National Marine Turtle Action Plan
Why in News?
- Considering the need to have a conservation paradigm for marine mega fauna and marine turtles, the Ministry of Environment Forest and Climate Change (MoEF&CC) has released ‘Marine Mega Fauna Stranding Guidelines’ and ‘National Marine Turtle Action Plan’.
- India has rich marine biodiversity along a vast coastline of over 7,500 km.
- Millions of people depend on these resources ranging from maritime trade and transport, food, mineral resources, cultural traditions, spiritual values and inspiration that draws tourists from around the world.
- Despite the immense economic, ecological and cultural values of marine habitats in India, marine mega fauna species and marine turtles face a wide variety of challenges including stranding and entanglement.
- Managing such challenging situations requires coordination, action and people’s participation which would help in the long-term conservation of marine species and their habitats.
- These two documents highlight actions to be taken
- For handling stranded animals on shore,
- Stranded or entangled animals in the sea or on a boat,
- Management actions for improved coordination,
- Reducing threats to marine species and their habitats,
- Rehabilitation of degraded habitats,
- Enhancing people’s participation,
- Advance scientific research and
- Exchange of information on marine mammals and marine turtles and their habitats.
2021: Year of Indo-French alliance
Why in News?
- Minister for Environment, Forest and Climate Change and the French Minister for Ecological Transition launched the Indo-French Year of the Environment.
- To strengthen Indo-French cooperation in sustainable development, increase the effectiveness of actions in favor of global environment protection and give them greater visibility.
- India has made significant progress towards climate change action & has already achieved 26% of reduction of emission intensity.
- As of 2020 the renewable capacity in India stands at 90 GW which includes 36 GW of solar energy & 38 GW of wind energy.
- The Indo-French Year of the Environment over the period 2021-2022 would be based on five main themes: environmental protection, climate change, biodiversity conservation, sustainable urban development, and the development of renewable energies and energy efficiency.
- It is also a platform for engaging in discussions on critical areas of collaboration relating to environment and allied areas.
World Neglected Tropical Diseases (NTD) Day
Why in News?
- January 30, 2021 will mark the second annual World Neglected Tropical Diseases (NTD) Day.
- Highlighting the global community’s commitment to ending Neglected Tropical Diseases that cause immeasurable suffering among the world’s most marginalized communities.
What to do?
- On World NTD Day, on 30th January 2021, more than 50 landmarks representing 25 nations across the world will be lit up to celebrate how far we have come together in beating NTDs.
- India too will proudly join these countries, by illuminating UNESCO world heritage site Qutub Minar.
- 1 in 5 people around the world are affected by NTDs.
- India is home to the world’s largest absolute burden of at least 11 of these major neglected tropical diseases.
- These diseases debilitate, disfigure, and can even be fatal to those affected.
New Way to Make Chip Sets For Robots
Why in News?
- MIT researchers have developed a new way of customising chip sets for robots.
- Called “robomorphic computing”, the method can speed up a robot’s response time and enable it to think faster.
- The method helps build chips by using a robot’s physical layout and its intended application.
- Robots perceiving stimuli and calculating a response needs a “boatload of computation,” which limits reaction time. But the new way is said to fix the mismatch between a robot’s “mind” and body.
COVID-19 Performance Index
Why in News?
- New Zealand and Vietnam were ranked the best performing countries in their response to the pandemic according to a COVID-19 “performance index” put together by the Lowy Institute, an Australian think-tank, which sought to assess the impact of geography, political systems and economic development in assessing outcomes.
- The index, which was based on six different indicators including confirmed cases and deaths per million people and the scale of testing, sought “to gauge the relative performance of countries”, assessing 98 countries.
- Fewer reported cases and deaths, both in aggregate and per capita terms, point towards a better response to the virus.
- More tests conducted on a per capita basis reveal a more accurate picture of the extent of the pandemic at the national level. Lower rates of positive tests, meanwhile, indicate greater degrees of control over the transmission of COVID-19.
- India ranked 86 out of 98 countries, while the United States placed 94 and Brazil at the bottom of the index. New Zealand and Vietnam led the list, followed by Taiwan, Thailand and Cyprus in the top five.
- Sri Lanka was the best faring nation in South Asia, ranking 10, while the Maldives was at 25, Pakistan at 69, Nepal at 70, and Bangladesh at 84.
- China was not included “due to a lack of publicly available data on testing”.
Methodology behind the Index
- It measured six indicators: confirmed cases, confirmed deaths, cases per million people, deaths per million people, cases as a proportion of tests, and tests per thousand people.
