CURRENT AFFAIRS – 29/08/2023

CURRENT AFFAIRS – 29/08/2023

CURRENT AFFAIRS – 29/08/2023

CURRENT AFFAIRS – 29/08/2023

Himalayan blunders that are ravaging the Himalayas

(General Studies- Paper III)

Himalayan blunders that are ravaging the Himalayas

Source : TH

The breathtaking beauty of the Himalayas once inspired an ancient Sanskrit poet, but today, the region faces environmental degradation due to flawed development practices.

  • Frequent tragedies such as infrastructure damage and natural disasters in Uttarakhand and Himachal Pradesh highlight the negative consequences of unchecked development in eco-fragile areas.

Key Highlights

  • ChardhamMahamargVikasPariyojna
    • In 2016, a massive 900 km road-widening project known as the ChardhamMahamargVikasPariyojna was launched in Uttarakhand.
    • This project resulted in the loss of numerous trees, forest land, human and animal lives, and fertile topsoil.
    • The resulting debris clogged water sources.
    • Despite the requirement for environmental clearance for projects exceeding 100 km, the project circumvented regulations by dividing it into smaller segments.
  • Threat to Bhagirathi Eco Sensitive Zone (BESZ)
    • The Bhagirathi Eco Sensitive Zone (BESZ), home to the last natural free flow of the Ganga River, was protected under the Environment Protection Act in 2012.
    • However, hasty approval of zoning plans and disregard for legal safeguards endangered this pristine region.
  • Contradictions and Unanswered Questions
    • The Ministry of Road Transport’s decision to widen hill roads using a Double-Laning with Paved Shoulder (DLPS) design contradicted its own standards.
    • The Supreme Court acknowledged this contradiction but allowed the project to proceed on the grounds of national security, raising questions about ulterior motives and non-compliance with guidelines.
  • Environmental Impact and Black Carbon
    • Hill road widening destabilizes slopes and damages alignments, contrary to official recommendations.
    • The Gangotri glacier, the fastest receding glacier, is further threatened by black carbon deposits resulting from vehicular movement and forest fires, accelerating its melting process.
  • Call for Regulation
    • Manipulative interests driven by greed, politics, bureaucracy, and real estate ambitions are causing the destruction of Himalayan forests, rivers, and local communities.
    • A solution lies in regulation, such as adopting an intermediate road width in sensitive areas like BESZ to minimize environmental harm.
  • Conservation of Gangotri and Need for Regulation
    • The preservation of the Gangotri glacier is a significant challenge.
    • The increase in black carbon due to road traffic and forest fires intensifies glacier melting.
    • It is the need of the hour for a regulated approach to protect the fragile Himalayan ecosystem.

About Chardham Mahamarg Vikas Pariyojna

  • A massive infrastructure project aimed at improving road connectivity in the Garhwal region and a portion of Kumaon in Uttarakhand, India.
  • Focuses on enhancing accessibility to the four sacred Hindu pilgrimage sites known as the Char Dham (Gangotri, Yamunotri, Kedarnath, and Badrinath).
  • The implementation of the project was started in 2016.
  • Project Components:
    • Involves widening and upgrading a total of 900 kilometers of roads.
    • Implementation of a Double-Laning with Paved Shoulder (DLPS) design, with a carriageway width of 12 meters.
  • Environmental Regulations Bypass:
    • Projects exceeding 100 kilometers are required to undergo environmental clearance.
    • ChardhamMahamargVikasPariyojna circumvented this requirement by dividing the project into smaller segments (53 segments), each less than 100 kilometers long.
    • This approach allowed the project to evade comprehensive environmental impact assessments (EIA).

