the Assembly.
  • The argument laid down by the suspended MLAs:
    • According to them, the suspension is “grossly arbitrary and disproportionate”. Because they were not given access to video of the proceedings of the House, and it was not clear how they had been identified in the large crowd. Therefore, it amounts to
      • Denial of the principles of natural justice
      • Violation of laid-down procedure.
      • Violation of their fundamental right to equality (Article 14)
    • Also, it was against Maharashtra Legislative Assembly Rules (53): Because, the power to suspend can only be exercised by the Speaker, and it cannot be put to vote in a resolution as was done in this case.
  • The rules on the length of suspension of a Member of Parliament:
    • Rules of Procedure and Conduct of Business in Lok Sabha (Rules 373, 374, and 374A):  It provides for the withdrawal of a member whose conduct is “grossly disorderly”, and suspension of one who abuses the rules of the House or wilfully obstructs its business.
    • Maximum suspension:
      • Lok Sabha: it is for five consecutive sittings or the remainder of the session, whichever is less.
      • Rajya Sabha: under Rules 255 and 256, the maximum suspension does not exceed the remainder of the session.
      • State legislative assemblies and councils: Prescribe a maximum suspension not exceeding the remainder of the session.

Mekedatu dam issue

  • Context:
    • The ‘Mekedatu march’ has been launched for the implementation of a project to build a reservoir on the Cauvery at Mekedatu near the Tamil Nadu border.
  • What is the Mekedatu Project?

    • Mekedatu, meaning goat’s leap, is a deep gorge situated at the confluence of the rivers Cauvery and Arkavathi, about 100 km from Bengaluru, at the Kanakapura taluk in Karnataka’s Ramanagara district.
    • In 2013, then Karnataka announced the construction of a multi-purpose balancing reservoir project.
    • The project aimed to alleviate the drinking water problems of the Bengaluru and Ramanagara districts.
    • It was also expected to generate hydroelectricity to meet the power needs of the state.
  • Issues with the project:
    • Soon after the project was announced TN has objected to granting permission or environmental clearance.
    • Explaining the potential for damage to the lower riparian state of TN, it said that the project was in violation of the final award of the Cauvery Water Disputes Tribunal.
    • It stated that the project will affect the natural flow of the river Cauvery considerably and will severely affect the irrigation in TN.

International Relations

Dialogues And Talks:

India-Oman Relations

  • Context: 
    • Moving to expand its footprint in the Indian Ocean region and counter Chinese influence, New Delhi is reinvigorating ties with Oman where it has secured access to the key port of Duqm for military use and logistical support.

 

  • Significance of this move:
    • The Port of Duqm is situated on the southeastern seaboard of Oman, overlooking the Arabian Sea and the Indian Ocean.
    • It is strategically located, in close proximity to the Chabahar port in Iran. With the Assumption Island being developed in Seychelles and Agalega in Mauritius, Duqm fits into India’s proactive maritime security roadmap.
    • This is also part of India’s maritime strategy to counter Chinese influence and activities in the region.
    • The Port of Duqm also has a special economic zone, where about $1.8 billion investments are being made by some Indian companies.

India and SriLanka

  • Context:
    • China’s Foreign Minister will visit Sri Lanka in the midst of a crippling economic crisis that has seen Sri Lanka turn to India for help and fast pedal the long-delayed India-Sri Lanka plan for joint development of the Trincomalee oil tank farm.
  • About:
    • The economic crisis in Sri Lanka: Sri Lanka’s foreign exchange reserves sank to $1.6 billion.
    • The shortage has led to a drop in food imports, pushing up prices of essentials in the country.
    • An IMF bailout is the last option that Sri Lanka does not wish to take.
    • International rating agency Fitch downgraded Sri Lanka from CC to CCC, warning that the country was likely to default on two international sovereign bonds.
    • Financial assistance: India may offer in return financial assistance to help Sri Lanka tide over its present crisis.
    • Tank farm at Trincomalee: Sri Lanka is moving ahead on finalizing plans for jointly developing with India a massive oil tank farm at Trincomalee.
  • Significance of the deal:
    • 16-month-long negotiation: It will not only mark the culmination of India’s 16-month-long negotiation with the ruling Sri Lankan administration but will also give shape to a proposal envisaged 35 years ago, in the Indo-Lanka Accord.
    • China Bay: The facility, interestingly located in ‘China Bay’, has 99 storage tanks with a capacity of 12,000 kilolitres each, spread across the Upper Tank Farm and the Lower Tank Farm, where LIOC currently runs 15 tanks.
    • The new agreement being negotiated pertains to the remaining tanks.
    • Emergency Lines of Credit and currency swap: India’s nod for the emergency Lines of Credit and currency swap requests from Sri Lanka was contingent on the Sri Lankan administration moving forward on the Trincomalee deal.

India-Nepal relations needs a reset

  • Context: 
    • Following Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s speech at Haldwani, Uttarakhand where he stated that road construction was ongoing at Lipulekh and even further, top authorities in Nepal have asked their Prime Minister to note PM Modi’s comments and demand a response. 
    • The Indian embassy in Nepal has conveyed that India’s position on the India- Nepal border remains consistent and unambiguous.
  • Background:
    • The immediate provocation is the long-standing territorial issue surrounding Kalapani, a patch of land near the India-Nepal border, close to the Lipulekh Pass on the India-China border, 
    • Lipulekh Pass is one of the approved points for border trade and the route for the Kailash-Mansarovar yatra in Tibet. 
    • However, the underlying reasons are far more complex where the Nepali political class by raising the banner of Nepali nationalism paints India as a hegemon, which creates distrust between the neighbours.
  • Kalapani Region:

  • Kalapani is a valley that is administered by India as a part of the Pithoragarh district of Uttarakhand. It is situated on the Kailash Mansarovar route.
  • Kalapani is advantageously located at a height of over 20,000 ft and serves as an observation post for that area.
  • The Kali River in the Kalapani region demarcates the border between India and Nepal.
  • The Treaty of Sugauli signed by the Kingdom of Nepal and British India (after Anglo-Nepalese War) in 1816 located the Kali River as Nepal's western boundary with India.
  • The discrepancy in locating the source of the Kali river led to boundary disputes between India and Nepal, with each country producing maps supporting its own claims.
  • Susta Region:
    • The change of course by the Gandak river is the main reason for disputes in the Susta area.
    • Susta is located on the bank of the Gandak river.
    • It is called the Narayani river in Nepal.
    • It joins Ganga near Patna, Bihar.
  • Nepal’s Stand:
    • Kali river originates from a stream at Limpiyadhura, northwest of Lipu Lekh. Thus Kalapani, Limpiyadhura, and Lipu Lekh, fall to the east of the river and are part of Nepal’s Dharchula district.
    • Lipulekh was deleted from the country’s map by the kings to get favours from India.
    • The territory of Kalapani was offered to India by King Mahendra after the 1962 India-China war who wanted to help India’s security concerns due to perceived lingering Chinese threats.
    • Kalapani was not a part of the Nepal-India dispute. It was Nepal’s territory that the king had allowed India to use temporarily
    • The new map is in fact a document that was in circulation in Nepal till the 1950s.
  • India’s Stand:
    • Kali river originates in springs well below the Lipu-lekh pass, and the Sugauli Treaty does not demarcate the area north of these streams.
    • The administrative and revenue records of the nineteenth century also show that Kalapani was on the Indian side, and counted as part of Pithoragarh district of Uttarakhand.
  • Efforts to Solve Border Dispute:
    • In the 1980s, the two sides set up the Joint Technical Level Boundary Working Group to delineate the boundary.
    • The group demarcated everything except Kalapani and Susta area.
    • Officially, Nepal brought the issue of Kalapani before India in 1998. Both sides agreed to demarcate the outstanding areas (including Kalpani) by 2002 at the prime ministerial level talk held in 2000. But that has not happened yet.

You can read more on: https://samajho.com/upsc/indo-nepal-border-dispute-kalapani/

Geopolitical Events:

China’s new Border Law and India

  • Context:
    • The Standing Committee of China’s National People’s Congress passed the law for the “protection and exploitation of the country’s land border areas”. China’s new law on land borders, passed on October 23, came into effect on January 1.
  • What is the new law?
    • Under the law, “the sovereignty and territorial integrity of… China are sacred and inviolable”, and the state needs to “take measures to safeguard territorial integrity and land boundaries and guard against and combat any act that undermines these”.
    • It mandates the state to take measures “to strengthen border defence, support economic and social development as well as opening-up in border areas, encourage and support people’s life and work there, and promote coordination between border defence and social, economic development in border areas”. 
  • Why did China bring it?
    • Maritime assertion: This law reflects Beijing’s renewed concerns over the security of its land border while it confronts a slew of unsettled disputes on its maritime front (in the South China Sea).
    • Land boundary issues: The confrontations on the Sino-Indian borders in recent years may have reminded Beijing about this law.
    • Another sticking point could be that the new law prohibits the construction of permanent infrastructure close to the border without China’s permission. Both India and China have been building new roads, bridges and other facilities faster since the standoff began; in fact, China had objected to India’s workers even before.
    • Besides India, Bhutan (477 km) is the only other country with which China has a disputed land border.
  • Does it concern India?
    • No specific mention: Although the law is not meant specifically for India, it is bound to have some impact.
    • May hamper disengagement:  The date for the round meeting is still awaited, amid concerns that the Chinese delegation can use the new law to try to bolster their existing positions.
    • Possible misadventures: The new law provides for the construction of permanent infrastructure close to the border. This has been observed in Arunachal Pradesh.
  • What impact can it have on India-China relations?
    • Some experts feel the new law will make China dig its heels in, on the ongoing standoff as well as for the resolution of the larger boundary issue.
    • Others feel the new law is only a tool China government will use if it wants, as its actions have been aggressive even before this law.

China constructing bridge on Pangong lake in Ladakh

  • Context:
    • China is constructing a bridge in eastern Ladakh connecting the north and south banks of Pangong Tso (lake), which will significantly bring down the time for the People’s Liberation Army (PLA) to move troops and equipment between the two sectors.
    • Construction is being laid between Kurnak Fort in the north part of the lake to Moldo on the south bank.
    • Location: 25 Km away from the Line of Actual Control between India and China.
    • Purpose: it would reduce the overall distance by 140­150 km
  • What is the status on the ground in Eastern Ladakh?
    • The two countries are working out details for the 14th round of Corps Commander talks to take forward the disengagement that has stalled after two phases of disengagement.
    • The 13th round of Corps Commander talks remained inconclusive with the two sides releasing sharp statements on the outcome.
    • At the same time, the two Armies had prepared to keep over 1 lakh soldiers on both sides deployed through the extreme winter in the high altitude region.
    • Since May 2020, the two sides have been holding regular military to military talks on the ground and also diplomatic level talks in addition to the 13 rounds of Corps Commander level talks to resolve the standoff.
    • The two sides have so far undertaken two phases of disengagement, from both banks of Pangong Tso last February and from Gogra in August in addition to Galwan after the violent clash. Other friction areas yet to be resolved are Hot Springs, Demchok and Depsang.
    • The two sides had also agreed on a moratorium on patrolling in the disengaged areas and set up buffer zones until a resumption is discussed by both sides through diplomatic and military talks.
    • India has insisted on comprehensive de-escalation of the situation in Eastern Ladakh which includes disengagement from all friction points, de-escalation and working out of new protocols.
  • What is the importance of the bridge over Pangong Tso?
    • The bridge over Pangong Tso is located around 25 kms ahead of the LAC in Chinese territory and will significantly reduce the time for movement of Chinese on the North Bank and the South Bank, a distance of around 200 kms.
    • The initial tensions as the standoff began in May 2020 were on the North Bank of Pangong Tso with PLA troops moving up to Finger 4 and building permanent structures.
    • However, tensions had flared up on the South Bank in August 2020. The Indian Army gained a tactical advantage over the PLA on the south bank at end of August by occupying several peaks lying vacant since 1962 gaining a dominating view of the Spanggur gap and Moldo area.
    • During this, the two sides had also deployed tanks at heights of over 15,000 feet and shots were fired in the air on the LAC for the first time in decades.
    • This has prompted China to build deep alternate roads behind the friction points away from the line of sight, officials said.
    • There has been massive construction of accommodation for housing of troops closer to the LAC and also road infrastructure for movement of troops and mechanised forces, officials say.
    • Earlier, PLA had to take a roundabout between the two sides of the Pangong lake which takes around 12 hours but the new bridge, around 500m long, would cut down the time to 3-4 hours.
    • India holds one-third of the 135 km long boomerang-shaped lake located at an altitude of over 14,000 feet.
  • How is India responding to developments on the ground?
    • The bridge is well within Chinese territory, officials say while stating the implications of this new bridge will have to be factored in the Indian Army’s operational planning for the future.
    • On its part, over the last few years, India has been focusing on infrastructure development in forwarding areas and improving connectivity to the forward areas. Large scale construction of roads, bridges and tunnels is underway all along the LAC.
    • Ahead of the winter, the Army had completed advanced winter stocking for the troops in forwarding areas, including rations, specialised fuel and ammunition among others as well as repair and upgrade of habitat and infrastructure.
    • While the process of disengagement and de-escalation stretches on, the two armies are geared to remain in the high altitude areas.

