Daily Current Affairs : 16th and 17th July 2023

Daily Current Affairs for UPSC CSE

Topics Covered

  1. India – UAE agreement on Rupee Dirham for trade
  2. Forest conservation amendment bill
  3. India cooling Action Plan
  4. Polio
  5. Coral Bleaching
  6. Facts for Prelims

1 . India – UAE agreement on Rupee Dirham for trade

Context: India moved a step closer to increasing circulation of the rupee in the Gulf region with the signing of two memoranda of understanding (MoU) between the Reserve Bank of India and the Central Bank of the United Arab Emirates.

About the News

  • India and the United Arab Emirates (UAE) signed agreements on trade settlement in national currencies and setting up a real-time link for cross-border transactions, to bolster cooperation in areas such as trade, energy and climate action.
  • The first agreement between the RBI and the UAE Central Bank will establish a framework to “promote the use of local currencies (rupee and dirham) for cross-border transactions.
  • The other MoU between the two central banks is aimed at interlinking their “payment and messaging systems”.
  • The signing of these agreements was witnessed by UAE President Sheikh Mohamed bin Zayed Al Nahyan and Prime Minister Narendra Modi.

MoUs Signed between both the countries

  •  Memorandum of Understanding for the establishment of a framework to promote the use of local currencies (INR-AED) for cross-border transactions by Governors of the respective Central Banks.
  • Memorandum of Understanding on interlinking payment and messaging systems by Governors of the respective Central Banks.
  • The signing of a Memorandum of Understanding for planning to establish Indian Institute of Technology – Delhi in Abu Dhabi.

MoUs on Local currency settlement

  • The MoU on using national currencies will put in place a Local Currency Settlement System (LCSS) to promote the use of the rupee and dirham.
  •  The agreement covers all current account transactions and permitted capital account transactions.
  • Benefits
    • The LCSS will enable exporters and importers to pay in their respective domestic currencies and enable development of an INR-AED foreign exchange market.
    • This arrangement will also promote investments and remittances between the two sides.
    • Use of local currencies will reduce transaction costs and settlement time, including for remittances by Indians in the UAE. As nearly 30% of UAE’s population is made up of Indians, the move will help them use Rupay cards and make RTGS and IMPS transfers with ease.
  • Importance – The two agreements between the central banks came against the backdrop of Indian entities commencing payment in yuan to Russian energy majors; it is likely to enhance the trend of doing business in local currencies that gained greater acceptance since the start of the Ukraine crisis in February 2022.

MoUs on interlinking payment and messaging systems

  • An enabling agreement for the use of UPI, which will make India and the UAE integrated in terms of digital infrastructure. India could use this mechanism to pay for imports of oil and other commodities from the UAE, its fourth largest energy supplier. India currently pays the UAE in dollars for oil.
  • Under the second MoU, the two central banks will cooperate on linking India’s Unified Payments Interface (UPI) with the UAE’s Instant Payment Platform (IPP) and RuPay switch and UAESWITCH. They will also explore the linking of India’s Structured Financial Messaging System (SFMS) with the payments messaging system of the UAE.
  • The UPI-IPP link will enable users in both countries to make fast, safe and cost-effective cross-border transfers. The linking of card switches will facilitate mutual acceptance of domestic cards and processing of card transactions.

India – UAE Economic relationship

  • The UAE has had a special place in India’s efforts in recent years to increase its engagement in areas ranging from trade to security with West Asian states.
  • Bilateral trade between India and the UAE was worth $84.5 billion in 2022-23. The UAE, which imports most of the food requirements, has pledged $2 billion to develop a series of food parks in India. The two sides have also agreed to increase non-petroleum trade to $100 billion by 2030.
  •  The Emirates are home to 3.5 million Indian expatriates, who account for about 30% of the country’s population. Bilateral trade got a boost with the signing of the Comprehensive Economic Partnership Agreement (CEPA) in February 2022.
  • The UAE is India’s fourth largest supplier of crude oil and the second largest provider of LPG and LNG, which makes de-dollarisation particularly significant.

