News Snippet

News 1: Doctrine of Pleasure

News 2: Is the world’s climate action plan on track?

News 3: Google and anti-competitive practices

News 4:  United Nations Security Council Counter-Terrorism Committee 

News 5: Kalanamak rice is now small, strong

News 6: Dolphins return to the Ganga in U.P.

News 7:  Anti-superstition laws in India

News 8: Demand grows, but DNA tests fall under a grey area

News 9: Russia halts Ukraine Black Sea grain exports

News 10: India and GCC to start free trade pact negotiations

Other important news:

  1. Hardy bacteria can survive on Mars for 280 million years
  2. Benefits of banana
  3. India’s role in green investments

 

News 1: Doctrine of Pleasure


Background

Kerala Governor Arif Mohammed Khan and the State government have major differences over multiple issues. The latest controversy has arisen after he sought the resignation of several vice-chancellors following a Supreme Court judgment setting aside the appointment of the Vice-Chancellor of a technology university.

As a fallout of comments made by the State’s Finance Minister, K. N. Balagopal, the Governor has also sought his dismissal from his Cabinet, declaring that he has withdrawn the pleasure of having him in the Council of Ministers.

What is the concept?

The pleasure doctrine is a concept derived from English common law, under which the crown can dispense with the services of anyone in its employ at any time.

In India, Article 310 of the Constitution says every person in the defence or civil service of the Union holds office during the pleasure of the President, and every member of the civil service in the States holds office during the pleasure of the Governor.

However, Article 311 imposes restrictions on the removal of a civil servant.

It provides for civil servants being given a reasonable opportunity for a hearing on the charges against them. There is also a provision to dispense with the inquiry if it is not practicable to hold one, or if it is not expedient to do so in the interest of national security.

In practical terms, the pleasure of the President referred to here is that of the Union government, and the Governor’s pleasure is that of the State government.

Under Article 164, the Chief Minister is appointed by the Governor; and the other Ministers are appointed by the Governor on the CM’s advice. It adds that Ministers hold office during the pleasure of the Governor.

In a constitutional scheme in which they are appointed solely on the CM’s advice, the ‘pleasure’ referred to is also taken to mean the right of the Chief Minister to dismiss a Minister, and not that of the Governor.

What did the Supreme Court say on Vice-Chancellor’s appointment?

In a case challenging the appointment of Dr. M.S. Rajasree as V-C of the APJ Abdul Kalam Technological University, Thiruvananthapuram, the Supreme Court held that her appointment was contrary to the regulations of the University Grants Commission (UGC).

The particular infirmity was that the Search Committee had identified only one candidate and recommended the name to the Chancellor for appointment. Under UGC regulations, a panel of three to five names should be recommended so that the Chancellor has a number of options to choose from.

How did the Governor react?

The Governor, in his capacity as Chancellor of universities, responded by directing the V-Cs of nine universities to resign the very next day, contending that the infirmities pointed out by the Supreme Court in one case also vitiated their appointments.

Mr. Khan noted that the apex court had declared that an appointment not in line with the UGC regulations would be ab initio void that is invalid from the very beginning.

He highlighted the fact that each of those appointments were either made on the basis of a single recommendation or were recommended by a panel in which the Chief Secretary was a member (contrary to the Regulations that say its members should be persons of eminence in the field of higher education).

However, when the communication was challenged in the Kerala High Court, the Governor converted his directive into show-cause notices to the V-Cs to explain how their appointments were not illegal. Later, such notices were sent to two more V-Cs.

Why did he want a Minister removed?

Responding to remarks by Kerala Ministers, Mr. Khan warned that he could withdraw his pleasure in respect of individual Ministers if they made statements that lowered the dignity of his office.

Later, taking note of a comment by Mr. Balagopal, he conveyed to Chief Minister Pinarayi Vijayan that the Minister ceased to enjoy his pleasure and wanted him to take “constitutionally appropriate action”.

Mr. Vijayan rejected the suggestion: “viewed from a constitutional perspective, factoring in the democratic conventions and traditions of our country, the statement cannot warrant a ground for cessation of the enjoyment of the Governor’s pleasure.”


News 2: COP27 – Is the world’s climate action plan on track?


Background

Leaders from around 200 countries will gather in the Egyptian city of Sharm El-Sheikh from November 6-18 for the 27th round of the Conference of Parties, or COP27, to deliberate on a global response to the increasing threat of climate change.

