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State PCS

  • 30 Nov 2023
  • 47 min read
Economy

Dollarisation and Economic Shifts

For Prelims: Dollarisation, Inflation, Exchange rates, Monetary policy, De-dollarisation, India’s Trade agreements, Special Vostro Rupee Accounts

For Mains: Major Challenges Related to Dollarisation, Reasons for Rise in De-dollarisation Practices.

Source: TH

Why in News?

Argentina, plagued by severe inflation and widespread poverty, faces a pivotal moment. Dollarisation is seen as a potential remedy for the country's economic challenges.

  • The recently elected President of Argentina promises to replace the Argentine Peso with the dollar. However, the immediate implementation of dollarisation seems unlikely due to the scarcity of dollar reserves in Argentina.
  • Dollarization is the use or adoption of the United States Dollar as the primary currency in a country, replacing or supplementing the local currency.

How Dollarisation can Save an Economy?

  • Stabilizing Inflation: Dollarisation can potentially curb hyperinflation by introducing a stable currency, breaking the cycle of rising prices fueled by uncontrolled money supply. This stabilization fosters confidence in the economy, encouraging investment and consumer spending.
  • Enhanced Trade Opportunities: A dollarized economy incentivizes a focus on export-oriented strategies.
    • With a stable currency, foreign investors are more inclined to engage, fostering foreign trade. This orientation towards exports can bolster economic growth and stability.
  • Long-Term Planning: A stable dollar value allows for better long-term economic planning. Businesses, both local and international, can make more accurate forecasts and investments without being hindered by the volatility of a depreciating domestic currency.
  • Reduced Speculative Risks: Dollarisation can mitigate speculative risks associated with fluctuating exchange rates.
    • This stability can attract foreign investors, as they perceive reduced risks, ultimately promoting capital inflow and economic growth.
  • Financial Discipline: By relinquishing control of monetary policy, dollarisation forces governments to rely on fiscal policies for economic stability.
    • This shift may encourage more prudent fiscal management, potentially curbing government overspending and promoting economic discipline.

Experience of a Fully Dollarized Economy: Ecuador

  • Ecuador's journey provides valuable insights. Despite initial political upheaval following dollarisation in 2000, the nation experienced significant economic progress. Reduced inflation rates, lowered debt ratios, and improved social welfare showcased the potential benefits of such a move.
  • However, Ecuador's success was not solely due to dollarisation. Booming oil and gas reserves during the 2000s contributed significantly to economic growth. Furthermore, expanded government intervention and social spending played a crucial role in sustaining prosperity.

What are the Major Challenges Related to Dollarisation?

  • Policy Constraints: Dollarisation significantly limits a country's ability to independently manage monetary policy.
    • Loss of control over money supply and interest rates can hamper the government's capacity to respond to economic downturns.
  • Economic Shock Vulnerability: With a fixed currency, dollarized economies might become more vulnerable to external economic shocks.
    • They lack the flexibility of adjusting exchange rates to counterbalance sudden changes in the global economic environment.
    • The situation in Greece is a warning example of issues associated with adopting a foreign currency.
      • Although there was some growth after Greece started using the euro, the Eurozone crisis showed the problems of using a currency without having control over its policies.
      • Greece had to accept strict budget cuts and financial help in return for using the euro.
  • Limited Export Competitiveness: Loss of control over the exchange rate can restrict a country's ability to use currency devaluation as a tool to enhance export competitiveness.
  • Inability to Address Internal Imbalances: Dollarisation may not address internal structural issues within the economy.
    • Dependency on a foreign currency might overshadow the need for internal reforms, such as productivity improvements or addressing income inequality, crucial for sustained economic development.

Note

In 2022, the IMF observed that central banks around the globe were not maintaining the same levels of reserves in the US dollar, as they had done in the past.

What is De-dollarisation?

  • About: De-dollarisation refers to a deliberate or unintentional process undertaken by a country or region to reduce reliance on the US dollar in its financial system or economy.
    • This can involve various measures aimed at decreasing the use of the dollar in transactions, reserves, trade, or as a standard for pricing goods and services.
  • Reasons Associated: Governments might pursue de-dollarisation for several reasons, such as reducing exposure to the impact of US monetary policy, asserting economic sovereignty, mitigating the effects of dollar fluctuations, or seeking greater independence in global finance.
  • Strategies for De-dollarisation: It can include diversifying currency reserves, promoting the use of alternative currencies in trade agreements, establishing currency swap agreements, or encouraging the use of regional currencies in financial transactions.
    • For instance, in March 2023, the RBI put in place the mechanism for rupee trade settlement with as many as 18 countries.