2 . Forest Conservation Amendment Bill

Context: The Forest (Conservation) Amendment Bill, 2023 is likely to be tabled in the monsoon session of Parliament. A Joint Parliamentary Committee (JPC) which was looking at amendments to the Bill has approved the version sent by the government with almost no comment, revisions or suggestions.

What is the Forest (Conservation) Amendment Bill?

  • The Bill seeks to amend the Forest Conservation Act, 1980. It is the legislation enacted to protect India’s forests and empowers the Central government to regulate the extraction of forest resources — from timber and bamboo to coal and minerals — by industries as well as forest-dwelling communities.
  • Significance of the Amendment- These amendments were necessary, because private parties who wanted to develop plantations in degraded forests or restore tree patches were disincentivised to do so. A private plantation, or a reforested piece of land that wasn’t officially marked out as forest could be retrospectively earmarked — under the provisions of the Act — as such, forcing the developer of such a plantation to lose rights associated with that patch. This was an ‘impediment’ to India’s plans of developing a ‘carbon sink’ of three billion tonnes by 2030 in line with its commitments under the Paris Agreement.
  • States were also apportioning forest tracts meant for plantations to companies for mining operations. The amendments thus were necessary, in the Centre’s view, to craft new solutions beyond the Act’s original intent of only keeping forests from being exploited for industrial uses and, to aid reforestation.

About the key amendments of the Bill

  • The key changes to the Act include inserting a ‘preamble’ that underlines India’s commitment to preserving forests, their biodiversity and tackling challenges from climate change and amending the name of the Act to Van (Sanrakshan Evam Samvardhan) Adhiniyam (translated as Forest Conservation and Augmentation) from the existing Forest (Conservation) Act.
  • The amendments also say that the Act would only apply to lands notified in, any government record, as ‘forest’ on or after 1980. If notified forest land was legally diverted between 1980 and 1996, for non-forest use, the Forest Conservation Act would not apply.
  • Forest land situated 100 km away from international borders and to be used for “strategic projects of national importance” or land ranging from 5-10 hectares for security and defence projects would also be exempted from the Act’s stipulations.
  • The state government requires prior approval of the central government to assign any forest land to a private entity.  The Bill extends this to all entities, and allows the assignment to be made on terms and conditions specified by the central government.
  • The Act specifies some activities that can be carried out in forests, such as establishing check posts, fencing, and bridges.  The Bill also allows running zoos, safaris and eco-tourism facilities.

What are the objections to the changes?

  • The Joint Parliament Committee consists of 31 members has made no collective, independent assessment.
  • The key objections are that the exemptions could be detrimental to significant forests in the Himalayan, trans-Himalayan and northeastern regions.
  • Clearing such forests without an appropriate “assessment and mitigation plan” will threaten the biodiversity of “vulnerable ecological and geologically sensitive areas” and trigger extreme weather events.
  • Restricting the legislation’s ambit only to areas recorded as forests on or after October 25, 1980 would mean leaving out significant sections of forest land and many biodiversity hot spots to be potentially sold, diverted, cleared, and exploited for non-forestry purposes.  
  • There is also dissent against the move to rename the bill as Van (Sanrakshan Evam Samvardhan) Adhiniyam, on the grounds that it was “sanskritik (sic) terminology
  • The Act waters down the Godavarman judgment and a few State governments have said that forest conservation comes under the domain of both the Centre and States, which means it is in the Concurrent List, and the amendments tilted the balance towards the Centre.

Diversification of land and Supreme court judgment in Godavarman Thirumulpad case

  • From 1951-1975, about four million hectares of forest land has been diverted for various non-forestry purposes.
  • From 1980 to 2023, under the purview of the Act, only a million hectares have been diverted — a sign of its impact in reducing the pace of forest appropriation. However, such protection was only available for areas already marked out as ‘forest’ in Central or State government records.
  • A Supreme Court judgment in 1996, in the Godavarman Thirumulpad case, expanded the scope of such protection.
  • Under it, even areas not formally notified as ‘forests’ but conforming to the ‘dictionary’ meaning of forests were protected. There is no all-encompassing definition of a ‘forest’ and the Thirumalpad judgment directed States to define and demarcate forests using their own criteria. 

