SCIENCE AND TECHNOLOGY JULY 2016

Green light for Afforestation Fund Bill

  • The Rajya Sabha unanimously passed the contentious Compensatory and Afforestation Fund (CAF) Bill, 2016 that allows States to access nearly Rs. 42,000 crore and channel into afforestation projects.

Salient Features

  • The Bill establishes the National Compensatory Afforestation Fund under the Public Account of India, and a State Compensatory Afforestation Fund under the Public Account of each state.
  • These Funds will receive payments for:
  1. compensatory afforestation,
  2. net present value of forest (NPV), and
  3.  other project specific payments.
  • The National Fund will receive 10% of these funds, and the State Funds will receive the remaining 90%.
  • These Funds will be primarily spent on afforestation to compensate for loss of forest cover, regeneration of forest ecosystem, wildlife protection and infrastructure development.
  • The Bill also establishes the National and State Compensatory Afforestation Fund Management and Planning Authorities to manage the National and State Funds.

Concerns

  • greater powers in the forest bureaucracy than to resident tribals- the possible violation of tribal rights under Forest Rights Act (FRA) 2006
  • Even though both the Kanchan Chopra Committee and the IIFM Committee on Forest NPV (value of loss of forest ecosystem) clearly mention that communities must be compensated for the loss of forests, the CAF bill is totally silent about their rights and compensation.
  • gram panchayats not having the final say in deciding what kind of forests could be grown
  • doubts on whether it would lead to an ecologically-sustainable replenishing of forests. Official records show that 19.4 million hectares has been afforested by the forest department over the last decade but forest cover has barely increased,
  • A 2013 CAG report noted that state forest departments lack the planning and implementation capacity to carry out compensatory afforestation and forest conservation. With the share of funds transferred to states increasing from 10% to 90%, effective utilisation of these funds will depend on the capacity of state forest departments.

Background

  • The Compensatory Afforestation, Management and Planning Authority (CAMPA) has over the years accumulated a staggering Rs 41,000 crore as recompense for forest land having been diverted for non-forestry purposes.
  • The amount is calculated on the Net Present Value (NPV) of the diverted forest and the cost of afforestation; it ranges between Rs 5-11 lakh per hectare depending on the type and condition of a forest.
  • The fund of Rs.42,000 crore has been collected in lieu of forest land diverted under the Forest (Conservation) Act, 1980, for non-forest purposes such as industrial projects like mining.
  • Of the Rs.42,000 crore, Odisha, Chhattisgarh, Madhya Pradesh, Jharkhand, Maharashtra, Andhra Pradesh  and Uttarakhand are expected to be the biggest beneficiaries.

You can soon walk in the pristine forests of Bhimgad National Park

  • By the end of October or first week of November, one can trek in the pristine forests of Bhimgad National Park. And the lucky ones can also chance upon a tiger or a black panther.
  • The forest department will throw open untouched forests of Bhimgad National Park in Khanapur taluk of Belagavi district to nature lovers, who can trek for almost 10.5 kilometres in dense forest with trained guides.
  • Setting up tents and other facilities for visitors has been taken up on a war footing at Hemmadaga camp (Bhimgad Nature’s Camp), the base camp of the national park.
  • The forest department will set up four deluxe tents and one dormitory. A maximum of 50 people can be accommodated at the camp.
  • Unlike in any other national parks, where the safari is in jeeps, here at Hemmadaga, visitors will be taken into the forest by foot. This will reduce the carbon foot print on the forest and also help people watch the forest up and close
  • At present, the forest department has identified four trekking routes in the forest. The registration for trekking is online (www.ecotrails.in) and is said to cost anywhere between Rs 1,200 and Rs 1,600 per person including accommodation, food and guide fee
  • Soon, a phone based app —ecotrip — is also being launched by the forest department giving details of eco-tourism in the state
  • Bhimgad is a rich bio-diversity spot and is a catchment area of several rivers including the Mahadayi. Visitors have the privilege of watching rare giant trees, rare orchids, medicinal plants and can also chance upon endangered frogs, king cobras, barking deer and big cats like black panthers, tigers or leopards.
  • However, trekkers will not be allowed to visit the caves where endangered Wroughton’s free-tailed bats survive.

Did you Know?

  • Bhimgad Wildlife Sanctuary is a protected area in the Western Ghats, in Khanapur Taluk of Belgaum District near Jamboti Village, Karnataka.
  • This 19,042.58 ha (73.5238 sq mi) of Tropical and subtropical moist broadleaf forests forest area
  • It has been declared a wild life sanctuary in December 2011.
  • The Bhimgad forests are notable for the Barapede caves, the only known breeding area of the Wroughton’s free-tailed bat, a threatened species on the verge of extinction. The sanctuary is also home to other rare species of flora and fauna.

Wroughton’s free-tailed bat

  • Wroughton’s free-tailed bat (Otomops wroughtoni) is a free-tailed bat formerly considered to be confined to the Western Ghats area of India, though it has also recently been discovered in northeast India and in a remote part of Cambodia.
  • It was listed as a critically endangered species due to habitat loss and a restricted range
  • In India, the species is found in two locations in the southern Indian state of Karnataka and in Meghalaya in northeast India.
  • In Karnataka, it is found in the Barapede Caves, located between Krishnapur and Talewadi, in Belgaum district, adjacent to the Bhimgad Wildlife Sanctuary near the state of Goa and was the only known location of this species for years
  • Members of the family Molossidae roost in caves, hollow trees and human-made structures. Populations of this bat have been found in large natural caves, situated near forested areas
  • This species was considered to be one of the 15 most critically endangered bat species until the two new colonies were discovered. The new discoveries have given researchers cause to hope that the species could be distributed much more widely than is known today. However, the species is extremely vulnerable to habitat destruction and roost disturbance, and the Western Ghats population may be suffering as a result of encroachment from mining, timber and hydroelectric companies.Their habitat is threatened by limestone miners and timber contractors, and the Barapede cave could be submerged if a nearby Mahadeyi river were dammed for a hydroelectric plant as proposed by the Karnataka Government.
  • The species is listed on Schedule I of the Wildlife (Protection) Act of India, affording it the highest degree of protection.

Pied cuckoo or Jacobin cuckoo

  • Pied cuckoo or Jacobin cuckoo that migrates to India all the way from Africa, and described as the harbinger of monsoon in Indian mythology, was spotted in the jungles near Bidar recently
  • The bird figures in ‘puranas’ and ancient Indian literature. “Legendary Sanskrit poet Kalidasa has used the bird, called Jataka bird, as a metaphor for patience and purity,”
  • In Indian mythology, it is a bird that waits through summer for the seasons to change, only to open its mouth to the skies to drink rain water directly.
  • It braves rough winds and changes in temperature before settling in flat areas like the Deccan plateau
  • It stays here for months before starting its journey back
  • These birds can travel up to 5,500 km, from Africa to India. They come here for mating and nesting and they begin their journey months before monsoon arrives in India

TRI-NETRA – Terrain imaging for diesel dRivers Infra-red, Enhanced Optical & Radar Assisted system

  • Ministry of Railways, Railway Board has initiated a proposal to install TRI-NETRA systems on locomotives for enhancing the vision of Locomotive Pilots in inclement weather. TRI-NETRA stands for – Terrain imaging for diesel dRivers INfra-red, Enhanced opTical & Radar Assisted system.

How it operates?

  • TRI-NETRA system is made up of high-resolution optical video camera, high sensitivity infra-red video camera and additionally a radar-based terrain mapping system. These three components of the system act as three eyes (Tri-Netra) of the Locomotive Pilot.
  • TRI-NETRA is designed to “see” the terrain ahead of the running locomotive during inclement weather by combining the images captured by the three sub-systems and to create a composite video image which shall be displayed in front of the Loco Pilot on a computer monitor.

Significance:

  • During fog, heavy rain and also during night, the locomotive pilots face serious challenges in looking out ahead to spot any obstruction on the track such as vehicles which get stuck while crossing the track or trees or boulders which have fallen across the track etc. Because of the heavy momentum of the running train, the train driver has to always adjust the speed of the train such that he or she can stop the train on visually seeing the obstruction. In fair weather and in daytime, this is not a problem since train driver has a clear view of the track ahead. But in poor visibility, he has to reduce the speed suitably so that the brakes can be applied in time to stop the train without hitting the obstructions.

Background:

  • The concept of TRI-NETRA was developed by Development Cell under the guidance of Member Mechanical, Railway Board while brainstorming on how to use the technology employed by fighter aircrafts to see through clouds and operate in pitch darkness and the technology used by naval ships in mapping the ocean floor and navigating in the night.

Centre lets microbeads off the hook

  • Based on a petition requesting a ban on microbeads, also called microplastics, a National Green Tribunal Bench has asked the Ministries of Health, Environment and Water Resources file their response.

What the petition says?

