Current Affairs, 22 October 2018
Topic: Important Geophysical phenomena such as earthquakes, Tsunami, Volcanic activity, cyclone etc., geographical features and their location- changes in critical geographical features (including water-bodies and ice-caps) and in flora and fauna and the effects of such changes.
What to study?
For Prelims and Mains: All about third pole, its location, significance and climate change issues associated.
Context: Scientists conducting research in the third pole area have warned of disturbing global warming trends, and how, if they continue, they could affect the lives of 1.3 billion people. The glacier has lost 60% of its mass and shrunk 250 m since 1982.
What is the Third Pole?
The Hindu Kush-Himalayan region spans an area of more than 4.3 million square kilometres in Afghanistan, Bangladesh, Bhutan, China, India, Myanmar, Nepal, and Pakistan. The region stores more snow and ice than anywhere else in the world outside the polar regions, giving its name: ’The Third Pole‘. The Third Pole contains the world’s highest mountains, including all 14 peaks above 8,000 metres, is the source of 10 major rivers, and forms a formidable global ecological buffer.
The Third Pole region has enormous socioeconomic and cultural diversity; it is home to many different ethnic communities speaking more than 600 languages and many more dialects. It is endowed with rich natural resources and contains all or part of four global biodiversity hotspots. The mountain resources provide a wide range of ecosystem services and the basis for the livelihoods to the 210 million people living in the region, as well as indirectly to the 1.3 billion people — one fifth of the worlds’ population — living in the downstream river basins. More than 3 billion people benefit from the food and energy produced in these river basins that have their origin in the mountains.
The Third Pole and Climate Change:
Climate change has become a major concern in the Third Pole. Mountain systems are particularly sensitive to climate change and the Third Pole region is home to some of the people most vulnerable to these changes in the world. Changes in the river systems and their basins have impacted directly on the wellbeing of millions of people.
- The rate of warming in the Third Pole region is significantly higher than the global average, and the rate is higher at higher altitude, suggesting a greater vulnerability of the cryosphere environment to climate change. This trend is expected to continue.
- Climate change projections suggest that all areas of South Asia are likely to warm by at least 1°C by the end of the century, while in some areas the warming could be as high as 3.5-4°C. The life and livelihoods of the people in the Third Pole region is challenged due to climate change, and the stability and prosperity of the region affected by the Third Pole is at risk, which will have implications for all of Asia and for the world.
- However, there is still little knowledge of this situation, and its potential implications, outside the immediate vicinity; a special effort is needed to raise awareness of the fragility of the mountain social-ecological system.
The melting of glaciers of the Third Pole could affect the lives of 1.3 billion people because of its proximity to densely populated and industrialised regions. And the continuous melting of glaciers will be catastrophic for the people who depend on water from the Third Pole.
Facts for Prelims:
The Third Pole Environment (TPE): TPE, an international research program, was launched in 2009 and focuses on the Tibetan Plateau and surrounding mountain ranges.
Sources: the hindu.
Topic: Functions and responsibilities of the Union and the States, issues and challenges pertaining to the federal structure, devolution of powers and finances up to local levels and challenges therein.
Renaming of states
What to study?
For Prelims and Mains: Procedure to change the name of states in India.
Context: West Bengal government’s move to rename WB as “Bangla” has hit a roadblock after concerns that the new name may sound like Bangladesh, and it would be difficult to differentiate the two at international forums.
- In a letter to Ministry of External Affairs (MEA), the Union Home Ministry stated that the proposed name “Bangla” may sound similar like Bangladesh and some confusions may arrive in the international arena over Bangla and Bangladesh. Since Bangladesh shares a cordial relationship with India, Home Ministry was advised to seek a response from MEA on the issue.
In 2016, the West Bengal Assembly passed a resolution to change the name of West Bengal to Bangla in Bengali, Bengal in English and Bangal in Hindi.
Rationale behind renaming:
- The state government first proposed the renaming in 2016. West Bengal parliamentary affairs minister Partha Chatterjee had then argued for the change saying bureaucrats and politicians from the state often complain that they are asked to speak at the end of every national-level meeting in Delhi. This was because the speakers’ lists at such meeting are prepared according to alphabetical order of the states they represent. If West Bengal gets the new name, it will leapfrog from bottom of the list to the top of the pecking order.
- The renaming will help the state appear at the fourth spot after Arunachal Pradesh, Andhra Pradesh and Assam in the alphabetic order of the states.
The procedure of renaming of the state can be initiated by either the Parliament or the State Legislator and the procedure is as follows:
- The renaming of a state requires Parliamentary approval under Article 3 and 4 of the Constitution.
- A bill for renaming a state may be introduced in the Parliament on the recommendation of the President.
