A) Agriculture, Geography, Environment and Biodiversity
1. End of the Season—Southwest Monsoon 2020 (PIB)
- Context: National Weather Forecasting Centre of the India Meteorological Department (IMD), has come out with the ‘End of the Season—Southwest Monsoon 2020’.
The report highlights the following significant features:
- The seasonal (June-September) rainfall over the country as a whole was 109% of its Long Period Average (LPA) in 2020.
- It was the third highest after 112% of LPA in 1994 and 110 % of LPA in 2019.
- Southwest monsoon current reached south Andaman Sea and Nicobar Islands on 17th May 2020 (5 days ahead of its normal date), but further advance was sluggish.
- It set in over Kerala on 1st June coinciding with its normal date for onset over Kerala; Monsoon covered the entire country on 26th June 2020; 12 days before its normal date (8th July).
- The Southwest Monsoon withdrew from the entire country on 28th October 2020.
- During the season, one Severe Cyclonic Storm “NISARGA” formed during 1st to 4th June in the Arabian Sea. This year also witnessed absence of monsoon depression during the season.
2. Status of leopards in India, 2018 (PIB)
- Context: India’s world record tiger survey also estimated the population of leopards and the tiger range was found home to 12,852 (12,172-13,535) leopards.
- India now has 12,852 leopards as compared to the previous estimate of 7910 conducted 2014.
- More than 60% increase in population has been recorded.
- The States of Madhya Pradesh, Karnataka and Maharashtra recorded the highest leopard estimates at 3,421, 1,783 and 1,690 respectively.
- The Indian subspecies, Panthera pardus fusca, is found in all forested habitats in the country, absent only in the arid deserts and above the timber line in the Himalayas.
- In the Himalayas they are sympatric (occurring in the same geographical range) with snow leopards (Panthera uncia) upto 5,200 m.
- Leopards are quite adaptable with respect to habitat and food requirements, being found in intensively cultivated and inhabited areas as well as near urban developments.
- They are prolific breeders and are known to grow at an annual rate of over 10% from central India.
- Leopards have experienced a possibly human induced 75-90% population decline in the last ~120-200 years.
- All these have resulted in changing the species status from ‘Near Threatened’ to ‘Vulnerable’ by IUCN.
- It is also listed in Appendix I of the Convention on International Trade of Endangered Species of Wild Fauna and Flora (CITES) and in Schedule I of the Wildlife (Protection) Act 1972 in India providing it with the highest level of protection.
- Despite decreasing numbers and range, their ubiquitous presence across human habitations leads to misconceptions regarding their current abundance.
- Among all the subspecies, Indian leopard retains the largest population size and range outside Africa.
3. Lion-tailed macaque and Bonnet macaque (TH)
- Context: Lion-tailed macaque (Macaca silenus), a primate endemic to small and severely fragmented rainforests of the Western Ghats in Karnataka, Kerala and Tamil Nadu, continues to be in the ‘endangered’ category in the IUCN Red List of Threatened Species.
- As per the technical report, the total wild population of the lion-tailed macaque (LTM) could be about 4,000 individuals consisting of less than 2,500 mature individuals, made up of 47 isolated sub-populations in seven different locations in the three States.
- The population is expected to suffer an estimated decline of over 20% in the next 25 years due to varied reasons including hunting, roadkills and habitat loss.
- Though the conservation status of the LTM had improved from ‘endangered’ in the first assessment in 1990 to ‘vulnerable’ in 1994, its status has remained endangered since 1996.
- The researchers have observed that the population of the mostly shy and frugivorous primate, which prefers upper canopies of evergreen rainforests, was registering a declining trend in LTM’s home range in the Western Ghats hill ranges.
- Fragmentation of the habitat is one of the major threats to the species.
- Capture and release of bonnet macaque from human habitations to the habitat of LTMs could also affect their health as the former primate can cause the spread of novel parasites.
