Down To Earth (April 16-30-2024)

Soil Health: A Perspective Analysis


    Scientists increasingly associate soil biodiversity with improved yields and plant health, also indicating that a soil high in microbial activity is better at carbon sequestration and in preventing runoff during floods.

About the Soil:
  • There are five basic ingredients that make soil, ie mineral, water, organic matter, gases, and micro-organism
  • Minerals are the largest component of soil which makes up approximately 45 to 49% of the volume.
  • The texture of a soil is based on the percentage of sand, silt and clay found in that soil.
  • Water is important for transporting nutrients to plants, soil organisms and for facilitating biological and chemical decomposition, which can make up approximately 2 to 50% of the soil volume.
  • The capacity of soil to hold water is dependent on soil texture. The more small particles in the soil, the more water it can retain.
  • Organic matter, derived from dead plants and animals, is found in soil at levels of 1 to 5%. The higher the percentage of organic material in soil, the higher the soil’s water-holding capacity.
  • The percentage of decomposed organic matter in or on soils is often used as an indicator of a productive soil, however, prolonged decomposition of organic materials can lead it to become unavailable for plant use.
  • Gases or air can make up approximately 2 to 50% of the soil volume.
  • Oxygen is essential for root and microbe respiration, which helps support plant growth. Carbon dioxide and nitrogen also are important for below-ground plant functions such as for nitrogen-fixing bacteria.
  • Gases or air can make up approximately 2 to 50% of the soil volume.
  • Oxygen is essential for root and microbe respiration, which helps support plant growth.
  • Carbon dioxide and nitrogen is essential for root and microbe respiration, which helps support plant growth.
  • If soils remain waterlogged (where gas is displaced by excess water), it can prevent root gas exchange leading to plant death, which is a common concern after floods.
  • Organisms are found in the soil in very high numbers but make up much less than 1% of the soil volume.
  • The largest of these organisms are earthworms and nematodes and the smallest are bacteria, actinomycetes, algae and fungi.
  • Microorganisms are the primary decomposers of raw organic matter. Other specialised microorganisms such as nitrogen-fixing bacteria have symbiotic relationships with plants that allow plants to extract nutrients.
  • Without microbes, soil is essentially dead and can be limited in supporting plant growth.

Soil Health

    It is typically measured by its nutrient content, by presence of elements like nitrogen and phosphorus.

    It is defined as the continued capacity of soil to function as a living ecosystem that sustains plants, animals, and humans.

    Healthy soil provides us with clean air and water, bountiful crops and forests, productive grazing lands, diverse wildlife, and beautiful landscapes.

Importance of Soil Health

    Healthy soil is the foundation of productive, sustainable agriculture.

    Managing soil health allows the land to reduce erosion, maximise water infiltration, improve nutrient cycling, and ultimately improve the resiliency of working land.

Principles of Soil Health

    Minimise Disturbance: From hooves to ploughs, soil is disturbed in many ways. While some disturbance is unavoidable, minimising disturbance events across your operation builds healthier soils.

    Maximise Soil Cover: As a general rule, soil should be covered whenever possible.

 It can be achieved by planting cover crops as part of both grazing and cropland operations.

    Maximise Biodiversity: Increasing diversity across your operation can break disease cycles, stimulate plant growth, and provide habitat for pollinators and organisms living in your soil.

    Maximise Presence of Living Roots: Living roots reduce soil erosion and provide food for organisms like earthworms and microbes that cycle the nutrients your plants need.

Soil Health Practices

    No Till or Reduced Till: Minimising tillage can reduce soil erosion across your operation while saving time and money by reducing annual fuel and labour investments.

    Crop Rotation: Diversity can be improved with cash crops as well as cover crops. Diverse crop rotations can reduce pests and diseases that are specific to certain plant species, build the health of soil microbes that provide nutrients to your plants and ultimately lead to improved yields.

    Cover Crops: Though not typically harvested for a profit, cover crops still provide valuable services to your operation. The roots of cover crops make channels in the soil that improves its ability to take in water.

What soil health tests measure?
  • These tests assess the physical, chemical and biological characteristics of soil.
  • Physical Properties: Soil compaction checks the maximum dry density for a soil sample. Highly compact soil reduces water percolation, nutrient availability.
  • Structural stability checks how soil structure resists mechanical and water stress. It gives early signs of degradation.
  • Wet Aggregate Stability measures the soil’s ability to resist erosion and check the soil’s water filtration ability.
  • Chemical Properties: pH measures the soil acidity or alkalinity. If levels are too high or low, it leads to reduced crop yield.
  • Electrical conductivity measures the amount of salts in soil. High salt levels can dehydrate plants.
  • Macronutrients such as nitrogen, phosphorus, and carbon are essential for crop production.
  • Micronutrients such as iron, zinc are needed for plant growth.
  • Organic carbon is measured to check plant, soil, animal materials. High levels mean more nutrition for plants
  • Active carbon measures the share of organic matter that can serve as an energy source for microbes.
  • Biological Properties: Microbial biomass measures the mass of the living component of soil organic matter.
  • Composition of organisms is crucial as 99% of the microbes and large organisms in soil are still unknown to humans.
  • Functional genes are being studied in research labs to understand the role microbes and large organisms perform in the soil ecosystem.
  • Others:
    • Microbial respiration measures the carbon dioxide (CO2) produced by soil microbes. A high rate indicates high biological activities.
    • Enzymatic activity of microbes increases the rate at which plant residues decompose.
    • Proteins are measured to see their share in the organic matter pool.
    • Carbon mineralisation measures CO2 levels and microbial activity to convert carbonaceous materials into CO2. A high value indicates good soil health.

Global Perspective: Critical Zone Approach

    Researchers emphasise a critical zone perspective when assessing soil health, that consider:

 Material Fluxes: Linking soil health to material movement (e.g., nutrient cycling) and determining when and where to measure soil health.

 Local Relative Terms: Defining soil health in context-specific terms.

