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Trade Sector Updates – Falling Exports, TIES, MEIS, Foreign Trade Policy, etc.

India’s rerun of its protectionist folly mars the liberalization eraop-ed of the day

Note4Students

From UPSC perspective, the following things are important :

Prelims level : Not much

Mains level : Paper 3- India's changing stance towards liberalisation.


Context

The latest budget’s import tariff hikes signal that a three-decade commitment to trade openness has been all but abandoned.

Detrimental effects of protectionism

  • In brief, both economic theory and a vast weight of evidence point to the detrimental effects of protectionism. These are-
    • Fostering inefficiency: Far from jump-starting the domestic industry, tariffs, quotas and other trade restrictions foster inefficiency among domestic firms that survive only because of
    • And do not become more productive under it, as the government’s threat to withdraw the protection is never credible.
    • The consumer is the ultimate loser: Meanwhile, upstream industries suffer higher than necessary input costs.
    • Consumers of final goods end up footing the bill.
    • Governments earn some tariff revenue, but never enough to warrant the distortion costs to the economy.
  • Tariff inversion: The tariff “spikes” cause greater distortion than a revenue-equivalent uniform tariff, and may lead to the problem of tariff “inversion”.
    • What is tariff inversion? A situation in which intermediate goods are taxed more heavily than final goods, thus paradoxically further disadvantaging, rather than aiding, domestic producers of final goods.
  • Rent-seeking by domestic industries: Tariffs worsens rent-seeking by domestic industries-
    • Protectionism increases lobbying: A force which would be muted in a world where tariffs are locked at a uniform level by statute, and, as a result, industries individually have less of an incentive to lobby for tariffs that are to be applied economy-wide rather than only for their own benefit.
    • Economists Arvind Panagariya and Dani Rodrik had formalized this intuition many years ago, and it matches both common sense and observation.
    • The apparently random list of sectors that would benefit from tariff increases in the recent budget-strongly suggests the possibility of rent-seeking behaviour.

Conclusion

Ample experience of import substitution in economies across the emerging world and over many decades, including in India until 1991, attest to the fact that protectionism, especially abetted by rent-seeking behaviour, is like a rabbit-hole: once inside, one keeps going deeper and deeper, and egress is difficult at best.

Mother and Child Health – Immunization Program, BPBB, PMJSY, PMMSY, etc.

Seeking a more progressive abortion lawop-ed snap

Note4Students

From UPSC perspective, the following things are important :

Prelims level : Not much.

Mains level : Paper 2- Shortcomings in the Medical Termination of Pregnancy Act 1971 and need of the more progressive abortion law in the country.


Context

The Medical Termination of Pregnancy Bill doesn’t do enough to secure women’s choices and interests.

Deaths due to unsafe abortion and previous attempts to legislate

  • Deaths due to unsafe abortions: Recent reports have shown that more than 10 women die every day due to unsafe abortions in India.
    • And backward abortion laws only contribute to women seeking illegal and unsafe options.
  • The Cabinet has recently approved the Medical Termination of Pregnancy (Amendment) Bill, 2020 (MTP Bill, 2020) which will soon be tabled in Parliament.
    • It seeks to amend the Medical Termination of Pregnancy Act, 1971 (MTP Act) and follows the MTP Bills of 2014, 2017 and 2018, all of which previously lapsed in Parliament.

Provisions of the current law

  • Foetus-age based division: The MTP Act divides its regulatory framework for allowing abortions into categories, according to the gestational age of the foetus.
    • Up to 12 weeks: Under Section 3, for foetuses that are aged up to 12 weeks-
    • Only one medical practitioner’s opinion is required to the effect that the continuance of the pregnancy would pose a risk to the life of the mother or cause grave injury to her physical or mental health.
    • Or there is a substantial risk that if the child is born, it would suffer from such physical or mental abnormalities as to be seriously handicapped.
    • Between 12 weeks and 20 weeks: But if the foetus is aged between 12 weeks and 20 weeks-
    • At least two medical practitioners’ opinions conforming to either of the two conditions are required.
    • What beyond 20 weeks? Beyond 20 weeks, termination may be carried out where it is necessary to save the life of the pregnant woman.
  • Definition of grave injury: The MTP Act also specifies that ‘grave injury’ may be explained as
    • The anguish caused by a pregnancy arising out of rape, or the anguish caused by an unwanted pregnancy arising out of the failure of a contraceptive used by a married woman or her husband.

