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Current Affairs for UPSC Civil Services Exam – May 11, 2024

{GS2 – IR – India-Palestine} India’s Support for Palestine

  • Context (TH): India voted in favour of a draft U.N. General Assembly resolution that supported Palestine as a full member of the United Nations.

History of India’s Stand on Palestine

  • In 1947, India voted against the UN Resolution to partition Palestine into a Jewish state, an Arab state and an international city. Instead, it preferred a federal state, with Arabs and Jews enjoying the widest possible autonomy, with a special status for Jerusalem.
  • Further, though India recognised Israel in 1950, it did not establish diplomatic relations until 1992.
  • After India established full diplomatic relations with Israel in 1992, bilateral ties between New Delhi and Tel Aviv began to deepen. But India publicly maintained its support for the creation of a Palestine state with East Jerusalem as its capital and based on the 1967 borders.
  • In 1974, India became the first non-Arab state to recognize the Palestine Liberation Organization (PLO) as the sole and legitimate representative of the Palestinian people.
  • In 1988, India became one of the first countries to recognize the Palestinian State.
  • In 1996, India opened its Representative Office in Gaza, which was later shifted to Ramallah in 2003.
  • India voted in favour of Palestine becoming a full member of UNESCO.
  • In 2012, India co-sponsored and voted in favour of the UNGA Resolution that enabled Palestine to become a ‘non-member Observer state’ at the UN without voting rights.
  • In 2015, India supported the Bandung Declaration on Palestine (Sought the liberation of Palestine from illegal Israeli Occupation) at the Asian African Commemorative Conference.

Changes under the present government

  • In recent decades, India strengthened ties with Israel, including buying arms, and has toned down its support for Palestine’s cause in the last decade, especially in fora, such as the United Nations. However, the formal position remains unchangedIndia supports the two-state solution, with Israel and Palestine living side by side as good neighbours.
  • Post October 7 attack, India supported a resolution that called for “an immediate humanitarian ceasefire” and expressed “deep concern” over Israel’s continuing occupation of Syria’s Golan Heights.

Learn in detail about the October 7 attack and the Genesis of the Palestine Conflict.

  • Context (TH): Lack of specific legislation governing freshwater exploration beyond national jurisdiction.
  • Earth’s total water volume is about 1.386 billion km3 (97.5% being salt water and 2.5% freshwater). Only 0.3% of freshwater is in liquid form on the surface, while the rest is underground.
  • With freshwater becoming scarce, countries are likely to explore and exploit freshwater resources above or under their ocean bed, including within their maritime zones.
  • Exploration may extend beyond Exclusive Economic Zones (EEZ) into the “Area” under the United Nations Law of the Sea Convention, 1982 (UNCLOS).
  • The “Area” under UNCLOS is defined as the seabed and ocean floor and subsoil thereof beyond the limits of national jurisdiction.

UNCLOS Maritime Zones - PMF IAS

Challenges in controlling resources beyond EEZ

  • Customary international law remains significant alongside UNCLOS in shaping laws regarding the sea.
    • For example, other conventions like the Geneva Conventions on the Law of the Sea, 1958, cover similar issues as UNCLOS.
  • The International Seabed Authority (ISA) administers activities in the “Area” under UNCLOS. However, it’s unclear who regulates activities in the “Area” for states parties to the Geneva Conventions. The “Area” may attract controversy due to this legal gap.
  • Non-signatory states to UNCLOS may not recognise concepts like Exclusive Economic Zone (EEZ).

Way forward

  • Developing noncontroversial legislation to address gaps in sea laws, especially regarding freshwater exploration, is essential. India could lead efforts in this area.

{GS2 – IR – UN} UN Forum on Forests

  • Context (DTE): The 19th session of the United Nations Forum on Forests (UNFF) was held recently.
  • The UN Forum on Forests was established in 2000 as a subsidiary body of the UN Economic and Social Council (ECOSOC).
  • Objective: To promote the management, conservation and sustainable development of all types of forests and to strengthen long-term political commitment to this end.
  • Membership: The Forum has universal membership and is composed of all United Nations member states and specialised agencies. India is a founding member.
  • Headquarters: New York
  • The UNFF submits its sessional reports to the General Assembly through ECOSOC.

