A) Agriculture, Geography, Environment and Biodiversity
1. The rise of the ‘wild’ Arunachal kiwi (IE)
- Context: Arunachal is first in the country to obtain organic certification for kiwi under Mission Organic Value Chain Development for North East Region (MOVCD-NER), a scheme for the northeastern states by the Ministry of Agriculture & Farmers’ Welfare, making it the only certified organic fruit of their kind in the country.
- Kiwis of Ziro Valley — located in Lower Subansiri district — were certified as organic following a standard three-year-process.
- An agricultural practice/product is considered organic when there are no chemical fertilisers or pesticides involved in its cultivation process.
- Such certifications in India can be obtained after strict scientific assessment done by the regulatory body, Agricultural and Processed Food Products Export Development Authority (APEDA).
- The kiwifruit (Actinidia deliciosa Chev.) is a “deciduous fruiting vine native to Yangtze river valley of south and central China.”
- It is also called “China’s miracle fruit” and “Horticulture wonder of New Zealand”.
- Kiwifruit vine originated in China, but its full economic potential was exploited by the New Zealanders, which accounts for over 70 per cent of world trade.
- In Arunachal Pradesh, a domesticated variety of kiwi was introduced as a commercial fruit only in 2000.
- Arunachal Pradesh accounts for 50 per cent of the country’s kiwi production.
- Like Meghalaya is known for lakadong turmeric, Manipur is known for black rice, Arunachal Pradesh should be known for kiwi.
- Food Safety and Standards Authority of India (FSSAI) has the mandate to regulate manufacture, distribute, sell or import “organic foods” in India under the Food Safety and Standards (Organic Foods) Regulations, 2017 notified under the provisions of the Food Safety Standards Act, 2006.
- Non-food items are not covered under the mandate of FSS Act, 2006.
Which systems of certification are recognized in the Food Safety and Standards (Organic Foods) Regulations, 2017?
- The Food Safety and Standards (Organic Foods) Regulations, 2017 recognize already established two systems of certification i.e.:
- Participatory Guarantee System (PGS) implemented by Ministry of Agriculture and Farmers Welfare, and
- National Programme for Organic Production (NPOP) implemented by Ministry of Commerce and Industry.
- The Accredited Certification Bodies in case of NPOP and Local Group in case of PGS-India are responsible for certifying the Organic Food.
- If a food is marked ‘organic’, it does not mean it does not contain insecticides, and contaminants. However, their limit is regulated.
- Ministry of Commerce has implemented the National Programme for Organic Production (NPOP) since 2001.
- Fruits, vegetables, fibre and animal products which do not contain chemical pesticides, fertilizers, genetically-modified organisms and induced hormones can be certified as organic food in India.
Paramparagat Krishi Vikas Yojana
- “Paramparagat Krishi Vikas Yojana” of the Ministry of Agriculture & Farmers Welfare is an elaborated component of National Mission of Sustainable Agriculture (NMSA).
- Under PKVY Organic farming is promoted through adoption of organic village by cluster approach and Participatory Guarantee System (PGS)
- Expected outcomes
- Promotion of commercial organic production through certified organic farming.
- The produce will be pesticide residue free and will contribute to improve the health of consumer.
- It will raise farmer’s income and create potential market for traders.
- It will motivate the farmers for natural resource mobilization for input production.
- Programme implementation
- Fifty or more farmers will form a cluster having 50 acre land to take up the organic farming under the scheme. In this way during three years 10,000 clusters will be formed covering 5.0 lakh acre area under organic farming.
- There will be no liability on the farmers for expenditure on certification.
- Every farmer will be provided Rs. 20,000 per acre in three years for seed to harvesting of crops and to transport produce to the market.
- Organic farming will be promoted by using traditional resources and the organic products will be linked with the market.
Organic Farming Policy of 2005
- Maintenance of soil fertility by encouraging and enhancing the biological cycle within farming systems involving micro-organisms, soil flora and fauna, plants and animals.
- Identification of areas and crops suitable for organic farming.
- Setting up of model organic farms for getting seed material for organic cultivation.
- Assurance of production and supply of quality organic input.
- Adoption of biological methods for pest and disease control.
- Promotion of group certification.
- Improvement in condition of livestock that allow them to perform all aspects of their innate behaviour.
- Since the launch of the Organic Farming Policy of 2005, there has been an increase in the area under organic farming by about 70 percent. Sikkim is now a fully organic state.
- So, despite accusations that the PKVY is merely a repackaging of previously existing schemes, it really is a more focused and targeted approach towards promotion of organic farming techniques and benefits.
Sikkim, India’s first ‘fully organic’ state wins FAO’S Future Policy Gold Award 2018 (IE)
- India’s first “100 per cent organic state” Sikkim has won the “Oscar for best policies”, conferred by the Food and Agriculture Organisation (FAO) for the world’s best policies promoting agroecological and sustainable food systems.
