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

Service Exports from India Scheme (SEIS)

Note4Students

From UPSC perspective, the following things are important :

Prelims level : Service Exports from India Scheme (SEIS)

Mains level : Export promotion schemes in India

The Directorate General of Foreign Trade has imposed a cap on the total entitlement under the Services Exports from India Scheme (SEIS) at Rs 5 crore per exporter for shipments done in 2019-20 (FY20). The move is expected to benefit small businesses in the services sector.

About SEIS

  • Service Exports from India Scheme (SEIS) aims to promote export of services from India by providing duty scrip credit for eligible exports.
  • Under the scheme, service providers, located in India, would be rewarded under the SEIS scheme, for all eligible export of services from India.
  • SEIS was earlier termed as Served from India Scheme (SFIS).

Eligibility

  • Service Providers of notified services, located in India are eligible for the Service Exports from India Scheme.
  • To be eligible, a service provider (Company / LLP / Partnership Firm) should have a minimum net free foreign exchange earnings of USD 15000 in the preceding financial year to be eligible for duty credit scrips.
  • For proprietorships or individual service providers, minimum net foreign exchange earnings of USD10,000 in the preceding financial year is required to be eligible for the scheme.
  • Also, in order to claim reward under the SEIS scheme, the service provider shall have to have an active Import Export Code (IE Code) at the time of rendering such services for which rewards are claimed.

Back2Basics: Merchandise Exports from India Scheme (MEIS)

  • MEIS was launched with an objective to enhance the export of notified goods manufactured in a country.
  • This scheme came into effect on 1 April 2015 through the Foreign Trade Policy and was in existence till 2020.
  • It intended to incentivize exports of goods manufactured in India or produced in India.
  • The incentives were for goods widely exported from India, industries producing or manufacturing such goods with a view to making Indian exports competitive.
  • The MEIS covered almost 5000 goods notified for the purpose of the scheme.

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Solar Energy – JNNSM, Solar Cities, Solar Pumps, etc.

Rooftop Solar Scheme

Note4Students

From UPSC perspective, the following things are important :

Prelims level : Solar Rooftop Scheme

Mains level : Renewable Energy in India

India has added 521 megawatts (MW) of rooftop solar capacity in the second quarter (Q2) of the calendar year (CY) 2021, a 53% increase than earlier quarter showing good signs of popularity.

What is Solar Rooftop?

  • A solar photovoltaic (PV) system mounted on a rooftop of a building is a mini-power requirement or feed into the grid.
  • The size of the installation varies significantly depending on the availability of space, amount of electricity consumed by the property and the ability or willingness of the owner to invest the capital required.

Why rooftop?

  • Rooftop solar with a storage system is a benefit for both, end consumers as well as discoms (power distribution companies).
  • A one-kilowatt (kW) rooftop system can produce three to five units of electricity a day.
  • The combination increasingly becomes cost-effective for electricity generation compared to the traditional grid supply and diesel generators.
  • In 2021, solar and storage will be cheaper than grid supply for most commercial and industrial (C&I) customers.
  • The increase in penetration of rooftop solar in the distribution grid will have a significant impact on the stability of the grid.

A viable alternative

  • Most housing societies in urban India rely on diesel generators for power backup. However, as power availability improves in the country, diesel generators will become redundant.
  • The operational cost of diesel generators is quite high— R16-18 per unit against Rs 5-6 a unit for solar rooftop systems. So rooftop solar power makes financial sense.Solar rooftop is also a perfect solution for commercial and institutional buildings that operate mostly during the day.
  • Their rooftops can be utilized to generate electricity, and they can, partially or completely, replace diesel generators. This would also help them reduce their electricity bills.

Question of energy storage

  • In order to integrate rooftop solar and electric vehicles, the grid needs to be flexible and smart.
  • Energy storage systems will play a key role in providing this flexibility by acting as a load when there is a surplus generation, as well as generating sources when there is a supply shortage.
  • There are two major methods of integrating battery storage into the electric grid:
  1. Front-of-the-meter (FTM): It is implemented at the utility scale, wherein the battery system is connected to the transmission or distribution network that ensures grid reliability. This happens on a considerably large scale (~MWh scale).
  2. Behind-the-meter (BTM): The other method is implemented at the residential and commercial/industrial level, mainly to provide backup during a power failure or to store excess locally generated energy from solar rooftop photovoltaic (PV) systems.

India’s storage capacity

  • About 34 GW / 136 GWh of battery storage is expected to be installed by 2030, according to the Central Electricity Authority of India.
  • This capacity would be used for RE integration, demand-side and peak load management services.

Storage challenges

  • The solar segment offers a huge market opportunity for advanced battery technologies.
  • However, manufacturers have some ground to cover in addressing technical limitations of batteries, such as charging characteristics, thermal performance and requirement of boost current to charge deep cycle batteries.
  • Since solar companies may directly procure batteries from manufacturers and require after-sale services and technical support, battery companies should have wider a presence to address these expectations.

Other key challenges

  • Rooftop solar source doesn’t match the rise in renewable energy in India.
  • While industrial and commercial consumers account for 70% of total installed capacity residential consumers remain a big untapped potential to give the boost
  • Solar rooftops also face several challenges such as little consumer awareness, lack of innovative government policies or attention, bureaucratic hassles, and limited support from discoms.

Way forward

  • Supportive policies and innovative technological approaches are needed for the sector to achieve its potential.
  • Indian policymakers need to plan for rooftop solar plus storage, rather than rooftop solar alone with the grid as storage (net / gross metering).
  • The declining cost of storage solutions, along with that of rooftop solar solutions, is likely to change the future of the Indian power sector.
  • Several countries such as Australia, the United States, Germany, among others have already endorsed solar power with battery storage.
  • Energy storage, therefore, represents a huge economic opportunity for India.
  • The creation of a conducive battery manufacturing ecosystem on a fast track could cement India’s opportunity for radical economic and industrial transformation in a critical and fast-growing global market.

