(PRELIMS + MAINS FOCUS)
Part of: Prelims and GS-III Biodiversity
Context: A team of herpetologists (someone who specializes in the study of reptiles and amphibians) have recorded a new species of bent-toed gecko from a wooded part of the Umroi Military Station in Meghalaya.
- Its scientific name is Crytodactylus exercitus and English name is Indian Army’s bent-toed gecko.
- The finding of the study was published in the latest issue of the European Journal of Taxonomy.
- The paper recorded another new bent-toed gecko, the Cyrtodactylus siahaensis named after Mizoram’s Siaha district where it was found.
- India is now home to 40 species of the bent-toed gecko with the northeast accounting for 16 of them.
Do you know?
- Cyrtodactylus is a diverse genus of Asian geckos, commonly known as bent-toed geckos, bow-fingered geckos, and forest geckos.
- The genus has at least 300 described species as of 2020, which makes it the largest of all gecko genera.
News Source: TH
Part of: Prelims and GS-III Conservation
Context: Ministry of Environment has notified the Guidelines on Extended Producers Responsibility on plastic packaging under Plastic Waste Management Rules, 2016.
- These guidelines will come in effect from 1st July 2022.
- The Guidelines provide a framework to:
- strengthen the circular economy of plastic packaging waste,
- promote development of new alternatives to plastics
- provide further next steps for moving towards sustainable plastic packaging by businesses.
- Reuse of rigid plastic packaging material has been mandated in the guidelines to reduce the use of fresh plastic material for packaging.
- The enforceable prescription of minimum level of recycling of plastic packaging waste collected under EPR along with use of recycled plastic content will further reduce plastic consumption and support recycling of plastic packaging waste.
- The EPR guidelines will give a boost for formalization and further development of the plastic waste management sector.
- For the first time, the guidelines allow for sale and purchase of surplus extended producer responsibility certificates, thus setting up a market mechanism for plastic waste management.
- The implementation of EPR will be done through a customized online platform which will act as digital backbone of the system.
- The online platform will allow tracking and monitoring of EPR obligation.
- The Guidelines prescribe a framework for levy of environmental compensation based upon polluter pays principle, with respect to non-fulfilment of extended producer responsibility targets by producers, importers & brand owners.
- The funds collected shall be utilized for collection, recycling and end of life disposal of uncollected plastic waste in an environmentally sound manner.
- These guidelines coupled with prohibition of identified single use plastic items, which have low utility and high littering potential are important steps for reducing pollution caused due to littered plastic waste in the country.
Do you know?
- Extended Producer Responsibility (EPR) is a policy approach under which producers are given a significant responsibility – financial and/or physical – for the treatment or disposal of post-consumer products.
News Source: TH
(News from PIB)
Part of: GS-2: Bilateral, regional and global groupings and agreements involving India and/or affecting India’s interests
In News: India and UAE signed the historic Comprehensive Economic Partnership Agreement (CEPA) aimed at boosting the merchandise trade between the two countries to US$ 100 billion over next five years.
- India- UAE CEPA sees many firsts including automatic authorization for Indian pharma products, strict rules of origin and safeguard mechanism against surge in imports
- CEPA to generate 10 lakh jobs across labour-intensive sectors such as Textiles, Gems & Jewellery, Leather, Footwear, Pharma, Agriculture products, Medical Devices, Plastics, Sports Goods and Automobiles
Both nations believe in rules based fair trade, in engaging with each other in a spirit of reciprocity and were determined that people and businesses of both countries must mutually benefit from the deepening engagement.
News Source: PIB
Part of: Prelims
Context: The Pradhan Mantri Fasal Bima Yojana (PMFBY) has successfully entered its 7th year of implementation.
What is it: It is an insurance service scheme for farmers for their yields which aims to reduce the premium burden on farmers and ensure early settlement of crop assurance claim for the full insured sum. PMFBY provides financial support to farmers suffering crop loss/damage arising out of natural calamities.
- Over 36 crore farmer applications have been insured under PMFBY
- Over Rs. 1,07,059 crores of claims have already been paid under the scheme
- ‘Meri Policy Mere Hath’ – a doorstep distribution drive to be launched to deliver crop insurance policies to farmers
- Around 85% of the farmers enrolled with the scheme are small and marginal farmers.
