Daily Current Affairs for UPSC CSE
- Great Hornbill
- Price Cap on Russian Oil
- New Alzheimers Drugs
- Ni-kshay Poshan Yojana & Ni-kshay Mitras
- End to end encryption
- MSCS Amendment bill
- Existing Laws on religious conversion
- Facts for Prelims
1 . Great Hornbill
Context: The logo for India’s upcoming G20 presidency was officially unveiled recently at the Hornbill festival in Nagaland. This popular festival showcases the art, culture and cuisine of Nagaland.
About Great Hornbill
- The great hornbill (Buceros bicornis) also known as the great Indian hornbill or great pied hornbill, is one of the larger members of the hornbill family.
- The Great Hornbill is found in the Himalayan foothills, the Northeast and the Western Ghats.
- The great hornbill is long-lived, living for nearly 50 years in captivity.
- It is the state bird of Arunachal Pradesh and Kerala.
- It is predominantly fruit-eating, but is an opportunist and preys on small mammals, reptiles and birds.
- It has a wingspan of 5 feet but the wreathed hornbill, the brown hornbill and the rufous-necked hornbill are slightly smaller, and only found in Northeast India.
- A great place to spot the oriental pied hornbill is the Rajaji National Park, Uttarakhand.
- The smallest of the group, the Indian grey hornbill is found all over (except the Thar Desert), and is often spotted in urban settings such as Theosophical Society gardens in Chennai.
- Hornbills prefer tall trees for their nests (breast height being 1.5 metres or more).
- There is a mutualism between these birds and the trees where they nest.
- Hornbills play a vital role in dispersing the seeds of about 80 rainforest trees. That is why they are referred to as ‘forest engineers’ or ‘farmers of the forest’
- Some trees, such as the cup-calyx white cedar suffer a 90% decline in seed dispersal beyond the parent tree when hornbill populations decline, negatively impacting the biodiversity of forests.
Threats to hornbill
- Tall trees are the first targets of illegal logging, and so there has been a slow decline in hornbill numbers.
- Slow, because these birds are long lived (up to 40 years).
- Hornbills are prone to being hunted for their casques — upper beak — and feathers for adorning headgear despite being cultural symbols of some ethnic communities in the northeast, specifically the Nyishi of Arunachal Pradesh.
- The helmeted hornbill of Sumatra and Borneo is critically endangered because its helmet-like casque (a horny outgrowth over the skull), called red ivory, is highly prized.
- However, the casque of the Great Hornbill is not suitable for carving.
About Hornbill Festival
- The Hornbill Festival is a celebration held every year from 1 – 10 December, in Kohima, Nagaland.
- The festival was first held in the year 2000.
- It is named after the Indian hornbill, the large and colourful forest bird which is displayed in the folklore of most of the state’s tribes.
- Festival highlights include the traditional Naga Morungs exhibition and the sale of arts and crafts, food stalls, herbal medicine stalls, flower shows and sales, cultural medley – songs and dances, fashion shows etc.
2 . Price Cap on Russian Oil
Context: The story so far: After months of negotiation, western countries comprising the Group of Seven nations, the European Union and Australia, agreed to a price ceiling of $60 per barrel of seaborne Russian Urals crude oil.
Why has a price cap been imposed?
- Western nations, led by the G-7, want to punish Russia for having invaded Ukraine and rein in the profits accruing to Russia from oil exports.
- But they also want to keep some oil from Russia flowing globally so that supply is not significantly affected, which could push up energy prices. With a recession in parts of the western world already a possibility, oil price spikes would only hasten the spiral into economic contraction.
- So western nations came up with the concept of a price cap, above which accessorial services such as ship insurance, vessel clearances and the like would not be available to freighters carrying Russian oil.
- About 95% of global insurance for freighters by tonnage comes from European countries, especially the United Kingdom. Without such services, Russia would find it difficult to sell its crude above the price cap.
Russia’s response to price cap
- Russia had first said the price cap might only impact its output minimally.
- Later, it also spoke about considering a ban on export to countries that insisted on the price cap.
- Russia is also said to be considering a floor price in retaliation to the price cap, as another option.
- A floor price would aim to ensure that it did not sell below that level.
- This tug of war would theoretically put Russian oil buyers, who want European insurance and other services to continue, in a bind.
