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January 2020

Forest Fires

Blaze down under


From UPSC perspective, the following things are important :

Prelims level : Not much.

Mains level : Paper 1-Climate change,Forest fires.


In Australia, forest fires, among the worst in the country’s history, have been raging since September and show no signs of abating.

 Unabated fire in Australia

  • The fire, worst in Australia’s history, has been raging since September and shows no signs of abating.
  • At least 24 people lost their lives, 500 million animal have perished, and more than 12bn acres of land has turned to cinders.
  • New South Wales, the country’s worst-affected state, declared an emergency last week in its southeastern region.

Climate change and the fire

  • Australians have vented their anger at Prime Minister for playing down the blaze’s association with climate change.
  • Bushfires are actually a part of Australia’s ecosystem. Many plants depend on them to cycle nutrients and clear vegetation.
  • Eucalyptus trees in Australia depend on fire to release their seeds.
  • The prolonged blaze this year has coincided with Australia’s harshest summer.
  • Parts of the country recorded their highest recorded temperature in December.
  • Much of Australia is facing a drought that is a result of three consecutive summers with very little precipitation.
  • This, according to climate scientists, is unprecedented.
  • Australian Bureau of Meteorology’s 2018 State of the Climate report had given a hint of the change.
  • It said “Australia’s climate has warmed by just over 1 degree Celsius since 1910, leading to an increase in the frequency of extreme heat events.’’
  • This has led to more rainfall in northern Australia but created drought-like conditions in the more densely populated southeast.

Damage caused to the flora and fauna of Australia

  • Australia is home to nearly 250 animal species.
  • Some of them like the koalas and kangaroos are not found elsewhere.
  • The region also has the highest rate of native animals going extinct over the past 200 years.
  • Experts, for example, reckon that more than a quarter of the koala habitat has been consumed by the blaze.
  • The fires have also caused a drop in the bird, rodent and insect populations.


  • These creatures perished are the building blocks of the ecosystem and the fall in their population is bound to have long-term impacts. In Australia’s bushfires lies a warning about the complex ways in which climate variables interact.

The Crisis In The Middle East

[op-ed snap]The U.S. is weakened by Soleimani’s killing


From UPSC perspective, the following things are important :

Prelims level : Not much.

Mains level : Paper2 - International relations


Targeted killing of powerful Iranian Major-General could have done more bad than good for the U.S.

Series of events after the assassination

  • The Iraqi parliament voted to expel the U.S. troops stationed in Iraq and deny them access to its airspace, land or water.
  • Pro-Iranian groups could attack across the region where thousands of U.S. troops and official personnel are stationed.
  • Soleimani’s assassination has awakened the deep strain of Iranian patriotism.
  • And Iran is not alone.
  • In Beirut, Hezbollah leader Hassan Nasrallah called Soleimani the “glue that held the Resistance Axis together”.
  • The U.S threat of striking “52 Iranian sites” did not win the U.S. any support on the international stage.
  • Even the Europeans, otherwise steadfast with the U.S. in these sorts of adventures, hesitated.
  • Arab League’s Secretary-General Ahmed Aboul Gheit expressed concern over the situation and asked for calm.
  • This is the same man who had, only a few weeks ago, accused Iran of sowing chaos in the region.
  • It is likely that China and Russia will table a resolution at the UN that calls for calm as well as criticises the U.S.
  • This will certainly be vetoed by the U.S.

Desperate and irrational policy

  • Till now the U.S. has not been able to extricate itself from its illegal war against Iraq.
  • That war provided a massive advantage to Iran not only in Iraq but also across the region.
  • This is what terrified two of the U.S.’s allies, Israel and Saudi Arabia, both of whom pressured Washington to increase its threats against Iran.
  • S. create the conditions for the rise of the worst kind of violence in Iraq, and later Syria
  • It also weakened the strategic position of its allies.
  • No attempt by the U.S. to regain its authority has worked.
  • The U.S. policy against Iran and Iraq appear desperate and irrational.


  • The U.S recklessness has isolated it further and deepened anxieties amongst its increasingly isolated regional allies, Israel and Saudi Arabia.

Languages and Eighth Schedule

[op-ed snap]A case for inclusion of Tulu language in the Eighth Schedule.


From UPSC perspective, the following things are important :

Prelims level : Tulu language and its region in India.

Mains level : Paper 2-Official languages of the union and the states.


