Port Infrastructure and Shipping Industry – Sagarmala Project, SDC, CEZ, etc.

What is in Great Nicobar, site of NITI Aayog’s mega Island Project?

Note4Students

From UPSC perspective, the following things are important :

Prelims level: Nicobar Triangle, GNI Project

Why in the News?

  • The opposition party has demanded the immediate suspension of all clearances granted to NITI Aayog’s Great Nicobar Island (GNI) Project.
  • It alleged violations of due process, legal and constitutional provisions protecting tribal communities.

Great Nicobar Island: An Overview

  • Geography and Ecology: Southernmost tip of India, part of the Andaman and Nicobar archipelago comprising 600-odd islands.
  • Environment: Hilly, covered with lush rainforests, annual rainfall of around 3,500 mm.
  • Biodiversity: Hosts numerous endangered and endemic species including the giant leatherback turtle, Nicobar megapode, Great Nicobar crake, Nicobar crab-eating macaque, and Nicobar tree shrew.
  • Area: 910 sq km with mangroves and Pandan forests along the coast.
  • Indigenous Communities:
    • Shompen Tribe: Approximately 250 people live in interior forests, predominantly hunter-gatherers, classified as a Particularly Vulnerable Tribal Group.
    • Nicobarese Community: Two groups – Great Nicobarese and Little Nicobarese, practice farming and fishing.
    • Resettlement: The Great Nicobarese were resettled in Campbell Bay after the 2004 tsunami.
  • Administrative Hub: Campbell Bay serves as the administrative hub, housing local offices of the Andaman and Nicobar administration and the panchayat.

Back2Basics: “Nicobar Triangle”

It is named after the Nicobar Islands, which are located at the northern apex of this triangular area.

The islands within the Nicobar Triangle include:

  1. Nicobar Islands: This group of islands belongs to India and is situated to the south of the Andaman Islands. They are known for their diverse flora and fauna and are inhabited by indigenous tribes.
  2. Andaman Islands: Located to the north of the Nicobar Islands, the Andaman Islands are also part of India. They are well-known for their lush forests, coral reefs, and indigenous tribes.
  3. Indonesian Archipelago: To the south and southeast of the Nicobar Islands lies the Indonesian archipelago, which includes thousands of islands spanning a vast area between the Indian and Pacific Oceans.

What is GNI Project?

The GNI Project refers to the “Holistic Development of Great Nicobar Island,” a proposed mega project being piloted by NITI Aayog.

  • Implementing Agency: The project is to be implemented by the Andaman and Nicobar Islands Integrated Development Corporation (ANIIDCO).
  • Historical Context: Development plans for a port in Great Nicobar date back to the 1970s, aimed at leveraging its strategic location near the Malacca Strait.
  • The project aims to develop the southern end of the Andaman and Nicobar group of Islands in the Bay of Bengal by constructing –
  1. Transshipment port
  2. Dual-use military-civil international airport
  3. Power plant (450 MVA gas and solar-based) and
  4. A township over a span of 30 years on more than 160 sq. km of land, of which 130 sq. km is primary forest

Features of the Project

  • Transshipment hub of the East: The proposed port will allow Great Nicobar to participate in the regional and global maritime economy by becoming a major player in cargo transshipment.
  • Naval control: The port will be controlled by the Indian Navy, while the airport will have dual military-civilian functions and will cater to tourism as well.
  • Urban amenities: Roads, public transport, water supply and waste management facilities, and several hotels have been planned to cater to tourists.

Significance of the project

  • Economic significance: The proposed port would allow GNI to become a significant player in cargo transhipment, as it is positioned equidistant from Colombo, Port Klang (Malaysia), and Singapore.
  • Strategic significance: The proposal to develop GNI has been on the table since the 1970s, and it has been highlighted repeatedly as a crucial element for national security and consolidation of the Indian Ocean Region.
    • In recent years, the escalating Chinese presence in the Indian Ocean has added greater urgency to this imperative.

Issues with the Project

  • The project entails the deforestation of 130 sq km, and felling 10 lakh trees, threatens biodiversity at Galathea Bay, displaces indigenous tribes, lacks thorough impact assessments, and poses seismic risks to vulnerable communities.

Due-process Violations highlighted by the ‘Opposition’

(1) Did not recognise the grant ownership: The island administration did not recognise or grant ownership of any forest land to local tribespeople as per FRA, a requisite step under the Forest Conservation Rules, 2017, before Stage-I clearance is granted.

  • This is despite the fact that Rule 6(3)(e) of Forest Conservation Rules-2017 (FCR) requires that any diversion of forest land first requires the District Collector to recognise and vest rights to locals under the FRA.
  • The legislation allows forest communities the right to control and manage the use of the forest land over which they hold titles, and their consent is mandatory for diverting it.

(2) Inconsistencies with Stage-I Clearance: The Stage-I clearance for the project was granted in October 2022, two years after the application was received. Monthly progress reports show that the district administration did not process any claims over forest land under the FRA in the 26 months since project sanction.

(3) Withdrawal of Consent: Weeks after the Stage-I clearance was granted, the Tribal Council at Campbell Bay withdrew the consent granted by the Gram Sabha.

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Festivals, Dances, Theatre, Literature, Art in News

Srinagar gets tag of ‘World Craft City’, fourth from country

Note4Students

From UPSC perspective, the following things are important :

Prelims level: Global Craft Cities in India, World Crafts Council International (WCCI)

Why in the News?

Srinagar has become the fourth Indian city to be recognised as a ‘World Craft City’ by the World Craft Council (WCC), three years after it was designated as part of the UNESCO Creative City Network (UCCN) for crafts and folk arts.

Craft Sector in Kashmir

  • The Indian National Trust for Art and Cultural Heritage-Kashmir (INTACH-K) is working with the J&K Handicrafts department to map Srinagar’s craft sector in preparation for the final nomination.
  • Srinagar boasts a rich artisanal heritage, with over 20,000 registered craftsmen engaged in various disciplines such as papier mâché, walnut wood carving, hand-knotted carpets, and more.
  • Handicrafts contribute significantly to the local economy, with approximately 2.64% of J&K’s overall economic output attributed to the sector by 2016-17.
  • Notable Craft: Papier-Mache, Walnut Wood Carving, Carpets, Sozni embroidery and Pashmina and Kani shawls.

About World Craft Council (WCC International)

Details
What is it? Non-profit, Non-governmental organization
Working
  • Establishment in 1964;
  • Registered in Belgium as an international association without lucrative purpose (AISBL).
  • Affiliated to the UNESCO
Founders Kamaladevi Chattopadhay and Aileen Osborn Webb
Purpose To promote fellowship among craftspersons worldwide, foster economic development through craft-related activities, organize exchange programs, workshops, conferences, seminars, and exhibitions, and offer encouragement and advice to artisans.
Legal Status
  • Registered in Belgium as an international association without lucrative purpose (AISBL)
  • WCC is organized into five regions: Africa, Asia Pacific, Europe, Latin America, and North America.
Meetings
  • European branch meets annually;
  • The General Assembly occurs every four years (took place in Chennai in 2012).

What is World Craft City (WCC) Designation?

  • The WCC initiative was launched in 2014 by the World Crafts Council AISBL (WCC-International).
  • It recognizes the pivotal role local authorities, craftspeople, and communities play in cultural, economic, and social development worldwide.
  • India has only 3 cities designated as World Craft City:
  1. Jaipur (Kundan Jadai (Gem setting), Meenakari Jewellery, Lac-based craft, Gotta Patti Work etc. )
  2. Mysuru (Kinnal paintings, Sandalwood carvings, Rosewood Inlay etc. )
  3. Mamallapuram (Stone Carving continuing since Pallava dynasty (275 CE to 897 CE))

PYQ:

[2018] Safeguarding the Indian art heritage is the need of the moment. Comment (10M) 

[2018] Consider the following pairs:

  1. Puthukkuli shawls — Tamil Nadu
  2. Sujni embroidery — Maharashtra
  3. Uppada Jamdani saris — Karnataka

Craft Heritage of which of the pairs given above is/are correct?

(a) 1 only

(b) 1 and 2

(c) 3 only

(d) 2 and 3

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Indian Missile Program Updates

Philippines hails BrahMos Missiles as a ‘game changer’

Note4Students

From UPSC perspective, the following things are important :

Prelims level: Brahmos Missile

Why in the News?

  • The BrahMos cruise missiles so inducted are termed a “game changer” by the Philippines envoy. The missiles provide credible defence and deterrent capabilities to the Philippines’ armed forces.

About BrahMos Missiles

  • BrahMos is a joint venture between the DRDO and Russia’s NPO Mashinostroyeniya.
  • The name BrahMos comes from the two rivers, the Brahmaputra of India and the Moskva of Russia.
  • The first successful test in 2001 was conducted from a specially designed land-based launcher.

Capabilities:

  • BrahMos is a medium-range ramjet supersonic cruise missile.
  • Launched from: submarines, ships, aircraft, or land.
  • It is the fastest supersonic cruise missile in the world.
  • It has two stages:
  1. The first stage comprised a solid-fuel rocket booster and
  2. The second stage comprises a liquid-fueled ramjet. ( because it provides the capability to manoeuvre and increase the range of missiles)

Warhead:

  • Ship-launched and land-based missiles can carry a 200 kg warhead,
  • Aircraft-launched variant (BrahMos A) can carry a 300 kg warhead.