About Bhagirathi Eco Sensitive Zone (BESZ)

  • Bhagirathi Eco Sensitive Zone (BESZ) is a designated protected area under the Environment Protection Act, 1986.
  • It is situated in the Garhwal region of Uttarakhand, India.
  • Background:
    • In 2012, the Ministry of Environment, Forest and Climate Change (MoEF&CC) issued a gazette notification.
    • The notification designated the watershed area along the Bhagirathi River, covering 4,179.59 sq km from Gaumukh to Uttarkashi, as an Eco-Sensitive Zone (ESZ).
    • The notification aimed to protect the fragile Himalayan region while respecting the rights and privileges of local communities and ensuring eco-friendly development for their livelihood security.
    • The notification restricted hydropower projects exceeding 2 MW, riverbed mining, and changes in land use within the designated ESZ.
  • 2018 Amendment and Changes:
    • In 2018, the notification was amended due to the Uttarakhand government’s objection that it hindered development.
    • The amendment allowed changes in land use to cater to local needs, civic amenities, and infrastructure development, considering public interest and national security.
    • The amendment permitted hill cutting in eco-sensitive areas after proper study and allowed construction on steep slopes in exceptional cases, benefiting the community.
  • In 2020, the Ministry of Environment, Forest and Climate Change (MoEF&CC) approved the Zonal Master Plan for the Bhagirathi Eco-Sensitive Zone.
  • The ZMP is designed with a watershed approach, considering the entire geographical area draining into the Bhagirathi River from Gaumukh to Uttarkashi.
  • The ZMP encompasses multiple areas including forest and wildlife management, watershed management, irrigation, energy, tourism, public health, sanitation, and road infrastructure.

Defining: Watershed

  • A watershed, also known as a catchment or drainage basin, is a geographic area characterized by the presence of a network of rivers, streams, and other water bodies that all drain into a common point, such as a lake, river, or ocean.
  • It is a natural hydrological unit defined by the topography of the land, where all the precipitation and runoff within its boundaries flow to a central outlet.

About Bhagirathi river

  • The Bhagirathi River originates at the Gangotri Glacier, near Gaumukh, at an elevation of about 3,892 meters (12,769 feet) above sea level.
  • It traverses through the Garhwal region of Uttarakhand, flowing in a southerly direction, and meets the Alaknanda River at Devprayag to form the Ganga River.
  • The Bhagirathi River has a length of approximately 205 kilometers (127 miles) from its source to the confluence with the Alaknanda River.
  • The Bhagirathi receives several tributaries along its course, such as the Jadh Ganga, Kedar Ganga, and Bhilangana Rivers.

Temperature Variation Study by ChaSTE Instrument on Chandrayaan-3 Lander Module

(General Studies- Paper III)

ISRO releases graph of temperature variation of topsoil in lunar South Pole

Source : TH

ISRO released temperature variation data from the ChaSTE instrument on the Chandrayaan-3 mission’s lander module on August 27.

  • ChaSTE stands for ‘Chandra’s Surface Thermophysical Experiment’, designed to measure temperature variations on the moon’s surface and approximately 8 cm below it.

Key Highlights

  • The instrument was developed by ISRO’s Vikram Sarabhai Space Centre (VSSC) and the Physical Research Laboratory (PRL), Ahmedabad.
  • ChaSTE is a temperature probe that can be inserted into the lunar surface to a depth of up to 10 cm using a motor.
  • It has 10 sensors and is mounted on the side of the Chandrayaan-3 lander.
  • Objective and Findings:
    • ChaSTE measured the temperature profile of the lunar topsoil around the moon’s south pole to understand its thermal behavior.
    • The data shows temperature variations between the moon’s surface and about 8 cm below it.
    • ChaSTE’s data indicates that the moon’s surface near the lander’s location is around 40-50 degrees Celsius, while just under 80 cm below, the temperature drops to around -10 degrees Celsius.
  • Significance:
    • This temperature variation confirms the moon’s topsoil as an effective thermal insulator, which aligns with previous findings.
    • The findings suggest that the lunar regolith could be used to build habitats for humans, providing insulation against frigid conditions and harmful radiation.
  • Implications:
    • ChaSTE’s data adds to the understanding of lunar geophysical characteristics and contributes to the potential for future lunar exploration and habitation.
  • Ongoing Research:
    • ISRO stated that detailed observations based on ChaSTE’s data are currently underway, likely to yield further insights into the moon’s thermal behavior and surface conditions.

In Image: The graph of temperature variation across the lunar topsoil at a point in the solar polar region, as measures by the ChaSTE instrument.

