📰 THE HINDU – CURRENT NOTE 26 February
💡 Black rhinos on the brink of extinction
- As the value of rhinoceros horn touches $65,000 per kg, poaching has begun to drive the African black rhinoceros to “the verge of extinction” – not just by reducing its population size, but by erasing 70% of the species genetic diversity – says a research paper published recently in Scientific Reports.
- Genetic variation is the cornerstone of evolution, without which there can be no natural selection, and so a low genetic diversity decreases the ability of a species to survive and reproduce.
- Greater the genetic diversity, the better is the population’s ability to respond to pressures such as climate change and diseases.
- Two centuries ago, the black rhinoceros – which roamed much of sub Saharan Africa – had 64 different genetic lineages; but today only 20 of these lineages remain, says the paper.
- The species is now restricted to five countries, South Africa, Namibia, Kenya, Zimbabwe and Tanzania.
💡 Though the net tightens, India remains hub for turtle trade
- As the smuggling networks strengthen, India continues to bear the ignominy of being the source of the illegal trade and export of tortoises and freshwater turtles (TFT).
- The detection of a staggering 58,442 smuggled amphibians over five years, demonstrates the persistence of the illegal trade despite increasing enforcement.
- Within India, the Gangetic Plains accounted for 46% of all seizures, with Lucknow and Kanpur being major hubs.
- Researchers said this was linked to tightening of the enforcement (including an active Special Task Force) in Uttar Pradesh and the Gangetic belt. There is a tradition of turtle poaching in this area given the diversity of TFT population along the river.
- Apart from the Ganga and its tributaries, TFTs have been poached in rivers of the Western Ghats and, in smaller numbers, in the Eastern Ghats.
- While domestic consumption of turtle meat in West Bengal and Bangladesh continues, it is the international export to south-east Asian countries and China that rake in profits for smugglers.
- Turtles form an important part of the riverine system, acting as scavengers in cleaning up water bodies and generally being indicators of river health.
- Ironically, the National Mission for Clean Ganga envisages breeding and release of turtles to clean wetlands, even as poaching and trade continues across the Gangetic belt.
💡 Pests eat away 35% of total crop yield, says ICAR scientist
- About 30-35% of the annual crop yield in India gets wasted because of pests, according to P.K. Chakrabarty, assistant director general (plant protection and biosafety) of the Indian Council of Agricultural Research.
- He said that among such pests, nematodes (microscopic worms many of which are parasites) consisting of roundworms, threadworms and eelworms had recently emerged as a major threat to crops in the country and they caused loss of 60 million tonnes of crops annually.
- He also said that such large-scale crop-loss was having an adverse effect on the agricultural biosafety which was “paramount to food security.”
- Citing the instance of a particular kind of nematode which affected plants such as potatoes and tomatoes, he said the Potato Cyst Nematode was first discovered in the Nilgiris and had now spread to various parts of the country.
💡 Why India needs the rubella vaccine
- Buoyed by the elimination of polio six years ago and maternal and neonatal tetanus and yaws in 2016, India has set an ambitious target of eliminating measles and controlling congenital rubella syndrome (CRS), caused by the rubella virus, by 2020.
- While two doses of measles vaccine given at 9-12 months and 16-24 months have already been part of the national immunisation programme, it is the first time that the rubella vaccine has been included in the programme.
- Since the rubella vaccine will piggy-back on the measles elimination programme, there will be very little additional cost.
- According to the World Health Organisation (WHO), “a single dose of rubella vaccine gives more than 95% long-lasting immunity.”
- All children aged nine months and 15 years will be administered a single dose of the combination vaccine.
- Measles is highly infectious and is one of the major childhood killer diseases. Of the 1,34,000 measles deaths globally in 2015, an estimated 47,000 occurred in India.
- Unlike measles, rubella is a mild viral infection that mainly occurs in children.
- But a woman infected with the rubella virus during the early stage of pregnancy has a 90% chance of transmitting it to the foetus. The virus can cause hearing impairments, eye and heart defects and brain damage in newborns, and even spontaneous abortion and foetal deaths.
