InstaLinks : help you think beyond the issue but relevant to the issue from UPSC prelims and Mains exam point of view. These linkages provided in this ‘hint’ format help you frame possible questions in your mind that might arise(or an examiner might imagine) from each current event. InstaLinks also connect every issue to their static or theoretical background. This helps you study a topic holistically and add new dimensions to every current event to help you think analytically
Table of Contents:
GS Paper 2:
1. COVID-19: The emerging Omicron sub lineages
GS Paper 3:
1. Data on polluted rivers
2. The dark pattern on the internet
GS paper 4:
1. Late Prime Minister Atal Bihari Vajpayee’s Contributions
Content for Mains Enrichment
1. Shalini Kumari from Bihar
2. Scotland’s new gender recognition Bill
3. Mission Olympics
Facts for Prelims
1. Amrit Bharat Station Scheme
2. Short transfers of cess funds
3. Social stock exchange (SSE)
4. Portals in News
5. NASA’s Perseverance
6. Antarctica’s emperor penguins
7. Polar bears
COVID-19: The emerging Omicron sub lineages
GS Paper 2
Syllabus: Issues related to health
Direction: COVID-19 is once again in the news as new variants are creating havoc around the world. The article discusses these new variants, and concerns raised by them and suggest ways to control them.
Context: Since the initial outbreak in Wuhan (China) in 2019, the world has seen many waves of COVID-19 infections, mostly driven by new variants of concern (VOCs) of the primary virus – severe acute respiratory syndrome coronavirus 2 (SARS-CoV-2).
- Viruses constantly change through mutation and sometimes these mutations result in a new variant of the virus. A sub-lineage is a group of genetically similar viruses with a common ancestor.
- The SARS-CoV-2 virus has the potential to evolve by exchanging large fragments of the genome, called recombination.
- Until recently, China remained successful in containing the spread of the disease owing to its zealous “zero-COVID” policy.
- However, with the abrupt lifting of the policy, the country is now facing a surge of COVID-19 cases as a result of .7 – a variant of Omicron.
The SARS-CoV-2 lineages circulating in China:
- According to the SARS-CoV-2 sequencing data submitted from China to the Global Initiative on Sharing All Influenza Data (GISAID) – a globally accessible repository of SARS-CoV-2 genome sequences, the country has seen –
- Delta and its sub-lineages in 2021.
- Omicron and its sub-lineages (BA.5.2, BQ.1.1, .7, BF.5, BA.2.75 and the recombinant lineage XBB) in 2022.
Omicron sub-variants under monitoring:
- Owing to the large-scale spread of Omicron and its sub-lineages across the world, the World Health Organisation (WHO) has added another category of variants referred to as ‘Omicron sub-variants under monitoring’.
- Currently, under this category include BA.2.75, BA.4.6, XBB, BA.2.3.20 and sub-lineages of BA.5 including BF.7 and BQ.1, are being monitored.
- An overwhelming increase of cases in a populous country like China will not only result in tremendous loss of life but will also allow the virus to mutate, potentially resulting in new variants.
- Some of the lineages have seen a growth advantage over others in highly vaccinated regions including Europe and the U.S.
- Monitor the spread and evolution of these sublineages.
- With vaccine immunity diminishing, genomic surveillance will be critical to understanding Omicron’s ongoing evolution.
The COVID-19 pandemic, food and socializing
Q. Explain the rationale behind the Goods and Services Tax (Compensation to States) Act of 2017. How has COVID-19 impacted the GST compensation fund and created new federal tensions? (UPSC 2020)
Prelims Links: (UPSC 2022)
In the context of vaccines manufactured to prevent the COVID-19 pandemic, consider the following statements:
- The Serum Institute of India produced a COVID-19 vaccine named Covishield using an mRNA platform.
- The Sputnik V vaccine is manufactured using a vector-based platform.
- COVAXIN is an inactivated pathogen-based vaccine.
Which of the statements given above are correct?
- 1 and 2 only
- 2 and 3 only
- 1 and 3 only
- 1, 2 and 3
The Serum Institute of India produced a COVID-19 vaccine named Covishield but not using the mRNA platform. It has been prepared using the viral vector platform.
