A) Geography, Environment and Biodiversity
Girnar Hills and Gir Range (PIB)
- Context: The Prime Minister inaugurated a 2.3-km-long ropeway project on Mount Girnar in Junagadh city, a major pilgrimage site. The ropeway project is being touted as the longest temple ropeway in Asia.
- Girnar Hills is a physiographic region on the Kathiawar Peninsula, Gujarat.
- At the foot of one of the hills is a rock bearing one of the rock edicts of Ashoka (3rd century BCE).
- The same rock bears an inscription referring to the construction of a lake, called Sudarshana, in the late 4th century BCE by the Mauryan emperor Chandragupta.
- In the hills surrounding these two important historical records are numerous Jaina temples built by kings of the Solanki dynasty (961–1242).
- Gir Range is a low mountain range in western Gujarat state, on the southern Kathiawar Peninsula.
- The range is extremely rugged with a steep slope seaward to the south and a gradual slope inland to the north.
- From it to the north runs a low, narrow, dissected range rising to Gorakhnath (3,665 feet [1,117 metres] high; believed to be an extinct volcano) in the broad mass of the Girnar Hills.
- The hills are inhabited mainly by the Bhil and Dubla peoples.
- The Gir Range is considered to be sacred because of the ancient Jaina temple of Girnar (historically called Raivata or Ujjayanta) situated on one of the hills.
- The Gir National Park, noted for its Asiatic lions, is located in the region.
- The region is famous for embroidering (particularly the widely known Kathiawari pattern).
South Asian Flash Flood Guidance System (FFGS) (TH)
- Context: The India Meteorological Department (IMD) recently launched the South Asian Flash Flood Guidance System (FFGS), which is aimed at helping disaster management teams and governments make timely evacuation plans ahead of the actual event of flooding.
- Recognizing that flash floods have a particularly disastrous impact on lives and properties of the affected populations, the 15th WMO Congress had approved the implementation of a Flash Flood Guidance System (FFGS) project with global coverage.
- The World Meteorological Department (WMO) has entrusted India with the responsibility of the Regional Centre of South Asia Flash Flood Guidance System for coordination, development and its implementation.
- India is leading a delegation of nations, including Sri Lanka, Bangladesh, Bhutan and Nepal, in sharing hydrological and meteorological data towards preparing flash flood forecasts.
- A dedicated FFGS centre will be established in New Delhi, where weather modelling and analysis of rainfall data observations from member countries will be done.
- Based on the rainfall and potential flooding scenario, flash flood warnings will be issued to respective nations.
- Flash flood threat warning will be issued six hours in advance, whereas flood risk warning will be issued 24 hours in advance.
- Warnings about the watershed level will be issued 12 hours in advance.
- Flash floods are sudden surges in water levels during or following an intense spell of rain, occurring in a short time duration over a localized area.
- In the latest incident involving flash floods, Hyderabad city was battered by heavy rain, resulting in massive flooding which inundated roads, earlier this month.
‘Lost’ river found near Bikaner (PIB)
- Researchers have found the evidence of a “lost” river that ran through the central Thar Desert, near Bikaner, as early as 172 thousand years ago, and may have been a life-line to human populations enabling them to inhabit the region.
- The presence of a river running through the central Thar Desert would have offered a life-line to Paleolithic populations.
- The Thar Desert has a rich prehistory, and a wide range of evidence shows how Stone Age populations not only survived but thrived in these semi-arid landscapes.
- The researchers were able to document different phases of river activity by studying the different deposits.
- The researchers used a method called luminescence dating to understand when quartz grains in the river sands were buried.
Himalayan brown bears (TH)
- Context: The study carried out in the western Himalayas by scientists of the Zoological Survey of India (ZSI) predicted a massive decline of 73% of the Himalayan brown bear’s habitat by the year 2050 due to climate change.
- The habitat ranges in which the brown bear is distributed is most vulnerable to global warming as this elevation belt is getting warmer faster than other elevation zones of Himalayas.
- The Himalayan brown bear is one of the largest carnivores in the highlands of the Himalayas.
- Range: North-western and central Himalayas, including Pakistan, India, Nepal, the Tibetan Autonomous Region of China and Bhutan. Populations are present in the Great Himalayan National Park (Himachal Pradesh) and the Deosai National Park, Pakistan.
