6th November 2020

Index

A) Geography, Environment and Biodiversity

1. Action Plan for Vulture Conservation 2020-2025 (TH)

2. Ban on firecrackers in Delhi (TH)

3. UNESCO declares Panna Tiger Reserve a biosphere reserve (IE)

B) International Relations

4. UN adopts resolutions sponsored by India (IE)

C) Polity/Bills/Acts/Judgments

5. Arbitration and Conciliation (Amendment) Ordinance, 2020 (IE)

6. Electricity Amendment Bill (TH)

D) Art, Culture and History

7. The Miyas of Assam, and their char-chapori culture (IE)

E) Schemes/Policies/Initiatives/Social Issues

8. Gandhian Young Technological Innovation awards (PIB)

F) Economy

9. Rajasthan accepts Centre’s borrowing option to meet GST shortfall (IE)

G) Science and Technology/Defence/Space

10. Pandemic-themed cyberattacks rose in Q2 (TH)

A) Geography, Environment and Biodiversity

1. Action Plan for Vulture Conservation 2020-2025 (TH)

Context: The National Board for Wildlife (NBWL) has cleared a plan for conserving vultures – ‘Action Plan for Vulture Conservation 2020-2025.’

Analysis

  • The plan has also suggested that new veterinary non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDS) be tested on vultures before their commercial release.
  1. NSAIDS often poisons cattle whose carcasses the birds pray on.
  2. NSAIDs – like aceclofenac, carprofen, flunixin, ketoprofen – toxic to vultures are still in use and must be discontinued.
  • A system to automatically remove a drug from veterinary use if it is found to be toxic to vultures, with the help of the Drugs Controller General of India.
  1. Diclofenac, a drug used to treat cattle, was linked to kidney failure in vultures and a decline in the bird’s population.
  2. Though the drug was banned in 2006, it is reportedly still available for use.
  3. Along with Diclofenac, there were several other drugs that were potentially toxic to vultures being used by vets for treating cattle.
  4. The drugs make their way into the vulture’s system as they feed on carcasses.
  • The ‘Action Plan for Vulture Conservation 2020-2025’ also proposes to establish Vulture Conservation Breeding Centres in Uttar Pradesh, Tripura, Maharashtra, Karnataka and Tamil Nadu.
  • There would also be a conservation breeding programme for the Red Headed vulture and Egyptian vulture, and at least one “Vulture Safe Zone” in every State for the conservation of the remnant populations.
  • There would be four rescue centres in different geographical areas: Pinjore in north India, Bhopal in central India, Guwahati in northeast India and Hyderabad in south India, as well as regular surveys to track population numbers, the plan envisages.
  • It has also mooted a database on emerging threats to vulture conservation, including collision and electrocution, unintentional poisoning, etc. 
  • Three of India’s vulture species of the genus ‘Gyps’— the long-billed and the slender-billed had declined by 97%, while in the white-rumped declined nearly 99% between 1992 and 2007.

Species of Vultures found in India and their Conservation Status

  1. Bearded Vulture, Near Threatened 
  2. Cincerous Vulture, Near Threatened 
  3. Egyptian Vulture, Endangered 
  4. Griffon Vulture, Least Concern 
  5. Himalayan Vulture/Griffon, Near Threatened 
  6. Indian Vulture/Long-billed Vulture, Critically Endangered 
  7. Indian White-rumped Vulture, Critically Endangered 
  8. Red-headed Vulture, Critically Endangered 
  9. Slender-billed Vulture, Critically Endangered

Importance of Vultures

  • Vultures are the natural cleaners of the environment.
  • They feed on dead decaying animals thereby enhancing the process of mineral return to the soil.
  • Moreover, by disposing the dead bodies they check the spread of infectious diseases.
  • In absence of vultures the population of animals like rodents and stray dogs tend to increase leading to the spread of rabies.

Threats to the Survival of Vultures in India

  • The main threats to the survival of Vultures in India include veterinary use of analgesic diclofenac, habitat destruction, pesticide pollution, slow breeding rate, paucity of carcasses, feeding of the poisoned carcasses and lack of legal protection.
  • Veterinary use of diclofenac is the main threat to the Vultures in India.
  • Diclofenac is a non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drug (NSAID) which is a constituent of almost all gels, creams and sprays used to alleviate muscle pain. 
  1. The drug is equally effective in cattle as well and when given to working animal it reduces joint pain and so keeps them working for longer.
  2. Since kidneys take a lot of time to flush this drug out of the system, hence even after the death it remains in the body of cattle.
  3. As Vultures are scavengers and feed on the dead. Once they consume the diclofenac contaminated flesh, their kidney stops functioning leading to death.
  • Habitat destruction is another major threat to Vultures in India.
  1. A case in point being the Ken-Betwa river linking, which will submerge a crucial nesting site of the Indian Vultures/Long-billed Vultures in Ken river gorge in Panna Tiger Reserve in Madhya Pradesh.
  2. Recently, clearance has also been accorded to a ropeway in Girnar Wildlife Sanctuary in Gujarat, a nesting site of critically endangered long-billed vultures.
  3. Ironically, the same Ministry of Environment, Forests and Climate Change that is signing away crucial vulture breeding habitats lists vultures among 21 rare species under its ‘recovery programme for saving critically endangered species and habitats.’
  • Pesticide pollution is also a threat to Vultures in India.
  • The chlorinated hydrocarbon D.D.T (Dichloro Diphenyl Trichloroethane) used as pesticide enter the body of Vultures through food chain where it affects the activity of estrogen hormone, as a result of which the egg shell is weakened consequently the premature hatching of egg takes place causing the death of the embryo.
  • Vultures lay a single egg in a breeding season. Hence their slow breeding rate is also a threat to their survival.
  • Transmission lines and wind turbines are known to take an increasing toll on vultures.
  • Use of poisoned carcasses as bait by human beings to kill cattle-marauding carnivores is also a threat to Vultures in India.
  • Vultures prefer wild carrion to cattle since their meat is more nutritious, high on proteins and low on fat, unlike that of cattle.

