📰 THE HINDU – CURRENT NOTE 24 February
💡 Record olive ridley nesting baffles wildlife experts
- A record-breaking mass nesting by 3.8 lakh endangered olive ridley turtles (Lepidochelys olivacea) took place at the Rushikulya rookery coast in Ganjam district of Odisha in February 2017.
- Interestingly, no mass nesting had taken place at the site a year ago.
- It was then suspected that several environmental factors, including chemical factors like salinity of the beach and the sea near the coast, may have prompted these marine reptiles to give the coast a miss in 2016.
- Low salinity also means more small fish and insects, which are food for the turtles near the coast during mating and mass nesting seasons. The corrosive effect of salinity on eggshells cannot be ignored either.
- Olive ridley turtles bury their eggs on the beach. These eggs incubate with the help of sand heat for 45 to 50 days.
- According to experts, most mass nesting sites of olive ridley turtles in the world are located near river mouths, where salinity is low.
- This behavior has prompted experts to study turtle sensing superpowers.
- Explaining what may have prompted the mass nesting, Berhampur Divisional Forest Officer (DFO) Ashis Kumar Behera said a sandbaremerged at the mouth of Rushikulya River near Purunabandha this year. This, he added, prevented fresh water from the river from entering the sea directly.
💡 Nod for road widening in sanctuary opposed
- Wildlife conservationists have strongly criticised the National Board for Wildlife (NBWL) for granting permission to the widening of a road that falls in the buffer zone of the Nagarjuna Sagar- Srisailam Tiger Reserve and also the Ecologically Sensitive Zone of the Gundla Brahmeswaram Wildlife Sanctuary in Andhra Pradesh.
- The NBWL gave permission for widening of the Nandyala-Atmakur road in Kurnool district from the single lane to double lane at its most recent meeting held in New Delhi
- Former honorary wildlife warden and conservationist K. Mruthumjaya Rao said the NBWL should have suggested a detour around the small piece of forest instead of widening it. Doubling the lanes would also double the traffic, and the number of heavy vehicles would also increase, he said.
- Roads not only fragment the habitat but also alter them, leading to displacement of some species.
💡 Gold scheme’s fourth tranche starts on Feb. 27
- The Centre on Thursday announced that it would issue applications for the fourth tranche of the Sovereign Gold Bond scheme from February 27 to March 3. The bonds will be issued on March 17.
- The bonds will be sold through banks, Stock Holding Corporation of India, designated post offices, and the National Stock Exchange and Bombay Stock Exchange.
- The first three tranches of the scheme saw the sale of 5,114.95 kg worth of bonds amounting to ₹1,373 crore.
- The first tranche, in November 2015, saw bonds worth 915.95 kg and amounting to ₹246 crore sold, while the second tranche in January 2016 witnessed 3,071 kg of gold bonds worth ₹798 crore being sold, and the third tranche in April collected 1,128 kg of gold worth ₹329 crore.
- The aim of the scheme, as stated by the government at the time of its introduction in September 2015, was to help in reducing the demand for physical gold by shifting a portion of the estimated 300 tonnes of physical bars and coins purchased every year to gold bonds. The minimum amount that can be bought are eight-year bonds worth 1 gram.
💡 ‘Legally vetted’ pact on services tabled at WTO
- India said it has submitted to the World Trade Organisation (WTO) a legally vetted proposal on a global services pact, that among other things, aims to ease norms for movement of skilled workers across borders for short-term work.
- The proposal for a Trade Facilitation in Services (TFS) Agreement will be taken up by an expert committee at the WTO headquarters in Geneva during March 14-17, following which it will be put up for discussion among all the WTO members, commerce minister Nirmala Sitharaman said.
- “We have submitted the legally vetted paper (on TFS) in Geneva. Till March 17, only the Council for Trade in Services members will be privy to it. After that we will take it up for discussion with all the WTO member countries to build awareness.”
