Daily Current Affairs – 28-08-2023

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    Educational Schemes for Minorities

    Syllabus: GS2/Government Policies and Interventions

    News:

    • There is a shift in Centre’s policy towards minority education in the past few years. It has discontinued two key educational schemes for religious minorities and gradually cut down on the expenditure incurred on the programmes of the Ministry of Minority Affairs. 

    Religious minorities in India

    • India is home to over 30 crore (20%) people from religious minority communities. These include six religions notified under Section 2(c) of the National Commission for Minorities Act, 1992. 
    • Muslims constitute 14.2%, followed by Christians at 2.3%, Sikhs (1.7%), Buddhists (0.7%), Jains (0.4%) and Zoroastrians (around 57,000).

    Constitutional Provisions:

    • Article 29(1) of the Indian Constitution calls for the Protection of interests of minorities: Any section of the citizens residing in the territory of India or any part thereof having a distinct language, script or culture of its own shall have the right to conserve the same.
    • Article 30(1) grants Right of minorities to establish and administer educational institutions –All minorities, whether based on religion or language, shall have the right to establish and administer educational institutions of their choice.

    Why were scholarships for Religious minorities introduced? 

    • Some minorities face challenges in economic, health, and education. Their participation in salaried jobs is low. Many are engaged in the informal sector, characterised by low wages, weak social security and poor working conditions.
    • The Rajinder Sachar Committee, 2006, concluded that the minority was deprived and neglected in almost all dimensions of development and behind the mainstream in several social and economic sectors. 
      • “By and large, Muslims rank somewhat above SC/ST but below Hindu OBCs [Other Backward Classes], Other Minorities and Hindu General [mostly upper castes] in almost all indicators considered,” the report stated.
    • Around the same time, the new Ministry was carved out of the Ministry of Social Justice and Empowerment in January 2006 to “ensure a more focused approach” towards issues affecting the notified minorities.
    • Subsequently, the government revised its 15-point Programme for the Welfare of Minorities. As part of educational empowerment, the new plan included a provision for scholarships for students from minority communities.
    • The highest proportion of out-of-school children in the country belong to Muslim communities (4.43%), followed by Hindus (2.73%), Christians (1.52%) and others (1.26%), according to the Sarva Shiksha Abhiyan data.

    Welfare schemes for the educational empowerment of minorities:

    • Pre-Matric Scholarship Scheme: to minority students from class 1 to 10 and ranged between Rs 1,000 and Rs 10,700 for each selected candidate. 30% of the scholarships were earmarked for girls. 
      • Current status: The scheme has been discontinued from classes 1 to 8, only covering class 9 and 10 in its revised form.
    • Post-Matric Scholarship Scheme: for students of class 11 and above (till Ph.D.), with a scholarship ranging between Rs 2,300 and Rs 15,000. Like the pre-matric, 30% of the post-matric scheme was also earmarked for girls.
    • Merit-cum-Means based Scholarship Scheme: Launched in 2008, this scheme targeted professional and technical courses at undergraduate and postgraduate levels, with 30% earmarked for girl students. Eligible candidates are reimbursed full course fees, 
    • Maulana Azad National Fellowship (MANF): The scheme provided financial assistance for five years to research scholars pursuing M.Phil and Ph.D.
    • Padho Pardesh: The scheme was launched to provide better opportunities for higher education abroad, providing an interest subsidy on education loans for overseas studies to students belonging to economically weaker sections of minority communities.
    • Begum Hazrat Mahal National Scholarship: The scholarship was for meritorious girls for higher secondary education and was provided by the Maulana Azad Education Foundation (MAEF).
    • Naya Savera: To provide free coaching to minority students of classes 11-12 with science subjects for entrance to technical and professional courses and competitive examinations.
    • Nai Udaan: This was a programme which supported minority students preparing for the preliminary examinations conducted by the Union Public Service Commission (UPSC), Staff Selection Commission (SSC) and State Public Service Commissions (SPSCs).
    • Scheme for Providing Education to Madrasas and Minorities (SPEMM): Under it recognised madrasas receive financial assistance to introduce ‘modern’ subjects such as science, mathematics, social studies, Hindi and English in their curriculum. 
    • Pradhan Mantri Jan Vikas Karyakram (PMJVK): Since its restructuring in 2018, the PMJVK, earlier known as the Multi-sectoral Development Programme (MsDP), has provided infrastructure in identified minority concentration areas, including for education and skill development.

    How much has the budget reduced and how has it impacted beneficiaries?

    • This financial year, the Centre slashed the budgetary allocation for the Ministry of Minority Affairs by 38.3%, a drop from Rs 5,020.5 crore in 2022-23 to Rs 3,097 crore this year. 
    • Notably, the 2022-23 estimates were revised to Rs 2,612.66 crore, indicating an under-utilisation of nearly 48% of funds.
    • The shift in policy came despite a significant drop in beneficiaries(7%) between 2019 and 2022, even as funds remained underutilised. 
    • During the period, the government spending on six educational schemes for religious minorities dropped by around 12.5%. 
    • For instance, the pre-matric scholarship, which has benefitted the maximum number of minority students, the Ministry spent Rs 43.95 crore out of the revised estimate of Rs 556 crore. Similarly, Rs 29 crore was the actual expenditure on post-matric scholarship when the budget estimate was Rs 515 crore. 
    • A 2022 report by the Centre for Budget and Governance Accountability (CBGA) highlighted a “declining trend” in the share of the overall budget expenditure towards minorities. The allocation of funds for the year 2022-23 was not in line with proportional representation of minorities. 

