INDIAN SOCIETY AND CULTURE
1. NAGALAND’S HORNBILL FESTIVAL
THE CONTEXT: Amid tensions in Nagaland’s Mon district protest against the killing of 14 civilians by the security forces while the State Government called off a major ongoing festival as a mark of respect to the deceased.
About the Festival:
- The Hornbill Festival, which is called the ‘Festivals of Festivals’, is a 10-day annual cultural fest of Nagaland that showcases the rich and diverse Naga ethnicity through folk dances, traditional music, local cuisine, handicraft, art workshops etc. The start of this festival (December 1) marks Nagaland statehood day.
- The festival is named after the Indian Hornbill Bird. It is a large and colourful forest bird. The festival is named after the bird as it is displayed in the folklore of most of the tribals in the state of Nagaland.
- The festival has contributed significant tourism revenue to the northeastern part of India. This is mainly because the Hornbill festival provides an insight into the different Tribes of Nagaland. It provides a colourful mixture of craft, dancers, sports, religious ceremonies and food fairs. Naga Morungs exhibition is also organised during the festival.
- The Naga Morungs is also called the They are the ethnic groups native to North-Western Myanmar and North-Eastern India. These groups have similar cultures and form the majority of the population in Nagaland and Naga self-administered zone. The Naga self-administered zone is located in the Naga Hills of the Sagaing region of Myanmar.
Other Naga Festival
Apart from the Hornbill festival, the other popular festival of the Nagas is the Lui Ngai Ni. It is the seed sowing festival that is celebrated by the Naga Tribes of Manipur. It is celebrated in the month of February to mark the beginning of the spring season.
- There are three main areas of origin of hornbill species in the Indomalayan region, namely, species restricted to the Southeast Asian mainland forests (but including parts of South Asia), species in the Sunda shelf forests and species that occur in the various island archipelagos.
- India is home to nine species of hornbills, of which two are endemic.
- It is referred to as ‘forest engineers’ or ‘farmers of the forest’ for playing a key role in dispersing seeds of tropical trees.
- The Hornbills indicate the prosperity and balance of the forest they build nests in.
- The Great Hornbill occurs in north, north-east and south India, apart from Nepal, Bhutan and Bangladesh.
- Within India, the Wreathed Hornbill Rhyticeros undulatus, Rufous-necked Hornbill Aceros nipalensis and the White-throated Brown Hornbill Anorrhinus austeni are restricted to north-east India.
- Hornbills are the largest fruit-eating birds (also called frugivores) in Asian rainforests.
- The Great Hornbill is also the state bird of Arunachal Pradesh and several tribes have myths and stories about hornbills that form an important part of their folklore.
NOTE: State Bird of Nagaland is Blyth’s Tragopan,
Conservation Status of Hornbills
- The Rufous-necked Hornbill and Great Hornbill is listed as ‘Vulnerable‘ by the IUCN, while the Brown Hornbill and the Malabar Pied Hornbill are listed under the Lower risk/Near threatened category.
- Other Hornbill species in India are listed as ‘Least Concern’.
- Six species of hornbills are listed in Schedule I of the Wildlife Protection Act of India (1972)e. the Great Hornbill, Rufous-necked Hornbill, Wreathed Hornbill, Narcondam Hornbill, Oriental Pied Hornbill and the Brown Hornbill.
Tribes in Nagaland
Nagaland has 16 recognised tribes — Angami, Ao, Chakhesang, Chang, Dimasa Kachari, Khiamniungan, Konyak, Kuki, Lotha, Phom, Pochury, Rengma, Sangtam, Sumi, Yimchungrü and Zeliang. The Kachari and Kuki are non-Naga tribes while the Zeliang comprises two Naga communities — Zeme and Liangmai.
2. THE CONVALESCENT PLASMA THERAPY FOR COVID-19
THE CONTEXT: The World Health Organization (WHO) has recommended against the use of convalescent plasma therapy for novel coronavirus disease (COVID-19) treatment. High uncertainty of outcome, logistical concerns were some of the factors cited by the United Nations health agency.
What is plasma therapy?
Plasma is the liquid part of the blood. Convalescent plasma, extracted from the blood of patients recovering from an infection, is a source of antibodies against the infection. The therapy involves using their plasma to help others recover. For Covid-19, this has been one of the treatment options. The donor would have to be a documented case of Covid-19 and healthy for 28 days since the last symptoms.
- According to the WHO, “the current evidence shows that it does not improve survival nor reduce the need for mechanical ventilation, and it is costly and time-consuming to administer,”.
