A) Science and Technology, Defence, Space
1. Epigenetics (TH)
- The functioning of cells and tissues in our body are controlled by thousands of proteins that regulate various cellular functions.
- These proteins are in turn encoded by the respective genes which are a part of our genome or the cellular DNA.
- Any minor or major changes to our inherited DNA (addition or mutation) can result in altered protein production, which in turn leads to defective cellular functions.
- This forms the basis for many heritable genetic disorders affecting the mankind.
- Apart from DNA or protein sequence level alterations, there are other biochemical changes that influence and dictate if a gene should be active or inactive in a given cell type.
- For example, the gene that encodes for the insulin protein is present in exact form, in every cell of the body.
- However, it is allowed to express only in the insulin secreting beta cells of the pancreas and is kept inactive in the rest of the cells of the body.
- This phenomenon is tightly regulated by a combination of regulatory proteins that changes the expressivity of the gene.
- Also, the histone proteins that bind the DNA and help to compactly wrap it inside the chromosomes can undergo chemical modifications such as methylations and acetylations on different lysine amino acids within the protein.
- These modifications both on the DNA and its associated proteins alter the chromosomal conformations and regulate gene expression.
- These changes can either unwind the DNA and allow gene expression or can compact the DNA and render the genes in the region inactive or silent.
- Such biochemical changes that dictate the expressivity of a gene in a particular cell are collectively termed “epigenetics.”
- Unlike DNA mutations that are permanent, such epigenetic changes are reversible and are mediated by regulatory proteins.
- These regulatory proteins can add or remove such modifications and can result in turning ON/OFF a specific gene in a tissue or organ specific manner.
- This normal epigenetic control on our genes can get altered during normal ageing, stress and disease conditions.
- This is well known in many cancers, where certain set of genes called tumour suppressors that regulate cell division get silenced either due to mutations or due to epigenetic alterations and result in uncontrolled proliferation of cells and tumour development.
- Similarly, many messages or youthful genes are also turned off by epigenetic changes during our normal ageing process.
B) Polity, Bills, Acts and Judgments
2. What is Inner Line Permit, what is its CAA context? (TH)
- Context: A pressure group in Meghalaya, the Khasi Students’ Union (KSU), has petitioned Prime Minister Narendra Modi demanding the implementation of inner-line permit (ILP), a British-era entry restriction, in the State and the scrapping of the Citizenship (Amendment) Act (CAA).
- The KSU said the ILP would be an effective mechanism to regulate the entry of outsiders into the State that has a microscopic indigenous population.
What is Inner Line?
- A concept drawn by colonial rulers, the Inner Line separated the tribal-populated hill areas in the Northeast from the plains.
- The policy of exclusion first came about as a response to the reckless expansion of British entrepreneurs into new lands which threatened British political relations with the hill tribes.
- On the other hand, the Inner Line also protects the commercial interests of the British from the tribal communities.
- After Independence, the Indian government replaced “British subjects” with “Citizen of India”. The main aim of ILP system now is to prevent settlement of other Indian nationals in the States where ILP regime is prevalent, in order to protect the indigenous/tribal population.
- To enter and stay for any period in these areas, Indian citizens from other areas need an Inner Line Permit (ILP). Arunachal Pradesh, Nagaland and Mizoram are protected by the Inner Line, and lately Manipur was added.
- The concept originates from the Bengal Eastern Frontier Regulation Act (BEFR), 1873.
What is the Inner Line Permit?
- The Inner Line Permit (ILP) is an official travel document issued by the Government of India to grant inward travel of an Indian citizen into a protected area for a limited period.
- It is obligatory for Indians residing outside those states to obtain permission prior to entering the protected areas.
- Currently, the Inner Line Permit is operational in Arunachal Pradesh, Mizoram, Manipur and Nagaland.
- These States have also been exempted from the Citizenship legislation.
- The document has been issued under the Bengal Eastern Frontier Regulation, 1873 and the conditions and restrictions vary from state to state.
- It can be issued for travel purposes solely.
- Visitors are not allowed to purchase property in these regions. However, there might be a different set of rules for long term visitors, though they are not valid for central government employees and security forces.
- Any rubber, wax, ivory or other forest product (or any book, diary, manuscript, map, picture, photograph, film, curio or article of religious or scientific interest) found in the possession of any person convicted of any offence under this Act may be confiscated to State Government.
How is it connected to the Citizenship Amendment Act?
- The CAA, which relaxes eligibility criteria for certain categories of migrants from three countries seeking Indian citizenship, exempts certain categories of areas, including those protected by the Inner Line system.
