Down To Earth(October 16 - 31)

1. Climate And Environment


•    GS-1: Important Geophysical phenomena such as earthquakes, Tsunami, Volcanic activity, cyclone etc., geographical features and their location-changes in critical geographical features (including water-bodies and ice-caps) and in flora and fauna and the effects of such changes.

•    GS-3: Conservation, environmental pollution and degradation, environmental impact assessment.


Context: In September 2021, India has seen an excess rainfall. The abnormally high rainfall in the final month of the rainy season has added to India’s monsoon agony.

•        September is the month which gets the least rainfall. This is also the month when rain-dependent agrarian communities eagerly wait for the harvest.

•        This year September received 35 percent excess rainfall, while July and August, the two wettest monsoon months, remained drier than usual.

  • This year, September rains were particularly surplus in northwest and central India. Gujarat saw the most rainfall at 268 per cent above normal, followed by Rajasthan, Haryana and Maharashtra, as per the India Meteorological Department (IMD).

•        RMSI, a global disaster risk management firm, estimates that cyclone Gulab alone has caused economic losses worth Rs 2,000 crore in Andhra Pradesh and Assam; 70 percent of losses are from agriculture, followed by damages to buildings.


•        Reason for excess Rainfall in September:

  • The Bay of Bengal saw five low-pressure areas through September.
  • The first, on September 6, ebbed before making landfall.
  • The second on September 11 intensified into a deep depression and crossed the Odisha coast on
    September 13.
  • Moving inland, it became a depression over Chhattisgarh, causing heavy rainfall along the way till
    September 15.
  • This, accompanied by another low pressure system (September 17) over Gujarat, led to excess rainfall in the second week of September.

•        Reason for the Formation of the Low Pressure Regions:

  • There are at least four climatic phenomena that increased moisture levels and aided in the formation of low-pressure areas in September.
  • Starting August, the Indian Ocean Dipole (the oscillation of sea surface temperatures in the ocean) started entering into a negative phase.

        v This means, waters in the eastern parts of the ocean near Indonesia were warmer and the western parts near Africa were cooler.

  v This causes more rainfall in India. This phase intensified in September.

  • There were also colder than normal sea surface temperatures over the equatorial Pacific Ocean, which is associated with rainfall in India.
  • For most days of the month, the Madden-Julian Oscillation, an eastward moving pulse of cloud and rain responsible for sudden rainfall fluctuations on weekly to monthly time scales, was in a position that brought more moisture and aided the formation of low-pressure areas over the Bay of Bengal.
  • Reduced sea-ice in the Arctic during summer leads to high sea-level pressure over western Europe and north-eastern China, which steers planetary waves southeastward instead of their eastward trajectory. These waves enter India late in the season to produce circulation anomalies in the upper atmosphere, resulting in heavy rainfall in September.

Coral Reefs

Context: Coral Reefs are dying, and they are dying fast. This is the finding of the Global Coral Reef Monitoring Network (GCRMN), a network of scientists and organisations that monitor the underwater ecosystems.

•        In its report, “Status of Coral Reefs of the World 2020”, the network reported that the world has lost about 14 percent of its coral reefs in the past decade.

•        Coral reefs occupy less than 1 percent of the Earth’s ocean floor and support at least 25 percent of the world’s marine life contributing trillions of dollars in trade and tourism. But they are under relentless stress from warming, says the report.

•        Marine heatwaves, coastal to ocean pollution (due to human effluents, agricultural runoff and industrial chemicals) and overfishing in the reef areas are also key drivers of declining corals. Diseases, overtourism and poor coastal management also play a role.

•        Bleaching occurs when hard corals or polyps lose their vibrant colour as they expel microscopic algae living inside their tissue, due to warm sea surface temperatures.

  • Hard corals and algae have a mutually symbiotic relationship, wherein both depend on each other to thrive.
  • A brief bleaching event does not always kill coral—but prolonged, severe bleaching can lead to disease and starvation. This has adverse impacts on marine habitats.
  • The first mass coral bleaching event in 1998 killed about 8 percent of the world’s coral.
  • A surge in algal bloom on reef edges indicates unhealthy hard corals.
  • The report says before the decade (2009-2019), on average, there was twice as much coral on the world’s reefs as algae.
  • Now the trend seems to be reversing— there was 13.7 percent less hard coral on reefs in 2015-19 compared with 2005-09.
  • In contrast, since 2010, the amount of algae on the world’s coral reefs has increased by about 20 percent.

•        Despite a decline in hard coral cover during the last decade, on average, these reefs have more corals today than in 1983, when the first data were collected. This indicates that these critical ecosystems can recover if the pressure eases.


•    Researchers in Japan have identified a novel virus named “Yezu” that can infect humans through tick bites.

  • The symptoms of the virus include fever and reduced white blood cells and platelets that help fight disease.
  • Earliest known infections of Yezu virus so far are from 2014 in Japan.