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Capital Markets: Challenges and Developments

SEBI introduces T+1 Settlement System

Note4Students

From UPSC perspective, the following things are important :

Prelims level : T+1, T+2 settlement

Mains level : NA

The Capital markets regulator Securities and Exchange Board of India (SEBI) has introduced T+1 settlement cycle for completion of share transactions on optional basis in a move to enhance market liquidity.

What is T+1 Settlement System?

  • T+1 means that settlements will have to be cleared within one day of the actual transactions taking place.
  • Currently, trades on the Indian stock exchanges are settled in two working days after the transaction is done (T+2).
  • In April 2002, stock exchanges had introduced a T+3 rolling settlement cycle. This was shortened to T+2 from April 1, 2003.

What has Sebi allowed?

  • SEBI has allowed stock exchanges to start the T+1 system as an option in place of T+2.
  • If it opts for the T+1 settlement cycle for a scrip, the stock exchange will have to mandatorily continue with it for a minimum 6 months.
  • Thereafter, if it intends to switch back to T+2, it will do so by giving one month’s advance notice to the market.
  • Any subsequent switch (from T+1 to T+2 or vice versa) will be subject to a minimum period.
  • A stock exchange may choose to offer the T+1 settlement cycle on any of the scrips, after giving at least one month’s advance notice to all stakeholders, including the public at large.

Why T+1 settlement?

  • Reduced settlement time: A shortened cycle not only reduces settlement time but also reduces and frees up the capital required to collateralize that risk.
  • Quick settlement: T+1 also reduces the number of outstanding unsettled trades at any instant, and thus decreases the unsettled exposure to Clearing Corporation by 50%.
  • Speedy recovery of assets: The narrower the settlement cycle, the narrower the time window for a counterparty insolvency/bankruptcy to impact the settlement of a trade.
  • Risk reduction: Systemic risk depends on the number of outstanding trades and concentration of risk at critical institutions such as clearing corporations, and becomes critical when the magnitude of outstanding transactions increases.

How does T+2 work?

  • If an investor sells shares, settlement of the trade takes place in two working days (T+2).
  • The broker who handles the trade will get the money, but will credit the amount in the investor’s account only.
  • In effect, the investor will get the money only after three days.
  • In T+1, settlement of the trade takes place in one working day and the investor will get the money on the following day.
  • The move to T+1 will not require large operational or technical changes by market participants, nor will it cause fragmentation and risk to the core clearance and settlement ecosystem.

Why are foreign investors opposing it?

  • Foreign investors operating from different geographies would face time zones, information flow process, and foreign exchange problems.
  • Foreign investors will also find it difficult to hedge their net India exposure in dollar terms at the end of the day under the T+1 system.
  • In 2020, SEBI had deferred the plan to halve the trade settlement cycle to one day (T+1) following opposition from foreign investors.

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Back2Basics: SEBI

  • The SEBI is the regulatory body for securities and commodity market in India under the jurisdiction of Ministry of Finance Government of India.
  • It was established on 12 April 1988 and given Statutory Powers on 30 January 1992 through the SEBI Act, 1992.

Jurisdiction of SEBI

  • SEBI has to be responsive to the needs of three groups, which constitute the market:
  1. Issuers of securities
  2. Investors
  3. Market intermediaries

SEBI has three powers rolled into one body: quasi-legislative, quasi-judicial and quasi-executive.

  • It drafts regulations in its legislative capacity, it conducts investigation and enforcement action in its executive function and it passes rulings and orders in its judicial capacity.
  • Though this makes it very powerful, there is an appeal process to create accountability.
  • There is a Securities Appellate Tribunal which is a three-member tribunal and is currently headed by Justice Tarun Agarwala, former Chief Justice of the Meghalaya High Court.
  • A second appeal lies directly to the Supreme Court.

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Historical and Archaeological Findings in News

What is Vishnuonyx?

Note4Students

From UPSC perspective, the following things are important :

Prelims level : Vishnuonyx neptuni

Mains level : NA

Between 12.5 million and 14 million years ago, members of a genus of otters called Vishnuonyx lived in the major rivers of southern Asia.

Vishnuonyx neptuni

  • Vishnuonyx were mid-sized predators that weighed, on average, 10-15 kg.
  • Before this, the genus was known only in Asia and Africa (recent findings show that Vishnuonyx reached East Africa about 12 million years ago, according to the release).
  • Vishnuonyx depended on water and could not travel long distances over land.

Why in news?

  • German researchers have discovered the fossil of a previously unknown species, which they have named Vishnuonyx neptuni, meaning ‘Neptune’s Vishnu’.
  • Fossils of these now extinct otters were first discovered in sediments found in the foothills of the Himalayas.
  • Now, a newly found fossil indicates it had travelled as far as Germany. ‘
  • The dispersal of Vishnuonyx otters from the Indian subcontinent to Africa and Europe about 13 million years ago. ‘
  • This is the first discovery of any member of the Vishnuonyx genus in Europe; it is also its most northern and western record till date.

How did it travel as far as Europe?

  • According to the researchers, its travels over 6,000 km were probably made possible by the geography of 12 million years ago, when the Alps were recently formed.
  • These Alps and the Iranian Elbrus Mountains were separated by a large ocean basin, which would have made it easier for the otters to cross it.
  • Researchers believe ‘Neptune’s Vishnu’ first reached southern Germany, followed by Ancient Guenz and eventually, the Hammerschmiede.

