Polity & Governance
- Memorandum of Procedure for judicial postings nearing completion
- Hyperloop Transportation: With two companies showing interest, programme gathers momentum
Environment & Ecology
- Though the net tightens, India remains hub for turtle trade
- Black rhinos on the brink of extinction
- Two endangered plant species spotted
- Pests eat away India’s 35% of total crop yield: ICAR scientist
Bilateral & International Relations
- China’s ‘neighbouring base’ in Djibouti worries U.S.
- India, Germany ratify social security agreement
Key Facts for Prelims
- First robot table tennis tutor sets Guinness record
- Mumbai richest Indian city with wealth of $820 billion
- RAHAT medical project
- Radhanagar beach featured in top 10 beaches of World
Polity & Governance
Memorandum of Procedure for judicial postings nearing completion
The Supreme Court Collegium is engaged in exhaustive consultations to finalise the long-pending Memorandum of Procedure (MoP) for appointment of judges and draft clauses which once created an impasse between the highest judiciary and the government.
Highlights of the MoP draft:
- To implement the judicial direction to “widen the zone of consideration”, the latest MoP draft wants all Supreme Court and High Court judges to be able to recommend names to their respective collegiums.
- Chief Ministers should also have the right to recommend names to the respective High Court collegiums. Similarly, the Attorney General should be allowed to recommend the names of judges to the Supreme Court at the Centre and Advocate-General of States to their respective State High Courts.
- These High Court committees would screen the names of the candidates, their backgrounds, the number of cases they have argued as lawyers, etc. before forwarding them to the High Court collegium.
- Once the High Court collegium clears certain names, they would be sent to a similar appraisal committee at the Supreme Court.
- This apex-level committee would again sift through the names before they are finally referred to the SC collegium.
- The government reasons that the two-fold vetting process – one by the respective High Court appraisal committee and then by the Supreme Court committee – would ensure transparency in judicial appointments.
- The government has further asked the judiciary to fix an age for High Court judgeship and make it “non-flexible.” It also wants the mechanism for redressing complaints against judges to remain within the judiciary.
- In October, 2015, a Constitution Bench led by Justice J.S. Khehar had revived the collegium after declaring the government’s NJAC law unconstitutional.
- The Bench then went on to invite public opinion on ways to improve the opaque collegium system of judicial appointments.
- After receiving over 11,500 views from the public, the Bench had summarised them and tasked the government to draft a new MoP on December 16, 2015.
- The government had submitted MoP to the collegium in August 2016 and tis had created impasse between the court and the government. No progress was made over this.
- The draft is currently with Chief Justice of India T.S. Thakur and awaiting the judges’ approval.
- The past months have seen a stalemate with the judiciary raising objections against the earlier government drafts of the MoP.
Though both the judiciary and the government have maintained that the pendency of the MoP would not stand in the way of judicial appointments, an amicable resolution to that issue would clear the air on the procedure for appointments of judges to the higher judiciary.[Ref: The Hindu]
Hyperloop Transportation: With two companies showing interest, programme gathers momentum
US-based Hyperloop Transportation Technologies (HTT) is in talks with five Indian states to build a high-speed travel network and will also raise $100 million to invest in the country.
- The company has so far invested $32 million in the project and is already in various stages of implementation in UAE, Slovakia and the US.
- It will take an investment between $20-40 million per km for building HTT’s network.
- The idea is to build network between important cities like Mumbai and Delhi or Mumbai and Bengaluru in such a way that the journey time gets reduced to as low as an hour.
What is hyperloop transportation system?
- It is a transportation system where a pod-like vehicle is propelled through a near-vacuum tube connecting cities at speeds matching that of an aircraft.
- The hyperloop system is being designed to transport passengers and freight.
- The Hyperloop is a concept proposed by billionaire inventor Elon Musk, CEO the aerospace firm SpaceX.
- US-based Hyperloop Transport Technology (HTT) claimed it costs $40 million per kilometre to build a hyperloop system while building a high-speed train line would cost almost twice.
How it operates?
- In hyperloop transportation, custom-designed capsules or pods are expected to zip smoothly through continuous steel tubes which are held at partial vacuum.
- The pod which sandwiches the passenger compartment between an air compressor upfront and a battery compartment in the rear is supported by air caster skis at the bottom.
- The skis float on a thin layer of air provided under high pressure, eliminating rolling resistance and allowing for movement of the pods at high speeds. These capsules are expected to be driverless with estimated speeds of 1,000 km/h.
- Linear induction motors that are placed along the tube control the speed of the pod. Electronically-assisted acceleration and braking determines the speed of the capsule.
Why is it important?
- Developments in traditional high speed railway technology have not made much progress in recent years.
- From steam to diesel to electric, locomotives have come up against the physical constraints of weight and drag.
- Frictional losses too come into play when a vehicle relies on wheels. As speeds accelerate, mechanical wear and tear leads to high maintenance costs.
- Maglev (magnetic levitation), which was expected to provide a solution has not gained traction. High-power consumption, accidents and technical challenges have hampered its progress.
