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29-February-2024- Top News of the Day

1. Genome India Initiative: Mapping the Genetic Landscape of the Nation

Topic: GS3 – Science & Technology – Developing New Technology; Biotechnology This topic is relevant for both Prelims and Mains in the context of knowing facts about the Genome India initiative which showcases advancements in genomic research and biotechnology.
Context:
  • The Genome India initiative recently announced a significant achievement – the successful sequencing of 10,000 whole genomes of healthy individuals across India.
  • This endeavor aimed to create a comprehensive genetic map of the Indian population, a collaborative effort involving researchers from 20 science institutes nationwide.
  • These researchers collected blood samples, sequenced the genomes, developed methodologies, and stored the vast dataset, which requires 80GB of storage space per sequence, at the Indian Biological Data Centre in Faridabad.
More about the news: Utilization as a “Digital Public Good”:
  • The immense dataset of 8 petabytes generated through this initiative will be made available to researchers as a “digital public good.”
  • This data holds immense potential for the development of new diagnostics, targeted therapies, identification of rare diseases, and treatment of existing ones.
Understanding the Genome India Project:
  • The Genome India project, sanctioned by the government in 2020, aimed to compile a comprehensive catalogue of genetic variations within the Indian population.
  • This endeavor is crucial for understanding the nation’s evolutionary history, identifying genetic bases for various diseases, and developing future therapies.
  • The project recognized the need for a distinct genetic map tailored to the Indian populace, given its unique genetic makeup.
Significance of Genetic Diversity:
  • Researchers analyzing a subset of the genome sequences have identified 135 million genetic variants specific to India.
  • This diverse genetic landscape is attributed to the country’s vast population, comprising over 4,600 distinct groups.
  • The prevalence of endogamous marriages within these groups has preserved their genetic distinctiveness, enabling comparative studies on the impact of genetic variations on physical health.
Genome Sequencing Process:
  • The human genome serves as a biological instruction manual inherited from parents, comprising billions of base pairs.
  • To sequence the genome, researchers extract genetic information from blood samples, divide the sequence into smaller segments, tag them, sequence the segments, and assemble the complete genome.
Implications and Applications:
  • Studying the genetic makeup of the population facilitates the identification of genetic risk factors for various ailments and aids in targeted treatments, particularly for rare diseases.
  • This initiative has the potential to revolutionize healthcare by informing the development of new therapies and personalized medicine tailored to individuals’ genetic profiles.
Project Duration and Milestones:
  • The Genome India initiative marked a significant milestone in genomic research.
  • While the first human genome sequencing project took 13 years and $3 billion to complete, advancements in technology have expedited the process significantly.
  • India’s ability to sequence 10,000 genomes in a matter of months underscores the progress made in genomic research.
  • Despite challenges posed by the COVID-19 pandemic, the project successfully collected samples from diverse population groups across the country.
Conclusion:
  • The Genome India initiative represents a pioneering effort to map the genetic diversity of the Indian population, offering valuable insights into health, disease, and personalized medicine.
What is Genome Sequencing?
·      Genome sequencing involves deciphering the complete set of genetic instructions contained within an organism’s DNA (Deoxyribonucleic acid).
  • It entails determining the sequence of the four nucleotide bases:
adenine (A), cytosine (C), guanine (G), and thymine (T).
  • The human genome comprises over 3 billion of these genetic letters, but current DNA sequencing methods can only handle short stretches at a time.
  • While human genomes consist of DNA, viruses can have genomes composed of either DNA or RNA (Ribonucleic acid).
  • Notably, viruses like the coronavirus possess RNA genomes.
  • Each organism possesses a unique genome sequence, making genome sequencing a vital technique for understanding genetic information encoded in DNA or RNA.
PYQ: With reference to agriculture in India, how can the technique of ‘genome sequencing’, often seen in the news, be used in the immediate future? (2017) 1. Genome sequencing can be used to identify genetic markers for disease resistance and drought tolerance in various crop plants. 2. This technique helps in reducing the time required to develop new varieties of crop plants. 3. It can be used to decipher the host-pathogen relationships in crops. Select the correct answer using the code given below: a) 1 only b) 2 and 3 only c) 1 and 3 only d) 1, 2 and 3 Ans: (d)
Practice Question:  Discuss the significance of the Genome India initiative in mapping the genetic landscape of the Indian population. Analyze the potential implications of this initiative for healthcare, genetic research, and societal well-being in India. (250 words/15 m)

