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Current Affairs 20 May 2024

  1. Supreme Court Halts New Mining Licenses in Aravalli Ranges
  2. India and Iran Sign 10-Year Contract for Chabahar Port
  3. NIA Charges China-Myanmar Module of NSCN in Infiltration Case
  4. HPV Vaccine Reduces Cervical Cancer Cases Across Socio-Economic Groups
  5. MATES Migration Scheme
  6. Iberian lynx
  7. World Lupus Day


Context:

In response to a report by the Forest Survey of India (FSI), the Supreme Court has ordered a halt to the issuance of new mining licenses and renewals for existing ones in the Aravalli ranges and hills. This decision reflects concerns about the environmental impact of mining activities in the region and aims to safeguard the delicate ecosystem of the Aravalli ranges.

Relevance:

GS III: Environment and Ecology

Dimensions of the Article:

  1. Key Facts About the Aravalli Range
  2. Key Concerns Related to Mining in the Aravalli Range
  3. Way Forward

Key Facts About the Aravalli Range:

  • Geological Origin: The Aravallis are among the oldest fold residual mountains globally, formed from the convergence of tectonic plates during the Proterozoic Era (2500-541 million years ago).
  • Elevation and Division: With elevations ranging from 300m to 900m, the range comprises two main divisions: the Sambhar Sirohi Range and the Sambhar Khetri Range in Rajasthan.
  • Highest Peak: Guru Shikhar Peak on Mount Abu, reaching 1,722 meters, stands as the highest peak within the Aravalli Range.
  • Tribal Communities: The region is home to major tribal communities such as the Bhil, Bhil-Meena, Meena, Garasia, among others.
  • Mining Ban: In 2009, the Supreme Court imposed a complete ban on mining in the Aravalli hills of Faridabad, Gurgaon, and Nuh districts of Haryana.
Significance:
  • Biodiversity: The Aravallis host 300 native plant species, 120 bird species, and diverse animals like jackals and mongooses.
  • Ecological Barrier: Serving as a barrier between fertile plains in the east and the Thar desert in the west, the Aravallis play a crucial role in regulating ecosystems.
  • Impact of Mining: Excessive mining in the Aravalli Range is linked to desertification, with loess found in Mathura and Agra suggesting desert expansion due to ecological degradation.
  • Climate Influence: The Aravalli Range significantly influences the climate of northwest India, acting as a barrier during monsoon seasons, guiding moisture-laden winds towards Shimla and Nainital, and protecting plains from cold winds in winters.

Key Concerns Related to Mining in the Aravalli Range:

  • Ecological Disruption: Mining activities break ecosystems, displacing wildlife such as leopards, hyenas, and various bird species, disrupting food chains and ecological balance.
  • Threat to Endangered Species: Mining in ecologically sensitive areas threatens habitats of critically endangered species like the Great Indian Bustard.
  • Water Scarcity: The Aravallis serve as natural water reservoirs; mining disrupts natural water flow and table recharge, leading to water scarcity downstream, impacting agriculture and settlements.
  • Impact on Spring Recharge: Research indicates a decline in spring recharge due to mining in Haryana.
  • Air Pollution: Mining generates dust and releases harmful pollutants like silica, affecting air quality and causing respiratory problems in nearby communities.
  • Soil Erosion and Desertification: Removal of vegetation cover exposes soil to erosion; wind and rain wash away fertile topsoil, leading to desertification.
  • Decline in Forest Cover: Studies show a significant decline in forest cover in the Aravalli region of Haryana, likely linked to mining activities.

Way Forward:

  • Stricter Regulations and Enforcement: Implementing and enforcing stricter regulations can minimize environmental damage.
  • Adoption of Dust Suppression Techniques: Require mining operations to implement dust suppression techniques like water sprays and covering stockpiles.
  • Innovative Solutions: Utilize innovative solutions like green walls and green mufflers to mitigate environmental impacts.
  • Proper Reclamation and Restoration: Ensure mined areas are properly reclaimed and restored to minimize long-term ecological damage.
  • Eco-Friendly Mining Techniques: Adopt eco-friendly mining techniques and technologies to reduce environmental footprint.
  • Support for Communities: Provide support to communities dependent on mining by creating alternative livelihood opportunities in sustainable sectors.

