Polity & Governance
- Majuli becomes India’s first island district
- Environment Minister launches web portal for mining of sand and minor minerals
- Parched Panchayati Raj Ministry on verge of closure
- CSIR lab to certify coal used in power plants
- Ministries can approve up to Rs. 500 cr. of non-Plan spending
- UNICEF report paints a stark future for disadvantaged kids
- Median marriage age up: Census data
- The declining power of Babel
Environment & Ecology
- No more windmills in bustard-inhabited areas in Rajasthan
- There’s a healthy otter population in Chambal near Kota
Defence & Security Issues
- Exercise Jalrahat a Joint Initiative by State Govt and Armed Forces for Flood Relief in Assam Commences
Science & Technology
- Deep space rocket booster tested
- New method can kill cancer cells in two hours, shows study
Polity & Governance
Majuli becomes India’s first island district
The Assam government has granted district status to Majuli, a 400 sqkm island in the river Brahmaputra.
- The erosion-troubled Majuli, now a sub-division of Jorhat district, will become the 34th district of Assam.
The biggest river island in the world, Majuli is located on the river Brahmaputra in Assam and is formed by Brahmaputra in the south and the Kherkutia Xuti joined by the river Subansiri in the north.
- Majuli, inhabited mostly by Mishing tribal people, has been the hub of Assamese neo-Vaishnavite culture that 15th century saint-reformer Srimanta Sankardeva had initiated.
- The island had some 65 satras or monasteries adhering to Vaishnavism, but a large number relocated to the mainland after being washed away.
- The main surviving satras include Dakhinpat, Garamurh, Auniati, Kamalabari and Bengenaati.
Environment Minister launches web portal for mining of sand and minor minerals
Environment Ministry has launched a new web portal for online submission and monitoring of environmental approvals for mining of sand and minor minerals.
- The web portal will not only enhance transparency of the entire application process, but also enable the proponents to track their applications online.
- The web portal is a district-level, web-based and role-based workflow application for online submission and monitoring of proposals for Category B’2’projects.
- Among the objectives of the portal are enhancing efficiency, transparency and accountability in the environment clearance process; achieve standardisation in processes across the states; online real-time monitoring and adherence to timelines for verification; stage-wise approval and compliance mechanism and a more user-friendly application process etc.
Parched Panchayati Raj Ministry on verge of closure
After facing a massive budget cut last year, the future of the Panchayati Raj Ministry continues to look bleak.
Why is it so?
- After the government shuttered two of its key programmes — the Backward Regions Grants Fund (BRGF) and the Rajiv Gandhi Panchayat Sashaktikaran Abhiyan (RGPSA) — several officials at the Ministry feel it would soon be closed down and turned into a department under the Ministry of Rural Development.
- Last year’s budget cut, from Rs. 7,000 crores to Rs. 96 crores, left such an impact on the Ministry that it lost confidence in empowering panchayats nationwide.
CSIR lab to certify coal used in power plants
The Council for Scientific and Industrial Research (CSIR) has signed an annual Rs. 250-crore deal with several state-run coal and thermal power companies to certify the quality of the coal being supplied and used in their facilities.
- The certification will help power plants use coal appropriate to the machinery and technology available in the plant and contribute to efficient use and, in the long run, reduce emissions.
- The Dhanbad-based CSIR-Central Institute of Mining and Fuel Research (CSIR-CIMFR), Dhanbad, a constituent laboratory of CSIR, will be doing the certification and it expects to analyse about 300 million tonnes of coal samples per year.
- While the grading of a coal would be voluntary and organisations affiliated to the Coal Ministry would have already checked the quality of coal, the CSIR’s grading would be finer and more reliable.
- There have been disputes between power companies and coal suppliers over the quality of coal. Last week several power distribution companies in Delhi reportedly filed a petition with the Central Electricity Regulatory Commission accusing the National Thermal Power Corporation (NTPC) of supplying poor quality coal and overcharging.