- Habitat: High altitude open valleys and pastures. During the summer months, the bears move up as high as the snow-line at around 5,500 meters and then descend into the valleys in the autumn.
- Himalayan brown bears are the least arboreal of all the bear subspecies.
- Arboreal animals are creatures who spend the majority of their lives in trees.
- Status: The IUCN list Himalayan brown bears as Endangered, and they are listed under Schedule 1 of the Indian Wildlife (Protection) Act of 1972.
- Life span: 20 to 30 years in the wild.
- Food: Omnivorous, eating grasses, root, bulbs and other plants, insects and small mammals such as marmots, pikas and voles.
- Behaviour: Himalayan brown bears are diurnal (belonging to the daytime). The bears go into hibernation in a cave or dug-out den around October, emerging in April or May.
- During hibernation, the body temperature decreases, the breathing slows down, and the metabolic rate drops.
- Usually, before they go into hibernation, the animals have to increase their body fat to survive, which means eating much more than usual in the months leading up to winter.
- While they’re hibernating, bears live off fat that they build up during the summer and fall months.
- Although hibernation always happens in winter, many different things can act as the actual trigger for animals to start, including temperature drops, decrease in food availability, changes in day length and hormone changes.
- Aestivation is generally defined as a type of dormancy, which is a survival strategy used to sustain lack of food and other extreme conditions.
- Animals that aestivate become inactive and stop feeding in response to warm temperatures.
- Research on aestivation has focused on vertebrates, such as lung fish, amphibians, reptiles, small mammals, and certain invertebrates, such as mollusks.
- The duration of aestivation varies among species; some enter this state for a few months, others for a longer period.
- During aestivation, the animals undergo important physiological and biochemical adjustments, such as changes in energy consumption, metabolic activity, and immune response.
- The decrease in metabolic rate in aestivating animals, which can reach 70–80% of the resting value, and nearly 100% in some species, conserves energy to extend survival time.
Hibernation Vs Aestivation
- The main difference between aestivation and hibernation, aestivation is summer sleep while hibernation is winter sleep in which an organism passes the winter period in dormant condition.
|Basis for comparison||Hibernation||Aestivation (Estivation)|
|Meaning||Hibernation is the type of winter sleep, performed by the warm and cold-blooded animals.||Aestivation is the type of summer sleep, performed by cold-blooded animals.|
|Duration||It is for the whole winter.||It is of short duration.|
|Process||As hibernation is the sleep during the winter, the animals look out for the warmer place, their metabolic activities slow down, and it is the dormant stage.||Aestivation is a summer sleep, so animals search for the moist, shady and cool place to sleep.|
|Examples||Bats, bears, birds, mammals, insects, skunks, bees, snakes, groundhogs etc.||Bees, snails, earthworms, salamanders, frogs, crocodiles, tortoise, etc.|
|Importance||Hibernation helps in maintaining the body temperature and thus avoids from any internal body damage due to low temperatures.||Aestivation also helps in maintaining the body temperature by avoiding the excessive water loss and any internal body damaged due to high temperatures.|
5.India opposes binding pact on open services trade at WTO (IE)
- Context: In an effort to help governments address climate change goals and the global impact of Covid-19, five members — Australia, New Zealand, Switzerland, Canada and Mexico — have pitched for a greater opening of architectural design, engineering, consulting, and construction services at the World Trade Organisation (WTO).
- In their joint paper, Australia, and the four other members, said its objective was to make environmental-related services trade more affordable through the increased market opening by WTO members.
- The pitch, made at the ‘Trade in Services’ negotiations at the WTO this week, led to a mixed reaction from members with India reminding everyone the importance of built-in flexibilities for developing countries provided by the General Agreement for Trade in Service (GATS).
- India informed members that all negotiations in the area of services have to recognise the special status of developing countries and least-developed countries (LDCs) and extend flexibilities to them.
What is Europe’s green deal?
- The European Green Deal aims to transform the 27-country bloc from a high- to a low-carbon economy, without reducing prosperity and while improving people’s quality of life, through cleaner air and water, better health and a thriving natural world.
- The green deal will work through a framework of regulation and legislation setting clear overarching targets – a bloc-wide goal of net zero carbon emissions by 2050, and a 50%-55% cut in emissions by 2030 (compared with 1990 levels) are supposed to be at the core – alongside incentives to encourage private sector investment, with action plans for key sectors and goals such as halting species loss, cutting waste and better use of natural resources.