Conclusion

Dollarisation, when coupled with effective domestic policies, can pave the way for economic success. However, Its efficacy hinges on nuanced policy execution, balancing the advantages of stability with the need for independent economic strategies.

UPSC Civil Services Examination Previous Year Question (PYQ)

Q. Recently, which one of the following currencies has been proposed to be added to the basket of IMF’s SDR? (2016)

(a) Rouble
(b) Rand
(c) Indian Rupee
(d) Renminbi

Ans: (d)


Biodiversity & Environment

Global Marine Life and Oceans Warming

For Prelims: Tropicalisation, Climate Change, Oceans Heating, Mediterranean Sea, Greenhouse Gas Emissions, Coral Bleaching, Solar Radiation.

For Mains: Impact of ocean warming and sea level rise on marine biodiversity.

Source: BS

Why in the News?

Recently, a study published in the journal ‘Trends in Ecology and Evolution’ highlighted that climate change is making the oceans warmer, and as a result, tropical marine species are shifting from the equator towards the poles.

  • The temperate species are receding as it gets too warm, they face increased competition for habitat, and new predators.

How Does Climate Change Cause Tropicalisation as per the Study?

  • Tropicalisation:
    • Climate change is causing a marine phenomenon known as tropicalisation, where tropical species expand their range while temperate species retract.
      • Temperate species are receding as it gets too warm, they face increased competition for habitat, and new predators arrive on the scene.
    • This global shift is altering ocean ecosystems, biodiversity, and could impact the global economy.
    • The first instance of this process was identified in the Mediterranean Sea.
    • The Mediterranean Sea is considered as a "tropicalisation hotspot" due to an increase in tropical species.
  • Species Dispersal due to Climate change:
    • Climate change has altered the physical factors that affect species dispersal, such as ocean currents in areas that separate tropical/subtropical and temperate regions.
    • These warm-water boundary currents are heating faster than the global seawater average, facilitating the poleward movement of species, and reinforcing the retraction of temperate species.
    • Example: Range-expanding tropical damselfishes and temperate reef fishes have been documented altering their feeding and social behaviors to allow for coexistence,
  • Evolution of New Traits:
    • Changes in how species interact can result in the evolution of new traits or behaviors due to the close connection between ecology and evolution.

What is Ocean Warming?

  • About:
  • Reason:
    • Greenhouse Gas Emissions: The burning of fossil fuels (coal, oil, and natural gas) for energy, deforestation, and industrial processes releases significant amounts of greenhouse gasses, including carbon dioxide (CO2), methane (CH4), and nitrous oxide (N2O), into the atmosphere. These gases trap heat, leading to a warming effect on both the atmosphere and the oceans.
    • Carbon Dioxide Absorption: Oceans act as a vast reservoir that absorbs a significant portion of the excess carbon dioxide from human activities. While this absorption helps mitigate climate change on land, it also results in the warming of the ocean itself.
    • Solar Radiation: Changes in solar radiation, though a minor contributor compared to human-induced factors, can influence ocean temperatures over long periods.
  • Impact:
    • Coral Bleaching: Elevated temperatures can cause corals to expel the symbiotic algae living in their tissues, leading to coral bleaching. Prolonged bleaching weakens corals and makes them more susceptible to diseases, posing a significant threat to coral reef ecosystems.
    • Sea Level Rise: Warmer ocean temperatures contribute to the thermal expansion of seawater. This, along with the melting of polar ice caps and glaciers, leads to rising sea levels, which can result in coastal erosion and increased vulnerability of coastal communities.
    • Disruption of Marine Food Webs: Changes in ocean temperatures can alter the distribution and abundance of marine species, affecting the structure of marine food webs. This can have cascading effects on fisheries and the livelihoods of communities dependent on them.
    • Ocean Acidification: The absorption of excess carbon dioxide by the oceans leads to ocean acidification. Acidification can harm marine organisms with calcium carbonate skeletons or shells, including corals, mollusks, and some plankton, affecting the entire marine food chain.

