Topic 1: LockBit ransomware
Context: Recently, in a first, reports emerged that LockBit ransomware was found to be targeting Mac devices.
- Cybercriminals have developed new ransomware encryptors designed to target macOS devices, making this the first major ransomware operation to specifically target Apple computers.
- What is LockBit ransomware?
- It was first reported in 2019 and was dubbed the “abcd” virus, due to the file extension used when encrypting victim’s files, the LockBit ransomware is designed to infiltrate victims’ systems and encrypt important files.
- The virus is categorised as a “crypto virus” due to its requests for payment in cryptocurrency to decrypt files on the victim’s device.
- The ransomware is therefore typically deployed against victims who feel hindered enough by the disruption to pay heavy sums in exchange for access to the files and can afford to do so.
What is Ransomware?
- Ransomware is extortion software that can lock your computer and then demand a ransom for its release.
- The malware first gains access to the device.
- Depending on the type of ransomware, either the entire operating system or individual files are encrypted.
- A ransom is then demanded from the victim.
Topic 2: India’s first water body census
Context: The Ministry of Jal Shakti released a report of the first-ever water body census recently. It provides detailed information on water bodies in the country.
What is the water body census?
- It is a database of water bodies, which provides information about ponds, tanks, lakes and reservoirs in India.
- Conducted in 2018-19, the census is also the first time that such an exercise has been conducted in the country.
Definition of a water body
- All natural or man-made units used for storing water for irrigation or other purposes will be treated as water bodies in this Census.
- A structure where water from ice-melt, streams, springs, rain or drainage of water, nala or river will also be treated as water body.
- Oceans, lagoons, river, stream, spring, waterfalls, canals, which are free flowing without any bounded storage of water;
- Swimming pools;
- Covered water tank created for specific purpose by any individual family or household for their sole consumption;
- Water tank constructed by any factory owner for consumption of water as raw material or consumable;
- Temporary water bodies created by digging for mining, brick kilns, and construction activities, which may get filled up during rainy season; and
- Pucca open water tank created only for drinking for cattle.
What was the need for a water bodies census?
- The Centre used to maintain a database of only those water bodies which were being provided Central assistance under the Scheme of Repair, Renovation and Restoration (RRR) of water bodies.
- The government launched the first census of water bodies in 2018-19 in convergence with the sixth minor irrigation census.
How was the data collected?
- According to the waster body census report, traditional methodology i.e. paper based schedules were canvassed both for rural and urban areas for the census of water bodies.
- Three schedules were prepared to collect information on water bodies:
- village schedule,
- urban schedule
- water body schedule
- Besides, a smart phone was used to capture latitude, longitude and photographs of water bodies.
Main findings of the Water Bodies Census
- The water body census report states that India has 24.24 lakh water bodies like ponds, tanks, and lakes, with West Bengal accounting the most (7.47 lakh) and Sikkim the least (134).
- West Bengal has highest number of ponds & reservoirs, whereas Andhra Pradesh has highest number of tanks, Tamil Nadu has highest number of lakes and Maharashtra is the leading state for water conservation scheme.
Encroachment of water bodies
- The census had also collected data on encroachment of water bodies, for the first time.
- Uttar Pradesh accounted the most encroachments.
- UP was followed by Tamil Nadu and Andhra Pradesh.
- No encroachment on water bodies was reported from four states — West Bengal, Sikkim, Arunachal Pradesh and Chandigarh.
Topic 3: Trees, crops endemic to India can help combat air pollution: Study
Context: Certain trees and crops which are endemic to India can help lower the impact of air pollution by absorbing and filtering pollutants, according to a new study.
- Which are those trees?
- Trees such as pipal, neem, mango and crops like maise, pigeon pea and safflower are best suited for areas with higher levels of air pollution.
- Why these trees?
- These trees exhibited the highest air pollution tolerance index (APTI) values.
- APTI and anticipated performance index are tools used to assess the tolerance capacity of tree and crop species against air pollution.
- How the assessment was done?
- The level of ascorbic acid in plants determines their tolerance against the adverse effect of oxidising pollutants
- Ascorbic acid levels were higher in peepal, followed by mango trees.
- Among cereals, ascorbic acid levels were found to be the highest in maize.
- In oilseeds, safflower and flax seeds had similar levels of ascorbic acid.
