Daily Current Affairs : 1st and 2nd March

Daily Current Affairs for UPSC CSE

Topics Covered

  1. US Taliban deal
  2. Why is COVID-19 not a pandemic yet?
  3. NPR Format
  4. Latest CMS List
  5. Eurasian otter
  6. Sonbhadra Gold Reserve
  7. Facts for Prelims

1 . US – Taliban Peace Deal

Context : The United States signed a historic deal with Taliban insurgents on Saturday that could pave the way toward a full withdrawal of foreign soldiers from Afghanistan over the next 14 months and represent a step toward ending the 18-year-war there.

About the Pact

  • US and Taliban signed an agreement for “Bringing Peace to Afghanistan”, which will enable the US and NATO to withdraw troops in the next 14 months. India attended the signing ceremony in Doha, and was represented by Ambassador to Qatar P Kumaran.
  • The pact is between the “Islamic Emirate of Afghanistan which is not recognized by the United States as a state and is known as the Taliban” and the US. The four-page pact was signed between Zalmay Khalilzad, US Special Representative for Afghanistan Reconciliation, and Mullah Abdul Ghani Baradar, political head of the Taliban.
  • Separately, a three-page joint declaration between the Afghan government (Islamic Republic of Afghanistan) and the US was issued in Kabul.

The key elements

  • TROOPS WITHDRAWAL: The US will draw down to 8,600 troops in 135 days and the NATO or coalition troop numbers will also be brought down, proportionately and simultaneously. And all troops will be out within 14 months — “all” would include “non-diplomatic civilian personnel” (could be interpreted to mean “intelligence” personnel).
  • TALIBAN COMMITMENT: The main counter-terrorism commitment by the Taliban is that “Taliban will not allow any of its members, other individuals or groups, including al-Qaeda, to use the soil of Afghanistan to threaten the security of the United States and its allies”. While reference to al-Qaeda is important, the pact is silent on other terrorist groups — such as anti-India groups Lashkar-e-Toiba or Jaish-e-Mohammed. Again, India, not being an US ally, is not covered under this pact.
  • SANCTIONS REMOVAL: UN sanctions on Taliban leaders to be removed by three months and US sanctions by August 27. The sanctions will be out before much progress is expected in the intra-Afghan dialogue.
  • PRISONER RELEASE: It is a “possible trouble spot” because the US-Taliban agreement and the joint declaration differ, and it is not clear whether the Ashraf Ghani-led government is on board with this “pretty big up-front concession to Taliban”. The joint declaration says the US will facilitate “discussion with Taliban representatives on confidence building measures, to include determining the feasibility of releasing significant numbers of prisoners on both sides”. While there are no numbers or deadlines in the joint declaration, the US-Taliban pact says up to 5,000 imprisoned Taliban and up to 1,000 prisoners from “the other side” held by Taliban “will be released” by March 10 — which is when intra-Afghan negotiations are supposed to start, in Oslo.
  • CEASEFIRE: Identified as another potential “trouble spot”. The agreement states ceasefire will be simply “an item on the agenda” when intra-Afghan talks start, and indicates actual ceasefire will come with the “completion” of an Afghan political agreement.

Challenges ahead

  • The joint declaration is a symbolic commitment to the Afghanistan government that the US is not abandoning it. The Taliban have got what they wanted: troops withdrawal, removal of sanctions, release of prisoners. This has also strengthened Pakistan, Taliban’s benefactor, and the Pakistan Army and the ISI’s influence appears to be on the rise. It has made it unambiguous that it wants an Islamic regime.
  • The Afghan government has been completely sidelined during the talks between the US and Taliban. The future for the people of Afghanistan is uncertain, and will depend on how Taliban honours its commitments and whether it goes back to the mediaeval practices of its 1996-2001 regime.
  • Much will depend on whether the US and the Taliban are able to keep their ends of the bargain, and every step forward will be negotiated, and how the Afghan government and the political spectrum are involved.
  • “This is only the first step towards peace… Peace in Afghanistan will be predicated now on how the Afghans talk to each other, independent of outside pressures. Like in 1989, 1992, 1996, and in 2001, Pakistan has the opportunity to play a constructive role. It frittered away the opportunities in the past. The most point is, will this time be any different?”

