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Daily Current affairs 17 February 2019

UPSC - Daily Current Affair

 

The last of the elusive pangolins

News Context

  • On World Pangolin Day (third Saturday of February), wildlife experts mourned the possible extinction of the Chinese Pangolin in the northeast and the likelihood of the Indian Pangolin of being wiped out in a decade or so.

 

About Pangolins

  • Pangolins are shy and secretive nocturnal creatures that live on ants and termites.
  • Of the eight species found worldwide (four each in Asia and Africa), two are known from India- Indian Pangolin and Chinese Pangolin.
  • Their defense mechanism is quickly to curl into a ball when threatened
  • It is covered under as many as one thousand scales which protect them from predators.

 

Declining population of Pangolins:

  • Pangolin is the world's most trafficked mammal.
  • According to some estimates, poachers have hunted more than 1 million Pangolins in the past decade.
  • In 2014, the Chinese Pangolin was categorized as critically endangered, which is now feared to be extinct. Also, the Indian Pangolin which was marked endangered in 2014, is now critically endangered and it has been feared that it may also get extinct in a decade or so.
  • Reasons
    • Pangolins are killed for their scales for Medicinal purposes in China and Vietnam. However, this has no scientific basis as Pangolin's scales are made of Keratin, the same material found in human nails and hair.
    • They are also used in Luxury goods.
    • Pangolins are also hunted for its meat across the northeastern States and in central India.
    • Habitat loss
    • Their reproduction is slow and can give birth to only one baby a year.

 

Why Pangolins are important?

  • Loss of Pangolin can cause ecological loss.
  • Pangolins eat termites that otherwise destroy crops and buildings.

 

The Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Flora and Fauna (CITES) on Pangolin

  • The CITES seeks to ensure that international trade in wild animals and plants does not threaten their survival.
  • All eight species in the pangolin family are currently listed in Appendix II of CITES.
  • In 2016, CITES unanimously agreed a total ban on international trade on all species at the summit in Johannesburg.
  • However, Pangolins continue to be poached at alarming rate, even causing a devastating crash in Asian Pangolin population.

 

Way ahead

  • There is lot of work to be done to ensure the survival of pangolins. Countries must work together to reduce demand and enforce laws against poaching.

 

 

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Section : Environment & Ecology

 

India set to benefit as wind power gains speed Editorial 17th Feb’19 FinancialExpress

Fast economic growth of India:

  • India’s economy is the world’s sixth-largest by nominal GDP and the third-largest by Purchasing Power Parity (PPP).
  • It is the world’s fastest growing major economy, as well.
  • Access to cheap energy is essential to India’s sustained accelerated growth.

Energy an essential component:

  • Access to cheap energy is essential to India’s sustained accelerated growth.
  • As per International Energy Agency (IEA), India’s aggregate energy consumption will more than double by 2040.
  • Strategically, it is important to achieve energy security, i.e., the uninterrupted availability of energy sources at an affordable price.

 

 

Need more renewables in India's energy basket for energy security:

  • The growing demand for energy in India has been traditionally dependent on imports of conventional energy like coal, oil and natural gas.
  • Renewable energy offers significant potential to contribute towards the growth and development of India’s power sector without impacting the fuel reserves or GHG emissions.
  • As per the power ministry’s study, to meet energy requirements for the year 2026-27, India will need to build 275 GW of renewable energy capacity by the end of 2026-27.
  • It is essential that India deploys all available energy resources including renewables to ensure energy security.

Huge potential in renewables:

  • India has a high potential for generation of renewable energy from various sources—wind, solar, biomass, small hydro and the cogeneration of bagasse.
  • The total installed capacity of renewable power reached 57 GW as on March 2017.
  • The total potential for renewable power generation in the country as on March, 2017, is estimated to be at about 1000 GW, which includes a solar potential of 650 GW and 300 GW of wind power potential.

