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[op-ed snap] One million species face extinction: Why biodiversity report matters

Mains Paper 3 : Conservation, Environmental Pollution & Degradation, Eia |

Note4Students

From UPSC perspective, the following things are important :

Prelims level : IPBES

Mains level : Threat to biodiversity due to human interferrence


CONTEXT

Among the findings that are making global headlines is the assessment that as many as 1 million different species, out of a total of an estimated 8 million plant and animal species, are facing the threat of extinction, more than at any previous time, because of changes brought about in natural environments by human activities.

What is IPBES

  • IPBES is a global scientific body very similar in composition and functioning to the better-known Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) that makes periodic reviews of scientific literature to make projections about the earth’s future climate.
  • IPBES is mandated to do a similar job for natural ecosystems and biodiversity. Formed in 2012, this is the first global assessment report by the IPBES .
  • Like IPCC, IPBES does not produce any new science, it only evaluates existing scientific knowledge to make assessments and projections.

Findings of the report

  • Among the findings that are making global headlines is the assessment that as many as 1 million different species, out of a total of an estimated 8 million plant and animal species, are facing the threat of extinction, more than at any previous time, because of changes brought about in natural environments by human activities.
  • The report says that 75% of Earth’s land surface and 66% marine environments have been “significantly altered”, and that “over 85%” of wetland area had been lost.

Implications of findings of the report

  • The two UN Conventions — Convention on Biological Diversity that addresses biodiversity issues, and the Convention on Combating Desertification that deals with sustainable land management — are likely to be guided by this report in future.
  • It is possible that so would be a host of other international agreements and processes, like the Ramsar Convention on wetlands, the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species, or the Cartagena Protocol on Biosafety.

Indian Connection

  • The report does not have country-specific information.
  • But as a major biodiversity hotspot, vast areas, especially the coastline, of which are under tremendous stress due to large population, India can identify with most of the trends pointed out in the report.
  • For example, it says 23% of global land area had shown a reduction in productivity due to degradation, and that between 100 to 300 million people were at an increased risk of floods and hurricanes because of loss of coastal habitats and protection.
  • It says plastic pollution had increased 10 times from 1980, the number of large dams (those with a height of 15 m or more) had reached almost 50,000, and that human population had more than doubled since 1970s, and the number of urban areas had doubled since 1992.

Conclusion

All these trends have been clearly visible in the case of India, and bring with them the associated risks to natural ecosystems highlighted in the report.

 

Climate Change Impact on India and World – International Reports, Key Observations, etc.

[op-ed snap] Not Justice

Mains Paper 2 : Executive & Judiciary |

Note4Students

From UPSC perspective, the following things are important :

Prelims level : Nothing Much

Mains level : Supreme court upholder of right is falling short of maintaining Justice in its own courtyard.


CONTEXT

CJI. In a report submitted on Monday, the panel has given a clean chit to CJI Gogoi.

Background

Onus on Panel

  • The three-member panel probing charges of sexual harassment against Chief Justice Ranjan Gogoi had a task much broader and more critical than its stated remit.
  • Given that it was investigating allegations levelled against the highest office of the country’s apex court, the panel needed to answer questions that pertained, inevitably, to the integrity of the institution itself.
  • Upon it also lay the onus of instituting procedures that mitigated the unequal power relations in a case where a former junior employee of the court was ranged against the CJI.
  • In a report submitted on Monday, the panel has given a clean chit to CJI Gogoi. It has “found no substance” in the charges.
  • But this denouement — an ex parte report, which will not be made public — raises more questions than it answers.

Proceedings

Complaints regarding Procedure

  • The committee comprising Justices S A Bobde, Indira Banerjee and Indu Malhotra wrapped up the inquiry in sittings over four days, three of which were devoted to questioning the complainant.
  • On the third day, the complainant withdrew from the probe alleging that the panel did not adopt “a procedure that would ensure fairness and equality”.
  • She accused the committee of not informing her about its procedures, denying her legal help, not recording its proceedings and not providing her with a copy of her depositions before it.

Power Asymmetry

  • Each of these four points raises issues of power asymmetry.
  • The committee’s task was, no doubt, complicated by the fact that the SC’s “in-house procedures” do not have provisions to deal with charges against the CJI.
  • But the apex court has, over the years, also interpreted and re-interpreted Articles 14, 15, 19 and 21 of the Constitution to lay down the rights of working women.
  • The probe was a chance to extend such jurisprudence to a situation inside the institution of the court.

Concerns with ex parte investigation

  • The panel’s recourse to an ex-parte investigation is problematic.
  • Aside from the fact that such a probe is against the principles of natural justice..
  • And by not making its report public, the panel has come up short on the requirement of transparency .
  • It has argued that the verdict in Indira Jaising vs Supreme Court of India does not enjoin placing in public “the report of a committee constituted as a part of the In-House Procedure”.
  • But surely a probe into an issue where the institutional propriety of the SC is in question cannot hearken to pre-RTI jurisprudence — which Indira Jaising is.

Conclusion

The panel’s verdict goes against the Court’s tradition of interpreting the law creatively for the sake of upholding and strengthening constitutional morality. The Court has corrected itself in the past. It should do so again.