India and Taliban

  • For New Delhi, too, it is a tough task ahead. Quite predictably, Mullah Baradar did not name India among the countries that supported the peace process, but specially thanked Pakistan for the “support, work and assistance” provided.
  • India and the Taliban have had a bitter past. New Delhi nurses bitter memories from the IC-814 hijack in 1999, when it had to release terrorists — including Maulana Masood Azhar who founded Jaish-e-Mohammed that went on to carry out terror attacks on Parliament (2001), in Pathankot (2016) and in Pulwama (2019). The Taliban perceived India as a hostile country, as India had supported the anti-Taliban force Northern Alliance in the 1990s.
  • India never gave diplomatic and official recognition to the Taliban when it was in power during 1996-2001. In recent years, as US-Taliban negotiations picked up momentum, New Delhi has been in touch with all stakeholders. But its foreign policy establishment has shied away from engaging with the Taliban directly. Even when former envoy to Afghanistan Amar Sinha and former envoy to Pakistan T C A Raghavan were sent as “non-official representatives” to talks with the Taliban in Moscow in November 2017, they went as “observers” and did not engage in direct talks, although some conversations are learnt to have taken place on the sidelines.

New Delhi and Kabul

  • India has been backing the Ghani-led government and was among very few countries to congratulate Ghani on his victory. India’s proximity to Ghani also drew from their shared view of cross-border terrorism emanating from Pakistan.
  • The government sent Foreign Secretary Harsh Vardhan Shringla to Kabul on Friday and Saturday to meet with Ghani and the senior political leadership, while its envoy in Doha went for the US-Taliban ceremony.
  • Shringla has reiterated India’s consistent support for an “independent, sovereign, democratic, pluralistic and inclusive” Afghanistan in which interests of all sections of society are preserved. He also conveyed India’s support for “enduring and inclusive” peace and reconciliation which is “Afghan-led, Afghan-owned and Afghan-controlled”. His reference to an “end to externally sponsored terrorism” is a signal that the state and non-state actors must keep Pakistan-sponsored terrorism at bay.
  • To convey India’s commitment, agreements for road projects in Bamyan and Mazar-e-Sharif provinces with Indian development assistance were signed during the visit.
  • Many Indian diplomats say although there has not been formal contact with top Taliban leaders, the Indian mission has a fair amount of access to the Pashtun community throughout Afghanistan through community development projects of about $3 billion. Due to these high-impact projects, diplomats feel India has gained goodwill among ordinary Afghans, the majority of whom are Pashtuns and some may be aligned with the Taliban as well.
  • So, although Pakistan military and its ally Taliban have become dominant players in Kabul’s power circles, it is not all that grim for New Delhi.

2 . Pandemic

Context : WHO Director-General Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus made it abundantly clear that WHO will not declare COVID-19 a pandemic at this moment. 

About Pandemic

  • A pandemic is defined as the worldwide spread of a new disease. The last pandemic reported was the 2009 H1N1 flu pandemic, which killed hundreds of thousands globally. Unless it is influenza, WHO generally avoids declaring diseases as pandemics. This change came about after the lessons learned from the 2009 H1N1 experience.
  • According to 2017 pandemic influenza risk management guidelines, the WHO uses pandemic influenza phases — interpandemic, alert, pandemic and transition — to “reflect its risk assessment of the global situation regarding each influenza virus with pandemic potential infecting humans”.

3 . NPR Format

Context : Bihar Assembly passed a unanimous resolution stating that there is no need for a National Register of Citizens in the State and that the implementation of the National Population Register (NPR) would be done strictly according to the 2010 format.

What is the NPR format of 2010?

  • Fifteen identity particulars of the individual members of the household are sought in the 2010 format.
  • These include name, relationship to the head of the household, sex, date of birth, marital status, educational qualification, occupation/activity, names of parents, place of birth (of everybody staying in the household at the time), nationality, present address of usual residence, duration of stay at the present address and permanent residential address.

What does the updated manual of 2020 say?

  • The NPR 2020 enumeration exercise will be undertaken during April–September this year.
  • Certain new information will be collected by enumerators in a house-to-house collection exercise such as Aadhaar, mobile, voter ID, passport and driving licence, if available with the residents on a voluntarily basis.
  • Unlike in the 2010 NPR, the new format for NPR 2020 requires residents to disclose their mother tongue and the places and dates of birth of their parents even if they are not living in the same household at the time or not alive. Individuals have to disclose the districts and States of their parents’ birth.

What is the problem?