General Agreement on Trade in Services (GATS): objectives, coverage and disciplines
Click here to get Current Affairs Booster Course
What is the main purpose of the GATS?
- The creation of the GATS was one of the landmark achievements of the Uruguay Round, whose results entered into force in January 1995.
- All WTO members are at the same time members of the GATS and, to varying degrees, have assumed commitments in individual service sectors.
- The GATS distinguishes between four modes of supplying services: cross-border trade, consumption abroad, commercial presence, and presence of natural persons.
- Cross-border supply is defined to cover services flows from the territory of one member into the territory of another member (e.g. banking or architectural services transmitted via telecommunications or mail);
- Consumption abroad refers to situations where a service consumer (e.g. tourist or patient) moves into another member’s territory to obtain a service;
- Commercial presence implies that a service supplier of one member establishes a territorial presence, including through ownership or lease of premises, in another member’s territory to provide a service (e.g. domestic subsidiaries of foreign insurance companies or hotel chains); and
- Presence of natural persons consists of persons of one member entering the territory of another member to supply a service (e.g. accountants, doctors or teachers).
- While services currently account for over two-thirds of global production and employment, they represent no more than 25 per cent of total trade, when measured on a balance-of-payments basis. This — seemingly modest — share should not be underestimated, however.
- Indeed, balance-of-payments statistics do not capture one of the modes of service supply defined in the GATS, which is the supply through commercial presence in another country (mode 3).
- Furthermore, even though services are increasingly traded in their own right, they also serve as crucial inputs into the production of goods and, consequently, when assessed in value-added terms, services account for about 50 per cent of world trade.
What are the basic obligations under the GATS?
- Obligations contained in the GATS may be categorized into two broad groups: general obligations (Most Favoured Nation treatment, Transparency) that apply to all members and services sectors, as well as specific obligations (Market access, National treatment) that apply only to the sectors inscribed in a member’s schedule of commitments. For example, national treatment is a general obligation in goods trade and not negotiable as under the GATS.
- Members are held to extend immediately and unconditionally to services or services suppliers of all other members “treatment no less favourable than that accorded to like services and services suppliers of any other country”.
- This amounts to a prohibition, in principle, of preferential arrangements among groups of members in individual sectors or of reciprocity provisions which confine access benefits to trading partners granting similar treatment.
- Market access is a negotiated commitment in specified sectors. It may be made subject to various types of limitations.
- A commitment to national treatment implies that the member concerned does not operate discriminatory measures benefiting domestic services or service suppliers.
Are there any specific exemptions in the GATS to cater for important national policy interests?
- The GATS permits members in specified circumstances to introduce or maintain measures in contravention of their obligations under the Agreement, including the MFN requirement or specific commitments to:
- protect public morals or maintain public order;
- protect human, animal or plant life or health; or
- secure compliance with laws or regulations not inconsistent with the Agreement including, among other things, measures necessary to prevent deceptive or fraudulent practices.
- Finally, in the event of serious balance-of-payments difficulties members are allowed to temporarily restrict trade, on a non-discriminatory basis, despite the existence of specific commitments.
Are there special provisions for developing countries?
- Developing countries are thus given flexibility for opening fewer sectors, liberalizing fewer types of transactions, and progressively extending market access in line with their development situation.
- Other provisions ensure that developing countries have more flexibility in pursuing economic integration policies, maintaining restrictions on balance of payments grounds, and determining access to and use of their telecommunications transport networks and services.
C) Schemes/Policies/Initiatives/Social Issues
6.National Conference on Vigilance and Anti-Corruption and Vigilance Awareness Week, 2020 (PIB)
- The Prime Minister will inaugurate the National Conference on Vigilance and Anti-Corruption, on the theme: Vigilant India, Prosperous India.
- The Central Bureau of Investigation organizes this National Conference coinciding with ‘Vigilance Awareness Week.’
Vigilance Awareness Week, 2020
- ‘Vigilance Awareness Week’ is observed in India every year from 27thOctober to 2nd November by the Central Vigilance Commission.
- This is observed every year during the week in which the birthday of Sardar Vallabhbhai Patel (31st October) falls.
- This awareness week campaign affirms our commitment to promotion of integrity and probity in public life through citizen participation.
