Why in News?
- The 11th edition of Indo-US Joint Special Forces Exercise VAJRA PRAHAR 2021 was conducted at Special Forces Training School located at Bakloh, HP.
- The joint exercise by the Special Forces of both the countries is conducted alternatively between India and the United States to share the best practices and experiences in areas such as joint mission planning and operational tactics as also to improve interoperability between the Special Forces of both nations.
Why in News?
- The Supreme Court has asked the government to respond to a plea by five teachers to protect “academic freedom” from raids and seizures of police and investigative agencies.
- A group of educationists have asked the court to frame guidelines so that the police treat the academic work and research, usually stored in computers they seize during raids, in a “civilised manner”.
- Data that is stored digitally by academics may have been collected through extensive field work spanning decades or the results of scientific experiments or calculations similarly representing major effort.
- If these are tampered with or damaged, the loss to research in the sciences and social sciences is considerable and often irreplaceable. A lifetime’s work is life as much as livelihood.
- “Academic freedom is part of the right to freedom of speech under Article 19(1)(a) and also of the right to practise a profession or occupation under Article 19(1)(g). The work of an author or an academic may be a work in progress to be protected from premature exposure, it may contain sensitive data concerning others, and may store years of research”.
- The Constitution and international treaties like the International Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights and the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights imply the need to protect academic work.
Six-line blue butterfly
Why in News?
- A new sub-species of the six line blue butterfly named Nacaduba sinhala ramaswamii has been discovered from the south Western Ghats and it adds to the butterfly fauna of India as well as that of the Western Ghats of Tamil Nadu and Kerala.
- The new butterfly species is named after Lord Rama, signifying the connection across the sea to Sri Lanka.
- This was the first time a new species was discovered by an all-Indian research team from the Western Ghats.
- New species in the past were discovered by the British or Japanese researchers or in collaboration with native researchers.
- The distribution of line blues butterflies range from India and Sri Lanka, to the whole of southeastern Asia, Australia and Samoa.
- They have hairy eyes, anastomosis of veins 11 and 12 on forewings, male wings with purple gloss on the upper side, and upper side of the both sexes with dull whitish striae.
Motor vehicle tax rebate
Why in News?
- The Ministry of Road Transport and Highways has brought out a draft notification proposing concessions in motor vehicle tax for those who take their old vehicle for scrapping.
- The notification invites objections and suggestions to the proposal for a period of 30 days.
- The draft proposes up to 25% concession in motor vehicle tax for non-transport vehicles and up to 15% in case of transport vehicles upon submitting a “Certificate of vehicle scrapping”.
- The concession will be valid for a period of 15 years for non-transport vehicles and for 8 years for transport vehicles.
- The concession is among the several incentives planned by the Centre, including waiver of registration fees on purchase of new vehicles, to encourage scrapping of old vehicles.
Turning 3D waste into vehicle parts
Why in News?
- Car maker Ford and tech firm Hewlett-Packard (HP) have come together to transform 3D waste, like printed powders and parts, into vehicle components.
- The recycled materials are being used to manufacture injection-moulded fuel-line clips that will be installed first on the automaker’s Super Duty F-250 trucks.
- The parts have better chemical and moisture resistance, and are 7% lighter and cost 10% lesser than conventional versions.
Why in News?
- Since new variants of SARS-CoV-emerged in late 2020, there have been concerns about whether these might elude immune responses generated by prior infection or vaccination, potentially making re-infection more likely or vaccination less effective.
- To investigate this possibility, researchers analysed blood cell samples from 30 people who had contracted and recovered from Covid-19 prior to the emergence of virus variants.
- They found that one key player in the immune response to SARS-CoV-2—the CD8+ T cell—remained active against the virus.
- The scientists investigated whether CD8+ T cells in the blood of recovered Covid-19 patients, infected with the initial virus, could still recognise three SARS-CoV-2 variants — B.1.1.7 (which was first detected in the United Kingdom); B.1.351 (originally found in the Republic of South Africa); and B.1.1.248 (first seen in Brazil).
- Each of these variant has mutations throughout the virus, and, in particular, in the region of the virus’ spike protein that it uses to attach to and enter human cells.
- Mutations in this spike protein region could make it less recognisable to T cells and neutralising antibodies, which are made by the immune system’s B cells following infection or vaccination.
- CD8+ T cells limit infection by recognising parts of the virus protein presented on the surface of infected cells and killing those cells.
