Daily Current Affairs for UPSC CSE
- Urban Infrastructure Development Fund
- Palkbay fishing dispute
- Higher pension scheme
- Bio computers
- Unified treaty to protect biodiversity in the high seas
- Facts for Prelims
1 . Urban Infrastructure Development Fund
Context: Guidelines for UIDF likely to be released by March-end. These guidelines envisage keeping fund for administrative expenses and maintenance out of the purview of the UIDF and asking States to adopt appropriate service charges while accessing the UIDF.
About Urban Infrastructure Development fund
- Urban Infrastructure Development fund was established to provide finance to the urban infrastructure projects in Tier 2 and Tier 3 cities.
- While Tier 2 cities are those which have a population range of 50,000 to 100,000, Tier 3 cities are classified as those with a population of 20,000 to 50,000.
- UIDF would be established through the use of priority sector lending shortfall, and it would be managed by the National Housing Bank.
- The States would be encouraged to leverage resources from the grants of the 15th Finance Commission, as well as existing schemes, to adopt appropriate user charges, while accessing the UIDF.
- UIDF will encourage the States and cities to undertake urban planning reforms and actions to transform cities into ‘sustainable cities of tomorrow’.
- It will help in efficient use of land resources, adequate resources for urban infrastructure, transit-oriented development, enhanced availability and affordability of urban land, and opportunities for all.
- All cities and towns will be enabled for 100% mechanical desludging of septic tanks and sewers to transition from manhole to machine-hole mode. Enhanced focus will be provided for scientific management of dry and wet waste.
2 . Palk Bay Fishing Dispute
Context: Sri Lanka’s northern fishermen said they “fiercely oppose” the government’s plan to issue licences to Indian fishermen to enter Sri Lankan waters, terming the move a “serious setback” to their nearly 15-year-long struggle.
About the Issue
- Foreign Minister Ali Sabry told Parliament that authorities were looking into possibly issuing licences to Indian fishermen, as part of Sri Lanka’s efforts to find a solution to the long-persisting fisheries conflict, through “cordial” bilateral talks. “This was discussed with Indian Foreign Minister Jaishankar
- India has proposed this licensing system as a solution, and are holding discussions on it, adding that such a system would help Indian authorities better regulate their fishermen, and will also bring in money that could be used for Sri Lankan fishermen’s betterment. About “2,000 to 3,000come to our seas every day and our Navy is unable to control that
- The Minister’s remarks have sparked serious concern among northern fishermena they frl that it will be a serious setback to struggle for the last 15 years to stop Indian trawlers from entering our seas.
Background of the Dispute
- Palk Bay is a semi-enclosed shallow water body between the southeast coast of India and Sri Lanka, with a water depth maximum of 13 m.
- Fishermen of both countries have been fishing in each other’s waters without conflict for a very long time. The issue emerged when India-Sri Lanka signed maritime boundary agreements. The agreements marked the international maritime boundary of India and Sri Lanka.
- The agreement aimed to facilitate resource management and law enforcement in the Palk Strait. Now, Indian fishermen were only allowed to use the island for resting, net drying and the annual St. Anthony’s festival. They are not permitted to use the island for fishing. However, Indian fishermen continued trespassing the Sri Lankan water boundary, searching for a better catch in the area.
- The next few decades went well but the problem turned serious when fish and aquatic life in the Indian continental shelf depleted, which resulted in an increased number of Indian fishermen in the region using modern fishing trolleys
- Several rounds of bilateral negotiations between the two governments and talks between fishing community leaders from both sides have been held over the years, but a solution remains elusive.
What is the conflict, and between whom?
- The main contention between the fishermen on either side is not so much about territorial rights, as historically both sides have amicably shared marine resources in the stretch. It is more to do with the use of “bottom trawling”, the fishing method used by fishermen from Tamil Nadu.
- A group of daily-wage fishermen set out on mechanised boats, owned by other affluent fishermen, and drag large fishing nets through the seabed. While they primarily target fish species and shrimps, the practice of bottom trawling scoops out eggs, young fishes, and other marine organisms that eventually die and are thrown back into the sea.
