Daily Current Affairs for UPSC CSE
- Excessive Ground water Extraction and Land subsidence
- Mitochondrial Donation Treatment
- Nutritional Value of millet
- Facts for Prelims
1 . Excessive Ground Water Extraction and land Subsidence
Context: Cracks in buildings and ‘sinking’ land in Joshimath, a hill town in Uttarakhand, made the headlines earlier this year. A similar phenomenon has been playing out for years in the plains of Punjab, Haryana, Delhi and Faridabad. The unlikely culprit is excessive groundwater extraction.
About the News
- Data Shows that over exploitation of Ground Water is causing land subsidence in the Plains of Punjab, Haryana, Delhi and Faridabad.
- Reason for the over exploitation of ground water – Agricultural practices in northwest India are heavily dependent on groundwater. With limited monsoon rain, the groundwater table is precariously low, show data gathered for years by the Central Ground Water Board (CGWB).
- In Punjab, for instance, 76% of the groundwater blocks are ‘over exploited’. In Chandigarh it is 64% and about 50% in Delhi. This means that more groundwater than can be recharged is extracted.
- When the underlying aquifers (deep water channels that are stores of percolated water) aren’t recharged, they run dry and the layers of soil and rock above them start to sink. Like oil and gas extraction which cause subduction, ground water over exploitation will also cause the land subsidence.
- Unlike land movement from landslips or earthquakes, subsidence from groundwater extraction was gradual and barely visible annually. So, it is harder to correlate with structural damage.
- Urbanisation and unplanned growth were major factors,
- The link between excessive groundwater extraction and land subsidence only started to become clear from the GRACE (Gravity Recovery and Climate Experiment) satellites that could measure minute changes in gravity on different parts of the earth’s surface
About Ground water Overuse and exploitation
- Groundwater is the largest source of usable, fresh water in the world. In many parts of the world, especially where surface water supplies are not available, domestic, agricultural, and industrial water needs can only be met by using the water beneath the ground.
- Pumping water out of the ground at a faster rate than it is replenished over the long-term causes ground water exploitation
Reasons for over-exploitation
- The problem of groundwater exploitation did not exist in India before the Green Revolution. But that changed completely since the 1970s mainly due to the need for assured irrigation for crop cultivation. The rapid development of borehole technology in the 1980s accentuated the problem.
- The exploitation also increased because of faulty minimum support price policies, which did not consider the issue of water consumption of the crops for fixing their prices. Due to this, farmers have been forced to cultivate more water-guzzling crops like paddy, wheat, sugarcane, etc.
- Additionally, the horticulture (fruits and vegetables) revolution that took place around 2000-01 also increased the exploitation of groundwater.
- The demand for water has increased manifold since 1990-91 due to rapid urban agglomeration and industrial development. But the supply of water from surface sources like canals, tanks and other small water bodies could not be increased in consonance with the demand. As a result, the country has become over-dependent on groundwater for various purposes since early the 1990s.
- The over-exploitation has reduced the level of groundwater, creating economic hardships for the farmers. As deep bore-wells exploit more groundwater, the water in shallow wells gets depleted and ultimately becomes defunct. Such changes are having a huge impact on poor farmers, who cannot afford to have deep bore-wells with high HP pump-sets.
Negative effects of groundwater depletion
Groundwater depletion is primarily caused by sustained groundwater pumping. Some of the negative effects of groundwater depletion:
- Lowering of the Water Table. Excessive pumping can lower the groundwater table, and cause wells to no longer be able to reach groundwater.
- Increased Costs. As the water table lowers, the water must be pumped farther to reach the surface, using more energy. In extreme cases, using such a well can be cost prohibitive.
- Reduced Surface Water Supplies. Groundwater and surface water are connected. When groundwater is overused, the lakes, streams, and rivers connected to groundwater can also have their supply diminished.
- Land Subsidence. Land subsidence occurs when there is a loss of support below ground. This is most often caused by human activities, mainly from the overuse of groundwater, when the soil collapses, compacts, and drops.
- Water Quality Concerns. Excessive pumping in coastal areas can cause saltwater to move inland and upward, resulting in saltwater contamination of the water supply.
How to prevent water exploitation?
- First of all, the groundwater conservation fee (2019) notified by the Ministry of Water Resources to regulate groundwater exploitation needs to be implemented expeditiously without any compromise. In particular, the exploitation and sale of groundwater by large corporations should be monitored on a continuous basis.