 Sustainability: Strengthening the connection between soil health and overall sustainability.

Soil Health Card Scheme (India)

    The Soil Health Card Scheme is an initiative by the Indian government to provide information to farmers on nutrient status of their soil along with recommendations on appropriate dosage of nutrients to be applied for improving soil health and its fertility.

    It is a printed report that a farmer will be handed over for each of his holdings, that has been revamped and a mobile application has been introduced for soil sample collection and testing.

    It contains the status of his soil with respect to 12 parameters, namely N,P,K (Macronutrients); S (Secondary nutrient) ; Zn, Fe, Cu, Mn, Bo (Micro nutrients); and pH, EC, OC (Physical parameters).

Importance of Soil

    Flood Regulation: Healthy soil helps in better water absorption, retention and reduced erosion. Soils in floodplains also act as temporary storage areas during flood events.

    Foundation for human infrastructure: Soil is used in construction of infrastructure because it serves as the foundation material for both natural and human-made structures, providing support and stability.

    Habitat for organism: An entire gamut of organisms—from macroinvertebrates like earthworms, ants and termites to microorganisms like bacteria, archaea, and fungi—inhabit the soil

    Carbon Sequestration: Soils comprise decomposed plant material, rich in carbon absorbed from the atmosphere during the plants’ lifetime. Without soil, this carbon would re-enter the atmosphere as carbon dioxide

    Provision of Food, Fibre and Fuel: Soils supply the essential nutrients, water, oxygen and root support that food producing plants need to grow and flourish. They also serve as a buffer to protect delicate plant roots from drastic fluctuations in temperature.

    Water Purification, Soil Contaminant Reduction: When groundwater and surface water pass through soil, it is cleaned via physical, chemical and biological processes.

    Nutrient Cycling: Soil microbes decompose organic matter to release nutrients. They also trap and transform nutrients into the soil, which can be taken up by plant roots.

    Source of Pharmaceuticals and Genetic Resources: Soil is the major reservoir of microorganisms that produce antibiotics, such as bacterial genera Bacillus and Streptomyces and fungal genera Penicillium.

Organic Farming


    Women of Maharashtra village experiment with organic farming to improve incomes.

About the Organic Farming

    It is a method of farming that uses natural inputs and avoids synthetic chemicals that can significantly enhance farmers’ incomes through various means.

    It reduces the cost of production by minimising the use of expensive synthetic fertilisers and pesticides.

 Instead, it encourages the use of locally available resources, making it a sustainable and economically viable practice.

    The demand for organic products is on the rise both in India and globally.

 This increasing demand ensures a steady income stream for farmers, while the premium prices for organic produce offer an attractive return on investment.

    Moreover, studies have shown that organic farming can lead to similar or even higher yields compared to conventional farming.

It means that farmers can potentially earn more from the same amount of land.

Current State of Organic Farming in India

    Organic farming is in a nascent stage in India.

    As of March 2020, about 2.78 million hectares of farmland was under organic cultivation, according to the Union Ministry of Agriculture and Farmers’ Welfare.

 It is 2% of the 140.1 million hectares net sown area in the country.

    A few states have taken the lead in improving organic farming coverage. Madhya Pradesh tops the list with 0.76 million hectares of area under organic cultivation — that is over 27% of India’s total organic cultivation area.

 The top three states — Madhya Pradesh, Rajasthan and Maharashtra — account for about half the area under organic cultivation.

Government Initiatives

    The government has launched several initiatives to promote organic farming with the aim of improving soil fertility including the Mission Organic Value Chain Development for North East Region (MOVCD) and the Paramparagat Krishi Vikas Yojana (PKVY).

    The Prime Minister’s Program for Restoration, Awareness, Nurturing and Improvement of Fertility of Mother Earth encourages states to promote balanced use of alternative and chemical fertilisers.

 These initiatives aim to enhance farmers’ income, strengthen natural and organic farming, revive soil productivity, and ensure food security.

    At least 20 Indian states have a policy or a scheme with regard to organic farming.

    States like Sikkim, Andhra Pradesh, Himachal Pradesh, Kerala, Uttarakhand, Mizoram, Nagaland and Arunachal Pradesh have expressed their desire to become fully organic or natural-farming states.

    The Gujarat government is giving Rs 10,000 per hectare (up to a maximum of two hectares) to farmers as financial aid to encourage organic farming.

Future of Organic Farming in India

    Organic farming is considered the future of agriculture in India as it promotes sustainable agriculture practices and supports ecological balance.

    The demand for organic products is on the rise both in India and globally.

    This increasing demand ensures a steady income stream for farmers, while the premium prices for organic produce offer an attractive return on investment.

Drought and Hunger


    Recently, Zimbabwe (after Zambia and Malawi) declared the ongoing drought as a national disaster, and estimated US $2 billion to feed 2.7 million people that may suffer due to hunger.

Drought and Hunger as National Disaster

    Drought is a natural disaster characterised by a prolonged period of abnormally low rainfall, leading to a shortage of water.

 It affects various sectors of society, including agriculture, which in turn leads to food shortages and hunger.

    Hunger is a state in which people, for a sustained period, are unable to eat sufficient food to meet basic nutritional needs.

    Droughts have a cascading effect — from dwindling reservoir levels to declining crop yields, from loss of biological diversity to famines and serious economic consequences, especially in agriculture-dependent regions where drought-related crop failures lead to food shortages and often skyrocketing prices.