Renewable energy benefits: 

  • A sustainable solution to India’s growing energy requirement
  • Mitigating climate change
  • Reducing India's excessive reliance on imported and expensive fossil fuels
  • An opportunity to create large number of jobs
  • Boosts the government’s ‘Make in India’ program with manufacturing potential in the entire energy efficiency value chain

 

Wind power increasingly being deployed across the world:

  • According to the International Renewable Energy Agency (IRENA), wind power has emerged as one of the fastest-growing clean energy sources in the world.
  • It is now being deployed and is operational in many countries due to improved economics of wind energy. Wind power is more popular than solar in the US.
  • The global cumulative installed capacity for wind power grew from 75 GW in 2006 to 547 GW in 2017, with a total addition of 52 GW in 2017 alone.
  • The boost is primarily driven by robust government policies, and an increase in capacity, led by India, China, the US, Germany and other emerging countries.
  • The need for cleaner, reliable, and affordable power is further stimulating this growth.

Increasing installed capacity in India:

  • Wind power development, which started in India in the 1990s, has significantly increased in the last few years.
  • It is riding strong on the competitive bidding regime and an increased demand for green energy that is reliable, affordable and a mainstream source of energy.  
  • While Karnataka and Tamil Nadu currently lead the way in renewables, other states of India are also poised to harness wind energy.
  • Domestic policy support for wind power has enabled India to become the fourth largest in the world with an installed capacity of over 34 GW as of June 2018.
  • Wind producing more power than other renewables in India:
    • India produced 102 billion units of power from renewable sources, or close to 8% of the total, in the year ended March 2018.
    • Wind energy contributed 52.7 billion units, solar contributed about 25.9 billion, 11.8 billion from bagasse (sugarcane) and 7.7 billion units from small hydro power.
    • Utilities and large-scale operations prefer heavily utilised wind energy while homeowners prefer solar energy.

India set to meet its high wind power targets:

  • The India government has a revised target of 67 GW from wind energy ahead of 2022.
  • With the right steps, India’s wind industry is poised to meet the target.
  • At the current rate, India’s wind industry is on course to add 30 GW of new capacity in the next three years, taking the cumulative total capacity to over 64 GW.

 

 

Way ahead for wind power:

  • More efficiency: With an improvement in technology, the next-generation turbines can deliver around 35-40% plant load factor (PLF) in high wind states, about twice the PLF compared to solar.
  • More sites becoming accessible: Technological advancement in the wind sector is also making it possible to harness wind at sites which were earlier unviable.
  •  More conducive policy environment: Conducive policies such as exemption of interstate transmission chargeson solar and wind power projects up to March 31, 2022, are giving impetus to expand the reach of renewables.

 

Conclusion:

  • The future looks green and bright for wind energy.
  • As available supply and market demand continues to grow in an increasingly healthy market, wind energy is set to become more important across the globe.
  • This would place India amongst the leading wind energy producers in the world.
  • This trend will greatly enhance India’s energy security.

 

Importance:

GS Paper III: Economy

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Section : Editorial Analysis

 

Iran to promote Chabahar as curbs will hit main port

The News

  • Iran is expected to promote the development of Chabahar port in Afghanistan at an event where guests from 35 countries have been invited.

 

About Chabahar Agreement

  • Iran's Chabahar port is located on the Gulf of Oman and is the only oceanic port of the country.
  • The port gives access to the energy-rich Persian Gulf nations' southern coast and India can bypass Pakistan with the Chabahar port becoming functional. Also, it is the only Iranian port with direct access to the ocean.
  • In May 2016, India, Iran and Afghanistan inked a pact which entailed establishment of Transit and Transport Corridoramong the three countries using Chabahar Port as one of the regional hubs for sea transportation.
  • The Chabahar Port is considered a gateway to golden opportunities for trade by India, Iran and Afghanistan with central Asian countries besides ramping up trade among the three countries after Pakistan denied transit access to India.

 

Why Iran is promoting the Chabahar Developement?