  • The crux of petition is that these plastics are too small to be caught by sewage treatment and water filtration techniques and they pass unchecked into rivers and seas and contaminated them. They take centuries to degrade and worse, are sometimes eaten by fish and other aquatic animals and could even make their way into human diets. The United States has promulgated a ban, which will come into effect next July, on cosmetic products containing microbeads.

What are Microbeads?

  • Microbeads, small pellets of plastic, extensively used in personal care products such as shampoo, baby lotion and face cream and considered toxic to marine life, are being banned internationally, but key arms of the Indian government have side-stepped the issue either passing the buck or saying that no studies have been conducted to ascertain the harm posed to the environment or its potential toxicity.

Concerns:

  • Over 299 million tonnes of plastic was produced worldwide in 2013 some of which made its way to oceans, costing approximately $13 billion per year in environmental damage to marine ecosystems, says a June 2015 report by the United Nations Environmental Programme that investigated the possible harm by microbeads/microplastics.

India basks in glow of UNESCO honours

  • Besides Nalanda Mahavihara, two other sites from India have made it to the World Heritage List. Two other sites are- Khangchendzonga National Park (KNP) and Chandigarh’s famed Capitol Complex. This was announced at the 40th session of the World Heritage Committee (WHC) currently under way at Istanbul in Turkey.
  • This is the first time that any country got three sites inscribed in the Word Heritage List at a single session of the committee meeting.
  • India now has 35 sites, including 27 cultural properties, seven natural sites and one mixed site, notified as World Heritage Sites.

UNESCO world heritage site:

  • A UNESCO World Heritage Site is a place that is listed by the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO) as of special cultural or physical significance.
  • The list is maintained by the international World Heritage Programme administered by the UNESCO World Heritage Committee, composed of 21 UNESCO member states which are elected by the General Assembly.
  • Each World Heritage Site remains part of the legal territory of the state wherein the site is located and UNESCO considers it in the interest of the international community to preserve each site.
  • Italy is home to the greatest number of World Heritage Sites.

Selection criteria:

  • Until the end of 2004, there were six criteria for cultural heritage and four criteria for natural heritage. In 2005, this was modified so that there is only one set of ten criteria. Nominated sites must be of outstanding universal value and meet at least one of the ten criteria.
  • Represents a masterpiece of human creative genius and cultural significance.
  • Exhibits an important interchange of human values, over a span of time, or within a cultural area of the world, on developments in architecture or technology, monumental arts, town-planning, or landscape design.
  • To bear a unique or at least exceptional testimony to a cultural tradition or to a civilization which is living or which has disappeared.
  • Is an outstanding example of a type of building, architectural, or technological ensemble or landscape which illustrates a significant stage in human history.
  • Is an outstanding example of a traditional human settlement, land-use, or sea-use which is representative of a culture, or human interaction with the environment especially when it has become vulnerable under the impact of irreversible change.
  • Is directly or tangibly associated with events or living traditions, with ideas, or with beliefs, with artistic and literary works of outstanding universal significance.
  • Contains superlative natural phenomena or areas of exceptional natural beauty and aesthetic importance.
  • Is an outstanding example representing major stages of Earth’s history, including the record of life, significant on-going geological processes in the development of landforms, or significant geomorphic or physiographic features.
  • Is an outstanding example representing significant on-going ecological and biological processes in the evolution and development of terrestrial, fresh water, coastal and marine ecosystems, and communities of plants and animals.
  • Contains the most important and significant natural habitats for in-situ conservation of biological diversity, including those containing threatened species of outstanding universal value from the point of view of science or conservation.

UNESCO declares Nalanda Mahavihara World Heritage Site

  • UNESCO has declared Bihar’s much awaited ancient site – the ruins of Nalanda Mahavihara – a World Heritage Site.
  • With the inclusion of Nalanda, this would be the second UNESCO Heritage Site in Bihar after Mahabodhi temple in Bodh Gaya.

Key facts:

  • Nalanda stands out as the most ancient university of the Indian Subcontinent. It engaged in the organized transmission of knowledge over an uninterrupted period of 800 years.
  • The historical development of the site testifies to the development of Buddhism into a religion and the flourishing of monastic and educational traditions.
  • It was a major Mahavihara or a large Buddhist monastery that also doubled up as an important centre of learning from the 5th to 1200 AD in the erstwhile kingdom of Magadh.
  • The construction of Nalanda university began in 5th century AD and flourished under the Gupta rulers. It came to an end in the 12th century when it was destroyed in 1193 AD by the invading Turkish army led by its commander Bakhtiar Khilji.

UNESCO world heritage site:

  • A UNESCO World Heritage Site is a place that is listed by the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO) as of special cultural or physical significance.
  • The list is maintained by the international World Heritage Programme administered by the UNESCO World Heritage Committee, composed of 21 UNESCO member states which are elected by the General Assembly.
  • Each World Heritage Site remains part of the legal territory of the state wherein the site is located and UNESCO considers it in the interest of the international community to preserve each site.
  • The List of recorded sites on the World Heritage now stands at 981 which include both cultural and natural wonders.
  • Italy is home to the greatest number of World Heritage Sites with 50 site

Nalanda, Khangchendzonga National Park (KNP) and Chandigarh’s famed Capitol Complex in UNESCO heritage sites list

  • The archaeological site of Nalanda Mahavihara (Nalanda University) in Bihar, Khangchendzonga National Park (KNP) and Chandigarh’s famed Capitol Complex has been included in the UNESCO’s World Heritage List, which also featured new sites from China, Iran and Micronesia.
  • The inclusion of the new sites was announced at the 40th session of The World Heritage Committee meeting in Istanbul in Turkey.
  • This is the first time that any country got three sites inscribed in the Word Heritage List at a single session of the committee meeting.
  • India now has 35 sites, including 27 cultural properties, seven natural sites and one mixed site, notified as World Heritage Sites.

About Khangchendzonga National Park

  • The KNP is the first ‘mixed’ heritage site from India to make it to the list. A ‘mixed site’ exhibits qualities of both natural and cultural significance.khangchendzonga-national-map
  • The park qualified as a mixed site under the Operational Guidelines of WHC for its “exceptional testimony to a cultural tradition or to a civilisation which is living or which has disappeared.”
  • The park exhibits one of the widest altitudinal ranges of any protected area worldwide. It boasts of a unique diversity of lowlands, steep valleys and snow-clad mountains, including the world’s third highest peak, Mt. Khangchendzonga, besides numerous lakes and glaciers.
  • The KNP, which covers 25% of Sikkim, is home to a significant number of endemic, rare and threatened plant and animal species. A large number of bird and mammal species has also been recorded from here.
  • The park combines the religious and cultural practices of Buddhism as well as the ecological significance of the region, and stands out as an outstanding example of traditional knowledge and environmental preservation. It is also a unique example of coexistence and exchange between different religious traditions and people.

About Chandigarh’s Capitol complexcapitol-complex

  • It is spread over an area of around 100 acres and is a prime manifestation of Chandigarh’s architecture. It comprises three buildings, three monuments and lake, including Palace of Assembly or Legislative Assembly, Secretariat, High Court, Open Hand Monument, Geometric Hill and Tower of Shadows
  • The complex was designed by Le Corbusier in the 1950s when the city was constructed as a symbol of independent, modern India.

About Nalanda

  • Nalanda stands out as one of the most ancient universities in South Asia.Nalanda-University
  • Archaeological Site of Nalanda Mahavihara (Nalanda University) comprises the archaeological remains of a monastic and scholastic institution dating from the 3rd century BCE to the 13th century CE.
  • The site includes stupas, shrines, viharas (residential and educational buildings) and important art works in stucco, stone and metal.
  • The University engaged in the organised transmission of knowledge over an uninterrupted period of 800 years. The historical development of the site testifies to the development of Buddhism into a religion and the flourishing of monastic and educational traditions.

UNESCO world heritage site:

UNESCO World Heritage Site is a place that is listed by the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO) as of special cultural or physical significance.

  • The list is maintained by the international World Heritage Programme administered by the UNESCO World Heritage Committee, composed of 21 UNESCO member states which are elected by the General Assembly.
  • Each World Heritage Site remains part of the legal territory of the state wherein the site is located and UNESCO considers it in the interest of the international community to preserve each site.
  • Italy is home to the greatest number of World Heritage Sites.
  • UNESCO, with the help of 21 member World Heritage Committee and advisory bodies such as International Council on Monuments and Sites (ICOMOS) and International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN), within the framework of its Operational Guidelines, decides about the cultural and natural sites to be included on the World Heritage list. Such cultural and natural sites must display the necessary Outstanding Universal Value (OUV), fulfill one or more out of 10 prescribed criteria (as given below), maintain the condition of authenticity and integrity and should be in a good state of conservation.
  • At times, concerns are raised by the World Heritage Centre during inscription process those relate to the state of conservation or its management (including that of its buffer). State party addresses such concerns by giving necessary commitment to effectively manage the site and its buffer, thus safeguarding its Outstanding Universal Value (OUV).