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Wildlife Conservation Efforts

Species in news: Sea Cucumber

Note4Students

From UPSC perspective, the following things are important :

Prelims level : Sea cucumber

Mains level : Illicit trade of exotic species

In a swift operation, the Indian Coast Guard (ICG) at Mandapam, Tamil Nadu seized two tonnes of sea cucumber, a banned marine species.

Sea Cucumbers

  • Sea cucumbers are part of a larger animal group called echinoderms, which also contains starfish and sea urchins.
  • Their body shape is similar to a cucumber, but they have small tentacle-like tube feet that are used for locomotion and feeding.
  • One way that sea cucumbers can confuse or harm predators is by propelling their own toxic internal organs from their bodies in the direction of an attacker.
  • The organs grow back, and it may save them from being eaten.
  • They are found in virtually all marine environments throughout the world, from shallow to deep-sea environments.
  • They are benthic, meaning they live on the ocean floor. However, their larvae are planktonic, meaning they float in the ocean with the currents.

Conservation status

  • Sea cucumber in India is treated as an endangered species listed under schedule I of Wildlife Protection Act of 1972.
  • It is primarily smuggled from Tamil Nadu to Sri Lanka in fishing vessels from Ramanathapuram and Tuticorin districts.

(IUCN status is not available for this species)

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Waste Management – SWM Rules, EWM Rules, etc

IISc finds alternative for single-use plastics

Note4Students

From UPSC perspective, the following things are important :

Prelims level : Allternative fibres to plastic

Mains level : Phasing out single use plastics

Researchers from the Department of Material Engineering, Indian Institute of Science, Bengaluru (IISc) have found a way to make a substitute for single-use plastic that can, in principle help mitigate the problem of accumulating plastic waste in the environment.

What is the new material?

  • IISc has developed polymers using non-edible oil and cellulose extracted from agricultural stubble.
  • These polymers can be moulded into sheets having properties suitable for making bags, cutlery or containers.
  • The material so made is bio-degradable, leak-proof and non-toxic.

Key features

  • In order to obtain sheets with properties like flexibility suitable for making different articles, the researchers played with the proportions of cellulose to non-edible oil.
  • The more cellulose they added, and less non-edible oil, the stiffer was the material, so that it was more suitable to making tumblers and cutlery.
  • The greater the proportion of oil, the more flexible was the material and it could be moulded into sheets for making bags.

Why needed?

Ans. Plastic waste menace in India

  • According to a report by Central Pollution Control Board of India, for the year 2018-2019, 3.3 million metric tonnes of plastic waste are generated by Indians.
  • The bad news is that this may well be an under-estimation of the problem.
  • Another alarming statistic is that of all the plastic waste produced in the world, 79% enters the environment.
  • Only 9% of all plastic waste is recycled.
  • Accumulation of plastic waste is detrimental to the environment and when this waste finds its way into the sea, there can be major harm to aquatic ecosystems, too.

Agricultural stubble

  • While plastic waste causes one type of pollution, agricultural stubble burning is responsible for air pollution in several States.
  • In Delhi, for example, the air quality index dips to indicate “severe” or “hazardous” level of pollution every winter, and this is due in part to the burning of agricultural stubble in the surrounding regions.

Try this PYQ from CSP 2020:

Which of the following statements are correct regarding the general difference between plant and animal cells?

  1. Plant cells have cellulose cell walls whilst animal cells do not.
  2. Plant cells do not have plasma membranes unlike animal cells which do.
  3. Mature plant cell has one large vacuole whilst animal cell has many small vacuoles.

Select the correct answer using the code given below:

(a) 1 and 2 only

(b) 2 and 3 only

(c) 1 and 3 only

(d) 1, 2 and 3

 

Post your answers here.

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International Space Agencies – Missions and Discoveries

What is Planet Nine?

Note4Students

From UPSC perspective, the following things are important :

Prelims level : Planet Nine, Dwarf Planets

Mains level : NA

A new study’s “treasure map” suggests that a planet several times more massive than Earth could be hiding in our solar system, camouflaged by the bright strip of stars that make up the Milky Way.

Do not wonder. This too was a PYQ:

Q.Which planet was downgraded to dwarf planet status?

(a) Pluto

(b) Mars

(c) Earth

(d) Venus

 

Post your answers here!

Planet 9

  • Planet Nine is a hypothetical planet in the outer region of the Solar System.
  • Its gravitational effects could explain the unlikely clustering of orbits for a group of extreme trans-Neptunian objects (ETNOs), bodies beyond Neptune that orbit the Sun at distances averaging more than 250 times that of the Earth.
  • Based on earlier considerations, this hypothetical super-Earth-sized planet would have had a predicted mass of five to ten times that of the Earth, and an elongated orbit 400 to 800 times as far from the Sun as the Earth.

Curiosity for the ninth Planet

  • In August 2006, the International Astronomical Union broke several hearts when it announced that it had reclassified Pluto as a dwarf planet. ‘
  • The decision was based on Pluto’s size and the fact that it resides within a zone of other similarly-sized objects.

Is everyone convinced that Planet Nine exists?

  • Researchers from across the globe have carried out several studies on Planet Nine and there are several theories about it, including one that stated Planet Nine could in fact be a black hole.
  • Another research has argued that the unknown object causing anomalous orbits of the trans-Neptunian objects could be a primordial black hole.
  • Yet another study noted that a trans-Neptunian object called 2015 BP519 had an unusual trajectory because it was affected by Planet Nine’s strong gravity.

