9 PM Current Affairs Brief – May 7, 2019

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Scientists carry out genetic study on people of Lakshadweep Islands

  1. Genetic studies done on the people of the Lakshadweep Island have revealed that a majority of human ancestry in Lakshadweep is largely derived from South Asia with minor influences from East and West Eurasia. The study has concluded that there is a close genetic link of Lakshadweep islanders with people from Maldives, Sri Lanka and India.
  2. Further, the study has found no evidence of early human migration through the Lakshadweep islands. This is contrary to the presumption that Lakshadweep Islands might have played a major role in early human migration as islands are located between Africa and south-western part of India. Previous studies had concluded that early human migration from Africa to Andaman and Australia happened through western coast of India.
  3. The study has been conducted by a team from CSIR-Centre for Cellular and Molecular Biology (CCMB). Major islands of Agatti, Andorth, Bitra, Chetlat, Kadmat, Kalpeni, Kiltan and Minicoy of Lakshadweep were studied. The results of the study have been published in Scientific Reports.
  4. Lakshadweep is an archipelago of 36 islands, scattered over approximately 78,000 square km of the Arabian Sea. It is located 200-440 kms off the south-western coast of India. It has a population of approximately 65,000.
  5. According to historical documents, the spread of Buddhism in Lakshadweep islands happened in 6tH century BC; Islam spread in 661AD by the Arabians. Cholas ruled the islands in 11th century, Portuguese in 16th century, Ali Rajahs in 17th, Tipu Sultan in 18th before the British Raj of 19th century.

Over 300 nests of grizzled giant squirrel spotted near Gingee

  1. For the first time, researchers have sighted nests of the grizzled giant squirrel at Pakkamalai Reserve Forests near Gingee, Tamil Nadu in the Eastern Ghats. It is listed as an endangered species under Schedule I of the Wildlife Protection Act, 1972
  2. The grizzled giant squirrel is usually known to nest in the Western Ghats in Southern India ranging from Chinnar Wildlife sanctuary in Kerala to Anamalai Tiger Reserve and Palani hills in Tamil Nadu.
  3. Earlier in 2014, it had been spotted in the Tiruvannamalai Forest Division in Tamil Nadu, which was the only recorded sighting from this region in the Eastern Ghats.
  4. The grizzled giant squirrel is endemic to the southern States of Kerala, Karnataka and Tamil Nadu in India and Sri Lanka. Due to habitat loss and poaching, the species has been categorised as near threatenedby the IUCN Red List.
  5. It is listed under schedule II of CITES. Appendix II includes species not necessarily threatened with extinction, but in which trade must be controlled in order to avoid utilization incompatible with their survival.
  6. CITES (the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Fauna and Flora) is an international agreement between governments. It aims to ensure that international trade in specimens of wild animals and plants is not detrimental to the survival of wild populations. The species covered by CITES are listed in three Appendices, according to the degree of protection they need

NGT seeks report on ‘illegal’ road in tiger reserve

  1. The National Green Tribunal (NGT) has constituted a committee to provide it a factual report on alleged illegal construction of a road in the Rajaji Tiger Reserve in Uttarakhand. The committee comprises representatives of the Ministry of Environment and Forests, Uttarakhand Public Works Department and National Tiger Conservation Authority (NTCA).
  2. A petition has been filed which alleges that a road is being built for the use by commercial vehicles in the tiger reserve without statutory clearances and requisite safeguards. According to the petitioner, construction of the road may potentially damage the biological diversity and resources of the reserve.
  3. The Rajaji Tiger Reserve spreads over three districts of Uttarakhand: Haridwar, Dehradun and Pauri Garhwal. The national park was accorded the status of Tiger Reserve in 2015 and became the 48Thtiger reserve in India. The Ganga and Song rivers flow through the reserve.
  4. The National Green Tribunal was established in 2010 under the National Green Tribunal Act 2010. The responsibility of the tribunal is to work on the disposal of cases related to environmental protection, conservation of forests and other natural resources.