- The primary conflict here is between the Tamil Nadu trawler owners and the northern Sri Lankan fishermen, who are trying to rebuild their livelihoods after Sri Lanka’s civil war ended in 2009. Until then, they were denied access to the sea at different points and displaced from their homes.
- It is in the post-war decade that the Sri Lankan fishermen started voicing concern about depleting catches, owing to incessant trawling by the Indian fishermen. With the Indian side of the IMBL already ravaged by decades of high profit-yielding bottom trawling, they flock to the Sri Lankan side, with relatively less damage and therefore, more marine resources.
- The clash now is essentially over competing livelihoods of two Tamil-speaking fisher communities, with a glaring asymmetry in power and resources. The Tamil Nadu fishing community, especially the trawler owners, are not only wealthier but also very politically influential. The northern Sri Lankan fishermen, on the other hand, are coming out of a brutal war, braving enormous losses and destruction. They use modest boats to practice traditional fishing and get little state support to resurrect their livelihoods.
Why is it yet to be resolved?
- India has urged Sri Lanka to adopt a humanitarian approach when it deters Indian fishermen. However, when fishermen deaths occur, apart from customary condemnations and denials, there is little effort from authorities on either side to ensure investigations are completed and perpetrators brought to book.
- Secondly, New Delhi tried diverting Tamil Nadu fishermen to deep sea fishing methods to wean them away from bottom trawling in the Palk Strait. But the initiative did not take off as planned , and the fishermen still resort to trawling, and often get caught by Sri Lankan authorities.
- Thirdly, Tamil Nadu is yet to agree to the chief demand of northern Tamil fishermen — to stop bottom trawling to restore trust between the fishermen on both sides, and provide a real opportunity to re-commence talks, which they prefer over confrontation.
- The northern Tamil fishermen repeatedly acknowledge Tamil Nadu’s solidarity and support extended to Sri Lankan Tamils during the years of war and later. But they also remind their brothers across the Palk Strait that solidarity does not justify exploitation of resources on which their lives and livelihoods depend
3 . Higher Pension Scheme
Context: The Employees’ Provident Fund Organisation (EPFO) has issued guidelines to allow a section of its older members to opt for higher pension under the Employees’ Pension Scheme (EPS)
Background of Pension Scheme in India
- The Employees Provident Fund Organisation (EPFO) is a statuary body which assists Central Board in administering compulsory contributory Provident Fund Scheme, Pension Scheme and Insurance Scheme for the workforce engaged in the organised sector in India.
- The Employees’ Provident Fund came into existence with the promulgation of the Employees’ Provident Funds Ordinance on 15th November 1951.It was replaced by the Employees’ Provident Funds Act, 1952.
- EPFO Act provides for the institution of provident funds for employees in factories and other establishments. The Act is now referred as the Employees’ Provident Funds & Miscellaneous Provisions Act, 1952 which extends to the whole of India.
- The Employees’ Provident Funds and Miscellaneous Provisions Act, 1952 did not provide for a pension scheme. The pension scheme administered by the EPFO, came into being in 1995.
Employees Pension Scheme
- The employees’ Pension Scheme is a social security scheme provided by the Employees’ Provident Fund Organisation (EPFO). The scheme makes provisions for employees working in the organized sector for a pension after their retirement at the age of 58 years. However, the benefits of the scheme can be availed only if the employee has provided a service for at least 10 years. It allowed existing and new EPF members to join the scheme.
- Both the employer and employee contribute 12% each of the employee’s pay towards EPF. However, the employee’s entire share is contributed towards EPF, 8.33% of the employer’s share goes towards the Employees’ Pension Scheme (EPS) and 3.67% goes towards EPF contribution every month.
- The pension fund was to comprise a deposit of 8.33% of the employers’ contribution towards the PF corpus.
What are the eligibility criteria?
