ART AND CULTURE
1. PASHMINA SHAWLS
THE CONTEXT: New initiative in J&K to restore lost glory of Pashmina shawls. Plans are afoot to re-engage women artisans in critical production process by doubling wages and announcing MSPs for GI-certified products.
- Pashmina refers to a fine variant of spun cashmere, the animal-hair fibre forming the downy undercoat of the Changthangi goat.
- Both generic cashmere and pashmina come from the same goat, but generic cashmere ranges from 12 to 21 microns in diameter, whereas pashmina refers only to those fibres that range from 12 to 16 microns.
- Goats naturally shed their undercoat, which regrows in winter. This undercoat is collected by combing goat, not by shearing, as in other fine wools.
- Traditional producers of pashmina wool in the Ladakh region of the Himalayas are a people known as the Changpa. These are a nomadic people and inhabit the Changthang plateau of Tibet.
- Raw pashmina is exported to Kashmir.
Reference: The Hindu
INDIAN POLITY, GOVERNANCE AND SOCIAL JUSTICE
2. WHAT HAS THE SUPREME COURT RULED ON ‘CREAMY LAYER’?
THE CONTEXT: On August 24, the Supreme Court observed that economic criterion cannot be the sole basis for identifying the ‘creamy layer’ of a backward class, and that other factors like social advancement, education, employment, too, matter. The judgment came on a writ petition filed by a group from Haryana, the Pichra Warg Kalyan Mahasabha, challenging two notifications issued by the State government in 2016 and 2018, under the Haryana Backward Classes (Reservation in Services and Admission in Educational Institutions) Act, 2016.
WHAT WERE THE NOTIFICATIONS?
- The 2016 notification identified as ‘creamy layer’ backward class members whose gross annual income exceeded ₹6 lakh. It said backward class sections whose families earn less than ₹3 lakh would get priority over their counterparts who earn more than ₹3 lakh but less than ₹6 lakh.
- The Supreme Court struck down the notifications as a “flagrant violation” of the 2016 Act. It said Section 5 (2) of the Act required the State to consider social, economic and other factors together to identify and exclude backward class members as ‘creamy layer’.
WHO BELONGS TO THE ‘CREAMY LAYER’?
- The ‘creamy layer’ concept was introduced in the Supreme Court’s Indra Sawhney judgment, delivered by a nine-judge Bench on November 16, 1992. Though it upheld the government’s decision based on the Mandal Commission’s report to give 27% reservation to Other Backward Classes, the court found it necessary to identify sections of backward classes who were already “highly advanced socially as well as economically and educationally”.
- The court believed that these wealthy and advanced members form the ‘creamy layer’ among backward classes. The judgment directed the State governments to identify the ‘creamy layer’ and exclude them from the purview of reservation.
- However, certain States like Kerala did not promptly implement the judgment. This led to the Indra Sawhney-II case, reported in 2000.
- In this, the court went to the extent of determining the ‘creamy layer’ among backward classes. The judgment held that persons from backward classes who occupied posts in higher services such as IAS, IPS and All India Services had reached a higher level of social advancement and economic status, and therefore, were not entitled to be treated as backward. Such persons were to be treated as ‘creamy layer’ without any further inquiry. Likewise, people with sufficient income who were in a position to provide employment to others should also be taken to have reached a higher social status and treated as “outside the backward class”.
- Other categories included persons with higher agricultural holdings or income from property. Thus, a reading of the Indra Sawhney judgments shows that social advancement, including education and employment, and not just wealth, was key to identify the ‘creamy layer’.
WHY IS IT DIFFICULT TO DRAW THE LINE?
- Justice Jeevan Reddy, in the Indra Sawhney judgment, wondered “how and where to draw the line” between the deserving and the creamy layer among backward classes. The basis of exclusion should not merely be economic, unless, of course, the economic advancement is so high that it necessarily means social advancement.
