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Current Affairs for UPSC Civil Services Exam – May 26-27, 2024

{GS2 – Governance – Laws} Fire safety rules **

  • Context (TH): Recent fire tragedies at Gujarat’s Rajkot and a children’s hospital in Delhi have shifted the spotlight on fire safety regulations.
  • According to the latest Accidental Deaths and Suicides in India (ADSI) report released by the National Crimes Records Bureau (NCRB), as many as 7,435 people were killed in over 7,500 fire accidents in 2022.

Fire safety regulations

National Building Code (NBC)

  • The National Building Code (NBC) serves as the central standard for fire safety in India.
  • It was published by the Bureau of Indian Standards (BIS) in 1970 and last updated in 2016.
  • NBC mentions that while absolute fire safety is not attainable in practice, specifies measures can be taken to provide the degree of protection from fire that can be “reasonably achieved.”
  • NBC is a “mandatory requirement” for State governments to incorporate into their local building bylaws.
  • “Fire services” is a State subject as a municipal function in the 12th Schedule of the Constitution.
  • State governments are responsible for fire prevention and ensuring the safety of life and property by implementing safety measures through the State Fire Services Act or building bylaws.
Provisions
  • Instructions on fire safety are detailed under Part 4 of the Code, which deals with safety from fire.
  • The Code specifies the demarcation and restrictions on the construction of buildings in fire zones.
  • Buildings are classified based on occupancy into nine groups.
    • E.g., hotels are under Residential ‘Group A’ & hospitals are under Institutional ‘Group C’.
  • It mentions the type of material to be used in construction to reduce the threat of destructive fires and minimise the danger to life before evacuation can take place.
  • The Code outlines maximum height, floor area ratio, open spaces, and provision of openings in walls and floors to prevent the spread of fire.
  • It includes guidelines related to electrical installations and materials. It adds that all metallic items should be adequately bonded to the earthing system.
  • The Code mentions in detail the types of exit access, exits, escape lighting and exit signage.
  • It further recommends technologies that can be incorporated into the system in case of a fire, like automatic fire detection and alarm systems.
  • Model Building Bye Laws 2016
  • These, issued by the Ministry of Housing and Urban Affairs, guide the States and UTs in drafting their respective building bylaws.
  • The Model also prescribes norms for fire protection and safety requirements.

National Disaster Management Authority (NDMA) guidelines

  • NDMA has also laid out guidelines on fire safety at homes, schools and hospitals.
  • Along with elements of the NBC, the NDMA mentions instructions on maintaining minimum open safety space, protected exit mechanisms, dedicated staircases, and crucial drills to carry out evacuations.

Challenges

  • No uniformity: Despite fire safety rules in all states, uniform safety legislation does not exist.
  • Recommendatory nature of NBC: Provisions are frequently ignored at the local level.
  • Exemptions in code: The Code itself mentions that in case of “practical difficulty or to avoid unnecessary hardship, without sacrificing reasonable safety, local head, fire services may consider exemptions.”
  • Underutilised fire safety audits: Failure of local bodies to conduct regular checks and enforce compliance under fire safety audits.
  • Understaffed local bodies: Shortage of staff exacerbates the issue, leading to the tragic loss of lives, as in the Rajkot game zone and Delhi hospital fires.
  • Learning from the past: In 2020, the National Institute of Disaster Management (NIDM) mentioned in a report on “Fires in India: Learning Lessons for Urban Safety’ (2020)” that apathy of the authorities in taking any action has clearly indicated that little has been learnt from the previous fire outbreaks.

Suggestions under NIDM report

  • Ensuring compliance: Compliance with the building bylaws and planning norms can easily avoid such deadly incidents.
  • For instance, in the Rajkot case, the accused defied the norms by setting up a 50-metre wide and 60-metre long structure with a height of around two-storey building using metal sheet fabrication.
  • According to the FIR, the accused had not obtained a no-objection certificate (NOC) from the local fire department and did not even have proper fire-fighting equipment.
  • Regular, not reactive, measures: Regular fire audits and necessary action are needed.
  • Community resilience: Building community resilience can also be helpful in avoiding this disaster.

