Daily Current Affairs : 31st July 2023

Daily Current Affairs for UPSC CSE

Topics Covered

  1. Cell free dna
  2. Project Tiger
  3. Udan Scheme
  4. Facts for Prelims

1 . Cell free DNA

Context:  Researchers around the world are increasingly finding cfDNA to be a useful tool to understand human diseases and to use the knowledge to improve diagnosis, monitoring, and prognosis.

What is cell free DNA?

  • In the human body, most of the DNA in a genome is neatly packed inside cells with the help of specific proteins, protecting it from being degraded. However, in a variety of scenarios, some fragments of DNA are ‘released’ from their containers and are present outside the cell, in body fluids. These small fragments of nucleic acids are widely known as cell-free DNA (cfDNA)
  • Release of cell free DNA- cfDNA can be generated and released from a cell in a number of possible situations, including when a cell is dying and the nucleic acids become degraded. Since an array of processes modulates the degradation, the amount, size, and source of the cfDNA can vary across a range as well.
  • In addition, the release of cfDNA could occur together with a variety of processes, including those required for normal development, those related to the development of certain cancers, and those associated with several other diseases.

Applications of Cell Free DNA

  • One of the most widely used applications of cfDNA has been in screening foetuses for specific chromosomal abnormalities, an application known as non-invasive prenatal testing.
    • The availability of affordable genome-sequencing approaches will allow clinicians to sequence cfDNA fragments that correspond to foetal DNA. They can then use it to understand specific chromosomal abnormalities that involve changes in the chromosomal copy number. Such changes can lead to conditions like Down’s syndrome, which is due to a change in chromosome 21 (there are three copies of chromosome 21 in place of two, so it is also called trisomy 21).
  • Another emerging application of cfDNA is in the early detection, diagnosis, and treatment of cancers.
    • Specifically, the researchers examined a type of genetic mutation that, when combined with machine-learning approaches, could provide a way to detect cancer early.  
    • Using a particular machine-learning model, some genomic data, and data from a computed tomography (CT) scan, the researchers could successfully detect lung cancer – including those with early stage disease – in more than the 90% of the 89 people they studied.
    • The team also found that it could replicate the findings using cfDNA derived from a prospective observational cohort of over 300 individuals who were at high risk of developing lung cancer. They found that combining the new approach with the existing approaches could significantly enhance their ability to detect cancers early.
  • CfDNA can also helps in understanding why a body is rejecting a transplanted organ.  
  • cfDNA seems to have an almost infinite number of applications, especially as nucleic-acid sequencing becomes rapidly democratised and finds more applications of its own in clinical settings. There have already been some reports suggesting that cfDNA could be used as a biomarker for neurological disorders like Alzheimer’s disease, neuronal tumours, stroke, traumatic brain injury, and even metabolic disorders like type-2 diabetes and non-alcoholic fatty liver disease.
  • cfDNA genomics promises to set us on the path of more effective disease-screening and early diagnosis, and on course for a healthy world.

2 . Project Tiger

Context: India’s tiger population increased to 3,682 in 2022, up from 2,967 in 2018, according to an estimate. This is an upward revision from April this year, when a minimum of 3,167 animals were estimated by the Wildlife Institute of India (WII), which coordinates the quadrennial tiger census.

What are the findings of the report?

  • India’s tigers are largely concentrated in 53 dedicated tiger reserves spread across 75,796 square km, spanning about 2.3% of India’s total land area. The reserves with the maximum number of tigers were at the Corbett National Park in Uttarakhand, which reported 260 animals, followed by Bandipur (150), and Nagarhole (141), both in Karnataka.
  • In 2022, the maximum number of tigers, 785, were reported to be in Madhya Pradesh, followed by Karnataka (563), Uttarakhand (560), and Maharashtra (444). Nearly a quarter of the tigers were reportedly outside protected areas.
  • Central India, the Shivalik Hills, and the Gangetic plains witnessed increases in tiger population, particularly in the states of Madhya Pradesh, Uttarakhand, and Maharashtra. However, certain regions, such as the Western Ghats, experienced localised declines, needing targeted monitoring and conservation efforts.
  • The report mentioned that Approximately 35% of the tiger reserves urgently required enhanced protection measures, habitat restoration, ungulate (deer, chital, blackbuck) augmentation, and subsequent tiger reintroduction.
  • The estimated number of 3,582 is an average figure for a population that likely ranges between 3,167 and 3,925. Tiger numbers are estimated based on the number of unique tigers captured on camera, plus an estimate of animals that may have not been photographed.
  • Nearly 88% of the tigers estimated this time were captured on camera. Since 2014, India’s tigers have been increasing at about 5% to 6% each year.