Judiciary Institutional Issues

[op-ed snap] Surveillance wars in space

Mains Paper 3 : Awareness In The Fields Of It, Space, Computers, Robotics, Nano-Technology, Bio-Technology |

Note4Students

From UPSC perspective, the following things are important :

Prelims level : RPO, mission shakti

Mains level : Space defence activities and it's relevance


CONTEXT

Mission Shakti is a giant leap for India, but only a small step in the world of counter space.Years after Russia, the U.S., and China (referred to here as the Big Three) made a mark in this area, India too has shown that it can hit back at enemies attacking from space.

The relevance of mission Shakti

  • Military experts say that possessing the highly difficult capability to conduct such a test is important and essential for ensuring national security in space.
  • Mission Shakti, as it is called, has earned India a place in an exclusive club of ‘space defenders’.
  • However, a peek into counterspace, the world where such dangerous space activities are practised covertly by the Big Three, shows that while Mission Shakti is a giant leap for India, it is only a small step in that world.

Playground for confidential activities

  1. Secret Activities in space – According to academic reports, policymakers and those tracking the military space, for several years now, the space between 600 km and 36,000 km above the earth has been the playground for such secret activities.

2. Report’s finding – Around the time Mission Shakti took place, the Center for Strategic and International Studies based in Washington, D.C. and the Secure World Foundation came out with reports detailing counterspace capabilities that different countries have today and their sense of threat to space assets.

3. Instances of activities –

  • The reports document that satellites have been launched to sidle up to other satellites in the same orbit.
  • Satellites with robotic arms or handles have touched or nudged their siblings in orbit.
  • Mother (or nesting) spacecraft have gone up to ‘deliver’ baby spy satellites in orbit.
  • Satellites have sneaked up to high perches to see, overhear and sense all that happens in space and on the ground.

The intent of such activities –

  • The intent of being in counterspace is thus surveillance and espionage.
  • In times of war, the intent could even be to capture or disable a rival’s space assets in orbit.
Concerns with such activities

 

  • Loud concerns have been raised over rendezvous and proximity operations (RPO) in space.
  • The actor countries neither acknowledge nor discuss such activities and give them other names.
  • In an RPO event, one country sends a satellite that clandestinely sits next to one of its own (or another country’s) orbiting satellites.
  • The motive could be to inspect and assess the target’s nature, eavesdrop on it, or even subvert its functions.
  • The fear is that in extreme cases, the target may even be ‘abducted’ or taken control of.

Loitering in orbit

  • Satellites of each of the Big Three has been caught loitering in orbit at different times, and the victims have cried foul.
  • In September 2018, French Defence Minister Florence Parly was reported to have charged that Russian satellite Luch-Olymp was lurking too close to — and spying on — a Franco-Italian military communications satellite, Athena-Fidus, in 2017, that is, the previous year.
  • The U.S. has reportedly had its share of RPOs and other acts.
  • Countries are also honing non-kinetic, electronics and cyber-based methods to prevent satellites of other countries from spying on their regions.
  • Cyber attacks can destroy, steal or distort other satellites or ground stations. The attacker gains control of the space asset.

Conclusion

“No one will declare that they are pursuing these kind of technologies but all are doing it, all have to do it, specially major players. In times of war no one is spared, and a country must be ready with its counter-security tactics.

 

ISRO Missions and Discoveries

Karnataka limits weight of schoolbags

Mains Paper 2 : Health & Education |

Note4Students

From UPSC perspective, the following things are important :

Prelims level : Not Much

Mains level : Read the attached story


News

  • The Karnataka government has ordered all schools in the state to ensure that the weight of a child’s schoolbag does not exceed 10 per cent of the weight of the child.
  • The order prescribed that school bags of children in Classes 1-2 cannot weigh more than 2 kg, bags of children in Classes 3-5 should weigh than 2-3 kg, and so on.

Limiting weight of schoolbags

  • The weight of a child’s school bag has been a contested issue for long, and especially so in recent months.
  • Last year, the Union Ministry of HRD directed all states and UTs to “formulate guidelines to regulate the teaching of subjects and weight of school bags in accordance with the Government of India instructions”.
  • According to the central government’s advice, weights of school bags in Classes 1-2, 3-5, 6-7, 8-9, and 10 should not be more than 1.5 kg, 2-3 kg, 4 kg, 4.5 kg, and 5 kg respectively.
  • The Ministry also said that students should not be forced to carry study materials other than the prescribed textbooks to school, as per the day’s timetable.
  • Following the Centre’s directive, several state governments issued directions to schools to comply.

Why such move?

  • Most advanced countries have done away with the need for children to carry bags to school, replacing heavy books and notebooks with electronic aids such as tablet computers, and providing books at school itself.
  • The HRD Ministry’s 2018 directive was in line with its efforts over the past several years to reduce the weight of schoolbags.
  • The CBSE too, had a few years ago, nudged schools to find a way to ensure children did not have to carry heavy bags to school.
  • Child welfare NGOs have long warned that heavier-than-necessary schoolbags could induce premature back- and spine-related problems in schoolchildren.
  • CBSE has been engaged with the issue for over 15 years now, and several studies have attested to the health problems associated with heavy school bags.
Primary and Secondary Education – RTE, Education Policy, SEQI, RMSA, Committee Reports, etc.