The following are the important steps taken by Government for protection of Vultures in the country: 

  • Protection status of White backed, Long Billed and Slender Billed Vultures has been upgraded from Schedule IV to Schedule I of the Wild Life (Protection) Act, 1972.
  • A ‘Vulture Captive Care facility’ has been established at Panchkula. 
  • The Ministry of Health has prohibited manufacture of Diclofenac for animal use and restricted packaging of multi-dose vials of Diclofenac to single dose. 
  • To encourage uptake of a non-toxic alternative medicine (meloxicam), local conservation agencies ran a medicine-swapping programme where farmers could swap any diclofenac stored before the ban, for an equivalent amount of meloxicam.
  • Government of India had formulated a National Action Plan (2006) on Vulture Conservation.
  • The Action Plan provides for strategies, actions for containing the decline of vulture population through ex-situ, in-situ vulture conservation. 
  • Captive breeding centres at Zoos at Bhopal, Bhubaneswar, Junagarh and Hyderabad have also been set up through Central Zoo Authority. 
  • Ministry has also taken initiatives to strengthen the mass education and awareness for vulture conservation. 

Conservation breeding centres: Ex-situ conservation initiative

  • The vulture research facility at Pinjore, Haryana became Asia’s first Vulture Conservation Breeding Centre in 2005.
  • At present, India has four vulture breeding facilities at Rani in Guwahati (Assam), Pinjore (Haryana), Buxa (West Bengal), and Bhopal (Madhya Pradesh).

Vulture Safe Zones-In-situ conservation initiative

  • A Vulture Safe Zone (VSZ) is a geographical area of at least 100 Km radius, which is designated as natural habitat of wild vultures and is made free of the presence of the drug diclofenac in animal carcasses.

Jatayu Conservation and Breeding Centre

  • Uttar Pradesh is set to get its first conservation centre for endangered vultures.

The Jatayu Conservation and Breeding Centre would be set up at Bhari Baisi village in Pharendra tehsil under the Gorakhpur Forest Division.

2. Ban on firecrackers in Delhi (TH)

Context: The Delhi government on Thursday put a complete ban on the sales, purchase, and use of all firecrackers in Delhi between November 7 and November 30.

  • The ban came on a day when the air quality in the Capital turned “severe” and the cracker ban included “green crackers” that had been permitted for use by the Supreme Court.
  • The apex court in 2018 had banned the use of conventional firecrackers in Delhi and had permitted the use of “green crackers” during a two-hour window on Deepavali between 8 p.m. and 10 p.m.
  • The concept of “Green Crackers” was comprehensively covered in 29th Oct file.

3. UNESCO declares Panna Tiger Reserve a biosphere reserve (IE)

  • Context: Panna Tiger Reserve (PTR) in Madhya Pradesh (MP) has been included in the global network of biosphere reserves in the Man and Biosphere programme by the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organisation (UNESCO).

Analysis

  • India has 18 biospheres reserves, of which 12 have been included in the WNBR.
  • The UNESCO’s recognition cited PTR as a critical tiger habitat.
  • PTR was notified as a biosphere reserve by the Union Ministry of Environment, Forest and Climate Change (MoEFCC) in 2011.
  • In 2008, PTR had lost all its tigers. The forest department had reintroduced a male and a female tiger in 2009 and within a decade the animal’s population increased to over 50.
  • Ken-Betwa river interlinking project will be the first river project that will be located within a tiger reserve. It will submerge about 10% of the Panna Tiger Reserve in Madhya Pradesh which has been feted as a model tiger-conservation reserve.
  • Biosphere reserves in India protect larger areas of natural habitat and often include one or more national parks and/or preserves, along with buffer zones that are open to some economic uses.
  • Protection is granted not only to the flora and fauna of the protected region, but also to the human communities who inhabit these regions, and their ways of life.

UNESCO Man and the Biosphere Programme (MAB)

  • The MAB Programme develops the basis within the natural and social sciences for the rational and sustainable use and conservation of the resources of the biosphere and for the improvement of the overall relationship between people and their environment.
  • It predicts the consequences of today’s actions on tomorrow’s world and thereby increases people’s ability to efficiently manage natural resources for the well-being of both human populations and the environment.
  • By focusing on sites internationally recognized within the World Network of Biosphere Reserves, the MAB Programme strives to:
  1. identify and assess the changes in the biosphere resulting from human and natural activities and the effects of these changes on humans and the environment, in particular in the context of climate change;
  2. study and compare the dynamic interrelationships between natural/near-natural ecosystems and socio-economic processes, in particular in the context of accelerated loss of biological and cultural diversity with unexpected consequences that impact the ability of ecosystems to continue to provide services critical for human well-being;
  3. ensure basic human welfare and a liveable environment in the context of rapid urbanization and energy consumption as drivers of environmental change;
  4. promote the exchange and transfer of knowledge on environmental problems and solutions.

UNESCO prizes and MAB awards

  • UNESCO and its Man and the Biosphere (MAB) programme afford recognition to outstanding contributions in the management or preservation of the environment; honour successful management of biosphere reserves in line with recommendations of the Seville Strategy etc.through respective prizes and awards schemes.
  • Some of the UNESCO Prizes managed by the MAB Secretariat are:
  1. UNESCO Sultan Qaboos Prize for Environmental Conservation
  2. Michel Batisse Award for Biosphere Reserve Management

Biosphere Reserve (BR)

  • Biosphere Reserve (BR) is an international designation by UNESCO for representative parts of natural and cultural landscapes extending over large area of terrestrial or coastal/marine ecosystems or a combination thereof.
  • BRs are designated to deal with one of the most important questions of reconciling the conservation of biodiversity, the quest for economic and social development and maintenance of associated cultural values.
  • BRs are thus special environments for both people and the nature and are living examples of how human beings and nature can co-exist while respecting each other’s needs.

Criteria for designation of BR

  • A site that must contain an effectively protected and minimally disturbed core area of value of nature conservation.
  • The core area should be typical of a bio-geographical unit and large enough to sustain viable populations representing all trophic levels in the ecosystem.
  • The management authority is to ensure the involvement/cooperation of local communities to link biodiversity conservation and socio-economic development while managing and containing the conflicts.
  • Areas potential for preservation of traditional tribal or rural modes of living for harmonious use of environment.