Sabarimala revamp plans still remain in paper

  1. Developmental projects under the Sabarimala Master plan have been delayed and the pilgrims are unlikely to get more amenities at Sabarimala and in the foothills of Pampa during the upcoming pilgrim season.
  2. The Sabarimala master plan envisages a) Infrastructure Development, b) Ecological Sustainability and c) Pilgrim facilities.
  3. It encompasses objectives of planned overall development of a) Sannidhanam area, the abode of Lord Ayyappa on the mountain top, b)  Pampa – the river front and the Pampa area, c) Trekking paths to the hill top, d) base camp facilities at Nilakkal, e) feeder towns/places like Erumeli, Pathanamthitta, Vandiperiyar etc. and e) the approach roads to Sabarimala
  4. Recently, the Kerala state cabinet had set up a Special Purpose Vehicle (SPV) for comprehensive development of Sabarimala, Pamba, Nilackal and transit camps for pilgrims under the master plan.
  5. The Sabarimala temple is a Hindu temple dedicated to Lord Ayyappa. It is situated on a hilltop named Sabarimala in Pathanamthitta district, Kerala.
  6. In 2018, the Supreme Court ruled that women, irrespective of age, can enter Kerala’s Sabarimala temple. Previously, girls and women in the 10-50 age group were prohibited from entering the Sabarimala temple.

1 million species at risk of extinction: UN

  1. UN’s report called the Global Assessment has warned that up to one million of Earth’s estimated eight million plant, insect and animal species is at risk of extinction. The Report has been compiled by UN’s Intergovernmental Science-Policy Platform on Biodiversity and Ecosystem Services (IPBES). IPBES is the intergovernmental body which assesses the state of biodiversity and of the ecosystem services it provides to society, in response to requests from decision makers.
  2. According to the report, more than 40% of amphibians, 33% of coral reefs and over a third of all marine mammals are at risk of extinction. The report further highlights that 75% of land environment and some 66% of the marine environment “have been significantly altered by human actions.
  3. The report has emphasized the disastrous impact of population growth and rising demand. It notes that the world’s population has more than doubled (from 3.7 to 7.6 billion) in the last 50 years, and gross domestic product per person is four times higher.
  4. It has listed a number of key global threats such as a) overexploitation of land and sea resources, b) illegal poaching, c) deforestation, d) plastic waste, e) fossil fuel emissions and climate change.
  5. It has further stated that many of areas where Nature’s contribution to human wellbeing will most severely compromised are home to indigenous people and world’s poorest communities. It also highlights that deteriorating health of ecosystems also threaten business and financial concerns, livelihoods, food security, health and quality of life worldwide.

RBI raises cap on home loans by SFBs, RRBs

  1. The Reserve Bank of India has decided to increase the housing loan limits for Regional Rural Banks(RRBs) and Small Finance Banks(SFBs). Further, all such loans will be classified by these banks as priority sector loans.
  2. The eligibility cap has been increased to ₹35 lakh in metropolitan areas and ₹25 lakh in other centres provided the overall cost of the dwelling unit in the metropolitan centres and other centres does not exceed ₹45 lakh and ₹30 lakh respectively.
  3. Priority Sector Lending is an important role given by the Reserve Bank of India (RBI) to the banks for providing a specified portion of the bank lending to few specific sectors.
  4. Priority Sector includes the following categories:(a) Agriculture (b)Micro, Small and Medium Enterprises (c) Export Credit (d) Education (e) Housing (f) Social Infrastructure (g)Renewable Energy and (h)Others.
  5. Regional Rural Banks(RRBs) are Indian Scheduled Commercial Banks operating at regional level in different States of India. They have been created with a view of serving primarily the rural areas of India with basic banking and financial services. However, RRBs may have branches set up for urban operations and their area of operation may include urban areas too.
  6. Small finance banks are a type of niche banks in India. Banks with a small finance bank license can provide basic banking service of acceptance of deposits and lending. The aim is to provide financial inclusion to sections of the economy not being served by other banks, such as small business units, small and marginal farmers, micro and small industries and unorganised sector entities.

Indian Navy’s submarine ‘Vela’ of Project 75 launched

  1. Indian Navy has launched Scorpene class Submarine Vela. The submarine has been named Vela after an earlier submarine which was the lead submarine of the erstwhile Vela class.
  2. Vela is the fourth of six planned Scorpene-class submarines. The six submarines will replace the Indian Navy’s ageing Sindhughosh and Shishumar class of submarines.
  3. Scorpene class submarines is a class of diesel-electric submarine being built under Project-75 by Mazgaon Docks Limited (MDL) with technology transfer from France. It features diesel-electric propulsion and an additional air-independent propulsion(AIP) system. It will have both anti-surface and anti-submarine warfare.
  4. Conventional diesel-electric submarines have to surface every few days to get oxygen to recharge their batteries. With AIP systems, they can stay submerged for much longer periods.
  5. A submarine is a watercraft capable of independent operation underwater. A submarine is the quietest military platform and extremely tough to detect. Their main cover is their ability to move stealthily under water and keep an eye on enemy movement of vessels.