- There was sufficient uncertainty in patients with severe and critical illness to warrant the continuation of randomised controlled trials, the organisation said. The recommendation was based on findings from 16 trials involving 16,236 patients with non-severe, severe and critical infections.
- WHO also listed several logistical concerns surrounding this line of treatment. The process of identifying and testing potential donors, collecting, storing and administering plasma therapy is not entirely practical and causes feasibility issues, according to the agency.
The guidance adds to a list of previous recommendations on:
- Use of interleukin-6 receptor blockers and systemic corticosteroids for patients with severe or critical COVID-19
- Use of neutralising monoclonal antibodies in selected patients
- Use of ivermectin and hydroxychloroquine in patients with COVID-19 regardless of disease severity
The treatment uses blood from those who have recovered from COVID-19 since they have antibodies from natural infection. Antibodies and plasma — a clear liquid — are separated from blood cells and introduced into the patient’s body.
Studies published in late 2020 and early 2021 had made a case for plasma therapy in treating COVID-19. Peer-reviewed articles published later, however, did not find similar benefits. Among them was a study done in India.
Early 2021, the All India Institute of Medical Sciences-Indian Council of Medical Research COVID-19 National Task Force and the Union health ministry decided to drop the treatment.
Convalescent plasma therapy “did not lead to a reduction in progression to severe COVID-19 or all-cause mortality, according to a November 2020 study by ICMR. The study included 464 “moderately ill” patients.
3. HYDROGEN SULPHIDE GAS
THE CONTEXT: The researchers at the Indian Institute of Science have found out that hydrogen sulphide gas can suppress the Human Immunodeficiency Virus or HIV virus. They ascertained that increased hydrogen sulphide in the body reduces the rate at which the HIV virus multiplies in the immune cells.
- According to an IISc, current state-of-the-art combined antiretroviral therapy (cART) is not a cure for HIV. It can only suppress the virus by causing it to become latent.
What is Combination antiretroviral therapy (cART))?
- In some cases, cART is known to fail even when patients fully follow their drug regimen. Certain negative effects are also associated with cART, such as the build-up of toxic molecules leading to ‘oxidative stress and loss of function in the mitochondria, the cell’s powerhouse. These effects can contribute to inflammation and organ damage. Stopping cART is also not an option because the virus can reactivate – emerge from its latent state – in the absence of therapy,”.
- Scientists have recently begun exploring the beneficial effects of the presence of H2S in HIV-infected cells on both oxidative stress and mitochondrial dysfunction.
About Hydrogen sulphide
- It is a chemical compound with the formula H2S.
- It is a colorless chalcogen hydride gas with the characteristic foul odour of rotten eggs.
- It is poisonous, corrosive, and flammable.
- Hydrogen sulphide is often produced from the microbial breakdown of organic matter in the absence of oxygen, such as in swamps and sewers; this process is commonly known as anaerobic digestion.
- H2S also occurs in volcanic gases, natural gas, and in some sources of well water.
- The human body produces small amounts of H2S and uses it as a signalling molecule.
- Hydrogen sulphide is slightly denser than air. A mixture of H
2S and air can be explosive. Hydrogen sulphide burns in oxygen with a blue flame to form sulphur dioxide (SO2) and water.
- HIV stands for Human Immunodeficiency Virus. It weakens a person’s immune system by destroying important cells that fight disease and infection. There is currently no effective cure for HIV. But with proper medical care, HIV can be controlled. Some groups of people in the United States are more likely to get HIV than others because of many factors, including their sex partners and risk behaviors.
- HIV is transmitted from person to person through bodily fluids including blood, semen, vaginal secretions, anal fluids and breast milk.
- To transmit HIV, bodily fluids must contain enough of the virus. A person with ‘Undetectable HIV’ cannot transfer HIV to another person even after the transfer of fluids.
- ‘Undetectable HIV’ is when the amount of HIV in the body is so low that a blood test cannot detect it. Treatment can make this possible. But regular monitoring of the same through blood tests.
THE ENVIRONMENT AND ECOLOGY
4. KASTURIRANGAN COMMITTEE RECOMMENDATIONS
THE CONTEXT: Recently, Karnataka Chief Minister informed the Centre that the state is opposed to the Kasturirangan Committee report on the Western Ghats. Also, he stated that declaring the Western Ghats as an ecologically sensitive zone would adversely affect the livelihood of people in the region.
- The Western Ghats is an extensive region spanning over six States, 44 districts and 142 taluks.
- It is the home of many endangered plants and animals. Western Ghats host India’s richest wilderness in 13 national parks and several sanctuaries. Recognised by UNESCO as one of the world’s eight most important biodiversity hotspots, these forested hills are also sourcing to numerous rivers, including the Godavari, Krishna and Cauvery.