Dengue vaccines in India: A look at the ongoing trials

(General Studies- Paper III)

Source : The Indian Express

Dengue infections are expanding globally, necessitating an effective vaccine that covers all four serotypes.

  • Nearly 50% of the world’s population is at risk of contracting the disease.

Key highlights

  • Dengue’s Escalation in India:
    • In India, dengue has spread from eight states and union territories in 2001 to affecting all states by 2022.
    • Ladakh, previously untouched, reported two infections in the last year.
    • Recent data reveals 31,464 cases and 36 deaths due to dengue in India up to July this year.
  • Multiple Efforts for Vaccine Development:
    • India is actively pursuing vaccine development to combat this mosquito-borne disease, known for causing internal bleeding, circulatory shock, and fatalities.
    • Various initiatives are underway within the country to create a potent vaccine to address this pressing public health issue.
  • Vaccine Candidates in Human Trials in India:
    • Panacea Biotec Vaccine:
  • Developed using weakened versions of four dengue serotypes by the US National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases.
  • Genetic code of DENV1, DENV3, and DENV4 serotypes modified to create weakened versions.
  • Phase I/II of the study has been completed involving 100 healthy adults (18-60 years).
  • No severe adverse events reported.
  • Over 75% of participants developed antibodies against all four dengue serotypes.
  • A larger phase III trial planned for December, enrolling 10,335 healthy adults (18-80 years) across 20 sites in India.
  • Serum Institute of India Vaccine:
    • Developed using the same weakened virus from the US.
    • Phase I trial completed with 60 healthy adults (18-45 years).
    • Demonstrated safety and good tolerance.
    • Phase II study planned in collaboration with ICMR (Indian Council of Medical Research) for children aged 2-18 years.
  • Indian Immunologicals Limited Vaccine:
    • Utilized the same technology to develop a vaccine based on weakened dengue virus.
    • Phase I clinical trial initiated, involving 90 individuals aged 18-50 year.

Indigenous Dengue Vaccines in Early Development:

  • Two indigenous dengue vaccines are being developed in research institutes, with similar strategies but distinct vaccine types.
  • Addressing the challenge of antibody-dependent enhancement (ADE) is crucial, as low antibody levels against one dengue serotype can lead to severe infection upon exposure to another serotype.
  • This concern led to controversy with a previous dengue vaccine rollout, revealing the need for precise vaccine design.
  • Virus-Like Particle Vaccine (ICGEB):
    • To mitigate ADE risks, both research teams selected specific segments of the envelope protein that do not trigger ADE.
    • The International Centre for Genetic Engineering and Biotechnology (ICGEB) took this approach, creating a Virus-Like Particle vaccine by utilizing these chosen envelope protein parts.
    • In preclinical tests on mice and monkeys, this vaccine demonstrated nearly 100% protection against all four serotypes of dengue.
    • However, human trials are still pending.
    • Sun Pharmaceuticals collaborated on the vaccine’s development.
  • DNA Vaccine Approach (Tata Institute of Fundamental Research and Rajiv Gandhi Centre for Biotechnology):
    • Another team, including the Tata Institute of Fundamental Research and Rajiv Gandhi Centre for Biotechnology, adopted a similar strategy.
    • They combined the selected envelope parts from all four dengue virus serotypes with a non-structural-1 component, resulting in a genetic sequence that forms a DNA vaccine covering all serotypes.
    • DNA vaccines offer cost-effective production, storage at room temperature, and lower safety levels.
    • Yet, they historically struggled to generate robust immune responses until the success of the Zydus COVID-19 vaccine.
    • The researchers are enhancing this DNA vaccine using nano-plasmids to optimize its efficacy.
  • Current Status and Conclusion:
    • While the Virus-Like Particle vaccine has shown promising results in animal testing, it awaits human trials.
    • Similarly, the DNA vaccine, designed to address ADE and manufactured efficiently, has been tested on mice.
    • These efforts underscore India’s commitment to finding effective solutions for dengue prevention, potentially mitigating the disease’s significant impact.

About Dengue Virus

Dengue is a mosquito-borne viral infection caused by the dengue virus, which is primarily transmitted to humans through the bites of infected female Aedes mosquitoes, particularly Aedesaegypti and, to a lesser extent, Aedesalbopictus.

