Current Affairs Analysis

7th & 8th June 2020 Current Affairs Analysis – IASToppers

163348 (2002 NN4)- a Near-Earth Object; Dry swab method; Advisory to import live exotic animals; North Eastern Coalfields; Etalin Hydel Project; Environment performance Index 2020; Near-Earth Objects; Aditya shortlisted for Gustave Trouvé Award; Online nominations for Padma Awards; Online Naimisha 2020; World Ocean Day; Spotted-thighed Frog; Magneto caloric materials; Deep sea microplastics; Neutrophils; Educational complexes for tribal students; Tribal status in Odisha etc.
By IASToppers
June 09, 2020

Contents

Issues related to Health & Education

  • Dry swab method to test COVID-19 samples

Environment, Ecology & Disaster Management

  • Advisory to import live exotic animals
  • Mining suspended in North Eastern Coalfields
  • Etalin Hydel Project
  • Environment performance Index 2020

Science & Technology

  • Near-Earth Objects

Also in News

  • Aditya shortlisted for Gustave Trouvé Award
  • Online nominations for Padma Awards

Key Facts for Prelims

  • Online Naimisha 2020
  • World Ocean Day
  • Spotted-thighed Frog
  • Magneto caloric materials
  • Deep sea microplastics
  • Neutrophils
  • Educational complexes for tribal students
  • Tribal status in Odisha

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Issues related to Health & Education

Dry swab method to test COVID-19 samples

The researchers from the Centre for Cellular and Molecular Biology found a new method using RT-PCR with dry swabs, bypassing the RNA isolation stage, which is cheap and consumes less time.

Major Highlights:

  • Currently, the preferred protocol for testing the COVID-19 samples uses the RT-PCR (Reverse Transcription-Polymerase Chain Reaction) test.
  • This protocol includes the RNA isolation stage thus takes time and is expensive.
  • Researchers from CCMB, Hyderabad have devised a method, also using RT-PCR but with dry swabs, bypassing the RNA isolation stage, which consumes less time and is less expensive.

Standard method: 

  • In the usual method of testing, nasal swabs collected from a person are placed in a viral transport medium (VTM).
  • From this, a part of the liquid is taken, the viral RNA is extracted and RT-PCR test is carried out.
  • The remainder is stored. It is the step of isolating the RNA that takes time and is expensive. 
  • The standard method is known to have a problem of false negatives. 

Dry swab method:

  • Instead of placing the nasal swabs in the VTM, they are put in a Tris-EDTA (TE) buffer solution, protected by ice.
  • A small part of the dry swab-TE extract was taken and heated to 98-degree C.
  • This destroyed the protective wall of the virus particles, releasing its RNA and this was sent for the RT-PCR test.
  • The researchers found that the new protocol of using dry swab-TE extract for RT-PCR was at par with the standard method and addresses the issue of false negatives.

Significance:

  • Increased tracing, testing and isolation of people with novel coronavirus infection is an effective way to contain the virus spread.
  • With the steeply rising number of infected persons, there is a need for a reliable test that would give results quickly and also be less expensive.
[Ref: The Hindu]

Environment, Ecology & Disaster Management

Advisory to import live exotic animals

The Ministry of Environment, Forest and Climate Change has recently issued an advisory to streamline and formalize the process of importing live exotic animals.

Major Highlights:

  • The advisory has defined them as those that are mentioned under the Appendices of the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Fauna and Flora (CITES), but not under the schedules of the Wild Life (Protection) Act, 1972.
  • The advisory has provisions for import and disclosure of exotic animals and their progeny already in India. 
  • Many exotic species of birds, reptiles and amphibians are imported into India for commercial purposes every year.
  • These imports happened though the Director General of Foreign Trade but they were beyond the purview of the forest departments and the chief wildlife wardens weren’t aware about them.
  • From now onwards, the advisory will keep them informed.
  • A person trying to import a live exotic animal will have to submit an application for grant of a license to the DGFT, under the provisions of the advisory.
  • The importer will also have to attach a No Objection Certificate (NOC) of the chief wildlife warden of the state concerned along with the application. 
  • For those people who have already imported exotic animals, a declaration will have to be made within six months, which wouldn’t require submissions on the provenance of the animal.
  • However, if the declaration is made after six months, documents will have to be submitted.