- The recent announcement by Finance Minister of India Smt. Nirmala Sitharaman during her 2022-23 budget speech on the use of drones for crop insurance will further strengthen the integration of technology for smooth implementation of the scheme on the ground.
News Source: PIB
Part of: Prelims
In News: The Government has approved the scheme of Rashtriya Uchchatar Shiksha Abhiyan (RUSA) for continuation till 2026.
RUSA is an overarching scheme, operating in mission mode for funding the state government universities and colleges to achieve the aims of equity, access and excellence.
- New phase of RUSA targets to reach out the unserved, underserved areas; remote/ rural areas; difficult geographies; Left Wing Extremism (LWE) areas; North Eastern Region (NER); aspirational districts, tier-2 cities, areas with low Gross enrolment ratio (GER) etc., and to benefit the most disadvantaged areas and SEDGs.
- Designed to implement some of the recommendations and aims of the New Education Policy, which suggests some key changes to the current higher education system to revamp and re-energize it and thereby deliver quality higher education, with equity and inclusion.
Under the new phase of the scheme,
- State Governments will be supported for Gender inclusion, Equity Initiatives, ICT, Enhancing employability through vocationalisation & skill upgradation.
- States will also be supported for creation of new Model Degree Colleges. State Universities will be supported for Multi-Disciplinary Education and Research.
- Grants will be provided for strengthening both accredited and non-accredited Universities and Colleges for undertaking various activities including teaching-learning in Indian languages.
News Source: PIB
Part of: GS-2: Bilateral, regional and global groupings and agreements involving India and/or affecting India’s interests
In News: The Government of India, the State Governments of Karnataka and Odisha and the World Bank have signed a $115 million (INR 869 crore) Programme (Rejuvenating Watersheds for Agricultural Resilience through Innovative Development Programme) that will help national and state institutions adopt improved watershed management practices to help increase farmers’ resilience to climate change, promote higher productivity and better incomes.
Background and Significance
- The Government of India has committed to restoring 26 million hectares of degraded land by 2030 and doubling farmers’ income by 2023.
- Effective watershed management can help enhance livelihoods in rainfed areas, while building a more resilient food system. In this context, the new program will help the participating state governments in their efforts to transform watershed planning and execution and adopt science-based planning that could be replicated across the country. It will also help the participating and others states to adopt new approaches to watershed development.
- The COVID-19 pandemic accentuated the need for sustainable and risk-averse agriculture in India which both protects farmers from climate uncertainties and strengthens their livelihood.
- While a robust institutional architecture for watershed development already exists in India, renewed focus on science-based, data-driven approaches implemented through this project can offer new opportunities for farmers in the face of climate change.
India has one of the largest watershed management programs in the world. This programme will further advance this progress by developing and applying comprehensive spatial data and technologies, decision support tools, and knowledge exchanges.
News Source: PIB
EDUCATION / GOVERNANCE
- GS-2: Issues relating to development and management of Social Sector/Services relating to Education, Human Resources
- GS-3: Government policies and interventions for development in various sectors and issues arising out of their design and implementation.
Context: The National Education Policy (NEP) 2020 has recommended a revamp of the higher education scene in India to make education more student-centric and multi-disciplinary.
- A new initiative stemming from this desire is an ‘Academic Bank of Credits’ (ABC) in higher education idea, which was notified recently by the University Grants Commission (UGC) for implementation.
- Any undergraduate or postgraduate student can create an account in the ABC portal and store information of his/her completed courses (i.e., subjects/papers in old terminology) and grades obtained.
- These grades are stored for a period of five years.
- As multiple institutes are connected to the ABC portal, one can be formally enrolled in university ‘A’ but can choose to do some courses from university ‘B’, some more from university ‘C’ and so on and all of these would count towards the student’s degree.
- Also, if any student needs to get back to education after a break or has to relocate to another city, they can easily ‘carry’ forward their completed credits.
- One can even enrol in SWAYAM (a programme initiated by the Government of India) or the National Programme on Technology Enhanced Learning (NPTEL) and add these credits to my ABC.
- One gets a chance to enrol in a course and learn from teachers from some of the best institutes such as the IITs and IISER.
