Issues related to Health & Education
- Genes that aid and stem spread of Sars-CoV-2
- Why India is producing less and less oil?
Environment, Ecology & Disaster Management
- Controversy related to Draft EIA notification
- Genetic aberration in dragonfly sighted at Kole wetlands
- Details about the earliest domestication of Chicken
Bilateral & International Relations
- India among Switzerland’s top partners for tax-info exchange
- N.-75 declaration delayed
- ASEAN states warn of South China Sea tensions
Key Facts for Prelims
- National Statistics Day
- New postal ballot rules
- TRIBES India products
- India-Russia Defence deals
- India-Japan Naval exercise
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Issues related to Health & Education
Genes that aid and stem spread of Sars-CoV-2
Using the gene-editing tool CRISPR-Cas9, scientists have traced some of the genes that either aid or stem the spread of Sars-CoV-2.
- The scientists snipped specific genes in cultured African green monkey cells – which are susceptible to COVID-19 – and infected those gene-edited cells with Sars-CoV-2 to identify the genes that were pro-viral or anti-viral.
- The study confirmed that the ACE2 receptor (angiotensin-converting enzyme 2) and Cathepsin L – proteins aided the virus to cause the infection.
- The genes and pathways that assist the virus in replicating include a group of proteins that help package the DNA – called the SWI/SNF chromatin remodelling complex – and components of the TGF-β (Transforming Growth Factor- Beta).
- The study also found proteins called HMGB1, which can help activate the immune system, as pro-viral.
- The study discovered that antiviral genes such as components in histones – proteins around which the DNA winds itself to fit into a cell nucleus – deterred the virus from replicating.
- Identification of host factors essential for infection is critical to inform mechanisms of COVID-19 pathogenesis.
- The screening of such genes can help understand how the pathogen replicates in the human body.
- It can point them towards potential treatments and vaccines that can target specific genes and cellular processes to stop the virus in its tracks.
Why India is producing less and less oil?
India’s crude oil production fell 7.1% in May 2020 compared to May 2019 because of low demand due to the COVID-19 pandemic.
Domestic crude oil production:
- Domestic production of crude oil in India has been falling every year since FY 2012.
- Annual crude oil production has fallen at a compounded annual rate of 2.1% since 2012 to 32,169.3 thousand Metric Tonnes (TMT) in FY 2020 from 38,089.7 TMT in FY 2012.
- This has led to a steady climb in the proportion of imports in domestic crude oil consumption from 81.8% in 2012 to 87.6% in 2020.
- Crude oil production in India is dominated by two major state-owned exploration and production companies, ONGC and Oil India.
- These companies are the key bidders for crude oil block auctions and end up acquiring most of the blocks that are put up for auction in India.
Why is production falling?
- Most of India’s crude oil production comes from ageing wells that have become less productive over time.
- A lack of new oil discoveries in India coupled with a long time to begin production from discovered wells has made India increasingly dependent on imports.
- The output of these ageing wells is declining faster than new wells can come up according to experts.
- Domestic exploration companies are attempting to extend the life of currently operational wells.
Why are there not more private players?
- There are some private players in the upstream oil sector including Cairn India and Hindustan Oil Exploration Company, but there has been a lack of interest in exploration and production in India from major private players, particularly those based abroad.
- This is because of long delays in the operationalisation of production even after an oil block is allotted due to delays in approvals.
- Some of the key approvals which are required to begin production include, environmental clearances and approval by the Directorate General of Hydrocarbons after the allottee completes a seismic survey and creates a field development plan.
- The best-case scenario from allotment to production is at least 5-7 years and even delayed beyond this timeline.
What policy changes could help?
- Existing public and private sector players have asked for reduced levies of oil production including oil cess, royalties, and profit petroleum especially when crude oil prices are below $45/barrel.
- The requirement to pay royalties to the government at low crude prices can make it unviable for these companies to invest in further oil exploration and production.