  • It is a prolonged dry period in the natural climate cycle that can occur anywhere in the world. It is a slow-onset disaster characterised by the lack of precipitation, resulting in a water shortage.
  • It is often associated with climatic factors like high temperatures, high winds and low relative humidity that can aggravate the severity of the drought event.
  • It can have a serious impact on health, agriculture, economies, energy and the environment.
  • During 1965 and 1966, major parts of India were under prolonged and severe drought conditions due to deficient monsoon rainfall.
Types of droughts:
  • Meteorological Drought: It is defined as a situation when the seasonal rainfall received over the area is less than 75% of its long term average value, and further classified as ‘moderate drought’ if the rainfall deficit is between 26-50% and ‘severe drought’ when the deficit exceeds 50% of the normal.
  • Hydrological Drought: It can be defined as a period during which the stream flows are inadequate to supply established use of water under a given water management system.
  • Agricultural Drought: It occurs when available soil moisture is inadequate for healthy crop growth and causes extreme stress and wilting.
  • Socio-economic drought: Abnormal water shortage affects all aspects of the established economy of a region. This in turn adversely affects the social fabric of the society creating unemployment, migration, discontent and various other problems in the society.
  • Thus, meteorological, hydrological and agricultural drought often leads to what is termed as Socio-economic drought.

Global Scenario

    According to a United Nations report, more than a billion people around the world were affected by drought from 2000 to 2019, making it the second-worst disaster after flooding.

    At least 23 countries, including India, declared drought emergencies at a national or sub-national level during 2022-23.

    It points to an unprecedented urgency on a planetary scale.

Indian Context

    India is particularly vulnerable to drought, with many parts of the country falling under regions that are drought-prone globally.

    The country’s Gross Domestic Product (GDP) reduced by 2 to 5 per cent between 1998 and 2017 due to severe droughts.

    In recent years, droughts have expanded their territory and intensity, leading to significant economic losses.

Government’s Role

    The National Disaster Management Authority (NDMA) of India has formulated guidelines for the management of drought.

    The drought management plan of the States is a part of the overall Disaster Management (DM) plan and is implemented by State Governments/State Disaster Management Authorities (SDMAs).

    The NDMA envisions restoring one billion hectares of degraded land by 2030, creating a land degradation-neutral world.


    Drought is a significant challenge that requires urgent attention. As climate change continues to exacerbate these issues, it is crucial to develop effective strategies for drought management.

    It includes improving forecasting and early warning systems, implementing sustainable agricultural practices, and ensuring food security for all.

Climate Change and Food Inflation


    Recently, a study found that the high greenhouse gas emissions and global warming could increase worldwide food inflation by almost 2% year-on-year, while overall inflation can increase by nearly 1% every year.

Understanding the Connection

    Climate change, characterised by global warming and increasing heat extremes, can trigger inflation, particularly in the food sector.

    Rising global temperatures and frequent heat waves are already driving up food prices globally.

    The trend of increasing commodity prices might worsen by 2035.

Global Scenario

    A recent study examined various shared socioeconomic pathways (SSP) and their potential to trigger inflation.

    It investigated how climate change could increase global food inflation and how this might affect ‘headline’ or overall inflation on a year-on-year basis in terms of percentage.

    Under the scenario of very high greenhouse gas emissions (SSP8.5), by 2035, global food inflation can rise by nearly 2% year-on-year and overall inflation can increase by close to 1% every year.


Indian Context

    In India, conditions are shaping up for an extension of a trend upshift in real GDP growth, backed by strong investment demand and upbeat business and consumer sentiments.

    However, extreme weather conditions may pose a risk to inflation, along with prolonged geopolitical tensions that could keep crude oil prices volatile.

    The retail based on the Consumer Price Index (CPI) has eased to 4.9% in March after averaging 5.1% in the preceding two months.

    But even that is bad news for the Centre ahead of Assembly elections in five states, including politically significant Uttar Pradesh.

Role of Government

    India stands committed to combating climate change through its several programmes and schemes including the National Action Plan on Climate Change (NAPCC) which comprises missions in specific areas of solar energy, energy efficiency, water, sustainable agriculture, Himalayan ecosystem, sustainable habitat, green India, and strategic knowledge for climate change.


    The connection between global warming, heat extremes, and inflationary pressures underscores the multifaceted impacts of climate change.

    It is crucial to develop effective strategies for managing these impacts, which include improving forecasting and early warning systems, implementing sustainable agricultural practices, and ensuring food security for all.

East Flowing Rivers of India


    Recently, the Central Water Commission (CWC) released an analysis showing concerns related to major east flowing rivers between Mahanadi and Pennar have no water at the moment.

About the East Flowing Rivers of India

    The major east flowing rivers of India include the Godavari, Krishna, Cauvery, and Mahanadi, that originate in the Western Ghats or the central part of India and flow towards the east, draining into the Bay of Bengal.

    They hold significant importance supporting a vast population with their water resources as they play a vital role in the irrigation systems, power generation, and providing potable water in the regions they flow through.

Godavari River

    It is the second largest river in India, covering 10% of the total geographical area of the country.

    It originates near Trimbak in Maharashtra and flows through the states of Telangana and Andhra Pradesh before draining into the Bay of Bengal.

Krishna River

    It is the fourth longest river in India. It originates in the Western Ghats near Mahabaleshwar in Maharashtra and flows through Karnataka and Andhra Pradesh before merging into the Bay of Bengal.

Cauvery River (aka Ganges of the South)

    It originates in the Western Ghats in Karnataka and flows through Tamil Nadu before draining into the Bay of Bengal.

    It is a major source of irrigation for both Karnataka and Tamil Nadu.

Mahanadi River

    It originates in the state of Chhattisgarh and flows through Odisha before draining into the Bay of Bengal.

    It is known for the Hirakud Dam, one of the longest dams in the world.

Other East Flowing Rivers

    Apart from these major rivers, there are several other east flowing rivers between Mahanadi and Pennar, including Rushikulya, Bahuda, Vamsadhara, Nagavali, Sarada, Varaha, Tandava, Eluru, Gundlakamma, Musi, Paleru, and Munneru.

    Similarly, the rivers flowing between Pennar and Kanyakumari such as Kandleru, Swarnamukhi, Arani, Korttalaiyar, Cooum, Adyar, Palar, Gingee, Ponnaiyar, Vellar, Varshalei, Vaigai, Gundar, Vaippar, and Tambraparni drain into the Bay of Bengal.

