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23rd May Current Affairs

IFC-IOR to check China overfishing

(GS-II: India and neighbourhood relations)

In News:

Quad nations — Australia, India, Japan and the United States — are reported to be getting ready to unveil a maritime surveillance initiative to protect exclusive economic zones in the Indo-Pacific against environmental damage.

Aim:

The aim is to push back especially against massive and reckless deepwater fishing by Chinese trawlers in the region.

For this, the Quad nations could utilise Indian Navy’s Information Fusion Centre-Indian Ocean Region (IFC-IOR).

About the maritime surveillance initiative:

It will bring together existing surveillance centres in Singapore, India, and the Pacific to create a tracking system for illegal unregulated and unreported fishing (IUUF) in the Indo-Pacific region.

Need for:

Chinese trawler fleets are seen as responsible for most of the IUUF in the Indo-Pacific region, and the initiative is likely to be viewed as a Quad pressure point against China.

In recent years, IUUF has been seen as growing into a bigger threat to maritime states than international piracy.

Studies have said that unregulated and unreported fishing are bigger challenges than illegal fishing, as they deplete stocks and deprive vulnerable regional economies of an important food source.

China is the world’s biggest offender in this regard, and is believed to be responsible for 80% to 95% of the illegal fishing in the Indo-Pacific.

About IFC-IOR:

The IFC-IOR was set up in 2018 to coordinate with regional countries on maritime issues and act as a regional repository of maritime data.

It presently has linkages with more than 50 partner countries and multi-national agencies across the globe.

It is located in Gurugram, India.

The centre was established as part of the government’s SAGAR (Security and Growth For All in the Region) framework for maritime co-operation in the Indian Ocean region.

It hosts international liaison officers from partner countries, which include both India’s immediate neighbours in the Indian Ocean region and from further afield.

Norms eased for genetically modified crop research

(GS-III: Biotechnology)

In News:

The Department of Biotechnology (DBT) has issued guidelines easing norms for research into genetically modified (GM) crops and circumventing challenges of using foreign genes to change crops profile.

These guidelines are applicable to all public/private organisations involved in research, development and handling of Gene Edited Plants

Overview of the ‘Guidelines for Safety Assessment of Genome Edited Plants, 2022’:

Exemption: The researchers who use gene-editing technology to modify the genome of the plant are exempt from seeking approvals from the Genetic Engineering Appraisal Committee (GEAC).

The final call however is taken by the Environment Minister as well as States where such plants could be cultivated.

All requirements that researchers must adhere to develop transgenic seeds will apply to gene-edited seeds except clauses that require permission from the GEAC.

Concerns raised by Environmentalist groups:

Environmentalist groups have opposed this exception for gene-edited crops.

That say, gene editing is included in genetic engineering. Therefore, there is no question of giving exemptions to particular kinds of genome edited plants from the regulatory purview.

Gene editing techniques involve altering the function of genes and can cause “large and unintended consequences” that can change the “toxicity and allergenicity” of plants. “

What are GM crops?

The GM plants involve transgenic technology or introducing a gene from a different species into a plant, for instance BT-cotton, where a gene from soil bacterium is used to protect a plant from pest attack.

Issues surrounding GM Crops:

The worry around this method is that these genes may spread to neighboring plants, where such effects are not intended and so their applications have been controversial.

What is Genome Editing?

Genome editing involves the use of technologies that allow genetic material to be added, removed, or altered at particular locations in the genome.

Several approaches to genome editing have been developed.

A well-known one is called CRISPR-Cas9, which is short for clustered regularly interspaced short palindromic repeats and CRISPR-associated protein 9.

Genetic Engineering Appraisal Committee (GEAC):

The GEAC functions under the Ministry of Environment, Forest and Climate Change (MoEF&CC).

It is a statutory body notified under the Environment (Protection) Act, 1986.

As per Rules, 1989, it is responsible for appraisal of activities involving large scale use of hazardous microorganisms and recombinants in research and industrial production from the environmental angle.

Assam Floods

(GS-III: Disaster management)

In News:

Torrential rainfall and landslides in the past few days have eroded sections of roads and railway tracks in Assam.