- The NTPC had responded that the coal was supplied by Coal India Ltd. and only a ‘third party’ could impartially decide on the quality of coal.
India’s coal is known to be of high ash content and of a lower quality, compared with that of several countries, that has forced many private companies to import coal.
Council of Scientific and Industrial Research (CSIR), established in 1942, is an autonomous body and the largest research and development (R&D) organisation in India.
- It runs 37 laboratories and 39 field stations or extension centres spread across the nation.
- Although it is mainly funded by the Ministry of Science and Technology, it operates as an autonomous body registered under the Registration of Societies Act of 1860.
- The research and development activities of CSIR includes aerospace engineering, Structural engineering, ocean sciences, Life sciences, metallurgy, chemicals, mining, food, petroleum, leather, and environment.
- CSIR is ranked at 84th among 4851 institutions worldwide and is the only Indian organization among the top 100 global institutions, according to the Scimago Institutions Ranking World Report 2014.
Ministries can approve up to Rs. 500 cr. of non-Plan spending
The spending autonomy of Ministries has gone up with the latest announcement of the Union government.
- Ministers can now approve non- plan expenditure proposals of up to Rs 500 crore as against the earlier limit of Rs 150 crore.
- According to the revised guidelines, the Finance Ministry’s nod will be needed for expenditure between Rs. 500 crore and Rs. 1,000 crore, beyond which Cabinet approval would be required.
- The Committee on Non-Plan Expenditure, an appraisal forum for all non-Plan proposals of the Centre, will now appraise proposals involving expenditure of Rs. 300 crore and above, the earlier limit being Rs. 75 crore.
- The appraisal of non-Plan projects of less than Rs. 300 crore can now be done by the relevant Ministry.
- The independence given to the ministries in this regard means that projects that have been budgeted or committed to will not need to be delayed by a long formal approval process.
- The government has also altered the rules with regard to the approval of revised cost estimated of projects.
- Increase in cost up to 20 per cent of the firmed up cost estimates can now be appraised by the financial adviser and approved by the Secretary of the administrative department, if the absolute cost escalation is up to Rs.75 crore, and by the administrative Minister-in-charge if absolute cost escalation is above this.
Implications of the move:
- With this enhancement of financial powers, the financial limits for appraisal and approval of Plan and non-Plan schemes/projects of Central government Ministries and departments have been brought almost at par.
- This is expected to expedite the appraisal and approval process in the Central Government Ministries/ departments.
- It makes it easier to implement non-plan projects.
- Earlier, Plan projects needed the approval of the Planning Commission and the Finance Ministry, which created two bottlenecks. Then, with NITI Aayog, this was removed. The new changes have now extended this independence to non-plan projects as well.
UNICEF report paints a stark future for disadvantaged kids
According to the State of the World’s Children, the UNICEF’s annual flagship report, 69 million children under five will die from mostly preventable causes.
Key points of the report:
- Based on current trends, 67 million children will live in poverty, and 750 million women will have been married as children by 2030.
- The poorest children are twice as likely to die before their fifth birthday and be chronically malnourished than the richest.
- The report notes that significant progress has been made in saving children’s lives, getting children into school and lifting people out of poverty.
- Global under-five mortality rates have more than halved since 1990, boys and girls attend primary school in equal numbers in 129 countries, and the number of people living in extreme poverty worldwide is almost half of what it was in the 1990s. But this progress has been neither even nor fair.
- The report stated that across most of South Asia and sub-Saharan Africa, children born to mothers with no education are almost three times more likely to die before they are five than those born to mothers with secondary education.
- Girls from the poorest households are twice as likely to marry as children than girls from the wealthiest households.
- The report points to evidence that investing in the most vulnerable children can yield immediate and long-term benefits.
Median marriage age up: Census data
New Census data released by the government shows that the median age at the time of marriage has increased across categories of people and genders.
