CURRENT AFFAIRS – 28/02/2024

CURRENT AFFAIRS – 28/02/2024

CURRENT AFFAIRS – 28/02/2024

Four IAF pilots named as possible Gaganyaan crew

(General Studies- Paper III)

Source : The Hindu

India disclosed the names of its four astronaut-designates for the Gaganyaan human spaceflight mission, scheduled for launch in 2025.

  • The revelation took place during Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s visit to the Vikram Sarabhai Space Centre (VSSC) in Thiruvananthapuram.

Key Highlights

  • Astronaut Designates:
    • The selected astronaut-designates are distinguished Indian Air Force (IAF) pilots, namely Group Captain PrasanthBalakrishnan Nair, Group Captain Ajit Krishnan, Group Captain AngadPratap, and Wing Commander Shubhanshu Shukla.
    • These names were unveiled for the first time, and the final crew for the mission will be chosen from this group.
  • Selection and Training Process:
    • The astronauts underwent a meticulous selection process and are currently undergoing training in various aspects of spaceflight.
    • Initial training was conducted in Russia, followed by further training at the Astronaut Training Facility established by the Indian Space Research Organisation (ISRO) in Bengaluru.
  • Prime Minister Narendra Modi, during his visit to the VSSC, presented the four astronauts with ‘astronaut wings,’ symbolizing their commitment and achievement in the Gaganyaan mission.
  • Gaganyaan Program Objectives:
    • The Gaganyaan program is strategically designed to showcase India’s independent capability to execute human spaceflight missions to Low Earth Orbit (LEO).
    • The mission is anticipated to pave the way for establishing a sustained Indian human space exploration program in the long run.
  • Preparation for Crewed Mission:
    • In anticipation of the crewed mission to Low Earth Orbit (LEO), ISRO is actively conducting a series of tests, including Integrated Air Drop tests, Test Vehicle Missions, and pad Abort Tests. Unmanned flights are scheduled as part of the preparatory phase leading up to the actual crewed mission.

Note: In addition to the Gaganyaan mission, ISRO has announced ambitious plans to send astronauts to the moon by 2040, reflecting India’s commitment to advancing space exploration.

  • Facility Dedication:
    • Prime Minister Narendra Modi recently visited ISRO to review the progress of the Gaganyaan mission.
    • During his visit, he dedicated three crucial technical facilities to the nation, developed at a cost of approximately ₹1,800 crore.
    • Trisonic Wind Tunnel:
      • Located at the Vikram Sarabhai Space Centre (VSSC), this state-of-the-art facility produces controlled uniform airflow over scale models of rockets and aircraft.
      • It is designed to assess aerodynamic characteristics, aiming to make ISRO self-reliant in the end-to-end design of future launch vehicle projects.
    • PSLV Integration Facilities (PIF):
      • Situated at the Satish Dhawan Space Centre, Sriharikota, these integration facilities for the Polar Satellite Launch Vehicle (PSLV) enable ISRO to increase the number of PSLV missions in a year from 6 to 15, enhancing launch capabilities.
    • Semi-cryogenic Integrated Engine and Stage Test Facility (SIET):
      • Located at the ISRO Propulsion Complex (IPRC) in Mahendragiri, Tamil Nadu, SIET will be crucial for testing the SCE-2000 semi-cryogenic engine and stages.
      • This technology aims to increase the payload capability of launch vehicles.
    • ISRO also showcased ‘Vyommitra,’ a humanoid robot developed for the Gaganyaan program.

More details about the Gaganyaan mission

  • Mission Objectives:
    • The Gaganyaan project aims to demonstrate India’s human spaceflight capability by launching a crew of three members into orbit at an altitude of 400 km for a three-day mission.
    • The objective includes safely bringing the crew back to Earth with a planned landing in the Indian sea waters.
  • Critical Technologies Development:The pre-requisites for the Gaganyaan mission involve the development of critical technologies, including:
    • Human-Rated Launch Vehicle: A vehicle designed to carry crew safely to space.
    • Life Support System: Providing an Earth-like environment to the crew in space.
    • Crew Emergency Escape Provision: Ensuring the safety of the crew with emergency escape mechanisms.
    • Crew Management Aspects: Addressing training, recovery, and rehabilitation of the crew.
  • Precursor Demonstrator Missions:To ensure Technology Preparedness Levels, various precursor missions are planned, including:
    • Integrated Air Drop Test (IADT): Demonstrating technology readiness through a controlled air drop.
    • Pad Abort Test (PAT): Evaluating emergency escape provisions from the launch pad.
    • Test Vehicle (TV) Flights: Testing the systems and validating safety and reliability in unmanned missions before the manned mission.
  • Human-Rated LVM3 (HLVM3):
    • The well-proven and reliable LVM3 rocket of ISRO is selected as the launch vehicle for the Gaganyaan mission.
    • It undergoes reconfiguration to meet human rating requirements, becoming the Human-Rated LVM3 (HLVM3).
    • HLVM3 is capable of launching the Orbital Module to the intended Low Earth Orbit of 400 km.
  • HLVM3 Components:
    • Crew Escape System (CES): Employs quick-acting, high burn rate solid motors to ensure crew module safety in case of emergencies during launch or ascent.
    • Orbital Module (OM): Comprising the Crew Module (CM) and Service Module (SM), equipped with advanced avionics and redundancy for human safety.
      • Crew Module (CM): The habitable space with Earth-like conditions, featuring double-walled construction, life support systems, avionics, and designed for re-entry and crew safety during descent.
      • Service Module (SM): An unpressurized structure supporting CM in orbit, containing thermal systems, propulsion, power systems, avionics, and deployment mechanisms.