Trincomalee oil tank farm

  • Context:
    • Sri Lanka’s Energy Minister Udaya Gammanpila announced that the Indian Oil Subsidiary Lanka IOC would be given a 49% stake in the joint development of the Trincomalee Oil Tank farm, with Ceylon Petroleum Corporation keeping 51%.
  • Trincomalee Oil Tank Farm:
    • It comprises 99 storage tanks, with a capacity of 12,000 kilolitres each, spread across Lower Tank farm and Upper Tank Farm.
    • Currently, Lanka IOC runs 15 tanks. The new agreement is being negotiated for the remaining tanks.  Indian Oil Corporation will work with the Ceylon Petroleum Corporation for developing the Upper Tank Farm.
  • Why has this become a historical deal?
    • 35-year-old agreement: If it goes according to plan, India and Sri Lanka would have finally achieved the implementation of an agreement —  contained in an exchange of letters between then Prime Minister Rajiv Gandhi and Sri Lankan President J R Jayewarndene as part of the annexure to the India-Sri Lanka Accord of July 29, 1987 — that the tank farm would be developed jointly.
  • Why does Trincomalee matter?
    • Strategic Location in the Indian Ocean: Located inland from China Bay, the facility was meant to be serviced by the natural harbour at Trincomalee.
    • Balancing China: From India’s geostrategic viewpoint, Trincomalee is an important counterbalance to the southern Hambantota Port backed substantially by China.

Japan – Australia Defence Agreement

  • Context:
    • On January 6, 2022, Japan and Australia signed a defence agreement to boost security and defence cooperation. The signing of the agreement is considered “historic”. This is to anger China. The agreement is to expand the Quad agenda. The agreement will reduce Chinese influence in ASEAN. It will aid in achieving a free and open Indo – Pacific.
  • About the Agreement:
    • The agreement includes sharing military facilities between the countries, landing rights, securing port access, logistic support, legal regimes, logistic support.
    • This means the advanced F-35s (fighter jet) of Japan can now practice on Australian soil. The Australian submarines can now operate in Japanese waters.
    • The countries can build special forces together. Both Japan and Australia share a common interest in keeping the US engaged in the Indo – Pacific.
  • China and the deal:
    • The following recent issues reflect that the world countries are not ready to accept Chinese domination:
    • AUKUS Security pact: Signed by Britain, Australia and US. The agreement helps the UK to acquire nuclear-powered submarines
    • QUAD cooperation strengthening by India, Japan, US and Australia. The Malabar military exercise which was a trilateral exercise (India, US and Japan) till 2020, has now become a QUAD exercise with Australia participating in the exercise in 2021.
    • The emergence of Japan – Australia – US cooperation
    • Increase in South Korea – Australia friendly relations
    • The countries are coming together under one objective. To put an end to Chines domination.

Unrest in Kazakhstan

  • Context:
    • Recently, a sharp and sudden spike in fuel prices triggered a national crisis in Kazakhstan, with the government officially stepping down following days of violent protests across the country.
    • Russian-led forces have also arrived in Kazakhstan at the request of the country's authoritarian president, amid a violent crackdown on anti-government protests.

  • Reason for the Unrest:
    • Fuel prices doubled in the oil-rich Central Asian nation when the government lifted price caps for Liquified Petroleum Gas (LPG), commonly used in vehicles.
    • The protests began in the oil city of Zhanaozen, where at least 16 oil workers protesting against poor working conditions were killed by the police in 2011.
    • Kazakhstan has been a largely stable autocracy since the collapse of the Soviet Union, protests of this scale haven’t been seen since the 1980s.
    • Protesters demanded the resignation of the government and the lowering of LPG prices.
    • They have argued that the jump in prices would cause a steep increase in food prices and deepen the income inequality that has plagued the nation for decades.
    • Just last year (2021), inflation in the country was closing in on 9% year-on-year, the highest it has been in over five years.
    • There has been growing discontent among ordinary Kazakhs, both over rising income inequality, which has only worsened due to the coronavirus pandemic, and the lack of democracy.
    • While the country has been able to attract millions of dollars worth of foreign investments by appearing politically stable, its authoritarian government has been widely criticised over the years for violating fundamental freedoms.
  • Implications:
    • The country has vast mineral resources, with 3% of global oil reserves and important coal and gas sectors.
    • It is the top global producer of uranium, which jumped in price by 8% after the unrest.
    • The country is also the world's second-largest miner of bitcoin.
    • The latest demonstrations matter because the country has been regarded until now as a pillar of political and economic stability in an unstable region, even as that stability has come at the price of a repressive government that stifles dissent.
    • Kazakhstan has been aligned with Russia, whose president views the country — a body double of sorts for Russia in terms of its economic and political systems — as part of Russia’s sphere of influence.
    • The intervention by the Collective Security Treaty Organisation, a Russian version of the North Atlantic Treaty Organisation (NATO), is the first time that its protection clause has been invoked, a move that could potentially have sweeping consequences for geopolitics in the region.
    • This is the third uprising against an authoritarian, Russia-aligned nation, following pro-democracy protests in Ukraine in 2014 and in Belarus in 2020.
    • The chaos threatens to undermine Russia’s sway in the region at a time when Russia is trying to assert its economic and geopolitical power in countries like Ukraine and Belarus.
    • Kazakhstan also matters to the US, as it has become a significant country for American energy concerns, with Exxon Mobil and Chevron having invested tens of billions of dollars in western Kazakhstan, the region where the unrest began this month.

Ukraine-Russia conflict

  • Context:
    • NATO sends ships and jets to Eastern Europe in the Ukraine crisis.

  • Causes for conflict:
    • Balance of Power:
    • Ever since Ukraine split from the Soviet Union, both Russia and the West have vied for greater influence in the country in order to keep the balance of power in the region in their favour.
  • Buffer Zone for Western Countries:
    • For the US and the European Union, Ukraine is a crucial buffer between Russia and the West.
    • As tensions with Russia rise, the US and the EU are increasingly determined to keep Ukraine away from Russian control.
  • Russian Interest in the Black Sea:
    • The unique geography of the Black Sea region confers several geopolitical advantages to Russia.
    • Firstly, it is an important crossroads and strategic intersection for the entire region.
    • Access to the Black Sea is vital for all littoral and neighbouring states, and greatly enhances the projection of power into several adjacent regions.
    • Secondly, the region is an important transit corridor for goods and energy.
  • Protests in Ukraine:
    • Euromaidan Movement: Euromaidan (European Square) was a wave of demonstrations and civil unrest in Ukraine, which began in November 2013 with public protests in Maidan Nezalezhnosti (“Independence Square”) in Kyiv, Ukraine.
    • The protests were sparked by the Ukrainian government's decision to suspend the signing of an association agreement with the European Union, instead choosing closer ties to Russia and the Eurasian Economic Union.
  • Separatist Movement:
    • The Donbas region (the Donetsk and Luhansk regions) of eastern Ukraine has been facing a pro-Russian separatist movement since 2014.
    • According to the Ukrainian government, the movement is actively supported by the Russian government and Russian paramilitaries make up between 15% to 80% of the separatists fighting against the Ukrainian government.
  • Invasion of Crimea:
    • Russia seized Crimea from Ukraine in what was the first time a European country annexed territory from another country since World War-2.
    • The annexation of Crimea from Ukraine followed a Russian military intervention in Crimea that took place in the aftermath of the 2014 Ukrainian revolution and was part of wider unrest across southern and eastern Ukraine.
    • The invasion and subsequent annexation of Crimea have given Russia a maritime upper hand in the region.
  • Ukraine's NATO Membership:
    • Ukraine has urged the North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO) to speed up the country’s membership in the alliance.
    • Russia has declared such a move a “red line”, and is worried about the consequences of the US-led military alliances expanding right up to its doorstep.
    • The Black Sea is bordered by Bulgaria, Georgia, Romania, Russia, Turkey and Ukraine. All these countries except Russia & Ukraine are NATO countries.
    • Due to this faceoff between NATO countries and Russia, the Black sea is a region of strategic importance & a potential maritime flashpoint.
  • What are Russia’s demands?
    • Russian President Vladimir Putin has demanded a ban on further expansion of NATO to include Ukraine, Georgia or other countries in Russia’s neighbourhood.
    • Since the German unification in 1990, NATO has added new members five times. If the alliance had 12 founding members in 1949, it now has 30 members, including the three Baltic countries of Estonia, Latvia and Lithuania — all sharing borders with Russia — and Hungary, Poland, Romania and Bulgaria, all members of the former Soviet-led Warsaw Pact.
    • Mr Putin has also asked NATO to roll back its military deployments to the 1990s level and ban the deployment of intermediate-range missiles in areas that would allow NATO to reach Russia. Further, Moscow has asked NATO to curb its military cooperation with Ukraine and other former Soviet republics.
  • What is the U.S. response?
    • The U.S. has ruled out changing NATO’s “open-door policy” — which means, at least in theory, NATO could induct more members. The U.S. also says it would continue to offer training and weapons to Ukraine. But Washington is open to discussing missile deployment in Eastern Europe and a mutual reduction in military exercises. 
    • The U.S. has ruled out sending troops to Ukraine or taking other direct military measures against Russia in the event of an invasion. But Washington has threatened to impose severe economic sanctions on Russia if it makes any military move.
  • What is India’s position?
    • India broke its silence on Friday, calling for “a peaceful resolution of the situation through sustained diplomatic efforts for long-term peace and stability in the region and beyond”. This was the standard position India had taken during the Crimean crisis as well.

Minsk Agreements

  • Minsk I: Ukraine and the Russian-backed separatists agreed on a 12-point ceasefire deal in the capital of Belarus in September 2014.
  • Its provisions included prisoner exchanges, deliveries of humanitarian aid and the withdrawal of heavy weapons.
  • The agreement quickly broke down, with violations by both sides.
  • Minsk II: In 2015, an open conflict was averted after the ‘Minsk II’ peace agreement was signed, under the mediation of France and Germany.
  • It was designed to end the fighting in the rebel regions and hand over the border to Ukraine’s national troops.

Houthis and the war in Yemen

  • Context:
    • The Houthi rebels of Yemen have claimed responsibility for the suspected drone attack in Abu Dhabi recently, which killed three people, including two Indians.
  • Background:
    • One of the Arab world’s poorest countries, Yemen has been devastated by a near seven-year civil war, which started after Houthis captured the capital Sana’a, following which Saudi-led forces intervened and fought the rebels with the aim of ending Iranian influence in the region and restoring the former government.
    • The UAE joined the Saudi campaign in 2015 and has been deeply involved in the conflict ever since, despite announcing the formal withdrawal of its forces in 2019 and 2020.

Who are the Houthis?

  • Founded in the 1990s by Hussein Badreddin al-Houthi, a member of Yemen’s Shia majority.
  • It is a group of Zaidi Shia Muslims who ruled a kingdom in the province for nearly 1,000 years.
  • Why is Saudi Arabia in Yemen?
    • Saudi Arabia interfered in Yemen after the Shia Houthi rebels captured Sana’a, the capital city, and the internationally recognised government of President Hadi moved to the country’s south.
    • The rapid rise of the Houthis in Yemen set off alarm bells in Saudi Arabia which saw them as Iranian proxies.
    • Saudi Arabia started a military campaign in March 2015, hoping for a quick victory against the Houthis. But the Houthis had dug in, refusing to leave despite Saudi Arabia’s aerial blitzkrieg.
    • With no effective allies on the ground and a no-way-out plan, the Saudi-led campaign went on with no tangible result. In the past six years, the Houthis have launched multiple attacks on Saudi cities from northern Yemen in retaliation for Saudi airstrikes.

Organizations And Conventions:

AUKUS Alliance

  • Context:
    • Recently, the U.S., U.K. and Australia announced a new trilateral security partnership for the Indo-Pacific region named ‘AUKUS ‘.
  • About AUKUS Alliance:
    • Under it, the U.S., U.K will help Australia deploy nuclear-powered submarines in the Pacific region.
  • Focus:
    • The focus of AUKUS will be on integrating all defence and security related science, supply chains, industrial bases and technology.
  • Significance of the AUKUS Security Alliance
    • Nuclear-powered submarines:
    • Under the AUKUS alliance, the US and UK are willing to export nuclear technology to a non-nuclear powered nation. Nuclear-powered submarines are able to move faster underwater than conventional submarines.
    • Compliment the efforts of QUAD-in Indo-Pacific:
    • According to Arzan Tarapore, a South Asia security expert, “If the new partnership lives up to its promise, it could be a “game-changer” for the region”. He also mentions, “Alongside India’s stated intent to acquire more nuclear-powered submarines, the AUKUS will amount to a step-change increase in the Quad’s undersea and anti-submarine warfare capabilities“.
    • Countering China in the Indo-Pacific, especially in the South China Sea:
    • The nuclear-powered submarines will give Australia naval heft in the Pacific, where China has been particularly aggressive.
  • Implications: 
    • It will help Australia to acquire nuclear-powered submarines (SSNs) in cooperation with the UK & the US. 
    • It will enhance  Australia’s contribution to its other partnerships, including the QUAD.
    • The deal is seen as a step towards curtailing China, which has made significant aggressive manoeuvres in the Pacific region, especially in and around the South China Sea, where it has expansive territorial claims.
    • QUAD is meaningless w/o the necessary capability upgrade of its members, so it provides Naval strength to them.
    • India needs a broader coalition of countries in the Indo-Pacific region to deal with China.
    • Any measure that boosts the capability of India's partners is a welcome move.