- Researchers findings suggest that the T cell response in convalescent individuals, and most likely in vaccine recipients, are largely not affected by the mutations found in these three variants, and should offer protection against emerging variants.
Culex or Common House Mosquitoes
Why in News?
- With the change in season and rise in temperature, culex or common house mosquitoes have made a reappearance across the Delhi.
What are Culex mosquitoes and why is there a need to worry?
- Warmer temperatures are the main reason for the appearance of these mosquitoes.
- Their presence is especially felt more in areas around floodplains in East and South Delhi as it is an ideal condition of breeding.
- Culex mosquitoes are known carriers of some serious diseases. They can fly up to a distance of 1-1.5 km.
- Unlike Aedes aegypti mosquitoes, which spread dengue and chikungunya and breed in clean water, culex mosquitoes breed in unclean stagnant water.
How are they harmful?
- Culex mosquitoes are known carriers of Japanese encephalitis, a potentially life-threatening but rare viral disease that causes “acute inflammation” of the brain. They breed in dirty, stagnant water.
Dust winds in Delhi
Why in News?
- Dust-laden winds swept Delhi, pushing the air quality into the poor category and increasing the concentration of coarse particles in the air.
- Weather and environmental experts said a cyclonic circulation over Rajasthan and high temperatures over the past few days in northwest India is contributing to this phenomenon.
- Delhi witnesses long-range transport of dust nearly every year from Rajasthan, and even from Afghanistan, during summer months.
- The situation this time has been exacerbated by soaring temperatures, as Delhi recorded a severe heat wave recently, with mercury rising to a high of 40.1 degrees Celsius, eight degrees above normal temperature for this time of the year.
- The IMD has recorded a wind speed of about 40-50 kmph in Delhi, which is helping in transport of dust but preventing temperature from rising further.
2006 Supreme Court ruling on police reforms
Why in News?
- Political interference in police postings continues despite the landmark Prakash Singh judgment nearly a decade-and-a-half ago that addressed the issue and was pegged to be a watershed moment in police reforms.
- The latest episode of allegations of lobbying by several IPS officers in Maharashtra and of ‘power brokers’ deciding on postings in cahoots with the government shows little has changed in the system.
What is the SC’s Prakash Singh judgment on police reforms?
- Prakash Singh, who served as DGP of UP Police and Assam Police besides other postings, filed a PIL in the Supreme Court post retirement, in 1996, seeking police reforms. In a landmark judgment, the Supreme Court in September 2006 had directed all states and Union Territories to bring in police reforms.
- The ruling issued a series of measures that were to be undertaken by the governments to ensure the police could do their work without worrying about any political interference.
What measures were suggested by the Supreme Court?
- The seven main directives from the Supreme Court in the verdict were fixing the tenure and selection of the DGP to avoid situations where officers about to retire in a few months are given the post.
- In order to ensure no political interference, a minimum tenure was sought for the Inspector General of Police so that they are not transferred mid-term by politicians.
- The SC further directed postings of officers being done by Police Establishment Boards (PEB) comprising police officers and senior bureaucrats to insulate powers of postings and transfers from political leaders.
- Further, there was a recommendation of setting up State Police Complaints Authority (SPCA) to give a platform where common people aggrieved by police action could approach.
- Apart from this, the SC directed separation of investigation and law and order functions to better improve policing, setting up of State Security Commissions (SSC) that would have members from civil society and forming a National Security Commission.
How did states respond to these directives?
- The Commonwealth Human Rights Initiative (CHRI), in its report on September 22, 2020 that tracked changes made in the police force following the 2006 judgment, found that not even one state was fully compliant with the apex court directives and that while 18 states passed or amended their Police Acts in this time, not one fully matches legislative models.
Light pollution from satellites
Why in News?
- Artificial satellites and space junk orbiting the Earth can increase the brightness of the night sky, researchers have found, with experts warning such light pollution could hinder astronomers’ ability to make observations of our universe.
- There are more than 9,200 tonnes of space objects in orbit around the Earth, ranging from defunct satellites to tiny fragments.
- Now it seems space junk not only poses a collision risk but, together with other space objects, is contributing to light pollution.
- Sunlight that is reflected and scattered from space objects can appear as streaks in observations made by ground-based telescopes.
- Because the streaks are often comparable to or brighter than objects of astrophysical interest, their presence tends to compromise astronomical data and poses the threat of irretrievable loss of information.
