21st December 2020

Varasat Campaign

Recently, the Uttar Pradesh government has launched the ‘Varasat’ Campaign.

  • It is a special campaign of Uttar Pradesh to curb property & land-related disputes in rural areas.
  • It is a first of its kind campaign to end the nagging land-related issues in the rural areas.
  • It is aimed at eradicating the exploitation of the villagers in the name of ‘Varasat’ of land and property.

Significance of Varasat Campaign

  • The ‘Varasat’ campaign will not only end the long pending land disputes, but will also put a check on the land mafia who generally target disputed lands especially in the rural areas.
  • The new initiative is expected to settle case pending for years in the around one lakh revenue villages of the state.
  • After the ‘Varasat’ exercise, people will get proper paper documents of their land property and could also get loans from banks.
  • It will also be helpful in minimising disputes and animosity within families and relatives.


E20 Fuel

Recently, the Ministry of Road Transport and Highways has published a draft notification and invited comments from the public for adoption of E20 Fuel.

  • The current permissible level of blending is 10% of ethanol but India has reached only 5.6% of blending in 2019.
  • The move assumes significance in the wake of Transport Minister stressing on promoting green fuel like ethanol to reduce huge Rs 8 lakh crore crude import dependence.
  • The government aspires to take the ethanol economy to Rs 2 lakh crore in the next five years from Rs 22,000 crore at present.

E20 Fuel

  • E20 fuel, i.e. blend of 20% of ethanol with gasoline, as an automotive fuel and for the adoption of mass emission standards for this fuel

Significance of E20 Fuel

  • It is an automobile fuel which is capable of reducing vehicular emissions such as carbon dioxide, hydrocarbons, etc.
  • It will help reduce the oil import bill, thereby saving foreign exchange and boosting energy security.
  • It added the compatibility of vehicles with the percentage of ethanol in the blend would be defined by the vehicle manufacturer, which would have to be displayed on the vehicle with a sticker.

Ethanol Blending Policy in India

  • Ethanol is a biofuel and a common by-product of biomass left by agricultural feedstock such as corn, sugarcane, hemp, potato, etc.
  • The government has set targets of 10 per cent bioethanol blending of petrol by 2022 and to raise it to 20 per cent by 2030 under the ethanol blending programme to curb carbon emissions and reduce India’s dependence on imported crude oil.
  • 1G bioethanol plants utilise sugarcane juice and molasses, byproducts in the production of sugar, as raw material, while 2G plants utilise surplus biomass and agricultural waste to produce bioethanol.



Recently, the Department of Community Medicine, Government Medical College Hospital, Kozhikode, has begun an investigation into the outbreak of Shigella infection at Mayanad area in the city.

  • Shigella is a Gram-negative, non-motile bacillus belonging to the Enterobacteriaceae family
  • The experts have provided that shigella bacteria causes an infection called shigellosis, and the infected will have diarrhoea, stomach cramps and fever.
  • Diarrhoea, often containing blood or mucus in stool, stomach pain, cramps, fever and vomiting are the main symptoms of the infection.

Transmission of Shigella Infection

  • Infants, non-breast fed children, children recovering from measles, malnourished children, and adults older than 50 years have a more severe illness and a greater risk of death.
  • It is highly contagious and can be transmitted after using a common toilet also.
  • The transmission occurs via the faecal-oral route, person-to-person contact, household flies, infected water, and inanimate objects.

Treatment of Shigella Infection

  • The 2005 guidelines recommend ciprofloxacin as first-line treatment and noted that pivmecillinam and ceftriaxone were the only antimicrobials that are usually effective for treatment of multi-resistant strains of Shigella in all age groups.
  • The WHO 2013 Pocket book of hospital care for children includes a section on the treatment of Shigella dysentery.
    • The treatment protocol is concurrent with the 2005 guidelines outlined above, with the exception of a slightly lower dosage range listed for ceftriaxone.