Russia’s oil output this year
- Between January and November, Russia’s production rose 2% to about 488 million tonnes, as per global media reports.
- China and India are popular examples of countries that bought discounted oil.
- France and major oil producer Saudi Arabia too purchased oil from Russia.
- Saudi used the discounted price to buy oil to run its power plants, while selling its own costlier variant to the world.
India’s oil imports from Russia
- India — whose imports of Russian oil was only about 0.2% of total oil imports in the year ended March 2022 — has had Russia serve as its top oil supplier in October and November.
- In November 2022, India bought 53% — or about 3.7 million tonnes — of all the seaborne Urals crude that Russia exported.
Impact on global oil prices after price cap
- If Russia’s oil price fell to $45 to $50 a barrel, the economic loss for Russia would be about $37 billion over a 12-month period.
- As per oilprice.com, Urals crude had touched about $53, compared with about $73 to a barrel on November 8.
- Brent crude, the global benchmark, had also declined to sub-$80 per barrel, which is below the price it commanded before the war started.
3 . New Alzheimer’s Drugs
Context: The result of clinical trials of lecanemab, a new drug developed by pharma companies Biogen and Eisai, has generated hope.
- The drug, lecanemab, jointly developed by pharma companies Biogen and Eisai, was tested on patients with early Alzheimer’s.
- Results of the study presented at the Clinical Trials on Alzheimer’s Disease conference in San Francisco, U.S., and published in the New England Journal of Medicine (NEJM) showed modest effects in arresting decline in cognitive and functional aspects in patients with early disease.
What is lecanemab and how does it work?
- Lecanemab belongs to a class of drugs called monoclonal antibodies. These antibody-mediated drugs target beta amyloid, the protein deposition that is seen in patients with Alzheimer’s disease, and disrupts cells function.
- In the clinical trial, conducted over 18-months, a multi-centre, double-blind, phase 3 trial, involved persons 50 to 90 years of age with early Alzheimer’s disease (mild cognitive impairment or mild dementia due to Alzheimer’s disease) with evidence of amyloid deposition.
- Participants were randomly assigned intravenous lecanemab or placebo.
- It was observed that lecanemab robustly removed the amyloid plaques.
Can Lecanemab be a game changer in treating Alzheimer’s?
- The Lancet, in an editorial, argues that a phase-3 trial showing efficacy on clinical outcomes, particularly after such a long and fruitless wait for a successful therapy for Alzheimer’s disease, is welcome news.
- However, it points out that the difference noticed on the CDR-SB scale may not be clinically meaningful, going by metrics indicated in previous studies.
- Also, the development of amyloid-related imaging abnormalities (ARIA) in one of five patients was a cause for concern.
- Lecanemab appears to have shown modest effects in early dementia both via clinical improvements (scores in the CDR and ADAS-Cog rating scales) and reduction in amyloid plaques.
- Thus, whether lecanemab is the game changer that some have suggested remains to be seen.
- An initial decision on the drug’s approval by the FDA is expected by January 6, 2023, and from the European Medicines Agency later in 2023, according to The Lancet.
- The results on lecanemab might well pave the way for much needed treatments for Alzheimer’s disease.
About Alzheimer’s Disease
- It is a neurological disorder which causes brain cells to degenerate and die.
- This leads to loss of memory, problems with words in speaking or writing, poor judgment, changes in mood and personality, confusion with time or place, etc.
- Alzheimer’s is the most common cause of dementia among older adults.
- Alzheimer’s disease is thought to be caused by the abnormal build-up of proteins in and around brain cells.
- One of the proteins involved is called amyloid, deposits of which form plaques around brain cells and the other protein is called tau.
- Alzheimer’s is an incurable disease, as the death of brain cells cannot be reversed.
- Women have a higher risk of having Alzheimer’s disease than men.
4 . Nikshay Poshan Yojana and Nikshay Mitra
Context: Public health experience has shown that undernutrition and TB form a vicious cycle. With a sharper focus on the nutritional improvement among TB patients, the Union Health Ministry launched the Ni-kshay Poshan Yojana in 2018.
Nutrition and TB
- Poor nutritional status predisposes an individual to get infected by the disease, or have a dormant disease manifest clinically.
- TB leads to depletion of nutrient reserves and aggravation of undernutrition.