Selection criteria:

Until the end of 2004, there were six criteria for cultural heritage and four criteria for natural heritage. In 2005, this was modified so that there is only one set of ten criteria. Nominated sites must be of outstanding universal value and meet at least one of the ten criteria.

  • Represents a masterpiece of human creative genius and cultural significance.
  • Exhibits an important interchange of human values, over a span of time, or within a cultural area of the world, on developments in architecture or technology, monumental arts, town-planning, or landscape design.
  • To bear a unique or at least exceptional testimony to a cultural tradition or to a civilization which is living or which has disappeared.
  • Is an outstanding example of a type of building, architectural, or technological ensemble or landscape which illustrates a significant stage in human history.
  • Is an outstanding example of a traditional human settlement, land-use, or sea-use which is representative of a culture, or human interaction with the environment especially when it has become vulnerable under the impact of irreversible change.
  • Is directly or tangibly associated with events or living traditions, with ideas, or with beliefs, with artistic and literary works of outstanding universal significance.
  • Contains superlative natural phenomena or areas of exceptional natural beauty and aesthetic importance.
  • Is an outstanding example representing major stages of Earth’s history, including the record of life, significant on-going geological processes in the development of landforms, or significant geomorphic or physiographic features.
  • Is an outstanding example representing significant on-going ecological and biological processes in the evolution and development of terrestrial, fresh water, coastal and marine ecosystems, and communities of plants and animals.
  • Contains the most important and significant natural habitats for in-situ conservation of biological diversity, including those containing threatened species of outstanding universal value from the point of view of science or conservation.

Now India has 35 sites. In addition to the above 3 the 32 sites from India declared as World Heritage properties as follows.

CULTURAL SITES

(Under Protection of Archaeological Survey of India)

S.No Name of Site State
1. Ajanta Caves (1983) Maharashtra
2. Ellora Caves (1983) Maharashtra
3. Agra Fort (1983) Uttar Pradesh
4. Taj Mahal (1983) Uttar Pradesh
5. Sun Temple, Konarak (1984) Odisha
6. Group of Monuments at Mahabalipuram (1984) Tamil Nadu
7. Churches and Convents of Goa (1986) Goa
8. Group of Temples, Khajuraho (1986) Madhya Pradesh
9. Group of Monuments at Hampi (1986) Karnataka
10. Group of Monuments, FatehpurSikri (1986) Uttar Pradesh
11. Group of Temples, Pattadakal (1987) Karnataka
12. Elephanta Caves ( 1987) Maharashtra
13. Great Living Chola temples at Thanjavur, Gangaikondacholapuram and Darasuram (1987 & 2004) Tamil Nadu
14. Buddhist Monuments at Sanchi (1989) Madhya Pradesh
15. Humayun’s  Tomb, Delhi (1993) Delhi
16. Qutb Minar Complex, Delhi (1993) Delhi
17. Prehistoric Rock Shelters of Bhimbetka (2003) Madhya Pradesh
18. Champaner-Pavagarh Archaeological Park (2004) Gujarat
19. Red Fort Complex, Delhi (2007) Delhi
20. Hill Forts of Rajasthan

(Chittaurgarh, Kumbhalgarh, Jaisalmer and Ranthambhore, Amber and Gagron Forts)      (2013)

(Amber and Gagron Forts are under protection of Rajasthan State Archaeology and Museums)

Rajasthan
21. Rani ki Vav (2014) Gujarat

Under Protection of Ministry of Railways

22. Mountain Railway of India ( Darjeeling,1999), Nilgiri (2005), Kalka-Shimla(2008) West Bengal,  Tamil Nadu, Himachal Pradesh
23. Chhatrapati Shivaji Terminus (formerly Victoria Terminus) (2004) Maharashtra

Under Protection of Bodhgaya Temple Management Committee 

24. Mahabodhi Temple, Bodhgaya (2002) Bihar

Under Protection of Rajasthan State Archaeology and Museums Department

25. Jantar Mantar, Jaipur (2010) Rajasthan

NATURAL SITES 

Under Protection of Ministry of Environment & Forest 

26. Kaziranga National Park (1985) Assam
27. Manas Wild Life Sanctuary (1985) Assam
28. Keoladeo National Park (1985) Rajasthan
29. Sunderban National Park (1987) West Bengal
30. Nanda Devi  and Valley of Flowers National Parks (1988, 2005) Uttarakhand
31. Western Ghats (2012) Karnataka, Kerala, Maharashtra,Tamil Nadu
32. Great Himalayan National Park (2014) Himachal Pradesh

Flying Daggers 45

  • Two indigenous Tejas Light Combat Aircrafts were recently inducted into the IAF squadron, known as the ‘Flying Daggers 45’
  • The aircraft is equipped to handle air-to-air missiles, air-to-surface missiles, anti-ship missiles, bombs and rockets.01tejas1
  • It is considered to be the lightest multi-role supersonic aircraft of its class.
  • HAL (Hindustan Aeronautics Limited), DRDO (Defence Research and Development Organisation) and ADA (Aeronautical Development Agency) are the key state-run defence companies that are behind the design and development of this Light Combat Aircraft
  • The combat aircraft uses fourth generation technologies and has intentionally been made longitudinally unstable to enhance manoeuvrability.
  • The Tejas has a ‘glass cockpit’ which displays ‘real-time’ information to the pilot.
  • The multi-role radar on Tejas – which was developed as Indian–Israeli venture – is meant to facilitate all weather use of a variety of air-to-air and air-to-surface weaponry.

Govt notifies norms for retrofitting electric kit in vehicles

  • To curb vehicular pollution, the government has notified rules for retrofitment of hybrid electric system, or electric kit, for vehicles. The rules – Central Motor Vehicles (Seventh Amendment) Rules, 2016 — were notified following amendment in the Central Motor Vehicles Rules, 1989. This applies to the vehicles that meet emission norms and are run on either diesel or gasoline only.

Details:

  • The Retrofitment of hybrid electric system kit to vehicles having Gross Vehicle Weight not exceeding 3,500 kg shall be permitted if it conforms to Bharat Stage-II or subsequent emission norms, if it was not retrofitted earlier.
  • It mentions that the installation of type approved hybrid electric system kit shall be done only by an installer authorised by the manufacturer or supplier of such kits.
  • The notification also mentions that the conversion of vehicles for pure electric operation with fitment of electric kit shall be permitted if the vehicle was manufactured on or after January 1, 1990 and “it is not provided with permits for carrying dangerous or hazardous goods, as defined in CMV Rules, 1989.”
  • It also stipulated that the kit manufacturer or supplier shall obtain the type approval certificate from a specified test agency and such certificate will be valid for three years from the date of issue

Army yet to hack new terror tech

  • More than a year after a new technological solution used by terrorists began causing headache to the Army in Kashmir, no breakthrough has been made to crack it. An indigenous software patch for intercepting the new mode of communication has also failed.

Concern:

  • Terrorists infiltrating from Pakistan have been using smartphones paired with very high frequency (VHF) radio sets to communicate with one another, resulting in a drop in communication intercepts and adversely affecting military efforts to deal with them.

Background:

  • The concept of pairing mobile phones with radio handsets originated in the wake of Hurricane Sandy in New York in 2012. This mode of sending mobile communications without using mobile towers is of great help for rescue operations during calamities, but is now among the key technology deployed by terrorists to avoid the security forces while crossing the Line of Control.
  • This technology is secure and active even in high peaks and forests especially near the Line of Control where conventional mobile and satellite phones can give away their location.
  • Terrorists also use other technologies such as self-destroying chats and end-to-end encryption to overcome interception.

Solar Power Tree

  • Union Minister for Science & Technology and Earth Sciences recently launched the ‘Solar Power Tree’.
  • It has been developed by the CSIR-Central Mechanical Engineering Research Institute (CSIR-CMERI), a constituent laboratory of Council of Scientific and Industrial Research (CSIR).

The Salient Features of the Solar Power Tree are:

  • It harnesses solar energy for producing electricity with an innovative vertical arrangement of solar cells. It thus reduces the requirement of land as compared to conventional Solar Photovoltaic layout, on one hand, while keeping the land character intact on the other.
  • It takes only 4 square feet of land for a 5 KW Solar Power tree, whereas in a conventional layout, it requires 400 square feet of land.
  • By holding the photovoltaic panels at a higher height, on an average it gets more sunrays for one hour in a day. As a result, it is possible to harness 10-15% more power in comparison to a conventional layout on ground.
  • It has a battery back-up of 2 hours on full load, hence giving light even after sunset.
  • It is facilitated with water sprinkler at the top for self-cleaning of panels, that increases the efficiency of the solar panels.
  • The estimated cost of the device is around Rs. 5 Lakh for a 5 KW specification.

Advantages

  • Solar Power Tree innovatively addresses the challenge of increasing demand for Green Energy by gainfully utilizing scarce land resources in the country.
  • Even the cultivable land can be utilized for solar energy harnessing along with farming at the same time. The innovation finds its viability both in rural and urban areas.

