Scientists carry out genetic study on people of Lakshadweep Islands
Topic : GS Paper – I Geography
Genetic studies done on the people of the archipelago by a team, at CSIR-Centre for Cellular and Molecular Biology (CCMB), for the first time have shown that a majority of human ancestry in Lakshadweep is largely derived from South Asia with minor influences from East and West Eurasia. And, there was no evidence of early human migration through the Lakshadweep islands.
- Lakshadweep is an archipelago of 36 islands, scattered over approximately 78,000 square km of the Arabian Sea, 200-440 kms off the south-western coast of India, with population of approximately 65,000.
- However, the first human settlement of this archipelago is not clear.
- The islands were known to sailors since ancient times and historical documents say that the spread of Buddhism to these islands happened during 6th century B.C., Islam in 661 A.D. by Arabians.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.
- The islands are located between Africa and southwestern part of India.
- Through the earlier studies it is known that early human migration from Africa to Andaman and Australia happened through western coast of India.
- So, it is presumed that Lakshadweep Islands might have played a major role in early human migration and expected the presence of genetic signatures of ancient people, such as Andamanese and Australian aboriginals.
- DNA samples of 557 individuals from eight major islands for mitochondrial DNA and 166 individuals for Y chromosome markers were analysed.
- A strong founder effect for both paternal and maternal lineages — a sign that the island population had limited genetic mixing, was concluded.
- The authors have studied the major islands of Agatti, Andorth, Bitra, Chetlat, Kadmat, Kalpeni, Kiltan and Minicoy of Lakshadweep and demonstrated a close genetic link of Lakshadweep islanders with people from Maldives, Sri Lanka and India.
NGT seeks report on ‘illegal’ road in tiger reserve
Topic : GS Paper – III Environment and Ecology
- The National Green Tribunal constituted a committee, drawing representatives from various departments including Wildlife and PWD, to provide it a factual report on alleged illegal construction of a road for use by commercial vehicles in the ecologically sensitive Rajaji Tiger Reserve in Uttarakhand.
- The issue raised in the application relates to ex-situ conservation and in-situ conservation methods for protection of biodiversity and biological resources of Laldhang-Chillarkhal buffer area of Rajaji Tiger Reserve, Uttarakhand.
- A Bench headed by NGT Chairperson Justice Adarsh Kumar Goel formed the committee comprising representatives of the Ministry of Environment and Forests, Uttarakhand Public Works Department and National Tiger Conservation Authority (NTCA).
- The petition filed had said that the road is being built in the tiger reserve without statutory clearances and requisite safeguards and that the construction of the road may potentially damage the biological diversity and resources of the reserve.
- The plea claimed that the Uttarakhand government on March 1, 2017, without considering the negative impact on the biodiversity-rich stretch, opened the Laldang-Chillarkhal road in the reserve for commercial vehicles.
- The petition also said there already is a closure order from District Forest Officer of Lansdowne against the construction of the Laldhang-Chillarkhal road.
Two major issues:
Justice AK Goel, observed two errors on part of the Uttarakhand government.
- First, the state government started construction on Laldang-Chillarkhal Road, which falls in the buffer area of Rajaji Tiger Reserve, without taking a statutory clearance from NBWL.
- Secondly, no measures were taken by the state to protect the biodiversity of the park, both inside and outside the buffer zone, before starting the construction.
The committee said that it is necessary to seek a factual and action-taken report from the joint committee before considering the matter further. The report has to be furnished within three months by email. The NTCA would be the nodal agency for compliance and coordination.
Nests of grizzled giant squirrel spotted in Tamil Nadu
Topic : GS Paper – III Environment and Ecology
For the first time, researchers have sighted nests of the grizzled giant squirrel, at Pakkamalai Reserve Forests near Gingee in the Eastern Ghats.
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- A team of researchers and wildlife activists from Indigenous Biodiversity Foundation (IBF), a non-profit organisation were conducting a survey in the Pakkamalai Reserve Forests near Gingee when they spotted grizzled giant squirrels.
- Over 300 nests of the endangered species were spotted by the group.
- Several diverse and endangered species including the Golden Gecko, Bamboo Pit Viper and Mouse Deer have also been spotted in the Pakkamalai Reserve Forests.
- A member of the Indigenous Biodiversity Foundation (IBF) said that the government should immediately declare the forests as a sanctuary for the grizzled giant squirrel, he said.
Grizzled gaint squirrel:
- Grizzled giant squirrels are named for the white flecks of hair that cover their greyish-brown bodies, giving them a grizzled look
- It is an endangered species listed under Schedule I of the Wildlife Protection Act, 1972.
- 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.