- Optimum nutritional support to TB patients improves weight gain, adherence to therapy, muscle strength, quality of life, robust recovery and reduced mortality.
- Good nutrition also prevents relapse of the disease.
Ni-kshay Poshan Yojana
- Launched by the Union Health Ministry in 2018 as part of National TB Elimination Programme (NTEP).
- It provides direct cash benefit transfer of ₹500 per month to TB patients on treatment.
- All notified TB patients are beneficiaries of the scheme.
- All TB patients notified on or after 1st April 2018 including all existing TB patients under treatment are eligible to receive incentives. The patient must be registered\notified on the NIKSHAY portal.
- The scheme is registered under Direct Benefit Transfer. The incentives can be distributed in Cash (only via DBT preferably through Aadhaar enabled bank accounts) or in-kind.
- For patients not having Bank account or Aadhaar number, health staff will facilitate opening of Bank a/c for the patient preferably under Jan Dhan Yojna and will also facilitate his/her Aadhaar enrolment.
- The States that are already distributing incentives in-kind may continue to do so subject to the condition that the total value of the food basket being distributed must not be less than Rs. 500 per month.
- The scheme is a centrally sponsored scheme under National Health Mission (NHM).
- Financial norms of NHM in terms of cost sharing, are applicable to the scheme.
- This scheme is implemented across all States and UTs in India.
- Each TB patient whether public or private sector notified must be notified on the Nikshay, platform.
The Ni-kshay mitras
- Under this, Ni-kshay Mitras can adopt and care for TB patients.
- Ni-kshay Mitras are volunteers who could be individuals, NGOs, co-operative societies, corporates, and even political parties.
- They commit to help the TB patients through nutritional support, nutritional supplements, additional investigations and vocational support.
- Helping a TB patient could avert ruinous downslide of a family due to wage loss. Humanitarian support from people could save the life of a TB patient.
- This public health initiative has already shown good uptake.
- Within three months of its launch, more than 52,000 Ni-kshay Mitras have registered.
5 . End to End encryption
Context: Apple, on Wednesday, announced it will be increasing the number of data points protected by end-to-end encryption on iCloud from 14 to 23 categories. The company claimed that with end-to-end encryption, user data will be protected even in case data is breached in the cloud.
What is end-to-end encryption?
- End-to-end encryption is a communication process that encrypts data being shared between two devices.
- It prevents third parties like cloud service providers, internet service providers (ISPs) and cybercriminals from accessing data while it is being transferred.
- The process of end-to-end encryption uses an algorithm that transforms standard text into an unreadable format.
- This format can only be unscrambled and read by those with the decryption keys, which are only stored on endpoints and not with any third parties including companies providing the service.
- End-to-end encryption has long been used when transferring business documents, financial details, legal proceedings, and personal conversations.
- It can also be used to control users’ authorisation when accessing stored data, which seems to be what Apple intends to do.
Where is it used?
- End-to-end encryption is used to secure communications.
- Some of the popular instant-messaging apps that use it are Signal, WhatsApp, iMessage, and Google messages.
- However, instant messaging is not the only place where user data is protected using end-to-end encryption. It is also used to secure passwords, protect stored data and safeguard data on cloud storage.
Why are tech companies using it?
- Data Breach- Apple, on its blog, cited data breach research, “The Rising Threat to Consumer Data in the Cloud”, stating that the total number of data breaches more than tripled between 2013 and 2021.
- The company shared that data of 1.1 billion personal records were exposed in 2021 alone and that it is trying to address this rising threat by implementing end-to-end encryption.
- Value to target customers- The focus on end-to-end encryption seems to stem from the company’s desire to position itself as a provider of secure data storage and transfer services.
- Demand of certain groups- End-to-end encryption is also seen as a technology that secures users’ data from snooping by government agencies, making it a sought-after feature by activists, journalists, and political opponents.
What does it mean for users?
- End-to-end encryption ensures that user data is protected from unwarranted parties including service providers, cloud storage providers, and companies that handle encrypted data.
- The data can only be accessed with access to the device passcode, password, recovery contact, or recovery key. The technology also makes it harder for service providers to share user information from their services with authorities.
- Apple on its support page shared that end-to-end encrypted data can only be decrypted by trusted devices where users are signed with their Apple ID.