  • The US sanctions on Iran is threatening its main port of Bandar Abbas, therefore Iran seeks to highlight the potential of the Indian Ocean port beyond India-Afghan trade.
  • The government of Iran wants to build Chabahar as the focal point with the entire coastline of 1,000 kilometres to be developed for oil refineries, petrochemical and steel factories, and other projects

 

Tightrope walk for India

  • The event will bring into focus a tightrope India must walk, with the U.S. tensions with Iran on one side, and triple aims on other side which include:
    • Trade with Afghanistan
    • Bypassing Pakistan
    • Posing a counter to the China-Pakistan developed Gwadar port nearby

 

Extending the trade relations

  • The potential for inland trade goes beyond the present plan of trade from India-Afghanistan via Chabahar, as the government of Iran plans to connect ‘via Turkmenistan to Central Asia, via Turkey to Europe, and via Iraq to Syria and the Mediterranean’ countries.
  • India has committed to building the 500-kilometre railway from Chabahar to Zahedan, which are both in the Sistan-Baluchistan province.
  • Iran is also planning a second airport near Chabahar and the development of a free trade zone, while energy infrastructure of a gas pipeline has been already built up to 200 km of Chabahar.
  • Cooperation against terrorism
    • The push for Chabahar, which allows India to bypass Pakistan for trade to Afghanistan is likely to be speeded up, as the government looks at all diplomatic options to “isolate Pakistan” post the Pulwama attack.
    • In February, 2019, border soldiers of Iran’s Islamic Revolutionary Guards Corps (IRGC) were killed in a similar suicide car bombing in the Sistan Baluchistan province that borders Pakistan. The group identified as responsible, Jaish-e-Adl (JA), also runs bases in Pakistan’s Baluchistan province.

 

Impact of Sanctions

Iran’s Stand

  • According to Iran, the advantage of Chabahar is that it had received a waiver from the U.S. That is why Chabahar won’t be affected by these sanctions.

India’s Stand

  • MEA officials dealing with the Chabahar project are advising some caution in the plans, given that the U.S. waiver for Chabahar was given by the US administration to facilitate trade to Afghanistan keeping in view that these activities are vital for the ongoing support of Afghanistan’s growth and humanitarian relief.
  • India wants all countries, including the U.S. to understand the value of the Chabahar facility not just for trade with Afghanistan, but for soft aid and humanitarian relief for Iranians.

 

Importance of Chabahar for India

  • The Chabahar port will cut transport costs/time for Indian goods by a third. The port is likely to ramp up trade among India, Afghanistan and Iran in the wake of Pakistan denying transit access to India for trade with the two countries.
  • Iran plans to turn the Chabahar port into a transit hub for immediate access to markets in the northern part of the Indian Ocean and in Central Asia.
  • About a fifth of the oil consumed worldwide each day passes through the Strait, a shipping choke point that separates the Persian Gulf from the Gulf of Oman and Indian Ocean.
  • The Chabahar port, located in the Sistan-Baluchistan Province on Iran's southern coast, will also set up India's road access to four cities in Afghanistan. From Chabahar, the existing Iranian road network can link up to Zaranj in Afghanistan, which can give access to Afghanistan's Garland Highway, setting up road access to four major cities in Afghanistan -- Herat, Kandahar, Kabul and Mazar-e-Sharif.
  • The port project will be the first overseas venture for an Indian state-owned port. India and Iran had in 2003 agreed to develop Chabahar on the Gulf of Oman outside the Strait of Hormuz, near Iran's border with Pakistan.

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Section : International Relation

 

Mariculture is as important for India as agriculture

The News

  • With India accounting for the world’s largest undernourished population (1 in every 5), mariculture is increasingly seen as a solution to the problem of growing hunger.

 

Background

Problem of Hunger

  • India has the dubious distinction of having the world’s largest population of undernourished people.
  • In the recent Global Hunger Index Ranking 2018, India is ranked 103 out of 119 countries.
  • According to UNFAO’s report, 196 out of 821 million undernourished people in the world reside in India.
  • With India’s population expected to reach 1.7 billion by 2050, the problem of hunger is only expected to spiral manifold.