CWC on East Flowing Rivers in India

    The Central Water Commission (CWC) is a premier technical organisation of India in the field of water resources and is presently functioning as an attached office of the Ministry of Water Resources, Government of India.

    It is responsible for coordinating the schemes for control, conservation, and utilisation of water resources throughout the country.

CWC’s Role in Monitoring East Flowing Rivers

    The CWC has divided the entire country into 22 basins for better management and monitoring.

    It regularly releases data on water storage in major reservoirs and river basins across the country.

    This data is crucial for managing water resources, especially during periods of drought or flood.

Current Status

    The CWC has recently reported concerning trends in the water levels of east flowing rivers.

    For instance, at least 13 east-flowing rivers between Mahanadi and Pennar were reported to have no water at a certain point.

    The storage in this basin has been on a continuous decline this year from 0.062 billion cubic metres to zero.

Coral Catastrophe


    Recently, a study found that consistent ocean heating puts global corals at risk of mass bleaching in 2024, and found bleaching risk to the tropical and subtropical oceans, home to a majority of the world’s coral reefs.

About the Coral Mass Bleaching in 2024

    The world is currently experiencing a global coral bleaching event, according to scientists at the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA).

 It is the fourth global event on record and the second in the last 10 years.

Bleaching Event

    Bleaching-level heat stress, as remotely monitored and predicted by NOAA’s Coral Reef Watch (CRW), has been — and continues to be — extensive across the Atlantic, Pacific, and Indian Ocean basins.

    CRW’s heat-stress monitoring is based on sea surface temperature data, spanning 1985 to the present, from a blend of NOAA and partner satellites.

Clear Links
  • Mass bleaching of coral reefs has largely coincided with El Niño events, ocean heating.
    • 1997: Very Strong El Niño (Indian Ocean)
    • 1998, 2005, 2010, 2014, 2015, 2016, 2017, 2023, 2024: Moderate to Very strong El Niño (Global)
    • 2002, 2020, 2022: Moderate to Strong El Niño (Great Barrier Reef)
  • Anomalies in Sea Surface Temperature (SST)
    • Weak: 0.5-0.9°C
    • Moderate: 1.0-1.4°C
    • Strong: 1.5-1.9°C
    • Very Strong: ≥ 2.0°C


    From February 2023 to April 2024, significant coral bleaching has been documented in both the Northern and Southern Hemispheres of each major ocean basin.

    Since early 2023, mass bleaching of coral reefs has been confirmed throughout the tropics, including in Florida in the U.S.; the Caribbean; Brazil; the eastern Tropical Pacific (including Mexico, El Salvador, Costa Rica, Panama, and Colombia); Australia’s Great Barrier Reef; large areas of the South Pacific (including Fiji, Vanuatu, Tuvalu, Kiribati, the Samoas, and French Polynesia); the Red Sea (including the Gulf of Aqaba); the Persian Gulf; the Gulf of Aden.

    NOAA has received confirmation of widespread bleaching across other parts of the Indian Ocean basin as well, including in Tanzania, Kenya, Mauritius, the Seychelles, Tromelin, Mayotte, and off the western coast of Indonesia.


Coral & Coral Reefs

    Corals are essentially animals, which are sessile, meaning they permanently attach themselves to the ocean floor.

    Most corals contain algae called zooxanthellae — they are plant-like organisms — in their tissues.

    Each individual coral animal is known as a polyp and it lives in groups of hundreds to thousands of genetically identical polyps that form a ‘colony’.

    Geographical Conditions: Temperature: 20°C- 35°C; Salinity: Between 27% to 40%. Coral reefs grow better in shallow water; less than 50 m.

    Coral reefs in India: Gulf of Kutch, Gulf of Mannar, Andaman & Nicobar, Lakshadweep Island and Malvan.

Coral Bleaching

    Corals and zooxanthellae have a symbiotic relationship.

 While corals provide zooxanthellae a safe place to live, zooxanthellae provide oxygen and organic products of photosynthesis that help corals to grow and thrive.

 Zooxanthellae also give bright and unique colours to corals.

    Corals are very sensitive to light and temperature and even a small change in their living conditions can stress them. When stressed, they expel zooxanthellae and turn entirely white.

    Coral bleaching doesn’t immediately lead to the death of corals, however it reduces the reproductivity of corals and makes them more vulnerable to fatal diseases.

    Global mass bleaching of coral reefs is when significant coral bleaching is confirmed in the Atlantic, Indian and Pacific oceans.



Impact and Recovery

    Coral bleaching, especially on a widespread scale, impacts economies, livelihoods, food security, and more, but it does not necessarily mean corals will die.

    If the stress driving the bleaching diminishes, corals can recover and reefs can continue to provide the ecosystem services we all rely on.

Future of Coral Reefs

    As the world’s oceans continue to warm, coral bleaching is becoming more frequent and severe.

    When these events are sufficiently severe or prolonged, they can cause coral mortality, which hurts the people who depend on the coral reefs for their livelihoods.

    Climate model predictions for coral reefs have been suggesting for years that bleaching impacts would increase in frequency and magnitude as the ocean warms.

    Increased awareness among coral reef stakeholders is vital given the critical state of reefs all over the world, and their ecological, economic, and societal benefits.

Plastic Pollution


    From production to usage to disposal, plastic is a threat to those who come in its contact.

About Plastic Pollution

    It has emerged as a significant environmental crisis, affecting ecosystems worldwide. From our cities to the remote corners of the planet, plastic waste is causing extensive damage, posing a severe threat to marine life, and contributing to climate change.

Scale of the Problem

    The global distribution of plastic pollution is unequal, with Brazil, China, India, and the U.S. responsible for 60% of plastic waste.

    In India, only 60% of the total collected plastic waste is recycled, leaving the fate of the remaining 40% unaccounted for.

