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Prelims Bits (2nd Week)

Environment and Ecology:

World Environment Day 2021 key highlights

  • Context: World Environment Day is observed every year on June 5. The World Environment Day theme 2021 is ‘Ecosystem Restoration’
  • About: World Environment Day is celebrated every year on June 5 to remind people about the importance of nature.
  • The World Environment Day theme 2021 is ‘Ecosystem Restoration’. World Environment Day 2021 will also mark the beginning of the United Nations Decade on Ecosystem Restoration (2021-2030). Pakistan host World Environment Day 2021.
  • Since 1974, governments, corporations, celebrities, and individuals have come together to focus their efforts on a major environmental issue.
  • In addition to the official World Environment Day topic, India will focus on the Nagar Van (Urban Forests).
  • In addition, the Indian Navy has commemorated the day with a number of projects aimed at reducing its environmental impact.
  • ‘Celebrating Biodiversity’ is the theme of World Environment Day 2020, a topic that is both urgent and existential.
  • Almost one million species are on the verge of extinction throughout the planet, and there has never been a more critical time to pay attention to biodiversity.
  • Colombia will host the event in collaboration with Germany.
  • Released ‘Indian Navy Environment Conservation Roadmap’ (INECR) which is a guiding document and key enabler for progressively achieving a green footprint.
  • It has voluntarily implemented all six schedules of the International Convention for the Prevention of Pollution from Ships (MARPOL) regulations.

Blackbuck population in Odisha doubles in 6 years – Schedule 1 animal under Wildlife Protection Act

  • Context:Odisha’s blackbuck population has doubled in the last six years, according to figures from the latest population census released recently by the chief conservator of forest (wildlife).
  • About: The antelopes numbered 7,358 — 4,196 females, 1,712 males and 1,450 young, according to census figures. The census was carried out by the state forest department February 28, 2021.
  • Blackbucks are found only in the Ganjam district in the southern part of the state, which is where the census was carried out.
  • It used to be sighted in the BalukhandKonark Wildlife Sanctuary in Puri district till 2012-13, but now has vanished from the area.
  • The numbers were 6,875 in 2020, 4,082 in 2018, 3,806 in 2015 and 2,194 in 2011, according to official sources.
  • Improvement of habitats, protection given by the local people and forest staff were some of the reasons for the increase of the population of the blackbuck in Ganjam.
  • The Blackbuck (Antilopecervicapra), or the Indian Antelope, is a species of antelope native to India and Nepal.
  • It is widespread in Rajasthan, Gujarat, Madhya Pradesh, Tamil Nadu, Odisha, and other areas throughout peninsular India.
  • It is considered as the epitome of grassland.
  • It is considered to be the fastest animal in the world next to Cheetah.
  • The blackbuck is a diurnal antelope (active mainly during the day)
  • It has been declared as the State Animal of Punjab, Haryana, and Andhra Pradesh.
  • Cultural Importance: It is a symbol of purity for Hinduism as its skin and horns are regarded as a sacred object.
  • For Buddhism, it is a symbol of good luck,Odisha’s blackbuck population has doubled in the last six years, according to figures from the latest population census released recently by the chief conservator of forest (wildlife).
  • The antelopes numbered 7,358 — 4,196 females, 1,712 males and 1,450 young, according to census figures. The census was carried out by the state forest department February 28, 2021.

Blue Finned Mahseer removed from IUCN Red List:

  • Context:The International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN) has moved Blue-finned Mahseer from Endangered to the Least Concern’ status on its Red List.
  • About: A silvery-bluish coloured fish with blood-red fins or fins tipped with a bluish tinge.
  • Very sensitive to dissolved oxygen levels, water temperature and sudden climatic changes.
  • Cannot bear pollution.Hence, it acts as an indicator of ecosystem health because its prime requirement is a clean and pure environment
  • Mainly found in the MotaMolaRiver east of Pune a part of the Krishna River basin also found in other rivers of the Deccan Plateau.
  • The species is migratory; moving upstream during rains.
  • Prefers clean, fast flowing and well oxygenated waters.
  • TATA group is involved in conservation of blue-finned and golden mahseer for 50 years in Lonavala. Around five lakh mahseer are bred at the Walvan Hatchery in Lonavala, where an artificial lake has been created.
  • Tata Power has developed an ingenious method to breed 4-5 lakh Mahseerhatchlings at a time at its Walvan Hatchery in Lonavala.
  • A huge lake is created by damming the Indrayani River. It is here that the Blue-Finned and Golden species of Mahseer congregate, attracted by the sound of the highly oxygenated water in the lake.
  • The brooder fish (that are used to spawn hatchlings) are collected from here and introduced into ponds or lakes that have gushing water falling from heights to mimic the sounds of monsoon and waterfalls (since this stimulates the brooder’s reproductive process).