What is Project Tiger? 

  • The Government of India has taken a pioneering initiative for conserving its national animal, the tiger, by launching the “Project Tiger” in 1973.  
  • From 9 tiger reserves since its formative years, the Project Tiger coverage has increased to 51 at present, spread out in 18 of our tiger range states. This amounts to around 2.23% of the geographical area of our country.  
  • The project aims at ensuring a viable population of the Bengal tiger in its natural habitats, protecting it from extinction, and preserving areas of biological importance as a natural heritage that represent the diversity of ecosystems across the tiger’s range in the country. 
  • The project’s task force visualised these tiger reserves as breeding nuclei, from which surplus animals would migrate to adjacent forests.  
  • Project Tiger is an ongoing Centrally Sponsored Scheme of the Ministry of Environment, Forests and Climate Change providing central assistance to the tiger States for tiger conservation in designated tiger reserves. 

What are the objectives of Project Tiger? 

  • Project Tiger’s main aims are to:
    • Reduce factors that lead to the depletion of tiger habitats and to mitigate them by suitable management. The damages done to the habitat shall be rectified to facilitate the recovery of the ecosystem to the maximum possible extent. 
    • Ensure a viable tiger population for economic, scientific, cultural, aesthetic and ecological values. 

What are the success and setbacks of the Project Tiger ?

  • The journey of increasing tiger population has not been easy. Around the 1970s the tiger count was only one thousand and two hundred, but according to the recent census, it has increased to five thousand. In fact, there has been a thirty per cent rise in the population in the last eight years.
  • From turning hunting grounds to tiger reserves, India has shown its magic of conserving wildlife in general. They have also updated the acts regarding forest and wildlife. Any kind of illegal trading of animals has been banned.
  • Human interference in any of the reserves and forests is not allowed. A proper habitat has been created for the Tigers to hunt, live and survive. The world has recognised this project as the ‘Most successful project’.
  • Any successful project has to bear a lot of pressure and has to face many challenges. Making Project Tiger into a successful piece of work, there are efforts and dedication of various government officials. During ancient times, it was difficult to take off the lands that were used for hunting. Many didn’t like it and raised objections. But the project happened nonetheless.
  • Another major challenge was poaching. Many individuals use to sell tiger bones and skin to international markets. This was a major business for them and earned good money. After all the initiatives taken by the project, they couldn’t stop illegal trading of animal skin. Individuals used to break the law and sell them to international buyers. This triggered the depletion of tigers. The government officials made strict law and grounded the problem.
  • During the building of sanctuaries and reserves, the human population living over there faced the problem and therefore raised their voice against it. They passed out a Forest Rights Act in which they stated their difficulty. They wanted to have space for them as well and did not want to move from their original area.
  • In some national parks, humans still reside on the outskirts of the park. They have come in peace with the Project Tiger and understood its importance. Though some individuals are not very sure about the decision, the project is happening in full speed.