D) Science and Technology/Defence/Space
7.Room temperature superconductivity, possible but under severe pressure (TH)
- Starting from hydrogen sulphide, infamous for its rotten-egg smell, a group of researchers have created a material that is superconducting at 15 degrees Celsius.
- That is, it shows zero resistance to the flow of electricity through it.
- Such a material would have hitherto unheard-of applications from power supplies to quantum computers.
- The only caveat is that it needs ultrahigh pressure of about 2 million atmospheres to achieve this transition, putting off any thoughts of application to the future.
- Until recently, the record holder was Lanthanum superhydride (LaH10). Its Critical temperature(Tc) is about 250 K, which is room temperatures in polar regions!”.
- Critical temperature (Tc) is the highest temperature at which a substance can exist as a liquid.
Three tests to verify a superconductor:
- First, the resistance of the material should fall to a vanishingly small value below the critical temperature, Tc.
- A true superconductor would, if placed in a magnetic field, try to push out the field from its interior. This is called perfect diamagnetism.
- Thirdly, it is known that sufficiently high magnetic fields can destroy superconductivity in a material.
- Today, superconductors are revolutionizing the electric grid, cell phone technology and medical diagnosis.
- Superconducting materials superconduct only when kept below a given temperature called the transition temperature.
- Keeping them below that temperature involves a lot of expensive cryogenic technology. Thus, superconductors still do not show up in most everyday electronics.
- Scientists are working on designing superconductors that can operate at room temperature.
Why is fish smell unpleasant for some people? (TH)
- Researchers have found that some people carry a mutation in a particular gene, called trace amine-associated receptor 5 (TAAR5), that makes fish odour less intense.
- While humans have fewer olfactory genes compared to other species, some of the genetic variations that people do carry makes them more sensitive to particular smells. The researchers say they will continue to collect data on odour perception and have also planned to investigate the smell deficits in COVID-19 patients.
E) International Relations
9.Israel and Sudan to formalize diplomatic ties (TH)
- Context: Sudan and Israel have agreed to normalize relations, in a U.S.-brokered deal to end decades of hostility that was widely welcomed but stirred Palestinian anger.
- The announcement makes Sudan, technically at war with Israel since its 1948 foundation, the fifth Arab country to forge diplomatic relations with the Jewish state.
- Earlier, the United Arab Emirates and Bahrain became only the third and fourth Arab states to agree to normalise ties with Israel, following Israel’s 1979 peace deal with Egypt and a 1994 pact with Jordan.
Arab Peace Initiative
- Till the UAE-Israel deal was announced in August 2020, the official Arab position on the question of Palestine was rooted in the Arab Peace Initiative, proposed by Saudi Arabia in 2002, and endorsed by the Arab League in the same year.
- The proposal calls for normalizing relations between the Arab world and Israel, in exchange for:
- full Israeli withdrawal from the territories it captured in the 1967 war, including the West Bank, Gaza and the Golan Heights,
- a “just settlement” of the Palestinian refugee issue and
- the establishment of an independent Palestinian state with East Jerusalem as its capital.
- Since 2002, both the UAE and Bahrain have supported the Arab Peace Initiative. However, the recent agreements made by Arab nations break with this consensus.
- The Abraham Accords [Israel-UAE deal] require Israel only to ‘temporarily halt’ its formal annexation of the West Bank [settlements].
- As part of the agreement, Israel pledged to suspend annexation of Palestinian lands, although Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu stressed that did not mean it was abandoning plans to one day annex the Jordan Valley and Jewish settlements across West Bank.
- The agreement between Bahrain and Israel dispenses with the pretense altogether, making no mention of Palestinian land.
- The Palestinians have further called for “an immediate emergency session” of the Arab League and the Organization of Islamic Cooperation “to reject this declaration”.
- This leaves the Palestinians more isolated than ever, and further weakens the already-dim prospect of a two-state solution.
- Iran and Turkey accused the United Arab Emirates (UAE) of betraying the Palestinian cause.
- India said it would continue to push for a two-state solution as part of a negotiated settlement between Israel and Palestine.
Arab-Israeli ties have historically been conflict-ridden.
- Arab countries, including Egypt, Transjordan, Syria and Iraq, fought their first war with Israel in 1948 after the formation of the state of Israel was announced.
- The war ended with Israel capturing more territories, including West Jerusalem, than what the UN Partition Plan originally proposed for a Jewish state.