Significance:

  • The step is aimed to regulate the trade because the issue of zoonotic diseases is also linked to wildlife.
  • With this advisory, the data about how many such exotic animals are there in the country will be known.

Concerns:

  • As per the Experts, the advisory did not provide answers to matters such as spread of invasive species as well as zoonotic diseases.
  • There is also a growing domestic trade in exotic species of wildlife that is unfortunately not listed under the various appendices of CITES.
  • Hence, limiting the scope of the latest advisory to only those species covered under CITES drastically limits the scope of the advisory itself.
  • There is no mention of the welfare standards of such captive facilities that could lead to ‘legal’ backyard breeding of wildlife with poor to no welfare concern of the wild animals involved.
  • Due to lack of maintenance and care of animals in such facilities, it is sure to lead to a mixed species facility with high chance of transmission of pathogens across the species barrier.
  • As it does not have the force of law it could potentially incentivize illegal trade by offering a long amnesty period.
  • A proper regulation for the exotic animal trade which takes into account its true risks and costs is needed.
[Ref: Down to Earth]

Mining suspended in North Eastern Coalfields

North Eastern Coalfields has temporarily suspended all its mining operations amid the protests against its operations in Assam’s Dehing Patkai Elephant Reserve.

Major Highlights:

  • NEC, a subsidiary ofCoal India Limited, has two existing open cast coal mining projects — one in Tirap Colliery in Arunachal Pradesh and the other in Tikok Colliery in Assam.
  • A series of virtual protests followed the National Board of Wildlife’s— a body under the Ministry of Environment, Forest and Climate Change — recommendation for approval of a coal mining project by the NEC in the Dehing Patkai Elephant Reserve.
  • The Reserve is believed to be the last remaining contiguous patch of rainforest area in the region— spreads across the coal- and oil-rich districts of Upper Assam (Dibrugarh, Tinsukia and Sivasagar).

Background:

  • NEC had a 30-year-lease to carry out operations in its Tikok project in the Saleki proposed reserve forest (under Dehing Patkai Elephant Reserve), the contract expired in 2003.
  • Between 2003 and 2012, the company mined land measuring 44.27 hectares (ha) without clearance.
  • An RTI query revealed that the agency had mined in the unbroken area of 41.59 ha too.
  • NBWL’s conditional clearance in April came after CIL applied for post facto regularization of open cast mining in the 98.5 hectares of the Saleki PRF.
  • Since then, the campaign to save Dehing Patkai has intensified in Assam.

 Dehing Patkai Elephant Reserve:

  • is the name of the river that flows through this forest and Patkai is the hill at the foot of which the sanctuary lies.
[Ref: Indian Express]

Etalin Hydel Project

Etalin is an ambitious 3,097 MW hydro power project in Arunachal Pradesh’s Dibang Valley.

Why in news?

  • Several scientists and wildlife biologists have repeatedly warned about the massive loss of biodiversity due to the construction of the Etalin Hydropower Project.
  • They have accused the Wildlife Institute of India’s report on the biodiversity of Dibang Valley (based on which the Etalin Hydropower Project would be assessed) has several “scientific biases” and doesn’t reflect a true picture of the biodiversity of Dibang Valley.
  • The Etalin Hydropower Project will involve clearing of at least 270,000 trees in sub-tropical evergreen and rain forests and in a vital tiger area.

About the project:

  • Etalin hydel project is a 3,097 MW hydro power project envisaged on rivers Dri and Tangon in the Dibang Valley District of Arunachal Pradesh.
  • It is the largest of the hydroelectric projects being currently developed in India.
  • The project is proposed to be developed by Etalin Hydro Electric Power Company Limited, a joint venture of Hydro Power Development Corporation of Arunachal Pradesh Limited and Jindal Power Limited.
  • The total cost of the project is estimated to be around Rs 25,296.95 crore.