- The EPS provides employees with pension after the age of 58, if they have rendered at least 10 years of service and retired at age 58. If a member leaves employment between ages 50 and 57, they can avail early (reduced) pension.
- Under the pre-amendment scheme, the pensionable salary was computed as the average of the salary drawn during the 12 months prior to exit from membership of the pension fund. The 2014 amendments raised this to an average of 60 months prior to exit.
- On September 1, 2014, the government brought in some amendments. It said that the EPS contribution of 8.33 per cent would be calculated on a maximum salary of Rs.15,000. Until then, the salary cap was Rs.6,500, but employers could make higher contributions based on actual pay. It also said that employees earning over Rs. 15,000/month and joining after September 1, 2014, could no longer avail of EPS. Employees unions, finding these changes unpalatable, filed cases against the EPFO in High Courts and won. The EPFO appealed in the Supreme Court (SC), which passed its final ruling in November 2022.
- The SC ruling said the Centre had a right to restrict EPS benefits only to employees earning up to ₹15,000/month, from September 1, 2014. But it also held older employees who had been members of the EPF before September 1, 2014, and were still working, should be given a chance to opt for pension at their full pay. The EPFO was asked to give such employees a four-month window from the date of the SC ruling to avail of this benefit. This deadline expires on March 3, 2023.
- For EPFO, this will mean a stream of sharply higher pension payouts, when linked to actual basic salary rather than the Rs 15,000 ceiling. Experts said the pension scheme does not entail defined benefits but involves defined contribution, which could create strain on the finances of the retirement fund body in future.
- For instance, an employee may have worked, and contributed for pension for 10 years, but after superannuation at age 58, will get a pension until death, which could be a period far exceeding the contributory period of 10 years. The payouts could extend beyond the death of the member, with a provision for pension to the dependent family members as well. For members and employers, this would essentially imply higher annuity after retirement. The choice for a higher pension would then involve transferring of funds from the provident fund to the pension fund going back until September 2014.
4 . Bio Computers
CONTEXT: Scientists at Johns Hopkins University (JHU) recently outlined a plan for a potentially revolutionary new area of research called “organoid intelligence”, which aims to create “biocomputers”: where brain cultures grown in the lab are coupled to real-world sensors and input/output devices. Scientists expect the technology to harness the processing power of the brain and understand the biological basis of human cognition, learning, and various neurological disorders.
What is the premise of this technology?
- Traditionally, researchers have used rat brains to investigate various human neurological disorders. While rats provide a simpler and more accessible system to study the brain, there are several differences in structure and function and obvious differences in the cognitive capacities of rodents and humans.
- In a quest to develop systems that are more relevant to humans, scientists are building 3D cultures of brain tissue in the lab, also called brain organoids.
- These “mini-brains” (with a size of up to 4 mm) are built using human stem cells and capture many structural and functional features of a developing human brain. Researchers are now using them to study human brain development and test drugs to see how they respond.
- However, the human brain also requires various sensory inputs (touch, smell, vision, etc.) to develop into the complex organ it is, and brain organoids developed in the lab aren’t sophisticated enough. The organoids currently also don’t have blood circulation, which limits how they can grow.
Aren’t there other ways to study the human brain?
- Recently, scientists transplanted these human brain organoid cultures into rat brains, where they formed connections with the rat brain, which in turn provided circulating blood. Since the organoids had been transplanted to the visual system, when the scientists showed the experimental rats a light flash, the human neurons were activated, too, indicating that the human brain organoids were also functionally active.
- Scientists have touted such a system as a way to study brain diseases in a human context. However, human brain organoids are still nested in the rat-brain microenvironment, including the non-neuronal cells that to know play a critical role in some neurological diseases. The effects of drugs in this model will also have to be interpreted through various behavioural tests in rats, which could be insufficiently representative. So it is required to address the limitations of lab-grown organoids and develop a more human-relevant system.
What is the new ‘bio-computer’?