    In India, only 60% of the total collected plastic waste is recycled, leaving the fate of the remaining 40% unaccounted for.

    It often ends up in the oceans, contributing to the marine debris crisis.

    It has doubled between 2016 and 2020, highlighting the urgent need for effective plastic waste management strategies.

Plastics: Manufacturing Hazard
  • Nearly all of the world’s plastic is manufactured from naphtha, a by-product of petroleum refining. It involves:
  • Dangerous Mix: Vinyl chloride monomer in liquid and vapour form in vinyl chloride polymerisation plants increases mortality from angiosarcoma of the liver, brain cancer and connective and soft tissue cancers.
    • Benzene and butadiene cause leukemias and lymphomas.
    • Styrene is neurotoxic and a possible human carcinogen.
    • Benzene, xylene are neurotoxic
  • Polymerisation Threat: Polymerisation is the process of making plastic by joining monomers (single molecule) to produce polymer (large molecule). It includes:
    • Flame Retardant: Organophosphate esters can cause reproductive and developmental toxicity.
    • Plasticisers: Ortho-phthalates diesters, Bisphenol A (BPA), Phthalates, Per and Polyfluoroalkyl Substances (PFAS) are Neurodevelopmental Toxicants, Carcinogenic and Endocrine disruptors.
    • Stabilisers: Nonylphenol is an endocrine-disrupting chemical.
  • In eight of India’s 13 states that house a petroleum refinery, the incidence of acute respiratory infections in children under five years of age is higher in the district where the refineries are located.


Single-Use Plastics

    In July 2022, India announced a ban on single-use plastics (SUPs) by phasing out 20 identified SUPs by the following year (Plastic Waste Management Amendment Rules, 2021).

    These include thin carry bags, non-woven carry bags and covers, small wrapping/packing films, straws/stirrers, cutlery such as foam cups, bowls, earbuds with plastic sticks, cigarette filters, small plastic bottles, plastic banners, among other products.

    However, the ban does not include plastic bottles — even those less than 200 ml — and multi-layered packaging boxes (as in milk cartons).

Global Plastics Treaty

    The Global Plastics Treaty, an ambitious initiative involving at least 175 United Nations member nations, aims to eliminate the use of plastics.

    The goal is to finalise a legal document by the end of 2024 with timelines by when countries must agree to curb plastic production, eliminate its uses that create wastage, ban certain chemicals used in its production, and set targets for recycling.

    However, the primary hurdles are economic.

    Oil-producing and refining countries such as Saudi Arabia, the United States, Russia, India, and Iran are reluctant about hard deadlines to eliminate plastic production.

Utilising India’s Demographic Dividend


    Recently, a study highlighted that India's demographic dividend will last only for one more decade.

About Demographic Dividend of India

    It refers to the period when the share of the working-age population exceeds that of the very young and old.

      It is characterised by a greater proportion of the working-age population (15-59 years), presenting both opportunities and challenges for the country.

    For India, this dividend means millions of more people to work and thus to fuel the economy.

However, to cash in on this demographic dividend, the country has to provide a similar level of employment.

    India’s youth unemployment rate is unacceptably high, with youths accounting for nearly 83% of the country’s total unemployed population.

 The assumption that education and training can naturally make one eligible for a job is simply not real in India.

 Unemployment is higher among the educated youths, who account for 66% of the country’s total unemployed people.

Potential of India’s Youth

    Despite these challenges, India’s demographic dividend presents a window of opportunity towards faster economic growth.

    With falling fertility (currently 2.0), rising median age (from 24 years in 2011, 29 years now and expected to be 36 years by 2036), a falling dependency ratio (expected to decrease from 65% to 54% in the coming decade taking 15-59 years as the working age population), India is in the middle of a demographic transition.

    The large youth population offers both a workforce as well as a market.

It could play a critical role in achieving the nation’s ambitious target to become a US$ 5 trillion economy.

Migration and Job Scarcity

    Outflow of Migrants: The job scarcity in South Asia, where India is the dominant economy, is driving people to other countries.

    Need for More Jobs: For the demographic dividend to be realised, the region needs to create more jobs than its youth population growth rate.

Comparison with Developed Countries

    Developed Countries’ Situation: Developed countries have long crossed this zone that ensured their economic growth. They are now in the “population ageing” phase and increasingly depend on migrants.

    Developing Countries’ Challenge: Developing and poor countries, including India, account for more than 90% of the world’s young population.

 If they cannot generate employment, it leads to economic stagnancy and potential social unrest.

Need for Forward-Looking Policies

    Realisation of the benefits of potential demographic dividend is not automatic and thus presents many challenges.

      Without proper policies, the increase in the working-age population may lead to rising unemployment, fueling economic and social risks.

    Countries like Singapore, Taiwan, and South Korea have already shown us how demographic dividend can be reaped to achieve incredible economic growth by adopting forward-looking policies and programmes to empower the youth in terms of their education, skills, and health choices.


    India’s demographic dividend presents a unique opportunity for economic growth.

    However, to fully reap the benefits of this demographic dividend, the country needs to implement forward-looking policies that focus on education, skills development, and healthcare.

    By doing so, India can harness the potential of its youth and pave the way for a prosperous future.



Neanderthals and Denisovans


    For the first time, scientists from the US, India and Finland have found that ‘Indians have the largest variety of Neanderthal and Denisovan genes’.

About the Neanderthals and Denisovans

    Two such threads belong to the Neanderthals and Denisovans, early humans who walked the Earth thousands of years ago.

    Neanderthals (Homo Neanderthalensis) were early humans who lived in Europe and Western Asia from about 400,000 years ago until they became extinct about 40,000 years ago.

    They migrated north into Eurasia, evolving independently from the line that became modern humans in Africa.

    Denisovans are another population of early humans who lived in Asia and were distantly related to Neanderthals.

Much less is known about the Denisovans because scientists have uncovered fewer fossils of these ancient people.