Economy

Banking And Finance:

Financial Resolution and Deposit Insurance Bill

  • Context:
    • Recently, the government has started discussions to put in place a resolution mechanism to deal with the insolvency of firms in the financial sector. 
  • About Financial Resolution and Deposit Insurance (FRDI) Bill:
    • The bill will provide for establishing a resolution authority, which would have powers to undertake prompt resolution for banks, insurance companies and systemically important financial firms.
    • The legislation will also provide for insurance of up to Rs 5 lakh for bank depositors, which already has legal backing.
  • Need for legislative backing:
    • There is no resolution framework for banks and systemically important financial institutions. The routine insolvency process will not be able to handle it if a bank were to collapse.
    • The current resolution regime is especially inappropriate for private-sector financial firms in the light of significant expansion and many of these acquiring systemically important status in India.
    • The Insolvency and Bankruptcy Code, 2021 along with the FRDI bill would have streamlined the procedure for the winding up or revival of an ailing financial sector firm.

Reverse Repo Normalisation

  • Context:
    • In a recent report, the State Bank of India, which is the largest public sector bank in the country, has stated: “…we believe the stage is set for a reverse repo normalisation.”
    • What are repo rates and reverse repo rates?
    • The Repurchase agreement (Repo) and the Reverse repo agreement are two key tools used by the Reserve Bank of India (RBI) to control the money supply.
    • The repo rate is the interest rate at which a country's central bank(in India, the RBI) loans money to the commercial banks in the event of a shortfall of funds. The central bank purchases the security in this case.
    • The reverse repo rate is the interest rate paid by the RBI to commercial banks that park excess “liquidity”(money) with the RBI. Thus, the reverse repo rate is the opposite of the repo rate.
    • It is one of the main tools of RBI to keep inflation under control. The current repo rate in 2021 is at 4% and the current reverse repo rate is at 3.35%.
  • What does reverse repo normalization mean?
    • It means the reverse repo rates will go up.
    • Over the past few months, in the face of rising inflation, several central banks across the world have either increased interest rates or signalled that they would do so soon.
    • In India, too, it is expected that the RBI will raise the repo rate. But before that, it is expected that the RBI will raise the reverse repo rate and reduce the gap between the two rates. In the immediate aftermath of Covid, RBI had increased this gap.
    • This process of normalization, which is aimed at curbing inflation, will not only reduce excess liquidity but also result in higher interest rates across the board in the Indian economy — thus reducing the demand for money among consumers (since it would make more sense to just keep the money in the bank) and making it costlier for businesses to borrow fresh loans.

Bad Bank

  • Context:
    • A key proposal announced in this year’s (2021) Budget, a bad bank to deal with stressed assets in the loss-laden banking system, has received all regulatory approvals.
  • What is a Bad Bank?
    • A ‘bad bank’ is a bank that buys the bad loans of other lenders and financial institutions to help clear their balance sheets. The bad bank then resolves these bad assets over a period of time. When the banks are freed of the NPA burden, they can take a more positive look at the new loans. Ideally, such a bank should be owned by the banks which have the most of NPAs.
  • What is the structure of the bad bank?
    • For the resolution of huge NPAs (Non-Performing Assets) in the Indian Banking sector, the government of India has set up two new entities to acquire stressed assets from banks and then sell them in the market.
    • NARCL will acquire and aggregate the identified NPA accounts from banks, while IDRCL, under an exclusive arrangement, will handle the debt resolution process.
    • Padmakumar Nair, a Chief General Manager from SBI’s Stressed Assets vertical, will manage NARCL, while Manish Makharia, Head of Alternate Investment Fund, SBI Funds Management Pvt Ltd, will head IDRCL.
    • Majority-owned by state-owned banks, the NARCL will be assisted by the India Debt Resolution Company Ltd (IDRCL), in turn, majority-owned by private banks, in resolution process in the form of a Principal-Agent basis.

Foreign Contribution (Regulation) Act (FCRA), 2010

  • Context:
    • The Foreign Contribution (Regulation) Act (FCRA) registration of nearly 6,000 Non-Governmental Organisations (NGOs) has ceased to operate from January 1 as the Ministry of Home Affairs (MHA) refused to renew their application or the NGOs did not apply for one.
  • About Foreign Contribution (Regulation) Act (FCRA):
    • The Foreign Contribution (Regulation) Act, 2010 regulates foreign donations and ensures that such contributions do not adversely affect internal security.
    • First enacted in 1976, it was amended in 2010 when a slew of new measures were adopted to regulate foreign donations.
    • The FCRA is applicable to all associations, groups and NGOs which intend to receive foreign donations.
    • It is mandatory for all such NGOs to register under the FCRA, initially valid for five years that can be renewed subsequently if it complies with all norms.
    • Foreign funding of persons in India is regulated under FCRA Act and is implemented by the Ministry of Home Affairs.
    • The Act ensures that the recipients of foreign contributions adhere to the stated purpose for which such contribution has been obtained.
    • Registered NGOs can receive foreign contributions for five purposes:
      • Social, educational, religious, economic and cultural.
  • When is a registration suspended or cancelled?
    • The MHA on inspection of accounts and upon receiving any adverse input against the functioning of an association can suspend the FCRA registration initially for a period of 180 days. Till the time any decision is taken, the association cannot receive any fresh donation and cannot utilise more than 25% of the amount available in the designated bank account without the permission of the MHA. The MHA can cancel the registration of an organisation which will not be eligible for registration or grant of ‘prior permission’ for three years from the date of cancellation.
  • Have there been suspensions in the past?
    • According to MHA data, since 2011 when the Act was overhauled, the registration of 20,664 associations was cancelled for violations such as misutilisation of foreign contribution, non-submission of mandatory annual returns and for diverting foreign funds for other purposes. There are 22,762 FCRA-registered NGOs.
  • Foreign Contribution (Regulation) Amendment Act, 2020:
    • Prohibition to accept foreign contribution:
      • The Act bars public servants from receiving foreign contributions.
    • Transfer of foreign contribution:
      • The Act prohibits the transfer of foreign contributions to any other person not registered to accept foreign contributions.
    • Aadhaar for registration: 
      • The Act makes Aadhaar number mandatory for all office bearers, directors or key functionaries of a person receiving the foreign contribution, as an identification document.
    • FCRA account:
      • The foreign contribution must be received only in an account designated by the bank as an FCRA account in such branches of the State Bank of India, New Delhi.
    • Reduction in use of foreign contribution for administrative purposes:
      • Not more than 20% of the total foreign funds received could be defrayed for administrative expenses. In FCRA 2010 the limit was 50%.
    • Surrender of certificate:
      • The Act allows the central government to permit a person to surrender their registration certificate.

Agriculture:

PM-KISAN

  • Context:
    • Observing that many economic indicators are better than the pre-Covid times, Prime Minister Narendra Modi on January 1, 2022, said that coronavirus has posed challenges but it cannot stop India’s pace. The Prime Minister also emphasized that the country needs to accelerate its pace further in 2022. He also released the 10th instalment of financial benefit under the Pradhan Mantri Kisan Samman Nidhi (PM-KISAN) scheme.
  • About PM-KISAN:
    • It is a Central Sector Scheme with 100% funding from the Government of India.
    • “Pradhan Mantri Kisan Samman Nidhi (PM-KISAN)” was officially launched on 24th February 2019.
    • Under the scheme, the Centre transfers an amount of Rs 6,000 per year, in three equal instalments, directly into the bank accounts of all landholding farmers irrespective of the size of their landholdings.
    • It is being implemented by the Ministry of Agriculture and Farmers Welfare.
  • Objective:
    • To protect them from falling in the clutches of moneylenders for meeting such expenses and ensure their continuance in the farming activities.
    • To supplement the financial needs of the Small and Marginal Farmers in procuring various inputs to ensure proper crop health and appropriate yields, commensurate with the anticipated farm income at the end of each crop cycle.
  • Benefits and Eligibility conditions:
    • All land-holding eligible farmer families (subject to the prevalent exclusion criteria) are to avail of the benefits under this scheme, as per the cabinet decision taken during May 2019. The revised Scheme is expected to cover around 2 crores more farmers, increasing the coverage of PM-KISAN to around 14.5 crore beneficiaries. 
  • PM-KISAN Mobile App:
    • The PM-KISAN Mobile App developed and designed by the National Informatics Centre in collaboration with the Ministry of Electronics and Information Technology has been launched.
    • The farmers can view the status of their application, update or carry out corrections of their Aadhaar cards and also check the history of credits to their bank accounts.

WTO verdict on sugar

  • Context:
    • India recently filed an appeal with the Appellate Body of the World Trade Organization (WTO) disputing a verdict by the WTO’s dispute settlement panel last month on sugar subsidies. 
    • The WTO’s dispute settlement panel had ruled that India, by subsidising sugar producers, was breaking rules framed under the General Agreement on Tariffs and Trade (GATT) which govern international trade.
  • What is it?
    • In 2019, Australia, Brazil, and Guatemala complained against India at the WTO arguing that subsidies offered by the Indian government to sugar producers were against the rules governing international trade.
    • They argued that these subsidies, which include both domestic subsidies as well as export subsidies, exceed the limits imposed by WTO trade rules.
    • According to WTO rules, subsidies cannot exceed 10% of the total value of sugar production. 
    • These countries believe that subsidies offered by India have led to increased production of sugar and caused the price of sugar to drop significantly in the global market.
  • What is India’s stand?
    • India has stated that the WTO’s dispute panel ruling has made certain “erroneous” findings about domestic schemes to support sugarcane producers and exports and the findings of the panel are completely “unacceptable” to it.
    • India has argued at the WTO that it does not offer direct subsidies to sugarcane farmers and thus doesn’t break any international trade rule. 
    • This argument, however, has not convinced other countries who point out that, among other things, the Centre and the State governments in India mandate the minimum price (the Fair and Remunerative Price, or FRP) at which sugar mills can buy sugarcane from farmers. 
    • The high procurement price for sugarcane set by the Government is believed to have led to a supply glut that in turn has caused sugar prices to drop. In fact, several sugar mills are caught in a debt trap as consumer demand for sugar has remained stagnant. 
    • To help the sugar sector, the Centre has even mandated the compulsory blending of ethanol derived from sugarcane with fuels such as petrol and diesel. According to the Food Ministry, the country’s sugar production is likely to remain flat at 30.5 million tonnes in the next 2021-22 season as more sugarcane will be diverted for ethanol making.
  • What lies ahead?
    • India has filed an appeal with the Appellate Body of the WTO disputing a verdict by the WTO’s dispute settlement panel on sugar subsidies.
    • The WTO Appellate Body’s decision will be considered final on the dispute.
    • But the appellate body of the WTO is not functioning because of differences among member countries to appoint members, and disputes are already pending with it.
    • In case India refuses to comply with the decision, it might have to face retaliatory action from other countries in the form of additional tariffs on Indian exports and other stringent measures.
  • Sugarcane prices in India:
    • The Centre announces Fair and Remunerative Prices(FRP) which are determined on the recommendation of the Commission for Agricultural Costs and Prices (CACP) and are announced by the Cabinet Committee on Economic Affairs(CCEA).
    • The State Advised Prices (SAP) are announced by key sugarcane producing states which are generally higher than FRP.

Infrastructure:

Kashi Vishwanath Corridor Project

  • Context:
    • Recently, the Prime Minister has inaugurated Phase 1 of the Kashi Vishwanath Corridor Project in Uttar Pradesh’s Varanasi.

  • About  Kashi Vishwanath Corridor Project:
    • It is the massive makeover and the first after 1780 AD when the Maratha queen Ahilyabai Holkar of Indore renovated the Kashi Vishwanath temple and the area surrounding it.
    • The foundation was laid in March 2019. The project was conceptualised to create an easily accessible pathway for the pilgrims.
  • Location:
    • The Kashi Vishwanath temple stands on the western bank of the holy river Ganga.
    • Kashi Vishwanath Temple is also part of the twelve Jyotirlingas, the holiest of Shiva temples.
  • Origin:
    • Kashi Vishwanath Temple was constructed in the year 1780 by the Maratha monarch, Maharani Ahilyabai Holkar of the Indore.

Green Energy Corridor

  • Context:
    • Recently, the Cabinet Committee on Economic Affairs approved the scheme on Green Energy Corridor (GEC) Phase-II for Intra-State Transmission System (InSTS).
  • What is Green Energy Corridor?
    • The Green Energy Corridor Project aims at synchronizing electricity produced from renewable sources, such as solar and wind, with conventional power stations in the grid.
    • Green Energy Corridor is an intra-/ inter-state transmission system that is being implemented by eight renewable rich states in India – Tamil Nadu, Rajasthan, Karnataka, Andhra Pradesh, Maharashtra, Gujarat, Himachal Pradesh and Madhya Pradesh.
    • Intra-State Transmission System is being implemented by respective State Transmission Utilities (STU) and Inter-State Transmission System is being implemented by Power Grid Corporation of India Ltd. (PGCIL).
  • Objectives:
    • It aims to achieve the target of 450 GW installed RE capacity by 2030.
    • The objective of the GEC is to evacuate approx. 20,000 MW of large-scale renewable power and improvement of the grid in implementing states.