Structure and functions of BR:

  • Biosphere reserves are demarcated into following 3 inter-related zones:

Core Zone

  • A core zone is usually a National Park or Sanctuary, protected/regulated mostly under the Wildlife (Protection) Act, 1972.
  • The core zone is kept free from human pressures external to the system.

Buffer Zone

  • Human activities if these do not adversely affect the ecological diversity are permitted in the buffer zone to reduce its effect on core zone and include limited recreation, tourism, fishing, grazing, etc.

Transition Zone

  • The transition area is the outermost part of a biosphere reserve.
  • This is usually not delimited one.
  • Settlements, crop lands, managed forests and area for intensive recreation and other economic uses are characteristics of this region.

Biosphere Reserves in India

  • There are 18 Biosphere Reserves in India.
  • India is a signatory to the landscape approach supported by UNESCO Man and Biosphere (MAB) programme.
  • A scheme called Biosphere Reserve is being implemented by the Government, in which financial assistance is given in 90:10 ratio to the North Eastern Region States and three Himalayan states and in the ratio of 60:40 to other states for maintenance, improvement and development of certain items.

List of Biosphere Reserves*:

1) Cold Desert, Himachal Pradesh

2) Nanda Devi, Uttarakhand 3) Khangchendzonga, Sikkim (in 2018)

4) Dehang-Debang, Arunachal Pradesh

5) Manas, Assam

6) Dibru-Saikhowa, Assam

7) Nokrek, Meghalaya

8) Panna Tiger Reserve, Madhya Pradesh (in 2020)

9) Pachmarhi, Madhya Pradesh

10) Achanakmar-Amarkantak, Madhya Pradesh-Chattisgarh

11) Kachchh, Gujarat

12) Similipal, Odisha

13) Sundarban, West Bengal

14) Seshachalam, Andhra Pradesh

15) Agasthyamala, Karnataka-Tamil Nadu-Kerala

16) Nilgiri, Tamil Nadu-Kerala

17) Gulf of Mannar, Tamil Nadu

18) Great Nicobar, Andaman & Nicobar Island

  • * Those are in bold are also included in the UNESCO designated World Network of Biosphere Reserves (WNBR).

Some important Biosphere Reserves:

Khangchendzonga Biosphere Reserve, Sikkim

  • It is one of the highest ecosystems in the world, reaching elevations of 1,220 m to 8,586 m above sea level.
  • It includes a range of ecoclines, varying from sub-tropic to Arctic, as well as natural forests in different biomes.
  • Ecocline is a gradual, continuous change in the species composition between two ecosystems or communities of organisms across an environmental gradient.
  • The core area of the Biosphere Reserve is a major transboundary Wildlife Protected Area. 
  • Eightysix per cent of the core lies in the Alpine zone and the remaining portions are located in the Himalayan wet temperate and sub-tropical moist deciduous forest.
  • The southern and central landscape, which makes up 86% of the core area, is situated in the Greater Himalayas. 
  • The northern part of the area accounts for 14% is characterized by trans-Himalayan features. 
  • Buffer zones are being developed to promote eco-tourism activities.   
  • The core zone – Khangchendzonga National Park was designated a World Heritage Site in 2016 under the ‘mixed’ category. 
  • It is the highest biosphere reserve in the country that includes the third highest mountain peak in the world, Kanchenjunga (8,586 m).
  • It is the biosphere reserve comprises 41% of the entire geographical area of Sikkim.
  • The Khangchendzonga National Park (KNP), which comprises the core area of the KBR, was inscribed as India’s first “Mixed World Heritage Site” in July, 2016.
  • Many of the mountains, peaks, lakes, caves, rocks, Stupas (shrines) and hot springs function as pilgrimage sites.  
  • Over 118 species of the large number of medicinal plants found in Dzongu Valley in north Sikkim are of ethno-medical utility. 
  • Many species protected under the Wildlife Protection Act have their home in the KBR.
  • This includes the Red Panda, Snow Leopard, Himalayan Black Beer and herbivores species of Musk deer, Great Tibetan Sheep, Blue Sheep, Boral and Barking Deer.
  • Over 500 species and sub-species of birds, including high-altitude pheasants — Monal Pheasants, Tragopan Pheasants and Blood Pheasants (the State Bird) — are also found in the reserve.
  • The site is one of the world’s 36 biodiversity hotspots.
  • The biosphere reserve is a trans-boundary bio-diversity hotspot conservation area.
  • Situated over the Himalayan trans-axial belt, the Biosphere Reserve’s most common constituents are valleys with numerous ravines, deep gorges and gullies, saddles, crests, knolls and river-terraces mostly found in the lower part of the mountains. 

Nilgiri Biosphere Reserve

  • The Nilgiri Biosphere Reserve was the first reserve from the country to be included in the WNBR.
  • It is one of the world’s biodiversity hotspots and provides habitat for the probably largest South Indian populations of tiger, elephant and other large mammals.
  • The only surviving hunter-gatherers of the Indian subcontinent, the Cholanaikans inhabit the area.
  • It includes 2 of the 10 biogeographical provinces of India.
  • The Nilgiri Biosphere Reserve encompasses parts of Tamil Nadu, Kerala and Karnataka.
  • The Mudumalai Wildlife Sanctuary, Wyanaad Wildlife Sanctuary Bandipur National Park, Nagarhole National Park, Mukurthi National Park and Silent Valley are the protected areas present within this reserve.