    Impacts

    • The restructuring of programmes, under-utilisation of funds, and reduced budgetary allocations have impacted the implementation and goals of educational schemes for minorities. 
    • As a result, gaps in education and economic parameters are expected to widen. There are other challenges in implementation as well, including poor coverage of beneficiaries and low unit costs. 
    • Experts worry that scrapping scholarships and limiting the scope of scholarships will adversely affect the community and impact their enrolment rate, which is already worrisome. 

    Way forward

    • Education is the most powerful tool for the socio-economic development of a nation, more so for minorities.
    • In its 2018 policy document, Niti Aayog suggested 
      • Enhancing pre-matric, post-matric and merit-cum-means scholarships as well as the Maulana Azad National Fellowships and national overseas scholarships, recommending a 15% annual increase from 2019-20. 
      • It also recommended increasing the number of scholarships for girls from minority communities by 10% every year.
    • A recent yearbook by the Institute of Objective Students on the status of Muslim school dropouts estimated that dropout rates stand at 23.1% as compared to the national average rate of 18.96%. It was time to introspect as to why the dropout rate had not decreased even after 10 years since the introduction of the Right to Education.
    • The Centre for Budget and Governance Accountability in its report, pushes for the utilisation of the 15-Point Programme to devise customised interventions for the development of minorities, by identifying development gaps in minority-concentrated localities and areas. 
    • Affirmative action is the need of the hour to improve the socio-economic status of religious minorities, particularly Muslims, who continue to lag behind the rest of the population in several areas. 

    Source: TH

    Inmates’ right to conjugal visits

    Syllabus: GS2/Polity/Social Issues

    Context

    • A Public Interest Litigation (PIL) was filed in Delhi High Court on the issue of prison inmates’ right to conjugal visits. 
      • The petitioner raised the question: ‘do prison inmates have a fundamental right to conjugal visits by spouses?’

    What are conjugal rights?

    • These are the rights created by marriage, ie, the right of the husband or the wife to the company of their spouse.
    • In the context of prisons, however, conjugal visits refer to the concept of allowing a prisoner to spend some time in privacy with his spouse within the precincts of a jail.
    • Section 9 of the Hindu Marriage Act, 1955 deals with restitution of conjugal rights by recognising the right to consortium and protects it by allowing a spouse to move court to enforce the right.

    Arguments favouring the conjugal rights

    • Over the past few years, several courts have been in favour of arrangements for inmates to meet their partners.
    • Prisoner rights: The conjugal visits are a fundamental right of the spouses of the prisoners that are internationally recognised through the United Nations Standard Minimum Rules for the Treatment of Prisoners, the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights etc.
      • Prisoners are guaranteed the right to life and inherent dignity, and to maintain family relations including conjugal visits.
      • Most prison Acts and Rules across the country accept the importance of maintenance of continuity in family and social relations.
    • Health benefits: The conjugal visits can have positive impacts in the form of psychological health benefits for prisoners, preservation of marital ties and, reduction in the rates of homosexuality and sexual aggression within prisons.
      • These generate positivity among prisoners, de-stress the inmates and help them on their journey towards reformation.
    • Preserving family ties and marital stability: If conjugal visits are allowed, the inmates will be able to continue their family ties.
      • Many activities are undertaken in prisons, such as meditation and music, but at the end of the day, nothing can replace the pleasure of seeing one’s family. 
    • Judiciary Cases:
      • The Madras High Court, on November 1, 2018, permitted a life convict to go on two weeks’ parole on a plea by his wife, saying it was her right to have conjugal relations.
        • The Madras High Court remarked that Conjugal visits of the spouse of the prisoners is the right of the prisoner. And the government has to find a solution for providing a place for conjugal visits, if the prisons are overcrowded.
      • The Punjab and Haryana High Court, in 2014, allowed a couple lodged in jail to engage sexually within the prison premises to have a child, and held that “the right to procreation survives incarceration”.

    Arguments against the conjugal rights

    • Practicability: In July 2019, the then Director-General (Prisons) of Delhi, in an affidavit before the High Court, remarked, in accordance with established policy, the right to procreation is desirable, however, not practicable in the present prison scenario.
    • Overcrowding with limited infrastructure: Official data showed that prison complexes in Delhi — Tihar, Mandoli, and Rohini — currently hold nearly 20,500 inmates, more than twice their total sanctioned strength.
      • It highlighted that the allowing conjugal visits in prisons may not be feasible in light of the limited infrastructure available with the prisons.
    • Negative impact on family ties: Options like parole/furlough/interim bails, etc are available to inmates to preserve family ties and marital stability, but they are not always easy to get.

    What are the judicial views?