Conclusion

Global marine species shift due to climate-induced tropicalization, exemplified in the Mediterranean as a "hotspot." Ocean warming from factors like greenhouse gasses causes coral bleaching, sea level rise, and disruptions to marine food webs. Threatening biodiversity, coastal communities, and economies, urgent climate mitigation is crucial to preserve ocean health.

UPSC Civil Services Examination, Previous Year Questions (PYQs)

Mains

Q1. Assess the impact of global warming on the coral life system with examples. (2017)

Q2. ‘Climate change’ is a global problem. How India will be affected by climate change? How Himalayan and coastal states of India will be affected by climate change? (2017)

Q3. Discuss global warming and mention its effects on the global climate. Explain the control measures to bring down the level of greenhouse gases which cause global warming, in the light of the Kyoto Protocol, 1997. (2022)


Geography

Global Energy Monitor's Global Coal Plant Tracker

For Prelims: Global Energy Monitor, GEM’s Global Coal Plant Tracker, Status of coal power projects worldwide.

For Mains: Global Energy Monitor, Distribution of key natural resources across the world (including South Asia and the Indian subcontinent).

Source: DTE

Why in News?

Recently, Global Energy Monitor (GEM), a not-for-profit cataloging coal projects worldwide, has released its quarterly update of GEM’s Global Coal Plant Tracker, highlighting several key findings regarding the status of coal power projects worldwide.

What are the Key Findings of the GEM Report?

  • Global Trends in Coal Construction:
    • More than 95% of coal plant capacity beginning construction in 2023 is in China, showcasing a dominance in new coal projects.
    • A decline is observed in new coal power capacity construction for the second consecutive year, signaling a shift away from coal in many regions.
  • Coal Capacity Under Consideration:
    • 110 GW of coal power capacity is under consideration in 32 countries, indicating a significant amount of Coal projects are still being deliberated.
    • India, Bangladesh, and Indonesia lead, comprising 83% of the proposed coal capacity outside China.
  • Trends in Project Status:
    • 18.3 GW of coal capacity moved from proposed to shelved or canceled status in the first nine months of 2023 across several countries.
    • Despite cancellations, 15.3 GW of entirely new proposals emerged in India, Indonesia, Kazakhstan, and Mongolia.
    • India, Indonesia, Bangladesh, and Vietnam represent 84% of the 67 GW of coal power capacity under construction outside China as of July 2023.
  • Indian Scenario:
    • India plans to increase coal-fired power plant capacity significantly by 2032, aiming for 80 GW compared to the previously stated 27 GW in the National Electricity Plan 2022-32 (NEP).
    • Specific states in India have seen advancements in coal plant projects, with permits granted and progress reported in states like Chhattisgarh, Gujarat, Jharkhand, Madhya Pradesh, Odisha, and Uttar Pradesh.
  • Recommendations:
    • Amidst global efforts to combat climate change, the report emphasizes the urgent need to cease the construction of new unabated coal power plants to limit global warming effectively.

What is Global Energy Monitor (GEM)?

  • About:
    • GEM develops and shares information in support of the worldwide movement for clean energy.
    • By studying the evolving international energy landscape and creating databases, reports, and interactive tools that enhance understanding, GEM seeks to build an open guide to the world’s energy system.
    • Users of GEM's data and reports include the International Energy Agency, United Nations Environment Programme, the World Bank, and the Bloomberg Global Coal Countdown.
  • Global Coal Plant Tracker:
    • It is an online database that identifies and maps every known coal-fired generating unit and every new unit proposed since 2010 (30 megawatts and larger).
    • Developed by GEM the tracker uses footnoted wiki pages to document each plant and is updated biannually, around January and July.

What is Coal?

