Topic 1 : FEAST Programme
Why in news: A James Webb telescope’s stunning click shows spiral-shaped M-83 galaxy under the FEAST programme.
- The M83 galaxy has grabbed the interest of scientists as it potentially offers an insight into how the stars are born.
- James Webb Space Telescope clicked an image of a beautiful spiral through its Mid-Infrared Instrument (MIRI).
- M83 is also known as NGC 5236, and is a type of galaxy with a spiral shape and a bar-like structure in the centre.
- It’s located about 15 million light-years away from Earth.
- The James Webb Space Telescope’s MIRI can see things in a part of light called “infrared,” which is different from what our eyes can see.
- FEAST stands for Feedback in Emerging Extragalactic Star Clusters.
- The Feast Programme has been designed to understand galactic phenomena.
- Scientists use MIRI to look at M83 as part of a program called FEAST.
- The programme aids the understanding to configure how stars are born in the galaxies and how they affect their surroundings.
- Stars give out matter and energy as they form, and this is what they call “stellar feedback.”
- Stellar feedback is the term used to describe the outpouring of energy from stars into the environments which form them, and is a crucial process in determining the rates at which stars form.
- The FEAST programme is looking at six different galaxies.Topic 2 : Barda Wildlife Sanctuary
Why in news: After Gir, Barda Wildlife Sanctuary proposed as second home for Asiatic lions
- After Gir National Park and Sanctuary, the Barda Wildlife Sanctuary (BWLS) in Gujarat is set to become the second home to Asiatic lions.
- The Asiatic lions at present are restricted to Gir National Park and Sanctuary.
- The lions have been occasionally venturing out in nearby forests and human settlements due to increased population.
- The population of lions increased from 523 in 2015 to 674 in 2020 and a large number of them have settled out of the protected areas.
- Barda is about 15 km from Porbandar town coast and about 100 km from Gir forest.
- The sanctuary is spread in about 192 sq km.
- It is relatively small in extent but has an abundance of floral diversity.
- There are breeding centres of spotted deers in the sanctuary which will help in augmenting the prey base of lions.About Asiatic Lion
- The Asiatic lion today survives in the wild only in India.
- Since the turn of the 20th century, its range has been restricted to Gir National Park and the surrounding areas in Gujarat.
- The lion is one offive pantherine cats native to India, along with:
- the Bengal tiger,
- Indian leopard,
- snow leopard
- clouded leopard.
- It was also known as the Indian lion and the Persian lion.
- Conservation status:
- It was included on CITES Appendix I.
- It listed in Schedule I of Wildlife (Protection) Act 1972.
- On the IUCN Red List, it is listed as Endangered.
Topic 3 : Operation Cactus
Why in news: As Maldives’ president-elect doubles down on his ‘India Out’ stance, a look at the events of November 3, 1988, when Indian troops intervened to thwart a coup attempt in Maldives.
- Maldives lies to the south-west of the Indian mainland.
- Its capital Malé slightly more than 600 km away from Thiruvananthapuram.
- It comprises nearly 1,200 low-lying coral islands sprawled across 90,000 sq km in the Indian Ocean.
- Maumoon Abdul Gayoom (born 1937) became president of Maldives in 1978, amidst economic troubles and political instability.
- Gayoom eventually went on and ruled his country for 30 years, but in the 1980s, he faced three attempted coups (in 1980, 1983 and 1988), led by Maldivians disgruntled at his rule.
- The last one would have succeeded, if not for Indian intervention.
India gets involved
- As the coup unfolded, SOS messages were sent to countries across the world.
- The Indian Army HQ had already been informed of a possible operation.
- In Agra, the 50th Independent Parachute Brigade was activated.
- Two Ilyushin IL-76s, flying non-stop from Agra carrying Indian soldiers landed in Hulhulé, Maldives’ main airport.
- The effect of the landing on the rebels was instant.
- The paratroopers immediately secured the airport before proceeding to the adjacent island of Malé to rescue Gayoom.
- Some rebels had hijacked a merchant vessel to make their escape.
- Frigates INS Betwa (from Kochi), and INS Godavari (returning from a friendly visit to Australia), were activated and tasked with intercepting the fleeing vessel before it entered Sri Lankan territorial waters.
- Seeing that no escape would be possible, the rebels finally surrendered and were taken aboard INS Godavari.Topic 4 : The many problems of Indian Railways
Why in news: The Indian Railways (IR) has been on a spending spree after the government merged its rail budget with the main budget, but its operating ratio, which is the ratio of ordinary working expenses to the gross traffic receipts, has shown no improvement.
