Current Affairs Feb 27

Sustainable Development for Coal Sector

  • Government has put major thrust on sustainable development in coal mining and is taking multi-pronged action on both environmental & social fronts.
  • Ministry of Coal has moved forward with a comprehensive Sustainable Development Plan and has initiated its speedy implementation.
  • Primary focus is on making immediate social impact through Out of Box (OoB) measures besides regular environmental monitoring and mitigation during mining operation.
  • These OoB measures include use of surplus Mine Water for irrigation & drinking purpose in and around mining areas, extraction & use of Sand from Overburden (OB), promoting Eco-Mine Tourism, encouraging Bamboo Plantation, etc.

Utilization of Mine Water

  • Top most priority is being given to gainful utilization of Mine Water for irrigation & providing treated water for drinking to rural population in & around command area of mining subsidiaries of CIL, SCCL & NLCIL.
  • Theinternal consumption constitutes about 45 % of total mine water leaving a substantial volume for community use.

Eco Parks

  • 10 new Eco-Parks in different mining areas are under different stages of development in various subsidiaries of CIL, SCCL & NLCIL and will be completed in next 2 years.
  • The Saoner Eco Park of WCL near Nagpur is running Eco-Mine Tourism Circuit, a first of its kind in India, in collaboration with MTDC where people can visit and see mining operation of both Opencast & Underground Mines.
  • Bamboo Plantation along coal transport roads and on the edges of mines will help in minimizing dust pollution.

Extraction and use of Sand from Over Burden (OB)

  • Extraction of sand from Over Burden (OB) for use as construction & stowing material is another unique initiative promoting sustainable development through gainful utilization of wastes generated during mining.
  • This will not only help in availability of cheaper sand for house & other construction but will also minimize the land required for OB dump in future projects.
  • This initiative also lowers the adverse footprint of riverbed mining of sand.

First Mile Connectivity

  • First Mile Connectivity (FMC) is another major sustainable initiative by coal companies, where coal is being transported through conveyor belt from Coal Handling Plants to Silo for loading.
  • This process eliminates movement of coal through road and thus not only minimizes the environmental pollution, but also reduces the carbon footprint.

Bio Reclamation and Tree Plantation

  • Bio-Reclamation and massive tree plantation has been one of the key thrust areas of coal companies in promoting environmental sustainability.
  • New techniques like seed ball plantation have been adopted in many mines for providing green cover on OB Dumps.
  • Similarly, systematic mine closure plan with land reclamation & restoration is also vigorously monitored to reuse the reclaimed land for agriculture purpose in future.
  • A massive capital expenditure investment plan on activities related to Sustainable Development in next five years has been made.
  • The investment includes expenditure on Mining Equipment, Setting up of Solar Plants, Surface Coal Gasification, FirstMile Connectivity Projects & on all other out of box activities for environmental protection.
  • All these activities will pave way in next 5 years for benchmarking a much better Sustainable Development effort by Coal Industry on Economic, Environmental & Social front.




COVAXIN developed by Bharat Biotech International Ltd.

Why in News?

  • CSIR labs have extensively contributed towards the launching of diagnostic kits including Feluda and Dry Swab Direct RT-PCR method for the screening of SARS-CoV-2.
  • In our country, Bharat Biotech International Ltd. (BBIL) has emerged as the frontrunner in the development of indigenous vaccine for COVID-19, COVAXIN™.
  • The vaccine developed by BBIL is a highly purified, whole virion, inactivated SARS-CoV2.
  • The vaccine is formulated with Algel-IMDG, which contains chemisorbed TLR7/8 agonist onto aluminium hydroxide gel to generate the requisite type of immune responses.
  • Owing to the significant role played by TLR7/8 agonist molecule in the performance of a vaccine, CSIR constituent lab, Indian Institute of Chemical Technology (IICT) based in Hyderabad, was approached by BBIL to develop the synthetic route for the agonist molecule with indigenous chemicals at an affordable price and with highest purity.
  • This agonist molecule has aided BBIL to scale up the production of the adjuvant.



India ‘Out of Recession

Why in News?

