UPSC Daily Current Affairs – Prelims & Mains [13th July 2023]

Anthropocene epoch: What it means, significance

 Syllabus: Geomorphology

In News

According to the Anthropocene Working Group (AWG), sediments at Crawford Lake in Canada’s Ontario have provided evidence of the beginning of the Anthropocene epoch.

AWG

  • The Anthropocene Working Group (AWG) is a collaborative research team focused on investigating the Anthropocene as a distinct geological epoch. 
  • Founded in 2009, it operates under the umbrella of the Subcommission on Quaternary Stratigraphy (SQS), which is a constituent body of the International Commission on Stratigraphy (ICS).

Earth’s geological timeline

  • The geologic time scale serves as a chronological record of Earth’s historical events. It divides all time into abstract units, arranged in descending order of duration, such as eons (approximately a billion years), eras, periods, epochs, and ages. 
  • Each of these main categories is further subdivided into more specific sub-categories. Notably, Earth’s history encompasses four eons, namely the Hadean (the oldest), Archean, Proterozoic, and Phanerozoic (the youngest) eons.
  • The identification and classification of these geologic time units rely on stratigraphy, which involves the correlation and categorization of rock strata containing various fossils that characterize distinct intervals of time. 
  • Presently, we find ourselves in the Phanerozoic eon, Cenozoic era, Quaternary period, Holocene epoch, and the Meghalayan age, as officially recognized.

The Holocene epoch

  • The Holocene, our current geological epoch, commenced around 11,700 years ago, marking the end of the Last Glacial Period. Together with the preceding Pleistocene epoch, the Holocene constitutes the Quaternary period
  • Notably, the Holocene is characterized as the current warm period, during which the human species has experienced rapid proliferation, growth, and widespread impacts worldwide.

What is the Anthropocene epoch?

  • The current geological time interval has witnessed profound transformations in the Earth’s ecosystem, largely attributed to human influence, especially since the onset of the Industrial Revolution. This epoch is associated with a range of phenomena, including global warming, rising sea levels, ocean acidification, extensive soil erosion, the emergence of deadly heat waves, degradation of the biosphere, and other detrimental environmental changes.
  • The impact of these alterations is substantial, and many of them are anticipated to persist for millennia or even longer, fundamentally shaping the trajectory of the Earth System, with some effects being permanent.
  • Geologists have made a significant discovery that could potentially alter the Earth’s official geological timeline. 
  • Multiple distinct signals point to the initiation of the Anthropocene epoch around 1950, a period when human activity began to exert a significant and unprecedented impact on the Earth. One compelling piece of evidence is the presence of plutonium, resulting from nuclear weapon detonations, which serves as a clear indicator of humanity’s dominant influence, leaving a distinct global ‘fingerprint’ on our planet. 
  • However, it is essential to note that while these findings strongly suggest the advent of the Anthropocene epoch, they have not yet definitively proven its existence. Further research and investigation are required to solidify this proposal.

Tenure extension system: SC asks ED chief to quit

Syllabus: Statutory, Regulatory and various Quasi-judicial Bodies

In News

The SC asked the ED Director to quit (4 months before his third extension ends) even as it upheld statutory amendments which facilitate the tenures of Directors of the CBI and the ED to be stretched.

Timeline

  • The current Enforcement Directorate (ED) Director (Mr. SK Mishra) was appointed for a two-year term in 2018.
  • In 2020, the original appointment was retrospectively amended to extend the tenure to three years.
  • In 2021, the Supreme Court (SC) directed the government to cease giving further extensions to the ED Director.
  • Amendments were enacted in 2021 to the Central Vigilance Commission Act and the Delhi Special Police Establishment Act to allow a maximum of 3 annual extensions (total term of 5 years) for the Directors of CBI and ED, based on the recommendation of High-Level Committees.
  • Previously, the CBI and ED chiefs had fixed tenures of two years.
  • The ED Director received two annual extensions in 2021 and 2022, despite crossing the age of superannuation.