- Justice Reddy highlighted the pitfalls of identifying the creamy layer merely on economic basis. For example, a person who earns ₹36,000 a month may be economically well-off in rural India. However, the same salary in a metropolitan city may not count for much. Here, Justice Reddy warned that while the income of a person can be taken as a measure of his social advancement, the limit to be prescribed should not be such as to result in taking away with one hand what is given with the other. The income limit must be such as to mean and signify social advancement.
Reference: The Hindu
3. 102 VANDE BHARAT TRAINS TO BE OPERATIONAL BY MARCH 2024
THE CONTEXT: Railway officials say 102 Vande Bharat trains would be commissioned by early 2024.
- On the occasion of the 75th Independence Day celebrations, Mr. Modi said 75 Vande Bharat trains would be operationalised to connect different parts of the country.
- Days after Prime Minister Narendra Modi announced the operation of 75 Vande Bharat trains, the Ministry of Railways has floated tenders for manufacturing 58 rakes, each comprising 16 coaches. Tenders have already been floated for making 44 rakes.
- The Train18, later named Vande Bharat Express, was rolled out by the Integral Coach Factory, Chennai. It was showcased as India’s first semi high-speed train with an operational efficiency of 160 kmph and a game-changer.
- Though the Vande Bharat train was celebrated as one of the most successful products of the Make in India mission, it ran into a controversy over allegations of compromises on safety bringing production of more rakes to a grinding halt.
Reference: The Hindu
4. SCHOOL BUBBLE
THE CONTEXT: The Covid-19 technical advisory committee (TAC) constituted by the Karnataka government has proposed the ‘school bubble’ concept to mitigate the spread of the disease among children (aged below 18) attending offline classes at schools and pre-university colleges across the state.
- School bubbles are physical classifications made between groups comprising a small number of students. As per the concept, each such bubble will include students who tend to remain as a group during school hours throughout the term or an academic year.
- For instance, a school bubble can include 30 students. If one among them gets infected, the others can self-isolate but the school need not be closed completely. This would allow uninterrupted learning to others as well.
- The concept of school bubbles, experts feel, will be more relevant to students studying in primary school or below. These students will have more chances of peer-to-peer interactions on a daily basis. With school bubbles in place the risk assessment process to identify close contacts of a Covid-positive student will also get easier.
- This has been being successfully implemented at schools in the United Kingdom.
Reference: Indian express
ENVIRONMENT, GEOGRAPHY AND AGRICULTURE
5. UNEP: LEADED PETROL ERADICATED
THE CONTEXT: The UN Environment Programme (UNEP) said that the use of leaded petrol has been eradicated from the globe, a milestone that will prevent more than 1.2 million premature deaths and save world economies over $2.4 trillion annually.
- It is responsible for coordinating responses to environmental issues within the United Nations system.
- It was established by Maurice Strong, its first director, after the United Nations Conference on the Human Environment in Stockholm in June 1972.
- Member of the United Nations Development Group.
- UNEP hosts the secretariats of several multilateral environmental agreements and research bodies, including CBD, The Minamata Convention on Mercury, CMS and CITES.
- In 1988, the World Meteorological Organization and UNEP established the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC).
- UNEP is also one of several Implementing Agencies for the Global Environment Facility (GEF)
Reference: The Hindu
6. WHY ARE HYDROPOWER PROJECTS IN THE HIMALAYAS RISKY?
THE CONTEXT: Environment Ministry told the SC earlier this month that 7 hydroelectric power projects can go ahead.
WHAT’S THE HISTORY OF HYDROPOWER PROJECTS IN THE HIMALAYAS?
- In the aftermath of the Kedarnath floods of 2013 that killed at least 5,000 people, the Supreme Court had halted the development of hydroelectric projects in Uttarakhand pending a review by the Environment Ministry on the role such projects had played in amplifying the disaster.