UN Economic and Social Council (ECOSOC)

  • The UN Charter established ECOSOC in 1945 as one of the 6 main organs of the UN.
  • Objective: To advance the 3 dimensions of sustainable development – economic, social and environmental.
  • Members: It consists of 54 members elected by UNGA for a term of 3 years. Each member shall have one representative.
  • Each member of the Economic and Social Council shall have one vote. Decisions of the Economic and Social Council shall be made by a majority of the members present and voting.
  • ECOSOC is the ‘principal body’ for coordination, policy review, policy dialogue, and recommendations on economic, social, and environmental issues, as well as for implementing internationally agreed-upon development goals.

{GS2 – MEITY – Initiatives} DigiLocker

  • Context (TH): DigiLocker has become a digital placeholder for administrative and government-related documents.
  • The DigiLocker platform, launched in 2015, is a flagship initiative of the Ministry of Electronics & IT (MeitY) under the Digital India programme. It operates as an app to store users’ digital records.
  • It is a cloud-based platform designed to store citizens’ digital documents. The stored documents can also be shared and verified through DigiLocker.

Benefits

  • Convenient and eco-friendly as it saves money, time, paper, and the environment.
  • Secure storage as encryption, multi-factor authentication for login puts control in the hands of the user allowing them to share information with only the required authorities selectively. 
  • Wide acceptance as documents stored on DigiLocker are accepted widely by most government authorities, thus eliminating the need to carry physical copies.

{GS3 – Envi – CC Impacts} Melting of Humboldt Glacier

  • Context (TOI | WION): Venezuela becomes the first nation to lose all of its glaciers.
  • By 2011, five of Venezuela’s glaciers had vanished, leaving only the Humboldt glacier, also known as La Corona, struggling for survival in the Sierra Nevada National Park.

Humboldt glacier - PMF IAS

Credit: Dailymail

  • Recently, the International Cryosphere Climate Initiative (ICCI), held that the South American nation’s only remaining glacier – the Humboldt in the Andes – had become “too small to be classed as a glacier” and has been classified into ice field.
    • While there is no global standard for the minimum size a body of ice must be to qualify as a glacier, the US Geological Survey says a commonly accepted guideline is around 10 hectares.
  • An interconnected series of ice caps and glaciers is called an ice field.

Learn in detail about the Melting of Glaciers.

{GS3 – Envi – Conservation} No fresh Mining leases or renewals in Aravallis *

  • Context (TH): The Supreme Court stopped the grant of fresh mining leases and renewals in the Aravalli ranges and hills.
  • The order covers Delhi, Rajasthan, Haryana and Gujarat – the four States where the Aravallis reside.
  • The Forest Survey of India (FSI) report defined the Aravallis to include the hills and a uniform 100-metre-wide buffer zone around the mountain’s downsides.
  • There is no ban on legal mining activities carried out through valid permits and licences.
  • The Federation of Associations of Mining in Rajasthan had referred to the “cascading effect” a complete ban on mining would have on the livelihood of labourers.

About the Aravalli Range

  • Location: They stretch for a distance of about 720 km from Gujarat to Delhi, spanning Haryana, Rajasthan, Gujarat, and Delhi.
  • Formation: The Aravallis date back millions of years when a pre-Indian subcontinent collided with the mainland Eurasian Plate.
  • Age: Carbon dating has shown that copper and other metals mined in the ranges date back to at least the 5th century BC.

Characteristics

  • The Aravallis of Northwestern India, one of the oldest fold mountains of the world, now form residual mountains with an elevation of 300m to 900m.
  • Guru Shikhar Peak on Mount Abu is the highest peak in the Aravalli Range (1,722 m).
  • It is formed primarily of a folded crust, where two convergent plates move towards each other through a process called orogenic movement.