Variants and Range 

  • The missile travels at speeds of Mach 2.8 to 3.0, which is being upgraded to Mach 5.0.
  • A hypersonic version of the missile, BrahMos-II, is also presently under development with a speed of Mach 7-8 to boost aerial fast strike capability.
  • Initially restricted by the Missile Technology Control Regime to a range of 290km, the BrahMos missile’s range was extended to 450km following India’s entry into the regime in June 2016.
  • Ongoing efforts aim further to extend the missile’s range beyond 600km, enhancing its operational reach and effectiveness in various scenarios.

India-Philippines Relations: A quick recap

  • Context: 2023 marked the 75th anniversary of bilateral relations between India and the Philippines.
  • Equipment Transfers: These agreements facilitated government-to-government procurement of defence material and equipment.

Details of the BrahMos Deal

A MoU on defence cooperation was signed in 2006, reinforced by a 2017 MoU on defence industry and logistics cooperation.

  • Contract Details: In January 2022, the Philippines signed a $375 million deal with India for three batteries of shore-based anti-ship BrahMos missiles.
  • First Export Customer: The Philippines became the first export customer for the joint India-Russia venture.
  • Delivery Milestone: The first batch of missiles was delivered in April 2024.
  • Boost to India’s Defence Export: This deal marks India’s first overseas export of the BrahMos, showcasing India’s growing defence industry capabilities.

Bilateral Trade and Economic Cooperation

  • Trade Milestone: In 2023, bilateral trade crossed the $3 billion mark for the first time, with a trade balance in India’s favour.
  • Preferential Trade Agreement (PTA): Ongoing negotiations for a PTA aim to enhance trade balance and diversification.
  • Trade Partnerships: India is among the top 15 trade partners for the Philippines.

Modernisation of the Philippines Armed Forces

  • Phase-3 Modernisation: The Philippines armed forces are in phase-3, termed Horizon-3, of their modernisation programme.
  • Focus Areas: They are looking at acquiring ships, aircraft, and radars, and enhancing Maritime Domain Awareness (MDA).
  • Strategic Goals: Aiming to defend entitlements and secure their Exclusive Economic Zone (EEZ) against China over its claims for the South China Sea.

 

PYQ:

[2014] Which reference to the Agni-IV Missile,

which of the following statements is/are correct?

  1. It is a surface-to-surface missile.
  2. It is fuelled by liquid propellant only.
  3. It can deliver one-tonne nuclear warheads about 7500 km away.

Select the correct answer using the code given below.

(a) 1 only

(b) 2 and 3 only

(c) 1 and 3 only

(d) 1, 2 and 3

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Medical Education Governance in India

NTA Reform Panel to Check Irregularities in Exams

Note4Students

From UPSC perspective, the following things are important :

Prelims level: NTA

Why in the News?

A seven-member high-level committee was constituted under the chairmanship of K. Radhakrishnan, former ISRO Chairman, by the Ministry of Education to reform the National Testing Agency (NTA).

About National Testing Agency (NTA)

  • NTA is a premier, specialist, autonomous and self-sustained testing organization to conducts entrance examinations for admission/fellowship in higher educational institutions.
  • It was established in 2017 with a grant amount of Rs.25 crore from the Union Government.
  • NTA is responsible for conducting exams such as:
    • Joint Entrance Examination – Main (JEE Main)
    • National Eligibility cum Entrance Test-Undergraduate (NEET-UG) as well as NEET PG
    • National Eligibility Test (NET)
    • Common Management Admission Test (CMAT)
    • Graduate Pharmacy Aptitude Test (GPAT).
  • The NTA is chaired by an eminent educationist who will be appointed by the Ministry of Education.
  • There will be a Board of Governors comprising members from user institutions.

National Testing Agency (NTA) Under Scrutiny

  • The NTA has been criticized after the NEET paper leak controversy and the subsequent scrapping of exams like UGC-NET due to “lack of integrity”.
  • The committee aims to establish a robust process for conducting various entrance examinations end to end.

NTA Reform Panel: Committee Composition

  • Committee Head: K. Radhakrishnan, former Chairman of ISRO and Chairman of the Board of Governors at IIT-Kanpur.
  • Two-Month Timeline: The committee aims to meet ten times over the next two months to develop comprehensive recommendations.
  • Key Issues and Focus Areas:
    • Data Security Protocol: Develop a manual to fix a data security protocol to prevent question paper leaks.
    • Printing and Process Integrity: Review processes for printing question papers, onboarding printers, and training staff to minimize external participation.
    • Organisational Restructuring: Consider adding a data security vertical in the NTA organogram and implementing transparent processes, requiring organizational restructuring.
  • Examination Investigation and Security:
    • Root Cause Analysis: The committee will investigate the initial cause of question paper leaks to identify and plug gaps.
    • Modes of Examination: Examine different modes of conducting examinations:
  1. JEE (Mains) and JEE (Advanced) are computer-based tests.
  2. NEET-UG is conducted in pen-paper Optical Mark Recognition (OMR) mode.

Challenges faced by NTA

  • Infrastructure Limitations: Currently, India lacks the infrastructure to conduct computer-based tests online for more than three lakh students simultaneously.
  • Large-Scale Exams: NEET-UG involves up to 24 lakh students appearing in pen and paper OMR mode at once.

Conclusion

  • The reforms are critical to restoring the integrity of entrance examinations in India, ensuring secure and fair testing processes.
  • The committee’s recommendations will play a pivotal role in shaping the future operations of the NTA and entrance examination protocols.

Back2Basic:  University Grants Commission (UGC)

Details
Establishment
  • Came into existence on 28th December, 1953.
  • Became a statutory organization by an Act of Parliament in 1956.
Legislation The UGC Act, 1956.
Nodal Ministry Ministry of Human Resource Development (now Ministry of Education).
Responsibilities
  • Providing funds to universities and colleges.
  • Coordination, determination, and maintenance of standards of teaching, examination, and research in institutions of higher education.
Mandate
  • Promoting and coordinating university education.
  • Determining and maintaining standards of teaching, examination, and research in universities.
  • Framing regulations on minimum standards of education.
  • Monitoring developments in collegiate and university education.
  • Disbursing grants to universities and colleges.
  • Serving as a link between the Union and state governments and institutions of higher learning.
  • Advising Central and State governments on measures necessary for the improvement of university education.
Unique Distinction Only grant-giving agency in India with the dual role of funding and maintaining standards in higher education institutions.
Functions
  • Promoting and coordinating university education.
  • Determining and maintaining standards of teaching, examination, and research in universities.
  • Framing regulations on minimum standards of education.
  • Monitoring developments in collegiate and university education.
  • Disbursing grants to universities and colleges.
  • Serving as a link between the Union and state governments and institutions of higher learning.
  • Advising Central and State governments on measures necessary for the improvement of university education.
Link Role Acts as a vital link between Union and State governments and institutions of higher learning.
Advisory Role Advises the Central and State governments on necessary measures for the improvement of university education.

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Nuclear Energy

Nuclear Study provides major update on Plutonium Isotope Fission

Note4Students

From UPSC perspective, the following things are important :

Prelims level: Prompt Fission Neutron Spectrum (PFNS), India’s 3-stage Nuclear Power Program, Plutonium.

Why in the News?

Recently a study was conducted on Prompt Fission Neutron Spectrum (PFNS) by the US. This study holds significance for design updates in India’s second stage of its nuclear power programme.

India’s Progress in Nuclear Energy

On March 4, India advanced to the second stage of its nuclear power programme by beginning the core-loading process of the Prototype Fast Breeder Reactor (PFBR) at the Madras Atomic Power Station in Kalpakkam. 

India’s 3-stage Nuclear Power Program:

Description Timeline
Stage 1 Relies on pressurized heavy water reactors (PHWRs) using natural uranium as fuel. Initiated in the 1950s;

Operational since the 1960s

Stage 2 Focuses on developing fast breeder reactors (FBRs) using plutonium-239 produced in Stage 1. Initiated in the 1970s;

Development phase

Stage 3 Involves the development of thorium-based reactors utilizing India’s significant thorium reserves. Initiated in the late 1980s/early 1990s;

Research & Development phase

What is Prompt Fission Neutron Spectrum (PFNS)?

  • Definition: PFNS refers to neutrons emitted right after a Pu-240 nucleus captures a neutron but before it reaches a stable state.
  • Previous Studies: To date, only one study has investigated PFNS for Pu-240-induced fission at 0.85 mega-electron-volt (MeV). Recently, researchers in the U.S. conducted a second study with neutrons of higher energy than 0.85 MeV.
  • New Findings: The findings reveal significant differences between predicted and measured PFNS, aiding reactor designers and nuclear medicine practitioners.

About Plutonium-240 and its Fission

  • Neutron Capture: When a Pu-239 nucleus captures a neutron, it can either undergo fission or become Pu-240.
    • Pu-240 is common in nuclear reactors and nuclear weapon test fallout.
  • Pu-240 Behavior: Pu-240 capturing a neutron typically turns into Pu-241.
    • If Pu-240 undergoes fission, there’s uncertainty about the energy of its fission products.
    • Current models use complex calculations to estimate this output.