Concerns:

  • The project has been under several controversies since its inception in 2008 over concerns of ecological damage, forest invasion and tribal displacement.
  • The construction of the Project entails felling more than 2 lakh trees and threatens the existence of six globally-endangered mammal species.
  • The construction area also has 56% of the total avian species found in India.
  • The project falls under the ‘richest bio-geographical province of the Himalayan zone’ and would be located at the junction of the Palaearctic, Indo-Chinese and Indo-Malayan bio-geographic regions.
  • The environmental risks include Seismic hazards, glacial hazards such as glacial lake outburst floods, flooding due to extreme precipitation events, landslides etc.

Dibang Valley:

  • Dibang Valley is a district of Arunachal Pradesh named after the Dibang River.
  • Although the Dibang Valley district is the largest district in the state, it is the least populated district in India.
  • The Dibang River originates in the mountains of Arunachal Pradesh and flows through the length of the valley which is named after it.
  • The valley has unique biodiversity which among other includes Schedule I endangered species including the endangered Rufous-necked Hornbill.

Is a large hydel project really renewable?

  • The larger question that needs to be addressed is if large hydroelectric projects, ie, projects of more than 25 MW, should be classified as a renewable source of energy.
  • In March 2019, the Union government moved to recognise large hydroelectric projects as a renewable source of energy.
  • The multiple risks and uncertainties to the environment and biodiversity make this move questionable.
  • The ‘renewable’ status is given to grant certain incentives to generators of renewable sources of energy.
  • Sites where large hydel can be built are a limited resource.
  • Once these sites are used for construction of dams, they’re not usable again.
  • Example: Maheshwar Hydel Power Project on Narmada river, Madhya Pradesh where work has been going on for about 25 years. After spending thousands of crores and building the dam, it is said that the project is not viable. This has caused irreversible damage to the site, the majority of which is lost and is not renewable now.
[Ref: Down to Earth, Hindustan Times]

Environment performance Index 2020

The latest edition of the biennial Environment Performance Index that measures the environmental performance of countries was released recently.

Major Highlights:

  • Environment performance index is a biennial index measuring the environmental performance of the countries released by Yale University.
  • India has secured 168th rank out of 180 countries in the 12th edition of the Index.
  • The country scored 27.6 out of 100 in the 2020 index.
  •  India’s rank was 177 (with a score of 30.57 out of 100) in 2018.
  • The global index considered 32 indicators of environmental performance, giving a snapshot of the 10-year trends in environmental performance at the national and global levels.

Poor performance of India:

  • The only 11 countries lagging behind India were — Burundi, Haiti, Chad, Solomon Islands, Madagascar, Guinea, Côte d’Ivoir, Sierra Leone, Afghanistan, Myanmar and Liberia.
  • All South Asian countries, except Afghanistan, were ahead of India in the ranking. 
  • India needs to re-double national sustainability efforts on all fronts, according to the index.
  • The country needs to focus on a wide spectrum of sustainability issues, with a high-priority to critical issues such as air and water quality, biodiversity and climate change.
  • India scored below the regional average score on all five key parameters on environmental health, including air quality, sanitation and drinking water, heavy metals and waste management. 
  • Among South Asian countries, India was at second position after Pakistan on ‘climate change’.
  • A ten-year comparison progress report in the index showed that India slipped on climate-related parameters.
  • The report indicated that black carbon, carbon dioxide emissions and greenhouse emissions per capita increased in 10 years.
  • Its overall score under climate change has dipped 2.9 points. 
[Ref: Down to Earth]

Science & Technology

Near-Earth Objects

An asteroid named 163348 (2002 NN4), a Near-Earth Object classified as a Potentially Hazardous Asteroid is expected to pass Earth in the first week of June 2020.

What are Near-Earth Objects?

  • NEOs are comets and asteroids influenced by the gravitational attraction of nearby planets into orbits which allows them to enter the Earth’s neighbourhood.
  • These objects are composed mostly of water ice with embedded dust particles and occasionally approach close to the Earth as they orbit the Sun.
  • The comets and asteroids are relatively unchanged remnant debris from the solar system formation process over 4.6 billion years ago.
  • Therefore, these NEOs offer scientists clues about the chemical mixture from the planets formed.