3 . India cooling Action Plan

Context: Switzerland, the U.K. and Norway will experience the largest relative surge in cooling needs if the increase in global mean temperature passes 1.5 degree C and rises to 2 degree C above pre-industrial levels, according to a modelling study published in Nature Sustainability.  

Reason for the increase in cooling requirements

  • Rising temperatures are driving cooling demand, and it has been estimated that by 2050 the energy required by cooling could be the equivalent of the combined electricity capacity of the U.S., the European Union and Japan in 2016, as reported by the International Energy Agency (IEA). The countries in sub-Saharan Africa will have the greatest increase in cooling requirements.
  • Based on a global atmospheric General Circulation Model and historical climate data for 2006-2016, the researchers have estimated the annual changes in cooling degree days (CDDs) if the 1.5 degree C limit is overshot and warming increases to 2-degree C.
  • Regions surrounding the Equator, particularly the sub-Saharan countries (Central African Republic, Burkina Faso, Mali, South Sudan and Nigeria) would have the greatest increase in cooling demand.
  • According to the study, the results of relative changes in CDDs show that countries in the Global North (Switzerland, the U.K., Scandinavian countries, Austria, Canada, Denmark, and Belgium), which traditionally experienced cooler temperatures, will experience largest relative increases in the number of days that require cooling.

What is India cooling action plan?

  • The India Cooling Action Plan (ICAP) provides an integrated vision towards cooling across sectors encompassing, inter alia, reduction of cooling demand, refrigerant transition, enhancing energy efficiency and better technology options by 2037-38 through forging synergies with on-going programmes/ schemes of the Government.
  • Following steps have been taken to implement the recommendation of various thematic areas of the ICAP:
    • With regard to reduction of cooling and energy demand in Space Cooling in building sector, a list of action points have been finalised after mapping of the recommendations of the India Cooling Action Plan with the ongoing government programmes/ schemes of the various Ministries.
    • Towards promoting passive cooling in buildings, Bureau of Energy Efficiency (BEE) has brought out the Energy Conservation Building Code (ECBC) for all large commercial (non-residential) buildings and Eco-Niwas Samhita (ECBC-R) for the residential buildings.
    • Studies on promoting non-Ozone Depleting Substances (ODSs) and low Global Warming Potential based technologies in Cold Chain, Building sector and Public Procurement have been undertaken and reports have been published.
    • To promote indigenous development of low global warming potential refrigerants, the Department of Science and Technology, Government of India has funded a research project to the Council of Scientific and Industrial Research (CSIR)- Indian Institute of Chemical Technology, Hyderabad.
    • Indian Institute of Technology, Delhi, in collaboration with Bureau of Indian Standards has undertaken a simulation study for developing safety standards for flammable refrigerants in the Refrigeration and Air-conditioning sector.
    • Up-skilling and certification of 43,450 Refrigeration and Air-conditioning (RAC) service technicians has been undertaken under the national skill qualification framework (NSQF) of the Pradhan Mantri Kaushal Vikas Yojana (PMKVY) of the Ministry of Skill Development and Entrepreneurship (MSDE).  In addition, 29,000 RAC service technicians are being trained as part of implementation of Hydrochlorofluorocarbons (HCFCs) phase out Management Plans under the Montreal Protocol.

4 . Polio

Context: In 1988, the World Health Assembly declared WHO’s commitment to global eradication of polio by 2000. But in 1993, the goalpost was shifted — the goal was to eradicate only wild poliovirus globally by 2000. That meant eradicating vaccine-derived poliovirus (VDPV) and vaccine-associated paralytic poliomyelitis (VAPP) was no longer the objective.

What is polio? 