‘10,000 genome’ project completed

(General Studies- Paper III)

Source : The Hindu

The Department of Biotechnology (DBT) officially declared the successful completion of the ‘10,000 Genome’ project, a significant initiative to build a reference database of whole-genome sequences in India.

  • The project aims to represent the diverse genetic makeup of India’s population and facilitate research on unique genetic variants for personalized drug and therapy development.

Key Highlights

  • While India achieved the sequencing of a complete human genome in 2006, the ‘10,000 Genome’ project is crucial for creating a comprehensive database comparable to those in countries like the United Kingdom, China, and the United States, which have undertaken initiatives to sequence at least 1,00,000 genomes.
  • Approximately 20 institutions across India collaborated on this project, with the Indian Institute of Science (IISc), Bengaluru, and the Centre for Cellular and Molecular Biology (CCMB), Hyderabad, leading and coordinating the efforts.
  • Genetic Diversity in India:
    • India’s population of 1.3 billion consists of more than 4,600 population groups, many of which are endogamous.
    • This unique genetic diversity is influenced by factors such as endogamy, contributing to distinct variations and an increased prevalence of disease-causing mutations within specific population groups.
  • Outcomes and Applications:
    • The initiative is seen as revolutionary, aiming to identify harmful mutations, particularly prevalent in endogamous groups in India.
    • The primary outcomes of the project include gaining a deeper understanding of India’s population diversity, improving diagnostic methods and medical counseling, identifying genetic predispositions to diseases, developing personalized drugs, enhancing gene therapy, and shedding light on individual susceptibility to infectious diseases.
  • Biobank and Data Storage:
    • The creation of a biobank with 20,000 blood samples, from which genomes were sequenced, is a significant aspect of the project.
    • The data is being stored at the Indian Biological Data Centre (IBDC) established by the Department of Biotechnology at the Regional Centre for Biotechnology (RCB), Faridabad.

What is genome sequencing?

  • Genome sequencing is a process that involves determining the precise order of nucleotides (adenine, guanine, cytosine, and thymine) within an organism’s DNA.
  • The DNA, or deoxyribonucleic acid, contains the genetic instructions for the development, functioning, and maintenance of all living organisms.
  • Genome sequencing provides a comprehensive analysis of an organism’s genetic material, enabling researchers to identify specific genes, variations, and potential associations with traits or diseases.
  • The process of genome sequencing involves several steps:
    • Sample Collection: Obtain a sample of the organism’s DNA, which can be extracted from blood, tissue, or other biological materials.
    • DNA Extraction: Isolate the DNA from the sample using laboratory techniques to separate it from other cellular components.
    • Library Preparation: Prepare the DNA for sequencing by creating a library of fragments that can be sequenced. This step involves fragmenting the DNA and attaching adapters for sequencing.
    • Sequencing: Utilize sequencing technologies to determine the order of nucleotides in the DNA fragments. High-throughput sequencing platforms can generate massive amounts of data in a relatively short time.
    • Data Analysis: Analyze the raw sequencing data to assemble the genome, identify genes, and detect variations or mutations. Bioinformatics tools are crucial for interpreting the vast amount of genomic information.
    • Annotation: Annotate the genome by identifying and labeling specific regions, such as genes and regulatory elements.
  • Genome sequencing has numerous applications in various fields, including genetics, medicine, agriculture, and evolutionary biology.
    • It plays a vital role in understanding the genetic basis of diseases, developing personalized medicine, studying genetic diversity, and enhancing crop breeding programs, among other applications.
    • Advances in sequencing technologies have led to increased speed, accuracy, and cost-effectiveness, making genome sequencing more accessible for research and clinical purposes.

Similipal seeks more female tigers from other regions

(General Studies- Paper III)

Source : The Hindu

The Odisha government has expressed concerns over the significant presence of pseudo-melanistic tigers in the Similipal Tiger Reserve (STR), primarily attributed to inbreeding.

  • Pseudo-melanistic tigers in Similipal are the result of wide, merged stripes and are not found in any other wild habitat globally.