- Assessing regional responses, it found that although the outbreak began in China, the Asia-Pacific region fared the best, while Europe and the U.S. were initially overwhelmed.
- Europe, however, “registered the greatest improvement over time of any region” before succumbing to a second wave which it attributed to more open borders.
- Population size was one factor. Smaller countries with fewer than 10 million people “consistently outperformed their larger counterparts throughout 2020”.
Alliance To Close Digital Divide
Why in News?
- The World Economic Forum announced the launch of an Essential Digital Infrastructure and Services Network (EDISON) Alliance that will work towards ensuring global and equitable access to the digital economy.
- The alliance will be steered by a multi-sector board, to be chaired by Verizon’s Chairman and CEO Hans Vestberg.
- Geneva-based World Economic Forum (WEF), which describes itself as an international organisation for public-private partnership, will serve as the secretariat and platform for the Alliance.
- A wider group of ‘Champions Leaders’ will advise and support the Alliance.
- The new Alliance will work with governments and industries to accelerate digital inclusion and its goal is to ensure an unprecedented level of cross-sectoral collaboration between the technology industry and other critical sectors of the economy.
Joe Biden’s Plan to Tackle Climate Change
Why ion News?
- Soon after assuming office, US President Joe Biden announced an ambitious plan to tackle climate change – an important part of his election agenda.
- During his campaign for the presidential elections, Biden proposed a $2 trillion spending plan to deal with climate change that includes promoting clean energy and climate-friendly infrastructure.
- Under former President Donald Trump’s administration, the US officially left the Paris deal just a day after the general elections on November 4, 2020.
- However, since being appointed President, Biden has already written to the UN requesting that the US rejoin the agreement.
What is Biden’s plan on climate change?
- The order signed by Biden recently establishes climate considerations as an important part of US foreign policy and national security, which means understanding the effects of climate change on security and integrating climate considerations in international work.
- Significantly, one of the broad goals of the climate change agenda under the Biden administration is to attain a steady growth in clean energy employment.
Keystone XL Pipeline
- Biden also cancelled the Keystone XL pipeline project on his first day in office.
- The pipeline project was the proposed fourth phase of the Keystone Pipeline network between Canada and the US, which aims to cut short the distance between Alberta’s oil sands and the Texas Gulf Coast, where most of North America’s refineries are situated.
- The first three phases of the project are complete and carry 5.5 lakh barrels of oil every day from Canada to the US via a longer route.
- There was also opposition from residents of the state of Nebraska where leaks from the pipeline could threaten the Ogallala Aquifer, among the world’s largest freshwater reserves which provides drinking water to 20 lakh people in eight US states.
- The Biden administration can reverse nearly 200 rollbacks initiated by the Trump administration, which include
- Repealed light bulb efficiency standards for general service incandescent lamps,
- Reversing the revocation of an Obama-era order designed to preserve the ocean, coastal and Great Lake waters,
- Resuming payments to the Green Climate Fund, a UN program to help poorer countries reduce carbon emissions (the US had pledged $3bn) and
- Reversing a proclamation that reduced the size of monuments from 85 per cent to 50 per cent, leaving the rest of the area open to mining, oil and gas drilling.
Patharughat: The forgotten peasant uprising of Assam in 1894
Why in News?
- Twenty five years before the Jallianwallah Bagh massacre, more than a hundred peasants fell to the bullets of the British on January 28, 1894 in Assam.
- The unarmed peasants were protesting against the increase in land revenue levied by the colonial administration, when the military opened fire.
- Today a “martyrs column” stands where the incident took place — Patharughat, a small village in Assam’s Darrang district, 60km northeast of Guwahati.
What led to the Patharughat uprising?
- After the British annexation of Assam in 1826, surveys of the vast lands of the state began.
- On the basis of such surveys, the British began to impose land taxes, much to the resentment of the farmers.
- In 1893, the British government decided to increase agricultural land tax reportedly by 70- 80 per cent.
- Across Assam, peasants began protesting the move by organising Raij Mels, or peaceful peoples’ conventions.
- According to Guwahati-based author Arup Kumar Dutta, who has written a book — Pothorughat — on the incident, despite these gatherings being democratic, the British perceived them as “breeding grounds for sedition”.
- “So whenever there was a Raij Mel, the British used to come down on it with a heavy hand to disperse them”.
- That is what happened on January 28, 1894.
Travel to the ISS
Why in News?
