Polity & Governance
- SC refers pleas against Jallikattu to Constitution bench
Government Schemes & Policies
- KUSUM scheme to encourage farmers for solar farming
- IWAI inks pact with the World Bank for Jal Marg Vikas Project on Ganga
- Cochin Shipyard Limited signs MoU with Russian firm for development of vessels
Environment, Ecology & Disaster Management
- 2nd February: World Wetlands Day
- Dust mitigation plan must for firms
Science & Technology
- Task force set up to study AI application in military
- UK allows doctors to create ‘three-parent’ babies
Key Facts for Prelims
- 32nd Surajkund International Crafts Mela
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Polity & Governance
SC refers pleas against Jallikattu to Constitution bench
The Supreme Court has referred to a Constitution Bench to decide whether the people of Tamil Nadu can preserve jallikattu as their cultural heritage under Article 29 (1) of the Constitution and demand its protection.
What’s the issue?
- The decision came based on petitions filed by activists to strike down the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals (Tamil Nadu Amendment) Act of 2017 and the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals (Conduct of Jallikattu) Rules of 2017.
- Activists contended that the amended laws had opened the gates for the conduct of the popular bull-taming sport in the name of culture and tradition despite a 2014 ban by the Supreme Court.
- Activists contend that the 2017 Jallikattu Act and Rules violate the five internationally recognised freedoms — the freedom from hunger, malnutrition and thirst; freedom from fear and distress; freedom from physical and thermal discomfort; freedom from pain, injury and disease; and freedom to express normal patterns of behaviour.
Significance of this decision:
- It is for the first time the Supreme Court is considering the question of granting constitutional protection to jallikattu as a collective cultural right under Article 29 (1).
What Article 29(1) says?
- Article 29(1) is a fundamental right guaranteed under Part III of the Constitution to protect the educational and cultural rights of citizens.
- Though commonly used to protect the interests of minorities, Article 29(1) mandates that “any section of the citizens residing in the territory of India or any part thereof having a distinct language, script or culture of its own shall have the right to conserve the same”.
What is Jallikattu?
- Jallikattu is an ancient bull taming blood sport played in Tamil Nadu. It’s a part of Pongal celebrations on Mattu Pongal day.
- According to experts, the term Jallikattu is derived from the term calli kacu (coins) and kattu (meaning a package) tied to the horns of the bulls as the prize money.
- One of the oldest blood sport, Jalllikattu is held in the villages of Tamil Nadu as a part of the village festival.
- ‘Jellicut’ are the bulls bred specifically for the Jallikattu sporting event.
Why is it so controversial?
- It is controversial because the blood sport often results in major injuries and deaths
- Reportedly, from 2010 to 2014, there were approximately 1,100 injuries and 17 deaths as a result of Jallikattu events
- Over 200 people have died from the blood sport over the past two decades.
- The court held that use of bulls in such events severely harmed the animals and constituted an offence under the Prevention of Cruelty to the Animals Act.
- PETA India has protested against the blood sport over the years for animal cruelty.
Government Schemes & Policies
KUSUM scheme to encourage farmers for solar farming
The Union Government has announced Rs.1.4 lakh-crore Kisan Urja Suraksha evam Utthaan Mahaabhiyan (KUSUM) scheme.
- The Union Budget 2018-19 has allocated Rs. 48,000 crore for the scheme for the ten-year period.
About KUSUM scheme:
- KUSUM scheme aims to promote solar farming i.e. decentralised solar power production of up to 28,250 MW to help farmers.
- It will start with building 10,000 MW solar plants on barren lands and providing 1.75 million off-grid agricultural solar pumps.
- It will provide extra income to farmers, by giving them an option to sell additional power to grid through solar power projects set up on their barren lands.
- It will help in de-dieselising the agriculture sector as India had about 30 million farm pumps that include 10 million pumps running on diesel.
- The surplus electricity generated by farmers will be bought by state electricity distribution companies (discoms). Thus it will help boost the country’s emerging green economy.
Components of scheme
- Building 10,000 MW solar plants on barren lands
- Providing sops to DISCOMS to purchase the electricity produced,
- Solarising existing pumps of 7250 MW as well as government tube wells with a capacity of 8250 MW
- Distributing 17.5 lakh solar pumps.
