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Current Affairs 18 August 2023

CONTENTS

  1. Urea Gold Fertiliser
  2. Enhancing Skill-Based Education in India
  3. MoEF&CC’s U-turn to Merge Four Environmental Bodies
  4. Matti banana
  5. SAMUDRA App
  6. In Vitro Fertilization (IVF)

Urea Gold Fertiliser


Context:

Recently, Indian Prime Minister officially launched ‘Urea Gold’ fertiliser’. It is developed by Rashtriya Chemicals and Fertilizers Ltd (RCF), a leading fertilizer and chemical manufacturing company in India in the Public Sector.

Relevance:

GS III: Agriculture

Dimensions of the Article:

  1. Urea Gold
  2. Urea Consumption in India
  3. Challenges
  4. Way Forward

Urea Gold

  • Urea Gold is a novel fertilizer produced by combining urea with sulfur, resulting in a composite fertilizer containing 37% nitrogen (N) and 17% sulfur (S).
  • This innovative blend addresses the deficiency of sulfur in Indian soils while also enhancing nitrogen use efficiency.

Characteristics of Urea Gold:

  • Urea Gold serves a dual purpose: fulfilling sulfur requirements in Indian soils and optimizing nitrogen utilization.
  • Conventional urea contains a single nutrient, nitrogen (N), at 46%.
Key Features:
  • Indian soils commonly lack sulfur, which is particularly crucial for oilseeds and pulses.
  • By incorporating sulfur into the fertilizer formulation, Urea Gold provides a comprehensive nutrient profile that meets the specific needs of crops dependent on sulfur.
  • An innovative aspect of Urea Gold is its potential to enhance nitrogen use efficiency (NUE).
  • The sulfur coating on urea enables the gradual release of nitrogen, extending nutrient availability over time.
  • This prolonged nutrient release sustains plant greenness for an extended period, allowing farmers to reduce application frequency.
  • Typically, farmers apply urea when they observe leaves turning yellow.
  • Urea Gold has the capability to boost crop yields by maximizing nutrient utilization.
  • Gradual nutrient release minimizes wastage and improves nutrient uptake by plants, leading to increased overall productivity.

Urea Consumption in India:

  • Urea is a white crystalline compound widely used as a synthetic fertilizer in Indian agriculture.
  • Upon application to soil or crops, it undergoes enzymatic breakdown into ammonia and carbon dioxide.
  • Ammonia is converted to ammonium ions, which plants absorb for growth.
Current Urea Consumption Status:
  • Urea holds the distinction of being India’s most commonly used fertilizer.
  • Consumption and sales of urea have witnessed an increase from 26.7 million tonnes (mt) to 35.7 mt between 2009-10 and 2022-23.
Similar Interventions to Urea Gold:

Neem Coated Urea:

  • This variant of urea is coated with neem oil.
  • The coating diminishes nitrogen losses through leaching and volatilization.
  • Neem-coated urea also exhibits insecticidal and nematicidal properties, enhances soil texture and water retention.

Liquid Nano Urea:

  • An advanced nanotechnology-based fertilizer applied through leaf spraying.
  • Enhances crop productivity and nutritional quality.
  • Reduces fertilizer consumption, improves nitrogen use efficiency, and leads to cost savings.

Challenges:

  • Import Dependency: In the fiscal year 2022-23, out of the total 35.7 million metric tons (mt) of urea sold, 7.6 mt were imported, raising concerns about import reliance.
  • Feedstock Dependency: Even domestically produced urea is heavily dependent on imported natural gas, a crucial feedstock in its production process.
  • Nutrient Loss: About 65% of applied nitrogen (N) is lost due to factors like ammonia gas release into the atmosphere and nitrate leaching into the ground post-conversion.
  • Decreased Nutrient Use Efficiency (NUE): The decline in NUE has led to a scenario where farmers need to use more fertilizer to achieve the same crop yield.
  • Subsidy Impact: Urea receives substantial government subsidies to keep prices low for farmers.
  • However, this has led to issues like overuse and inefficient consumption due to its affordability.
  • Overuse Issues: The affordability of urea often prompts farmers to use more than necessary, potentially causing imbalanced nutrient application and environmental harm

Way Forward:

  • Fortification for Enhanced Nutrient Content: Urea and other fertilizers like DAP can be fortified with micronutrients to boost crop yields and improve the efficiency of imported nutrients.
  • Alternative Coating: Since India has limited reserves of natural gas, rock phosphate, potash, and sulfur, considering coating fertilizers with secondary nutrients (calcium and magnesium) and micronutrients (zinc, boron, manganese, molybdenum, iron, copper, and nickel) can be more sustainable.
  • Precision Agriculture Techniques: Implementing precision agriculture methods like variable rate application can tailor fertilizer use based on specific crop and soil needs, minimizing overuse and nutrient wastage.
  • Comprehensive Nutrient Management: Encouraging farmers to adopt nutrient management plans that consider the NPK needs of crops can promote balanced fertilizer application, reducing reliance solely on urea.
  • Diverse Cropping Patterns: Promoting diverse crops and crop rotation can reduce excessive urea demand. Leguminous crops, for instance, can fix atmospheric nitrogen, decreasing the need for nitrogen fertilizers.
  • Subsidy Reform: Gradual rationalization and reform of the fertilizer subsidy system can incentivize the adoption of balanced fertilization practices. Subsidies could be directed towards alternative nutrient sources to encourage reduced urea consumption.

-Source:  Indian Express


Enhancing Skill-Based Education in India


Context:

The National Education Policy (NEP) 2020 in India is celebrated for its focus on practical learning and skill-based education. Nevertheless, a significant disparity between the education imparted and the demands of industries persists, even with a substantial number of science graduates.

Relevance:

GS II: Education

Dimensions of the Article:

  1. Higher Education Landscape in India for STEM Graduates
  2. Challenges in State-affiliated Higher Education Institutions for STEM
  3. Transforming State Universities into Skill-Based Education Hubs

Higher Education Landscape in India for STEM Graduates

University Structure:

  • India has a total of 1,113 universities, with 422 being public institutions under State governments.
  • State-affiliated colleges associated with these universities cater to a significant portion of student enrolments.

Role of Universities:

  • Public universities play a pivotal role in preparing graduates for careers in science and technology.

BSc Enrolments:

  • STEM graduates, comprising Science, Technology, Engineering, and Mathematics fields, exhibit substantial enrolment.
  • Around 50 lakh students are enrolled in BSc courses.
  • Over 11 lakh students complete their bachelor’s degrees annually (All-India Survey of Higher Education Report 2021-2022).

Advanced Education Drop-off:

  • The number of STEM graduates significantly reduces at higher education levels.
  • Approximately 2.9 lakh students pursue master’s degrees (25% of BSc graduates).
  • Doctoral level witnesses further decline, with only 6,000 science PhDs awarded each year.

Importance of Advanced Degrees:

  • A master’s degree or PhD is a prerequisite for entry-level positions in scientific research and teaching.
  • Positions at universities and national institutes typically require advanced qualifications.

Immediate Workforce Entry:

  • Around 8 lakh bachelors-equivalent science graduates annually enter the workforce.
  • These graduates represent a substantial human resource pool for immediate or near-future employment.

Primary Education Source:

  • Most bachelors-level science graduates obtain their degrees from State-affiliated colleges and universities.

Challenges in State-affiliated Higher Education Institutions for STEM:

Outdated Curricula:

  • Many State-affiliated institutions offer outdated curricula that do not align with modern technologies and advancements.
  • Students face difficulties in acquiring relevant and current knowledge and skills.

Lack of Practical Training:

  • Science courses often lack practical training opportunities.
  • Inadequate or poorly maintained laboratory facilities limit hands-on experience and practical skill development.

Resource Constraints:

  • State-affiliated institutions face resource limitations compared to Institutes of Eminence and private universities.
  • Lack of research-intensive environment hampers research opportunities for students and faculty.

Defining Role and Identity:

  • These institutions struggle to define their unique role in higher science education.
  • Balancing teaching responsibilities with research and upskilling needs presents a challenge.

Skills Mismatch:

  • Despite a large number of science graduates, industries report a gap in required skills.
  • State-affiliated institutions may not be adequately equipping graduates with job-relevant skills.