Novel approach to tackle hunger

  • In today’s world, increasing ‘calorie intake’ is an obsolete approach to tackle hunger; instead the focus is on reducing food waste and augmenting nutrition.
  • Further nutrition transition requires other novel ways to fulfill nutrition requirements.
  • In this backdrop, genetic engineering to increase photosynthesis efficiency and mariculture are increasingly seen as potential solution to the problem of hunger.

 

Basics

Photosynthesis

  • Sunlight is the primary source of energy for life on earth.
  • Photosynthesis in plants takes place primarily in the cells of plant leaves through chloroplasts in presence of sun light.

6CO2 + 12H2O + light → C6H12O6 + 6H2O + 6O2

  • In photosynthesis, CO2 is reduced to glucose using electrons gained from the oxidation of water which requires energy that is provided by light.
  • In other words in the chloroplasts, inorganic CO2 is converted to an organic molecule (glucose).
  • However, the efficiency of this process is very low, about 5% in most land crops.

Photorespiration

  • Photorespiration is a process that reduces the yield of photosynthesis reducing the formation of organic carbon, read glucose.
  • Photorespiration is basically the opposite of photosynthesis.
  • This is a strategy adopted by plants in dry and arid areas to conserve water.

 

Potential solutions to tackle hunger

1. Increasing photosynthesis efficiency

  • With finite land and scarce water resources, agriculture is increasingly seen as being incapacitated to feed India’s population.
  • One solution to low productivity in agriculture is to improve the efficiency of food production.
  • In this direction scientists in US have been working on ways to increase photosynthesis efficiency in a project called RIPE (Realizing Increased Photosynthetic Efficiency).

RIPE: Genetically Engineered solution:

  • Under RIPE, scientists have used genetic engineering to increase the efficiency of photosynthesis in the tobacco plants which increased yield by 20%.
  • This process can be replicated in cassava (sabudana) whose roots are rich in carbohydrates.
  • Cassava is a staple food in parts of Andhra, Kerala and the hilly areas of Assam.

 

2. Mariculture as solution to hunger

Seaweeds and Photosynthesis Efficiency

  • Seaweeds, also called brown algae, are multi-cellular photosynthetic eukaryotes.
  • They are very similar to plants, the only difference being they live only in water or on very moist land surfaces, in other words they grow in the tidal zone.
  • Seaweeds exhibit highest photosynthesis efficiency due to moist conditions.
  • As a result they contribute to about 50% of all photosynthesis in the world.

Advantages of Seaweed

  • Edible Seaweeds are low-calorie and nutrient-dense food items.
  • They are rich in vitamins A and C.
  • They are a good source of minerals such as Ca, Mg, Zn, Se and Fe.
  • They also have a high level of vegetable proteins and omega 3 and 6 fatty acids.
  • Since Seaweeds live in water they do not require irrigation.
  • They do not require pesticides, fertilizers.
  • Categorised under vegan diet, they are easily acceptable.

 

3. Reducing Photorespiration

  • Another way to increase photosynthesis efficiency is to reduce photorespiration in plants.

 

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Section : Social Issues

 

Farm sop will be hard to implement?

News Context

  • The Pradhan Mantri Kisan Samman Nidhi scheme, which was announced in the 2019 Interim Budget is believed to have many lacunas and may face a number of challenges in its implementation.

 

About Pradhan Mantri Kisan Samman Nidhi (PM-KISAN) scheme

  • The scheme aims to give ₹6,000 a year to 12 crore small and marginal farmers who own up to two hectares of cultivable land, as minimum income support.
  • Tribal farmers having right over agricultural land in forest areas will also get the benefit of the scheme.
  • INR 6,000 per year will be paid to each eligible farmer in three installments and will be deposited directly to their bank accounts.
  • The scheme will cost ₹75,000 crore per annum and will come in effect from December 2018.