- The lion-tailed macaque is endemic to the rainforests of the Western Ghats and spreads over three States — Tamil Nadu, Karnataka and Kerala.
- Because they only eat fruit and insects, they are restricted to rainforests where these resources are available throughout the year.
- They have a unimale-multifemale social system.
- The species is endemic to the Western Ghats and inhabits only the climax rainforest in the hills of Karnataka, Tamil Nadu and Kerala.
- No other animal species is so typically an inhabitant of the climax rainforest as the lion-tailed macaque.
- This monkey, therefore, is not only an indicator of the health of rainforests, its management in the fragmented habitats also makes it an umbrella species for the conservation of other wildlife species in the region.
- Other Indian macaque species such as rhesus and bonnet are habitat generalists, have annual breeding cycles, attain early sexual maturity and hence, a high population turnover rate.
- Such a strategy in behavioural biology is referred to as R-strategy.
- On the other hand, the lion-tailed macaque is a habitat specialist, has a delayed sexual maturity, a long inter-birth interval, large home ranges and, hence, a low population turn over.
- This is referred to as K-strategy, which makes the macaque an interesting species for a theoretical understanding of behavioural evolution.
- The lion-tailed macaque is primarily a frugivorous/insectivorous species whose diet includes more than 100 types of fruit of the rainforest.
- However, these monkeys do show flexibility in their diet often supplementing it with insects, lizards, frogs, birds and their nestling, and even several species of small mammals.
- The macaque is a typical arboreal species spending over 99 per cent of their time in the rainforest canopy.
- In some disturbed habitats where the canopy contiguity is lost due to logging of mature trees, the animals spend considerable time on the forest floor, which makes them vulnerable to terrestrial predators.
- In the canopy the macaque is sympatric (two populations that could breed but don’t due to various differences) with the Nilgiri langur in the southern ranges of the Western Ghats.
- Studies on such sympatric groups have revealed that an excellent system of resource partitioning has developed between the two species.
- The lion-tailed macaques feed on fruit and insects in the upper canopy, and the Nilgiri langurs feed primarily on leaves and some fruit in the middle or lower canopy, thereby resulting in a vertical stratification in these sympatric species.
- One of the most unusual features of the species’ reproductive behaviour is a ‘staccato’ call emitted by the female which coincides with a rather conspicuous swelling of the skin near the females’ sexual organs at the time of attaining sexual maturity.
- Another unique feature of the monkeys’ social behaviour, documented recently, is the migration of adult males between groups.
- He has cheek pouches which open near the lower teeth and extend down to the sides of the neck. When expanded, these food bags can store as much his stomach can
- The bonnet macaque, on the other hand, is endemic to southern India.
- Occupying an area of over 630,000 square kilometres, they have a total population of over 150,000 individuals.
- They mostly inhabit areas near human settlements, especially temples, roadsides, tourist spots etc.
- The population is declining in some areas, and they have been listed as a “least concern” species by IUCN.
- The study notes that the spread of the more aggressive rhesus macaques (Macaca mulatta) into the range of the bonnet macaque is a matter of concern.
- Their traditional habitats around temples and tourist spots are unstable.
- Removal of tamarind and banyan trees on highways for widening the roads have also resulted in habitat loss.
B) Schemes, Policies, Initiatives, Awards and Social Issues
4. Sagarmala Pariyojana and the concept of “port led development” (PIB)
- Context: The Sagarmala programme is the flagship programme of the Ministry of Shipping to promote port-led development in the country over the period 2015 to 2035 through harnessing India’s 7,500 km long coastline, 14500 km of potentially navigable waterways and strategic location on key international maritime trade routes.
The concept of “port led development”
- The concept of “port led development” is central to the Sagarmala vision.
- Port-led development focuses on logistics intensive industries (where transportation either represents a high proportion of costs, or timely logistics are a critical success factor).
- These industries can be structurally competitive if developed proximate to coast/waterways.
- They would be supported by efficient and modern port infrastructure and seamless multi modal connectivity.