- ABC regulations say that the institute should allow up to 20% supernumerary seats for students enrolling through the ABC scheme.
- Thus, education will truly become flexible and interdisciplinary, without forcing any single institute to float an unmanageable number of courses.
- Administrative challenges
- If there are more applicants for a course, it would become challenging for the institute to choose amongst them.
- Extra human resources would be provided to handle all such requests for all elective courses offered each semester.
- Academic Challenges
- So far we have not found any evidence in the public domain that the MOOC platforms can provide a reliable assessment of learning achievement. Course coordinators would be inclined to award scores liberally and paint a rosy picture.
- Therefore, some reputed institutes have already put in place guidelines to ‘adjust’ the score obtained by the students in MOOCs before it is accepted in the institute’s records.
- Earlier regulation stated that the ABC portal will accept courses from those higher education institutes which have obtained an ‘A’ grade or higher in the latest round of National Assessment and Accreditation Council (NAAC) accreditation, but now that filter has been removed now. This may lead to lack of standardisation of quality.
- Thus, one may find it tempting to opt out of a challenging course in one’s institute and use the ABC scheme to replace it with an equivalent course from another university where it would be far easier to obtain good grades.
- Weakens Teacher Quality in Small Colleges
- The ABC scheme specifies that students can avail up to 70% of courses from other institutes while being enrolled in a particular college.
- If students avail these credits outside the parent college, they need not enrol for the corresponding in-house courses. The brand name would be an attraction, which often comes at the cost of reputation of small colleges
- As the number of teaching posts in any higher education institute are calculated on the basis of student enrolment numbers, such flexibility is going to create challenges with respect to maintaining the Teaching staff strength especially in small colleges.
- As a whole, this scheme has all the right and laudable intentions and would probably work well in a society with a more equitable distribution of resources.
- In India, where the quality of education varies drastically from one institute to the next, this can lead to unmanageable academic and administrative issues.
Connecting the dots:
- GS-2: Government policies and interventions for development in various sectors and issues arising out of their design and implementation
- GS-2: Rights and Freedoms
Context: This month Congress MP Shashi Tharoor introduced a Private Member’s Bill in the Lok Sabha proposing the enactment of a Refugee and Asylum law.
- The Bill lays down comprehensive criteria for recognising asylum seekers and refugees and prescribes specific rights and duties accruing from such status.
- It was made necessary as the government doesn’t recognise the international legal principle of non-refoulement — the cornerstone of refugee law, which states that no country should send a person to a place where he or she may face persecution
Who is a refugee?
- Refugee, in the internationally-accepted definition of the term, embraces people who have fled their home countries and crossed an international border because of a well-founded fear of persecution in their home countries, on grounds of race, religion, nationality, membership of a particular social group, or political opinion.
- This means that people who cross borders in quest of economic betterment, or because they are fleeing poverty, anarchy or environmental disaster, do not qualify as refugees.
Do You Know?
- India hosts more than two lakh refugees and is at the center of refugee movements in the South Asian region.
- It has been a home to refugees from neighbouring countries such as Tibet, Bangladesh, Sri Lanka, Afghanistan, Myanmar, and Nepal.
- In 1996, the Supreme Court of India ruled that the state has to protect all human beings living in India, irrespective of nationality, since they enjoy the rights guaranteed by Articles 14, 20 and 21 of the Constitution to all, not just Indian citizens.
Recent instances of Government’s handling of Refugees
- The Government expelled Myanmar two batches of Rohingya refugees in the face of a grave risk of persecution in the country they had fled.
- It has attempted to do the same with Chakmas in Arunachal Pradesh and Myanmarese in Mizoram.
- Also, Afghan students stranded in India by the takeover of their country by the Taliban have not had their visas renewed, and could find themselves in a similar situation.
- Because India has neither subscribed to international conventions on the topic nor set up a domestic legislative framework to deal with refugees, their problems are dealt with in an ad hoc manner.
What are the key features of the proposed bill?
- The proposed bill seeks to incorporate the current policy on refugees, the principles of the Constitution, and India’s international obligations.
- The right to seek asylum in India would be available to all foreigners irrespective of their nationality, race, religion, or ethnicity.
- National Commission for Asylum would be constituted to receive and decide all such applications.