- The data, released by the Registrar-General and Census Commissioner, show that the median age for men increased to 23.5 at the time of the 2011 Census, from 22.6 as per the 2001 figures. These numbers were 19.2 years and 18.2 years for women in the respective years.
- The median age for marginal workers increased from 21.8 to 22.5 for men and from 17.6 to 18.7 for women. For non-workers, the age at the time of marriage increased from 22.8 to 23.5 for men and from 18.5 to 19.4 for women.
Reasons for this change:
- According to some experts, a trend will continue due to the socio-economic changes taking place in the country.
- The reason for the upswing is the increasingly mobile and migratory nature of work in the country. These workers are not in the traditional social set-up as they were. For example, Madhubani district in Bihar, which is only about six per cent urban. About 75 per cent of the households had a migrant worker. Even in the most backward areas, families are not fully rural.
- Experts have pointed out that migration changes the mindset. The focus becomes to earn a livelihood, which makes people think of life differently. The absolute stability of a completely rural lifestyle has given way.
- The other reason for the change could be higher levels of school enrolment. School enrolment is about 90% everywhere, across most castes. It is 80%-plus for Dalits. People are sending their children to school, which also has an effect on the age of marriage.
- The change is also happening because of the growing integration of the economy.
The declining power of Babel
According to the People’s Linguistic Survey of India, nearly 300 languages have gone extinct in the country since the time of independence.
- The survey an independent study conducted by Bhasha Research Centre, an NGO, under the leadership of Sahitya Akademi award-winning writer Dr. G.N. Devy.
- Close to 800 languages and dialects exist across India.
- Scholars and researchers suggests support for ‘linguistic cities’, just as for Smart Cities.
- The survey count includes all those in currency, irrespective of the number of users. What makes the PLSI findings unique is that Census of India surveys found close to 1,600 languages in use in 1961, 108 in 1971 and 122 in 2011. Those spoken by less than 10,000 people were excluded after 1961.
- The UN Educational Scientific and Cultural Organisation has been counting too, and found there are 197 endangered languages in India, with 42 classified as Critically Endangered. Included in the list is Nihali, traced to the pre-Aryan and pre-Munda period.
- Nihali is considered a Language Isolate, with no relation with other languages. It is spoken by some 2,500 villagers on the Maharashtra-Madhya Pradesh border, the language is on the verge of extinction as speakers are migrating to find work, and merging with other communities.
- Similarly, Great Andamanese is now recording the oral tribal languages in Tamil Nadu and Chhattisgarh, which have gone unrecorded.
Environment & Ecology
No more windmills in bustard-inhabited areas in Rajasthan
With an aim to the protect the state bird, the Great Indian Bustard (or Indian bustard), locally known as “godawan”, the Rajasthan government has now decided not to set up any windmills for wind power projects in the areas where these birds are found.
Reasons for the move:
- A majority of wind power projects in Rajasthan have come up in and around desert town of Jaisalmer which is also one of the main areas for these birds.
- According to wildlife experts, the godawan is a shy bird by nature and some of these windmills were set up in their zones that forced these birds to move out of these safe zones, which resulted in them either being killed by wild animals or being poached.
The main reasons cited for its decline are habitat loss due to conversion of grasslands to other purposes, disturbances caused by human activity during its breeding season and frequent poaching of the species.
Project Great Indian Bustard:
- The state of Rajasthan initiated “Project Great Indian Bustard”, on World Environment Day 2013, identifying and fencing off bustard breeding grounds in existing protected areas as well as provide secure breeding enclosures in areas outside protected areas.
- The species recovery plan also calls for ex situ conservation measures.
However, it has so far failed in its objectives.
About the Great Indian Bustard:
The Great Indian Bustard or Indian bustard is a bustard found in India and the adjoining regions of Pakistan.
- In India, the bird is found in Rajasthan, Karnataka, Maharashtra, Madhya Pradesh and Gujarat states of India.
- A large bird with a horizontal body and long bare legs, giving it an ostrich like appearance, this bird is among the heaviest of the flying birds.