  • Poliomyelitis is a crippling disease that results from infection with any one of the three related poliovirus types (referred to as types P1, P2, and P3), members of the enterovirus (picornavirus) family.
  • Poliovirus is transmitted from one person to another by oral contact with secretions or faecal material from an infected person.
  • Once viral reproduction is established in the mucosal surfaces of the nasopharynx, poliovirus can multiply in specialized cells in the intestines and enter the blood stream to invade the central nervous system, where it spreads along nerve fibres. When it multiplies in the nervous system, the virus can destroy nerve cells (motor neurons) which activate skeletal muscles. These nerve cells cannot regenerate, and the affected muscles lose their function due to a lack of nervous enervation – a condition known as acute flaccid paralysis (AFP).
  • Typically, in patients with poliomyelitis muscles of the legs are affected more often than the arm muscles. More extensive paralysis, involving the trunk and muscles of the thorax and abdomen, can result in quadriplegia.
  • In the most severe cases (bulbar polio), poliovirus attacks the motor neurons of the brain stem – reducing breathing capacity and causing difficulty in swallowing and speaking. Without respiratory support, bulbar polio can result in death. It can strike at any age, but affects mainly children under three (over 50% of all cases). 

Types of Polio vaccine 

  • There is no cure for polio, but there are safe, effective vaccines which, given multiple times, protect a child for life. Two different kinds of vaccine are available:
    • An inactivated (killed) polio vaccine (IPV) developed by Dr. Jonas Salk and first used in 1955, and 
    • A live attenuated (weakened) oral polio vaccine (OPV) developed by Dr. Albert Sabin and first used in 1961. 

Inactivated (killed) polio vaccine 

  • IPV is produced from wild-type poliovirus strains of each serotype that have been inactivated (killed) with formalin. As an injectable vaccine, it can be administered alone or in combination with other vaccines (e.g., diphtheria, tetanus, pertussis, hepatitis B, and haemophilus influenza). IPV provides serum immunity to all three types of poliovirus, resulting in protection against paralytic poliomyelitis. 

Oral Polio vaccine 

  • OPV consists of a mixture of live attenuated poliovirus strains of each of the three serotypes, selected by their ability to mimic the immune response following infection with wild polioviruses, but with a significantly reduced incidence of spreading to the central nervous system. OPV strains also produce a local immune response in the lining (‘mucous membrane’) of the intestines – the primary site for poliovirus multiplication. 

What is Vaccine derived Polio Virus ?

  • Vaccine-derived poliovirus is a well-documented strain of poliovirus mutated from the strain originally contained in OPV.
  • How has it spread? OPV contains a live, weakened form of poliovirus that replicates in the intestine for a limited period, thereby developing immunity by building up antibodies.
  • On rare occasions, when replicating in the gastrointestinal tract, OPV strains genetically change and may spread in communities that are not fully vaccinated against polio, especially in areas where there is poor hygiene, poor sanitation, or overcrowding. The lower the population’s immunity, the longer this virus survives and the more genetic changes it undergoes.
  • In very rare instances, the vaccine-derived virus can genetically change into a form that can cause paralysis as does the wild poliovirus – this is what is known as a vaccine-derived poliovirus (VDPV).

Vaccine derived and Vaccine associated Poliovirus – India’s Scenario

  • In India, more than 90% of vaccine-derived poliovirus outbreaks are due to type 2 virus present in oral polio vaccines. Also, 40% of VAPP are caused by type 2 oral polio vaccine.
  • Similarly, the last case of type 3 wild poliovirus was reported in November 2012 (and declared eradicated in 2019). But many cases of VAPP from type 3 virus occur in countries using the vaccine.
  • Global Polio Eradication Initiative (GPEI) has never reported VAPP cases throughout the 34 years of polio eradication efforts. And the Indian government does not count VAPP as polio as such cases are sporadic and pose little or no threat to others.
  • The number of VAPP-compatible cases showed an increasing trend in India from 1998 to 2013, so much so that they outnumbered the polio cases caused by wild poliovirus since 2004, as per a 2014 report in the International Journal of Infectious Diseases.
  • VAPP cases occur at a frequency of two-four cases per million birth cohort per year in countries that use oral polio vaccine. Based on this incidence rate, an estimated 50-100 children might suffer from VAPP every year in India.
  • Despite India not maintaining any record of VAPP cases, the incidence of such cases for three years — 181, 129 and 109 in 1999, 2000 and 2001, respectively — have been reported.