  • About:
    • It is a type of fossil fuel found in a form of sedimentary rocks and is often known as 'Black Gold'.
    • It is a conventional source of energy and is widely available.It is used as a domestic fuel, in industries such as iron and steel, steam engines and to generate electricity. Electricity from coal is called thermal power.
    • The leading coal producers of the world include China, US, Australia, Indonesia, India.
  • Distribution of Coal in India:
    • Gondwana Coal Fields (250 million years old):
      • Gondwana coal makes up to 98 % of the total reserves and 99 % of the production of coal in India.
      • Gondwana coal forms India’s metallurgical grade as well as superior quality coal.
      • It is found in Damodar (Jharkand-West Bengal), Mahanadi (Chhattisgarh-Odisha), Godavari (Maharashtra), and Narmada valleys.
    • Tertiary Coal Fields (15 – 60 million years old):
      • Carbon content is very low but is rich in moisture and sulphur.
      • Tertiary coalfields are mainly confined to extra-peninsular regions
      • Important areas include Assam, Meghalaya, Nagaland, Arunachal Pradesh, Jammu and Kashmir, Himalayan foothills of Darjeeling in West Bengal, Rajasthan, Uttar Pradesh, and Kerala.
  • Classification:
    • Anthracite (80 - 95% carbon content, found in small quantities in J&K).
    • Bituminous (60 - 80% of carbon content and is found in Jharkhand, West Bengal, Odisha, Chhattisgarh and Madhya Pradesh).
    • Lignite (40 to 55% carbon content, high moisture content and is found in Rajasthan, Lakhimpur (Assam) and Tamil Nadu).
    • Peat (less than 40% carbon content and it is in the first stage of transformation from organic matter (wood) to coal).

UPSC Civil Services Examination Previous Year Question (PYQ)

Prelims

Q1. Consider the following statements: (2019)

  1. Coal sector was nationalized by the Government of India under Indira Gandhi.
  2. Now, coal blocks are allocated on lottery basis.
  3. Till recently, India imported coal to meet the shortages of domestic supply, but now India is self-sufficient in coal production.

Which of the statements given above is/are correct?

(a) 1 only
(b) 2 and 3 only
(c) 3 only
(d) 1, 2 and 3

Ans: (a)

Exp:

  • Coal sector was nationalised in two phases under Indira Gandhi Government in 1972. Hence, statement 1 is correct.
  • The coal blocks are allocated through auctions and not on a lottery basis. Hence, statement 2 is not correct.
  • The coal sector is the monopolistic sector in India. India holds 5th biggest coal reserves in the world, but due to the incapacity of coal production by monopolistic firms, it imports coal to meet the shortages of domestic supply. Hence, statement 3 is not correct.
  • Therefore, option (a) is the correct answer.

Q2. Which of the following is/are the characteristic/characteristics of Indian coal? (2013)

  1. High ash content
  2. Low sulphur content
  3. Low ash fusion temperature

Select the correct answer using the codes given below:

(a) 1 and 2 only
(b) 2 only
(c) 1 and 3 only
(d) 1, 2 and 3

Ans: (a)


Mains

Q. Despite India being one of the countries of Gondwanaland, its mining industry contributes much less to its Gross Domestic Product (GDP) in percentage. Discuss. (2021)

Q. “In spite of adverse environmental impact, coal mining is still inevitable for development”. Discuss. (2017)


Indian Polity

Postal Ballots and EVMs

For Prelims: Electronic Voting Machines (EVMs), Postal Ballots, Election Commission (EC), Returning Officer (RO), Voter-Verifiable Paper Audit Trails (VVPATs), Chief Electoral Officers, Booth Level Officers (BLOs).

For Mains: The need for safety and security of Electronic Voting Machines and Postal Ballots in ensuring a robust, free and fair electoral process.

Source: IE

Why in News?

Recently, the Madhya Pradesh political parties filed a complaint with the state Chief Electoral Officer, accusing manipulation of postal ballots in the strong room and questioning the efficacy of Electronic Voting Machines (EVMs).

  • However, District Election Officer explained that the strong room was opened by the assistant returning officer with prior notice to representatives for ballot sorting, not counting.

What are the Postal Ballots and Journey of EVMs?

  • Postal Ballots:
    • Postal ballots serve as a voting option for service voters, absentee voters (such as those above 80 years, individuals with benchmark disabilities, or those affected by Covid-19), voters on election duty, and electors under preventive detention.
    • Eligible individuals, after completing necessary forms, receive postal ballots from the Returning Officer (RO) through the mail or, in the case of election duty voters, at a facilitation center.
  • EVM’s Journey from Checks to Storage:
    • The EVMs undergo a process before reaching polling stations. After the completion of first-level checks and randomization exercises, the machines are handed over to the ROs while following guidelines outlined in the Election Commission's (EC’s) latest manual issued in August, 2023.
    • After voting is over, EVMs and Voter-Verifiable paper audit trails (VVPATs) are escorted back to collection or reception centres where they are stored in strong rooms.
    • As per the EC manual, all candidates have to be informed of this and are allowed to send their representatives to oversee the security arrangements.
  • Security Measures and Storage of EVMs:
    • The journey of EVMs involves stringent security measures, including armed escort and storage in air-conditioned strong rooms.
    • These strong rooms serve as a secure location for EVMs until polling day, ensuring the integrity and confidentiality of the voting process.
    • Political party representatives play a role in overseeing this storage process, adding an extra layer of transparency to the electoral system.