India’s First Hypersonic Wind Tunnel Test Facility

Recently, the Union Minister of Defence has inaugurated India’s First Hypersonic Wind Tunnel (HWT) Test Facility at DRDO.

  • The state-of-the-art HWT Test facility is pressure vacuum driven enclosed free jet facility having nozzle exit diameter of 1 meter and will simulate Mach No 5 to 12.
  • India is the third country to have such a large facility in terms of size and operating capability after US and Russia.
  • It is an indigenous development and an outcome of synergistic partnership with Indian industries.
  • The facility has the capability to simulate hypersonic flow over a wide spectrum and will play a major role in the realisation of highly complex futuristic aerospace and defence systems.

Application of Hypersonic Wind Tunnel

  • Air-directly-heated hypersonic wind tunnel: It can be operated in a continuous mode for long test time and are broadly used in aerodynamic tests for hypersonic vehicles.
  • Light-gas-heated high-enthalpy shock tunnel: For shock tunnels, the shock theory indicates that the incident shock Mach number increases with the increase of the pressure and the sound speed of the driver gas and the total temperature of the test gas depends on the incident shock Mach number.
  • Free-piston driven high-enthalpy shock tunnel: In a free-piston driven high-enthalpy shock tunnel, the high pressure driver gas is generated by a rapidly-moving piston.
    • During shock tunnel operation, a heavy piston is first accelerated to a high speed in a shock tube, and then compresses the driver gas in front of its nose.
  • Detonation-driven high-enthalpy shock tunnel: A detonation driver is established based on high pressure and temperature detonated products from which the required incident shock wave is generated.


Human Freedom Index

Recently, the Human Freedom Index 2020 was released by the Cato Institute in the United States and Fraser Institute in Canada.

  • The Human Freedom Index 2020, which uses data from 2008 to 2018, noted a decrease in personal freedoms since 2008 globally.
  • This sixth annual index uses 76 distinct indicators of personal and economic freedom in the following areas:
    • Rule of Law
    • Security and Safety
    • Movement
    • Religion
    • Association, Assembly, and Civil Society
    • Expression and Information
    • Identity and Relationships
    • Size of Government
    • Legal System and Property Rights
    • Access to Sound Money
    • Freedom to Trade Internationally
    • Regulation of Credit, Labor, and Business
  • New Zealand was ranked one in the index, followed by Switzerland and Hong Kong.
  • The index put China at 129, Bangladesh at 139 and Pakistan at 140.
  • The report highlighted that the level of global freedom has decreased slightly (−0.04), with 70 countries in the index increasing their ratings and 70 decreasing.
    • Only 15% of the world’s population lives in the top quartile of countries in the HFI, and 34% live in the bottom quartile.
  • The gap in human freedom between the most free and the least free countries has widened since 2008, increasing by 6% when comparing the top and bottom 10% of nations in the HFI.
  • The report added that out of 10 regions, the regions with the highest levels of freedom are North America (Canada and the United States), Western Europe and East Asia.
  • Women-specific freedoms are strongest in North America, Western Europe, and East Asia and are least protected in the Middle East and North Africa, sub-Saharan Africa, and South Asia.

India’s performance in Human Freedom Index 2020

  • India was ranked 111th out of the 162 countries under personal, civil and economic freedom.
  • India was ranked 110 in terms of personal freedom and 105 on economic freedom, with an overall score of 6.43 out of 10.
  • India ranks above neighbours Pakistan (140), Bangladesh (139) and China (129) but below Bhutan (108), Sri Lanka (94) and Nepal (92).

Human Freedom Index

  • It presents the state of human freedom in the world based on a broad measure that encompasses personal, civil, and economic freedom.
  • Human freedom is a social concept that recognizes the dignity of individuals and is defined here as negative liberty or the absence of coercive constraint.
  • It is a resource that can help to more objectively observe relationships between freedom and other social and economic phenomena.


