Current Affairs 28 November

edited December 2018 in Daily Current Affairs

Central Water Commission

The Central Water Commission should be disbanded, experts and activists said at India River Week (IRW)-2018. This will be one of the many demands in the Citizens Report from IRW-2018 for rejuvenation of the Ganga.

Why disband CWC?

According to the experts, the panel has too much on its plate and it needs to go for better regulatory framework. It is a body which is doing multiple jobs—collecting data, making policies, giving technical and financial approvals to various projects, monitoring and what not. It is not capable of doing all this.

Long- and short-term measures to save Ganga (Experts views):

For restoring the e-flows, all proposed projects in the Ganga River Basin should be cancelled. The construction of all projects in the headstreams of the river should also be cancelled.
Among medium-term measures, old dams should be decommissioned. The inland waterways and riverfront development projects should be withdrawn as they are harming the Ganga.
An autonomous institute for the Ganga should be established rather than a one controlled only by the government.
On policy front, a national river policy and a separate national urban water policy to govern the urban use of water resources should be put in place.
No use of machinery to extract sand and other boulders from the riverbed should be proposed.
To improve the base flows, improve upon crop pattern and better irrigation methods.
Other suggestions include- reducing groundwater extraction from the Ganga, promoting rainwater harvesting, ensuring better functioning of existing sewage treatment plants in the Ganga basin (to ensure clean river), comprehensive Ganga law on the lines of the draft given by late G D Agarwal, establishing protected zones in origin stretches of all major rivers and tributaries (for biodiversity conservation), teaching ecology in all science and engineering curricula across the country and studying of climate change impacts on the Ganga, among many others.


About CWC: Central Water Commission is a premier Technical Organization of India in the field of Water Resources and is presently functioning as an attached office of the Ministry of Water Resources, River Development and Ganga Rejuvenation, Government of India.

Functions: The Commission is entrusted with the general responsibilities of initiating, coordinating and furthering in consultation of the State Governments concerned, schemes for control, conservation and utilization of water resources throughout the country, for purpose of Flood Control, Irrigation, Navigation, Drinking Water Supply and Water Power Development. It also undertakes the investigations, construction and execution of any such schemes as required.

What to study?

Static Part: About CWC- composition and objectives.
Dynamic and Current: River Ganga and its conservation related issues, why disband CWC and what needs to be done?

CRISPR Technology

A Chinese researcher recently claimed that he had altered the genes of a human embryo that eventually resulted in the birth of twin girls. The genes were claimed to be “edited” to ensure that they do not get infected with HIV, the virus that causes AIDS.

If proven, it would be the first instance of human offspring having been produced with specific desired attributes, using newly-developed tools of gene “editing”.


What are Genes and what is gene- editing?

Genes contain the bio-information that defines any individual. Physical attributes like height, skin or hair colour, more subtle features and even behavioural traits can be attributed to information encoded in the genetic material.

An ability to alter this information gives scientists the power to control some of these features. Gene “editing” — sometimes expressed in related, but not always equivalent, terms like genetic modification, genetic manipulation or genetic engineering — is not new.

What is CRISPR-Cas9?

The clustered, regularly interspaced, short palindromic repeats, or CRISPR/CRISPR-associated protein 9 (Cas9) (CRISPR-Cas9) system has revolutionised genetic manipulations and made gene editing simpler, faster and easily accessible to most laboratories.

CRISPR technology is basically a gene-editing technology that can be used for the purpose of altering genetic expression or changing the genome of an organism.

The technology can be used for targeting specific stretches of an entire genetic code or editing the DNA at particular locations.
CRISPR technology is a simple yet powerful tool for editing genomes. It allows researchers to easily alter DNA sequences and modify gene function.
Its many potential applications include correcting genetic defects, treating and preventing the spread of diseases and improving crops. However, its promise also raises ethical concerns.

How it works?

CRISPR-Cas9 technology behaves like a cut-and-paste mechanism on DNA strands that contain genetic information.

The specific location of the genetic codes that need to be changed, or “edited”, is identified on the DNA strand, and then, using the Cas9 protein, which acts like a pair of scissors, that location is cut off from the strand. A DNA strand, when broken, has a natural tendency to repair itself.
Scientists intervene during this auto-repair process, supplying the desired sequence of genetic codes that binds itself with the broken DNA strand.

Concerns:

Tampering with the genetic code in human beings is more contentious. Leading scientists in the field have for long been calling for a “global pause” on clinical applications of the technology in human beings, until internationally accepted protocols are developed.

Issues:

Study by Stanford University, U.S., found that the CRISPR-Cas9 system introduces unexpected off-target (outside of the intended editing sites) effects in mice. The fear that the CRISPR system is being prematurely rushed for clinical use lingers. Three recent reports have exacerbated this fear even further.

Studies highlighted that CRISPR-Cas9-edited cells might trigger cancer.
May increase the risk of mutations elsewhere in the genome in those cells.
Although, CRISPR-Cas9 technology has been successfully used to cure several diseases however, it remains many things are not clear like how we should determine which disease or traits are appropriate for gene editing.
Ethical concerns: In addition, there are concerns with manipulating human embryos for own interest.

What to study?

Static Part: All about CRISPR technology and how it works?
Dynamic and Current: Recent developments, significance of the technology, concerns associated and ethical concerns associated.

Measures to tackle crisis in stressed thermal power projects

High Level Empowered Committee (HLEC) set up by Government of India in July 2018 has come out with its report on stranded thermal power projects.