With numerous languages in the country, placing all deserving languages on an equal footing will promote social inclusion and national solidarity.

Figures and facts

  • According to the 2001 Census, India has 30 languages that are spoken by more than a million people each.
  • It also has 122 languages that are spoken by at least 10,000 people each.
  • It also has 1,599 languages, most of which are dialects.
  • These are restricted to specific regions and many of them are on the verge of extinction.
  • Article 29 provides every citizens of India with a distinct culture, language, and script, the right to conserve the same.
  • It is the responsibility of both the state and the citizens of this distinct language, script or culture to preserve the same.

Eighth schedule and Tulu language

  • Sanskrit has 24,821 speakers and it is in the Eighth Schedule according to the 2011 Census.
  • However, many languages with sizeable speakers are not in the schedule.
  • Bhili/Bhilodi has 1,04,13,637 speakers. Garo has 11,45,323 speakers, Ho has 14,31,344 speakers.
  • Tulu is a Dravidian language whose speakers are concentrated in two coastal districts of Karnataka and in Kasaragod district of Kerala.
  • The Tulu language speakers are larger in numbers than Sanskrit and Manipuri which included in the Eighth Schedule.
  • The cities of Mangaluru, Udupi, and Kasaragod are the epicenter of Tulu culture.

What are the benefits of being on the Eighth Schedule

  • Tulu would get recognition from Sahitya Academy.
  • The book in Tulu would get translated into other recognised Indian languages.
  • The MP’s and MLA’s could speak in Tulu in the Parliament and Assemblies.
  • Candidates could write all-India competitive examination like the Civil Services exam in Tulu.

Yuelu Proclamation

  • It was made by UNESCO at Changsha, The People’s Republic of China, in 2018.
  • It says the protection and promotion of linguistic diversity help to improve social inclusion and partnerships.
  • It helps reduce the gender and social inequality between different native speakers.
  • It guarantee the rights for native speakers of endangered, minority, indigenous languages, as well as non-official languages and dialects to receive education, enhance the social inclusion level and social decision-making ability by encouraging them to participate in a series of actions to promote cultural diversity, endangered language protection, and the protection of intangible cultural heritage.


  • Tulu, along with other deserving languages, should be included in the Eighth Schedule of the Constitution in order to substantially materialise the promise of equality of status and opportunity mentioned in the Preamble.

Minority Issues – SC, ST, Dalits, OBC, Reservations, etc.

State can regulate minority institutions, says Supreme Court


From UPSC perspective, the following things are important :

Prelims level : FRs confined to the minority communities

Mains level : Read the attached story

The Supreme Court has held that the state is well within its rights to introduce a regulatory regime in the “national interest” to provide minority educational institutions with well-qualified teachers in order for them to “achieve excellence in education.”

Article 30 is not absolute

  • The verdict said that Article 30(1) (right of minorities to establish and administer educational institutions of their choice) was neither absolute nor above the law.
  • The regulatory law should however balance the dual objectives of ensuring standard of excellence as well as preserving the right of the minorities to establish and administer their educational institutions.
  • Regulations that embrace and reconcile the two objectives should be reasonable.
  • The managements of minority institutions cannot ignore such a legal regime by saying that it is their fundamental right under Article 30.

Serving the national interest

  • A regulation framed in the national interest must necessarily apply to all institutions regardless whether they are run by majority or minority as the essence of Article 30(1) is to ensure equal treatment between the majority and minority institutions.
  • An objection can certainly be raised if an unfavorable treatment is meted out to an educational institution established and administered by minority.
  • But if ensuring of excellence in educational institutions is the underlying principle behind a regulatory regime and the mechanism of selection of teachers is so designed to achieve excellence in institutions, the matter may stand on a completely different footing.

Striking a balance

  • The court explains how to strike a “balance” between the two objectives of excellence in education and the preservation of the minorities’ right to run their educational institutions.
  • For this, the court broadly divides education into two categories – secular education and education “directly aimed at or dealing with preservation and protection of the heritage, culture, script and special characteristics of a religious or a linguistic minority.”
  • When it comes to the latter, the court advocated “maximum latitude” to be given to the management to appoint teachers.
  • The court reasons that only “teachers who believe in the religious ideology or in the special characteristics of the concerned minority would alone be able to imbibe in the students admitted in such educational institutions, what the minorities would like to preserve, profess and propagate.”
  • However, minority institutions where the curriculum was “purely secular”, the intent must be to impart education availing the best possible teachers.