- A former Israeli fighter pilot, an American technology entrepreneur and a Canadian investor will be part of the crew of the first entirely-private orbital space mission.
- The three men are paying a whopping $55 million each to fly aboard a SpaceX rocket for an eight-day visit to the International Space Station, organised by Houston-based spaceflight firm Axiom.
What do we know about the mission?
- The Axiom Mission 1 (AX 1) flight is being arranged under a commercial agreement with NASA.
- While private citizens have travelled to space before, the AX 1 mission will be the first to use a commercially built spacecraft, the SpaceX Dragon 2, best known for flying its first two crews to the ISS late last year.
- Elon Musks’ SpaceX is scheduled to launch the all-private crew no earlier than in January next year. After lifting off from Cape Canaveral in Florida, the crew will take about a day or two to arrive at the ISS and will then proceed to spend eight days there.
Is this the first time civilians have been launched into space?
- No, private civilians have travelled to the space station before. Since 2001, Russia has been selling rides to the ISS to wealthy businessmen around the world.
- They travelled onboard the Russian Soyuz aircraft along with professional cosmonauts and NASA astronauts.
- Until 2019, NASA did not permit ordinary citizens to be launched into space from American soil. It finally reversed its stance, stating that the missions would help spur growth in the commercial space industry.
- Several other space companies, including Jeff Bezos’ Blue Origin and Richard Branson’s Virgin Galactic, also plan to take paying customers to space in the near future.
What is a short squeeze?
- Short squeeze is a term used by market participants to explain a phenomenon where short sellers in a stock who had placed their bets on a stock to fall, rush to hedge their positions or buy the stock in an event of adverse price movement, in order to cover their losses.
- For example if trader expects that a stock “X” would fall to Rs 80 from Rs 100 and he takes a short position in the stock to sell it at Rs 100, when actually the market price is much lower.
- However, if the stock price of the company starts rising and jumps to Rs 120, the short seller starts incurring big loss (as he would have to sell the share at Rs 100 even as market price is Rs 120) and in order to cover his loss, he starts buying the stock, which leads to further rise in share price of the stock.
- This phenomenon where the short seller is buying the stock to cover his loss is referred to as short squeeze in market parlance and it leads to dramatic rise in share price far beyond its fundamentals.
How is it working?
- In developed markets, hedge funds and other investors have to disclose their short positions in any company, if it crosses a certain threshold.
- As retail and other investors can find out such positions in the market, they can target a funds position by organising and buying that stock.
- In the current scenario investors have organised on message board site Reddit to buy the stock.
- Once the stock price starts to rise, the short sellers are forced to also buy the stock in order to hedge their position and cover their losses, leading to a huge surge in share prices.
Viruses & their Variants
Why in News?
- SARS-CoV-2 variants have emerged independently in several countries, and research published over the past week indicates that the virus is changing more quickly than was once believed — and that it may continue to develop towards evading currently available vaccines.
Why do viruses mutate?
- Like all life, viruses carry a genetic code in the form of nucleic acids — either DNA or RNA.
- When cells multiply, the DNA within them replicates as well, to make copies for the new cells. During replication, random errors are introduced into the new DNA, much like spelling errors when we write.
- Just as we can spell-check, our cells carry enzymes to ‘proofread’ and correct these mistakes to maintain the fidelity of our genetic material.
- While the errors in DNA virus genomes can be corrected by the error-correcting function of cells in which they replicate, there are no enzymes in cells to correct RNA errors.
- Therefore, RNA viruses accumulate more genetic changes (mutations) than DNA viruses.
- Evolution requires not just mutations, but also selection.
- While most mutations are deleterious to the virus, if some allow a selective advantage — say better infectivity, transmission, or escape from immunity — then the new viruses out-compete the older ones in a population.
- The mutations can be synonymous (silent) or non-synonymous (non-silent); the latter also changes an amino acid (protein building block) at that position in the coded protein.
How much has SARS-CoV2 mutated?
- Coronaviruses have an RNA genome with two unique features.
- At 30,000 nucleotides (nucleic acid units) they have the largest genome among RNA viruses.
- This allows coronaviruses to produce an enzyme that can correct RNA replication errors.
- Consequently, coronaviruses have rather stable genomes, changing about a thousand times slower than influenza viruses, which too are RNA viruses that cause respiratory illness.
- A mutation called D614G emerged to change the amino acid at position 614 in the virus’ Spike protein from aspartate (D) to glycine (G).