  • Dengue is prevalent in tropical and subtropical regions around the world.
  • It is most commonly found in urban and semi-urban areas, where the Aedes mosquitoes thrive.
  • Symptoms: Dengue infection can manifest in a wide range of symptoms, from mild to severe.
    • Symptoms usually appear 4 to 10 days after being bitten by an infected mosquito.
    • Common symptoms include:
      • High fever
      • Severe headache
      • Pain behind the eyes
      • Joint and muscle pain
      • Nausea and vomiting
      • Fatigue
      • Skin rash
    • Dengue Fever vs. Severe Dengue (Dengue Hemorrhagic Fever):
      • While most dengue cases result in dengue fever, a small percentage can progress to severe dengue, also known as dengue hemorrhagic fever.
      • Severe dengue is a medical emergency and can be life-threatening.
      • Symptoms of severe dengue include:
        • Severe abdominal pain
        • Persistent vomiting
        • Rapid breathing
        • Bleeding gums
        • Fatigue, restlessness, or irritability
        • Blood in vomit or stools
        • Organ failure
      • Transmission and Lifecycle:
        • Aedes mosquitoes are the primary vectors of dengue virus transmission.
        • Female mosquitoes become infected by biting humans with active dengue infections.
        • The virus then replicates in the mosquito’s body and can be transmitted to new humans through subsequent mosquito bites.
      • Prevention and Control:
        • Preventing dengue infection primarily involves controlling mosquito populations and reducing exposure to mosquito bites.
      • Treatment:
        • There is no specific antiviral treatment for dengue.
        • Management primarily focuses on relieving symptoms and preventing complications.
        • Rest, hydration, and pain relievers are often recommended for mild cases.
        • For severe dengue, early medical intervention is critical to prevent complications and organ failure.

Article 35A took away fundamental rights

(General Studies- Paper II)

‘Article 35A denied many their rights’

Article 35A denied many their rights: CJI

Source : TH

On August 28, Chief Justice of India, D.Y. Chandrachud, led a Constitution Bench to examine the implications of Article 35A, a constitutional provision that granted special privileges to “permanent residents” of Jammu and Kashmir.

  • Chief Justice Chandrachud highlighted that Article 35A resulted in the denial of fundamental rights to individuals who were not considered permanent residents under its definition.

Key Highlights

  • Special Privileges and Denial of Fundamental Rights
    • Chief Justice Chandrachud pointed out that Article 35A granted exclusive rights and privileges to individuals classified as “permanent residents.”
    • These privileges encompassed rights such as the opportunity for State employment, property acquisition, and settlement in Jammu and Kashmir.
    • However, the Chief Justice highlighted that these privileges were inaccessible to “non-permanent residents,” effectively limiting their fundamental rights.
  • Origins of ‘Permanent Residents’
    • The term “permanent residents” in Jammu and Kashmir referred to individuals who held hereditary State subject status as per the year 1927.
    • This classification was relevant during the time when Jammu and Kashmir was a princely state prior to its integration with the Indian Dominion in 1947.
  • Introduction of Article 35A
    • Article 35A was introduced through the Constitution (Application to Jammu and Kashmir) Order of 1954, which was issued by the President under the framework of Article 370.
    • This article established the distinct status of “permanent residents,” endowing them with exclusive privileges regarding land ownership, government employment, and benefits in education and healthcare.
    • As a result, individuals not categorized as “permanent residents,” referred to as “non-permanent residents,” were deprived of these advantages.
  • Legal Examination by Constitution Bench
    • The Constitution Bench, led by Chief Justice Chandrachud, delved into the constitutional validity of Article 35A and its implications for fundamental rights.
    • The provision’s selective allocation of privileges to a specific group while withholding them from others raised concerns about the unequal treatment of citizens and the potential infringement on fundamental rights guaranteed by the Indian Constitution.
    • Notably, Article 35A granted immunity from judicial review to these privileges, leading to an unequal treatment of individuals who did not fall under this category.
    • The Chief Justice noted that this demarcation persisted for decades and was added by the Government of India in collaboration with the Jammu and Kashmir State government.
  • Government Accountability and Abrogation of Article 35A
    • Solicitor-General Tushar Mehta, representing the Government of India, justified the government’s action in August 2019, when Article 35A and Article 370 were abrogated.
    • He noted that these actions were corrective measures to rectify historical imbalances and that the government needed to take responsibility for its predecessors’ actions.
  • Federalism Considerations:
    • Chief Justice also questioned whether the government adhered to federal principles during the abrogation of Article 370 and the transition of Jammu and Kashmir from a State to Union Territories.

