23 October, 2021 Daily Current Affairs

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Prelims Specific Questions :-

1)  Consider the following statements.

  1. The natural reservoir of phosphorus is rock.
  2. Animals need large quantities of Phosphorus to make shells, bones and teeth.
  3. Like carbon cycle, there is respiratory release of phosphorus into atmosphere.

Which of the above statements is/are correct?

  1. 1, 3
  2. 2, 3
  3. 1, 2
  4. 1, 2, 3

2) Consider the following statements regarding Ozone.

  1. Ozone found in the lower troposphere acts as a shield absorbing ultraviolet radiation from the sun.
  2. The thickness of the ozone in a column of air from the ground to the top of the atmosphere is measured in terms of Dobson units (DU).

Which of the above statements is/are correct?

  1. 1 only
  2. 2 only
  3. Both 1 and 2
  4. Neither 1 nor 2

3) Winter rainfall in Punjab, Haryana, Delhi and western Uttar Pradesh occurs mainly due to

  1. Northeast monsoon crossing over the Bay of Bengal
  2. Arrival of weak temperate cyclones from the Mediterranean Sea

Select the correct answer code:

  1. 1 only
  2. 2 only
  3. Both 1 and 2
  4. Neither 1 nor 2

Prelims Specific News Items :-

1) What is Non-Transgenic Gene Editing?

  • Unlike the older GM technology which involves the introduction of foreign DNA, the new proposal involves the use of gene editing tools to directly tweak the plant’s own genes instead.
  • It does not involve inserting any foreign DNA.

Use in India

  • Scientists at the Indian Agricultural Research Institute (IARI) are in the process of developing resilient and high-yield rice varieties using such gene editing techniques.
  • However, this proposal has been pending with the Genetic Engineering Appraisal Committee (GEAC) for almost two years.

Why need such technique?

  • Similar to natural mutation: But in this case, this protein is right there in the plant, and is being changed a little bit, just as nature does through mutation.
  • Faster and cheaper: It is much faster and far more precise than natural mutation or conventional breeding methods which involve trial and error and multiple breeding cycles.
  • Safe for consumption: When a protein comes from an outside organism, then you need to test for safety.

Pathbreaking: It is potentially a new Green Revolution.

Techs for Genome Editing

The core technologies now most commonly used to facilitate genome editing are

  • Clustered regularly interspaced short palindromic repeats (CRISPR)- associated protein 9 (Cas9)
  • Transcription activator-like effector nucleases (TALENs)
  • Zinc-finger nucleases (ZFNs)
  • Homing endonucleases or meganucleases

Newer technologies

The Institute has now moved to newer technologies such as Site-Directed Nuclease (SDN) 1 and 2.

They aim to bring precision and efficiency into the breeding process using gene-editing tools such as CRISPR, whose developers won the Nobel Prize for Chemistry in 2020.

No approval issues

The SDN 1 and SDN 2 categories of genome-edited plants do not contain any foreign DNA when they are taken to the open field trials.

The US, Canada, Australia and Japan are among the countries which have already approved the SDN 1 and 2 technologies as not akin to GM.

So, such varieties of rice can be exported without any problem.

The European Food Safety Authority has also submitted its opinion that these technologies do not need the same level of safety assessment as conventional GM.

2) National Intelligence Estimate (NIE) on climate”

The United States categorised India as a ‘country of concern’ on climate in the assessment of the American Intelligence Community in its report called “National Intelligence Estimate (NIE) on climate”.

India was put in this category along with 10 other countries namely, Afghanistan, Haiti, Colombia, Myanmar, Pakistan, Iraq, North Korea, Guatemala, Honduras and Nicaragua.

3) Space Rocket Nuri

South Korea has launched its first ever space rocket on October 21, 2021. This is the first rocket completely developed and built in South Korea. However, it failed to successfully deploy a test satellite into orbit. The rocket is called as “Nuri”.

4) 152 SAKSHAM centres under DAY-NRLM

Ministry of Rural Development launched 152 SAKSHAM centres under the Deendayal Antyodaya Yojana – National Rural Livelihoods Mission (DAY-NRLM).

About 152 Centre for Financial Literacy & Service Delivery (or SAKSHAM Centres) were launched across 77 districts in 13 states, during October 4 to 8, 2021.

These centres would act as one stop solution or single window system for the basic financial needs of Self-Help Group (SHG) households across the rural areas.

5) UPSC has launched a toll-free helpline

 The Union Public Service Commission (UPSC) has launched a toll-free helpline number for job aspirants, recently.

This facility can be used by the government job aspirants belonging to economically weaker sections and backward classes.

Helpline number will be operational on all the working days in office hours.

This initiative is a part of UPSC’s efforts of undertaking queries of such candidates in a friendly manner. It is also a part of celebrations under the ‘Azadi ka Amrit Mahotsav’, commemorating the 75th anniversary of India’s Independence.