Note: This topic is also important for ethics case studies.

{GS2 – Polity – IC – Elections} Special categories of Voters *

  • Context (IE): Under the Representation of the People Act, 1951 (RPA), special exceptions are made for specific categories of voters to ensure that everyone gets to exercise their franchise.

Alternative methods of voting

  1. Postal ballots
  2. Facilitation centres,
  3. Postal voting centres
  4. Home voting
  5. Voting in a different polling centre
  6. Proxy voting
  7. Assisted voting

Postal Ballots

  • ‘Postal ballot’ allows voters who cannot be physically present in polling stations to vote remotely, as specified in Section 60 of the RPA.
  • This method differs from regular voting in three ways.
    1. Polling takes place outside the polling station;
    2. It takes place without EVMs (EDC voters are an exception);
    3. Polling takes place before the designated poll poll date in the constituency.
  • Those eligible for postal voting must submit a formal application to the Returning Officer (RO) within a set timeframe.
  • Service voters and electors under Preventive Detention automatically receive postal ballots. Once issued, these voters cannot vote in person.
  • Their name on the electoral roll will be marked with ‘PB’, except for Service voters, who have a separate part of the electoral roll in each constituency.
  • Special voters, service voters, and the electors subjected to preventive detention can return their PBs by post.
  • As per the Conduct of Election Rules, 1961 (CER), the following classes of persons are entitled to vote by postal ballot:
Special voters
  • Individuals holding declared office under Section 20(4) of RPA, including the President, Vice President, Governors, Cabinet Ministers, other high-ranking dignitaries, etc. and their spouses.
Service voters
  • Members of the Indian armed forces, paramilitary forces, armed state police members serving outside their state, or a government employee stationed abroad and their spouses residing with them.
Electronically Transmitted Postal Ballot System (ETPBS)
  • Rule 23 of CER was amended to introduce the ETPBS for Service Voters, speeding up the delivery of postal ballots.
  • ETPBS features encrypted ballots sent electronically via a secure portal.
  • While the ballot is transmitted electronically, voters return their completed ballots via post at no cost.
Voters on Election Duty
  • This includes all Commission’s observers, presiding officers, polling officers and agents, police personnel, and public servants assigned official tasks on polling day.
  • Private individuals and non-government staff, such as videographers, control room staff, drivers, conductors, cleaners, helpline staff, etc., are also covered.
Electors subjected to Preventive Detention
  • Section 62 of the RPA, 1951 confers voting rights on electors subjected to preventive detention.
  • As per Rule 18 of the CER, electors under preventive detention are entitled to cast their votes by post.
Absentee voters under Section 60 (c) of RPA, 1951
  • In 2019, the Election Commission created the ‘Absentee Voters’ category.
  • This includes-
    1. Senior citizens aged 85+ (AVSC),
    2. Persons with disabilities having at least 40% disability (AVPD),
    3. Covid-19 suspect or affected persons (AVCO), and
    4. Persons employed in essential services (AVES).
      • Railways, telecom, electricity, health, traffic, aviation, fire services, media persons authorised by ECI for poll day coverage, etc.
Facilitation centres and Postal voting centres
  • Rule 18A, CER (2022) mandates election duty voters to vote at Facilitation Centers using postal ballots, preventing undue influence by not allowing ballots to be taken home.
  • These centres, located at training venues and designated offices, operate before the election, with the voting process videotaped.
  • The Postal Voting Centre (PVC) for Essential Services (AVES) voters operates at designated venues. Voters can receive and cast ballots on any of three fixed days from 9 AM to 5 PM.
  • The contesting candidates are notified about the location and schedules of these centres; they can send observers who are allowed to sign the postal ballot register and receive a copy.