- A 17-member expert committee, led by environmentalist Ravi Chopra, was set up by the Ministry to examine the role of 24 such proposed hydroelectric projects in the Alaknanda and Bhagirathi basin, which contains the Ganga and several tributaries.
- The Chopra committee concluded that 23 projects would have an “irreversible impact” on the ecology of the region. Following this, six private project developers, whose projects were among those recommended to be axed, impleaded themselves in the case on the ground that since their projects had already been cleared for construction before the Kedarnath tragedy; they should be allowed to continue.
- The SC directed a new committee to be set up to examine their case. This committee, led by Vinod Tare of the Indian Institute of Technology, Kanpur, concluded that these projects could have a significant environmental impact.
- The Environment Ministry in 2015 set up yet another committee, led by B.P. Das, who was part of the original committee, but had filed a “dissenting report”. The Das committee recommended all six projects with design modifications to some, and this gives lie to the Environment Ministry’s current stance. The Power Ministry seconded the Environment Ministry’s stance.
- The Water Resources Ministry, then led by Minister Uma Bharti, has been consistently opposed to hydropower projects in the Ganga. In charge of the National Mission for Clean Ganga, the Water Ministry has maintained that the cleanliness of the river was premised on minimum levels of water flow in all seasons and the proposed projects could hinder this.
- By 2019, however, the renamed Jal Shakti Ministry had changed its stance to accommodate seven out of the 24 projects. Its current position however is that barring these, it is “not in favour” of new projects in the Ganga river basin.
- Though hearings in the SC are ongoing, this is the first time that the government has a formal uniform position on hydropower projects in the Uttarakhand region.
WHAT ARE THE CHALLENGES SUCH PROJECTS FACE?
- Glacier retreat and permafrost thaw are projected to decrease the stability of mountain slopes and increase the number and area of glacier lakes. Climate change has driven erratic weather patterns like increased snowfall and rainfall.
- The thermal profile of ice, say experts, was increasing, which means that the temperature of ice that used to range from -6 to -20-degree C, was now -2-degree C, making it more susceptible to melting.
- It was these changing phenomena that made infrastructure projects in the Himalayan regions risky, and made expert committees recommend that there should be no hydropower development beyond an elevation of 2,200 metre in the Himalayan region. Moreover, with increased instances of cloudbursts, and intense spells of rainfall and avalanches, residents of the region were also placed at increased risk of loss of lives and livelihood.
HOW CAN THESE CONFLICTS BE RESOLVED?
- Several environmentalists, residents of the region, say that the proposed projects being built by private companies allot only a limited percentage of their produced power for the State of Uttarakhand itself. Thus the State, on its own, takes on massive environmental risk without being adequately compensated for it or its unique challenges accounted for.
- Though the Centre is committed to hydropower projects because it’s a renewable source of power, the ecological damage combined with the reduced cost of solar power means that it has in recent times said on multiple occasions that it is not in favour of greenfield hydropower projects in the region.
- But several environmental activists say that the Centre has frequently changed its position and will continue to prioritise infrastructural development in the region, even if it comes at a heavy environmental cost.
Reference: The Hindu
7. NATIONAL SMALL INDUSTRY DAY
THE CONTEXT: Every year on August 30, the country celebrates National Small Industry Day. The day is dedicated to encouraging small businesses around the country.
HISTORY OF THE DAY
On August 30, 2000, a comprehensive policy package for the SSI sector was launched, providing significant support to small firms in India. It was subsequently agreed that August 30 would be designated as “SSI Day” by the Ministry.
THE KEY REFORMS INTRODUCED BY MINISTRY OF MSME
- India is home to more than 6.3 crore MSMEs, which have the ability and capability to access international markets and work as ancillaries to larger international firms.
- In terms of exports, the sector holds high potential in various sub-sectors such as textiles, leather & leather goods, pharmaceuticals, automotive, gems & Jewellery etc. with overall contribution of 45 percent.