BharatNet Project

  • Context:
    • In a move to consolidate all its telecom operations under one umbrella, the government is likely to merge the operations and assets of Bharat Broadband Network Limited (BBNL) with Bharat Sanchar Nigam Limited (BSNL).
  • About BharatNet:
    • BharatNet Project was originally launched in 2011 as the National Optical Fibre Network(NOFN) and renamed as Bharat-Net in 2015.
  • Aim:
    • It seeks to provide connectivity to 2.5 lakh Gram Panchayats (GPs) through optical fibre.
    • It is a flagship mission implemented by Bharat Broadband Network Ltd. (BBNL).
    • The objective is to facilitate the delivery of e-governance, e-health, e-education, e-banking, Internet and other services to rural India.
  • Implementation:
    • The project is a Centre-State collaborative project, with the states contributing free Rights of Way for establishing the Optical Fibre Network.

Open Network for Digital Commerce

  • Context:
    • Dynamic pricing, inventory management and optimisation of delivery cost will be key to the success of the Open Network for Digital Commerce (ONDC) initiative of the government.
  • What is ONDC?
    • Open Network for Digital Commerce christened ONDC is a globally first-of-its-kind initiative that aims to democratise Digital Commerce, moving it from a platform-centric model to an open network.
    • The ONDC aims at promoting open networks developed on open-sourced methodology, using open specifications and open network protocols, independent of any specific platform.
    • The project to integrate e-commerce platforms through a network based on open-source technology has been tasked to the Quality Council of India.
    • As UPI is to the digital payment domain, ONDC is to e-commerce in India.
    • ONDC will enable, buyers and sellers, to be digitally visible and transact through an open network, no matter what platform/application they use.
    • ONDC will empower merchants and consumers by breaking silos to form a single network to drive innovation and scale, transforming all businesses from retail goods, food to mobility.
  • Significance:
    • This could give a huge booster shot to smaller online retailers and new entrants.
    • ONDC is expected to digitise the entire value chain, standardise operations, promote inclusion of suppliers, derive efficiency in logistics and enhance value for consumers.

The Devas-Antrix deal and its aftermath

  • Context:
    • A 2005 satellite deal between Antrix Corporation — the commercial arm of the Indian Space Research Organisation (ISRO) – and Devas Multimedia Pvt Ltd, a start-up headquartered in Bengaluru, is at the heart of a global legal tussle between the Indian government and foreign investors in Devas. The tussle is a fallout of the cancellation of the deal in 2011 by the then UPA government citing requirement of satellite spectrum allotted to Devas for security purposes.
  • Supreme Court decision:
    • On Monday, the Supreme Court upheld a May 25, 2021 order of the National Company Law Tribunal (NCLT) to liquidate Devas on the ground that the firm was created under fraudulent circumstances. 
  • What was the Devas-Antrix deal?
    • They signed an “Agreement for the Lease of Space Segment Capacity on ISRO/Antrix S-band spacecraft by Devas Multimedia Pvt Ltd” on January 28, 2005.
    • Under the deal, ISRO would lease to Devas two communication satellites (GSAT-6 and 6A) for 12 years for Rs 167 crore. Devas would provide multimedia services to mobile platforms in India using S-band transponders on the satellites, with ISRO leasing 70 MHz of the S-band spectrum.
    • The deal progressed smoothly for six years before it was annulled by the UPA government on February 25, 2011, following a Cabinet Committee on Security decision of February 17 to terminate the agreement to use the S-band for security purposes. The government decision was taken in the midst of the 2G scam and allegations that the Devas deal involved the handing over of communication spectrum valued at nearly Rs 2 lakh crore for a pittance.
  • Corruption Charges:
    •  In August 2016, the Central Bureau of Investigation (CBI) filed a charge sheet against officials from Devas, ISRO and Antrix linked to the deal for “being party to a criminal conspiracy”.
  • International Tribunal Arbitration:
    • Devas were awarded compensation of $1.2 billion by an International Chamber of Commerce tribunal on September 14, 2015, Deutsche Telekom was awarded $ 101 million-plus interest by the Permanent Court of Arbitration in Geneva on May 27, 2020, and the Mauritius investors were awarded $111 million by the UN Commission on International Trade Law tribunal on October 13, 2020.
    • The German investors claimed compensation for violation of an India-Germany bilateral investment treaty and the Mauritius investors for an India-Mauritius BIT.
  • Seizure of Property by Foreign Countries:
    • Due to the Indian Government not paying the compensation, a French court has recently ordered the freezing of Indian government property in Paris, to enforce a USD 1.3 billion arbitration award.

Environment

Species in news:

Two plant species discovered in Kerala

  • Context:
    • Researchers have reported two new plant species from the biodiversity-rich Western Ghats regions in Thiruvananthapuram and Wayanad districts.
  • About:
    • They have been christened Fimbristylis sunilii and Neanotis prabhuii.
    • Collected from the grasslands of Ponmudi hills, Thiruvananthapuram, Fimbristylis sunilii has been named after plant taxonomist C.N. Sunil. It has been provisionally assessed as data deficient (DD) under the IUCN Red List categories.
    • Neanotis prabhuii has been discovered in the Chembra Peak grasslands of Wayanad. It hails from the family Rubiaceae and grows on high-altitude grasslands. It has been categorised as data deficient (DD).

Eastern swamp deer

  • Context:
    • The population of the vulnerable eastern swamp deer, extinct elsewhere in South Asia, has dipped in the Kaziranga National Park and Tiger Reserve.
    • Officials attributed the decrease from 907 individuals in 2018 to 868 during the Eastern Swamp Deer Estimation on January 10 and 11 to two high floods in 2019 and 2020.
  • About swamp deer:
    • The barasingha also called swamp deer, deer is endemic to Kaziranga.
    • The eastern swamp deer was once concentrated in the central Kohora and Bagori ranges of Kaziranga.
    • IUCN status: Vulnerable.
    • State animal of Madhya Pradesh and Uttar Pradesh.
    • Range: central and northern India and southern Nepal.
    • India: Assam, Jumna River, Ganges River, Brahmaputra River, Madhya Pradesh, Utter Pradesh, and Arunachal Pradesh.

Two species of fungi associated with basal stem rot were found

  • Context:
    • Researchers from Kerala have identified two new species of fungi from the genus Ganoderma that are associated with coconut stem rot disease.
  • About:
    • The two Fungi species have been named Ganoderma Keralense and Ganoderma Pseudoapplanatum.
    • The basal stem rot of coconut is known by several names in different parts of India:
      1. Ganoderma wilt in Andhra Pradesh.
      2. Anaberoga in Karnataka.
      3. Thanjavur wilt in Tamil Nadu

Pollution And Conservation:

Stockholm Convention on POPs

  • Context:
    • European Commission has proposed to tighten limits for a range of persistent organic pollutants (POPs) to tackle contamination in recycled products, health and the environment.
  • What are POPs?
    • In 1995, the Governing Council of the United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP) called for global action
    • to be taken on POPs, which is defined as “chemical substances that persist in the environment, bioaccumulate through the food web, and pose a risk of causing adverse effects to human health and the environment”.
  • The uniqueness of POPs:
    • POPs are lipophilic, which means that they accumulate in the fatty tissue of living animals and human beings.
    • In fatty tissue, the concentrations can become magnified by up to 70 000 times higher than the background levels.
    • As you move up the food chain, concentrations of POPs tend to increase so that animals at the top of the food chain such as fish, predatory birds, mammals, and humans tend to have the greatest concentrations of these chemicals.
  • About Stockholm Convention on POPs:
    • Signed in 2001 and effective from May 2004 (Ninety days after the ratification by at least 50 signatory states).
    • Aims to eliminate or restrict the production and use of persistent organic pollutants (POPs).
  • The 12 initial POPs under the Stockholm Convention:
    • Initially, twelve POPs have been recognized as causing adverse effects on humans and the ecosystem and these can be placed in 3 categories:
      1. Pesticides: aldrin, chlordane, DDT, dieldrin, endrin, heptachlor, hexachlorobenzene, mirex, toxaphene;
      2. Industrial chemicals: hexachlorobenzene, polychlorinated biphenyls (PCBs); and
      3. By-products: hexachlorobenzene; polychlorinated dibenzo-p-dioxins and polychlorinated dibenzofurans (PCDD/PCDF), and PCBs.
    • Since then, additional substances such as carcinogenic polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons (PAHs) and certain brominated flame-retardants, as well as organometallic compounds such as tributyltin (TBT) have been added to the list of Persistent Organic Pollutants.
  • Sources of POPs:
    • Improper use and/or disposal of agrochemicals and industrial chemicals.
    • Elevated temperatures and combustion processes.
    • Unwanted by-products of industrial processes or combustion
  • Is it legally binding?
    • Yes. Article 16 of the Convention requires that the effectiveness of the measures adopted by the Convention is evaluated in regular intervals.
  • Other Conventions dealing with POPs:
    • Convention on Long-Range Transboundary Air Pollutants (LRTAP), Protocol on Persistent Organic Pollutants (POPs).
  • Recent developments:
    • The Union Cabinet, in 2021, approved the Ratification of seven chemicals listed under the Stockholm Convention on Persistent Organic Pollutants (POPs).
    • The Cabinet has also delegated its powers to ratify chemicals under the Stockholm Convention to the Union Ministers of External Affairs (MEA) and Environment, Forest and Climate Change (MoEFCC) in respect of POPs already regulated under the domestic regulations.

Environment:

Green Energy Corridor

  • Context:
    • Recently, the Cabinet Committee on Economic Affairs approved the scheme on Green Energy Corridor (GEC) Phase-II for Intra-State Transmission System (InSTS).
  • GEC-1:
    • Phase 1 of the Green Energy Corridor is already under implementation in Gujarat, Andhra Pradesh, Karnataka, Himachal Pradesh, Maharashtra, Madhya Pradesh, Tamil Nadu, and Rajasthan.
    • It is working for the grid integration and power evacuation of about 24GW of Renewable Energy.
  • GEC-2:
    • It will facilitate grid integration and power evacuation of approximately 20 GW of Renewable Energy (RE) power projects in seven States namely, Gujarat, Himachal Pradesh, Karnataka, Kerala, Rajasthan, Tamil Nadu and Uttar Pradesh.
    • The transmission systems will be created over a period of five year from Financial Year 2021-22 to 2025-26.
    • It is targeted to be set up with a total estimated cost of Rs. 12, 031 crores, and the Central Finance Assistance (CFA) will be 33% of the project cost.
    • The CFA will help in offsetting the Intra-State transmission charges and thus keep the power costs down.
  • Objectives:
    • It aims at synchronizing the electricity produced from renewable resources, such as wind and solar, with the conventional power stations in the grid.
    • It aims to achieve the target of 450 GW installed RE capacity by 2030.
    • The objective of the GEC is to evacuate approx. 20,000 MW of large-scale renewable power and improvement of the grid in implementing states.
  • Significance:
    • It will contribute to the long-term energy security of India and will promote ecologically sustainable growth by reducing carbon footprint.
    • It will facilitate in generating large direct and indirect employment opportunities for both the skilled and unskilled personnel.

State of Forest Report 2021

  • Context: 
    • The report showed a continuing increase in forest cover across the country, but experts flagged some of its other aspects as causes for concern, such as a decline in forest cover in the Northeast, and degradation of natural forests.
  • Highlights of the Report:
    • India’s forest and tree cover has risen by 2,261 sq km in the last two years with Andhra Pradesh growing the maximum forest cover of 647 sq km.
    • The states that have shown the highest increase in forest cover are Telangana (3.07%), Andhra Pradesh (2.22%) and Odisha (1.04%).
    • India’s forest cover is now 7,13,789 sq km, 21.71% of the country’s geographical area, an increase from 21.67% in 2019. Tree cover has increased by 721 sq km.
    • India’s total forest and tree cover is now spread across 80.9 million hectares, which is 62% of the geographical area of the country.
    • The top five states in terms of increase in forest cover are Andhra Pradesh (647 sq km), Telangana (632 sq km), Odisha (537 sq km), Karnataka (155 sq km) and Jharkhand (110 sq km).
    • Five states in the Northeast – Arunachal Pradesh, Manipur, Meghalaya, Mizoram and Nagaland have all shown loss in forest cover.
    • Among the megacities in the country, Ahmedabad has been the biggest loser when it comes to forest cover.
    • Mangroves have shown an increase of 17 sq km. India’s total mangrove cover is now 4,992 sq km.
    • The total carbon stock in the country’s forests is estimated at 7,204 million tonnes, an increase of 79.4 million tonnes since 2019.
  • Forest Survey of India (FSI), founded in June 1981 and headquartered at Dehradun in Uttarakhand, is a Government of India Ministry of Environment, Forest and Climate Change organization for:
    • conducting forest surveys,
    • studying and researching to periodically monitor the changing situation of land and forest resources and
    • presentation of the data for national planning, conservation and sustainable management of environmental protection and the implementation of social forestry projects.