  • Besides Bihar, several State governments such as Kerala, West Bengal, Punjab have already objected to the implementation of NPR 2020, saying it is a harbinger for a nationwide National Register of Citizens (NRC) to identify illegal migrants.
  • State governments are nervous that the NPR data would be used to target citizens on the basis of their identity and deprive them of their citizenship.
  • The NPR 2020 Manual says “date of birth is one of the important items of information being collected in the NPR”. But in a country where a large part of the population is underprivileged and where people have not been able to formalise their birth due to lack of access to health care, the task of disclosing the exact birth and place of birth, especially of their aged parents and orphans, would prove to be a daunting task
  • The workforce for updation of NPR 2020 has to be provided by the State governments. With more States objecting to the new format and its contentious clauses, the exercise may reach an impasse. Widespread doubts about the intentions behind the NPR may also affect the smooth conduct of the Census.

4 . Latest CMS List

Context : With new additions to the wildlife list put out by the Convention on the Conservation of Migratory Species (CMS), scientists say that the total number of migratory fauna from India comes to 457 species. Birds comprise 83% (380 species) of this figure.


  • The Zoological Survey of India (ZSI) had for the first time compiled the list of migratory species of India under the CMS before the Conference of Parties (COP 13) held in Gujarat recently.
  • It had put the number at 451. Six species were added later. They are the Asian elephant, great Indian bustard, Bengal florican, oceanic white-tip shark, urial and smooth hammerhead shark. Currently, the total number of migratory fauna from India numbers 457 species.


  • Birds make up the bulk of migratory species. Before COP 13, the number of migratory bird species stood at 378 and now it has reached 380.
  • The bird family Muscicapidae has the highest number of migratory species. The next highest group of migratory birds is raptors or birds of prey, such as eagles, owls, vultures and kites which are from the family Accipitridae
  • Another group of birds that migrate in large numbers are waders or shore birds. In India, their migratory species number 41, followed by ducks (38) belonging to the family Anatidae.
  • India has three main flyways of the nine flyways globally.
    • A flyway is a geographical region within which a single or a group of migratory species completes its annual cycle – breeding, moulting, staging and non-breeding. In simpler terms, flyways imply the flight paths used by the migratory birds.
    • The Central Asian flywayAsian East African Flyway(covering parts of western India) and East Asian–Australasian Flyway (covering parts of eastern India).


  • The estimate of 44 migratory mammal species in India has risen to 46 after COP 13, said Lalit Sharma, who heads the wildlife section of the ZSI. The Asian elephant was added to Appendix I and the urial to Appendix II.
  • “The largest group of mammals is definitely bats belonging to the family Vespertilionidae. Dolphins are the second highest group of mammals with nine migratory species of dolphins listed


  • Fish make up another important group of migratory species. There are 24 species of migratory fish in India.
  • Before COP 13, the ZSI had compiled 22 species, including 12 sharks and 10 ray fish. The oceanic white-tip shark and smooth hammerhead shark were then added.
  • The total number of migratory fish species from India under CMS now stands at 24.


  • Seven reptiles, which include five species of turtles and the Indian gharial and saltwater crocodile, are among the CMS species found in India. There were no new additions to the reptiles list.

5 . Eurasian otter

Context : Researchers conducting a study in Odisha’s Chilika Lake have found the presence of a viable, breeding population of a fishing cat in the brackish water lagoon

About Eurasian Otter

  • The Eurasian otter also known as the European otterEurasian river ottercommon otter, and Old World otter, is a semiaquatic mammal native to Eurasia.
  • The most widely distributed member of the otter subfamily (Lutrinae) of the weasel family (Mustelidae), it is found in the waterways and coasts of Europe, many parts of Asia, and parts of northern Africa.
  • The Eurasian otter has a diet mainly of fish, and is strongly territorial. It is endangered in some parts of its range, but is recovering in others.
  • As per IUCN Red list it is near threatened

Why is Otters important

  • Otters are top predators using both terrestrial and aquatic environments and their loss has a serious impact on local food webs, biodiversity and habitat relationships.
  • Otters live in many different aquatic environments – coastal, estuaries, rivers, lakes, canals, marshes, etc. They need good water quality and also unpolluted, natural land habitat in which to live. This is essential for all species, including our own, and so they are excellent environmental indicators.