Background:

The Committee has assessed the landscape of these stranded assets and identified the various reasons that have contributed to the current scenario. The report has also suggested measures to resolve the challenges. These power plants were first identified by the Ministry of Power as stressed assets in March 2017.

Multiple reasons behind the crisis:

The HLEC identified several critical reasons that have contributed to the crisis, which has been festering for more than two years now.

While the Twelth Five Year Plan had envisaged a capacity addition requirement of 88 GW, 99 GW capacity was added during the corresponding period — this led to a glut of supply, causing plants to perform below their rated capacities.

Apart from this, the debt burden of the distribution utilities and the financial stress on banks/financial institutions as well as promoters and bidders.

It is important to note that a significant chunk of the problem has been caused by the erratic coal supply and the uncertainty of coal supplies due to scrapping of mine auctions by the Supreme Court. Clearly, institutional challenges related to the government have contributed to the problem.

In the case of the Ultra Mega Power Projects (UMPP), for which bidding took place, several players quoted very aggressively, a decision they have since come to regret. Several other promoters did not even secure coal linkages before commencing with the project. Cost and time overruns also took place with some.

Few Suggested solutions:

Coal supply is an inter-ministerial issue, whereby the ministries for coal and railways have been requested to work out mechanisms to address short-term issues of supply, alongside the sale of coal at notified prices without entering bidding in case of short term power purchase agreements.
Further, linking coal supply to power plant efficiency is a good way to incentivise better, newer and more efficient assets.
Closing down of old, inefficient thermal power units make for good economics and good environmental sense.
Several measures related to power markets to address the financial risks have been strongly recommended by the HLEC. These include getting NTPC or any other agency to act as an aggregator for power purchases, which can subsequently be sold to distribution utilities.
Further, suggestion on payment security mechanism—all PPAs have a support for a letter of credit (LoC) for one month’s purchase equivalent to guarantee it. It would rather be prudent to increase the value of the LoC instead of seeking a separate mechanism, and ensure that it can trigger automatically against a payment default or delay.

Way ahead:

In conclusion, the HLEC has shown that ways can be found to sort out the mess within the thermal power sector for coal fired power plants. However, the sole focus on coal has meant that gas-based power plants will have to wait for their turn under the sun.


Water Deficit next year in India

Latest edition of Global Water Monitor & Forecast Watch List has been released by IScience (US based limited liability Corporation). As per the report, water deficits will increase and intensify in India in 2019.

Water Security Indicator Model (WSIM):

The findings are based on ISciences Water Security Indicator Model (WSIM). The model analyses global water anomalies using observed temperature and precipitation.

Highlights of the report:

The forecast predicts severe to exceptional surplus water for regions including Jammu and Kashmir, Himachal Pradesh, Uttar Pradesh and Mizoram. Moderate to severe deficits were forecast for Bihar.
From February through April, deficits in India are expected to moderate overall and some regions in the country’s eastern third will normalise. However, intense deficits will persist throughout Gujarat and Madhya Pradesh and along the Tungabhadra River through Karnataka.
The forecast for the final months — May through July (2019) — indicates primarily moderate deficits in India and pockets throughout the region. Some surpluses are expected in Jammu and Kashmir, northern Pakistan, along the Gandaki River in central Nepal, and pockets of Tamil Nadu.
The 12-month forecast through July 2019 indicates exceptional (greater than 40 years) water deficits in Maharashtra, Telangana, Andhra Pradesh, Karnataka, and Madhya Pradesh.
Though this September’s extreme heat was unrelated to El Niño — which usually introduces warm dry conditions — El Niño is being blamed for low rainfall during the June-to-September monsoon season. The monsoon rain deficits have caused drought-like conditions in almost a third of Indian districts, and added stress for the farmers.
The report also notes that India’s coffee production is expected to fall to its lowest in five years due to flood damage to plantations in southern states such as Kerala and Karnataka. India exports about three quarters of the coffee it produces, and flood damage has been reported in all key producing areas of the country. The future forecast will help visualise the impact and intensity at a large scale.
What to study?

Static Part: Who releases Global Water Monitor and Forecast Watch list.
Dynamic and Current: Highlights of the report, concerns, challenges and measures necessary.


Hog deer:

Indian scientists have discovered in India an endangered sub-species of hog deer (Axis porcinus annamiticus), earlier believed to be confined to the eastern part of central Thailand.

Key facts:

Researchers reported the presence of a small population of hog deer in Keibul Lamjao National Park (KLNP), Manipur. The population genetically resembles A. p. annamiticus. The study indicates that the western limit of hog deer is Manipur; not central Thailand as believed.

Significance: Since hog deer is losing habitat in other countries, the genetically distinct and evolutionarily significant population found in KLNP— considered a biodiversity hotspot on the India-Myanmar border—is significant for conservation.

The hog deer or Pada is an endangered species in the IUCN Red List and is protected under Schedule I of the Indian Wild Life (Protection) Act, 1972. The species has lost ground in most of its distribution range. A small and isolated population of under 250 was reported from Cambodia. However, it was widely distributed throughout the Southeast Asian countries at the beginning of the 20th century.

Two sub-species of hog deer have been reported from its range. The western race is distributed from Pakistan and the terai grasslands (along the Himalayan foothills, from Punjab to Arunachal Pradesh), while the eastern race of hog deer is found in Thailand, Indo-China, Laos, Cambodia, and Vietnam.


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