- The JHU researchers’ scheme will combine brain organoids with modern computing methods to create “bio-computers”. They have announced plans to couple the organoids with machine learning by growing the organoids inside flexible structures affixed with multiple electrodes (similar to the ones used to take EEG readings from the brain).
- These structures will be able to record the firing patterns of the neurons and also deliver electrical stimuli, to mimic sensory stimuli. The response pattern of the neurons and their effect on human behaviour or biology will then be analysed by machine-learning techniques.
- Recently, scientists were able to grow human neurons on top of a microelectrode array that could both record and stimulate these neurons. Using positive or negative electric feedback from the sensors, they were able to train the neurons to generate a pattern of electrical activity that would be generated if the neurons were playing table tennis.
What are the opportunities for ‘bio-computers’?
- While human brains are slower than computers at, say, simple arithmetic, they outshine machines at processing complex information.
- Brain organoids can also be developed using stem cells from individuals with neurodegenerative diseases or cognitive disorders. Comparing the data on brain structure, connections, and signalling between ‘healthy’ and ‘patient-derived’ organoids can reveal the biological basis of human cognition, learning, and memory.
- They could also help decode the pathology of and drug development for devastating neurodevelopmental and degenerative diseases such as Parkinson’s disease and microcephaly.
Are ‘bio-computers’ ready for commercial use?
- Currently, brain organoids have a diameter of less than 1 mm and have fewer than 100,000 cells (both on average), which make it roughly three-millionth the size of an actual human brain. So scaling up the brain organoid is key to improving its computing capacity – as will incorporating non-neuronal cells involved in biological learning.
- Second, researchers will also have to develop microfluidic systems to transport oxygen and nutrients, and remove waste products. These hybrid systems will generate very large amounts of data (i.e., of neural recordings from each neuron and connection), which researchers will need to store and analyse using ‘Big Data’ infrastructure. They will also need to develop and use advanced analytical techniques (with help from machines) to correlate the structural and functional changes in the brain organoids to the various output variables.
5 . UN High seas Treaty
Context: For the first time, United Nations members have agreed on a unified treaty to protect biodiversity in the high seas – representing a turning point for vast stretches of the planet where conservation has previously been hampered by a confusing patchwork of laws.
What is the UN High Seas treaty?
- Also referred to as the ‘Paris Agreement for the Ocean’, the treaty to deal with Biodiversity Beyond National Jurisdiction.
- The UN High Seas Treaty concerns the ocean existing beyond the Exclusive Economic Zones that lie from the coast of a country to about 200 nautical miles or 370 km into the sea, till where it has special rights for exploration.
- The agreement reached by delegates of the Intergovernmental Conference on Marine Biodiversity of Areas Beyond National Jurisdiction, is the culmination of UN-facilitated talks that began in 2004.
- The treaty was to be negotiated under the United Nations Convention on Laws of the Sea (UNCLOS) of 1982 which governs the rights of countries regarding marine resources.
What are the key provisions of the treaty?
- Covering almost two-thirds of the ocean that lies outside national boundaries, the treaty will provide a legal framework for establishing vast marine protected areas (MPAs) to protect against the loss of wildlife and share out the genetic resources of the high seas.
- This treaty will establish a conference of the parties (Cop) that will meet periodically and enable member states to be held to account on issues such as governance and biodiversity.
- The treaty also establishes ground rules for conducting environmental impact assessments for commercial activities in the oceans.
What is the Importance of the treaty?
- The historic treaty is crucial for enforcing the 30×30 pledge made by countries at the UN biodiversity conference in December, to protect a third of the sea (and land) by 2030. Without a treaty, this target would certainly fail, as until now no legal mechanism existed to set up MPAs on the high seas.
- Ocean ecosystems produce half the oxygen human breathes, represent 95% of the planet’s biosphere and soak up carbon dioxide, as the world’s largest carbon sink. Yet until now, fragmented and loosely enforced rules governing the high seas have rendered this area more susceptible than coastal waters to exploitation.
- This treaty will help to knit together the different regional treaties to be able to address threats and concerns across species’ ranges.