Key Highlights

  • Request to Introduce Female Tigers:
    • To address the issue of inbreeding and enhance genetic diversity, the Odisha government has written to the National Tiger Conservation Authority, urging the introduction of female tigers from other landscapes into Similipal.
    • The move aims to mitigate the impact of inbreeding on the local tiger population.
  • All Odisha Tiger Estimation (AOTE-2023-24):
    • The AOTE report reveals that Similipal Tiger Reserve currently houses the largest share of the State’s tiger population, with 30 tigers identified in Odisha’s forests.
    • Among them, 13 adult tigers (seven females and six males) are pseudo-melanistic, indicating a unique characteristic attributed to inbreeding.
    • The state’s previous attempt to reintroduce tigers faced setbacks.
      • In 2018, a tiger reintroduction program in Satkosia led to poaching incidents, highlighting challenges in such conservation initiatives.
    • Genetic Diversity Enhancement:
      • The focus is on increasing genetic diversity in Similipal, and the introduction of female tigers is considered a proactive step.
      • The initiative, while addressing inbreeding concerns, requires comprehensive studies and planning to ensure the well-being and integration of introduced tigers into the local habitat.
      • A study titled ‘High frequency of an otherwise rare phenotype in a small and isolated tiger population’ indicates that approximately 37% of tigers in the STR exhibit pseudo-melanistic traits.
      • The study emphasizes the impact of inbreeding and stochastic effects on the local tiger population.

What is the meaning of pseudo-melanistic tigers?

  • Pseudo-melanistic tigers refer to Bengal tigers whose stripes are so dense and closely spaced that the underlying tawny background appears darker, giving the impression of a black tiger.
  • The term “pseudo-melanistic” refers to the appearance of a dark coat, which is not due to a high concentration of melanin pigment as seen in true melanistic animals (like black leopards).
  • The coat of pseudo-melanistic tigers appears to be very dark brown or almost black, often with faint stripes still visible.
  • The dark coloration is caused by a recessive gene that affects the expression of pigments in the fur.
  • This gene can result in a phenomenon known as melanism, where the animal appears to be much darker than the typical color for its species.
  • Unlike true melanistic animals, which have a uniform black color due to an excess of melanin, pseudo-melanistic tigers retain the underlying orange coloration in their coat.
  • In certain lighting conditions, especially in sunlight, the orange undertones may become more apparent.

About the National Tiger Conservation Authority

  • The National Tiger Conservation Authority (NTCA) is a statutory body in India responsible for the conservation of tigers and their habitats.
  • It was established in 2005 following the recommendation of the Tiger Task Force, which was constituted in response to the declining tiger population in the country.
  • The NTCA operates under the aegis of the Ministry of Environment, Forests and Climate Change.
  • Functions:
    • The NTCA is tasked with implementing the Project Tiger, which is the flagship wildlife conservation program in India.
    • The authority monitors the implementation of tiger conservation initiatives across the country.
    • It assesses the status of tiger populations, their habitats, and the effectiveness of conservation measures.
    • The authority promotes research on tiger ecology and conservation.
    • It also focuses on capacity building by providing training programs for forest officials, wildlife experts, and local communities involved in tiger conservation efforts.
    • The authority takes measures to combat wildlife poaching and illegal trade in tiger parts.
    • It works towards strengthening law enforcement and intelligence-gathering to prevent the poaching of tigers.
    • Declaration of Critical Tiger Habitats:
      • NTCA is responsible for declaring Critical Tiger Habitats (CTH) within tiger reserves. These areas receive special attention for conservation and are managed with a focus on ensuring the well-being of tiger populations.
    • National Tiger Conservation Authority Governing Council:
      • The authority is guided by the National Tiger Conservation Authority Governing Council, which is chaired by the Prime Minister of India.
      • The council includes various ministers, wildlife experts, and representatives from non-governmental organizations.

About the Similipal Tiger Reserve (STR)

  • The Similipal Tiger Reserve (STR) is located in the Mayurbhanj district in the northernmost part of Odisha, India.
  • Covering an area of 2,750 square kilometers, this reserve is a vital habitat for various wildlife species, including the Bengal tiger, Asian elephant, gaur, and chausingha.
  • Simlipal Tiger Reserve was established in 1956 as a wildlife sanctuary and later declared a tiger reserve in 1973.
  • Biosphere Reserve:
    • Government of India declared Simlipal as a biosphere reserve in 1994.
    • UNESCO added this national park to its list of Biosphere Reserves in May 2009.
    • The core and buffer areas of Simlipal include the national park and wildlife sanctuary, which together form a protected landscape.
  • The Simlipal region is inhabited by indigenous tribal communities, including the Santhals, Kolhas, and Bhuyans.

Decoding spending

(General Studies- Paper III)

Source : The Hindu

The Statistics Ministry, in its recently report, presented the broad findings of the Household Consumption Expenditure Survey conducted between August 2022 and July 2023.

  • This survey is noteworthy as it represents the first significant survey-based data released since 2011-12, capturing ground realities at the household level.