Do you know?

  • Plutonium is created from Uranium-238 in nuclear reactors.
  • Plutonium-239 is a weapon-grade fissile material (i.e. used to make nuclear weapons).
    • Pu-239 and Pu-240 are by-products of nuclear reactor operations and nuclear bomb explosions.

Relevance of PFNS Study to India’s PFBR

  • PFBR Use: The PFBR uses plutonium from CANDU (Canada Deuterium Uranium) reactor spent fuel, which contains Pu-240. Reprocessed PFBR spent fuel will also contain Pu-240.
  • Importance of New Data: New data on Pu-240 behaviour is essential for improving reactor efficiency and safety.

Production and Characteristics of Pu-240

  • Creation of Pu-239: Pu-239 is created when U-238 is exposed to neutrons in a reactor. As Pu-239 captures neutrons, it turns into Pu-240, which builds up over time.
  • Spontaneous Fission: Pu-240 undergoes spontaneous fission, emitting alpha particles, and is considered a contaminant in weapons-grade plutonium, where its composition is kept below 7%.
  • Reactor-Grade Plutonium: Plutonium with more than 19% Pu-240 is classified as reactor-grade.

Experimental Findings on PFNS

  • Research at LANSCE: Researchers at Los Alamos Neutron Science Centre (LANSCE) conducted tests by bombarding a pure Pu-240 sample with neutrons of 0.01-800 MeV energy.
  • Detection Setup: The setup included liquid scintillators to detect emitted particles, using a small Pu-240 sample to minimize alpha particle emission.
  • Measurement Focus: They measured the energies of neutrons and other fission products, focusing on neutron-induced fission data.

PYQ:

[2016] India is an important member of the ‘International Thermonuclear Experimental Reactor’. If this experiment succeeds, what is the immediate advantage for India?

(a) It can use thorium in place of uranium for power generation

(b) It can attain a global role in satellite navigation

(c) It can drastically improve the efficiency of its fission reactors in power generation

(d) It can build fusion reactors for power generation

[2011]  The function of heavy water in a nuclear reactor is to:

(a) Slow down the speed of neutrons

(b) Increase the speed of neutrons

(c) Cool down the reactor

(d) Stop the nuclear reaction

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Foreign Policy Watch- India-Central Asia

[pib] Cabinet approves Central Sector Scheme “National Forensic Infrastructure Enhancement Scheme” (NFlES)

Note4Students

From UPSC perspective, the following things are important :

Prelims level: NFlES Scheme

Why in the News?

The Union Cabinet, chaired by PM Narendra Modi, approved the National Forensic Infrastructure Enhancement Scheme (NFIES).

Do you know?

  • Central sector schemes: They are 100% funded by the Union government and implemented by the Central Government machinery. It covers subjects from Union List (central subjects).
  • Centrally Sponsored Scheme (CSS): It has a certain percentage of the funding borne by the States and the implementation is by the State Governments.It covers subjects from Concurrent List (shared subjects).
    • States have some flexibility to modify schemes to suit local needs within central guidelines.

About National Forensic Infrastructure Enhancement Scheme (NFlES)

  • The Central Sector Scheme NFIES aims to strengthen national forensic infrastructure, expand NFSU’s reach, and establish CFSLs to meet growing forensic demands.
  • It aligns with India’s goals of enhancing forensic capabilities and securing robust criminal justice outcomes.

Key Components of NFlES:

  • Campuses of NFSU: Establishing campuses of the National Forensic Sciences University (NFSU) across India.
  • Central Forensic Science Laboratories (CFSLs): Setting up new CFSLs nationwide.
    • Delhi Campus Enhancement: Upgrading infrastructure at the Delhi Campus of NFSU.
    • Financial outlay: Rs. 2254.43 crore for 2024-25 to 2028-29, funded by the Ministry of Home Affairs.
  • Objectives:  
    • Enhancing the criminal justice system with timely and scientific forensic examinations.
    • Addressing the increased workload due to new criminal laws requiring forensic investigation for serious offences.
    • Mitigating the shortage of trained forensic professionals in Forensic Science Laboratories (FSLs).

Impact and Benefits

  • Improved Efficiency: Ensuring high-quality forensic examinations for efficient criminal justice processes.
  • Technology Integration: Leveraging advancements to handle evolving crime methods effectively.
  • Capacity Building: Training more forensic professionals to reduce case backlogs and support a high conviction rate exceeding 90%.

PYQ:

[2017] ‘Recognition of Prior Learning Scheme’ is sometimes mentioned in the news with reference to:

(a) Certifying the skills acquired by construction workers through traditional channels.

(b) Enrolling the persons in Universities for distance learning programmes.

(c) Reserving some skilled jobs to rural and urban poor in some public sector undertakings.

(d) Certifying the skills acquired by trainees under the National Skill Development Programme.

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Renewable Energy – Wind, Tidal, Geothermal, etc.

[pib] Viability Gap Funding (VGF) Scheme for Offshore Wind Energy Projects

Note4Students

From UPSC perspective, the following things are important :

Prelims level: Viability Gap Funding (VGF) Scheme; Its features.

 

Why in the News?

  • The Union Cabinet, chaired by the PM, approved the Viability Gap Funding (VGF) scheme for offshore wind energy projects.

Note: Offshore wind energy projects refer to developing and operating wind farms located offshore, typically in coastal waters or oceans.

Back2Basics: Viability Gap Funding (VGF) Scheme

  • The VGF scheme is a financial tool to support infrastructure projects that are economically justified but face financial viability challenges.
  • It was launched in 2004 to address the gap between economically viable infrastructure projects and their financial feasibility under traditional financing models.
    • Administration: Administered by the Ministry of Finance, Government of India, the scheme operates as a Plan Scheme with annual budget allocations.

Features:

  1. Capital Subsidy: VGF provides a grant (capital subsidy) to infrastructure projects to make them financially attractive for private sector participation. This subsidy helps cover part of the cost that private investors would find economically unviable.
  2. Project Eligibility: Projects eligible for VGF are typically selected through competitive bidding processes. They must demonstrate economic justification but face challenges in attracting private investment solely on commercial terms.
  3. Disbursement Timing: The VGF grant is disbursed during the construction phase of the project. However, disbursement is conditional upon the private sector developer making the required equity contribution to the project.
  4. Budgetary Allocation: Funds for VGF are allocated from the government’s budget. Sometimes, contributions may also come from the statutory authority that owns the project asset.
  5. Limitations: Additional financial assistance beyond the VGF amount is capped at 20% of the total project cost. This additional support can be provided by the sponsoring Ministry, State Government, or the statutory entity involved.

Benefits:

  • Encouraging Investment: By reducing the financial risks associated with infrastructure projects, VGF encourages private sector participation, leading to faster project implementation and improved service delivery.
  • Infrastructure Development: The scheme supports the development of critical infrastructure such as transportation (roads, railways, airports), energy (power generation, transmission), and public utilities.

About VGF Scheme for Offshore Wind Energy Projects

    • The VGF scheme aligns with the National Offshore Wind Energy Policy (2015) to harness India’s offshore wind potential.
    • It aims to reduce power costs from offshore wind projects, making them viable for DISCOMs through government support.
    • It seeks installation and commissioning of 1 GW of offshore wind energy projects (500 MW each off the coast of Gujarat and Tamil Nadu).
  • Functionaries: 
    • Private Developers will execute projects via transparent bidding.
    • Power Grid Corporation of India Ltd (PGCIL) will build power evacuation infrastructure.
  • Total outlay: Rs. 7453 crore, including Rs. 6853 crore for installing and commissioning 1 GW of projects in Gujarat and Tamil Nadu.

Advantages of Offshore Wind Energy:

  • Offshore wind offers higher reliability, lower storage requirements, and greater employment potential than onshore wind and solar.
  • The development will attract investments, build indigenous manufacturing capabilities, and foster technology advancements.

Environmental and Economic implications:

  • 1 GW projects will generate 3.72 billion units annually, reducing CO2 emissions by 2.98 million tons per year for 25 years.
  • Expected to kickstart India’s offshore wind sector, supporting initial development of 37 GW capacity with an investment of Rs. 4,50,000 crore.
  • Creates an ecosystem for ocean-based economic activities, contributing to India’s energy transition goals.

PYQ:

[2018] With reference to solar power production in India, consider the following statements:

  1. India is the third largest in the world in the manufacture of silicon wafers used in photovoltaic units.
  2. The solar power tariffs are determined by the Solar Energy Corporation of India.

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

[2016] Give an account of the current status and the targets to be achieved pertaining to renewable energy sources in the country. Discuss in brief the importance of National Programme on Light Emitting Diodes (LEDs).

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Food Safety Standards – FSSAI, food fortification, etc.

Possible risks of “Acute Poisoning” due to high Capsaicin Levels

Note4Students

From UPSC perspective, the following things are important :

Prelims level: Capsaicin Poisoning

Why in the News?

Food safety authorities in Denmark have recalled three types of South Korean spicy instant noodles due to potential risks of “acute Capsaicin poisoning.”

What is Capsaicin?