Back2Basics: Dwarf Planet

  • A dwarf planet is a small planetary-mass object that is in direct orbit of the Sun – something smaller than any of the eight classical planets, but still a world in its own right.
  • As of today, there are officially five dwarf planets in our Solar System.
  • The most famous is Pluto, downgraded from the status of a planet in 2006.
  • The other four, in order of size, are Eris, Makemake, Haumea and Ceres. The sixth claimant for a dwarf planet is Hygiea, which so far has been taken to be an asteroid.
  • These four criteria are – that the body orbits around the Sun, it is not a moon, has not cleared the neighborhood around its orbit, and has enough mass for its gravity to pull it into a roughly spherical shape.

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Health Sector – UHC, National Health Policy, Family Planning, Health Insurance, etc.

What is Serotype 2 Dengue?

Note4Students

From UPSC perspective, the following things are important :

Prelims level : Dengue

Mains level : NA

The Union Health Ministry has flagged the emerging challenge in 11 States across India of serotype 2 dengue, which it said is associated with “more cases and more complications” than other forms of the disease.

Try this PYQ from CSP 2015:

Q. Consider the following statements:

  1. In tropical regions, Zika virus disease is transmitted by the same mosquito that transmits dengue.
  2. Sexual transmission of Zika virus disease is possible.

Which of the statements given above is/are correct?

(a) 1 only

(b) 2 only

(c) Both 1 and 2

(d) Neither 1 nor 2

 

Post your answers here!

What is Dengue?

  • Dengue is a mosquito-borne viral infection, found in tropical and sub-tropical climates worldwide, mostly in urban and semi-urban areas.
  • It is transmitted by female mosquitoes mainly of the species Aedes aegypti and, to a lesser extent, Ae. albopictus.
  • These mosquitoes are also vectors of chikungunya, yellow fever and Zika viruses.
  • Dengue is widespread throughout the tropics, with local variations in risk influenced by rainfall, temperature, relative humidity and unplanned rapid urbanization.

Its transmission

  • The virus is transmitted to humans through the bites of infected female mosquitoes, primarily the Aedes aegypti
  • Other species within the Aedes genus can also act as vectors, but their contribution is secondary to Aedes aegypti.
  • Mosquitoes can become infected from people who are viremic with dengue.

Various serotypes

  • Dengue is caused by a virus of the Flaviviridae family and there are four distinct, but closely related, serotypes of the virus that cause dengue (DENV-1, DENV-2, DENV-3 and DENV-4).
  • Recovery from infection is believed to provide lifelong immunity against that serotype.
  • However, cross-immunity to the other serotypes after recovery is only partial and temporary.
  • Subsequent infections (secondary infection) by other serotypes increase the risk of developing severe dengue.

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Roads, Highways, Cargo, Air-Cargo and Logistics infrastructure – Bharatmala, LEEP, SetuBharatam, etc.

Delhi-Mumbai Expressway: World’s longest

Note4Students

From UPSC perspective, the following things are important :

Prelims level : Delhi-Mumbai Expressway

Mains level : NA

The Minister for Road Transport and Highways Union Minister Nitin Gadkari concluded the review of the work progress on the Delhi-Mumbai Expressway.

Delhi-Mumbai Expressway

  • The ambitious infra project started in the year 2018 is being constructed at a cost of Rs 98,000 crore and is scheduled for completion by March 2023.
  • States: Delhi, Haryana, Rajasthan, Madhya Pradesh, Gujarat and Maharashtra
  • Once ready, the expressway will feature a spur to Noida International Airport and Jawaharlal Nehru Port to Mumbai through a spur in the financial capital.
  • It will reduce travel time between certain cities to 12-12.5 hours from 24 hours.
  • The project is expected to improve connectivity to economic hubs of India like Jaipur, Ajmer, Kishangarh, Chittorgarh, Kota, Udaipur, Ujjain, Bhopal, Indore, Vadodara, Ahmedabad, and Surat.

Key features of the expressway

  • The expressway which is eight-lane access-controlled can be expanded to a 12-lane expressway depending on the traffic volume
  • It will boast wayside amenities such as resorts, food courts, restaurants, fuel stations, logistics parks, facilities for truckers
  • For accident victims, it will offer a helicopter ambulance service as well as a heliport, which will use drone services for business
  • Along the highway, over two million trees and shrubs are planned to be planted
  • The highway project is Asia’s first and the world’s second to include animal overpasses in order to facilitate unrestricted wildlife movement
  • Besides, it will also involve two iconic eight-lane tunnels
  • The project will result in annual savings of more than 320 million litres of fuel as well as reduce Carbon dioxide emissions by 850 million kg
  • Over 12 lakh tonnes of steel will be consumed in the project’s construction, which is equivalent to constructing 50 Howrah bridges
  • For the project, 80 lakh tonnes of cement will be consumed, which is around 2 percent of the country’s annual cement production capacity
  • The ambitious Delhi-Mumbai Expressway project has also created job opportunities for thousands of trained civil engineers apart from generating over 50 lakh man-days of work

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Tiger Conservation Efforts – Project Tiger, etc.

Pseudo-melanism in Tigers of Simlipal

Note4Students

From UPSC perspective, the following things are important :

Prelims level : Pigmentation of Tigers

Mains level : Not Much

A team of scientists has resolved the genetic mystery of Simlipal’s so-called black tigers.

What are Black Tigers?

  • Tigers have a distinctive dark stripe pattern on a light background of white or golden.
  • A rare pattern variant, distinguished by stripes that are broadened and fused together, is also observed in both wild and captive populations.
  • This is known as pseudo-melanism, which is different from true melanism, a condition characterized by unusually high deposition of melanin, a dark pigment.
  • This pseudo-melanism is linked to a single mutation in Transmembrane Aminopeptidase Q (Taqpep), a gene responsible for similar traits in other cat species.

Where are they mostly found?