What is the Procedure for Postal Ballots and Absentee Voters ?

  • Postal Ballots’ Procedures:
    • According to EC instructions, the facilitation centre in-charge handling postal ballots is required to open the drop box daily in the presence of party and candidate representatives.
    • Each constituency's ballots are placed in a large envelope or cotton bag and then sent to the RO at the end of each voting day.
    • The RO assumes custody of these bags, storing them securely in a designated "special strong room."
  • Absentee Voters:
    • For absentee voters, Booth Level Officers (BLOs) deliver ballot form to the electors' homes. BLOs return within five days of the election notification to collect the filled-in forms, submitting them daily to the ROs.
    • Essential services personnel among absentee voters can utilize special postal voting centres, conducting voting for three consecutive days before polling day. The packets of postal ballots from these centres are sent to the RO at the end of each day.
  • Secure Handling and Counting Preparations for Postal Ballots:
    • In cases where votes are to be counted at a location other than the RO's headquarters, a day before counting, the postal ballots are transferred to another strong room at the counting centre.
    • This meticulous process ensures the secure handling, documentation, and eventual counting of postal ballots in adherence to electoral guidelines.

Voter Verified Paper Audit Trail

  • VVPAT is an independent verification printer machine and is attached to electronic voting machines. It allows voters to verify if their vote has gone to the intended candidate.
  • When a voter presses a button in the EVM, a paper slip is printed through the VVPAT. The slip contains the poll symbol and name of the candidate. It allows the voter to verify his/her choice.
  • After being visible to the voter from a glass case in the VVPAT for seven seconds, the ballot slip will be cut and dropped into the drop box in the VVPAT machine and a beep will be heard.
  • VVPAT machines can be accessed by polling officers only.

What are the Different Measures to Secure EVMs?

  • Functional Check: The machines are cleaned and earlier results are cleared. Switches, buttons, cables and latches are inspected for damage.
  • Random Check: A mock poll is conducted on 5% of the total number of EVMs to be used for a poll. About 1,000 votes are polled and the result printouts are shared with representatives of various political parties.
  • Throwing the Dice: EVMs are randomly placed in the constituencies and booths and it is difficult to know which machine is kept where. During the first, EVMs are allocated at random to a constituency. In the second round, they are randomised and allocated to a polling booth.
  • A Dry Run: Before the start of the actual poll, a mock poll is conducted with at least 50 votes in the presence of candidates or their agents.
    • The mock poll is then closed and the results are displayed. On poll day, various checks are conducted by polling agents, observers and central paramilitary forces.
  • Safe and Secure: EVMs are placed in their carrying cases and sealed. The machines are transported back to the reception centres under armed escort and kept in the strong room.
  • Increasing the Existing VVPAT Verification Rate: The order of the Supreme Court on increasing the existing VVPAT verification rate from one to five random EVMs per Assembly constituency or segment, tries to reassure those sceptical about the integrity of counting by means of EVMs.

UPSC Civil Services Examination, Previous Year Questions (PYQs)

Prelims

Q. Consider the following statements: (2017)

  1. The Election Commission of India is a five-member body.
  2. The Union Ministry of Home Affairs decides the election schedule for the conduct of both general elections and bye-elections.
  3. Election Commission resolves the disputes relating to splits/mergers of recognised political parties.

Which of the statements given above is/are correct?

(a) 1 and 2 only 
(b) 2 only 
(c) 2 and 3 only 
(d) 3 only

Ans: (d)


Mains

Q. Discuss the role of the Election Commission of India in the light of the evolution of the Model Code of Conduct. (2022)


Important Facts For Prelims

Casgevy Therapy for Sickle Cell Disease and Thalassaemia

Source: IE

Why in News?

Recently, the UK Drug Regulator sanctioned a gene therapy called Casgevy heralded as a significant breakthrough for treating sickle cell disease and thalassaemia.