- Ministry of MSME has been tirelessly working towards development of MSMEs and has undertaken interventions to enhance MSME ecosystem in India. Some of the key reforms introduced by Ministry of MSME are:
- Revision of MSME definition: In line with Government of India’s top focus on energizing MSMEs in the country, Government of India approved the upward revision of MSME definition on 1st June 2020 under the Aatmanirbhar Bharat Package. The Government revised the MSME classification by inserting composite criteria of both investment and annual turnover.
- Udyam Registration: Udyam is an online and simplified procedure of filing of registration which enables MSMEs to obtain registration without any documentation and fees. It is a globally benchmarked process and a revolutionary step towards Ease of Doing Business. Ministry of MSME has also commenced API integration of Udyam Registration portal with GeM so that MSEs can participate in Government procurement easily.
- Champions Portal: CHAMPIONS is an online platform to help and handhold the MSMEs specially in this difficult time. It is an ICT based technology system aimed at making the smaller units big by solving their grievances, encouraging, supporting, helping and handholding throughout the business lifecycle. The platform facilitates a single window solution for all needs of MSMEs.
- National SC-ST Hub (NSSH): National SC-ST Hub has been launched to promote entrepreneurship culture in the SC-ST community and fulfill the 4% procurement target mentioned in the Public Procurement Policy order, 2018.To boost entrepreneurship among SC/ST population and for maximum on-ground penetration, several interventions have been undertaken to cater to the challenge of market linkages, finance facilitations, capacity building etc.
- Self-Reliant India (SRI) Fund: The scheme is expected to facilitate equity financing of Rs.50,000 crore in the MSME Sector. The infusion of equity will provide an opportunity to get MSMEs listed in stock exchanges. Further, it will also facilitate MSMEs to scale-up their business & growth and will help creating more jobs in the MSME sector.
- Procurement Policy: For providing marketing support to MSEs, all Central Ministries/Government Departments and CPSEs are required to procure 25% of their annual requirements of goods and services from MSEs including 4% from MSEs owned by SC/ST and 3% from MSEs owned by women entrepreneurs under the Public Procurement Policy.
- Establishment of Enterprise Development Centers (EDCs): With a view to provide Information related to MSMEs at one place, Enterprise Development Centres (EDCs)have been conceptualized. Till date Ministry of MSME has set up 102 EDCs across India. The aim of these centers is to build a network of entrepreneurial leaders by providing professional mentoring and handholding support services to existing as well as aspiring MSMEs with special focus on rural enterprises on continuous basis.
SCIENCE AND TECHNOLOGY
8. IS COVID-19 NOW ENDEMIC IN INDIA?
THE CONTEXT: As India gets ready to face a possible third wave of SARS-CoV-2, World Health Organization (WHO) chief scientist Dr Soumya Swaminathan has said that India seems to be entering some stage of Covid-19 endemicity where there is low- to moderate-level transmission.
WHAT IS ENDEMICITY?
- Endemic means something that is present all the time. For example, said leading virologist Dr Shahid Jameel, influenza is endemic, unlike smallpox which has been eradicated.
- Only those pathogens can be eradicated that don’t have animals (another species) as a reservoir. Smallpox and polio are human virus examples, rinderpest is a cattle virus. This means if there is a virus/pathogen that is present in some animal reservoir like bats, camels or civet cats, and then it can transmit again once the level of immunity wanes in the population against the disease caused by it.
- In the case of coronavirus disease, it will continue to circulate as it is present in the animal reservoir. This also means that it will cause disease to the extent that people have had no vaccination against or exposure. If, however, enough people are vaccinated or have been exposed to the infection, then the virus will cause symptomatic infection but not disease. So, that is what is considered becoming endemic – it is there but not causing disease.
WHEN IS SARS-COV-2 LIKELY TO BECOME ENDEMIC?