- The population in adjoining areas would be sufficiently skilled to participate in economic opportunities on offer.
Need for Port-Led Development in India
- Approximately 95 % of India’s merchandise trade (by volume) passes through sea ports. However, operational efficiency of Indian ports still lags behind the global average.
- Turnaround time (TAT) at major ports was approximately 2.5 days in 2018-19, whereas global average benchmark is 1-2 days.
- Secondly, last mile connectivity to the ports is one of the major constraints in smooth movement of cargo to/from the hinterland.
- The constraints on connectivity and sub-optimal modal mix results in higher logistics cost thereby affecting the manufacturing sector and export competitiveness.
- The third factor is the location of industries / manufacturing centres vis-à-vis the ports.
- While cost differential between India and China is not significant on a per tonne km basis, China still has a lower container exporting cost, than the cost in India, due to lower lead distances.
- Presence of major manufacturing and industrial zones in coastal regions in China, which were developed as part of the Port-Led Policy of the government is the main reason for lower lead distances.
Vision of Sagarmala Programme
- Vision of the Sagarmala Programme is to reduce logistics cost for export-import (EXIM) and domestic trade with minimal infrastructure investment.
- This includes:
- Reducing cost of transporting domestic cargo through optimizing modal mix
- Lowering logistics cost of bulk commodities by locating future industrial capacities near the coast
- Improving export competitiveness by developing port proximate discrete manufacturing clusters
- Optimizing time/cost of EXIM container movement
Components of Sagarmala Programme
- Port Modernization & New Port Development: De-bottlenecking and capacity expansion of existing ports and development of new greenfield ports
- Port Connectivity Enhancement: Enhancing the connectivity of the ports to the hinterland, optimizing cost and time of cargo movement through multi-modal logistics solutions including domestic waterways (inland water transport and coastal shipping)
- Port-linked Industrialization: Developing port-proximate industrial clusters and Coastal Economic Zones to reduce logistics cost and time of EXIM and domestic cargo
- Coastal Community Development: Promoting sustainable development of coastal communities through skill development & livelihood generation activities, fisheries development, coastal tourism etc.
- Coastal Shipping & Inland Waterways Transport: Impetus to move cargo through the sustainable and environment-friendly coastal and inland waterways mode.
New Greenfield ports are proposed to be developed at
- Vadhavan (Maharashtra)
- Tajpur (West Bengal)
- Paradip Outer Harbour (Odhisha)
- Cuddalore/Sirkazhi (Tamil Nadu)
- Belikeri (Karnataka)
- Enayam (Tamil Nadu)
- To augment transhipment capacity in the country, Vizhinjam (Kerala) and Enayam (Tamil Nadu) are being developed as transhipment ports.
- Increasing the share of coastal shipping and inland navigation in the transport modal mix is one of the key objectives of the Sagarmala Programme.
- In order to equip ports for movement of coastal cargo, the scope of coastal berth scheme has been expanded and merged with Sagarmala Programme.
- Under the scheme, the financial assistance of 50% of project cost is provided to Major Ports/State Governments for construction of Coastal Berths, Breakwater, mechanization of coastal berths and capital dredging.
- The Ministry of Shipping’s flagship programme for port-led-prosperity ‘Sagarmala’ received the ‘Gold Award’in infrastructure sector in the 52nd Skoch Summit 2018.
- The Skoch Awards recognize leadership and excellence in accelerating socio-economic changes.
- These awards have become a benchmark of best practices in India in the fields of governance, infrastructure, finance, banking, technology, corporate citizenship, economics and inclusive growth.
Project Unnati – Operational Efficiency Improvement
- Under Project Unnati, the global benchmarks were adopted to improve the efficiency and productivity for 12 major ports.