After 36 years,Indian Navy’s frontline missile destroyer INS Ranjit to be decommissioned

  1. The Indian Navy’s frontline missile destroyer, INS Ranjit will be decommissioned at the naval dockyard in Visakhapatnam after having served for 36 years.
  2. INS Ranjit was the third of the five Kashin-class destroyers built by erstwhile USSR.
  3. INS Ranjit was commissioned on 24 November 1983 by the Indian Navy. It is the third of the five Rajput-class destroyers built for the Indian Navy.
  4. The ship was at the forefront of major naval operations and served on both the Eastern and Western seaboards.
  5. Apart from naval operations like ‘Op Talwar’ and various multinational exercises,the ship participated in relief operations post Tsunami in 2004 and Cyclone Hud-hud in 2014.
  6. In recognition of the service rendered by INS Ranjit to the nation, the ship was awarded Unit Citations by the Chief of Naval Staff in 2003-04 and in 2009-10.

Army to induct 460 Russian origin tanks to add muscle on Pak front

  1. Indian Army has decided to induct an additional 460 Russian-origin upgraded T-90 ‘Bhishma’ battle tanks. This comes after the cabinet committee on security had earlier cleared the license acquisition from Russia.
  2. The order to produce the 464 T-90 tanks will soon be given to Avadi Heavy Vehicle Factory(HVF) which works under the Ordnance Factory Board. These tanks would be equipped with thermal imaging night sights to allow the tank commander to strike enemy locations during night battles.
  3. The new inductions will also strengthen the Army’s fire-power along the land border stretch with Pakistan from Jammu in the north till the western flank in Gujarat.
  4. This move comes at a time when the Army is reformatting its entire war-fighting machinery and the Cold start or Pro-Active Strategy which envisages fast mobilisation to strike hard across the border with multiple offensive thrusts.
  5. Further, Pakistan has also drawn up a plan to procure close to 600 battle tanks including T-90 tanks from Russia.

Emissions fiasco: No coercive action against Volkswagen, says SC

  1. The Supreme Court (SC) has stayed an order of the National Green Tribunal (NGT) imposing a fine of ₹500 crore on Volkswagen AG. The NGT had imposed the fine on Volkswagen for harming the environment.
  2. The NGT had fined ₹500 crore for allegedly damaging the environment by using cheat device in its diesel cars sold in India. A cheat device is a software that allows car manufacturers to manipulate emission tests by altering the performance of its engines.
  3. Volkswagen India has said that it had not used any cheat device. However, in 2015,the automaker recalled about 3 lakh cars in India that were equipped with EA 189 diesel engines for technical updates.
  4. The Volkswagen emissions cheating scandal emerged in 2015 in the US when authorities in the US discovered that diesel vehicles manufactured by the company emitted nitrogen oxide 40 times the permissible limits.
  5. Subsequently, the company pleaded guilty of using a device that showed emissions within permissible limit when they were tested in laboratories but violated the norms while running on the roads.
  6. These diesel vehicles were produced between 2009 and 2015 and Volkswagen issued a recall of almost 11 million vehicles fitted with the EA 189 diesel engines across the world.The company was also asked to pay a hefty fine by a US federal court.

Discom debt to return to pre-UDAY levels

  1. According to the credit ratings agency Crisil,the debt of state-owned electricity distribution companies (discoms) is set to increase to pre-Ujwal Discom Assurance Yojana (UDAY) levels of ₹2.6 lakh crore by the end of 2019-20.
  2. The Ujwal Discom Assurance Yojana (Uday) was launched in 2015.It envisaged state governments taking over 75% of the utilities debts, thus reducing the interest burden on the discoms. In turn, the discoms were to improve their financial and operational parameters and become more efficient.
  3. However, Crisil’s report has found that while discoms enjoyed the benefit of debt reduction but structural reforms have not been implemented completely.
  4. Crisil has suggested that discoms should become commercially viable through regular tariff hikes and a material reduction in aggregate technical and commercial (AT&C) losses. AT&C loss is the difference between energy input units into the system and the units for which the payment is collected.
  5. The report has also suggested that states need to take stringent actions to get discoms back into shape or prepare for another bail-out. However, improvement in discom operations may face challenges because the focus on new rural connections without adequate tariff hikes can increase losses.