  • Notably, this marks the world's inaugural licensed therapy leveraging the CRISPR-Cas9 gene editing technology that earned its innovators a Nobel Prize in Chemistry 2020.

How does the Casgevy Therapy Work?

  • Both sickle cell disease and thalassaemia are caused by errors in the gene for haemoglobin(Hb), a protein in the red blood cells that carry oxygen to organs and tissues.
    • The therapy uses the patient’s own blood stem cells, which are precisely edited using CRISPR-Cas9.
    • A gene called BCL11A, which is crucial for switching from foetal to adult haemoglobin, is targeted by the therapy.
  • Foetal haemoglobin, which is naturally present in everyone at birth, does not carry the same abnormalities as adult haemoglobin.
    • The therapy uses the body’s own mechanisms to start producing more of this foetal haemoglobin, alleviating the symptoms of the two conditions.
  • Casgevy involves a single treatment wherein blood stem cells are extracted via apheresis and then edited over approximately six months before being reintroduced into the patient.
    • Apheresis is a medical procedure that involves removing specific components from blood and returning the rest to the body.

What are Sickle Cell Disease and Thalassaemia?

  • Sickle Cell Disease:
    • About: Sickle cell disease is a genetic blood disorder characterized by an abnormality in hemoglobin, the protein responsible for carrying oxygen in red blood cells.
      • It causes red blood cells to adopt a sickle or crescent shape, hindering their movement through vessels, leading to potential complications like severe pain, infections, anaemia, and strokes.
      • In India alone, an estimated 30,000-40,000 children are born with sickle cell disease annually.
    • Types: It encompasses various types, each dependent on the inherited genes from parents, all encoding abnormal hemoglobin. The most prevalent forms of SCD include:
      • HbSS (Sickle Cell Anemia): Individuals inherit two "S" genes, one from each parent, resulting in abnormal hemoglobin "S."
        • This type often leads to severe manifestations characterized by rigid, sickle-shaped red blood cells.
      • HbSC: Inheriting an "S" gene from one parent and a different abnormal hemoglobin, "C," from the other, leads to this milder variant of SCD.
      • HbS Beta Thalassemia: This form arises from inheriting an "S" gene from one parent and a beta thalassemia gene from the other.
        • The severity varies based on the type of beta thalassemia inherited either "zero" (HbS beta0) or "plus" (HbS beta+), with the former typically resulting in a severe form and the latter in a milder manifestation.
  • Thalassaemia: Similar to sickle cell disease, individuals with thalassaemia experience severe anaemia due to low haemoglobin levels, necessitating lifelong blood transfusions and chelation therapy to manage iron accumulation.
  • Major symptoms include fatigue, paleness or jaundice, shortness of breath, delayed growth, facial bone deformities (in severe cases) among others.

Note

Chelation therapy is a proven treatment for heavy metal poisoning. It uses substances that bind to heavy metals and help clear them from the body.

Note

The National Sickle Cell Anemia Eradication Mission in India targets the elimination of sickle cell anemia by 2047.

What is CRISPR-Cas9 Technology?

  • CRISPR-Cas9 is a groundbreaking technology that empowers geneticists and medical researchers to modify specific portions of the genome.
    • This is achieved through the precise removal, addition, or modification of segments within the DNA sequence.
  • It involves two essential parts for editing DNA. First, there is Cas9, which acts like molecular scissors, cutting DNA at specific spots.
    • Then, there is guide RNA (gRNA), containing a designed sequence. This sequence guides Cas9 to the exact spot in the genome to make the cut.
    • This precise guidance ensures Cas9 works accurately where needed, allowing for specific changes in the DNA.

UPSC Civil Services Examination, Previous Year Question (PYQ)

Prelims

Q. What is Cas9 protein that is often mentioned in news? (2019)

(a) A molecular scissors used in targeted gene editing
(b) A biosensor used in the accurate detection of pathogens in patients
(c) A gene that makes plants pest-resistant
(d) A herbicidal substance synthesized in genetically modified crops

Ans: (a)


Mains

Q. What are the research and developmental achievements in applied biotechnology? How will these achievements help to uplift the poorer sections of society? (2021)


Important Facts For Prelims

Plant-to-Plant Warning Signals

Source: TH

Why in News?