Way ahead:

  • The device has been functioning effectively at three places in West Bengal as a pilot project. As a future prospect, the Solar Power Tree would be developed in a rotatable module, which would have a motorized mechanism to align itself with the movement of the Sun during the day. Hence, it would be possible to harness 10-15% more power over and above the current capacity.

Facebook Internet drone ‘Aquila’ passes first full-scale testindex

  • Facebook has completed its first successful test of its solar-powered Aquila drone, being developed to deliver internet service to remote areas of the world. The test flight represents a major milestone for Facebook’s efforts to bring the internet to underserved locations of the planet.
  • The lightweight Aquila is Facebook’s ambitious project, which aims at providing affordable internet access across the globe. Facebook has invested billions of dollar in getting more people online through the not-for-profit internet.org and by building drones.
  • The project consists of a solar-powered aircraft with a wingspan bigger than a Boeing 737 that can stay up for months on end.
  • The plane uses a laser to beam data to a base station on the ground.
  • The plane will operate between 60,000ft (18km) and 90,000ft (27km) – above the altitude of commercial airplanes – so it would not be affected by weather.

FACEBOOK_DIAGRAM

  • It will climb to its maximum height during the day, before gliding slowly down to its lowest ebb at night, to conserve power when its solar panels are not receiving charge.
  • Lacking wheels, or even the ability to climb from ground level to its cruising altitude without aid, it will be launched with the help of helium balloons, which will rise it to its preferred height

Internet from the skies: A bird’s eye view of Google and Facebook’s plans

Google and Facebook are working on beaming the Web on to the world from drones and balloons cruising at the edge of space. How this might happen?

  • The Internet is supposed to be the big leveller of our times, taking information and knowledge to the people who need it the most. But only a third of the world’s population is online — the three major obstacles to everyone getting the Internet being technology (that is good enough), affordability (that makes services and devices cheaper, even free), and connectivity (that can take the Internet everywhere that people are).
  • The two major Internet companies, Google and Facebook, are working on removing these obstacles. Their most ambitious project is to try to beam the Internet down from the skies, making it ubiquitous around the globe.

Facebook

  • Free Internet projects are part of its Internet.org initiative. It has begun to set up terrestrial Express Wi-Fi services in hundreds of locations across India; announced plans to launch a satellite with France’s Eutelsat Communications to take the Internet to large parts of sub-Saharan Africa in 2016. The big plan, however, is Aquila.
  • The prototype is ready — a solar-powered aircraft with a wingspan bigger than a Boeing 737, that can stay up for months on end. Cruising altitude: 60,000 ft (> 18 km), much higher than commercial aircraft. Footprint: 100 km diameter.
  • It is really important that they can station keep, or stay in a particular region and connect a particular people. They will move, but around a small zone. When the plane moves the RF (radio frequency) system will adjust so that it continues to have the same terrestrial footprin
  • While these aircraft try and create a grid of connectivity, there will also be dark spots without connectivity in areas with no substantial population. Those areas could be fed by satellite. The concept is to have multiple grid layers — like the aircraft-powered grid overlapping with the Express Wi-Fi grid on the ground.
  • The various Express W-Fi networks are interconnected. The UAVs, meanwhile, will provide the equivalent of the microwave backhaul.
  • Most people who need connectivity are already near cities with optical networks. So one of the ideas that are being explored is to use a laser system to interconnect these planes. Lasers are cheaper as they don’t come under the regulatory framework and have lots of bandwidth.

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Google

  • Google has already rolled out Google Fibre, a fibre-to-the-premises service, which includes a free Internet option. But what could really be the gamechanger is Project Loon, or affordable balloon-powered Internet.
  • Project Loon- Google calls it a network of balloons travelling on the edge of space, designed to connect people in rural and remote areas, help fill coverage gaps, and bring people back online after disasters.
  • Project Loon balloons will travel in the stratosphere, approximately 20 km above the Earth’s surface, latching on to layers of wind as directed by software algorithms to determine where they need to go. In the end, they will form one large communications network.
  • The inflatable envelopes are made from sheets of polyethylene plastic, 15 metres wide and 12 metres tall when fully inflated. They are designed to stay up for at least 100 days in one go.
  • The electronics are powered by an array of solar panels mounted at a steep angle to effectively capture sunlight on short winter days at higher latitudes. The panels can produce about 100 Watts of power in full sun, enough to keep the electronics running, along with charging a battery for use at night.
  • The small box under the balloon will contain circuit boards that control the system, radio antennas to communicate with other balloons and with Internet antennas on the ground, and lithium ion batteries to store solar power so the balloons can operate throughout the night.
  • Each balloon can provide connectivity to a ground area about 40 km in diameter using LTE. Project Loon partners with telecom companies to share cellular spectrum.
  • In June 2013, Project Loon was tested in New Zealand. Google says the results of this pilot test and several other tests elsewhere in the world, “are being used to improve the technology in preparation for the next stages of the project”.

HOW SOON?

  • Sri Lanka will be the first country to be covered by Loon, though no launch date is known. Aquila is 3 years away from taking flight.
  • Both Facebook and Google have said they don’t want to become service providers. But when free Wi-Fi (or affordable Internet) starts covering the globe in 3-4 years, traditional telecom service providers are bound to feel threatened.

Zebrafish provide insights into a rare human disease

  • Scientists from the Delhi-based CSIR-Institute of Genomics and Integrative Biology are a step closer to bringing hope to children born with a rare disorder — CHARGE syndrome — if the results seen in zebrafish are reproducible in humans. Scientists have studied the fertilised egg of a zebrafish to better understand the CHARGE syndrome.

Why zebrafish?

  • Following fertilization, zebrafish embryos are transparent. This allows scientists to observe the inside of the embryo and watch in real time how various organs develop. Since most organs begin forming in the first 24-36 hours and are fully formed within five days, it allows researchers to study the development of an organism from egg to maturity. An RNA injected into a one-cell embryo interferes with the making of the CHD7 protein, thus producing a zebrafish embryo with very similar problems as the human babies with CHARGE syndrome.

Background:

  • About 1 in 20,000 people in the world, and an estimated 50,000 in India alone, are born with CHARGE syndrome — multiple life-threatening problems such as deafness and blindness, heart defects, genital problems and growth retardation and facial bone and nerve defects that cause breathing and swallowing difficulties. There is a high death rate in the very first year in children born with CHARGE. A mutation in the CHD7 gene is responsible for 60-70% of all CHARGE defects. The expression of the gene peaks in the early stages of embryo development, starting from 2-4 cells.

About CHARGE syndrome:

  • CHARGE syndrome is a disorder that affects many areas of the body. CHARGE stands for coloboma, heart defect, atresia choanae (also known as choanal atresia), retarded growth and development, genital abnormality, and ear abnormality.
  • The pattern of malformations varies among individuals with this disorder, and infants often have multiple life-threatening medical conditions. About two third of cases are due to a CHD7 mutation.
  • The major characteristics of CHARGE syndrome are more specific to this disorder than are the minor characteristics. Many individuals with CHARGE syndrome have a hole in one of the structures of the eye (coloboma), which forms during early development.
  • Some people also have small eyes (microphthalmia). One or both nasal passages may be narrowed or completely blocked.
  • Individuals with CHARGE syndrome frequently have cranial nerve abnormalities. The cranial nerves emerge directly from the brain and extend to various areas of the head and neck, controlling muscle movement and transmitting sensory information.
  • Abnormal function of certain cranial nerves can cause swallowing problems, facial paralysis, a sense of smell that is diminished (hyposmia) or completely absent (anosmia), and mild to profound hearing loss. People with CHARGE syndrome also typically have middle and inner ear abnormalities and unusually shaped ears.
  • The diagnosis of CHARGE syndrome is often difficult, because it is rare. The syndrome spans many disciplines, and as such, can be diagnosed by a pediatrician, oral and maxillofacial surgeon, ENT specialist, ophthalmologist, audiologist, endocrinologist, cardiologist, urologist, developmental specialist, radiologist, geneticist, physiotherapist, occupational therapist, speech therapist, or orthopedic specialist.

Govt. intervention sought for Hepatitis C treatment

  • In absence of a policy intervention for Hepatitis C, civil society and legal aid organisations have put together a policy brief, calling upon the government to take concerted action to address the right to health of people living with HCV (PLHCV).

Background:

  • HCV is a significantly bigger epidemic than HIV and yet, there has been considerably less awareness about it. While HIV testing and treatment are free of cost through the government programme, HCV is not supported in any way. Despite the estimated disease burden of 8.7 million Hepatitis C patients, India does not have data and, therefore, does not have appropriate budgets to address the concerns of the patients.
  • Also, the price of treatment of HCV has become a global concern with the Indian government granting patent for the drug Sofosbuvir to American pharmaceutical giant Gilead Sciences. While Gilead’s Sofosbuvir is priced at almost $84,000 for an entire course in the U.S., generic Indian companies are selling their versions for less than $200 for a full course.

What is hepatitis?