-Source: The Hindu



Context:

India and Iran have inked a decade-long contract for the operation of the Chabahar port in Iran. The agreement, signed between Indian Ports Global Ltd. (IPGL) and the Port and Maritime Organisation (PMO) of Iran, facilitates the operation of the Shahid-Beheshti terminal, marking a significant step in enhancing maritime trade relations between the two countries.

Relevance:

GS II: International Relations

Dimensions of the Article:

  1. The Chabahar Port and its benefits for India
  2. What is INSTC?
  3. Status of Economic Ties Between India and Iran:

The Chabahar Port and its benefits for India

  • The Chabahar Port is Located on the Gulf of Oman and is the only oceanic port of the country.
  • With this, India can bypass Pakistan in transporting goods to Afghanistan.
  • It will also boost India’s access to Iran, the key gateway to the International North-South Transport Corridor that has sea, rail and road routes between India, Russia, Iran, Europe and Central Asia.
  • It also helps India counter Chinese presence in the Arabian Seawhich China is trying to ensure by helping Pakistan develop the Gwadar port. Gwadar port is less than 400 km from Chabahar by road and 100 km by sea.
  • With Chabahar port being developed and operated by India, Iran also becomes a military ally to India. Chabahar could be used in case China decides to flex its navy muscles by stationing ships in Gwadar port to reckon its upper hand in the Indian Ocean, Persian Gulf and Middle East.
  • Trade benefits: With Chabahar port becoming functional, there will be a significant boost in the import of iron ore, sugar and rice to India. The import cost of oil to India will also see a considerable decline. India has already increased its crude purchase from Iran since the West imposed ban on Iran was lifted.
  • From a diplomatic perspective, Chabahar port could be used as a point from where humanitarian operations could be coordinated.

What is India’s strategic vision for Chabahar?

  • When the first agreement for Chabahar was signed by then Prime Minister Atal Bihari Vajpayee in 2003, the plan had a three-fold objective:
    • To build India’s first offshore port and to project Indian infrastructure prowess in the Gulf;
    • To circumvent trade through Pakistan, given the tense ties with India’s neighbour and build a long term, sustainable sea trade route;
    • To find an alternative land route to Afghanistan, which India had rebuilt ties with after the defeat of the Taliban in 2001.
  • Subsequently, Prime Minister Manmohan Singh’s government constructed the Zaranj -Delaram Highway in Afghanistan’s South, which would help connect the trade route from the border of Iran to the main trade routes to Herat and Kabul, handing it over to the Karzai government in 2009.
  • In 2016, Prime Minister Narendra Modi travelled to Tehran and signed the agreement to develop Chabahar port, as well as the trilateral agreement for trade through Chabahar with Afghanistan’s President Ashraf Ghani.
  • Since the India Ports Global Chabahar Free Zone (IPGCFZ) authority took over the operations of the port in 2018, it has handled 215 vessels, 16,000 TEUs (Twenty-foot Equivalent Units) and four million tons of bulk and general cargo, the government said in Parliament last month.
  • In the last few years, a fourth strategic objective for the Chabahar route has appeared, with China’s Belt and Road Initiative making inroads in the region.
    • The government hopes to provide Central Asia with an alternate route to the China-Pakistan Economic Corridor (CPEC) through Iran for future trade.

What is INSTC?

  • India, Iran, and Russia initially agreed to the International North-South Transport Corridor (INSTC) project in 2000 in St. Petersburg; ten additional central Asian and west Asian nations have since joined as observers: Azerbaijan, Armenia, Kazakhstan, Kyrgyz Republic, Tajikistan, Turkey, Ukraine, Belarus, Oman, Syria, and Bulgaria.
  • Although they are not signatories to the INSTC agreement, Pakistan, Turkmenistan, and Afghanistan are interested in using the transport corridor.
  • It aims to cut the cost of freight transportation between India and Russia by around 30% and to cut the transit time from 40 days by more than half. It proposes a 7,200 km multi-mode network comprising ship, rail, and road lines.
  • The route largely comprises transporting cargo from Russia, India, Iran, and Azerbaijan.
  • It would be provided as a viable and fairer alternative to China’s Belt and Road Initiative (BRI).
  • Further, it will enhance regional connectivity.
Objective:

The objective of the corridor is to increase trade connectivity between major cities such as Mumbai, Moscow, Tehran, Baku, Astrakhan, etc.