In Hyperloop, during the pod’s journey, an inlet fan and compressor push high pressure air from the nose to tail. This action and the partial vacuum which eliminates most of the drag, boosts the speed. Low power consumption and reliance on existing infrastructure after re-engineering, are big positives.[Ref: LiveMint, Indian Express]
Environment & Ecology
Though the net tightens, India remains hub for turtle trade
According to a report, India continues to bear the ignominy of being the source of the illegal trade and export of tortoises and freshwater turtles (TFT).
- The study finds that 14 species were being commercially harvested — nine more in 1993, when a similar study was conducted.
- Overall, there were 223 reported seizures by authorities between 2011-15.
- The detection of a staggering 58,442 smuggled amphibians over five years, demonstrates the persistence of the illegal trade despite increasing enforcement.
- Most of the seizures were in India, while the rest were from Bangladesh, Thailand and China. Of the amphibians seized, the turtles were established as having come from India.
Turtle trade in India:
- Within India, the Gangetic Plains accounted for 46% of all seizures, with Lucknow and Kanpur being major hubs.
- Researchers said this was linked to tightening of the enforcement (including an active Special Task Force) in Uttar Pradesh and the Gangetic belt.
- There is a tradition of turtle poaching in this area given the diversity of TFT population along the river.
- Apart from the Ganga and its tributaries, TFTs have been poached in rivers of the Western Ghats and, in smaller numbers, in the Eastern Ghats.
- The cities of Mumbai, Chennai and Kolkata have seen large-scale seizures, suggesting accumulation before export, the researchers said.
- While domestic consumption of turtle meat in West Bengal and Bangladesh continues, it is the international export to south-east Asian countries and China that rake in profits for smugglers.
Why there is a surge in trade of turtles?
While enforcement has become stricter, the ease of transporting thousands of turtle hatchlings in bags has led the trade to continue unhindered. The species are poached by fishermen in streams, ponds and rivers. Very rarely are the traded species bred — they are mostly taken from the wild. It reaches middlemen who have strong networks to smuggle them across international borders. Turtles and tortoises are taken in trucks, buses and trains towards Bangladesh or through airports to south-east Asia.[Ref: The Hindu]
Black rhinos on the brink of extinction
As per the experts, Black rhinos are being driven to extinction as the ‘unprecedented’ high price of rhino horns leads to an explosion of poaching.
- Rhinos are slaughtered for their horns to be used in Chinese medicine – with just 5,000 black rhinos left in the wild.
- Poachers threaten the remaining rhinos as their horns reach an ‘unprecedented and steadily rising’ value.
- As the value of rhinoceros horn touches $65,000 per kg, poaching has begun to drive the African black rhinoceros to “the verge of extinction” – not just by reducing its population size, but by erasing 70% of the species genetic diversity.
- The horn is also in demand for making traditional dagger handles in Yemen.
- As well as the threat to numbers, the fragmentation of rhino populations is leading to a narrower range of genes. This process means that even if humans stop poaching they will be less able to resist disease and become increasingly inbred.
- The black rhino is now found in just five countries – South Africa, Namibia, Kenya, Zimbabwe and Tanzania.
- There has been a ‘massive decline’ in genetic diversity among black rhinos as 44 of 64 genetic lineages no longer exist.
- Hunting and habitat loss has reduced the evolutionary potential of the black rhinoceros dramatically over the last 200 years.
Importance of Genetic variation:
- Genetic variation is the cornerstone of evolution, without which there can be no natural selection, and so a low genetic diversity decreases the ability of a species to survive and reproduce.
- Greater the genetic diversity, the better is the population’s ability to respond to pressures such as climate change and diseases.
Two endangered plant species spotted
In a major breakthrough in eco-conservation, two new critically endangered balsams (impatiens) plant species were spotted on the peripheries of the Eravikulam National Park in Kerala.
- Impatiens plants are also called jewel weeds.
- They are seen in pristine forests where moisture content and relative humidity are high.
- The new species of balsams (impatiens) Impatiens Mankulamensis and Impatiens panduranganii were discovered from the shola forests on the periphery of the park and Mankulam forests.
- Impatiens panduranganii was first noticed in 2015 during a research on impatiens in the Pettimudi area.
- The plant normally flowers in the rainy season of July to October. The flowers are white in colour with a pink border.
- They have been included in the critically endangered category of International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN).
Pests eat away India’s 35% of total crop yield: ICAR scientist
According to Indian Council of Agricultural Research (ICAR) scientist, pests eat away about 30-35% of the annual crop yield in India.
- Such large-scale crop-loss is having an adverse effect on the agricultural biosafety which is paramount to food security of the country.
- Among such pests, nematodes (microscopic worms many of which are parasites) have emerged as a major threat to crops in the country.
- They are causing loss of crops to the tune of almost 60 million tonnes or 10-12 % of crop production every year.
- Indian farmers are still not fully aware about these potential crop-destroyers.
- In the past particular kind of nematode had affected plants such as potatoes and tomatoes in India.
- The Potato Cyst Nematode was first discovered in Nilgiris and now has spread to various parts of the country.