Sixth Schedule Areas

Recently, the members of the Khasi Students’ Union (KSU) have declared all Bengalis in Meghalaya as Bangladeshis.

  • The entire state of Meghalaya except a tiny area within the capital Shillong is covered by the Sixth Schedule to the Constitution of India.

Constitutional Provisions of Sixth Schedule Areas

  • It is mentioned under Article 244 of the Constitution of India.
  • The Sixth Schedule applies to the Tribal Areas of Assam, Meghalaya, Tripura and Mizoram.
  • Passed by the Constituent Assembly in 1949, it seeks to safeguard the rights of tribal population through the formation of Autonomous District Councils (ADC).
  • The governors of states under Sixth Schedule Area are empowered to reorganise boundaries of the tribal areas.
    • The governor can choose to include or exclude any area, increase or decrease the boundaries and unite two or more autonomous districts into one.

Implications of Sixth Schedule

  • It provides for autonomy in the administration of these areas through Autonomous District Councils (ADCs) and the Regional Councils empowered to make laws in respect of areas under their jurisdiction.
    • In all, there are 10 areas in the Northeast that are registered as autonomous districts i.e. three in Assam, Meghalaya and Mizoram and one in Tripura.
  • It covers land, forest, cultivation, inheritance, indigenous customs and traditions of tribals, etc. and also to collect land revenues and certain other taxes.
  • The ADCs are like miniature states having specific powers and responsibilities in respect of all the three arms of governance i.e. legislature, executive and judiciary.

Concerns associated with Sixth Schedule

  • The Sixth Schedule discriminates against the non-tribal residents in various ways and infringes upon their fundamental rights, like the right to equality before law (Article 14), right against discrimination (Article 15), and the right to settle anywhere in India (Article 19).
  • The special constitutional protections are indeed required for marginalised sections to ensure that historical wrongs done to them are reversed and not repeated, but it has denied justice to the non-tribals, who have lived in Meghalaya for generations but ended up marginalised.
  • The existence of the Sixth Schedule in a full-fledged state with all powers is thus not only unnecessary but also illogical because it undermines social harmony, stability and economic development of the state and the region.


Positive Pay System

Recently, the Reserve Bank of India (RBI) has announced that it will introduce the ‘Positive Pay System’ for cheques transactions above Rs 50,000 in a bid to enhance safety and eliminate frauds.

What is Positive Pay System?

  • Under this process, the issuer of the cheque submits electronically (through channels like SMS, mobile app, Internet banking and ATM) certain minimum details of that cheque to the drawee bank, details of which are cross-checked with the presented cheque by Cheque Truncation System (CTS).
  • The National Payments Corporation of India (NPCI) will develop the facility of Positive Pay in CTS, and make it available to participant banks.
  • The Positive Pay System will be implemented from January 1, 2021.
  • The Positive Pay system is to augment customer safety in cheque payments and reduce instances of fraud occurring on account of tampering of cheque leaves.

Types of Cheque under Positive Pay System

  • The banks will enable the new system for all account holders issuing cheques for amounts of Rs 50,000 and above.
  • While availing of this facility is at the discretion of the account holder, banks may consider making it mandatory in case of cheques for amounts of Rs 5,00,000 and above.

New dispute redressal mechanism under PPS

  • Only those cheques that are compliant with the new system will be accepted under the dispute resolution mechanism at the CTS grids.
  • The member banks may implement similar arrangements for cheques cleared or collected outside CTS as well.
  • The RBI has already told banks to create adequate awareness among their customers on features of the Positive Pay System through SMS alerts, displays in branches, ATMs, as well as through their websites and Internet banking.

Share of Positive Pay in overall cheque transactions

  • The new measure will cover approximately 20 per cent and 80 per cent of total cheques issued in the country by volume and value, respectively.
    • The Cheque Truncation System (CTS) for clearing cheques is operational pan-India, and presently covers 2 per cent and 15 per cent of total retail payments in terms of volume and value respectively.
  • The CTS-2010 standard specifying minimum security features on cheque leaves acts as a deterrent against cheque frauds, while standardisation of field placements on cheque forms enables straight-through-processing by use of optical or image character recognition technology.