ISRO Missions and Discoveries

Indian Data Relay Satellite System (IDRSS)


From UPSC perspective, the following things are important :

Prelims level : Indian Data Relay Satellite System (IDRSS)

Mains level : Significance of IDRSS

India plans to ring in its own era of space-to-space tracking and communication of its space assets this year by putting up a new satellite series called the Indian Data Relay Satellite System.

Indian Data Relay Satellite System (IDRSS)

  • The IDRSS is planned to track and be constantly in touch with Indian satellites, in particular those in low-earth orbits which have limited coverage of earth.
  • In the coming years, it will be vital to ISRO whose roadmap is dotted with advanced LEO missions such as space docking, space station, as well as distant expeditions to moon, Mars and Venus.
  • It will also be useful in monitoring launches.
  • The first beneficiary would be the prospective crew members of the Gaganyaan mission of 2022 who can be fully and continuously in touch with mission control throughout their travel.
  • IDRSS satellites of the 2,000 kg class would be launched on the GSLV launcher to geostationary orbits around 36,000 km away.

Foreign Policy Watch: India-Iran

What is Jus Cogens?


From UPSC perspective, the following things are important :

Prelims level : Jus Cogens

Mains level : Principle of Jus Cogens

The US has threatened to target few historical sites if Iran retaliates to attack US in revenge. This is a breach of JUS COGENS as targeting cultural sites amounts to a a war crime.

Jus Cogens

  • The jus cogens rules have been sanctioned by the Vienna Conventions on the Law of Treaties of 1969 and 1986. According to both Conventions, a treaty is void if it breaches jus cogens rules.
  • Jus Cogens or ius cogens, meaning “compelling law” in Latin, are rules in international law that are peremptory or authoritative, and from which states cannot deviate.
  • These norms cannot be offset by a separate treaty between parties intending to do so, since they hold fundamental values.
  • Today, most states and international organisations accept the principle of jus cogens, which dates back to Roman times.

What does the convention say?

  • Article 53 of the 1969 Convention says: “A treaty is void if, at the time of its conclusion, it conflicts with a peremptory norm of general international law.
  • For the purposes of the present Convention, a peremptory norm of general international law is a norm accepted and recognized by the international community of States as a whole as a norm.
  • From this no derogation is permitted and which can be modified only by a subsequent norm of general international law having the same character.
  • Article 64 says- If a new peremptory norm of general international law emerges, any existing treaty which is in conflict with that norm becomes void and terminates.
  • Besides treaties, unilateral declarations also have to abide by these norms.

What is included in jus cogens?

  • So far, an exhaustive list of jus cogens rules does not exist.
  • However, the prohibition of slavery, genocide, racial discrimination, torture, and the right to self-determination are recognised norms.
  • The prohibition against apartheid is also recognised as a jus cogens rule, from which no derogation is allowed, since apartheid is against the basic principles of the UN.

What is the problem with targeting cultural heritage?

  • Following the unparalleled destruction of cultural heritage in World War II, the nations of the world adopted at The Hague in 1954, The Convention for the Protection of Cultural Property in the Event of Armed Conflict.
  • It was the first international treaty focussed exclusively on the protection of cultural heritage during war and armed conflict.
  • The Convention defined cultural property as “movable or immovable property of great importance to the cultural heritage of every people, such as monuments of architecture, art or history, whether religious or secular; archaeological sites….”, etc.
  • There are currently 133 signatories to Convention, including countries that have acceded to and ratified the treaty.
  • Both the United States and Iran (as well as India) signed the Convention on May 14, 1954, and it entered into force on August 7, 1956.
  • The Rome Statute of 1998, the founding treaty of the International Criminal Court, describes as a “war crime” any intentional attack against a historical monument, or a building dedicated to religion, education, art, or science.

A case for including Tulu in the Eighth Schedule


From UPSC perspective, the following things are important :

Prelims level : Schedule VIII languages

Mains level : Read the attached story

According to the 2001 Census, India has 30 languages that are spoken by more than a million people each. Additionally, it has 122 languages that are spoken by at least 10,000 people each. It also has 1,599 languages, most of which are dialects. Tulu is one such language with considerable number of speakers.

