Daily Current Affairs 21st and 22nd May 2023

Daily Current Affairs for UPSC CSE

Topics Covered

  1. North South Corridor
  2. SC order on Jalikattu 
  3. Non-Sugar sweeteners
  4. Human Pangenome Map
  5. Facts for Prelims

          1 . North- South Corridor 

          Context: Last week, Mr. Putin and his Iranian counterpart Ebrahim Raisi virtually participated in a ceremony where both countries signed an agreement to develop the 162-km Rasht-Astara railway, a critical link in the eastern network of the NSTC. 

          What is North- South Corridor? 

          • The idea of North – South Corridor was first mooted in 2000. The idea was to build a transport corridor linking Russia’s Baltic Sea coast to India’s western ports in the Arabian Sea via Iran. Russia, India and Iran signed preliminary agreements to develop the 7,200-km-long International North-South Transport Corridor (NSTC) in 2002.  
          • Three years later, Azerbaijan signed up for the project. This agreement was eventually ratified by 13 countries — India, Russia, Iran, Azerbaijan, Belarus, Bulgaria, Armenia, Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan, Oman, Tajikistan, Turkey and Ukraine. 
          • Plan of the Project– According to the original plan, the corridor has several branches. On the western side of the Caspian Sea, it would link Russia to Iran through Azerbaijan. The eastern branch runs along the eastern coast of the Caspian Sea and links the main corridor to different road and rail networks of Central Asian countries such as Turkmenistan and Kazakhstan. 
          • Significance of the project– According to a report by the Federation of Freight Forwarders’ Associations in India, the corridor is 30% cheaper and 40% shorter than the current traditional route. The traditional route to move goods from Russia or Europe to India is through the Suez Canal — the Baltic Sea-North Sea-Mediterranean-Arabian Sea route. Mr. Putin calls the NSTC an alternative to the Suez Canal. 

          What are the reasons for the slow progress of the project? 

          • One of the reason was the western sanctions on Iran over its nuclear programme. Other countries and their private corporations were reluctant to make large investments in the Islamic Republic, fearing third party sanctions from the U.S. 
          • Russia’s February 2022 invasion of Ukraine, after which it was sanctioned by the West, seems to have brought Moscow and Tehran closer, giving a fresh impetus to the NSTC. 
          • The Rasht-Astara link- Russian President Vladimir Putin and his Iranian counterpart Ebrahim Raisi oversaw, via video-link the signing of a deal to finance and build an Iranian railway line as part of an embryonic international North–South Transport Corridor. 
          • The Rasht-Astara railway is seen as an important link in the corridor, intended to connect India, Iran, Russia, Azerbaijan and other countries via railways and sea – a route that Russia says can rival the Suez Canal as a major global trade route. 
          • In the western branch, which is the faster route, the Rasht-Astara railway would link Iranian railways up with Azerbaijan’s railways, opening a direct corridor from St. Petersburg to Bandar Abbas on the Gulf, Iran’s busiest port. Hit by western sanctions, Russia and Iran are now motivated to speed up the works.  
          • According to the agreement signed last week, Russia will invest $1.73 billion on the construction of the railway, while Iran will spend roughly $5 billion and is looking for foreign investors. Iran and Russia claim that the Rasht-Astara link would be completed in 48 months. 

          North – South Corridor and its Importance to India 

          • For India, a country that’s dependent on imports for about 80% of its energy requirements, this corridor would open fresh avenues for energy security. India has substantially increased its energy ties with Russia over the past year. 
          • The corridor can also boost trade between India and Central Asia. India is now asking for the Chabahar, the Iranian port it is developing, to be connected to the corridor. 

          What are the challenges in the completion of project? 

          • Construction of the Rasht-Astara railway, along the Caspian Sea, has been lagging for years because of both financial and practical reasons. The link will have 22 tunnels and 15 special bridges and there is no guarantee that it will be finished as per schedule in 48 months. 
          • The Russian rail gauge, which is used in former Soviet republics as well, is different from that of Iran. Moreover, there are geopolitical problems. Both Russia and Iran would find it difficult to raise enough funds to finance the project as they are grappling with sanctions, while third parties remain reluctant to make investments in Iran. 
          • Iran’s relationship with Azerbaijan remains tense. Baku has repeatedly accused Iran of interference in its internal matters, and the war between Azerbaijan and Armenia has complicated the geopolitics of the Caucasus. 
          • Opportunity for Russia and Iran– However, despite the challenges, the Russians and the Iranians seem determined to go ahead as they see the corridor as a potential game changer in their plans for Eurasian economic integration.  