- The government introduced the Open Acreage Licensing Programme (OALP) in 2019 to allow companies to carve out blocks that they are interested in and with lower royalties and no oil cess.
- However, existing players are calling for a relaxation of royalties and oil cess on block allotted under previous policies.
- There is a suggestion for floor price to oil producers insulating them somewhat from any sharp falls in international crude prices, as being implemented in China.
[Ref: Indian Express]
Environment, Ecology & Disaster Management
Controversy related to Draft EIA notification
The draft environmental impact assessment notification issued by the Ministry of Environment Forests and Climate Change dilutes the EIA process and encourages environment violations.
What is the issue?
- The government has put up the Draft Environmental Impact Assessment (EIA) notification, 2020, issued in March 2020 for public consideration and comment.
- If the draft comes into force, it will replace the EIA Notification of 2006 for all future projects.
Controversial provisions related to the Draft EIA Notification, 2020:
1. Post-facto approval for projects:
- The draft permits post-facto approval for projects. This means that the projects can be awarded clearances, even if they have started construction or have been running without securing environmental clearances.
- Since environmental damage may have already occurred, the only remedy would be to impose a fine or punishment.
- It is feared that violations will get legitimized and the detrimental consequences on the environment will not be reversed.
2. Arbitrary power to Central government:
- The draft notification gives the central government the power to categorise projects as strategic.
- No information related to any project which is categorised strategic shall be placed in the public domain.
- Any violations can only be reported suo motu by the project proponent, or by a government authority, appraisal committee, or regulatory authority.
3. Reduction of time to submit response:
- The notification provided for the public to submit their responses to the draft in 20 days, as compared to 30 days time period.
- This will curtail the time for the preparation of views, comments and suggestions and is detrimental to the transparency and credibility of the EIA.
- Due to COVID-19, the people residing in villages & tribal areas cannot file their response in such a small duration.
4. Other issues:
- The new construction projects up to 1,50,000 square metres do not need detailed scrutiny by the Expert Committee, or EIA studies and public consultation, as opposed to existing 20,000 square metres earlier.
- The new draft requires the project proponent to submit a compliance report only once every year, as opposed to every six months (as per 2006 notification).
- This extended reporting time gives room for irreversible environmental, social or health consequences of the project.
- The basis in global environmental law for the EIA is the precautionary principle.
- Environmental harm is often irreparable, one cannot reverse an oil spill. So, it is cheaper to avoid damage to the environment than to remedy it.
- Environmental regulation must balance damage to the environment with sustainable development and possible benefits of the project, an unbiased assessment must be made on a precautionary basis before investment, jobs and infrastructure (not post-facto approval).
- The Draft EIA Notification shrinks its scope and takes away its transparency and credibility.
[Ref: EPW, Indian Express]
Genetic aberration in dragonfly sighted at Kole wetlands
A very rare biological phenomenon has been observed in the Scarlet Skimmer in the Puzhakkal area of the Kole wetlands in Thrissur, Kerala.
- The Society for Odonate Studies has been conducting Odonate surveys at the Kole wetlands since 2018.
- During a survey in 2019, they found a dragonfly which was part red and part yellow.
- Normally the male dragonflies have prominent blood-red colouration in almost all their body parts, and the female is a pale yellow with a dark brown thorax and legs.
- The very rare biological phenomenon recorded was gynandromorphism.
- Gynandromorphs are chimeric individuals having both male and female tissues and are viewed by the scientific community as a genetic aberration.
- The individual had a mix of male and female external characters, ranging from almost entirely female to about equally divided.
- The scarlet skimmer or ruddy marsh skimmer is a species of dragonfly native to east and southeast Asia.
- IUCN status: Least Concern.
Key facts on Thrissur Kole Wetlands:
- The Kole wetlands lie between the Chalakudy river in Thrissur district and Bharathapuzha river in Malappuram district, Kerala.
- These wetlands get submerged in the monsoon and cultivation is carried out in the summer months when water levels are low.