- In addition to imposing a cost to curb the over-exploitation, both Central and State governments must take continuous steps to store rainwater in all possible ways to increase recharge. Rainwater harvesting system must be made mandatory in every household, particularly in big cities where groundwater has been declining alarmingly.
- Considering the groundwater balance, MSPs for crops should be fixed according to the consumption of water; higher prices for crops that require less water and vice-versa.
- Micro-irrigation (drip and sprinkler), which can save about 50 per cent of water in the cultivation of different crops, should be promoted in the over-exploited blocks to reduce the exploitation of groundwater.
Government initiatives on management of groundwater resources
- Government of India launched Jal Shakti Abhiyan (JSA) in 2019, a time bound campaign with a mission mode approach intended to improve water availability including ground water conditions in the water stressed blocks of 256 districts in India. In this regard, teams of officers from Central Government along-with technical officers from Ministry of Jal Shakti were deputed to visit water stressed districts and to work in close collaboration with district level officials to undertake suitable interventions.
- In addition, Ministry of Jal Shakti has taken up the “Jal Shakti Abhiyan: Catch the Rain” (JSA:CTR) with the theme “Catch the Rain – Where it Falls When it Falls” to cover all the blocks of all districts (rural as well as urban areas) across the country during 22nd March 2021 to 30th November 2021.
- Ministry of Jal Shakti, Department of Water Resources, RD & GR (DoWR, RD & GR) is implementing Atal Bhujal Yojana (Atal Jal), a Rs.6,000 crore Central Sector Scheme, for sustainable management of ground water resources with community participation. Atal Jal is being implemented in 81 water stressed districts and 8,774 Gram Panchayats of seven States viz. Gujarat, Haryana, Karnataka, Madhya Pradesh, Maharashtra, Rajasthan and Uttar Pradesh.
- Central Ground Water Board (CGWB), in consultation with States/UTs, has prepared ‘Master Plan for Artificial Recharge to Groundwater – 2020’. The Master Plan – 2020 is a macro level plan indicating various structures for the different terrain conditions of the country. The Master Plan – 2020 envisages construction of about 1.42 crore rain water harvesting and artificial recharge structures in the country to harness 185 Billion Cubic Metre (BCM).
- National Aquifer Mapping and Management program (NAQUIM) is being implemented by CGWB as part of Ground Water Management and Regulation (GWM & R) Scheme, a Central Sector scheme. NAQUIM envisages mapping of aquifers (water bearing formations), their characterization and development of Aquifer Management Plans to facilitate sustainable management of groundwater resources in the country. NAQUIM outputs are shared with States/UTs for suitable interventions.
- Government of India generally supports artificial groundwater recharge/water harvesting works in the country through Mahatma Gandhi National Rural Employment Guarantee Scheme (MGNREGS) and Prime Minister Krishi Sinchayee Yojana – Watershed Development component (PMKSY-WDC), ‘Surface Minor Irrigation (SMI) and Repair, Renovation and Restoration (RRR) of Water Bodies schemes’ a component of PMKSY.
2 . Mitochondrial Donation Treatment
Context: The announcement that a baby was born using three persons’ DNA in the U. K. caused the stir that news of this kind was expected to evoke. The baby, technically, has three parents, deriving the mitochondria from a donor apart from the genetic material (DNA) from biological parents. Pioneering technology was used to facilitate this, in order to prevent the child from inheriting the mother’s mitochondrial disease.
What is Mitochondrial disease?
- Mitochondria are basically the powerhouses of the cells. They generate energy, and thus are also responsible for cell function in the human body. Certain defects might occur impacting the way the mitochondria produces energy for the cells (especially in the ‘energy-hungry’ tissues of the brain, nerves, muscles, kidneys, heart, liver), and thereby impacting cell function. The diseases that arise out of such mitochondrial mutations are called mitochondrial diseases.
Consequences of mitochondrial diseases
- When the mitochondria are impaired and do not produce sufficient energy, it affects how organs function, leading to a broad assortment of symptoms across the body, including brain damage, organ failure and muscle wastage. The symptoms get more and more debilitating as a child grows, and have no cure, but can be treated. Some estimates put the incidence of mitochondrial diseases as one in 5,000 people.
What is Mitochondrial Donation Treatment (MDT)?