Key Highlights

  • Context of Previous Surveys:
    • The previous consumption survey results in 2017-18 were discarded by the government due to “quality issues,” possibly reflecting the adverse impacts of demonetization and the introduction of the Goods and Services Tax on India’s informal economy.
    • The current release in 2022-23 is expected to be approached with caution as it may reflect the post-pandemic surge in consumption, labeled as pent-up demand.
  • Transition in Consumption Patterns:
    • The survey indicates interesting transitions in consumption patterns, requiring comprehensive analysis once the complete findings are published.
    • The average monthly per capita consumer expenditure (MPCE) rose by 33.5% in cities to ₹3,510 and by 40.4% in rural India to ₹2,008 since 2011-12.
    • The government interprets this as a signal of rising incomes, narrowing inequality, and a significant reduction in poverty levels.
    • However, critics point out that the compounded annual growth in rural spends over 11 years is only 3.5%, with a 3% growth for urban households, falling below inflation and GDP growth rates in the same period.
    • Even after incorporating the imputed values of free goods from welfare schemes, the rise in average MPCE remains relatively modest, reaching ₹2,054 for rural households and ₹3,544 for urban households.
  • Changing Expenditure on Food:
    • The survey highlights a notable shift in expenditure patterns on food, with the proportion of monthly spends on food dropping below 50% in rural homes (to 46.4%) and under 40% in urban homes.
    • Cereals experienced a significant decline.
    • This shift may impact inflation trends if used to adjust Consumer Price Index weightages.
  • Caution in Interpretation:
    • It is emphasized that the survey results, reflecting post-pandemic consumption patterns and possible pent-up demand, should be interpreted cautiously.
    • Additionally, the impact of food inflation, spiking just before the survey’s completion in June, needs consideration.
    • A more accurate picture is anticipated from the fresh survey concluding in July, providing a basis for recalibrating poverty, inflation, or GDP calculations.

What is Household Consumption Expenditure Survey?

  • The Household Consumption Expenditure Survey (HCES) in India is a periodic survey conducted by the National Sample Survey Organization (NSSO) to estimate household consumption expenditures and monitor changes in living conditions.
  • Key findings from the latest HCES (2022-23) include:
    • Average monthly per capita consumption expenditure (MPCE) increased by 33.5% in urban households and 40.42% in rural households since 2011-12.
    • Urban households spent 39.2% of their MPCE on food in 2022-23, compared to 42.6% in 2011-12.
    • Rural households spent 46.4% of their MPCE on food in 2022-23, compared to 52.9% in 2011-12.
    • The share of food in total MPCE decreased in both rural and urban households due to increasing expenditure on non-food items.
    • The average MPCE for rural households without considering imputed values of items received free of cost was INR 2,011, and with consideration, it was INR 2,054.
    • For urban households, the respective averages were INR 3,544 and INR 3,510.
  • Note: Imputed values refer to the assigned monetary values to items that are received or consumed by households but not explicitly paid for. This could include items received for free, subsidized goods, or in-kind benefits.

Note: The National Sample Survey Organization (NSSO) is a key agency under the Ministry of Statistics and Programme Implementation, Government of India, responsible for conducting large-scale sample surveys across diverse fields on an All India basis.

The global order — a fraying around many edges

(General Studies- Paper II)

Source : The Hindu

AntónioGuterres, the current Secretary-General of the United Nations (UN), has expressed growing pessimism about the future of the UN.

  • His remarks at the opening of the 55th regular session of the Human Rights Council indicate concerns over the ‘lack of unity’ among UN Security Council (UNSC) members, which he believes may have ‘perhaps fatally undermined its authority.’
  • The Secretary-General emphasizes the urgent need for reform.