Gulf of Mannar Biosphere Reserve

  • Part of this has been declared as a Marine National Park in 1986 and later as the first Marine Biosphere Reserve of India in 1989 by the Government of India.
  • A unique endemic species of Balanoglossus – Ptychodera fluva, a living fossil that links invertebrates and vertebrates, has been recorded only here at Kurusadai Island.
  • Four of the seven species of sea turtles found worldwide are reported to occur in the Gulf of Mannar Biosphere Reseve.
  • These are the Olive Ridley (Vulnerable), Green (Endangered), Hawksbill (Critically Endangered), and Leatherback (Vulnerable).
  • All the four species of sea turtles that occur in these coastal waters are protected under Schedule-I of the Indian Wildlife Protection Act (1972), as well as listed in Appendix-I of Convention of International Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Fauna and Flora (CITES) which prohibits trade in turtle products by signatory countries.
  • Sea cow (Dugong dugon), which are present in this Reserve, are found exclusively in marine environments.
  1. Dugongs inhabit shallow coastal water of several parts of the Indian Ocean.
  2. The largest populations occur off Northern Australia.
  3. In India, dugongs are presently recorded in the Gulf of Mannar, the Gulf of Kuchch and the Andaman & Nicobar Islands.
  4. The endangered dugongs are protected under Schedule-I of the Indian Wildlife Protection Act (1972).

Sunderbans Biosphere Reserve

  • Sunderban is the largest contiguous mangrove area (along with Bangladesh) in the world.
  • It represents the largest mangal diversity in the world and it provides habitat for the threatened Royal Bengal tiger (Panthera tigris tigris).
  • The core area (Sunderban National Park) has been designated as a World Heritage site.
  • The Sundarbans mangrove forest lies on the delta of the Ganges, Brahmaputra and Meghna rivers on the Bay of Bengal.
  • It is adjacent to the border of India’s Sundarbans World Heritage site inscribed in 1987.
  • 60% of the property lies in Bangladesh and the rest in India.

Nokrek Biosphere Reserve

  • The Nokrek Biosphere Reserve is located on the Tura Range, which forms part of the Meghalaya Plateau.
  • Nokrek is the highest peak of the Garo hills, rising up 1,412 metres.
  • The entire Biosphere Reserve is hilly.
  • The biosphere reserve contains major rivers and streams that form a perennial catchment system.
  • Examples include the Ganol, Dareng and Simsang rivers, of which the latter is the longest and largest.
  • 90% of the Nokrek Biosphere Reserve is covered by evergreen forest.
  • A remarkable variety of endemic Citrus spp. can also be found in the reserve, especially Citrus indica (Indian wild orange).
  • Representative species of the reserve include Bombax ceiba (Cotton tree), Sterculia villosa (Hairy Sterculia) and Cassia fistula (Golden shower tree).
  • Highly vulnerable and threatened fauna species in Nokrek include the Slow Loris, Giant flying squirrel, Pig-tailed macaque and Hoolock gibbons; the latter are the most endangered apes in India and therefore receive special protection.
  • Archaeological findings prove that humans settled in the area during the lower Palaeolithic period of the middle Pleistocene Age.
  • Agriculture and hunting were practised until the Neolithic period, when they were replaced by more efficient slash-and burn techniques and shifting cultivation.

Nanda Devi Biosphere Reserve

  • It is located in the Himalayan Mountains in the northern part of the country, and includes as core areas the Nanda Devi and Valley of Flowers National Parks, which are one World Heritage site.
  • Together they encompass a unique transition zone between the mountain ranges of the Zanskar and Great Himalaya.
  • Nanda Devi National Park has remained more or less intact because of its inaccessibility.
  • The area has a large altitudinal range (1,800 to 7,817 m) and is dominated by the peak of Nanda Devi.
  • Several endangered mammal species find refuge in the area such as the snow leopard (Vulnerable), Himalayan black bear (Vulnerable), brown bear (Least Concern), musk deer (Endangered) and bharal/blue sheep (Least Concern).

Pachmarhi Biosphere Reserve

  • The Pachmarhi Biosphere Reserve is located in the biogeographical region of the Deccan Peninsula and the Biotic Province of Central India.
  • The Satpura mountain ranges cross India from west to east and Pachmarhi lies directly in its centre.
  • The highest peak is the Dhoopgarh, which reaches 1,352 metres above sea level, while the Pachmarhi hills are characterized by steep slopes in the northern regions.
  • The eastern boundary of the biosphere reserve lies close to the Dudhi River, while the southern boundary borders the Tawa plateau.
  • Pachmarhi comprises three protection sites: the Bori Sanctuary, Satpura National Park and Pachmarhi Sanctuary – otherwise known as the Satpura Tiger Reserve.
  • The Pachmarhi Plateau is also known as the ‘Queen of Satpura’, because it contains valleys, marshes, streams and waterfalls, all of which have led to the development of a unique and varied biodiversity.
  • Tectona grandis (Teak) and Shorea robusta (Sal) are the most common and unique flora species found in the forests, with the latter found nowhere else in India.

Similipal Biosphere Reserve

  • Located in northeast India, the Similipal Biosphere Reserve lies within two biogeographical regions: the Mahanadian east coastal region of the Oriental realm and the Chhotanagpur biotic province of the Deccan peninsular zone.
  • Volcanic sedimentary rocks are aligned in three concentric rings and accentuate the area’s geologic formations.
  • The highest peak in the Similipal hill range is Khairiburu (1,168 metres).
  • Numerous waterfalls and perennial streams flow into major rivers, such as the Budhabalang, Baitarani and Subarnarekha.
  • The biosphere reserve has the largest zone of Sal in all of India.
  • Similipal’s cultural significance is characterized by stories and paintings that date back to the Ramayana, Mahabharata and Puranas, many of which mention local sites linked with specific mythological stories.
  • For example, a sacred grove called Shami Vrikhya is said to have been the secret hiding place of the bow and arrow of the hero Arjuna.

Achanakmar-Amarkantak Biosphere Reserve

  • The Achanakmar-Amarkantak Biosphere Reserve is the most dramatic and ecologically diverse landscape in the Chhattisgarh and Madhya Pradesh states of India.
  • It encompasses most of the original natural and cultural features.
  • The Biosphere Reserve is home to species like Four horned antelope, Indian wild dog, Saras crane, Asian white-backed vulture, Sacred grove bush frog.
  • The geology of the area is unique and varied from schists and gneisses with granite intrusions.