- That will depend on how fast it spreads and mutates. There are many variables that have to be considered and there is no clear answer regarding when the virus is likely to be endemic.
- The last serological survey by the Indian Council of Medical Research (ICMR) had shown from a representative sample of the population — 70 districts out of 718 — that roughly two-thirds of the populations have antibodies. Again, out of those two-thirds, some would have had the antibodies because they have now been fully vaccinated. However, since vaccination rates are still fairly low, the general assumption is that most people who have antibodies have been infected but not all have had disease. This means a majority will be protected from symptomatic disease later on they may get infected but are protected.
- Again, that is assuming the virus is not going to change to a form that transmits easily and evades immunity. One cannot predict if and when the virus mutates into something where vaccines start failing.
HOW LONG CAN THE ANTIBODIES BE EXPECTED TO LAST?
- Most everybody now has antibodies that likely reduces the chance of infection and even if infected may not develop severe disease. This virus is going to stay with us. We may already have developed herd immunity, which indicates that most of us have antibodies — either due to infection or vaccination — and hence if infected we may not develop severe disease.
- “From its rate of spread and its rate of mutation, many of us indeed expect that this coronavirus will never be eradicated – not just in India, but globally – and will become endemic to stay with you without causing major health problems, since the vast majority would have developed protective antibodies.
CAN AN ADDITIONAL VACCINE DOSE HELP?
- Whether or not a booster dose of a vaccine is required depends on how quickly the antibody level comes down in the average individual.
- There are wide variations in the trend of waning of antibody level among persons; sufficient data have not yet accumulated to definitively determine the need for a booster dose.
- While vaccine effectiveness does appear to decline over time, there is still expected to be substantial protection. It is likely that a third shot or booster might be necessary in the future and in fact, a regular booster shot, just like for influenza, might be indicated.
SHOULD WE WORRY ABOUT NUMBERS RISING AGAIN?
- One can expect a more or less constant level of infection within the population, with the likelihood of severe illness, hospitalisation or death becoming increasingly small as people are vaccinated.
- The Delta variant now dominates new infections around the country. Viruses mutate constantly, but the question is whether a new variant will come along that is much more transmissible than Delta and can evade a immune response from either a prior infection or vaccination.
- As long as it does not, we might expect that a small background of reinfections and vaccine breakthroughs will help maintain numbers of infected at a low, constant level. It is more likely that there will be a steady level of cases, with some regions, especially of low prior seroprevalence and low vaccination rates, seeing spikes. It is completely unlikely that we will see case numbers comparable to the second wave.
Reference: Indian express
9. IISC COMPLETES TECHNOLOGY TRANSFER OF OXYGEN CONCENTRATORS
THE CONTEXT: Over the past year, researchers at the Indian Institute of Science (IISc) have been working on solutions to address the oxygen shortage due to COVID-19. Two key efforts in this direction have been the development of oxygen generation systems and oxygen concentrators.
- The oxygen concentrator is an indigenous design developed by IISc researchers led by Praveen Ramamurthy, Professor in the Department of Materials Engineering. The group had already been working on oxygen concentrators since March 2020.
- A prototype capable of producing oxygen at more than 93% purity at five litres per minute (LPM) and 82% at 10 LPM was developed by August 2020 itself. The researchers then modified this prototype which now delivers more than 93% purity oxygen at 10 LPM within three minutes.
- The stability and performance of the system was monitored continuously for more than eight months. Clinical trials have been completed, and the system was found to perform on par with compressed oxygen cylinders.
- Till date, the technology has been transferred to 24 companies, and about 35 units have been supplied to various hospitals. Recently, the Government of Karnataka issued a circular for the supply of two units each to 2,508 public health centres from the licensees, says a press release.