Home Voting

  • Over 81 lakh 85+ aged voters and 90 lakh PwD voters are registered in the electoral roll nationwide.
  • For absentee voters over 85 (AVSC), PwD (AVPD) and AVCO, Booth Level Officers (BLOs) deliver Form 12D and compulsorily obtain acknowledgements from them.
  • If the elector opts for the Postal Ballot, then the BLO collects the form for home voting within five days of the election’s notification.
  • For home voting, teams consisting of two poll officers, a police security officer, a micro-observer, and a videographer are formed.
  • Voters are notified via SMS, post, or BLO; if a voter is unavailable after two attempts, no further action is taken. Candidates, agents, and media are informed and can observe.
  • All visits are completed before the polls.

Voting in a different polling centre

  • If a person on election duty is deployed in the same constituency where they are enrolled as voters, the RO can issue the applicant an Election Duty Certificate (EDC).
  • EDC entitles them to vote at a polling station through EVM where they are on duty, which is not the station where they are enrolled as a voter since they are deputed through randomisation.
  • However, if they are on duty in another constituency, they are entitled only to a postal ballot.

Proxy voting

  • Service voters in the Armed and paramilitary forces can vote either by proxy or postal ballot. Those who choose the proxy voting method are known as ‘Classified Service Voters’ (CSVs).
  • They must appoint a resident as their proxy.
  • The proxy votes at the designated polling station, and indelible ink is applied to their left middle finger to indicate proxy voting.

Assisted Voting

  • If an elector is unable to vote due to blindness or disability, the Presiding Officer may allow a companion over 18 to assist them in the voting booth.
  • The indelible ink is applied to the companion’s right index finger in such cases.

{GS2 – Social Sector – Health} Omega-3 fatty acids

  • Context (TOI): A recent study challenges the health benefits of fish oil supplements rich in Omega-3 fatty acids.
  • The study concluded that regular fish oil was associated with a 13% higher risk of developing atrial fibrillation (a heart rhythm disorder) and 5% increased risk of stroke in the general population but could help in managing disease progression.
  • Fish oil is derived from the tissues of fatty fish. It is rich in omega-3 fatty acids, particularly eicosapentaenoic acid (EPA) and docosahexaenoic acid (DHA).
  • These essential fats are known for their anti-inflammatory properties and their role in maintaining various bodily functions, including brain and heart health.

Omega-3 fatty acids

  • Omega-3 fatty acids are a type of polyunsaturated fatty acid (PUFA).
  • It is rich in foods such as marine fish, walnuts, soybeans, and seeds such as flax seed oil and canola oil.

Types

  • EPA (eicosapentaenoic acid): EPA is a “marine omega-3” because it is found in fish.
  • DHA (docosahexaenoic acid): DHA is also a marine omega-3 found in fish.
  • ALA (alpha-linolenic acid): ALA is the form of omega-3 found in plants.

Benefits of Omega-3 fatty acids

  • It lowers blood pressure and helps reduce joint inflammation in rheumatoid disease.
  • It helps prevent and alleviate dementia, depression, asthma, migraine, and diabetes.
  • High doses of EPA and DHA can significantly lower blood triglyceride levels. DHA, in particular, is vital for brain health and cognitive function.
  • It reduces the risk of heart attack and prevents arrhythmias.

{GS3 – Agri – Tech} Electric Tiller

  • Context (PIB): Council of Scientific and Industrial Research (CSIR)-Central Mechanical Engineering Research launched Electric Tiller.
  • The tiller is designed for small to marginal farmers (over 80% of the farming community).
  • It is intended for those with land holdings of less than 2 hectares.

Key Features

  • Enhanced torque and field efficiency.
  • Prioritises user comfort and environmental sustainability.
  • Features electronic controls and ergonomic handling.
  • Offers versatile charging options, including AC and Solar DC charging. This ensures that farmers can maintain their operations without significant downtime.
  • Produces zero exhaust emissions compared to traditional internal combustion engine (ICE) tillers.
  • Compatible with various standard agricultural attachments (ridgers, ploughs, iron wheels, cultivators).

Impact

  • Minimises operator fatigue and maximises productivity.
  • Supports India’s commitment to net-zero emissions and eco-friendly farming.
  • Potential to decrease operational costs by up to 85%.