- India has the world’s fifth largest railway system, with 62,658 km of railway.
- In 2013, India joined the billion ton club along with China, Russia, and the United States, for achieving freight loading of 1010 million tonnes.
- Despite this, roads still took the majority of all goods traffic in the country, because of how shoddy the railway system is.
- The government-run Indian railways are Asia’s oldest rail network.
- Years of underinvestment in the country lead to poorly maintained railways, that are not only inefficient but dangerous as well.
Problems associated with Indian Railways:
- The trap of rising debt
- Since the IR continues to have a total lack of surplus, it has been augmenting the funds raised through Gross Budgetary Support (GBS) and Extra Budgetary Resources (EBS).
- The IR’s spending on repayment of principal and interest is pegged at ₹22,229 crore and ₹23,782 crore respectively, which together make it 17% of revenue receipts.
- It is a sharp rise from less than 10% till 2015-16.
- Losses in the passenger segment:
- The IR’s freight segment is profitable whereas the passenger segment makes huge losses.
- The Comptroller and Auditor General of India (CAG) report presented in Parliament on August 8, 2023 states that there was a loss of ₹68,269 crore in all classes of passenger services during 2021-22.
- All the profit from freight traffic nullified in cross subsidising passenger services.
- The annual growth in freight volume and revenue of the IR in the period April-July 2023 stand at 1% and 3% respectively, while the economy grows at 7%.
- Fluctuating Net Tonne Kilometres:
- Further adding to the woes of the IR is the constantly fluctuating key index of Net Tonne Kilometres (NTKM), which fell for two successive years in 2015-16 and 2016-17 by 4% and 5% over the preceding years.
- First time such a fall has happened for two consecutive years.
- In the seven-year period ending 2021-22, NTKM grew annually at the rate of 3.5% — much less than the road transport growth rate.
- Old Track:
- The major problem faced by Indian railways is that the tracks are old and outdated.
- These old tracks cause many serious railway accidents.
- This has also resulted in speed restrictions.
- Travel without Tickets:
- Another problem that is being faced in India is that a large number of passengers travel without purchasing tickets.
- Indian railways have to bear extra loss of about Rs. 5 crore every year on account of traveling without tickets.
- Attack on Railways:
- The railways are attacked during the time of disturbances and violence that arise in any part of the country.
- For instance, there was heavy loss of railways in the movements of West Bengal, Telengana and Assam etc.
- Lack of Modern Management:
- There is a lack of modern management as railway failed to attract adequate incentives and suitable talent.
- In addition to it, it could not make economic analysis for perspective planning tariff.
- Outmoded Technology:
- The rolling stock technology is absolutely outmoded.
- The system is beset with excessive man-power and manpower development has not kept pace with technology up gradation.
- This has made railways incapable of coping with increasing transport demand and of raising and improving the traffic volume and flows at lower unit cost of operation.
- Problem of Replacement:
- The problem of replacement of old and obsolete railways engines, wagons and other equipment has created a serious problem in India.
- Competition with Road Transport:
- The competition with road transport is growing in intensity, both in passenger and in goods transport.
- The lack of coordination between railways and road transport has lowered the earning capacity of the railways.
- This has further caused delay in traffic movement and inconvenience to passengers.
Some potential solutions:
- Investment in infrastructure:
- Improving and modernizing the infrastructure of the railway system, including tracks, bridges, and stations, can help to reduce delays and improve safety.
- Increasing capacity:
- Adding more trains and upgrading existing ones can help to reduce overcrowding and increase efficiency.
- Improving safety:
- Implementing safety measures such as modern signaling systems, providing better training for employees, and investing in new equipment can help to reduce the number of accidents.
- Improving efficiency:
- Introducing new technologies such as digital ticketing systems and implementing better scheduling and route planning can help to reduce delays and improve efficiency.
How cargo transport can be improved
- The inadequacy of containerization
- Another great hope for the IR was the expected fillip to general cargo movement by private container train operators (CTOs) through containerisation.
- However, after 15 years of privatisation, domestic cargo moved by containers is a mere 1% of the IR’s loading and 0.3% of the total freight in the country.
- High haulage rates is one of the reasons of such under-performance.
- The problem perhaps also lies in the risk involved in developing the market as it would inevitably involve losses over a period of time.
- General cargo is segmented into three categories:
- highly time sensitive (HTSG),
- medium time sensitive (MTSG) and
- low time sensitive (LTSG).