    • The primary question before the judiciary was whether the right to conjugality and procreation is a part of the right to life. The High Court held that this right to conjugality is available to prisoners under Article 21, subject to restrictions
      • The Madras High Court observed, in the case of Meharaj vs State (2022), that there have to be differential standards in enforcement of Article 21 for law abiders and law violators.
      • The Court observed that even though conjugal visits could not be held as a fundamental right, the prisoner would still be eligible to avail leave for conjugal visits if there are ‘extraordinary reasons’ such as ‘infertility treatments.’

    A way forward: Punjab model

    • The Ludhiana Central Jail, in Sept 2022, introduced the ‘Parivar Mulakat [Family Visit]’ programme, allowing inmates to have face-to-face meetings with their loved ones in specially designated rooms within the prison premises. The State guidelines clarify that conjugal visits are a matter of privilege rather than a right.

    TH

    ‘Right to Repair’

    Syllabus: GS3/ Science & Technology, Indian Economy & Related Issues, Growth & Development

    In News

    • Several states in the U.S. have enacted ‘right to repair’ laws in recent years.

    What is the Right to Repair?

    • Right to Repair gives consumers access to affordable repair mobile phones, appliances and other electronic devices by original equipment manufacturers (OEMs) or third-party repairs
    • The aim is to offer a cheaper alternative to expensive replacements to the customers, instead of buying new products altogether.
    • Also, Ideally, if you buy a product, you should be able to do anything you want with it.

    Background for the ‘Right to Repair’

    • USA’s Digital Millennium Copyright Act (DMCA): Idea of ownership began to change at the start of this millennium as U.S. lawmakers enacted the Digital Millennium Copyright Act, or DMCA, in the late 90s to stem intellectual property theft.
      • DMCA offered protection to original equipment manufacturers (OEM) barring third-party repairers from breaking software protection codes.  
    • Proprietary softwares & legality of third-party repairers: Proprietary software has become significant for the manufacturer’s as a growing number of devices are dependent on nimble software to perform tasks. 
      • Corporations selling these devices make it hard for consumers to repair them if they fail to work. 
      • In the U.S., large tech firms had made it illegal for consumers and third-party repairers to fix devices that are powered by software codes. 
      • These firms took refuge under DMCA to ensure products they sold are only repaired by service centres under their control.   
    • Rationale for opposing the right:  According to manufacturers, allowing unvetted third parties with access to sensitive diagnostic information, software, tools, and parts would jeopardise the safety of consumers’ computers, tablets and devices, and put them at risk for fraud and data theft.

    ‘Right to Repair’ in India

    • Framework Committee: The Ministry of Consumer Affairs (MCA) has set up a committee to come up with a Right to Repair framework. 
      • The framework is significant as it will give consumers a chance to repair their products at an optimal cost instead of buying new products altogether. 
      • The important sectors for the initial focus of the framework are farming equipment, mobile phones & tablets, consumer durables, automobiles & automobile equipment.
    • Portal: The Ministry of Consumer Affairs (MCA) has also set up a Right to Repair portal that allows citizens to get their gadgets and vehicles repaired without losing warranty. 
      • The portal aggregates all the public information related to products, service, warranty, terms and conditions, etc. 

    Significance

    • Reduced in e-waste generation: With the Right to Repair portal, the government aims to protect consumers against planned obsolescence i.e. designing a product with limited life resulting in increasing e-waste. 
      • India generated an estimated 16,01,155.36 tonnes of e-waste in FY22.
    • Informed choices: India’s Right to repair portal is also aimed to address the concerns on the price, originality and warranty of spare parts. 
      • It will enable consumers to be better informed about the product by mentioning methods to check authenticity of spare parts and information on country of origin.
    • Checks on non-competitive trade practices: Another objective is to also keep a check on manufacturers engaging in non-competitive practices by prohibiting third-party repairs, limiting the amount of information they share about the product, and controlling who repairs their products. 
    • Reduced wait time: Such policies result in excessive wait times which ultimately can be reduced with these legislations.

    Challenges

    • In India: According to critics, the government has perhaps not been too aggressive with Right to Repair because one of its priorities is to get more manufacturing companies to invest and create jobs in India. 
      • It has also been rolling out policies like the Production-Linked Incentive (PLI) scheme towards that end, which is making it challenging for them to push companies too hard on Right to Repair. 
    • Unchallenged automobile makers: While the ‘right to repair’ movement continues to gain momentum, it is yet to have an impact on automobile makers, particularly Tesla, which is facing legal cases in California. 
      • The world’s biggest electric vehicle maker has been sued for illegally restraining competition in car maintenance and repair, making owners spend a lot of money on fixing their cars. 

    Way ahead

    • While Right to Repair is a step in the right direction, it “cannot be done overnight” as different electronic devices have different levels of complexity when it comes to repair.
    • For lawmakers: Right to Repair must take into consideration interests of both consumers and manufacturers, be mindful that the law does not allow anything that involves compromise of intellectual property, unwanted access to proprietary information or any such issues of concern.
    • For companies: For companies, Right to Repair would mean that they have to adapt to new standards of both manufacturing and design. 
      • It would mean that they have to share repair information and manuals, and make diagnostic tools and service parts more accessible to consumers and third-party repairs. 
      • They would also have to redesign their products in order to make them more repair-friendly.