What are the issues with the current law?

  • Several issues arise from the current framework under the MTP Act.
  • First-Lac of autonomy of women: At all stages of the pregnancy, the healthcare providers, rather than the women seeking an abortion, have the final say on whether the abortion can be carried out.
    • It is true that factors such as failure of contraceptives or grave injury are not required to be proved under the MTP Act.
    • However, to get the pregnancy terminated solely based on her will, the woman may be compelled to lie or plead with the doctor.
    • Thus, at present, pregnant women lack autonomy in making the decision to terminate their pregnancy and have to bear additional mental stress, as well as the financial burden of getting a doctor’s approval.
    • On request abortion in 67 countries: Indian’s law is unlike the abortion laws in 67 countries, including Iceland, France, Canada, South Africa and Uruguay, where a woman can get an abortion ‘on request’ with or without a specific gestational limit (which is usually 12 weeks).
  • Second-Prejudice against unmarried women: The MTP Act embodies a clear prejudice against unmarried women.
    • According to ‘Explanation 2’ provided under Section 3(2) of the Act, where a pregnancy occurs due to failure of any birth control device or method used by any “married woman or her husband”, the anguish caused is presumed to constitute a “grave injury” to the mental health of the pregnant woman.
    • While the applicability of this provision to unmarried women is contested, there is always the danger of a more restrictive interpretation, especially when the final decision rests with the doctor and not the woman herself.
  • Third-Restriction of 20 weeks’ limit: Due to advancements in science, foetal abnormalities can now be detected even after 20 weeks.
    • Danger to mother’s life only condition after 20 weeks: The MTP Act presently allows abortion post 20 weeks only where it is necessary to save the life of the mother.
    • Problem with this restriction: The above restriction means that even if a substantial foetal abnormality is detected and the mother doesn’t want to bear life-long caregiving responsibilities and the mental agony associated with it, the law gives her no recourse unless there is a prospect of her death.

What does the bill fail to address?

  • While the MTP Bill, 2020, is a step in the right direction, it still fails to address most of the problems with the MTP
  • First, it doesn’t allow abortion on request at any point after the pregnancy.
  • Second, it doesn’t take a step towards removing the prejudice against unmarried women by amending the relevant provision.
  • And finally, it enhances the gestational limit for legal abortion from 20 to 24 weeks only for specific categories of women such as survivors of rape, victims of incest, and minors.
    • This means that a woman who does not fall into these categories would not be able to seek an abortion beyond 20 weeks, even if she suffers from a grave physical or mental injury due to the pregnancy.

What are the provisions for the case of foetal abnormality in the bill?

  • Limit irrelevant if the foetal abnormality is diagnosed by the Medical Board: The Bill does make the upper gestational limit irrelevant in procuring an abortion if there are substantial foetal abnormalities diagnosed by the Medical Board.
    • This means that even if there is no threat to the mother’s life, she would be able to procure an abortion as soon as a substantial foetal abnormality comes to light.
    • While this is an important step and would have in the past helped many women who fought long battles in Court without recourse.
    • Rules against unnecessary delays: It is crucial that this provision is accompanied by appropriate rules for the Medical Boards that guard against unnecessary delays, which only increase the risks associated with a late abortion.