Encryption and Metadata
- End-to-end encryption does not protect metadata, which includes information like when a file was created, the date when a message is sent and the endpoints between which data was shared.
Government’s unhappiness with the encryption
- The FBI in a statement expressed displeasure at the idea of increasing use of end-to-end encryption by technology companies.
- It said that while it remains a strong advocate of encryption schemes that give “lawful access by design”, that would enable tech companies “served with a legal order” to decrypt data, it “continues to be deeply concerned with the threat end-to-end and user-only-access encryption pose”.
- Attempts by government agencies across the globe, in the past, to access encrypted data hosted and stored by tech companies have met with strong resistance.
- In 2019, the U. S., the U. K., and Australia planned to pressure Facebook to create a backdoor into its encrypted messaging apps.
- Australia, in 2018, passed laws that would force tech companies and service providers to build capabilities allowing law enforcement secret access to messages on platforms like WhatsApp and Facebook.
- The legislation, according to government agencies was necessary to prevent “terrorists” and other serious criminals from hiding from the law.
6 . MSCS Act 2002
Context: The Bill to amend the Multi-State Cooperative Societies (MSCS) Act, 2002, was introduced in the Lok Sabha on December 7.
What are multi-State cooperatives?
- According to the International Cooperative Alliance (ICA), cooperatives are people-centred enterprises jointly owned and democratically controlled by and for their members to realise common economic, social and cultural needs and aspirations.
- Multi-State cooperatives are societies that have operations in more than one State — for instance, a farmer-producers organisation which procures grains from farmers from multiple States.
- The board of directors are from all the States these collectives operate in and control all the finances and administration.
- There are close to 1,500 MSCSs registered in India with the highest number being in Maharashtra.
What are the issues with the cooperative sector?
- The independent and autonomous character of cooperative societies was to be crucial in their functioning. However, H.S. Shylendra, professor at the Institute of Rural Management, Anand (IRMA) points out in a 2021 paper that the inclusion of cooperatives in the planning process as development instruments made the sector an avenue for dispensing patronage to the supporters of ruling political parties.
- Moreover, the policy of State governments to contribute to the share capital of the cooperatives enabled governments to directly intervene in the working of cooperatives which are legally autonomous.
- Notably, the potency of cooperatives as an apparatus of political control can be seen in States such as Maharashtra, Kerala, Gujarat, parts of Karnataka, Tamil Nadu, Madhya Pradesh and West Bengal.
- Besides, MSCSs were formed to ease the operation of collectives throughout the country. On the contrary, IRMA researcher Indranil De points out that in spite of their potential, MSCSs are facing issues regarding trust, which is the very basis of cooperation.
- This has brought MSCSs under multiple controls from the Centre.
- Monitoring is one of the important institutional functions in a collective organisation but if monitored from much above, it takes a top-down approach as opposed to a grassroots one.
- In 1991, the Choudhary Brahm Perkash Committee of the planning commission made far-reaching recommendations to reorganise multi-State cooperatives but researchers point out how the Act has not been modified as per the report.
MSCS Amendment bill and the changes-
- To plug the loopholes in the MSCS Act, the Centre introduced a Bill seeking to amend the 2002 law for more “transparency” and “ease of doing business”.
- The amendments have been introduced to improve governance, reform the electoral process, strengthen monitoring mechanisms and enhance transparency and accountability.
- The Bill also seeks to improve the composition of the board and ensure financial discipline, besides enabling the raising of funds in multi-State cooperative societies.
- The Bill provides for the creation of a central Co-operative Election Authority to supervise the electoral functions of the MSCSs.
- The Authority will have a chairperson, vice-chairperson, and up to three members appointed by the Centre.
- It also envisages the creation of a Co-operative Rehabilitation, Reconstruction and Development Fund for the revival of sick multi-State co-operatives societies.
- This fund shall be financed by existing profitable multi-State co-operative societies which will have to deposit either ₹1 crore or 1% of the net profit into the Fund.
- In order to make the governance of multi-State cooperative societies more democratic, the Bill has provisions for appointing a Cooperative Information Officer and a Cooperative Ombudsman.
- To promote equity and facilitate inclusiveness, provisions relating to the representation of women and Scheduled Caste/Tribe members on the boards of multi-State cooperative societies have also been included.