Details:

The weather department has predicted that “extremely heavy rains” will continue for the coming days as the states stay on ‘red alert.’

What floods are common in Assam?

Brahmaputra is braided and unstable in its entire reach in Assam except for a few places. The main reasons behind the instability of the river are high sedimentation and steep slopes.

High percentage of flood prone region: 31.05 lakh hectares of the total 78.523 lakh hectares area of the state is prone to frequent floods. And the reasons behind this high flood prone area percentage are both man-made and natural.

EARTHQUAKES/LANDSLIDES: Assam and some other parts of the northeastern region are prone to frequent earthquakes, which causes landslides. The landslides and earthquakes send in a lot of debris in the rivers, causing the river bed to rise.

BANK EROSION: Assam has also faced bank erosion around the Brahmaputra and Barak rivers as well as their tributaries. It is estimated that annually nearly 8000 hectares land is lost to erosion. Bank erosion has also affected the width of the Brahmaputra river, which has increased up to 15 km.

DAMS: Among the man-made reasons, the key cause of floods in Assam region is releasing of water from dams situated uphill. Unregulated release of water floods the Assam plains, leaving thousands of people homeless every year.

Guwahati’s topography — it’s shaped like a bowl — does make it susceptible to water logging.

Unplanned expansion of the urban areas has led to severe encroachments in the wetlands, low lying areas, hills and shrinkage of forest cover.

The river also changes course frequently and it’s virtually impossible to contain it within embankments. The pressure of the surging water takes a toll on these walls.

How governments have tried to handle the situation? Where have they failed?

Floods are a recurrent feature during the monsoons in Assam. In fact, ecologists point out that flood waters have historically rejuvenated croplands and fertilised soil in the state’s alluvial areas.

But it’s also a fact that for more than 60 years, the Centre and state governments have not found ways to contain the toll taken by the raging waters.

The state has primarily relied on embankments to control floods. This flood control measure was introduced in Assam in the early 1950s when the hydrology of most Indian rivers, including the Brahmaputra, was poorly understood.

But, several of the state’s embankments were reportedly breached by the floods this year.

What needs to be done now?

Studying the river and the impact of climate change is a must to understand why the state gets flooded every year.

Water flow information shared by China on the Brahmaputra with India, for which India pays a certain amount, should also be shared with the public, as this will help in understanding the river better and therefore help people better prepare for floods.

More accurate and decentralised forecasts of rain can help in improving preparedness. Weather reports should be made available on district level and should be accessible to public.

Need for these measures:

As the economy of Assam is largely dependent on natural resources, what happens with agriculture and forests has direct effects on the livelihood of its people. During floods, water becomes contaminated, and climate change has a direct impact on the water resources sector by increasing the scarcity of freshwater, which is a constant problem in summer.

RBI Surplus Transfer

(GS-III: Inclusive growth and issues arising out of it)

In News:

The board of Reserve Bank of India (RBI) has approved the transfer of ₹30,307 crore as surplus to the Central Government for the accounting year 2021-22.

Details:

The board has also decided to maintain the Contingency Risk Buffer at 5.50% without quantifying the amount.

Provisions in this regard:

The RBI, founded in 1934, operates according to the Reserve Bank of India Act of 1934. The act mandates that profits made by the central bank from its operations be sent to the Centre.

As the manager of its finances, every year the RBI also pays a dividend to the government to help with the finances from its surplus or profit.

A technical Committee of the RBI Board headed by Y H Malegam (2013), which reviewed the adequacy of reserves and surplus distribution policy, recommended a higher transfer to the government.

RBI’s Earning:

Returns earned on its foreign currency assets, which could be in the form of bonds and treasury bills of other central banks or top-rated securities, and deposits with other central banks.

Interest on its holdings of local rupee-denominated government bonds or securities, and while lending to banks for very short tenures, such as overnight.

Management commission on handling the borrowings of state governments and the central government.

RBI’s Expenditure:

Printing of currency notes and on staff, besides the commission it gives to banks for undertaking transactions on behalf of the government across the country, and to primary dealers, including banks, for underwriting some of these borrowings.