- Owing to habitat loss and poaching, the species has been categorised as near threatened by the Red List and listed under Schedule II of CITES.
- Habitat loss coupled with hunting for its fur and bushmeat by the locals are said to be the major threats to this species.
1 million species at risk of extinction: UN
Topic : GS Paper – III Environment and Ecology
The Global Assessment Report compiled by a UN agency from more than 1500 academic papers says that the World’s life support systems are in trouble.
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- The report was compiled by 145 expert authors from 50 countries.
- Known as the Global Assessment, the report found that up to one million of Earth’s estimated eight million plant, insect and animal species is at risk of extinction, many within decades.
- The authors identified industrial farming and fishing as major drivers with the current rate of species extinction, tens to hundreds of times higher than the average over the last 10 million years.
- Climate change caused by burning the coal, oil and gas produced by the fossil fuel industry is exacerbating the losses, the report found.
- The report found that the average abundance of native species in most major land-based habitats has fallen by at least 20%, mostly since 1900.
- The threatened list includes more than 40% of amphibian species, almost 33% of reef-forming corals, and more than a third of all marine mammals. The picture was less clear for insect species, but a tentative estimate suggests 10% are at risk of extinction.
- Relentless pursuit of economic growth, twinned with the impact of climate change, has put an unprecedented one million species at risk of extinction, scientists said in a landmark report on the damage done by modern civilisation to the natural world.
- Only a wide-ranging transformation of the global economic and financial system could pull ecosystems that are vital to the future of human communities worldwide back from the brink of collapse, concluded the report, which was endorsed by 130 countries, including the U.S., Russia and China.
- The findings will also add to pressure for countries to agree bold action to protect wildlife at a major conference on biodiversity due to take place in China towards the end of next year.
Here’s a short selection of some of the report’s notable findings:
- 75% of land environment and some 66% of the marine environment “have been significantly altered by human actions.”
- “More than a third of the world’s land surface and nearly 75% of freshwater resources” are used for crops or livestock.
- “Up to $577 billion in annual global crops are at risk from pollinator loss.”
- Between 100 million and 300 million people now face “increased risk of floods and hurricanes because of loss of coastal habitats and protection.”
- Since 1992, the world’s urban areas have more than doubled.
- “Plastic pollution has increased tenfold since 1980,” and from “300-400 million tons of heavy metals, solvents, toxic sludge” and other industrial waste are dumped into the world’s water systems.
The report also tells that it is not too late to make a difference, but only if we start now at every level from local to global. By transformative change, must be a fundamental, system-wide reorganisation across technological, economic and social factors, including paradigms, goals and values.
Discom debt to return to pre-UDAY levels
Topic : GS Paper – III EConomy
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The total debt of power distributors is expected to go up to the level before the implementation of government’s revival plan for the ailing units as states’ finances deteriorated over the past few years.
- Prime Minister Narendra Modi launched the Ujwal Discom Assurance Yojana—a scheme aimed at improving the finances and efficiencies of electricity distribution companies—in 2015.
- The scheme mandated states to take over 75 percent of the debt—50 percent in 2015-16 and 25 percent in 2016-17—and issue bonds, with a mix of equity, grant and loan, for the rest.
- The discoms were then given operational targets to lower their losses, including those due to transmission.
- Aggregate external debt of State-owned electricity distribution companies (discoms) is set to increase to pre-Ujwal Discom Assurance Yojana (UDAY) levels of Rs. 2.6 lakh crore by the end of this fiscal, according to CRISIL’s analysis of discoms in 15 States, which account for 85% of the aggregate losses.
- With most States having limited fiscal headroom, continuous financial support to their discoms may be difficult.
- So discoms have to become commercially viable through prudent tariff hikes and a material reduction in aggregate technical and commercial (AT&C) losses, said the Crisil statement.
- While discoms enjoyed the benefit of debt reduction, structural reforms have been slow to come by.
- It was opined that further improvement in operations may face challenges because the focus on new rural connections without adequate tariff hikes can increase losses.
- As per the MoUs States had signed under UDAY in fiscal 2016, their discoms were to initiate structural reforms by reducing AT&C losses by 900 basis points (bps) to about 15% in fiscal 2019, and also implement regular tariff hikes of 5-6% per annum.
- In lieu, State governments took over three-fourths of discom debt, thus reducing the interest cost burden.
- The increase in total debt to Rs 2.6 lakh crore factors in debt-funded capital expenditure, loss funding and incremental working capital requirements,” CRISIL said.
- The arithmetic assumes an average tariff increase of 2 percent by states, and partial funding of losses through state government grants, in line with the commitments made under UDAY, said CRISIL.
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