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28th September 2022

Protecting Taj Mahal

Context

The Supreme Court recently directed the Agra Development Authority to stop all commercial activities within a 500-metre radius of the Taj Mahal, a UNESCO World Heritage Site.

About

Supreme Court’s Intervention:

  • SC has repeatedly called attention to the failures in protecting the Taj Mahal from various forms of pollution.
  • In 2018, it had reprimanded the Centre and the UP government for its “apathy” and stated that the preserving of the Mughal-era structure was a “hopeless cause.”

The Taj Trapezium Zone case

  • The Taj Trapezium Zone (TTZ) spreads over 10,400 sq km across the districts of Agra, Firozabad, Mathura, Hathras and Etah in Uttar Pradesh and Bharatpur district of Rajasthan. 
  • In 1984, Advocate and environmentalist M C Mehta had filed a petition before the Supreme Court, claiming that industries, foundries, vehicles and the nearby Mathura petroleum refinery were releasing toxic gases like sulphur dioxide, which were harmful to both the monument and the people in its vicinity. 
  • In 1996, the top court in a landmark judgement (C. Mehta vs Union Of India & Ors), stated that “the atmospheric pollution in TTZ has to be eliminated at any cost.”
    • It found that the nearby coke/coal consuming industries were damaging the monument and the people living in the TTZ. 

Continued pollution

In 2010, a report submitted by the National Environmental Engineering Research Institute (NEERI) found that despite various government schemes to reduce pollution in the TTZ area, the iconic Taj Mahal continued to face a threat from water and air pollution.

Damage caused by insects

  • The source of this problem comes from the dry river Yamuna, which has become devoid of any ecological flow.
  • These insects, as has been stated in the Archaeological Survey of India’s report, breed in the polluted matter in the river, and then attack the Taj Mahal.
  • Earlier, there were fish in the river, which ate the insects and their larvae, but now, due to the serious water pollution, there is no sign of any aquatic species in the river.
  • Other monuments that stand on the banks of the river Yamuna, such as the Tomb of Itimad-ud-Daulah, the Mehtab Bagh, and portions of the Agra Fort, too, have been affected by these insect attacks.

F-16 package to Pakistan by USA

Context

External Affairs Minister S Jaishankar lashed out at the US for its decision to provide Pakistan with a $450 million package for what the Pentagon has called the “F-16 case for sustainment and related equipment”.

About

The issuea

  • This is the first American military assistance package to Pakistan after the Trump Administration ended defence and security co-operation with the country in 2018 after accusing it of giving only “lies and deceit” for the billions of dollars that the US had “foolishly” given it.
  • India is not too pleased with the United States’ recent decision to provide a massive $450 million F-16 fighter jet fleet sustainment programme to Pakistan.
  • The Biden administration approved the F-16 sustainment programme for Pakistan, reversing the decision of the previous Trump administration.
  • The US defended its decision by saying that the package was to fight terrorism.

What is the F-16 sustenance package?

  • The $450 million package comprises technical and logistics services for follow-on support of Pakistan’s F-16 fleet.
  • There is participation in electronic combat international security assistance programme, international engine management programme, engine component improvement programme, aircraft and engine hardware and software modifications and support and aircraft and engine spare repair/return parts.
  • The package will help Pakistan upgrade its existing fleet of F-16 fighter jets.

Why is the US providing military assistance to Pakistan?

  • According to the US, the package would help Islamabad sustain its capability to meet current and future counterterrorism threats by maintaining its F-16 fleet.
  • Pakistan’s F-16 programme is an important part of the broader United States-Pakistan bilateral relationship.
  • As per US Congressional notification, the proposed sale does not include any new capabilities, weapons, or munitions. It will not “alter the basic military balance in the region”.

What is India’s concern?