  • “Hepatitis” means inflammation of the liver. Toxins, certain drugs, some diseases, heavy alcohol use, and bacterial and viral infections can all cause hepatitis. Hepatitis is also the name of a family of viral infections that affect the liver; the most common types are Hepatitis A, Hepatitis B, and Hepatitis C.

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What is the difference between Hepatitis A, Hepatitis B, and Hepatitis C?

  • Hepatitis A, Hepatitis B, and Hepatitis C are diseases caused by three different viruses. Although each can cause similar symptoms, they have different modes of transmission and can affect the liver differently. Hepatitis A appears only as an acute or newly occurring infection and does not become chronic. People with Hepatitis A usually improve without treatment. Hepatitis B and Hepatitis C can also begin as acute infections, but in some people, the virus remains in the body, resulting in chronic disease and long-term liver problems. There are vaccines to prevent Hepatitis A and B; however, there is not one for Hepatitis C. If a person has had one type of viral hepatitis in the past, it is still possible to get the other types.

What is Hepatitis C?

  • This is a transmissible disease — it spreads the same way as HIV — and if not treated can lead to chronic conditions of the liver such as liver cirrhosis, cancer or failure. With an estimated disease burden of 8.7 million patients, HCV kills nearly six times as many people as HIV.
  • The hepatitis C virus is a bloodborne virus and the most common modes of infection are through unsafe injection practices, inadequate sterilization of medical equipment, and the transfusion of unscreened blood and blood products.

Farewell Philae: Earth severs link with silent probe on comet

  • Earth has bid a final farewell to robot lab Philae, severing communications after a year-long silence from the pioneering probe hurtling through space on a comet.
  • After more than 12 months without news, it has been decided to preserve all remaining energy available to Philae’s orbiting mothership Rosetta. Rosetta will remain in orbit around comet 67P/Churyumov-Gerasimenko for another two months.
  • Rosetta will crash-land on September 30 to join Philae in their final resting place, concluding a historic quest for cometary clues to the origins of life on Earth.

insights current affairsPhilae:

  • Philae  ’s mission was to land successfully on the surface of a comet, attach itself, and transmit data from the surface about the comet’s composition. It is a robotic European Space Agency lander.
  • It landed on comet 67P/Churyumov–Gerasimenko, more than ten years after departing Earth.
  • The mission seeks to unlock the long-held secrets of comets — primordial clusters of ice and dust that scientists believe may reveal how the Solar System was formed.
  • The scientific goals of the mission focus on “elemental, isotopic, molecular and mineralogical composition of the cometary material, the characterization of physical properties of the surface and subsurface material, the large-scale structure and the magnetic and plasma environment of the nucleus.”
  • Philae was equipped with an array of experiments to photograph and test the surface of Comet 67P as well as to find out what happens when the roasting effect of the sun drives off gas and dust.

Green bonds can finance the future

What is a Green Bond?

  • A green bond is a fixed income instrument for the purpose of raising debt capital through markets.
  • certifies that the proceeds will be used exclusively for specific “green” purposes
  • can provide a long-term source of debt capital for renewable infrastructure projects
  • It is a way by which the government provides subsidies for green projects

Significance

  • Renewable energy is more capital-intensive than coal. An ambitious target of generating 100GW of energy from solar energy sources and 60GW from wind energy sources by 2022 needs $160 billion of capital – $120 billion as debt and $40billion as equity
  • High interest rates of loans from banking sector. Banks are unlikely to be able to expand their balance sheets to be able to finance the additional requirements of the renewable sector
  • can facilitate the flow of capital to low carbon infrastructure investments, the demand for such investment is driven by low-carbon policy mandates
  • Green bonds would enable investor diversification, mitigate risks since the repayment is tied to the issuer only
  • build a community of green investors and enable refinancing bank loans at a lower cost.

Classifying green bonds

  • The Green Bond Principles are voluntary guidelines issued by the International Capital Market Association which states the procedure for certifying a green bond.
  • These encompass the use of proceeds, the evaluation procedure, the management of proceeds, and financial reporting.
  • These guidelines are lacking in specifics, leading to a lack of consensus on what classifies as a green bond.
  • Green bonds can provide a long-term source of debt capital for renewable infrastructure projects. Since the cost of debt availed for projects is higher than the yield for investment-grade bonds, it may be possible to reduce cost of capital for green infrastructure financed or refinanced by bonds.
  • While green bonds can facilitate the flow of capital to low carbon infrastructure investments, the demand for such investment is driven by low-carbon policy mandates. An enabling policy context is therefore vital for the success of green bonds

Currently govt subsidises renewableenergy project in the following ways

  • Depreciation: capital expenditure is allowed to be depreciated by 80 per cent in the first year and the remaining in the following five years
  • Feed-in tariffs: long-term contracts with discoms to purchase power from a renewable project, usually at higher rates.
  • Viability gap funding: a capital grant from the government that bridges the gap between project cost under the prevailing electricity rate and the price quoted by the developer
  • Generation-based incentive: the government provides Rs. 0.5/kWh (kilowatt hour) supplied to the grid, subject to a cumulative maximum of Rs.10 million/MW
  • Renewable Purchase Obligations(RPO): the National Action Plan on Climate Change (NAPCC) has set an ambitious RPO target of 15 per cent by 2020

Developing a green bond market

  • Green bonds have been around for a decade but regulation and investment in them is still minuscule.
  • Problems
    • lack of green bond standards
    • low credit rating of potential issuers
    • higher cost of issuance
  • Measures that can be taken-
    • the government essentially needs to increase the funds available for investment in green projects, by providing for specific tax incentives
    • development of long-term finance markets
    • changing Insurance Regulatory and Development Authority norms for size of investment for insurance companies
    • creating mandates for provident funds to invest in infrastructure and environmentally sustainable projects
    • increasing the priority sector lending limit for bank loans under solar energy from a meagre Rs.15 crore
    • standardising the definition of green to be able to target government efforts in the direction
    • mobilising retail savings by way of tax exemption on the lines of Section 80CCF
  • Three Key steps that can be taken by Indian govt
    • standardise “green” bonds as a way to finance environmentally sustainable projects
    • provide incentives to investing in projects funded by a carbon tax on polluting sources of energy
    • increase funds channelled towards investing in environmentally sustainable projects

Green light for Afforestation Fund Bill

  • The Rajya Sabha unanimously passed the contentious Compensatory and Afforestation Fund (CAF) Bill, 2016 that allows States to access nearly Rs. 42,000 crore and channel into afforestation projects.

Salient Features

  • The Bill establishes the National Compensatory Afforestation Fund under the Public Account of India, and a State Compensatory Afforestation Fund under the Public Account of each state.
  • These Funds will receive payments for: (i) compensatory afforestation, (ii) net present value of forest (NPV), and (iii) other project specific payments. The National Fund will receive 10% of these funds, and the State Funds will receive the remaining 90%.
  • These Funds will be primarily spent on afforestation to compensate for loss of forest cover, regeneration of forest ecosystem, wildlife protection and infrastructure development.
  • The Bill also establishes the National and State Compensatory Afforestation Fund Management and Planning Authorities to manage the National and State Funds.

Concerns

  • greater powers in the forest bureaucracy than to resident tribals
  • Official records show that 19.4 million hectares has been afforested by the forest department over the last decade but forest cover has barely increased,
  • the possible violation of tribal rights under Forest Rights Act (FRA) 2006
  • gram panchayats not having the final say in deciding what kind of forests could be grown
  • Even though both the Kanchan Chopra Committee and the IIFM Committee on Forest NPV (value of loss of forest ecosystem) clearly mention that communities must be compensated for the loss of forests, the CAF bill is totally silent about their rights and compensation.
  • doubts on whether it would lead to an ecologically-sustainable replenishing of forests
  • A 2013 CAG report noted that state forest departments lack the planning and implementation capacity to carry out compensatory afforestation and forest conservation. With the share of funds transferred to states increasing from 10% to 90%, effective utilisation of these funds will depend on the capacity of state forest departments.

Background

  • The Compensatory Afforestation, Management and Planning Authority (CAMPA) has over the years accumulated a staggering Rs 41,000 crore as recompense for forest land having been diverted for non-forestry purposes.
  • The amount is calculated on the Net Present Value (NPV) of the diverted forest and the cost of afforestation; it ranges between Rs 5-11 lakh per hectare depending on the type and condition of a forest.
  • The fund of Rs.42,000 crore has been collected in lieu of forest land diverted under the Forest (Conservation) Act, 1980, for non-forest purposes such as industrial projects like mining.
  • Of the Rs.42,000 crore, Odisha (Rs.6,000 crore), Chhattisgarh (Rs.3,861 crore) Madhya Pradesh (Rs.3,460 crore), Jharkhand (Rs.3,099 crore), Maharashtra (Rs.2,433 crore), Andhra Pradesh (Rs.2,223) and Uttarakhand (Rs.2,210 crore) are expected to be the biggest beneficiaries.
  • The Bill was first passed in the Lok Sabha during the UPA government’s tenure but was in cold storage after opposition in the Rajya Sabha. It was again cleared by the Lok Sabha this year after incorporating amendments.