- Because this variant infected and replicated better and produced ‘fitter’ viruses, it now accounts for over 99 per cent of the virus circulating globally. Other mutations are now emerging in this background.
- Viruses with mutations within the receptor-binding domain (RBD) of the Spike protein have the most potential to evade antibodies that develop as a result of natural infection or vaccination.
- The RBD binds the cellular receptor allowing the virus to infect cells, and anti-RBD antibodies neutralise the virus.
- Such mutations were recently found in variant viruses that emerged in the UK, South Africa and Brazil.
- Three key RBD mutations — K417N/T, E484K, and N501Y — are found in variants that emerged in South Africa and Brazil.
- The UK variant has the N501Y mutation, but has another called P681H outside the RBD, which too increases infectivity.
Why in News?
- AIMIM (All India Majlis-e-Ittehad-ul-Muslimeen) president Asaddudin Owaisi and CPI leader Binoy Viswam have filed dissent notes to the Parliamentary Standing Committee’s report on DNA Technology (Use and Application) Regulation Bill 2019, claiming that it does not take into account their concerns over privacy violations and targets Dalit, Muslims and Adivasis by way of DNA sample collection and indefinite storage as per the new legislation.
- The bill proposes DNA sampling and profiling of citizens accused of crime or reported missing and storing their unique genetic information for administrative purposes. The fear is that the law could be used for caste or community based profiling.
- In the absence of a statutory framework protecting the right to privacy, this bill will cause irreversible damage to individuals’ right to privacy as well as the criminal justice system.
- The DNA Technology (Use and Application) Regulation Act, 2019, that has been in works for 15 years now. Nearly 60 countries have enacted similar legislation, with the U.S. bringing in law as far back as 1994.
The DNA Technology Regulation Bill
- It was introduced in the Lok Sabha in July 2019.
- The Bill was then referred to the Parliamentary Standing Committee on Science and Technology. The committee in a draft report, pointed out that some of the provisions in the bill could be misused in different ways.
- The standing committee pointed out that the DNA profiles can reveal extremely sensitive information of an individual & hence could be misused for caste/community-based profiling.
- There are criticisms that the DNA profiling bill is a violation of human rights as it could also compromise with the privacy of the individuals.
- Also, questions are being raised on how the bill plans to safeguard the privacy of DNA profiles stored in the databanks.
Disputed Border Area Between Maharashtra And Karnataka
Why in News?
- Maharashtra Chief Minister that the disputed border area between Maharashtra and Karnataka should be made a Union Territory until the matter was decided in the Supreme Court.
What’s the Case?
- Ideally, status quo must be maintained in an area under dispute and the case is being heard in the apex court. But Karantaka government has renamed it Belgaum, given it the status of second capital of the State and holds its Assembly session there.
- Maharashtra has been claiming that Belagavi, Karwar and Nipani belong to it as they are Marathi-speaking areas.
- The Karnataka government has opposed the assertion and the case is presently being heard in the Supreme Court.
- An umbrella organisation called Maharashtra Ekikaran Samiti has been working in this area keeping the issue alive.
Policy on PSU Privatisation
Why in News?
- The Cabinet Committee of Economic Affairs has cleared the public sector enterprises (PSE) policy.
- The government had first mooted an overhauled PSE policy in the Aatmanirbhar Bharat Abhiyan mid last year, which aims to keep not more than four central public sector enterprises in strategic sectors and open up all other sectors for privatisation.
- After several consultations with ministries, about 18 strategic sectors have been identified for disinvestment purposes including coal, crude oil, power, steel, telecom, atomic energy and defence.
- Under the manufacturing sector, steel, fertiliser, atomic energy, petroleum refining and marketing, defence, ship building and power generation have been identified as critical sectors requiring large presence of PSUs.
- In the rest of the sectors, the government will eventually move out clearing roads for private participation.
- The government had earlier proposed disinvestment in all other commercial entities except development and regulatory bodies, trusts, not for profit companies, refinancing institutions and companies formed under acts of Parliament.
- Similarly, railways, ports that undertake commercial operations with development mandate will also not fall under the disinvestment agenda.
- Services like power transmission, gas transportation, space, telecom, information and technology, infrastructure finance companies, banking and insurance companies and development of airports, ports and highways have also been categorised as strategic sectors for PSU presence.
- According to the Public Sector Enterprise Survey 2018-19, which is the latest available, there are in all 257 central PSEs (CPSEs) of which 184 were profit-making enterprises. Of these, there are 43 CPSEs in technical consultancy services, 36 in heavy and medium engineering sector, and 23 in transport and logistics.