- Sikkim is the first organic state in the world. All of its farmland is certified organic.
- Organic Agriculture means no synthetic external inputs such as chemicals, fertilizers, pesticides and synthetic hormones or Genetically Modified Organisms (GMOs) have been used in agricultural production.
- Note: Manure contains large quantities of organic matter and small quantities of nutrients. It increases the water holding capacity of sandy soil.
B) Polity, Bills, Acts and Judgments
2. None Of The Above (NOTA) (TH)
- Context: A petition has been moved in the Supreme Court seeking directions to the Election Commission of India to use its plenary power conferred under Article 324 of the Constitution to nullify the election results and hold a fresh election if maximum votes have been polled in favour of NOTA (none of the above) in a particular constituency.
- The plea also sought directions to restrict the candidates, who have participated in the invalidated election, from taking part in the fresh election to be held in the particular constituency.
What is NOTA?
- This was introduced to give voters a right to reject the candidates put up by the political parties.
- Electronic voting machines (EVM) in India have the ‘None Of The Above’ (NOTA) button at the bottom of the list of candidates.
- None of the Above (NOTA) option also has a symbol to facilitate the voter to exercise the NOTA option.
- A candidate belonging to a particular political party fights on the party’s symbol.
- An independent candidate fights on the symbol allotted to him by the Election Commission of India.
- The NOTA option is meant only for universal adult suffrage and direct elections.
- The option is available to the public only during Lok Sabha, State Assembly and Panchayat and Municipal body elections.
- Implementing the Supreme Court order, the Election Commission of India (ECI) withdrew the provision of None Of The Above (NOTA) from elections to Rajya Sabha and Legislative Council in states.
How is a NOTA vote cast?
- The EVMs have the NOTA option at the end of the candidates’ list.
- Earlier, in order to cast a negative ballot, a voter had to inform the presiding officer at the polling booth.
- A NOTA vote doesn’t require the involvement of the presiding officer.
When was NOTA first used in India?
- The EC, on the directions of the SC, introduced the NOTA option for the first time in the 2013 Assembly elections of Chhattisgarh, Mizoram, Rajasthan, Delhi and Madhya Pradesh.
- In 2014, the EC introduced the option in the Rajya Sabha and Lok Sabha elections.
There was a similar provision before NOTA. What was it?
- The voters had the right of choosing none of the contesting candidates earlier as well. But before introduction of NOTA, a voter had to inform the polling officer of her decision, as per Rule 49 O of the Representation of People’s Act. The polling officer would then record her vote in Form 17 and take the signature or thumb impression of the voter.
- This provision went against the basic principle of secret voting as practiced in India, according to Section 128 of the Representation of People’s Act. The voter’s choice of not voting for any of the candidates could not be kept secret as the ballot paper bearing her name and signature would be enumerated along with counting of other votes. NOTA restored secret ballot in election.
How are 49(O) and NOTA different?
- The Section 49 (O) stood annulled after the SC cleared the NOTA provision.
- It gave the poll officials a chance to find out the reason behind the rejection of a candidate through the voter’s remarks in Form 17A.
- Through NOTA, the officials cannot find out the reason for the rejection.
- Moreover, it protects the identity of a voter, thus keeping the concept of secret balloting intact.
What difference does NOTA make?
- The NOTA option cannot impact the results of the elections.
- The NOTA option on EVMs has no electoral value.
- Even if the maximum number of votes cast is for NOTA, the candidate getting the most of the remaining votes would be declared winner.
- NOTA votes are treated as invalid or no votes.
- It is not a negative vote, but a neutral one that records a voter’s rejection of candidates.
- In the recent past, State Election Commissions in Maharashtra and Haryana ruled that fresh polls would be held if more votes were cast for NOTA. But this was restricted to municipal and panchayat elections and it’s not clear if this would stand up to legal scrutiny.
Red Alert Constituencies
- These are those which have 3 or more candidates with criminal cases contesting elections.
3. Can a disqualified MLA become a Minister? (TH)
- Context: In a major blow to BJP MLC A H Vishwanath, the Karnataka High Court has held that his disqualification as MLA under the anti-defection law continues and hence, he cannot be appointed as a minister.
- The Court said Vishwanath has incurred disqualification under Article 164 (1) (b) and Article 361 (B) of the Constitution, till the expiry of the term of the Legislative Council-May 2021.
- The Court said the Chief Minister will have to take into account the issue of disqualification of Vishwanath.
- Even if recommendation is made by the Chief Minister, then the Governor is bound to consider the aspect of disqualification incurred by A H Vishwanath.
- A disqualified member of the Assembly will have to get re-elected to the same House during the same period in which he was disqualified, by contesting in an election from the Assembly constituency if he wishes to become eligible to be appointed as a Minister, the petitioner said.