  • Capsaicin, the chemical responsible for chili pepper spiciness, is primarily found in the white membrane (placenta) of some chili peppers.
  • Mechanism of Capsaicin:
    • Capsaicin binds to TRPV1 receptors in the human body, which detect heat and pain.
    • These receptors are tricked by capsaicin into reacting as if there is a rise in temperature, causing a painful, burning sensation.
    • The body’s response includes sweating, facial redness, runny nose, teary eyes, gut cramps, and diarrhoea as it attempts to cool down and expel the perceived heat.

Evolutionary Benefits of Capsaicin

  • While birds avoid chilies, rodents consume them.
  • Birds lack TRPV1 receptors, unlike rodents act as seed dispersers, aiding in the germination of chili seeds.
  • Capsaicin serves an evolutionary purpose by deterring mammals from eating the seeds and protecting the plant from fungi and insects.
  • Producing capsaicin is resource-intensive, making spicy chilies more vulnerable to droughts.

Human Affinity for Spicy Foods

  • Over 3,000 chili cultivars have been bred for varying color, taste, and pungency.
  • Some experts believe humans’ love for spicy foods stems from their antimicrobial benefits, which are particularly useful in hotter climates where food spoils faster.
  • Psychologists argue that eating spicy foods is similar to thrill-seeking activities, providing a simulated risk without actual danger.

Potential Risks of Capsaicin

  • High concentrations of capsaicin can cause heartburn, gastrointestinal pain, and diarrhoea.
  • Long-term ingestion of high levels may lead to chronic gastrointestinal disorders.
  • Capsaicin poisoning is rare due to the large amount required for toxicity, with a person needing to consume around 2.5 liters of Tabasco sauce to overdose.

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Forest Conservation Efforts – NFP, Western Ghats, etc.

How long is Carbon is stored in plants?

Note4Students

From UPSC perspective, the following things are important :

Prelims level: Carbon-14, Carbon Storage in Plants

Why in the News?

A recent study in the Science journal indicates that the storage of carbon in terrestrial vegetation is more short-lived and more vulnerable to climate change than previously estimated.

Carbon Absorption and Storage in Plants

  • Current models may overestimate the time carbon remains stored in plants, meaning it returns to the atmosphere sooner than previously expected.
  • Experts emphasised that while plants and forests play a crucial role in drawing down carbon dioxide, their potential is limited.
  • The study calls for a rapid reduction in fossil fuel emissions to mitigate climate change impacts.

Key Findings:  

  • Plants and soils absorb 30% of annual carbon dioxide emissions from human activities, mitigating climate change.
  • However, there are gaps in understanding the stability and mechanisms of this carbon storage.

Use of Radiocarbon (Carbon-14) in Research

  • Researchers used Carbon-14, a radioactive isotope, to track carbon accumulation and turnover in the terrestrial biosphere.
  • Nuclear bomb testing in the 1950s and 1960s increased atmospheric C-14 levels, providing a unique opportunity to study carbon cycling.

Study Results

  • By analysing C-14 accumulation in plants from 1963 to 1967, researchers compared these findings to current models.
  • The analysis showed that net primary productivity (the rate of new plant tissue creation) is likely at least 80 petagrams of carbon (PgC) per year, higher than the 43-76 PgC per year predicted by current models.
  • The C-14 accumulation in vegetation during 1963-67 was 69 ± 24 ×10²⁶, suggesting a more rapid carbon cycle between the atmosphere and biosphere than previously thought.

Back2Basics: Carbon-14 and Carbon Dating

  • Carbon dating is a widely used method for determining the age of organic materials that were once living.
  • The method is based on the radioactive decay of Carbon-14 (C-14), an isotope of carbon with an atomic mass of 14.
  • It works by measuring the ratio of C-12 to C-14 in the atmosphere, as well as in plants and animals that acquire carbon through photosynthesis or food consumption.

The Half-Life Concept

  • Carbon-14 has a half-life of 5,730 ± 40 years—i.e., half the amount of the radioisotope present at any given time will undergo spontaneous disintegration during the succeeding 5,730 years.
  • Because carbon-14 decays at this constant rate, an estimate of the date at which an organism died can be made by measuring the amount of its residual radiocarbon.

Implications of the Study: Reforestation is inadequate

  • Today, reforestation is proposed to remove CO2 from the atmosphere, but trees do not return the CO2 to the geological layers from which the fossil fuels came.
  • This sink is transitory and this study shows us that its duration is even shorter than we thought.

PYQ:

[2012] Consider the following agricultural practices:

  1. Contour bunding
  2. Relay cropping
  3. Zero tillage

In the context of global climate change, which of the above helps/help in carbon sequestration/storage in the soil?

(a) 1 and 2 only
(b) 3 only
(c) 1, 2 and 3
(d) None of them

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Innovations in Biotechnology and Medical Sciences

AMRSense Project

Note4Students

From UPSC perspective, the following things are important :

Prelims level: AMRSense Project, AMR, National Programme on AMR Containment

Why in the News?

  • The AMRSense Project of the IIIT-Delhi has won the joint second prize in Trinity Challenge’s competition focused on combating Antimicrobial resistance (AMR).
    • The project shares the £600,000 joint second prize with ‘OASIS: OneHealth Antimicrobial Stewardship for Informal Health Systems,’ also from India.

The Trinity Challenge

  • It is a global initiative aimed at fostering innovative solutions to major global health challenges, particularly focusing on pandemic and epidemic threats.
  • It operates as a charity organization.
    • Objective: The Trinity Challenge seeks to harness the power of data and analytics to address global health threats, including pandemics, epidemics, and antimicrobial resistance (AMR). It encourages collaboration across sectors to develop data-driven solutions that can protect populations worldwide.
    • Focus Areas: The initiative primarily focuses on:
  1. Enhancing global health security by improving early detection and response to disease outbreaks.
  2. Strengthening health systems and resilience against future health crises.
  3. Promoting innovations in public health, healthcare delivery, and data analytics to mitigate health risks.

What is the AMRSense Project?

  • The AMRSense is aimed at addressing the critical issue of Antimicrobial Resistance (AMR) through a comprehensive and proactive approach.
  • The project focuses on empowering communities, particularly Community Health Workers (CHWs), with tools and strategies to enhance AMR surveillance and management.
  • It seeks to bridge the gap in data collection and evidence-based interventions at the community level in India.
  • Collaborators: The project involves collaboration with CHRI-PATH, 1mg.com, and the Indian Council of Medical Research (ICMR).

Four Components of AMRSense:

  1. Community Engagement: AMRSense empowers CHWs with AI-assisted tools for accurate and simplified data collection related to AMR. This helps in improving the quality and reliability of AMR data gathered from local communities.
  2. Data Integration: The project integrates various sources of AMR-related data, including antibiotic sales, consumption patterns, and WHONet-compliant surveillance data. This integration is facilitated through open-source tools and APIs, aiming to create a unified AMR data ecosystem.
  3. Predictive Analytics: AMRSense employs federated analytics across the OneHealth ecosystem. This approach provides integrated insights into AMR trends, facilitating proactive decision-making and interventions to manage and mitigate AMR risks.
  4. AMRaura Scorecard: This tool is designed to monitor and evaluate AMR trends over time. It helps in assessing the effectiveness of interventions and guiding targeted strategies to combat AMR effectively.

Impact and Future Prospects

  • AMRSense aims to fill gaps in CHW awareness, training, and motivation, enhancing community-level AMR data collection and management in India.
  • The project’s comprehensive approach seeks to foster proactive AMR surveillance and management practices.

National Programme on AMR Containment

  • India has launched a “National Programme on AMR Containment” during the 12th five-year plan (2012-2017) which is being coordinated by the National Centre for Disease Control (NCDC).
  • The network of labs is being expanded in a phased manner and currently includes 35 state medical college labs in 26 States/UTs.

 

PYQ:

[2020] What is the importance of using Pneumococcal Conjugate Vaccines in India?

1. These vaccines are effective against pneumonia as well as meningitis and sepsis.

2. Dependence on antibiotics that are not effective against drug-resistant bacteria can be reduced.

3. These vaccines have no side effects and cause no allergic reactions.

Select the correct answer using the code given below:

(a) 1 only

(b) 1 and 2 only

(c) 3 only

(d) 1, 2 and 3

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Climate Change Negotiations – UNFCCC, COP, Other Conventions and Protocols

67th Global Environment Facility (GEF) Council meet

Note4Students

From UPSC perspective, the following things are important :

Prelims level: 67th Global Environment Facility (GEF) Council

Why in the News?

  • The 67th meeting of the Global Environment Facility (GEF) was recently held in Washington DC. It concluded with the approval of $736.4 million in funding for 34 nature protection and renewal projects.