          2 . Supreme Court order on Jallikattu 

          Context: Jallikattu, the traditional rural sport involving bulls, has received judicial approval. A Constitution Bench of the Supreme Court has ruled that the amendment made in 2017 by the Tamil Nadu Assembly to the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals Act, 1960, facilitating the smooth conduct of the sport with stringent regulations, is valid. 

          What are the controversies over Jallikattu? 

          • The main conflict over the sport, which involves sturdy bulls being let loose into the arena and being chased by men who are considered winners if they manage to hold on to the humps of the animals without being thrown off, is whether it entails unnecessary cruelty.  
          • Animal rights activists have been arguing that the way it is held is cruel because it inflicts pain and suffering.   
          • Specific acts that allegedly took place in the past — before the events were regulated by law — such as beating the bulls or twisting their tails and other acts that inflict pain so that they are more ferocious in the arena, are now rare. 

          Background History of the case 

          • In 2006, a Madras High Court judge, when a petition for permission to hold a rekla race (a kind of bullock cart race) came up before her, barred the conduct of any such event including jallikattu.  
          • On appeal, a Division Bench set aside the order, but asked the government to take steps to prevent any kind of violence or cruelty as well as ensure the safety of the participants and spectators. It favoured regulation over an outright ban.  
          • The State Assembly adopted the Tamil Nadu Regulation of Jallikattu Act in 2009 to strengthen its case for holding the event by adopting regulations and safety measures.  
          • In July 2011, the Union Ministry of Environment and Forests issued a notification including ‘bulls’ in a list of animals that are prohibited from being exhibited or trained for any performance. Efforts to organise the sport as a regulated event failed and jallikattu could not take place for some years. 

          Why did the Supreme Court ban the sport? 

          • In a landmark verdict that established a rights jurisprudence for animals under the Constitution, the Supreme Court imposed a ban on jallikattu and similar sports involving animals in 2014.  
          • It held the Tamil Nadu law regulating the sport as repugnant to the Central legislation on preventing cruelty to animals.  
          • It said the Act was “anthropocentric” in the sense that it sought to protect the interests of organisers, spectators and participants and not the animals. On the other hand, the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals Act, 1960 (PCA) was an “ecocentric” law.  
          • The Bench ruled that the provisions of the State law were contrary to provisions of the Central Act in three ways: it went against the statutory duty of anyone with the care or charge of any animal to ensure its well-being and prevent infliction of unnecessary pain or suffering, the bar on using animals solely for entertainment and inciting them to fight and the restrictions on the training and exhibition of performing animals. 
          • The court cited the ‘Five Freedoms’ recognised for animals by the World Health Organization for Animal Health — freedom from hunger, thirst and malnutrition; freedom from fear and distress; freedom from physical and thermal discomfort; freedom from pain, injury and disease; and freedom to express normal patterns of behaviour and said that these freedoms should be read into the provisions favouring animal rights found in the PCA. 
          • Constitution provision to safeguard animal rights- In addition, these rights and freedoms flow from the Fundamental Duties in the Constitution, viz., Art. 51A(g), which imposes a duty on citizens to protect and improve the natural environment and to have compassion for living creatures. 

          What was Tamil Nadu’s response? 

          • A massive agitation broke out in January 2017 against the government’s failure to facilitate the conduct of jallikattu for successive years, with tens of thousands of people, especially youngsters, occupying the sands of the Marina in Chennai for days. This led to a surge of support for jallikattu. The government of then Chief Minister O. Panneerselvam agreed to take legislative measures. With the Union government’s cooperation, it obtained the President’s prior instruction to issue an ordinance that sought to remove the basis for the 2014 Supreme Court judgment. 
          • To avoid repugnancy with the Central law, the ordinance, which was replaced by an Act within a few days, was adopted as a State-specific amendment to the PCA itself. It was framed in a way that would define jallikattu as an event organised to promote and follow tradition and culture and to preserve the native breeds of bulls.  
          • Its clauses were worded to remove the applicability of the PCA provisions to jallikattu
          •  It added the sport as another exception to the list of acts the PCA itself allows as those that do not amount to cruelty (other exceptions include dehorning, castration and destruction of stray dogs and other animals).  
          • It made the restriction on use of animals for performances inapplicable to jallikattu, besides including the sport to the list of ‘exemptions’ from the rule against using some animals as performing animals. With the President giving his assent, the amendment became law in Tamil Nadu. 

          What does the SC ruling now say? 