- The high seas have long suffered exploitation due to commercial fishing and mining, as well as pollution from chemicals and plastics. The new agreement is about “acknowledging that the ocean is not a limitless resource, and it requires global cooperation to use the ocean sustainably
How are the world’s oceans regulated as of now?
- Some treaties, along with the UNCLOS, regulate the conduct of actors on the high seas. The UNCLOS led to the establishment of territorial sea boundaries 22 km offshore, deciding the region up to which countries could claim full sovereign territorial rights, as well as the 200 nautical miles EEZ limit. It also created the International Seabed Authority and other conflict-resolution mechanisms.
- But a treaty dedicated to protecting ocean health does not exist as of now. Conversely, every country has the right to access open seas, resulting in large-scale drilling and trawling operations for catching fish and other animals for commercial purposes.
What are the high seas?
- High seas, in maritime law, all parts of the mass of saltwater surrounding the globe that are not part of the territorial sea or internal waters of a state.
- Two-thirds of the world’s oceans are currently considered international waters. That means all countries have a right to fish, ship and do research there. But until now only about 1% of these waters – known as high seas – have been protected.
6 . Facts for Prelims
Influenza A H3N2
- Seasonal influenza is an acute respiratory infection caused by influenza viruses which circulate in all parts of the world.
- There are 4 types of seasonal influenza viruses, types A, B, C and D. Influenza A and B viruses circulate and cause seasonal epidemics of disease.
- Influenza A viruses are further classified into subtypes according to the combinations of the hemagglutinin (HA) and the neuraminidase (NA), the proteins on the surface of the virus. Currently circulating in humans are subtype A(H1N1) and A(H3N2) influenza viruses. Only influenza type A viruses are known to have caused pandemics.
- Influenza B viruses are not classified into subtypes but can be broken down into lineages. Currently circulating influenza type B viruses belong to either B/Yamagata or B/Victoria lineage.
- Influenza C virus is detected less frequently and usually causes mild infections, thus does not present public health importance.
- Influenza D viruses primarily affect cattle and are not known to infect or cause illness in people.
- Signs and symptoms- Seasonal influenza is characterized by a sudden onset of fever, cough (usually dry), headache, muscle and joint pain, severe malaise (feeling unwell), sore throat and a runny nose. The cough can be severe and can last 2 or more weeks. But influenza can cause severe illness or death especially in people at high risk
- In terms of transmission, seasonal influenza spreads easily, through infected person coughs or sneezes, droplets containing viruses (infectious droplets) are dispersed into the air. The virus can also be spread by hands contaminated with influenza viruses.
- The time from infection to illness, known as the incubation period, is about 2 days, but ranges from one to four days.
- Patients with severe or progressive clinical illness associated with suspected or confirmed influenza virus infection should be treated with antiviral drug as soon as possible.
- The most effective way to prevent the disease is vaccination.
- An index fund is a portfolio of stocks or bonds designed to mimic the composition and performance of a financial market index.
- Index funds have lower expenses and fees than actively managed funds.
- Index funds follow a passive investment strategy.
- Index funds seek to match the risk and return of the market based on the theory that in the long term, the market will outperform any single investment.
- “Indexing” is a form of passive fund management. Instead of a fund portfolio manager actively choosing securities to invest in and strategizing when to buy and sell them—the fund manager builds a portfolio whose holdings mirror the securities of a particular index. The idea is that by mimicking the profile of the index—the stock market, or a broad segment of it—the fund will match its performance as well.
- Some of the examples of index funds are
- Bombay Stock Exchange consisting of 30 large cap companies
- National Stok Exchange consisting of 50 large cap companies.
- Scrub typhus is a mite-borne disease caused by Orientia tsutsugamushi (formerly Rickettsia tsutsugamushi).
- Symptoms are fever, a primary lesion, a macular rash, and lymphadenopathy.