- Mitochondrial diseases are a group of genetic disorders that are characterized by defects in oxidative phosphorylation and caused by mutations in genes in the nuclear DNA (nDNA) and mitochondrial DNA (mtDNA) that encode structural mitochondrial proteins or proteins involved in mitochondrial function. Mitochondrial diseases are only passed on by the mother, and research has been attempting to find a way for protecting the infant from inheriting the disease.
- Through an advanced in vitro fertilisation technique developed and refined by the Newcastle Fertility Clinic, the baby’s biological father’s sperm was used to fertilise the eggs from the biological mother, who has a mitochondrial disease, and a third, female donor with clear mitochondria, separately.
- Then, the nuclear genetic material from the donor’s egg is removed and replaced with the genetic material from the biological parents’. The final product — the egg — which has the genetic material (DNA) from the parents, and the mitochondria from the female donor, is implanted in the uterus, and carried to full term to yield a baby who will be free from the mother’s mitochondrial disease. This process is termed Mitochondrial Donation Treatment (MDT).
Are there any side effects to the procedure?
- The report shows that sometimes it is possible that a small amount of the maternal mitochondria with errors may get passed on during the procedure.
3 . Nutritional Value of Millets
Context: The U.N. Food and Agriculture Organisation (FAO) has declared 2023 to be the ‘International Year of Millets’, giving these crops a shot in the arm even as countries worldwide are looking to them for their ability to grow in environmental conditions that the climate crisis is rendering more common. However, the consumption of millets faces one threat that has already overtaken India’s major food crops: grain-processing.
What are millets?
- Millets are fundamentally grasses. They are cultivated worldwide, but especially in the tropical parts of Africa and Asia, as cereal crops. Some of the more common varieties include pearl millet ( Cenchrus americanus), barnyard millet ( Echinochloa utilis), finger millet ( Eleusine coracana), and foxtail millet ( Setaria italica). Sorghum ( Sorghum bicolor), adlay millet ( Coix lacryma-jobi), and teff ( Eragrostis tef) – among others – are some grasses that differ in some respects from the millets but are grouped together with them.
- According to the Agricultural and Processed Foods Development Authority, India is the world’s largest producer of millets.
- In 2021-2022, the country accounted for 40.51% of the world’s pearl millet production and 8.09% of sorghum. Within the country, pearl millet made up 60% of all the millet production, sorghum 27%, and ragi 11%.
Why are they sought after?
- Millets have two broad features that render them attractive: their nutritional value being comparable to that of the major extant food crops (and better on some counts) and the ability of millet crops to reliably withstand harsh, resource-poor conditions.
- They are drought-tolerant, adapted to growing in warm weather, and require low moisture (axiomatically, they are particularly efficient consumers of water) and loamy soil. They don’t grow well in water-logged or extremely dry soil, such as might occur after heavy rainfall or particularly bad droughts, respectively.
Are millets nutritious?
- The nutritional content of millets includes carbohydrates, proteins, fibre, amino acids, and various minerals. Different millet varieties have different nutrient profiles. For example, pearl millet – one of the oldest cultivated varieties – has been found to have higher protein content than rice, maize, and sorghum, while being comparable to that of barley.
- According to various studies, foxtail millet is rich in the amino acid lysine; finger millet has more crude fibre than wheat and rice; proso millet has a significant amount of the amino acids leucine, isoleucine, and methionine; and overall, millets have been found to be important sources of micronutrients and phytochemicals.
Where are the nutrients stored?
- According to a paper published in 2021 in the journal Agriculture & Food Security, each millet kernel consists of three major parts, called pericarp, endosperm, and germ.
- The pericarp has an outer covering called the husk. The husk and the pericarp together protect the kernel from inhospitable ambient conditions, disease, and physical damage.
- The endosperm is the largest part of the kernel and its ‘storage’ centre. It has a protein covering called the aleurone
How does processing affect the nutrients?
- Processing and preparing millets for consumption can affect nutrients in three ways: enhance them, suppress/remove them, and ignore them.
- In this context, ‘whole grain’ refers to the endosperm, germ, and bran (pericarp + aleurone) whereas ‘refined grain’ refers only to the endosperm.
- First Step – The husk is removed from the grains because it is composed of cellulosic matter that the human body can’t digest.
- The second common step is to decorticate the grain, i.e. remove any other outer covering and expose the seed.
- While studies have found that mechanical and hand-worked decortication didn’t have significantly different effects on the grain, they both removed crude and dietary fibre.