- Amid protests against the Act, the Adaptation of Laws (Amendment) Order, 2019, issued by the President, amended the BEFR, 1873, extending it to Manipur and parts of Nagaland that were not earlier protected by ILP.
Meghalaya Residents Safety and Security Act (MRSSA) 2016
- The Meghalaya Cabinet approved amendments to the Meghalaya Residents Safety and Security Act (MRSSA) 2016, which will lead to laws that require non-resident visitors to register themselves on the lines of the Inner Line Permit (ILP) system of Arunachal Pradesh, Nagaland, Manipur and Mizoram.
- The move comes in the backdrop of concerns that people excluded from the National Register of Citizens (NRC) in Assam might try to enter Meghalaya.
- The new rules will encompass not only tenants but all visitors and tourists staying, for example, in hotels, home stays, relatives’ houses, etc.
Inner Line Permit Vs Protected Area Permit (PAP)/Restricted Area Permit (RAP) Regime
- Inner Line Permit is for domestic tourists and Restricted Area Permit is for foreigners.
Protected Area Permit (PAP)/Restricted Area Permit (RAP) regime
- Under the Foreigners (Protected Areas) Order, 1958, all areas falling between the ‘Inner line’, as defined in the said order, and the International Border of the State have been declared as a Protected Area.
- Currently, Protected Areas are located in the following States: –
- (i) Whole of Arunachal Pradesh
- (ii) Parts of Himachal Pradesh
- (iii) Parts of Jammu & Kashmir
- (iv) Whole of Manipur
- (v) Whole of Mizoram
- (vi) Whole of Nagaland
- (vii) Parts of Rajasthan
- (viii) Whole of Sikkim (partly in Protected Area and partly in Restricted Area)
- (ix) Parts of Uttarakhand
- Under the Foreigners (Restricted) Areas Order, 1963, the following areas have been declared as `Restricted’ Areas:
- (i) Andaman & Nicobar Islands – Part of the Union Territory; Even in those parts where no permit is required, citizens of Afghanistan, China and Pakistan and foreign nationals having their origin in these countries would continue to require RAP to visit the Union Territory. For visiting Mayabunder and Diglipur, citizens of Myanmar will continue to require RAP.
- (ii) Sikkim – Part of the State
- The Home Ministry has decided to relax the Protected Area Permit regime from Nagaland, Mizoram and Manipur.
- Foreign tourists, except those from Pakistan, China and Afghanistan, would now be allowed to visit the hitherto restricted areas in these States.
C) International Relations
3. Shifting the Rohingya to Bhashan Char (IE)
- Context: A United Nations (UN) human rights investigator had requested Bangladesh to allow a safety assessment of the remote islet of Bhashan Char, where the Bangladesh government had shipped 1,600-odd Rohingya refugees.
- Bhashan Char is a char-land of around 13,000 acres, formed by the accumulation of silt where the river Meghna meets the Bay of Bengal carrying rich alluvial deposits.
- Char-lands are a common feature in Meghna and Padma rivers and literally mean “shifting landmass”.
- As the name reveals, the char was not part of the permanent land feature of Bangladesh, but appeared recently.
- Bhashan Char is surrounded by a mangrove forest that has given it geographical stability.
- The main argument for the char-land being unsafe is that these lands are known to be unstable and flood-prone.
- The other fear factor includes the tropical cyclones that visit the area every year.
4. Anti-trust charges (TH)
- Context: Recently, social networking giant Facebook was sued by the Federal Trade Commission (FTC), the U.S. agency which seeks to protect consumers and promote competition.
- This comes in the wake of several recent moves across the world targeting what’s called the ‘Big Tech’ on anti-trust charges.
- In October 2020, for instance, the U.S. Justice Department sued Google for alleged abuse of its dominance in the search services market.
- Antitrust laws are regulations that encourage competition by limiting the market power of any particular firm.
- This often involves ensuring that mergers and acquisitions don’t overly concentrate market power or form monopolies, as well as breaking up firms that have become monopolies.
- Antitrust laws also prevent multiple firms from colluding or forming a cartel to limit competition through practices such as price fixing.
5. Western Sahara Dispute (TH)
- Context: After Morocco became the fourth Arab country to normalise ties with Israel in five months, In return for Morocco’s decision to establish formal ties with Israel, the U.S. has recognised Morocco’s sovereignty over Western Sahara, a disputed territory in northwestern Africa, which has been under Moroccan control for decades.