The annual summit comes at a crucial juncture against the backdrop of global inflation, energy, food and supply chain crises, fuelled by an ongoing war in Ukraine and exacerbated by extreme weather events, with data showing that the world is not doing enough.

At COP27, negotiations are likely to focus on efforts to decarbonise, finance climate action measures and other issues related to food security, energy and biodiversity.

What have been the key takeaways from past COPs?

The participants at COPs are signatories to the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change, or UNFCCC, adopted 30 years ago. At present, the UNFCCC has 198 members. The first COP was held in 1995 in Berlin.

For instance, the Kyoto Protocol, adopted at COP3 in 1997, committed industrialised economies to limit and reduce greenhouse gas emissions.

COP21, another significant conference, ended with the 2015 Paris Agreement in which member countries agreed to keep global warming below 2°C , ideally no more than 1.5°C , compared to pre-industrial levels.

The previous summit- COP26, hosted by Glasgow, ended with the Glasgow Climate Pact that called for the ‘phasing down’ of unabated coal power.

What’s on the agenda at the upcoming summit?

COP27 will seek to strengthen a global response and deliberate if wealthy nations emitting carbon dioxide should compensate for the loss to developing countries with a lower carbon footprint.

Broadly, the summit seeks to “accelerate global climate action through emissions reduction, scaled-up adaptation efforts and enhanced flows of appropriate finance” through its four priority areas of mitigation, adaptation, finance and collaboration.

How has the world been doing on climate change since the Glasgow meet?

The world has changed since the last COP in Glasgow. Extreme weather events and scientific reports are a stark reminder of the devastating impact of human pressure on the climate and the inefficiency of existing plans.

These reports, likely to leave an impact on political agenda and environmental diplomacy, have built momentum for the Egypt summit.

A recent UN report has warned that “efforts remain insufficient” to limit global temperature rise to 1.5°C, as per the Paris Agreement. The UN Climate Change report says the world is failing to act with urgency to curb greenhouse gas emissions despite the planet witnessing climate-enhanced heatwaves, storms and floods after just 1.2°C of warming.

Even if the countries meet their pledges, we are on track for around 2.5°C of warming, which will be disastrous.

The findings are based on an analysis of the latest Nationally Determined Contributions (NDCs), or country-specific action plans to cut emissions and adapt to climate impacts.

The report adds that emissions compared to 2010 levels need to fall 45% by 2030 to meet the Paris deal’s goal.

What did the IPCC report state?

This year’s Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) assessment report stated that climate change has produced irreversible losses to natural ecosystems and has warned of severe consequences to food supply, human health and biodiversity loss if carbon emissions from human activity are not sharply reduced.

As per the report, 3-14% of all species on earth face a very high risk of extinction at even 1.5°C, with devastating losses at higher temperatures in the current situation.

It adds that limiting warming to around 1.5°C requires global greenhouse gas emissions to peak before 2025 and be reduced by 43% by 2030.

Coal-fired power plants operating without technology to capture and store carbon would need to be shuttered by 2050, a warning relevant to India which operates roughly 10% of global capacity.

The World Resources Institute also paints a grim picture in its report. It suggests that the world needs to curb emissions six times faster by 2030 than the current trajectory to meet the 1.5°C target. Of the 40 indicators examined, none is on track to reach the 2030 target.

“Unabated coal-based electricity generation, although declining worldwide, continues to expand across some regions, while unabated fossil gas-based electricity, is still rising globally,” it notes.

Mitigation measures to keep temperatures below 2°C and the need for climate change adaptation mentioned in these reports are likely to come up for discussion at the COP27.

Where does India stand?

India is one of the 197 countries that has promised to limit the increase to no more than 1.5°C by 2030. It is also working on a long-term roadmap to achieve its target of net zero emissions by 2070.

Prime Minister Narendra Modi had committed at the Glasgow summit that the country would get its non-fossil energy capacity to 500 GW by 2030, meet half of its energy requirement from renewable sources and reduce carbon emissions.

India is the third-largest greenhouse gas emitter in the world. Though India updated its climate pledges in line with commitments made at the previous summit, experts have slammed New Delhi for not setting ambitious targets.

The Climate Action Tracker, an independent analysis that tracks government climate action classifies India’s action as “highly insufficient”. It says India’s continued support to the coal industry undermines a green recovery.

India had previously come under intense criticism over its stand to “phase down” coal power, instead of phasing it out, at COP26.