- O. tsutsugamushi is transmitted by trombiculid mite larvae (chiggers), which feed on forest and rural rodents, including rats, voles, and field mice. Human infection also follows a chigger bite. The mites are both the vector and the natural reservoir for O. Tsutsugamushi.
- Scrub typhus is endemic in an area of Asia-Pacific bounded by Japan, Korea, China, India, and northern Australia.
- Providing Doxycycline Antibiotics are most effective treatment
- Seahorses are tiny fishes that are named for the shape of their head, which looks like the head of a tiny horse. There are at least 46 species of seahorses.
- Seahorses are found in shallow coastal waters in latitudes from about 52° N to 45° S. Their habitats include coral reefs, mangroves, sea grass beds, and estuaries.
- They are unique in appearance, with their horse like head, prehensile tail, independently moving eyes, and brood pouch. Their bodies are covered with consecutive rings of bony plates.
- Sea grasses provided seahorses with useful hiding places to avoid enemies and to capture unsuspecting prey.
- The reproductive behaviour of seahorses is notable in that the male carries the fertilized eggs. After an elaborate courtship, the female uses an ovipositor (egg duct) to place her eggs into a brood pouch located at the base of the male’s tail where the eggs are later fertilized.
- Commercially, seahorses are traded live as aquarium animals and dead for use in traditional medicines and as curios. Threatened by direct overfishing, accidental capture (bycatch) in other fisheries, and the destruction of their coastal habitats, some species—such as the Pacific seahorse (H. ingens)—face extinction.
- The population of the great seahorse, which is among the eight species tagged ‘vulnerable’, is declining due to its overexploitation for traditional Chinese medicines and as ornamental fish, combined with general destructive fishing and fisheries bycatch
- Currently, there are 46 recognised species of seahorse. Out of this
- Endangered species- 2
- Vulnerable- 12
- Near threatened- 1
- Least concern- 10
- Data deficient- 17
- Not yet evaluate – 4
- Maidams are burials mounds of the Ahom Kings, Queens & Nobles.The word maidam is derived from the Tai word Phrang Mai -Dam or Mai -tam. Phrang means to put into the grave or bury and dam means the spirit of death.
- Out of 386 Moidams explored so far, 90 royal burials at Charaideo are the best preserved, representative, and most complete examples of this tradition.
- Moidams are two-story vaulted chambers with a passageway with an arch leading to the entrance. The mound was made of mud, and the base was strengthened by a polygonal toe-wall and an arched entrance on the west. Bricks and soil were layered on top of the mound. The area would eventually be covered by a layer of plants and look like hillocks.
- Much like pyramids, moidams would have a domed chamber with a raised platform in the middle where the body was laid. Along with the body, several artifacts belonging to the royalty would also be buried. For instance, royal insignia and wooden, ivory, or iron artifacts; gold pendants; pottery; weapons; and clothing.
Munich security conference
- The Munich Security Conference is an annual conference on international security policy that has been held in Munich, Bavaria, Germany since 1963. Formerly named the Munich Conference on Security Policy the motto is: Peace through Dialogue. It is the world’s largest gathering of its kind.
- The Munich Security Conference is the world’s leading forum for debating international security policy. It is a venue for diplomatic initiatives to address the world’s most pressing security concerns.
- Each year it brings together about 350 senior figures from more than 70 countries around the world to engage in an intensive debate on current and future security challenges.
- The MSC’s objective is to build trust and to contribute to the peaceful resolution of conflicts by sustaining a continuous, curated and informal dialogue within the international security community.
- The MSC conceives of its conferences as a type of “marketplace of ideas” where initiatives and solutions are developed, and opinions are exchanged. It provides a venue for official and non-official diplomatic initiatives and ideas to address the world’s most pressing security concerns.
- The MSC also offers protected space for informal meetings between officials and thus – as its original motto has it – build peace through dialogue.
- In addition to its annual flagship conference, the MSC regularly convenes high-profile events on particular topics and regions and publishes the Munich Security Report, an annual digest of relevant figures, maps, and research on crucial security challenges. The conference is held annually in February.