- Of the 1,10,000 children born with CRS every year globally, an estimated 40,000 cases occur in India alone.
- Since the Pune-based Serum Institute of India is the only manufacturer of the vaccine, the measles-rubella vaccination campaign is being introduced in phases.
- The entire country will be covered in four phases in 18 months. Karnataka, Tamil Nadu, Puducherry, Goa and Lakshadweep are covered in the first phase.
💡 Why the Barren Island volcano erupts again
- India’s only active volcano — the Barren Island volcano — in the Andaman and Nicobar Islands is again spewing lava and ash, according to a team of scientists from the Goa-based National Institute of Oceanography (NIO).
- They chanced upon it as part of an ocean expedition in January. They are preparing for a scientific expedition to the volcano to assess the ecological impact of the eruption.
- During the daytime, they saw ash clouds, but after sundown, red lava fountains spewed from the crater into the atmosphere and hot lava streamed down the slopes.
- The Barren Island, about 140 km from Port Blair, is a tourist destination and surrounded by waters ideal for scuba diving and is home to a wide variety of aquatic life.
- The island is open to visitors, with prior permission, and as the name suggests is uninhabited and devoid of any significant vegetation.
- It’s the only active volcano along a chain of volcanoes from Sumatra to Myanmar. The 354-metre-high island is the emergent summit of a volcano that rises from a depth of 2,250 m.
- The small, uninhabited 3-km-wide island contains a roughly 2-km wide caldera (a volcanic crater) with walls 250-350 metres high.
- Historically, the first record of the volcano’s eruption dates back to 1787. It was known to have erupted at least five times over the next 100 years. Then there was silence for a century.
- In 1991, it spewed so massively that smoke billowed out for about six months. Ever since, there have been eruptions every two-three years, the last in February 2016.
- All of these recorded eruptions lie on the lowest end of the so-called Volcanic Explosivity Index that ranks volcanoes from 1-8 based on the quantity of volcanic material spewed and the strength with which it does so.
- The latest eruption was a mere ‘2’ on the scale. However benign this may seem, the renewed volcanic activity over the past few decades has some scientists worried about the amount of unreleased pressure stored in the continental plates that support the volcano.
- In 1991, the volcano’s eruption was catastrophic for several animal species. The eruption also reduced the number of bird species and their population.
💡 Low cost solar imports from China hurting Centre’s Make in India mission
- Cheap Chinese imports and the prevailing tax structure in India are making it increasingly attractive for solar manufacturers to choose imports over manufacturing the parts themselves, which could hurt the government’s Make in India mission.
- The panels make up about 50% of the cost of the entire system. From the developer’s perspective, when they have to quote low tariffs during the bids for units, then what would make sense for them, using cheaper Chinese imports, or relatively costlier Indian made ones?
- Solar tariffs recently touched a historic low of Rs 2.97 per unit in a reverse auction bid in Madhya Pradesh, which works out to ?3.3 per unit over the 25-year power purchase agreement period.
- Industry consultants said that such low tariffs forced companies to keep a very sharp eye on their costs, and warn that this could lead to a drop in the quality of inputs being used.
- The outlook for domestic solar component and solar cell manufacturers over the next few years does not look too good since the prices of the Chinese imports are so low and the industry expectation is for a 20-25% fall in prices over the next year or two.
Low priced Chinese imports in soalr water heaters:
- The problem of Chinese imports being cheaper is not restricted to solar energy producers; but is an issue faced by domestic solar water heater manufacturers as well.
- Here, not only do Chinese manufacturers have the advantage of being able to sell at lower prices, they also enjoy a tax advantage over Indian counterparts.
- For now, “the countervailing duty (CVD) exemption has been removed on the import of the full solar water heating system but theexemption is still there for the individual components,” R.S. Sethuraman, Chairman, Solar Hitech Solutions said.
- “Even if these units are manufactured in India, they are sent to the customer in components and assembled there, so it makes sense for the industry players to import the parts since local manufacturers have to pay excise duty, making them more expensive.”