    Source: TH

    The State of India’s Birds Report 

    Syllabus: GS3/Biodiversity and Conservation

    In News

    • The State of India’s Birds Report has been released recently.

    About

    • It is a periodic assessment of the distribution range, trends in abundance, and conservation status for most of the bird species that regularly occur in India. 
    • The report is based on 30 million observations contributed by 30,000 birdwatchers across the country.
    • As a comprehensive, national-level assessment, the report points the way towards conservation needs of India’s birds.
    • The first report on the State of India’s Birds (SoIB) was released in 2020 at the Conference of Parties to the Convention on Migratory Species in Gandhinagar. 

    Findings

    • Species Assessed: 942 species of Indian birds assessed in this report.
      • Of these 338 species, 204 have declined in the long term, 98 show a trend that is indistinguishable from stable, and 36 have increased.
    • Species whose number increased: 150% increase in the abundance of peafowl across the country over the past decades.
      • 217 species stable or increasing in the last eight years
      • Indian Peafowl continues to thrive.
      • Asian Koel has increased in the past three decades.
      • Ashy Prinia and Rock Pigeon are among the species that are thriving in India.
    • Declining Trends:  Populations of mammals, birds, reptiles, amphibians, and fishes have declined by an average of 69% since 1970.
      • 39% of species show clear declines over the past decades.
      • Habitat specialists: particularly specialists of grasslands and other open habitats, wetlands, and woodlands—are declining rapidly. 
      • In terms of diet, carnivores, insectivores, and granivores are declining more rapidly than omnivores or fruit- and nectar eaters. 
      • Migratory species appear to be under greater threat than non-migrants. 
      • And species endemic to the Western Ghats–Sri Lanka region are faring worse than others.
    • 14 species, including Indian Roller, recommended for IUCN Red List reassessment.
    • Out of the 101 birds categorised as High Concern (i.e., Priority) in 2020, 74 remain in the same category. An additional 104 species have been newly listed as High Priority in 2023.
      • Hence, 178 species are classified as of High Conservation Priority, and require immediate attention.

    Threats

    • Monocultures: It include commercial plantations of coffee, tea, arecanut, cardamom, rubber, teak, or other species, which are created by large-scale clearance or modification of natural habitats like forests and grasslands. 
      • The principal threats to woodpeckers are forest degradation, fragmentation, and conversion to monocultures.
    • Environmental Pollutants: Heavy metals, pesticides and even veterinary drugs are on top of the list of known environmental pollutants endangering birds.
      • Diclofenac and other veterinary drugs remain a major threat to vultures.
      • In India, many raptors of open habitats feed in agricultural landscapes, where pesticides and other chemicals are used with unknown consequences.
    • Forest Degradation: It is a well-known driver of biodiversity loss. The factors include logging of varying intensity, spread of invasive species, high intensity forest fires, fragmentation, excessive livestock grazing, biomass extraction, insect pests, and severe weather conditions.
    • Urbanisation: It has become a key driver of global land-use change in the past 50 years. 
      • As roads and built-up areas increase, the resulting loss of natural habitat for birds exposing them to elevated pollution levels, increased temperature, and increased density of free-ranging domestic predators like cats and dogs.
    • Energy Infrastructure: The major impacts of wind turbines on birds include
      • Direct collision of birds with the rotating wind turbine blades,
      • Displacement of birds from the turbine area due to disturbance.
    • Avian Diseases: Anthropogenic drivers such as land-use change, intensive livestock production, wildlife trade, and climate change are now known to have indirect effects on the emergence and cross-species transmission of pathogens.
      • Spot-billed Pelican, a species suffering a rapid ongoing decline, is affected by nematode and trematode parasites that infest its alimentary canal, potentially causing infected birds to starve to death. 
      • Illegal Hunting and Trade: Live birds are trapped for the pet trade, or hunted for their derivatives such as meat, eggs, feathers, claws, beak, and casque. Superstitious beliefs can lead to the illegal hunting of species like owls or Indian Roller.
    • Climate Change: Phenological mismatches occur when the timings of annual events (e.g., migration, nesting, insect emergence) become asynchronous.
      • Higher temperatures also cause birds to alter their behaviour, making them more likely to seek shade and spend less time foraging, with negative impacts on survival and reproduction.   

    Recommendations as per the Report

    • Conservation action plans are needed for all 178 species identified as being of High Conservation Priority. 
      • For the 323 species identified as being of moderate priority, plans are needed to identify early warning signals and what research, policy, and conservation actions such signals would trigger. 
    • Conserving Habitat: Since, species cannot survive in the absence of the conditions they need. The establishment of Protected Areas and other conservation-focussed areas is essential.
    • Research: Research on species, their habitats, the relationship between the two, and how humans affect these relationships is vital, and requires a supportive and enabling environment. 

