UPSC Prelims News of 31 January 2023
Context: A study has found that anthropogenic actions are the reason for degradation of Munroe Island.
- Steady land subsidence, tidal flooding and lower agricultural productivity are the reasons for mass exodus from the region.
- Human activities affected the isostatic conditions and land neutrality of the island, resulting in drastic environmental degradation.
- Unregulated sand mining and the resultant riverbed pools in the Kallada river led to the current degradation. The construction of Thenmala dam blocked the sediment supply through the river.
- Researchers have proposed reverse landscaping as an innovative methodology to retrieve the landscape’s original geomorphic state.
- It includes banning sand mining, adopting well-studied engineering techniques and artificial sedimentation of the island.
- Munroe Island is located at the confluence of Ashtamudi Lake and the Kallada River, in Kollam, Kerala. It is a group of eight small islets.
- The island is named in honour of Resident Colonel John Munro of the former Princely State of Travancore.
Genetically Engineered Trees
Context: The United States is planning to allow a genetically engineered (GE) version of American chestnut tree spread in the wild.
- The US has developed and field tested the GE version of the tree known as Darling 58.
- In case the plan goes through, it will be the first GE forest tree species planted specifically to spread freely through forests.
GE version of trees:
- China is the only country that has allowed commercial plantations of GE insect resistant poplar trees.
- The US, Canada and Germany are also conducting field tests of GE poplar trees.
- In India, experiments have been conducted to introduce GE varieties of rubber trees.
- The GE tree may contaminate other trees with foreign genes.
- GE tree may not be completely pest resistant over its lifetime, due to evolution of pathogens.
- American chestnut is a deciduous tree native to North America. Its numbers dwindled in the 20th century due to a fungal blight, Cryphonectria parasitica.
- The GE variety contains an enzyme (borrowed from wheat) that breaks down toxins produced by blight, making them resistant to the pest.
Context: Kashmir’s famed pashmina shawls got a French touch this week with an artist turning it into a canvas for contemporary art.
About Pashmina shawls
- Pashmina is the art of producing fine fabric from raw Cashmere wool. It is raw Cashmere which is processed, spun, woven, and formed into Pashmina shawls, stoles, or scarves. It is a GI tagged product.
- The name Pashmina has been derived from a Persian word “Pashm” meaning a weavable fibre precisely wool.
- The raw Pashmina is harvested by the Changpa tribes of Ladakh who herd the Changthangi goats.
- Due to the extremely fragile nature of Cashmere fibre, Kashmiri craftsmen and women have always preferred to use hands while processing it. The strain of a machine would break the fibre, and it would lose its distinctive nature.
- Manufacture of Pashmina is a largely unorganized cottage/handicraft industry providing employment and livelihood to approximately 6 lakh people, most notably to local skilled villagers and artisans in Kashmir.
Context: Scientists have used scandium nitride (ScN) to develop brain-like computing hardware at Jawaharlal Nehru Centre for Advanced Scientific Research (JNCASR), Bangalore.
About Neuromorphic Computing
- Neuromorphic computing is a method of computer engineering in which elements of a computer are modeled after systems in the human brain and nervous system.
- The development of neuromorphic hardware aims at mimicking a biological synapse that monitors and remembers the signal generated by the stimuli.
- The new invention can provide a new material for stable, CMOS-compatible optoelectronic synaptic functionalities at a relatively lower energy cost and hence has the potential to be translated into an industrial product.
- The traditional computers have physically separated memory storage and processing units. As a result, it takes enormous energy and time to transfer data between these units during an operation.
- On the contrary, the human brain is a supreme biological computer that is smaller and more efficient due to the presence of a synapse (the connection between two neurons) that plays the role of both processor and memory storage unit. This is what the Neuromorphic computing aims to mimic.
Context: India observes Martyrs’ Day or Shaheed Diwas on January 30 to pay tribute to all the freedom fighters who have sacrificed their lives for the country, while also marking the day as the death anniversary of Mahatma Gandhi.
About Shaheed Diwas
- It was on this day in 1948, that Gandhi was assassinated by Nathuram Godse at Birla House in New Delhi.
- Further, Martyrs’ Day or Shaheed Divas is also commemorated on March 23 to remember the sacrifice of three extraordinary revolutionaries of India – Bhagat Singh, Shivaram Rajguru, Sukhdev Thapar.
- Bhagat Singh, Rajguru, Sukhdev were hanged in Lahore for their role in assassinating British officer John Saunders in 1928.
- Martyrs’ Day is also observed by the United Nations as the International Day of Non-Violence. This reflects the global significance of Gandhi’s message of non-violence and peaceful resistance.
Sixteenth Finance Commission
Context: The government will soon begin the process to set up the Sixteenth Finance Commission.
About Finance Commission (FC)
- The Finance Commission is a Constitutionally mandated body set up under Article 280 of the Constitution, with the following functions:
- To evaluate the state of finances of the Union and State Governments
- Recommend the revenue sharing formula between the Centre and States
- Lay down the principles determining the distribution of these taxes among States
- Its recommendations are also geared towards improving the quality of public spending and promoting fiscal stability.
- Evolution: The first Finance Commission was set up in 1951 and there have been fifteen so far.
- The Fifteenth Finance Commission was constituted on 27 November 2017 against the backdrop of the abolition of the Planning Commission.