Key Highlights

  • Challenges to the Current Global Order:
    • Guterres’ concerns raise questions about the viability of the existing global order, particularly the post-World War II order.
    • The foundations of this order were laid during the war itself, with the establishment of the UN and its specialized agencies, funds, and programs.
    • However, the geopolitical landscape has significantly evolved since then, challenging the effectiveness of the current international system.
  • Origins of the UN and Allied Powers:
    • The UN originated in January 1942, with 26 Allied nations signing the Declaration of the United Nations during the Second World War.
    • The post-war order was designed to prevent another global conflict, with the UN tasked to uphold the sovereign equality of all subscribing nations and promote the principle of collective security.
    • However, the structure faced challenges, particularly within the UNSC, where five Permanent Members held super equal status, raising questions about sovereign equality.
    • The power dynamics of the UNSC were shaped by negotiations beyond the 1942 Declaration.
    • The U.S., Soviet Union, U.K., and China were proposed as ‘four policemen’ to enforce peace.
    • The veto power granted to these major Allied powers, especially the Soviet Union, set the power structures reminiscent of early 19th-century Europe, despite growing calls for decolonization and shifts in global power dynamics.
  • Shift in Economic Power:
    • The creation of the International Monetary Fund (IMF) and the International Bank for Reconstruction and Development (World Bank) during the United Nations Monetary and Financial Conference at Bretton Woods in 1944 marked a shift in economic power.
    • The rise of the U.S. and the decline of imperial Britain led to changes in global economic structures.
    • The IMF, in particular, symbolized this shift as the U.S. took a leading role.
  • Current Challenges and Need for Reform:
    • AntónioGuterres’ concerns reflect the challenges facing the UN in maintaining relevance and authority in a changed geopolitical landscape.
    • The lack of unity within the UNSC is seen as a critical issue, necessitating urgent reform.
    • The Secretary-General’s remarks imply that cosmetic changes may not be sufficient to address the deep-rooted challenges facing the UN.
  • Inherent Power Structures:
    • The global power structures within international institutions, particularly the World Bank and the International Monetary Fund (IMF), continue to reflect historical imbalances.
    • The leadership positions in these institutions are traditionally reserved for certain countries, with the World Bank being consistently headed by an American citizen and the IMF by a European nominee.
    • These practices maintain the influence of the old world powers over these financial institutions.
    • Despite some limited reforms, voting rights in the IMF remain largely frozen in time, and the allocation of Special Drawing Rights requires an 85% majority vote, effectively granting the U.S. a powerful veto.
    • The voting percentages for countries like the original BRICS members highlight the skewed distribution of power, with the U.S. holding a significant voting share.
    • This dynamic prevents comprehensive reforms and gives the major powers, especially the U.S., considerable control over the decision-making process.
    • The IMF plays a crucial role in maintaining global financial stability by offering advice and providing funds to countries facing financial difficulties.
    • However, this support comes with conditions set by the leadership of the Fund, further reinforcing the influence of major powers in shaping global economic policies.
  • UN System as a Backbone:
    • The United Nations (UN) system, built on a series of international treaties embedded in international law, has historically facilitated international relations.
    • However, the power structures within the UN, including the Security Council’s veto system, have favored the original signatories of the UN Charter.
    • Despite challenges posed by decolonization, the Cold War, and geopolitical shifts, the veto power and voting structures in institutions like the IMF have remained resistant to substantial changes.
  • Rising Powers and Alternatives:
    • Rising powers, frustrated by the entrenched power structures, have sought alternatives.
    • The Non-Aligned Movement and the Group of 77 attempted more inclusive approaches but faced challenges in negotiating diverse interests.
    • Smaller, more homogeneous groupings, such as the Quad in the Indo-Pacific, have had some success.
    • Additionally, the China-led Asian Infrastructure Investment Bank (AIIB) emerged as a challenger to the World Bank, but its effectiveness and global participation are still evolving.
    • Over time, various ad hoc groupings have emerged, representing an a la carte approach to international engagements.
    • These groups range from those with broad mandates, such as the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD), to more focused entities like the Quad.
    • Despite the challenges, the UN-led system remains the default option for addressing global issues.
  • Impact of Recent Events on the Global System:
    • The current decade, marked by significant global events, is posing internal challenges to the established international system.
    • The COVID-19 pandemic disrupted global connectivity, shutting down borders and hindering the envisioned shared global prosperity through increased cooperation.
    • Russia’s invasion of Ukraine exposed the hypocrisy of powerful nations, challenging the principles of rule-following.
    • The conflict in Gaza laid bare fault lines between developed and developing nations, highlighting the tension between historical guilt and recognition of injustices.
    • The conflict in Gaza particularly tests the commitment of several Permanent Members of the UN Security Council to the core principles of the UN system, such as human rights and the genocide convention.
    • The juxtaposition of supporting the UN while questioning its legitimacy and effectiveness based on political expediency challenges the organization’s foundational values.
    • As West Asia faces instability, the UN finds itself marginalized by its own architects.
  • Potential Replacement for the UN System:
    • The question arises: What could replace the UN system, and how?
    • Existing organizations and groupings outside the UN are often ad hoc and serve limited interests rather than universal values.
    • Examples include regional clubs (Association of Southeast Asian Nations, European Union, G-7, G-20, World Economic Forum) and alliances like NATO.
    • However, lacking global treaties and legal obligations, these entities are only as effective as their last summit.
    • Despite their limitations, their existence suggests a need for change.

About the United Nations (UN)