     Source: IE

    India named Chandrayaan-3 landing spot as Shiv Shakti Point

    Syllabus: GS3/ Space

    In News

    • The Prime MInister, Narendra Modi has announced that the point where the Chandrayaan-3 lander touched down on the lunar surface will be named Shiv Shakti.

    About

    • The point where Chandrayaan-2 left its imprints would be named as Tiranga point. Chandrayaan-1 crashed in 2008 is named as ‘Jawahar Point’.
    • PM Modi said this will serve as an inspiration for every effort that India makes and remind us that failure is not the end.
    • The 23rd August will be celebrated as ‘National Space Day’ on the mark of soft landing of Chandrayaan-3 at the South Pole of the moon.

    Law regarding Ownership, Naming Sites in Space

    • As per the United Nations 1966 Outer Space Treaty, no nation can claim sovereignty over the moon – or other celestial bodies – and that the exploration of space should be carried out for the benefit of all countries.
    • The 1979 The Moon Agreement states that no part of the moon “shall become property of any State, international intergovernmental or non-governmental organization, national organization or non-governmental entity or of any natural person.”
    • The law clearly states that nations cannot law claim to the moon or its land, however they can carry out certain activities.
    • However, there is no legislation regarding naming places on the Moon.

    Who decides the names?

    • The International Astronomical Union (IAU) is the leading authority in assigning official names to lunar features. India is one of the 92 members of the space body.
    • The IAU has been the arbiter of planetary and satellite nomenclature since its inception in 1919.
    • Many countries have been giving informal names to the spots on the moon during lunar missions. The United States gave informal names to lunar sites during Apollo missions.
    • Most of the informal names assigned during the Apollo mission were later given “official” status by the IAU. In 2021, the IAU approved China’s application for naming eight new features on the moon around the landing site of the Chang’e-5 probe. 

    Process for considering names

    • The IAU’s Working Groups handle the process of naming lunar spots, though its decisions and recommendations are not enforceable by any international law.
    • Any attempts by India to name physical features near the landing site will require the IAU’s nod.

    Source: IE

    Squadron strength of Indian Air Force(IAF) 

    Syllabus: GS 3/Defence 

    In News

    • The Indian Air Force (IAF) is hoping for expedited deliveries and gearing up to place additional orders.
      • The move is to arrest the IAF’s fighter strength falling further, from the current 31 squadrons, in the medium term. 

    Present fighter strength of the IAF

    • The IAF is currently down to 31 fighter squadrons as against the sanctioned strength of 42 squadrons .
    • IAF has inducted 32 LCA-Mk jets from earlier orders and deliveries of the 83.
    • As the new aircraft come in, several legacy fleets which are the mainstay will start phasing out. 
      • The three remaining MiG-21 squadrons will be phased out by 2025 and will be replaced with the LCA-Mk1A. 
      • In addition, the Jaguars, Mirage-2000s and MiG-29s will begin going out by the end of the decade. 
      • For instance, by 2027-28 the first of the MiG-29s, inducted in the late 1980s, will start being phased out and by the early 2040s, some of the earlier batch of SU-30 will also start being phased out. 

    Related Developments

    • IAF is looking to order an additional 90 LCA-Mk1A fighter jets or four squadrons. 
      • The additional jets are likely to be inducted from 2027-28 till 2031-32 by which time induction of the larger and more capable LCA-Mk2 is expected to commence.
    • LCA-Mk1A ordered in 2021 are scheduled to begin in February 2024. 
    • The LCA-Mk2 project received sanction from the Cabinet Committee on Security (CCS) in September 2022 at a total cost of ₹9,000 crore and the first flight is expected in three years.
    • The fifth-generation fighter, Advanced Medium Combat Aircraft (AMCA), is currently awaiting CCS sanction.

    Issues

    • The number of fighter squadrons of the IAF is going down as several of them have been phased out in recent years while a number of others are due for number-plating (retirement) in the next few years

    Future Outlook

    • Indian Air Force has put its weight behind the indigenous Light Combat Aircraft (LCA) project
    • IAF is  expecting to receive eight LCA trainers by the end of this financial year
    • By 2030, the IAF would have 32 or 33 fighter squadrons and would have 35 or 36 fighter squadrons by 2040 if the indigenous fighters meet the induction timeline.

    Do you know ?

    • The Indian Air Force was officially established on 8 October 1932. 
    • Its first ac flight came into being on 01 Apr 1933 with six RAF-trained officers and 19 Havai Sepoys (air soldiers). 
    • The aircraft inventory consisted of four Westland Wapiti IIA army co-operation biplanes at Drigh Road as the “A” Flight nucleus of the planned No.1 (Army Co- operation) Squadron.

    Source: TH

    Terai-Arc Landscape( TAL)

    Syllabus: GS 3/Environment 

    In News

    • The poop of tigers has helped a team of scientists at the Wildlife Institute of India (WII) understand the prey selection patterns of the striped feline in the Indian part of the Terai-Arc Landscape(TAL).

