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13th January Current Affairs

Sir Creek pact

(GS-II: India and its neighbourhood- relations)

In News:

Siachen and Sir Creek have long been termed “low hanging fruits” in the past for resolution between India and Pakistan and the two countries have held 13 rounds of Defence Secretary-level talks on Siachen, the last one in June 2012.

However, there has been no resolution yet on the issue.

What is Sir Creek?

Sir Creek is a 96-km strip of water disputed between India and Pakistan in the Rann of Kutch marshlands.

Originally named Ban Ganga, Sir Creek is named after a British representative.

The Creek opens up in the Arabian Sea and roughly divides the Kutch region of Gujarat from the Sindh Province of Pakistan.

What’s the dispute?

The dispute lies in the interpretation of the maritime boundary line between Kutch and Sindh.

Before India’s independence, the provincial region was a part of the Bombay Presidency of British India. But after India’s independence in 1947, Sindh became a part of Pakistan while Kutch remained a part of India.

Pakistan claims the entire creek as per paragraphs 9 and 10 of the Bombay Government Resolution of 1914 signed between then the Government of Sindh and Rao Maharaj of Kutch.

The resolution, which demarcated the boundaries between the two territories, included the creek as part of Sindh, thus setting the boundary as the eastern flank of the creek popularly known as Green Line.

But India claims that the boundary lies mid-channel as depicted in another map drawn in 1925, and implemented by the installation of mid-channel pillars back in 1924.

In its support, it cites the Thalweg Doctrine in International Maritime Law, which states that river boundaries between two states may be divided by the mid-channel if the water-body is navigable.

What’s the importance of Sir Creek?

Apart from strategic location, Sir Creek’s core importance is fishing resources. Sir Creek is considered to be among the largest fishing grounds in Asia.

Another vital reason is the possible presence of great oil and gas concentration under the sea, which are currently unexploited thanks to the impending deadlock on the issue.

Pig heart transplant

(GS-III: Science and technology)

In News:

Surgeons in the US have transplanted a pig’s heart inside a human patient in a bold endeavour that represents a remarkable first in the world of medical science.

This success could potentially end the years-long backlog of people waiting to receive a healthy organ and open up a brave new world of possibilities.

Xenotransplantation:

Xenotransplantation is the process of grafting or transplanting organs or tissues between members of different species.

It has been pursued by modern medical science for decades, but experts have found it difficult to surmount the challenge presented by the immune system’s rejection of an alien organ, ending in deadly outcomes for patients.

How was the transplantation carried out?

The transplanted heart was harvested from a pig that had undergone genetic editing that saw scientists remove three genes “that would have led to rejection of pig organs by humans” along with one that would have led to excessive growth of pig heart tissue.

Further, six human genes that would have facilitated the organ’s acceptance by the human body were inserted into the pig genome, meaning that a total of 10 unique gene edits were carried out in the pig by the US biotech firm Revivicor.

Why pigs?

Pigs are increasingly becoming popular candidates for organ transplantation. This is because their organs are anatomically similar to those of humans. What’s more, porcine components are more tuned for genetic engineering.

The organ shortage problem:

In India, patients need 25,000-30,000 liver transplants annually. But only about 1,500 end up receiving them.

Similarly, nearly 50,000 persons suffer from heart failures annually. Still, only about 10-15 heart transplants are performed every year.

One of the biggest obstacles to transplantation is organ rejection. Scientists have addressed the problem by genetically altering pigs’ organs.

Early xenotransplantation attempts:

A spate of kidney, liver and heart transplants from non-human primates to humans happened in the 1970s. A majority of them failed.

This is attributed to organ rejection — our immune system rejects agents that are foreign to the body. Surgical complications were also behind the failure.

In 1984, a human infant received a heart from a baboon. She died 21 days after the transplant.

Primates fell out of favour in the 1990s because they were susceptible to virus spread. This brought pigs into the spotlight.

Breakthroughs so far:

In 2017, Chinese surgeons reportedly transplanted pig cornea to restore sight in a human.

In 2020, US experts attached a genetically-altered kidney to a brain-dead person.

State of Forest Report 2021

(GS-III: Conservation related issues)

In News:

The Ministry of Environment, Forests and Climate Change (MoEFCC) has released the India State of Forest Report (ISFR) 2021.

The biennial report by the Forest Survey of India (FSI) is an assessment of the country’s forest resources.

Highlights of the Report:

India’s forest and tree cover has risen by 2,261 square kilometers in the last two years with Andhra Pradesh growing the maximum forest cover of 647 square kilometers.

The total tree-and-forest cover in the country includes an increase of 1,540 square kilometres of forest cover and 721 sq km of tree cover compared to the 2019 report.

India’s total forest and tree cover is now spread across 80.9 million hectares, which is 62 per cent of the geographical area of the country.

The top five states in terms of increase in forest cover are Andhra Pradesh (647 sq km), Telangana (632 sq km), Odisha (537 sq km), Karnataka (155 sq km) and Jharkhand (110 sq km).

The gain in forest cover or improvement in forest canopy density may be attributed to better conservation measures, protection, afforestation activities, tree plantation drives and agroforestry.