2. Controversy Brews Over Karnataka Temple Tax Bill Amendments

Topic: GS2 – Governance – Government policies – Interventions for development in various sectors GS2– PolityThis topic is relevant for both Prelims and Mains in the context of knowing facts about governance issues related to religious institutions and their financial management by the state government.
Context:
  • The Karnataka government’s attempt to amend the Karnataka Hindu Religious Institutions and Charitable Endowments Act, 1997, faced opposition in the Legislative Council, primarily from the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP), which holds a majority.
More about the news: Proposed Amendments:
  • The bill aimed to amend several provisions of the 1997 Act, with the most contentious change being the diversion of 10% of gross income, instead of net income, from temples with annual earnings exceeding Rs 1 crore, to a common pool for temple maintenance.
  • Additionally, it proposed allocating 5% of income for temples earning between Rs 10 lakh and Rs 1 crore to the same pool.
Criticism:
  • The BJP criticized the move, accusing the government of targeting Hindu temples for revenue, while other religious institutions were not subjected to similar measures.
  • They questioned the government’s intentions and raised concerns about the transparency and fairness of the proposed amendments.
Government’s Justification:
  • In response, the Congress government clarified that the creation of a common pool for temple income had been a mandate since the enactment of the Act in 1997.
  • They emphasized that the funds would be used for religious purposes within the Hindu community, such as aiding lower-income temples, supporting ailing priests, and providing scholarships to children from priest families.
Other Proposed Changes:
  • The bill also suggested including individuals skilled in Vishwakarma Hindu temple architecture and sculpture in temple management committees.
  • It granted the Rajya Dharmika Parishat the authority to appoint committee chairmen and mandated the formation of oversight committees for infrastructural projects in temples earning over Rs 25 lakh annually.
Comparison with Other States:
  • The temple revenue management approach in Karnataka shares similarities with Telangana’s model, where a Common Good Fund is created from temple income for maintenance and renovation purposes.
  • Kerala, on the other hand, operates through state-run Devaswom Boards, managed by government-appointed nominees, with budgets allocated by the state government.
Conclusion:
  • The Karnataka Temple Tax Bill controversy highlights the complex dynamics surrounding temple revenue management and the divergent approaches taken by different states in India.
  • It underscores the need for transparent and equitable policies to govern religious institutions while respecting diverse religious practices and traditions.
What is the need for government regulation?
1. Recommendation– In 1960, the Government of India formed the Dr. C. P. Ramaswami Aiyar Commission to investigate issues related to Hindu Public Religious Endowments. 2. Constitutional authority – The framers of our Constitution granted states limited control over religious matters through Article 25(2).
  • NoteArticle 25(2) of the Indian Constitution states that the state can regulate or restrict any economic, financial, political, or other secular activity associated with religious practices to ensure public order, morality, and health.
Practice Question:  Discuss the recent controversy surrounding the Karnataka Hindu Religious Institutions and Charitable Endowments (Amendment) Bill, 2024, and analyze its implications on temple governance, religious freedom, and the socio-political landscape in the state of Karnataka. (250 words/15 m)