- Another solution catering to needs of the hospitals is an oxygen generation system based on technology developed by an IISc team . The process is based on a twin-bed swing adsorption system integrated with storage and discharge vessels, and various safety systems. In one of the variants, a cylinder-filing mechanism has also been incorporated using a boost pump. The oxygen produced fulfills the quality requirements prescribed by Indian Pharmacopeia and can be used in ICUs/CCUs/OTs and other clinical wards. Last month, the first unit based on this system was installed at the Pobbathi Medical Centre in Bengaluru.
- On 15 August 2021, Prof Rangarajan, the Director of IISc, inaugurated an open-source design for a medical oxygen generation system with 50 LPM capacity. The system will be installed at St Mary’s Polyclinic in Lucknow. A unique feature of this system is the capability to fill about ten 47-litre cylinders at 200 bar pressure within 24 hours, apart from supplying oxygen to patient beds. Preparations are underway to ship the system to the Lucknow hospital.
- IISc has also signed technology transfer agreements with four agencies from across the country for installing oxygen generation systems at various capacities (50 LPM-1000 LPM) to meet the requirements of hospitals.
Reference: The Hindu
10. INS AIRAVAT ARRIVES AT HO CHI MINH CITY
THE CONTEXT: As part of the ongoing Mission SAGAR, INS Airavat arrived at Ho Chi Minh City Port in Vietnam with COVID Relief Material on 30 August 2021.
- The ship is carrying 100 Metric Tons of Liquid Medical Oxygen in 05 ISO Containers and 300 Oxygen Concentrators of 10 LPM capacity each based on the requirement projected by the Government of Vietnam in its fight against the ongoing COVID19 pandemic.
- INS Airavat, an indigenously built Landing Ship Tank (Large) under the Eastern Naval Command based at Visakhapatnam, is on a deployment to South East Asia for trans-shipment of COVID Relief aid.
- The ship had earlier entered Tanjung Priok Port in Jakarta, Indonesia on 24 August 2021 and disembarked 10 Liquid Medical Oxygen Containers requested by the Government of Indonesia.
- As part of the Government of India’s vision of SAGAR (Security and Growth for All in the Region), the Indian Navy has been proactively engaging with countries in the region and has been at the forefront of numerous humanitarian missions spanning the entire extent of the Indian Ocean including South/ South East Asia and East Africa.
- India and Vietnam enjoy a strong traditional bond of friendship and have been working together towards a safer maritime domain. The two navies cooperate in various areas including a composite training programme in the fields of the submarine, aviation and technical training, and regularly carry out joint naval exercises in the form of bilateral exercises. The current deployment of the ship aims to further strengthen the strategic relationship.
- The ship will depart Ho Chi Minh City post disembarkation of the medical supplies and as part of the ongoing Mission SAGAR continue onwards to deliver medical supplies to other friendly nations in the region.
Q1. UNEP hosts secretariat of which of the following?
- Convention on Migratory Species
- Minamata Convention
- Convention on Biodiversity
Select the correct answer using code given below:
- 1 and 2 only
- 1 and 3 only
- 2 and 3 only
- 1, 2 and 3
Q2. Consider the following statements about Malabar Rebellion of 1921:
- The rebellion was started by Mappila community.
- Mappilas were Muslim peasant community in Malabar region.
- The rebellion was against Hindu landlords only.
Which of the statements given above are correct?
- 1 and 2
- 2 and 3
- 1 and 3
- 1, 2 and 3
ANSWER FOR AUGUST 29 & 30, 2021 PRELIMS PRACTICE QUESTIONS (REFER RELEVANT ARTICLE)
Q.1 Answer: D
Concerns associated with Oil Pal cultivation:
- Destruction of rainforests and native biodiversity.
- The impact on community ownership of tribal lands.
- The oil palm is a water-guzzling, monoculture crop with a long gestation period unsuitable for small farmers.
- High pesticide use in areas where it is not a native crop, leading to consumer health concerns as well.
- High levels of investment and long wait for high returns tend to attract large corporate investors, while small cultivators have struggled with long gestation period, and have required heavy government support.