- After that, Israel and Arab states fought three more major wars — the 1956 Suez conflict, the 1967 Six-Day War and the 1973 Yom Kippur War.
- After the 1967 war in which Israel captured the Sinai Peninsula and Gaza Strip from Egypt, East Jerusalem and the West Bank from Jordan and the Golan Heights from Syria, Arab countries convened in Khartoum and declared their famous three “‘Nos’ — no peace with Israel, no talks with Israel and no recognition of Israel”. But it did not last long.
- After the death of Egypt President Gamal Abdel Nasser, his successor Anwar Sadat started making plans to get Sinai back from Israel. His efforts, coupled with American pressure on Israel, led to the Camp David Accords of 1978. A year later, Israel and Egypt concluded their peace treaty, as part of which Israel withdrew from Sinai in return for Egyptian recognition.
- In 1994, Jordan became the second Arab country to sign a peace treaty with Israel. Jordan abandoned its claims to the West Bank and said it would accept a deal between the Palestine Liberation Organization (PLO) and Israel.
- Following the Oslo Accords, under which the PLO recognised Israel and was allowed to form the Palestinian Authority in the West Bank and Gaza, time was ripe for an Israel-Jordan deal.
- The enmity between the two countries came to an end in July 1994 with the Washington Declaration.
Why are the Arab countries signing the agreement with Iran?
- One of the major factors that brought them closer has been their shared antipathy towards Iran.
- Further, this is an election year in the U.S. If a Democratic President comes to power and restores the Iran deal, both the Israeli and the Arab blocs in West Asia would come under pressure to live with an empowered Iran in what President Obama called “cold peace”.
- A formal agreement and enhanced security and economic ties make the Arab and Israeli sides better prepared to face such a situation.
Where does it leave the Palestinians?
- Unlike the past two Arab-Israeli peace agreements, Palestinians do not figure prominently in the current ones.
- When Egypt and Israel made peace, the latter agreed to return the Sinai back to Egypt and signed “A Framework for Peace in the Middle East” agreement, which promised the establishment of an autonomous self-governing authority in the West Bank and Gaza and called for the full implementation of the UNSC Resolution 242 that demanded Israeli withdrawal from the occupied territories.
- The Jordanian-Israeli treaty came after Israel agreed to the formation of the Palestinian Authority in the West Bank and Gaza.
- But in the UAE-Israel deal, Israel has not made any actual concession to the Palestinians. The annexation plan was a threat. The withdrawal of the threat was packaged as a concession, which the Emiratis accepted.
F) Art, Culture and History
10.Evidence of dairy production in the Indus Valley Civilisation (TH)
- Context: The year 2020 marks 100 years of discovery of Indus Valley Civilisation, and a new study by analysing residues on ancient pots has shown that dairy products were being produced by the Harappans as far back as 2500 BCE.
- The studies were carried out on pottery from Kotada Bhadli, a small archeological site in present-day Gujarat.
- The team was also able to show which type of animals were being used for dairy production.
- They studied the tooth enamel from fossils of cattle, water buffalo, goat and sheep found in the area.
- Cows and water buffalo were found to consume millets, while sheep and goats ate nearby grass and leaves.
- A preliminary study suggested that most of the cattle and water-buffalo died at an older age, suggesting they could have been raised for milk, whereas the majority of goat/sheep died when they were young, indicating they could have been used for meat.
- The Harappans did not just use dairy for their household.
- The large herd indicates that milk was produced in surplus so that it could be exchanged and there could have been some kind of trade between settlements.
- This could have given rise to an industrial level of dairy exploitation.
- The most fascinating thing about the Indus Valley Civilisation is that it is faceless — there is no king, no bureaucratic organizations, but there are these very close regional interactions between settlements, a symbiotic relationship of give and take that helped the civilization survive for so long.
11.War memorial at Bum La (PIB)
- A war memorial dedicated to Subedar Joginder Singh, who was decorated with Param Vir Chakra, the highest award for gallantry during the 1962 Sino-India War, was inaugurated at Bum La in Arunachal Pradesh recently. Subedar Joginder Singh belonged to the 1st Battalion of the Sikh Regiment.
- The war memorial has been constructed at the place where he had made the supreme sacrifice.
- The inauguration ceremony coincided with the day on which the Battle of Tongpen La (Bum La) took place in 1962.
- Situated atop over 4,600 meter, Bum La is about 37-km from Tawang, the town bordering China.