- The principle of non-refoulement is clearly affirmed, with no exceptions, though reasons have been specified for exclusion, expulsion, and revocation of refugee status, to respect the Government’s sovereign authority but limit its discretion.
- Need for proper framework to make sure that refugees can access basic public services, be able to legally seek jobs and livelihood opportunities for some source of income.
- The absence of such a framework will make the refugees vulnerable to exploitation, especially human trafficking.
Merits of the bill
- The provisions of the bill provide clarity and uniformity on the recognition of asylum seekers as refugees and their rights in the country.
- It also seeks to end a system of ambiguity and arbitrariness which, too often, results in injustice to a highly vulnerable populace
- The bill seeks to enable the government to manage refugees with more accountability and order while balancing humanitarian concerns and security interests of the State.
- The enactment and enumeration of refugee rights will reduce our dependence on judge-centric approaches — or the whims of Home Ministry bureaucrats, police officers and politicians.
- It is high time the Government reviewed its long-standing reluctance to sign up legally to what India has already been doing morally.
- In so doing, we would uphold our own finest traditions and the highest standards of our democracy, as well as demonstrate once again that we are what we have long claimed to be: a good international citizen in an ever-closer knit and globalising world.
Connecting the dots:
(Down to Earth: Natural Disasters)
Feb 18: Wildfires will be more frequent, larger and intense due to climate change: UNEP
- GS-1: Geographical phenomena
- GS-3: Climate Change
In News: Wildfires are predicted to worsen in the coming years and decades, the United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP) has warned in its annual Frontiers report.
- It is also called forest, bush or vegetation fire.
- It is any uncontrolled burning of plants in a natural setting such as a forest, grassland which consumes the natural fuels and spreads based on wind, topography.
- These can be incited by human actions, such as land clearing, extreme drought or in rare cases by lightning.
- Three conditions needed for a wildfire:
- oxygen, and
- a heat source.
- Globally, forest fires release billions of tons of Carbon dioxide into the atmosphere.
- The trends towards more dangerous fire-weather conditions are likely to increase due to rising concentrations of atmospheric greenhouse gases and the attendant escalation of wildfire risk factors.
What causes forest fires?
- There has been a rapid expansion of cities towards forest areas in many regions in recent decades. This wild land-urban interface is the area where wildfire risks are most pronounced.
- Extreme weather events such as hotter temperatures and more droughts lead to longer fire seasons and increase the likelihood of fire weather condition
- Emerging studies link climate change to rising instances of fires globally, especially the massive fires of the Amazon forests in Brazil and in Australia in the last two years.
- Fires of longer duration, increasing intensity, higher frequency and highly inflammable nature are all being linked to climate change.
- In Odisha, which saw a major fire recently in Simlipal forest, villagers are known to set dry leaves to fire in order to collect mahua flowers, which go into preparation of a local drink.
- Lightning and pollution
- With rising forest fires, the world is very likely to see more frequent incidences of lightning
- Lightning strikes are projected to increase in frequency in some parts of the world as the climate changes. Lightning ignition is the predominant driver of massive wildfires in the boreal forests of North America and northern Siberia.
- Fire-induced thunderstorms are a new danger posed by rising wildfires.
Why are forest fires difficult to control?
- Difficult Terrain: The locality of the forest and access to it pose hurdles in initiating firefighting efforts.
- Manpower Shortage: During peak season, shortage of staff is another challenge in dispatching firefighting teams. Timely mobilisation of forest staff, fuel and equipment, depending on the type of fire, through the thick forests remain challenges.
- Outdated Techniques: As it is impossible to transport heavy vehicles loaded with water into the thick forests, a majority of fire dousing is initiated manually, using blowers and similar devices. But there have been incidents when forest fires were brought under control using helicopter services.
- Weather Factors: Wind speed and direction play a critical role in bringing a forest fire under control. The fire often spreads in the direction of the winds and towards higher elevations
What are the fuels of such massive fires?
- The dry leaf litter on the forest ground acts as a ready fuel. Fallen tree leaves, dry grass, weeds, low brushwood, deadwood on the forest floor, logs and stumps etc form the surface fuels.
- Below the loose litter, decaying materials such as humus, wood, shrubs, roots, much and peat can also support the combustion.