About Global Environment Facility (GEF) 

Details
Establishment
  • A pilot program in 1991 by the World Bank
  • Restructured after the 1992 Rio Earth Summit.
Objective Grants and blended finance for environmental projects
Funding
  • Over $1 billion annually; $22 billion grants to date
  • World Bank serves as the GEF Trustee
Replenishment $5.33 billion pledged for 2022-2026
Member Countries 184 countries
Main Governing Bodies
  • Assembly: Composed of all 184 member countries, meets every 3-4 years at ministerial level. Reviews policies, and operations, and approves amendments.
  • Council: Main governing body with 32 members from member countries (14 developed, 16 developing, 2 economies in transition). Meets biannually to develop policies, approve projects, and evaluate operations.
    • India, Bhutan, Maldives, Sri Lanka, Nepal, and Bangladesh have together formed a Permanent Constituency in the Executive Council of the GEF.
  • Secretariat: Based in Washington, D.C., reports to Council and Assembly, oversees project implementation and policy adherence.
  • STAP (Scientific and Technical Advisory Panel): Provides scientific advice on policies, strategies, and projects, consisting of six internationally recognized experts.
  • GEF IEO (Independent Evaluation Office): Reports to the Council, evaluates GEF’s impact and effectiveness, and shares best practices and lessons learned.
Operational Agencies 18 agencies including UNDP, UNEP, World Bank
Financial Mechanism for
  • Convention on Biological Diversity (CBD) (1994)
  • United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC) (1991)
  • United Nations Convention to Combat Desertification (UNCCD) (1994)
  • Stockholm Convention on Persistent Organic Pollutants (2001)
  • Minamata Convention on Mercury (2013)
  • Montreal Protocol on Substances that Deplete the Ozone Layer (1987)
Focus Areas Biodiversity, Climate Change (Mitigation & Adaptation), Chemicals & Waste, International Waters, Land Degradation, Sustainable Forest Management
Additional Initiatives Circular Economy, Capacity Development, Debt-for-Nature Swaps, Gender Equality, Indigenous Peoples

Outcomes of the 67th GEF Council Meeting

[1] Funding Approval:

  • A total of $736.4 million was approved for 34 projects worldwide.
  • These projects span various environmental sectors and include initiatives under the GEF Trust Fund, Global Biodiversity Framework Fund (GBFF), Least Developed Countries Fund (LDCF), and a Multi-Trust Fund project.

[2] GBFF Initiatives:

  • The GBFF approved its first work programme, allocating $37.8 million specifically for enhancing protected area management in Brazil and Mexico.
  • This initiative aims to support sustainable practices across more than 30 million hectares of protected areas, with a focus on indigenous-led conservation efforts.

[3] GEF Trust Fund Projects:

Several projects were funded under the GEF Trust Fund, including:

  1. Sustainable Cities Integrated Program.
  2. Initiatives targeting chemical and waste pollution in Bolivia’s cement, textile, brick, and glass sectors, as well as Brazil’s cement industry.

[4] Projects in India:

India secured funding for two significant projects:

  1. Enhancing biodiversity conservation to meet global targets, focusing on expanding protected areas and community-led conservation practices with a funding of $6.7 million.
  2. Conservation and sustainable management of wetlands, forests, and grasslands along the Central Asian Flyway, receiving $10.7 million.

[5] Global Impact and Targets:

  • Several projects aligned with the Global Biodiversity Framework’s 30X30 target (conservation of 30% of Earth’s land and sea by 2030), including initiatives in Argentina, Central Asia, and Namibia.
  • These projects aim to reduce ecosystem degradation, combat biodiversity loss, and strengthen protected area management.

[6] Future Plans (GEF-9):

  • The Council discussed plans for the ninth replenishment funding cycle (GEF-9) from 2026 to 2030.
  • This period aligns with global environmental goals and targets set under international agreements like the Biodiversity Plan.

PYQ:

[2014] With reference to ‘Global Environment Facility’, which of the following statements is/are correct?

(a) It serves as financial mechanism for ‘Convention on Biological Diversity’ and ‘United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change’.

(b) It undertakes scientific research on environmental issues at global level.

(c) It is an agency under OECD to facilitate the transfer of technology and funds to underdeveloped countries with specific aim to protect their environment.

(d) Both (a) and (b).

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Judicial Reforms

What is ‘Blood Money’ in Islamic Law?

Note4Students

From UPSC perspective, the following things are important :

Prelims level: Principle of Diyya; Reparative Justice

Why in the News?

  • The Indian Government has approved the transfer of the sum of $40,000 for preliminary discussions regarding the release of Nimisha Priya from a Yemeni prison.
    • Currently, Priya’s mother is in Yemen, trying to waive her death penalty by paying “blood money” to the murdered man’s family.

Nimisha Priya’s Case Details

  • Priya, a nurse, moved to Yemen in 2008 and married Tomy Thomas in 2011 before returning to Yemen.
  • She faced abuse and exploitation by Talal Abdo Mahdi, leading to the tragic events resulting in Mahdi’s death and Priya’s arrest.
  • The $40,000 payment aims to initiate negotiations for Priya’s release.
  • To waive the death penalty, Priya’s family may need to raise $300,000-$400,000.
  • The ‘Save Nimisha Priya International Action Council’ is fundraising to meet this requirement.

What is Blood Money?

  • According to Islamic law, victims of crimes have a say in how criminals are to be punished.
  • In the case of murder, this principle applies to the families of victims.
  • Although murder is punished via the death penalty, the victim’s family (specifically, heirs) may choose to “forgive” the murderer in exchange for monetary compensation.
  • This is the principle of Diyya, or, as it is commonly referred to “blood money”.
  • It can be traced to the Holy Quran.
  • Applicability:
    • Blood money is applicable in cases of unintentional homicide (Qatl Khata) or accidental death, as well as in cases of bodily injury or harm caused by negligence or unintentional actions.

Practical Implications of Blood Money

  • Scholars believe that the idea behind this is to encourage the virtue of forgiveness, while also providing reparative justice to the victims’ family.
  • The scriptures do not set any specific amount as compensation.
  • The sum is generally arrived at via negotiation between the murderer’s family/representatives and the victim’s family.
  • Some Islamic countries, however, have set minimum compensation amounts.

Significance of Blood Money

  • Forgiveness from the victim’s family is highly encouraged and considered virtuous in Islam.
  • Blood money aims to prevent cycles of vengeance or retaliation (Qisas) that could lead to further social harm or conflict.
  • It promotes reconciliation and mutual understanding.

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Tourism Sector

In news: PARIVESH Portal

Note4Students

From UPSC perspective, the following things are important :

Prelims level: PARIVESH Portal

Why in the News?

  • Kerala is set to construct a ropeway in Sabarimala by compensating the Forests department with alternative land at Chinnakkanal in Idukki.
  • The 2.7-kilometre-long ropeway aims to transport goods from the Pampa base station to the Sabarimala Sannidhanam.
    • Once the land is transferred for compensatory afforestation, an application will be submitted in the PARIVESH portal for clearance from the Ministry of Environment and Forests.

What is PARIVESH Portal?

  • PARIVESH, which stands for Pro-Active and Responsive facilitation by Interactive Virtuous & Environmental Single-window Hub.
  • It is an online portal developed by the Ministry of Environment, Forests, and Climate Change.
  • It is designed to streamline and expedite the process of obtaining clearances related to environment, forests, wildlife, and Coastal Regulation Zone (CRZ) from central, state, and district-level authorities.
  • Purpose and Scope:
    • PARIVESH is intended to enhance efficiency, transparency, and accountability in the clearance processes for environment, forests, wildlife, and CRZ.
    • It aims to reduce the turnaround time for obtaining clearances and improve responsiveness through workflow automation and real-time information availability.
  • Functionality:
    • It serves as a role-based, web-based workflow application where user agencies can submit proposals online for clearances.
    • It operates on a Web Architecture using IIS as an Application Server, .NET framework, and SQL Server as a database server.

Benefits to Users:

  • Allows for online submission and monitoring of compliance reports, including geo-tagged images of sites through a Mobile App, enhancing compliance monitoring.
  • Integrates Geographic Information System (GIS) interface for Appraisal Committees to analyze proposals efficiently.
  • Accessible 24×7 from any PC with internet connectivity, ensuring continuous availability for users across different locations and time zones.

PYQ:

[2019] Consider the following statements:

The Environment Protection Act, 1986 empowers the Government of India to

  1. State the requirement of public participation in the process of environmental protection, and the procedure and manner in which it is sought.
  2. Lay down the standards for emission or discharge of environmental pollutants from various sources

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

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10th International Yoga Day

Note4Students

From UPSC perspective, the following things are important :

Prelims level: International Yoga Day

Why in the News?

Prime Minister Narendra Modi is leading the celebrations of the 10th International Day of Yoga at the Sher-e-Kashmir International Convention Centre (SKICC) in Srinagar.

About International Day of Yoga

  • The International Day of Yoga is observed annually on June 21 worldwide since 2014 to celebrate the practice of Yoga, which originated in ancient India.
  • Yoga is renowned for its physical and mental health benefits, promoting well-being globally.
  • PM Modi proposed the idea of a Yoga Day during his UN address in September 2014.
  • In December 2014, India’s Permanent Representative to the UN introduced the draft resolution in the UN General Assembly.
  • It was adopted with support from 177 countries without a vote.
  • The first International Day of Yoga was successfully celebrated on June 21, 2015, in cities around the world, including New York, Paris, Beijing, and New Delhi.

Why 21st June was chosen for this day?

  • The date of June 21 was chosen because it is the longest day of the year in the Northern Hemisphere, symbolizing spiritual significance across various cultures.
  • In Hindu mythology, this day marks the transition to Dakshinayana and is associated with the first yogi, Shiva, who began teaching Yoga to humanity.