- Moving HTSG through passenger trains:
- HTSG cargo is mostly valuable goods or perishables and they should continue to be moved by passenger trains.
- Attaching two to three parcel vans in all popular trains would easily double the parcel loading capacity and these parcel vans can bring around five times the revenue of sleeper coaches and around two times that of AC coaches.
- Flexibility to shippers:
- MTSG and LTSG cargo are price-sensitive and this cargo should be moved under the IR freight rates, which are lower than truck rates.
- Even after the addition of first and last leg costs there is a cost-benefit to shippers.
- Shippers should be permitted to book individual wagons with provision to run a train to the schedule even if the train is not fully loaded.
- The assurance of timely movement would certainly attract shippers to the IR.
- To incentivise volumetric loading, tariff may also be moderated by increasing charges in slabs as per quantity loaded.
- Encouraging cargo aggregators:
- The IR needs to encourage cargo aggregators by tweaking the existing freight forwarder policy.
- In the long run new kinds of stocks to optimise pay load and speed would also be required which the IR and the rolling stock industry are fully capable to design and deliver.
- The need to give up parcel trains
- The IR’s current strategy for moving general cargo is two-pronged, the parcels are moved either by:
- passenger trains or
- special heavy parcel van (VPH) trains.
- However, these approaches appear to have gone haywire as loading leased parcel vans and full parcel trains fell by 15% and 8% respectively.
- One of the reasons for the decline in the parcel segment is the high tariff.
- Other factors are:
- improper terminals,
- inconsistent weighbridges intensified by excessive penal charges,
- unreliable transit times,
- complex booking and delivery mechanisms and
- self-imposed environmental restrictions.
- VPH parcel trains are proving counterproductive and should be given up.
- A matching covered wagon (more technically a Covered Bogie Wagon Type with Air Brake and Heavy Load (BCNHL)) carries 700% more cargo with 45% more volume.
- The IR’s current strategy for moving general cargo is two-pronged, the parcels are moved either by:
- Radical problems do call for radical solutions.
- Expert committees have even highlighted the need for the transporter to exit the rail business and focus on the singular task of operating trains.
- But the creation of the IRMS, at the expense of dismantling the institutional mechanism of the engineering services, does appear to bring in newer and bigger challenges.
- In the absence of experienced rail engineers, the transporter, in coming years, could find itself obliged to accept the technology or rolling stock offered by private parties at rates to be decided by them.
- “A fait accompli” situation of such sort can hardly be considered ideal for the Indian Railways.Topic 5 : Impact of air pollution on economic growth
Why in news: A slew of studies have shown a direct and serious impact of air pollution on GDP growth and per capita income levels.
- RBI findings:
- The Reserve Bank of India’s Department of Economic and Policy Research (DEPR) said in its latest report on Currency & Finance 2022-23 that up to 4.5% of India’s GDP could be at risk by 2030
- It will be due to lost labour hours from climate change issues, including extreme heat and humidity.
- If the impact of recurrent annual cycles of pollution in key manufacturing and services hubs is added to that estimate, the drain on economic productivity is far higher.
- RBI data suggest that 50% of India’s GDP comes from sectors that are exposed to heat, which is a rough approximation for the share of GDP generated by outdoor work.
- In comparison, less than 25% of European GDP is generated by the same sectors.
- World Bank report:
- A June 2023 World Bank paper pointed to clear evidence that the well-documented micro-level impacts of air pollution on health, productivity, labour supply, and other economically relevant outcomes aggregate to macro level effects that can be observed in year-to-year changes in GDP.
- 2021 paper on impacts of pollution:
- A 2021 paper, which studied the direct impacts of air pollution in India on mortality and morbidity, found large inter-state variations in economic loss as a proportion of the state GDP from 0.67% to 2.15%
- The biggest losses were in the low per-capita GDP states of:
- Uttar Pradesh,
- Madhya Pradesh, and
- The 2021 study quoted above collated anecdotal evidence from across India:
- footfall in Mumbai’s Linking Road shopping district dropped by 5% during the highly polluted period between November and January;
- a rooftop solar company reported a 13% decrease in the productivity of its solar panels on high pollution days, thereby reducing economic viability for solar in India; and
- employees at Bengaluru’s tech hub, Whitefield Corporate Zone, reported an 8-10% reduction in productivity at work.
- The costs of poor air quality, the study said, was manifested in six distinct ways:
- lower labour productivity,
- lower consumer footfall,
- lower asset productivity,
- increased health expenses,
- welfare losses, and
- premature mortality.