How to address this issue? –

  • With type 2 wild poliovirus being eradicated and all type 2 polio cases being vaccine-derived, there was a global switch from trivalent (containing all three variants) to bivalent (type 1 and type 3) oral polio vaccine in 2016 to prevent any more type 2 vaccine-derived poliovirus.
  • Switching from trivalent to bivalent OPV vaccine and introducing one dose of IPV will reduce the occurrence and ultimately eliminate all vaccine-derived type 2 poliovirus cases.
  • A type 2 novel oral polio vaccine that is genetically modified such that is to less likely to revert to neurovirulence unlike the Sabin vaccine and therefore cause less type 2 vaccine-derived poliovirus cases was authorised by WHO under Emergency Use Listing in November 2020 and first used in the field in March 2021. However, this vaccine does not address VAPP cases arising from continued use of oral polio vaccine.
  • Since the future polio-eradicated world can use only the IPV, transition to IPV is the sensible way forward.

Polio eradication efforts in India 

  • Pulse Polio is an immunization campaign established by the government of India to eliminate poliomyelitis (polio) in India by vaccinating all children under the age of five years against the polio virus. The project fights polio through a large-scale, pulse vaccination programme and monitoring for poliomyelitis cases. 
  • In India, vaccination against polio started in around 1972 with Expanded Programme on Immunization (EPI). By 1999, it covered around 60% of infants, giving three doses of OPV to each. 
  • In 1985, the Universal Immunization Programme (UIP) was launched to cover all the districts of the country. UIP became a part of child survival and safe motherhood program (CSSM) in 1992 and Reproductive and Child Health Program (RCH) in 1997 . This program led to a significant increase in coverage, up to 5%. The number of reported cases of polio also declined from thousands during 1987 to 42 in 2010. 
  • In 1995, following the Global Polio Eradication Initiative of the World Health Organization (1988), India launched Pulse Polio immunization program with Universal Immunization Program which aimed at 100% coverage. 
  • The last reported cases of wild polio in India were in West Bengal and Gujarat on 13 January 2011. On 27 March 2014, the World Health Organization (WHO) declared India a polio free country, since no cases of wild polio been reported in for five years 

5 . Coral Bleaching

Context: Record temperatures around the world have left animals, including humans, in dire straits. Of them, corals are particularly vulnerable: when the water around them becomes too warm, they are susceptible to bleaching.

What are coral reefs?

  • Corals are marine invertebrates or animals not possessing a spine. Each coral is called a polyp and thousands of such polyps live together to form a colony, which grows when polyps multiply to make copies of themselves.
  • Corals are of two types — hard coral and soft coral. Hard corals, also called hermatypic or ‘reef building’ corals extract calcium carbonate (also found in limestone) from the seawater to build hard, white coral exoskeletons. Soft coral polyps, however, borrow their appearance from plants, attach themselves to such skeletons and older skeletons built by their ancestors. Soft corals also add their own skeletons to the hard structure over the years and these growing multiplying structures gradually form coral reefs. They are the largest living structures on the planet.
  • Corals share a symbiotic relationship with single-celled algae called zooxanthellae. The algae provides the coral with food and nutrients, which they make through photosynthesis, using the sun’s light. In turn, the corals give the algae a home and key nutrients. The zooxanthellae also give corals their bright colour.
  • Australia’s Great Barrier Reef is the world’s largest reef system stretching across 2,300 km. It hosts 400 different types of coral, gives shelter to 1,500 species of fish and 4,000 types of mollusc.

What is coral bleaching? 