Great Nicobar Biosphere Reserve

  • Great Nicobar is the southernmost island of the Nicobar Islands Archipelago.
  • The region also harbours a large number of endemic and/or endangered species of fauna: Crab-eating Macaque, Nicobar Tree Shrew, Dugong, Nicobar Megapode, Serpent Eagle, salt water crocodile, marine turtles and Reticulated Python.
  • The Mongoloid Shompen Tribe, about 200 in number, live in the forests of the biosphere reserve particularly along the rivers and streams.
  • They are hunters and food gatherers, dependent on forest and marine resources for sustenance.
  • Another Mongoloid Tribe, Nicobarese, about 300 in number, used to live in settlements along the west coast.
  • After the tsunami in 2004, which devastated their settlement on the western coast, they were relocated to Afra Bay in the North Coast and Campbell Bay.
  • They survive on fish caught from the sea.

Agasthyamala Biosphere Reserve

  • Located in the southernmost end of the Western Ghats, it is also a unique genetic reservoir of cultivated plants, in particular cardamom, jamune, nutmeg, pepper and plantain.
  • Three wildlife sanctuaries, Shendurney, Peppara and Neyyar, are located in the site, as well as the Kalakad Mundanthurai Tiger reserve.
  • Situated about 1,868 m from the sea level, Agasthyakoodam Mountain is the second highest peak in Kerala after Anamudi Peak.
  • Spread across Kerala and Tamil Nadu, it constitutes an important biogeographical ‘hot spot’ within the Western Ghats.
  • The reserve is home to Kani tribes from both Tamil Nadu and Kerala.
  • The Agasthyamala Biosphere Reserve occupies a prominent place in the cultural heritage and history of India.
  • In particular, its prominence in the epic Ramayana has made it a famous site for Hindu pilgrimages.

B) International Relations

4. UN adopts resolutions sponsored by India (IE)

Context: The first committee of the United Nations General Assembly has adopted two India-sponsored resolutions on nuclear disarmament which aim to reduce risk of nuclear accidents and call for a prohibition on the use of nuclear weapons.

  • The First Committee of the United Nations General Assembly debates disarmament, non-proliferation, arms control, and international security issues, recommending resolutions and decisions for adoption by the plenary session of the UNGA. 

Analysis

  • The UNGA first committee deals with the issue of disarmament and works in close cooperation with the United Nations Disarmament Commission and the Geneva-based Conference on Disarmament, the other two bodies to deal with the nuclear issue.
  • The two resolutions adopted are– ‘Convention on the Prohibition of the Use of Nuclear Weapons’ and ‘Reducing Nuclear Danger’ under the ‘Nuclear weapons’ cluster.
  • The resolution on “Convention on the Prohibition of the Use of Nuclear Weapons” was backed by a majority of UN Members and was tabled by India since 1982.
  • It calls for Conference on Disarmament to start negotiations on an international convention prohibiting the use or threat of use of nuclear weapons under any circumstances.
  • The aim is that a universal and legally binding agreement would generate the necessary global “political will” that can lead to the total elimination of nuclear weapons.
  • One such treaty which has been proposed in the past is Nuclear Weapons Convention that outlaws nuclear weapons but negotiations on it are inactive at the Conference on Disarmament.
  • Conference on Disarmament, while not a UN body, is linked with it in various ways and formed to negotiate arms control and disarmament agreements
  • The resolution on “Reducing Nuclear Danger” which was tabled since 1998 puts focus on “unintentional or accidental use” of nuclear weapons and underscore the need for a review of nuclear doctrines.
  • The resolution asks for “concrete steps” to reduce such risks, including through “de-alerting and de-targeting of nuclear weapons.”

C) Polity/Bills/Acts/Judgments

5. Arbitration and Conciliation (Amendment) Ordinance, 2020 (IE)

Context: President Ram Nath Kovind promulgated the Arbitration and Conciliation (Amendment) Ordinance, 2020 to further amend Arbitration and Conciliation Act 1996.

Analysis

  • Through the Ordinance, an addition has been made to Section 36 whereby if the Court is satisfied that a prima facie case is made out that the arbitration agreement or contract which is the basis of the award was induced or effected by fraud or corruption, it will stay the award unconditionally pending disposal of the challenge made to the award under Section 34 of the Arbitration & Conciliation Act 1996.
  • The ordinance has also deleted Eighth Schedule of the Arbitration & Conciliation Act 1996, paving the way for foreign practitioners to now act as arbitrators in India-seated arbitrations, say legal experts. The Schedule deals with qualifications and experience of arbitrators.

Alternative Dispute Resolution

  • To deal with the situation of pendency of cases in courts of India, Alternative Dispute Resolution (ADR) plays a significant role in India by its diverse techniques.
  • The concept of ADR mechanism is capable of providing a substitute to the conventional methods of resolving disputes.
  • ADR offers to resolve all type of matters including civil, commercial, industrial and family etc., where people are not being able to start any type of negotiation and reach the settlement.
  • Generally, ADR uses neutral third party who helps the parties to communicate, discuss the differences and resolve the dispute.
  • ADR provides various modes of settlement including, arbitration, conciliation, mediation, negotiation and lok Adalat.
  • Here, negotiation means self-counseling between the parties to resolve their dispute but it doesn’t have any statutory recognition in India.
  • ADR is also founded on such fundamental rights, article 14 and 21 which deals with equality before law and right to life and personal liberty respectively.
  • ADR’s motive is to provide social-economic and political justice and maintain integrity in the society enshrined in the preamble.
  • ADR also strive to achieve equal justice and free legal aid provided under article 39-A relating to Directive Principle of State Policy (DPSP).