- Before the introduction of the bill, the President shall send the bill to the respective state assembly for expressing their views within a stipulated time. The views of the state assembly are not binding, neither on the President nor on the Parliament.
- On the expiry of the period, the bill will be sent to the Parliament for deliberation. The bill in order to take the force of a law must be passed by a simple majority.
- The bill is sent for approval to the President. After the approval of the said bill, the bill becomes a law and the name of the state stands modified.
Initiation by a State:
If any fresh proposal comes from states to the Home Ministry, it will prepare a note for the Union Cabinet for an amendment to the Schedule 1 of the Constitution. Thereafter, a Constitution Amendment Bill will be introduced in Parliament, which has to approve it with a simple majority, before the President gives his assent to it.
Sources: the hindu.
Topic: Government policies and interventions for development in various sectors and issues arising out of their design and implementation.
Special courts for trial of benami transaction cases
What to study?
For Prelims and Mains: Key features of the benami act, special courts and significant features.
Context: The Union Government has issued a notification stating that sessions courts in 34 states and union territories, will act as special courts for the trial of offences under the benami transaction law.
- The sessions courts were notified after consultation with Chief Justices of High Courts under the Prohibition of Benami Property Transactions Act, 1988 for the trial of offences punishable under the provision of the Act.
- In the case of the National Capital Territory of Delhi, the courts of additional session’s judge in each district have been designated as the special court.
Benami Transactions (Prohibition) Amendment Act:
The Indian Parliament passed the Benami Transactions (Prohibition) Amendment Act in August 2016 to curb the menace of black money. The bill sought to amend the Benami Transactions Act, 1988.
- The new legislation provided for seven years imprisonment and fine for those indulging in illegal transactions.
- The act has amended the definition of benami transactions and establishes adjudicating authorities and an Appellate Tribunal to deal with benami transactions.
- Further, the act defines benami transactions, prohibits them and provides that violation of the PBPT Act is punishable with imprisonment and fine.
- It also prohibits recovery of the property held benami from benamidar by the real owner. The properties held benami are liable for confiscation by the Government without payment of compensation.
Sources: the hindu.
Topic: Important International institutions, agencies and fora, their structure, mandate.
Fusion Energy Conference (FEC 2018)
What to study?
For Prelims and Mains: FEC 2018, IAEA- significance, objectives, composition and related key facts.
Context: The 27th Fusion Energy Conference (FEC 2018) was held recently in Gandhinagar, Gujarat.
- It was organised by the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) and hosted by Department of Atomic Energy and Gandhinagar-based Institute of Plasma Research.
Fusion Energy Conference (FEC 2018):
- The 27th IAEA Fusion Energy Conference (FEC 2018) aims to provide a forum for the discussion of key physics and technology issues as well as innovative concepts of direct relevance to the use of nuclear fusion as a source of energy.
- The scientific scope of FEC 2018 is intended to reflect the priorities of this new era in fusion energy research.
- With the participation of international organizations such as the ITER Organization and the European Atomic Energy Community (Euratom), as well as the collaboration of more than forty countries and several research institutes, including those working on smaller plasma devices, it is expected that this conference will, like previous conferences in the series, serve to identify possibilities and means for continuous and effective international collaboration in this area.
- The IAEA is the world’s centre for cooperation in the nuclear field. It was set up as the world’s “Atoms for Peace” organization in 1957 within the United Nations family. The Agency works with its Member States and multiple partners worldwide to promote the safe, secure and peaceful use of nuclear technologies.
- It seeks to promote the peaceful use of nuclear energy, and to inhibit its use for any military purpose, including nuclear weapons.
- IAEA reports to both the United Nations General Assembly and Security Council.
- The IAEA has its headquarters in Vienna, Austria.
- The IAEA serves as an intergovernmental forum for scientific and technical cooperation in the peaceful use of nuclear technology and nuclear power worldwide.
Board of Governors:
- 22 member states (must represent a stipulated geographic diversity) — elected by the General Conference (11 members every year) – 2 year term.
- At least 10 member states — nominated by the outgoing Board.
- Board members each receive one vote.
- Recommendations to the General Conference on IAEA activities and budget.
- Responsible for publishing IAEA standards.
- Responsible for making most of the policy of the IAEA.
- Appoints the Director General subject to General Conference approval.
- 169 member states — one vote per member.
- Forum for debate on current issues and policies.
- Meets once a year.
- Approve the actions and budgets passed on from the Board of Governors.
- Approves the nominee for Director General.
Sources: the hindu.
Topic: Conservation, environmental pollution and degradation, environmental impact assessment.
Green Climate Fund
What to study?
For Prelims and Mains: GCF- key objectives, significance and funding in various projects.