What is Article 35A?

  • Article 35A is a constitutional provision that grants the Jammu and Kashmir Legislature the authority to determine the status of individuals as “permanent residents” of the state.
  • This provision also enables the legislature to provide these “permanent residents” with unique rights and privileges in areas like public sector employment, property acquisition, scholarships, and other forms of public assistance and welfare.
  • Furthermore, Article 35A stipulates that any legislation enacted under its authority cannot be legally challenged for violating the Indian Constitution or any other national law.
  • Background:
    • Article 35A was introduced into the Indian Constitution in 1954 through an order by then-President Rajendra Prasad.
    • This inclusion was a result of discussions and negotiations between Prime Minister Jawaharlal Nehru and Jammu and Kashmir’s then-Prime Minister Sheikh Abdullah.
    • The origin of Article 35A lies in the 1952 Delhi Agreement between Nehru and Sheikh Abdullah, which extended Indian citizenship to the ‘State subjects’ of Jammu and Kashmir.
  • Constitution (Application to Jammu and Kashmir) Order of 1954
    • The Presidential Order was issued under Article 370 (1) (d) of the Indian Constitution, which grants the President the authority to introduce “exceptions and modifications” to the Constitution for the benefit of ‘State subjects’ of Jammu and Kashmir.
  • Parliamentary Route Bypassed
  • The incorporation of Article 35A bypassed the usual parliamentary route of lawmaking.
  • Article 368 (i) of the Constitution designates only the Parliament with the authority to amend the Constitution.
  • Questions arise whether the President acted beyond his jurisdiction by introducing Article 35A without parliamentary discussion.

Aditya-L1: India’s Sun Observation Spacecraft

(General Studies- Paper III)

ISRO to launch Aditya-L1 on Sept. 2 to study the sun

ISRO to launch Aditya-L1 on Sept. 2

Source : TH

India’s first space-based solar observatory, Aditya-L1, is set to launch on September 2, 2023, according to the Indian Space Research Organisation (ISRO).

  • The observatory aims to study the sun’s activities and their effects on space weather in real time.

Key Highlights

  • Aditya-L1 will be placed in a halo orbit around the Lagrange point 1 (L1) of the Sun-Earth system, situated approximately 1.5 million km away from Earth.
  • The unique advantage of the L1 point is that it allows continuous observation of the sun without interruptions caused by occultation or eclipses.
  • The spacecraft is equipped with seven payloads designed to observe different layers of the sun, such as the photosphere, chromosphere, and the corona.
  • The payloads include electromagnetic and particle detectors as well as magnetic field detectors.
  • Four payloads on Aditya-L1 will directly observe the sun, while the remaining three will conduct in-situ studies of particles and fields at the Lagrange point L1.
  • The mission aims to provide insights into phenomena like coronal heating, coronal mass ejections, pre-flare and flare activities, space weather dynamics, and particle and field propagation.
  • The seven payloads aboard Aditya-L1 include:
    • Visible Emission Line Coronagraph,
    • Solar Ultraviolet Imaging Telescope,
    • Solar Low Energy X-ray Spectrometer,
    • High Energy L1 Orbiting X-ray Spectrometer,
    • Aditya Solar Wind Particle Experiment,
    • Plasma Analyser Package for Aditya, and
    • Advanced Tri-axial High-Resolution Digital Magnetometers.

In Image: Aditya L1 Payloads along with their major capability of scientific investigation.

What is Lagrange point?