6) Barbados

The Caribbean Island called Barbados, in a bid to become a republic, has elected its first ever president.

This is a key step in preparations for becoming a republic.

This move will also remove Britain’s Queen Elizabeth II as head of state of Barbados.

Sandra Mason, who is the current governor-general of the island, will sworn in as president on November 30, 2021.

November 30 marks the 55th anniversary of independence of Barbados from Britain.

7) Global Food Security Index

Tenth edition of the Global Food Security Index was published recently. In the index, India has been ranked at 71st position.

The Global Food Security (GFS) Index 2021 was prepared by analysing data from 113 countries.

India ranks 71st on Global Food Security Index 2021, lags behind Pakistan and Sri Lanka

Pakistan (with 52.6 points) scored better than India (50.2 points) in the category of food affordability. Sri Lanka was even better with 62.9 points in this category on the GFS Index 2021.

Ireland, Australia, the UK, Finland, Switzerland, the Netherlands, Canada, Japan, France and the US shared the top rank with the overall GFS score in the range of 77.8 and 80 points on the index.

The GFS Index was designed and constructed by London-based Economist Impact and is sponsored by Corteva Agriscience. The GFS Index measures the underlying drivers of food security in 113 countries, based on the factors of affordability, availability, quality and safety, and natural resources and resilience.

Important news :-

1)  India weighs ‘net zero’ target ahead of CoP

India has not entirely ruled out the possibility of agreeing to a “net zero” climate target, though it will not budge on demanding that developed nations make good their previous commitments, such as an annual $100 billion to developing countries for mitigating the impacts of climate change, facilitating technology transfer and putting in place a tangible market-based mechanism to activate the moribund carbon credit markets, senior officials said.

Ahead of the 26th meeting of the United Nations’ Conference of Parties (CoP) that begins in Glasgow on November 1, the focus on making the meet a success is to have all nations commit to “net zero”, or a year by when a country’s fossil fuel emissions will peak and at some point be neutralised by taking out excess carbon from the atmosphere.

All countries doing this by 2050, scientists say, will mean a chance of restricting the average temperature rise to 1.5 degrees Celsius, provided emissions fall to around 45% of the 2010 levels by 2030.

2) OTT platforms to participate in IFFI

Acknowledging the change in viewers’ preferences, the 52nd International Film Festival of India (IFFI) will provide space to five key streaming platforms Netflix, Amazon Prime, Zee5, Voot and SonyLIV.

The film festival is scheduled to be held from November 20 to 28 in Goa.

3) Rocket systems, BrahMos add offensive punch along LAC

India’s military posture in the Tawang sector of Arunachal Pradesh has added an offensive punch with the Army deploying Pinaka and Smerch longrange, multibarrel rocket launch systems as well as BrahMos supersonic cruise missiles in the region.

The Pinaka and Smerch rocket systems have been deployed closer to the LAC,” said a senior officer at the demonstration. The BrahMos has also been deployed in the Tawang sector.

Smerch is the longest range conventional rocket system in the Army’s inventory.

Smerch, procured from Russia, is the longest range conventional rocket system in the Army’s inventory with a maximum range of 90 km.

Pinaka, indigenously designed and developed by the Defence Research and Development Organisation, has a range of 38 km.

Editorials of the day

Editorial 1 – Development that is mindful of nature

Environmental disaster has struck Kerala once again. Unusually heavy rains have caused landslides in Kottayam and Idukki.

With a population density of 860 persons/sq. km against an all-India average of 368 persons/sq. km (Census 2011), Kerala experiences very high pressure on the land.

Land-use change

Population growth, agricultural expansion, economic growth, infrastructure development — particularly road construction — and intra-State migration have all led to settlement of the highlands. Kerala is experiencing high growth of residential buildings. The Census records that during the decade between 2001 and 2011, the population grew by 5% whereas the number of houses grew by 19.9%.

Such a pace of construction has serious implications for the geo-environment.

Construction on hill slopes prone to disintegration during heavy rain is a threat not only to those who choose to live in the buildings but also to those who are in the path of the debris that gets dislodged in a landslide. It is clear by now that in parts of the State the hills have been overbuilt, posing a danger to life. Interestingly, the extremely complicated rules for registration of purchase and sale of property in Kerala are not matched by a due diligence of building plans.

While the idea of a construction-free Coastal Regulation Zone, instituted by the Government of India and applicable to the entire country, is fairly well recognised in the State, the Government of Kerala has been timid in enforcing similar regulation in its own backyard. The hesitancy towards the implementation of the recommendations by the Western Ghats Ecology Expert Panel, commonly known as the Gadgil Committee, on protection of the Western Ghats is the best example of this

Review of two projects

The first of these is the Silver Line project, a light railway connecting the two extremities of the State. Its potential to usurp agricultural land and cause ecological disturbance is well known. The claim that it is vital to the development of the State, reportedly made by the government in the Legislature, is debatable. After all, a railway line exists across the entire length of the State already, and how much a saving of a few hours’ travel time can contribute to the gross domestic product is not clear at all.

