Polity & Governance
- Jews in Maharashtra get minority status
- Bill nixed due to wrong definition of Manipuri
- India retains tenth spot among FDI destinations
Environment & Ecology
- Centre’s draft forest policy moots green cess
- Govt okays Rs 58 crore to mitigate NH-17 widening impact on Karnala Bird Sanctuary
- Nayak panel for dilution of coastal safety rules
- Vizag Port declared as second gateway port for Nepal
Science & Technology
- India sets new record in space mission; PSLV C34 successfully injects 20 satellites into orbit
- ISRO gears up to test scramjet engine
- Human trial of Zika vaccine to start soon
Polity & Governance
Jews in Maharashtra get minority status
The Maharashtra State Cabinet approved the decision to grant minority status to the Jews, a demand pending for many years.
- Jews in Maharashtra are now a minority community.
- The decision is based on the Maharashtra State Minorities Commission Act, 2004, which empowers the government to declare a community minority.
- According to the application made by the Indian Jewish Federation to the government, the Jewish population in the State stood at 2,000-2,500.
- However, the government does not have any official number of the Jewish population because the community was counted among the other religions.
- Now, the Jews can be counted independently as a religious minority. They can avail of all the schemes meant for minorities.
- In October 2006, the State government declared Muslims, Christians, Sikhs, Buddhists, Parsis and Jains as religious minorities.
Bill nixed due to wrong definition of Manipuri
A contentious legislation passed by the Manipur Assembly last year to define who is a “Manipuri” was rejected by President Pranab Mukherjee recently as the definition was found to be “incorrect”.
On which grounds the definition is found incorrect?
- The definition of a “Manipuri” proposed by the State was based on the census conducted in 1951, which is flawed as the census exercise that year did not cover the entire State.
- The infrastructure at that time was not enough and many people were left out in the process. The computation was not exhaustive.
- If the 1951 records are considered, half of the tribes would be declared stateless.
- The other ground on which the Bill was rejected was that it was passed by the Assembly as a “Money Bill” and not sent to the Hill Areas Committee for consultation.
Definition as per the bill:
- As per the Bill, “Manipur people means persons of Manipur whose names are in the National Register of Citizens, 1951, Census report 1951 and village directory of 1951 and their descendants who have contributed to the collective social, cultural and economic life of Manipur.”
- The passage of this Bill with two others, The Manipur Land Revenue and Land Reforms (Seventh Amendment Bill), 2015 and The Manipur Shops and Establishments (Second Amendment Bill) 2015 in September 2015, had triggered violence last year, leading to the death of nine people. Their bodies are still being preserved by their families in protest.
- Manipur merged with India on October 15, 1949. Before the merger, entry into the State was regulated by a permit system, which was later abolished.
India retains tenth spot among FDI destinations
According to the United Nations, India has retained its ranking as the tenth-highest recipient of foreign direct investment in 2015.
- India received $44 billion of investment in 2015 compared to $35 billion in 2014.
- The World Investment Report 2016 released by the United Nations Conference on Trade and Development (UNCTAD) found that India also jumped a place in terms of attractiveness as a business destination in 2015, to sixth place, with 14% of the respondents naming it as their destination of choice.
Environment & Ecology
Centre’s draft forest policy moots green cess
The Environment Ministry has proposed a new policy for the management of forests that among other things proposes a green cess to promote “ecologically responsible behaviour” and called on the government to promote the sustainable use of wood.
- The new policy will replace the existing one that has been guiding the government to manage forests since 1988.
Highlights of the new policy:
- The new forest policy emphasises that the government “must double tree cover, outside forests, within a decade.”
- It suggests that governments must “switch focus from forests to landscapes, from canopy cover to healthy ecosystems, from substituting wood to promoting sustainable wood use, from participatory approaches to empowerment, from joint forest management to community forest management and from qualitative policy statements to a results-based policy framework.”
- It proposes a national implementation framework to be in place within six months of the notification, and exhorts States to draft their state forest policies and prepare an implementation framework.
- India has set an ambitious target of bringing a third of its geographical area under forest-and-tree cover within a decade, up from the current one-fourth. The policy acknowledges it but recommends that this be done by replenishing these lands with native species rather than “introducing exotic species.”