  • The monitoring system M-STrIPES was developed to assist patrol and protect tiger habitats. 
  •  It maps patrol routes and allows forest guards to enter sightings, events and changes when patrolling.  
  • It generates protocols based on these data, so that management decisions can be adapted 

 Core-Buffer Strategy in Project Tiger 

  • For the sake of efficient management and tiger density-based administration, tiger reserves are created on the basis of a ‘core-buffer’ strategy. 
  • A particular expanse of land is identified and marked as the ‘core area of the reserve. These areas are kept free of all human activities. It usually has the legal status of National Park or Wildlife Sanctuary. No human activity is allowed inside the core area, including tourism. Even everyday tasks such as grazing and wood collection are banned. 
  • The buffer areas usually surround the core area and are comparatively less frequented by the resident wildlife. Hence, limited human interaction here will not harm their habitat. Hence, it is subjected to ‘conservation-oriented land use’. Certain everyday activities necessary for daily life and living of surrounding villages are allowed. 
  • The buffer area serves twin purposes.
    • One, it serves as a habitat supplement to the spillover population of wild animals from the core area.  
    • Two, it becomes a livelihood source for surrounding villages and relieves their impact on the core zone. 
  • The plan of action for each tiger reserve is drawn upon the following key principles :
    • Elimination of all human interference from the core area and careful rationalization of activities in the buffer area 
    • Limiting the habitat management practices to only repair activities for ecosystem damage 
    • Monitoring the floral and faunal changes overtime for research 

 National Tiger Conservation Authority 

  • The National Tiger Conservation Authority (NTCA) is a statutory body under the Ministry of Environment, Forests and Climate Change constituted under enabling provisions of the Wildlife (Protection) Act, 1972, as amended in 2006, for strengthening tiger conservation, as per powers and functions assigned to it under the said Act. 
  • NTCA has been fulfilling its mandate within the ambit of the Wildlife (Protection) Act, 1972 for strengthening tiger conservation in the country by retaining an oversight through advisories/normative guidelines, based on appraisal of tiger status, ongoing conservation initiatives and recommendations of specially constituted Committees. 

The objectives of NTCA are: 

  1. Providing statutory authority to Project Tiger so that compliance of its directives become legal. 
  2. Fostering accountability of Center-State in management of Tiger Reserves, by providing a basis for MoU with States within our federal structure. 
  3. Providing for an oversight by Parliament. 
  4. Addressing livelihood interests of local people in areas surrounding Tiger Reserves. 

Power & Functions 

Powers and functions of the National Tiger Conservation Authority as prescribed under section 38O (1) and (2) of the Wildlife (Protection) Act, 1972, as amended in 2006 are as under:- 

  • to approve the tiger conservation plan prepared by the State Government under section 38 O (1) (a) of this Act 
  • evaluate and assess various aspects of sustainable ecology and disallow any ecologically unsustainable land use such as, mining, industry and other projects within the tiger reserves 
  • lay down normative standards for tourism activities and guidelines for project tiger from time to time for tiger conservation in the buffer and core area of tiger reserves and ensure their due compliance 
  • provide for management focus and measures for addressing conflicts of men and wild animal and to emphasize on co-existence in forest areas outside the National Parks, sanctuaries or tiger reserve, in the working plan code 
  • provide information on protection measures including future conservation plan, estimation of population of tiger and its natural prey species, status of habitats, disease surveillance, mortality survey, patrolling, reports on untoward happenings and such other management aspects as it may deem fit including future plan conservation 
  • approve, co-ordinate research and monitoring on tiger, co-predators, prey habitat, related ecological and socio-economic parameters and their evaluation 
  • ensure that the tiger reserves and areas linking one protected area or tiger reserve with another protected area or tiger reserve are not diverted for ecologically unsustainable uses, except in public interest and with the approval of the National Board for Wild Life and on the advice of the Tiger Conservation Authority 
  • facilitate and support the tiger reserve management in the State for biodiversity conservation initiatives through eco-development and people\’s participation as per approved management plans and to support similar initiatives in adjoining areas consistent with the Central and State laws 
  • ensure critical support including scientific, information technology and legal support for better implementation of the tiger conservation plan 
  • facilitate ongoing capacity building programme for skill development of officers and staff of tiger reserves, and 
  • perform such other functions as may be necessary to carry out the purposes of this Act with regard to conservation of tigers and their habitat. 

