Current Affair – July 2, 2021

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CURRENT AFFAIRS

Outbreak of Sea snot in Sea of Marmara

  • Turkey is witnessing the biggest-ever outbreak of sea snot or marine mucilage in its Sea of Marmara.
  • Sea snot has also been seen in the adjoining Black Sea and Greece’s Aegean Sea, which are connected by the Sea of Marmara through the straits of Bosporus and Dardanelles.

Sea snot

  • It is a thick, slimy grey-brown sheet that is formed by dead and living organic material. The sludge forms when

algae overloaded with nutrients fests on warm weather. This warm weather is caused due to global warming.

  • It is also known as ‘marine mucilage’.
  • It was first discovered in Turkey in 2007.’
  • Algae are the prime source of oxygen in water bodies. However, if their growth is overlooked, they could lead to the formation of this mucilage that could block sunlight from entering the deep waters of the oceans.
  • The current outbreak has made it difficult for marine and aquatic life to survive beneath water. It has also affected local communities on a large scale. Some of the sea snot has sunk below the water surface, suffocating the seabed. The proliferation of the organic matter can also flourish when nutrient-rich sewage flows into seawater as it contains a wide variety of micro-organisms.

Ocean biogeochemical cycle & Sea snot

  • Oceans played a major role in sustaining the global economy, livelihoods as well as maintaining climate feedback channels. However, the ocean biogeochemical cycle was majorly dependent upon plankton species like

‘coccolithophores’ that helped in calcifying carbon dioxide from the atmosphere.

  • This process sequestrated atmospheric carbon dioxide and thereby helped in preventing immediate shocks of climate change. Other plankton species like diatoms helped in photosynthesis and provided food to almost a sixth of the ocean.

Cyanobacteria and chlorophytes had a significant role in nitrogen recycling. However, their deaths resulted in the formation of detritus that provided an active site for the formation of sea snot.

  • A major concern is that the enhanced growth of sea snot through nutrient enrichment in the oceans will prevent the recycling of silica,

nitrogen and carbon for the ultimate growth of plankton and micro-organisms, thereby disrupting the entire ocean biogeochemical cycle.

Indian waters too could experience extreme events like a sea snot outbreak in the future.  

Way forward

The ocean biogeochemical cycle is still a vastly unexplored field. Therefore, there is a dire need to develop a system of monitoring to regulate the nutrient flow from landforms into the oceans.

  • Limit the flow of nutrients into rivers at the source.
  • Limiting the nutrient inflow into the rivers will, however, require a multi-level risk. Assessment approach where continuous monitoring of coastal and river water will have to be undertaken on a weekly basis.
Source: Down-to-earth

Human embryo research

  • New guidelines released by the International Society for Stem Cell Research have removed the rule that after 14 days, an embryo should not be used for research and must be destroyed. This makes it possible to conduct research on human embryos that are at more advanced stages of development.
  • This rule has been part of the law of more than 12 countries.
  • Now, countries must revise their laws, policies and guidelines to reflect this change.

Significance of human embryo research

  • Over the decades human embryo research has allowed to understand normal and abnormal human development, as well as early genetic diseases and disorders.
  • Studying human embryos, as the earliest forms of human life, can give insight into why miscarriages occur, and how our complex body systems develop.
  • Human embryos are also important for stem cell research, where researchers try and create cell-based therapies to treat human diseases.
  • Often, extra embryos are created during in-vitro fertilisation procedures. These extra embryos may be donated for research. They are cultured (or grown) in a laboratory and can be studied until they reach day 14 post-creation.