- Among pulses, the pigeon pea had the highest ascorbic acid content, followed by the Indian pea.
- There is a need to focus more on mitigating air pollution and its remediation.
- One of the best remedies for this is urban forestry and agriculture
Topic 4: Fertilizer use in India
Context: None of the measures introduced by the government have succeeded in reducing urea consumption.
- What were the government initiatives to curb consumption:
- In 2015, the Centre made it mandatory to coat all indigenously manufactured and imported urea with neem oil.
- This was followed by replacing 50-kg bags with 45-kg ones in 2018.
- Liquid ‘Nano Urea’ was launched by the Indian Farmers’ Fertiliser Cooperative (IFFCO) in 2021.
- Trends in urea consumption:
- Sales of urea crossed a record 35.7 million tonnes (mt) in the fiscal year ended March 31, 2023.
- Consumption did dip in the initial two years after neem-coating was fully enforced from 2015.
- Because it was seemingly making it difficult for the heavily subsidised fertiliser to be used by plywood, particle board, textile dye, cattle feed and synthetic milk makers.
- That trend reversed from 2018-19.
- Urea sales in 2022-23 were about 5.1 mt higher than in 2015-16 and over 9 mt than in 2009-10, before the introduction of the nutrient-based subsidy (NBS) regime in 2010.
- All other fertilisers, barring single super phosphate (SSP), have registered much lower increases or even declines (see table).
- India is the second-largest consumer and the third-largest producer of urea in the world.
- India consumes around 33 million tonnes of urea annually, of which almost 70% is domestically produced and the rest is imported from other countries.
What are fertilizers?
- Fertilisers are essentially food for crops.
- Crops need nutrients for plant growth and grainyield:
- primary (N, P, K),
- secondary (S, calcium, magnesium) and
- micro (iron, zinc, copper, manganese, boron, molybdenum).
What is a fertiliser subsidy?
- Farmers buy fertiliser at subsidised prices, which is below the price fixed by market-based supply and demand requirements or costs to import.
- The difference according to crop production costs and import price, is supported by the government as a grant.
- MRPs of non-urea fertiliser are disposed of or repaired by companies.
- The Centre pays a flat subsidy for each tonne of these nutrients.
How is the subsidy paid and who gets it?
- The subsidy goes to fertiliser companies, although its ultimate beneficiary is the farmer who pays MRPs less than the market-determined rates.
- Companies, until recently, were paid after their bagged material had been dispatched and received at a district’s railhead point or approved godown.
- From 2018, a new direct benefit transfer (DBT) system was introduced, wherein subsidy payment to the companies would happen only after actual sales to farmers by retailers.
- Only upon the sale getting registered on the e-Urvarak platform can a company claim subsidy.
The Nutrient Based Subsidy:
- Under NBS, the government fixed a per-kg subsidy for each fertiliser nutrient:
- nitrogen (N),
- phosphorus (P),
- potash (K) and
- sulphur (S).
- Linking subsidy to nutrient content was intended to promote balanced fertilisation by discouraging farmers from applying too much urea, di-ammonium phosphate (DAP) and muriateof potash (MOP).
- These are fertilisers with high content of a single nutrient:
- Urea (46% N),
- DAP (46% P plus 18% N) and
- MOP (60% K).
- These are fertilisers with high content of a single nutrient:
- NBS was expected to induce product innovation, besides more use of complex fertilisers (having lower concentrations of N, P, K and S in different proportions).
- However, the data reveals worsening of nutrient imbalance, with urea consumption rising by over a third since 2009-10.
- This has been largely because of its maximum retail price (MRP) going up by a mere 16.5% post the introduction of NBS.
- A research has established a decline in nitrogen use efficiency (NUE).
- NUE refers to the proportion of N applied mainly through urea that is actually utilised by crops to produce harvested yields.
- The NUE in India to have fallen from 48.2% in 1962-63 to 34.7% in 2018.
- When Indian farmers are applying 100 kg of N, hardly 35 kg is now being utilised, with the balance 65 kg unavailable to the plant.
- Some of the unutilised N may convert into organic form and become part of the soil nitrogen pool.
- This soil organic nitrogen may then undergo mineralisation (reconvert into inorganic ammonium form) and become available to the subsequent crops.