- Above the surface level, dry standing trees, mosses, lichens, dry epiphytic or parasitic plants, and fallen branches trapped in the understorey can spread the fire to the upper foliage and the tree crowns.
What factors make forest fires a concern?
- Forest’s role in mitigation and adaptation to climate change: They act as a sink, reservoir and source of carbon. A healthy forest stores and sequesters more carbon than any other terrestrial ecosystem.
- Endangers Livelihood of people and animals: Forest fires may also impact the wildlife by burning eggs, killing young animals and driving the adult animals away from their safe haven. In India, with 1.70 lakh villages in close proximity to forests (Census 2011), the livelihood of several crores of people is dependent on fuelwood, bamboo, fodder, and small timber.
- Impacts regeneration capacity of Ecosystem: Forest fires can have multiple adverse effects on the forest cover, soil, tree growth, vegetation, and the overall flora and fauna. Fires render several hectares of forest useless and leave behind ash, making it unfit for any vegetation growth.
- Shrinkage of Forests: Heat generated during the fire destroys animal habitats. Soil quality decreases with the alteration in their compositions. Soil moisture and fertility, too, is affected. Thus forests can shrink in size. The trees that survive fire often remain stunted and growth is severely affected.
- Impact on Water system: Forests help maintain aquifers and continuous flow of streams and springs, and provide firewood, fodder and non-timber produce to the local communities – all these capacities may get adversely affected in case of a fire.
- Impact on Soil Productivity: Forest fires may destroy organic matter in the soil and expose the top layer to erosion thus negatively impacting soil fertility & productivity.
- Impact on Air: Wildfires are also responsible for air pollution. There is a link between impact of wildfire-related pollution and human deaths, according to a global study published in September 2021.
What can be done to prevent and control forest fires – The Way Forward?
A preventive approach, rather than reactive approach by engaging vulnerable groups, will help adapt to the wildfires.
- Improved Policies: Wildfire prevention, response and management calls for improved planning and policies coupled with practices.
- Enhanced capabilities: It is important to enhance fire-fighting capabilities and strengthen community resilience-building programmes.
- Appreciating and adopting indigenous fire management techniques
- Focus on remote-sensing capabilities such as satellites, ground-based radar, lightning detection as well as data handling
- Getting rid of forest fire fuels: Clearing camping sites of dried biomass. Early burning of dry litter on the forest floor
- Changing Composition of Forest: Growing strips of fire-hardy plant species within the forest
- Defensive Mechanism: Creating fire lines in the forests (fire lines are strips in the forest kept clear of vegetation to prevent the fire from spreading).
- Better Predictions: Forecasting fire-prone days using meteorological data will help control forest fires at early stages. Focus on long-range weather forecasting.
- Dedicated Force: Once a fire starts, early detection and quick action by fire-fighting squads is crucial. For such activities, the state forest department has a fire protection and fire control unit.
- Regulation of Forest activities: In 1999, the state government notified forest fire rules which restrict or regulate certain activities in and around forest areas such as lighting a fire, burning agricultural stubble or undergrowth (ghasnis) and stacking inflammable forest produce such as dried leaves and firewood.
Can you answer the following questions?
- Why are certain forests more susceptible to fires? How do local weather patterns add to this susceptibility? Explain.
- What is the strategy to mitigate bushfires/ forest fires? Discuss.
(TEST YOUR KNOWLEDGE)
Model questions: (You can now post your answers in comment section)
Q.1 Consider the following statements regarding Japanese encephalitis virus (JEV):
- It is a mosquito-borne flavivirus (mosquitos of the Culex species), and belongs to the same genus as dengue, yellow fever and West Nile viruses.
- JEV is the most important cause of viral encephalitis in Asia.
Which of the above is or are correct?
- 1 only
- 2 only
- Both 1 and 2
- Neither 1 nor 2
Q.2 Extended Producers Responsibility is associated with which of the following?
- Production of photovoltaic cells
- Waste management
- Anti dumping duty
- Farming incentives
Q.3 Geckos are associated with which of the following wildlife animal?
ANSWERS FOR 19th Feb 2022 TEST YOUR KNOWLEDGE (TYK)
On Haryana Job Quota reservation law:
On India’s response to Singapore PM’s comments: