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Current Affairs 29 May 2024

  1. Reflecting on the 1991 Indian General Elections Amid 2024 Preparations
  2. Study Highlights Worsening Heat Stress in India’s Megacities
  3. NASA Launches Climate Satellite to Study Polar Heat Emissions
  4. New Research Proposes Renaming the Stone Age to the ‘Wood Age’
  5. International Solar Alliance
  6. Oedocladium sahyadricum
  7. Astronomical transients


Context:

As India prepares for the 2024 general election, it is crucial to reflect on the pivotal 1991 Indian general elections, which marked a significant turning point in the country’s history. These elections brought about profound political and economic changes, driven by the leadership of PV Narasimha Rao and the impactful electoral reforms led by T N Seshan.

Relevance:

GS III: Indian Economy

Dimensions of the Article:

  1. Key Electoral Reforms Introduced by T. N. Seshan
  2. Political Context of the 1991 Elections
  3. LPG Reforms (Liberalization, Privatization, and Globalization)

Key Electoral Reforms Introduced by T. N. Seshan

Background

  • Tirunellai Narayana Iyer Seshan served as the Chief Election Commissioner (CEC) from 1990 to 1996.
  • He initiated significant reforms that transformed the Indian electoral process.
Major Reforms
  • EPIC (Electors Photo Identity Card):
    • Introduced to prevent impersonation and bogus voting.
  • Model Code of Conduct (MCC):
    • Established in 1960, outlines guidelines for political parties during elections.
    • Seshan strictly enforced it, preventing the misuse of power and unfair advantages.
  • Election Commission Practices:
    • Identified and listed 150 electoral malpractices.
    • Cracked down on vote buying, bribery, voter intimidation, booth capturing, and the use of muscle power.
    • Banned excessive campaign spending and public displays.
    • Ensured the deployment of central police forces to maintain order and prevent violence.
    • Advocated for autonomous status for the Election Commission.
Impact on Elections

1991 Elections:

  • Conducted with unprecedented integrity and transparency.
  • Set new standards for future elections.
  • Achieved a turnout of 56.73%, reflecting genuine participation compared to previous elections marred by irregularities.
Transformation and Legacy

Role of Election Commission:

  • Transformed from a passive observer to an active enforcer of electoral laws.
  • Strengthened the autonomy and integrity of the Election Commission, ensuring free and fair elections.

Recognition:

  • Awarded the prestigious Ramon Magsaysay Award in 1996 for his contributions to electoral reforms and global standards of electoral integrity.

Political Context of the 1991 Elections:

  • Assassination of Rajiv Gandhi: In May 1991, Rajiv Gandhi was assassinated by a suicide bomber from the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam (LTTE), creating a politically charged environment.
  • PV Narasimha Rao’s Appointment: Following Rajiv Gandhi’s death, PV Narasimha Rao was sworn in as Prime Minister on 21st June 1991.
Economic Reforms Under Rao’s Government:
  • Economic Crisis: India faced a potential sovereign default due to depleted foreign exchange reserves, worsened by the Gulf War (1991) which increased oil prices and reduced remittances.
  • Fiscal Deficit: The fiscal deficit reached 8% of GDP, with a current account deficit of 2.5%. Inflation rates were in double digits.
  • Foreign Exchange Reserves: Reserves fell below USD 6 billion, barely covering two weeks of imports.
Immediate Measures to Mitigate the Crisis:
  • Rupee Devaluation: On 1st July 1991, the rupee was devalued by 9% against major currencies, followed by an additional 11% devaluation.
  • Phased Devaluation: Rao chose phased devaluation to manage political and economic shocks.
  • Gold Pledging: The Reserve Bank of India (RBI) pledged gold with the Bank of England in July 1991, raising around USD 400 million.
  • Gold Sales: In May 1991, 20 tonnes of gold were sold to the Union Bank of Switzerland, raising approximately USD 200 million.
  • Emergency Loans: The government secured about USD 2 billion in emergency loans from the International Monetary Fund (IMF).

LPG Reforms (Liberalization, Privatization, and Globalization):

Liberalisation:
  • Licensing Process: Revamped to boost exports and link non-essential imports to exports.
  • Export Subsidies Removal: Introduced tradeable exim scrips for exporters.
  • End of Monopoly: Ended state-owned firms’ monopoly over imports, allowing private sector imports.
  • Licence Raj Dismantling: Relaxed Monopolies and Restrictive Trade Practices Act provisions to facilitate business restructuring and mergers.
  • Industrial Licensing Abolished: Except for 18 industries, irrespective of investment levels.
Privatisation:
  • FDI Approval: Automatic approval for foreign direct investment (FDI) up to 51%.
  • Public Sector Monopoly Restricted: To sectors critical for national security.
Globalisation:
  • Integration with Global Market: Encouraged international trade and investment.
  • Competitiveness of Exports: Indian exports became more competitive globally due to the massive devaluation of the rupee and new trade policies.
Impact of LPG Reforms:
  • Economic Growth: GDP increased from USD 270 billion in 1991 to USD 2.9 trillion in 2020.
  • FDI Inflows: Increased significantly, reaching USD 82 billion in 2020-21 from USD 97 million in 1991.
  • Industrial Growth: Promoted growth in IT, telecom, and automobile sectors.
  • Job Quality and Income Inequality: Concerns remained despite job creation and poverty reduction.
  • Global Integration: Increased trade and investment flows, with India’s share in global trade rising from 0.5% in 1991 to around 2% in 2022.

-Source: Indian Express



Context:

A study by the Delhi-based Centre for Science and Environment reveals that India’s major cities—Delhi, Mumbai, Chennai, Bengaluru, Kolkata, and Hyderabad—are facing increasing heat stress. This is attributed to rising relative humidity over the past two decades. Additionally, the study indicates that these cities are experiencing warmer nights due to the urban heat island effect.

Relevance:

GS III: Environment and Ecology

Dimensions of the Article:

  1. Key Highlights of the Study
  2. What is Heat Stress?
  3. What is an urban heat island?

Key Highlights of the Study

Increasing Heat Stress in Megacities:

  • Cities like Delhi, Mumbai, Chennai, Bengaluru, Kolkata, and Hyderabad are facing worsening heat stress.
  • This is attributed to a trend of rising relative humidity over the past two decades.
  • Except for Bengaluru, all other metros have experienced a 5-10% increase in average relative humidity during summer.

Impact of High Heat and Humidity:

  • High heat and humidity compromise the body’s cooling mechanism, sweating.
  • Sweat evaporation cools the body, but higher humidity levels inhibit this natural process.
  • This combination can make people sick and, in severe cases, be fatal, even at lower ambient temperatures.

Warmer Nights and Urban Heat Island Effect:

  • These cities are experiencing warmer nights due to land surface temperatures not cooling as much as a decade ago.
  • This is blamed on the urban heat island effect.
  • Hot nights are as dangerous as peak daytime temperatures, with little chance for recovery if nighttime temperatures remain high.

Rising Heat Index:

  • The combination of rising air and land surface temperatures and high humidity increases the heat index and heat stress in these cities.
  • The heat index measures discomfort due to high heat and humidity.

Monsoon Temperature Changes:

  • The monsoon period has become hotter in Delhi, Mumbai, and Kolkata.
  • In Chennai, the marginal cooling effect during monsoon has disappeared.
  • Bengaluru and Hyderabad experienced slightly cooler monsoon temperatures compared to the pre-monsoon period.
Importance of the Study

Comprehensive Heat Management:

  • Assessing heat trends is crucial for developing a comprehensive heat management plan for urban centers.

Emergency Measures:

  • This study will aid in implementing emergency measures during heatwaves to protect public health.

Long-Term Strategies:

  • It will also help develop long-term strategies to mitigate heat by:
  • Increasing green areas and waterbodies.
  • Improving thermal comfort in buildings.
  • Reducing waste heat from vehicles, air conditioners, and industries.

What is Heat Stress?

Definition:

  • Heat stress occurs when the body cannot dissipate excess heat, leading to an increase in core temperature and heart rate. It represents the physiological strain experienced in high-temperature environments.
Causes:
  • High ambient temperatures
  • High humidity levels reducing the body’s cooling efficiency through sweating
  • Physical exertion, particularly in hot conditions
  • Inadequate hydration
  • Poor ventilation in workspaces or living environments
Symptoms:
  • Initial signs include difficulty concentrating, irritability, sickness, and loss of the desire to drink.
  • If the body continues to store heat, it can lead to fainting and, in severe cases, death if not addressed.

What is an urban heat island?

  • An urban heat island is a local and temporary phenomenon experienced when certain pockets within a city experience higher heat load than surrounding or neighbouring areas on the same day.
  • The variations are mainly due to heat remaining trapped within locations that often resemble concrete jungles.
  • The temperature variation can range between 3 to 5 degrees Celsius.
Why are cities hotter than rural areas?
  • Larger green cover: Rural areas have relatively larger green cover in the form of plantations, farmlands, forests and trees as compared to urban spaces. This green cover plays a major role in regulating heat in its surroundings.
  • Transpiration : It is a natural way of heat regulation. This is the scientific process of roots absorbing water from the soil, storing it in the leaves and stems of plants, before processing it and releasing it in the form of water vapour.
  • Highrise buildings, roads in Urban areas: Urban areas lack sufficient green cover or gardens and are often developed with highrise buildings, roads, parking spaces, pavements and transit routes for public transport. As a result, heat regulation is either completely absent or man-made.
  • Heat absorption: Cities usually have buildings constructed with glass, bricks, cement and concrete — all of which are dark-coloured materials, meaning they attract and absorb higher heat content.
  • This forms temporary islands within cities where the heat remains trapped.
How can urban heat islands be reduced?
  • The main way to cut heat load within urban areas is increasing the green cover; filling open spaces with trees and plants.
  • Other ways of heat mitigation include appropriate choice of construction materials, promoting terrace and kitchen gardens, and painting white or light colours on terraces wherever possible to reflect heat.

-Source: The Hindu



Context:

Recently, NASA launched the first of two climate satellites aimed at studying heat emissions at Earth’s poles. The second satellite is set to be launched in the coming days. This mission, named PREFIRE (Polar Radiant Energy in the Far-InfraRed Experiment), focuses on understanding polar heat emissions.

Relevance:

GS III: Science and Technology

Dimensions of the Article:

  1. Significance of Measuring Heat Emissions at Earth’s Poles
  2. The PREFIRE Polar Mission Explained

Significance of Measuring Heat Emissions at Earth’s Poles:

Understanding Earth’s Energy Budget:
  • Definition: Earth’s energy budget is the balance between incoming heat from the Sun and outgoing heat from Earth into space.
  • Climate Impact: The difference between these two determines the planet’s temperature and climate.
Heat Emission Details:
  • Arctic and Antarctic Emissions: A significant amount of heat from these regions is emitted as far-infrared radiation.
  • Far-Infrared Radiation: Wavelengths range from 3 μm to 1,000 μm within the infrared spectrum.
Current Knowledge Gap:
  • Measurement Limitations: There is currently no method to measure far-infrared radiation, creating a gap in understanding the planet’s energy budget.

CubeSats:

Basic Definition:

  • Design: Miniature satellites with a 10 cm x 10 cm x 10 cm cube structure, known as “one unit” or “1U.”
  • Weight: Each unit weighs no more than 1.33 kg.
  • Size Configurations: Depending on the mission, CubeSats can be configured in sizes like 1.5, 2, 3, 6, and 12U.
Development and Purpose:
  • Origin: Developed in 1999 by California Polytechnic State University at San Luis Obispo and Stanford University as educational tools.
  • Advantages: Low cost and reduced mass compared to traditional satellites, making them suitable for technology demonstrations, scientific research, and commercial uses.
PREFIRE Mission CubeSats:
  • Specifications: Each PREFIRE satellite is a 6U CubeSat, about 90 cm in height and 120 cm in width with deployed solar panels.
  • Function: The solar panels provide necessary power for satellite operations.

Difference from SmallSats:

SmallSats Definition: Spacecraft with a mass less than 180 kilograms, roughly the size of a large kitchen fridge.

Variety in Size and Mass:

  • Minisatellite: 100-180 kilograms
  • Microsatellite: 10-100 kilograms
  • Nanosatellite: 1-10 kilograms
  • Picosatellite: 0.01-1 kilograms
  • Femtosatellite: 0.001-0.01 kilograms

The PREFIRE Polar Mission Explained:

Overview:

  • The PREFIRE (Polar Radiant Energy in the Far-InfraRed Experiment) polar mission comprises twin satellites, each equipped with an instrument, tasked with measuring the poles approximately six hours apart.

Objective:

  • The primary goal of the mission is to unveil the complete spectrum of heat loss from Earth’s polar regions, thereby enhancing the accuracy of climate models.

Aim:

  • The PREFIRE mission aims to fill knowledge gaps and furnish data to refine predictions related to climate change and sea level rise.
  • It seeks to offer fresh insights into how Earth’s atmosphere and ice impact the radiation of heat from the Arctic and Antarctic into space.

Satellite Operation:

  • Cube satellites, akin to the size of a shoebox, will be launched aboard an Electron launch vehicle.
  • Equipped with Mars-tested technology, these satellites will measure an underexplored portion of Earth’s radiant energy.
  • Twin satellites housing a thermal infrared spectrometer will orbit near-polar asynchronously, covering overlapping areas near the poles every few hours.
  • Weighing less than 6 pounds (3 kilograms) each, the instruments will employ thermocouples, similar to those found in household thermostats, for data collection.

Mission Objectives:

  • Understand the disproportionate warming of the Arctic compared to the rest of the planet since the 1970s.
  • Gain insights into the efficiency of far-infrared heat emission by substances like snow and sea ice, and the influence of clouds on far-infrared radiation escaping to space.
  • Enable researchers to forecast changes in heat exchange between Earth and space, and their repercussions on phenomena such as ice sheet melting, atmospheric temperatures, and global weather patterns.

-Source: Indian Express



Context:

Recently, research has challenged the conventional understanding of the Stone Age, suggesting it might be better described as the ‘Wood Age’. This new perspective is based on the discovery and analysis of wooden artifacts dating back 300,000 to 400,000 years in Schöningen, Germany.

Relevance:

GS I: History

Dimensions of the Article:

  1. Prehistoric Woodworking Skills
  2. Stone Age Overview

Prehistoric Woodworking Skills

Challenges to Traditional Perceptions:

Diverse Techniques:

  • Artifacts show a variety of woodworking methods beyond basic sharpened sticks.

Strategic Hunting and Planning:

  • Ancient hunting tools suggest prehistoric humans had strategic hunting, planning skills, and technological adaptability through tool repair and reuse.

Bias in Archaeology:

  • Archaeological research tends to favor stone preservation over organic materials, potentially distorting the understanding of wood’s significance in prehistoric times. Despite this, well-preserved wooden artifacts underscore its crucial role.

Stone Age Overview

Definition and Duration:

  • Began around 3.4 million years ago (mya) with the first use of stone tools by hominids in modern-day Ethiopia.
  • Spanned until about 6,000-4,000 BP (Before Present), encompassing 99% of human history.

Stone Age in India:

  • India’s varied landscape enabled widespread habitation during the Stone Age, except in the Himalayas and the Indo-Gangetic plains.
Indian Palaeolithic is categorized into three stages:

Lower Palaeolithic (600,000 BP to 150,000 BP):

  • Use of large pebbles or flakes for tools like choppers, hand axes, and cleavers.

Cultural Traditions:

  • Soanian pebble-tool tradition.
  • Peninsular Indian handaxe-cleaver tradition.

Middle Palaeolithic (165,000 BP to 31,000 BP):

  • Creation of various flakes struck from cores to prepare scrapers, points, borers, and other tools.

Upper Palaeolithic (40,000 BP to 12,000 BP):

  • Development of tools such as blunted blades, penknife blades, and arrow points from long, parallel-sided blades using a punch technique.

Mesolithic Culture:

  • Semi-permanent and temporary settlements.
  • Utilized caves and open areas.
  • Practiced burial rituals.
  • Demonstrated artistic abilities and maintained cultural continuity.
  • Used microlithic tools for hunting smaller prey.

Neolithic Period:

  • Marked the beginning of agriculture and animal domestication.
  • Early Neolithic culture evidence found in regions like the Fertile Crescent (Egypt and Mesopotamia), the Indus region, the Ganges Valley of India, and China.

-Source: Indian Express



Context:

Spain has become the 99th member of the International Solar Alliance (ISA) following Panama, by handing over the Instrument of Ratification.

Relevance:

GS II: International Relations

About International Solar Alliance (ISA)

  • The International Solar Alliance is an alliance of 121 countries initiated by India, most of them being sunshine countries, which lie either completely or partly between the Tropic of Cancer and the Tropic of Capricorn.
  • The primary objective of the alliance is to work for efficient consumption of solar energy to reduce dependence on fossil fuels.
  • The initiative was launched by Prime Minister Narendra Modi at the India Africa Summit, and a meeting of member countries ahead of the 2015 United Nations Climate Change Conference in Paris in November 2015.
  • The Headquarters of ISA is in Gurugram, Haryana, India.
  • The Purpose of ISA is Bring together a group of nations to endorse clean energy, sustainable environment, public transport and climate
  • The membership of ISA is applicable to all UN Members.
  • The alliance is a treaty-based inter-governmental organization.
  • Countries that do not fall within the Tropics can join the alliance and enjoy all benefits as other members, with the exception of voting rights.
  • After the United Nations, it is the largest grouping of states world-wide.
Signatories:
  • Currently, 119 countries have signed the ISA Framework Agreement.
  • The 119th country to sign is Malta.
  • Out of these, 98 countries have submitted the necessary instruments of ratification to become full members of the ISA.

-Source: Times of India



Context:

A group of phycologists from the Department of Botany at Catholicate College in Pathanamthitta has discovered a new algal species in the Western Ghats.

Relevance:

Facts for Prelims

Oedocladium sahyadricum: An Overview

Introduction:
  • New Algal Species: Oedocladium sahyadricum.
  • Name Origin: ‘Sahyadricum’ refers to the Western Ghats, also known as Sahyadri, known for its rich plant diversity and ideal conditions for terrestrial microalgae growth.
Features:

Dioecious and Terrestrial:

  • Morphology: Superior operculum, ellipsoid oogonium, and oospore.

Appearance:

  • Found as thin mats of elongated strands on damp soil.
  • Velvety green, turning yellowish-green as it matures.
  • Likely thrives in rainy weather.
  • Significance: First species in the Oedocladium category recorded in Kerala.
Practical Applications:

Medicine and Agriculture:

  • Natural Pigment Production: Astaxanthin, known for unique biological activities and health benefits.

Ecosystem Role:

  • Economic Importance: High-value products and wastewater treatment.

-Source: The Hindu



Context:

Recently, the Indian-American astronomer Shrinivas Kulkarni was awarded the Shaw Prize for Astronomy in 2024 for his work on the physics of astronomical transients.

Relevance:

Facts for Prelims

Astronomical Transients

Definition:

  • Astronomical Transients: Celestial objects whose brightness changes over short periods.
Significance:
  • Nature of Transients: All astronomical transients involve some degree of violent phenomena.
  • Purpose of Study: Understanding transients helps astronomers learn about the origins of their violence and provides insights into non-transient events.
Examples of Transients:

Supernovae:

  • Mechanism: The outer layers of massive stars explode while their cores collapse due to exhaustion of nuclear fuel.
  • Brightness: Can emit light more intensely than the combined light of all stars in their host galaxy.

Active Galactic Nucleus (AGN):

  • Components: Host supermassive black holes at the centers of massive galaxies.
  • Behavior: These black holes consume surrounding matter, causing the matter to gain energy and emit varying levels of brightness.
Fast Radio Bursts (FRB):
  • Discovery: First identified in 2007.
  • Energy Emission: Can release more than ten times the energy of the Sun within a few milliseconds.

-Source: The Hindu


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