“While stronger on paper, India will already achieve these targets with its current level of climate action and the new targets will not drive further emissions reductions,” the tracker notes.

The country is, however, expected to play a key role at COP27. A key issue for India at the summit will be financing both — adapting to climate change and limiting fossil fuel emissions. The country wants the $100 billion-a-year pledge of climate funds for developing countries, a promise that remains unfulfilled.


News 3: Google and anti-competitive practices


Background

In the second blow to Google’s coffers in a week, the Competition Commission of India (CCI) on October 25 imposed a fine of ₹936.44 crore on the tech major for anti-competitive practices in its Play Store policies.

On October 20, the CCI had imposed a provisional fine of ₹1,337.76 crore on the company for abusing its dominant position in multiple markets in the Android mobile device ecosystem.

Why has Google been fined for a second time?

The new fine by the CCI pertains to one of the three antitrust lawsuits Google is facing in India. The investigation into Google’s payment system used in the Play Store began in 2020 after an individual complainant, whose identity has been kept confidential, filed an antitrust case against Google.

Indian startups and small digital companies have complained about Google’s policy of imposing the use of its own payment system on app developers. Similar probes are also on against Google in South Korea and Indonesia.

A European court recently upheld a 2018 ruling against Google saying that the company imposed “unlawful restrictions on manufacturers of Android mobile devices.” Google faces a $4.1 billion fine and plans to appeal.

The Google Play Store is a marketplace for apps and services and has a collection of more than three million applications. In the current matter involving Google, the CCI examined if the company violated the Competition Act through its policy of requiring app developers to mandatorily use Google Play’s billing system (GPBS) not only for receiving payments for paid app downloads but also for in-app purchases.

The probe also noted that if the app developers did not comply with Google’s policy of using GPBS, they would not be permitted to list their apps on the Play Store.

The CCI thus concluded that making access to the Play Store contingent on mandatory usage of GPBS was “one-sided and arbitrary” and it also denied app developers “the inherent choice to use payment processor[s] of their liking from the open market.”

It also examined the service fee that Google charges developers of paid apps and for in-app purchases. Compared to the 0-3% fee by other payment aggregators in India, the Commission found Google’s service fee (between 15-30%) to be excessive, unfair, and discriminatory.

Google submitted that only 3% of developers on Google Play are subjected to a service fee. However, the commission found that the services provided by Google to these developers are in no way different or additional compared to services provided to developers of free apps.

Further, it found that Google does not make it mandatory for some of its own apps like YouTube to use the GPBS, exempting them from paying the service fee. Besides, the Commission said that Google excluded rival UPI apps as effective payment options on the Play Store.

It noted that it was discriminatory of Google to use an easy and efficient payment flow for its own UPI application GPay, while using a more cumbersome system with a lower success rate for other UPI apps like Paytm, PhonePe etc. The watchdog recorded that while GPay did not lead the overall UPI market in India, it was the dominant player in the UPI payments made on the Google Play Store.

The watchdog has directed Google to allow app developers to use any third-party billing service and given it three months to implement necessary changes in its practices.

How has Google reacted?

While Google had called last week’s ₹1,300 crore fine a “major setback” for its Indian operations, it defended itself after the second penalty by saying that “Indian developers have benefited from tech, security, consumer protections & unrivalled choice & flexibility that Android & Google Play provide”.

It added that its low-cost model had powered India’s “digital transformation” and expanded “access for hundreds of millions of Indians”.

It was reported that Google is also planning a legal challenge in response to the first antitrust ruling by the CCI.


News 4:  United Nations Security Council Counter-Terrorism Committee 


Background

Terrorism is still one of the “gravest threats” to humanity, External Affairs Minister S. Jaishankar remarked in the concluding day of the United Nations Security Council Counter-Terrorism Committee’s special meeting in India that sought to focus on the misuse of emerging technologies by terrorist groups. He called for “zero tolerance towards terrorism”.

New and emerging technologies and its role in terrorism

Mr. Jaishankar said that new and emerging technologies had enhanced capabilities of terror groups, “particularly in open and liberal societies”.

“Internet and social media platforms have turned into potent instruments in the toolkit of terrorist and militant groups for spreading propaganda, radicalisation and conspiracy theories aimed at destabilising societies,” he said.

The meeting, which was addressed by all members of the Security Council, and included ministerial-level participation from Albania, Gabon, Ghana, the United Arab Emirates and the United Kingdom, committed to ending safe havens for terrorists and countering new technologies being used for terrorism.