Status of Economic Ties Between India and Iran:

Bilateral Trade:

  • During FY 2022-23, India-Iran bilateral trade reached USD 2.33 billion, marking a year-on-year growth of 21.76%.
  • India’s exports to Iran amounted to USD 1.66 billion, while imports from Iran stood at USD 672.12 million.

Trade Composition:

  • India primarily exports agricultural goods and livestock products to Iran, including meat, milk products, onions, garlic, and canned vegetables.
  • Imports from Iran include methyl alcohol, petroleum bitumen, liquified butanes, apples, liquified propane, dates, and almonds.

Total Trade:

  • Despite the growth in bilateral trade, the total trade decreased by 23.32% compared to the previous year.

FDI Inflows:

  • Foreign Direct Investment (FDI) from Iran to India has been minimal, with recorded inflows of just USD 1 million from April 2000 to December 2023.

Oil Imports:

  • Currently, India does not import Iranian oil due to sanctions imposed on Tehran by the United States (US).

-Source: The Hindu



Context:

The National Investigation Agency (NIA) filed a charge sheet in March 2024, alleging the involvement of the “China-Myanmar module” of the Isak-Muivah faction of the National Socialist Council of Nagaland (NSCN) in aiding two banned Meitei outfits, the People’s Liberation Army (PLA) and Kanglei Yaol Kanba Lup (KYKL), to infiltrate India. The charge sheet, filed in a court in Guwahati, marks a significant development in efforts to counter cross-border infiltration activities.

Relevance:

GS II: Polity and Governance

Dimensions of the Article:

  1. Charge Sheet Filed by NIA Accusing NSCN
  2. Insurgency in Manipur

Charge Sheet Filed by NIA Accusing NSCN:

  • The National Investigation Agency (NIA) filed a charge sheet against five individuals, marking the first official statement linking NSCN-IM with Imphal Valley-based insurgent groups amidst the ongoing ethnic crisis.
    • Ethnic violence erupted on May 3, 2023, in Manipur, Northeast India, between the Meitei majority living in the Imphal Valley and the Kuki-Zo tribal community from surrounding hills.
    • Tensions escalated as Kukis protested against Meiteis’ demands for official tribal status, fearing it would enhance Meitei influence in governance and society, affecting land rights and settlements in Kuki areas.

NIA Allegations:

  • The accused were charged with conspiring to carry out violent terror attacks against the rival Kuki-Zo community using prohibited arms, which were reportedly looted from various government sources.

NSCN’s Response:

  • NSCN issued a statement accusing Indian security forces of supporting Kuki militant groups to engage in warfare against Meitei revolutionary groups in Myanmar.
Main Ethnic Groupings of Manipur:
  • The Meitei, Naga, and Kuki-Zomi-Mizo are the three primary ethnic groups in Manipur.
  • Meiteis constitute the largest community, comprising approximately 53% of the state’s total population.
  • Nagas and Kuki-Zo, categorized into 34 Scheduled Tribes, make up around 17% and 26% of the population, respectively.

Insurgency in Manipur:

  • Manipur is embroiled in an ongoing armed conflict between India and several separatist rebel groups.
  • The insurgency is part of the wider insurgency in Northeast India, blending elements of a national liberation war and an ethnic conflict.

Historical Background:

  • Following the Anglo-Manipur War of 1891, the Kingdom of Manipur became a British protectorate.
  • Manipur merged into India in October 1949 and attained statehood in 1972.
Rise of Insurgency:
  • Manipur’s integration into India led to the emergence of insurgent organizations seeking an independent state within Manipur’s borders.
  • The insurgency arose in the late 1960s and 1970s, with the founding of the United National Liberation Front (UNLF) in November 1964.
  • Kuki-Naga clashes erupted in the 1990s, fueled by the demand for inclusion of Kuki-Zo-inhabited areas in the proposed ‘Greater Nagaland’ project by NSCN.
  • Insurgent groups demanded autonomy for the Kuki-Zo people.
Active Insurgent Groups:
  • Nearly 30 Kuki insurgent groups operate in Manipur, with 25 under tripartite Suspension of Operations (SoO) with the Indian government and the state.
  • In February 2024, Manipur government refused to extend the SoO pact, accusing groups of violating ground rules and instigating violence.

Naga Insurgency:

Formation of NNC:

  • The Naga National Council (NNC) was established in April 1946 to advocate for the social and political advancement of the Nagas.
  • Following the return of the influential Naga leader, Angami Zapu Phizo, from Burma in 1947, the faction within NNC pushing for complete independence gained momentum.