- Morocco has long been campaigning internationally, using economic pressure and diplomacy, for recognition of its claims to Western Sahara.
- A White House proclamation said the United States believes that an independent Sahrawi State is “not a realistic option for resolving the conflict and that genuine autonomy under Moroccan sovereignty is the only feasible solution.
- Washington had supported a 1991 ceasefire between Morocco and the Western Sahara’s Polisario Front independence movement that called for a referendum to resolve the issue.
- Last month, after a border incident, the Polisario pulled out of that deal and announced a return to armed struggle.
- Much of the momentum behind the deal-making has been to present a united front against Iran and roll back its regional influence.
- This large, arid and sparsely populated region that shares borders with Morocco, Algeria and Mauritania and has a long Atlantic coast was a Spanish colony.
- The region is home to the Sahrawi tribe.
- In the 1970s, when international and local pressure mounted on Spain to vacate its colonies in Africa, Libya and Algeria helped found a Sahrawi insurgency group against the Spanish rule in Western Sahara.
- The Popular Front for the Liberation of Saguia el Hamra and Rio de Oro, known as the Polisario Front, started guerilla warfare against Spanish colonialists.
- In 1975, as part of the Madrid Accords with Morocco and Mauritania, Spain decided to leave the territory, which was then called Spanish Sahara.
- According to the accords, Spain would leave before February 28, 1976 and until then, the Spanish Governor General would administer the territory, with help from two Moroccan and Mauritanian Deputy Governors. The Polisario Front and Algeria opposed the agreements.
- Both Morocco and Mauritania moved troops to Western Sahara to assert their claims.
- Polisario, backed by Algeria, continued the guerilla resistance, demanding their withdrawal.
- On February 27, 1976, a day before Spain ended its presence, the Polisario Front declared the Sahrawi Arab Democratic Republic (SADR) in Western Sahara.
- The SADR has been recognised by several African countries and is a member of the African Union.
- Morocco and Mauritania had laid claims to Western Sahara even when it was a Spanish colony.
- The Western Sahara is a desert region where a decades-old territorial dispute has pitted Morocco against the Algeria-backed Polisario Front, a breakaway movement that seeks to establish an independent state in the territory.
Sahrawi Arab Democratic Republic (SADR)
- Sahrawi Arab Democratic Republic (SADR) is a self-declared state claiming authority over the disputed territory of Western Sahara, which is presently occupied by Morocco.
- The independence of the SADR has been recognized at various points by some 80 countries and is also a member of African Union.
- The region was a Spanish colony from about 1884 to 1976.
- After Spain withdrew from the region in early 1976, the Polisario Front—a politico-military organization based in Algeria and composed largely of Sahrawis, the indigenous nomadic inhabitants of Western Sahara—declared the independence of the republic and the establishment of a government-in-exile and fought Morocco and Mauritania for control of the territory.
- In 1979 Mauritania made peace with the Polisario Front and abandoned its territorial claims, whereupon Morocco annexed Mauritania’s portion and claimed the whole territory.
- A referendum on whether the territory should remain part of Morocco or become independent was set for 1992 but was repeatedly postponed.
D) Agriculture, Geography, Environment and Biodiversity
6. Shola forests (TH)
- Context: Tropical montane grasslands (TMG) in the Shola Sky Islands of the Western Ghats have suffered big reductions due to invasions by exotic trees such as acacias, pines and eucalyptus, shrinking the range sizes of endemic species, including plants, birds, amphibians and mammals. Some populations are being driven to local extinction.
- But researchers have now identified areas suitable for grassland restoration and conservation to reverse the decline by using remote sensing.
- TMG are high elevation grasslands forming only 2% of all grasslands in the world.
- In India, TMG have even been classified as wastelands in forest management plans since they are unlikely to generate revenue, contrary to the timber (even if exotic) found in forests.
- The study identified areas suitable for montane grassland restoration located in the Nilgiris, the Palani Hills, and the Anamalai.
- Shola forests are tropical Montane forests found in the valleys separated by rolling grasslands only in the higher elevations.
- The shola forests are patches of forests that occur only in the valleys where there is least reach of the fog and mist.
- Other parts of the mountains are covered in grasslands. The trees never grow on the mountain tops.
- Shola forests of Brahmagiri Hills, Karnataka, India
- The Shola forests are generally said to be found in altitudes above 2000 metres of sea-level. Although they are found from altitudes higher than 1600 metres.
- Shola forests are a native only to the Southern Western Ghats. They are found only in the high-altitude mountains of the states Karnataka, Kerala and Tamil Nadu. Nowhere else in the world exist such a kind of forests.