- The forest policy recommends mitigating human-wildlife conflicts by taking up habitat enrichment, providing adequate and timely compensation in case of injury or loss of human life, property, crop damage or livestock casualties and developing teams of well-equipped and trained forest personnel.
- The policy also proposes to levy environmental cess, green tax, carbon tax etc. on certain products and services for facilitating ecologically responsible behaviour, garnering citizen’s contribution and supplementing financial resources.
- The draft policy also called for developing “sound eco-tourism models” with the focus on conservation while supplementing the livelihood needs of local communities.
- According to the policy, governments and stakeholders must shift from regulating to promoting cultivation, harvesting, transportation and marketing of wood.
Significance of the use of wood:
- According to the policy, the promotion of wood use, obtained from sustainably-managed forests and trees, would play a positive role in mitigating climate change and ensuring sustainable living.
- Wood has a significantly lower carbon footprint than many of the substitutes that consume fossil fuels in their production.
- Use of wood also has the potential to create new green jobs by giving a boost to indigenous manufacturing using locally grown raw material.
- An independent expert said promoting the use of wood outside forests could incentivise forest dwellers to not gather firewood from forests.
Govt okays Rs 58 crore to mitigate NH-17 widening impact on Karnala Bird Sanctuary
The National Highways Authority of India (NHAI) is setting aside about Rs 58 crore for a plan to mitigate the impact of a road project on the Karnala Bird Sanctuary (KBS).
- The government is widening a part of Panvel – Indapur section of the Mumbai-Goa highway, 1.5 km of which passes through the sanctuary.
- This section constitutes the direct connectivity from Mumbai to Goa.
- NHAI’s plan also includes other wildlife management measures like retaining wall, fencing, signages and watch towers, besides provision of water for wildlife.
- The major mitigation measures being adopted by NHAI, as per the recommendations of the Wildlife Institute of India, include four wildlife passages (each 30 m wide and 3.5 m high) in the 1.5 km sanctuary stretch.
- Besides, seven number of box culverts (3m wide and 3m high) are also being provided. As there are no large animals in the KBS, box culverts may also create permeability for wildlife across habitat patches.
- Earlier, the State Government had endorsed the proposal of widening the highway within the sanctuary, saying that this may also smoothen the traffic and reduce the fuel emissions from recurring traffic jams that may be harmful to the birds and other wildlife.
About Karnala Bird Sanctuary (KBS):
The Karnala Bird Sanctuary has a moist, mixed deciduous forest and falls under the Thane wildlife division of West Mumbai Wildlife Circle. It also forms part of the Western Ghat bio-geographic zone.
- The sanctuary is particularly rich in climbers and as many as 11 species are recorded from KBS.
- Among mammals, three species of primates (Common Langur, Bonnet Macaque and Rhesus macaque) are occurring in the sanctuary.
- Barking Deer, Wild Pig, Jackals, Hyaena, Jungle Cat, Squirrel, Porcupine and Indian Hare are reported from the sanctuary.
- KBS is particularly known for its rich avifauna and is home to over 146 species of resident and 37 species of migratory birds that visit during winter.
- Rare endemic birds of Western Ghats such as Malabar grey Hornbill, Ashy Minivet, three-toed Kingfisher and Malabar Trogon are reported from Sanctuary.
- Among other significant bird species, the records of Malabar Whistling Thrush, long-billed Vulture, Indian Scimitar Babbler and Shaheen Falcon are significant.
Nayak panel for dilution of coastal safety rules
The Shailesh Nayak Committee of the environment ministry has proposed several relaxations in the coastal zone regulations.
- The Nayak committee report has not been implemented so far.
Highlights of the report:
- The Nayak committee report recommended that except for activities covered under environmental clearances, the state governments and the local authorities should be left in charge of managing coasts in towns, rural areas as well as the waters up to 12 nautical miles.
Demands of the states:
- The panel has gone with most demands of the states, such as that of Maharashtra, to let the states decide the floor area ratio (FAR) according to town and country planning decisions, rather than the coastal regulations freezing it.