- A first-of-its-kind report had estimated that air pollution entailed costs of about $95 billion annually for Indian businesses, which is about 3% of India’s GDP.
The challenge for India
- Air pollution is an urgent prerogative in India, as more than 20 of the world’s 30 cities with the worst air pollution are in the country.
- Delhi has the poorest air quality among cities globally, with PM2.5 concentration levels pegged at nearly 10 times the WHO target.
- A paper had listed Delhi as the city with the highest level of per-capita economic loss due to pollution among major Indian cities.
- The costs of air pollution from fossil fuels, burning gas, coal, and oil results in three times as many deaths as road traffic accidents worldwide.
- According to the study, air pollution has an economic cost of $2.9 trillion, about 3.3 per cent of the world’s GDP.
- The trend is a concern especially in developing countries such as India when employment generation is still largely linked to economic activities involving the outdoors.
- Agriculture and construction are among the biggest employment avenues, while delivery services and security agency work account for the bulk of employment generation options in the urban areas.
Impact on service sector:
- Even in indoor jobs such as those in call centres, air pollution takes a toll on productivity.
- A study found that for each 10-unit increase in the air pollution index (API), worker productivity, measured by the number of calls handled, fell by 0.35%.
- While the average duration of individual calls was not impacted by pollution levels, the time workers spent on break went up.
- Poor air quality impeded the performance of highly productive employees as much as it did of less productive workers.
- The findings of this study are of particular relevance to India, where the services sector accounts of more than 50% of the GDP.Topic 6 : Advocate-on-Record system in the Supreme Court
Why in news: The Supreme Court pulled up an Advocate-on-Record (AoR) for filing a frivolous case and dismissed the public interest litigation.
About Advocate-on-Record (AoR):
- Advocate-on-Record is an advocate who is entitled to act as well as to plead for a party in the Supreme Court.
- As per the rules, no advocate other than an advocate on record shall be entitled to file an appearance or act for a party in the Supreme Court of India.
- No advocate other than an advocate on record can appear and plead in any matter unless he is instructed by an advocate-on-record.
- Only an AoR can file cases before the Supreme Court.
- An AoR might engage other lawyers including senior counsels to argue before the Court but the AoR is essentially the link between the litigant and the highest court of the country.
- They can appear before other courts too.
- The idea behind this practice is that a lawyer with special qualifications, picked by the Supreme Court itself, is equipped to appear for a litigant because it is a court of the last opportunity for the litigant.
- The Supreme Court Rules, 2013 prescribe eligibility criteria for an AoR.
- While an advocate has to clear an examination set by the Court itself, the advocate has to meet specific criteria to be eligible to appear for the exam.
- The advocate must train with a court approved AoR for at least one year to take up the exam.
- She must also have at least four years of practice before starting the training itself.
- An advocate needs to score at least 60% i.e. a minimum of 240 marks out of 400 with at least 50% in each subject in a three-hour exam.
- The subjects include:
- Practice and Procedure,
- Professional Ethics and
- Leading Cases.
- An AoR must have an office in Delhi within a 16-kilometre radius of the SC.
- Additionally, she is required to give an undertaking to employ, within one month of being registered as an AoR, a registered clerk.
Rules governing the AoR system
- According to the Advocates Act, any lawyer enrolled with the Bar Council is entitled to practice law before any Court or tribunal in the country.
- Under Article 145 of the Constitution, the Supreme Court is empowered to make rules and regulate its own procedure for hearing cases.
- The AoR system is broadly based on the British practice of barristers and solicitors.Topic 7 : World Food India 2023
Why in news: Prime Minister of India inaugurates World Food India 2023.
- The inauguration of the second edition of the ‘World Food India 2023’ mega food event took place recently in New Delhi.
- During the inauguration, the Prime Minister provided Seed Capital Assistance to over one lakh Self Help Group (SHG) members, reinforcing the support for these groups.
- The primary objective of the event is to present India as the ‘food basket of the world’ and commemorate 2023 as the International Year of Millets.
- It will provide a networking and business platform for government bodies, industry professionals, farmers, entrepreneurs and other stakeholders to engage in discussions, establish partnerships, and explore investment opportunities in the agri-food sector.
- The event is poised to host participants from over 80 countries.
- It will also feature a Reverse Buyer Seller Meet, with over 1200 overseas buyers from over 80 countries.
- The Netherlands will serve as the partner country, while Japan will be the event’s focus country.