High-Level Committees:

  • A five-member panel, including the Central Vigilance Commissioner and Vigilance Commissioners, had the authority to recommend an extension in service for the ED Director.
  • For the CBI Director, a High-Level Committee comprising the Prime Minister, Opposition Leader, and Chief Justice of India was responsible for making recommendations.
  • These committees were required to provide written reasons supporting their recommendations.

The recent verdict

  • The back-to-back service extensions granted to the ED Director in 2021 and 2022 were deemed illegal, as they did not align with the recommendations of the High-Level Committees.
  • The court’s endorsement of the 2021 amendments contradicted the argument that the Centre could employ service extensions as a means of exerting pressure, which goes against the principle of ensuring the independence of these agencies.

Takeaways from the SC’s verdict:

  • The verdict represents a setback to the objective of safeguarding institutional independence.
  • While the judgment’s decision to invalidate the extensions given to the ED Director may be seen as positive, the overall ruling permits the government to undermine the autonomy of these agencies.
  • Although legislation by Parliament can alter the basis for any judgment, it cannot nullify a court directive.
  • The government disregarded the Court’s earlier observation that such extensions should be reserved for “rare and exceptional cases” involving those who have reached superannuation.

Conclusion:

Given the cloud of suspicion surrounding the potential misuse of government agencies against political adversaries, the Court’s endorsement of a tenure extension system that compromises their indepeendence is detrimental to the rule of law.

Mains Question:

What is a quasi-judicial body? Explain with the help of concrete examples. (UPSC 2016)

Human-Stray Dog conflict

In News

The Supreme Court of India has taken up the matter of conflicts between humans and stray dogs, particularly in Kerala, with the intention of exploring diverse perspectives to arrive at a humane and sustainable resolution.

The court’s involvement was prompted by a plea from the Kannur district panchayat, seeking permission to euthanize stray dogs categorized as “suspected rabid” and “extremely dangerous.”

Two contrasting viewpoints have emerged:

View 1: Advocates representing the district panchayat brought attention to the tragic case of an 11-year-old boy who lost his life due to a stray dog attack. Similar incidents of dog attacks have been reported across India, highlighting the urgency of the issue.

View 2: On the other hand, animal rights activists stressed that local authorities should rigorously enforce animal birth control regulations and prevent cruelty towards stray dogs. Disturbing incidents of hanging, poisoning, and drowning of these animals have been documented, prompting activists to advocate for their protection.

The human-stray dog conflict raises significant ethical issues, including considerations about animal treatment, the delicate balance between human safety and animal rights, and the necessity to implement effective and compassionate solutions.

This issue serves as a compelling case study from an ethical standpoint, as it illuminates the dilemmas involved in finding a solution that upholds the welfare of both humans and stray dogs while respecting their rights and well-being.

Kui language

In News

The state cabinet of Odisha has approved the recommendation to include the Kui language in the eighth schedule of the Constitution of India.

Kui Language:

  • A vernacular tribal language of Odisha.
  • Also known as Kandh, Khondi, Kanda, Kodu, Kuinga.
  • Mainly spoken by the Kandhas or Kondhs.
  • Written in the Odia script.
  • Status situation potentially vulnerable according to information on the UNESCO site.

Significance of Inclusion in the 8th Schedule:

  • Helps in preserving the language and associated culture.
  • Facilitates promotion and propagation of the Kui language.

Sangam literature

In News

  • The Tamil Nadu Text Book and Education Services Corporation has released a collection of ten idylls called Patthuppattu, one of the earliest compilations of Sangam poetry.
  • This publication serves as a tribute to Ve. Swaminatha Iyer, who dedicated himself to discovering ancient palm leaf manuscripts containing Tamil literary works.