The growth of India’s maritime sector is constrained due to:
- involvement of multiple agencies in development of infrastructure to promote industrialization, trade, tourism and transportation;
- presence of a dual institutional structure that has led to development of major and non-major ports as separate, unconnected entities;
- lack of requisite infrastructure for evacuation from major and non-major ports leading to sub-optimal transport modal mix;
- limited hinterland linkages that increase the cost of transportation and cargo movement;
- limited development of centres for manufacturing and urban and economic activities in the hinterland;
- low penetration of coastal and inland shipping in India;
- limited mechanization and procedural bottlenecks and lack of scale, deep draft and other facilities at various ports in India.
Do you know?
- Against a share of 9 percent of railways and 6 percent of roads in the GDP the share of ports is only 1 percent.
- There are 12 Major ports in India
5. Recognition of Prior Learning (RPL) Program (PIB)
- Context: Ministry of Skill Development and Entrepreneurship (MSDE) is conducting a Special Recognition of Prior Learning (RPL) program for workers.
- The programme is being implemented under World Bank supported schemes – Skills Acquisition and Knowledge Awareness for Livelihood Promotion (SANKALP) Programme of MSDE.
- The implementing agency for the programme is National Skill Development Corporation (NSDC).
- Recognition of Prior Learning (RPL) programme recognizes the value of learning acquired outside a formal setting and provides a government certificate for an individual’s skills.
- Candidates receive exposure to concepts of digital and financial literacy and an accidental insurance coverage for three years at free of cost.
- No fee is charged from a candidate for participating in the RPL program and every successfully certified candidate will receive INR 500.
- This initiative is part of a larger programme on ‘Skill Development Planning at the level of ‘Gram Panchayat’ that focuses on introducing Recognition of Prior Learning (RPL) in a structured manner in GPs of various districts across the country.
C) Art, Culture and History
6. Dhokra: The Traditional Art of Metal Casting from Bengal (PIB)
- Context: Exquisite Dhokra products from different tribes of India were among the main items added in its 7th edition of “From Our Home to your Home” campaign on Tribes India, which focusses on sourcing new, natural, attractive as well as immunity-boosting tribal products and bringing them to the customer.
- Dhokra is a non-ferrous metal casting style which uses the lost-wax technique. This style of metal casting has been in vogue in all parts of India for centuries. The dhokra products reflect the simplicity and motifs of tribal and folk life and make for excellent gifting options.
- Brass craft has made a significant change within the artwork created by the artisans in India.
- West Bengal in particular has been using the ancient metal casting technique of Dhokra to facilitate the use of brass.
- A non-ferrous metal casting using the lost-wax casting technique, Dhokra has been used for over 4,000 years in India.
- The term “Dhokra” has been named after the Dhokra Damar tribes, the traditional metalsmiths from West Bengal and Odisha.
- This ancient art form has been known to the people of India since the Indus Valley Civilization.
- One of the oldest Dhokra artifacts is the dancing girl of Mohenjo-Daro.
- An essential distinction between Dhokra art and various other art forms found in the nearby states of West Bengal is that the Dhokra art pieces are adorned with thin, twisted brass wires that carve out various recognizable shapes giving it a rustic look.
- The lost-wax technique, called cire perdue in French, is a metallurgical art form that is at once one of the oldest and the most advanced.
- Apart from India it was used in ancient Egypt, Mesopotamia, China and Greece.
Early India chronology
- 7000BC: Advent of agriculture, animal husbandry and settled life. Neolithic revolution
- 4000BC: Use of copper c.3500BC Making of bronze alloy by smelting copper and tin ore together
- 1000BC: Iron metallurgy
- 100BC: Zinc metallurgy. Making of brass alloy of mixing pure copper and pure zinc
D) Science and Technology, Defence, Space
7. Jupiter-Saturn great conjunction (IE)
- Context: After nearly 400 years, Saturn and Jupiter – the two largest planets in our solar system – will be brought closest in the night sky by an astronomical event called the “great conjunction” and popularly referred to as the “Christmas Star”.
- On December 21, almost all the viewers across the world will be able to see the two gas giants very close to each other, while they will still be hundreds of millions of miles apart in space.