Economy:

RBI Second Bimonthly Monetary Policy 2021-22:

  • Context: With the Covid-19 pandemic impacting the near-term outlook of the economy, the Monetary Policy Committee (MPC) of the RBI
  • About: Kept the key lending rate, or the repo rate, unchanged at 4% for the sixth time in a row
  • The policy panel of the RBI said the second wave of Covid-19has altered the near-term outlook, necessitating urgent policy interventions, active monitoring and further timely measures to prevent emergence of supply chain bottlenecks and build-up of retail margins.
  • Policy support from all sides – fiscal, monetary and sectoral –was required to nurture recovery and expedite return to normalcy.
  • Accordingly, the MPC decided to retain the prevailing repo rate at 4 per cent and continue with the accommodative stance as long as necessary to revive and sustain growth on a durable basis,
  • While ensuring that inflation remains within the target going forward, the panel
  • The inflation trajectory is likely to be shaped by uncertainties impinging on the upside and the downside.
  • The rising trajectory of international commodity prices, especially of crude, together with logistics costs, pose upside risks to the inflation outlook.
  • Excise duties, cess and taxes imposed by the Centre and States need to be adjusted.
  • A normal south-west monsoon along with comfortable buffer stocks should help to keep cereal price pressures in check.
  • On the other hand, recent supply side interventions are expected to ameliorate the tightness in the pulses market.
  • Further supply side measures are needed to soften pressures on pulses and edible oil prices.
  • With declining infections, restrictions and localised lockdowns across states could ease gradually and mitigate disruptions to supply chains, reducing cost pressures.
  • The central bank has scaled down the FY22 (2021-22) gross domestic product (GDP) growth to 9.5% as against the previous projection of 10.5 per cent.
  • Urban demand has been dented by the second wave, but adoption of new Covid-compatible occupational models by businesses foran appropriate working environment may cushion the hit to economic activity.
  • On the other hand, the strengthening global recovery should support the export sector.
  • Moreover, the vaccination process is expected to gather steam in the coming months and should help to normalize economic activity quickly.

Deposit insurance not available to nearly 49.1% bank accounts:

  • Context: When a bank fails, the only respite a depositor has is the insurance cover offered by the DICGC.This cover was raised to Rs 5 lakh from Rs 1 lakh, effective from February 4, 2020.
  • About: According to the Reserve Bank of India’s (RBI) latest annual report the number of fully protected accounts in banks stood at 247.8 crore at end March 2021, which is 98.1% of the total number of accounts (252.6 crore).
  • What this means that around 4.8 crore accounts do not enjoy the deposit insurance cover offered by Deposit Insurance and Credit Guarantee Corporation (DICGC).
  • The total insured deposits stood at Rs 76,21,258crore as at end-March 2021.
  • This is only 50.9% of the assessable deposits ofRs 1,49,67,776crore.
  • What this means that around 49.1% of the amount deposited with banks do not enjoy the DICGC cover
  • While the deposit insurance cover on bank deposits has been raised to Rs 5 lakh, not all deposits are covered.
  • Though this cover is available to all banks, they have to register for this facility and pay the corresponding insurance premium to keep enjoying the financial protection under this deposit insurance.
  • Banks not being registered with DICGC or not paying premium are the main reasons for deposits not being covered, according to the RBI annual report.
  • However, this can also happen in case of a higher deposit amount held by an account holder in the same right and capacity.
  • For instance, if you hold a total deposit of Rs 25 lakh in same right and capacity then the maximum cover will remain only Rs 5 lakh and remaining Rs 20 lakh deposit will not have this protection.
  • As per the annual report, five cooperative banks and one LAB(or Local Area Bank) were liquidated during the year 2020-21.
  • As per the un-audited data, the DICGC has processed claims amounting to Rs 993 crore during 2020-21 with a view to ensuring payment to insured depositors of liquidated banks under the prevailing pandemic situation.
  • Of Rs 993 crore, the Corporation has settled claims amounting to Rs 564 crore.
  • Deposit insurance provided by the DICGC covers all insured commercial banks, including LABs, PBs, SFBs, RRBs and co-operative.
  • As per the report, the number of registered insured banks stood at 2,058 as on March 31, 2021.
  • This includes 139 commercial banks out of which 43 are Regional Rural Banks (RRBs), 2 are Local Area Banks (LABs), 6 are Payment Banks (PBs) and 10 are Small Finance Banks.
  • Apart from this 1,919 co-operative banks are also registered.
  • Despite this there are good number of banks mostly co-operative which are not registered with DICGC to offer the insurance cover to their depositors.
  • If you have a deposit in a co-operative bank, you need to check if it is registered for the deposit insurance.