Extension

  • The mountains are divided into two main rangesthe Sambhar Sirohi Range and the Sambhar Khetri Range in Rajasthan, which extend about 560 km.
  • The hidden limb of the Aravallis, which extends from Delhi to Haridwar, creates a divide between the drainage of the Ganga and the Indus rivers.

Their Significance

Checks Desertification
  • It acts as a natural barrier between the fertile plains in the east and the sandy desert in the west.
  • Historically, the Aravalli range prevented the Thar desert from encroaching on the Indo-Gangetic plains, acting as a catchment for rivers and plains.
Rich in Biodiversity
  • It provides habitat to 300 native plant species, 120 bird species, and many exclusive animals, such as the jackal and mongoose.
Impacts Climate
  • It has an impact on the climate of northwest India and beyond.
  • During monsoons, it acts as a barrier, redirecting monsoon clouds eastwards toward Shimla and Nainital, nurturing the sub-Himalayan rivers and feeding the north Indian plains.
  • The Aravalli is the only barrier blocking dry winds from Afghanistan and Pakistan from reaching the Gangetic plains. Losing it would invite the arid climate from Afghanistan and Pakistan.
  • In the winter months, it protects the fertile alluvial river valleys from the cold, westerly winds from Central Asia.
Recharges Groundwater
  • Aravallis also functions as a groundwater recharge zone for the regions around that absorb rainwater and revive the groundwater level.
Checks Pollution
  • This range is considered the “lungs” for the polluted air of Delhi–National Capital Region (NCR).
  • For Haryana, with the lowest forest cover at about 3.59% of India’s total, the Aravalli range is its primary source, providing the majority of its forest cover (2017 Report).

Threats

  • The Aravalli hills are an ecologically sensitive zone but have for years borne the brunt of quarrying and environmental degradation.
  • A 2018 report by a SC-appointed Committee found that 25% of the Aravalli range has been lost due to illegal mining in Rajasthan since 1967-68.
  • The mining has destroyed aquifers and deforested them. Many rivers originating in the Aravalli, such as Banas, Luni, Sahibi, and Sakhi, are now dead.

Steps Taken

  • Mining in the Aravalli region has been banned since 2002 under the SC orders unless expressly permitted by the Union Environment Ministry. However, mining continues illegally.
  • The green wall is being planned from Porbandar to Panipat, which will help in restoring degraded land through afforestation along the Aravali hill range.

Aravalli Green Wall Project - PMF IAS

Credit: TOI

  • Ecologists, residents, and volunteers from iamgurgaon collaborated to create a self-sustaining Aravalli, showcasing a community-driven model for combating degradation.

{GS3 – S&T – Defence} Inter-Services Organisations (ISO) Act Notified **

  • Context (TH I IE): Under the theaterisation plan envisioned by the GoI, the ISO (Command, Control and Discipline) Act has been notified in a gazette.
  • It is like an ‘enabling Act’, maintaining stability and reliability in existing Service Acts/Rules/Regulations.
  • Under the theaterisation model, the GoI seeks to integrate the capabilities of the Army, the Air Force and the Navy and optimally utilise their resources for wars and operations.
  • The Act would lay a strong foundation for the creation of joint structures in the future and further improve the functioning of the armed forces.
  • In high-level military reforms, the post of Chief of Defence Staff (CDS) was created in 2019 with the mandate to ensure “jointnessof the three services in operations, logistics, transport, training, support services, communications, repairs, and maintenance.
    • The top priority for the CDS is the proposed reorganisation of the armed forces into integrated theatre commands.

Background

  • Currently, the Armed Forces operate under distinct Service Acts – the Army Act 1950, the Navy Act 1957, and the Air Force Act 1950.
  • However, the diverse nature of these acts has sometimes posed challenges in maintaining uniform discipline, coordination, and expeditious proceedings across the inter-service establishments.
  • The ISO Act addresses these concerns with its forward-looking provisions.