Speakers of Tulu

  • Tulu is a Dravidian language whose speakers are concentrated in two coastal districts of Karnataka and in Kasaragod district of Kerala.
  • Kasaragod district is called ‘Sapta bhasha Samgama Bhumi (the confluence of seven languages)’, and Tulu is among the seven.
  • The Census reports 18,46,427 native speakers of Tulu in India.
  • The Tulu-speaking people are larger in number than speakers of Manipuri and Sanskrit, which have the Eighth Schedule status.

Schedule VIII languages

  • Among the legion of languages in India, the Constitution has 22 languages. They are protected in Schedule VIII of the Constitution.
  • But many languages that are kept out of this favoured position are in some ways more deserving to be included in the Eighth Schedule.
  • For example, Sanskrit, an Eighth Schedule language, has only 24,821 speakers (2011 Census).
  • Manipuri, another scheduled language, has only 17,61,079 speakers. However, many unscheduled languages have a sizeable number of speakers.

Why does Tulu deserve a place in the Schedule?

  • At present, Tulu is not an official language in India or any other country. Efforts are being made to include Tulu in the Eighth Schedule of the Constitution.
  • If included in the Eighth Schedule, Tulu would get recognition from the Sahitya Akademi. Tulu books would be translated into other recognised Indian languages.
  • The Yuelu Proclamation, made by the UNESCO at Changsha, The People’s Republic of China, in 2018 calls for protection and promotion of linguistic diversity.


  • India must accommodate this plethora of languages in its cultural discourse and administrative apparatus.
  • Article 29 of the Constitution provides that a section of citizens having a distinct language, script or culture have the right to conserve the same.
  • Placing of all the deserving languages on equal footing will promote social inclusion and national solidarity. It will reduce the inequalities within the country to a great extent.

Ethical Veganism


From UPSC perspective, the following things are important :

Prelims level : NA

Mains level : Ethical Veganism and its philosophy

An employment tribunal in the UK has ruled that “ethical veganism” is a philosophical belief and has to be protected by law against discrimination.

What’s the issue about?

  • A man was fired from an animal welfare charity for raising concerns about its pension funds’ alleged investment in companies that use animal testing.
  • He for gross misconduct on insisting to ban fox-hunting and other types of recreational hunting in Britain.
  • The tribunal had to determine if ethical veganism fit the criteria of a religious or philosophical belief.
  • The tribunal determined that ethical veganism meets the test required to be a philosophical belief, because of which it is protected under the British Equality Act, 2010.
  • Many vegetarians claimed that they were discriminated at workplace for not eating meat. In his case, the tribunal had dismissed the case, calling his vegetarianism a lifestyle choice.

Veganism, ethical veganism, and ethical vegetarianism

  • Broadly, a vegan person does not consume meat products and also products that are derived from animals (such as milk, eggs, etc).
  • ‘The Ethical Case for Veganism’ in the Oxford Handbook of Food Ethics, loosely defines veganism as a lifestyle choice to refrain from eating meat as well as products made from or by animals.
  • Ethical veganism, on the other hand, has been defined as the view that attaches a positive ethical valuation to a vegan lifestyle.
  • Significantly, ethical veganism is different from ethical vegetarianism — the latter makes a distinction between products made from animals, such as meat, and products made by animals, such as milk.
  • Ethical vegetarianism is opposed to products made from animals in particular.
  • There is also an ethical omnivorism, which permits the use of some animal products and may restrict the use of others based on some ethical criterion, say the authors of the Food Ethics paper.

Types of ethical veganism

  • They mention two types of ethical veganism: broad absolutist veganism, under which it is always wrong to use any product made by or from animals, and modest ethical veganism, under which it is typically wrong to use products made from or by a range of animals including cats, dogs, cows, pigs, etc.
  • An example of the former category is a person who would not press a leather button, “even if doing so were necessary in order to avert global nuclear war”.
  • The reasons for adopting veganism as a lifestyle can range from wanting a better and healthier lifestyle, environmental, or religious reasons.

Britain’s Equality Act

  • The act protects people from discrimination in the workplace and in the wider society in the UK.
  • The Act offers a basic framework of protection against direct and indirect discrimination, harassment, and victimisation in services and public functions, etc.
  • Under the Act, a belief is defined as any religious or philosophical belief.
  • Since the tribunal has ruled that ethical veganism is a philosophical belief, it is a protected characteristic under the Act.

History- Important places, persons in news

Places in news: Nankana Sahib


From UPSC perspective, the following things are important :

Prelims level : Nankana Sahib

Mains level : Significance of Nankana Sahib in Sikhism

Recently tension mounted in Pakistan after few goons vandalized the Nankana Sahib Gurdwara.