Tilling or ploughing

  • The process of loosening and turning of the soil is called tilling or ploughing.
  • It aerates the soil, improves soil drainage, uproots the weeds, loosens the soil, helps in easy root penetration and helps in the growth of earthworms and microbes.
  • Ergonomics is the science of designing equipment to fit the worker.

{GS3 – Envi – Issues} Climate litigation against Norway

  • Context (IE): Environmental activists have filed a lawsuit challenging Norway’s seabed mineral exploration proposal, alleging sufficient impact assessment.
  • Norway’s parliament sanctioned a plan to explore a vast ocean area for deep sea.

Climate litigation

  • Climate litigation is a form of legal action that is being used to hold countries and companies accountable for their climate mitigation efforts and historical contributions to climate change.
  • According to the Global Climate Litigation Report: 2023 Status Review, 2,180 climate-related cases had been filed in 65 jurisdictions as of December 2022.

Case studies

  1. Europe’s highest human rights court sided with 2,000 Swiss women—all over the age of 64—who had sued their government for violating their human rights by failing to do enough to combat the adverse effects of climate change.
  2. In August 2023, young plaintiffs in Montana, US, won a case against their state government. The latter was found guilty of violating the constitutional right to a clean and healthful environment.
  3. In 2017, a girl from Uttarakhand approached the National Green Tribunal of India, arguing that the Public Trust Doctrine, India’s commitments under the Paris Agreement, and India’s existing environmental laws and climate-related policies oblige greater action to mitigate climate change.
  4. The Supreme Court took a similar stand in the Great Indian Bustard case.

Public trust doctrine

  • It imposes a huge responsibility upon the State as a trustee to see that the natural resources are protected from any destruction or depletion.
  • The Supreme Court of India upheld it in Re: T.N. Godavarman v. Union Of India And Ors. (2022) case, related to Eco-Sensitive Zone (ESZ) around forests.

{GS3 – Envi – Laws} WIPO treaty 2024 on IP, GR and ATK

  • The non-legally binding treaty will enter force after 15 parties ratify it. This is the 27th treaty under WIPO and the first in the last ten years. First proposed by Colombia in 1999.
  • It is the first WIPO treaty with provisions specifically for Indigenous Peoples and Local Communities.
  • Mandatory disclosure of Country of Origin: For any claimed invention involving genetic resources, the applicants must disclose the country of origin or source of the genetic resources.
  • Disclosure about IPLC: In case the patent is based on traditional knowledge, the applicant would also have to disclose the Indigenous Peoples or local community that provided it.

Significance for India and the global south

  • Indian GRs and TK are currently prone to misappropriation in countries that do not have disclosure obligations. A new global treaty will address this.

    India is a mega biodiversity hotspot with 7-8 per cent of global biodiversity and an abundance of traditional knowledge.

  • The new treaty is important because under current laws, while genetic resources themselves cannot be patented, inventions developed using them can be protected.
  • With the majority of the developed countries on board, this treaty paves the way for bridging conflicting paradigms within the IP system and protecting biodiversity.
  • At present, only 35 countries have some form of disclosure obligations, mostly not mandatory.

Concerns raised

  • The final text still does not address the problem of the biopiracy of genetic resources and associated traditional knowledge using patents.
  • Non-disclosure of traditional knowledge sources in a patent application is not grounds for revocation.
  • Lack of on-ground implementation can also be a challenge, as is the case of the Nagoya Protocol under the Convention on Biological Diversity.
  • India had submitted modifications to the text of the treaty, but these were not included in the final text due to a lack of consensus.

{GS3 – Envi – Water Pollution} Mass fish kill in the Periyar River

  • Context (DTE): A mass fish kill struck the Periyar River in Kerala. The incident is believed to be caused by industrial pollution from the Edayar Industrial Area.
  • It has caused immense loss to fish farmers and disrupted the local ecosystem.