Sanctions regime

“The UN Security Council, in the past two decades, has evolved an important architecture, built primarily around the counter-terrorism sanctions regime… This has been very effective in putting those countries on notice that had turned terrorism into a State-funded enterprise,” Mr. Jaishankar said in a veiled reference to Pakistan, adding that the threat of terrorism is “growing and expanding” nonetheless.

Mr. Jaishankar’s statement came a day after U.S. Secretary of State Antony Blinken had referred to India-U.S. joint efforts to designate several Lashkar-e-Taiba (LeT) and Jaish-e-Mohammad (JeM) terrorists through the UN’s 1267 sanctions committee.

The 35-paragraph “Delhi Declaration” focused on the threat from Unmanned Aerial Systems (UAS) including drones, online radicalisation and recruitment as well as terrorist financing through cryptocurrencies and other virtual means, with members noting “with additional concern the increasing global misuse of unmanned aerial systems (UAS) by terrorists to conduct attacks against, and incursions into critical infrastructure and soft targets or public places, and to traffic drugs and arms.”

In particular, the CTC members referred to attacks in the UAE and Saudi Arabia, as well as cross-border drone activity into India.

Safi Rizvi, Additional Secretary, Ministry of Home Affairs (MHA), informed that in mid-2018, there had been close to 600 terror camps across the J&K border. This was the time when Pakistan was first placed on the grey list.

The cross-border terror bases went down by 75% during the FATF listing. The Counter Terrorism Committee should notice how effective the UN designations and listings by the FATF are.

The moment the talk started that the grey listing is about to end, the bases have gone up by 50% and we are expecting more scalable and more attacks on hard targets [security installations] and much more trouble,” he said.

He added that since end-2021, “the return of cross border terrorist infrastructure and the return of attacks on Indian targets” is noticeable. Mr. Rizvi said that the FATF listing of Pakistan from 2018-2022 saw relative peace.

To substantiate, he shared a photograph of Lashkar-e-Taiba (LeT) chief Hafiz Saeed, a UN-designated terrorist, holding a public rally in Pakistan in December 2017. The officer said after the designations were enforced in 2018, the rallies were stopped.


News 5: Kalanamak rice is now small, strong


Background

Kalanamak, a traditional variety of paddy with black husk and strong fragrance, which is considered a gift from Lord Buddha to the people of Sravasti when he visited the region after enlightenment, is all set to get a new look and name.

Grown in 11 districts of the Terai region of northeastern Uttar Pradesh and in Nepal, the traditional variety has been prone to ‘lodging’, a reason for its low yield.

The yield, as a result, fell drastically, and the market for the rice dwindled, too. The traditional Kalanamak paddy’s yield is barely two to 2.5 tonnes per hectare.

Lodging is a condition in which the top of the plant becomes heavy because of grain formation, the stem becomes weak, and the plant falls on the ground.

Addressing the problem, the Indian Agriculture Research Institute (IARI) has successfully developed two dwarf varieties of Kalanamak rice. They have been named Pusa Narendra Kalanamak 1638 and Pusa Narendra Kalanamak 1652.

The yield of the new varieties is double that of the traditional variety. The IARI and the Uttar Pradesh Council of Agriculture are working together to make the seeds available to farmers at the earliest.

The traditional Kalanamak rice is protected under the Geographical Indication (GI) tag system.

It’s recorded in the GI application that Lord Budhha gifted Kalanamak paddy to the people of Sravasti so that they remembered him by its fragrance.

‘Making it sturdy’

IARI’s objective was to bring dwarfness into the variety and make the plant sturdy to prevent lodging.

Extensive evaluation

The process started in 2007, when the first cross with dwarf varieties was carried out. For the last three years, the IARI conducted extensive evaluation at 10 Krishi Vigyan Kendras (KVK) located in the GI districts.

In this kharif season, it was given to farmers. The aroma of the new breed is higher and nutritional qualities are also excellent. Productivity has gone up to 4.5 to five tonnes per hectare as against 2.5 tonnes in the case of traditional Kalanamak.

Encouraging results

In all, Kalanamak is cultivated on about one lakh hectares in Uttar Pradesh.

Prof. Singh said the KVKs would provide seeds for large-scale cultivation for the next crop season.

High iron and zinc content

It has high iron and zinc content.


News 6: Dolphins return to the Ganga in U.P.