3. Diving into History: Prime Minister Narendra Modi Explores Mythical Dwarka's Submerged Kingdom

Topic: GS1 – History – Indian Culture This topic is relevant for both Prelims and Mains in the context of understanding India’s rich cultural heritage and religious traditions.
Context:
  • Prime Minister Narendra Modi embarked on a scuba diving expedition off Panchkui beach near Dwarka in Gujarat, on February 25.
  • His dive aimed to explore what is believed to be the submerged Dwarka Nagari, the legendary kingdom of Lord Krishna mentioned in the Mahabharata.
  • Modi expressed his profound spiritual experience, stating that he felt the convergence of spirituality and history during his dive, where he sensed the eternal presence of Lord Krishna.
More about the news: Historical Significance of Dwarka:
  • Dwarka holds immense significance in Hindu mythology as it is closely associated with Lord Krishna and the Mahabharata.
  • According to legend, Krishna founded the kingdom of Dwarka after moving from Mathura with his Yadava clan.
  • The Vishnu Purana describes Dwarka as a splendid city with gardens, moats, and palaces.
  • Modern-day Dwarka, situated at the mouth of the Gulf of Kutch, houses the 13th-century Dwarkadheesh temple dedicated to Lord Krishna.
Views of Early Experts and Archaeological Excavations:
  • Scholars and archaeologists have long debated the existence and location of the Dwarka mentioned in ancient texts.
  • Early experts like F.E. Pargiter and A.S. Altekar proposed various theories regarding Dwarka’s historical location.
  • Archaeological excavations conducted since the 20th century, both on land and underwater, have provided insights into the ancient settlement of Dwarka.
  • These excavations uncovered evidence of human habitation dating back thousands of years, hinting at the existence of a submerged city off the coast of Dwarka.
Underwater Exploration and Discoveries:
  • Marine archaeologists from institutions like the National Institute of Oceanography conducted extensive underwater explorations off the coast of Dwarka.
  • These explorations yielded significant findings, including stone anchors, sculptures, pottery, and metal objects, indicating the presence of a submerged settlement.
  • Excavations on nearby islands like Beyt Dwarka revealed artifacts dating back to the Late Harappan period, aligning with the timeline of the Mahabharata.
Conclusion:
  • Despite the discoveries made through underwater excavations, challenges remain in conclusively dating and identifying the submerged structures.
  • The shifting nature of the seabed and ocean currents have complicated the analysis of underwater remains, making it difficult to assign specific dates.
  • While these explorations have shed light on the ancient history of Dwarka, further research and interdisciplinary studies are needed to unravel the mysteries of this legendary city.
About Dwarkadhish Temple Gujarat
  • Situated at the cusp of Gomti River and the Arabian Sea in Gujarat is the majestic Dwarkadhish Temple.
  • An important Hindu pilgrimage site for Vaishnavites, especially the devotees of Lord Krishna, Dwarkadhish Temple is one of the Char Dham.
  • The temple is also a key religious tourism site in the country, and is of architectural as well as religious importance.
  • Dwarkadhish Temple, also known as Jagat Mandir (universal shrine) or Trilok Sundar (the most beautiful in all three worlds), is a site protected by the Archaeological Survey of India.
  • Seeming to rise from the Arabian Sea, it is the main temple situated in the Dwarka city of Gujarat’s Devbhoomi Dwarka district.
Practice Question:  Discuss the historical and cultural significance of Dwarka, focusing on its association with Hindu mythology and the Mahabharata. Analyze the recent scuba diving expedition of Prime Minister Narendra Modi near Dwarka and its implications for heritage preservation and archaeological exploration in India. (250 words/15 m)

4. PM Modi inaugurates country’s first indigenous hydrogen fuel cell ferry

Topic: GS3 – Indian Economy – Infrastructure UPSC Relevance: Signifies India’s stride in clean energy with the launch of the first indigenous hydrogen fuel cell ferry boat.
Context
  • Prime Minister Narendra Modi virtually inaugurated India’s first indigenous hydrogen fuel cell ferry boat, built at Cochin Shipyard.
  • The vessel aims to enhance urban mobility with clean energy solutions.
 Additional information on this news:
  • Prime Minister Narendra Modi virtually flagged off India’s first hydrogen fuel cell ferry boat.
  • The vessel, built at Cochin Shipyard, is a 24-meter catamaran capable of carrying 50 passengers with fully air-conditioned spaces.
  • The launch event was part of a program in Thoothukudi, Tamil Nadu, marking the foundation stone laying for a ₹17,300-crore project.
  • The hydrogen fuel vessel incorporates fully indigenous technology and supports the nation’s net-zero commitments.
  • It is designed for urban mobility and can be replicated across the country, according to Cochin Shipyard Limited.
Clean Energy Potential of Hydrogen Fuel
  • Emissions: When used in a fuel cell, hydrogen produces only water vapor, making it a clean burning energy source.
  • Versatility: Hydrogen can be used for various applications, including:

○     Fueling vehicles: Hydrogen fuel cell electric vehicles (FCEVs) offer long range and fast refueling similar to gasoline vehicles, but with zero tailpipe emissions.

○     Generating electricity: Hydrogen can be used in fuel cells to generate clean electricity for homes, businesses, and power grids.

○     Energy storage: Hydrogen can be stored and transported to balance fluctuations in renewable energy sources like solar and wind.