- While the Constitution requires a Finance Commission (FC) to be set up every five years, the 15th FC’s mandate was extended till 2025-26, breaking the cycle.
- Process of setting up: While the terms of reference for the Sixteenth FC will be worked out after internal government deliberations steered by the Finance Ministry, the first step towards constituting the Commission will be the appointment of an Officer on Special Duty to drive the process.
- This officer typically becomes the member-secretary of the Commission, once it is constituted.
AI-Driven Ticketing System
Why in News? The Indian Railways has concluded the trial of an Artificial Intelligence (AI) program it built to fix a perennial issue — long waiting lists for tickets.
- Made by Railways’ in-house software arm Centre for Railway Information Systems (CRIS), this AI module, called Ideal Train Profile, was fed with information like how millions of passengers booked tickets on these trains, which origin-destination pairs were a hit, and which were flops at what time of the year, which seats remained vacant for what portion of a journey, etc.
- This project has been in the works for the past two years, wherein the AI has been “taught” ticket booking data and trends of the past few years.
- It has come up with the best possible combination of how many berths to keep for which sectors and at what time.
- The combination of “training data” the AI has been fed goes back three years.
- The AI does data-driven remote location selection, completely automates the process of quota distribution, and suggests optimal quotas for different ticket combinations based on historical demand.
XR Startup Program
Why in News? MeitYStartup Hub (MSH) and Meta have announced the list of 120 start-ups and innovators for the XR Startup Program.
- XR Startup Program is a collaboration between MeitYStartup Hub (MSH) and Meta.
- It aims to accelerate India’s contribution towards building the foundations of the metaverse and nurturing the development of Extended Reality (XR) technologies in India.
- It includes two segments namely, an Accelerator and a Grand Challenge
- Accelerator: It will nurture and foster 40 early-stage start-ups working with XR technologies through a well-designed 6-month program.
- Grand Challenge: It is aimed at supporting early-stage innovators to upscale from the R&D phase to developing workable prototypes and Minimum Viable Products (MVPs). It will include 4 sector-specific challenges to advance the XR technology ecosystem in India.
Context: Recently, Red Headed Vulture (Sarcogyps calvus) has been seen in Asola Bhatti Wildlife Sanctuary of Delhi.
- Red Headed Vulture was last sighted in the area in 2017.
- It was spotted during an ongoing winter raptor survey, which is carried out by the Bombay Natural History Society (BNHS) each year at the Asola Bhatti Wildlife Sanctuary.
About Red Head Vulture
- Vulture is a bird of prey that scavenges for its food–it searches the ground for animal carcasses to eat and does the work of cleaning the earth.
- The red-headed vulture, also known as the Asian king vulture, Indian black vulture or Pondicherry vulture, is an Old World vulture mainly found in the India and in some parts of Southeast Asia.
- Threat to Red Head Vulture in India: India has lost almost 94% of this species, through consumption of livestock treated with the veterinary NSAID drugs like Diclofenac, carprofen, flunixin, ibuprofen and phenylbutazone.
- Vultures die from kidney failure within days of exposure to diclofenac-contaminated tissues.
- Conservation Status
- IUCN Status: Critically endangered.
- Wildlife Protection Act: Schedule-1
- Annexure 1 of the Convention of Migratory Species (CMS) framework
Action Plan for Vulture Conservation in India (2020-2025)
- Objective: Conservation of the endangered species.
- Action plan includes:
- Prevention of poisoning of cattle carcasses, the principal food of vultures.
- Enhancement of Conservation Breeding Programme.
- Regular monitoring of vulture populations across the country.
- Enhancing the vulture safe zone network by creating at least one vulture safe zone in each state and continuing to work on the existing efforts of vulture safezone.
- Determining and preventing other causes of mortality.
Bharat Parv 2023
Context: The Government of India organised a six-day mega event named “Bharat Parv”as part of the Republic Day celebrations.
- Bharat Parv, which started in 2016, has been held annually on the lawns and Gyan Path in front of Red Fort.
- The event includes a food festival, a handicraft mela, folk and tribal dance performances, cultural troupe performances, a display of Republic Day tableaux, and the illumination of the Red Fort, among other things.
- The program is a way to celebrate India’s unity in diversity and to make India a hub of civilization, culture, spirituality and inheritance in the next 25 years of Amrit Kaal.
- The Ministry of Tourism is the nodal ministry for the event.
- Branding and promotion of Vocal for Local motto, Dekho Apna Desh, Ek Bharat Shreshtha Bharat, G20 and Mission LIFE have been undertaken during the event.
- Dekho Apna Desh: The Ministry of Tourism launched the ‘Dekho Apna Desh’ initiative in 2020 to create awareness among the citizens about the rich heritage and culture of the country and encourage citizens to travel within the country.
- Ek Bharat Shreshtha Bharat: It was launched in 2015 to promote engagement amongst the people of different States/UTs so as to enhance mutual understanding and bonding between people of diverse cultures, thereby securing stronger unity and integrity of India.
- LiFE: The idea of LiFE was introduced by India during COP 26 in Glasgow 2021.The idea promotes an environmentally conscious lifestyle that focuses on ‘mindful and deliberate utilisation’ instead of ‘mindless and wasteful consumption.
- G20: It was formed in 1999 in the backdrop of the financial crisis of the late 1990s that hit East Asia and Southeast Asia in particular. It aims to secure global financial stability by involving middle-income countries.
- India has assumed the charge of the G20 presidency.