Bilateral & International Relations
China’s ‘neighbouring base’ in Djibouti worries U.S.
China and the United States, two strategic rivals are about to become neighbours in this sun-scorched patch of East African desert.
China is constructing its first overseas military base in Djibouti — just a few miles from Camp Lemonnier, one of the Pentagon’s largest and most important foreign installations.
Why is US worried?
- Established after the terrorist attacks of Sept. 11, 2001, Camp Lemonnier is home to 4,000 personnel. Some are involved in highly secretive missions.
- U.S. strategists worry that a naval port so close to Camp Lemonnier could provide a front-row seat to the staging ground for U.S. counterterrorism operations in the Arabian Peninsula and North Africa.
- The base, which is run by the Navy and abuts Djibouti’s international airport, is the only permanent U.S. military installation in Africa.
- Chinese officials play down the significance of the base, saying it will largely support anti-piracy operations that have helped quell the threat to international shipping once posed by marauding Somalis.
- The support facility will be mainly used to provide rest and rehabilitation for the Chinese troops taking part in escort missions in the Gulf of Aden and waters off Somalia, UN peacekeeping and humanitarian rescue.
Where is Dijbouti located?
- Djibouti, officially the Republic of Djibouti, is a country located in the Horn of Africa.
- It is bordered by Eritrea in the north, Ethiopia in the west and south, and Somalia in the southeast.
- The remainder of the border is formed by the Red Sea and the Gulf of Aden at the east.
India, Germany ratify social security agreement
India and Germany have ratified a comprehensive Social Security Agreement (SSA) to improve investment flows between the two countries.
- The SSA establishes the rights and obligations of nationals of both countries and provides for equal treatment and unrestricted payment of pensions even in case of residence in the other contracting state.
- It also integrates the provisions of the 2008 social insurance pact and is expected to reduce the operational costs of companies on both countries active in either of the countries.
- Under it, requirements to be entitled to pension can be met by aggregating periods of insurance completed in India and Germany, whereby each country only pays pension for insurance periods covered by its laws.
- It will favourably impact the profitability and competitive position of Indian and German companies with foreign by reducing their cost of doing business abroad.
- It will also help promote more investment flows between the two countries.
- India and Germany had earlier signed an Agreement on Social Insurance in October 2008.
- It exempted detached workers of the two countries from making social security contributions in either countries as long as they were making such contributions in their respective countries.
- Later, both countries, negotiated for a wider encompassing SSA including totalisation of benefits and was signed in October 2011.
- So far, India has signed and operationalised similar agreements with 18 countries, including Australia, Canada, France, South Korea, Belgium and Japan.
Key Facts for Prelims
First robot table tennis tutor sets Guinness record
- The world’s first robot table tennis tutor named FORPHEUS in Japan has set a new Guinness World Record for its uncanny ability of being able to play the game better than most humans.
- It has been given the Guinness title for its unique technological intelligence and educational capabilities.
- FORPHEUS stands for Future Omron Robotics Technology for Exploring Possibility of Harmonised aUtomation with Sinic Theoretics.
- Its goal is to harmonise humans and robots, by way of teaching the game of table tennis to human players.
- It has cutting-edge vision and motion sensors which it uses to gage movement during a match.
Mumbai richest Indian city with wealth of $820 billion
- According to New World Wealth, India’s financial capital Mumbai, is the richest Indian city with a total wealth of $820 billion.
- Mumbai is followed by Delhi and Bengaluru in the second and third place, respectively.
- Mumbai, which is home to 46,000 millionaires and 28 billionaires, is the richest Indian city with a total wealth of $820 billion.
- The total wealth held in the country amounts to USD 6.2 trillion (as of December 2016) and the country is home to 264,000 millionaires and 95 billionaires in total.
RAHAT medical project
- Rajasthan government inaugurated a medical project Rajasthan Heart Attack Treatment programme (RAHAT).
- The programme is a ST-Elevation Myocardial Infarction (STEMI), a very serious type of heart attack, management telemedicines platform that captures and transmits patient’s EKG along with clinical history from remote geographical locations to heart command center hub.
- A team of expert cardiologists at HCC-Hub provided immediate EKG interpretation and real time STEMI guidance and management via tele-consultation by instantly recognising fatal EKG abnormalities.
- The projects will enhance the medical services in the state.
Radhanagar beach featured in top 10 beaches of World
- Andaman and Nicobar Islands’ Radhanagar beach has featured among the top 10 beaches of the World.
- The list was released by TripAdvisor, an American travel website company.
- Radhanagar beach on the Havelock Island in the Andamans has secured 8th position and topped in Asia.
- The Baia do Sancho Fernando de Noronha in Brazil topped the list followed by Grace Bay Providenciales in Turks and Caicos, Eagle Beach in Aruba.
- Goa’s Agonda beach was placed at No 5 positon.
- TripAdvisor honoured 343 beaches, including the top 25 in the world.
- They were ranked based on the quantity and quality of traveller reviews and ratings for beaches on TripAdvisor, gathered over a 12-month period.