  • While truly melanistic tigers are yet to be recorded, pseudo-melanistic ones have been camera-trapped repeatedly, and only, in Simlipal, a 2,750-km tiger reserve in Odisha, since 2007.
  • Launched in 2017, the study was the first attempt to investigate the genetic basis for this unusual phenotype (appearance).

Why they are rare?

  • Mutants are genetic variations which may occur spontaneously, but not frequently, in nature.
  • A cub gets two copies of each gene from both parents, and a recessive gene can show up only in the absence of the dominant one.
  • So, two normal-pattern tigers carrying the recessive pseudo-melanism gene will have to breed together for a one-in-four probability of giving birth to a black cub.
  • But recessive genes are rare and it is unlikely that two unrelated tigers will carry the same one and pass it on together to a cub.

Connection with Simlipal TR

  • In an ideal tiger world, where far-ranging individuals are never short of choices for partners, that makes succession of black tigers a rarity.
  • Under exceptional circumstances, a black tiger may succeed as part of a very small population that is forced to inbreed in isolation for generations.
  • As it turned out, that is what happened at Simlipal.
  • Pseudo-melanistic tigers are also present in three zoos in India — Nandankanan (Bhubaneswar), Arignar Anna Zoological Park (Chennai) and Bhagwan Birsa Biological Park (Ranchi) — where they were born in captivity.
  • All of them have ancestral links to one individual from Simlipal.

What about natural selection?

  • Natural selection eliminates the weakest from a gene pool, and the traits of the more successful get passed on.
  • Niche modelling, the study said, shows higher frequency of melanistic leopards in darker tropical and subtropical forests than in drier open habitats.
  • Likewise, darker coats may confer a selective advantage in both hunting and avoiding hunters in Simlipal’s tropical moist deciduous and semi-evergreen closed-canopy forest, with a relatively darker understory.

Try this PYQ:

Two important rivers – one with its source in Jharkhand (and known by a different name in Odisha), and another, with its source in Odisha – merge at a place only a short distance from the coast of Bay of Bengal before flowing into the sea. This is an important site of wildlife and biodiversity and a protected area.

 

Which one of the following could be this?
(a) Bhitarkanika
(b) Chandipur-on-sea
(c) Gopalpur-on-sea
(d) Simlipal

 

Post your answers here.


Back2Basics: Project Tiger

  • Project Tiger is a tiger conservation program launched in April 1973 during PM Indira Gandhi’s tenure.
  • In 1970 India had only 1800 tigers and Project Tiger was launched in Jim Corbett National Park.
  • The project is administrated by the National Tiger Conservation Authority (NTCA).
  • It aims at ensuring a viable population of Bengal tigers in their natural habitats, protecting them from extinction etc.
  • Under this project the govt. has set up a Tiger Protection Force to combat poachers and funded relocation of villagers to minimize human-tiger conflicts.

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New Species of Plants and Animals Discovered

General Sherman: World’s largest tree

Note4Students

From UPSC perspective, the following things are important :

Prelims level : General Sherman Tree

Mains level : NA

Two wildfires in California are burning through the Sequoia National Park in the Sierra Nevada that is home to some of the largest trees in the world.

Among these trees is the world’s largest tree popularly known as General Sherman, which firefighters are now trying to protect from the blaze.

About General Sherman

  • The General Sherman tree is the world’s largest in terms of volume and exists in the Giant Forest sequoia grove of the national park.
  • As per recent estimates, General Sherman is about 2,200 years old.
  • It stands at a height of 275 feet (taller than the leaning tower of Pisa) and has a diameter of 36 feet at the base.
  • Even 60 feet above the base, the tree has a diameter of 17.5 feet.
  • Giant sequoia trees have existed in the national park for thousands of years and there are an estimated 2,000 such trees in the park.

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Historical and Archaeological Findings in News

Gupta Era Temple uncovered in UP

Note4Students

From UPSC perspective, the following things are important :

Prelims level : Shankhlipi Script, Gupta Period

Mains level : Zenith of arts and cultural development during Gupta Period

Last week, the Archaeological Survey of India (ASI) discovered remains of an ancient temple dating back to the Gupta period (5th century) in a village in Uttar Pradesh’s Etah district.

Findings of the excavation

  • The Bilsarh site was declared ‘protected’ in 1928.
  • Every year, the ASI undertakes scrubbing work at the protected sites.
  • This year, the team discovered two decorative pillars close to one another, with human figurines resembling an ancient temple.
  • The stairs of the temple had ‘shankhalipi’ inscriptions, which were deciphered by the archaeologists as saying, ‘Sri Mahendraditya’, the title of Kumaragupta I of the Gupta dynasty.

You will find tons of PYQs on Gupta Period. Try this recent one:

Q. With reference to the period of Gupta dynasty in ancient India, the towns Ghantasala, Kadura and Chaula were well known as:

(a) ports handling foreign trade

(b) capitals of powerful kingdoms

(c) places of exquisite stone art and architecture

(d) important Buddhist pilgrimage centres

 

Post your answers here.

Who was Kumaragupta I?

  • Kumaragupta I was an emperor of the Gupta Empire of Ancient India.
  • A son of the Gupta emperor Chandragupta II and queen Dhruvadevi, he seems to have maintained control of his inherited territory, which extended from Gujarat in the west to Bengal region in the east.
  • In the 5th century, Kumaragupta I ruled for 40 years over north-central India.
  • Skandagupta, son and successor of Kumaragupta I is generally considered to be the last of the great Gupta rulers.
  • He assumed the titles of Vikramaditya and Kramaditya.

What is the Shankhalipi script?