Nankana Sahib

  • Nankana Sahib is a city of 80,000 in Pakistan’s Punjab province, where Gurdwara Janam Asthan (also called Nankana Sahib Gurdwara) is located.
  • The shrine is built over the site where Guru Nanak, the founder of Sikhism, was believed to be born in 1469.
  • It was constructed by Maharaja Ranjit Singh, after he visited Nankana Sahib in 1818-19 while returning from the Battle of Multan.
  • It is 75 kms to the west of Lahore, and is the capital of Nankana Sahib district.
  • The city was previously known as Talwandi, and was founded by Rai Bhoi, a wealthy landlord.
  • Rai Bhoi’s grandson, Rai Bular Bhatti, renamed the town ‘Nankana Sahib’ in honour of the Guru. ‘Sahib’ is an Arabic-origin epithet of respect.

Historical significance

  • During British rule, the Gurdwara Janam Asthan was the site of a violent episode when in 1921, over 130 Akali Sikhs were killed after they were attacked by the Mahant of the shrine.
  • The incident is regarded as one of the key milestones in the Gurdwara Reform Movement, which led to the passing of the Sikh Gurdwara Act in 1925 that ended the Mahant control of Gurdwaras.
  • In 2014, Pakistan had a memorial for the massacre built.

Agmark, Hallmark, ISI, BIS, BEE and Other Ratings

[pib] New Energy Performance Standards for Air Conditioners


From UPSC perspective, the following things are important :

Prelims level : Voluntary star labelling program

Mains level : Quest for energy efficient equipments in India

The Central Government in consultation with the Bureau of Energy Efficiency (BEE) has notified new energy performance standards for Room Air Conditioner (RACs).

240C default setting

  • The 240C default setting has been made mandatory from Jan 1, 2020 for all room air conditioners covered under the ambit of BEE star-labelling program vide this notification.
  • Additionally, the Indian Seasonal Energy Efficiency Ratio (ISEER) as per the new standards will range from (3.30 – 5.00) for split and (2.70 – 3.50) for window air conditioners, which will be applicable from 1st January 2021 onwards.
  • ISEER is the energy performance index used for Room Air Conditioners (RACs) and its assessment is based on the bin hours defined in ISO 16358.

Voluntary star labelling program

  • BEE launched the voluntary star labelling program for fixed-speed room air conditioners (RACs) in 2006, and this program became mandatory on 12th January 2009.
  • Thereafter, in 2015, voluntary star labelling program for inverter room air conditioners was launched and which was made mandatory with effect from 1st January 2018.
  • The BEE star labelling program for Room Air Conditioners now covers both fixed and inverter RAC up to a cooling capacity of 10,465 watts (2.97 TR).
  • Continual enhancement in performance levels has resulted in substantial energy efficiency improvement of about 43% in the minimum energy performance standards (MEPS) for split units, which are the most popular RACs sold in the market.

About BEE

  • BEE is a statutory body under the Ministry of Power, Government of India.
  • It is assisted in developing policies and strategies with the primary objective of reducing the energy intensity of the Indian economy.
  • BEE coordinates with designated consumers, designated agencies, and other organization to identify and utilize the existing resources and infrastructure, in performing the functions assigned to it under the energy conservation act.

Food Safety Standards – FSSAI, food fortification, etc.

[pib] Network for Scientific Co-operation for Food Safety and Applied Nutrition (NetSCoFAN)


From UPSC perspective, the following things are important :

Prelims level : NetSCoFAN

Mains level : Not Much

Union Health Minister has launched NetSCoFAN, a network of research & academic institutions working in the area of food & nutrition.


  • The NetSCoFAN would comprise of eight groups of institutions working in different areas viz. biological, chemical, nutrition & labelling, food of animal origin, food of plant origin, water & beverages, food testing, and safer & sustainable packaging.
  • FSSAI has identified eight Nodal Institutions who would develop a ‘Ready Reckoner’ that will have inventory of all research work, experts and institutions and would carry out and facilitate research, survey and related activities.
  • It would identify research gaps in respective areas and collect, collate and develop database on food safety issues for risk assessment activities.
  • The need for identify research gaps in respective areas and collect, collate and develop database on food safety issues for risk assessment activities, will be addressed by NetSCoFAN.
  • The NetSCoFAN directory would be covering detailed information of various heads/Directors and lead scientists of lead and associated partnering institutions.