Data on polluted rivers
GS Paper 3
Syllabus: Environment Conservation
Source: The Hindu
Context: The number of polluted stretches in India’s rivers has fallen from 351 in 2018 to 311 in 2022 though the number of most polluted stretches is practically unchanged, according to a report from the Central Pollution Control Board (CPCB)
No change/ slight change in the Priority I & II category of polluted river stretches indicates that further stringent actions are required for control of organic pollution from various point sources of pollution including the development of infrastructure and its proper operation for treatment of wastewater before discharge into recipient water bodies.
Reason for the high pollution level in India’s rivers
- Point source pollution: (pollution entering the river through pipes, channels, etc., from a source such as industry)
- Industrial Pollution
- Non-point source pollution: (pollution entering the waterways is accumulative)
- Faulty planning:
- Lack of utilization of funds
- Delay in Projects
- Lack of proper maintenance
- Minimum river flow has deteriorated over the years
- Sand Dredging
- Religious and Social Practices
Government Measures to clean Indian Rivers
- Namami Ganga Programme: twin objectives of effective abatement of pollution, conservation, and rejuvenation of National River Ganga.
- National Mission for Clean Ganga (NMCG)is a five-tier structure at the national, state, and district levels for prevention, control, and abatement of environmental pollution in river Ganga.
- National River Conservation Plan
- National Water Monitoring Programme (NWMP)
- Vision for 2030: clean rivers, with safe drinking water to all Indians, sustaining and nourishing life, and efficient use of water in irrigation using micro-irrigation techniques.
Q. Examine the factors behind the high levels of pollution in Indian rivers. What can be done to protect our rivers from degradation and slow death? Discuss.(250 words)
The dark pattern on the internet: How companies are tricking their users
GS Paper 3
Syllabus: Awareness in the fields of IT, Space, Computers
Direction: The article tries to explain the meaning of a relatively new term – Dark pattern on the internet.
Context: Some Internet-based firms have been tricking users by deploying “dark patterns,” which are also known as “deceptive patterns.”
What are dark patterns?
- Naming: The term is credited to UI/UX (user interface/user experience) researcher and designer Harry Brignull, who has been working to catalogue such patterns and the companies using them since around 2010.
- These are unethical UI designs that deliberately make one’s internet experience harder or even exploit them and benefit the company or platform employing the designs.
- Uninformed users would not have accepted such terms or clicked URLs (uniform resource location) if digital platforms had not utilised deceptive tactics.
- Such acceptances and clicks flood consumers’ inboxes with promotional emails they never wanted, making it difficult to unsubscribe or request deletion.
- The Federal Trade Commission of the US listed over 30 dark patterns, many of which are considered standard practice across social media platforms and e-commerce sites.
- These include making cancellation buttons hard to see or click, making ads appear as news reports or celebrity endorsements, etc.
- Amazon was criticised in the EU for their confusing, multi-step cancelling process for Amazon Prime subscriptions.
- Amazon simplified the cancelling process for online customers in European countries this year after consulting with consumer regulators.
What do users stand to lose because of dark patterns?
- Digital platforms take away a user’s right to full information about the services they are using and reduce their control over their browsing experience.
- Endanger the experience of internet users and make them more vulnerable to financial and data exploitation by Big Tech firms.
- Confuse users, introduce online obstacles, and make simple tasks time-consuming.
- Force them to pay more money or share more personal information.
Way ahead: Internet users who are able to identify and recognise dark patterns in their daily lives can choose more user-friendly platforms that will respect their right to choose and privacy.
Late Prime Minister Atal Bihari Vajpayee’s Contributions
GS Paper 4
Syllabus: Moral Thinkers
Source: Indian Express, The Hindu
Context: It is worthwhile to note how former Prime Minister Atal Bihari Vajpayee, whose 98th birth anniversary, was celebrated recently (December 25), played an important role in the nation’s development.
Values that can be learnt from the life of Atal Bihari Vajpayee:
Respected leader: Prime Minister Jawaharlal Nehru respected young Vajpayee as a leader in the Opposition, and sent him to represent India in UN General Assembly.