Conclusion

  • Recognition of women’s right: The Supreme Court has recognised women’s right to make reproductive choices and their decision to abort as a dimension of their personal liberty (in  X v. Union of India,2017) and as falling within the realm of the fundamental right to privacy (in K.S. Puttaswamy v. Union of India, 2017). Yet, current abortion laws fail to allow the exercise of this right.
  • The bill does not do enough: While it is hoped that MTP Bill, 2020 will not lapse in Parliament like its predecessors, it is evident that it does not do enough to secure women’s interests, and there is still a long road ahead for progressive abortion laws.

 

 

 

Important Judgements In News

Victim justice is two steps forward, one step backop-ed snap

Note4Students

From UPSC perspective, the following things are important :

Prelims level : Not much.

Mains level : Paper 2- Making the justice system more victim-centric.


Context

The recent judgment in Rekha Murarka vs The State Of West Bengal, the SC has held that the victims’ private counsel cannot orally examine or cross-examine the witnesses.

Place of the victim in the present criminal justice system

  • Removed from the proceedings: Under our criminal justice system, victims find themselves removed from the proceedings.
    • Their identities are reduced to being mere witnesses.
    • The harm they suffer is reduced to being aggravating or mitigating factors at the time of sentencing.
    • Stage props in a larger scheme: With the state appropriating their victimisation, the actual victims become mere stage props in a larger scheme.
  • Need of The victim-centric notion of justice-Law Commission suggestion: In 1996, the 154th Law Commission Report suggested a paradigm shift in India’s criminal justice system towards a victim-centric notion of justice.
    • Partial acceptance: The Code of Criminal Procedure (Amendment) Act, 2009 partially accepted the Law Commission suggestion and granted some rights to the victims of crime.
    • The Act introduced victims’ right to a private counsel under Section 24(8).
    • Move toward victim’s participation: The Code of Criminal Procedure already allowed for pleaders engaged by private persons to submit written arguments with the permission of the court under Sections 301(2) and 302 allowed a person to conduct the prosecution with permission of the court.
    • These sections were read together to partially secure the victims’ right to participation.

Steps take  towards securing justice for victims

  • Right to legal assistance to victims of sexual assault: In the case of Delhi Domestic Working Women’s Forum v. Union of India (1994), the SC called for the extension of the right to legal assistance to victims of sexual assault at the pre-trial stages.
  • The SC opinion over asymmetry in rights of victims and the accused: In Mallikarjun Kodagali (Dead) … vs The State Of Karnataka (2018), the Court accepted that under the criminal justice system, the rights of the accused far outweigh the rights of the victim.
  • Introduction of victim impact statement right to appeal against the adverse order: The Supreme Court not only called for the introduction of a victim impact statement in order to guarantee the participation of the victim in the trial proceedings.
    • The SC also reinstated the victims’ right to appeal against an adverse order.

Provisions on the international level for the victim’s participation

  • Despite these advances, the scheme of victim participation remains far removed from the ideals embedded in the Declaration of Basic Principles of Justice for Victims of Crime and Abuse of Power; India is a signatory.
    • What does the declaration require? It requires that the views and concerns of victims should be allowed and considered at all appropriate stages without prejudice to the accused.
  • Need to increase the victims’ advocate’s role: Presently, the victims’ advocate has an extremely limited role to play wherein he “assists” the prosecutor rather than represent the interests of the victim before the court.
    • The only substantial opportunity provided to a private counsel is after the closing of evidence when written arguments may be submitted to the court only after seeking the permission of the court.
  • Contrast with ICC: In contrast, the International Criminal Court (ICC) provides for victim participation at the stage of-
    • First, a challenge to the jurisdiction of the ICC.
    • Second, framing of charges.
    • Third, opening and closing statements.
    • Fourth, making a written submission wherever the personal interests of the victims are affected.
    • And finally, for presenting witnesses to give evidence on issues relating to the personal interests of the victims.

