News Snippet

News 1: Invasive tree spreading in Mudumalai Tiger Reserve

News 2: At SCO meet, Jaishankar targets BRI

News 3: Poll Freebies – Supreme Court Update

News 4: How women subverted traditional roles during the farm law agitations

News 5: The C-295 and India’s aircraft industry

News 6: E-rupee used to settle Rs 275 cr govt bond trades

News 7: Coronal holes

News 8: Before COP27, a status check

Other important news:

1. Prime Minister calls for road map to develop Mangarh Dham

News 1: Invasive tree spreading in Mudumalai Tiger Reserve


Background

An invasive species, Senna spectabilis, an exotic tree, has taken over between 800 hectares and 1,200 hectares of the buffer zones of the Mudumalai Tiger Reserve (MTR) in the picturesque Nilgiris hill district. The Forest Department is coming up with a comprehensive strategy to tackle the invasive species, which continues to spread rapidly in the buffer zone.

Introduced as an ornamental species and for use as firewood from South and Central America, the species has become highly invasive in the Sigur plateau in both the core and buffer zones of the MTR.

Native Species hit

Over the last few years, its bright yellow flowers have become more visible across the Tiger Reserve. Conservationists say the invasive weed has a negative effect on local biodiversity, crowding out native species and limiting food availability for wildlife.

Invasive species

Senna spectabilis, along with Lantana camara, is among five major invasive weeds that had taken over vast swathes of the Nilgiris, with wattle being the other major invasive species.

Eucalyptus and pine, though exotic, do not spread as quickly as the other species and are considered easier to manage.

Mudumalai Tiger Reserve

Mudumalai Tiger Reserve is located in the Nilgiris District of Tamil Nadu state spread over 321 sq.km. at the tri-junction of three states, viz, Karnataka, Kerala and Tamil Nadu and it plays an unique role by forming part of the Nilgiris Biosphere Reserve.

It has a common boundary with Wyanad Wildlife Sanctuary (Kerala) on the West, Bandipur Tiger Reserve (Karnataka) on the North, and the Nilgiris North Division on the South and East and Gudalur Forest Division on the South West, together forming a large conservation landscape for flagship species such as Tiger and Asian Elephant.

The name Mudumalai means ” the ancient hill range”. Indeed, it is as old as 65 million years when Western Ghats were formed.

Flora and Fauna

The Reserve has tall grasses, commonly referred to as “Elephant Grass”, Bamboo of the giant variety, valuable timber species like Teak, Rosewood, etc,. There are several species of endemic flora.

Such a varied habitat is inhabited by a variety of animals which include Tiger, Elephant, Indian Gaur, Panther, Sambar, Spotted Deer, Barking Deer, Mouse Deer, Common Langur, Malabar Giant Squirrel, Wild Dog, Mangoose, Jungle Cat, Hyena, among others.

UPSC Prelims 2021 question

Which one of the following is used in preparing a natural mosquito repellent?

  1.   Congress grass
  2.   Elephant grass
  3.   Lemon grass
  4.   Nut grass

Answer – Option C (official UPSC Answerkey)

UPSC 2019 Prelims question

Which one of the following are Agasthyamala biosphere reserve?

(a) Neyyar, peppara and shendurney wildlife sanctuaries and kalakad mundanthurai tiger reserve

(b) Mudumalai sathayamangalam and Wayanad wildlife sanctuaries and silent valley national park

(c) Kaundinya gundla bhrameshwaram and papikonda wildlife sanctuaries and mukurthi national park

(d) Kawal and Shree Venkateshwara wildlife sanctuaries; and Nagarjunasagar-srisailam tiger reserve

Answer – Option A (Official UPSC answerkey)


News 2: At SCO meet, Jaishankar targets BRI


Background

Connectivity projects must respect sovereignty issues, External Affairs Minister S. Jaishankar said, in a reference to China’s Belt and Road Initiative (BRI), at a virtual meeting of the Shanghai Cooperation Organisation (SCO) Heads of Government hosted by Chinese Premier Li Keqiang.

Trade connectivity

Dr. Jaishankar pitched for more trade through Iran’s Chabahar port and the International North South Transport Corridors that India is a part of, aiming to improve bilateral trade with Central Asian countries.

A communique issued after the meeting named all countries, other than India, and said they “reaffirmed their support for the ‘Belt and Road’ initiative”, “including the work to promote the alignment of the ‘Belt and Road’ construction with the construction of the Eurasian Economic Union”.