- The remaining unutilised N, however, escapes from the soil-plant system through:
- hydrolysis (breakdown of urea into ammonia gas and its release into the atmosphere) and
- nitrification (below-the-ground leaching after conversion into nitrate).
- Reduce consumption:
- The obvious solution is to reduce its consumption and promote products containing other nutrients in desired (crop- and soil-specific) combinations.
- Raising prices:
- The current per-tonne MRPs – Rs 5,628 for urea, Rs 27,000 for DAP and Rs 34,000 for MOP – are nowhere compatible with a 4:2:1 NPK use ratio generally considered ideal for Indian soils.
- Improve NUE:
- Since increasing urea prices isn’t politically easy, another approach is to improve NUE which will enable farmers to harvest the same or more grain yields with fewer bags.
- Use of inhibitors:
- The government should make incorporation of urease and nitrificationinhibitorscompulsory in urea.
- These are chemical compounds that inhibit the activity of urease (a soil enzyme that breaks down urea into ammonium and further to ammonia) and nitrifying bacteria (that convert ammonium to nitrate), making more N available to the crops.
- The government can bear a part of the cost of these chemicals.
- The government should make incorporation of urease and nitrificationinhibitorscompulsory in urea.
- Use of Nano urea:
- Nano Urea is also primarily aimed at boosting NUE.
- The ultra-small size of its particles is said to allow easier penetration through the stomatal pores of leaves.
- Indian Farmers Fertiliser Cooperative Limited (IFFCO) claims that a single 500-ml Nano Urea bottle containing just 4% N can effectively replace at least one 45-kg bag of regular 46% N urea.
- Nano Urea’s limitation is that, being a liquid fertiliser, it can only be sprayed after the crop has developed leaves.
- It cannot replace normal urea for basal application at sowing time or even for the early crop growth stages.
|What is a nano urea liquid?Nano urea liquid is a nanotechnology-based fertilizer to increase the growth of crops by restoring nitrogen to plants as an alternative to conventional urea.It enhances the nutritional quality and productivity of the crop along with improving the underground water quality. The Indian Farmers Fertiliser Cooperative Limited (IFFCO), a cooperative society, has developed and patented nano urea liquid technology.When sprayed on leaves, Nano Urea easily enters through stomata and other openings and is assimilated by the plant cells.It is easily distributed through the phloem from the source to sink inside the plant as per its need.Unutilised nitrogen is stored in the plant vacuole and is slowly released for proper growth and development of the plant.
|The One Nation One Fertiliser schemeUnder the scheme, all fertiliser companies, State Trading Entities (STEs) and Fertiliser Marketing Entities (FMEs) will be required to use a single “Bharat” brand for fertilisers and logo under the Pradhan Mantri Bharatiya Janaushadhi Pariyojana (PMBJP).The new Bharat brand name and PMBJP logo will cover two-thirds of the front of the fertiliser packetThe manufacturing brands can only display their name, logo, and other information on the remaining one-third space
Topic 5: Operation Kaveri
Context: India has started Operation Kaveri to evacuate its nationals from conflict-torn Sudan.
- Nearly 3,000 Indians are stuck in various parts of Sudan.
- India had earlier stationed two C-130J heavy-lift aircraft in Jeddah and sent INS Sumedha to Port Said for the operation.
- The political crisis in Sudan turned into a countrywide armed conflict after a disagreement between the paramilitary Rapid Support Forces (RSF) and the Sudanese Armed Forces (SAF) over the Security Sector Reform (SSR) spiralled into an armed confrontation between the commanders of the two wings.
Topic 6: World Malaria Day 2023
Context: Ending Malaria remains a top government priority for India.
- Malaria is by a parasite that commonly infects a certain type of mosquito which feeds on humans.
- Malaria is an acute febrile illness caused by Plasmodium parasites, which are spread to people through the bites of infected female Anopheles mosquitoes.
- Four kinds of malaria parasites infect humans:
- Plasmodium falciparum,
- P. vivax,
- P. ovale, and
- P. malariae.
- In addition, P. knowlesi, a type of malaria that naturally infects macaques in Southeast Asia, also infects humans, causing malaria that is transmitted from animal to human (“zoonotic” malaria).
- P. falciparum and P. vivax – pose the greatest threat.
- P. falciparum is the deadliest malaria parasite and the most prevalent on the African continent.