Salient Features of the Act

  • The bill’s applicability is comprehensive, extending to all regular Army, Navy, and Air Force personnel, ensuring a unified legal framework for the armed forces.
  • Under the bill, the GoI is vested with the authority to designate any force established and maintained within India. This designation will determine the applicability of the bill’s provisions, ensuring a flexible and adaptable legal framework.

Inter-services Organisation

  • Existing ISOs will be deemed to have been constituted under the Bill. These include:
    1. The Andaman and Nicobar Command,
    2. The Defence Space Agency, and
    3. The National Defence Academy.
  • The GoI may constitute an ISO, which has personnel belonging to at least two of the three services: the Army, the Navy, and the Air Force.

Expanded Command and Control Authority

  • Extension of command and control authority to the Commander-in-Chief or Officer-in-Command of an ISO.
  • Unlike the existing structure, where these officers lack disciplinary and administrative powers over personnel from other services, the bill empowers them to exercise full command and control. This includes maintaining discipline and ensuring the proper execution of duties by service personnel.

Commanding Officer

  • It introduces the concept of a Commanding Officer responsible for overseeing a unit, ship, or establishment.
  • In addition to their unit duties, this officer also fulfils tasks delegated by the Commander-in-Chief or Officer-in-Command of the Inter-services Organisation.

Central Government Authority

  • The superintendence of an ISO will be vested in the GoI.
  • The GoI may also issue directions to such organisations on grounds of national security, general administration, or public interest.

{GS3 – S&T – ISRO} 3D Printed Liquid Rocket Engine **

  • Context (TOI | NDTV): ISRO conducted successful hot testing of a liquid rocket engine using Additive Manufacturing (AM) techniques (3D printing).
  • The engine is designated for use in the PS4, the upper stage of the Polar Satellite Launch Vehicle (PSLV).
    • The PS4 engine uses nitrogen tetroxide as the oxidiser and monomethyl hydrazine as the fuel.
  • This approach, called Design for Additive Manufacturing, reduced the number of engine components.
  • The Laser Powder Bed Fusion technique used in manufacturing reduced raw material usage.
  • Laser Powder Bed Fusion technique: It is a 3D printing method that joins powdered material point by point using an energy source, typically a laser beam or an electron beam.

Learn in detail about 3D Printing.

{Prelims – In News} Indian Ocean Basin-Wide (IOBW) Index

  • Context (DTE): A new study published in the journal Science identified a specific indicator called the Indian Ocean basin-wide (IOBW) index.
  • According to the study, the IOBW index is closely associated with dengue outbreaks in both the Northern and Southern hemispheres.
    • Dengue incidence is higher when the index is positive and lower when it’s negative.
    • The IOBW index is more strongly associated with the Southern Hemisphere than the Northern Hemisphere. For instance, Brazil experiences a higher dengue burden in the Southern Hemisphere.

Indian Ocean Basin-Wide (IOBW) Index

  • It is a climatological index used to monitor and predict climate variability in the Indian Ocean region.
  • This index gauges the overall sea surface temperature anomalies across the entire Indian Ocean basin.
  • It is significantly valuable for understanding phenomena like the Indian Ocean Dipole and its impacts on regional climates and monsoon systems.
  • Dengue is a viral infection spread by infected Aedes mosquitoes.

{Prelims – In News} Oleander Flowers

  • Context (IE): Two Kerala government-controlled temple boards have banned the use of oleander flowers in temple offerings after a woman died after accidentally chewing some oleander leaves.

Oleander Flowers - PMF IAS

Credit: Calflora

  • Nerium oleander, commonly known as oleander or rosebay, (locally known as arali and kanaveeram) is a plant cultivated worldwide in tropical, subtropical, and temperate regions.
  • Known for its drought tolerance, the shrub is often used for ornamental and landscaping purposes.
  • Uses: It is used to treat infected wounds and skin diseases, including leprosy, microbes and parasites, and itching.
  • Harmful effects: Oleander toxicity include nausea, diarrhea, vomiting, rashes, confusion, dizziness, irregular heartbeat, slow heartbeat, and, in extreme cases, death.