Section 89 of the Civil Procedure Code, 1908: Settlement of the dispute outside the court Section 89 of the Civil Procedure Code, 1908 provides that where it appears to the Court that there exist elements of a settlement outside the court which may be acceptable to the parties, the Court may reformulate the terms of a possible settlement and refer the same for:

  • Arbitration,
  • Conciliation,
  • Mediation or
  • Lok Adalat.
  • The Acts which deals with Alternative Dispute Resolution are Arbitration and Conciliation Act, 1996 and, The Legal Services Authority Act, 1987

Various modes of Alternative Dispute Resolution

Arbitration

  • The process of Arbitration cannot exist without valid arbitration agreement prior to the emergence of dispute.
  • In this technique of resolution parties refer their dispute to one or more persons called arbitrators.
  • The parties meet in persons to conduct the hearing in which the parties present the arguments and evidences in support of their respective cases.
  • Decision of arbitrator is bound on parties and their decision is called ‘Award’.
  • The object of Arbitration is to obtain fair settlement of dispute outside of court without necessary delay and expense.
  • Any party to a contract where arbitration clause is there, can invoke arbitration clause.
  • Here, arbitration clause means a clause that mention the course of actions, language, number of arbitrators, seat or legal place of the arbitration to be taken place in the event of dispute arising out between the parties.
  • Section 8 of Arbitration and Conciliation Act, 1996 provides if any party disrespects the arbitral agreement and instead of moving to arbitration, moves that suit to civil court, other party can apply the court for referring the matter to arbitration tribunal as per the agreement.

Mediation

  • Mediation is an Alternative Dispute resolution where a third neutral party aims to assist two or more disputants in reaching agreement.
  • This process is totally controlled by the parties.
  • Mediator’s work is just to facilitate the parties to reach settlement of their dispute.
  • Mediator doesn’t impose his views and make no decision about what a fair settlement should be.

Conciliation

  • Conciliation is a form of arbitration but it is less formal in nature.
  • It is the process of facilitating an amicable resolution between the parties, whereby the parties to the dispute use conciliator who meets with the parties separately to settle their dispute.
  • Conciliator meet separately to lower the tension between parties, improving communication, interpreting issue to bring about a negotiated settlement.  
  • There is no need of prior agreement and cannot be forced on party who is not intending for conciliation.
  • Conciliation agreement should be an extemporary agreement entered into after the dispute has but not before. Parties are also permitted to engage in conciliation process even while the arbitral proceedings are on (section 30).

Lok Adalat

  • NALSA (National Legal services Authority) along with other Legal Services Institutions conducts Lok Adalats.
  • Lok Adalat is one of the alternative dispute redressal mechanisms.
  • It is a forum where disputes/cases pending in the court of law or at pre-litigation stage are settled/ compromised amicably.
  • Lok Adalats have been given statutory status under the Legal Services Authorities Act, 1987.
  • Under the said Act, the award (decision) made by the Lok Adalats is:
  1. Deemed to be a decree of a civil court;
  2. Final and binding on all parties; and
  3. No appeal against such an award lies before any court of law.
  • If the parties are not satisfied with the award of the Lok Adalat though there is no provision for an appeal against such an award, but they are free to initiate litigation by approaching the court of appropriate jurisdiction by filing a case by following the required procedure, in exercise of their right to litigate.
  • There is no court fee payable when a matter is filed in a Lok Adalat.
  • If a matter pending in the court of law is referred to the Lok Adalat and is settled subsequently, the court fee originally paid in the court on the complaints/petition is also refunded back to the parties.
  • The persons deciding the cases in the Lok Adalats are called the Members of the Lok Adalats, they have the role of statutory conciliators (they can only persuade) only and do not have any judicial role.
  • The Lok Adalat shall not decide the matter so referred at its own instance, instead the same would be decided on the basis of the compromise or settlement between the parties.

Nature of Cases to be Referred to Lok Adalat

1. Any case pending before any court.

2. Any dispute which has not been brought before any court and is likely to be filed before the court.

Provided that the Lok Adalat shall have no jurisdiction in respect of matters relating to divorce or matters relating to an offence not compoundable under any law.

Compoundable offences are those that can be compromised, i.e. the complainant can agree to take back the charges levied against the accused, whereas, non – compoundable offences are the more serious offences in which the parties cannot compromise.

How to Get the Case Referred to the Lok Adalat for Settlement

  • The State Legal Services Authority or District Legal Services Authority as the case may be on receipt of an application from any one of the parties regarding the cases pending before the court or at a pre-litigation stage may refer such matter to the Lok Adalat for amicable settlement of the dispute for which notice would then be issued to the other party.

Levels and Composition of Lok Adalats:

At the State Authority Level:

  • The Member Secretary of the State Legal Services Authority constitutes benches of the Lok Adalat.
  • Each bench comprises of:
  • A sitting or retired judge of the High Court or
  • A sitting or retired judicial officer and
  • Any one or both of-
  • a member from the legal profession;
  • a social worker engaged in the upliftment of the weaker sections and interested in the implementation of legal services schemes or programmes.

At High Court Level:

  • The Secretary of the High Court Legal Services Committee constitutes benches of the Lok Adalat.
  • Each bench comprises of:
  1. A sitting or retired judge of the High Court; and
  2. Any one or both of-
  3. A member from the legal profession;
  4. A social worker engaged in the upliftment of the weaker sections and interested in the implementation of legal services schemes or programmes.

At District Level:

  • The Secretary of the District Legal Services Authority constitutes benches of the Lok Adalat.
  • Each bench comprises of:
  1. A sitting or retired judicial officer; and
  2. Any one or both of:
  3. A member from the legal profession; and/or
  4. A social worker engaged in the upliftment of the weaker sections and interested in the implementation of legal services schemes or programmes or a person engaged in para-legal activities of the area, preferably a woman.

At Taluk Level:

  • The Secretary of the Taluk Legal Services Committee constitutes benches of the Lok Adalat.
  • Each bench comprises of:
  1. A sitting or retired judicial officer; and
  2. Any one or both of:
  3. A member from the legal profession; and/or
  4. A social worker engaged in the upliftment of the weaker sections and interested in the implementation of legal services schemes or programmes or a person engaged in para-legal activities of the area, preferably a woman.

National Lok Adalat:

  • National Level Lok Adalats are held for at regular intervals where on a single day Lok Adalats are held throughout the country, in all the courts right from the Supreme Court till the Taluk Levels.
  • From February 2015, National Lok Adalats are being held on a specific subject matter every month.