  • India’s economy resurfaced to growth territory in the third quarter of fiscal year (FY) 2020-21, clocking a 0.4% rise in the gross domestic product (GDP), as per data from the National Statistical Office (NSO).
  • GDP had shrunk in the first two quarters by 24.4% and 7.3% as per revised data, amid the COVID-19 pandemic and lockdowns, marking a technical recession.
  • The NSO has also revised its advance national income estimates for FY21 to project an 8% decline in GDP, compared with the 4% growth seen in FY20.
  • The NSO had earlier estimated a 7.7% shrinkage for FY21.
  • The Finance Ministry termed the 0.4% real GDP growth in Q3 as a return to ‘the pre-pandemic times of positive growth rates’ and a reflection of a ‘further strengthening of V-shaped recovery that began in Q2’.
  • India’s farm sector remained resilient, clocking a 3.9% growth in Gross Value Added (GVA) to the economy in the October-to-December quarter, after recording a 3.3% and 3% rise in the first two quarters, respectively.
  • For the full year FY21, the NSO expects only two sectors to record positive growth in GVA — agriculture (3%) and electricity, gas, water & other utilities (1.8%).
  • In Q3, manufacturing, construction and financial, real estate and professional services staged a return to growth for the first time in the year after two bad quarters.
  • Manufacturing GVA grew 1.6% after dipping 35.9% and 1.5% in the first two quarters.
  • Construction saw the sharpest recovery – with GVA rising 6% after falling 49.4% and 7.2%.
  • Services including trade, hotels, transport and communication remained in trouble, with GVA declining 7.7%, though it was better than the -47.6% and the -15.3% reading in Q1 and Q2.




Global Energy and Environment Leadership Award

Why in News?

  • Prime Minister Narendra Modi will receive the CERAWeek global energy and environment leadership award during an annual international energy conference.
  • The Prime Minister will also deliver the keynote address at the CERAWeek Conference-2021, which will be held virtually from March 1 to 5, its organiser, IHS Markit.
  • In charting its path towards economic growth, poverty reduction and a new energy future, India has emerged at the centre of global energy and the environment, and its leadership is crucial to meet climate objectives for a sustainable future while ensuring universal energy access.
  • The annual international conference is a gathering of energy industry leaders, experts, government officials and policy makers, leaders from the technology, financial and industrial communities, and energy technology innovators.




Committee on Olive Ridley Turtle Deaths

Why in News?

  • The Orissa High Court ordered the constitution of a three-member committee for consultations with stakeholders and verifying compliance of earlier court orders on conservation of endangered Olive Ridley turtles.

About Committee

  • The team will comprise Kartik Shanker, Associate Professor at the Centre for Ecological Sciences, Indian Institute of Science, Bengaluru; Susanta Nanda, Director, Forest and Environment Department, Odisha; and Mohit Agarwal, Amicus Curiae in the matter.
  • The committee would visit the Gahirmatha and Rushikulya beaches as well as consult with locals, fishermen and other persons involved in the conservation and protection of ecological biodiversity in the area, and to verify the compliance of directions issued earlier by the Orissa HC.
  • As per reports received from turtle protection camps, 406 turtles had been found dead along the entire 130-km coastal stretch of the division.




Caste Census of Backward Classes

Why in News?

  • The Supreme Court sought a response from the government on a petition to hold a caste-wise census of backward classes in 2021.
  • Issued notice to the Centre and Chairman of the National Commission for Backward Classes on a petition for a national census on the basis of caste to identify and uplift the really backward among them.
  • The inclusion of backward classes in the State and Central Lists cannot be done mechanically.
  • Forward castes and the creamy layer reaping the benefits of reservation should be excluded for the truly poor and downtrodden among backward classes.
  • The petition said a caste-wise census was necessary to give clarity on who among the backward classes actually deserve the benefits of reservation in jobs and education.
  • The plea said the Mandal Commission report does not stand in the way of a State action to uplift the weaker sections of the society. There was no bar on making further reservation for them.
  • Lack of caste-wise census has actually dented the efforts of the government to fix the budget for welfare schemes meant for backward classes.




Coffee Output May Drop

  • Untimely rains and hailstones that lashed plantations in the last six days causing large-scale berry dropping is expected to impact arabica and robusta coffee production by 30% for 2020-21 crop year, as per estimates by planters.
  • Resulting in ripened berries to split open and drop.
  • Untimely rains, acute labour shortage and delay in harvesting added to the losses. Plus, these rains have resulted in very early blossoms which will affect next year’s prospects as well.
  • Light showers cause no harm, but in the last six days, most coffee plantations received 3 to 10 inches of rain, almost lashing the plant-bearing matured berries and pushing them to the ground.




The Caracal

Why in News?

  • The National Board for Wildlife and Union Ministry of Environment, Forest and Climate Change last month included the caracal, a medium-sized wildcat found in parts of Rajasthan and Gujarat, in the list of critically endangered species.
  • Though not under grave threat in its other habitats, the animal is on the verge of extinction in India, some experts believe.
  • The recovery programme for critically endangered species in India now includes 22 wildlife species.

The Wildcat

  • Besides India, the caracal is found in several dozen countries across Africa, the Middle East, Central and South Asia. While it flourishes in parts of Africa, its numbers in Asia are declining.
  • The iconic ears are what give the animal its name — caracal comes from the Turkish karakulak, meaning ‘black ears’. In India, it is called siya gosh, a Persian name that translates as ‘black Ear’.