•    The US on September 29 declared 23 species of flora and fauna as officially extinct in the country.

  • The best-known species in this list is the ivory-billed woodpecker, a native and representative of the southeastern forests of the country.
  • The government has cited urbanisation, deforestation and poaching as reasons for their extinction.

•    The Danish parliament on October 5 approved a plan that legally binds the country’s farmers and forestry workers to reduce greenhouse gas emissions by 55 per cent and 65 per cent respectively by 2030.

  • The plan will mandate that those working in these sectors adopt less carbon-intensive practices. The plan comes under Denmark’s 2019 commitment to reduce emissions by 70 per cent by 2030.

•    The Union Ministry of Environment, Forest and Climate Change has proposed amendments to the Forest Conservation Act, 1980, to remove the requirement of prior government approval for border development projects on forest land.


2. Addressing Malnutrition


•    GS-2: Issues relating to poverty and hunger.

•    GS-3: Welfare schemes for vulnerable sections of the population by the Centre and States and the performance of these schemes; mechanisms, laws, institutions and Bodies constituted for the protection and betterment of these vulnerable sections.

•    GS-3: Issues related to direct and indirect farm subsidies and minimum support prices; Public Distribution System-objectives, functioning, limitations, revamping; issues of buffer stocks and food security; Technology missions; economics of animal-rearing..

Context: The Prime Minister during his Independence Day speech this August 15, declared that all beneficiaries of the public distribution system (PDS) and midday meal schemes will receive fortified rice by 2024 “to help fight malnutrition”

•        The National Family Health Survey 2019-20 shows, more than half of the children and women are anaemic—a condition that often results from nutritional deficiencies and has become increasingly prevalent in recent years.

•        The public distribution system (PDS) and midday meal schemes have rolled out in only nine states out of fifteen states despite 2022 being the deadline.

•        Rice Fortification:

  • Rice fortification involves grinding broken rice into powder and mixing it with a concoction of micronutrients such as iron, folic acid and vitamin B12 that are usually missing in our diet.
  • Using an extruder machine, this blended rice flour is then reconstituted into kernels which resemble milled rice in size, shape and colour.
  • These fortified kernels are then blended with regular rice at mills at a recommended proportion of one kernel per 100 g of rice and distributed for regular consumption.
  • Rice fortification is a cost effective, culturally appropriate strategy to address micronutrient deficiency in countries with high per capita rice consumption.

•        Nutrition experts and analysts say there is a need for caution in implementing food fortification.

  • As per DFPD, pan-India rollout of the fortified rice scheme will require the country to produce 0.35 million tonnes of fortified kernels and 35 million tonnes of fortified rice.
  • As of now, India produces 150 tonnes of kernels and 15,000 tonnes of fortified rice to meet the requirement of  the districts where the scheme is being implemented on a pilot basis.
  • Scaling up of the scheme might also be a problem as rice millers who have participated in the pilot are losing faith in FCI.
  • The reason for the delay in procurement is that there is currently adequate buffer stock of fortified rice in the specified districts.

•        When the pilot scheme was first rolled out in 2019, DFPD emphasised on quality assurance, which is key to the success of the scheme.

3. Turmeric


•    GS-3: Major crops-cropping patterns in various parts of the country, - different types of irrigation and irrigation systems storage, transport and marketing of agricultural produce and issues and related constraints; e-technology in the aid of farmers.

Context: The pandemic years have witnessed a boom in the production and export of the humble underground stem called turmeric, along with a renewal of interest among the scientific community in the spice’s therapeutic qualities, especially against COVID-19.


•    The spice used in households across the subcontinent is the only natural source of curcumin—the compound that gives turmeric its golden hue and its fabled healing qualities.

•    Turmeric (Curcuma longa), native to India, has been studied extensively for its effects against viral diseases in recent decades.

•    India is the world’s largest producer, consumer and exporter of turmeric. India produces 78 percent of the world’s turmeric.

•    The global curcumin market, valued at US $58.4 million in 2019, is expected to witness a growth of 12.7 percent by 2027.

•    Cytokine Storm:

  • In new diseases like covid-19, for which there is no effective treatment and the body does not have prior experience of eliminating the virus, the immune system could get hyperactive while trying to fight off the contagion.
  • The resulting inflammatory response that releases white blood cells to engulf and eliminate invaders assumes a severe form.
  • In case of an acute infection, the inflammatory reaction can even damage the body’s own healthy tissues and organs—a condition known as cytokine storm.
  • The search showed numerous cases that have reported the potency of spices, including turmeric, to exert anti-inflammatory effects by regulating crucial molecular targets for inflammation. They are cheap and relatively safe to consume and their anti-inflammatory property can be exploited to combat the cytokine storm in covid-19 patients..