Transforming State Universities into Skill-Based Education Hubs:

Curriculum Revamp:

  • Update BSc and integrated course curricula to emphasize industry-relevant skills such as programming, data analysis, instrumentation, quality assurance, and benchmarking.
  • Integrate skill-focused certifications within the curriculum to enhance employability.

Industry Collaborations:

  • Establish long-term partnerships with industries through seminars, expert interactions, apprenticeships, and job fairs.
  • Secure funding support from industries to enhance practical training and research projects.

Job Application Skills:

  • Include job application skills training to prepare students for the job search process.
  • Teach interview techniques, resume writing, and negotiation skills to ensure graduates are job-ready.

International Models:

  • Learn from successful models in the U.S. and Europe, such as community colleges and technical universities.
  • Prioritize regional education and workforce readiness to align education with industry needs.

Alignment with National Policy:

  • Align efforts with the National Education Policy and the proposed National Research Foundation.
  • Address the need for skilled scientific personnel and enhance graduate employability.

-Source: The Hindu


MoEF&CC’s U-turn to Merge Four Environmental Bodies


Context:

In June, the Ministry of Environment, Forests and Climate Change (MoEF&CC) issued a notification reversing its earlier decision to merge four important bodies – National Tiger Conservation Authority (NTCA), Forest Survey of India (FSI), Wildlife Crime Control Bureau (WCCB), and Central Zoo Authority (CZA).

Relevance:

GS III: Environment and Ecology

Dimensions of the Article:

  1. Failed Merger Proposal of Environmental Bodies during Covid-19 Pandemic
  2. National Tiger Conservation Authority (NTCA)
  3. Forest Survey of India (FSI)
  4. Wildlife Crime Control Bureau (WCCB)
  5. Central Zoo Authority (CZA)

Failed Merger Proposal of Environmental Bodies during Covid-19 Pandemic:

  • During the Covid-19 pandemic, the Union government proposed merging the NTCA, CZA, WCCB, and FSI into a single organization, sparking criticism from activists who feared weakened environmental oversight.

Critics’ Concerns:

  • Critics argued that the merger would strip key environmental organizations of their effectiveness.
  • The current structure allows the NTCA to oppose forest clearances that impact Tiger Reserves, but the proposed merger might have hindered this by placing the NTCA under a different authority.

Government’s Rationale:

  • The Ministry of Environment, Forest and Climate Change (MoEF&CC) claimed that the proposal aimed to consolidate the authorities into 19 regional offices for better coordination.
  • MoEF&CC insisted that it wasn’t a merger but a move to centralize functions under one roof.

Recent Development:

  • However, in June 2023, the MoEF&CC abandoned the merger plan, possibly due to technical and administrative challenges associated with integrating the institutions.

National Tiger Conservation Authority (NTCA):

  • Established under the Wildlife (Protection) Act, 1972 as a statutory body.
  • Formed in 2005 based on recommendations of the Tiger Task Force.
Objectives:
  • Provide legal authority to Project Tiger for enforceable compliance.
  • Foster accountability in Tiger Reserve management between Centre and State.
  • Address the livelihood interests of local communities around Tiger Reserves.
Functions:
  • Approval of state government’s tiger conservation plans.
  • Prevent diversion of tiger reserves and connecting areas for ecologically unsustainable purposes.
  • Support and facilitate state tiger reserve management for biodiversity conservation.
Tiger Census:
  • Conducted across India every four years by NTCA.
  • Chairman: Union Minister of Environment, Forest and Climate Change.

Forest Survey of India (FSI):

  • Established in 1981 following the recommendation of the National Commission on Agriculture (NCA).
  • Primary role is to assess and monitor the forest cover in the country.
  • Headquarters: Located in Dehradun, Uttarakhand.
Functions:
  • Conducts assessment of forest cover every 2 years using remote sensing satellite data.
  • Publishes the findings in a biennial report known as ‘State of Forest Report’ (SFR).
  • Provides training to forest personnel from various states in India.