- The species is considered as “critically endangered” by the IUCN Red data list.
- These birds are often found associated in the same habitat as blackbuck.
There’s a healthy otter population in Chambal near Kota
In Kota (Rajasthan), where the Chambal flows, a healthy breeding population of smooth coated otter has been spotted.
- Decades ago, the smooth coated otter became extinct at the Keoladeo National Park, Bharatpur. The smooth coated otter has been sighted in the Ramganga, which flows right through the Corbett Tiger Reserve in Uttarakhand.
- The construction of dams across the Chambal in the 1950s and 60s had dealt a big blow to the otters.
About the Smooth-Coated Otter:
The smooth-coated otter is a species of otter, the only extant representative of the genus Lutrogale.
- Besides India, the otters are found in in Java, Sumatra and Borneo. It also inhabits rivers in north and south-western China, Nepal, Bhutan and Pakistan.
- As its name indicates, the fur of this species is smoother and shorter than that of other otters.
- In 2014, the International Union for the Conservation of Nature (IUCN) reviewed its status. Finding its population in fast decline, IUCN listed it in the ‘Red List’, as “vulnerable”.
- Smooth-coated otters are used for commercial fishing in southern Bangladesh. These otters are bred in captivity, trained, and used to chase fish into fishing nets.
Defence & Security Issues
Exercise Jalrahat a Joint Initiative by State Govt and Armed Forces for Flood Relief in Assam Commences
The much awaited event, Exercise JALRAHAT commenced in Assam.
- The Exercise JALRAHAT is a joint initiative taken by the Assam State Govt and the Armed Forces that is being led by GAJRAJ Corps with full support from HQ Eastern Command.
- It is pertinent to mention that in addition to Exercise Jalrahat based on Flood Relief in an urban setting, Indian Navy will be carrying out Exercise Prakampana based on relief and assistance in case of a super cyclone at Vizag, Andhra Pradesh in August 2016 and Indian Air Force will be undertaking Exercise Sahayta based on relief and assistance in case of a major earthquake at Bhuj, Gujrat.
- All these will be joint exercises like Exercise Jalrahat.
Science & Technology
Deep space rocket booster tested
NASA has performed its second and last test-fire of a rocket booster for the Space Launch System (SLS).
NASA has described the SLS as the “world’s most powerful rocket,” and said the test aims to see how the propellant performs at the colder end of its temperature range.
- On this first flight, the SLS will launch the Orion spacecraft to a stable orbit beyond the moon to demonstrate the integrated system performance of Orion and the SLS rocket prior to the first crewed flight.
- The SLS will also carry 13 tiny satellites to test innovative ideas. These small satellite secondary payloads or ‘CubeSats’ will carry science and technology investigations to help pave the way for future human exploration in deep space.
- SLS’ first flight, referred to as Exploration Mission-1 (EM-1), provides the rare opportunity for these small experiments to reach deep space destinations, as most launch opportunities for CubeSats are limited to low-Earth orbit.
- The CubeSats will be deployed following Orion separation from the upper stage and once Orion is a safe distance away.
New method can kill cancer cells in two hours, shows study
Researchers have developed a new, non-invasive method that can kill cancer cells in two hours.
- The method involves injecting a chemical compound, nitrobenzaldehyde, into the tumour and allowing it to diffuse into the tissue.
- A beam of light is then aimed at the tissue, causing the cells to become very acidic inside and, essentially, “commit suicide”.
- Within two hours, up to 95% of the targeted cancer cells are dead or are estimated to be dead.
Significance of the findings:
- The findings may significantly help people with inoperable or hard-to-reach tumours as well as young children stricken with the deadly disease.
- This non-invasive method will help cancer patients with tumours in areas that have proven problematic for surgeons, such as the brain stem, aorta or spine.
- It could also help people who have received the maximum amount of radiation treatment and can no longer cope with the scarring and pain that go along with it, or children who are at risk of developing mutations from radiation as they grow older.