In history and myth

  • The earliest evidence of the caracal in the subcontinent comes from a fossil dating back to the civilisation of the Indus Valley c. 3000-2000 BC, according to a reference in ‘Historical and current extent of occurrence of the Caracal in India’.
  • The caracal has traditionally been valued for its litheness and extraordinary ability to catch birds in flight; it was a favourite coursing or hunting animal in medieval India.
  • Firuz Shah Tughlaq (1351-88) had siyah-goshdar khana, stables that housed large numbers of coursing caracal. It finds mention in Abul Fazl’s Akbarnama, as a hunting animal in the time of Akbar (1556-1605).
  • Descriptions and illustrations of the caracal can be found in medieval texts such as the Anvar-i-Suhayli, Tutinama, Khamsa-e-Nizami, and Shahnameh.
  • The caracal’s use as a coursing animal is believed to have taken it far beyond its natural range to places like Ladakh in the north to Bengal in the east.

Declining numbers

  • The caracal is rarely hunted or killed — in recent years, cases have been detected of the animal being captured to be sold as exotic pets — and the decline of its population is attributable mainly to loss of habitat and increasing urbanisation.
  • Experts point out that the caracal’s natural habitat — for example the Chambal ravines — is often officially notified as wasteland.
  • Land and environment policies are not geared towards the preservation of such wasteland ecology, rather they seek to ‘reclaim’ these areas to make them arable.
  • Infrastructure projects such as the building of roads lead to the fragmentation of the caracal’s ecology and disruption of its movement.
  • The loss of habitat also affects the animal’s prey which includes small ungulates and rodents.





What is it & Why in News?

  • In the heart of Berlin, a new sacred building is coming up with the aim of bringing Christians, Jews and Muslims to a single place of worship.
  • Called the House of One or, colloquially, Churmosquagogue, it incorporates a church, a mosque and a synagogue.
  • A meeting space at the center of the building will be open to people of other faiths and world views as well as the secular urban society.

A difficult past

  • The House of One is coming up on the site of the old St Peter’s Church, which was damaged in World War II and completely demolished by the government of East Germany in 1964.




New IT rules

Why in News?

  • Recently, the Government of India announced drastic changes to it through the Information Technology (Intermediary Guidelines and Digital Media Ethics Code) Rules, 2021.


  • First, fresh obligations for social media companies and platforms. The substance of many of these proposals has been retained and hurt both user privacy and free expression online.
  • Take traceability, where instant messaging platforms which deploy end-to-end encryption that helps keep our conversations private will now effectively be broken. This is because now the government may require that each message sent through WhatsApp or any other similar application be tied to the identity of the user.
  • The government regulating digital news media portals as well as online video streaming platforms. Here, an oversight mechanism is being created without any clear legislative backing and will now increasingly perform functions similar to those played by the Ministry of Information and Broadcasting for TV regulation. “For instance, as per Rule 13(4), this also now includes powers of censorship such as apology scrolls, but also blocking of content.
  • The purview of the Information Technology Act, 2000, is limited. It only extends to the blocking of websites and intermediary liabilities framework but does not extend to content authors and creators.
  • Hence, the Act does not extend to news media despite which it is being stretched to do so by executive fiat.




Black-browed babbler

Why in News?

  • In the 1840s, a mystery bird was caught on an expedition to the East Indies.
  • The species was never seen in the wild again, and a stuffed specimen featuring a bright yellow glass eye was the only proof of its existence.
  • But now the black-browed babbler has been rediscovered in the rainforests of Borneo.
  • More than 1,700 bird species live across the archipelago of Indonesia, with many remote islands not well surveyed by scientists despite the region’s riches inspiring Alfred Russel Wallace’s theories of evolution 170 years ago.
  • Five new songbird species and five new subspecies were identified last year on the Indonesian islands of Taliabu, Peleng and Batudaka.