About Periyar River

  • Location: Originates from Sivagiri Hills of Western Ghats. Flows through Periyar National Park & into Vembanad Lake, and then empties into the Arabian Sea.
  • Tributaries: Muthirapuzha, Mullayar, Cheruthoni, Perinjankutti.
  • Significance: The longest and largest discharge potential river in Kerala. It is a perennial river. It generates significant electrical power via the Idukki Dam. 25% of Kerala’s industries are along its banks.
  • History: Kochi, a major port city in Kerala, was formed in 1341 due to the flooding of the Periyar River.
  • The Idukki Dam is constructed across the Periyar River.
  • The Mullai Periyar Dam is located on the confluence of the Mullayar and Periyar rivers.

{GS3 – IE – Inflation} Cost Inflation Index (CII)

  • Context (IE): The Income Tax Department has announced the Cost Inflation Index (CII) for FY 2023-24, starting April 2023.

About Cost Inflation Index (CII)

  • CII is notified under the Income-tax Act, 1961 every year.
  • Purpose: The CII helps taxpayers calculate long-term capital gains from the sale of immovable property, securities, and jewellery after adjusting for inflation.
    • Reasoning: Normally, an asset must be retained for more than 36 months (24 months for immovable property and unlisted shares, 12 months for listed securities) to qualify as long-term capital gains.
    • Since prices of goods increase over time, resulting in a fall in purchasing power, the CII is used to arrive at the inflation-adjusted purchasing price of assets so as to compute taxable long-term capital gains (LTCG).
  • Significance: Taxpayers are taxed on real appreciation of the assets and not the gains due to inflation.
  • Current CII Value: The CII for FY 2023-24 is set at 348.
  • Previous CIIs: FY 2022-23: CII was 331. FY 2021-22: CII was 317.
  • Taxpayers usually prefer a higher CII as it allows them to claim larger tax rebates.

{GS3 – S&T– AI} AI Agents

  • AI agents are sophisticated AI systems that can engage in real-time, multi-modal (text, image, or voice) interactions with humans.
  • Unlike conventional language models, which solely work on text-based inputs & outputs, AI agents can process and respond to a wide variety of inputs, including voice, images & input from their surroundings.

How are they different from large language models (LLMs)?

  • While LLMs like GPT-4 have the ability only to generate human-like text, AI agents make interactions more natural and immersive with the help of voice, vision, and environmental sensors.
  • Unlike LLMs, AI agents are designed for instantaneous, real-time conversations with responses much similar to humans.
  • LLMs lack contextual awareness, while AI agents can understand and learn from the context of interactions, allowing them to provide more relevant and personalised responses.
  • Language models do not have any autonomy since they only generate text output. AI agents, however, can perform complex tasks autonomously such as coding, data analysis, etc. When integrated with robotic systems, AI agents can even perform physical actions.

What are the potential uses of AI agents?

  • AI agents can be ideal for customer service as they can offer seamless, natural interactions and resolve queries instantly without actually the need for human interventions.
  • In education and training, AI agents can act as personal tutors, customise themselves based on a student’s learning styles, and may even offer a tailored set of instructions.
  • In healthcare, it could assist medical professionals by providing real-time analysis, diagnostic support, and even monitoring patients.
  • AI agents can offer personalised recommendations and schedule appointments.

Are there any risks and challenges?

  • AI agents gain access to personal data and environmental information, leading to concerns over privacy and security.
  • AI agents can carry forward biases from their training data or algorithms, leading to harmful outcomes.

{Prelims – Envi – Species} Stellaria mcclintockiae

  • Context (TH): Researchers have discovered a new species of plant, Stellaria mcclintockiae, from the Nelliyampathy hills, Kerala.
  • It has been named after Barbara McClintock, an American scientist who won the 1983 Nobel Prize for discovering ‘jumping genes.
  • This is the first species of the genus Stellaria reported from south India.
  • Stellaria species are relatively small herbs with simple opposite leaves. It produces small flowers with 5 sepals and 5 white petals each usually deeply cleft, or none at all, all free.

Stellaria mcclintockiae - PMF IAS

Credit: Onmanorama

  • Stellaria mcclintockiae is an annual herb growing up to 15 cm in height.
  • It is known to be found only in the Nelliyampathy hills at an elevation of 1,250-1,400 metres.
  • It differs from the various species of the genus with respect to bracts, sepals, petals, pollen morphology and seed surface architecture.