  • The United Nations (UN) is an international organization founded on October 24, 1945, after the end of World War II, to promote peace, security, and cooperation among member countries.
  • It replaced the League of Nations and has since become the largest and most recognized international organization globally.
  • The UN’s headquarters is in New York City.
  • Member States:
    • Currently, there are 193 member states in the UN.
    • Each member state has equal representation in the General Assembly.
  • General Assembly:
    • It is the main deliberative body of the UN, where each member state has one vote.
    • It discusses and coordinates international issues, approves the budget, and establishes policies.
  • Security Council:
    • The UN Security Council (UNSC) is one of the six principal organs of the UN and is responsible for maintaining international peace and security.
    • It has 15 members, of which five are permanent members with veto power (China, France, Russia, the United Kingdom, and the United States) and ten are elected by the General Assembly for two-year terms.
  • Secretariat:
    • The Secretariat is headed by the Secretary-General, who is appointed by the General Assembly on the recommendation of the Security Council.
    • The Secretariat carries out the day-to-day work of the UN and is based in New York.
  • International Court of Justice (ICJ):
    • The ICJ, located in The Hague, Netherlands, is the principal judicial organ of the UN.
    • It settles legal disputes between states and gives advisory opinions on legal questions referred by the General Assembly, the Security Council, or other UN organs and specialized agencies.
  • UN Agencies and Programs:
    • The UN has specialized agencies and programs, such as UNICEF, WHO, UNESCO, and others, which work in specific areas like health, education, and humanitarian aid.

About the International Monetary Fund (IMF) and the International Bank for Reconstruction and Development (World Bank)

  • International Monetary Fund (IMF):
    • Founded in 1944, the IMF is an international financial institution.
    • Its primary goal is to ensure the stability of the international monetary system—the system of exchange rates and international payments that enables countries to transact with each other.
    • Membership:
      • The IMF has 190 member countries.
      • Each member’s financial contribution, known as a quota, determines its voting power and access to IMF resources.
    • Functions:
      • Surveillance: The IMF monitors the global economy and provides policy advice to its member countries to prevent financial crises.
      • Financial Assistance: The IMF provides financial assistance to member countries facing balance of payments problems, helping them stabilize their economies.
    • Structures:
      • Board of Governors: Comprising one governor from each member country (typically the finance minister or central bank governor), it meets annually.
      • Executive Board: Day-to-day operations are overseen by the Executive Board, representing the entire membership.
    • Countries receiving financial assistance must agree to implement economic policies and reforms, known as “conditionality,” to address their underlying problems.
  • International Bank for Reconstruction and Development (IBRD):
    • The International Bank for Reconstruction and Development (IBRD) is an international financial institution established in 1944 and headquartered in Washington, DC, USA.
    • It is the lending arm of the World Bank Group and primarily offers loans to middle-income developing countries.
    • The IBRD is the first of five member institutions that comprise the World Bank Group and is the oldest multilateral development bank.
    • It initially aimed to assist European countries recovering from World War II but later expanded its scope to include global economic growth and poverty reduction.
    • The IBRD is owned by 189 member countries and provides loans, guarantees, risk management products, and advisory services to middle-income and creditworthy low-income countries.

Stop the dithering and encourage green elections in India

(General Studies- Paper II and III)

Source : The Hindu

As the global community grapples with the climate crisis, the need for sustainable practices becomes imperative across all spheres of human activity.

  • The Election Commission of India (ECI) highlighted environmental concerns associated with non-biodegradable materials used in elections, emphasizing the necessity for eco-friendly elections.
  • Sri Lanka and Estonia have set examples of environmentally-conscious elections, urging India, as the world’s most populous democracy, to prioritize environmental considerations in the upcoming general election.

Key Highlights

  • Overlooked Environmental Footprint:
    • The environmental impact of elections is often underestimated.
    • For instance, the 2016 US presidential elections saw emissions from campaign flights equivalent to the carbon footprint of 500 Americans for a year by a single candidate.
    • Traditional election methods, relying on paper-based materials, energy-intensive rallies, and disposable items, contribute significantly to environmental degradation and impact public health.
    • India’s massive elections with millions of voters and large political rallies exacerbate this impact, necessitating a paradigm shift towards green elections.
  • Key Challenges and Considerations:
    • Primary Sources of Carbon Emissions:
      • Research identifies transportation of voters and logistics to and from polling booths as the primary source of carbon emissions during elections.
      • The running of polling booths constitutes a secondary source.
      • Adopting digital voting systems could potentially reduce the carbon footprint by up to 40%.
    • Technological Challenges:
      • Implementing green elections involves overcoming technological challenges, including robust infrastructure for electronic and digital voting, especially in rural areas.
      • Ensuring cybersecurity, fair access to new technologies for all voters, and proper training for officials are crucial considerations.
    • Financial Barriers:
      • Eco-friendly materials and technology come with upfront costs, posing financial challenges, especially for financially constrained governments.
      • Overcoming this hurdle requires strategic planning and investment in sustainable practices.
    • Cultural and Behavioral Shifts:
      • The cultural significance of a voter’s physical presence at polling booths poses a behavioral challenge.
      • Overcoming public scepticism and addressing concerns about compromises to vote security are essential for fostering acceptance of new approaches.
    • Transparency and Auditing:
      • Ensuring transparency and effective auditing of new adaptations is critical for building trust and addressing concerns related to the security and integrity of the voting process.
    • Examples of Eco-Friendly Electoral Initiatives:
      • Kerala’s 2019 General Election:
        • Kerala State Election Commission urged parties to avoid single-use plastic materials.
        • Kerala High Court banned flex and non-biodegradable materials in electioneering, promoting alternatives like wall graffiti and paper posters.
        • Collaboration with district administration ensured a green election, including training sessions for election workers.
      • Goa’s 2022 Assembly Elections:
        • Goa State Biodiversity Board introduced eco-friendly election booths using biodegradable materials crafted by local artisans.
      • Sri Lanka’s Carbon-Sensitive Campaign (2019):
        • Sri Lanka PodujanaPeramuna (SLPP) launched the world’s first carbon-sensitive, environmentally friendly election campaign.
        • Measured carbon emissions and compensated by planting trees through public participation, offsetting the immediate carbon footprint and promoting awareness about forest cover.
      • Estonia’s Digital Voting:
        • Estonia pioneered digital voting as an online alternative, encouraging voter participation and environmental sustainability.
      • Blueprint for Green Transition:
        • Political parties, Election Commissions, governments, voters, media, and civil society must collaborate for a successful green transition.
        • Enacting legislation mandating eco-friendly electoral practices, with the Election Commission of India (ECI) incorporating them into the Model Code of Conduct.
        • Political Parties Taking the Lead:
          • Campaigning through digital platforms or door-to-door, reducing energy-intensive public rallies.
          • Encouraging the use of public transportation for election work.
          • Incentivizing the replacement of plastic and paper-based materials with sustainable alternatives for polling booths.
        • Role of the Election Commission of India (ECI):
          • Advocating for digital voting, requiring training and capacity building of officials.
          • Government support to educate and facilitate voters, ensuring equitable access to digital technology.
        • Civil Society Catalyst:
          • Civil society playing a crucial role as a catalyst in promoting eco-conscious electoral practices.
        • Media’s Crucial Role:
          • Media highlighting the environmental impact of conventional election methods, spotlighting innovative eco-friendly alternatives.
        • Setting a Global Example:
          • Embracing eco-conscious electoral practices positions India as an example for democracies worldwide, demonstrating a commitment to environmental stewardship alongside civic participation.