Current Global Threats

There are still many threats facing otters worldwide today:

  • Pollution – Microplastics, chemical spills, agricultural and industrial waste, litter, Although we have learnt some lessons we still don’t know much about the cocktail effect of the mixture of chemicals.
  • Habitat loss – Spreading urbanisation, drainage of wetlands, dam construction, removal of bankside vegetation, etc
  • Human disturbance – Increased noise, boating activity and sand mining.
  • Roads – Many otters die on the roads as they attempt to move about in their home range.
  • Competition with fisheries – This can lead to hunting supplying the illegal wildlife trade. In some countries legal culls are now being authorised, e.g. Austria.
  • Trapping – Otters are now protected by law in many countries but in North America 50,000 otters are killed legally by trapping. 
  • Illegal trade – For furs and pets

6 . Sonbhadra Gold Mine

Context : In a recent statement the Geographical Survey of India (GSI) provided estimates for the amount of gold that can be extracted from a site in Sonbhadra district of Uttar Pradesh. The probable resource is 52,806.25 tonnes of ore, with an average grade of 3.03 grams per tonne, which means the total gold that can be extracted is 160 kg, it said. The statement came after news reports stated that the gold available is 3,350 tonnes; the GSI clarified that its estimates are 160 kg.

About Sonbhadra site

  • It is near a village called Mahuli, around 70 km from Sonbhadra district’s headquarters of Roberstganj, and just 10 km from Jharkhand. The land is mainly forest area and inhabited mostly by tribals and members of backward classes.
  • Stories of gold underground have been passed down generations, giving rise to the name Sonpahari, the hill where the reserves have been estimated.
  • The site is part of the Mahakoshal region that includes parts of UP, Madhya Pradesh and Jharkhand. It is known to be potentially mineral-rich
  • This is something we also know through the geological map we keep updating, and that is why this whole Mahakoshal region has always interested us. We keep studying the rocks here and search for potential mineral reserves.

How long has the GSI known about the ore and its mineral content?

  • The GSI Northern Region carried out exploration in 1998-99 and 1999-2000. The results, however, were not encouraging enough to suggest major resources for gold in Sonbhadra.
  • An estimated resource of 52,806.25 tonnes of ore with 3.03 grams per tonne gold. This information was not significant as for extracting 160 kg gold, or even less, from more than 52,000 tonnes can cost a lot
  • The GSI compiled a report but did not forward it to the state government at the time. It submitted the report in 2019, following an amendment to the Mines and Minerals (Development and Regulation) Act in 2015. “(It) had a clause that we have to share all our reports with the state government. As we had thousands of such reports, this particular report was sent to the UP government last year,

How does the GSI arrive at such estimates?

  • Two basic processes are involved — a study of rocks, and drilling of the ground.
  • Laboratory analysis of the rocks indicates the possibility of these containing a particular mineral, in this case gold
  • Another indicator is the age of the rocks, which is determined by radiometric dating processes. For high possibility of containing such metals and minerals, the rocks need to be at least 700 million years old,
  • The rocks in Sonbhadra are in the Mahakoshal region and from the Proterozoic era, which started 2,500 million years ago
  • The GSI drilled the ground at some 30 places between 1998 and 2000, before compiling the report. This eventually provides a three-dimensional image of the area, which is necessary for determining the quality of the resource and the amount available.

Will it be worthwhile to extract the gold from the ore?

  • The GSI classifies ore into categories based on the viability of extraction, which is determined from density. Gold ore found in Sonbhadra is in the “economic” category, which means that extraction will cost less than the cost of the gold that is extracted. The cost of extraction also depends on the grade of gold; the higher the gold concentration, the easier its extraction.
  • At the same time, GSI officials pointed out that the findings are two decades old and the possible gold present is just 160 kg.

So, what happens to the ore now?

  • Once the GSI gives an estimate, the state government conducts an auction and the winner undertakes the extraction. UP government officials said that before e-auctioning, a team of officials from the state mining department and the district administration have been asked to conduct a survey of the area and identify the land containing ore, by superimposing GSI’s geological maps on khasra maps from revenue records.
  • Reserves of other minerals — andalusite, potash and iron ore — have been estimated in various parts of Sonbhadra. A preliminary survey also suggested a possibility of uranium deposits, he said.

7 . Facts for Prelims


  • Colistin is the last-resort antibiotic used to treat highly drug-resistant bacterial infections.
  • Colistin-resistant bacteria can be of hospital origin or food origin. Colistin-resistant bacteria of hospital origin do not respond to any of the antibiotics, including carbapenem while colistin-resistant bacteria of food origin will respond to carbapenem.
  • Colistin usage in poultry plays a bigger role than its usage in hospitals for the bacteria to develop widespread colistin resistance.”