Anti Defection Law

Mains Paper 2 : Representation Of People's Act |

Note4Students

From UPSC perspective, the following things are important :

Prelims level : 10th Schedule

Mains level : Anti-defection Law


News

  • The Supreme Court has stayed proceedings initiated by Tamil Nadu Assembly Speaker for disqualification of some MLAs for “anti-party activities”.

Anti Defection Law

  • The anti-defection law was passed by parliament in 1985.
  • The 52nd amendment to the Constitution added the Tenth Schedule which laid down the process by which legislators may be disqualified on grounds of defection.

Who stands as Defected?

  • A Member of Parliament or state legislature was deemed to have defected if he either voluntarily resigned from his party or disobeyed the directives of the party leadership on a vote.
  • A member who votes, or does not vote in the legislature, contrary to the directions of his political party. However, if the member has taken prior permission, or is condoned by the party within 15 days from such voting or abstention, the member shall not be disqualified.
  • Independent members would be disqualified if they joined a political party.
  • Nominated members who were not members of a party could choose to join a party within six months; after that period, they were treated as a party member or independent member.

Certain exceptions

  • Any person elected as speaker or chairman could resign from his party, and rejoin the party if he demitted that post.
  • A party could be merged into another if at least two-thirds of its party legislators voted for the merger (Initially it was one third 91st amendment act made it two third).
  • The law initially permitted splitting of parties, but that has now been outlawed.
Electoral Reforms In India

Purple frog set to be crowned Kerala’s state amphibian

Mains :

Note4Students

From UPSC perspective, the following things are important :

Prelims level : Purple Frog


Click here for Image

News

  • There is an ongoing campaign in Kerala to declare ‘Maveli’, the purple frog as Kerala’s State Amphibian, making it first of its kind in India.

Roots in mythology

  • Mahabali, or Maveli, was a benevolent asura king who ruled over the region of Kerala but was banished into the netherworld by Lord Vishnu in order to appease the gods.
  • But Maveli was granted one wish: he could return to Kerala for a single day and meet his subjects.
  • This day in Kerala came to be celebrated as ‘Thiruvonam’, the most auspicious day of Onam when people would greet their old king.

Purple Frog

  • Quite similar to the lore of King Maveli, researchers have found that the Purple frog (Nasikabatrachus sahyadrensis), which lives almost its entire life in underground tunnels, comes out to the surface for a single day in a year to breed.
  • Once it lays it’s eggs, the bloated frogs characterized by a protruding snout and powerful hind legs return to the earth’s deepest layers.
  • This intriguing frog species is listed as Endangered on the red list of the International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN).
  • It feeds mostly on soil-mites, ants and termites using its fluted tongue.
  • The male and female frogs mate underground and once in a year, they come out on the surface to lay thousands of eggs near seasonal streams in the months of May-June.
  • How they time their emergence onto the surface along with the onset of early rains is a mystery that continues to baffle naturalists.

Why is it so special?

  • It’s endemic to this part of the southern Western Ghats and cannot be found anywhere else.
  • Described for the first time in 2003 by two scientists in the jungles of Kerala, the species sparks feverish imagination among herpetologists worldwide for a number of reasons.
  • It’s evolutionary roots suggest it could have shared space with dinosaurs going back almost 70 million years ago.
  • This could help scientists understand how it’s population may have evolved and learned to overcome the challenges of shifting land masses.
  • A year after it was documented, the frog’s closest relatives were found in Seychelles, an island in the Indian Ocean off East Africa.
  • This discovery led many to ask whether the species could indeed be living proof of the theory of Gondwanaland.

Another proof for continental drift

  • Mammals and rodents have often travelled the seas through ships and with voyagers. But amphibians can’t tolerate salinity.
  • So it’s a possibility that the landmass could have been connected (for the species’ close relatives to be found on two continents today).
Wildlife Conservation Efforts

Grizzled Giant Squirrel

Mains :

Note4Students

From UPSC perspective, the following things are important :

Prelims level : About the squirrel

Mains level : Not Much


News

Grizzled Giant Squirrel

  • For the first time, researchers have sighted nests of the grizzled giant squirrel at Pakkamalai Reserve Forests near Gingee in the Eastern Ghats.
  • The grizzled giant squirrel is usually known to nest in the Western Ghats in Southern India ranging from Chinnar Wildlife sanctuary in Kerala to Anamalai Tiger Reserve and Palani hills in Tamil Nadu.
  • Owing to habitat loss and poaching, the species has been categorised as near threatened by the Red List and listed under Schedule II of CITES.
  • It is an endangered species listed under Schedule I of the Wildlife Protection Act, 1972
  • The grizzled giant squirrel is usually known to nest in the Western Ghats in Southern India ranging from Chinnar Wildlife sanctuary in Kerala to Anamalai Tiger Reserve and Palani hills in Tamil Nadu.
Wildlife Conservation Efforts