Why science needs sustainable funding?

(General Studies- Paper II)

Source :The Hindu

The 2024 National Science Day, themed “Science for Sustainable Development,” underscores the critical role of science and technology in India’s journey towards becoming a developed nation by 2047.

  • India’s unwavering commitment to sustainable progress is evident through its participation in global fora, adherence to the Paris Agreement, and the thematic focus on sustainable development in this year’s Science Day celebration.

Key Highlights

  • Challenges in Research and Development (R&D) Funding:
    • Despite the integral role of science, funding for fundamental research in India is alarmingly low, positioning the country among the world’s least invested in this critical domain.
    • A concerning trend reveals a decline in India’s R&D expenditure, dropping from 0.8% of GDP in 2008-2009 to the current 0.64% (2017-2018).
    • The reduction in R&D spending raises apprehensions, especially given repeated calls from government agencies to double this investment.
  • National Goals and Policy Focus:
    • The 2013 Science, Technology, and Innovation Policy underscored the national goal of increasing Gross Expenditure on R&D (GERD) to 2% of the GDP.
    • This objective was reaffirmed in the 2017-2018 Economic Survey, emphasizing the critical role of science and technology in India’s transformative journey.
  • Barriers to Increased Funding:
    • Identifying clear reasons for the reduction in R&D spending remains a challenge, potentially stemming from coordination issues among government agencies.
    • A more robust political will is essential to prioritize and elevate R&D expenses, aligning them with national development goals.
  • International Benchmarks and Recommendations:
    • International benchmarks reveal a stark contrast, where most developed nations allocate between 2% and 4% of their GDP to R&D.
    • The OECD’s 2021 data highlights that member countries, on average, spent 2.7% of GDP on research and development, showcasing a significant gap with India’s investment.
    • Recognized experts in the field advocate for an immediate increase in India’s R&D spending, suggesting a target of at least 1%, with an optimal goal of 3%, of GDP annually until 2047 for science to exert a meaningful impact on the nation’s development trajectory.
  • Dependency on Public Funding:
    • In 2020-2021, India’s GERD (Gross Expenditure on Research and Development) exhibited a significant reliance on public funding, with the Union government contributing 43.7%, while the private sector contributed 36.4%.
    • State governments (6.7%), higher education (8.8%), and public sector industry (4.4%) were other contributors, highlighting an immature financing system.
  • Private Sector Reluctance and Challenges:
    • In developed countries, 70% of R&D investment comes from the private sector, contrasting sharply with India’s scenario.
    • Hesitancy in private-sector funding is attributed to challenges like poor evaluation capacity for R&D projects, unclear regulatory roadmaps, absence of clear exit options in sectors like biotechnology, and concerns about intellectual property rights theft.
  • Role of Anusandhan National Research Foundation:
    • The Anusandhan National Research Foundation, intended to address financial challenges in R&D, faces implementation delays.
    • The initial Rs-2,000-crore annual budget earmarked in the previous budget was revised to Rs 258 crores in the current year.
    • Clarity on strategies for raising the remaining budget of INR 7200 crores from the private sector is lacking.
  • Need for Determining Quantum and Sources of Funding:
    • Considering India’s ambitious goal of achieving developed nation status by 2047, there is a perceived need to ascertain the overall quantum of R&D funding and its primary sources.
    • Addressing challenges in private-sector participation, regulatory clarity, and intellectual property concerns is crucial for unlocking private funding in R&D.
  • Insufficient Utilization of R&D Budget:
    • Despite calls for increased R&D funding in India, the efficacy of allocated funds remains an overlooked aspect.
    • The Union Ministry of Science and Technology consistently under-utilizes its budget, emphasizing the need for both increased funding and enhanced budget utilization to yield tangible science outcomes.
    • In 2022-2023, key departments such as the Department of Biotechnology (DBT) and the Department of Science and Technology (DST) exhibited under-utilization of budget allocations, with DBT utilizing only 72% and DST using only 61%.
    • The Department of Scientific and Industrial Research (DSIR), receiving the lowest allocation, spent 69% of its allocation.