“Our total trade with SCO Members is only $141 billion, which has potential to increase manifold. Fair market access is to our mutual benefit and only way to move forward,” Dr. Jaishankar said at the meet which included Pakistan Foreign Minister Bilawal Bhutto Zardari, Russian Prime Minister Mikhail Mishustin, and the Prime Ministers of Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan, Tajikistan and Uzbekistan. The bulk of India’s trade with SCO countries is with China, which crossed $100 billion this year.

India has refused to join the BRI, comprising a series of infrastructure projects that pass through Pakistan, Afghanistan and Central Asia, and has been developing and promoting the Shahid Beheshti terminal at Chabahar and the link through the INSTC as an alternative to both the BRI and to transit trade through Pakistan.

Ukraine – Russia war and food crisis

Without referring directly to the Ukraine war, and Russia’s decision to halt the grain initiative, Dr. Jaishankar said that India will “foster greater cooperation with SCO member states on countering the food crisis”, particularly with millets.

In the SCO joint communique, all countries also criticised the “imposition of unilateral economic sanctions not endorsed by the UN Security Council”, and said the sanctions “adversely affect” the global economy, without naming U.S. and European Union sanctions on Russia.

Belt and Road initiative

China proposed the Belt and Road Initiative (BRI) in 2013 to improve connectivity and cooperation on a transcontinental scale.

One Belt One Road (OBOR), the brainchild of Chinese President Xi Jinping, is an ambitious economic development and commercial project that focuses on improving connectivity and cooperation among multiple countries spread across the continents of Asia, Africa, and Europe.

The project covers two parts. The first is called the “Silk Road Economic Belt,” which is primarily land-based and is expected to connect China with Central Asia, Eastern Europe, and Western Europe.

The second is called the “21st Century Maritime Silk Road,” which is sea-based and is expected to will China’s southern coast to the Mediterranean, Africa, South-East Asia, and Central Asia. The names are confusing as the ‘Belt’ is actually a network of roads, and the ‘Road’ is a sea route.


News 3: Poll Freebies – Supreme Court Update


Background

A Division Bench of the Supreme Court, led by Chief Justice of India U.U. Lalit, said petitions seeking a declaration that pre-poll promises of “irrational” freebies by political parties constitute a corrupt practice under the election law should be posted before a three-judge Bench “at the earliest”.

The focus of the litigation is a 2013 judgment of the court which held that such assurances of freebies to entice voters do not fall within the ambit of Section 123 (corrupt practices) of the Representation of the People (RP) Act.

The S. Subramaniam Balaji judgment, delivered by a two-judge Bench, had observed that “although the law is obvious that the promises in the election manifesto cannot be construed as ‘corrupt practice’ under Section 123 of the RP Act, the reality cannot be ruled out that distribution of freebies of any kind, undoubtedly, influences all people”.

‘Focus on 2013 verdict’

Petitioner-advocate Ashwini Upadhyay submitted that the three-judge Bench, when the matter comes up before it, should focus on the review of the 2013 verdict.

 “Freebies may create a situation wherein the State government cannot provide basic amenities due to lack of funds and the State is pushed towards imminent bankruptcy,” the court observed.

The court said the three-judge Bench should also deliberate if an expert body could be formed to independently study and make recommendations against the distribution of largesse at the cost of national economy and public welfare.


News 4: How women subverted traditional roles during the farm law agitations


Background

India has had a long history of protests against the ruling government, be it during the colonial rule of the British, or against the government in independent India. And despite the prevalent patriarchal system, women have actively participated in these protests alongside men. Women activists, politicians and leaders have emerged from even the most orthodox regions of the country.

While women have always found creative forms of protests within patriarchal structures, protests against the State or with a common cause gave them the opportunity to dissent openly, voice out their issues, and create a space for themselves within the larger discourse.

Asserting their position as farmers

Many academic papers discuss the imperative role of women in protests. Among them Jagmati Sangwan and Shamsher Singh’s article ‘Women’s Participation in Protests against the Three Farm Laws in India Perspectives from the Ground’, documents and discuss the role played by women in one of the largest protests in world history against the three contentious agriculture laws passed by the government, which the farmers feared would lead to the abolishment of the minimum support price, leaving them at the mercy of big corporates.

The authors explain that while not surprising, the enthusiastic participation of women in the farmers’ protest was a phenomenal event that unfolded during the course of the one-year-long agitation.