  • Bleaching happens when corals experience stress in their environment due to changes in temperature, pollution or high levels of ocean acidity. Under stressed conditions, the zooxanthellae or food-producing algae living inside coral polyps start producing reactive oxygen species, which are not beneficial to the corals. So, the corals expel the colour-giving zooxanthellae from their polyps, which exposes their pale white exoskeleton, giving the corals a bleached appearance. This also ends the symbiotic relationship that helps the corals to survive and grow.
  • Bleached corals can survive depending on the levels of bleaching and the recovery of sea temperatures to normal levels. If heat-pollutions subside in time, over a few weeks, the zooxanthellae can come back to the corals and restart the partnership but severe bleaching and prolonged stress in the external environment can lead to coral death. Over the last couple of decades, climate change and increased global warming owing to rising carbon emissions and other greenhouse gases have made seas warmer than usual. Under all positive outlooks and projections in terms of cutting greenhouse gases, sea temperatures are predicted to increase by 1.5°C to 2°C by the time the century nears its end.
  • The first mass bleaching event had occurred in 1998 when the El Niño weather pattern caused sea surfaces in the pacific ocean to heat up; this event caused 8% of the world’s coral to die. The second event took place in 2002. In the past decade, however, mass bleaching occurrences have become more closely spaced in time, with the longest and most damaging bleaching event taking place from 2014 to 2017. This started with reefs in Guam in the Western Pacific region getting affected, to then affecting the North, South-Pacific, and the Indian Ocean. Global temperature in 2017, was the third-highest to ever be recorded. In the 2014-17 event, more than three times as many reefs were exposed to bleaching-level heat stress as compared to 1998.
  • A 2021 study by the Global Coral Reef Monitoring Network (GCRMN), which is supported by the United Nations, showed that 14% of the world’s coral on reefs had been lost between 2009 and 2018, with most of the loss attributed to coral bleaching.

Why does it matter? 

  • Coral reefs support over 25% of marine biodiversity, including fish, turtles and lobsters; even as they only take up 1% of the seafloor.
  • The marine life supported by reefs further fuels global fishing industries. Even giant clams and whales depend on the reefs to live.
  • Coral reef systems generate $2.7 trillion in annual economic value through goods and service trade and tourism.
  • Dead reefs can revive over time if there are enough fish species that can graze off the weeds that settle on dead corals, but it takes almost a decade for the reef to start setting up again. The reefs which were severely damaged in 1998 did recover over time.

6 . Facts for Prelims

Apple Growing states in India

  • Apple (Malus pumila) is an important temperate fruit. Apples are mostly consumed fresh but a small part of the production is processed into juices, jellies, canned slices and other items.
  • In India, Apple is primarily cultivated in Jammu & Kashmir; Himachal Pradesh; hills of Uttar Pradesh and Uttarakhand. It is also cultivated to a small extent in Arunachal Pradesh; Nagaland; Punjab, Tamil Nadu and Sikkim.
  • The apple is a temperate fruit crop. However, in India the apple growing areas do not fall in temperate zone but the prevailing temperate climate of the region is due to the Himalayan ranges and high altitudes. The average summer temperature should be around 21-24oC during active growth period. Apple succeeds best in regions where the trees experience uninterrupted rest in winter and abundant sunshine for good colour development. It can be grown at an altitude of 1500- 2700 m above the sea level. Well-distributed rainfall of 1000-1250 mm throughout the growing season is most favourable for optimum growth and fruitfulness of apple trees.

G20 Sherpa

  • A Sherpa is a personal representative of the leader of a member country at an international Summit meeting such as the G8, G20 or the Nuclear Security Summit. The term is derived from the Nepalese Sherpa people, who serve as guides for mountaineers in the Himalayas.
  • Role and Responsibilities of the Sherpa- The Sherpa engages in planning, negotiation and implementation tasks through the Summit.
  • They coordinate the agenda, seek consensus at the highest political levels, and participate in a series of pre-Summit consultations to help negotiate their leaders’ positions.
  • Sherpas are career diplomats or senior government officials appointed by the leaders of their countries. There is only one Sherpa per Summit for each member country; he/she is assisted by several sous Sherpas.
  • Sherpas meet much before the start of the Summit to iron out differences on various issues.  
  • At the G20 Summit, work progresses through broadly two channels: the Finance Track and Sherpas’ Track.
    • The Sherpas’ Track involves technical and policy analyses by working groups comprising officials from each member country and international organisations. It focuses on development-oriented issues such as agriculture, fighting corruption, employment, etc.  

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