Reclamation of land:
- The committee also mentions reclamation of the sea bed in CRZ IV (coastal stretches in the Andaman & Nicobar, Lakshadweep and small islands, except those designated as CRZ-I, CRZ-II or CRZ-III) area for “ports and harbour, fisheries-related activities and other infrastructure required in the larger public interest such as bridges, sea-links on stilts, roads, important national installations related to coastal security, tourism.”
Rehabilitation and redevelopment of slums:
- It had recommended that states be allowed to do rehabilitation and redevelopment of slums according to their plans, rather than via the 2011 coastal regulations.
- Recommending relaxation of regulations for the tourism industry in the coastal states, the committee said temporary tourism facilities can be set up in no-development zones. Such tourist facilities can be built on a permanent basis as well on the landward sides of national or state highways cutting through these zones.
Role of centre and other regulatory authorities:
- The panel has suggested that the centre’s role and that of the state level specialised coastal regulatory authorities should be to conserve the ecologically sensitive areas and set the standards and make the demarcations necessary for implementation of the policy.
- It has recommended a conservation, protection and management framework for ecologically fragile area with dense mangroves, coral reefs, nesting grounds.
No development zones:
- For rural coast lines the committee has recommended that areas with density higher than 2,161 persons per square kilometre, the no development zones should be limited to 50 metres and for others to 200 metres of the high tide line. Housing development with standard restrictions for environmental protection should be allowed beyond these limits.
- The report commissioned in June 2014 to relook at the coastal regulations was submitted in January 2015. It was kept under wraps since then by the environment ministry. The report was released in June 2016, 18 months after the first Right to Information application was filed.
The coastal regulations of 2011:
The coastal regulations were last amended in 2011.
- The amendment did not go down well with most coastal states. The states had protested strongly about the impediment the regulations would have on development.
- The 2011 regulations required development of coastal development plans, which have been pending ever since with the Centre extending the timeline for finishing these.
- One of the limitations that the 2011 central regulations put in place was to tie private developers to work jointly with governments for the redevelopment projects.
What is CRZ-I, CRZ-II, CRZ-III?
- CRZ-I pertains to places that are ecologically sensitive areas between 0 to 100 metres.
- CRZ-II covers areas that have already been developed up to or close to the shoreline.
In Goa, the coastal areas in Mormugao municipality and corporation of the city of Panaji fall under CRZ-II.
- The areas beyond, between 100 metres to 500 metres fall under CRZ-III. CRZ-III covers areas that are relatively undisturbed and those which do not belong to either Category-I or II. These will include coastal zone in the rural areas (developed and undeveloped) and also areas within municipal limits or in other legally designated urban areas which are not substantially built up.
Implications if recommendations will be implemented:
- The relaxations regarding construction could provide a boost to real estate, ports and tourism sectors in coastal states.
- The changes could lead to a largely diminished role for the central government and the central environmental rules over coastal areas.
- State government would get a larger say through their town and country planning departments.
- Rural coastal zones, too, could get greater room to develop under such a revised regime, when compared to the restrictions in place.
Vizag Port declared as second gateway port for Nepal
Visakhapatnam Port has been declared as the second gateway port for Nepal after Kolkata-Haldia.
- Visakhapatnam Port has the deepest container terminal among major ports with permissible draft of 15 metres and LOA up to 320 metres.
- The movement of traffic-in-transit between Port of Visakhapatnam and Nepal will be in sealed containers and in full rake only and the cost of transhipment will be borne by the consignor/consignee.
- Most of the transit cargo of Nepal will be from China.
- India and Nepal signed the agreement recently to provide the additional transit facility to Nepal through the Visakhapatnam Port as second gateway port.
- The agreement provides for transport of the cargo through the rail route connecting Visakhapatnam-Jogbani or/and Visakhapatnam-Birgunj. In addition to the rail route, four road routes have been identified.
Science & Technology
India sets new record in space mission; PSLV C34 successfully injects 20 satellites into orbit
Indian Space Research Organization (ISRO) successfully used its PSLV-C34 to inject 20 satellites including 17 foreign satellites into orbit in a single mission and set a new record by breaking its own record.
How is it called a new record?