Recently, scientists have unveiled pivotal insights into how plants perceive and respond to danger signals from neighboring plants.

  • This discovery offers potential avenues for leveraging plant communication to enhance agricultural pest control without resorting to pesticides.

How do Plants Warn Each Other of Danger?

  • Plant Communication and Coordination: Plants are not passive organisms that merely react to their environment. They can communicate with each other and coordinate their responses to various threats.
    • They possess the ability to intercept damage happening to other nearby plants.
    • By mounting a defense response, plants can make themselves less palatable or even indigestible to the insect attackers.
  • Green Leaf Volatiles as Signaling Agents: One of the ways that plants communicate is by releasing and sensing airborne chemicals called Green leaf volatiles (GLVs).
    • GLVs, emitted by plants when injured, create the pleasant smell of fresh cut grass for humans. However, to neighboring plants, this scent functions as a warning signal, indicating potential danger.
    • It is mediated by calcium, a common mediator of chemical and electrical signals found throughout biology.
      • When insects nibble on plant leaves, calcium ions flood the cells, prompting them to emit a glow.
  • Response of Mutant Mustard Plant to GLVs: Scientists recently experimented mutant mustard plant, designed to check if it could also react to GLVs.
    • When exposed to air laden with GLVs, the plant exhibited a glowing response under the microscope, signifying its ability to sense volatile components released by damaged plants.

How Plant Communication Can be Utilized for Sustainable Agriculture?

  • Reduced Chemical Usage: Leveraging plant defense mechanisms may reduce the need for chemical interventions. This could lead to a decrease in pesticide application, minimizing environmental pollution and promoting healthier ecosystems.
  • Enhanced Crop Resilience: It can bolster crop resilience against stressors.
    • By implementing strategies that encourage communication between plants, such as companion planting or intercropping, farmers may improve overall crop health and resilience.
  • Genetic Engineering: It can guide genetic engineering efforts. By enhancing plants' natural defense mechanisms through genetic modification, scientists could develop crops that are more resistant to pests and diseases, potentially reducing reliance on external interventions.

Important Facts For Prelims

Parthenon Sculptures

Source: IE

Why in News?

Greece and the UK had a diplomatic dispute regarding the Parthenon Sculptures at the British Museum when Athens accused London of avoiding discussion on the contested sculptures, also known as the Elgin Marbles.

  • Despite Greece's repeated requests for their permanent return, Britain and the British Museum have consistently refused.

What are the Parthenon Sculptures?

  • About
    • The Parthenon Sculptures housed at the British Museum are a collection of over 30 ancient stone sculptures from Greece, dating back more than 2,000 years.
    • Originally adorning the walls and grounds of the Parthenon temple on the Acropolis hill in Athens, these artifacts are significant remnants of Athens' Golden Age, with the temple's construction completed in 432 BC.
    • Dedicated to the goddess Athena, the Parthenon is a symbol of cultural and historical importance.
  • Artistic Depictions and Cultural Significance:
    • Among the sculptures, a notable piece spanning 75 meters portrays a procession celebrating the birthday of Athena. Additionally, other sculptures within the collection depict various gods, heroes, and mythical creatures.
    • The intricate craftsmanship and historical context make these sculptures not only artistic treasures but also integral pieces of Greece's cultural heritage.
  • Arrival to Britain:
    • They were removed from the Parthenon in the early 19th century by Thomas Bruce, the 7th Earl of Elgin and then-British ambassador to the Ottoman Empire. The marbles were taken to Britain and purchased by the British Museum in 1816.
  • Controversies Regarding the Sculptures:
    • The British Museum, serving as the custodian of the sculptures, asserts that Elgin legally acquired them through a contract with the Ottoman Empire.
    • While Athens accuses Elgin of theft, he claimed to have had permission. Unfortunately, the original permission letter is lost, leaving the authenticity of his claim in dispute.