- P. vivax is the dominant malaria parasite in most countries outside of sub-Saharan Africa.
Breakthrough Malaria vaccines
- The malaria parasite is extremely complex and elusive, its lifecycle involving multiple stages.
- Of more than 100 malaria candidate vaccines to have entered clinical trials in the last three decades, none of them have yet shown the benchmark efficacy of 75 percent set by WHO.
- RTS,S vaccine:
- The WHO gave a historic go-ahead for the first malaria vaccine called RTS,S to be rolled out in high transmission African countries.
- This vaccine is a collaborative effort of several organisations across the world, including:
- GlaxoSmithKline (GSK),
- the Walter Reed Army Institute of Research,
- the PATH Malaria Vaccine Initiative,
- the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation, and
- the Wellcome Trust.
- It has taken more than 30 years and several hundred million dollars for its development.
- Although the RTS,S vaccine has relatively low efficacy, in the range of 30 to 40 per cent, it was granted approval in view of the enormity of the task of malaria control.
- License to Indian company:
- An Indian company, Bharat Biotech, based in Hyderabad, has been granted a licence to manufacture this vaccine.
- Under the agreement, GSK will provide the adjuvant of the vaccine, a key ingredient of any vaccine.
- Bharat Biotech is expected to be the only global manufacturer of the vaccine by 2029.
- R21 vaccine:
- Another malaria vaccine called the R21, which like RTS,S works against the liver stage of the parasite.
- The R21 has been developed by scientists at Oxford University and formulated with proprietary adjuvant from Novavax called Matrix M.
- This adjuvant has also been used in protein-based COVID-19 vaccine, manufactured and marketed in India by the Serum Institute of India (SII) under the brand name COVOVAX.
- R21 vaccine is manufactured by the SII, which happens to the world’s largest vaccine manufacturer.
Malaria in India:
- Malaria remains one of the major public health problems in India.
- The country carries:
- 2% of the global malaria case burden,
- 2% of global malaria deaths (52% of all malaria deaths outside of sub-Saharan Africa), and
- 85.2% of the malaria burden in South East Asia.
- India carries 47% of the global Plasmodium vivax malaria burden, making the country strategically important for global malaria elimination, particularly in the South-East Asian region.
- In 2020, there were 5.2 million fewer cases than in 2017, and the number of cases per 1000 of the at risk population decreased by 57%, from 7.47 to 3.22.
- Over the same period, deaths decreased by 56%, from 0.013 to 0.006 per 1000 of the population at risk.
- The epidemiology of malaria in India is complex because of geographic and ecological diversity.
- Malaria in India is mainly caused by two major malaria parasites:
- P. falciparum and P. vivax (though cases of P. ovale and P. malariae have also been reported from some parts of the country).
- The disease is transmitted by nine Anopheline species, of which six are primary vectors.
- Economic impact:
- Malaria has a significant economic impact on Indian families with household malaria-associated direct out-of-pocket costs ranging from US$ 0.34– 7.66 and resulting in lost productivity to the tune of about 2-4 days.
- The national malaria burden has been pegged at approximately US$1940 million per year.
- A National Framework for Malaria Elimination (NFME) 2016-2030, was launched in 2016 with a vision to eliminate malaria from the country by 2030.
- The NFME has clearly defined goals to serve as a roadmap for advocating and planning malaria elimination in the country in a phased manner.
- Increased risk:
- One of the most immediate and serious effects of climate change on health is the expected increased risk to vector-borne diseases.
- Despite significant progress in fighting mosquito-borne diseases such as malaria, they remain a major global health challenge, with the most marginalized populations disproportionately impacted.
- Climate change:
- It is exacerbating this problem as new geographies become malaria endemic.
- Changing weather patterns transform the epidemiology of the disease and extend transmission seasons, and extreme weather events disrupt disease elimination efforts, even in geographies that have made impressive progress toward eliminating the disease.
- As climate change takes a stronger hold, viral epidemics can become more common place.
- One of the key challenges that we are facing in our malaria elimination fight is our strategic complacency of continuing to be in a mind-set of control and not elimination.
- The key strategic interventions that the government employs currently still approach the issue from a standpoint of controlling the spread of malaria, and not eliminating it.
- India has observed a reduction of close to 66% in its official malaria burden between 2018 and 2022.