          • In its latest ruling, a Constitution Bench has accepted the basic argument that jallikattu is part of the cultural heritage of Tamils. It observed that the judiciary cannot examine the question whether something was part of tradition and culture, and that it would defer to the legislature’s view in this regard. 
          •  On this point, it differed from the 2014 verdict which had rejected the claim that the sport had cultural and traditional value. It upheld the Amendment Act, saying it has now legitimised the bovine sport and that it cannot be termed a piece of colourable legislation.  
          • The court recalled that the 2014 judgment had banned the sport by citing acts that amounted to cruelty then. But now, the Constitution Bench said, as the State amendment has been followed up with stringent regulations for conducting jallikattu.  
          • It ruled that the State legislation should be read along with the rules framed for holding these events. Therefore, there are no statutory violations now that warrant a ban on jallikattu.  

          3 . Non- Sugar sweeteners 

          Context: The World Health Organization (WHO) issued new guidelines on May 15 advising against the use of non-sugar sweeteners (NSS) like aspartame, saccharin, stevia and other derivatives as a “healthy” alternative to sugar. 

          What are non-sugar sweeteners? 

          • Non-sugar sweeteners (NSS) are marketed as low or no-calorie alternatives to free sugars which aid in weight loss, and in controlling blood glucose in individuals with diabetes. NSS categories studied by WHO include acesulfame K, aspartame, advantame, cyclamates, neotame, saccharin, sucralose, stevia, and stevia derivatives. 
          • Aspartame is popularly used to sweeten diet colas that claim to have ‘no sugar, no calories.’ Saccharin is used, for instance, to sweeten tea or coffee. 

          WHO findings 

          • The WHO analysed a total of 283 studies on the intake of NSS in adults and children. It included studies that compared NSS consumption with no or lower doses of NSS consumption as well as trials that compared the intervention with any type of sugar, placebo, plain water or no intervention. 
          • The outcome of the trials was that the WHO noted that ‘higher intake’ of NSS was associated with a 76% increase in risk of obesity and a 0.14 kg/m2 increase in BMI (Body Mass Index). 
          •  In the final analysis, no evidence of long-term benefit on reducing body fat in adults and children was found.  
          • It warned that long-term use of NSS could lead to increased risk of Type 2 diabetes, cardiovascular diseases, chronic kidney disease and cancer. 

          What are the concerns? 

          • India should take necessary steps to guide people on NSS because one in nine women and one in 25 men are obese, according to the National Family Health Survey’s fifth round conducted between 2019 and 2021. 
          • Obese people are more prone to suffer from diabetes. There are an estimated 25 million people living with pre-diabetes in India, according to WHO data. 

          What is WHO’s nutritional advice? 

          • WHO says it is difficult to view the role of sweeteners in isolation when it comes to weight loss studies that were analysed, so it is important to note that the quality (nutritional profile) and quantity of diet are also crucial in this matrix. 
          • Recommendations– . It instead recommends having alternative foods which are minimally processed, unsweetened foods and beverages.   

          What happens next? 

          • Experts say WHO’s conditional guideline is such that it is less certain that desirable consequences of implementing this recommendation outweigh the undesirable consequences. This means that the Ministry of Health will have to initiate discussions among policy-makers before it decides to adopt this ‘conditional’ recommendation as a national policy. 
          • The WHO recommends that with the help of this guidance efforts should be made, with a focus on youngsters, to tweak taste preferences and eating behaviours.  
          • It also said that potable water as a preferred replacement for beverages that are sweetened with NSS and as a mode of hydration should be incorporated.  

          4 . Human Pangenome Map 

          Context: A new study published in the issue of the Nature journal describes a pangenome reference map, built using genomes from 47 anonymous individuals (19 men and 28 women), mainly from Africa but also from the Caribbean, Americas, East Asia, and Europe. 

          What is a genome? 

          • The genome is the blueprint of life, a collection of all the genes and the regions between the genes contained in our 23 pairs of chromosomes.  
          • Each chromosome is a contiguous stretch of DNA string. The four types of building blocks (A, T, G and C) are arranged and repeated millions of times in different combinations to make all of our 23 chromosomes.  
          • Genome Sequencing– Genome sequencing is the method used to determine the precise order of the four letters and how they are arranged in chromosomes. Sequencing individual genomes helps us understand human diversity at the genetic level and how prone we are to certain diseases. 

          What is a reference genome? 