Merkel cell carcinoma

  • Merkel cell carcinoma is a rare and aggressive type of skin cancer.
  • Merkel cell carcinoma is associated with old age, excessive exposure to ultraviolet light and a weak immune system.
  • A team from National Centre for Biological Sciences, Bengaluru, has developed a diagnostic system to detect the presence of Merkel cell polyomavirus in Merkel cell carcinoma tumours.
  • The researchers have developed a test using the CRISPR-CAS12 technology that can identify the virus in the tumour and give off a fluorescence to indicate the presence of the virus. This is an important development, both, from the point of view of diagnostics and giving a prognosis for the condition.
  • The team adapted a system named DETECTR (DNA endonuclease-targeted CRISPR trans reporter) to help them in this endeavour. The system consists of three components: identifier, switch and reporter. The identifier is a “guide RNA” which can recognise and bind to a section of the Merkel cell polyoma virus. The switch is a DNA-cutting enzyme known as Cas-12a which gets attached to the guide RNA after it finds its target DNA. The reporter consists of a single stranded DNA tagged with a fluorescent molecule.
  • When the guide RNA attaches itself to the viral DNA segment, the attached Cas-12a enzymes get activated and start cutting the “target” virus DNA. They also are enabled to cut up the single-stranded DNA tagged with fluorescent molecule.
  • This then causes the fluorescent molecules to glow, which can be detected. Also, the strength of the glow depends on the number of activated Cas-12a molecules, which in turn depends on the number of virus DNA copies recognised in the tumour DNA. This therefore gives a measure of the number of viruses in the tumour.


  • The newly created Union Territory of Jammu and Kashmir (J&K) will be the only one in the country to undergo a delimitation exercise based on the population figures recorded in the 2011 census.
  • The latest readjustment of boundaries of constituencies in other States and UTs has been done on the basis of 2001 census and in future it will be carried out according to the 2031 census.
  • Section 63 was introduced in the J&K Reorganisation Act so that delimitation exercise can be conducted smoothly without overlapping with other provisions of Delimitation Commission Act, 2002. It is a saving clause and since J&K is a UT, it now has constitutional safeguards. The provision did not require any separate legislation as it was incorporated in the primary Act,
  • The delimitation will be done for 90 seats as 24 seats fall in Pakistan Occupied Kashmir (PoK). The exercise will take at least a year to complete. Till then no elections can be held,” said the official.
  • In rest of India, Delimitation Commissions have been constituted four times -– in 1952, 1963 1973 and in 2002.

The Laboratory for Conservation of Endangered Species (Lacones)

  • Effective conservation measures include both in situ habitat preservation, species protection and ex situ conservation (captive breeding in controlled environment to restock original wild populations).
  • In order to support both these measures using biotechnological tools and techniques in an innovative manner, LaCONES was established. With support from Dept. of Biotechnology (DBT), Govt. of India, New Delhi, Central Zoo Authority of India (CZA), New Delhi and Council of Scientific and Industrial Research (CSIR), New Delhi and Government of Andhra Pradesh project LaCONES was established in 1998.
  • The laboratory was itself established in 2007. This lab would strive to: “To promote excellence in conservation biotechnology and serve for conservation of endangered wildlife in India”.
  • One of the successful efforts of Lacones has been the reintroduction of mouse deer in the wild with its captive breeding programme in collaboration with the Nehru Zoological Park in Hyderabad.
  • The Lacones is building up a national genetic wildlife bank, which has the germplasm of 23 species, including red panda, pygmy hog, Asiatic lion and gharials.
  • The Lacones is one of the few frozen zoos in the world where a repository of germplasm is stored for possible future use.
  • CCMB-LaCONES is the only laboratory in India that has developed methods for collection and cryopreservation of semen and oocytes from wildlife and successfully reproducing endangered blackbuck, spotted deer and Nicobar pigeons. Through this work, it has established Genetic Resource Bank for Indian wildlife.  

Cross Species Adoption

  • A lioness in Gujarat’s Gir National Park mothered a leopard cub for more than a month. A study has noted their short-lived bonding as a rare case of foster care between two competing feline species.
  • Elephant seals and sea lions are known to adopt orphans of their own kind. The animal kingdom has two reported cases of cross-species adoption in the wild — that of a young marmoset by a family of capuchin monkeys in South America and a melon-headed whale calf by a bottlenose dolphin.

Monuments protected by ASI

  • At present, 3,691 monuments are protected by the ASI throughout India
  • Uttar Pradesh has the highest number of protected monuments at 745.
  • Removal of some sites from the Central list would allow development works in their vicinity. There is a ban on construction within 100 metres of a centrally protected monument and regulated construction within 100-200 metres under the Ancient Monuments and Archaeological Sites and Remains Act, 1958. The Act protects monuments and sites that are over 100 years old.

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