  • India’s concern around the F-16s and Pakistan is not a new occurrence.
  • Rather, India has been concerned about this since the first time the US gave Pakistan F-16s, a reward for their assistance in the First Afghan War, where the US supplied Pakistan with money and weapons, in a successful attempt to fight the Soviet Army with jihadis.
  • However, the end of the war and the Soviet Union’s departure from Afghanistan led to the US reworking its relationship with Pakistan.
  • Aimed against Pakistan’s nuclear ambitions, 'The Pressler Amendment' froze it out of military assurance. In layman’s terms, no more F-16s.
  • However, a decade later, the Bush Administration did not only approve the release of the blocked F-16s, but also allowed the sale of new F-16s, along with a refurbishment package. 
  • During India and Pakistan’s last aerial skirmish in 2019, Pakistan brought down a MiG-21 flown by the Indian Air Force’s Abhinandan Varthaman. The move acted as a show of strength for the F-16, cementing Pakistan’s intentions to use the aircraft in all future operations. 
  • However, from another point of view, the package could also be a signal from the States to both Islamabad and New Delhi to break the long impasse in their relations. 

Very Short Range Air Defence System (VSHORADS) Missile

Context

DRDO conducted two successful test flight of Very Short Range Air Defence System (VSHORADS) missile recently from a ground based portable launcher at the Integrated Test Range, Chandipur, off the coast of Odisha.

About

What Is A Very Short Range Air Defence System (VSHORADS)?

  • A group of MANPAD & anti-aircraft weapons and techniques called Very Short Range Air Defence System (VSHORADS) missiles are used to defend against low-altitude air threats, notably helicopters and low-flying aircraft.
  • It is a Man Portable Air Defence System (MANPAD) designed and developed indigenously by DRDO’s Research Centre Imarat (RCI), Hyderabad in collaboration with other DRDO laboratories and Indian Industry Partners.
  • The last line of defence for soldiers against hostile combat helicopters and aircraft is VSHORADS.
  • Medium to Low Air Defense divides the battlespace into domes of responsibility for air defence based on altitude and defensive weapon ranges.


Key Features of Very Short Range Air Defence System (VSHORADS):

  • VSHORADS features a number of cutting-edge technologies, including an integrated avionics system and a miniaturised Reaction Control System.
  • Numerous unique technologies, including integrated avionics and a miniaturised Reaction Control System (RCS), have been successfully tested and are included in the VSHORADS missile.
  • The missile is propelled by a dual thrust solid motor and is designed to eliminate low altitude aerial threats at close ranges.
  • The missile’s design, including the launcher, has undergone extensive optimization to ensure portability. The mission objectives have been fully satisfied by both flight tests.
  • VSHORAD is the soldier’s last line of defence against enemy combat aircraft and helicopters in the multi-layered air defence network.
  • These Very Short Range Air Defence Missiles are seen to be absolutely essential for the defence of any significant city or any important strategic area.
  • The Air Defense Guns L-70 and ZU-23 in the Indian Army’s current stock are more than 40 years old and hence completely out of date.

Dadasaheb Phalke Award, 2020

Context

Veteran actress Asha Parekh has been declared the recipient of the 2020 Dadasaheb Phalke award, making her the 52nd awardee of the honour.

  • She will be honoured at the 68th National Film Awards event to be presided over by President of India Smt Droupadi Murmu.
About

About Asha Parekh:

  • Asha Parekh made her debut as a leading actress in the 1959 film Dil Deke Dekho. 
  • Ms Asha Parekh was conferred the Padma Shri in 1992.
  • She has also served as the first female chairperson of Central Board for Film Certification from 1998-2001.
  • She came out with her autobiography, The Hit Girl, co-written by film critic Khalid Mohamed, in 2017.

About the Dadasaheb Phalke Award:

  • The Dadasaheb Phalke Award is the highest honour in Indian cinema.
  • The award was instituted in 1969, the award is the highest honour for an artiste in Indian cinema. 
  • Previous recipients include Raj Kapoor, Yash Chopra, Lata Mangeshkar, Mrinal Sen, Amitabh Bachchan and Vinod Khanna.
  • Devika Rani was the first winner, while actor Rajinikanth is the most recent winner of the prestigious honour, in 2021.