What the SC judgement means

  • Missed opportunity: The Supreme Court in Rekha Murarkahas missed the opportunity to forward the jurisprudence on victim justice and rectify the lacunae in our laws.
    • Instead, the judgment goes against the jurisprudential current specified above.
    • Indeed, the victim’s right to participation cannot be secured by restricting the rights of the accused.
  • Why the victim’s advocate is not allowed the right to participate in the SC’s opinion: According to the judgment, a victim’s advocate cannot be allowed the right to participate because-
    • First- Insistence by the victim’s counsel to examine a witness deliberately left out by the prosecution may weaken the prosecution’s case;
    • Second– The trial will derogate into a “vindictive battle” between the victim’s counsel and the accused.
    • Third- A lack of experience on the part of the victim’s counsel may lead to lapses.
  • The problem in the SC ruling: The judgment further assumes that prosecutions effectively take the victim’s needs into account.
    • SC ignored why the need for private counsel arise: The judgement ignores the fact that the need for a private counsel arises precisely because intentional or unintentional prosecutorial lapses directly lead to injustice to the victims.
    • The court expects the victim’s counsel to make the prosecutor aware of any aspects that have not been addressed in the examination of witnesses or the arguments advanced by the public prosecutor.
    • In the process, it assumes that the prosecutor will address such lapses.

Conclusion

Under the role currently envisaged in our criminal justice system, the public prosecutor cannot sufficiently take into account the interests, needs and requirements of the victims. The cause of victim justice would be greatly served if the Supreme Court decided to revisit its reasoning and assumptions to appropriately amend this provision in light of the above.

 

 

Judicial Reforms

Explained: What is Mandamus?Explained

Note4Students

From UPSC perspective, the following things are important :

Prelims level : Mandamus

Mains level : Writ Jurisdiction of SC and HC and their scope


  • The Supreme Court has ruled that reservation in the matter of promotions in public posts is not a fundamental right, and a state cannot be compelled to offer the quota if it chooses not to.
  • It ruled that there  is no fundamental right which inheres in an individual to claim reservation in promotions.
  • Hence no mandamus can be issued by the court directing state governments to provide reservations,” the bench of Justices L Nageswara Rao and Hemant Gupta said.

What is ‘Mandamus’?

  • Mandamus is among the “prerogative writs” in English common law — meaning the extraordinary writs or orders granted by the Sovereign when ordinary legal remedies are inadequate.
  • These are habeas corpus, mandamus, prohibition, certiorari, and quo warranto.
  • In India, the Supreme Court can issue prerogative writs under Article 32 of the Constitution, and the High Courts under Article 226.
  • Mandamus literally means ‘we command’. When issued to a person or body, the writ of mandamus demands some activity on their part.
  • It orders the person or body to perform a public or quasi-public duty, which they have refused to perform, and where no other adequate legal remedy exists to enforce the performance of that duty.

When is it used?

  • The writ cannot be issued unless the legal duty is of public nature, and to whose performance the applicant of the writ has a legal right.
  • The remedy is of a discretionary nature — a court can refuse to grant it when an alternative remedy exists.
  • However, for enforcing fundamental rights, the alternative remedy argument does not hold as much weight, since it is the duty of the Supreme Court and the High Courts to enforce fundamental rights.
  • When a public officer or government does an act that violates the fundamental right of a person, the court would issue a writ of mandamus against such authorities so that the person’s rights are not infringed.
  • The writ can also be issued against inferior courts or other judicial bodies when they have refused to exercise their jurisdiction and perform their duty.

Limitations

  • Under Article 361, mandamus cannot be granted against the President or Governor of a State, “for the exercise and performance of the powers and duties of his office or for any act done or purporting to be done by him in the exercise and performance of those powers and duties”.
  • The writ also cannot be issued against a private individual or body, except where the State is in collusion with the private party for contravening a provision of the Constitution or a statute.
Health Sector – UHC, National Health Policy, Family Planning, Health Insurance, etc.