- Vajpayee respected the right to dissent or disagree, as a part of polemics, and yet engaged with the dissenter, within and beyond his own party, which is so important in current times.
Good Governance: Proposed training for newbie legislators, and proposed National Agenda of Governance including the role of parliamentarians.
High moral values: His writing, ‘Andhiara fir hatega, ek naya savera ayega’ and poem, ‘Geet Naya Gata Hoon’, bear testimony to his spirit against adversity and acceptance of the same to win another day.
- People rewarded him with a full majority in 1999 and he ruled full term as the first non-Congress PM to have finished a full term.
Nationalist: He advocated and practised positive nationalism. He proudly took Hindi to the UN first time and spoke it in the General Assembly. He represented the best of Indian ethos and culture.
Infrastructural Development: Vajpayee was the man who ushered in an infrastructural revolution in India. His model of development was inclusive.
- He initiated the Delhi Metro rail as a mass transit system.
- He brought in National Highway Development Project leading to East West North South Corridor or the Golden Quadrilatera
- He envisaged and executed the first round of Pradhan Mantri Gram Sadak Yojana which connected rural India greatly.
- The New Telecom Policy of 1999 brought in by him was also a crucial part of the Indian telecom revolution.
Messenger of Peace: Against many odds, he himself rode a bus to Lahore in 1999 for Indo-Pak peace
Promote scientific temper: He conducted the nuclear test in Pokhran in 1998 and made the hero of this achievement, Dr APJ Kalam the next President of India, who was later named as the true People’s President.
- Vajpayee coined the slogan: ‘Jai Jawan, Jai Kisan, Jai Vigyan’.
- Efforts to improve India-China ties
Role Model for social changes: He adopted Namita Bhattacharya, the daughter of his long-time friend Rajkumari Kaul. His adopted family lived with him and the daughter only performed his last rituals.
He was honoured with Padamavibhushan in 1992 and Bharat Ratna in 2015. He was elected to Lok Shaba 10 times and twice to Rajya Sabha. Vajpayee’s birthday, 25th December is marked as Good Governance Day. He was a towering personality without any enemies and was very well known as Ajata Satru.
Q. Which moral philosopher’s teachings do you relate to the most? Why?
Content for Mains Enrichment:
Shalini Kumari from Bihar
Shalini Kumari from Bihar received the first prize for her innovation ‘Modified Walker with Adjustable Legs’ at the grassroots innovation competition at the 3rd ASEAN-India Grassroots Innovation Forum
The annual ASEAN India Grassroots Innovation Forum (GIF) provides a platform to promote and strengthen the development of grassroots innovation by enabling collaboration between Students, academics, the local community and government officials.
The annual ASEAN India Grassroots Innovation Forum (GIF) is organized by DST (under India’s National Innovation Foundation) and ASEAN’s committee on Science, Technology and Innovation (COSTI)
The story behind the innovation:
She invented the adjustable walker to allow his grandfather to visit the rooftop garden every day. The walker has an innovative self-locking mechanism in the front section to allow it to be used on stairs. She wasn’t an engineering student nor had any exposure to such technology before. Her urge to help her grandfather led to this need for hour innovation.
Learnings: Compassion, Innovation, Ingenuity etc.
Scotland’s new gender recognition Bill
Context: In a landmark bill, Scotland has become the first part of the UK to introduce a self-identification system for people who want to change their gender.
- Experts have called it “a historic day for equality”
|Currently, for getting a gender recognition certificate:||Under the new gender recognition law:|
Issues with the law:
- Fear that violent men taking advantage of loopholes “to get into women’s spaces and have access to women”.
- However, in the countries where gender self-identification has been legalised, including Norway, Malta and the Republic of Ireland, no increase in attacks on women and girls in single-gender spaces has been reported since the law was introduced.
Context: As a part of Mission Olympics, the Indian Army has recruited 4 meritorious sportswomen
- Mission Olympics was started in 2001 to identify and train promising sportspersons in 11 disciplines through its training nodes and Army Sports Institute.