Background

Dolphins have started coming back to the Ganga with improvement in the quality of the river water made possible by the Namami Gange programme, the Uttar Pradesh government said on Sunday.

The government said that with the completion of 23 projects under the programme started in 2014, the State had stopped the flow of more than 460 MLD (million litres a day) of sewage into the Ganga.

Positive impact of Namami Ganga Programme

Dolphins have been breeding in Brijghat, Narora, Kanpur, Mirzapur and Varanasi, which is likely to increase their number. The present dolphin population in the Ganga in the State is estimated at 600.

Namami Ganga Programme

Launched: 2014

Ministry: Ministry of Jal Shakti

Objective: Effective abatement of pollution and conservation and rejuvenation of National River Ganga

The program would be implemented by the National Mission for Clean Ganga (NMCG), and its state counterpart organizations i.e., State Program Management Groups (SPMGs). NMCG will also establish field offices wherever necessary.

NMCG is the implementation wing of National Ganga Council 

What are the pollution threats to Ganga?

  • Rapidly increasing population, rising standards of living and exponential growth of industrialization and urbanization have exposed water resources to various forms of degradation.
  • The deterioration in the water quality of Ganga impacts the people immediately.
  • Ganga has become unfit even for bathing during lean seasons.
  • The impacts of infrastructural projects in the upper reaches of the river Ganga raise issues.

How “Namami Gange” programme works?

In order to implement “Namami Gange” Programme, a three-tier mechanism has been proposed for project monitoring comprising of:

  • A high-level task force chaired by Cabinet Secretary assisted by NMCG at the national level,
  • State level committee chaired by Chief Secretary assisted by SPMG at the state level and
  • District level committee chaired by the District Magistrate.

“Namami Gange” will focus on pollution abatement interventions namely Interception, diversion & treatment of wastewater flowing through the open drains through bio-remediation/appropriate in-situ treatment/use of innovative technologies/sewage treatment plants (STPs)/effluent treatment plant (ETPs) rehabilitation and augmentation of existing STPs and immediate short-term measures for arresting pollution at exit points on river front to prevent inflow of sewage etc.

Ganges River Dolphin

IUCN status: Endangered

Distribution

Ganges river dolphins once lived in the Ganges-Brahmaputra-Meghna and Karnaphuli-Sangu river systems of Nepal, India, and Bangladesh. But the species is extinct from most of its early distribution ranges.

The Ganges river dolphin can only live in freshwater and is essentially blind. They hunt by emitting ultrasonic sounds, which bounces off of fish and other prey, enabling them to “see” an image in their mind.

They are frequently found alone or in small groups, and generally a mother and calf travel together.

Importance of the Gangetic River Dolphin

  • The Ganges river dolphin is important because it is a reliable indicator of the health of the entire river ecosystem.
  • The government of India declared it the National Aquatic Animal in 2009.

Threats

The Ganges river dolphin is still hunted for meat and oil, which are both used medicinally. The oil is also used to attract catfish in net fishery.

Ganges river dolphins and people both favor areas of the river where fish are plentiful and the water current is slower. This has led to fewer fish for people and more dolphins dying as a result of accidentally being caught in fishing nets, also known as bycatch.

High levels of pollution can directly kill prey species and dolphins, and completely destroy their habitat. As the top predator, river dolphins have been known to have high levels of persistent toxic chemicals in their bodies, which is likely to adversely affect their health.

Ganges river dolphins are divided into isolated groups because of the construction of more than 50 dams and other irrigation-related projects. This makes them susceptible to inbreeding and more vulnerable to other threats because they cannot move to new areas.


News 7:  Anti-superstition laws in India


Background

The brutal murders of two women as part of “ritualistic human sacrifices” in the Pathanamthitta district of Kerala have left the country in shock.

Chilling details of the killings have sparked a debate about the prevalence of superstitious beliefs, black magic and sorcery in Kerala.

In the absence of a comprehensive law to counter such acts, the call for a strict anti-superstition law has grown louder.

Are such killings common?

As per the 2021 report of the National Crime Records Bureau (NCRB), six deaths were linked to human sacrifices, while witchcraft was the motive for 68 killings. The maximum number of witchcraft cases were reported from Chhattisgarh (20), followed by Madhya Pradesh (18) and Telangana (11).

In 2020, India saw 88 deaths due to witchcraft and 11 died as part of ‘human sacrifices’, the NCRB report states.