- They are fertile with Alluvium soil which is deposited by the Kechery and Karuvannoor river in the monsoon.
- It gives 40 % of Kerala’s rice requirement and acts as a natural drainage system for Thrissur city and Thrissur District.
- The Kole Wetlands is one of largest, highly productive and threatened wetlands in Kerala and it comes in Central Asian Flyway of migratory birds.
- It has been recognised as one of India’s Important Bird Areas by BirdLife International.
Details about the earliest domestication of Chicken
A recent study has revealed new details about the earliest domestication of chicken. The DNA sequencing of 863 genomes has shown the first domestication of chicken occurred in southwestern China, northern Thailand and Myanmar.
- The study involved sequencing of a large number of genomes collected worldwide, revealed single domestication from Red Jungle Fowl sub-species Gallus gallus spadiceus.
- It demonstrated that all five Red Jungle Fowl sub-species were genetically differentiated from each other approximately 50,000 years ago (much earlier than domestication), corresponding to their geographic ranges and taxonomic classifications.
- The domestic chickens were initially derived from the Red Jungle Fowl sub-species Gallus gallus spadiceus whose present-day distribution is predominantly in south-western China, northern Thailand and Myanmar.
- The results contradicted the earlier claim that chickens were domesticated in northern China and the Indus Valley.
[Ref: The Hindu]
Bilateral & International Relations
India among Switzerland’s top partners for tax-info exchange
According to the latest study by OECD’s Global Forum on transparency and exchange of information for tax purposes, India figures among the top-three countries getting detailed information from Switzerland about bank accounts and beneficiary ownership of entities established by their residents.
- As per the Global Forum, which is tasked to assess the standard of exchange of information on request by various jurisdictions worldwide and their compliance, Switzerland is rated largely compliant.
- India is also rated as largely compliant by this OECD (Organisation for Economic Cooperation and Development) body.
- Switzerland has made significant improvements in the areas of availability of legal ownership information, exchange of information on deceased persons and requests based on stolen data.
- About India itself, Switzerland has shared detailed information in more than 500 cases over the past one year regarding the accounts in Swiss financial institutions of Indian individuals and enterprises suspected to have indulged in tax frauds and other financial irregularities.
- Switzerland has entered into pacts with more than 100 countries, including India, for automatic exchange of information on tax matters.
- India, Germany and France are Switzerland’s top-3 partners for tax-info exchange.
Global Forum on Transparency and Exchange of Information for Tax Purposes:
- The Global Forum on Transparency and Exchange of Information for Tax Purposes was founded in 2000 and restructured in September 2009.
- It consists of OECD member countries as well as other jurisdictions that have agreed to implement tax-related transparency and information exchange.
- The Forum works under the auspices of the OECD and G20.
- Its mission is to implement the international standard through two phases of the peer-review process.
- It addresses tax evasion, tax havens, offshore financial centres, tax information exchange agreements, double taxation and money laundering.
- As of November 2019, the Forum had 158 member tax jurisdictions and the European Union, all on equal footing.
- Every country is peer-reviewed on these standards after review rating is awarded which may be ‘Compliant’, ‘Largely Compliant’, ‘Partly Compliant’ or ‘Non-Compliant’.
U.N.-75 declaration delayed
The commemorative declaration marking the 75th anniversary of the signing of the U.N. Charter was delayed as member states could not reach an agreement on phraseology.
What is the issue?
- The Five Eyes — the U.S., the U.K., Australia, New Zealand and Canada — along with India, objected to the use of a phrase shared vision of a common future, associated with China.
- The phrase “community with a shared future for mankind” is closely associated with the Chinese Communist Party (CPC) and especially Chinese President Xi Jinping.
- The declaration got delayed objecting to the language that is apparently inspired by the CPC ideology.
- The document stands a chance of passing on the June 26th anniversary if no objections are raised.
What is UN Charter, 1945?
- The Charter of the United Nations (or the UN Charter 1945) is the foundational treaty of the United Nations.