(2) The Tiger Conservation Authority may, in the exercise of its powers and performance of its functions under this Chapter, issue directions in writing to any person, officer or authority for the protection of tiger or tiger reserves and such person, officer or authority shall be bound to comply with the directions. 

3 . Udan Scheme

Context: The government’s biggest claim to success in aviation since 2014 is building “74 airports in seven years”, as opposed to the same number built in the seven decades since Independence. However, only 11 of these airports have actually been built from scratch, while 15 airports have fallen into disuse over this period, due to the collapse of almost half the routes launched under the regional connectivity scheme (RCS).

About the Ministry of civil Aviation ministry report on Udan Scheme:

  • According to the Ministry of Civil Aviation, airport development has primarily been undertaken under the RCS, which was launched in 2017 to improve air connectivity for smaller cities, and to redevelop under-utilised airports. This largely involved the revival of old airstrips that were either lying unused or were used sparsely.
  • The government launched 479 routes to revive these airports, out of which 225 have since ceased operations. Only 11 greenfield airports have become operational since May 2014

What is Udan Scheme?

  • The scheme was launched in 2016 with the objective to fulfil the aspirations of the common citizen by following the vision of ‘Ude Desh ka Aam Nagrik’, with an enhanced aviation infrastructure and air connectivity in tier II and tier III cities.
  • RCS-UDAN was formulated based on the review of The National Civil Aviation Policy (NCAP)-2016 and it was planned to remain in force for a period of 10 years.
  • The RCS, also known as the Ude Desh Ka Aam Nagrik scheme, was launched with the aim of taking flying to the masses by improving air connectivity for tier-2 and tier-3 cities, and subsidising air travel on these routes.
  • It has a self-financing mechanism with the development of Regional Connectivity Fund (RCF).
    • Under this Scheme, RCF was created, which funds the VGF requirements of the scheme through a levy on certain domestic flights. This way, funds generated from the sector themselves stimulate the growth and development of the sector.
  • UDAN created a framework based on the need and led to the formulation of:
    • Lifeline UDAN (for transportation of medical cargo during pandemic).
    • Krishi UDAN (value realization of agriculture products especially in North-eastern Region {NER} and tribal districts).
    • International UDAN routes for NER to explore International Connectivity from / to Guwahati and Imphal.

Financing Mechanism of Scheme

  • The routes are awarded after a bidding process, and the winning airlines are given certain incentives, along with viability gap funding (or a subsidy) equivalent to 50% of the seating capacity on their aircraft.
  • In return, the airlines sell 50% of their seats at a flat rate of ₹2,500 per hour of flight, in order to make air travel affordable. The cost of the subsidy is borne by Indian airlines flying on non-RCS routes, who pay an RCS levy of ₹15,000 per departure, as per the latest revision that came into effect in April 2023. The airlines further pass the levy on to their passengers on non-RCS flights. A total sum of ₹2,038 crore has been collected as RCS levy.

The scheme has been implemented in five phases so far:

  • UDAN 1.0: 36 new airports were commissioned. 128 flight routes for 70 airports were awarded to 5 airline companies.
  • UDAN 2.0: A helipad was added for the first time. In 2018, 73 unserved airports were announced.
  • UDAN 3.0: Several changes were made, including tourist routes, seaplanes to connect water aerodromes, and routes under ‘UDAN’ in the North-East region.
  • UDAN 4.0: 78 new routes were approved in 2020. In this phase, the Kavaratti, Agatti, and Minicoy islands of Lakshadweep will also be connected by new routes.
  • UDAN 4.1: This phase is focused on connecting small airports, special helicopter, and seaplane routes under UDAN. New ways have also been proposed under Sagarmala seaplane services.

What are the criticism against this Scheme?