- “We have repeatedly asked the government to withdraw all CVD exemptions available on solar water heaters on components in solar water heating systems,” Mr. Sethuraman said. “But the customs regime seems to be encouraging imports and is hurting Make in India.”
- He said solar water heater makers have also asked the government to make it mandatory for such systems to compulsorily come with a BIS certification.
- “Even if this makes it costlier to manufacture in India, we will still do it because Chinese manufacturers will not seek to get certified under Indian quality norms,” he said. Mr. Aggarwal said the situation had arisen because of overcapacity in China, but it wasn’t always like this. “In 2009, 2010, 2011, people used to import from companies like First Solar in the U.S,” he said. “But then China developed overcapacity in manufacturing so U.S. firms started going out of business and China started taking over.”
💡 Indian Railways mulls new performance index
- The Indian Railways is mulling a new metric to measures its performance at a time when it is staring at a five-year high operating ratio by the end of this financial year.
- The financial performance of the Indian Railways is measured in operating ratio which is expected to be at a five-year high of 94.9% in 2016-17.
- Till December 2016, the Railways’ operating ratio in 2016-17 stood at 109%. This means, the Railways spent ?109 to earn ?100 from April-December 2016.
- The Railways’ finances took a hit this financial year due to the Seventh Pay Commission’s pay hike recommendations, Railway Ministry officials said. A lower operating ratio means better efficiency.
- The Railways formed a committee of executive directors from its budget, finance efficiency and research departments, last week to look at some of the best corporate practice and suggest a new financial ratio.
- The operating ratio reflects the true reflection of the Railways’ finances only by the end of the financial year.
- So, we have asked the committee to work out a better financial ratio than the operating ratio reflecting the correct financial and professional health.
- “The operating ratio is a very different way of measuring the financial health and is not the industry-standard.
- In the corporate sector, you have various ways of measuring a company’s operating performance such as the Earnings before interest, tax, depreciation and amortization (EBITDA).
- Amortization is an accounting term that refers to the process of allocating the cost of an intangible asset over a period of time. It also refers to the repayment of loan principal over time.
- In order to be meaningful, the (financial) ratio should be representative of the operations, be as comprehensive, as reasonably as possible and least subject to arbitrariness.
- “While the existing concept of Operating Ratio on Indian Railways more or less satisfies the first criteria, it does not meet the other two criteria. It is, therefore, not a satisfactory index of financial performance.”
💡 India, Germany ratify social security agreement
- India and Germany have ratified the Social Security Agreement (SSA), which will come into force from May 1 this year, to help promote more investment flows between the two countries.
- The SSA will also integrate the provisions of the 2008 social insurance pact that exempts detached workers of the two countries from making social security contributions in either countries so long as they were making such contributions in their respective countries, the External Affairs Ministry said, adding the 2008 pact will then cease to be in force.
- “The new agreement establishes the rights and obligations of nationals of both countries and provides for equal treatment of the nationals of both countries …the requirements to be entitled to a pension can be met by aggregating the periods of insurance completed in India and Germany, whereby each country pays only the pension for the insurance periods covered by its laws. The period of posting will be up to 48 calendar months,” the ministry said.
💡 Setting foot in deep space
- The U.S. space agency, NASA said it is considering putting astronauts on an upcoming test flight of the deep space capsuleOrion as it aims to orbit the Moon.
- Orion is being built with an eye to one day ferrying astronauts to Earth’s neighboring planet, Mars, perhaps by the 2030s.
- Until now, the Orion test flight known as Exploration Mission 1 (EM-1) was scheduled for 2018 and was expected to be unmanned.
- The capsule will be propelled to space atop a rocket called the Space Launch System (SLS), which is currently being developed.
- Orion will “fly farther than any spacecraft built for humans has ever flown,” NASA added.
- The space capsule also aims to “stay in space longer than any ship for astronauts has done without docking to a space station and return home faster and hotter than ever before.”
- The current plan is to send astronauts on Orion’s second flight, EM-2, an eight-day mission in 2021.