Back2Basics: Yoga

  • Yoga originated in ancient India and has its roots in Indian philosophy, spirituality, and culture.
  • The word “yoga” is derived from the Sanskrit word “yuj,” which means “to join” or “to unite.” It signifies the union of mind, body, and spirit.
  • Historical References:
    • Yoga-like practices were mentioned in the Rig-Veda, an ancient Hindu text dating back to approximately 1500 BCE.
    • References to yoga can also be found in the Upanishads, which are philosophical texts from around 800 to 400 BCE.
  • Contributions of Sage Patanjali:
    • Patanjali is considered the father of classical yoga.
    • He compiled the Yoga Sutras, a foundational text that provides a systematic and philosophical framework for the practice of yoga.
    • The Yoga Sutras were written around the 2nd century BCE.

Eight Limbs of Yoga:

Patanjali’s Yoga Sutras outline the eight limbs or stages of yoga, known as Ashtanga Yoga. These limbs include:

  1. Ethical principles (yamas),
  2. Positive duties or observances (niyamas)
  3. Physical postures (asanas),
  4. Breath control (pranayama),
  5. Sense withdrawal (pratyahara),
  6. Concentration (dharana),
  7. Meditation (dhyana), and
  8. Self-realization (samadhi).

Schools and Styles: There are various schools and styles of yoga, each with its own approach and emphasis. Some popular styles include Hatha, Vinyasa, Ashtanga, Iyengar, Bikram, Kundalini, and Yin yoga.

 

PYQ:

[2014] Which one of the following pairs does not form part of the six systems of Indian Philosophy?

(a) Mimamsa and Vedanta

(b) Nyaya and Vaisheshika

(c) Lokayata and Kapalika

(d) Sankhya and Yoga

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Wildlife Conservation Efforts

Striped Caecilian: Limbless Amphibian spotted in Kaziranga’s fauna

Note4Students

From UPSC perspective, the following things are important :

Prelims level: Striped Caecilian, Herpetofauna

Why in the News?

  • A limbless amphibian, the striped caecilian (Ichthyophis spp), has been newly identified within the 1,307.49 sq. km Kaziranga National Park and Tiger Reserve.
    • Assam’s wildlife officials reported its discovery during a herpetofauna survey.

Back2Basics: Herpetofauna

  • Herpetofauna refers to a group of reptiles and amphibians collectively.
  • The term combines “herpeto-” from the Greek “herpeton,” meaning “creeping animal,” and “fauna,” referring to the animal species found in a particular region or time.
  • Herpetofauna play essential roles in ecosystems:
    • They act as both predators and prey, help regulate insect populations, and serve as indicators of environmental health.
    • They serve as environmental indicators and play significant roles in pest control.

About Striped Caecilian

  • The Striped Caecilian (Ichthyophis spp.) is a type of limbless amphibian belonging to the family Ichthyophiidae.
  • Caecilians are often mistaken for snakes or worms due to their elongated, cylindrical bodies and lack of limbs.
  • They are primarily found in tropical regions of Africa, Asia, and the Americas.
  • They usually live underground or in moist soil habitats.

Key features of the Striped Caecilian include:

  1. They have smooth, cylindrical bodies with a ringed or striped pattern, hence the name “striped.”
  2. Caecilians are predominantly fossorial (burrowing), spending most of their lives underground or in leaf litter. This behaviour makes them elusive and difficult to study.
  3. They are carnivorous, feeding on small invertebrates found in soil and leaf litter.
  4. Their eyesight is generally poor, and they rely on chemoreception (sensing chemicals in the environment) to locate prey.
  5. Caecilians are known for their unique reproductive strategies, which can involve live births or laying eggs. Some species exhibit parental care, with adults guarding eggs or young offspring.

Significance: Kaziranga’s Biodiversity

  • Kaziranga National Park’s diverse ecosystem, encompassing flood plains, wetlands, grasslands, and hill tracts, provides an ideal habitat for herpetofauna.
  • The park hosts 24 amphibian species, 74 reptile species, and 21 of India’s 29 species of tortoises and freshwater turtles.

About Kaziranga National Park

Details
Location Assam, India
Geographical Features Situated between Brahmaputra River and Karbi (Mikir) Hills
Significance Eastern Himalayan Biodiversity Hotspot
Rivers Diphlu River runs through the park
Highways National Highway 37 passes through the park
Legal Status
  • Designated as a National Park in 1974.
  • UNESCO World Heritage Site (1985).
  • Important Bird Area by Birdlife International
Key Conservation Achievements
  • Houses around 2/3rd of the world’s Great Indian One-Horned Rhinoceros.
  • Declared a Tiger Reserve due to high tiger density
‘Big Five’ species Great Indian One-Horned Rhino, Asian Elephant, Royal Bengal Tiger, Asiatic Water Buffalo, Swamp Deer
Aquatic Species Gangetic River Dolphin
Vegetation Wet Alluvial Grasslands, Tropical Moist Deciduous Forests, Semi-Evergreen

Forests

 

PYQ:

[2024] The organisms “Cicada, Froghopper and Pond skater are:

(a) Birds

(b) Fish

(c) Insects

(d) Reptiles

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Insolvency and Bankruptcy Code

Proposed Amendments to Insolvency Resolution Process by IBBI

Note4Students

From UPSC perspective, the following things are important :

Prelims level: IBBI, IBC

Why in the News?

  • The Insolvency and Bankruptcy Board of India (IBBI) has proposed amendments to the Insolvency Resolution Process for Corporate Process regulations to enhance efficiency, reduce costs, and increase transparency.
    • This aims to align with the Companies (Registered Valuers and Valuation) Rules and streamline the Corporate Insolvency Resolution Process (CIRP).

Do You Know?

Since its enactment, the IBBI has achieved notable successes in resolving insolvency cases and recovering debts:

  • Debt Resolution: The IBC has successfully resolved Rs. 3.16 lakh crore of debt across 808 cases within seven years (as per CRISIL).
  • Higher Recovery Rates: Creditors have realized an average of 32% of admitted claims and 169% of the liquidation value through IBC proceedings, demonstrating higher recovery rates compared to previous mechanisms.
  • Behavioural Change: Companies have been proactively involved in the settlement of debts amounting to over Rs. 9 lakh crore before cases enter formal insolvency processes.

Proposed amendments by IBBI

  • Simplified Valuation: Instead of separate reports for different types of assets, there will be one comprehensive valuation report covering the entire company. This helps in keeping valuation consistent and clear.
  • Single Valuer for Small Companies: For smaller companies with assets up to ₹1,000 crore and MSMEs, only one valuer will be appointed to determine the company’s value unless there’s a good reason for more than one.
  • Option for Two Valuers: If needed, the creditors’ committee can choose to have two valuers to deal with complex cases, but they have to explain why.
  • Faster Appointment of Representatives: Representatives appointed to represent creditors can start participating in meetings as soon as their application is submitted, to avoid delays.
  • Guarantees in Resolution Plans: If a resolution plan suggests releasing guarantees, it won’t stop creditors from going after guarantors or using the guarantees according to their agreements.

About Insolvency and Bankruptcy Board of India (IBBI)

Details
Establishment Established on 1st October 2016 under the Insolvency and Bankruptcy Code (IBC), 2016.

  • Objective: To promote a creditor-driven insolvency resolution process and enhance India’s credit culture and business environment.
Responsibility Responsible for implementing and enforcing the IBC,

IBC consolidated laws related to insolvency resolution for individuals, partnership firms, and corporate entities.

Functions
  • Regulates insolvency professionals and processes.
  • Oversees insolvency professional agencies, entities, and information utilities.
  • Enforces rules for corporate and individual insolvency resolution, liquidation, and bankruptcy.
  • Sets eligibility criteria and curriculum for insolvency professionals.
  • Collects and maintains records on insolvency cases and disseminates related information.
Composition Total 10 members

  • Chairperson appointed by the Central Government.
  • Three members from central government officers (Ministries of Finance, Corporate Affairs, Law).
  • One member nominated by RBI (Reserve Bank of India).
  • Five other members nominated by the Central Government, including at least three full-time members.

The term is 5 years or until age 65, with reappointment possible.

Adjudicating Authorities under the IBC:

Under the IBC, two primary adjudicating authorities handle insolvency cases based on the nature of the entity:

  • National Company Law Tribunal (NCLT): NCLT adjudicates insolvency cases involving corporate entities and other limited liability entities.
  • Debt Recovery Tribunal (DRT): DRT has jurisdiction over insolvency cases concerning individuals and partnership firms, excluding Limited Liability Partnerships (LLPs).

Recent Amendments to the IBC:

  • Approval for segregated sale of assets or resolution plans.
  • Increase in the number of NCLT benches to 16 for faster adjudication.
  • Extension of timelines for filing claims to accommodate procedural complexities.
  • Sector-specific amendments tailored to address unique challenges in various industries.
  • Modifications in procedural forms such as Form G2 to enhance clarity and efficiency in insolvency proceedings.

PYQ:

[2017] Which of the following statements best describes the term ‘Scheme for Sustainable Structuring of Stressed Assets (S4A)’, recently seen in the news?

(a) It is a procedure for considering the ecological costs of developmental schemes formulated by the Government.

(b) It is a scheme of RBI for reworking the financial structure of big corporate entities facing genuine difficulties.