          • When genomes are newly sequenced, they are compared to a reference map called a reference genome.   
          • Uses- This helps us to understand the regions of differences between the newly sequenced genome and the reference genome.  
          • It helped scientists discover thousands of genes linked to various diseases; better understand diseases like cancer at the genetic level; and design novel diagnostic tests. 
          • Although a remarkable feat, the reference genome of 2001 was 92% complete and contained many gaps and errors. Since then, the reference genome map has been refined and improved to have complete end-to-end sequences of all the 23 human chromosomes. 
          • Although complete and error-free, the finished reference genome map does not represent all of human diversity. The new study published in Nature changes this. The main paper and the accompanying articles published in the same journal and Nature Biotechnology describe the making of the pangenome map, the genetic diversity among the 47 individuals, and the computational methods developed to build the map and represent differences in those genomes. 

          What is a pangenome map? 

          • Unlike the earlier reference genome, which is a linear sequence, the pangenome is a graph. The graph of each chromosome is like a bamboo stem with nodes where a stretch of sequences of all 47 individuals converge (similar), and with internodes of varying lengths representing genetic variations among those individuals from different ancestries.  
          • To create complete and contiguous chromosome maps in the pangenome project, the researchers used long-read DNA sequencing technologies, which produce strings of contiguous DNA strands of tens of thousands of nucleotides long. Using longer reads helps assemble the sequences with minimum errors and read through the repetitive regions of the chromosomes which are hard to sequence with short-read technologies used earlier. 

          Why is a pangenome map important? 

          • Although any two humans are more than 99% similar in their DNA, there is still about a 0.4% difference between any two individuals. This may be a small percentage, but considering that the human genome consists of 3.2 billion individual nucleotides, the difference between any two individuals is a whopping 12.8 million nucleotides. A complete and error-free human pangenome map will help us understand those differences and explain human diversity better. 
          • It will also help us understand genetic variants in some populations, which result in underlying health conditions. The pangenome reference map has added nearly 119 million new letters to the existing genome map and has already aided the discovery of 150 new genes linked to autism. 
          • Although the project is a leap forward, genomes from many populations are still not a part of it. For example, genomes from more people from Africa, the Indian sub-continent, indigenous groups in Asia and Oceania, and West Asian regions are not represented in the current version of the pangenome map. 
          • Even though the current map does not contain genome sequences from Indians, it will help map Indian genomes better against the error-free and complete reference genomes known so far. 
          •  Future pangenome maps that include high quality genomes from Indians, including from many endogamous and isolated populations within the country, will shed light on disease prevalence, help discover new genes for rare diseases, design better diagnostic methods, and help discover novel drugs against those diseases.  

          5 . Facts for prelims 

          Global Polio Eradication Initiative 

          • The Global Polio Eradication Initiative is an initiative created in 1988, just after the World Health Assembly resolved to eradicate the disease poliomyelitis. Led by the World Health Organization, it is the largest international public health initiative in history 
          • The goal of the Global Polio Eradication Initiative is to complete the eradication and containment of all wild, vaccine-related and Sabin polioviruses, such that no child ever again suffers paralytic poliomyelitis. 
          • Strategy and structure 
          • The strategy for the eradication of polio rests on immunising every at-risk child until there is no one left for the disease to transmit to, and the disease eventually dies out. 
          • The initiative is spearheaded by the following organisations in the form of multistakeholder governance: 
          • WHO (World Health Organization), who are responsible for planning, technical direction, surveillance and eradication certification 
          • Rotary International, whose responsibilities include fundraising, advocacy, and volunteer recruitment 
          • The CDC, who are in charge of deploying scientists and public health experts to WHO and UNICEF 
          • UNICEF is in charge of the distribution of the vaccine and helping countries develop communication and awareness strategies. 
          • The Gates Foundation provided a large portion of the funding. 
          • Key tactics used by the GPEI include strengthening childhood immunisation through oral vaccines, conducting surveillance through investigation of acute flaccid paralysis cases among children under 15 years old (in order to determine areas where the virus is truly eradicated), and conducting “mop up” campaigns in areas where cases of polio have been identified 

          World Health Assembly 

          • The World Health Assembly (WHA) is the forum through which the World Health Organization (WHO) is governed by its 194 member states. 
          •  It is the world’s highest health policy setting body and is composed of health ministers from member states. 
          • The members of the WHA generally meet every year in May in Geneva at the Palace of Nations, the location of WHO Headquarters.  
          • The main tasks of the WHA are to decide major policy questions, as well as to approve the WHO work programme and budget and elect its Director-General (every fifth year) and annually to elect ten members to renew part of its executive board. 
          • Functions– Its main functions are to determine the policies of the Organization, supervise financial policies, and review and approve the proposed programme budget. 