- Vishwanath was among the 17 MLAs who were disqualified from the Karnataka assembly, which led to the fall of the Congress and JD(S) coalition government, led by H D Kumaraswamy.
- After his disqualification, Vishwanath joined the BJP. Vishwanath contested the December 2019 assembly by-polls unsuccessfully.
- He was made MLCs by the BJP.
- Article 164 (1) (b): A member of the Legislative Assembly of a State or either House of the Legislature of a State having Legislative Council belonging to any political party who is disqualified for being a member of that House under the Tenth Schedule shall also be disqualified to be appointed as a Minister for duration of the period commencing from the date of his disqualification till the date on which the term of his office as such member would expire or where he contests any election to the Legislative Assembly of a State or either House of the Legislature of a State having Legislative Council, as the case may be, before the expiry of such period, till the date on which he is declared elected, whichever is earlier.
- Article 361 (B): A member of a House belonging to any political party who is disqualified for being a member of the House under the Tenth Schedule shall also be disqualified to hold any remunerative political post for duration of the period commencing from the date of his disqualification till the date on which the term of his office as such member would expire or till the date on which he contests an election to a House and is declared elected, whichever is earlier.
- Note: Tenth Schedule of the Constitution for Defection and Disqualifications for membership was covered comprehensively in 28th Oct file.
C) Science and Technology, Defence, Space
4. Explained: What is the emergency use authorisation drug makers are seeking for the Covid-19 vaccine? (IE)
- Context: Moderna to seek U.S. and European emergency authorisation for its COVID-19 vaccine authorisation.
- Results from late-stage study show a 94.1% efficacy rate, consistent across age, race and ethnicity.
- This sets Moderna’s product up to be the second vaccine likely to receive U.S. emergency use authorisation this year following a shot developed by Pfizer and BioNTech, which had a 95% efficacy rate.
- The vaccines developed by both Moderna and Pfizer/BioNTech use a new technology called synthetic messenger RNA (mRNA) whereas others, such as Britain’s AstraZeneca, are using more traditional methods.
- Vaccines, like medicines, require the approval of a regulatory authority before these can be administered.
- In India, the top regulatory authority is the Central Drugs Standard Control Organisation, or CDSCO.
What is emergency use authorisation (EUA)?
- In the case of vaccines, and also medicines, the approval is granted after an assessment of its safety and effectiveness, based on data generated from trials on animals and human beings.
- In fact, an approval from the regulator is required at every stage of these trials.
- This long process is designed to ensure that a medicine or vaccine is absolutely safe and effective. In fact, the fastest approval for any vaccine till now came about four and a half years after it was developed. This was for a vaccine for mumps, granted in the 1960s.
- But in emergency situations, like the current one, regulatory authorities around the world have developed mechanisms to grant interim approvals to medicines, vaccines, and other medical products, if there is sufficient evidence to suggest that these are safe and effective, and would help in dealing with the emergency.
- A final approval is granted only after the completion of the trials and analysis of complete data, but in the meanwhile, an emergency use authorisation enables the medicine or the vaccine to be used on the public.
- EUAs are granted to medicines, vaccines, or other medical products only if they do not have any approved alternatives available in adequate quantities.
- EUA can be considered only after sufficient efficacy data from phase-3 trials had been generated.
- An EUA cannot be granted only on the basis of data from phase-1 or phase-2 trials.
Has EUA been granted earlier?
- EUA is a relatively recent phenomenon, first EUA for civilian population in 2009 allowed the use of Tamiflu drug for infants and young children for the treatment of H1N1 infection.
- Since then, several EUAs have been granted, for medicines, diagnostics, and medical devices and equipment, like ventilators or even PPEs, but never for a vaccine.
- An EUA can be granted only when there is a declared public health emergency.
- The previous EUAs came during the emergencies like the ones triggered by the spread of the Ebola virus, Zika virus and Middle East Respiratory Syndrome (MERS) coronavirus.
- Several EUAs have been granted during the current pandemic as well. Drugs like remdesivir or faviparir have received emergency use authorisation for treatment of Covid-19 disease in India as well.
- These drugs were approved for other ailments, but could not be administered to Covid-19 patients without going through extensive trials.
- However, they showed promise in limited testing, in certain specified conditions, and were therefore “repurposed” for Covid-19 patients through EUAs.
What risks are involved in consuming products that have only been granted EUAs?
- Public has to be informed that a certain medicine, vaccine or medical product has only been granted an EUA and not a full approval. In the case of Covid-19 vaccine, for example, people have to be informed about the known and potential benefits and risks, and the “extent to which such benefits or risks are unknown”, and that they have a right to refuse the vaccine.
- Similar practices are expected to be followed in other countries, including India, as well.
Whether people have the option to refuse taking the vaccine?