Prototype Fast Breeder Reactor to be delayed

The much delayed completion of work on India’s first Prototype Fast Breeder Reactor (PFBR) at Kalpakkam is likely to be completed only by March 2017

What is PFBR?

  • The Prototype Fast Breeder Reactor is a 500 MWe fast breeder nuclear reactor presently being constructed at the Madras Atomic Power Station in Kalpakkam, India
  • The Kalpakkam PFBR is using uranium-238 not thorium, to breed new fissile material, in a sodium-cooled fast reactor design
  • Construction is over and the owner/operator, Bharatiya Nabhikiya Vidyut Nigam Limited (BHAVINI), is waiting clearance from the Atomic Energy Regulatory Board (AERB)

Background

Dept of Atomic Energy(DAE) has been pursuing the following 3-stage Nuclear Power Programme :

  • Pressurised Heavy Water Reactors (PHWRs)
    • The first stage comprises setting up of Pressurised Heavy Water Reactors (PHWRs) and associated fuel cycle facilities.
    • PHWRs use natural uranium as fuel and heavy water as moderator and coolant
    • The first stage is already in commercial domain.
    • The Nuclear Power Corporation of India Ltd. (NPCIL), a public sector undertaking of DAE, is responsible for the design, construction and operation of nuclear power reactors
  • Fast Breeder Reactors (FBRs)
    • The second stage envisages setting up of Fast Breeder Reactors (FBRs) backed by reprocessing plants and plutonium-based fuel fabrication plants.
    • A breeder reactor is one that breeds more material for a nuclear fission reaction than it consumes.
    • Plutonium is produced by irradiation of uranium-238
    • The prototype FBR is fuelled by a blend of plutonium and uranium oxide, called MOX fuel.
    • The Fast Breeder Programme is in the technology demonstration stage.
    • A new public sector undertaking Bharatiya Nabhikiya Vidyut Nigam (BHAVINI) of DAE is implementing this project which is expected to add 500 MWe to the Southern grid by the year 2017
    • The tariff of electricity produced from PFBR is comparable with that of other contemporary base-load electricity generating technologies like coal based thermal power stations in the region
  • Advanced Heavy Water Reactor (AHWR)
    • The third stage is based on the thorium-uranium-233 cycle.
    • Uranium-233 is obtained by irradiation of thorium
    • India has one of the largest reserves of thorium
    • The ongoing development of 300 MWe Advanced Heavy Water Reactor (AHWR) at BARC aims at developing expertise for thorium utilization and demonstrating advanced safety concepts.
    • Thorium-based systems can be set up on commercial scale only after a large capacity based on fast breeder reactors, is built up.

With thrust on innovation, scheme to INSPIRE young scientists to be renamed

  • The INSPIRE Awards (Innovation in Science Pursuit for Inspired Research), as they are now called, will be rechristened MANAK (Million Minds Augmenting National Aspirations and Knowledge) from this year

What is Innovation in Science Pursuit for Inspired Research (INSPIRE)?

  • This scheme offers 10,000 scholarships every year @ Rs.80,000/- each for undertaking Bachelor and Masters level education in the Natural & Basic sciences
  • Since the scheme’s inception in 2010, around 13.85 lakh students have been funded according to the INSPIRE website
  • The awards component — directed at school children between 10-15 years — consists of selecting 100,000 school students with the best science ideas.
  • Each of the 100,000 will be given Rs. 5,000 each to build a model or prototype that showcases a practical use of technology or science
  • emphasised science-fair models rather than take students through the innovation chain

What is New?

  • best ideas would be worked upon by professional engineers and designers and taken up for potential commercial development with intellectual property rights for the children
  • the top 60 ideas will also get incubation support…professionals will work on these and the children will share the intellectual property

A type of Culex mosquito can also transmit Zika

  • Brazilian scientists have identified another type of Zika-transmitting mosquito.
  • The public Brazilian laboratory Fundacion Oswaldo Cruz (Fiocruz) announced that researchers found the presence of the Culex quinquefasciatus mosquito infected by the Zika virus in three out of 80 groups of mosquitoes analysed up until now.
  • Up until now, transmission of the virus was only known through the Aedes aegypti mosquito, the same insect that spreads dengue and chikungunya.

Saving the Tiger

  • The number of wild tigers has gone up globally by 22 per cent to 3,890, from the earlier 2010 estimate of 3200, based on the best available data, according to the World Wildlife Fund and the Global Tiger Forum (GTF)
  • WWF Tx2 Tiger Initiative
    • According to the WWF, hundred years ago there were 100,000 wild tigers. By 2010, there were as few as 3,200.
    • In 2010, tiger range governments agreed to act to double wild tigers by the next Chinese Year of the Tiger in 2022. This goal is known as Tx2.
  • the manner in which tigers have dwindled over the past century, with 97% of their population dying out, shows how much work remains to be done

    current affairs ias

    Source: Livemint

  • Statistics from TRAFFIC, the wildlife trade monitoring network, show that a minimum of 1,590 tigers were seized by law enforcement officials between January 2000 and April 2014, which feed a multi-billion dollar illegal wildlife trade.
  • 29 July, International Tiger Day
  • As per latest official count, India is home to 2,226 tigers, representing 70 per cent of the global population of the endangered big cat species
  • increase in the budget for Project Tiger from Rs 185 crore to Rs 380 crore, adding that, with the 60:40 participation of states, this increase translates to Rs 500 crore in one year for tiger protection

Background

  • The Government of India has taken a pioneering initiative for conserving its national animal, the tiger, by launching the ‘Project Tiger’ in 1973.
  • From 9 tiger reserves since its formative years, the Project Tiger coverage has increased to 47 at present, spread out in 18 of our tiger range states
  • The tiger reserves are constituted on a core/buffer strategy.
    • The core areas have the legal status of a national park or a sanctuary, whereas the buffer or peripheral areas are a mix of forest and non-forest land, managed as a multiple use area.
    • The Project Tiger aims to foster an exclusive tiger agenda in the core areas of tiger reserves, with an inclusive people oriented agenda in the buffer.
  • Project Tiger is an ongoing Centrally Sponsored Scheme of the Ministry of Environment, Forests and Climate Change providing central assistance to the tiger States for tiger conservation in designated tiger reserves.
  • The National Tiger Conservation Authority (NTCA) is a statutory body of the Ministry, with an overarching supervisory / coordination role, performing functions as provided in the Wildlife (Protection) Act, 1972.
  • Wild tigers are found in 18 States in India
  • The All India tiger estimation is carried out once in every four years. Based on the Tiger Task Force approval, a refined double sampling method using camera traps in a statistical framework was first used in 2006 country level tiger assessment.

Why save Tigers?

  • Tigers are terminal consumers in the ecological food pyramid, and their conservation results in the conservation of all trophic levels in an ecosystem
  • The allocation for Project Tiger during the XII Plan is Rs 1245 crore. The expenditure during 2012-13 and 2013-14 are Rs 163.87 crore and 169.48 crore respectively

Challenges in Tiger conservation

  • protection against poaching,
  • fragmentation of habitat,
  • securing inviolate space for tiger to facilitate its social dynamics,
  • addressing tiger-human interface,
  • restoration of corridors and eliciting public support of local people by providing ecologically sustainable options.

Mimicking the Mars mission

  • NASA has sent a team of astronauts to the bottom of the Atlantic Ocean on a 16-day mission to prepare for future deep space missions and the journey to Mars.
  • The “aquanauts” were sent to train undersea in a simulated space mission as the bottom of the blue ocean and the surface of the Red Planet have something in common — extreme environments.
  • During the 16-day NASA Extreme Environment Mission Operations (NEEMO) 21 expedition, an international crew will explore tools and techniques being tested for future space exploration by living in simulated spacecraft conditions and conducting simulated spacewalks outside of their undersea habitat, Aquarius
  • The Aquarius Reef Base is located 62 feet below the surface of the Atlantic Ocean in the Florida Keys National Marine Sanctuary.
  • Isolating crew members at the bottom of the ocean simulates life and work for astronauts in microgravity environments like the International Space Station, or in spacecraft that will travel to asteroids and planets in the future
  • Throughout many of these tasks, the mission will also test communications delays similar to those that would be encountered on a mission to Mars.