          Al-Aqsa Mosque 

          • Al-Aqsa Mosque is a congregational mosque or prayer hall in the Old City of Jerusalem. 
          • Al-Aqsa Mosque, which has the structure of a Byzantine basilica, has undergone many transformations, demolitions, and renovations. Initially, it was built of wood by Omar, and only after a few years, it was made of stone by the fifth successor to the Umayyad house, Abd al-Malek. It is built of several architectural styles combined.  
          • The exact date of its establishment is unknown, but it was built to serve as a place of prayer for many Muslim pilgrims, and it is estimated that it has existed for over 1,500 years. 
          • In modern times the mosque and the plaza have become a particular point of tension in the Arab-Israeli conflict. Apart from its importance to Muslims, the plaza holds significance for Jews as the site of the Temple of Jerusalem, whose Herodian incarnation was destroyed in 70 CE. 
          • The administrative body responsible for the whole Al-Aqsa Mosque compound is known as “the Jerusalem Waqf”, an organ of the Jordanian government.

          Neh-Pema Shelpu  

          • Neh-Pema Shelpu is a Pilgrimage place about 13 KM from Mechuka town, in Arunachal Pradesh which is known as the meditation place of 6th rebirth of Guru Padma Samba. This place is locally popular by the name of Gurudwara. 
          • This is perhaps the only place where Padmasambhava and Sikh Gurudwara co-exisit together. 
          • The cave has been a pilgrimage for the last 450 years for the Buddhist community inhabiting Mechukha for more than 600 years. 

          Dachigam National Park  

          • Dachigam National Park is a national park is located in Srinagar district of Jammu and Kashmir, India on the east side of Dal Lake.  
          • The name literally stands for ‘ten villages’, which could be in memory of the ten villages that were relocated in order to create the park. 
          • Dachigam was initially established to ensure the supply of clean drinking water to Srinagar city. A protected area since 1910, it was declared as a national park in 1981.  
          • The park is best known as the home of the hangul, or Kashmir stag. It is the only area  where Kashmir stag is found.  
          • Dachigam National park is located in the Zabarwan Range of the western Himalayas   
          • Flora- The mountain sides below the tree line are wooded. Most of this coniferous forest consists of broad leaf species. Interspersed between these are alpine pastures, meadows, waterfalls and scrub vegetation with deep gullies, locally known as Nars, running down the mountain face.   
          • Fauna- Musk deer, Snow Leopard, Himalayan serow, Kashmir grey langur, Kashmir stag, Leopard cat, Himalayan black bear 

          Martand Sun Temple 

          • The Martand Temple was built by the Karkota dynasty king Lalitaditya Muktapida, who ruled Kashmir from 725 AD to 753 AD.  
          • Although some historians believe that an earlier temple existed here and was incorporated into Lalitaditya’s grander structure, others credit Lalitaditya entirely for it.  
          • Lalitaditya built his capital at Parihaspora, the ruins of which also survive to this day. 
          • Dedicated to Vishnu-Surya, the Martand Temple has three distinct chambers—the mandapa, the garbhagriha, and the antralaya—probably the only three-chambered temple in Kashmir. 
          • The temple is built in a unique Kashmiri style, though it has definite Gandhar influences. 
          • A major historical source for Kashmir’s history remains Rajatarangini, written in the 12th century by Kalhana, and various translations of the work contain descriptions of Martand’s grandeur. 
          • The temple was destroyed by Sikandar Shah Miri. Martand Sun Temple is one of the three holiest sites of pilgrimage for Kashmiri Pandits, alongside the Sharada Peeth and the Amarnath Temple. 

          Ganga Prahari 

          • Ganga Praharis are motivated and trained volunteers from among the local communities working for biodiversity conservation and cleanliness of the Ganga River with the ultimate objectives of restoring the Nirmal and Aviral Dhara. 
          • The creation of this cadre was visualized in the framework of participatory conservation efforts, where people involved in the process usually live in communities with considerable social cohesion and regularly work together on shared projects of community concerns. 
          • The aim of this initiative is to establish a motivated cadre of “Ganga Prahari” to support the local level institutions and monitor the quality of the natural resources of the river by mobilizing local communities at the grassroots level. This could be achieved by: 
            • Creating awareness about the benefits of a clean and vibrant Ganga and create a sense of belongingness among people towards the Ganga River. 
            • Linking local communities and their livelihoods with the overall efforts of various agencies working for a clean Ganga, and thereby, creating a convergence point at grass roots level for such efforts. 
            • Linking local people’s livelihood and well-being with a clean and vibrant Ganga. 

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