Guidelines and the debate new

  • Although the 14-day rule has been criticised as being arbitrarily decided, there are a number of reasons for the time frame.
  • After an egg cell is fertilised by a sperm cell, the resulting embryo consists of a few identical cells. Most embryos will implant in the uterus after the 14th day. After this point, the ‘primitive streak’ appears, which is the first sign of an embryo’s developing nervous system.
  • The rule also identified the point at which the embryo shows signs of individuation, because it is no longer possible for the embryo to split into twins after 14 days. Some people reason that due to these events, it is at this stage that a moral being comes into existence, and it would not be ethical to perform research on embryos after this time.
  • There has been increasing pressure from some researchers to remove the 14-day rule, or at least extend it, as it prevents critical research from being undertaken. Extending the rule would allow important research into early human development to be done. The new guidelines make it possible to do research on embryos older than 14 days if the approval processes of the relevant ethics committees are followed.
  • A significant problem, however, is that there is no longer any limit on the time frame for research. Would it be permissible to do research on human embryos that are 20 days old or 40 days old? The guidelines specify no limit. The longer a human embryo is allowed to grow, the more recognisably human it becomes. At what point would we regard the research unethical, and at what point does the moral cost outweigh the benefits of research?

What the law says?

  • Countries around the world take a variety of approaches to human embryo research. Some — like Italy and Germany — don’t allow it at all. Others, like the UK, allow research to continue until the embryo is 14 days old, after which it must be destroyed. There are also some which permit embryo research without identifying a limit. Some, like the United States, do not have any law regulating it (but there are guidelines which contain reference to the 14-day rule).
  • In South Africa, reference to the rule is found in the National Health Act (2003), which states that human embryo research may only be done with permission of the minister, and that the embryos must not be older than 14 days.
  • International guidelines are not legally binding. But the effect of the revised guidelines is that the international standard for best practice in scientific research has now changed. This means that countries which have implemented the rule in their laws will need to revise them so that they are in line with best practice in science.

The future of human embryo research

  • Human embryo research is a sensitive topic because people are divided on the moral status of the human embryo. Some people believe that the embryo, as the earliest form of human life, should be protected and not subjected to research at all. Others believe that while an embryo has some moral status, it cannot be protected in the same way as humans are, and may be used for some important research which could ultimately benefit people.
  • Public engagement should have come before such an important rule (14-day) was changed.
  • There are a number of approaches to working with the revised guidance. Bioethicist Françoise Baylis has suggested that project-specific time limits should be identified, based on the minimum amount of time required to address the stated research objectives. This would mean that some research would still be subject to the 14-day limit, while other studies would be permitted to exceed it.
  • Another approach would be to keep the 14-day limit as the norm, and consider applications to exceed it case by case. Or the limit could be extended to 28 days.
Source: Down-to-earth

Street dogs have right to food and citizens have the right to feed them: Delhi HC

  • The Delhi High Court has directed that every Resident Welfare Association (RWA) should form “Guard and Dog

partnerships” in consultation with the Delhi Police Dog Squad, so that dogs can be trained to work as guard dogs and yet be friendly to residents of a colony.

  • A slew of directions were issued on the contentious issue of feeding stray dogs. It said stray or street dogs have the right to food and citizens have the right to feed them, but in exercising this right, care and caution should be taken to ensure that it does not impinge upon the rights of others.

‘Duty to feed’

  • It also ruled that it should be “the duty and obligation of every RWA or municipal corporation (in case RWA is not available) to ensure that every community dog in every area has access to food and water in the absence of

caregivers or community dog feeders”.

  • Feeding of community dogs has to be done in areas designated by the Animal Welfare Board of India (AWBI) in consultation with RWA or Municipal Corporation.
  • While determining the “designated area”, it has to be kept in mind that “every dog is a territorial being, and therefore, the street dogs have to be fed and tended to at places within their territory which are not frequented, or less

frequented, and sparingly used by the general public and residents”.