India home to 12% of world’s bird species

  • A group of ornithologists have come up with the first definitive checklist of Indian birds, putting the number of species across the country at 1,263. With that figure, India accounts for 12 per cent of the total number of bird species in the world, amounting to 10,135.
  • “A Checklist of the birds of India”, authored by Praveen J, Rajah Jayapal and Aasheesh Pittie and published this month by the journal Indian BIRDS , has painstakingly compiled the list of all avian fauna and categorised and standardised them by their English names, scientific names and modern taxonomy.
  • Among the 1,263 species, Himalayan Forest Thrush (Zoothera salimalii) is the newest species discovered to science, while White-browed Crake Amaurornis cinerea is the latest entry to the country’s bird list.
  • Taxonomically, the bird population in the country is divided into 23 orders, 107 families and 498 genera.
  • Among the bird families, Muscicapidae (comprising chats, robins and flycatchers) are the most diverse, having as many as 97 species.
  • Raptors or birds of prey, which include vultures, eagles, and kites, are represented by 57 species and typical babblers by 53 species.
  • Though Indian ornithology is 300 years old, we still do not know how many species of birds are exactly known to occur in India.

Swathes of Australia’s mangroves died in a month, shows survey

  • Thousands of hectares of mangroves in Australia’s remote north have died, scientists said with climate change the likely cause.
  • Some 7,000 hectares (17,300 acres), or nine per cent of the mangroves in the Gulf of Carpentaria, perished in just one month according to researchers from Australia’s James Cook University, the first time such an event has been recorded.
  • The so-called dieback — where mangroves are either dead or defoliated — was confirmed by aerial and satellite surveys and was likely to have been the result of an extended drought period
  • Local rangers told scientists they were seeing creatures like shellfish, which need the shade of the trees, dying and that turtles and dugongs that are dependent on the ecosystem could “be starving in a few months
  • The dieback occurred synchronously across 700 kilometres in one month
  • Ecologist from James Cook University says that climate change is the cause for such an extreme event

Saturn’s moon Titan might support life even without water

  • Liquid water is a requirement for life on Earth.
  • But on Saturn’s largest moon Titan, life might exist beyond the bounds of water-based chemistry, according to a new study by scientists at Cornell University.
  • Reporting in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences , the researchers look at the presence of hydrogen cyanide (HCN) in the planet’s atmosphere and speculate that it could become a possible prebiotic chemical key. Prior studies indicated that on Titan’s surface, HCN can react to form long chains, or polymers, one of which called polyimine.
  • Now by using computer models and data collected by the NASA’s Cassini and Huygens mission, researchers have revealed that under Titan-like cold environmental conditions, polyimine is flexible and can absorb the sun’s energy and become a possible catalyst for life.
  • Titan is a very cold place. Instead of water on the surface, it is filled with liquid methane and ethane. Its dense atmosphere, a yellow haze, is full of nitrogen and methane. When sunlight hits this toxic atmosphere, the reaction produces HCN.
  • Still, Titan and Earth have important traits in common. Despite its seemingly inhospitable climate, Titan features terrain with Earth-like attributes such as lakes, rivers and seas. These liquids fall as rain and affect geology through erosion.

Freshwater biodiversity under threat

  • More than half of the endemic freshwater biodiversity in the Kerala region of the Western Ghats could be inching towards extinction in habitats outside protected areas, a recent study by an expert group has revealed.
  • The study published in the latest issue of Aquatic Conservation: Marine and Freshwater Ecosystems , an international journal, found that around 130 species of freshwater-dependent species including fish, amphibians, crabs, shrimps and odonates (dragonflies and damselflies) were endemic to the region, with 33 species listed as Critically Endangered, Endangered or Vulnerable.
  • More than half of the 130 species were not represented in the Protected Area (PA) network of the State.
  • The paper, a collaborative effort of the Kerala University of Fisheries and Ocean Studies (KUFOS), Kerala Forest Research Institute, Kerala Agricultural University, Department of Aquatic Biology and Fisheries, University of Kerala and Indian Institute of Science Education and Research, Pune, showed that the distribution of 12 endemic and threatened species including 10 fish, one amphibian and one shrimp also fell wholly outside the PA network comprising wildlife sanctuaries, national parks and biosphere reserves.
  • Odonates and freshwater shrimps had the fewest endemic species represented inside the protected areas of the State. The paper notes that native freshwater biodiversity inside protected areas was exposed to multiple threats like invasive alien species, damming of rivers and infectious diseases.
  • The scientists who are part of the study team feel that
    • Kerala will have to nearly double the area of the current PA network by widening the extent of existing PAs or creating new ones, especially targeting areas that are significant for biodiversity.
    • Protected areas in the Kerala region of the Western Ghats also need to be managed exclusively for freshwater biodiversity to prevent extinction of species
    • Need to address the issue despite the drastic impact of human activities and natural disturbances on freshwater ecosystems of the Western Ghats.

‘Sin tax’ reduces intake of energy-dense food in Mexico

  • Household purchases of nonessential energy-dense foods declined in Mexico in 2014 within a year of the government introducing 8 per cent tax on foods items with energy density of over 275 kcal/100 g, says a study published in PLOS Medicine . The nonessential food items included salty snacks, chips, pastries and frozen desserts.
  • While there was no change in the mean volume of taxed food items purchased by households in ‘high socioeconomic status’ category, consumption of such food declined in low and medium socioeconomic households. The reduction was 10.2 per cent in the case of low socioeconomic households, and 5.8 per cent in the case of medium socioeconomic ones.
  • Compared with affluent households, the low socioeconomic ones bought less-taxed food items before and after the tax, but showed the “greatest response” to it. An earlier study showed a 6 per cent decline in taxed (one peso per litre) sugar-sweetened beverages.
  • Besides reducing the amount of energy-dense food consumed by individuals, the introduction of taxes had an unexpected positive impact. Many companies reformulated their products, particularly jam and spreads, to fall under the 275 kcal/100 gram threshold.
  • The study used data on volume of household food purchases between January 2012 and December 2014 and included 6,248 households.
  • Mexico introduced the tax as it has one of the highest prevalence rates for obesity in the world. Over 33 per cent of Mexican children in the 2-18 years age group and around 70 per cent of its adults are obese. The North American country is the fourth largest consumer of energy-dense, ultras-refined food and drinks.
  • The North American country has one of the most obese populations in the world

Are big cars cleaner? Not yet in India

Context

  • Attorney General Mukul Rohatgi has claimed in the Supreme Court that big cars cause less pollution than small ones while challenging the court’s blanket ban on fresh registration of diesel luxury cars and SUVs with over 2000 CC engine capacity in Delhi.
    • Fact is there is no way to ascertain that, simply because car manufacturers do not share the emissions profile of their vehicles.
    • Moreover, technology treatments that allow certain big cars to be cleaner than their smaller compatriots aren’t available here because they require ultra-low-sulphur diesel that isn’t yet commercially available in the country.

Diesel engines and their pollution levels

  • Diesel engines can vary in the quantity of particulate matter they emit
  • They are now globally castigated for being a source of nitrous oxides and particulate matter and believed to aggravate several lung diseases,
  • As of today, diesel engine cars in India are only required to ensure that
    • they emit no more than 0.025 gm/km of particulate matter if they are “small” and
    • 0.06 gm/km if they are “big” or 2000 cc-and-above and
    • only if they are registered in the 13 Indian cities bound by the Bharat Stage-4 norms.
  • The same cars are allowed to emit roughly 10 times more nitrous oxide emissions, again depending on the weight class.
  • This underlines the paradox of pollution by diesel engines. The way a diesel engine burns its fuel is more efficient compared to a petrol engine.While this could mean less particulate matter, it correspondingly raises nitrous oxide levels. Conversely, trying to rein in nitrous oxides will compromise fuel-use efficiency and increase particulate matter emissions.
  • A big diesel car could have reduced nitrous oxide emissions than a small car if it employed specific exhaust treatment technologies.
    • Eg: Selective Catalytic Reduction (SCR) module ,Exhaust Gas Recovery (EGR) and nitrogen trap.
    • Trouble is that SCR, which is scheduled to become mandatory for the forthcoming Euro 6 norms in 2020, and even EGR are presumed to be effective only if they use diesel that has sulphur content less than 50 parts per million. Oil companies in India have yet to put in infrastructure to produce such diesel.
  • Volkswagen, Mercedes and Toyota cars are equipped with particulate filters abroad. But they are not available in their Indian versions.

Juno in Jupiter’s orbit after 5-year journey

  • The National Aeronautics and Space Administration’s Juno spacecraft has successfully entered the orbit around Jupiter without being knocked down by the planet’s intense magnetic field and radiation. Spacecraft had travelled 2.8 billion km since its launch in August 2011.
  • Juno, with a diameter of 11.5 ft, is not the first spacecraft to enter into orbit around Jupiter.
  • Juno’s name comes from Greek and Roman mythology.The mythical god Jupiter drew a veil of clouds around himself to hide his mischief, and his wife — the goddess Juno — was able to peer through the clouds and unveil his true nature.

Comparison with Galileo

  1.  Unlike its predecessor, the Galileo spacecraft that explored the planet between 1995 and 2003, Juno will study Jupiter much more thoroughly given the array of nine scientific instruments that it carries on board.
  2. The most important difference between the two missions is Juno’s ability to see below the dense cloud cover of Jupiter; only a probe of Galileo entered the planet’s atmosphere. Getting as close as 5,000 km from the cloudtops and being able to see through the clouds will make it possible for Juno’s camera, Junocam, to take close-up photos of the poles and other points of interest.