Why emergency response units are needed to ensure safety of sanitation workersPriority 1

Note4Students

From UPSC perspective, the following things are important :

Prelims level : Read the attached story

Mains level : Upliftment of the manual scavengers


  • The Maharashtra government has directed all civic bodies in the state to set up Emergency Response Sanitation Units (ERSUs) to ensure safeguards for sanitation workers who clean manholes and sewers.
  • This move is in response to the multiple cases which were reported of workers dying from suffocation or inhalation of hazardous gases.

PEMSR ACT, 2013

  • The Prohibition of Employment as Manual Scavengers and their Rehabilitation (PEMSR) Act came into force in 2013.
  • The law prohibits employing manual scavengers, manual cleaning of sewers and septic tanks without protective equipment and construction of insanitary latrines.
  • Those violating the law and getting sewers and septic tanks cleaned without protective equipment can face imprisonment of up to two years or a fine of up to Rs 2 lakh, or both.
  • Repeat offenders will face imprisonment of up to five years or a fine of up to Rs 5 lakh, or both.

The Supreme Court judgment

  • While hearing a case on manual scavenging in 2014, the Supreme Court had stated, “If the practice of manual scavenging has to be brought to an end, and also to prevent future generations from the inhuman practice… rehabilitation of manual scavengers will need to include steps to avoid sewer deaths.”
  • The court had said that making a sanitation worker enter sewer lines without safety gear should be a crime even in emergency situations.
  • In such instances, if a sanitation worker died due to the unsafe conditions, a compensation of Rs 10 lakh has to be given to the family of the deceased, stated the court.
  • The court had also directed authorities to identify the family members of sanitation workers who died while cleaning manholes and septic tanks since 1993, and give a compensation of Rs 10 lakh to them.

Directives by National Commission for Scheduled Castes

  • To ensure effective implementation of the law banning manual scavenging, the commission issued various directives.
  • It said workers have to be fully equipped with safety apparatus and oxygen masks in case they have to clean sewers manually.
  • A first information report has to be lodged against officials or contractors responsible for sending a worker to clean sewers manually, without proper gear.
  • The commission also made it mandatory for all municipal corporations to get an insurance policy of Rs 10 lakh per worker, as per the Supreme Court’s directions.
  • The employers, in this case the civic bodies, will have to pay the policy premium.

Emergency Response Sanitation Unit (ERSU)

  • In its directive on the setting up of ERSUs, the state government said the municipal commissioner of the civic body concerned will be the Responsible Sanitation Authority (RSA).
  • The ERSU should be headed by a senior civic officer and other civic officers should be on the ERSU advisory board to decide the standard operating procedure (SoP) for workers who enter manholes for cleaning purposes.
  • The civic body will also have to set up a dedicated toll-free number for the ERSU. The unit will impart training to sanitation workers.
  • Only workers trained and certified by an ERSU will be able to clean sewers, but the priority will be on using machines to get such work done.
  • In case a worker dies while cleaning a sewer, the civic body will have to hold an inquiry and register a police complaint.

Workshop on creating awareness on the issue

  • All civic bodies have been asked to hold workshops to raise awareness on this issue in their respective jurisdictions.
  • The workshops are going to focus on latest technology for cleaning sewers and septic tanks, and the final objective is to find a way to clean septic tanks or manholes with machines.
  • The workshops will have sessions on laws pertaining to sanitation workers, the establishment of ERSUs and their roles, presentations on the latest equipment, machines and protective gear.
  • Sanitation workers, NGOs, social organisations, housing society members and government officials have to participate in the workshops.
Water Management – Institutional Reforms, Conservation Efforts, etc.

RO-based water filtration systemsPriority 1

Note4Students

From UPSC perspective, the following things are important :

Prelims level : Reverse Osmosis

Mains level : Issues with RO water filtration system


  • The Union Environment Ministry has issued a draft notification that seeks to regulate membrane-based water filtration systems in areas where the source of water meets drinking water norms of the Bureau of Indian Standards.
  • This primarily affects reverse osmosis (RO)-based water filtration systems and the rules, at least in letter, effectively prohibit homes from installing domestic RO systems.