- Increased Political Attention
- As we approach the timeline, we must adopt a rigorous and aggressive strategy.
- Such an approach would require active and sustained political will and an increase in the allocation of required resources and budgets.
- We will also need to start crafting strategies specific to varied geographies across the national, state, and district levels.
- We must ensure that priority for malaria elimination is underscored and there is complete system integration towards the malaria elimination effort.
- Private Sector Inclusion
- Currently, the only source of epidemiological data for the national program is public health facilities.
- However, a large proportion of the disease burden is diagnosed and treated by the private health sector.
- The World Malaria Report published by World Health Organization estimates 80 times the cases officially reported by the national program, the difference presumably those that are treated in the private sector
- Calculating and reporting this burden becomes critical, something that can be assessed through reports from the private diagnostic labs / private health service providers / private hospitals / etc.
- Asymptomatic/Hidden Malaria Burden
- As per the national guidelines, fever is the primary symptom in a person to actuate him/her for getting tested for malaria.
- Research studies have established that areas with high endemicity for malaria has people who don’t present fever as a symptom, but still host the disease in their bodies, becoming silent carriers.
- Not addressing such hidden pockets can lead to un-surveilled disease transmission and continue the silent spread of the disease, further perpetuating the problem.
- It is vital to identify such hidden hotspots and contain the transmission to eliminate the disease.
- Integration of Innovations
- Advancements in innovative tools and inventive approaches are the cornerstone of addressing any complex challenge.
- Many such advancements already exist or are in the pipeline:
- data management and analysis systems (AI-based technology tools),
- drugs and diagnostics (advanced anti-malarial for radical cures and highly sensitive rapid diagnostic testing kits),
- vector control tools (latest generation of long-lasting insecticidal nets), and
- preventive vaccines (RTS, S).
- While such innovations exist, their integration in the system is still something that is a slow and long-drawn process.
- Expedition of this integration will be paramount to help India achieve its elimination goals
- Robust Inter-sectoral Approach
- The national program has developed several strategic documents and interventions for eliminating malaria, but most of them are silent about the role of and a clear roadmap for intersecting industries and departments in the fight against malaria.
- Such intersecting industries and departments (Municipalities, WCD, Education, Railways, etc.) can support the goal by bringing malaria in mainstream in their own health infrastructure and lead the drive from the front to contribute to the redressal of this disease.
- Integrating malaria within parallel existing programs/campaigns can help create a holistic approach for the elimination drive
Topic 7: Safe City Project
Context: Delhi will soon have a seamless network of sensors implemented as part of the first phase of the Safe City Project.
About the Project:
- It is an initiative of Govt. of India under the Nirbhaya funds scheme for ensuring safety of women and children.
- The cost of the project is Rs 798 crore and is being funded by the Centre under the Nirbhaya fund.
- The Safe City project aims to create a safe, secure and empowering environment for women in public places.
- It, further, aims to prevent and curb all forms of crimes against women and girl children in public places by providing safer urban infrastructure and efficient access to law enforcement agencies.
- The Empowered Committee under Nirbhaya fund has approved Safe City projects in 8 selected cities:
- Delhi, Mumbai, Kolkata, Chennai, Bengaluru, Hyderabad, Ahmedabad and Lucknow.
Operationalisation of the project:
- The project aims to curb crime against women and address safety issues sensitively.
- It aims to use technology and ensure the prompt availability of professionally equipped police personnel to reach women in distress.
- CCTV cameras will be installed in places frequented by women.
- A command and control centre will be set up at police headquarters, district headquarters and police stations with facilities like:
- video analytics,
- artificial intelligence,
- machine learning,
- facial recognition system, etc..
- Integration of various data sets and CCTV projects under various schemes with the Safe City Project platform.
- Mobile command and control vehicles to be deployed.
- Prakhar Vans equipped with MDT (mobile data terminal), communication devices, body worn cameras, vehicle mounted cameras, GPS, etc.
- Provision for collaborative monitoring by integration of CCTV projects of other departments, in future.
- GIS Mapping of CCTV cameras under Safe City Project as well as other schemes to avoid duplication.
- Integration of location-based services and crime and criminal databases with CCTV feeds for prompt and effective resolution of women’s safety issues at public places.
- Analysis of video and creation of actionable warnings or alerts for preventive and curative actions.