Functions of Juno

  1. The main objectives of the mission are to understand the origin and evolution of Jupiter, to find out if the planet, like Earth, has a solid rocky core, to uncover the source of its intense magnetic field, to measure water and ammonia in deep atmosphere, and to observe the auroras.
  2. Juno will orbit the planet from pole-to-pole, minimising the amount of radiation exposure, but the orbit will ultimately shift due to Jupiter’s intense gravitational field, making the spacecraft pass through more intense regions of radiation. Though shielded by a titanium vault, the radiation from Jupiter will slowly but surely compromise the instruments by the time it finishes its mission in February 2018.
  3. But before this happens, scientists expect to collect enough information to further our understanding of how the giant planet was formed some 4.5 billion years ago, and of the origins of the solar system. The amount of water it contains and the nature of its core will provide clues about where the planet formed early in the system’s life span.

NASA spacecraft on course for its date with Jupiter

  • Juno, an unmanned NASA spacecraft, is barrelling toward Jupiter on a mission to circle the biggest planet in the solar system and shed new light on the origin of our planetary neighbourhood. Even though the spacecraft is entirely robotic and controllers on Earth can do nothing at this stage, Bolton admitted this week to being nervous about its entry into orbit of the spacecraft, five years after its launch from Cape Canaveral, Florida.
  • On July 4 and 5, the solar-powered vehicle should plunge into Jupiter’s poisonous atmosphere to begin orbiting for almost two years.

Jupiter

  • Jupiter is the fifth planet from the sun.
  • Its atmosphere is made up of hydrogen and helium and packed with so much radiation that it would be more than 1,000 times the lethal level for a human.
  • The gas giant is enshrouded in the strongest magnetic field in the solar system.
  • Jupiter is perhaps best known for its Great Red Spot, which is actually a massive storm, bigger than the Earth, that has been roiling for hundreds of years.
  • The planet is marked by cold, windy clouds of ammonia and water that appear as reddish, brown and beige stripes and swirls

NASA’s Juno spacecraft swims into Jupiter’s magnetosphere

  • NASA’s Jupiter-bound Juno spacecraft has entered the planet’s magnetosphere, where the movement of particles in space is controlled by what is going on inside Jupiter.
  • The obstacle is Jupiter’s magnetosphere, which is the largest structure in the solar system.
  • Out in the solar wind a few days ago, Juno was speeding through an environment that has about 16 particles per cubic inch. Once it crossed into the magnetosphere, the density was about a hundredfold less. The density is expected to climb again, as the spacecraft gets closer to Jupiter itself.
  • The motions of these particles travelling under the control of Jupiter’s magnetic field will be one type of evidence Juno examines for clues about Jupiter’s deep interior.
  • While this transition from the solar wind into the magnetosphere was predicted to occur at some point in time, the structure of the boundary between those two regions proved to be unexpectedly complex, with different instruments reporting unusual signatures both before and after the nominal crossing

Juno in Jupiter’s orbit after 5-year journey

  • NASA’s solar-powered Juno spacecraft successfully entered Jupiter’s orbit after a five-year journey from the Earth, in a giant step to understand the origin and evolution of the king of planets and the solar system.
  • With its suite of nine science instruments, Juno will study the existence of a solid planetary core, map Jupiter’s intense magnetic field, measure the amount of water and ammonia in the deep atmosphere and observe auroras on our solar system’s largest planet.
  • The mission also will let us take a big step forward in our understanding of how giant planets form, NASA said.

Remote Pacific nation threatened by rising seas

  • Pacific island nations are among the world’s most physically and economically vulnerable to climate change and extreme weather events like floods, earthquakes and tropical cyclones, the World Bank said in a 2013 report.
  • Kiribati is a collection of 33 coral atolls and reef islands scattered across a swath of the Pacific Ocean about twice the size of Alaska and lies no higher than 6 feet above sea level.
  • For years, scientists have been predicting that much of Kiribati may become uninhabitable within decades because of an onslaught of environmental problems linked to climate change.
  • While world powers have summit meetings to negotiate treaties on how to reduce and mitigate carbon emissions, residents of tiny Kiribati, a former British colony with 1,10,000 people, are debating how to respond before it is too late.
  • The latest climate models predict the world’s oceans could rise 5 to 6 feet by 2100. The prospects of rising seas and intensifying storms threaten the very existence and livelihoods of large segments of the population
  • Climate change and sea level rise may have following impact in Kiribati-
    • Causeways would be washed away, crippling the economy;
    • degraded coral reefs, damaged by warming water, would allow stronger waves to slam the coast, increasing erosion, and
    • would disrupt the food supply, which depends heavily on fish supported by the reefs.
    • Higher temperatures and rainfall changes would increase the prevalence of diseases like dengue fever and ciguatera poisoning.

Quick vaccine for Ebola, H1N1

  • MIT scientists, including one of Indian origin, have developed a new easily customisable vaccine that can be rapidly deployed in response to disease outbreaks such as Ebola and H1N1 influenza.
  • The vaccine, that can be manufactured in a week, has genetic material known as messenger RNA.

 

India’s air defence system achieves a hat-trick

  • India successfully test fired the new Medium Range Surface to Air Missile (MRSAM) developed jointly with Israel from a defence base off Odisha coast in a third consecutive trial of the air defence system.
  • The missile with a strike range of 70 km was launched at 1020 hours from the Integrated Test Range (ITR) at Chandipur
  • The objective of today’s mission was for maximum range and high manoeuvring target. The missile guided by armoured seeker system hit the last minute manoeuvring target. With this, MRSAM system has proved the air defence capability for three different boundary envelopes of the target

India’s thriving biodiversity: 445 new species added in 2015

  • Four species of reptiles, six species of amphibians, 26 species of fishes, three species of wild ginger and three of figs are among the 445 species new to science identified in India in 2015. The figure includes 262 animal species and 183 plant species.
  • Some of the notable additions to the list of animals include a rock gecko ( Hemidactylus yajurvedi ) found in Kanker Chhattishgarh, a new frog species ( Fejervarya gomantaki ) from the Western Ghats, and a shiny new species of fish ( Barilius ardens ), also from the Western Ghats.
  • Among the plants, a new species of ginger Zingiber bipinianum has been found in the South Garo hills of Meghalaya, and a species of mushroom ( Bondarzewia zonata ) has been collected from north Sikkim at an altitude of 2,829 m.
  • Scientists of the Botanical Survey of India (BSI) are delighted that all regions in the country have recorded new species while those from the Zoological Society of India (ZSI) are excited that more than 15 per cent of the new species are higher vertebrates.
  • The most discoveries were made in the Eastern Himalaya region, which accounts for 19 per cent of the total discoveries followed by the Western Ghats (18 per cent) and Andaman and Nicobar Islands at about 15 per cent, BSI director Paramjit Singh said.

Indigenous Tejas joins IAF’s fighter squadron

  • The first two contemporary or fourth generation Light Combat Aircraft ‘Tejas,’ designed and built in India, joined the Indian Air Force’s squadron called Flying Daggers in Bengaluru
  • The current IAF fighters are the French-origin Mirage-2000s and the Russian origin Sukhoi-30s and the aged MiGs.
  • Tejas has been developed for the IAF and the Navy by the Aeronautical Development Agency (ADA) starting 1985 and produced by the public sector aircraft manufacturer, Hindustan Aeronautics Ltd, both based in Bengaluru.
  • A full squadron will have 16 fighters and two to four trainers. It will move to the base in Sulur in Tamil Nadu after two years. For now, the two will be stationed in Bengaluru in the care of HAL.
  • The IAF had ordered 40 LCA in two versions and promised to buy another 80 in the upgraded Mark 1A version. The first 20 are expected by 2018-19. On May 17, Chief Air Chief Marshal Arup Raha flew the fighter in Bengaluru.
  • The LCA was conceived in 1985 to replace the MiG-21 series. The first prototype flew in January 4, 2001.

New Horizons’ next goal: fly deeper into space

  • After its historic first-ever flyby of Pluto, NASA’s New Horizons mission has received the green light to fly onward to an object deeper in the Kuiper Belt.
  • The spacecraft’s planned rendezvous with the ancient object named 2014 MU69 — considered one of the early building blocks of the solar system — is January 1, 2019.
  • In addition to the extension of the New Horizons mission, NASA said the Dawn spacecraft should remain at the dwarf planet Ceres rather than changing course to the main belt asteroid Adeona.
  • The Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter (MRO), Mars Atmosphere and Volatile EvolutioN (MAVEN), the Opportunity and Curiosity Mars rovers, the Mars Odyssey orbiter, the Lunar Reconnaissance Orbiter (LRO), and NASA’s support for the European Space Agency’s Mars Express mission have also got extension.

Climate change threatening penguins in Antarctica

  • Continued warming of Antarctica could wipe out 60 per cent of Adelie penguin colonies by the end of the century, warns new research.