- The proposed pact also aims to ensure portability of social security contributions, a single window mechanism for foreign investment approvals and cross-border insurance coverage to boost medical tourism.
- In October 2016, India had tabled a concept note on the proposed TFS at the WTO and followed it up with a paper on its possible elements in November 2016.
- The TFS proposal is on the lines of the Trade Facilitation Agreement (TFA) in Goods. According to India, the proposed TFS pact is also about ‘facilitation’ – that is “making market access ‘effective’ and commercially meaningful and not about ‘new’ (or greater) market access.
TFA in goods:
- The TFA in Goods — adopted by the WTO Members in 2014 — entered into force on Wednesday. According to the WTO Director General Roberto Azevedo, the TFA in Goods aims to streamline, simplify and standardise customs procedures. By doing so, it will help to cut trade costs around the world, he said in a statement.
- By 2030 the (TFA in Goods) Agreement could add 2.7% points per year to world trade growth and more than half a percentage point per year to world GDP growth. This impact would be greater than the elimination of all existing tariffs around the world,” he said. India has already ratified the TFA in Goods.
- Sitharaman said: “It will lead to effective functioning of ports and reduce transaction costs. Logistics will improve, goods will move faster. Besides, since all the ports will be connected electronically, we will have export and import data on a real time basis.”
💡 From 56, labour logs cut to just 5
- Industries will have to maintain only five registers for compliance with nine Central labour laws as against the 56 registers required earlier, according to a notification issued by the Labour Ministry on 23 Feb.
- The move will give relief to about 4.54 crore establishments as “it will save efforts, cost and lessen the compliance burden”, the Labour Ministry said in an official statement.
- “Such an exercise has reduced number of data fields in 5 registers to only 144 from the then existing 933 fields in 56 registers.” The Ministry will develop a software for these common registers so that they can be maintained in digitised form, and write to States asking them to follow a similar practice for State labour laws.
💡 Syria talks resume in Geneva after 10 months
- Syrian peace talks in Geneva resumed on Thursday after breaking down 10 months ago as the battle for Aleppo escalated, with the UN mediator hoping to corral the warring sides into a rare face-to-face meeting.
- UN’s Syria envoy Staffan de Mistura convened separate meetings with representatives of the government and opposition delegations on 23 Feb. The aim is to end almost six years of war by agreeing on the future governance of Syria, where the position of President Bashar Al-Assad is stronger now than a year ago after government forces gained control of Aleppo with Russian military backing.
- After meeting Mr. Assad’s top negotiator at the talks, Russia’s envoy to the United Nations said demands from rebels and their Western and Arab backers for Mr. Assad to step down were “absurd”.
- The agenda of these talks is not yet ready, as far as I understand,” he said. He was hoping for progress on creating a government of national unity, drafting a Constitution and scheduling elections, as mandated by a UN resolution, he said.
- The scope of the talks has been cut back to core political questions since last year, after an initiative by Russia, Turkey and Iran took thorny military issues off the Geneva agenda and assigned them to a separate process in the Kazakhstan’s Astana. “Geneva is where the politics are. Astana is absolutely suitable as a place to strengthen the ceasefire,” one Western diplomat said.
- Also, air strikes hit rebel-held areas in Deraa and Hama provinces and insurgents fired rockets at government targets, the Britain-based Syrian Observatory for Human Rights said. But the overall level of violence in western Syria was less than in previous days.
💡 Why 20 million people are on brink of famine
- In a world filled with excess food, 20 million people are on the brink of famine, including 1.4 million children at imminent risk of death.
- UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres raised the alarm on Wednesday afternoon about the risk of famine in northern Nigeria, Somalia and Yemen. And this week, the United Nations declared famine in a patch of South Sudan.
- Each country facing famine is in war, or in the case of Somalia, recovering from decades of conflict. Famine is a rare and specific state.
- It is declared after three criteria are met: when one in five households in a certain area face extreme food shortages; more than 30% of the population is acutely malnourished; and at least two people for every 10,000 die each day.