Significance:

  • NASA’s Near-Earth Object Observations Program finds, tracks and characterises over 90 per cent of the predicted number of NEOs that are 140 metre or larger in size (larger than a small football stadium).
  • NASA maintains that objects of this size and larger pose a risk to Earth of the greatest concern due to the level of devastation that the impact is capable of causing.
  • Further, no asteroid larger than 140 metre has a significant chance of hitting the Earth for the next 100 years, less than half of the estimated 25,000 NEOs that are 140 metres or larger in size have been found to date.

What is 163348 (2002 NN4)?

  • 2002 NN4 was discovered in July 2002 and was expected to approach the Earth on June 6.
  • The asteroid is estimated to be between 250-570 meters in diameter, according to NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory.
  • This asteroid is classified as a PHA, which means the asteroid has the potential to make threatening close approaches to the Earth.
  • Asteroids with a minimum orbit intersection distance of about 0.05 AU (AU is the distance between the Earth and the Sun and is roughly 150 million km), which is about 7,480,000 km or less and smaller than about 150 m or 500 feet in diameter or less are considered PHAs.
  • It is not necessary that asteroids classified as PHAs will impact the Earth.
  • By monitoring these PHAs and updating their orbits, the close-approach statistics can be predicted better and thus their Earth-impact threat.
[Ref: Indian Express]

Also in News

Aditya shortlisted for Gustave Trouvé Award 

India’s first solar-powered ferry ‘Aditya’ is among 12 such ferries around the globe that have been shortlisted for the Gustave Trouvé Award. 

Major Highlights:

  • Aditya from Kerala is representing Asia in the Gustave Trouvé Awards event.
  • It is the sole entrant from Asia.
  • There are three award categories: one for electric boats up to 8m in length, electric boats more than 8 m long and electric ferry boats (passenger boats).
  • Aditya is nominated for the category of electric ferry boats.

About Aditya:

  • The electric ferry boat is operated by the Kerala State Water Transport Department and built by Naval Solar and Electric Boats, Kochi. 
  • As a public transport solar-electric ferry, it has proven its performance by transporting 11 lakh passengers and clocking a distance of 70,000 km, without a single drop of fossil fuel.
  • The zero-pollution vehicle resulted in saving over 1 lakh litres of diesel and thus reducing carbon emission.
  • The per km energy cost of Aditya is low, and the ferry normally operates 22 trips a day, covering a total of 66 km, carrying 75 passengers per trip.
  • It needs just ₹180 per day in energy cost, compared to about ₹8,000 for a diesel-run ferry of similar size. 

Gustave Trouvé Award:

  • The Gussies electric boat award is a global award instituted after Gustave Trouvé, a French electrical engineer and pioneer in electric cars and boats.
  • Gustave Trouvé was a prolific inventor with over 75 patents.
  • This is the inaugural edition of the award in the remembrance of the inventor & aimed to promote innovative excellence with electric boats.
[Ref: The Hindu]

Online nominations for Padma Awards

Amidst the COVID-19 pandemic the portal for nominations for the Padma awards, the second highest civilian honors in the country has been made live from May 1.

Major Highlights:

  • The portal has been thrown open for nominations by any individual in a pre-agreed format.
  • The letters inviting nominations have gone out, as per convention, to past Padma Vibhushan awardees, those having received the Bharat Ratna and eminent citizens from various fields. 
  • An 800-word description of why the nominee deserves the award is asked for as is certain weightage given to nominations for public service, for women and those belonging to weaker sections, Scheduled Castes and Tribes and Divyang.
  • In the last few years, especially after 2014, the awards have seen many unsung heroes being awarded with Padma awards in a bid to democratize the process.

Padma Awards:

  • Padma Awards – one of the highest civilian Awards of the country, are conferred in three categories: Padma Vibhushan, Padma Bhushan and Padma Shri.
  • Padma Vibhushan is awarded for exceptional and distinguished service (second highest civilian award after Bharat Ratna).
  • Padma Bhushan for distinguished service of high order (it is a third degree honour).
  • Padma Shri for distinguished service in any field (it is a fourth degree honour).
  • The awards are announced on the occasion of Republic Day every year.
  • These awards are conferred by the President of India.