What are the laws in India?

In India, there is no central law that exclusively deals with crimes related to witchcraft, superstition, or occult-inspired activities. In the absence of a nationwide legislation, a few States have enacted laws to counter witchcraft and protect women from deadly ‘witch-hunting’.

Bihar was the first State to enact a law to prevent witchcraft, identification of a woman as a witch and“eliminate torture, humiliation and killing of women.”

Even though Chhattisgarh is one of the worst-affected States in terms of witchcraft-related crimes, the State enacted the Chhattisgarh Tonahi (witch) Pratadna Nivaran Act only in 2005. As per the law, a person convicted for identifying someone as a witch can be sentenced to up to three years of rigorous imprisonment with a fine.

Following the directions of the Odisha High Court to frame a law to deal with rising cases of witch-hunting in the State, the Odisha Prevention of Witch-Hunting Bill was passed by the Assembly in 2013. The bill provides penalties for a witch doctor, or a person claiming to be a black magician.

The latest law was passed in Karnataka where the Karnataka Prevention and Eradication of Inhuman Evil Practices and Black Magic Act, 2017 came into effect in January 2020 after it was notified by the BJP government— which initially opposed it when it was the Opposition party.

The law bans several practices related to black magic and superstition, like forcing a person to walk on fire at religious festivals and the practice of piercing rods from one side of the jaw to the other.


News 8: Demand grows, but DNA tests fall under a grey area


Background

DNA tests occupy a grey area in the quest for justice, vacillating between the dangers of slipping into self-incrimination and encroachment on individual privacy and the “eminent need” to unearth the truth.

They can be of help as evidence in a criminal case or in proving a claim of marital infidelity or paternity.

More and more complainants are seeking DNA tests — a senior official associated with a government laboratory estimates such requests increasing by around 20% each year.

Privacy and DNA test

  • The Supreme Court recently held — in a case concerning a woman known only as ‘XX’ to protect her identity — that compelling an unwilling person to undergo a DNA test would be a violation of personal liberty and right to privacy, turning the spotlight on a technology that aids the cause of justice but violates privacy.
  • But the issue is problematised by the varying stances of both the apex court and High Courts that tend to focus on the particularities of each case.
  • Women’s rights activists, however, hold that a DNA test is the only tool which can deliver justice in cases of abandonment of mothers and children.
  • DNA may not be conclusive proof in cases of heinous crimes like rape but for paternity, protection has always been towards the children.
  • Precedents set by the Supreme Court through the years show that judges cannot order genetic tests as a “roving enquiry” (Bhabani Prasad Jena, 2010) and they must balance “the interests of the parties” (Banarsi Dass, 2005).
  • DNA tests should also not be ordered if there was other material evidence at hand to prove the case.
  • In its Ashok Kumar judgment, the court said judges, before ordering a genetic test, should examine “proportionality of the legitimate aims” being pursued. But seven years ago, the court heard a man’s plea for a DNA test to prove his wife’s infidelity and the parentage of their child and sought a test to be done on himself and the child.
  • The court agreed reasoning there was no other way for him to know. It said the wife could refuse but would risk presumptions being drawn against her. Then again, as the ‘XX’ case demonstrates, there are no easy answers or legal certitudes.
  • While dealing with claims of infidelity, a request for DNA test also competes with the conclusiveness of Section 112 of the Indian Evidence Act, which presumes that a child born to a married woman is legitimate — the burden of proof is on the person claiming illegitimacy of the child.
  • While the imperative of justice jostles with that of bodily autonomy, the Constitution Bench judgment in the K.S. Puttaswamy case recognising privacy as part of the fundamental right to life has only buttressed the privacy argument as the government’s bid to pilot the DNA Technology Regulation Bill, 2019 through Parliament hangs fire.

News 9: Russia halts Ukraine Black Sea grain exports


Background

Russia suspended participation in a UN-brokered Black Sea grain deal after what it said was a major Ukrainian drone attack on its fleet in Crimea, dealing a blow to attempts to ease the global food crisis.

The Black Sea Grain initiative

The agreement, known as, the Black Sea Grain initiative, was signed in July and ended a five-month Russian blockade of Ukriane’s ports. Brokered with Russia and Ukraine by the United Nations and Turkey, the deal was set to expire on November 19 and in recent weeks, its future had appeared uncertain.