What are reverse osmosis (RO)?

  • RO was originally a technology devised to desalinate sea water. The idea exploits the principle of osmosis.
  • Take a tube, twist it into a ‘U’-shape and insert a semi-permeable membrane (a material with very small holes that will allow only certain molecules to filter through) at the point where the tube curves.
  • Fill half the tube with salt water and the other with freshwater. Over time, fresh water will cross over into the salty arm until the proportion of salt and water in both arms is the same.
  • This is due to osmotic pressure which dilutes a region with a higher concentration of solute (in this case, the salt).
  • It would need to create some external pressure that will counter the osmotic pressure and suck all the water from the salty arm into the freshwater arm while leaving the salt behind. This is the essential principle of an RO system.
  • To create external pressure, RO relies on a pump and electric motors. It uses “activated carbon” components, such as charcoal and carbon black that can filter out contaminants as well as organic substances such as bacteria.
  • It all depends on the filtering material and the number of filters that incoming tap water must pass through.
  • However, it is possible to deploy a wide array of membranes and multiple stages of filters to filter a wide variety of solutes — arsenic, fluoride, hexavalent chromium, nitrates, bacteria — that come mixed in water.

What is the problem with RO?

  • In making tap water pass through multiple stages of cleaning, RO systems end up wasting a lot of water.
  • Anywhere between three-five times more water is wasted by them than they produce and given the challenges that cities and government face in providing potable water.
  • It is as part of this legal dispute, which began in March 2019 that led the Environment Ministry to move to regulate RO systems.
  • Another concern with RO is that it filters out calcium, zinc, magnesium, which are essential salts needed by the body; drinking such water over time could be harmful.
  • However, many manufacturers claim to overcome this challenge by “post-treatment”.
  • This increases costs and reduces the incentive for public-funded water distribution systems to supply clean water to the vast majority of the country who can ill-afford such systems.
  • The average RO system only aims to reduce Total Dissolved Solids, ensure water is odourless and has a pH from 6.5-8.5.
  • The National Institute of Virology (NIV) claimed that most filtration methods did not eliminate Hepatitis E virus. A combination of filtration systems can eliminate most contaminants.

How is the quality of piped water in the country?

  • Under the Jal Jeevan Mission, the Prime Minister has committed to provide tap water to the entire country by 2024. However, studies show that the existing quality of piped water is deficient in much of India.
  • Last year, the Department of Consumer Affairs undertook a study through the Bureau of Indian Standards (BIS) on the quality of piped drinking water being supplied in the country.
  • Most samples drawn from various places did not comply with the BIS’s requirements.

Indian nationals living abroadPrelims Only

Note4Students

From UPSC perspective, the following things are important :

Prelims level : Data on Indian's living abroad

Mains level : Indian diaspora in Gulf region


There are over 1.36 crore Indian nationals living abroad, according to data tabled by the Ministry of External Affairs in Lok Sabha.

Indians abroad

  • The highest number of Indians abroad are living in the United Arab Emirates, where the 34,20,000 Indians comprise about one-fourth of all Indians abroad.
  • The UAE is followed by Saudi Arabia (25,94,947), the US (12,80,000), Kuwait (10,29,861), Oman (7,79,351), Qatar (7,56,062), Nepal (5,00,000), UK (3,51,000), Singapore (3,50,000) and Bahrain (3,23,292).
  • The CPV (Consular, Passport and Visa) division of the ministry is the nodal division that coordinates with all missions / posts abroad regarding transportation of the mortal remains of Indians from abroad to their hometowns in India.