- The government is pursuing the privatisation of state-run companies such as BPCL, Container Corporation of India, Shipping Corporation of India, Air India and public listing of the largest insurer LIC of India, but it appears unlikely that the reported disinvestment in most of the above entities would be achievable within this fiscal.
Why in News?
- Russian lawmakers quickly approved the extension of the last remaining nuclear Russia-U.S. arms control treaty.
- Both houses of Parliament voted unanimously to extend the New START treaty for five years.
- START I (Strategic Arms Reduction Treaty) was a bilateral treaty between the United States of America and the Union of Soviet Socialist Republics (USSR) on the reduction and limitation of strategic offensive arms.
- The treaty was signed on 31 July 1991 and entered into force on 5 December 1994.
- The treaty barred its signatories from deploying more than 6,000 nuclear warheads atop a total of 1,600 inter-continental ballistic missiles (ICBMs) and bombers.
- START negotiated the largest and most complex arms control treaty in history, and its final implementation in late 2001 resulted in the removal of about 80 percent of all strategic nuclear weapons then in existence.
- Proposed by United States President Ronald Reagan, it was renamed START I after negotiations began on the second START treaty.
- The START I treaty expired 5 December 2009. On 8 April 2010, the replacement New START treaty was signed in Prague by U.S. President Barack Obama and Russian President Dmitry Medvedev.
- Following ratification by the U.S. Senate and the Federal Assembly of Russia, it went into force on 26 January 2011. This treaty was the first to provide tremendous reductions of American and Soviet/Russian strategic nuclear weapons.
Dark matter not ‘Super Heavy’ or ‘Super Light’
- Around 95 percent of the Universe is unknown to human beings.
- It is often referred to as dark which has nothing to do with the colour of any substance but to do with the unknown nature of cosmic entities known as dark matter and dark energy.
- Now, scientists have found a new way to know more about dark matter. They have narrowed down the range of masses within which particles that could make up dark matter may lie in.
- The range they have established — 10^-3 electron-volts to 10^7 electron-volts — is far smaller than the earlier known range of 10^-24 electron-volt to 10^19 giga electron-volt.
- Carried out the research using quantum gravity, a field of study that tries to combine two of Einstein’s concepts — quantum physics and general relativity theory of gravity.
- This is the first time anyone has thought of using what we know about quantum gravity to calculate the mass range for dark matter.
- Research shows that the dark matter particles can neither be super light nor super heavy unless there is a force acting on it that is yet unknown.
- There are currently four known forces in the Universe — gravitational, electromagnetic, weak and strong.
- Scientists estimate that roughly 68 per cent of the Universe is made up of dark energy which is responsible for the accelerated expansion of the Universe.
- Another 27 per cent is dark matter whose existence was inferred from the observation that ordinary matter in galaxies, including the Milky Way, is far less than that required by gravity to hold the galaxies together.
- But the nature of that dark matter is still unclear.
- It is most likely made of particles that do not couple to light because of which humans cannot see them.
- Dark matter is unlikely to be made of primordial black holes because they would produce other effects that are ruled out observationally.
Why in News?
- Tropical cyclones across the globe, except Atlantic hurricanes, are moving closer to land in recent decades, a new study found.
- Also called typhoons, tropical cyclones generally have been moving westward by about 18 miles per decade (30 kilometers) since 1982, putting them closer to land and making them more dangerous.
- Each decade since the 1980s, an additional two cyclones have come within 124 miles (200 kilometers) of land.
- Researchers don’t quite know why this is happening, but it adds to other ominous trends in cyclone activity.
- Past studies have found that the most intense storms are getting stronger and storms in general are getting wetter, shifting poleward, moving slower and are keeping their power longer after hitting land.
- It’s mysterious that, unlike other areas, the Atlantic hurricane basin didn’t show any significant westward shift, but that could be because the Atlantic hurricane zone is more closely surrounded by continents.
- The busiest tropical cyclone basin is in the western Pacific, where there are the most landfalls and the shift westward is twice as big as the global average.
- Storms generally move east to west because of trade winds in the tropics, so a greater westward shift usually puts them closer to where the land is.
- Storms that form just west of land, such as in the Pacific off the California and Mexican coasts, are usually moving away from land already, so this shift doesn’t spare more land.
- Other shifts in atmospheric patterns have been connected to human-caused climate change and that’s a possible factor in the shift but not something researchers can prove yet.