Success: Neeraj Chopra ( 2020 Tokyo Olympics); Vijay Kumar (2012 London Olympics); Rajyavardhan Singh Rathore (2004 Athens Olympics)
Facts for prelims
Amrit Bharat Station Scheme
Context: Railways plans to modernise 1,000 small stations under Amrit Bharat Station Scheme.
- This is apart from the ambitious plan to revamp 200 big stations under a separate redevelopment programme.
Aim: The aim is to identify developing cities with potential and envisage railway stations as city centres that would link not just various parts of the city but also between different cities in the future.
By: According to need, the divisional railway managers will take a call on modernisation works in a phased manner
The model used: These stations will be redeveloped under what is being internally called the “Khurda model of redevelopment”.
- Khurda station in Odisha has been modernised for Rs 4 crore with all contemporary amenities for passengers.
- The main structure was renovated, the facade was redone and the number of railway tracks was also increased.
Modernisation of these stations would include improved station approaches to ensure smooth access by widening roads, removal of unwanted structures, properly designed signages, dedicated pedestrian pathways, well-planned parking areas, and improved lighting among others.
- Elements of landscaping, green patches and local art and culture should be used to create a pleasant experience for the station users.
Short transfers of cess funds
Source: Financial Express
Context: Scrutiny of cess and levies during 2020-21 by CAG in its financial Audit of the Accounts of the Union Government, revealed cases of short or non-transfer of collected amounts
A transfer involves the movement of assets, monetary funds, and/or ownership rights from one account to another.
Examples of short-transfer ( given by CAG)
- Madhyamik and Uchchatar Siksha Kosh (MUSK): A 4% tax was levied as Health and Education Cess (HEC) from Finance Act 2018.
- Despite the fund being approved in 2017, it is yet to be operationalized due to the non-finalization of its accounting procedure.
- National Mineral trust levy: A % of royalty paid by mining companies is passed on to this trust. A part of this fund was also short-transferred.
- Universal Access Levy: A cess is charged to provide quality and affordable mobile and digital services across the rural and remote areas of the country (under BharatNet Project)
Previously, the government has said that they have over-utilized the funds e.g. Road and Infrastructure cess stood at nearly 1.95 lakh cr but the amount utilized was over 2.51 Lakh crores.
Cess and surcharges accounted for 28.1% of gross tax revenue in FY22, against 18.2% in FY20 (including GST compensation cess)
Cess (see the difference between Cess, Surcharges and Tax in the diagram below): Cess is not a permanent source of revenue and is discontinued when the purpose is fulfilled.
- It can be levied both on direct and indirect taxes.
- Article 270 of the constitution allows the Central government to exclude cess from divisible poot of taxes, thus depriving the states of any cess revenue.
- Successive Finance Commissions have said they should be brought under the divisible pool.
- Currently, all the cesses, except GST Compensation Cess (100% transfer to states) are utilised by the central government.
Social stock exchange (SSE)
Source: Live Mint
Context: SEBI has given nod to the National Stock exchange (NSE) for the social stock exchange, to set up a Social Stock Exchange (SSE) as a separate segment of the NSE.
- The government had in her Union Budget speech of 2019-20, proposed the creation of a Social Stock Exchange. It then issued a new security ‘Zero Coupon Zero Principal (ZCZP)’. This year in July, SEBI notified rules for SSE.
- Currently, the regulations have prescribed the minimum issue size as ₹1 crore and the minimum application size for subscription at ₹2 lakhs. Subscription to the ZCZP would be like a philanthropic donation
As per the SEBI:
- Social Stock Exchange may be constituted as a separate segment under the existing stock exchanges.
- A social enterprise may be eligible for onboarding on SSE if it demonstrates that social intent and impact are its primary goals and it reports such impact.
- This is irrespective of the legal structure of the enterprise.
- It allows For-Profit Social Enterprises (FPEs) and not-for-profit organizations (NPO) with a social purpose, to raise funds
Examples of SSEs are: Singapore (Impact Investment Exchange), Canada( Social Venture Connexion) and the UK (Social Stock Exchange)
Portals in News
Source: The Hindu
Context: Examples of the portal that have been in the News recently.