Jumping Genes

  • Transposable elements (TEs), also known as “jumping genes,” are DNA sequences that move from one location on the genome to another.
  • They are found in almost all organisms (both prokaryotes and eukaryotes).
  • TEs make up approximately 50% of the human genome.

Jumping genes - PMF IAS

Credit: UCSF

{Prelims – Envi – Species} White-headed langur (Trachypithecus leucocephalus)

  • Context (TOI): The Limestone Langur, a unique primate species endemic to southern China’s Guangxi province, faces imminent extinction due to habitat destruction and fragmentation.

White-headed langur (Trachypithecus leucocephalus) - PMF IAS

Credit: TOI

  • Trachypithecus leucocephalus, the white-headed langur, is a primate endemic to the karst mountains in the southern Guangxi province of China.
  • Distribution: They live in a region of around 200 square kilometers between Zuojiang River and its tributary Mingjiang River.
  • Habitat: They inhibit lower elevations, steeper slopes, higher tree canopy density and proximity to water sources and roads.
  • Physical characteristics: A shock of white fur covers the head. Its black-and-white coat allows it to blend in with the black-and-white limestone of the karst landform.
  • Diet: They are primarily folivorous (leaves comprise up to 90 percent of their diet). They also feed on fruits, shoots, flowers, and tree bark.
  • Conservation Status: IUCN: Critically endangered | CITES: Appendix II
  • Threats: Poaching, habitat loss and fragmentation, hybridisation.

{Prelims – PIN} Atal Bihari Vajpayee

  • Context (IE): Atal Bihari Vajpayee served thrice as Prime Minister of India: first from 16 May to 1 June 1996 and then from 19 March 1998 to 22 May 2004 (2 times). This period was marked by significant political and historical events.

Atal Bihari Vajpayee - PMF IAS

Other significant events

  • Bus diplomacy: Vajpayee initiated peace talks with Pakistan by making a historic bus journey to Lahore. This effort led to the Lahore Declaration.
  • Vajpayee faced a no-confidence motion in Parliament (April 15, 1999). He lost by a single vote, leading to President K.R. Narayanan’s dissolution of the Lok Sabha and the establishment of a caretaker government, with Vajpayee continuing as Prime Minister.
  • 2002 Presidential Election: The BJP supported Dr. APJ Abdul Kalam won the election. Bhairon Singh Shekhawat was elected Vice President.

What is a caretaker government?

  • It is also known as an interim government. It is a temporary administration that assumes power and performs essential functions until a new government is elected or a political crisis is resolved.
  • It is responsible for maintaining the day-to-day operations and ensuring stability during the transitional period. They are typically formed in situations where there is a need for government continuity but no elected government in place.
  • Lahore Declaration is an agreement between India and Pakistan to reduce the risk of accidental or unauthorised use of nuclear weapons.

{Prelims – Sci – Bio – Diseases} Whooping Cough *

  • Context (IE): In winter 2023, Health experts in Europe noticed rising cases of whooping cough (pertussis). Experts are unsure why the cases are spiking; multiple factors might be involved.

Possible reasons for an increase in cases

  • Decline in vaccine uptake in babies and during pregnancy could be a cause.
  • Drop in population-wide Immunity since the COVID-19 pandemic.

About whooping cough (Pertussis)

  • It is a highly contagious respiratory tract infection caused by Bordetella pertussis bacteria.
  • High-risk group: Mainly affects babies younger than 6 months.
  • Symptoms: Starts like a cold: runny nose, low-grade fever, sneezing, occasional cough. It can sometimes end in a “whooping” sound when the child breathes in.
  • Prevention: 2 vaccines include protection against whooping cough: DTaP vaccine and Tdap vaccine. Both also protect against diphtheria and tetanus. In India, the DTP vaccine is given for whooping cough.
    • ‘D’ stands for Diphtheria, ‘T’ stands for Tetanus and ‘P’ stands for Pertussis.
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