Disciplines/ fields for Padma awards:

  • The Awards are given in various disciplines/ fields of activities: art, social work, public affairs, science and engineering, trade and industry, medicine, literature and education, sports, civil service, etc.
[Ref: Hindu]

Key Facts for Prelims

Online Naimisha 2020

  • National Gallery of Modern Art, New Delhi has announced ONLINE NAIMISHA 2020- Summer Art Program from 8th June 2020 to 3rd July 2020.
  • The pandemic has led NGMA to explore new areas and platforms to reach its audiences.
  • The month-long ONLINE summer program is an initiative to provide a chance to its participants to create and learn from practicing artists without compromising their health.
  • In the online NAIMISH 2020 program, four workshops will be organized entitled Painting workshop, Sculpture workshop, Printmaking and Indrajaal – The Magic of Art (Interdisciplinary creative workshop to understand Freedom) from 8th June 2020 to 3rd July 2020. 

World Ocean Day

  • World Ocean Day is celebrated by the United Nations on 8 June every year.
  • The purpose is to inform the public of the impact of human actions on the ocean, develop a worldwide movement of citizens for the ocean, and mobilize and unite the world’s population on a project for the sustainable management of the world’s oceans. 
  • Oceans are the lungs of our planet, providing most of the oxygen we breathe.
  • They are a major source of food and medicine and a critical part of the biosphere.
  • Theme 2020: Innovation for a Sustainable Ocean.

Spotted-thighed Frog

  • The spotted-thighed frog has been found to have established a 1,000-plus population in Streaky Bay in South Australia.
  • It is an alien carnivorous species of frog that can have negative impact on the environment of South Australia
  • The frog can kill and eat almost any creature belonging to local species and cause enormous damage to local food webs in the process.
  • If the frog was not controlled, it might spread eastwards into the basin of the Darling and Murray rivers, which extends into Victoria and New South Wales states.

Magneto caloric materials

  • Scientists at the International Advanced Research Centre for Powder Metallurgy and New Materials (ARCI) has developed a rare-earth-based magneto caloric material that can be effectively used for cancer treatment.
  • The magneto caloric materials are certain materials in which application and removal of a magnetic field causes the materials to become warmer or cooler.

Need:

  • Advancements in magnetic materials led to the development of magnetic hyperthermia to try to address the issues of side effects of cancer treatment like chemotherapy.
  • In magnetic hyperthermia, magnetic nanoparticles are subjected to alternating magnetic fields, which produce heat. However, the drawback in magnetic hyperthermia is the lack of control of temperature, which may damage the healthy cells in the body.
  • These problems can be avoided by using magneto caloric materials, as it can provide controlled heating.

Deep sea microplastics

  • According to a recent study published in Science, Deep sea hotspots of biodiversity are also likely to be microplastic hotspots.
  • Researchers deduce that thermohaline driven currents can cause microplastics to accumulate in the same regions where underwater organisms flock in the benthic region.
  • This is because the currents also supply oxygen and nutrients to the deep-sea benthos.

Neutrophils

  • Neutrophils are a type of white blood cell found in abundance in the blood stream.
  • Rushing to the sites of injury in tissues, they repair these when there is damage.
  • A study finds that groups of neutrophils diverge at capillary junctions.
  • They are found to influence the way their neighbours move by biasing hydraulic resistance and gradients of substances called chemo-attractants which attract them.

Educational complexes for tribal students

  • The Odisha government is coming up with three mega educational complexes exclusively for tribal students, where both academic and sporting skills will be harnessed at Keonjhar, Sundargarh and Mayurbhanj.
  • Santal and Bhuyan are two dominant tribal groups living in Keonjhar, Mayurbhanj and Sundargarh district.
  • It will have state-of-the-art facilities for tribal students from Standard I to XII.
  • Each complex will house 3,000 tribal students, which is being dubbed as a unique initiative in government sector in the country.
  • Funds required for mega complexes will be sourced from Odisha Mineral Bearing Areas Development Corporation (OMBADC), which was formed for focused development of mineral rich districts.

Tribal status in Odisha

  • According to 2011 Census, Odisha’s tribal population constitutes 9.17% of country’s tribal population. In Odisha, tribal population is 22.85% of State’s total population.
  • With 62 tribal communities, Odisha has most diverse tribes in India.
  • In terms of tribal population, it occupies the third position in India.  Of India’s total 75 particularly vulnerable tribal groups, 13 reside in Odisha.
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