Food and Consumer Affairs Ministry
- ‘Right to repair’ portal: Here manufacturers would share the manual of product details with customers so that they could either repair by themselves, or by third parties, rather than depend on the original manufacturers.
- Initially, mobile phones, electronics, consumer durables, automobiles and farming equipment would be covered.
Ministry of Labour and Employment
- National Career Service Portal (2015): It is a job platform for connecting qualified job seekers with potential employers. It also enhances candidates’ personalities.
- E-Shram Portal (2021): It consists of a national database of all unorganized workers ( approx. 38 crores). In 2022, the ministry linked both NCS and E-Shram portal
Ministry of sports and youth affairs
- Khelo India Dashboard: It provides updated real-time statistical data related to Khelo India Scheme and events.
- Under the Khelo India programme, talented players get a scholarship of Rs 5 lakh for 8 years.
Context: Perseverance Rover Mission ( Under NASA’s Mars Exploration Program), has left a titanium tube containing a rock sample on the surface of Mars.
- It will serve as a backup if Perseverance can’t deliver its samples.
Perseverance is a car-sized Mars rover designed to explore the Jezero crater on Mars as part of NASA’s Mars 2020 mission. It aims to look for signs of past microbial life, prepare for future human exploration and collect samples of rock for a possible return to Earth.
Other Missions on Mars:
- UAE: Hope
- China: Tianwen-1
- ESA: Mars Express and ExoMars Trace Gas Orbiter
- Nasa: Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter, Mars Odyssey, MAVEN, Curiosity rover
- India: Mangalyan
Scientists freeze Great Barrier Reef coral in a world-first trial
Source: The Hindu
Context: In the latest lab trial, the world’s first with Great Barrier Reef coral, scientists used the cryomesh to freeze coral larvae at the Australian Institute of Marine Sciences (AIMS).
- The coral had been collected from the reef for the trial, which coincided with the brief annual spawning window.
A new material called “cryomesh” is helping the scientists in the effort. Coral is frozen using a special method called cryogenics. This permits the young animals to be stored until they can be unfrozen and placed in the wild.
Cryogenically frozen coral reefs can be stored and later reintroduced to the wild to protect them against rising ocean temperatures
The Great Barrier Reef is the world’s largest coral reef system composed of over 2,900 individual reefs and 900 islands stretching for over 2,300 kilometres over an area of approximately 344,400 square kilometres.
Antarctica’s emperor penguins
Context: The emperor penguin, which relies on ice for breeding, is the most vulnerable of Antarctica’s species.
- According to a recent study, greater efforts are needed to conserve Antarctic ecosystems, and populations of up to 97% of land-based Antarctic species may decline by 2100 if the negative consequences of climate change are not addressed.
- The mitigation strategies include limiting global warming to less than 2 degrees Celsius, managing non-native species and diseases, and managing and protecting species.
- In Antarctica, such conservation is surprisingly cheap, as implementing all strategies together could cost as little as USD 23 million per year until 2100 (or about USD 2 billion in total).
About the emperor penguin (Aptenodytes forsteri): It is the tallest and heaviest of all living penguin species and is endemic to Antarctica.
Context: According to a new government assessment, polar bears in Canada’s Western Hudson Bay, an inland sea connected to the Arctic Ocean, are dying at an alarming pace due to climate change.
Background: According to the researchers, Western Hudson Bay (the region includes Churchill, the town that is known as ‘the Polar Bear Capital of the World’) has witnessed a drop of around 50% in the population of polar bears since the 1980s.
Polar Bears (Ursus maritimus):
- About: It is a hyper-carnivorous (animals with over 70% meat diet) species whose native range lies largely within the Arctic Circle. It is the largest extant bear species, as well as the largest extant land carnivore.
- Impact of climate change on polar bears: The Arctic Sea ice (which is melting due to rising global temperatures) is crucial to polar bears’ survival as they use it not only to hunt seals (chief food) but also for travelling, mating and resting.
- Importance of polar bears: Polar bears are one of the most significant predators in the Arctic region and they keep biological populations in balance.
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