While the Silver Line project has been in the news, what has not been is the widening of the highway currently taking place in parts of the State. Entirely under the authority of the Government of India, this has involved mass felling of trees and the removal of habitation on both sides of the road. Overnight, tree-lined roads have been converted to bare tarmac exposed to the sun. 

Kerala’s achievements in human development are legion. However, it can no longer rest on its laurels in this area, ignoring the relentless assault on its natural assets.

Editorial 2 – A clean energy transition plan for India

Electricity Act of 2003, the installed coal-fired thermal power plant (TPP) generation capacity in India more than doubled from 94 GW to 192 GW between March 2011 and 2017. This sharp increase in the installed capacity has enabled the government to increase per capita electricity consumption by 37% while reducing peak demand deficit from 9.8% (2010-11) to 1.6% (2016-17). However, India has a long way to go in providing electricity security to its people since its per capita electricity consumption is still only a third of the global average.

Thermal plants are the core

Coal is the only fuel that India has in abundance and the geopolitics of India’s neighborhood do not permit ready access to piped natural gas. TPPs contributed 71% of the 1,382 billion units (BU) of electricity generated by utilities in India during FY 2020-21 though they accounted for only 55% of the total installed generation capacity of 382 GW (as of March 2021)

Renewable energy

While variable renewable energy (VRE) sources (primarily, wind and solar) account for 24.7% of the total installed generation capacity, as of March 2021, they contributed 10.7% of the electricity generated by utilities during FY 2020-21. However, the ramp-up of VRE generation capacity without commensurate growth in electricity demand has resulted in lower utilisation of TPPs whose fixed costs must be paid by the distribution companies (DISCOMs) and passed through to the final consumer.

The rapid growth of VRE sources in India has been largely aided by policy measures as well as financial incentives whose cost is borne by the consumer. The current level of VRE in the national power grid is increasing the cost of power procurement for DISCOMs, leading to tariff increases for electricity consumers. Specifically, the Forum of Regulators has estimated the total additional burden of grid integration of VRE sources includes ₹1.11 of balancing cost and ₹1.02 of stranded capacity cost, totalling ₹2.13 per unit. Therefore, India must implement a plan to increase energy efficiency and reduce the emissions of carbon dioxide (CO2) and airborne pollutants from TPPs without making power unaffordable to industries that need low-cost 24×7 power to compete in the global market.

Contours of a plan

We have developed a time-bound transition plan for India’s power sector involving the progressive retirement of 36 GW of installed generation capacity in 211 TPPs (unit size 210 MW and below) based on key performance parameters such as efficiency, specific coal consumption, technological obsolescence, and age. The resulting shortfall in baseload electricity generation can be made up by increasing the utilisation of existing High-Efficiency-Low-Emission (HELE) TPPs that are currently under-utilised to accommodate VRE and commissioning the 47 government-owned TPPs (total capacity of 31.6 GW) that are at an advanced stage of construction in which ₹1,77,742 crore have already been invested by government utilities. These TPPs have already signed power purchase agreements with the respective DISCOMs; and thanks to the two-part tariff policy, their fixed costs must be borne by power consumers irrespective of their usage. In addition, the Nuclear Power Corporation of India Limited (NPCIL) is also constructing 11 nuclear power plants with a total generation capacity of 8,700 MW that will supply 24×7 power without any CO2 emissions.

As per our transition plan, India’s power generation from TPPs is expected to reduce from the FY 2020-21 level of 71% to 57% of the total electrical energy (2,172 BU) projected to be generated by utilities during FY 2029-30. Further, the share of HELE TPPs in the total TPP generation capacity will increase from the FY 2018-19 level of 25% to 44% in FY 2029-30. More importantly, the share of inefficient TPPs with obsolete technology in the total TPP generation capacity will reduce from the FY 2018-19 level of 46% to 4%. Consequently, total CO2 emissions from the power sector will go down by 57 Mt even as coal-fired electricity generation is projected to increase by 21% to 1,234 BU in 2029-30.

Estimated benefits

Since HELE TPPs minimise emissions of particulate matter (PM), SO2, and NO2, our transition plan offers operational, economic, and environmental benefits including avoidance of sustenance Capex and FGD costs in the 211 obsolete TPPs to be retired besides savings in specific coal consumption and water requirement leading to reductions in electricity tariffs and PM pollution.

This plan prioritises the installation of high-efficiency electrostatic precipitators that can remove 99.97% of the PM pollution without extensive shutdowns or hiking tariffs unlike expensive, imported FGDs.

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