Wildlife Crime Control Bureau (WCCB):

  • Established in 2007 as a statutory body under the Wildlife (Protection) Act, 1972.
  • Primarily focuses on combating organized wildlife crime activities.
  • Headquarters: Located in New Delhi.
Functions:
  • Collects and consolidates intelligence related to organized wildlife crimes and shares it with state and other enforcement agencies for prompt action and apprehension of criminals.
  • Maintains a centralized wildlife crime data bank.
  • Coordinates actions among various agencies to enforce the provisions of the Wildlife Protection Act.
  • Assists foreign authorities and international organizations in coordinating efforts for wildlife crime control.
  • Conducts capacity-building programs for enforcement agencies to enhance their expertise in investigating wildlife crimes.
  • Aids state governments to ensure successful prosecutions related to wildlife crimes.
Customs Assistance:
  • Assists and provides advice to Customs authorities in inspecting consignments of flora and fauna, ensuring compliance with Wildlife Protection Act, CITES (Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Fauna and Flora), and EXIM Policy.

Central Zoo Authority (CZA):

  • A statutory body established in 1992 under the Wildlife (Protection) Act, 1972.
  • Aims to contribute to the conservation of India’s rich biodiversity, especially fauna, as per the National Zoo Policy of 1998.
  • Headquarters: Based in New Delhi.
Key Functions:
  • Ensures that every zoo in the country follows its guidelines by obtaining recognition from the Authority.
  • Primarily acts as a facilitator rather than a regulator, offering technical and financial assistance to zoos that have the potential to meet desired animal management standards.
  • Establishes rules and guidelines for the transfer of animals between zoos nationally and internationally.
  • Coordinates and implements programs for capacity building of zoo personnel, planned breeding initiatives, and ex-situ research.
Objective:
  • Complements and strengthens the national conservation effort, focusing on preserving the diverse biodiversity of the country, particularly its fauna.

-Source: The Hindu


Matti Banana


Context:

The Matti banana variety, native to Kanniyakumari district was recently granted the Geographical Indication (GI) tag.

Relevance:

GS III: Indian Economy

Dimensions of the Article:

  1. Matti Banana: A Unique Variety
  2. Geographical Indications (GI) Tag

Matti Banana: A Unique Variety

Matti banana is a distinctive type of banana found in Kanniyakumari, known for its distinct qualities due to the region’s specific climate and soil conditions.

Types of Matti Banana:

  • There are six recognized varieties of Matti banana, each with its own distinct features.
  • Referred to as ‘Baby Banana,’ it primarily thrives in Kalkulam and Vilavancode taluks.

Distinct Characteristics:

  • Matti bananas have a unique sweet fragrance and honey-like taste specific to the Kanniyakumari region.
  • The fruit’s appearance is unlike typical bananas; the fingers exhibit a wind-blown appearance.
  • The fruit’s unique low total soluble solids content (TSSC) makes it suitable for baby food.

Varieties Described:

  • Nal Matti: Displays a yellowish-orange color and fine aroma.
  • Theyn [honey] Matti: Its pulp resembles the taste of honey.
  • Kal Matti: Named after the calcium oxalate crystals forming in its pulp and the black dots on its skin.
  • Nei Matti: Exudes the aroma of ghee.
  • Sundari Matti: A Matti clone with elongated fingers, thick peel, and creamy white rind, facing the threat of extinction.

Regional Significance:

  • The unique qualities of Matti banana are intricately tied to the climate and soil of Kanniyakumari.
  • While it might grow in other areas, the distinct fragrance and taste of Kanniyakumari’s Matti bananas cannot be replicated.

Geographical Indications (GI) Tag

Definition and Importance:
  • Geographical Indications of Goods indicate the country or place of origin of a product.
  • They assure consumers of the product’s quality and distinctiveness derived from its specific geographical locality.
  • GI tags are an essential component of intellectual property rights (IPRs) and are protected under international agreements like the Paris Convention and TRIPS.
Administration and Registration:
  • Geographical Indications registration in India is governed by the Geographical Indications of Goods (Registration and Protection) Act, 1999.
  • The registration and protection are administered by the Geographical Indication Registry under the Department of Industry Promotion and Internal Trade (DIPIT), Ministry of Commerce and Industry.
  • The registration is valid for 10 years, and it can be renewed for further periods of 10 years each.
Significance and Examples:
  • GI tags provide a unique identity and reputation to products based on their geographical origin.
  • The first product in India to receive a GI tag was Darjeeling tea.
  • Karnataka has the highest number of GI tags with 47 registered products, followed by Tamil Nadu with 39.
Ownership and Proprietorship:
  • Any association, organization, or authority established by law can be a registered proprietor of a GI tag.
  • The registered proprietor’s name is entered in the Register of Geographical Indication for the applied product.
  • Protection and Enforcement:
  • Geographical Indications protect the interests of producers and prevent unauthorized use of the product’s name or origin.
  • Enforcement of GI rights helps maintain the quality and reputation of the products associated with their specific geographical regions.
Location of the Geographical Indications Registry:
  • The Geographical Indications Registry is located in Chennai, India.