Rules

  • Stray dogs are protected under the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals Act, 1960, and rules enacted under Section 38 of the Act, particularly the Animal Birth Control (Dogs) Rules, 2001, which makes it illegal for an individual, RWA or estate management to remove or relocate dogs.
  • A 2006 Office Memorandum of the Central government carried specific rules against government servants who indulge in acts of cruelty to animals. The rules make the government servant liable for action under the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals Act.
  • The HC ordered that “Such acts of defiance be noted down in the ACR (Annual Confidential Report) files of government employees. If any such complaint is received by AWBI, the same be sent to the office concerned for being placed in the ACR file of the government employee for necessary action as per CCS rules”.
Source: The Hindu

Tackling the Drones

  • With the easy availability of drones, they would be increasingly used in all sorts of combat , both by state and non-state actors, and capabilities were being developed to deal with them – Army Chief General MM Naravane.
  • He emphasised this new threat and said DIY (do it yourself) drones can be easily accessed and used by state and non- state actors, and India is building its offensive and defensive capabilities to prevent such attacks.
  • In the early hours of Sunday, two drones dropped an IED each packed with high grade-explosives on an Indian Air Force base in Jammu. It was the first-ever attack in India where suspected terrorists had used drones.

Since when have the military and terrorists been using drones?

  • Over the last one decade, drones, or Unmanned Aerial Vehicles (UAVs), are being increasingly used for law and order, courier services, and surveillance and attack in the military domain. Modern drones are being used militarily since the 1990s, including by the US during the Gulf War.
  • UAVs range from 250 g (maximum altitude 2,000 ft and range 2 km) to over 150 kg (30,000 ft and unlimited range).   In India, the most commonly known drones are quad- and hexacopters used for civil and commercial purposes, and Heron drones used for military surveillance.
  • Different UAVs operate under various technologies ranging from remote control by a human operator to using GPS and radio frequencies, and autopilot assistance.
  • The first attempted drone attack by a terror group can be traced to 1994 when Aum Shinrikyo, a Japanese doomsday cult, used a remote-controlled helicopter to spray sarin gas, but failed as the helicopter crashed.
    • In 2013, al-Qaeda attempted an attack in Pakistan using multiple drones but security forces prevented it. The Islamic State has regularly used drones for attacks in Syria and Iraq, while the Taliban has used them for surveillance in Afghanistan. Hezbollah and Houthi rebels too have used them for attacks.
    • In January 2018, a swarm of 13 drones attacked two Russian military bases in Syria. In August 2018, an assassination attempt was made on the President of Venezuela, Nicolãs Maduro, using two IED-carrying GPS- guided drones that exploded during a military ceremony the President was attending.
  • According to AUSA, between 1994 and 2018, more than 14 planned or attempted terrorist attacks took place using drones. These have only increased in the last couple of years.
  • Last year, drones were used to counter traditional platforms like tanks in the Armenia-Azerbaijan war.

Indian experience

  • In the last few years, India and its enemies have frequently used drone surveillance against each other. The last three years have also seen drones dropping weapons, ammunition and drugs.
    • On May 14, the BSF detected weapons dropped by a suspected Pakistan drone in Jammu. One AK-47 assault rifle, one pistol, one magazine, and 15 rounds for a 9 mm weapon were recovered 250 m inside Indian territory.
    • On June 20 last year, the BSF shot down a drone in Hiranagar, Jammu. The hexacopter’s pay load included a US-made M4 semi-automatic carbine, two magazines, 60 rounds and seven Chinese grenades.
    • In recent years there have been estimated 100-150 sightings of suspected drones near India’s western border annually. Most of these are suspected to be surveillance drones.

How to tackle them?

  • The entire world is struggling with the problem of drone attacks. Conventional radar systems are not meant for detecting small flying objects, and, even if they are calibrated that way, they might confuse a bird for a drone and the system may get overwhelmed.
  • Currently, border forces in India largely use eyesight to spot drones and then shoot them down. It is easier said than done as most rogue drones are very small and operate at heights difficult to target.
  • India has been exploring technologies to detect and disable drones using electromagnetic charge or shoot them down using laser guns. Technology to disable their navigation, interfere with their radio frequency, or just fry their circuits using high energy beams have also been tested. None of these has, however, proven fool proof.
  • A Tech wall that can disable drones coming from across the border but drone attacks can be launched from within as well.
  • Problem of swarm drones, where scores of drones overwhelm and confuse detection systems, resulting in some of the drones sneaking through.