  • A Lagrange point, also known as a Lagrangian point or L-point, is a specific location in space where the gravitational forces of two large bodies, such as the Earth and the Moon or the Earth and the Sun, produce enhanced gravitational effects.
  • These effects create regions of gravitational equilibrium, where the gravitational forces of the two bodies balance out, allowing a smaller object (like a satellite or spacecraft) to effectively “hover” in a stable position relative to the two larger bodies.
  • There are five Lagrange points in any two-body system, labeled L1 through L5, with L1 being the point between the two larger bodies.
  • Each Lagrange point has unique properties and applications:
    • L1: This point lies along the line connecting the two larger bodies and is on the side of the smaller body facing the larger one.
      • At L1, the gravitational pull of the two larger bodies balances out.
      • This makes it an ideal location for spacecraft to observe the Sun or Earth without being blocked by the other body.
    • L2: L2 is on the opposite side of the smaller body from the larger one.
      • It’s used for various astronomical observations.
      • Telescopes at L2 can maintain a relatively stable orientation and avoid the interference from Earth’s atmosphere and thermal radiation.
    • L3: L3 is on the line connecting the two larger bodies but on the opposite side of the system from the smaller body.
      • This point is less stable and less frequently used for space missions.
    • L4 and L5: These points form equilateral triangles with the two larger bodies and the smaller body.
      • L4 and L5 are sometimes referred to as “Trojan” points and can accumulate objects over time due to their stability.
      • Some asteroids are known to occupy these points in the Earth-Sun system.

In Image: The five Lagrange Points

China releases new official map, showing territorial claims

(General Studies- Paper II)

China releases new map showing territorial claims

Source : TH

On August 28, 2023, the Chinese government released the “2023 edition of the standard map of China,”

  • The new released includes the entire State of Arunachal Pradesh and the Aksai Chin region within China’s borders.

Key Highlights

  • The map, released by the Ministry of Natural Resources, reaffirms China’s territorial claims on its western borders and the South China Sea using the nine-dash line.
  • It also underscores China’s claims over Taiwan with an additional “tenth dash” east of the island.
  • This move follows Beijing’s announcement in April to “standardize” the names of 11 places in Arunachal Pradesh.
  • This was seen as a response to India’s activities in the region leading up to the G-20 summit, which China opposed.
  • The 2023 map’s release coincides with “National Mapping Awareness Publicity Week” in China.
  • The Ministry of Natural Resources will also release digital maps for various fields, including location-based services, precision agriculture, platform economy, and intelligent connected vehicles.
  • Background and Legal Context:
    • China’s Law of Surveying and Mapping, passed 30 years ago, aims to strengthen the administration and development of surveying and mapping for economic growth, national defense, and societal progress.
    • Under President Xi Jinping, China has increased border management efforts, passing a new border law in 2022 that outlines responsibilities for civilian and military authorities to protect national sovereignty.
    • The new naming of places aligns with Article 7 of the border law which focuses on border education at various governmental levels.
    • Article 22 of the law directs the Chinese military to prevent and combat “invasions, encroachments, and provocations.”
  • Geopolitical Implications:
    • China’s continued inclusion of Arunachal Pradesh and Aksai Chin within its borders is likely to exacerbate tensions with India, which has its own claims over these regions.
    • The reaffirmation of territorial claims and the use of maps as a geopolitical tool underscores China’s intent to assert its sovereignty over disputed areas and solidify its position on various contentious fronts.

India-China Border Disputes: A Summary

The India-China border disputes refer to longstanding territorial conflicts between the two Asian neighbours over certain areas along their shared boundary.

  • The main areas of contention include the Aksai Chin region, located in the western Himalayas, and Arunachal Pradesh, situated in northeastern India.
  • China claims Aksai Chin as part of its Xinjiang region, while India considers it part of the Ladakh region of Jammu and Kashmir.
  • Arunachal Pradesh is claimed by China as “South Tibet” and is considered by India as an integral part of its territory.
  • Historical Background:
    • The border disputes have historical roots in the legacy of colonial-era boundaries and historical claims.
    • The McMahon Line, drawn by British India in 1914 as the eastern border of Arunachal Pradesh, is rejected by China.
    • The Line of Actual Control (LAC) serves as a de facto border, but differing perceptions of its alignment have led to tensions.