- Calculations in the report suggest this glow could reach up to 10% of the natural night sky brightness – a level of light pollution previously set by the International Astronomical Union (IAU) as being the limit that is acceptable at astronomical observatory sites.
64% of world’s arable land at risk of pesticide pollution
- Around 64 per cent of land used for agriculture and food crops is at risk of pesticide pollution and almost a third of these areas are considered to be at high-risk, a global study of agricultural land across 168 countries has revealed.
- Asia houses the largest land areas at high risk of pollution in countries like China, Japan, Malaysia, and the Philippines.
- Globally, 34 per cent of the high-risk areas are in high-biodiversity regions, 19 per cent in low-and lower-middle-income nations and five per cent in water-scarce areas.
- 168 countries facing pollution risk caused by 92 chemicals commonly used in agricultural pesticides.
- The study examined risks to soil, the atmosphere and surface and ground water.
- Pesticides can be transported to surface waters and groundwater through runoff and infiltration, polluting water bodies, thereby reducing the usability of water resources.
- Global pesticide use is expected to increase as the global population heads towards an expected 8.5 billion by 2030.
UP, Maharashtra have most critically polluted industrial regions
- Uttar Pradesh and Maharashtra had the greatest number of ‘critically polluted’ industrial regions in India.
- CSE researchers analysed the 2018 Comprehensive Environmental Pollution Index (CEPI) air assessment score that depicts the air quality in industrial regions.
- They found out that as many as 13 industrial areas in UP, seven in Maharashtra, eight in Gujarat and five in Rajasthan were still critically / severely polluted with respect to the 2009 air quality levels in these regions.
- Mathura, Bulandshahr, Ferozabad, Moradabad in Uttar Pradesh; Chandrapur and Tarapur in Maharashtra; Vadodara and Ankleshwar in Gujarat; Jodhpur and Bhiwadi in Rajasthan were found to be the top critically polluted regions with a high CEPI air score.
What is a CEPI index?
- CEPI is a nationwide index that was developed to represent the quality of ambient air, surface water, groundwater and soil of a particular industrial region or cluster with a score.
- The overall CEPI score was calculated based on the individual score assessment for air pollution, surface water pollution, groundwater and soil pollution in the identified cluster.
- The regions were ranked as ‘critically polluted area’, ‘severely polluted area’ and ‘other polluted areas’, depending upon the CEPI scores of each of these industrial areas.
- A CEPI air score of 60 and above denotes an industrial area to be ‘critically polluted’ and a score between 50-60 classifies it to be ‘severely polluted’ with respect to air quality.
- CEPI assessment was first carried out by CPCB in 2009-10 and has been done periodically since then in 2011, 2013 and 2018.
- The aim of CEPI assessment was to identify, declare and prioritize critically polluted and severely polluted regions in order to formulate comprehensive remedial action plans for pollution abatement in identified regions.
Odisha government proposes state’s second biosphere reserve
- The Odisha government has proposed a second biosphere reserve in the southern part of the state at Mahendragiri, a hill ecosystem having rich biodiversity.
- Similipal Biosphere Reserve is Odisha’s first such reserve and was notified May 20, 1996.
- The area of the proposed Mahendragiri Biosphere Reserve is around 470,955 hectares and is spread over Gajapati and Ganjam districts in the Eastern Ghats.
- The hill ecosystem acts as a transitional zone between the flora and fauna of southern India and the Himalayas, making the region an ecological estuary of genetic diversities.
- Mahendragiri is inhabited by the Soura people, a particularly vulnerable tribal group as well as the Kandha tribe.
- The rich flora in Mahendragiri represents 40 per cent of the reported flora of Odisha, with around 1,358 species of plants.
- Twenty-nine of the 41 species of threatened medicinal plants found in Odisha according to the International Union for the Conservation of Nature are found in the biosphere reserve area.
International Pandemic Treaty
- Leaders of several nations called on the international community to work towards a new international treaty for pandemic preparedness and response.
- They also urged the world to build a more robust global health architecture that would protect future generations.
- The main goal of a new international treaty for pandemic preparedness and response would be to foster a comprehensive, multi-sectoral approach to strengthen national, regional and global capacities and resilience to future pandemics.
- The treaty would be rooted in the constitution of the WHO, drawing in other relevant organisations key to this endeavour, in support of the principle of health for all.