Context: Green Climate Fund has approved more than $1 billion in new investments after a meeting held recently in Bahrain.
- The meeting approved 19 new projects, including a programme to protect freshwater resources in Bahrain. Environmentalists had argued the Gulf nation should pay for the project itself using money it made from its vast reserves of oil and gas.
The GCF was set up in 2010 under the UNFCCC’s financial mechanism to channel funding from developed countries to developing countries to allow them to mitigate climate change and also adapt to disruptions arising from a changing climate. It was central to the Paris climate agreement signed in 2015, that the world’s largest historical emitter.
How it helps?
- The Green Climate Fund will support projects, programmes, policies and other activities in developing country Parties using thematic funding windows.
- It is intended to be the centrepiece of efforts to raise Climate Finance of $100 billion a year by 2020.
- The Fund will promote the paradigm shift towards low-emission and climate-resilient development pathways by providing support to developing countries to limit or reduce their greenhouse gas emissions and to adapt to the impacts of climate change, taking into account the needs of those developing countries particularly vulnerable to the adverse effects of climate change.
- The Fund will strive to maximize the impact of its funding for adaptation and mitigation, and seek a balance between the two, while promoting environmental, social, economic and development co-benefits and taking a gender-sensitive approach.
Who will govern the Fund?
The Fund is governed and supervised by a Board that will have full responsibility for funding decisions and that receives the guidance of the COP. The Fund is accountable to, and functions under the guidance of, the COP.
Sources: the hindu.
Topic: Awareness in the fields of IT, Space, Computers, robotics, nano-technology, bio-technology and issues relating to intellectual property rights.
What to study?
For Prelims and Mains: Acinetobacter Junii- key facts and how it helps in degradation of toluene.
Context: Using bacteria- Acinetobacter Junii, isolated from soil and effluents near an oil refinery, researchers from the University of Delhi and IIT-BHU, have successfully degraded toluene into less-toxic byproducts.
Toluene is one of the petrochemical wastes that get released without treatment from industries such as refineries, paint, textile, paper and rubber. Toluene has been reported to cause serious health problems to aquatic life, and studies point that it has genotoxic and carcinogenic effects on human beings.
- The bacteria were isolated from the soil samples, identified and studied for their toluene-degrading abilities.
- These bacteria change the morphology of toluene to remove its toxicity. The degradation is found to be general aerobic (in presence of oxygen) biodegradation. The bacteria use up this toluene as their carbon source in the presence of oxygen.
Sources: the hindu.
Facts for Prelims:
Shakti Bhatt First Book Prize:
Context: US-based writer Sujatha Gidla has won 2018 Shakti Bhatt First Book Prize for her debut book “Ants Among Elephants: An Untouchable Family and the Making of Modern India”.
About Shakti Bhatt First Book Prize:
- The Shakti Bhatt First Book Prize is funded by the Shakti Bhatt Foundation. It was set up in 2008 in memory of young writer and editor Shakti Bhatti.
- It honours first-time writers from Indian sub-continent for their outstanding work of fiction or non-fiction. It carries cash prize of Rs. 2 lakh.
India’s longest river bridge:
Context: India’s longest river bridge with total length of 19.3 kilometers will be built on Brahmaputra river in Assam.
- This bridge will connect Dhubri of Assam to Fulbarani of Meghalaya. This bridge will reduce the distance between these two places by 203 kms. At present, India’s largest river bridge is Dhola-Sadia bridge, its length is 9.15 kilometers.
- Japanese Finance Agency (JICA) has approved the loan for this project as part of road infrastructure improvement package in the north-east after assessing the economic benefit of the big project.
- Two northeastern states of Assam and Meghalaya will be connected by NH127B with the help of this bridge.
Cope India air exercise:
Context: India and US have agreed to elevate their bilateral ‘Cope India’ air exercise to trilateral format by including Japan. The next edition of this exercise is scheduled to be held in December 2018.
About Cope India:
- It is series of international Air Force exercises between Indian Air Force (IAF) and United States Air Force conducted on and over Indian soil.
- The first such exercise was conducted at IAF air force station in Gwalior from February 2004.
Editorial: Unclogging our oceans
Introduction: What is Ghost Gear?
Ghost gear is the waste left from fishing activities that now floats in our oceans and has the potential to entangle or kill the animals that live there. It is estimated in fact that for each piece of ghost gear six animals are harmed.
Animals of all sizes, from whales to the endangered Loggerhead and Leatherback sea turtles, to small fish like the Brook Trout, run the risk of being entangled, injured and even killed every day.
Recently, In March 2018, ﬁshermen hauled 400 kg of ﬁshing nets out of the sea in a few locations oﬀ Kerala’s south coast.