- The UN Charter articulated a commitment to uphold human rights of citizens and outlined a broad set of principles relating to achieving higher standards of living, addressing economic, social, health, and related problems, and universal respect for, and observance of, human rights and fundamental freedoms for all without distinction as to race, sex, language, or religion.
- As a charter, it is a constituent treaty, and all members are bound by its articles.
- It entered into force on 24 October 1945, after being ratified by the original five permanent members of the United Nations Security Council— China, France, Russia, UK and US.
- 24 October was later declared as United Nations Day by the United Nations General Assembly.
What are the Five Eyes?
- The Five Eyes (FVEY) is an intelligence alliance comprising Australia, Canada, New Zealand, the United Kingdom and the United States.
- These countries are parties to the multilateral UKUSA Agreement, a treaty for joint cooperation in signals intelligence.
- The origins of the FVEY can be traced back to the post–World War II period.
- During the Cold War, the ECHELON surveillance system was initially developed by the FVEY to monitor the communications of the former Soviet Union and the Eastern Bloc, although it is now used to monitor private communications worldwide.
ASEAN states warn of South China Sea tensions
Vietnam and the Philippines warned of growing insecurity in Southeast Asia at the 36th ASEAN regional summit amid concerns that China was stepping up its activity in the disputed South China Sea during the COVID-19 pandemic.
- Established in 1967, the ASEAN comprises Brunei, Cambodia, Indonesia, Laos, Malaysia, Myanmar, the Philippines, Singapore, Thailand and Vietnam.
South China Sea Dispute:
- The South China Sea, one of the world’s busiest waterways, is subject to several overlapping territorial disputes involving China, Vietnam, the Philippines, Taiwan, Malaysia and Brunei.
- The Philippines, Vietnam, China, Brunei, Taiwan and Malaysia hold different, overlapping, territorial claims over the sea, based on various accounts of history and geography.
- China claims more than 80 per cent, while Vietnam claims sovereignty over the Paracel Islands and the Spratly Islands.
- The Philippines asserts ownership of the Spratly archipelago and the Scarborough Shoal, while Brunei and Malaysia have claimed sovereignty over southern parts of the sea and some of Spratly Islands.
- China‘s nine-dash line is a geographical marker used to assert its claim. It stretches as far as 2,000 km from the Chinese mainland, reaching waters close to Indonesia and Malaysia.
Why is it important?
- The South China Sea is a key commercial waterway connecting Asia with Europe and Africa, and its seabed is rich with natural resources.
- One third of global shipping, or a total of US$3.37 trillion of international trade, passes through the South China Sea.
- About 80 per cent of China’s oil imports arrive via the Strait of Malacca, in Indonesia, and then sail across the South China Sea to reach China.
- The sea is also believed to contain major reserves of natural resources, such as natural gas and oil.
- The US Energy Information Administration estimates the area contains at least 11 billion barrels of oil and 190 trillion cubic feet of natural gas.
- The South China Sea also accounts for 10 per cent of the world’s fisheries, making it a key source of food for hundreds of millions of people.
Is there any resolution in sight?
- Southeast Asian nations have traditionally rejected looking for a bilateral solution with China, the region’s main economic and military power.
- ASEAN has been working with China on an official code of conduct to avoid clashes in the disputed waters.
Key Facts for Prelims
National Statistics Day
The National Statistics Day is celebrated on the birth anniversary of Prof. P C Mahalanobis, on 29th June, in recognition of his invaluable contribution in establishing the National Statistical System.
- To popularise the use of Statistics in everyday life and sensitise the public as to how Statistics helps in shaping and framing policies.
- In 2019, the Ministry instituted a new award, namely, Prof. P.C. Mahalanobis National Award in Official Statistics for recognizing outstanding achievement of official statisticians in Central Government, State Governments and Institutions.
- The theme of Statistics Day, 2020 is selected as SDG- 3 (Ensure healthy lives and promote well-being for all at all ages) & SDG- 5 (Achieve gender equality and empower all women and girls).