  • Shankhalipi or “shell-script” is a term used by scholars to describe ornate spiral characters assumed to be Brahmi derivatives that look like conch shells or shankhas.
  • They are found in inscriptions across north-central India and date to between the 4th and 8th centuries.
  • Both Shankhalipi and Brahmi are stylised scripts used primarily for names and signatures.
  • The inscriptions consist of a small number of characters, suggesting that the shell inscriptions are names or auspicious symbols or a combination of the two.

Chronology and meaning

  • The script was discovered in 1836 on a brass trident in Uttarakhand’s Barahat by English scholar James Prinsep, who was the founding editor of the Journal of the Asiatic Society of Bengal.
  • A year later, he came across two more similar scripts at Nagarjuna group of caves in the Barabar Hills near Gaya.
  • Prominent sites with shell inscriptions include the Mundeshwari Temple in Bihar, the Udayagiri Caves in Madhya Pradesh, Mansar in Maharashtra and some of the cave sites of Gujarat and Maharashtra.
  • In fact, shell inscriptions are also reported in Indonesia’s Java and Borneo.
  • Scholars have tried to decipher shell script but have not been successful.

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Back2Basics: Gupta Empire

  • The Gupta Empire was an ancient Indian empire which existed from the early 4th century CE to late 6th century CE.
  • This period is considered as the Golden Age of India by historians.
  • The ruling dynasty of the empire was founded by the king Sri Gupta; the most notable rulers of the dynasty were Chandragupta I, Samudragupta, and Chandragupta II alias Vikramaditya.
  • The 5th-century CE Sanskrit poet Kalidasa credits the Guptas with having conquered about twenty-one kingdoms, both in and outside India, including the kingdoms of Parasikas, the Hunas, the Kambojas, tribes located in the west and east Oxus valleys, the Kinnaras, Kiratas, and others.
  • Many of the literary sources, such as Mahabharata and Ramayana, were canonized during this period.
  • The Gupta period produced scholars such as Kalidasa, Aryabhata, Varahamihira, and Vatsyayana who made great advancements in many academic fields.

Coastal Zones Management and Regulations

Tarballs on Mumbai Coast

Note4Students

From UPSC perspective, the following things are important :

Prelims level : Tarballs

Mains level : Oil spills and the threats posed

A beach in South Mumbai, saw black oil-emanating balls lying on the shore.

What are Tarballs?

  • Tarballs are dark-coloured, sticky balls of oil that form when crude oil floats on the ocean surface.
  • Tarballs are formed by weathering of crude oil in marine environments.
  • They are transported from the open sea to the shores by sea currents and waves.
  • Tarballs are usually coin-sized and are found strewn on the beaches. Some of the balls are as big as a basketball while others are smaller globules.
  • However, over the years, they have become as big as basketballs and can weigh as much as 6-7 kgs.

How are tarballs formed?

  • Wind and waves tear the oil slick into smaller patches that are scattered over a much wider area.
  • Various physical, chemical and biological processes (weathering) change the appearance of the oil.

Why are tarballs found on the beaches during the monsoon?

  • It is suspected that the oil comes from the large cargo ships in the deep sea and gets pushed to the shore as tarballs during monsoon due to wind speed and direction.
  • All the oil spilt in the Arabian sea eventually gets deposited on the western coast in the form of tarballs in the monsoon season when wind speed and circulation pattern favour transportation of these tarballs.

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Historical and Archaeological Findings in News

[pib] Hybodont Shark fossils found in Jaisalmer

Note4Students

From UPSC perspective, the following things are important :

Prelims level : Hybodont Shark

Mains level : Not Much

In a rare discovery, teeth of new species of Hybodont shark of Jurassic age have been reported for the first time from Jaisalmer by a team of officers from the Geological Survey of India (GSI).

Hybodont Shark

  • Hybodonts, an extinct group of sharks, was a dominant group of fishes in both marine and fluvial environments during the Triassic and early Jurassic time.
  • However, hybodont sharks started to decline in marine environments from the Middle Jurassic onwards until they formed a relatively minor component of open-marine shark assemblages.
  • They finally became extinct at the end of the Cretaceous time 65 million years ago.

Significance of the fossil

  • The newly discovered crushing teeth from Jaisalmer represents a new species named by the research team as Strophodusjaisalmerensis.
  • These sharks have been reported for the first time from the Jurassic rocks (approximately, between 160 and 168 million years old) of the Jaisalmer region of Rajasthan.
  • The genus Strophodus has been identified for the first time from the Indian subcontinent and is only the third such record from Asia, the other two being from Japan and Thailand.
  • It opens a new window for further research in the domain of vertebrate fossils.

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Back2Basics: Geological time-scale

North-East India – Security and Developmental Issues

50th anniversary of Meghalaya’s Statehood

Note4Students

From UPSC perspective, the following things are important :

Prelims level : States reorganization

Mains level : Not Much

The Meghalaya Assembly has given an indigenous touch to the National Anthem ahead of the 50th anniversary of Meghalaya’s Statehood in 2022.

About Meghalaya

  • Meghalaya meaning “abode of clouds” was formed by carving out two districts from the state of Assam: the United Khasi Hills and Jaintia Hills, and the Garo Hills on 21 January 1972.
  • It was previously part of Assam, but on 21 January 1972, the districts of Khasi, Garo and Jaintia hills became the new state of Meghalaya.
  • It is the wettest region of India, with the wettest areas in the southern Khasi Hills recording an average of 12,000 mm (470 in) of rain a year.
  • About 70 percent of the state is forested.
  • The Meghalaya subtropical forests ecoregion encompasses the state; its mountain forests are distinct from the lowland tropical forests to the north and south.