Genetic Connection

    The percentage of Neanderthal DNA in modern humans is zero or close to zero in people from African populations, and is about 1 to 2% in people of European or Asian background.

    The percentage of Denisovan DNA is highest in the Melanesian population (4 to 6%), lower in other Southeast Asian and Pacific Islander populations, and very low or undetectable elsewhere in the world.

Neanderthal Genome

    In 2010, researchers produced the first whole genome sequence of the 3 billion letters in the Neanderthal genome.

    The initial analysis suggests that up to 2% of the DNA in the genome of present-day humans outside of Africa originated in Neanderthals or in Neanderthals’ ancestors.

    Determining which areas of the genome are shared with archaic humans, and which areas are different, will also help researchers find out what differentiates modern humans from our closest extinct relatives.

    Notably, 90% of Neanderthal sequences found across the world are seen in India.

 Indians harbour the largest variation (positioning of genes in the genome) in Denisovan genes among Eurasian populations that makes Indians quite unique and complex.


    While knowing how much DNA a person has in common with his or her Neanderthal or Denisovan ancestors may be interesting, these data do not provide practical information about a person’s current health or chances of developing particular diseases.

    However, some studies have suggested that certain genetic variations inherited from archaic humans may play roles in hair texture, height, sensitivity of the sense of smell, immune responses, adaptations to high altitude, and other characteristics in modern humans.

 These variations may also influence the risk of developing certain diseases.

Heat Stress and Chronic Kidney Disease


    Recently, a study found that the heat stress dominates the causes of a mysterious chronic kidney disease that continues to rise globally.

About the Heat Stress and Chronic Kidney Disease

    Heat stress, a consequence of global warming, is a significant environmental factor that can exacerbate chronic conditions, including Chronic Kidney Disease (CKD).

    The World Health Organization (WHO) has highlighted the increasing frequency and intensity of heat waves due to climate change.

Impact of Heat Stress on Health

    Heat stress results from a combination of external heat from the environment and internal body heat generated from metabolic processes.

    Extended periods of high day and nighttime temperatures create cumulative physiological stress on the human body.

    It can exacerbate the top causes of death globally, including respiratory and cardiovascular diseases, diabetes mellitus, and renal disease.

    Heat stress can acutely impact large populations for short periods, often triggering public health emergencies, and resulting in excess mortality and cascading socioeconomic impacts.

    It can disrupt health facilities, transport, and water infrastructure due to power shortages that often accompany heatwaves.

Heat Stress and Chronic Kidney Disease

CKD is a global health concern, with a rising incidence attributed to an ageing population and an increase in conditions such as diabetes and hypertension.

    Emerging evidence suggests that heat stress may also play a role in the development and progression of CKD.

    Heat stress can lead to dehydration and volume depletion, resulting in increased concentrations of toxins in the kidneys. Over time, this can lead to kidney damage and, eventually, CKD.

    Furthermore, individuals with CKD are more susceptible to heat stress due to impaired thermoregulation and reduced ability to concentrate urine.

Public Health Interventions

    The negative health impacts of heat are predictable and largely preventable with specific public health actions.

    These include early warning systems, heat-health action plans, public advice about how to stay cool, and the provision of air conditioning in public buildings and homes.

    Health professionals must adjust their planning and interventions to account for increasing temperatures and heatwaves.

    Practical, feasible, and often low-cost interventions at the individual, community, organisational, governmental, and societal levels can save lives.

Black Smoke


    Recently, a dumping ground for horticultural waste in the National Capital Region caught fire, spreading thick black smoke over nearby residential areas.

About Black Smoke

    It is a type of air pollution that contains particulate matter and various gases that is often associated with the burning of fossil fuels or industrial processes.

    It is typically produced by the incomplete combustion of carbon-based materials.

    It can have serious health impacts, including respiratory problems and cardiovascular diseases.

    In India, black smoke is a significant issue, particularly in cities and industrial areas.

 For example, in Bharuch, Gujarat, a fire at a facility storing hazardous waste resulted in the release of black smoke, causing a burning sensation in eyes and nose, difficulty in breathing, and in some cases, rashes and fever.

Global Scenario

    Globally, black smoke is a major contributor to air pollution.

    It is particularly prevalent in urban areas and industrial regions where fossil fuels are heavily used.

    For instance, a massive fire broke out at the Union Carbide factory in Bhopal, India, causing black smoke to billow out and triggering panic among locals.

Measures to Control Black Smoke

    Controlling black smoke requires a multi-pronged approach that includes improving fuel quality, promoting cleaner technologies, and implementing stringent emission standards.

    In Bengaluru, the government has implemented a revised action plan for controlling air pollution, which includes measures such as launching extensive drives against polluting vehicles and checking the calibration of emission monitoring equipment.

Electricity (Third Amendment) Rules, 2024


    Recently, the Union Ministry of Power has introduced the Electricity (Third Amendment) Rules, 2024, to enhance regulations pertaining to renewable energy sources.

    About the Electricity (Third Amendment) Rules, 2024

    The Electricity (Third Amendment) Rules, 2024, were enacted in exercise of the powers conferred by section 176 of the Electricity Act, 2003.

    The amendment aims to ensure access to and incentivize green energy.

    It seeks to reduce the timeline for getting new electricity connections and simplify the process of setting up rooftop solar installations.

Key Provisions

    Faster Installation of Rooftop Solar Systems: The amendment facilitates faster installation and enhances the ease of setting up Rooftop Solar PV systems at the premises of prosumers.

 It exempts the requirement of a technical feasibility study for systems up to a capacity of 10 kW.

 For systems of capacity higher than 10 kW, the timeline for completing the feasibility study has been reduced.

    Separate Connections for Electric Vehicle Charging Stations: Consumers can now obtain separate electricity connections for charging their Electric Vehicles (EVs).

 It aligns with the country’s goal of reducing carbon emissions and reaching Net Zero by the year 2070.