  • Several issues and criticisms of its poor infrastructure, dominance by larger airlines, degradation of regional airlines, and slow implementation have plagued the scheme.
  • Of the 225 routes that have ceased operations, 128 routes shut down even before completing the mandatory three-year period under the scheme.
  •  Airlines found 70 of these routes to be commercially unviable despite the subsidy, while the remaining 58 have been cancelled either due to “non-compliance” by the airline operator, or the airline surrendering routes, or the airline companies shutting down, as in the case of Air Deccan and Air Odisha.
  • A 2019 analysis of the first two phases of RCS routes notes that the success rate of UDAN was less than 20 per cent. Of the 440-odd air routes allotted to 14 major and fledgling airlines under the two phases of UDAN, not more than 40 to 60 routes were operating regularly. This was because smaller operators such as Zoom Air, Trujet, Pinnacle Airlines, Heritage and AAA Aviation had succumbed to operational issues. Industry experts pointed out several operational, technical, procedural and financial problems in the scheme that failed to create a proper ecosystem for smaller operators due to which the operational costs of the operators of small aircraft went so high that the government subsidy could not compensate.
  • The scheme also faced criticism for the financing model it had adopted. A viability gap funding structure, where a surcharge was levied on tickets on existing routes, which would be used to refund part of the ticket costs for the airlines flying on UDAN route, was adopted which didn’t go down well with various quarters.

4 . Facts for Prelims

Sam Altman’s Biometric Project / Worldcoin

  • OpenAI CEO Sam Altman took to Twitter to formally re-introduce Worldcoin, a project of his that was eclipsed by the popularity of ChatGPT.
  • Worldcoin is an initiative to create a digital network in which everyone can claim some kind of stake, and join the digital economy.
  • Using a device called “Orb,” Worldcoin volunteers known as ‘Orb operators’ scan a person’s iris pattern to collect their biometric data and help them get a World ID through the World app. With the app, scanned participants can collect a cryptocurrency called Worldcoin [WLD] at regular intervals or make transactions with their World ID where possible.
  • This process is called “proof of personhood” and makes sure that people do not sign themselves up multiple times in exchange for crypto.

Dongria Khond Tribe

  • The Dongria Khond people are members of the Kondhs. They are located in the Niyamgiri hills in the state of Odisha. They sustain themselves from the resources of the Niyamgiri forests, practising horticulture and shifting cultivation. They have been at the centre of a dispute over mining rights in the area.
  • The people of Niyamgiri use Kui language. Kui language is not written, but it is spoken among the people of Kondh community.
  • The traditional Dongria Kondh society has always been based on a tightened family structure involving people from different generations and these were marked by geographically demarcated clans where each clan was identified by a male animal name.  
  • The Dangaria Kandha worship Niyam Raja (Niyamraja), the supreme god of the Niyamgiri jungle, believing that Niyam Raja is the source of their essential resources. The deep reverence and respect that the Dongria have for their gods, hills and streams pervade every aspect of their lives. Even their art reflects the mountains, in the triangular designs found on village shrines to the many gods of the village, farm and forests and their leader, Niyam Raja.
  • The Dongria Kondh have adopted a system of imparting cultural and traditional values to the adolescents and youths in their villages through exclusive youth dormitories. The Dongria women are also given equal status in the society in matters such as widow remarriage, possessing property without the interference of their husbands and sons

BPaL regimen in TB

  • The BPaL regimen is the next big step forwards in the fight against drug resistant TB.
  • Regimen is developed by the TB Alliance, consists of the oral drugs bedaquiline, pretomanid and linezolid.
  • It is a six to nine months regimen that replaces the previously recommended 18 to 24 months treatment, including an injectable agent, for patients with highly resistant TB.

Cocos Island

  • Cocos Island is an Australian external territory in the Indian Ocean, comprising a small archipelago approximately midway between Australia and Sri Lanka and relatively close to the Indonesian island of Sumatra.  
  • The isolated territory is made up of two coral atolls, the southern comprising 26 islets and the northern containing only North Keeling Island.  
  • The islands were discovered in 1609 by the British sea captain William Keeling, but no settlement occurred until the early 19th century. The British annexed the islands in 1857. The territory was transferred to Australia in 1955, although until 1979 virtually all of the territory’s real estate still belonged to the Clunies-Ross family.

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