 

Status of Land Records in India

  • States have been implementing the Digital India Land Records Modernisation Programme (DILRMP) for Computerization of land record, Survey/re-survey and Computerization of Registration.
  • While several States claim to have completed computerisation of their land records, others have not even begun the process.
  • Updation of land records is done only when the land is sold and only if the transaction is legally registered.
  • Inherited land may still be registered in a parent or grandparent’s name, as Verifying ownership claims is a daunting task as multiple government departments hold the documents required to establish land ownership.
  • However, states have been asked to overhaul their land databases immediately in preparation for the scheme till March 2019.

 

Challenges and Lacunas

  • Land records are held individually and it is difficult to know the total land holding of the family, making it difficult to use existing land records to determine beneficiaries.
  • Updating all the land records till March 2019 seems unrealistic.
  • Adivasi communities who cultivate land without individual rights may be left out of the scheme, although they are among the most vulnerable.
  • Tenant farmers are also not included in the scheme, as they do not own the land they cultivate. This could lead to resentment if absentee landlords receive benefits under the scheme.
  • Money will be directly transferred to beneficiaries bank accounts, which makes Aadhaar numbers compulsory. This may face significant hurdles in some rural areas.

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Section : Economics

 

Power Ministry proposes over $12 bn in sops to reduce pollution

The News

  • In the fight against the menace of air pollution, Ministry of Power has decided to incentivize infrastructure aimed at cutting emissions in the power sector.
  • Besides, the ministry is also extending sops for development of Electric Vehicles in India.

 

Summary

  • In order to curb emissions from power sector, Ministry of Power has proposed incentives to step up infrastructure aimed at cutting sulphur emissions.

Menace of Air Pollution in India

  • According to a report of India State-Level Disease Burden Initiative, every 1 in 8 deaths in India occur due to air pollution.
  • In 2017 about 1.24 million deaths in India occurred due to air pollution.

 

Air Pollution

  • The following are the major gaseous and particulate pollutants present:
    • Gaseous air pollutants: Oxides of sulphur, nitrogen and carbon, hydrogen sulphide, hydrocarbons, ozone and other oxidants.
    • Particulate pollutants: Dust, mist, fumes, smoke, smog etc. In India, thermal power plant account for 80% of all industrial emissions of particulate matter, sulphur and nitrous oxides in India.

 

Sulphur Dioxide Pollution

  • Oxides of sulphur are produced when sulphur containing fossil fuel is burnt.
  • Most common oxide of sulphur is sulphur dioxide, SO2.
  • Sulfur dioxide is a gas. It is invisible and has a nasty, sharp smell. It reacts easily with other substances to form harmful compounds, such as sulfuric acid, sulfurous acid and sulfate particles.
  • Particulate matter in the air accelerates formation of oxides of sulphur catalyses the process of oxidation.

 

 

Sources of SO2 Pollution

  • Burning of fossil fuels such as coal, oil and natural gas are the main source of SO2 emissions.
  • Volcanic eruptions are also a major source of SO2 emissions.
  • Hydrogen sulphide, released from biological decay, reacts with O2 in the atmosphere to produce SO2.

 

Harmful effects of SO2

  • SO2 is a poisonous gas known to cause respiratory diseases such as asthma, bronchitis, emphysema in human beings, irritation to the eyes.
  • At high concentrations, gaseous SOx can harm trees and plants by damaging foliage and decreasing growth.  
  • SO2and other sulfur oxides can contribute to acid rain which can harm sensitive ecosystems. 
  • SO2and other sulfur oxides can react with other compounds in the atmosphere to form fine particles that reduce visibility.
  • Deposition of particles can also stain and damage stone and other materials, including culturally important objects such as statues and monuments. SO2 is the main cause of discoloration of marble in Taj mahal.

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Section : Environment & Ecology

 

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