About the Sangam Period:

  • The Sangam period, specifically the third Sangam period, covers the history of ancient Tamil Nadu, Kerala, and parts of Sri Lanka (then known as Tamilakam), spanning from the 6th century BCE to around the 3rd century CE.
  • Historians and Ideologists consider the Sangam period as the ‘classical age’ of the Tamils, comparable to the age of the classics in Greece and Rome, as well as to the later European Renaissance.
  • The term ‘Sangam’ translates to ‘confluence,’ symbolizing the coming together of great literary minds and scholars during this significant period in Tamil history.

Shelf cloud

In News

  • In Haridwar, India, a captivating video circulating on social media displays the mesmerizing sight of shelf clouds or Arcus clouds forming during heavy monsoon rains.
  • The video, shared on Twitter, exhibits a striking scene of towering clouds with a horizontal rotation. However, the authenticity of the video has not been independently verified.

About Shelf Clouds:

  • Shelf clouds are distinct wedge-shaped formations that appear on the leading edge of storms.
  • They are formed when cold and dense air is forcefully driven into a warmer air mass during the downdraft of a thunderstorm.

Formation Process:

  • Shelf clouds are generated when warm, moist air rises rapidly due to the advance of a thunderstorm or cold front.
  • As the warm air ascends, it cools and condenses, resulting in the formation of a cloud.
  • The rising air creates a boundary between the cool, downdraft air from the storm and the warm, updraft air ahead of it.
  • The shelf cloud typically appears dark and foreboding due to the condensation and the presence of rain or hail within the storm.

Association of World Election Bodies (A-WEB)

In News

  • Chief Election Commissioner Shri Rajiv Kumar led a delegation from the Election Commission of India (ECI) to participate in the 11th meeting of the Executive Board of the Association of World Election Bodies (A-WEB) in Cartagena, Colombia.

About The Association of World Election Bodies (A-WEB) (founded 2012; HQ: Seoul, South Korea):

  • A-WEB is the largest association of Election Management Bodies (EMBs) globally, with the primary goal of promoting efficiency and effectiveness in conducting free, fair, transparent, and participative elections worldwide.
  • The association’s membership includes 118 EMBs as members and 20 Regional associations as associate members.

India’s Association with A-WEB:

  • India has been closely associated with A-WEB since its establishment and actively engages in capacity-building programs and knowledge-sharing initiatives.
  • To facilitate documentation and research of best practices and provide training and capacity building for A-WEB members, the India A-WEB Centre has been established in New Delhi.

Atal Vayo Abhyuday Yojana (AVYAY)

In news

The Atal Vayo Abhyuday Yojana (AVYAY) is an initiative introduced by the Ministry of Social Justice and Empowerment in India, aimed at empowering senior citizens and fostering their well-being and social inclusion.

About AVYAY

  • Scheme Name: Atal Vayo Abhyuday Yojana
  • Scheme Type: Central Sector Scheme
  • Former Name: National Action Plan for Senior Citizens
  • Aim: The scheme’s objective is to cater to the financial, healthcare, and social needs of elderly citizens, recognizing their significant contributions to society.
  • Vision: Creating a society where senior citizens can lead a healthy, happy, and empowered life.

Components:

  • Integrated Program for Senior Citizens (IPSrC):
    • Establishment of homes to improve the quality of life for senior citizens, especially those in need.
    • Provision of basic amenities and opportunities for entertainment, encouraging productive and active aging.
  • State Action Plan for Senior Citizens (SAPSrC):
    • Each state/union territory is expected to formulate its own action plan for the welfare of senior citizens.

Grant-in-Aid:

  • NGOs/Voluntary Organizations (VOs) receive financial support for operating and maintaining old age homes and Continuous Care Homes.

Five Schemes under the Umbrella Scheme:

  • Poshan Abhiyan for the elderly.
  • Livelihood and skilling initiatives for senior citizens.
  • Scheme on promoting the silver economy.
  • Awareness generation and capacity building for the welfare of senior citizens.
  • Channelizing CSR funds for elderly care.