Ottoman Empire

  • Historical Overview, Rise and Expansion:
    • The Ottoman Empire, founded in the late 13th century by Osman I, began as a small Anatolian state and gradually expanded its territory through military conquests.
    • Under the leadership of Mehmed II, the Ottomans captured Constantinople in 1453, marking the end of the Byzantine Empire. The empire reached its peak during the 16th and 17th centuries under Suleiman the Magnificent, controlling a vast territory spanning three continents: Europe, Asia, and Africa.
  • Administrative Structure and Cultural Legacy:
    • The Ottoman Empire was known for its sophisticated administrative system, with a centralized government headed by the Sultan.
    • The Ottoman legal system, known as the "kanun," and the use of the Turkish language further contributed to the empire's cultural influence.
  • Decline and Dissolution:
    • The Ottoman Empire faced a gradual decline starting in the late 17th century, marked by military defeats, internal strife, and economic challenges.
    • The 19th century saw a series of reforms known as the Tanzimat aimed at modernizing the empire, but it struggled to keep pace with the rapidly changing global landscape.
    • The empire's involvement in World War I on the side of the Central Powers led to its defeat and subsequent partitioning by the victorious Allies. The Republic of Turkey, led by Mustafa Kemal, emerged from the ashes of the Ottoman Empire in 1923, marking the end of its six-century-long existence.

UPSC Civil Services Examination, Previous Year Question (PYQ)

Q. In which of the following relief sculpture inscriptions is ‘Ranyo Ashoka’ (King Ashoka) mentioned along with the stone portrait of Ashoka? (2019)

(a) Kanganahalli 
(b) Sanchi 
(c) Shahbazgarhi 
(d) Sohgaura

Ans: (a)


Rapid Fire

Lantana Camara

Recently, fifteen elephant figurines created from a toxic and invasive plant species, Lantana camara, are currently on display outside the Vidhana Soudha (Vidhan Sabha) in Bengaluru, Karnataka.

  • Lantana camara is a perennial shrub native to the American tropics and belongs to the Verbenaceae family.
    • With the ability to adapt to the changing climate, lantana can tolerate high temperature and moisture.
  • However, it is one of the world’s ten worst invasive species and a species of high concern for India.
    • Lantanas arrived in India as a decorative shrub in the British colonial period but quickly took over several ecosystems as an invasive plant.
    • Nilgiri Biosphere Reserve in Western Ghats is one of the largest impacted hotspot areas due to invasion dominated by Lantana camara.

Read more: Lantana Camara


Rapid Fire

PM-JANMAN: Empowering India's Tribal Communities

Recently, the Union Cabinet has approved the Pradhan Mantri Janjati Adivasi Nyaya Maha Abhiyan (PM-JANMAN), a monumental Rs 24,104-crore tribal welfare initiative.

  • It marks a significant stride towards uplifting Particularly Vulnerable Tribal Groups (PVTGs). It is set to revolutionize the lives of over 40 lakh individuals across 75 tribal communities in 18 states and the Union Territory of Andaman and Nicobar Islands.
    • In India, a PVTG is a sub-classification of a Scheduled Tribe that is considered more vulnerable than a regular Scheduled Tribe.
      • PVTGs were previously known as Primitive Tribal Groups.
    • The population of PVTGs in Odisha ranks highest based on data from the Ministry of Tribal Affairs and the 2011 Census.
  • With a focus on pivotal elements such as housing, education, healthcare, connectivity, and livelihood opportunities, PM-JANMAN encompasses a broad spectrum of initiatives.

Read more: Key Initiatives for Tribal Groups


Rapid Fire

Langlands Program, the World’s Biggest Math’s Project

  • Dr. Langlands won the Abel Prize in 2018, a top honor in mathematics, for his groundbreaking work connecting representation theory to number theory.
    • The Program aims to link two distant areas of mathematics: number theory and harmonic analysis.
      • Number theory studies numbers and their relationships, focusing on arithmetic.
    • Harmonic analysis explores periodic phenomena, dealing with continuous mathematical objects such as waves, in contrast to the discrete arithmetic of number theorists who work with integers.

Rapid Fire

High Court Nullifies a Decade-old Forced Marriage

  • The Patna High Court has nullified a forced marriage, commonly referred to as "pakadwa vivah,” which occurred a decade ago.
    • The court decided that the marriage was invalid because the crucial "Saptapadi" ritual, involving seven vows around the sacred fire as required by the Hindu Marriage Act, 1955, was not performed.
  • The 'Pakadwa Vivah,' is a kind of 'Forced marriages’.
    • It is prevalent in Bihar, often involving the kidnapping of young male individuals for the purpose of marriage.
  • These marriages are typically solemnized under threats, sometimes at putting the lives of the individuals and their families at risk.

Read More: Hindu Marriage Act


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