The reasons behind their participation are rooted in the historic conditions and socio-economic factors that affect women throughout the country. Yet, it is notable that most women who participated, came from States where women, especially from rural regions, are disadvantaged by the patriarchal systems that constrain them.

Though women play a crucial role in the agricultural process in these regions, they are denied land ownership and are expected to do unpaid or exchange labour.

With the coming of the farm laws, the already precarious condition of farmers in the country was expected to become even more unstable due to the lack of State protection mechanisms.

Furthermore, the lack of food security directly affected women, who are already burdened with the responsibility of managing the domestic (food) needs of the family. Thus, the decision of the government seemed to have pushed them to the brink.

Women’s dissent, though directed towards the government, questioned and challenged the society that burdens them disproportionately and acts oblivious towards their contributions to farming.

Creative forms of dissent

Women have always subtly challenged society; be it through clothing, gossiping, folk songs mocking their in-laws or expressing eroticism and folk art among others.

And in recent times, by participating in sporting events primarily associated with masculinity, preparing for the civil services or pursuing higher education, and engaging in mixed caste or mixed religion marriages, women from rural regions, especially from the north, have defied patriarchal norms.

Even during the demonstrations, womens’ presence added texture to the mainstream protests. Borrowing the rhythms of folk tunes, women created songs and slogans that mocked the new laws, discussed the problems of the peasantry and workers, and challenged the political system.

Women’s participation in the protests also helped in creating a festive mood, boosting the morale of the protesters as they struggled with harsh conditions (weather, police harassment) at the protest sites. Local festivals were celebrated, where gender roles of certain local traditions were subverted.

Multiple challenges

An interesting aspect of the movement was that within the agitation against the government, women managed to assert their place in the protests, challenging the structures that constrained them.

While women were not allowed to give speeches or sit on the podium at the beginning of the protests, their opposition to such constricting norms, gave women a space on the stage to give compelling speeches that inspired more women to join the movement.

It must also be noted that though the initial conditions of the protest sites were unfavourable for women in terms of sanitation and safety, they managed to organise committees to address these issues.

Many women volunteers, lawyers and activists supported the cause, while women journalists from independent media actively documented the events of the protests. By becoming more gender inclusive, the protest managed to attract more media attention and support from the general public.

There were many challenges that women faced during the protests. As the division of labour was mostly decided according to gender roles, women were made responsible for cooking, cleaning and taking care of the elders.

In many of the protest sites they were asked to cover their face while on the podium and in a few instances, they were even harassed and molested.

Further, it was seen that the landless, irrespective of their gender limited their participation in the protests. This could be associated with the class and caste inequalities that replicated itself within the farmers’ movement, with oppressive structures like the Khap panchayats being reproduced in the sites.

Thus, women’s participation in the farmer’s protests against the State brought them to the centre stage of agrarian politics and proved that society’s attitude towards women activists and agitators was changing in the right direction. Yet, Indian society has a long way to go in providing equal spaces for people from different genders, castes and classes within protests.


News 5: The C-295 and India’s aircraft industry


Background

On October 30, Prime Minister Narendra Modi layed the foundation stone for the C-295 transport aircraft manufacturing facility in Vadodara to be set up by Airbus Defence and Space and Tata Advanced Systems Limited (TASL).

This is the first time a private sector company would be manufacturing a full aircraft in the country. This is a huge step forward for India in the global aircraft manufacturing domain.

What is the C-295MW transporter?

  • The C-295MW is a transport aircraft of 5-10 tonne capacity which will replace the legacy Avro aircraft in the Indian Air Force (IAF) procured in the 1960s.
  • In the words of N. Chandrasekaran, Chairman of Tata Sons, with the set-up of the final assembly line in Vadodara, the Tata Group will now be able to take aluminium ingots at one end of the value stream and turn it into an Airbus C-295 aircraft for the IAF.
  • With the procurement of these aircraft, India has become the 35th C-295 operator worldwide. The Navy and the Coast Guard have also expressed interest in the C-295 and it can be used in civilian roles as well as exported in the future.
  • The C-295 is also a potential replacement for the AN-32 aircraft, the workhorse of the IAF with over 100 of them in service.

How will this affect the domestic aircraft manufacturing ecosystem?

Over the last two decades, Indian companies, both public and private, have steadily expanded their footprint in the global supply chains of major defence and aerospace manufacturers supplying a range of components, systems and sub-systems.