Total remittances recieved

  • Citing RBI data, the ministry said that during 2018-2019, $76.4 billion was received as remittances from Indians abroad.
  • During 2019-2020 (April-September), $41.9 billion was received.
Innovations in Biotechnology and Medical Sciences

Genome India ProjectPriority 1

Note4Students

From UPSC perspective, the following things are important :

Prelims level : Genome India Project

Mains level : Applications of Gene mapping


 

The Union Govt. has given clearance to an ambitious gene-mapping project, estimated to be worth Rs 238 crore.

Genome India Project

  • The Genome India Project has been described by those involved as the “first scratching of the surface of the vast genetic diversity of India”.
  • It involves over 20 scientists from institutions including the Indian Institute of Science (IISc) in Bengaluru and a few IITs.
  • One of the most comprehensive genome mapping projects in the world is the Human Genome Project (HGP), which began in 1990 and reached completion in 2003.
  • The international project, which was coordinated by the National Institutes of Health and the US Department of Energy, was undertaken with the aim of sequencing the human genome and identifying the genes that contain it.
  • The project was able to identify the locations of many human genes and provide information about their structure and organisation.

What is Genome Mapping?

  • According to the Human Genome Project, there are estimated to be over 20,500 human genes.
  • Genome refers to an organism’s complete set of DNA, which includes all its genes and mapping these genes simply means finding out the location of these genes in a chromosome.
  • In humans, each cell consists of 23 pairs of chromosomes for a total of 46 chromosomes, which means that for 23 pairs of chromosomes in each cell, there are roughly 20,500 genes located on them.
  • Some of the genes are lined up in a row on each chromosome, while others are lined up quite close to one another and this arrangement might affect the way they are inherited.
  • For example, if the genes are placed sufficiently close together, there is a probability that they get inherited as a pair.
  • Genome mapping, therefore, essentially means figuring out the location of a specific gene on a particular region of the chromosome and also determining the location of and relative distances between other genes on that chromosome.

Applications

  • Significantly, genome mapping enables scientists to gather evidence if a disease transmitted from the parent to the child is linked to one or more genes.
  • Furthermore, mapping also helps in determining the particular chromosome which contains that gene and the location of that gene in the chromosome.
  • Genome maps have been used to find out genes that are responsible for relatively rare, single-gene inherited disorders such as cystic fibrosis and Duchene muscular dystrophy.
  • Genetic maps may also point out scientists to the genes that play a role in more common disorders and diseases such as asthma, cancer and heart disease among others.
  • Researchers from several international institutions mapped the handful of genes whose mutation causes several different kinds of cancers.
Climate Change Impact on India and World – International Reports, Key Observations, etc.

Thwaites GlacierPriority 1

Note4Students

From UPSC perspective, the following things are important :

Prelims level : Thwaites Glacier

Mains level : Sea level rise and its impact


 

In the Antarctic floats a massive glacier, roughly the size of Britain, whose melting has been a cause of alarm for scientists over the years. Now, a new study has pinned the cause of the melting to the presence of warm water at a vital point beneath the glacier.

Thwaites Glacier

  • The Thwaites Glacier is 120 km wide at its broadest, fast-moving and melting fast over the years.
  • Because of its size (1.9 lakh square km), it contains enough water to raise the world sea level by more than half a metre.
  • Studies have found the amount of ice flowing out of it has nearly doubled over the past 30 years. Today, Thwaites’s melting already contributes 4% to global sea level rise each year.
  • It is estimated that it would collapse into the sea in 200-900 years. Thwaites is important for Antarctica as it slows the ice behind it from freely flowing into the ocean.
  • Because of the risk it faces — and poses — Thwaites is often called the Doomsday Glacier.

What has the new study found?

  • A 2019 study had discovered a fast-growing cavity in the glacier.
  • More recently researchers detected warm water at a vital point below the glacier.
  • Scientists dug a 600-m-deep and 35-cm-wide access hole, and deployed an ocean-sensing device called Icefin to measure the waters moving below the glacier’s surface.
  • The study reported water at just two degrees above freezing point at Thwaites’s “grounding zone” or “grounding line”.