Read more: https://samajho.com/upsc/indian-state-of-forest-report-2021/

4th Asia Ministerial Conference on Tiger Conservation

  • Context:
    • Recently, the 4th Asia Ministerial Conference on tiger conservation was held.
    • India’s National Tiger Conservation Authority has also decided to introduce guidelines for the reintroduction of tigers that can be used by other Tiger Range Countries.
  • About:
    • A conference is an important event for reviewing progress towards the Global Tiger Recovery Programme and commitments to tiger conservation.
    • It was organized by Malaysia and Global Tiger Forum (GTF).
    • India will facilitate Tiger Range Countries towards the finalisation of the New Delhi declaration for the Global Tiger Summit to be held in Russia later this year (2022).
    • A “Pre-Tiger Summit” meeting was held at New Delhi in 2010, wherein the draft declaration on tiger conservation for Global Tiger Summit was finalised.
    • India is one of the Founding members of the intergovernmental platform of Tiger Range Countries – Global Tiger Forum.
    • Over the years, GTF has expanded its programme on multiple thematic areas, while working closely with the Government of India, tiger states in India and tiger range countries.
  • Tiger Range Countries in GTF: Bangladesh, Bhutan, India, Cambodia, Nepal, Myanmar and Vietnam.
  • Significance of Tiger Conservation:
    • Vital in Regulating Ecological Processes:
      • Tigers, the top predators in the ecosystem, are vital in regulating and perpetuating ecological processes.
      • Forests are known to provide ecological services like clean air, water, pollination, temperature regulation etc.
    • Maintaining Food Chain:
      • It is a top predator which is at the apex of the food chain and keeps the population of wild ungulates (primarily large mammals) in check.
      • Thus, Tiger helps in maintaining the balance between prey herbivores and the vegetation upon which they feed.
  • Conservation Status of Tiger:
    • Indian Wildlife (Protection) Act, 1972: Schedule I
    • International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN) Red List: Endangered.
    • Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Fauna and Flora (CITES): Appendix I.

 

Science And Technology

Space:

James Webb Space Telescope reaches the final destination

Context:

  • The James Webb Space Telescope has arrived at its cosmic parking spot a million miles away, bringing it a step closer to its mission to unravel the mysteries of the Universe.
  • Webb will begin its science mission by summer, which includes using its high resolution infrared instruments to peer back in time 13.5 billion years to the first generation of galaxies that formed after the Big Bang.

About James Webb Space Telescope:

  • It is the most powerful infrared telescope of National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA).
  • It is also considered a successor of the Hubble Telescope and will extend and complement its discoveries.
  • Launched into low Earth orbit in 1990, the Hubble Space Telescope has made more than 1.4 million observations, including tracking interstellar objects, capturing a comet colliding with Jupiter, and discovering moons around Pluto.
  • Hubble has captured galaxies merging, probed supermassive black holes and has helped us understand the history of our universe.
  • The telescope is the result of an international collaboration between NASA, the European Space Agency (ESA), and the Canadian Space Agency.
  • Webb will reveal new and unexpected discoveries, and help humanity understand the origins of the universe and our place in it.
  • The telescope will study the atmospheres of a wide diversity of exoplanets.
  • It will also search for atmospheres similar to Earth’s, and for the signatures of key substances such as methane, water, oxygen, carbon dioxide, and complex organic molecules, in hopes of finding the building blocks of life.

Goal:

  • To search for the first galaxies that formed after the Big Bang.
  • To determine how galaxies evolved from their earlier formation until now.
  • To observe the formation of stars from the first stages to the formation of planetary systems.
  • To measure the physical and chemical properties of planetary systems and investigate the potential for life in such systems.

Webb Vs Hubble Telescope:

  • The new telescope’s primary mirror – consisting of 18 hexagonal segments of gold-coated beryllium metal – also has a much bigger light-collecting area, enabling it to observe objects at greater distances, thus farther back into time, than Hubble or any other telescope.
  • Hubble’s view reached back to roughly 400 million years following the Big Bang, revealing objects that Webb will be able to re-examine with far greater clarity.
  • Webb’s instruments also make it ideal to search for evidence of potentially life-supporting atmospheres around scores of newly documented exoplanets – celestial bodies orbiting distant stars – and to observe worlds much closer to homes, such as Mars and Saturn’s icy moon Titan.

Present Position:

  • The telescope arrived at a location beyond the moon after a final, roughly five-minute firing of the spacecraft’s main thruster, sweeping itself into a small pocket of stability where the gravitational forces of the sun and Earth commingle.
  • From this outpost, called the second Lagrange Point or L2, the Webb telescope will be dragged around the sun alongside Earth for years to keep a steady eye on outer space without spending much fuel to maintain its position.
  • With the telescope’s instruments deployed and its arrival at L2 complete, months of smaller steps lie ahead before those of us on Earth can begin to see the spacecraft’s vivid views of the cosmos.
  • For the next three months, engineers will watch as algorithms help fine-tune the position of Webb’s mirror segments, correcting any misalignments — as accurately as one-10,000th of a hair — to allow the 18 hexagonal pieces in its array to function as a single mirror.

SSLV, a small satellite launcher

Context:

  • The new chairman of the Indian Space Research Organisation Dr S Somanath indicated at a meeting with the minister of state for space Jitendra Singh that ISRO’s indigenous new launch rockets, called the Small Satellite Launch Vehicle (SSLV) named “SLV-D1 Micro SAT”, will have its much-delayed, maiden development flight this April.

Small Satellite Launch Vehicle(SSLV):

  • It is an all-solid three-stage vehicle with the capability to launch up to 500 kg satellite mass into 500 km Low Earth Orbit(LEO).

  • The SSLV  has been developed to cater to a market for the launch of small satellites into low earth orbits.
  • The demand for small satellites has emerged in recent years on account of the need for developing countries, private corporations, and universities for small satellites.
  • Until now, the launch of small satellites is dependent on ‘piggy-back’ rides with big satellite launches on ISRO’s Polar Satellite Launch Vehicle, which has had over 50 successful launches so far.

Advantages of SSLV:

  • The SSLV would help in
    1. Reduced Turn-around Time
    2. Launch on Demand
    3. Cost Optimization for Realization and Operation
    4. Flexibility in accommodating Multiple Satellites and
    5. Minimum launch infrastructure requirements.

Significance of SSLV Satellites:

  • SSLV is perfectly suited for launching multiple microsatellites at a time and supports multiple orbital drop-offs. 
  • The development and manufacture of the SSLV are expected to create greater synergy between the space sector and private Indian industries – a key aim of the space ministry. 
  • Manufacturing and production of Small Satellite Launch Vehicle (SSLV) and Polar Satellite Launch Vehicle (PSLV) through technology transfer is one of the mandates of the New Space India Limited (NSIL).

Health:

The shelf life of Covid-19 vaccines

Context:

  • More than 40 lakh teenagers in the 15-18 age group received their first dose of Covid-19 vaccines as India began its drive to vaccinate the younger population groups.
  • Some concerns were raised about ‘expired’ Covaxin being administered to this younger group, leading to the Health Ministry issuing a clarification.
  • The Ministry described these claims as “false and misleading” and said these were based on “incomplete information”.
  • It pointed out that the shelf life of Covaxin, the only vaccine being given to the people below 18 years of age, had been extended in November after proper regulatory scrutiny, and as such these vaccine doses were as good as any.

Stability and Shelf life of a vaccine:

  • Vaccines are complex mixtures of proteins, carbohydrates, lipids, inactivated viruses, or adjuvants —which are substances that are intended to enhance immune response and subsequent clinical efficacy of the vaccine. These together contribute to overall vaccine efficacy and safety.
  • Like other medicinal products, vaccines come with a date of expiry and shelf life determined by the manufacturer and approved by regulatory authorities. The constituents of a vaccine can go bad over time because of slow chemical reactions and lose efficacy.
  • According to the World Health Organization (WHO), stability is the ability of a vaccine to retain its chemical, physical, microbiological and biological properties within specified limits throughout its shelf life.

  • A series of tests are designed to obtain information on the stability of a vaccine in order to define its shelf life and utilization period under specified packaging and storage conditions. And depending on the nature of the antigen and other components, and the manufacturing process, stability parameters are selected on a case-by-case basis, the WHO guidelines state.
  • There are three specific objectives of stability studies, which differ throughout a vaccine’s lifetime.
    1. it is conducted to determine shelf life and storage conditions.
    2. the stability studies, monitor vaccine stability in the post-licensure period, that is, when the vaccine is marketed commercially.
    3. according to the WHO guidelines, stability studies are conducted to support manufacturing changes by demonstrating comparability of product manufactured by different processes.

India Situation:

 

‘IHU’ variant of Covid-19

Context:

  • Amid the spread of the Omicron Variant of coronavirus, the discovery of a new strain named ‘IHU (Instituts Hospitalo-Universitaires)’ that emerged in France raises fears across the world.

About IHU variant:

  • The variant is a sub-lineage of the B.1.640. It has been classified as B.1.640.2.
  • The variant has 46 mutations and 37 deletions in its genetic code, more than Omicron. Many of these affect the spike protein.

Not spreading rapidly:

  • According to outbreak.info, a website that tracks the prevalence of different variants in genome sequencing databases, at least 400 infections with the B.1.640 variant have so far been identified.
  • It has been detected in at least 19 countries. Interestingly, one of these sequences happens to be from India as well, the only one out of the roughly 90,000 sequences from India deposited in the global databases.
  • The World Health Organization (WHO) had classified B.1.640 as a variant under monitoring, or VUM, the entry-level categorisation of a variant that is considered worth keeping an eye out for.

Not a concern:

  • While a large number of significant mutations in this variant has attracted the interest of researchers and raised concerns among the public, the B.1.640 is not spreading at a rate that is unnerving.
  • It is certainly not as alarming as the spread of Omicron. According to the website outbreak.info, this variant was last detected on December 25. After that, no new case has been detected in the global databases.

Conditional Market Authorization of two COVID19 Vaccines

Context:

  • The National Regulator, Drugs Controller General of India (DCGI), has given nod to market authorization of two COVID19 vaccines, Covaxin and Covishield subject to certain conditions.
  • The Subject Expert Committee (SEC) of the Central Drugs Standard Control Organization (CDSCO) had recommended for up-gradation of status for the vaccines from restricted use in emergency situations to grant of new drug permission with conditions in the adult population.

What is Conditional Market Authorization?

  • Conditional Market Authorization is a new category of market authorization that has emerged during the current global pandemic of COVID19.
  • The approval pathways through this route are fast-tracked with certain conditions to enhance the access to certain pharmaceuticals for meeting the emerging needs of drugs or vaccines.
  • Since the two vaccines now meet the high standards of safety, effectiveness, and manufacturing quality that the Drugs and Cosmetics Act, 1940 requires of a new vaccine, they have been upgraded to “conditional market authorisation”.

International regulators also grant conditional market authorisation like The European Medicines Agency (EMA):

  • Conditional marketing authorisation is granted if the four key criteria are met:
    1. The benefit-risk balance of the vaccine is positive;
    2. it is likely that the applicant will be able to provide comprehensive data post-authorization;
    3. the vaccine fulfils an unmet medical need;
    4. the benefit of the immediate availability of the vaccine to patients is greater than the risk inherent in the non-availability of additional data.
  • Such approval is valid for one year and can be renewed annually.

Conditional market authorisation different from the existing EUA for the vaccines:

  • For individual recipients of the vaccines, not much changes. But conditional market authorisation relaxes somewhat the regulatory requirements on monitoring the safety of the vaccines.
  • Under EUA, manufacturers have to submit safety and efficacy data every 15 days or a month. Under the conditional market authorisation, the Health Ministry said, they have to submit the data every six months.
  • While adverse events following immunisation (AEFI) and adverse event of special interest (AESI) shall continue to be monitored, the two companies will have to submit AEFI and AESI data with due analysis on a six-monthly basis or as and when available, whichever is earlier as per the New Drugs and Clinical Trial Rules, 2019.

Molnupiravir: A Drug for Covid-19

Context:

  • Barely a week after it was approved for early-stage Covid-19 patients, molnupiravir, an anti-viral drug developed by US companies Merck and Ridgeback, has been kept out of the treatment protocol recommended by the Indian Council of Medical Research (ICMR).
  • Dr Balram Bhargava, head of ICMR, said that the drug had “major safety concerns”. This has resulted in an awkward situation: The drug is approved for use, but not recommended

Molnupiravir,the drug:

  • Molnupiravir is a repurposed Covid-19 drug, originally developed to treat influenza.
  • It belongs to a class of broad-spectrum antiviral drugs called nucleoside analogues.
  • It is meant for mild or moderately ill Covid-19 patients who are at risk of developing a serious illness.
  • The pill, if administered during the first five days after contracting the infection, has the potential to prevent serious illnesses.
  • It works by causing viruses to make errors when copying their own RNA, introducing mutations that inhibit replication.

Concerns regarding the drug:

  • There have been concerns on two counts — low effectiveness, and some potential side effects. Both were taken into account by drug regulating agencies while approving them.
  • Molnupiravir was found to be only 30% effective in trials, much lower than earlier indications.
  • Besides, there have been worries over its mechanism:
    • The drug molecule incorporates itself into the RNA of the virus, inducing mutations with the objective of hampering replication.
    • But this carries the risk of introducing mutations that can make the virus stronger and more dangerous.
    • A bigger worry is the risk of the drug creating mutations in the human DNA itself.

Risk vs benefit:

  • These risks, very low by all accounts, have been considered by the drug regulators while approving the drug, which means that these have not been assessed to be significant enough.
  • The prescribed five-day dosage is not considered large enough to pose any serious health concern.
  • In the case of molnupiravir, it seems, going by the argument of Dr Bhargava, the benefits do not very clearly outweigh the risks, considering the low effectiveness of the drug.