    Faster New Connections: The time period for obtaining a new electricity connection under the Rules has been reduced.

 It is expected to enhance consumer convenience and improve the efficiency of the power sector.

Central Motor Vehicles (Registration and Functions of Vehicle Scrapping Facility) Amendment Rules (2024)


    Recently, the Union Ministry of Road Transport and Highways has proposed the Central Motor Vehicles (Registration and Functions of Vehicle Scrapping Facility) Amendment Rules (2024) to ban retroactive operating consent for vehicle-scrapping facilities.

About the Amendment Rules, 2024

    The Central Government of India, in its continuous efforts to streamline the road transport system in the country, has introduced the 'Central Motor Vehicles (Registration and Functions of Vehicle Scrapping Facility) Amendment Rules, 2024’.

    It is a significant step towards enhancing the efficiency and mobility of the road transport system in India.

    The rules pertain to the registration and functions of vehicle scrapping facilities across the country.

    The amendment rules are designed to regulate the scrapping of vehicles in a systematic and environmentally friendly manner.

    They aim to ensure that the scrapping process is carried out in accordance with the prescribed guidelines, thereby minimising the environmental impact.

Key Provisions of the Amendment

    While the specific details of the amendment rules are not available in the public domain, it is understood that they encompass several key areas related to vehicle scrapping.

    These include the registration process for vehicle scrapping facilities, the functions and responsibilities of these facilities, and the procedures for scrapping vehicles.

    The amendment rules provide guidelines for the disposal of scrap materials and the management of waste generated during the scrapping process.

 They emphasise the need for proper waste management practices to prevent environmental pollution.

Implications of the Amendment

    The amendment rules are expected to have far-reaching implications for the road transport sector in India.

    By regulating the vehicle scrapping process, these rules will help in promoting the recycling of automotive parts and reducing the demand for raw materials.

    Moreover, the amendment rules will contribute to the government’s efforts to promote environmentally sustainable practices in the road transport sector.

    They will also help in reducing the number of old and polluting vehicles on the roads, thereby contributing to the improvement of air quality in the country.

Chipko Movement


    The Chipko movement, a landmark environmental movement, marked  its 50th anniversary.

About the Chipko Movement

    It was a forest conservation movement that created a precedent for starting non-violent protest against deforestation and commercial logging, where villagers, particularly women, embraced trees to prevent them from being cut down.

    It began in 1973 in Uttarakhand, then a part of Uttar Pradesh (at the foothills of Himalayas) and went on to become a rallying point for many future environmental movements all over the world.


Causes for Movement

    There was reckless deforestation which denuded much of the forest cover, resulting in the devastating Alaknanda River floods of July 1970.

    The incidences of landslides and land subsidence due to rapid increase in civil engineering projects.

The Impact and Spread of the Movement

    It quickly spread throughout the Indian Himalayas, inspiring a nationwide environmental concern and influencing policy formulation to balance economic development with environmental protection.

The Role of Women

    Women were not only the backbone of the Chipko Movement but also its mainstay, as they were the ones most affected by the rampant deforestation.

    The movement is seen as an ecofeminist movement, where women stood up to protect their environment with a message to loggers: ‘Our bodies before our trees’.



    Recently, the World Health Organization (WHO) launched a global network of laboratories to identify and monitor potential emergence of novel coronaviruses.

About the CoViNet

    CoViNet aims to bring together surveillance programs and reference laboratories to support enhanced epidemiological monitoring and laboratory (phenotypic and genotypic) assessment of SARS-CoV-2, MERS-CoV, and novel coronaviruses of public health importance.

    The network expands on the WHO COVID-19 reference laboratory network established during the early days of the pandemic.

    Data generated through CoViNet’s efforts aims to guide the work of WHO’s Technical Advisory Groups on Viral Evolution (TAG-VE) and Vaccine Composition (TAG-CO-VAC) and others, ensuring global health policies and tools are based on the latest scientific information

Global Scenario

    CoViNet comprises 36 laboratories from 21 countries in all six WHO regions, including three Indian laboratories.

    These laboratories have expertise in human, animal, and environmental coronavirus surveillance.

    Representatives of the laboratories recently finalised an action plan for 2024-2025 so that WHO Member States are better equipped for early detection, risk assessment, and response to coronavirus-related health challenges.

Core Objectives

    Early and accurate detection of SARS-CoV-2, MERS-CoV, and novel coronaviruses of public health importance;

    Surveillance and monitoring of the global circulation and evolution of these coronaviruses;

    Timely risk assessment for these viruses to inform WHO policy related to a range of public health and medical countermeasures; and,

    Support for capacity building of laboratories relevant to the needs of WHO and CoViNet, particularly those in low- and middle-income countries.

Sulphur Dioxide From Volcanic Eruption


    Recently, a plume of sulphur dioxide gas emitted during a long volcanic eruption in Iceland reached the United Kingdom.

About the Volcanic Eruptions and Sulphur Dioxide

    Volcanic eruptions are natural phenomena that have significant impacts on the Earth’s atmosphere and climate.

    Volcanic eruptions release a variety of gases into the atmosphere, including water vapour, carbon dioxide, and sulphur dioxide.

 Sulphur dioxide is of particular interest due to its potential to affect climate.

    When released into the atmosphere, sulphur dioxide reacts with water to form sulphuric acid, which can condense rapidly in the stratosphere to form fine sulphate aerosols.

    These aerosols increase the reflection of radiation from the Sun back into space, cooling the Earth’s lower atmosphere or troposphere.

Global Impact

    The impact of volcanic eruptions and the resulting sulphur dioxide emissions can be global in scale.

    For instance, the sulphur dioxide emissions from a volcanic eruption in the Caribbean reached India, sparking fear of increased pollution levels in the northern parts of the country and acid rain.

    Similarly, the underwater volcanic eruption that occurred in Tonga in the southern Pacific Ocean raised questions about its potential effect on global climate due to the release of sulphur dioxide.