  • Production methods: While currently most hydrogen is produced from fossil fuels (grey hydrogen), renewable energy sources like solar and wind can be used to create green hydrogen, making it a truly sustainable option.
  • Challenges:
    • High production cost: Green hydrogen production is currently more expensive than traditional methods.
    • Limited infrastructure: Building and maintaining a network of hydrogen fuelling stations is needed for widespread adoption of FCEVs.
Overall, hydrogen fuel holds significant promise as a clean and versatile energy source, but overcoming production cost and infrastructure challenges are crucial for its wider adoption.
PYQ: Clean energy is the order of the day. Describe briefly India’s changing policy towards climate change in various international fora in the context of geopolitics. (250 words/15m) (UPSC CSE (M) GS-2 2022)
Practice Question:  Evaluate the potential of hydrogen fuel as a clean energy solution in India, highlighting the associated challenges and suggesting possible mitigation strategies. (250 words/15 m)

5. Govt. bans 2 factions of Jammu & Kashmir outfit under UAPA

Topic: GS2 – Governance – Government Policies

UPSC Importance: Addresses the government’s action against separatist factions, impacting Jammu and Kashmir’s security and political landscape.

Context
  • The Union Home Ministry declares two factions of the Muslim Conference, J&K, as “unlawful associations” under UAPA, citing activities against India’s sovereignty. Banned for five years.

 Additional information on this news:

  • Union Home Ministry declares two factions of Muslim Conference, J&K, led by Abdul Ghani Bhat and Ghulam Nabi Sumji, as “unlawful associations” under UAPA.
  • Banned for five years for activities against India’s sovereignty.
  • Both factions, part of All Parties Hurriyat Conference, inactive for several years.
  • Notification cites linkages with banned terrorist organizations, support for terrorism, raising funds through Pakistan, and anti-India propaganda.
  • Ghulam Nabi Sumji’s faction known for anti-India and pro-Pakistan stance.
Unlawful Activities Prevention Act

Need of the Act:

  • Combat terrorism and other unlawful activities: The UAPA aims to prevent and combat activities that threaten the integrity and sovereignty of India, including terrorism, secessionism, and other unlawful activities.
  • Empower law enforcement agencies: The Act provides special powers to investigate and prosecute individuals and organizations involved in such activities.

Challenges:

  • Potential for misuse: Critics argue that the act’s broad definitions and stringent provisions can be misused to target individuals and organizations exercising their legitimate rights to dissent and protest.
  • Due process concerns: The act allows for extended detention without trial and other measures that raise concerns about due process and fundamental rights.
  • Impact on civil liberties: The act has been criticized for potentially chilling free speech and dissent, raising concerns about its impact on civil liberties.

Way Forward:

  • Striking a balance: Striking a balance between national security concerns and safeguarding fundamental rights and due process is crucial.
  • Judicial oversight: Strengthening judicial oversight to ensure the act is not misused and individuals’ rights are protected.
  • Clearer definitions: Refining the act’s definitions to be clearer and more specific to prevent misuse and ensure fair application.
  • Focus on preventive measures: Investing in initiatives that address the root causes of terrorism and unlawful activities, such as poverty, social exclusion, and lack of opportunities.

It is important to note that the UAPA is a complex and controversial piece of legislation, and there is ongoing debate about its effectiveness and its impact on civil liberties.

PYQ: Indian government has recently strengthened the anti-terrorism laws by amending the unlawful Activities (Prevention) Act (UAPA), 1967 and the NIA Act. Analyse the changes in the context of prevailing security environment while discussing the scope and reasons for opposing the UAPA by human rights organizations. (250 words/15m) (UPSC CSE (M) GS-3 2019)
Practice Question:  Is the Unlawful Activities Prevention Act (UAPA) necessary to combat terrorism in India, or does it pose a greater threat to civil liberties? Briefly explain your answer. (150 words/10 m)