Sustainable Development Goals India Index 2020-21 by NITI Aayog:

  • Context:Recently, NITI Aayog released SDG India Index and Dashboard 2020–21.
  • About:SDG India Index and Dashboard 2020–21 was launched by NITI Aayog in 2018
  • Since its inaugural launch in 2018, the index has been comprehensively documenting and ranking the progress made by States and Union Territories towards achieving the Sustainable Development Goals.
  • Now in its third year (2021), the index has become the primary tool for monitoring progress on the SDGs in the country and has simultaneously fostered competition among the States and Union Territories.
  • On the theme of partnerships which is central to Goal 17, it is clear that by working together we can build a more resilient and sustainable future, where no one is left behind.
  • NITI Aayog has the twin mandate:
  • To oversee the adoption and monitoring of the SDGs in the country,
  • Promote competitive and cooperative federalism among States and UTs.
  • The SDG India Index 2020–21, developed in collaboration with the United Nations in India, tracks progress of all States and UTs
  • On 115 indicators that are aligned to MoSPI’s National Indicator Framework (NIF).
  • The process of selecting these 115 indicators included multiple consultations with Union Ministries. Feedback was sought from all States and UTs and as the essential stakeholder and audience of this localisation tool, they played a crucial role in shaping the index by enriching the feedback process with localised insights and experience from the ground.
  • The SDG India Index 2020–21 is more robust than the previous editions on account of wider coverage of targets and indicators with greater alignment with the NIF.
  • The 115 indicators incorporate 16 out of 17 SDGs, with a qualitative assessment on Goal 17,and cover 70 SDG targets.
  • This is an improvement over the 2018–19 and 2019–20 editions of the index, which had utilised 62 indicators across 39 targets and 13 Goals, and 100 indicators across 54 targets and 16 Goals, respectively.
  • The SDG India Index computes goal-wise scores on the 16 SDGs for each State and Union Territory. Overall State and UT scores are generated from goal-wise scores to measure aggregate performance of the sub-national unit based on its performance across the 16 SDGs.
  • These scores range between 0–100, and if a State/UT achieves a score of 100, it signifies it has achieved the 2030 targets. The higher the score of a State/UT, the greater the distance to target achieved.
  • Cooperative Federalism is given a boost by the methodology of Partnership, which is also Goal 17 in SDG and theme of the Index
  • It makes the environment Competitive in a healthy way, thereby making space for more growth at State levels.
  • It will help keep India at par with other countries in SDG Agenda 2030.

Security:

Project 75 India gets Defence Ministry’s nod for building 6 submarines:

  • Context:Defence Acquisition Council (DAC), headed by Defence Minister Rajnath Singh, on Friday approved the issuance of a Request For Proposal (RFP) for the construction of six conventional submarines under Project-75I at an estimated cost of 43,000 crore.
  • About: It also approved the procurement of air defence guns and ammunition for the Army at an approximate cost of 6,000 crore.
  • This would be one of the largest ‘Make in India’ projects and it will create a tiered industrial ecosystem for submarine construction in India
  • With this approval, India would be enabled to achieve its 30-year submarine construction programme envisioned by the government to acquire national competence in their building and for Indian industry to independently design and construct them.
  • The SP model of the Defence Procurement Procedure (DPP) aims to promote the role of Indian industry in manufacturing and build a domestic defence industrial ecosystem.
  • The modernisation of the Army’s air defence guns has been a long pending proposal and the DAC accorded approval for the procurement of the guns and ammunition under the Buy & Make (Indian) category of the procurement procedure.
  • The Defence Ministry said that responses from about a dozen Indian companies had been received and “all of them have expressed their willingness and commitment to manufacture this complex gun system and associated equipment by ensuring technology assimilation in India.