Issues and Concerns
- Autonomy of MSCS- Bill may lead to the concentration of power of the Centre, which could impact the autonomy of MSCSs and create potential for misuse.
- Additional burden on MSCS- creation of a Co-operative Rehabilitation, Reconstruction and Development Fund would put an additional burden on MSCSs.
7 . Existing Laws on Religious Conversion
Context: On December 5, a Bench led by Justice M.R. Shah said acts of charity or good work to help a community or the poor should not cloak an intention to religiously convert them as payback.
State laws on conversion
- Odisha’s 1967 Act– In post-independent India, Odisha became the first State to enact a law restricting religious conversions, which later became a model framework for other States.
- Odisha’s 1967 Act provides that no person shall directly or indirectly convert any person from one religious faith to another by force, inducement or any fraudulent means.
- Madhya Pradesh Dharma Swatantraya Adhiniyam (1968)-
- This Act added a provision distinct from the Odisha law, requiring whoever converted any person, to intimate the District Magistrate that such a conversion had taken place.
- Failure to do so would attract punishment and fines.
- More than ten Indian States have passed laws prohibiting certain means of religious conversions
- Arunachal Pradesh (1978), Gujarat (2003), Chhattisgarh (2000 and 2006), Rajasthan (2006 and 2008), Himachal Pradesh (2006 and 2019), and Tamil Nadu (a law was enacted in 2002, but repealed in 2004), Jharkhand (2017), Uttarakhand (2018), Uttar Pradesh (2021), and Haryana (2022).
- Uttar Pradesh Prohibition of Unlawful Conversion of Religion Act, 2021
- a marriage would be declared “null and void” if the conversion is solely for that purpose, and those wishing to change their religion after marriage need to apply to the District Magistrate.
- Madhya Pradesh Freedom of Religion Act (MPFRA)-
- Enacted by Madhya Pradesh in 2021.
- It has the strictest provisions compared to other laws.
- While other States prescribe that an individual must inform a District Magistrate 30 days prior to an intended conversion, the MPFRA increases this to 60 days, and makes it mandatory for both the individual and the priest facilitating the conversion.
Challenges to these laws
- The Himachal Pradesh High Court in 2012 struck down certain provisions of the State’s 2006 law restricting conversions, holding them unconstitutional.
- The Court said that the individual converting their faith also enjoyed their right to privacy and the provision to give a month’s prior notice to the District Magistrate violated this right.
- In 2021, the Gujarat High Court stayed some provisions of the Gujarat Freedom Of Religion Act, 2003, which the State amended in 2021 to add the grounds of marriage to prohibit conversions.
- In 2022, the Madhya Pradesh High Court also held certain provisions of the MPFRA unconstitutional.
- In November, 2021, the Allahabad High Court allowed several interfaith couples to register their marriages despite not having sought the DM’s approval.
7 . Facts for Prelims
- Anaemia is a condition in which the number of red blood cells or the haemoglobin concentration within them is lower than normal.
- Haemoglobin is needed to carry oxygen and if you have too few or abnormal red blood cells, or not enough haemoglobin, there will be a decreased capacity of the blood to carry oxygen to the body’s tissues.
- The optimal haemoglobin concentration needed to meet physiologic needs varies by age, sex, elevation of residence, smoking habits and pregnancy status.
- Having anemia, also referred to as low hemoglobin, can make one feel tired and weak.
- The most common causes of anaemia include nutritional deficiencies, particularly iron deficiency, though deficiencies in folate, vitamins B12 and A are also important causes; haemoglobinopathies; and infectious diseases, such as malaria, tuberculosis, HIV and parasitic infections.
- There are many forms of anemia, each with its own cause. Anemia can be temporary or long term and can range from mild to severe.
- In 2019, a paper published in The Lancet Global Health highlighted that nearly one in four men (23.2%) in the age group 15-54 years in India were anaemic (mild, moderate, or severe).
- Badri/Pahari desi cow is a native cow species of Uttarakhand.
- Badri cow is the first registered cattle breed of Uttarakhand which has been certified by the National Bureau of Animal Genetic Resources (NBAGR).
- It grazes on the medicinal herbs of the Himalayas.
- It is far away from toxic pollution, polythene, and other harmful things that cows in the plains eat.
- Its milk has rich medicinal content and high organic value but its milk production capacity is quite less as it gives one to three liters of milk per day.