What is the grounding line?

  • The grounding line is the place below a glacier at which the ice transitions between resting fully on bedrock and floating on the ocean as an ice shelf.
  • The location of the line is a pointer to the rate of retreat of a glacier.
  • When glaciers melt and lose weight, they float off the land where they used to be situated. When this happens, the grounding line retreats.
  • That exposes more of a glacier’s underside to seawater, increasing the likelihood it will melt faster.
  • This resulted in the glacier speeding up, stretching out, and thinning, causing the grounding line to retreat ever further.
Innovations in Biotechnology and Medical Sciences

New rice variety: Muktoshri (IET 21845)Prelims OnlyPriority 1

Note4Students

From UPSC perspective, the following things are important :

Prelims level : Muktoshri

Mains level : Arsenic poisoning through food, Rice Fortification


Researchers have developed and commercialized a rice variety that is resistant to arsenic.

Muktoshri

  • The new rice variety, Muktoshri — also called IET 21845 —, was developed jointly by the Rice Research Station at Chinsurah coming under West Bengal’s Agriculture Department and the National Botanical Research Institute, Lucknow.
  • A gazette notification for the commercial use of Muktoshri was made by West Bengal last year.
  • During our multilocational trials, it was found that this variety uptakes very less amount of arsenic from soil and water in comparison to other varieties of rice.
  • The rice is long and thin, and aromatic. Across the State, thousands of farmers have started cultivation, even in areas where arsenic in groundwater is not an issue, because of the aroma and the yield.

Significance

  • West Bengal is among the States with the highest concentration of arsenic in groundwater, with as many as 83 blocks across seven districts having higher arsenic levels than permissible limits.
  • Several studies have shown that arsenic from groundwater and the soil can enter the food chain through paddy.
  • According to the WHO, long-term exposure to arsenic, mainly through drinking water and food, can lead to poisoning. Skin lesions and skin cancer are the most characteristic effects.
Innovations in Biotechnology and Medical Sciences

What is Fermentophone?Prelims Only

Note4Students

From UPSC perspective, the following things are important :

Prelims level : Fermentophone

Mains level : NA


 

Fermentation, the chemical breakdown of a substance by microorganisms such as bacteria or yeasts, results in some of the most delicious foods and beverages, including cheese, chocolate and wine.  Now, research has shown it can result in music, too.

Fermentophone

  • The chemical processes of fermentation can be used to create spontaneous tunes.
  • Researchers has built multiple art exhibits called Fermentophone to showcase how fermentation can make music.
  • First, different fruits and veggies are placed in glass jars and fermented.
  • As the fermentation kicks off, the yeast — or bacteria — present in the food chows down on the foods’ sugars, which results in the release of carbon dioxide bubbles.
  • The release of these bubbles creates a tiny sound, which is picked up by underwater microphones.
  • A computer processes the sounds and, with the help of algorithms plugged in, electronic music is created.
Foreign Policy Watch: India-Bangladesh

Agartala-Akhaura Railway LinkPrelims Only

Note4Students

From UPSC perspective, the following things are important :

Prelims level : Agartala-Akhaura Link

Mains level : Railway connectivity in NE states


 

The landmark Agartala-Akhaura railway line to connect the northeastern region with Bangladesh is expected to be ready by the end of 2021.

About Agartala-Akhaura Link

  • MoU for Indo-Bangla Railway connectivity project viz. Agartala-Akhaura new Broad Gauge line (15.06 Km) was signed on 16.02.2013 between India and Bangladesh.
  • The link will connect Gangasagar in Bangladesh to Nischintapur in India and from there to Agartala.
  • The Project was at standstill because of sharp increase in cost of land for the sections in India.
  • The Railway Ministry would bear the cost of laying the 5.46-km track on the Indian side and the cost of the 10.6-km track on the Bangladesh side was being borne by the Ministry of External Affairs.