Omicron and immune response after vaccination

Context:

  • With its multiple mutations, the Omicron variant of SARS-CoV-2 significantly reduces the neutralising ability of antibodies — those induced by vaccines as well as by hybrid immunity, a study has found.
  • This might explain its rapid spread even amid widespread vaccine coverage, suggests the study, conducted by the Translational Health Science and Technology Institute (THSTI).
  • The researchers have stressed, however, that reduced neutralization may not translate into a drastic reduction in vaccine effectiveness.

What is Omicron and what makes it a variant of concern (VoC)?

  • It is a new variant of SARS-CoV-2 that has recently been reported from South Africa on 24th November 2021 called B.1.1.529 or Omicron (based on Greek alphabets like alpha, beta, delta, etc).
  • This variant has shown a very large number of mutations, especially more than 30 on the viral spike protein, which is the key target of the immune response.
  • Given the collection of mutations in Omicron, which earlier individually have been associated with increased infectivity and/or immune evasion, and the sudden rise in a number of positive cases in South Africa, World Health Organization has declared Omicron as a Variant of Concern (VoC).

Will the existing vaccines work against Omicron?

  • While there is no evidence to suggest that existing vaccines do not work on Omicron, some of the mutations reported on the Spike gene may decrease the efficacy of existing vaccines.
  • However, vaccine protection is also by antibodies as well as by cellular immunity, which is expected to be relatively better preserved.
  • Hence vaccines are expected to still offer protection against severe disease and, vaccination with the available vaccines is crucial. If eligible, but not vaccinated, one should get vaccinated

Comparison:

  • Researchers tested the ability of antibodies to neutralise Omicron among people with vaccination alone, and among vaccinated people who also had had a prior natural SARS-CoV-2 infection.
  • The study compared the extent of neutralisation using a measure called geometric mean titre (GMT).
  • For antibodies against the original virus strain, the GMT was 384 in those vaccinated with Covaxin alone, and 383 in those vaccinated with Covishield alone. For the hybrid groups, the values were 795 and 1424 respectively.
  • Against Omicron, only 5 out of 20 in both vaccine-only groups5 out of 19 in the Covaxin-plus-infection group, and 9 out of 20 in the Covishield-plus-infection group exhibited neutralisation titres above the lower limit of quantification. This suggested better neutralisation in those with prior infection.
  • The proportion of neutralisers was significantly reduced against Omicron compared to the original strain and Delta. Among those without prior infection, GMT was significantly lower against Omicron than against the original strain and Delta.
  • Among those with the previous infection, the titres followed the same pattern — but the neutralising ability was better in them than in those without previous infection.

Antibodies, T cells & boosters:

  • A recent study by THSTI published in The Lancet Infectious Diseases has shown that besides neutralising antibodies, T-cell immune responses are important for controlling SARS-CoV-2 infection.
  • Researchers have said in the study that the drop in neutralisation might be alarming, but the real-world impact of these reduced neutralisation titres on hospitalisation rates and mortality rates have to be interpreted along with other factors such as pathogenicity of the variant, immunisation uptakes and seroprevalence from natural infection in different geographical regions and the expected role of cellular immune responses to the variant.

Baricitinib and Sotrovimab, drugs newly recommended by WHO work against Covid

Context:

  • The World Health Organization (WH0) has recommended two drugs, Baricitinib, and Sotrovimab, for treatment of Covid-19.
  • The recommendations are based on evidence from seven trials involving over 4,000 patients with non-severe, severe, and critical Covid-19.

About Baricitinib:

  • Baricitinib, which is also used to treat rheumatoid arthritis, has been “strongly recommended” for patients with severe or critical Covid-19 in combination with corticosteroids.
  • It is part of a class of drugs called Janus kinase (JAK) inhibitors that suppress the overstimulation of the immune system.
  • It is an oral drug and provides an alternative to other arthritis drugs called Interleukin-6 receptor blockers, recommended by WHO in July 2021.

About Sotrovimab:

  • Sotrovimab, developed by GlaxoSmithKline with US partner Vir Biotechnology Inc, is an investigational monoclonal antibody for use in treating conditions caused by a coronavirus.
  • The WHO has conditionally recommended its use for treating mild or moderate Covid-19 in patients who are at high risk of hospitalisation.
  • These include patients who are older, are immunocompromised, have underlying conditions like diabetes, hypertension, and obesity, and are unvaccinated.
  • The US Food and Drug Administration (FDA) to has approved an emergency use authorization (EUA) for the therapy for the treatment of mild to moderate Covid-19 in patients above 12 years.

Working of the drugs:

  • Baricitinib, an immunomodulator, is an alternative to tocilizumab: either of these drugs is given to patients who have severe Covid-19, are clinically progressing on steroids, and have high inflammatory markers.
  • Both  Baricitinib and tocilizumab have different mechanisms of action but studies have shown mortality benefits if used with steroids in patients with serious Covid-19 disease.
  • The antibody cocktail Casirivimab-Imdevimab is not active against the Omicron variant whereas Sotrovimab can be used in mild illness with patients of both Delta and Omicron at risk of high progression.

Availability in India:

  • Baricitinib is cheap and widely available. It is given to control hyper inflammation, which usually starts between days 7 and 14. 
  • Sotrovimab is not available in India. However, experts said that since Omicron now forms the major proportion of infections, the currently available monoclonal antibodies should be used only if there is clear proof that the person has been infected with the Delta variant.

New Technology:

1 GW of Green hydrogen production

Context:

  • Hero Future Energies and Ohmium International announced a strategic partnership to build 1,000 MW of green hydrogen production facilities in India, the UK and Europe.
  • While Hero Future will assume the overall ownership of the assets, Ohmium will be responsible for the design, construction, operations and maintenance of the facilities. Hero Future will also supply renewable energy to produce green hydrogen.

Green Hydrogen:

  • Green hydrogen is produced by the electrolysis of water using renewable energy (like Solar, Wind) and has a lower carbon footprint.
  • The electricity splits water into hydrogen and oxygen.
  • By-Products: Water, Water Vapor.

Indian Scenario:

  • Cost of Green Hydrogen: By 2030, the cost of green hydrogen is expected to compete with that of hydrocarbon fuels (coal, Crude Oil, natural gas).
  • The price will decrease further as production and sales increase. It is also projected that India's hydrogen demand will increase five-fold by 2050, with 80% of it being green.
  • Exporter of Green Hydrogen: India will become a net exporter of green hydrogen by 2030 due to its cheap renewable energy tariffs.
  • The country currently consumes about around 6 million tonne of hydrogen annually and the government is looking for ways to increase the penetration of domestic green hydrogen in industries which otherwise import natural gas and ammonia to produce hydrogen.
  • The Union ministry on new and renewable energy has already circulated the draft ‘National Hydrogen Energy Mission’ document for inter-ministerial consultation, aiming to create a hydrogen value chain in the country and bring down the costs of hydrogen production.

Benefits of Using Green Hydrogen for India:

  • Green hydrogen can drive India’s transition to clean energy, combat climate change.
  • Under the Paris Climate Agreement, India pledged to reduce the emission intensity of its economy by 33-35% from 2005 levels by 2030.
  • It will reduce import dependency on fossil fuels.
  • The localisation of electrolyser production and the development of green hydrogen projects can create a new green technologies market in India worth $18-20 billion and thousands of jobs.

Grime-eating bacteria to restore classical art

Context:

  • Recently, a team of scientists has used helpful bacteria to clean the artwork of Michelangelo in Italy.

How is the Artwork cleaned?

  • Art restorers have usually employed chemical agents and more recently laser techniques to remove dirt, oil, glue or pollutants from monuments, stoneworks and paintings.
  • But since the 1980s, when researchers first used micro-organisms like Bacteria Desulfovibrio Vulgaris to clean a marble monument at the Cave Hill Cemetery in Louisville, the role of micro-organisms has been recognized in protecting the artistic heritage of humanity.

Effect of bacteria on Art:

  • Bacteria and other tiny organisms have traditionally been viewed as a threat to art. 
  • But not all are harmful. Some specialized microbes can be set loose on artwork in an effort to clean and restore the original glory of these pieces of cultural heritage.
  • Moreover, these bacteria are not modified or genetically engineered. They are just common ones from natural environments that love to eat various proteins.

Is it possible to fix the discolouration of the Taj Mahal using this method?

  • For this, we need to study the marble of the Taj Mahal to understand if it is just dust and particulate carbon causing the dark colour or if there is a biofilm formation (Biofilms are formed when communities of microorganisms adhere to a surface).
  • Moreover, a research paper in 2014 has said that calcifying bacteria could be used for remediation of stones and cultural heritage monuments, including the Taj Mahal.
  • The Archeological Survey of India is also learnt to be exploring the option of employing bio-restoration at the Taj.

National Educational Alliance for Technology (NEAT)

Context:

  • Union Education Minister launches NEAT 3.0 and AICTE prescribed technical books in regional languages
  • 12 Lakh NEAT ed-tech free course coupons worth Rs 253.72 crore distributed to socially disadvantaged groups NEAT will be a game-changer in bridging the digital divide and fulfilling the knowledge-based requirement of the world.

About NEAT:

  • National Educational Alliance for Technology (NEAT) is an initiative to provide the use of best-developed technological solutions in the education sector to enhance the employability of the youth on a single platform for learners' convenience.
  • These solutions use Artificial Intelligence for a personalized and customized learning experience for better learning outcomes and skill development in the niche areas.
  • AICTE, MoE is acting as the facilitator in the process while ensuring that the solutions are freely available to a large number of socially and economically backward students.
  • NEAT has 58 Education Technology Companies with 100 products that help to develop employable skills, capacity building, and bridge learning gaps.

About Ed-Tech:

  • Edtech is the practice of introducing IT tools into the classroom to create a more engaging, inclusive and individualized learning experience.
  • Intended Benefits of Ed-Tech: Technology holds promise and has incredible potential. It can help in:
    1. Enabling greater personalisation of education
    2. Enhancing educational productivity by improving rates of learning,
    3. Reducing costs of instructional material and service delivery at scale
    4. Better utilisation of teacher/instructor time.
  • National Education Policy 2020: India’s new National Education Policy (NEP) 2020 is responsive to the clarion call to integrate technology at every level of instruction.
  • It envisions the establishment of an autonomous body, the National Education Technology Forum (NETF), to spearhead efforts towards providing a strategic thrust to the deployment and use of technology.
  • Scope: The Indian ed-tech ecosystem has a lot of potential for innovation.
  • With over 4,500 start-ups and a current valuation of around USD 700 million, the market is geared for exponential growth — estimates project an astounding market size of USD 30 billion in the next 10 years.
  • Associated Issues With Ed-Tech:
    • Lack of Technology Access: Not everyone who can afford to go to school can afford to have phones, computers, or even a quality internet connection for attending classes online.
    • According to National Sample Survey data for 2017-18, only 42% of urban and 15% of rural households had internet access.
    • In this case, Ed-tech can increase the already existing digital divide.
    • Contradiction with Right to Education: Technology is not affordable to all, shifting towards online education completely is like taking away the Right to Education of those who cannot access the technology.
  • Related Steps Taken:
    1. Digital Infrastructure for Knowledge Sharing (DIKSHA).
    2. PM eVidya.
    3. Swayam Prabha TV Channel
    4. SWAYAM portal

arXiv: Free online repository of 2 million research papers

Context:

  • Over the last two years, non-science specialists and other laypeople have read references to “bioRxiv” and “medRxiv” in news reports on the Covid-19 pandemic, frequently described as “preprint servers”.
  • Both bioRxiv and medRxiv, which have played an invaluable role in quickly disseminating the conclusions of scientific research on the coronavirus to doctors, scientists, and health policymakers around the world, were inspired by arXiv.org, the original preprint server that published its two millionth paper — a numerical analysis titled ‘Affine Iterations and Wrapping Effect: Various Approaches’ — earlier this month.

About arXiv:

  • arXiv — pronounced ‘archive’ because the ‘X’ stands for ‘chi’, the 22nd letter of the Greek alphabet — is a gigantic online repository of research that physicists, astronomers, computer scientists and mathematicians among others find indispensable.
  • arXiv “started out in 1989 as an e-mail list for a few dozen string theorists”, according to a long profile published on January 10 in Scientific American magazine.
  • Thus was born arXiv, to which as many as 500,000 papers had been submitted by 2008. It took only six years until 2014 for this number to double to a million, and seven more years to double again.

Fast and free:

  • While the material posted on arXiv is not peer-reviewed, it allows the wider community of researchers to circulate their findings quickly and freely pending peer-review.
  • Research could appear online within a day of submission, compared with perhaps several months at the traditional journals.
  • This holds true for the life sciences preprint servers bioRxiv and medRxiv as well — and made an immense contribution to speeding up biomedical research in the literally life-and-death situation of the pandemic.

Some concerns:

  1. Short of resources,
  2. Understaffed and underfunded,
  3. Inconsistent moderation policies at arXiv,
  4. Lack of transparency.

The Devas-Antrix deal

Context:

  • The Supreme Court upheld a May 25, 2021 order of the National Company Law Tribunal (NCLT) to liquidate Devas on the ground that the firm was created under fraudulent circumstances.
  • The order came even as three Mauritius-based investors and a German telecom major have approached federal courts in the United States to seize assets linked to the Indian government such as those of Air India.
  • The investors have won separate compensation awards in international tribunals, including $1.2 billion awarded by an International Chamber of Commerce (ICC) tribunal on September 14, 2015. The Supreme Court has kept the $1.2 billion award in abeyance.