Shillong Accord and NNC Split:

  • The Shillong Accord, signed in 1975 by the Indian Government and certain NNC leaders, aimed to renounce violence and seek a resolution to the Naga issue within the Indian Constitution.
  • Phizo, Isak Swu, and Muivah opposed the accord. Subsequently, Isak Swu and Muivah formed the “National Socialist Council of Nagaland (NSCN)” in January 1980.
  • NSCN later divided into two factions: NSCN (I-M) led by Isak & Muivah, and NSCN (K) led by Khaplang.

Demands of NSCN-IM:

  • NSCN-IM has been advocating for:
  • ‘Greater Nagaland,’ which entails expanding Nagaland’s boundaries to incorporate Naga-dominated regions in neighboring Assam, Manipur, and Arunachal Pradesh, aiming to unify over 1.2 million Nagas.
  • A separate flag and constitution.

2015 Framework Agreement (FA):

  • The Central Government signed a framework agreement with NSCN (I-M) on August 3, 2015, to address the Naga conflict.
  • This agreement served as a framework, with several details yet to be finalized.
  • Talks continued to refine the specifics of the FA.
  • However, discussions hit a roadblock in June 2022 after NSCN accused the appointed interlocutor of omitting three crucial political points.

-Source: The Hindu, Indian Express



Context:

A major study funded by Cancer Research UK reveals that the human papillomavirus (HPV) vaccine is effectively reducing cases of cervical cancer across all socio-economic groups. Conducted by researchers at Queen Mary University of London, the study provides the longest follow-up on the effectiveness of England’s HPV vaccination program. The most significant prevention of cases is observed in more deprived groups, indicating the vaccine’s positive impact on public health outcomes.

Relevance:

GS II: Health

Dimensions of the Article:

  1. HPV Vaccine and Cervical Cancer
  2. Understanding Cervical Cancer

HPV Vaccine and Cervical Cancer:

  • The study reveals that the HPV vaccine is effectively reducing cases of cervical cancer across all socio-economic groups, with a greater impact observed in more deprived communities.
  • Due to the higher incidence of cervical cancer in deprived groups, the vaccine prevented more cases in these groups compared to less deprived ones.

Success of School-Based Vaccination:

  • The study underscores the significant success of the school-based vaccination program, indicating that well-implemented public health interventions can help mitigate health inequalities.

Reduction in Cervical Cancer Rates:

  • Over a span of 12 years, the HPV vaccine led to a nearly 90% reduction in cervical cancer rates.
  • Additionally, it decreased pre-cancerous conditions by approximately 95% among women vaccinated at 12-13 years old in England.

Effectiveness of Early Vaccination:

  • The study emphasizes that the HPV vaccine is much more effective when administered to children at 12-13 years old than later in life.
  • England introduced the HPV vaccination program in 2008, and the findings underscore the importance of early vaccination in preventing cervical cancer and pre-cancerous conditions.

Understanding Cervical Cancer

HPV Linkage and Persistence:

  • Nearly all cervical cancer cases are associated with specific strains of the human papillomavirus (HPV), a common virus transmitted through sexual contact.
  • While the body typically clears HPV infections within two years, in some cases, the virus persists, leading to the transformation of normal cells into cancerous ones.

Global Impact:

  • Cervical cancer ranks as the second most common cancer and the second leading cause of cancer-related deaths among women aged 15-44 worldwide.
  • India shoulders a significant burden, contributing to about one-fifth of the global caseload, with approximately 1.23 lakh new cases and 67,000 deaths annually.

Preventive Measures:

  • Screening and vaccination are effective preventive measures against cervical cancer.
  • Despite this, there remains limited awareness among women, with less than 10% of Indian women undergoing screening.
  • It is recommended that all women aged 30-49 undergo cervical cancer screening, and adolescent girls receive the HPV vaccine.

Indigenous Vaccine Development:

  • CERVAVAC, India’s first domestically developed cervical cancer vaccine by Serum Institute of India (SII), offers promising solutions.
  • It is a quadrivalent vaccine effective against four cancer-causing HPV variants.
  • Based on virus-like particles (VLP), it triggers the production of antibodies against HPV proteins, akin to the hepatitis B vaccine.
  • Additionally, globally licensed vaccines, Gardasil and Cervarix, are available in India but are financially inaccessible to many.