The U.S. simplifying its export regulations for India, through a series of measures, has added further impetus to this. As U.S. and India pursue the Indo-Pacific strategy, India’s strengths coupled with U.S. and European technology prowess can be a force for good.

The domestic defence manufacturing ecosystem will get a boost with the C-295 project as it will lead to the development of a strong private industrial aerospace ecosystem not only in and around Vadorara but across the country.

The C-295 project is expected to create more than 15,000 skilled direct and indirect jobs across the aerospace ecosystem, with more than 125 suppliers qualified on global quality standards across India. Manufacturing of over 13,400 detail parts, 4,600 sub-assemblies and all the seven major component assemblies will be undertaken in India, along with tools, jigs and testers.

Is India’s civil aviation sector growing?

India has a much bigger footprint in civil aviation manufacturing than defence, in addition to being a major market itself. Both Airbus and Boeing do significant sourcing from India for their civil programmes.

India, which is moving ahead with the mantra of ‘Make in India’ and ‘Make for the Globe’, continues to enhance its potential by becoming a major manufacturer of transport planes.

Another major growing area is Maintenance, Repair and Overhaul (MRO) for which India can emerge as the regional hub, however the private defence sector is still nascent and a conducive and stable regulatory and policy environment will be an important enabler.

Factors for development of air transport in India

  • Poor visibility due to clouds, fog and mist hinders air transport but India is lucky to have clear weather for most part of the year except for a short duration in rainy season.
  • The central location of India which has Europe West Asia on the western side and South East Asia and East Asia on the Eastern side.
  • India has extensive plains which provide suitable landing sites in India.
  • The need of airways is high due to the larger size of India.

Way forward

This moment is akin to the automobile clusters that have emerged in the country turning India into a major exporter of cars to the world. With the right momentum, a realistic roadmap and enabling policy framework, a similar story can be scripted to make the country a hub for aircraft manufacturing.


News 6: E-rupee used to settle Rs 275 cr govt bond trades


Background

The Reserve Bank of India (RBI) took a major leap towards making the country’s monetary and payment systems more efficient with the launch of digital rupee, or e-rupee, to settle secondary market transactions in government securities. Digital rupee was used to settle transactions in government securities worth Rs 275 crore as part of a pilot project.

e-rupee

The use of the e-rupee wholesale segment (e?-W) is expected to make the inter-bank market more efficient. Settlement in central bank money would reduce transaction costs by pre-empting the need for settlement guarantee infrastructure or for collateral to mitigate settlement risk.

Also, the payment systems through digital currency are affordable, accessible, convenient, efficient, safe, and secure; making them a better and trusted option for financing in the future,” said Mahesh Shukla, CEO & Founder, PayMe India.

E-rupee is the same as a fiat currency and is exchangeable one-to-one with the fiat currency. Only its form is different. It can be accepted as a medium of payment, legal tender and a safe store of value. The digital rupee would appear as liability on a central bank’s balance sheet.

A token-based e-rupee is viewed as a preferred mode for retail e-rupee as it would be closer to physical cash. A token-based CBDC would be a bearer instrument like banknotes, meaning whosoever holds the tokens at a given point in time would be presumed to own them. In a token-based CBDC, the person receiving a token will verify that his ownership of the token is genuine.

On the other hand, the RBI prefers an account-based system for the wholesale segment, including government securities. An account-based system would require maintenance of record of balances and transactions of all holders of the CBDC and indicate the ownership of the monetary balances. In this case, an intermediary will verify the identity of an account holder.


News 7: Coronal holes


Background

Recently NASA shared an image of sun’s smiling where the dark patches are known as coronal holes, which can be seen in ultraviolet light but are invisible to the human eye.

What are coronal holes?

These are regions on the sun’s surface from where fast solar wind gushes out into space. Because they contain little solar material, they have lower temperatures and thus appear darker than their surroundings. Here, the magnetic field is open to interplanetary space, sending solar material out in a high-speed stream of solar wind.

Coronal holes can last between few weeks to months, appearing throughout the sun’s approximate 11 year old cycle.

What do they tell us?

These coronal holes are important to understanding the space environment around the earth through which our technology and astronauts travel.

Geomagnetic storm

According to US National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, geomagnetic storms relate to Earth’s magnetosphere – the space around a planet influenced by its magnetic field. When a high-speed solar stream arrives at Earth, it can allow energetic solar wind particles to hit the atmosphere over the poles.