- The event will coincide with the winter solstice (shortest day of the year in terms of hours of sunlight received) in the Northern Hemisphere and summer solstice in the Southern Hemisphere.
- A conjunction is not unique to Saturn and Jupiter however, it is the name given to any event where planets or asteroids appear to be very close together in the sky when viewed from the Earth.
- Astronomers use the word “great” for the conjunction of Jupiter and Saturn because of the planets’ sizes.
- The “Great Conjunction” happens once in about 20 years because of the time each of the planets take to orbit around the Sun.
- Jupiter takes roughly 12 years to complete one lap around the Sun and Saturn takes 30 years (Saturn has a larger orbit and moves more slowly because it is not as strongly influenced by the Sun’s gravitational force as planets that are closer to the Sun).
- As the two planets move along their orbits, every two decades, Jupiter catches up with Saturn resulting in what astronomers call the great conjunction.
Why makes the conjunction rare this year?
- While Jupiter and Saturn have been moving along on their orbits all throughout this year, since the beginning of December Jupiter has been moving closer to Saturn and on December 21, it will take over Saturn as it orbits around the Sun.
- Jupiter and Saturn are bright planets and can be typically seen with the naked eye even from cities. But during a conjunction, they appear to be close to each other, which is what makes the event noteworthy.
- This year, however, the event is rare because the planets will come the closest to each other in nearly four centuries, a result of a “rare alignment” of the planets.
- Further, this year, the alignment of Saturn and Jupiter will occur at night, which has not happened in over 800 years. It is because of the timing of this alignment that viewers from nearly all over the world can expect to see this event.
How can viewers spot the great conjunction?
- Viewers across the world, except those in Antarctica where it is sunny all day at this time and those in areas where the sky is overcast, should be able to see the conjunction with the naked eye all month long.
- But on the night of December 21, the planets will be the closest and a tenth of a degree apart, which means the patch of the sky.
- In 1610, Italian astronomer Galileo Galilei discovered the four moons of Jupiter – Io, Europa, Ganymede and Callisto. In the same year he also discovered the rings surrounding Saturn.
E) Polity, Bills, Acts and Judgments
8. What is Inner Line Permit, what is its CAA context? (TH)
- The first-ever entry-exit point for visitors and tourists in Meghalaya was inaugurated by Deputy Chief Minister at Umling in Ri-Bhoi district.
- The move comes at a time when the Northeastern State is witnessing protests by civil organisations demanding swift implementation of Inner Line Permit (ILP) to check influx of illegal immigrants into the State.
- Please refer 13th Dec file for details.
F) International Relations
9. Paris Club (TH)
- Context: The Government of Pakistan has successfully negotiated and concluded rescheduling agreements with 19 bilateral creditors, including members of the Paris club
- The Paris Club is an informal group of official creditors whose role is to find coordinated and sustainable solutions to the payment difficulties experienced by debtor countries.
- As debtor countries undertake reforms to stabilize and restore their macroeconomic and financial situation, Paris Club creditors provide an appropriate debt treatment.
- There are 22 permanent members of the Paris Club, and other official bilateral creditors may participate. Paris Club permanent members are: Australia, Austria, Belgium, Brazil, Canada, Denmark, Finland, France, Germany, Ireland, Israel, Italy, Japan, Korea, Netherlands, Norway, Russian Federation, Spain, Sweden, Switzerland, United Kingdom, United States of America.
- (INDIA and CHINA are not its members)
How can a debtor country have its debt treated by the Paris Club?
- Paris Club creditors provide debt treatments to debtor countries, which is debt relief by postponement or in the form of rescheduling or reduction in debt service obligations during a defined period (flow treatment) or as of a set date (stock treatment).
- It provides debt restructuring only to debtor countries that need debt relief and that have implemented and are committed to implementing the reforms necessary to restore their economic and financial situation (This means in practice that the country must have a current program with the IMF supported by a conditional arrangement).