Permanent Lok Adalat

  • The other type of Lok Adalat is the Permanent Lok Adalat, organized under the Legal Services Authorities Act, 1987.
  • Permanent Lok Adalats have been set up as permanent bodies with a Chairman and two members for providing compulsory pre-litigative mechanism for conciliation and settlement of cases relating to Public Utility Services like transport, postal, telegraph etc.
  • Here, even if the parties fail to reach to a settlement, the Permanent Lok Adalat gets jurisdiction to decide the dispute, provided, the dispute does not relate to any offence.
  • Further, the Award of the Permanent Lok Adalat is final and binding on all the parties.
  • The jurisdiction of the Permanent Lok Adalats is up to Rs. Ten Lakhs.

Mobile Lok Adalats 

  • These are also organized in various parts of the country which travel from one location to another to resolve disputes in order to facilitate the resolution of disputes through this mechanism.

6. Electricity Amendment Bill (TH)

  • Context: Stepping up their protests against the three recently passed agriculture laws and the proposed Electricity Amendment Bill, farmers in 18 States blocked roads and staged demonstrations at more than 2,500 locations.
  • This topic has been covered in detail in 15th June file.

D) Art, Culture and History

7. The Miyas of Assam, and their char-chapori culture (IE)

Context: Months ahead of the Assembly elections, a proposed “Miya museum” in Guwahati’s Srimanta Sankardeva Kalakshetra reflecting the “culture and heritage of the people living in char-chaporis” has stirred up a controversy in Assam.

Analysis

Who are the Miyas?

  • The ‘Miya’ community comprises descendants of Muslim migrants from East Bengal (now Bangladesh) to Assam. They came to be referred to as ‘Miyas’, often in a derogatory manner.
  • The community migrated in several waves — starting with the British annexation of Assam in 1826, and continuing into Partition and the 1971 Bangladesh Liberation War — and have resulted in changes in demographic composition of the region.
  • They have an ancient performative martial art called the Lathibari.
  • While the norm is to traditionally wear colourful clothes, Miya community dons a white vest and dhoti, an Assamese gamosa on our heads and waists.

What are char-chaporis?

  • Char-chaporis are shifting riverine islands of the Brahmaputra and are primarily inhabited by the Muslims of Bengali-origin.
  • A char is a floating island while chaporis are low-lying flood-prone riverbanks.
  • Prone to floods and erosion, these areas are marked by low development indices.
  • While Bengali-origin Muslims primarily occupy these islands, other communities such as Misings, Deoris, Kocharis, Nepalis also live here.

Why are some Assamese uncomfortable with that?

  • The museum has been proposed in the Kalakshetra, which is a cultural complex in Guwahati named after neo-Vaishnavite reformer Srimanta Sankardev, and which was set up as part of Clause 6 (“… to protect, preserve and promote the cultural, social, linguistic identity and heritage of the Assamese people”) of the Assam Accord, signed at the culmination of the Assam Agitation.
  • The Assamese feel that these claims of a distinct cultural sphere/ identity by the community may eventually lead to political or ethnic assertions in the future.

E) Schemes/Policies/Initiatives/Social Issues

8. Gandhian Young Technological Innovation awards (PIB)

Context: Ministry of Science & Technology gave away Students Innovations for Advancement of Research Explorations – Gandhian Young Technological Innovation (SITARE-GYTI) and Society for Research and Initiatives for Sustainable Technological Innovations-Gandhian Young Technological Innovation (SRISTI-GYTI) awards.

Analysis

  • Gandhian Young Technological Innovation awards constitute two categories of awards, SITARE–GYTI under Biotechnology Industry Research Assistance Council (BIRAC), Department of Biotechnology (DBT) and SRISTI-GYTI given by SRISTI.
  • The awards and appreciations are given under these two categories to encourage technology students to move towards setting up Biotech and other start-ups.
  • The SITARE-GYTI awards are given every year to the most promising technologies developed by the students in life sciences, biotechnology, agriculture, medical devices etc.
  • SRISTI-GYTI awards are given to students in other engineering disciplines.
  • The Gandhian Young Technological Innovation Awards are generally given in March, during the Festival of Innovations (FOIN), hosted by The office of the President of India, Rashtrapati Bhavan, New Delhi.

F) Economy

9. Rajasthan accepts Centre’s borrowing option to meet GST shortfall (IE)

Context: Rajasthan has communicated its acceptance for Option-1 out of the two options suggested by the Ministry of Finance to meet the shortfall in revenue arising out of GST implementation.

Analysis

  • Before Rajasthan joined in, 21 states and 3 union territories (UTs) had opted for the borrowing plan proposed by the Centre to meet the Rs 1.83 lakh crore shortfall in Goods and Services Tax (GST) collection of states.
  • Under the borrowing plan (Option-1), the Centre would borrow from market on behalf of the States Rs 1.10 lakh crore to meet revenue shortfall on account of GST implementation.
  • The remaining Rs 73,000 crore shortfall is estimated to be the revenue impact of the COVID-19 pandemic.
  • States which choose Option-1 are getting the amount of shortfall arising out of GST implementation through a special borrowing window put in place by the Government of India.
  • Under the terms of Option-1, besides getting the facility of a special window for borrowings to meet the shortfall arising out of GST implementation, states are also entitled to get unconditional permission to borrow the final instalment of 0.50 per cent of Gross State Domestic Product (GSDP) out of the 2 per cent additional borrowings permitted by the Government of India, under ‘Aatmnirbhar Abhiyaan’ on May 17, 2020.
  • This is over and above the special window of Rs 1.1 lakh crore.
  • The second option given by the Centre was for the states to borrow the entire Rs 1.83 lakh crore collection shortfall.
  • However, states like Kerala, Punjab, West Bengal, Chattisgarh, Jharkhand are yet to opt for the borrowing plan proposed by the Centre, saying the Centre should borrow the entire Rs 1.83 lakh crore shortfall.

G) Science and Technology/Defence/Space

10. Pandemic-themed cyberattacks rose in Q2 (TH)

Context: Cybercriminals took advantage of COVID-19, adjusting their cybercrime campaigns to lure victims with pandemic-based themes and exploiting people working from home, according to a study.

  • Consequently, the second quarter of calendar year 2020 saw cyberattack detections, mostly pandemic-themed intrusions, rise 605% over the previous quarter.
  • The Q2 of 2020 saw continued developments in innovative threat categories such as PowerShell malware and quick adaptation by cybercriminals to target organisations through employees working from remote environments.