    About Terai Arc Landscape (TAL) 

    • It is a stretch between the river Yamuna in the west and the river Bhagmati in the east, comprising the Shivalik hills, the adjoining bhabhar areas and the Terai flood plains.
    • It is spread across the Indian states of Uttarakhand, Uttar Pradesh and Bihar, and the low lying hills of Nepal. 
    • It has been shortlisted by FAO as the “World Restoration Flagship” as a part of the ongoing UN Decade for Ecosystem Restoration Campaign (2021-2030).
    • About 22% of the wild tiger population in India is found across the TAL, living amidst some of the highest human and livestock densities on the subcontinent.
    • The landscape also has a high mammalian diversity with herbivores including gaur, nilgai, sambar, northern swamp deer, wild pig, chital, goral, and some primates, carnivores such as leopard, wild dog, and hyena apart from the tiger, and omnivores including the sloth bear and Asiatic black bear.

    Key Findings of recent assessment 

    • The assessment of the food habits of the tiger (Panthera tigris) was published in the latest edition of the Journal of Mammalogy, a peer-reviewed international publication.
    • A team of researchers found protected areas and non-protected areas in the Terai region are more prone to livestock predation-related conflict
    • The feces of the tigers also helped the scientists gather information about the hotspots of conflicts related to livestock predation across 15,000 sq. km of the animal’s habitat along the foothills of the Himalayas.
    • Large-bodied species – sambar, swamp deer, nilgai, chital, wild pig, and livestock – comprised about 94% of the diet, with sambar, chital, and livestock having the highest relative proportions. 

    Suggestions

    • Given the significant role of large carnivores in maintaining ecological diversity and interactions within their respective biological communities, the scientists suggested careful management interventions with community involvement to reduce threats of livestock predation-related conflict.
    • They also suggested long-term conservation plans including prey abundance estimation outside the PAs, reduction of grazing pressures, and detailed records of tiger mortalities with causal investigations to ensure future conflict-free tiger persistence across the TAL.

    Do you Know ?

    • The tiger (Panthera tigris) is a striped animal. 
      • The combination of grace, strength, agility and enormous power has earned the tiger its pride of place as the national animal of India. 
    • Out of eight races of the species known, the Indian race, the Royal Bengal Tiger, is found throughout the country except in the north-western region and also in the neighbouring countries, Nepal, Bhutan and Bangladesh.
    • IUCN Red List status : Endangered
    • On International Tiger Day (29th July_2023) the government of India released new data on tiger population at Corbett Tiger Reserve.
    • The analysis done by the Wildlife Institute of India, from both camera-trapped and non-camera-trapped tiger presence areas, the upper limit of the tiger population is estimated to be 3925 and the average number is 3682 tigers.
      • The data reflects a commendable annual growth rate of 6.1% per annum.
      • Central India and the Shivalik Hills and Gangetic Plains witnessed a notable increases in tiger population, particularly in the states of Madhya Pradesh, Uttarakhand, and Maharashtra.
      • The largest tiger population of 785 is in Madhya Pradesh, followed by Karnataka (563) & Uttarakhand (560), and Maharashtra (444).

    Source: TH

    Facts In News

    Jayanta Mahapatra

    Syllabus: GS1/ Personalities, Literature

    In News

    • Jayanta Mahapatra, one of the greatest Indian poets in the English language, passed away.

    About

    • Mahapatra was part of a trio of poets who laid the foundations of Indian English Poetry, which included A. K. Ramanujan and R. Parthasarathy.
    • Mahapatra penned 27 books of poems, of which seven are in Odia language and the rest in English.
    • He authored poems such as ‘Indian Summer’ and ‘Hunger’, which are regarded as classics in modern Indian English literature.

    Awards Conferred

    • Sahitya Akademi Award (the fourth highest civilian honour in India) for his poem Relationship in 1981.
    • He was awarded Padma Shri in 2015. 

    Source: TH

     Seethakali Folk Art

    Syllabus:GS1/Art and culture

    News

    • The 20-members group of Perinad Seethakali Sangham is set to perform Seethakali art outside Kerala for the first time.

    About

    • Seethakali is a centuries-old Dravidian dance form which is a blend of songs, storytelling and fast movements.The performers go from one house to another performing this art.
    • Origin: Seethakali is believed to have originated at Perinad in Kollam district. This art form was first performed some 150 years back by the people of Vedar and Pulayar communities.The folk art form was a part of Onam festivities in the past.
    • Theme: The art form is based on certain episodes taken from the epic Ramayana. Mythic characters such as Rama, Seetha, Ravana and Hanuman portray the tale of Seetha’s journey, from vanayatra (exile to the forest) to Sita’s andardhanam (descend into the earth).
    • Music: Performances are accompanied by beautiful folk songs that have been passed on orally from one generation to the next.
    • Instruments: The props and instruments used during performances are all made of natural materials like bamboo and palm leaves. The ganjira, manikatta, chiratta and kaimani are among the accompaniments.
    • Costumes: The costumes and the make-up are loud and eye-catching. The characters of Rama and Laxmana appear in green since the color is used to represent gods and goddesses in Kathakali.

    Perinad Seethakali Sangham

    • It is the only registered Seethakali performing group in Kerala. In 2018, the group was affiliated to the Kerala Folklore Akademi.
    • The Akademi has played a crucial role in the revival of this once lost unique art form of Kerala.