- There are several hypotheses that explain such unique occurrence of grasslands and forest mosaic.
- Some suggest the grasslands were mad-made and controlled by fire and grazing.
- This theory also suggests that the periodic fires ensured that no trees grew in the mountain tops restricting them only to the depressions between the mountains.
- Another theory suggests that the reason why the forests could not survive the mountain tops was due to the excessive frost that exist there.
- The frost does not allow seeds of the Shola species to germinate or the seedlings cannot survive the extreme frost.
- The leaves of the plants get damaged and they cannot sustain there.
- Whereas, in the depressions between the hills, the damage caused by the frost is a lot less compared to the open hill-tops.
- Due to high isolation and unique climatic conditions, the Shola forests are characterised by high endemism.
- The species of plants and animals found here are native to this region (this climatic region to be more specific) and such species cannot be found anywhere else in the world.
- Large animals like Tiger, Elephants, Leopard and Gaurs are also found to inhabit the grassland-shoal complex.
Vulnerability and Current Status:
- There are several reasons for the diminishing shola-grassland complex. They are,
- The Shola tree species have one of the lowest regeneration rates and are very sensitive to climatic conditions which make them very vulnerable.
- Moreover, most Shola trees produce drupaceous fruits which are difficult to produce more number of seeds and there is less way to disperse them successfully.
- These forests and grasslands are being cleared for agriculture. These forests are relatively easy to clear as they constitute mainly of grasslands and trees are generally stunted with no timber value.
- Construction of hill stations is another major threat to these forests. These forests usually exist in higher elevations, these places are unfortunately have suitable climate to be made as Hill stations and tourist spots.
- Mining activities also lead to habitat destruction of the flora and fauna of the Western Ghats.
- Hydroelectric projects and dams are a great threat as it submerges thousands of acres of forests.
- Millions of acres of hill-tops and slopes which were once covered in grasslands and shola forests are now barren tea plantations.
Why are they important?
- The shola forests have high water retention capacity than any other soil. These forests absorb the Monsoon rains and they retain them within their soil. The retained water is then slowly released in the year’s course that feed rivers.
- They are the source of water in rivers live Cauvery, Thamirabarani, Vaigai. These rivers are perennial and they never go dry like the Ganges in the North India. The reason behind this is the presence of Shola forests.
- They are the reason for moderate climates for several cities along their foothills.
- Example – Coimbatore, a city that is near the Western Ghats in Western Tamil Nadu. The city unlike other cities in Tamilnadu enjoys a moderate climate all the year round.
- They are home to several endemic species of plants and animals. Endemic means that they can exist only in that specific region and not found in any other part of the world. Without these forests, they lose their habitat and they will eventually go extinct.
- Shola forest and grassland complex in Grass Hills National Park, Valparai, Tamilnadu, India.
- Sky Islands – The shola forests form unique regions called “Sky Islands” which occur only at higher elevations, are usually isolated and separated from each other and the lowland terrain.
- Each sky island may have a climatic condition that is unique to itself.
- This leads to a great endemism in plants and animals.
- Examples of Sky Islands – Patches of forests that are separated by grasslands have unique characteristics!
- Climatic climax – The shola forest and grassland complex has been described as a climatic climax vegetation with forest regeneration and expansion restricted by climatic conditions such as frost or soil characteristics.
- The soil of the grasslands are usually poor in nutrition and water retention and hence cannot support the shola species.
- While, the soil of the shola forests are highly nutritive and they have high water retention capacity.
- Shola forests are some of the unique gifts that was given to human beings. But we never know the value of things unless we damage it so much that we realise we cannot live without it. This is what is happening in this case and I hope there are steps taken to conserve these forests lately. But they are not enough to repair the huge damage we have caused to them. More awareness needs to be created among the public to join hands to save the unique gift given to us. I hope the Government and people will one day understand about these heavens and they will once again regain their cover over the Western Ghats.
7. Binary star (TH)
- Binary star, pair of stars in orbit around their common centre of gravity. A high proportion, perhaps one-half, of all stars in the Milky Way Galaxy are binaries or members of more complex multiple systems.
8. The Roshni Act (TH)
- The Jammu and Kashmir (J&K) High Court had declared the Roshni Act “unconstitutional” and the State government deemed all actions taken under the Act, originally called the J&K State Land (Vesting of Ownership Rights to the Occupants) Act, 2001, “null and void”.
- Under the Act, all occupants of State land — lease, farm or non-lease land — could apply for regularisation if it was with the occupant up to 1990.