-Source: The Hindu


SAMUDRA App


Context:

Recently, Indian National Centre for Ocean Information Services (INCOIS) launched a new mobile application called SAMUDRA for seafarers and the fishing community.

Relevance:

GS II: Government Policies and Interventions

Dimensions of the Article:

  1. About SAMUDRA App
  2. Indian National Centre for Ocean Information Services

About SAMUDRA App:

  • The Smart Access to Marine Users for Ocean Data Resources and Advisories (SAMUDRA) application is a comprehensive platform providing information related to ocean services.
  • This cutting-edge tool is designed to enhance user confidence while navigating the marine domain, ensuring safety and facilitating profitable fishing operations.
  • It aligns with the institute’s vision and mission of delivering ocean data, information, and advisory services for the betterment of the nation.
  • The app plays a significant role in promoting sustainable ocean activities, thereby contributing to the growth of the Blue Economy.
Key Features:
  • SAMUDRA App offers real-time updates and crucial alerts concerning oceanic emergencies, including tsunamis, storm surges, high waves, and swell surge alerts.
  • These alerts help individuals and communities stay informed and take necessary precautions to safeguard lives and property.
  • The app provides specific benefits to the fishing community by disseminating Potential Fishing Zone (PFZ) advisories. These advisories guide fishermen to potential fish aggregation locations, enhancing their fishing operations.
  • Currently available in English, plans are in place to expand its reach by including eight coastal languages in the near future.
Importance:
  • SAMUDRA App supports the sustainable development of ocean-related activities, contributing to the advancement of the Blue Economy.
  • Its provision of critical information empowers users to make informed decisions, ensuring safety and profitability in marine endeavors.

Indian National Centre for Ocean Information Services

  • INCOIS, or the Indian National Centre for Ocean Information Services, is an autonomous organization founded in 1999 under the Ministry of Earth Sciences (MoES).
  • Its primary objective is to offer top-notch ocean information and advisory services to various sectors of society, industry, governmental bodies, and the scientific community.
  • This is accomplished through continuous ocean observations and a commitment to ongoing research, aimed at enhancing the quality and accuracy of provided information.

-Source: The Hindu


In Vitro Fertilization (IVF)


Context:

In a first, Goa has become the first Indian state to offer free in vitro fertilization (IVF) treatment.

Relevance:

GS II: Health

Dimensions of the Article:

  1. In Vitro Fertilization (IVF)
  2. Applicability of IVF

In Vitro Fertilization (IVF)

  • IVF is a medical technique aimed at aiding individuals or couples facing fertility challenges in achieving pregnancy.
  • It is a prominent form of assisted reproductive technology (ART) known for its effectiveness.
IVF Process:
  • IVF involves a multi-step process where eggs are retrieved from the ovaries and combined with sperm in a laboratory setting.
  • After fertilization, the resulting embryo is placed into the uterus a few days later.
  • Successful pregnancy occurs when the embryo successfully attaches to the uterine wall.
Variations and Factors:
  • IVF can use a couple’s own eggs and sperm or involve donors’ eggs, sperm, or embryos, either known or anonymous.
  • Success rate varies depending on factors such as reproductive history, maternal age, infertility causes, and lifestyle.

Applicability of IVF:

IVF is beneficial for treating infertility in various cases, including:

  • Damaged or blocked fallopian tubes.
  • Male factor infertility like low sperm count or motility.
  • Ovulation disorders, uterine fibroids, or premature ovarian failure.
  • Absence of fallopian tubes.
  • Genetic disorders.
  • Unexplained infertility.

-Source: The Economic Times


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