- The event aims to raise public awareness, especially among the younger generation, about the role of Statistics in socio-economic planning and policy formulation.
Prasanta Chandra Mahalanobis:
- P. C. Mahalanobis is regarded as the Father of Statistical Science in India.
- He founded the Indian Statistical Institute and contributed to the design of large-scale sample surveys.
- He was one of the members of the first Planning Commission of India.
- He built the statistical database of the Indian economy, inspired research in quantitative economics, and was the architect of the Second Five Year Plan.
- He was India’s first agriculture statistician and instrumental in setting up and developing the ministry’s agriculture statistics wing.
- He started publication of Sankhya, a statistical journal of the Institute, in 1933 along the lines of Karl Pearson’s Biometrika.
- The Central Statistical Unit was established under his guidance and supervision, which later in 1951, became the Central Statistical Organization (CSO).
- He was awarded the Padma Vibhushan by the Central Government for his Statistical work and his contribution to India’s second five-year plan.
- The World Statistics Day is celebrated on October 20th.
New postal ballot rules
- Keeping in mind the safety of senior citizens amid rising cases of the coronavirus, the age limit for voters to opt for the postal ballot in Lok Sabha and assembly elections has been reduced.
- After the coronavirus outbreak in India, Bihar will be the first state to have assembly polls and voters of Bihar will be the first to benefit from the amended rules.
- In October 2019, the Law Ministry amended the Conduct of Election Rules to allow people with disabilities and those who are 80 years of age or above to opt for a postal ballot during Lok Sabha and assembly elections.
- On June 19, the Ministry notified a fresh change in the rules, allowing those aged 65 years and above to opt for postal ballot.
- The ministry also allowed COVID-19 suspect or affected persons to use the postal ballot facility.
- People who come under the category of those allowed to use postal ballot have to fill form 12D to avail the facility.
TRIBES India products
- The Ministry of Tribal Affairs has launched the TRIBES India products on the Government e-Marketplace (GeM).
- Tribes India, launched in 1987, is a brand under TRIFED (Tribal Cooperative Marketing Development Federation of India Limited).
- It functions under the administrative control of the Ministry of Tribal Affairs.
- It aims to support and promote the economic interest of the overlooked tribal artisans of India.
India-Russia Defence deals
- Russia has said that it will accelerate deliveries of some defence contracts with India.
- India has been asking Russia to speed up deliveries of the S-400 long-range air defence system and AK203 assault rifle deal (out of 7.5 lakh rifles, 6.71 lakh rifles are manufactured by a joint venture Indo-Russian Rifles Private Ltd. (IRRPL) at Korwa in Uttar Pradesh).
- However, the deal for 200 Ka226T utility helicopters remains stuck over the level of indigenisation.
India-Japan Naval exercise
- Indian and Japanese warships held a small PASSEX (passing exercise) towards the Malacca Strait in the Indian Ocean Region (IOR).
- Exercise Malabar is a trilateral naval exercise involving the US, Japan and India as permanent partners.
- Originally begun in 1992 as a bilateral exercise between India and US, Japan became a permanent partner in 2015. Past non-permanent participants are Australia and Singapore.
- The Union Health Ministry has permitted to use dexamethasone as an alternative to methylprednisolone for managing moderate to severe COVID-19 cases.
- Dexamethasone is a corticosteroid drug (used for its anti-inflammatory and immunosuppressant effects.)
- The drug was tested in the RECOVERY clinical trial in the United Kingdom and was found to have benefits for critically ill patients.
- The drug is also a part of the National List of Essential Medicines (NLEM) and is widely available.
- Dolphins are known to use a technique called shelling to capture prey.
- In this process, they trap small fish into empty shells.
- A new study shows that they learn such tool-use from their peers-members of their generation and not just from their mothers as was believed earlier.
- The finding has implications for how dolphins adapt to changing environments.