News 10: India and GCC to start free trade pact negotiations


Background

India and the Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC) member countries are expected to start negotiations for a free trade agreement next month with an aim to boost economic ties between the two regions, an official said.

GCC is a union of six countries in the Gulf region — Saudi Arabia, UAE, Qatar, Kuwait, Oman and Bahrain.

Trading scenario

According to experts, the GCC region holds huge trade potential and a trade agreement would help in further boosting India’s exports to that market.

GCC is a major import dependent region. We can increase our exports of food items, clothing and several other goods. Duty concessions under a trade agreement will help in tapping that market. It will be a win-win situation for both sides.

Mumbai-based exporter and founder chairman of Techno-craft Industries India, Sharad Kumar Saraf said the GCC has emerged as a major trading partner for India and there is huge potential for increasing investments between the two regions.

India imports predominately crude oil and natural gas from the Gulf nations like Saudi Arabia and Qatar, and exports pearls, precious and semi-precious stones; metals; imitation jewellery; electrical machinery; iron and steel; and chemicals to these countries.

Indian diaspora and remittances

Besides trade, Gulf nations are host to a sizeable Indian population. Out of about 32 million non-resident Indians (NRIs), nearly half are estimated to be working in Gulf countries.

These NRIs send a significant amount of money back home.

According to a November 2021 report of the World Bank, India got USD 87 billion in foreign remittances in 2021. Of this, a sizeable portion came from the GCC nations. Saudi Arabia was India’s fourth-largest trading partner last fiscal. 

Bilateral trade

  1. India’s exports to the GCC increased by 58.26 per cent to about USD 44 billion in 2021-22 against USD 27.8 billion in 2020-21, according to data of the commerce ministry.
  2. The share of these six countries in India’s total exports has risen to 10.4 per cent in 2021-22 from 9.51 per cent in 2020-21.
  3. Similarly, imports rose by 85.8 per cent to USD 110.73 billion compared to USD 59.6 billion in 2020-21, the data showed.
  4. Bilateral trade has increased to USD 154.73 billion in 2021-22 from USD 87.4 billion in 2020-21.
  5. From Qatar, India imports 8.5 million tonnes a year of LNG and exports products ranging from cereals to meat, fish, chemicals, and plastics.
  6. Kuwait was the 27th largest trading partner of India in the last fiscal, while the UAE was the third-largest trading partner in 2021-22.

Other important news


Hardy bacteria can survive on Mars for 280 million years

Researchers have discovered that certain hardy bacteria could survive in the hostile Martian conditions for millions of years, by testing the ability of a selection of ‘extremophile’ microbes — which can live in harsh environments — to survive in cold, radioactive conditions similar to those on Mars.

The team found that, when dried and frozen, the Deinococcus radiodurans microbe could survive under the surface of Mars for 280 million years.

Benefits of banana

Origin of banana

Dr. K.T. Achaya, in his book, Indian Food: a Historical Companion mentions banana in Buddhist literature in around 400 BC. He mentions that bananas came to South India from New Guinea Island through the sea route. Some have claimed that it was in New Guinea that bananas have been first domesticated.

Distribution

These plants grow in regions that are warm and humid, abutting the Western Ghats.

They are largely found in the peninsular southern coastal region, namely in parts of Gujarat, Maharashtra, Karnataka, Kerala, Tamil Nadu, Telangana, Andhra Pradesh, Odisha, and Bengal, and in the Northeastern areas of the country such as Assam and Arunachal Pradesh.

However, the central and northern regions (Madhya Pradesh, Uttar Pradesh, Haryana, and Punjab) also grow the plant but neither in such variety nor in numbers.

Production and variety

India produces about 29 million tonne of banana every year, and next is China with 11 million. The Food and Agricultural Organization (FAO) says that about 135 countries produce bananas, and banana plants like warm and wet conditions.

Of particular note are the Southeastern Asian countries, which have as many as 300 varieties of banana, many of which have visually beautiful plants.

Nutrition facts

The book Nutritive value of Indian Foods from the Indian Council of Medical Research (ICMR) points out that bananas have 10-20 mg of calcium, 36 mg of sodium, 34 mg of magnesium and 30-50 mg of phosphorous per 100 g of edible material. All these make bananas highly nutritious.

Benefits

Cheap and avaialable in most of the rural areas and in most parts of India.

Even its peel is of use as a ‘biochar,’ which is used both as a fertilizer and to generate electricity.

Efforts are on to use it to drive electric automobiles.

India’s role in green investments

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