(c) It is a disinvestment plan of the Government regarding Central Public Sector Undertakings.

(d) It is an important provision in ‘The Insolvency and Bankruptcy Code’ recently implemented by the Government.

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Historical and Archaeological Findings in News

PM inaugurates Nalanda University  

Note4Students

From UPSC perspective, the following things are important :

Prelims level: Nalanda Mahavihara, University

Why in the News?

The Prime Minister has inaugurated the new campus of Nalanda University, an international institution located near the ancient ruins of Nalanda in Rajgir, Bihar.

Revival of Nalanda University

  • The idea to revive Nalanda University was proposed by former president Dr APJ Abdul Kalam in 2006, leading to the passing of the Nalanda University Bill in 2010.
  • The university’s revival was operationally launched in 2014 from a temporary location.
  • Former president Pranab Mukherjee laid the foundation stone for the permanent campus in 2016, with construction starting in 2017 and culminating in today’s inauguration.
  • The Parliament established the university following decisions from the second East Asia Summit (EAS) in 2007 and the fourth EAS in 2009.

International Collaboration and Courses

  • Nalanda University has participation from 17 countries, including Australia, Bangladesh, Bhutan, China, Indonesia, and others, which have signed MoUs to support the university.
  • It offers 137 scholarships to international students, sponsored by the ASEAN-India Fund, BIMSTEC, and Bhutan’s Ministry of External Affairs.
  • The university provides postgraduate and doctoral research courses, as well as short-term certificate courses.

Historical Background

  • Nalanda University was established in the 5th century CE in the ancient kingdom of Magadha (modern-day Bihar) and was the world’s first residential university.
  • Establishment and Patronage:
    • The Gupta dynasty, under Emperor Kumaragupta I, established Nalanda University in 427 AD, promoting it as a premier center for Buddhist scholarship.
    • It received substantial endowments from monarchs like King Harsha and rulers of the Pala Empire, enhancing its stature and influence across Asia.
  • Countries: It attracted scholars from China, Korea, Japan, Tibet, Mongolia, Sri Lanka, and Southeast Asia.
  • Subjects taught included medicine, Ayurveda, Buddhism, mathematics, grammar, astronomy, and Indian philosophy.
  • The university thrived under the patronage of the Pala dynasty during the 8th and 9th centuries CE and made significant contributions to mathematics and astronomy.
  • Aryabhatta, a pioneer of Indian mathematics and the inventor of zero, was one of the esteemed educators at Nalanda.

Admission and Academic Rigor

  • Admission to Nalanda was highly competitive, akin to today’s top institutions like IIT, IIM, or Ivy League schools.
  • Students underwent rigorous interviews and were mentored by scholars and Buddhist masters like Dharmapala and Silabhadra.
  • The university’s library, known as ‘Dharma Gunj’ or the ‘Mountain of Truth,’ contained 9 million handwritten palm-leaf manuscripts, making it the richest repository of Buddhist knowledge.

Destruction and Rediscovery

  • In the 1190s, Bakhtiyar Khilji, a Turko-Afghan military general, destroyed Nalanda University by arson, which burned for three months and destroyed invaluable Buddhist manuscripts.
  • Some surviving manuscripts are preserved in the Los Angeles County Museum of Art and the Yarlung Museum in Tibet.
  • The university was rediscovered in 1812 by Scottish surveyor Francis Buchanan-Hamilton and officially identified in 1861 by Sir Alexander Cunningham.

Scholarly Influence

  • Nalanda’s intellectual legacy includes contributions from scholars like Nagarjuna, known for his foundational work in the Madhyamaka school of Mahayana Buddhism, and his disciple Aryadeva.
  • Dharmapala’s commentaries further enriched Buddhist philosophy.
  • These scholars’ insights into metaphysics and epistemology extended Nalanda’s influence, shaping religious and philosophical thought across Asia and inspiring subsequent generations of thinkers.

Foreign Travellers Account of Nalanda University 

Visit Period Key Details
Xuanzang 7th century CE
  • Described Nalanda as vast with lecture halls and residential quarters.
  • Noted a large library with thousands of manuscripts.
  • Mentioned numerous teachers and students engaged in debates.
  • Provided detailed records of Nalanda’s organization and academic activities.
I-Tsing 7th century CE
  • Spent several years studying at Nalanda.
  • Emphasized rigorous academic environment.
  • Noted diverse student population from Asia.
  • Contributed to understanding Nalanda’s curriculum and scholarly environment.
Al-Biruni 11th century CE
  • Wrote about Nalanda’s reputation as a premier center of learning in India.
  • Highlighted its attraction for scholars across Asia.
  • Introduced Nalanda’s achievements to the medieval Islamic world.

 

PYQ:

[2020] Pala period is the most significant phase in the history of Buddhism in India. Enumerate.

[2018] Assess the importance of the accounts of the Chinese and Arab travellers in the reconstruction of the history of India.

[2014] Taxila university was one of the oldest universities of the world with which were associated a number of renowned learned personalities of different disciplines. Its strategic location caused its fame to flourish, but unlike Nalanda, it is not considered as a university in the modern sense. Discuss.

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Innovations in Biotechnology and Medical Sciences

CRISPR Cas9 Gene Therapy for Sickle Cell Disease

Note4Students

From UPSC perspective, the following things are important :

Prelims level: https://www.thehindu.com/sci-tech/science/india-getting-close-to-developing-gene-therapy-for-sickle-cell-disease-say-officials/article68308487.ece 

Why in the News?

  • India is close to developing a gene therapy using CRISPR-Cas9, a gene-editing tool for sickle cell disease (SCD).
    • SCD is a genetic blood disorder prevalent among the Scheduled Tribes.

What is Sickle Cell Disease?

  • Sickle cell disease (SCD) is a group of inherited blood disorders caused by a genetic mutation in the hemoglobin-β gene located on chromosome 11.
  • This mutation results in defective hemoglobin, which forms rod-like structures after releasing oxygen.
  • As a result, red blood cells become rigid and assume a sickle shape.
  • The disease is inherited in an autosomal recessive pattern, meaning both parents must carry the abnormal gene for a child to inherit it.
  • Symptoms may not manifest immediately in newborns but can include extreme tiredness, fussiness, swollen hands and feet, and jaundice.
  • Implications:
      • The mis-shapen RBCs can block small blood vessels, leading to impaired blood flow and causing chronic anaemia.
      • Individuals with SCD often experience acute pain episodes, severe bacterial infections, and tissue damage due to inadequate blood supply.
  • Treatment:
    • Presently treatment includes medications for pain relief, regular blood transfusions to replace damaged red blood cells.
    • In rare cases, a bone marrow or stem cell transplant, which carries significant risks, is recommended.

Eliminating Sickle Cell Disease: Global and National Context

  • This progress follows the approval of CRISPR-Cas9 technology by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration for a cell-based gene therapy to treat sickle cell disease in December 2023.
  • One of the main challenges for India is to develop a cost-effective therapy, as part of its mission to eradicate sickle cell disease by 2047, launched by Prime Minister in July 2023.
  • The mission aims to conduct over 7 crore screenings among vulnerable tribal populations across 17 States and Union Territories, with three crore screenings completed so far.

Back2Basics: CRISPR-Cas9 Gene Editing

  • CRISPR-Cas9 stands for Clustered Regularly Interspaced Short Palindromic Repeats and CRISPR-associated protein 9.
  • It is a technology that allows geneticists and researchers to edit parts of the genome by altering sections of the DNA sequence.
  • Emmanuelle Charpentier and Jennifer Doudna’s work on CRISPR-Cas9 as a ‘molecular scissor’ earned them the 2020 Nobel Prize in chemistry.
  • The system consists of two key components:
  1. Cas9: This is the enzyme that acts like a pair of molecular scissors. It is responsible for cutting the DNA strand at a specific location, allowing for the removal, addition, or alteration of DNA at that site.
  2. Guide RNA (gRNA): This is a piece of RNA that is designed to find and bind to a specific sequence of DNA that matches its code. The gRNA guides the Cas9 enzyme to the exact spot in the genome where an edit is desired.
  • Mechanism:
    • The process begins with the design of a gRNA that matches the DNA sequence where an edit is needed.
    • Once inside the cell, the Cas9 enzyme and the gRNA form a complex that can identify and bind to the target DNA sequence.
    • The Cas9 then cuts the DNA at this location.
    • After the DNA is cut, the cell’s natural repair mechanisms can be harnessed to add or remove genetic material, or to make specific changes to the DNA.

 

PYQ:

[2023] Consider the following statements in the context interventions being undertaken under Anaemin Mukt Bharat Strategy :

  1. It provides prophylactic calcium supplementation for pre-school children, adolescents and pregnant women.
  2. It runs a campaign for delayed cord clamping at the time of child-birth.
  3. It provides for periodic deworming to children and adolescents.
  4. It addresses non-nutritional causes of anaemia in endemic pockets with special focus on malaria, hemoglobinopathies and fluorosis.

How many of the statements given above are correct?

(a) Only one
(b) Only two
(c) Only three
(d) All four

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Human Rights Issues

NHRC Notice to Centre on Worker Rights Violation in Haryana

Note4Students

From UPSC perspective, the following things are important :

Prelims level: NHRC, Various labour reform initiatives

Why in the News?