- ISRO set a world record for the highest number of satellites launched in a single mission when it placed 10 satellites in a PSLV on April 28, 2008.
- However, NASA in 2013 placed 29 satellites in a single mission and Russia in 2014 launched 33 satellites in one launch.
- The Polar Satellite Launch Vehicle (PSLV-C34) took off on its 36th flight from the Satish Dhawan Space Centre with 20 satellites including its primary payload Cartosat-2 series.
- Apart from Cartosat-2 and two other indigenous satellites, the 17 satellites launched include
- Lapan-A3 (Indonesia)
- Biros (Germany)
- M3MSat and GHGSat-D (Canada)
- SkySat Gen2-1, a Google-made satellite from USA,
- 12 Dove satellites from USA,
- It ensured that the satellites were placed with enough distance to prevent collision.
- ISRO began launching foreign satellites on board PSLV in May 1999. Since then, it has gained popularity, as it launched foreign satellites successfully using PSLV by charging only 60% of the fee charged by foreign space agencies. It has so far launched 57 foreign satellites.
- In December 2015, PSLV-C29 injected six Singapore satellites in to orbit.
- The Cartosat-2 series satellite is the primary satellite carried by PSLV-C34, provides remote sensing services, and earth observation.
- Built, launched and maintained by the ISRO, the satellite weighs around 725.5 kg.
- Cartosat-2 carries a state-of-the-art panchromatic (PAN) camera that can take black and white pictures of the earth in the visible region of the electromagnetic spectrum.
- The images sent by Cartosat satellite will be useful for cartographic, urban, rural, coastal land use, water distribution and other applications.
- The mission life of the Cartosat satellite is about 5 years.
ISRO gears up to test scramjet engine
ISRO is gearing up to test a scramjet engine based on air-breathing propulsion.
- The test flight of the indigenously-developed scramjet engine is scheduled to take place from the Satish Dhawan Space Centre at Sriharikota sometime in July.
- The test platform named Advanced Technology Vehicle (ATV), will comprise a scramjet engine hitched to a two-stage sounding rocket (RH- 560).
- The air-breathing engine will be released at a height of 70 km and ignited during the coasting phase. Apart from the hypersonic ignition at Mach 6, ISRO hopes to sustain the combustion for 5 seconds.
- The test is also expected to help ISRO achieve good thrust value with the scramjet engine.
- Maintaining combustion in hypersonic conditions poses technical challenges because the fuel has to be ignited within milliseconds.
What is a scramjet?
Scramjet is a supersonic combustion engine that uses oxygen from the atmosphere for fuel, making it lighter and faster than fuel-carrying rockets.
- This is helpful for flying at hypersonic speed – Mach 5 and above.
- These engines have no moving parts. Instead of the rotating compressor and turbine in a jet engine, air is compressed and expanded by complex systems of shockwaves under the front of the aircraft, inside the inlet and under the fuselage at the rear.
Significance of the scramjet:
- Space research organisations across the world are involved in the development of scramjet technology because it contributes to smaller launch vehicles with more payload capacity and promises cheaper access to outer space.
- While conventional rocket engines need to carry both fuel and oxidiser on board for combustion to produce thrust, scramjets obtain oxygen from the atmosphere by compressing the incoming air before combustion at supersonic speed.
Human trial of Zika vaccine to start soon
The first Phase-1 human clinical trial of a DNA vaccine (GLS-5700) for the Zika virus is set to begin in the coming weeks, with the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) green-lighting it.
- The vaccine developed by the U.S-based Inovio Pharmaceuticals and GeneOne Life Science, South Korea, has already been tested on animals and found to elicit “robust” antibody and T cell responses.
- The human trial will be carried out on 40 healthy adults to evaluate safety, tolerability and immunogenicity and the interim results are expected before the end of the year. But it may take a couple of years to know if the vaccine works against Zika.
- According to the World Health Organization (WHO), four of the 14 companies working on a candidate vaccine have reached the preclinical stage.
- Though the current Zika outbreak began in Brazil in May 2015, the impetus and urgency to develop a vaccine came about only after February 1, 2016 when the WHO declared Zika as a global public health emergency of international concern.