Among the mega cities in the country, Ahmedabad has been the biggest loser when it comes to forest cover.

States with maximum forest cover:

Area-wise, Madhya Pradesh has the largest forest cover in the country followed by Arunachal Pradesh, Chhattisgarh, Odisha and Maharashtra.

17 states/UTs have above 33 per cent of the geographical area under forest cover.

Out of these states and UTs, Lakshadweep, Mizoram, Andaman & Nicobar Islands, Arunachal Pradesh and Meghalaya have more than 75 per cent forest cover.

Mangrove cover in the country:

There is an increase of 17 sq km in mangrove cover in the country as compared to the previous assessment of 2019.

Total mangrove cover in the country is 4,992 sq km.

Top three states showing mangrove cover increase are Odisha (8 sq km) followed by Maharashtra (4 sq km) and Karnataka (3 sq km).

Carbon stock:

The total carbon stock in the country’s forest is estimated to be 7,204 million tonnes and there is an increase of 79.4 million tonnes in the carbon stock of the country as compared to the last assessment of 2019.

The annual increase in the carbon stock is 39.7 million tonnes.

Concerns:

The north-east did not show positive results as the current assessment showed a decrease of forest cover to the extent of 1,020 sq km in the region.

Arunachal Pradesh lost the maximum forest cover of 257 sq km, followed by Manipur which lost 249 sq km, Nagaland 235 sq km, Mizoram 186 sq km and Meghalaya 73 sq km.

In total 140 hill districts of the country, the forest cover reduced by 902 sq km in the last two years. In the 2019 report, the forest cover in the hill regions had increased by 544 sq km.

Efforts by Government to increase forest cover in the country:

To achieve India’s aim of increasing additional carbon sink of 2.5 to 3 billion tonnes CO2 equivalent by 2030, Nagar Van Yojna has been introduced to increase the tree cover and joined with the second phase of Green Mission in the next five years.

Significant features of ISFR 2021:

In the present ISFR 2021, FSI has included a new chapter related to the assessment of forest cover in the Tiger Reserves, Corridors and Lion conservation area of India.

A new initiative of FSI has also been documented in the form of a chapter, where the ‘Above Ground Biomass’ has been estimated. FSI, in collaboration with Space Application Centre (SAC), ISRO, Ahmedabad, initiated a special study for estimation of Above Ground Biomass (AGB) at pan-India level, using L- band of Synthetic Aperture Radar (SAR) data.

FSI in collaboration of with Birla Institute of Technology & Science (BITS) Pilani, Goa Campus has performed a study based on ‘Mapping of Climate Change Hotspots in Indian Forests’. The collaborative study was carried out with the objective to map the climatic hotspots over the forest cover in India, using computer model-based projection of temperature and rainfall data, for the three future time periods i.e. year 2030, 2050 and 2085.

The report also contains information on various parameters State/UT wise. Special thematic information on forest cover such as hill, tribal districts, and north eastern region has also been given separately in the report.

Ayushman Bharat Health Infrastructure Mission

(GS-II: Issues related to health)

In News:

Prime Minister Narendra Modi has said the Union government would provide Rs 3,000 crore to Tamil Nadu in the next five years under the Pradhan Mantri Ayushman Bharat Health Infrastructure Mission to address critical gaps in health infrastructure and health research, especially at the district level.

About the scheme:

The scheme aims at strengthening healthcare infrastructure across the country.

Its objective is to fill gaps in public health infrastructure, especially in critical care facilities and primary care in both urban and rural areas.

Through this, critical care services will be available in all the districts of the country with more than five lakh population through exclusive critical care hospital blocks, while the remaining districts will be covered through referral services.

People will have access to a full range of diagnostic services in the public healthcare system through a network of laboratories across the country, and integrated public health labs will be set up in all the districts.

Integrated public health labs will also be set up in all districts, giving people access to “a full range of diagnostic services” through a network of laboratories across the country.

An IT-enabled disease surveillance system will be established through a network of surveillance laboratories at block, district, regional and national levels.

All the public health labs will be connected through the Integrated Health Information Portal, which will be expanded to all states and UTs.

Institutions to be set-up under the scheme:

Under the scheme, a national institution for one health, four new national institutes for virology, a regional research platform for WHO South East Asia Region, nine biosafety level-III laboratories, and five new regional national centres for disease control will be set up.

Benefits and significance of the scheme:

It will provide support for 17,788 rural health and wellness centres in 10 high-focus states. Further, 11,024 urban health and wellness centres will be established in all the States.

A brief overview of healthcare Infrastructure in India:

India has long been in need of a ubiquitous healthcare system. Here are the findings of a latest survey:

70 percent of the locations have public healthcare services. However, availability was less in rural areas (65 per cent) compared to urban areas (87 per cent).

In 45 per cent of the surveyed locations, people could access healthcare services by walking, whereas in 43 per cent of the locations they needed to use transport.

The survey also found that proximity to healthcare services is higher in urban localities: 64 percent of the enumerators in urban areas observed that people can access healthcare services by walking, while only 37 per cent in rural areas can do so.