In case of a strong solar wind, the resulting geomagnetic storm can cause changes in the ionosphere, part of the Earth’s upper atmosphere. Radio and GPS signals travel through this layer, and so communications gets disrupted.


News 8: Before COP27, a status check


Background

It is the time of the year when, for two weeks, climate change takes global centerstage. The annual United Nations Climate Change Conference (COP27) is being held in the Egyptian resort town of Sharm el-Shaikh amid fresh reminders that the window for meeting climate goals is closing fast.

These annual conferences have been the main driver of the global fight against climate change. However, the response so far has not been commensurate to the enormity of the challenge. Remedial actions have been slow and incremental, while the impacts of global warming have been unfolding at a very rapid rate.

Emissions still rising

It’s been at least two-and-a-half decades since the world decided to restrain its greenhouse gas emissions.

In absolute terms however, the annual global emissions are still rising, now touching almost 50 billion tonnes of carbon dioxide equivalent (see graph). In the decade between 2010 and 2019, the global emissions grew by over one per cent on an average.

Moreover, even if the growth in emissions is halted immediately, or is made to decline, it does not solve the problem. This is because the warming of the planet is the result of accumulated emissions in the atmosphere and not the current emissions.

Carbon dioxide, the main greenhouse gas, remains in the atmosphere for about 100 years, so that the effect of any immediate decline in emissions would have an impact only after several decades.

As a result, the average global temperatures have risen faster in the last one decade than anytime earlier (see graph). This trend is only likely to accelerate in the coming years. Recent data suggest that the annual mean temperature of the world is already higher by more than one degree Celsius from pre-industrial times. Some of the monthly means are higher by over 1.1 degree Celsius.

Inadequate response of different countries

The response in terms of emission cuts has been inadequate. The rich and industrialised countries, which were the main polluters and hence mainly responsible to bring down emissions, have not met their collective targets.

Developing countries like China or India, which were not major emitters till sometime back, have seen their emissions rise steeply.

As a bloc, the European Union has done relatively better on climate goals, with the United Kingdom, which is struggling with an economic downturn right now, halving its emissions from 1990 levels, UN data shows.

The United States, the world’s leading emitter till it was overtaken by China in the mid 2000s, has been a major laggard, cutting its emissions by only about 7 per cent from 1990 levels.

China’s emissions have risen by almost four times, and India’s by about three times, during this period.

Current global emissions are more than 50 per cent higher than in 1990.

World headed to 2.8-degree warming

The overall climate objective is to ensure that the rise in global temperatures does not go beyond 2 degrees compared with pre-industrial times. Preferably, it needs to be restricted within 1.5 degree Celsius.

Latest assessments suggest that if climate action is not immediately scaled up, the world is likely to become warmer by about 2.8 degree Celsius by the end of the century.

For a realistic chance to keep global warming within 1.5 degree Celsius, annual emissions would need to drop from the current level of about 50 billion tonnes of CO2 equivalent to about 33 billion tonnes by 2030 and 8 billion tonnes by 2050, according to the newest Emissions Gap Report. Even for meeting the 2-degree target, emissions have to come down to about 41 billion tonnes by 2030 and 20 billion tonnes by 2050.

This would require drastic action from all the major emitters, and looks unlikely right now. In the last one year, just about 25 countries have strengthened their 2030 climate action plans, with minimal potential to bend the emission curve.

Impact of Ukraine War

The energy and economic crisis caused by the Ukraine war is threatening to undo even the small gains made. Already, the consumption of fossil fuels has gone up. Countries have begun to secure more and more of traditional fossil fuels to deal with the uncertainty in the energy markets.

The impact of the war — which shows no signs of ending — is likely to be felt for a long time, slowing down progress on climate action by several years.


Other important news


Prime Minister calls for road map to develop Mangarh Dham

Prime Minister Narendra Modi on Tuesday called for preparing a road map to develop Mangarh Dham in Rajasthan’s Banswara district as a tribal destination with a prominent identity at the global level. Mangarh Dham, situated near the Rajasthan-Gujarat boundary, is known for the massacre of tribespeople by the British Indian Army in 1913.

Nearly 1,500 Bhil tribals and forest dwellers were killed in a hill in Mangarh on November 17, 1913, when the British Indian Army opened fire on the protesters who were demanding abolition of bonded labour system and relaxation in heavy agricultural taxes imposed by the rulers of princely states. The tribes in the southern Rajasthan region were led by Govind Guru.


 

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