Not enough money:
- Famine was last declared in Somalia in July 2011, after an estimated 260,000 people had died, mostly in a two-month period. Mr. Guterres cited two reasons for the crisis.
- First, he said, there is not enough money; the UN needs $5.6 billion to address the needs. Barely 2% of that money is in hand.
- Second, all four countries facing the threat of famine are reeling from conflict, and in many instances, the leaders of warring parties are blocking aid workers from delivering relief where it is most needed.
- The situation in Somalia today is different from what it was in 2011.
- The government is functioning, although there are vast pockets where al-Shabab thrives.
- Somalia has already had two consecutive years of drought.
- In South Sudan, 100,000 people are affected by famine in a part of the country that is most troubled by the civil war.
- In northern Nigeria, where the military is battling Boko Haram, there was probably a famine in two towns, called Bama and Banki, according to an early warning system funded by the U.S. Agency for International Development.
- Travelling through the area is so dangerous that aid workers have been unable to verify the levels of hunger there, let alone deliver relief.
- At least 5 million people face the risk of famine.
- The biggest crisis is in Yemen, where a coalition led by Saudi Arabia and backed by the U.S. is battling Houthi rebels.
- More than seven million people need urgent food aid, according to the UN. Among them, 462,000 children face “severe acute malnutrition,” which means that even if they survive, they will probably have developmental disabilities.
💡 India, Israel to develop missile for Army
- India has approved a deal to develop jointly a medium range surface-to-air missile (MR-SAM) system for the Army in a Rs. 17,000-crore deal.
- This is the latest in a series of other variants of SAM systems for the Navy and the Air Force being jointly developed with Israeli help under deals estimated at billions of dollars.
- The Cabinet Committee on Security (CCS), headed by Prime Minister Narendra Modi, gave the go-ahead for the deal to be executed by the Defence Research and Development Organisation (DRDO) and Israel Aircraft Industries (IAI).
- The deal is for five regiments of the missile, which consists of 40 units and 200 missiles. It has a range of 50- 70 km.
- The system will be based on the older Barak system of Israel, which is in use in India. The systems will be manufactured in India and would have an 80% indigenous content. Deliveries would begin in 2023, a source said.
- The two countries are also in an advanced stage of negotiations for the purchase of two more long-range Phalcon Airborne Warning And Control System (AWACS).
- The CCS had approved the deal for additional AWACS last year expected at a cost of Rs. 7,500 crore.
- India currently operates three Phalcon AWACS Israeli radars mounted on Russian IL-76 transport aircraft, under a $1-billiontripartite deal with Russia, signed in 2003.
- Russian officials said at the recent Aero India that India had already ordered two IL-76 aircraft to be converted to AWACS.
💡 Fluorosis haunts Nuapada as govt looks the other way
- Nearly two decades after the world came to know about a large population in Odisha’s Nuapada district suffering from crippled backbones on account of consumption of high fluoride-laced water, the government is yet to provide a solution to the problem.
- Government records show Nuapada has a total of 2,784 habitations. Fluoride content is found beyond the permissible level of 1.5 part per million (PPM) in 905 habitations.
- In Nuapada, the fluoride content in water varies from 0.14 – 7.2 PPM. Over 50,000 villagers in the district have been affected by fluorosis.
- Adults mostly suffer from skeletal fluorosis that deforms bones and causes acute pain. Most cannot straighten their backs and get exhausted very easily.
- Children below 15 years of age suffer from mottling of teeth or dental fluorosis. Apart from causing health hazards, fluorosis adversely affects the economic productivity of the area, leading to hunger and malnutrition.
- The steps taken by the government to mitigate the problem have had little impact.
- First, a pipe water supply (PWS) project was set up in few villages. However, people in other villages continued to consume groundwater.
- Between 2010 and 2015, the government announced 21 mega PWS projects at a total cost of Rs. 273.87. The projects are yet to take off.
- PWS projects, meanwhile, have failed to address the crisis due to electricity failure.