Indian Context

    In India, sulphur combines directly with almost all the elements with the exception of gold, platinum, and the noble gases.

    It can be found as a pure element or as sulphate or sulphide minerals.

    Sulphur dioxide is a by-product gas generated during the processing of sulphide ores as well from other industries.

    It is used in many industrial processes such as chemical preparation, refining.



    Recently, a tornado killed five people and injured over 100 others in the Mainaguri area of Jalpaiguri district, West Bengal.

About the Tornadoes in India

    A tornado is a land-based vertical column of violently rotating air that forms from a thunderstorm to the ground.

    According to the National Weather Service (NWS) of the United States, tornadoes can have wind speeds in the range of 105-322 kilometres per hour.

    These extreme storms are rare in India and have mostly been reported in the eastern states of West Bengal, Odisha, and Jharkhand during the pre-monsoon period.

 However, there is evidence of some of them having formed in northwest India as well.

Causes of Tornadoes

    A warming of Bay of Bengal and land, along with anomalous wind patterns, could be a reason behind the increasing number of tornadoes in India.

    ‘Any collision of warm, moist air with dry, cool air in the presence of a low-pressure system like a trough causes thunderstorms and tornadoes’.

Monitoring and Forecasting Tornadoes

    In the US, tornadoes are monitored by the meteorologists at NWS, who generate tornado watches and tornado warnings based on data from satellites and radars.

    In India, there is no official monitoring of tornadoes through the India Meteorological Department (IMD) recorded the recent West Bengal tornado.

 Most of India may see above normal temperatures along with heatwaves in the summer season from April to June.

    The basic criteria for IMD to declare a heatwave is the temperature crossing 40°C in plains, 37°C in coastal areas and 30°C in hills.

Javan Tiger


    Recently, Indonesia said it is exploring for more clues that the extinct Javan tiger may still be present in the wild.


About the Javan Tiger

    The Javan tiger was endemic to the island of Java, where it was widespread in lowland forests, thickets, and community gardens in the 18th and 19th centuries.

    The animal was hunted as a pest by colonial authorities in the Dutch East Indies (as Indonesia was known then).

    Its habitat was converted for agricultural use and infrastructure.

Decline and Extinction

    The last positive confirmed sighting of the Javan tiger was in Meru Betiri National Park, East Java, in 1976.

    Indonesia historically had three tiger species—Javan (‘Extinct’ in 2008), Balinese (Extinct by the 1940s) and Sumatran tigers (‘Critically Endangered’) by IUCN.

    However, a surprising finding has raised hopes.

    A single hair found on a village fence in the west of the island in 2019 has been DNA-tested and has been found to be belonging to the extinct species.

Asiatic Black Bear


    Recently, an Australia based non-profit organisation found that the sixteen undernourished Asiatic black bear cubs were found in the capital of Laos.

About Asiatic Black Bear (Ursus Thibetanus)

    It is a species native to Asia, and widely distributed in most forested areas of the Kashmir Valley.

    It is one of the large carnivore species having negative interactions with humans in the Indian Himalayas.

It inhabits an altitudinal range of 1,200-3,300 metres, which may extend up to 4,300 metres.

    In several Asian countries, bears are farmed for their bile, which is an ingredient in traditional medicine.

Indian Context

    In India, the major species in conflict with humans include the Asiatic Black Bear and the Common Leopard.

    Approximately 25% of forest divisions in the state of Jammu and Kashmir reported bear-human conflict and this is mainly within the Kashmir Valley.

    The conflict with the black bear has resulted in numerous human deaths and injuries.


    In 2012, nine IUCN Members tabled a motion at the IUCN World Conservation Congress to phase-out bear farms on the grounds that farms may harm bear conservation.

    IUCN Red List of Threatened Species: Vulnerable

Common Myna (Acridotheres Tristis)


          Recently, it was found that a flock of Common Myna (Acridotheres tristis) nested on the side of the Delhi-Meerut Expressway in the national capital.

About the Common Myna (Acridotheres Tristis)

    It is a bird species, member of the starling family Sturnidae, native to South and Southeast Asia.

    It is highly adaptable and thrives in a variety of habitats, including open woodland, cultivation, and urban environments.

    It has a strong preference for areas with tall structures and minimal ground cover, which are typical of city landscapes, and adapts well to urban environments.


    Its natural breeding range extends from Afghanistan through India and Sri Lanka to Bangladesh.

    It has been introduced to many tropical areas of the world except for South America.

Threats and Impact

    Common Myna poses a serious threat to biodiversity, agriculture, and human interests.

    In particular, the species poses a serious threat to the ecosystems of Australia, where it was named ‘the Most Important Pest/Problem’ in 2008.

    The bird’s adaptability and aggressive behaviour have enabled it to outcompete native species for food and nesting sites, leading to a decline in native bird populations.

Conservation Status

    According to the IUCN, it is listed as 'Least Concern’.

    However, it is considered one of the world’s most invasive species due to its impact on native ecosystems and human interests, particularly in regions where it has been introduced.

    It makes it an invasive bird in countries, such as Australia and South Africa.

    The range of the Common Myna is increasing at such a rapid rate that in 2000 the IUCN Species Survival Commission declared it one of the world’s most invasive species.

Mains practice questions

1.      How the current agricultural practices in India are affecting the soil health, and what measures can be taken to improve soil health for sustainable agriculture?

2.      How does drought contribute to the issue of hunger, particularly in regions with agriculture-dependent economies, and what strategies can be implemented to mitigate the impact of drought on food security?

3.      How climate change impacts food inflation, particularly in regions vulnerable to extreme weather events, and what strategies can be implemented to mitigate the impact of climate change on food prices?

4.      “How mass coral bleaching events, often linked to climate change, are impacting marine ecosystems globally? What strategies can be implemented to mitigate the effects of these catastrophes on coral reefs?

5.       How can India best utilise its demographic dividend to boost economic growth and development? What challenges might it face in this process?