     

    Source:TH

    Parboiled Rice

    Syllabus: GS3/Major crops and cropping patterns in the country

    News: 

    • The Union government imposed a 20 per cent export duty on parboiled rice with immediate effect to curb a surge in shipments since it banned exports of non-basmati white rice.

    About: 

    • The curbs on rice exports are seen as part of measures to control inflation
    • The new measures on export of rice, a key staple for the majority of the population, will ensure higher domestic availability.
    • Unlike other commodities in which the Director-General of Foreign Trade notifies the Minimum Export Price(MEP), in case of basmati, the agri-export promotion body Apeda will implement it.  
    • Basmati rice export is allowed only after registration of a contract with Apeda which issues certificates to exporters allowing shipments.

    The Directorate General of Foreign Trade (DGFT):

    • It is an agency of the Union Ministry of Commerce and Industry, established in 1991 and is responsible for implementing the country’s foreign trade policy.  
    • Headquarters: New Delhi with 38 regional offices 
    • The Appointments Committee of Cabinet (ACC) appoints the DGFT. 
    • It is responsible for administering laws regarding foreign trade and foreign investment in India and for the execution of India’s import and export Policy. 
    • It offers facilitation to exporters in connection with developments in international trade such as WTO Agreements, Rules of Origin etc.

    The Agricultural and Processed Food Products Export Development Authority (APEDA)

    • It was established by the Government of India under the Agricultural and Processed Food Products Export Development Authority Act, 1985. 
    • The Authority replaced the Processed Food Export Promotion Council (PFEPC).
    • It comes under the Union Ministry of Commerce and Industry.
    • HEAD OFFICE: New Delhi with 16 Regional offices.
    • APEDA is mandated with the responsibility of export promotion and development of the scheduled products like Fruits, Vegetables and their Products, Meat and Meat Products, Poultry and Poultry Products, Dairy Products, Basmati Rice,etc.
    • In addition to this, APEDA has been entrusted with the responsibility of monitoring the import of sugar as well.
    • APEDA also functions as the Secretariat to the National Accreditation Board (NAB) for implementation of accreditation of the Certification Bodies under National Programme for Organic Production (NPOP) for organic exports.

    Parboiled Rice

    • Parboiled rice (also known as converted rice), is a partially precooked rice
    • Parboiling happens when one soak, steam, and dry rice while it’s still in its inedible outer husk. This turns the rice inside a slightly yellow hue. 
    • Parboiling rice makes it easier to remove the husk of the rice before eating it. The process also improves the texture of the rice, making it fluffier and less sticky when cooked than regular white rice.
    • Compared to white rice, parboiled rice has fewer calories, fewer carbohydrates, more fiber, and more protein, which makes it a healthier alternative to traditional white rice. 

    Source: TH

    Kaziranga National Park 

    Syllabus: GS3/Conservation Of Environment

    News: 

    • The 118-year-old Kaziranga National Park and Tiger Reserve is about to get its first woman Field Director- Indian Forest Service officer Sonali Ghosh.

    About the Kaziranga National Park and Tiger Reserve

    • Regarded as one of the world’s conservation success stories, the 1,355 sq. km tiger reserve is estimated to have 2,613 greater one-horned rhinos (March 2022). It also boasts of a high tiger density.
    • Baroness Mary Victoria Leiter Curzon, the wife of the then Viceroy, Lord George Nathaniel Curzon, is said to have played a key role in the birth of Kaziranga after she visited the area in 1904. 
    • It is one of the oldest wildlife conservancy reserves of India, first notified in 1905 and constituted as a Reserved Forest in 1908.
    • It was declared a Wildlife Sanctuary in 1950, and notified as Kaziranga National Park in 1974 under the Wildlife (Protection) Act, of 1972.
    • It was designated a UNESCO World Heritage Site in 1985.
    • It is the largest undivided representative area of Brahmaputra valley floodplain grassland, a complex ecosystem of grassland, where various stages of biotic succession in the grassland ecosystem are explicit.
    • The Park is the abode of more than 70% of One Horned Rhinoceros in the world.
    • It is also recognized as an Important Bird Area by BirdLife International.

    Source: TH

    Neeraj Chopra Crowned World Champion

    Syllabus: Miscellaneous

    Context

    • Neeraj Chopra becomes first Indian to win gold at 19th edition of  World Athletics Championships, held in Budapest, Hungary.
      • It was held from August 19 to 27, 2023

    About:

    • Neeraj Chopra clinched the gold medal in the men’s javelin throw, and became the first-ever Indian athlete to secure a gold medal at this prestigious championship by recording a stellar throw of 88.17 metres in his second attempt.
      • It was India’s third medal ever at the World Athletics Championships 2023 after Anju Bobby George’s long jump bronze at Paris 2003 and Neeraj’s silver at Oregon 2022.
      • India ranked 18th in the Medal Table of the 19th edition of the Championships.
    • Arshad Nadeem of Pakistan and Jakub Vadlejch of the Czech Republic secured second with a silver medal and third spot bronze medal respectively.