Elephants and Tigers did not go extinct in India

Recently, a team from Yale University set out to investigate that why big mammals such as elephants, tigers, and rhinos are still seen in India when they disappeared from the Americas.

  • Over the last 100,000 years, several land-dwelling mammals including big carnivores have gone extinct across the globe.
  • Most of the mega fauna of South Asia and Africa were resilient to the arrival of modern humans and the region still has large land mammals such as elephants, tigers, and rhinos.

Key Findings

  • The paper shows that the extinction rate in India and Africa over the past 50,000 years is 2.5 times lower than in South America, and nearly 4 times lower than in North America, Europe, Madagascar, and Australia.
  • It found that mega fauna persisted in India, just like in Africa, for at least 20,000 years in the presence of hominins or early Homo sapiens relatives.
  • It is the first study to explore the extinction of mega fauna in Indian subcontinent in detail, and documents a mere handful of large animals that are found extinct in the fossil record.
  • North America, Europe, Australia, and other higher latitudes, saw the complete extinction of many well-recognised megafauna such as the 250 kg saber-toothed tiger, the 600 kg woolly mammoth, the whopping 7,000 kg mastodon, and even the 70 kg dire wolf.
  • In the fossil record of the Indian subcontinent, only a few megafauna were found to have gone extinct, while most others have evolved to scaled-down sizes today.
  • The team documented the extinction of a total of seven large species in India in the past 30,000 years and the four were largest:
    • Palaeoloxodon namadicus or the Asian straight-tusked elephant;
    • Stegodon namadicus, another elephant relative with long tusks;
    • Hexaprotodon sp., a family of hippopotamus relatives; and
    • Equus namadicus, a kind of prehistoric horse
  • The above four extinctions make up only four per cent of Indian megafauna and about one-fifth of mammalian megafauna.

Causes for extinction

  • The exact cause for their extinction cannot be narrowed down to a single prime reason, such as overhunting as with megafauna’s extinction elsewhere.
  • The study highlighted the evidence of the butchery and hunting of mammoths, mastodons, bison, horses, and camels in North America.
  • Breeding and drought: Larger species reproduce slowly with longer gestation periods and pregnancies, and larger gaps between births.
    • Under conditions of drought, breeding becomes even slower, and fossil evidence indicates that these animals survived several drought-like conditions.
  • Range of habitat: While modern mammals lived across Southeast Asia, the extinct animals’ ranges were confined to the Subcontinent.
    • It reduces the overall metapopulation or pockets of populations of the same species to a small geographic area, increasing their risk of extinction.
  • Climatic change: The Late Quaternary experienced both strengthening and weakening monsoons in India, driven by three major cold, dry events in higher latitudes which saw a return to more cooling after the warming post-Last Glacial Maximum (LGM).
  • Human impact: The human causes behind the extinction were still the biggest contributing factor, as the megafauna survived other unfavourable conditions over millennia.
    • The authors attribute the increased rates of extinction and ultimate decline of each species to sophisticated hunting technology.

Co-evolution and present-day implications

  • The findings provide the first independent evidence for the co-evolution hypothesis, which was until now confined to Africa.
  • It states that the magnitude of extinction inversely correlates with the amount of time large mammals coexisted with modern humans and human ancestors.
  • The fossil evidence indicates that humans in India preferred to hunt smaller creatures, and were also domesticating cattle for dairy, indicating evolving dietary lifestyles away from hunting large animals.
  • The unfavourable environmental conditions typically cause an entire species to move to a suitable habitat, called a refugium, to survive difficult times.
  • The pseudoextinction or a phyletic extinction is one where one species goes extinct, but an evolved daughter species survives.
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