- The 39 sites are located across the Western Ghats and distributed across the states (Kerala 19), Karnataka (10), Tamil Nadu (6) and Maharashtra (4). The boundary of the sites are in most cases, boundaries of the legally demarcated national parks, wildlife sanctuaries, tiger reserves and forest divisions and therefore, already accorded with high level of protection.
Madhav Gadgil Committee Report on the Western Ghats
Gadgil Commission, an environmental research commission known as Western Ghats Ecology Expert Panel (WGEEP). The commission submitted the report to the Government of India on 31 August 2011.
- The Western Ghats Ecology Expert Panel (WGEEP) designated the entire hill range as an Ecologically Sensitive Area (ESA).
- The panel, in its report, has classified the 142 taluks in the Western Ghats boundary into Ecologically Sensitive Zones (ESZ) 1, 2 and 3.
- ESZ-1 being of high priority, almost all developmental activities (mining, thermal power plants etc) were restricted in it.
- Gadgil report recommended that “no new dams based on large-scale storage be permitted in Ecologically Sensitive Zone 1. Since both the Athirappilly of Kerala and Gundia of Karnataka hydel project sites fall in Ecologically Sensitive Zone 1, these projects should not be accorded environmental clearance,”.
- Gadgil Committee report specifies that the present system of governance of the environment should be changed. It asked for a bottom to top approach (right from Gram sabhas) rather than a top to bottom approach. It also asked for decentralization and more powers to local authorities.
- The commission recommended the constitution of a Western Ghats Ecology Authority (WGEA), as a statutory authority under the Ministry of Environment and Forests, with the powers under Section 3 of the Environment (Protection) Act, 1986.
Madhav Gadgil committee recommendations faced huge criticism because of its more environment-friendly and not in tune with the ground realities. As many mafias created fear among the people that the Gadgil report is anti-farmer and anti-people, people burnt the Gadgil Committee report.
And it is in this background that another committee was appointed to study Gadgil Report, review and suggest measures for implementation.
The Kasturirangan committee was constituted to examine the WGEEP report. The committee is often called HLWG – it denotes the 10 members high-level working group (HLWG).
The Kasturirangan committee report proposes 37 per cent of the total area of the Western Ghats, which is roughly 60,000 square kilometres, be declared as an eco-sensitive area (ESA).
- A complete ban on mining, quarrying and sand mining in ESA.
- Distinguished between cultural (58% occupied in the Western Ghats by it like human settlements, agricultural fields and plantations) and natural landscape (90% of it should come under ESA according to the committee).
- Current mining areas in the ESA should be phased out within the next five years, or at the time of expiry of mining lease, whichever is earlier.
- No thermal power be allowed and hydropower projects are allowed only after detailed study.
- Red industries. which are highly polluting be strictly banned in these areas.
- Kasturirangan report on the Western Ghats has made several pro-farmer recommendations, including the exclusion of inhabited regions and plantations from the purview of ecologically sensitive areas (ESAs).
- The Kasturirangan report had said 123 villages fall under the ESA purview.
The Kasturirangan panel had submitted its report to the Ministry on April 15, 2013.
What is the present status of the deemed forest land in Karnataka?
- While there is a growing concern over the forest encroachments in Karnataka, the state government has planned to further shrink the deemed forest area from 3,30,186.938 hectares to 2 lakh hectares.
- In the order dated December 12, 1996 of the Supreme Court of India in Writ Petition in Godavarman Thirumulpad Vs Union of India & others, the term forest as per dictionary meaning and the forests recorded in government records were to be included in the broad definition of ‘forests’ along with notified forests for consideration of any diversion proposal under the Forest (Conservation) Act, 1980.
- The expert committee appointed by the Government of Karnataka identified 10 lakh hectares of land in the State as deemed forest. The state expert committee in 1997 had identified 10 lakh hectares of deemed forest area which over the years were shrunk by the successive governments.
Conclusion: While the Gadgil Committee report prioritized the Environment and recommended measures to keep it at the centre, the Kasturirangan committee tried to balance the recommendations with development, simultaneously with safeguards.
However, both the reports have evoked sharp reactions from the stakeholders, in terms of protest by various forums, common citizens.
While one major criticism rests on a view that the Kasturirangan report has watered the provision of the earlier report, there exists another view questioning the practicality of the earlier report, concerns of livelihood, small farming communities. Nevertheless, it is true that both the reports have garnered public attention and scrutiny, inviting nature enthusiasts and commercial establishments. Therefore, a threadbare discussion with all stakeholders, addressing concerns of all those affected, would result in effective conservation of the Ecologically Sensitive Western Ghats.