6. Early bloom of the jacaranda sparks furious climate debate in Mexico

Topic: GS3 – Environment – Environmental pollution and degradation Relevance for UPSC: Jacaranda early blooming reflects climate change impact, aligning with environmental concerns crucial for UPSC exams.
Context
  • Early blooming of Mexico City’s iconic jacaranda trees sparks climate change concerns.
  • Rising temperatures, linked to premature winter end, prompt scientists to investigate the phenomenon.
 Additional information on this news:
  • Jacaranda trees in Mexico City, known for their vibrant purple blooms, are experiencing an unusual early onset of flowering, starting in January instead of spring.
  • Local scientists, led by researcher Constantino Gonzalez, link this phenomenon to climate change, citing rising temperatures that caused winter to end prematurely this year.
  • Gonzalez’s team is collecting data and using satellite imagery to establish a correlation between climate change and the early blooming of jacarandas.
  • Social media posts sharing images of the early blooms have raised awareness, prompting concerns about the impacts of climate change on urban ecosystems.
  • Jacarandas, introduced by a Japanese landscape architect in the late 19th century, play a crucial role in attracting hummingbirds and bees, and any change in their flowering patterns could impact these populations.
Impacts of climate change on urban ecosystems
  • Increased Heat Stress: Urban areas experience the “urban heat island” effect, where they are significantly hotter than surrounding areas due to dense development
  • Extreme Weather Events: More frequent and intense storms, floods, and droughts create infrastructure damage, disruption, and can overwhelm urban drainage systems.
  • Biodiversity Loss: Increased temperatures and altered precipitation patterns impact plant and animal species, potentially disrupting the balance of urban ecosystems.
  • Water Scarcity & Quality: Decreased water availability and quality, especially during droughts, can stress urban water supplies and ecosystems.
  • Air Quality: Increased heat and changes in air circulation can worsen air quality, leading to negative health impacts.
  • Sea Level Rise: Coastal cities will see increased flooding and erosion from rising sea levels, threatening infrastructure and communities.
  • Disproportionate Impact: Climate change can worsen existing social inequalities, as vulnerable communities often face greater exposure to heat, flooding, and pollution hazards.
Practice Question:  Critically examine the impact of climate change on urban ecosystems in India, highlighting the challenges faced by vulnerable communities and suggesting strategies for adaptation and mitigation. (150 words/10 m)

7. On irregularities in vertical devolution

Topic: GS2 – Indian Polity –  Federal structure – Devolution of power and finances
UPSC Significance: Understanding fiscal federalism challenges in India is crucial for aspirants, aligning with contemporary issues and governance knowledge.
Context
  • The article discusses challenges in India’s fiscal federalism, focusing on the 16th Finance Commission’s need to rectify issues in vertical devolution, cesses, surcharges, and deviations from recommendations.
 Background:
  • Recent agitations by states like Kerala and Karnataka highlight issues in India’s fiscal federalism.
  • The 16th Finance Commission (FC) must address vertical devolution concerns to rectify historical wrongs.
Shrinking Divisible Pool:
  • Union government keeps an increasing share of proceeds out of the divisible pool.
  • Devolution of net proceeds to states, as mandated by successive FCs, is not taking place.
  • Constitutional amendment in 2000 excluded cesses and surcharges, impacting the net proceeds.
Rise in Cesses and Surcharges:
  • Introduction of various cesses and surcharges over the past decade.
  • Conflicting government information on the share of these in gross tax revenue.
  • Disaggregated data reveals a rise in collections from ₹70,559 crore in 2009-10 to ₹7 lakh crore in 2024-25.
Tied Transfers and Central Schemes:
  • Transfers for centrally sponsored schemes and central sector schemes are not untied.
  • State governments often bear a significant share of the cost in such schemes.
  • Grants and capital transfers to states come with conditionalities and may be in the form of loans.
CAG Indictments and Non-Transfers:
  • Comptroller and Auditor General (CAG) identifies instances of non-transfer or short transfer of collected amounts.
  • CAG reports highlight discrepancies in transferring cesses to respective funds.
  • Cesses and surcharges viewed as a means to divert funds away from the divisible pool.
Deviations from FC Recommendations:
  • Union Finance Minister’s claim of following FC recommendations contradicted by data.
  • States’ share in central taxes, a gold standard in fiscal federalism, has been decreasing.
  • Union government does not share even FC-recommended percentages of net proceeds with states.
Quantum Shortfall and Constitutional Impropriety:
  • Cumulative amount not devolved to states between 2009-10 and 2024-25 is ₹5.61 lakh crore.
  • Shortfalls in devolution during 13th, 14th, and 15th FC periods indicate a constitutional impropriety.
Agenda of Reform for 16th FC:
  • 16th FC must correct historical wrongs in vertical devolution through compensations to states.
  • Accurate estimates of “net proceeds” must be published in budget documents.
  • Addressing inequalities in horizontal devolution is crucial for the survival of fiscal federalism in India.
In summary, the 16th Finance Commission must focus on rectifying the increasing vertical and horizontal inequalities in devolution, addressing concerns related to the divisible pool, cesses, surcharges, and deviations from FC recommendations to ensure a fair and cooperative fiscal federalism in India.
PYQ: The concept of cooperative federalism has been increasingly emphasized in recent years. Highlight the drawbacks in the existing structure and the extent to which cooperative federalism would answer the shortcomings.
(200 words/12.5m) (UPSC CSE (M) GS-2 2015)
Practice Question:  Discuss the challenges in India’s fiscal federalism, emphasizing the role of the 16th Finance Commission in addressing vertical devolution and deviations from recommendations. (150 words/10 m)

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