About the Devas-Antrix deal:

  • Under the deal, ISRO would lease to Devas two communication satellites (GSAT-6 and 6A) for 12 years for Rs 167 crore.
  • Devas would provide multimedia services to mobile platforms in India using S-band transponders on the satellites, with ISRO leasing 70 MHz of S-band spectrum.

Key points:

  • Allocation of Spectrum: The International Telecommunication Union granted India S-band spectrum in the 1970s.
  • Handing Over of Spectrum to ISRO: By 2003, there was a fear that the spectrum would be lost if not used effectively;
  • 70 Mhz was to be put to efficiently used by the Department of Space (DoS) or in effect to be used by Indian Space Research Organisation (ISRO).
  • 40 MHz of S-band was given to the Department of Telecom (DoT) for terrestrial use. 
  • Global Negotiations for Growth of Communication Systems: Initially, an MoU was signed by Forge (a US Consultancy) and Antrix in July 2003 for use of the satellite spectrum for the growth of communication systems in India, but later a start-up was envisaged, and Devas Multimedia was floated. Following this, Devas Multimedia was able to attract foreign investors.
  • As a result of the deal, Devas introduced and utilised technologies like never before and was a huge revenue generator for Antrix.
  • Scrapping of the Deal: The deal was cancelled in 2011 on the ground that the auction of the broadband spectrum was mired in fraud.
  • The decision was taken in the midst of the 2G scam and allegations that the Devas deal involved the handing over of communication spectrum valued at nearly Rs 2 lakh crore for a pittance.
  • The government also held that it needed the S-band satellite spectrum for national security and other social purposes.
  • Filling of Corruption Charges: Meanwhile, in August 2016, the Central Bureau of Investigation (CBI) filed a charge sheet against officials from Devas, ISRO and Antrix linked to the deal for “being party to a criminal conspiracy”.
  • International Tribunal Arbitration: Devas Multimedia initiated arbitration against the annulment at the International Chambers of Commerce (ICC).
  • Two separate arbitrations were also initiated under the Bilateral Investment Treaty (BIT) by Mauritius investors in Devas Multimedia under the India-Mauritius BIT and by Deutsche Telekom — a German company — under the India- Germany BIT.
  • India lost all three disputes and has to pay a total of USD 1.29 billion in damages.
  • The aftermath of Tribunal Award: Due to the Indian Government not paying the compensation, a French court has recently ordered the freezing of Indian government property in Paris, to enforce a USD 1.3 billion arbitration award.
  • Indian Arbitration Scenario: Recently, the Supreme Court reiterated the Government’s 2011 stance and directed the winding up of Devas Multimedia business in India.
  • The Supreme Court also upheld the previous award by the National Company Law Appellate Tribunal (NCLAT) and National Company Law Tribunal (NCLT).
  • Antrix filed a plea in the NCLT in January 2021 for the liquidation of Devas in India, which it said was incorporated in a fraudulent manner.
  • These tribunals directed the winding up of Devas Multimedia and appointed a provisional liquidator for the purpose.

The concern over 5G and flight safety

Context:

  • Flights to the United States from India resumed as the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) cleared the landing of more aircraft even in low-visibility conditions, despite the rollout of C-band 5G technology.
  • Following the announcement, Air India resumed flights from India to the US, with the first flight for John F Kennedy International Airport in New York.

Why had AI suspended its US flights?

  • The FAA warned that the rollout of new 5G technology by AT&T and Verizon in the allotted 3.7-3.98 GHz (gigahertz) band could potentially lead to interference with onboard instruments such as radar altimeters.
  • Commercial passenger and cargo airlines had also warned of an impending “catastrophic” aviation crisis if the rollout of 5G went ahead as planned.
  • The deployment of 5G by AT&T and Verizon, two of the biggest wireless communications service providers in the US, has triggered concern among airlines, who have said that the frequencies used by the telecom companies are very close to the frequencies used by onboard instruments such as radar altimeters, which operate in the 4.2-4.4 GHz range.

Role of flight radar altimeters in safe flight operations:

  • For all airborne vehicles — an aircraft, spacecraft, or even a missile — an altimeter is crucial to gauge the altitude and the distance covered.
  • Altimeters are of three main kinds: barometric, laser, and radio or radar altimeters.
  • Most commercial passenger and cargo aircraft use a combination of all these altimeters along with a global positioning system (GPS) to determine their path, as well as factors such as height above sea level, presence of highrises, mountains, and other obstacles, and the likely flying time.
  • The radio or radar altimeter is a very small, low-power radar system that operates in the 4.2-4.4 GHz frequency microwave C-band.
  • The high frequency of these altimeters enables aircraft makers to install small antennae that produce powerful signals that can be relayed quickly and accurately.

Concern about radar altimeter interference specifically in the US:

  • According to industry experts, there are chances of interference of the two bands as telecom service operators, in order to extract the full value of 5G and give customers the best experience, push operations to the highest band possible.
  • Altimeters too need to operate at higher frequencies in order to get the most accurate readings possible.

The situation in India:

  • In India, where 5G is yet to be rolled out, the frequency range for 5G telecoms operations is pegged around 3.3-3.68 GHz. 
  • The DoT, however, assured them that there would be no interference as the frequencies for commercial 5G services were at least 530 MHz away from those used by altimeters.

Bacterial resistance to drugs

Context:

  • A comprehensive estimate of the global impact of antimicrobial resistance (AMR), covering 204 countries and territories, was published recently in The Lancet.
  • The report is titled- Global Research on Antimicrobial Resistance (GRAM) report.

Highlights of the report:

  • A comprehensive estimate of the global impact of antimicrobial resistance (AMR), covering 204 countries and territories and published in The Lancet, has found that 1.27 million people died in 2019 as a direct result of AMR, which is now a leading cause of death worldwide, higher than HIV/AIDS or malaria.

Analysis:

  • Of the 23 pathogens studied, drug resistance in six (E coli, S aureus, K pneumoniae, S pneumoniae, A baumannii, and P aeruginosa) led directly to 9.29 lakh deaths and was associated with 3.57 million.
  • One pathogen-drug combination – methicillin-resistant S aureus, or MRSA – directly caused more than 1 lakh deaths.
  • Resistance to two classes of antibiotics often considered the first line of defence against severe infections – fluoroquinolones and beta-lactam antibiotics – accounted for more than 70% of deaths caused by AMR.

Antibiotic resistance:

  • It is the ability of a microorganism (like bacteria, viruses, and some parasites) to stop an antimicrobial (such as antibiotics, antivirals and antimalarials) from working against it. As a result, standard treatments become ineffective, infections persist and may spread to others.

Antimicrobial resistance is a silent threat to the future:

  • Antibiotics have saved millions of lives to date. Unfortunately, they are now becoming ineffective as many infectious diseases have ceased to respond to antibiotics.
  • Even though antimicrobial resistance is a natural process, the misuse of antibiotics in humans and animals is accelerating the process.
  • A large number of infections such as tuberculosis, pneumonia, and gonorrhea are becoming very difficult to treat since the antibiotics used for their treatment are becoming less effective.
  • Globally, the use of antibiotics in animals is expected to increase by 67% by 2030 from 2010 levels. The resistance to antibiotics in germs is a man-made disaster.
  • Irresponsible use of antibiotics is rampant in human health, animal health, fisheries, and agriculture.
  • Complex surgeries such as organ transplantation and cardiac bypass might become difficult to undertake because of untreatable infectious complications that may result in post-surgery.

Moderna’s experimental HIV vaccine

Context:

  • Forty years since HIV was discovered, the development of a vaccine against the virus has remained a challenge. Now, the biotech firm Moderna has started trials on an mRNA vaccine, which uses a novel approach to elicit broadly neutralising HIV-1 antibodies (bNAbs) and eventually target multiple HIV strains.
  • First doses of the experimental HIV vaccine antigens were administered at George Washington University School of Medicine and Health Sciences in Washington DC this week.

The technology:

  • The vaccine uses the same technology as Moderna’s Covid 19 vaccine. It uses mRNA, or messenger RNA, which teaches the body’s cells how to make proteins that trigger an immune response.
  • BNAbs are produced by certain types of B cells, which are rare: one in 300,000 B cells have this capability. The vaccine aims to stimulate the production of bnAbs that can act against many variants of HIV.

The trial:

  • The MODERNA/IAVI study is a phase 1, randomised, first-in-human, open-label study to evaluate the safety and immunogenicity of the vaccines, mRNA-1644 and mRNA-1644v2-Core, in HIV-uninfected individuals.
  • Fifty-six individuals will be randomised into four groups and safety/immunogenicity results will be available in 2023.

Burden of disease

  • According to the World Health Organization (WHO), HIV continues to be a major global public health issue having claimed 36.3 million lives so far.
  • India has around 21 lakh people living with HIV and every year an estimated 68,000 new infections are added.
  • While there is no cure for the infection, HIV infection has become a manageable chronic health condition because of increasing access to effective prevention, diagnosis, treatment and care including for opportunistic infections.
  • However, despite decades of research, no vaccine has been developed.

Miscellaneous

Prime Minister's security planning

Context:

  • A protest in Punjab left PM Narendra Modi's cavalcade stranded on a flyover.
  • With the Prime Minister’s cavalcade stranded on a flyover in Punjab’s Ferozepur district for over 15 minutes due to a protest by farmers on Wednesday (January 5), the Ministry of Home Affairs has sought a report from the Punjab government on what it called “a major lapse in the security of the PM”.

 Responsibility for the security of the Prime Minister:

  • The Special Protection Group(SPG) is responsible for the safety and security of the Prime Minister. 
  • But for visits to the states, the SPG follows the instructions as stated in the ‘Blue Book’. The instructions in the ‘Blue Book‘ are issued by the Ministry of Home Affairs. 
  • The Blue Book mandates that three days before any visit by the prime minister, the SPG holds an Advance Security meeting with everyone involved in securing the event, including Intelligence Bureau officials in the concerned state, state police officials and the concerned district magistrate.

Discussion at the advance security meeting:

  • At this meeting, everything, including the smallest of details, is discussed. The meeting discusses the PM’s travel, how he will be escorted and decisions are taken along with the inputs of the central and local intelligence.
  • Central intelligence agencies are responsible for providing inputs about any threat. However, it is the SPG that takes the final call on how the security is to be arranged.
  • The SPG never allows the PM’s movement until the local police give the go-ahead. State police are also supposed to conduct anti-sabotage checks and secure the route.
  • However, contingency plans are also made by the agencies at all levels for any emergency situation.

SPG Act against Punjab Police officers

Context:

  • The Centre is considering action under the Special Protection Group (SPG) Act against Punjab Police officers following the alleged breach in the security of Prime Minister Narendra Modi during his visit to Punjab

Special Protection Group (SPG) Act :

  • Section 14 of the SPG Act makes the state government responsible for providing all assistance to the SPG during the PM’s movement.
  • The provision, titled ‘Assistance to Group’, states: “It shall be the duty of every Ministry and Department of the Central Government or the State Government or the Union Territory Administration, every Indian Mission, every local or other authority or every civil or military authority to act in aid of the Director or any member of the Group whenever called upon to do so in furtherance of the duties and responsibilities assigned to such Director or member.”

‘Sea to Sea ’ Variant Of BrahMos Missile

Context:

  • India successfully tested an advanced sea to sea variant of BrahMos Supersonic Cruise missile from INS Visakhapatnam. 
  • Indian Navy’s newest indigenously-built guided-missile destroyer represents a twin achievement: 
    • Certifies the accuracy of the ship’s combat system and armament complex
    • Validates a new capability the missile provides the Navy and the Nation

BrahMos:

  • BrahMos is a joint venture between the Defence Research and Development Organisation of India (DRDO) and the NPOM of Russia.
  • BrahMos is named on the rivers Brahmaputra and Moskva.
  • It is a two-stage (solid propellant engine in the first stage and liquid ramjet in the second) missile.
  • It is a multiplatform missile i.e it can be launched from land, air, and sea and multi capability missile with pinpoint accuracy that works both day and night irrespective of the weather conditions.
  • It operates on the “Fire and Forgets” principle i.e it does not require further guidance after launch.
  • Brahmos is one of the fastest cruise missiles currently operationally deployed with the speed of Mach 2.8, which is nearly 3 times more than the speed of sound.

Advanced Variant:

  • The BrahMos missile was initially developed with a range capped at 290 km.
  • The range of the missile was originally capped at 290 km as per obligations of the Missile Technology Control Regime (MTCR).
  • However, following India’s entry into the MTCR club in June 2016, the range is planned to be extended to 450 km and to 600km at a later stage.

DAC reviews imported equipment plans

Context:

  • In yet another push towards focusing on indigenously manufactured weapons system for the armed forces, the Defence Acquisitions Council (DAC)  held a special meeting to review some upcoming projects under which equipment would have had been imported.

Focus on Indigenous Equipment:

  • The government is reviewing all upcoming Buy (Global) projects under which the weapon systems or other equipment were imported from foreign Original Equipment Manufacturers (OEM).
  • The government is pushing the forces to focus on “Atmanirbhar” or equipment manufactured by the domestic industry as much as possible.
  • Only certain systems, which are at the cutting edge globally, will be allowed to be imported directly.
  • The government has been encouraging foreign countries and OEMs to set up manufacturing units in India so that the country not only manufactures for its own armed forces but also exports them in the long run.