About National Film Awards:

  • These are among the most prestigious honours bestowed upon persons who have contributed to the advancement of cinematic art.
  • These prizes have been given out annually since 1954.
  • Organised by: The Directorate of Film Festivals took over the responsibility of organizing these awards in 1973.
  • The winners are chosen by a national selection committee appointed by the government.
  • The awards are presented by India's President, and the winning films are shown to the public.
  • The awards are presented not just to the finest films from India's Bollywood industry, but also to the best films from other countries.

Categorization of Awards

The following are the five key categories for which this award is given:

Name of Awards

Categories

Swarna Kamal Or the Golden Lotus Award (five categories)

Best Feature Film

Best Direction

Best Children’s Film

Best Popular film providing wholesome entertainment

Indira Gandhi Award for Best Debutant Director

Rajat Kamal or Silver Lotus Award

There are 25 major categories, such as best feature film, and so on.

Best Feature film in the languages specified in Schedule VIII of the Constitution.

There are 12 different categories, including Hindi, Bengali, and others.

Best Feature film specified in the Languages other than those specified in Schedule VIII of the Constitution

English, Bhojpuri, Kokborok, Monpa, and Tulu among the five categories.

JALDOOT App

Context

The Union Rural Development Ministry recently launched a mobile application that will enable gram rojgar sahayaks to measure the water level of selected wells twice a year — before and after the monsoon.

About

About JALDOOT App:

  • Developed by: JALDOOT app has been jointly developed by Ministry of Rural Development and Panchayati Raj.
  • This app will be used across the country to capture the water level of selected 2-3 wells in a village.
  • Manual monitoring of water levels in open wells will be measured twice in a year, from 1st May to 31st May as pre-monsoon water level and from 1st October to 31st October for post-monsoon level for the same well.
  • Jaldoots, that is, officers assigned to measure the water levels, should also upload the geo-tagged photographs through the app on every occasion of measurement.
  • This Mobile app will work in both online and offline mode.
  • So water level can be captured even without internet connectivity and captured date will be stored in mobile and when mobile comes in the connectivity area, data will synchronize with the central server. 
  • The regular data to be input by the Jaldoots would be integrated with the database of National Water Informatics Centre (NWIC), which can be utilised for analysis and display of various useful reports for the benefit of various stakeholders.
  • Water level report, Monsoon Report and Registered user report are available at JALDOOT web portal.

NASA discovered a small island from an underwater volcano

Context

The National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA) has now discovered a new island in the southwest Pacific Ocean, which now covers an area of 24,000 square metres.

About
  • A seafloor ridge stretching from New Zealand to Tonga has the highest density of underwater volcanoes in the world.
  • Recently, one of the volcanoes awoke and the Home Reef repeatedly oozed lava and ejected plumes of steam and ash.
  • A new island rose above the water surface which was captured by the Operation Land Imager-2. 
  • The plumes of superheated acidic seawater contained particulate matter, volcanic rock fragments and sulphur.
  • The new island is located southwest of Late Island, northeast of Hunga Tonga-Hunga Ha‘apai.

NASA’s observations about such islands:

  • The island created by submarine volcanoes is often-shortlived, though they stay for years.
  • The Home Reef, which sits within the Tonga-Kermadec subduction zone, has four recorded periods of volcanic eruptions which include events in 1852 and 1857.
  • The small islands that were formed after both the events and later in 1984 and 2006, produced islands with cliffs that were 50-70 metres high. An island was created after a 12-day eruption from the Late'iki Volcano in 2020 but was washed away after two months.

Do you know?

  • Home Reef sits within the Tonga-Kermadec subduction zone, an area where three tectonic plates are colliding at the fastest converging boundary in the world.
  • The Pacific Plate here is sinking beneath two other small plates, yielding one of Earth’s deepest trenches and most active volcanic arcs.

Subduction Zones

  • Subduction is a process in geology where one tectonic plates slides underneath another one and merges into the Earth’s mantle.
  • The denser plate is the one that slips under the less dense plate; the younger plate is the less dense one. The process is not a smooth one.
  • The tectonic plates grate against each other, which often causes earthquakes.
  • The plate that slips under does not stay that way. Due to the heat caused by it rubbing against the other plate as well as the natural heat of the mantle, the plate melts and turns into magma.
  • The area where subduction occurs is known as the subduction zone.
  • A subduction zone is the biggest crash scene on Earth. These boundaries mark the collision between two tectonic plates.