Inclusion in Immunization Programs:

  • The development of an affordable and indigenous HPV vaccine positions it for inclusion in the government’s universal immunization program.
  • This move aims to enhance accessibility to cervical cancer prevention measures, contributing to reducing the disease burden in India.

-Source: The Hindu



Context:

The Australian Federal Budget Document, released recently, announced the start date for the Mobility Arrangement for Talented Early-professionals Scheme (MATES) for Indian Nationals.

Relevance:

GS II: International Relations

About MATES Migration Scheme:

Introduction:

  • On May 23, 2023, Australia and India established a Migration and Mobility Partnership Arrangement (MMPA) to facilitate two-way migration and mobility while addressing issues related to illegal migration.
  • MATES Scheme Overview:
  • The Mobility Arrangement for Talented Early-Professionals Scheme (MATES) is a component of the MMPA aimed at fostering temporary mobility for Indian university graduates and early career professionals.
  • MATES facilitates skills and knowledge transfer between Australia and India for mutual benefit.
Eligibility Criteria:
  • Indian nationals aged 30 years or younger at the time of application, proficient in English, and holding a Bachelor’s degree or higher in specified fields of study from an eligible educational institution within the past two years are eligible.
  • Previous participation in MATES is not allowed.
Sponsorship Requirement:
  • Unlike traditional visa schemes, MATES does not necessitate sponsorship by an Australian employer for visa eligibility.
Permitted Activities:
  • MATES participants can reside and work in Australia for up to two years.
  • While there’s no strict requirement to work in their field of study, the scheme encourages participants to expand their skills and networks, particularly within specified sectors.
Program Capacity:
  • Initially, MATES will offer 3,000 places annually for primary applicants.
  • Participants can apply to bring dependents (spouses and dependent children) who will have work rights in Australia and will not be counted towards the annual cap.

-Source: Times of India



Context:

Recently, the Spanish government said the number of endangered Iberian lynx in the wild in Spain and Portugal has nearly doubled since 2020.

Relevance:

GS III: Species in News

About the Iberian Lynx:

Endemic Carnivore:

  • The Iberian lynx is one of two carnivore species native to Europe, alongside the European mink (Mustela lutreola).

Endangered Status:

  • It holds the title of being the world’s most endangered feline species, recognized for its distinctive pointy ears, long legs, and leopard-like spotted fur.

Sexual Dimorphism:

  • Like many other cat species, the Iberian lynx displays sexual dimorphism, with males typically being heavier and longer than females.

Nocturnal Behavior:

  • Generally nocturnal, the lynx’s activity patterns are synchronized with those of its primary prey, the rabbit.
  • Habitat Requirements:
  • Thriving in variable terrain below 1300 meters, the lynx prefers habitats featuring a mix of closed Mediterranean scrubland with interspersed open patches of grassland, often bordered by marsh ecotones.

Distribution:

  • Although once widespread across the Iberian Peninsula, the species is now sparsely distributed in Spain and Portugal.

Threats:

  • Human activities pose significant threats to the Iberian lynx, including poaching, habitat destruction, illegal hunting, and a declining food base due to factors such as rabbit population declines.

Conservation Status:

  • As per the IUCN Red List, the Iberian lynx is classified as Endangered, while it is listed under Appendix II of CITES, highlighting the urgent need for conservation efforts to protect this vulnerable species.

-Source: The Hindu



Context:

World Lupus Day, observed on May 10th each year, serves as a platform to raise awareness about lupus, an autoimmune disease that affects millions globally. The day emphasizes the need for support and understanding for individuals living with lupus and highlights the challenges they face.

Relevance:

Facts for Prelims

Lupus:

  • Lupus causes the immune system to mistakenly attack the body’s own tissues and organs, leading to symptoms such as joint pain, rashes, fever, and fatigue. It can also result in severe complications like osteoporosis and cardiovascular issues.

Risk Factors:

  • Factors such as genetics, smoking, hormones, environmental influences, and stress can increase the risk of developing lupus.
World Lupus Day:
  • Established in 2004 by the World Lupus Federation, World Lupus Day aims to raise awareness and garner global support for lupus patients.
  • With nearly 5 million sufferers worldwide, this day underscores the necessity for improved healthcare, enhanced research, early diagnosis, and advanced treatments for lupus. It also seeks to unite organizations and individuals in alleviating the suffering caused by this potentially fatal disease.

-Source: The Hindu


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