- There has been an ongoing debate over whether people have the option to refuse taking
- the vaccine. Incidentally, no country has made vaccination compulsory for its people.
- Initially, all the vaccines are likely to be deployed on emergency use authorisations only. It may be several months or years before these vaccines get final approvals from their respective regulatory authorities.
- Note: mRNA (or messenger ribonucleic acid) vaccine was covered in detail in 11th Nov file.
5. Australia partners with US to develop hypersonic missiles (IE)
- Context: Australia will jointly develop hypersonic cruise missiles with the United States in a bid to counter China and Russia which are developing similar weapons.
- Australia’s collaboration with the United States on missile development could
- inflame tensions with China.
- Last year Russia deployed its first hypersonic nuclear-capable missiles.
- China has deployed, or is close to deploying, hypersonic systems armed with conventional Warheads.
- Hypersonic missiles are capable of travelling at more than five times the speed of sound (Mach 5) and the combination of speed, manoeuvrability and altitude makes them difficult to track and intercept.
- There are generally two categories of hypersonic weapons:
- cruise missiles powered by engines
- glide vehicles (similar to ballistic missile), which are launched nearly into space before diving back down to their targets.
- Hypersonic missiles travel at speeds faster than 3,800 miles per hour or 6,115 km per hour, much faster than other ballistic and cruise missiles.
- They can deliver conventional or nuclear payloads within minutes.
- They are highly manoeuvrable and do not follow a predictable arc as they travel.
- They are said to combine the speed of ballistic missiles with the manoeuvring capabilities of cruise missiles.
- In India, Defence Research and Development Organisation (DRDO) recently successfully flight tested the Hypersonic Technology Demonstrator Vehicle (HSTDV) – an unmanned scramjet vehicle with a capability to travel at six times the speed of sound, making India the fourth country in the world after the US, China and Russia to develop such technology.
Hypersonic Technology Demonstrator Vehicle (HSTDV) is a precursor to a hypersonic missile.
Difference Between Ballistic Missiles and Cruise Missiles
- Ballistic missiles are powered initially by a rocket or series of rockets in stages (first stage), but then follow an unpowered (without fuel) curved trajectory mostly above the atmosphere (second stage) before descending to reach its intended target (third stage). Thus, Ballistic missiles have three stages of flight.
- A ballistic missile is only guided during the initial short boost phase, but minor corrections can be made by means of control motors.
- Ballistic missiles can carry either nuclear or conventional warheads.
- Ballistic missiles with range less than 1,000 kilometers are also known as “tactical” ballistic missiles.
- Ballistic missiles with range between 1,000 and 3,000 kilometers are also known as “theater” ballistic missiles.
- Ballistic missiles whose range is more than 5,500 kilometers (approximately 3,410 miles) are also known as intercontinental or strategic ballistic missiles.
- Ballistic missiles first came into use during World War II, when the Germans used them to attack London.
- They can be launched from ground, air, sea or submarine platforms.
- Cruise missiles are unmanned vehicles that are propelled by jet engines, much like an airplane.
- They can be launched from ground, air, sea or submarine platforms.
- Cruise missiles remain within the atmosphere for the duration of their flight and can fly as low as a few meters off the ground.
- Flying low to the surface of the earth expends more fuel but makes a cruise missile very difficult to detect.
- Cruise missiles are self-guided and use multiple methods to accurately deliver their payload, including terrain mapping, global positioning systems (GPS) and inertial guidance.
6. Neutrinos (TH)
- Scientists may soon find a clue to how stars explode due to neutrinos, one of the most abundant particles in the universe.
- These sub atomic particles are extremely difficult to detect because of their limited interactions with matter.
- However, they are very important to the study of supernovas or powerful luminous stellar explosions, because they power the explosion and provide an early warning signal that allows scientists to look in the right direction before the supernova explosion takes place.
- Note: Indian Neutrino Observatory and Neutrinos were covered in 22nd Sep file.
7. Hualong One (TH)
- China has powered up its first domestically developed nuclear reactor — the Hualong One — a significant step in Beijing’s attempts to become less dependent on Western allies for energy security and critical technology.
- Billions of dollars in state subsidies have been given to Chinese companies to speed the process — a move that has angered China’s trade partners and sparked a protracted trade row with Washington.
- China has 47 nuclear plants with a total generation capacity of 48.75 million kilowatts — the world’s third highest after the U.S. and France.
8. Honey Mission (PIB)
- The Honey Mission launched by Khadi and Village Industries Commission (KVIC) 3 years ago aims at creating employment for farmers, Adivasis, women and unemployed youth by roping them with beekeeping and increasing India’s honey production.
- KVIC has distributed more than 1 lakh bee boxes in different states under this Mission.
9. Project DigniTEA (PIB)
- Under this project, cycle-mounted tea/coffee selling units are being distributed to unemployed local youths by the Khadi and Village Industries Commission (KVIC).