  • The National Human Right Commission (NHRC) issued notice to the Centre over reports from a Amazon company’s warehouse in Haryana’s Manesar.
    • Employees were allegedly forced to pledge not to take toilet or water breaks until unloading six trucks post 30-minute tea break.

NHRC’s Observations and Actions

  • NHRC views this as a serious human rights violation, potentially breaching labour laws and Ministry guidelines.
  • Notice was issued to the Secretary, Union Ministry of Labour and Employment for a detailed report within a week.

About National Human Rights Commission (NHRC)

Details
Establishment
  • A Statutory Body;
  • Established under the Protection of Human Rights Act, 1993.
Functions
  • Inquire into any violation of human rights
  • Recommend immediate interim relief to victims or their families
  • Intervene in court proceedings involving human rights violations
  • Review constitutional and legal safeguards for human rights
  • Study international instruments on human rights
  • Promote human rights literacy
  • Support the efforts of NGOs working in the field of human rights
Powers
  • Regulate its own procedure
  • Possess all the powers of a civil court
  • Proceedings have a judicial character
Chairperson
  • Must be a former Justice of the Supreme Court or Chief Justice of the Supreme Court
  • Appointed by the President of India
Members Four full-time members;

  • Chairperson: former Supreme Court Justice or Chief Justice;
  • Other Member: former Judge of the Supreme Court;
  • Other Member: former Chief Justice of a High Court;
  • Three Members: with knowledge or experience in human rights, including at least one woman –

Seven ex-officio members:  Chairpersons of National Commissions viz., National Commission for Scheduled Castes, National Commission for Scheduled Tribes, National Commission for Women , National Commission for Minorities, National Commission for Backward Classes, National Commission for Protection of Child Rights; and the Chief Commissioner for Persons with Disabilities.

Appointment
  • Appointed by the President, based on a committee recommendation including the Prime Minister, Speaker of Lok Sabha, Home Minister, Leaders of the Opposition in Lok Sabha and Rajya Sabha, and others
  • Consultation with the Chief Justice of India for judicial appointments
Removal
  • Removal by order of the President of India
  • Consultation with the Supreme Court before removal
Terms of Office
  • Hold office for a term of three years or until the age of 70
  • Ineligibility for further government employment after office
  • Eligible for reappointment
Salaries Determined by the Central government
Reporting
  • Submits annual or special reports to the Central government and the concerned State government
  • Reports laid before the respective legislatures, along with a memorandum of action taken on the recommendations and reasons for non-acceptance of any recommendations
Limitations
  • The commission is not empowered to inquire into any matter after the expiry of one year from the date on which the act constituting the violation of human rights is alleged to have been committed
  • Functions are recommendatory in nature, with no power to punish or award relief to violators
  • Limited role concerning armed forces violations

Government Initiatives for Worker Welfare in India:

Description
Constitutional Framework Labour falls under the Concurrent List, allowing both Central and State governments to enact laws.

Articles 14, 16, and 39(c) ensure equality and welfare principles.

Judicial Interpretation under Randhir Singh vs Union of India (1982) Upholds ‘Equal pay for Equal work’ through constitutional articles, promoting fairness in employment.
Legislative Framework Introduction of 4 labour codes:

  • Code of Wages, 2019: Standardizes wage payments across sectors.
  • Industrial Relations Code, 2020: Consolidates laws related to industrial disputes and trade unions.
  • Social Security Code, 2020: Expands social security benefits coverage for workers.
  • Occupational Safety, Health and Working Conditions Code, 2020:  Ensures safety and welfare standards in workplaces.
“Shramev Jayate” Initiative Launched in 2014 to maximize benefits for workers through enhanced welfare initiatives.
Maternity Benefit Amendment Act, 2017 Increases paid maternity leave from 12 to 26 weeks, supporting maternal health and childcare.

PYQ:

[2015] “Success of ‘Make in India’ programme depends on the success of ‘Skill India’ programme and radical labour reforms.” Discuss with logical arguments.

[2011] Consider the following:

  1. Right to education.
  2. Right to equal access to public service.
  3. Right to food.

Which of the above is/are Human Right/Rights under “Universal Declaration of Human Rights”?

(a) 1 only

(b) 1 and 2 only

(c) 3 only

(d) 1, 2 and 3

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Coal and Mining Sector

Critical Minerals under iCET

Note4Students

From UPSC perspective, the following things are important :

Prelims level: Critical Minerals, iCET

Why in the News?

What are Critical Minerals?

  • Critical minerals are elements that are crucial to modern-day technologies and are at risk of supply chain disruptions.
  • These minerals are mostly used in making electronic equipment such as mobile phones, computers, batteries, electric vehicles, and green technologies like solar panels and wind turbines.
  • Many of these are required to meet the manufacturing needs of green technologies, high-tech equipment, aviation, and national defence.

List of critical minerals includes:

The centre has released a list of 30 critical minerals for India in 2023:

  1. Identified Minerals: Antimony, Beryllium, Bismuth, Cobalt, Copper, Gallium, Germanium, Graphite, Hafnium, Indium, Lithium, Molybdenum, Niobium, Nickel, Platinum Group elements (PGE), Phosphorous, Potash, Rare Earth Elements (REE), Rhenium, Silicon, Strontium, Tantalum, Tellurium, Tin, Titanium, Tungsten, Vanadium, Zirconium, Selenium and Cadmium.
  2. Fertilizer Minerals: Two minerals critical for fertilizer production, phosphorous and potash, are also included in the above list.

Critical Mineral Blocks in India

  • Distribution: There are 20 blocks spread across eight states, including Tamil Nadu, Odisha, Bihar, Uttar Pradesh, Gujarat, Jharkhand, Chhattisgarh, and Jammu & Kashmir.
  • Types of Licenses: Four blocks are for a Mining License (ML), allowing immediate mining post-clearance. The remaining 16 blocks are for a Composite License (CL), permitting further exploration before potentially converting to an ML.
  • Approvals Required: Licensees must obtain various approvals, including forest clearance and environmental clearance.
  • Forest Land: Approximately 17% of the total concession area, or 1,234 hectares, is forest land.

India’s Critical Mineral Imports

  • Lithium Imports: In FY23, India imported 2,145 tonnes of lithium carbonate and lithium oxide, costing Rs 732 crore.
  • Nickel and Copper Imports: The country imported 32,000 tonnes of unwrought nickel and 1.2 million tonnes of copper ore, costing Rs 6,549 crore and Rs 27,374 crore, respectively.
  • Import Dependence: India relies entirely on imports for lithium and nickel, and 93% for copper.

Country-wise dependence:

  1. China: India heavily relies on China for the import of critical minerals like lithium, cobalt, nickel, and graphite.
  2. Australia: India is actively engaged with Australia for acquiring mineral assets, particularly lithium and cobalt, to secure its supply chain for critical minerals.
  3. Argentina, Bolivia, and Chile: India is engaging with these countries, known for their reserves of battery metals like lithium and cobalt, to diversify its sources for critical minerals.

India’s Strategic Mineral Initiatives

  • Amendments to the Mines and Minerals (Development and Regulation) Act, 1957 support expanded exploration.
  • Establishment of Khanij Bidesh India Ltd. (KABIL) with equity from National Aluminium Company Ltd, Hindustan Copper Ltd, and Mineral Exploration and Consultancy Ltd for global mineral asset acquisition.

International Collaborations and Partnerships

  • India joined the U.S.-led mineral security partnership to secure critical mineral supply chains.
  • Creation of an India-U.S. advanced materials research forum to foster collaboration in universities, laboratories, and private sectors.
  • Bilateral technology collaboration on neodymium-iron-boron and studies on minerals like lithium, titanium, gallium, and vanadium.

Back2Basics: Indo-US Comprehensive Economic and Trade Agreement (iCET)

Details
Initiation Announced in May 2022, officially launched in January 2023
Management Overseen by the National Security Councils of India and the US
Objectives Enhance bilateral cooperation in critical and emerging technologies
Focus Areas of the Initiative
  1. AI Research Agency Partnership
  2. Defense Industrial and Technological Cooperation
  3. Innovation Ecosystems
  4. Semiconductor Ecosystem Development
  5. Cooperation on Human Spaceflight
  6. Advancement in 5G and 6G Technologies
Key Achievements
  • Quantum Coordination Mechanism
  • Public-private dialogues on telecommunications and AI
  • MoU on semiconductor supply chain
  • Defense industrial cooperation roadmap
Upcoming Initiatives
  • Finalization of major jet engine deal
  • Launch of India-US Defence Acceleration Ecosystem (INDUS-X)
  • Strategic Trade Dialogue establishment

 

PYQ:

[2019] With reference to the management of minor minerals in India, consider the following statements:

  1. Sand is a ‘minor mineral’ according to the prevailing law in the country.
  2. State governments have the power to grant mining leases of minor minerals, but the powers regarding the formation of rules related to the grant of minor minerals lie with the Central Government.
  3. State Governments have the power to frame rules to prevent illegal mining of minor minerals.

Which of the statements given above is/are correct?

(a) 1 and 3

(b) 2 and 3

(c) 3 only

(d) 1, 2 and 3

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