Note the chronology of reorganization states in India

State Formation Year Status prior to the formation
Andhra 1953 Part of the state of Madras
Gujarat 1960 Part of the state of Bombay
Maharashtra 1960 Part of the state of Bombay
Kerala 1956 State of Travancore and Cochin
Nagaland 1963 Union territory
Haryana 1966 Part of Punjab
Karnataka 1956 State of Mysore was formed in 1953, enlarged Mysore in 1956 which was renamed in 1973.
Himachal Pradesh 1971 Union Territory
Manipur, Tripura 1972 Union Territories
Meghalaya 1972 Autonomous state within state of Assam
Sikkim 1975 Associate state since 1974 and a protectorate of India before that.
Mizoram 1987 District of Assam till 1972 and Union Territory from 1972 to 1987.
Arunachal Pradesh 1987 Union Territory
Goa 1987 Union Territory
Uttarakhand 2000 Part of Uttar Pradesh
Chhattisgarh 2000 Part of Madhya Pradesh
Jharkhand 2000 Part of Bihar
Telangana 2014 Part of Andhra Pradesh

 

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Capital Markets: Challenges and Developments

National Financial Reporting Authority (NFRA)

Note4Students

From UPSC perspective, the following things are important :

Prelims level : NFRA

Mains level : Not Much

Audit regulator National Financial Reporting Authority (NFRA) wants to be positioned as a regulator for the entire gamut of financial reporting, covering all processes and participants in the financial reporting chain.

What is NFRA?

  • NFRA is an independent regulator to oversee the auditing profession and accounting standards in India under Companies Act 2013.
  • It came into existence in October 2018.
  • After the Satyam scandal took place in 2009, the Standing Committee on Finance proposed the concept of the National Financial Reporting Authority (NFRA) for the first time in its 21st report.
  • Companies Act, 2013 then gave the regulatory framework for its composition and constitution.

Functions

  • NFRA works to improve the transparency and reliability of financial statements and information presented by listed companies and large unlisted companies in India.

Powers & duties

  • NFRA is responsible for recommending accounting and auditing policies and standards in the country.
  • It may undertake investigations, and impose sanctions against defaulting auditors and audit firms in the form of monetary penalties and debarment from practice for up to 10 years.
  • Since 2018, the powers of the NFRA were extended to include the governing of auditors of companies listed in any stock exchange, in India or outside of India, unlisted public companies above certain thresholds.

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History- Important places, persons in news

[pib] Who was Raja Mahendra Pratap Singh?

Note4Students

From UPSC perspective, the following things are important :

Prelims level : Social reformers in Colonial India

Mains level : Not Much

The PM has laid the foundation stone of Raja Mahendra Pratap Singh State University in Aligarh, Uttar Pradesh.

UPSC is exploring deeper for social reformers involved in the freedom struggle. This is very much visible from the questions based on Rakhmabai, Gopal Baba Walangkar, Sakharam Deuskar etc. in CS Prelims 2020.

Raja Mahendra Pratap Singh (1886-1979)

  • Raja Mahendra Pratap Singh was an Indian freedom fighter, journalist, writer and a revolutionary.
  • He was President in the Provisional Government of India, which served as the Indian Government in exile during World War I from Kaabul in 1915.
  • He also formed the Executive Board of India in Japan in 1940 during the Second World War.
  • He also took part in the Balkan War in the year 1911 along with his fellow students of Muhammedan Anglo College.
  • In recognition of his services, the government of India issued postage stamps in his honor. He is popularly known as “Aryan Peshwa”.
  • He was nominated for the Nobel Peace Prize in 1932.

Involvement in Swadeshi Movement

  • He met several leaders involved in the Swadeshi movement, deciding to promote small industries with indigenous goods and local artisans.
  • He was influenced by the speeches of Dadabhai Naoroji, Bal Gangadhar Tilak, Maharaja of Baroda, and Bipin Chandra Pal, helping to make him a patriot who turned Swadeshi.

Formation of provisional govt in exile

  • On 1 December 1915 during World War I Pratap established the first Provisional Government of India at Kabul in Afghanistan as a government-in-exile of Free Hindustan, with himself as President, Maulavi Barkatullah as Prime Minister, and Maulana Ubaidullah Sindhi as Home Minister, declaring jihad on the British.
  • Due to his revolutionary ideas Pratap had a good relationship with Lenin, who invited him to Russia after its liberation and welcomed him.
  • By this time, the British had noticed his activities, and the British Government of India put a bounty on his head, attached/confiscated his entire estate, and declared him a fugitive, causing him to flee to Japan in 1925.

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History- Important places, persons in news

124 years of the Battle of Saragarhi

Note4Students

From UPSC perspective, the following things are important :

Prelims level : Battle of Saragarhi

Mains level : Anglo-Afghan Wars

This September 12 marks the 124th anniversary of the Battle of Saragarhi that has inspired a host of armies, books and films, both at home and abroad.

What is the Battle of Saragarhi?

  • The Battle of Saragarhi is considered one of the finest last stands in the military history of the world.
  • Twenty-one soldiers were pitted against over 8,000 Afridi and Orakzai tribals but they managed to hold the fort for seven hours.
  • Though heavily outnumbered, the soldiers of 36th Sikhs (now 4 Sikhs), led by Havildar Ishar Singh, fought till their last breath, killing 200 tribals and injuring 600.

What was Saragarhi, and why was it important?

  • Saragarhi was the communication tower between Fort Lockhart and Fort Gulistan.
  • The two forts in the rugged North-West Frontier Province (NWFP), now in Pakistan. were built by Maharaja Ranjit Singh but renamed by the British.
  • Though Saragarhi was usually manned by a platoon of 40 soldiers, on that fateful day, it was being held by only 21 soldiers from 36th Sikh (now 4 Sikh) and a non-combatant called Daad, a Pashtun who did odd jobs for the troops.
  • Saragarhi helped to link up the two important forts which housed a large number of British troops in the rugged terrain of NWFP.
  • Fort Lockhart was also home to families of British officers.