Government will provide 60% subsidy on solar pumps to farmers. It will be shared between Centre and States while 30% will be provided through bank loans. The balance cost will be borne by farmers.
Expected positive outcomes of the scheme:
- It will promote decentralised solar power production, reduce of transmission losses of discoms as well as provide support to improve financial health of DISCOMs by reducing subsidy burden to agriculture sector.
- It will also promote energy efficiency and water conservation and provide water security to farmers.
IWAI inks pact with the World Bank for Jal Marg Vikas Project on Ganga
Inland Waterways Authority of India (IWAI) has inked pact with the World Bank for Jal Marg Vikas Project to enhance navigation on National Waterway-1.
What is Jal Marg Vikas Project?
Jal Marg Vikas Project is a project on the river Ganga that envisages the development of waterway between Allahabad and Haldia that will cover a distance of 1620 km by March, 2023.
- The JMVP is being implemented by IWAI with the financial and technical support of World Bank.
- It will enable commercial navigation of vessels with capacity of 1500-2,000 tons on NW-I.
- The project covers Uttar Pradesh, Bihar, Jharkhand and West Bengal.
- It aims to develop fairway with three metres depth to enable commercial navigation of at least 1500 tonne vessels on river.
- It also includes development of fairway, multi-modal terminals, strengthening of open river navigation technique, conservancy works, modern River Information System (RIS) etc.
Significance of Jal Marg Vikas Project:
- Alternative mode of transport that will be environment friendly and cost effective. The project will contribute in bringing down the logistics cost in the country.
- Mammoth Infrastructure development like multi-modal and inter-modal terminals, Roll on – Roll off (Ro-Ro) facilities, ferry services, navigation aids. Socio-economic impetus; huge employment generation.
- It is component of Eastern Transport Corridor (ETC) of India along with proposed Eastern Dedicated Freight Corridor (EDFC) and National Highway-2 (NH2).
- ETC will connect NCR with eastern and north-eastern states and function as link to neighbouring countries viz. Bangladesh, Nepal, Myanmar, Thailand and other east and south-east Asian countries.
- One of the major problems for a commercially viable and safe navigation on NW-1 is low depth upstream of Farakka due to low discharges from tributaries and difficult hydro morphological characteristics of river Ganga.
- National Waterway-1 (NW-1) is a waterway passing through Uttar Pradesh, Bihar, Jharkhand and West Bengal, potentially serving the major cities of Haldia, Howrah, Kolkata, Bhagalpur, Patna, Ghazipur, Varanasi, Allahabad and their industrial hinterlands including several industries located along the Ganga basin.
Cochin Shipyard Limited signs MoU with Russian firm for development of vessels
The State-owned Cochin Shipyard and the United Shipbuilding Corporation (USC) of Russia have signed a Memorandum of Understanding (MoU) to collaborate and engage in design, development, and execution of contemporary, state-of-the-art vessels for inland and coastal waterways.
- The massive push to water-based transport through infrastructure development efforts under the SAGARMALA programme of the government will open up opportunities for specialised vessels. The MoU is an effort to get ready to cater to the demand for different kinds of vessels expected in the near and medium term
- It will augment capacity to develop eco-friendly and economic transportation along India’s inland waterways and coastal shipping routes under Sagarmala Project.
- USC, a joint stock company, is the largest shipbuilding holding in Russia incorporating around 40 enterprises including shipyards with more than 300 years experience which have been key contributors to the growth of inland waterways in Russia.
Environment, Ecology & Disaster Management
2nd February: World Wetlands Day
World Wetlands Day is celebrated every year on 2 February.
Theme of World Wetlands Day for 2018:
- The theme of World Wetlands Day for 2018 is ‘Wetlands for a Sustainable Urban Future’.
- In focusing on the theme “wetlands for a sustainable urban future”, this year’s World Wetlands Day sheds light on the importance of wetlands for cities.
- This theme is selected to raise awareness and to highlight the vital roles of healthy Wetlands in reducing the impacts of extreme events such as floods, the role of Wetlands for replenishing drinking water, filter waste and improve water quality, improve urban air quality, promote human well being, and enable people to earn a living.