Operation Dunhammer by CIA – USA spied on top European political leaders with Denmark’s help

  • Context: Denmark’s secret service helped the US National Security Service (NSA) spy on European politicians including German chancellor Angela Merkel from 2012 to 2014
  • About: It was revealed by Danish public service broadcaster DR in a report.
  • According to DR, the Defence Intelligence Service (FE) collaborated with US NSA to gather information on officials from Germany, France, Sweden and Norway.
  • The findings are the result of a 2015 internal investigation in the Danish Defence Intelligence Service into NSA’s role in the partnership with Denmark’s foreign intelligence unit
  • According to the investigation, the US National Security Agency (NSA) used a collaboration with FE to eavesdrop on Danish information cables,
  • To spy on senior officials in Sweden, Norway, France and Germany from 2012 to 2014.
  • In addition to Merkel, the NSA also spied on then-German Foreign Minister Frank-Walter Steinmeier and former German
  • Denmark, a close US ally, hosts several key landing stations for subsea internet cables to and from Sweden, Norway, Germany, the Netherlands and the United Kingdom.
  • The investigation found the NSA had access to extensive data streams that run through internet cables to and from Denmark and intercepted everything from text messages and telephone calls to internet traffic including searches, chats and messaging services.
  • The FE launched the internal investigation – code-named “Operation Dunhammer” – following concerns about Edward Snowden’s leaks in 2013 revealing how the NSA works.
  • But upon receiving the Dunhammer findings, FE’s top management at the time did not scrap the collaboration with the NSA

International Relations:

France Mali Relations – Macron Government said Mali elections must remain Absolute Priority:

  • Context:The French government warned Mali’s military leaders that holding free elections next year must remain an “absolute priority,” after a second coup in the West African country in less than a year
  • About:The warning comes after Mali was suspended from the Economic Community of West African States (ECOWAS) at an emergency summit meeting
  • But the group held off on imposing sanctions or insisting on a reinstatement of Mali’s deposed transitional president and prime minister, who were briefly detained
  • France agrees on the absolute priority given by ECOWAS to organising a presidential election
  • Paris had warned last week that it was considering targeted sanctions against the country’s military leaders if the transition period did not immediately return to its “normal course”.

European Union Switzerland Relations – Why Switzerland rejected an overarching EU treaty?

  • Context: Switzerland on Wednesday said goodbye to years of negotiations with the European Union over a proposed overarching agreement that would have upgraded its relations with the bloc.
  • About:The talks failed after the two sides could not agree over issues such as full access for EU citizens to the Swiss labour market. The collapse is expected to hamper future ties as the multiple existing agreements become outdated or lapse.
  • Switzerland is the EU’s fourth-largest trading partner, and is surrounded by EU countries. Around 14 lakh EU citizens live in Switzerland, which has a total population of about 85 lakh.
  • Some 3.4 lakh travel across the border to work in Swiss industries.
  • The EU is Switzerland’s biggest trading destination, with the country exporting goods and services worth 160 billion euros to the bloc in 2020.
  • Relations between the two partners rest on the foundation of over 120 separate treaties, something which has frustrated the EU for a long time.
  • Unlike the UK, Switzerland has access to the EU single market and maintains open borders.
  • For years, the EU had been pushing for an “institutional framework agreement” with Switzerland.
  • EU had circulated a fact sheet that pointed out how a lack of common rules would lead to the Alpine country losing its ‘privileged status with the bloc’s electricity system, and that the lack of a framework accord was “hampering access of Swiss air carriers to the EU’s internal market.”
  • The EU suggested that the lack of an overarching agreement could also hamper cooperation in the labour market, the health sector, education and research.
  • Talks for the sweeping agreement began in 2014, and were hastened after the Brexit referendum in 2016,
  • After EU leaders feared that the UK could cite the Swiss example as evidence for cherry-picking the benefits of the single market while remaining out of the bloc’s formal structure.
  • Both sides agreed on a draft deal in 2018, but the Swiss government asked for time to consult with domestic partners over its implementation.
  • Switzerland’s departure from the talks earned a rebuke from the EU’s executive Commission, which called the decision “unilateral”, and said that the existing bilateral agreements were “not up to speed” for current ties.
  • The Commission said it would “carefully analyze” the Swiss announcement, but insisted that anyone with access to the EU’s single market must be subject to the same conditions.