  • When two tectonic plates meet at a subduction zone, one bends and slides underneath the other, curving down into the mantle, the hotter layer under the crust.

 

Centre aims at 40 percent reduction in particulate matter by 2026

Context

The Centre has set a new target of 40 percent reduction in particulate matter concentration in cities covered under the National Clean Air Programme (NCAP) by 2026, updating the earlier goal of 20 to 30 percent reduction by 2024.

About

National Clean Air Programme (NCAP):

  • It was launched by the MoEFCC in January
  • It is the first-ever effort in the country to frame a national framework for air quality management with a time-bound reduction target.
  • Goal of NCAP is to meet the prescribed annual average ambient air quality standards at all locations in the country in a stipulated timeframe.
    • The tentative national level target of 20%–30% reduction of PM2.5 and PM10 concentration by 2024 is proposed under the NCAP taking 2017 as the base year for the comparison of concentration. (Now set at 40% by 2026.)
  • Objectives
    • To augment and evolve effective and proficient ambient air quality monitoring network across the country for ensuring comprehensive and reliable database
    • To have efficient data dissemination and public outreach mechanism for timely measures for prevention and mitigation of air pollution and for inclusive public participation in both planning and implementation of the programmes and policies of government on air pollution
    • To have feasible management plan for prevention, control and abatement of air pollution.
  • Approach:
    • Collaborative, Multi-scale and Cross-Sectoral Coordination between relevant Central Ministries, State Government and local bodies.
    • Focus on no Regret Measures, Participatory and Disciplined approach
    • Under NCAP, 131 cities are being targeted for improving air quality.
    • Of these 131 cities, 123 cities (NACs) are identified under NCAP based on non-conforming to national ambient air quality standards (NAAQS) consecutively for five years.
    • In addition, million plus cities (MPCs) are also covered, those identified by 15th
      Finance Commission (XV-FC), for receiving performance based grant for air quality improvement.
    • Out of 42 MPCs, 34 cities are common under NCAP.
    • Thus, 131 cities (NACs and MPCs) are being monitored under the NCAP for improving air quality.
  • NCAP Initiatives: The initiatives under NCAP are listed below:
    • The National Air Quality Monitoring Network will be augmented.
    • Air Quality Management Plan for the cities chosen.
    • Indoor Air Pollution Monitoring & Management
    • National Emission Inventory – this is an inventory of the quantity of pollutants discharged into the air.
    • Network of Technical Institutions
    • Technology Assessment Cell
    • International cooperation including the sharing of best practices with respect to abatement of air pollution.

Key findings of Union Ministry:

  • According to the Union Environment Ministry, 95 of the 131 non-attainment cities covered under the NCAP have witnessed an “overall improvement” in PM10 levels in 2021 as compared to 2017 levels.
  • Twenty cities, including Chennai, Madurai and Nashik, have met the national standards for annual average PM10 concentration (60 microgram per cubic metre).
  • The acceptable annual standard for PM2.5 is 40 micrograms per cubic metre.
  • In Delhi, the PM10 concentration has reduced from 241 micrograms per cubic metre in 2017 to 196 micrograms per cubic metre in 2021.

The NASA spacecraft-asteroid collision

Context

Recently, the DART (Double Asteroid Redirection Test) spacecraft collided with the space rock Dimorphos (just 160 metres wide).