What transpired on that day?

  • Around 9 am that day, the sentry at Saragarhi saw a thick haze of dust and soon realized that it was caused by a large army of tribals marching towards the fort.
  • The 8,000 and 15,000 tribals wanted to isolate the two forts by cutting off the lines of communication between them.
  • Unfortunately, the Pathans had cut the supply route between Fort Lockhart and Saragarhi.

Who was Havildar Ishar Singh who led the troops?

  • Havildar Ishar Singh was born in a village near Jagraon.
  • He joined the Punjab Frontier Force in his late teens after which he spent most of his time on various battlefields.
  • Soon after it was raised in 1887, Ishar was drafted into the 36th Sikhs.
  • He was in his early 40s when he was given independent command of the Saragarhi post.
  • Ishar Singh was quite a maverick who dared to disobey his superiors but he was loved by his men for whom he was always ready to go out on a limb.

How was the news of the battle received in Britain?

  • Making a departure from the tradition of not giving gallantry medals posthumously, Queen Victoria awarded the 21 dead soldiers — leaving out the non-combatant/
  • They were awarded the Indian Order of Merit (comparable with the Victoria Cross) along with two ‘marabas’ (50 acres) and Rs 500 each.

How are the slain soldiers remembered?

  • In 2017, the Punjab government decided to observe Saragarhi Day on September 12 as a holiday.
  • Even today the Khyber Scouts regiment of the Pakistani army mounts a guard and salutes the Saragarhi memorial close to Fort Lockhart.

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Historical and Archaeological Findings in News

Thamirabarani Civilization is 3200 years old

Note4Students

From UPSC perspective, the following things are important :

Prelims level : Thamirabarani Civilization

Mains level : Ancient Indian Civilizations

 

A carbon dating analysis of rice with soil, found in a burial urn at Sivakalai in Thoothukudi district of Tamil Nadu has yielded the date of 1155 BC, indicating that the Thamirabarani civilization dates back to 3,200 years.

About Thamirabarani River

  • The Thamirabarani or Tamraparni or Porunai is a perennial river that originates from the Agastyarkoodam peak of the Pothigai hills of the Western Ghats.
  • It flows through the Tirunelveli and Thoothukudi districts of the Tamil Nadu state of southern India into the Gulf of Mannar.
  • It was called the Tamraparni River in the pre-classical period, a name it lent to the island of Sri Lanka.
  • The old Tamil name of the river is Porunai.

Its history

  • Its many name derivations of Tan Porunai include Tampraparani, Tamirabarni, Tamiravaruni.
  • Tan Porunai nathi finds mention by classical Tamil poets in ancient Sangam Tamil literature Purananuru.
  • Recognised as a holy river in Sanskrit literature Puranas, Mahabharata and Ramayana, the river was famed in the Early Pandyan Kingdom for its pearl and conch fisheries and trade.
  • The movement of people, including the faithful, trade merchants and toddy tapers from Tamraparni river to northwestern Sri Lanka led to the shared appellation of the name for the closely connected region.
  • One important historical document on the river is the treatise Tamraparni Mahatmyam.
  • It has many ancient temples along its banks. A hamlet known as Appankoil is located on the northern side of the river.

Significance of the carbon dating

  • This has provided evidence that there was a city civilisation in south India as long back as 3,200 years ago, the later part of the Indus Valley Civilisation.
  • Vicinity to the ancient port of Muziris, now known as Pattanam, in Kerala add another significance to the trade history of this site.
  • Now, research would be conducted at Quseir al-Qadim and Pernica Anekke in Egypt, which were once part of the Roman empire, as well as in Khor Rori in Oman, to establish the Tamils’ trade relations with these countries.
  • Potsherds bearing Tamil scripts have been found in these countries.
  • Studies would also be conducted in Southeast Asian countries, such as Indonesia, Thailand, Malaysia and Vietnam, where King Rajendra Chola had established supremacy.

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Also read

Sangam era older than previously thought, finds study

International Space Agencies – Missions and Discoveries

What is a Solar Storm?

Note4Students

From UPSC perspective, the following things are important :

Prelims level : Solar Storm

Mains level : Not Much

Studies have found that a powerful solar storm can cause a disruption of the internet, damage submarine cables, and communication satellites.

What is a Solar Storm?

  • A solar storm or a Coronal Mass Ejection as astronomers call it is an ejection of highly magnetized particles from the sun.
  • These particles can travel several million km per hour and can take about 13 hours to five days to reach Earth.
  • Earth’s atmosphere protects us, humans, from these particles.
  • But the particles can interact with our Earth’s magnetic field, induce strong electric currents on the surface and affect man-made structures.

History of solar storms

  • The first recorded solar storm occurred in 1859 and it reached Earth in about 17 hours.
  • It affected the telegraph network and many operators experienced electric shocks.
  • A solar storm that occurred in 1921 impacted New York telegraph and railroad systems and another small-scale storm collapsed the power grid in Quebec, Canada in 1989.
  • A 2013 report noted that if a solar storm similar to the 1859 one hit the US today, about 20-40 million people could be without power for 1-2 years, and the total economic cost will be $0.6-2.6 trillion.

Why is it a cause of concern?

  • The Sun goes through an 11-year cycle – cycles of high and low activity.
  • It also has a longer 100-year cycle.
  • During the last three decades, when the internet infrastructure was booming, it was a low period.
  • And very soon, either in this cycle or the next cycle, we are going towards the peaks of the 100-year cycle.
  • So it is highly likely that we might see one powerful solar storm during our lifetime.

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