There are many such reports of divers regularly making underwater trips just to extract nets that have sunk to the ocean ﬂoor oﬀ India’s coasts, ranging from Tamil Nadu to Maharashtra.
The problem of ghost gear (any ﬁshing equipment that has been lost, discarded or abandoned in water bodies) has grown from ﬁshing fallout that people had not heard of to one that is now diﬃcult to ignore.
Global statistics and topics:
- 10% of all ocean garbage/marine debris is from ghost gear
- More than 640,000 tons of ghost gear is left in our oceans each year.
- More than 136,000 seals, dolphins, whales, turtles and other sea animals get trapped/entangled in ghost gear each year.
- Ghost gear can take up to 600 years to decompose.
- Most of this gear is made of plastics that can take centuries to degrade – and adds to marine plastics
Consequences of marine debris:
Globally every year, more than 100,00 whales, dolphins, seals and turtles are caught in ‘ghost gear’ as abandoned, lost and discarded fishing nets, lines and traps which can take up to 600 years to decompose.
The vast majority of this gear is made of plastics that take centuries to degrade. Animals caught in this incredibly durable fishing gear then suffer a prolonged and painful death, usually suffocating or starving to death over a number of months.
Between 2011 and 2018 alone, the Olive Ridley Project, a U.K. registered charity that removes ghost nets and protects sea turtles, recorded 601 sea turtles being entangled in ghost gear near the Maldives, of which 528 were Olive Ridleys the same species that come in thousands to Odisha’s coasts to nest.
A team of marine biologists reviewed on ghost gear from across the world, they found that over 5,400 marine animals belonging to 40 different species were recorded as entangled in ghost gear, or associated with it.
This analysis also showed a huge gap in data from the Indian, Southern and Arctic Oceans, prompting the team to recommend that future studies focus on these areas.
Global Initiatives to control Ghost Gears:
To tackle this global issue, World Animal Protection founded the Global Ghost Gear Initiative (GGGI), a cross-sectoral alliance committed to driving solutions to the problem of ghost gear worldwide.
The GGGI works to build evidence, develop best practices and inform policies, and catalyze solutions.
Last year the GGGI supported a project to remove old crab traps in McIntyre Bay, British Columbia and launched a Best Practice Framework for the seafood industry and other stakeholders to prevent and mitigate the impacts of lost fishing gear and marine litter.
The GGGI’s strength lies in the diversity of its participants including governments, NGO’s, academics and fishing industry leaders with the goal of reducing the amount of ghost gear in the oceans.
“The Global Ghost Gear Initiative (GGGI) has more than 80 industry participants who are driving solutions to the problem of lost and abandoned fishing gear, from removing gear from our oceans to converting recycled nets to skateboards and swimwear.
The GGGI is a platform where governments and other stakeholders come together to improve the health of marine ecosystems, protect marine animals from harm and safeguard human health and livelihoods.”
Indian initiative to control Ghost Gear:
Scientists at Kochi’s Indian Council of Agricultural ResearchCentral Institute of Fisheries Technology studied ghost nets in Gujarat, Andhra Pradesh, Kerala and Tamil Nadu.
According to the scientists, the government is also currently preparing a national ghost net management policy.
While that would be an extremely welcome and timely move to tackle the growing ghost gear phenomenon, a larger question remains.
When bigger violations, such as large vessels ﬁshing where they are not supposed to, are not checked, there is less possibility that a policy on the management of ghost nets would be implemented.
The level of ghost gear has increased in recent years and is likely to grow further as fishing efforts intensify, creating wide-ranging problems for the marine environment and costing governments millions of dollars in clean-up expenses.
India can emulate innovative solutions from across the world to tackle the problem of ghost gear.
More eﬀorts to make the process more organised across the over 7,500 km of India’s coasts, as well as inland water bodies, are the need of the hour.
- Avoid single-use plastics – any form of plastic, no matter how small, can cause harm and suffering to marine life like birds, fish and turtles when they eat it or become entangled in it. Bring your own grocery bags, carry a reusable water bottle and skip the straw.
- Cut looped plastics – anything that forms a circle, like 6-pack beverage rings, plastic bag handles or packing straps from shipping boxes pose a threat to curious birds, seals and sea lions who can become entangled.
- Pick up 5 items of trash every time you go to the beach or shore – if we got a chance to visit a beach or lake, pay back the favour and keep trash out of the bellies of seabirds.
- Don’t release balloons – after fishing gear, the most common material found entangled on marine life is balloons, especially those released in bunches!
- Report it if you see an entangled animal or lost fishing gear – A global network is ready to help. Contact the Department of Fisheries and Oceans to report an entangled animal.
No matter where you live, we all have a responsibility to look after our precious ocean life.