    • Underutilization of allocated funds is a recurring issue over several years, suggesting systemic challenges in optimizing budget utilization.
    • The problem extends beyond the Science Ministry, reflecting India’s general trend of under-spending on R&D.
  • Unclear Reasons for Under-utilization:
    • The specific reasons for under-utilization remain unclear but may include bureaucratic hurdles in approving disbursements, inadequate capacity for project evaluation, challenges in obtaining clear utilization certificates, lack of prioritization for science funding by the Ministry of Finance, and insufficient planning or implementation strategies by the Ministry of Science and Technology.
  • Impact of Under-utilization:
    • The consistent under-utilization, coupled with under-allocation, can significantly impact India’s R&D landscape.
    • Delays in grant and salary disbursements underscore the lack of capacity within governmental agencies, emphasizing the need for comprehensive capacity-building measures.
  • Capacity Building as a Solution:
    • The identified issues in under-utilization can be addressed through robust capacity-building initiatives within various government agencies.
    • Streamlining bureaucratic processes, enhancing project evaluation capabilities, and establishing clear utilization protocols can contribute to optimizing R&D budget utilization.
  • Government’s Emphasis on Private Sector Contribution:
    • In the latest budget, Finance Minister Nirmala Sitharaman indicates a desire for increased private sector contributions to R&D expenditure.
    • The government aims to address under-spending and under-utilization of R&D funds by fostering a collaborative approach involving the private sector.
    • The government needs to prioritize R&D spending politically, recognizing it as an indispensable element of India’s growth trajectory.
  • Incentives for Private Investment:
    • To encourage private sector investment in R&D, the government should consider offering incentives such as relaxation of foreign direct investments, tax rebates, and providing clear regulatory roadmaps for new products.
    • These measures aim to boost investor confidence and foster increased private participation in R&D initiatives.
  • Bureaucratic Capacity Building:
    • Building bureaucratic capacity for evaluating science projects and monitoring fund utilization is crucial for India’s ambition to become a science power by 2047.
    • Enhancing capacity will ensure effective allocation and utilization of R&D funds, contributing to the success of science-driven initiatives.

About the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD)

  • The OECD was established in 1961 and is an intergovernmental economic organization.
  • It has 38 member countries.
  • Mission and Objectives:
    • The primary mission of the OECD is to promote policies that improve economic and social well-being around the world.
    • It provides a forum for governments to share experiences, seek solutions to common problems, and coordinate domestic and international policies.
  • Areas of Focus:
    • The OECD covers a broad range of policy areas, including economic policy, trade, education, innovation, environmental sustainability, and social issues.
    • It conducts research, collects and analyzes data, and publishes reports to provide evidence-based policy recommendations.
  • Structures:
    • Council: The highest decision-making body, where ambassadors or representatives of member countries meet to discuss and decide on major issues.
    • Committees: Specialized committees and working groups focus on specific policy areas, providing a platform for in-depth analysis and discussion.
  • Key Publications:
    • Economic Outlook: Regularly published report providing economic analysis and projections for member and partner countries.
    • Education at a Glance: Comparative data and analysis on education systems.

About the Anusandhan National Research Foundation Act

  • The Anusandhan National Research Foundation Act, 2023 is a parliamentary legislation introduced in India to regulate research and development activities in natural sciences within the country.
  • Introduced through the National Research Foundation (Registration and Regulation) Bill, 2023.
  • Scope and Objectives:
    • The Act aims to establish the Anusandhan National Research Foundation, providing strategic direction for research, innovation, and entrepreneurship.
    • It encompasses diverse fields such as natural sciences (including mathematical sciences), engineering and technology, environmental and earth sciences, health and agriculture, and interfaces of humanities and social sciences.
  • The Anusandhan National Research Foundation Act, 2023 replaces the Science and Engineering Research Board Act, 2008, indicating a shift in the regulatory framework for research and development.