About

Double Asteroid Redirection Test (DART)

  • DART is the first-ever mission dedicated to investigating and demonstrating one method of asteroid deflection by changing an asteroid’s motion in space through kinetic impact.
  • This method will have DART deliberately collide with a target asteroid which poses no threat to Earth, in order to change its speed and path.
  • DART’s target is the binary, near-Earth asteroid system Didymos, composed of the roughly 780-meter (2,560-foot) -diameter “Didymos” and the smaller, approximately 160-meter (530-foot)-size “Dimorphos,” which orbits Didymos.
  • DART will impact Dimorphos to change its orbit within the binary system.
  • DART is also carrying a cubesat that will film the larger spacecraft's impact and beam the footage back to researchers on Earth.
  • At the time of DART's impact, Didymos will be visible enough to be a good candidate for study and distant enough to be no danger, at approximately 6.8 million miles (11 kilometers) away from Earth.

What is an Asteroid?

  • Asteroids are small, airless rocky worlds revolving around the sun that are too small to be called planets.
  • They are also known as planetoids or minor planets.
  • In total, the mass of all the asteroids is less than that of Earth’s moon. But despite their size, asteroids can be dangerous.
  • Many have hit Earth in the past, and more will crash into our planet in the future.


What are the other possibilities of this technique?

  • At the heels of NASA, China is set to deflect a 40m diameter earth-crossing asteroid called 2020 PN1 sometime in 2026.
  • While ostensibly the drive comes from the desire to protect earth from killer asteroids, perhaps the lure of space mining lurks behind.
  • Mining rare earth elements comes with a high environmental cost. In the coming years, the penalty for polluting could make space mining economically viable.
  • If one can tug a mineral-rich asteroid near the Moon or establish a space mining factory between the orbits of earth and Mars, precious mineral resources needed for decades could be easily sourced.
  • The ‘kick’ technique that deflects asteroids can then be used to move a small asteroid into a convenient position for space mining.
  • Now shelved, NASA’s Asteroid Redirect Mission (ARM) aimed at precisely this by bringing a 20-tonne space rock near earth to study and mine. In a way, the DART mission is also part of this frame.

Editorial

Permanent membership of the UNSC is another story

Context:

United Nations Security Council (UNSC) is the last, most exclusive club in international relations. Reforms of the UNSC need to be negotiated on a written document instead of holding verbal promises.

Superficial Declarations

  • No support from P-5: Although the permanent members do make some noise about supporting a new entrant, the fact is that none of the five permanent (P-5) members wants to see UNSC ranks to be increased. Intrinsically each of them is confident enough that the idea of its enlargement will shoot down by one among the P-5.

Intricacies of membership

  • Unhappiness about the right to veto: P-5 are no saints. The members of the P-5 club have used this privileged right on many occasions in a biased manner. For example, western members use the veto to protect Israel when the Palestinian question was being discussed; Russia, in its incarnations as the Soviet Union and the Russian Federation, has cast more vetoes than its western counterparts.
  • Support and Opposition: India, Japan, Brazil, and Germany are the declared candidates for permanent membership, called G-4. Pakistan and China will oppose India; China also doesn’t support Japan; Brazil has regional opponents and claimants; Italy is firmly opposed to Germany’s claim.
  • Amending the charter: Changing the membership of the Council requires amending the Charter. This involves the consent of two-thirds of the total membership of the U N, including the concurring votes of P-5. This means that each of the five has a veto.
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ThinkQ

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QUIZ - 28th September 2022

Mains Question:

Question: In the coming years, the effect of climate change, along with increasing water needs would lead to a more intense exploitation of groundwater resources, whose sustainability must be carefully evaluated by a detailed interpretation of groundwater level data. Examine (150 words)

Question Mapping

  • Subject: Polity & Governance (GS-II)
    • Sub-topic: Government Policies & Intervention
  • Subject: Environment (GS-III)
    • Sub-topic: Conservation

Approach 

  • Introduction- brief about depletion of groundwater 
  • Need of data collection
    • depletion of groundwater 
    • increasing population and demand
    • increasing Urbanization
    • Ineffective planning due to lack of data
  • Significance of groundwater data
    • better planning
      • GPDP and for NREGA planning exercises
    • accurate assessment of the problem at hand
    • sustainability
  • List some Government initiative related to water-related data
    • Mention Government’s latest app Jaldoot to capture data on ground water tables
  • Sum up your answer with a way forward

Verifying, please be patient.

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