{Prelims – In News} Uniyala Multibracteata

  • Context (TH): After a gap of 140 years, researchers have rediscovered a rare and endangered tree species, Uniyala multibracteata (locally known as Kattupoovamkurunnila), from a non-protected area of the Vagamon hills in the Western Ghats.
  • Kattupoovamkurunnila is a small tree or large shrub of 2 to 5 metres high. Its leaves are covered with cottony hairs. It is endemic to the Idukki district of Kerala.

Uniyala Multibracteata - PMF IAS

Credit: TH

Vagamon Hills

  • Vagamon is an enchanting hill station located on the Idukki-Kottayam border.
  • The Vagamon Hills are classified into Thangal Hills, Kurishumala Hills and Murugan Hills. These three hills are meant for Muslims, Christians and Hindus, respectively.

VAGAMON - PMF IAS

Credit: Iris Holidays

{Prelims – S&T – Defence} Hermes-900 Starliner Drone

  • Context (TOI): The Indian Army is getting a Hermes-900 Starliner drone.

Hermes-900 Starliner Drone - PMF IAS

Credit: Adani Defence.com

  • The Hermes-900, also known as Drishti-10, is provided to Indian forces by Adani Defence Systems.
  • The drones will be deployed in the Bhatinda base to monitor the entire western border with Pakistan.
  • This acquisition is part of a deal authorised by the Defence Ministry’s emergency powers.
    • It mandates that the systems supplied by vendors should be more than 60 per cent indigenous and should be under the Make in India in Defence.
  • Currently, the Indian Army operates Heron Mark 1 and Mark 2 drones.
    • Heron Drones: Developed by Israel Aerospace Industries (IAI), is a Medium-Altitude Long Endurance (MALE) UAV.

{Prelims – Sci – Bio – Diseases} Thrombosis and Thrombocytopenia Syndrome *

  • Context (IE): AstraZeneca has withdrawn its Covid vaccine from the global market.
  • Reason Stated for the withdrawal: There is a surplus of updated vaccines targeting new virus variants.
  • Studies reveal rare side effects like thrombosis and thrombocytopenia Syndrome (TTS) associated with the AstraZeneca vaccine.

Thrombosis

Thrombosis - PMF IAS

Credit: Cleveland Clinic

  • It happens when blood clots obstruct blood vessels, and there are two primary types.
  • Venous thrombosis: This occurs when a blood clot blocks a vein.
    • Veins transport blood from the body back to the heart.
  • Arterial thrombosis: This occurs when a blood clot obstructs an artery.
    • Artery carries oxygen-rich blood away from the heart to the body.

Thrombocytopenia Syndrome (TTS)

  • It occurs when a person has blood clots together with a low platelet count (thrombocytopenia).
  • Symptoms occurred between 4 and 42 days after vaccination with the AstraZeneca vaccine.

{Prelims – Sci – Bio – Diseases} Widal Test to diagnose Typhoid

  • Context (TH): The erroneous results of the Widal Test have been the reason behind the underestimation of India’s Typhoid burden.
  • The Widal test is a rapid diagnostic test used to identify the presence of infection with “Salmonella typhi”, which is the cause of typhoid fever.
  • It is used to help diagnose a current or recent infection or to determine if an individual has had a previous typhoid infection.
  • It is a point-of-care test and doesn’t need special skills or infrastructure.

Shortcomings of the Widal Test

  • A single positive Widal test report doesn’t necessarily mean a typhoid infection is present, and a negative report doesn’t confirm the disease’s absence.
  • In areas with high and continuous typhoid burden, certain levels of antibodies against the bacteria may already be present in the blood. Without knowing the baseline cut-off, it is not possible to correctly interpret the test.
  • The reagents used in the Widal test to reveal the presence of various antibodies can cross-react with antibodies produced against infections by other bacteria, viruses or parasites, or even in typhoid-vaccinated individuals, leading to false positives.
  • Prior antibiotic therapy can also affect antibody levels and yield a false negative.
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