Explained: Dissent in the Election Commission – what the rules say

  1. According to a report, one of the Election Commissioner has dissented with the opinion of other Election Commissioners in five different matters pertaining to alleged violations of the Model Code of Conduct (MCC).
  2. Section 10 (Disposal of business by Election Commission) of The Election Commission (Conditions of Service of Election Commissioners and Transaction of Business) Act,1991 lays down that all business of the Commission shall as far as possible be transacted unanimously.
  3. However, If the Chief Election Commissioner (CEC) and other Election Commissioners (ECs) differ in opinion on any matter, such matter shall be decided according to the opinion of the majority.
  4. Model code of Conduct (MCC) are the guidelines issued by the Election Commission of India for conduct of political parties and candidates during elections.
  5. The MCC comes into force immediately on the announcement of the election schedule by the commission. The Code remains in force till the end of the electoral process. The MCC came into force on March 10, 2019 after the announcement of election schedule by the Election Commission.

Sushma Swaraj, Shah Mehmood Qureshi to attend SCO meet

  1. The foreign ministers of India and Pakistan will be attending a meeting of the Shanghai Cooperation Organisation Council of Foreign Ministers in Bishkek, Kyrgyzstan on May 21,2019.
  2. This meeting could provide an opportunity for the two countries to explore the possibility of engagement. The official dialogue between India and Pakistan has been at a standstill since 2013.
  3. Indian Government has maintained that talks and terror cannot go together. India is also likely to wait and see how Pakistan implements the United Nations 1267 Sanctions Committee sanctions on Masood Azhar after he was declared a global terrorist.
  4. Further,Indian and Pakistani talks over the pending Kartarpur Sahib corridor have also been stalled due to India’s concerns over the inclusion of Khalistan separatists in the Gurdwara committee.
  5. The Shanghai Cooperation Organisation, also known as the Shanghai Pact, is a Eurasian political, economic, and military organisation. It was founded in 2001 by the leaders of China, Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan, Russia, Tajikistan and Uzbekistan.
  6. Apart from Uzbekistan, the other five countries have been a part of the Shanghai 5 since 1996.The cooperation was renamed to Shanghai Cooperation Organisation after Uzbekistan joined the organisation in 2001.India and Pakistan joined SCO as full members in 2017.

Can’t ensure cheaper oil for India,says US

  1. US commerce secretary has said that the US government cannot ensure sale of its oil to India at cheaper rates as the commodity is controlled by private companies.
  2. Recently, India had stopped importing crude oil from Iran following the US move to end sanction waivers. Iranian oil was a profitable buy for India as supplies from Iran used to land up in India in a week which used to reduce the logistics cost and the import bill.
  3. Further, Iran also used to make arrangements to ship the oil to India including providing insurance cover during transit. In the case of most other suppliers including the US, refiners have to make shipping arrangements and pay for insurance.
  4. India is the world’s third-largest consumer of oil with 85% of its crude oil and 34% of its natural gas requirements being fulfilled by imports. India was also the second biggest buyer of Iranian crude oil after China.

Karnataka students who missed NEET due to train delay will get another chance: Javadekar

  1. Union Human Resource Development(HRD) Minister has announced that Karnataka students who missed the chance to write the National Eligibility cum Entrance Test(NEET) because of a train delay can retake the exam.
  2. NEET (National Eligibility cum Entrance Test-Under Graduate) is an entrance examination which is conducted by the National Testing Agency once a year for admission in MBBS/BDS course in all medical colleges across the country whether government and private except certain institutions including AIIMS and JIPMER.
  3. National Testing Agency is an autonomous body, constituted under the Ministry of Human Resources Development. It was created to conduct entrance examinations for Higher Education Institutions(HEIs) in the country. It is chaired by an educationist who is appointed by the MHRD. The agency also has a board of governors who represent the member institutions

SC dismisses plea on traffic restriction in J&K

  1. The Supreme Court has dismissed a plea which had challenged the restrictions on civilian movement along the National Highway between Baramulla and Udhampur in Jammu and Kashmir.
  2. Recently, Jammu and Kashmir administration and Centre had issued an order banning the movement of civilian traffic on the national highway from Baramulla to Udhampur.
  3. The ban on the civilian traffic was in force for the two days Sunday and Wednesday from 4 am to 5 pm every week till May 31.No civilian traffic was allowed during the movement of the paramilitary forces.
  4. The order was challenged before the Supreme Court on the grounds that  a) the ban directly affects the lives of lakhs of people and its indirect economic and social impact is permanent (b)prohibition on civilian traffic on the highway will also have an impact on the tourism industry of the state and (c)It violates the fundamental rights of citizens, including those to life, health, education and livelihood.
  5. Following criticism over the order, the state administration on April 20 had relaxed the ban and said that the restriction would be limited only to Sundays. The administration had also lifted the restrictions on civilian traffic movement on the Srinagar-Baramulla stretch of the National Highway-44.
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