Atlantic Ocean Circulation At Weakest In A Millennium

  • The Atlantic Ocean circulation that underpins the Gulf Stream, the weather system that brings warm and mild weather to Europe, is at its weakest in more than a millennium, and climate breakdown is the probable cause, according to new data.
  • Further weakening of the Atlantic Meridional Overturning Circulation (AMOC) could result in more storms battering the UK, more intense winters and an increase in damaging heatwaves and droughts across Europe.
  • Scientists predict that the AMOC will weaken further if global heating continues, and could reduce by about 34% to 45% by the end of this century, which could bring us close to a “tipping point” at which the system could become irrevocably unstable.
  • A weakened Gulf Stream would also raise sea levels on the Atlantic coast of the US, with potentially disastrous consequences.
  • The AMOC has only been measured directly since 2004.
  • The AMOC is one of the world’s biggest ocean circulation systems, carrying warm surface water from the Gulf of Mexico towards the north Atlantic, where it cools and becomes saltier until it sinks north of Iceland, which in turn pulls more warm water from the Caribbean.
  • This circulation is accompanied by winds that also help to bring mild and wet weather to Ireland, the UK and other parts of Western Europe.
  • The AMOC is a large part of the Gulf Stream, often described as the “conveyor belt” that brings warm water from the equator.
  • But the bigger weather system would not break down entirely if the ocean circulation became unstable, because winds also play a key role.
  • The circulation has broken down before, in different circumstances, for instance at the end of the last ice age.
  • The Gulf Stream is separate from the jet stream that has helped to bring extreme weather to the northern hemisphere in recent weeks, though like the jet stream it is also affected by the rising temperatures in the Arctic.
  • Normally, the very cold temperatures over the Arctic create a polar vortex that keeps a steady jet stream of air currents keeping that cold air in place.
  • But higher temperatures over the Arctic have resulted in a weak and wandering jet stream, which has helped cold weather to spread much further south in some cases, while bringing warmer weather further north in others, contributing to the extremes in weather seen in the UK, Europe and the US in recent weeks.
  • Similarly, the Gulf Stream is affected by the melting of Arctic ice, which dumps large quantities of cold water to the south of Greenland, disrupting the flow of the AMOC.
  • The impacts of variations in the Gulf Stream are seen over much longer periods than variations in the jet stream, but will also bring more extreme weather as the climate warms.
  • As well as causing more extreme weather across Europe and the east coast of the US, the weakening of the AMOC could have severe consequences for Atlantic marine ecosystems, disrupting fish populations and other marine life.




CO2 emissions: nations’ pledges ‘far away’ from Paris target

  • The first assessment of countries’ pledges to cut their greenhouse gas emissions in the next decade, a vital component of the Paris climate agreement, has found they are only a fraction of the effort needed to avoid climate breakdown.
  • If all of the national pledges submitted so far were fulfilled, global emissions would be reduced by only 1% by 2030, compared with 2010 levels.
  • Scientists have said a 45% reduction is needed in the next 10 years to keep global heating to no more than 1.5C above pre-industrial levels, in line with the Paris agreement.
  • The assessment, published by the UN, covers countries responsible for only about a third of global emissions.
  • Only 75 of the 197 signatories to the Paris accord submitted their national action plans for reducing emissions between now and 2030 – known as nationally determined contributions (NDCs) – in time to be assessed.
  • Some of the world’s biggest emitters, including China, the US and India, have still to formulate NDCs. They face renewed pressure to do so urgently. The UN has said that without them, the Cop26 climate summit in Glasgow in November will fail.
  • The UK, which will host Cop26, claimed its target of 68% emissions reductions by 2030 was the toughest of any developed country, but some economists calculated a target of 70% or more was feasible.




Migratory birds leave Chilika early

  • Migratory birds in and around Chilika Lake and Bhitarkanika National Park have started their homeward journey a couple of weeks earlier than other years, as temperatures in Odisha began to soar.
  • Bhubaneswar, located 35 kilometers from Chilika, recorded a maximum temperature of 39.4 degrees Celsius on February 25, 2021.
  • The region’s average maximum temperature for February has gone up by three to four degrees compared to two decades back.
  • The birds arrive in the region in November and migrate back around mid-March or early April when the temperature hovers around 39 degree Celsius.
  • They flew in from places as far off as Siberia, Afghanistan, Iran, Iraq, the Himalayan region and central Europe.
  • Rising temperature coupled with the decreasing water levels in the lake also contributed to this early migration.




El Salvador

  • El Salvador has become the first country in Central America and the third in all Americas to get the malaria-free certificate from the World Health Organization (WHO) in recent years.
  • Malaria elimination certificate is awarded to a country when the chain of indigenous transmission of the disease has been disrupted nationwide for at least three consecutive years.
  • El Salvador, didn’t report a single case of malaria that was acquired locally (indigenous) since 2017. It recorded it last malaria death in 1984.
  • The only other countries in the WHO Regions of Americas to have eliminated malaria in recent years are Paraguay (2018) and Argentina (2019).
  • In the last decade, nine countries across the world were declared malaria-free by WHO. The most recent recipients of the certificate are Algeria and Argentina (2019).
  • The other countries that eliminated malaria in the last decade are Morocco and Turkmenistan in 2010, Armenia in 2011, Maldives in 2015, Sri Lanka and Kyrgyzstan in 2016 and Uzbekistan in 2018.
  • Half the global malaria-related deaths in 2019 were in six African countries — Nigeria (23 per cent), the Democratic Republic of the Congo (11 per cent), Tanzania (5 per cent), Burkina Faso (4 per cent), Mozambique (4 per cent) and Niger (4 per cent each).
  • In India, the malaria infections fell by 14.4 million between 2000 and 2019 — the largest reduction in South-East Asia, according to World Malaria Report 2020.
  • In 2019, the country accounted for about 86 per cent of all malaria deaths in the region.