Science and Technology:

DRDO Exoskeleton Technology to turn Indian soldiers into Super Warriors:

  • Context:DRDO is developing an exoskeleton for the Indian soldiers posted in in high altitudes, it will reduce the weight of equipment carried by the soldiers.
  • About: Exoskeleton technology is being considered by major governments throughout the world for its military, which will not only have built-in advanced technology at the wearer’s disposal.
  • It minimizes the weight of various items that a soldier must transport, such as helmets, radios, night vision goggles, and body armour.
  • Exoskeletons, sometimes known as exo-suits, are devices worn by soldiers over their ordinary uniforms to increase their strength.
  • The equipment is equipped with high-powered special technologies and artificial intelligence to improve a soldier’s capabilities.
  • They can be built of stiff materials like metal and carbon fiber, or soft and elastic ones like rubber.
  • An exo-suit fitted on a soldier increases his extra load carrying capability by 100kg with 8hr operating time and 4hr battery backup
  • Solider wear a leg-gear that assists them in walking in the snow at high altitude
  • Reduces fatigue and exhaustion in a thin oxygen climate, load burden and injuries.
  • The DRDO Lab is conducting research and development in bioengineering and electro medical technologies in order to improve the strength of Indian soldiers.
  • DEBEL, the exoskeleton’s nodal lab, is utilizing in-house expertise in biomedical and biomechanics, actuators, and control systems.
  • The DRDO has been working on several design techniques.
  • For the design of augmentative exoskeletons, there have primarily been two approaches: passive/unpowered augmentative exoskeletons and powered augmentative exoskeletons.
  • Unlike passive exoskeletons, which rely on passive components such as springs and dampeners to transfer payload to the ground, active exoskeletons not only transmit payload to the ground but also impart energy through actuators, resulting in lower troop energy consumption.

Indian Variant of Coronavirus named DELTA by WHO – How do viruses get their name?

  • Context: The World Health Organization (WHO) announced a new naming system that it devised for so called variants of interest and variants of concern, the forms of the SARS-CoV-2 virus with important mutations.
  • About: Each variant will be given a name from the Greek alphabet, in a bid to both simplify the public discussion and to strip some of the stigma from the emergence of new variants.
  • A country may be more willing to report it has found a new variant if it knows the new version of the virus will be identified as Rho or Sigma, rather than with the country’s name
  • Letters of the Greek alphabet to refer to the variants.
  • Under the new scheme, B.1.1.7, the variant first identified in Britain, will be known as Alpha and B.1.351, the variant first spotted in South Africa, will be Beta.
  • 1, the variant first detected in Brazil, will be Gamma andB.1.671.2, variant first found in India is Delta, while earlier found variant in the country will be known as ‘Kappa’.
  • The labels were chosen by WHO following wide consultation and a review of various potential naming systems.
  • In fact, the WHO convened an expert group of partners from around the world for this purpose.
  • This group included individuals specializing in existing naming systems, nomenclature and virus taxonomic experts,researchers and national authorities.
  • When the 24 letters of the Greek alphabet have been exhausted, another series like it will be announced.
  • A plan to simplify the nomenclature of the variants has been in the works for several months, led by the WHO’s VirusEvolution Working Group.
  • But it was surprisingly tricky to come up with an acceptable system
  • The initial plan was to create a bunch of two-syllable names that aren’t words — portmanteaus.
  • But it quickly became apparent that too many were actually already claimed — some were the names of companies or locations, others were family names.
  • Combining three syllables didn’t solve the problem and four syllables became unwieldy.
  • The Government of India issued an advisory to social media platforms asking them to remove all content referring to the B.1.617.2 strain as the ‘Indian variant’.
  • Similar directions were issued by authorities in Singapore over references to the ‘Singapore variant’ of the virus on social media

China confirms first human case of H10N3 bird flu strain – Is it a beginning of next pandemic?