THE ECONOMIC DEVELOPMENTS
5. NON-FUNGIBLE TOKENS
THE CONTEXT: NFT sales have had a breakthrough year in 2021, with total sales volume surging to $12 billion and its market is dominated by a handful of standout leaders due to their popularity and rarity.
The cryptocurrency boom over the past two years has helped propel a newer market to record heights: digital collectibles, also known as NFTs.
What are Fungible and Non-Fungible assets?
- A fungible asset is something that can be readily interchanged like money. With money, you can swap a £10 note for two £5 notes, and it will have the same value.
- On the other hand, a non-fungible asset means it has unique properties which cannot be interchanged with something else.
Example: It could be a painting that is one of a kind. You can take a photo of the painting or buy a print, but there will only ever be one original painting.
What are Non-Fungible Tokens (NFTs)?
- Non-Fungible Tokens (NFTs) are unique cryptographic tokens that exist on a blockchain and cannot be replicated.
- They are one-of-a-kind assets in the digital world that can be bought and sold like any other piece of property, but they have no tangible form of their own.
- The digital tokens can be thought of as certificates of ownership for virtual or physical assets.
How do they work?
- Non- Fungible tokens are unique, irreplaceable, mostly digital items that users buy and sell online.
- NFTs use blockchain technology to keep a digital record of ownership, similar to cryptocurrencies. They were first launched on ethereum, the same blockchain that supports the cryptocurrency ether, and to this day most NFTs can still only be purchased using ether.
GOVERNMENT SCHEMES/ INITIATIVES IN NEWS
AGRICULTURE INFRASTRUCTURE FUND (AIF)
THE CONTEXT: According to the Ministry of Agriculture & farmer’s welfare, the Agriculture Infrastructure Fund aims at providing a medium-long term debt financing facility till 2025-2026. Till date, a total of 8488 projects have been sanctioned under the scheme with a loan amount of Rs. 6098 crores, out of which, Rs. 2071 crores have been disbursed for 4003 projects.
In July 2020, the Union Cabinet has approved a new pan India Central Sector Scheme called Agriculture Infrastructure Fund. The scheme shall provide a medium – long term debt financing facility for investment in viable projects for post-harvest management Infrastructure and community farming assets through interest subvention and financial support.
The duration of the Scheme shall be from FY2020 to FY2032 (10 years).
Under the scheme, Rs. One Lakh Crore will be provided by banks and financial institutions as loans to Primary Agricultural Credit Societies (PACS), Marketing Cooperative Societies, Farmer Producers Organizations (FPOs), Self Help Group (SHG), Farmers, Joint Liability Groups (JLG), Multipurpose Cooperative Societies, Agri-entrepreneurs, Startups, Aggregation Infrastructure Providers and Central/State agency or Local Body sponsored Public-Private Partnership Project.
- All loans under this financing facility will have an interest subvention of 3% per annum up to a limit of Rs. 2 crores. This interest subvention will be available for a maximum period of seven years.
- Further, credit guarantee coverage will be available for eligible borrowers from this financing facility under Credit Guarantee Fund Trust for Micro and Small Enterprises (CGTMSE) scheme for a loan up to 2 crores. The fee for this coverage will be paid by the Government.
- In the case of FPOs, the credit guarantee may be availed from the facility created under the FPO promotion scheme of the Department of Agriculture, Cooperation & Farmers Welfare (DACFW).
- The moratorium for repayment under this financing facility may vary subject to a minimum of 6 months and a maximum of 2 years.
Management: The fund will be managed and monitored through an online Management Information System (MIS) platform. It will enable all the qualified entities to apply for loans under the Fund.
THE PRELIM PRACTICE QUESTIONS
Q1. Consider the following statements about CAMPA:
- It is a statutory body established under the Forest (Conservation) Act, 1980.
- It is meant to promote afforestation and regeneration activities as a way of compensating for forest land diverted to non-forest uses.
- Union Minister for Environment, Forest and Climate Change is chairperson of CAMPA.
Which of the statements given above is/are correct?
a) 1 only b) 1 and 2 only
c) 2 and 3 only d) All of them
Q2. In Which of the following states, AFSPA is not implemented at present?
a) Assam b) Nagaland
c) Manipur d) Tripura
ANSWER FOR 7TH DECEMBER 2021 PRELIMS PRACTICE QUESTIONS
- Statement 1 is incorrect: Public Accounts Committee was first constituted in 1921 under the provisions of the Government of India Act 1919.
- Statement 2 is correct: The term of office of the members is one year.
- Statement 3 is correct: A minister cannot be elected as a member of the committee.