    About the World Athletics Championships:

    • The first event was held in Helsinki, Finland.
    • The next World Athletics Championships will be held in Tokyo in 2025 which will host the event for the second time and for the first time since 1991.

    IE

    Elephants Diet

    Syllabus: GS3/Biodiversity Conservation

    Context:

    • The initiative to plant 25,000 saplings of native trees to secure an elephant habitat and mitigate human-elephant conflicts.

    About:

    • Amla (Phyllanthus emblica) and bel (Aegle marmelos) are among several native species of trees that are being planted in Assam in a bid to secure a major elephant habitat and mitigate conflicts between humans and tuskers.
      • The Rowta Reserve Forest falls under the Dhansiri Forest Division in the Indian state of Assam.
    • Among the 25,000 saplings of native species of trees, some 2,000 sprouts of Alpinia allughus, a ginger-like rhizome locally called ‘tora’, which is an important source of fodder for elephants in the region.

    Significance of plantation

    • To reduce man-animal conflict: According to a report released by the Union Ministry of Environment, Forest and Climate Change, 561 people were killed in human-elephant conflicts in Assam between 2014 and 2022.
      • Several elephants also died during this period, many of which were electrocuted or poisoned.
    • Availability of alternative livelihood options is a powerful tool to facilitate human-elephant coexistence in a conflict zone.

    TH

    Blow Flies

    Syllabus:GS3/ Environment and Ecology

    News

    • A study indicates the importance of Blow flies,in accurate assessment of post-mortem intervals.

    About

    • The Calliphoridae are a  family of insects in the order Diptera, with almost 1,900 known species.
    • Characteristics: They are metallic blue, green, or black in color and are noisy in flight. With an average size of 8–10 mm, they are slightly larger than house flies but resemble them in habits.The important members of this group are the screwworm, bluebottle fly, greenbottle fly, and cluster fly.
    • Food sources:Larvae of most species are scavengers of carrion and dung.They are also attracted to plants that give off the smell of rotting meat since they can be a pollinator for those plants.

    Forensic importance of Blow flies

    • Blow flies are usually the first insects to come in contact with carrion because they have the ability to smell dead animal matter from up to 1.6 km away.
    • Upon reaching the carrion, females deposit eggs on it. Since development is highly predictable if the ambient temperature is known, blow flies are considered a valuable tool in forensic science. 
    • Blow flies are used to estimate the minimum post mortem interval (PMImin) for human corpses.The forensically significant blow flies are Chrysomya megacephala, Chrysomya rufifacies, Chrysomya chani. and Hemipyrellia ligurriens.

    Source: TH

    National Commission for Safai Karamcharis

    Syllabus: GS2/Polity

    In News

    • The Supreme Court has sought the government’s response in a plea to fill four vacancies on the National Commission for Safai Karamcharis.

    National Commission for Safai Karamcharis

    • It is a statutory body constituted in 1994 to ensure the rights of sanitation workers.
    • In the discharge of its functions, the Commission have the powers to call for information with respect to any matter from any Government or local or other authority.
    • It comprises one Chairman (in the rank and status of the Union Minister of State) and four members, including a lady member (in the rank and status of the Secretary to the Government of India) and the Secretary (in the rank of Joint Secretary to the Govt. of India) along with other supporting staff.

    Source: TH

    Climate Change and Health Hub

    Syllabus: GS2/ International Institutions

    In News

    • India to open a climate change and health hub in the national capital in partnership with the Asian Development Bank (ADB).

    About

    • The hub will facilitate knowledge sharing, promote partnerships and innovations, and also help countries beyond the G-20, especially developing countries.
    • Climate change affects all and this centre will give the opportunity to have different partners discussing this important issue and learning from each other.

    Need for the Hub

    • India also noted that climate change will continue to drive health emergencies, including the emergence and re-emergence of infectious diseases, and by increasing the severity and frequency of natural disasters, thereby threatening to overwhelm health systems’ ability to deliver essential services.

    About Asian Development Bank (ADB)

    • ADB was established in 1966 as a financial institution that would be Asian in character and foster economic growth and cooperation in one of the poorest regions in the world.
    • ADB assists its members, and partners, by providing loans, technical assistance, grants, and equity investments to promote social and economic development.
    • From 31 members at its establishment in 1966, ADB has grown to encompass 68 members—of which 49 are from within Asia and the Pacific and 19 outside.
    • Headquarter: Manila, Philippines.

    Source: TH

    Loch Ness

    Syllabus: Places in News

    Context

    • Recently, many volunteers have come up in research of Loch Ness Monster.

    About Loch Ness

    • Loch Ness is the second largest lake in Scotland after Loch Lomond in terms of surface area, but due to its depth it is the largest in the United Kingdom by volume.
    • It lies in Glen Mor or Great Glen, which bisects the Scottish Highlands and is linked by the means of Caledonian Canal.
    • The southern end is connected to Lake Oych by the Oych River. The northern end connects to Loch Dockfor via the River Ness and finally to the North Sea via Murray Firth.
    • Drumnadrochit Village is home to the Loch Ness Center and Exhibition Centre.

    Source: TH