Does India have anti-drone technology?

  • The Defence Research and Development Organisation (DRDO) has developed a detect-and-destroy technology for drones, but it is not yet into mass production. Then there is the challenge of the technology’s strategic deployment and the money the government is ready to spend.
  • The DRDO’s Counter-Drone System was deployed for VVIP protection at the Republic Day parades in 2020 and 2021, the Prime Minister’s Independence Day speech last year, and former US President Donald Trump’s visit to Motera Stadium, Ahmedabad last year.
  • The DRDO system, developed in 2019, has capabilities for hard kill (destroying a drone with lasers) and soft kill (jamming a drone’s signals). It has 360° radar that can detect micro drones up to 4 km, and other sensors to do so within 2 km. Its soft kill range is 3 km and hard kill range between 150 m and 1 km.

What are India’s plans to use them in warfare?

  • The armed forces have been slowly inducting capacity. Last year the, Navy got two unarmed Sea Guardian Predator drones on lease from the US. The three forces want 30 of these UAVs between them.
  • The military has been working towards using small drones for offensive capabilities as well. On January 15, during the Army Day parade, the Army showcased its swarm technology, with 75 drones swarming together to destroy simulated targets.
Source: Indian Express

Unified District Information System for Education plus (UDISE+) Report

  • Education Ministry has released data in the Unified District Information System for Education Plus (UDISE+) report. UDISE + collates data from more than 15 lakh schools across the country.

Data from UDISE+

  • In the academic year that ended with school closures due to COVID19, only 22% of schools in India had Internet facilities.
  • Among government schools, less than 12% had Internet in 2019-20, while less than 30% had functional computer facilities. This affected the kind of digital education options available to schools during the pandemic, as well as plans for hybrid learning in the days ahead.

Significance of data highlights

  • As the first wave of COVID19 entered India in early 2020, schools were closed in mid March, just weeks before the end of the 2019-20 academic year.
  • The vast majority of the country’s 26 crore school children have not set foot in a school since then, depending instead on various forms of distance education.
  • The availability of digital education — whether via live, synchronous teaching on apps like Zoom, or through recorded lectures, emails, WhatsApp or educational apps — was largely dependent on whether schools, teachers and parents had access to the necessary infrastructure. In many States, teachers came to school and taught in their own empty classrooms, using their blackboards and lab facilities, while facing a computer screen that communicated the lessons to their students at home.
  • The UDISE+ data makes clear the digital divide.

State-wise data

  • In many Union Territories, as well as in the State of Kerala, more than 90% of schools, both government and private, had access to working computers.
  • In States such as Chhattisgarh (83%) and Jharkhand (73%), installation of computer facilities in most government schools paid off, while in others such as Tamil Nadu (77%), Gujarat (74%) and Maharashtra (71%), private schools had higher levels of computer availability than government schools.
  • However, in States such as Assam (13%), Madhya Pradesh (13%), Bihar (14%), West Bengal (14%),

Tripura (15%) and Uttar Pradesh (18%), less than one in five schools had working computers. The situation is

worse in government schools, with less than 5% of Uttar Pradesh’s government schools having the facility.

  • The connectivity divide is even starker. Only three States — Kerala (88%), Delhi (86%) and Gujarat (71%) — have Internet facilities in more than half their schools. This will make it hard for most schools to implement the options for hy- brid learning as schools try to reopen with staggered attendance post the pandemic.

Other significant dimensions

  • 90% of schools across the country have facilities for hand washing, which will gain added importance as they implement COVID19 safety protocols while reopening.
  • More than 80% of schools conducted medical check ups during the year before the pandemic. Temperature testing and monitoring of symptoms need to become a daily activity, according to the Centre’s heath protocol for schools wishing to reopen.
  • The Gross Enrolment Ratio (GER) improved in 2019-20, with 98% of students in Classes 1-8 attending school,

though the GER for secondary and senior secondary students stood at 78% and 51% respectively.

  • The dropout rate at secondary level was 17% in 2019-20.
Source: The Hindu

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