Analysis

  • Viruses, worms, trojans, and bots are all part of a class of software called “malware.”
  • Malware is short for “malicious software,” also known as malicious code or “malcode.”
  • It is code or software that is specifically designed to damage, disrupt, steal, or in general inflict some other “bad” or illegitimate action on data, hosts, or networks.

Viruses

  • A computer virus attaches itself to a program or file so it can spread from one computer to another, leaving infections as it travels.
  • Much like human viruses, computer viruses can range in severity: Some viruses cause only mildly annoying effects while others can damage your hardware, software or files.
  • Almost all viruses are attached to an executable file, which means the virus may exist on your computer but it cannot infect your computer unless you run or open the malicious program.
  • It is important to note that a virus cannot be spread without a human action, (such as running an infected program) to keep it going.
  • People continue the spread of a computer virus, mostly unknowingly, by sharing infecting files or sending e-mails with viruses as attachments in the e-mail.

Worm

  • Computer worms are similar to viruses in that they replicate functional copies of themselves and can cause the same type of damage.
  • In contrast to viruses, which require the spreading of an infected host file, worms are standalone software and do not require a host program or human help to propagate.
  • To spread, worms either exploit a vulnerability on the target system or use some kind of social engineering to trick users into executing them.
  • A worm enters a computer through a vulnerability in the system and takes advantage of file-transport or information-transport features on the system, allowing it to travel unaided.
  • A worm is similar to a virus by its design, and is considered to be a sub-class of a virus.
  • The biggest danger with a worm is its capability to replicate itself on your system, so rather than your computer sending out a single worm, it could send out hundreds or thousands of copies of itself, creating a huge devastating effect.
  • One example would be for a worm to send a copy of itself to everyone listed in your e-mail address book. Then, the worm replicates and sends itself out to everyone listed in each of the receiver’s address book, and the manifest continues on down the line.
  • Due to the copying nature of a worm and its capability to travel across networks the end result in most cases is that the worm consumes too much system memory (or network bandwidth), causing Web servers, network servers and individual computers to stop responding.
  • In more recent worm attacks such as the much-talked-about .Blaster Worm., the worm has been designed to tunnel into your system and allow malicious users to control your computer remotely.

Trojan horse

  • A Trojan horse is not a virus.
  • It is a destructive program that looks as a genuine application.
  • Unlike viruses and worms, Trojans do not reproduce by infecting other files nor do they self-replicate.
  • Trojans must spread through user interaction such as opening an email attachment or downloading and running a file from the Internet.
  • Trojans also open a backdoor entry to your computer which gives malicious users/programs access to your system, allowing confidential and personal information to be theft.

Ransomware

  • Ransomware is a type of malicious software that threatens to publish the victim’s data or perpetually block access to it unless a ransom is paid.
  • While some simple ransomware may lock the system in a way that is not difficult for a knowledgeable person to reverse, more advanced malware uses a technique called cryptoviral extortion, which encrypts the victim’s files, making them inaccessible, and demands a ransom payment to decrypt them.

Bots

  • Bots can be used for either good or malicious intent.
  • A malicious bot is self-propagating malware designed to infect a host and connect back to a central server or servers that act as a command and control (C&C) center for an entire network of compromised devices, or “botnet.”
  • With a botnet, attackers can launch broad-based, “remote-control,” flood-type attacks against their target(s).
  • In addition to the worm-like ability to self-propagate, bots can include the ability to log keystrokes, gather passwords, capture and analyze packets, gather financial information, launch Denial of Service (DOS) Attacks, relay spam, and open backdoors on the infected host.
  • Bots have all the advantages of worms, but are generally much more versatile in their infection vector and are often modified within hours of publication of a new exploit.
  • They have been known to exploit backdoors opened by worms and viruses, which allows them to access networks that have good perimeter control.
  • Bots rarely announce their presence with high scan rates that damage network infrastructure; instead, they infect networks in a way that escapes immediate notice.
  • Advanced botnets may take advantage of common internet of things (IOT) devices such as home electronics or appliances to increase automated attacks. 
  • Crypto mining is a common use of these bots for nefarious purposes.

Cookies

  • No matter what it’s called, a computer cookie consists of information.
  • When you visit a website, the website sends the cookie to your computer. Your computer stores it in a file located inside your web browser.

What Do Cookies Do?

  • The purpose of the cookie is to help the website keep track of your visits and activity. This isn’t always a bad thing.
  • For example, many online retailers use cookies to keep track of the items in a user’s shopping cart as they explore the site.
  • Without cookies, your shopping cart would reset to zero every time you clicked a new link on the site. That would make it impossible to buy anything online!
  • A website might also use cookies to keep a record of your most recent visit or to record your login information.
  • Many people find this useful so that they can store passwords on commonly used sites, or simply so they know what they have visited or downloaded in the past.
  • Under normal circumstances, cookies cannot transfer viruses or malware to your computer. Because the data in a cookie doesn’t change when it travels back and forth, it has no way to affect how your computer runs.

What India can do

  • A list of dos and don’ts can be prepared.
  • An information warfare team can be set up at the Army headquarters.
  • There are other countermeasures that must be employed.
  • For example, the Federal Bureau of Investigation runs fake child pornographic websites to catch offenders of the same crime.
  • Other measures that India could take include:
  1. Investing in the latest technologies for early and better detection of viruses;
  2. Conducting frequent workshops to sensitise defence personnel against cyber risks;
  3. Conducting timely reviews and audits of all devices;
  4. Developing better protocols in the event of contamination;
  5. Developing a methodology to embed dormant malware in all sensitive data and devices which will be able to track the bad actors and destroy the documents with a programmed kill switch; and
  6. Developing a doctrine to hit back.
  • The Defence Cyber Agency should be leveraged towards this end.
  • Besides this, best cyber practices must be built amongst fresh recruits.

Budapest Convention

  • The Convention on Cybercrime, also known as the Budapest Convention on Cybercrime or the Budapest Convention, is the first international treaty seeking to address Internet and computer crime by harmonizing national laws, improving investigative techniques, and increasing cooperation among nations.

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