•        The encouraging result for using curcumin in the treatment of viral disease:

  • Patients who received a combination of 525 mg of curcumin and 2.5 mg of piperine (naturally occurring complex organic molecules containing nitrogen) twice a day, recovered faster from symptoms such as fever, cough, sore throat, and breathlessness.
  • They were able to maintain oxygen saturation above 94 percent on ambient air, and had better clinical outcomes compared to control group members who received a probiotic instead.
  • The treatment also reduced the duration of hospitalisation and resulted in fewer deaths.

•        The top five turmeric producing states of India in 2020-21 are Telangana, Maharashtra, Karnataka, Tamil Nadu and Andhra Pradesh.

•        Despite its positive results against nearly all kinds of diseases, turmeric is not an approved allopathic drug for any ailment.

  • This is because curcumin metabolises very fast, is unstable and bioavailability (duration for which the substance is present in blood) of the compound is poor.
  • The positive effect of curcumin remains long after it has disappeared from circulation and this suggests some kind of an immune memory effect.

•        Global Standing:

  • The country’s turmeric production saw a near consistent growth since Independence till 2010-11 after which it started fluctuating.
  • The pandemic has given a boost to the crop, with the production witnessing a rise of 23 percent—from 957,130 tonnes in 2018-19 to 1,178,750 tonnes in 2019-20—in the first year of the pandemic.
  • Land under turmeric has also grown by 12.5 percent between 2018-19 and 2020-21—from 261,922 hectares (ha) to 294,542 ha.
  • Of the turmeric produced in 2019-20, India exported 1,36,000 tonnes (nearly 12 per cent) at R1,216.4 crore.

•        Use of Turmeric in rites and rituals:

  • Turmeric travelled from India to Arab land and the eastern and western coasts of Africa circa 7-13 centuries. It is mentioned in ancient texts of Ayurved as early as the 3rd century before the birth of Christ.
  • The ritual of Kanyadaan- handing over the daughter to the bridegroom- is preceded by applying turmeric paste on the bride’s hand. In Uttarakhand, pichhorha dying is an essential ritual preceding the marriage.
  • Turmeric root is traditionally tied around the pot in which sweet Pongal is boiling during the harvest festival. This is also seen at the time of Onam in Kerala.
  • In some regions, turmeric leaves are used as a wrap to envelop the food (mostly fish) that is being steamed or pan-grilled. The leaves have a delicate aroma that enhances the taste of the dish.
  • A delectable haldi ki sabzi is cooked in Rajasthan in winters (see recipe) and valued for its restorative properties. From zarda—the sweet meatless pulav in Awadh to semolina-based kesari bhaat in southern India, haldi is indispensable.

•        The Turmeric fad has begun in the West and it is a perfect time to turn it into a fad domestically as well.

  • For this, first the farmer needs technical support for cultivation.
  • The second would be to ensure that what reaches our home is unadulterated. For this, the supply chain would need to be spruced up.
  • The third would be to increase cultivation in different parts of the country to ensure easier access to the rhizome in various forms.
  • The fourth would be to ensure that value-added products are available.

DTE Mains Practice Questions

  1. The untimely September rains have coincided with the onset of the harvest season and have destroyed standing crops across states. In such situations how can sustainable farming be done to reduce the risk of crop failure?
  2. Coral reefs play a significant role in national economies. But current findings show that the coral reefs are dying fast. What are the causes and how can it be recovered?
  3. How does food fortification have a high  potential to address micronutrient deficiency of India?
  4. Despite being the biggest producer of turmeric, there is an increasing trend of import in India. What are the disadvantages associated with it? What according to you should the steps be taken to reduce the turmeric import?

UPSC Previous Years Questions

  1. Assess the impact of global warming on coralife systems with examples.                                                         (GS-1: 2019)
  2. How do ocean currents and water masses differ in their impacts on marine life and the coastal environment? Give suitable examples?                                                                                                                                                             (GS-1: 2019)
  3. How far do you agree that the behavior of the Indian monsoon has been changing due to humanizing landscapes? Discuss.    (GS-1: 2015)
  4. Tropical cyclones are largely confined to the South China Sea, Bay of Bengal and Gulf of Mexico. Why? (GS-1: 2014)
  5. Most of the unusual climatic happenings are explained as an outcome of the El-Nino effect. Do you agree?                                                                                                                                                                                                                  (GS-1: 2014)
  6. The recent cyclone on the east coast of India was called “Phailin”. How are tropical cyclones named across the world?                                                                                                                                                                                                 (GS-1: 2013)
  7. The Central Government frequently complains of the poor performance of the State Governments in eradicating suffering of the vulnerable sections of the society. Restructuring of Centrally sponsored schemes across the sectors for ameliorating the cause of vulnerable sections of population aims at providing flexibility to the States in better implementation. Critically evaluate.                                                                                                                             (GS-2: 2013)
  8. Hunger and Poverty are the biggest challenges for good governance in India still today. Evaluate how far successive governments have progressed in dealing with these humongous problems. Suggest measures for improvement.                                                                                                    (GS-2: 2017)