- Recently, Uttarakhand announced that it plans genetic enhancement of its indigenous Badri cow.
- This includes Sex-sorted semen and embryo transfer technology to improve the production of the cattle as part of the ten-year State plan.
- The Karnataka government announced that it has decided to rename ‘Salaam aarti’ as ‘aarti Namaskara’, a ritual initiated by Tipu Sultan.
- Tipu got the worship done on his behalf for the welfare of the Mysuru kingdom.
- Even after he died in the battle against the British, the ritual continues in various Hindu temples across the state.
- The announcement to change the age-old ritual was made by the Karnataka Dharmika Parishat, which comes under Department of Hindu Religious Institutions and Charitable Endowments.
- Member of Parishat stated that earlier the ritual was conducted for the welfare of state administration, now it will be for the welfare of the people. Now, the ritual would be named as ‘Namaskara’.
- As per Hindu organisations, ‘Salaam Aarti’ was the symbol of slavery and was practiced to assert domination. They demanded ending the ritual.
- However, intellectuals claim that the tradition reflected the bondage and harmony among Hindus and Muslims and must be continued as the great tradition.
- Green finance is any structured financial activity that’s been created to ensure a better environmental outcome.
- Green financing is to increase level of financial flows (from banking, micro-credit, insurance and investment) from the public, private and not-for-profit sectors to sustainable development priorities.
- Globally, the green bond market could be worth $2.36 trillion by 2023. The top three green bond issuers are the US, China and France.
- China’s central bank has recently called for tighter regulation of green finance.
- C. Subramaniya Bharathiyar was a poet, journalist, freedom fighter and social reformer from Tamil Nadu.
- He was known as Mahakavi Bharathiyar and the laudatory epithet Mahakavi means a great poet.
- According to Press Information Bureau (PIB) statement, he is considered one of India’s greatest poets.
- He was a pioneer of modern Tamil poetry and is considered one of the greatest Tamil literary figures of all time. He is regarded as the father of the modern Tamil style.
- His songs on nationalism and freedom of India helped to rally the masses to support the Indian Independence Movement in Tamil Nadu.
- is numerous works included fiery songs kindling patriotism during the Indian Independence movement.
- In order to proclaim its revolutionary ardour, Bharathi had the weekly newspaper named ‘India’ printed in red paper.
- It was the first paper in Tamil Nadu to publish political cartoons.
- He also published and edited a few other journals like “Vijaya”.
- He fought for the emancipation of women, against child marriage, vehemently opposed the caste system, and stood for reforming society and religion. He was also in solidarity with Dalits and Muslims.
- Important Works: Kaṇṇan pāṭṭu (1917; Songs to Krishna), Panchali sapatham (1912; Panchali’s Vow), Kuyil pāṭṭu (1912; Kuyil’s Song), Pudiya Russia and Gnanaratham (Chariot of Wisdom).
- PM Modi first introduced the concept during the first National Ganga Council meeting in Kanpur in 2019, where he urged for a shift from Namami Gange, the Union Government’s flagship project to clean the Ganga, to the model of Arth Ganga.
- Arth Ganga focuses on the sustainable development of the Ganga and its surrounding areas, by focusing on economic activities related to the river.
- At its core, the Arth Ganga model seeks to use economics to bridge people with the river.
- It strives to contribute at least 3% of the GDP from the Ganga Basin itself.
- The Arth Ganga project’s interventions are in accordance with India’s commitments towards the UN sustainable development goals.
- Under Arth Ganga, the government is working on six verticals.
- The first is Zero Budget Natural Farming, which involves chemical-free farming on 10 km on either side of the river, and the promotion of cow dung as fertiliser through the GOBARdhan scheme.
- The Monetization and Reuse of Sludge & Wastewater is the second, which seeks to reuse treated water for irrigation, industries and revenue generation for Urban Local Bodies (ULBs).
- Arth Ganga will also involve Livelihood Generation Opportunities, by creating haats where people can sell local products, medicinal plants and ayurveda.
- The fourth is to increase public participation by increasing synergies between the stakeholders involved with the river.
- The model also wants to promote the cultural heritage and tourism of Ganga and its surroundings, through boat tourism, adventure sports and by conducting yoga activities.
- Lastly, the model seeks to promote institutional building by empowering local administration for improved water governance.