The Indian Army’s new combat uniform

Context:

  • Since 1949, January 15 has been celebrated as Army Day every year, to mark the day General KM Cariappa, who later became Field Marshal, took over as the first Indian Commander-in-Chief of the Indian Army from Gen F R Roy Bucher.
  • During the celebrations which also included a parade and an address by Army Chief Gen M M Naravane, the new combat uniform for the Indian Army was unveiled.
  • The new uniform will be made available in a phased manner to the nearly 12 lakh personnel of the Indian Army.

Army’s uniform matters because:

  • Uniforms are one of the most distinctive identifying features for any military force.
  • The uniform not only differentiates civilians from military personnel, and between personnel of different militaries, it also engenders togetherness, conformity, and discipline among the personnel.
  • The new uniform was unveiled with the soldiers of the elite parachute regiment marching on Army Day.

Changes between the Old and New uniform:

The fabric used in the new uniform:

  • The fabric for the new material makes it lighter, sturdier, more breathable, and more suitable for the different terrains that soldiers are posted in.
  • According to the Army, it is an ergonomically designed, operationally effective, new-generation camouflage combat uniform.
  • The fabric is 15 per cent lighter and has 23 per cent more strength against tearing, against the current uniform.
  • The ergonomic features allow for long-hour use and comfort, and micro features are inbuilt for the use of the wearer in field conditions.

Components and the style of the uniform:

  • The new uniform, unlike the old one, has a combat T-shirt underneath and a shirt over it. Also, unlike the older uniform, the shirt will not be tucked in.
  • The “jacket”, as the shirt is called, has angular top pockets, lower pockets with vertical openings, knife pleats at the back, a pocket on the left sleeve, a pen holder on the left forearm, and improved-quality buttons.
  • The trousers will be adjustable at the waist with elastic buttons and have a double layer at the groin.
  • For the caps, the girth will be adjustable, and the logo of the Army will be of better quality than earlier.
  • For the first time, a modified version of the uniform has been developed keeping in mind the specific requirements of lady officers and troops of the Army.

Design of the uniform:

  • Designed by a team of 12 people at the National Institute of Fashion Technology (NIFT), which included seven professors, three students, and two alumni, the uniform was created through a consultative process with the Army, keeping in mind the “4Cs” — comfort, climate, camouflage, and confidentiality.
  • The fabric was selected out of five options curated specifically for the Army by NIFT, and the finalized pattern was one of the 17 options that were specially designed.
  • Domain-specific experts for fabric, camouflage patterns, and designs were engaged, and prototypes were prepared through a continuous consultative process.

Places in News

 

Place in News Why In News, And Some Information About the Place

Pensilungpa Glacier

Context:

  • The Pensilungpa glacier in the Zanskar Valley Ladakh’s Kargil district had shrunk by 36% between 1962 and 2012.
  • Reason – increase in the temperature and decrease in precipitation during winter.

Cold Desert Biosphere Reserve

  • Cold Desert Biosphere Reserve is a biosphere reserve located in the Western Himalayas, within Himachal Pradesh in North India.
  • This region has the status of a Cold Desert biome. This region carries the status of a Cold Desert biome for two reasons, one is the leeward part of the Himalayas which is spared from monsoon winds and the other is its position at high altitude, on average 3000-5000 metres.

Zanskar Range

 

  • It is a mountain range in the union territory of Ladakh that separates Zanskar from Ladakh itself.
  • Geologically, the Zanskar Range is part of the Tethys Himalaya, an approximately 100-km-wide synclinorium formed by strongly folded and imbricated, weakly metamorphosed sedimentary series.

Nord Stream 2 Pipeline

  • The Nord Stream 2 Pipeline will transport natural gas into the European Union to enhance the security of supply, support climate goals and strengthen the internal energy market.
  • The EU’s domestic gas production is in rapid decline. To meet demand, the EU needs reliable, affordable, and sustainable new gas supplies.
  • The Nord Stream 2 Pipeline will provide this by transporting gas from the world’s largest reserves in Russia to the EU internal market.
  • Nord Stream 2 will enhance the EU’s security of supply and complement, not replace, existing gas supply options.

Horn of Africa

  • The Horn of Africa (HoA), also known as the Somali Peninsula, is a large peninsula of East Africa.
  • Located on the easternmost part of the African mainland, it is the fourth largest peninsula in the world.
  • It lies along the southern boundary of the Red Sea and extends hundreds of kilometres into the Guardafui Channel, Gulf of Aden, and the Indian Ocean.
  • The Horn of Africa consists of the internationally recognized countries of Djibouti, Eritrea, Ethiopia, and Somalia, as well as the de facto country of Somaliland.

Pacific ‘Ring of Fire’

  • The Pacific ‘Ring of Fire’ or Pacific rim, or the Circum-Pacific Belt, is an area along the Pacific Ocean that is characterised by active volcanoes and frequent earthquakes.
  • It is home to about 75 per cent of the world’s volcanoes – more than 450 volcanoes. Also, about 90% of the world’s earthquakes occur here.
  • Its length is over 40,000 kilometres and traces from New Zealand clockwise in an almost circular arc covering Tonga, Kermadec Islands, Indonesia, moving up to the Philippines, Japan, and stretching eastward to the Aleutian Islands, then southward along the western coast of North America and South America.
  • The area is along with several tectonic plates including the Pacific plate, Philippine Plate, Juan de Fuca plate, Cocos plate, Nazca Plate, and North American plate.
  • The movement of these plates or tectonic activity makes the area witness abundant earthquakes and tsunamis every year.

Darvaza gas crater

Context:

  • Also known as the Door to Hell or Gates of Hell, is a natural gas field collapsed into a cavern near Darvaza, Turkmenistan.

Turkmenistan–Afghanistan–Pakistan–India (TAPI) Pipeline

  • The Turkmenistan–Afghanistan–Pakistan–India (TAPI) Pipeline, also known as Trans-Afghanistan Pipeline, is a natural gas pipeline being developed by the Galkynysh – TAPI Pipeline Company Limited with the participation of the Asian Development Bank.
  • The pipeline will transport natural gas from the Galkynysh Gas Field in Turkmenistan through Afghanistan into Pakistan and then to India.
  • The 1,814-kilometre (1,127 mi) pipeline will run from Galkynysh gas fields in Turkmenistan through Afghanistan and Pakistan to India. It starts from the Galkynysh gas field.
  • In Afghanistan, the TAPI pipeline will be constructed alongside the Kandahar–Herat Highway in western Afghanistan, and then via Quetta and Multan in Pakistan.
  • The final destination of the pipeline will be the Indian town of Fazilka, near the border between Pakistan and India.

 

Index in News

 

National/International Index
District Good Governance Index (DGGI)
  • Context:
    • Union home minister Amit Shah recently launched the District Good Governance Index (DGGI) in Jammu and Kashmir, which is the first Union Territory to have such an index.
  • About the index:
    • Launched for 20 districts of Jammu and Kashmir.
    • It has been prepared by the Department of Administrative Reforms and Public Grievances (DARPG) in partnership with the Union Territory's administration.
    • Under the index, the policies, schemes and programs of the central as well as the state governments have been monitored at the district level.
  • Highlights of the index:
    • Jammu district topped the composite ranking, followed by the Doda and Samba districts of the Jammu Division.
    • This was followed by the Pulwama district of the Srinagar Division at the fourth spot and the Srinagar district at the fifth.
    • The district of Rajouri finished at the last spot, while Poonch and Shopian districts also featured towards the end of the rankings.
    • Srinagar district bagged the first rank in Public Infrastructure and Utility sector.
    • Srinagar also ranked in the top 5 districts in Composite GGI in Kashmir Division with a score of 5.313 points.
    • Kishtwar topped in ‘Agriculture and Allied Sector’, Pulwama topped in ‘Human Resource Development’, Reasi topped in ‘Public Health’, Ramban topped in ‘Social Welfare and Development’, and Ganderbal topped in the ‘Financial Inclusion' sector.
Henley Passport Index
  • Context:
    • India now ranks at 83rd position in the Henley Passport Index, climbing seven places from 90th rank last year.
    • India shares the rank with Sao Tome and Principe in Central Africa, behind Rwanda and Uganda.
    • It now has visa-free access to 60 destinations worldwide with Oman and Armenia being the latest additions. It has added 35 more destinations since 2006.
    • Japan and Singapore have topped the list.
    • The passport of the Maldives is the most powerful in South Asia (58th) enabling visa-free entry to 88 countries.
    • In South Asia, Bangladesh (103rd) is ahead of Pakistan (108th) and Nepal (105th).
  • About the Henley Passport Index:
    • Henley & Partners publishes the ranking and the Index of the world’s passports according to the number of destinations their holders can access without a prior visa.
    • It was launched in 2005.
    • The ranking is based on data from the IATA (International Air Transport Association), a trade association of some 290 airlines, including all major carriers.
    • The index includes 199 different passports and 227 different travel destinations.
    • The data are updated in real-time as and when visa policy changes come into effect.

 

Schemes in News

 

Scheme Concerned Ministry Features
Pradhan Mantri Formalisation of Micro food processing Enterprises (PMFME) Scheme Ministry of Food Processing Industries
  • Context:
    • The Food Processing Ministry had inked an agreement with NAFED for developing 10 brands as the One District One Product brands under the Pradhan Mantri Formalisation of Micro food processing Enterprises (PMFME) Scheme.
  • About the Pradhan Mantri Formalisation of Micro food processing Enterprises (PMFME) Scheme:
    • Launched in 2020, the scheme will be implemented for five years until 2024-25.
    • It is for the Unorganized Sector on an All India basis.
  • Objectives:
    • Increase in access to finance by micro food processing units.
    • Increase in revenues of target enterprises.
    • Enhanced compliance with food quality and safety standards.
    • Strengthening capacities of support systems.
    • The transition from the unorganized sector to the formal sector.
    • Special focus on women entrepreneurs and Aspirational districts.
    • Encourage Waste to Wealth activities.
    • Focus on minor forest produce in Tribal Districts.
  • Salient features:
    • Centrally Sponsored Expenditure to be shared by Government of India and States at 60:40.
    • 2,00,000 micro-enterprises are to be assisted with credit-linked subsidies. Micro enterprises will get credit-linked subsidy at 35 per cent of the eligible project cost with a ceiling of Rs. 10 lakh.
    • The beneficiary contribution will be a minimum of 10 per cent and a balance from the loan. Seed capital will be given to SHGs (Rs. four lakh per SHG) for a loan to members for working capital and small tools.
    • Cluster approach.
    • Focus on perishables.
  • Administrative and Implementation Mechanisms:
    • The Scheme would be monitored at the Centre by an Inter-Ministerial Empowered Committee (IMEC) under the Chairmanship of Minister, FPI.
    • A State/ UT Level Committee (SLC) chaired by the Chief Secretary will monitor and sanction/ recommend proposals for expansion of micro-units and setting up of new units by the SHGs/ FPOs/ Cooperatives.
    • The States/ UTs will prepare Annual Action Plans covering various activities for implementation of the scheme, which will be approved by the Government of India.
    • A third-party evaluation and mid-term review mechanism would be built into the programme.
    • A national-level portal would be set up wherein the applicants/ individual enterprise could apply to participate in the Scheme. All the scheme activities would be undertaken on the National portal.
Rooftop solar scheme
Ministry of New and Renewable Energy
  • Context:
    • The Ministry of New & Renewable Energy has allowed households to get rooftop solar panels installed by themselves or by any vendor of their choice and a photograph of the installed system for distribution utility is sufficient to avail benefits or subsidies under the Rooftop solar scheme.
    • Earlier under the rooftop solar scheme, the households were required to get that from the listed vendors only to avail the benefits and subsidy under the scheme.
  • About the scheme:
    • Implemented by the Ministry of New and Renewable Energy.
  • Presently under implementation is the Grid-Connected Rooftop Solar Scheme (Phase II):
    • It aims to achieve a cumulative capacity of 40,000 MW from Rooftop Solar Projects by the year 2022.
    • This scheme is being implemented in the state by distribution companies (DISCOMs).
    • Under this scheme, the Ministry is providing a 40% subsidy for the first 3 kW and 20% subsidy beyond 3 kW and up to 10 kW of solar panel capacity.
    • The residential consumer has to pay the cost of the rooftop solar plant by reducing the subsidy amount given by the Ministry as per the prescribed rate to the vendor.
  • The major objective of the programme includes:
    • To promote the grid-connected SPV rooftop and small SPV power generating plants among the residential, community, institutional, industrial and commercial establishments.
    • To mitigate the dependence on fossil fuel-based electricity generation and encourage environment-friendly Solar electricity generation.
    • To create an enabling environment for investment in the solar energy sector by the private sector, state government and individuals.
    • To create an enabling environment for the supply of solar power from rooftops and small plants to the grid.
  • Benefits of rooftop solar:
    • An alternative source of electricity to that provided by the grid.
    • It reduces the dependence on fossil-fuel generated electricity.
    • Ability to provide electricity to those areas that are not yet connected to the grid — remote locations and areas where the terrain makes it difficult to set up power stations and lay power lines.

 



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