Significance of Wetlands for urban areas:
- Today, 50% of the world’s population live in urban areas. Forecasts expect the urban population to rise to 6.3 billion by 2050 – a more than eightfold increase since 1950.
- While the urban proportion of the world’s population will more than double from 1950 to 2050, the number of the world’s wetlands has already more than halved over the past 100 years.
- However, wetlands play a vital role for cities and for the whole of humanity. For instance, they serve as a source of drinking water; they reduce flooding and the vegetation of wetlands filters domestic and industrial waste and improves water quality.
- Wetlands are at risk, from 1900 64% of wetlands around the world have disappeared with severe consequences for those who are living in close proximity with them, mostly Farmers.
- The International Community should make greater efforts to preserve these wetlands and put Farmers in the best conditions to take advantage of wetlands while respecting them.
About World Wetlands Day:
- World Wetlands Day is celebrated on February 2 each year to mark the Day the Convention on Wetlands was adopted in the Iranian City of Ramsar (on the shores of the Caspian Sea) in 1971.
- India is a party to the Convention since 1982 and committed to the Ramsar approach of wise use of wetlands.
What is Ramsar Convention?
The Convention on Wetlands of International Importance, called the Ramsar Convention, is the intergovernmental treaty that provides the framework for the conservation and wise use of wetlands and their resources.
- The Convention was adopted in the Iranian city of Ramsar in 1971 and came into force in 1975.
- Since then, almost 90% of UN member states, from all the world’s geographic regions, have acceded to become “Contracting Parties”.
- Every three years, representatives of the Contracting Parties meet as the Conference of the Contracting Parties (COP), the policy-making organ of the Convention.
What is Montreux Record?
- The Montreux Record is a register of wetland sites on the ‘List of Wetlands of International Importance’ where variations in ecological character have happened, are happen, or are likely to happen as an outcome of technological developments, pollution or other human interference.
- The Montreux Record maintained as part of the Ramsar List.
- The Montreux Record was established by Recommendation of the Conference of the Contracting Parties (1990).
- Sites may be added to and removed from the Record only with the approval of the Contracting Parties in which they lie.
Indian sites in Montreux Record:
- Currently, two wetlands of India are in Montreux record viz. Keoladeo National Park, Rajasthan and Loktak Lake, Manipur.
- Further, Chilka lake was placed in the record but was later removed from it.
Dust mitigation plan must for firms
The Environment Ministry has made it mandatory for companies seeking environment clearance to ensure that they put in place a dust mitigation plan.
What are the requirements under the dust mitigation plan?
The requirements, specified in a gazette notification on January 25, say that
- Roads leading to or at construction sites must be paved and black-topped.
- There could be no soil excavation without adequate dust mitigation measures in place.
- No loose soil, sand, construction waste could be left uncovered.
- A water sprinkling system was mandatory, and the measures taken should be prominently displayed at the construction site.
- Moreover, the grinding and cutting of building materials in open area were prohibited and no uncovered vehicles carrying construction material and waste would be permitted.
- The standards were developed by the Central Pollution Control Board as part of the National Ambient Air Quality Standards (NAAQS) and will now empower the organisation to fine companies and agencies for not complying with norms.
What is Dust?
- Dust is a generic term for a vast mix of metals and non-metals — silicon, aluminium, titanium, manganese, copper, barium, antimony, selenium and zinc.
Need for dust mitigation:
- A study by the Indian Institute of Technology, Kanpur and commissioned by the Delhi government reported, in 2015, that road dust, burning of biomass and municipal solid waste, constituted the lion’s share of the city’s air pollution.
- Road dust contributed 56% of all PM10 pollution, while it was 38% for PM2.5. Another estimate by the Indian Institute of Tropical Meteorology, Pune had different numbers but still ranked dust as the major contributor — 52% — to the city’s PM10 load.
- Before PM2.5 became the focus of attention — for its role in lodging itself in the lungs and for being a key component of diesel emissions — dust was the key villain for a long time.
Science & Technology
Task force set up to study AI application in military
The Department of Defence Production has constituted a task force headed by Tata Sons Chairman N Chandrasekaran to study use of artificial intelligence.