Nodal Agency: Ministry of Social Justice and Empowerment.

Other components:

  • The scheme includes the Rashtriya Vayoshri Yojana (RVY), which provides assisted living devices to senior citizens with age-related disabilities.
  • National Helpline: Elderline serves as a national helpline offering free information, guidance, emotional support, and intervention in cases of abuse or rescue for senior citizens.

UPI QR codes for CBDC transactions

In News

The RBI has announced that customers will soon have the convenience of using QR codes from the Unified Payment Interface (UPI) network for transactions involving digital currency.

Advantages

  • The introduction of QR code interoperability will streamline transactions using central bank digital currency (CBDC). Previously, merchants had to undergo a separate onboarding process and possess a specific QR code for CBDC, causing delays.

In 2022, the RBI introduced CBDC, known as the Digital Rupee. This digital form of currency is issued and regulated by the RBI, representing a digitized version of India’s official currency. Built on blockchain technology, it is available in the same denominations as paper currency and coins.

Change in colour of world’s Ocean

In News

According to a new study published in Nature, climate change has caused a significant shift in the color of 56 percent of the world’s oceans.

  • The study revealed that waters in the tropics, particularly in the southern Indian Ocean, have turned green. 
  • This change in color indicates an increase in phytoplankton, which are crucial microscopic plant-like organisms for marine life and carbon dioxide absorption. 
  • Phytoplankton contain chlorophyll, a pigment that imparts a green hue to them. The alteration in ocean color serves as an indicator of changes in the phytoplankton communities.

To conduct this research, the scientists analyzed data from the Moderate Resolution Imaging Spectroradiometer (MODIS) aboard the Aqua satellite, which has been continuously monitoring ocean color for the past two decades. They studied long-term trends and utilized models to simulate scenarios, both with and without greenhouse gas emissions, to understand the effects of climate change on ocean color and phytoplankton dynamics.

Brucellosis

In News

In Kollam, India, a seven-year-old student has been diagnosed with Brucellosis, a bacterial infection that can be transmitted from animals to humans.

  • The young girl was hospitalized due to symptoms such as severe fever, elevated platelet count, and facial swelling.

About Brucellosis:

Brucellosis is frequently found in cattle, and humans can contract the infection through close contact with infected animals or animal products. If not treated promptly, this infection can pose life-threatening risks.

Guillain-Barre syndrome

In News

Peru has declared a state of national emergency in response to a notable rise in cases of Guillain-Barré syndrome, a neurological disorder that can lead to paralysis.

  • The country has experienced an unusual surge in these cases, leading to concerns about the strain it places on healthcare services. The health minister has also expressed apprehensions about a potential shortage of immunoglobulin, which is a standard treatment for Guillain-Barré syndrome.

About Guillain-Barré syndrome:

Guillain-Barré syndrome is a rare disorder characterized by the immune system mistakenly attacking the peripheral nervous system. It can manifest as mild weakness or progress to severe paralysis. The exact causes of the syndrome remain unknown, and there is currently no known cure. However, treatments are available to help alleviate symptoms and manage complications.

Dudhwa Tiger Reserve

In News

Four tigers died within two months in the Dudhwa Tiger Reserve in Uttar Pradesh, India.

  • The Dudhwa Tiger Reserve, situated on the India-Nepal border, is a protected area in Uttar Pradesh. It spans across the Lakhimpur Kheri and Bahraich districts and stands as a unique location in Uttar Pradesh where Tigers and Rhinos coexist.
  • Renowned for its remarkably diverse and productive Terai ecosystems, the Dudhwa Tiger Reserve serves as one of the finest examples of this landscape.

The Terai Arc Landscape (TAL) is a composition of 14 trans-border protected ecosystems in the Terai and nearby foothills of the Himalayas, encompassing 14 protected areas in both Nepal and India.

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