  • Context: A 41-year-old man in China’s eastern province of Jiangsu has been confirmed as the first human case of infection with a rare strain of bird flu known as H10N3,Beijing’s National Health Commission (NHC).
  • About: Influenza — also known as the flu — is a contagious viral infection that attacks your respiratory system.
  • Influenza viruses that infect humans can be classified into three main groups: A, B, and C.
  • Type A influenza infection can be serious and cause widespread outbreaks and disease.
  • At least 131 different subtypes of influenza A virus have been detected in nature,
  • All but two of which can infect birds, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), United States.
  • The influenza A virus has two proteins on its surface –hemagglutinin (H) and neuraminidase (N)
  • Both H & N have 18 and 11 different subtypes respectively, leading to different combinations such as H3N2 and H7N9.
  • There are some strains which only infect birds, while others can infect birds as well as mammals such as pigs,dogs, horses and also humans.
  • Wild aquatic birds are the natural hosts for most of these subtypes, but the infection generally does not cause sickness in these birds.
  • Poultry birds such as chickens are more adversely affected.
  • Mostly, humans have only experienced infections by three different H types (H1, H2 and H3), and two different N types (N1 and N2).
  • Presently, two subtypes, H1N1 and H3N2, circulate among human beings, causing the seasonal flu epidemics.
  • Since these strains are well adapted to humans, they are referred to as human flu rather than bird flu
  • H10N3 is low pathogenic, which means it causes relatively less severe disease in poultry and is unlikely to cause a large scale outbreak, the Beijing’s National Health Commission (NHC) said.
  • The man, a resident of the city of Zhenjiang, was hospitalized and diagnosed with H10N3.
  • It did not give details on how the man was infected.

What is Optogenetics and how it can help blind people?

  • Context:A team of researchers has successfully restored partial vision to a blind man using a new kind of gene therapy, according to a recent study published in the journal Nature Medicine.This is the first case of partial functional recovery in a neurodegenerative disease after optogenetic therapy.
  • About: The term “optogenetics” was first introduced in 2006 by Deisserothet al. and it broadly refers to an elegant approach that utilizes genetic engineering and optical technology to control and monitor biological functions of isolated or in situ cells, tissues, organs or organisms, modified to express photosensitive proteins.
  • It is a mutation-independent approach for restoring sight that combines an injection of an optogenetic virus and light-stimulating goggles.
  • Scientists had previously used it on animals before the clinical trial was launched.
  • Researchers have been working for more than a decade on optogenetic therapies to restore vision to people with degenerative eye diseases.
  • The therapy involves using a light-sensitive protein to make nerve cells fire off a signal to the brain when hit with a certain wavelength of light.
  • Optogenetic therapy may help people who have lost their sight from many diseases regardless of the gene changes that cause them.
  • Such diseases potentially include macular degeneration, which affects millions of people worldwide.
  • When light enters the eye, they are caught by photoreceptors that send an electrical signal to the ganglion cells. These ganglion cells then send the signal to the optic nerves that further push those signals to the brain to carry out the function.
  • Scientists also invented a special device to “transform visual information from the external world into amber light that could be recognized by the ganglion cells.”
  • According to the paper, the goggles used could scan their field of view thousands of times a second and send a pulse of light into the eye creating an image of the object in the brain.
  • Optogenetic therapy is different from traditional gene therapy, which replaces a faulty version of a gene with a healthy one. It is also different from gene editing, which uses molecular tools such as CRISPR/Cas9 to fix disease-causing variants in particular genes.
  • In 2017, the U.S. Food and Drug Administration approved a traditional gene therapy that treats a rare forms of inherited blindness caused by mutations in the RPE65 gene.
  • And other researchers are doing clinical trials of gene editing to correct one particular mutation that causes an inherited form of blindness called Leber congenital amaurosis.