- The task force will study the whole gamut of issues surrounding strategic implications of AI in national security perspective, in global context.
What is Artificial intelligence (AI)?
- AI is branch of computer science concerned with making computers behave like humans.
- In contrast to normal hardware and software, AI enables a machine to perceive (i.e. to think) and respond to its changing environment.
Potentials of AI application in military:
- Experts believe that future progress of artificial intelligence (AI) has potential to have transformative impact on national security.
- It is also seen that AI is essentially a dual use technology. While it can fuel technology driven economic growth, it also has potential to provide military superiority.
UK allows doctors to create ‘three-parent’ babies
Britain’s fertility regulator Human Fertilisation and Embryology Authority (HFEA) has allowed doctors to create country’s first ‘three-parent’ babies through mitochondrial donation therapy (or MRT).
- This move is aimed at preventing passage of incurable genetic diseases from mothers to offsprings.
What are mitochondria?
- Mitochondria are tiny rod-like structures in cells which act as power houses, generating the energy that allows our bodies to function.
- Unusually, they have their own DNA, distinct from the genetic material within the cell nucleus.
- Mitochondrial DNA (mtDNA) makes up about 0.1% of a cell’s total DNA and does not affect individual characteristics such as appearance and personality.
What is Mitochondrial Replacement Therapy (MRT)?
- MRT or Mitochondrial donation is medical technique in which defective mitochondria carried by a woman is replaced with the healthy mitochondria of a donor.
- Through invitro fertilization technique (IVF), the egg is then fertilised with the partner’s sperm. Thus, the embryo remains free from any such defects.
- The two most common techniques in mitochondrial donation are maternal spindle transfer and pronuclear transfer.
- It will prevent transmission of mitochondrial (genetic) disease from one generation to the next.
- It will give parents chance of having a child that is over 99% genetically matched to them and most importantly free of the mitochondrial disease.
- It has no impact on personality or looks of the offspring from third DNA set, as surrogate mitochondrial DNA is separate from core DNA in cells.
- The technique has attracted criticism due to the ethical dimensions involved in the process.
- The pro-life believers claim that the technique involves the destruction of life. They maintain that the technique is not foolproof as it is sure that majority of the fertilised eggs are unhealthy.
- Mitochondria are not completely understood, and the DNA they hold might affect people’s traits in unknown ways. For that reason, some scientists believe mitochondria should be better understood before the procedures are legalised.
- Some people are opposed on religious or ethical grounds, particularly with pro-nuclear transfer technique which involves creating and then destroying a fertilised egg in order to treat another embryo.
- Others believe that there will be inevitable “carry over” of defective mitochondria from the affected mother’s fertilised egg to the donor egg. These mutant mitochondria could multiply during embryonic development to cause disease, perhaps in way we do not yet understand. This is why, they say, we need to do more research before allowing it to be used on people.
- Majority of the scientific community argue that the technique may open the doors for the creation of designer babies. A designer baby is a genetically engineered baby with specially selected traits such as gender, appearance, intelligence, etc.
- Though the designer baby technology is aimed at developing a healthy human being, it is vulnerable to misuse with far-reaching social, economic and political consequences.
- UK was the only country so far to have officially approved the use of a mitochondrial replacement therapy (MRT) technique, and only to prevent children from inheriting severe mitochondrial disorders.
- But procedure was successfully tested in Mexico, giving birth to world’s first three parent baby in September 2016. Since then, other pregnancies and births have been reported in Ukraine.
Key Facts for Prelims
32nd Surajkund International Crafts Mela
- The 32nd edition of Surajkund International Crafts Mela was held at Faridabad, Haryana.
- The mela is being hosted jointly by the Haryana Tourism Corporation and Surajkund Mela Authority, in collaboration with the Union Ministries of Tourism, Textiles, Culture and External Affairs.
- For the 32nd edition of the much anticipated fair, Uttar Pradesh is chosen as the theme state and Kyrgyzstan as the partner nation.
- At least 20 countries and all the states of India will be participating in the mela.
- Every year from February 1–15, a colourful traditional craft festival of India is held in the precincts of Surajkund. This fair was first started in 1987.
- This fair is showcasing the richness and diversity of handicrafts, handlooms and cultural heritage of the country.