- The typical next steps are milling, to grind the grains into flour, and sieving to remove large ‘impurities’, including bran. One 2012 study of finger millet found that whole-flour had a high content of “total polyphenols and flavonoids” – while sieving made the flour more digestible and its nutrients more accessible to the body but reduced nutrient content due to the loss of bran.
What is the effect of polishing?
- A frequent last step is polishing. The longer the grains were milled, the more protein, fat, and fibre contents the process removed.
- A 2012 study in the Journal of Cereal Science assessed the effects of polishing the two major Asian rice varieties – indica and japonica – on their nutritive value. Using a combination of precision abrasive polishing, plasma mass spectrometry, and fluorescence microscopy, they found that polishing that removed 8-10% of grain weight also removed 60-80% of iron, magnesium, phosphorus, potassium, and manganese in both varieties. The loss of bran also compromised the grains’ fibre content.
4 . Facts for Prelims
- Palakkad Gap or Palghat Gap is a low mountain pass in the Western Ghats between Coimbatore in Tamil Nadu and Palakkad in Kerala.
- It has an average elevation of 140 metres (460 ft) with a width of 24–30 kilometres (15–19 mi).
- The pass is located between the Nilgiri Hills to the north and Anaimalai Hills to the south.
- The Palghat Gap has historically been important as a significant gateway into the State of Kerala. The Bharathappuzha river flows through it.
- Origin and History– There are various theories about the origin of Palakkad gap. One among them is that it is caused by the landslide due to rivers flowing in opposite directions. The Bharathappuzha river (River Ponnai) originates in the Palakkad Gap from rivulets and tributaries feeding from steep escarpment slopes along the flanks of the Ghats.
- Another theory suggests that the gap may be created by an asteroid strike around 800 million to 550 million years ago.
- Effects on Weather- The gap affects the weather patterns in Southern India as it allows the moisture-laden Southwest monsoon winds into western Tamil Nadu, moderating summer temperatures and generating greater rainfall in the region relative to the rest of lowland Tamil Nadu. It affects rainfall activity in parts of tamilnadu likely Coimbatore, palladam, kangeyam, dharapuram, udumalai. It also allows the hot winds coming from Tamil Nadu which warm the eastern part of Kerala compared to the rest of the state and the tropical cyclone winds from Bay of Bengal bearing rain during the summer
- Biodiversity of the region-The biodiversity of a region is expressed in two ways: species richness, which relates to how many species are found in an ecosystem, and phylogenetic diversity, evolutionary age of all the species found.
- There are over 450 species of trees here, including some such as Magnolia champaca (Champa; Tamil: Sambagan) that have been around for over 130 million years.
- Weather – Warm weather due to proximity to the equator, and moist air brings plenty of rain to the southern Western Ghats. Therefore, south region has been an island refuge for all forms of life, even as cycles of ice ages and droughts have reduced biodiversity in surrounding areas. The Western Ghats in north of the Palghat Gap receive more rain annually, but the south gets rain more evenly throughout the year.
- Vegetation– In contrast to the tropical rainforests of the Western Ghats, the vegetation in the Palghat Gap is classified as dry evergreen forest. It also marks a divide in the flora and fauna of the region. For example, several species of frogs are found only on one side of the Gap.
Parachutes for re-entry capsule
- The Aerial Delivery Research and Development Establishment (ADRDE), the Agra-based laboratory under the Defence Research and Development Organisation (DRDO), has developed the parachutes for India’s manned space flight programme, Gaganyaan, which envisages putting a crew of three astronauts in low-earth orbit.
- It is an Indigenously developed parachutes for the safe return of the capsule that will carry astronauts under the proposed Gaganyaan programme
- The parachute configuration consists of 10 parachutes. During flight the sequence starts with deployment of two parachutes of “apex cover separation parachute”, which is protection cover for the crew module parachute compartment, followed by two more of “drogue parachute deployment” to stabilise and bring down the velocity. Upon the drogue parachute release, three parachutes of the “pilot parachute” system will be used to extract three parachutes of the “main parachute” individually, to reduce the speed of the crew module to safe levels during its landing.
- Each parachute’s performance must be evaluated by complex testing methods, the ADRDE said that individual parachutes have undergone sub-system level testing.
- About Gaganyaan – Gaganyaan project envisages demonstration of human spaceflight capability by launching crew of 3 members to an orbit of 400 km for a 3 days mission and bring them back safely to earth, by landing in Indian sea waters.