Down to Earth – 16th to 30th April Summary (Part - 3) (Download PDF)


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It’s Time for Institutionalization - NGT may become an ineffective institution because of: Weaknesses in NGT’s own internal procedures, Non-cooperation from the government, Ministry of Environment, Forest & Climate Change (MOEF&CC).

The tribunal needs to establish clear guidelines and thumb rules to estimate fines, damages and compensations which would help in

  • Bringing objectivity in its verdicts

  • Making them less contentious

  • Ensuring timely actions on the ground.

For complex cases, NGT should identify institutions and engage with experts who can help it scientifically estimate the quantum of environmental damages and remediation costs.

NGT has difficulty in accepting the committee’s recommendations, especially if the damages observed by the committee are lower than the penalty imposed For Example: Nuziveedu Seeds Limited.

There are cases where NGT has imposed heaviest penalties using the polluter pays principle because of illegal construction by developers without necessary EC and permits. For example

S P Muthuraman v Union of India case involved unauthorized construction by seven developers in Tamil Nadu. In July 2015, the principal bench of NGT imposed a total fine of Rs. 76 crore on them. The developers were allowed to continue on payment of a fine.

NGT staff

The NGT Act says the tribunal should comprise

  • A full-time chairperson and

  • Atleast 10 judicial members

  • Atleast 10 expert members

At present the tribunal is facing staff crunch.

To make NGT effective

  • Internal procedures have to be strengthened

  • A coordination mechanism needs to be institutionalized between NGT and the environment ministry.

Cryoconite (combination of Two Greek Words—”kryos” Meaning Ice and “konis” Meaning Dust. )

Scientists discovered pockets of unique biological and chemical organisms in Himalayas that are having an impact on changing systems of permanent ice and snow cover.

A group of scientists found a crowd of shallow circular puddles of water (cryoconite) on the Sutri Dhaka glacier in Spiti’s Chandra basin. Details of cryoconite are

  • The puddles rather resembled cylindrical holes—about 5 - 50 cm in diameter and up to 20 cm in depth—with sediments deposited at the bottom.

  • The dark brown sediments which are alien to the area were actually mineral dust that has been carried by the wind.

  • In the presence of sunlight and water, chemical and biological processes are powered in the dust and are leading to the evolution of life.

  • Some unique microbes and invertebrates arising from these cryoconite holes are seen.

History of Cryoconite

  • Cryoconite holes were first observed by ships traversing the edges of the Arctic circle in the 19th century.

  • The interest in cryoconite began in the mid 1990s when research gave a peak into how dust particles actually transformed into a supporting medium for an ecosystem.

Canadian Arctic researchers found that the dust particles are bound together by cyanobacteria and act as active agents in building and maintaining the ecosystem.

Effect Of Cryoconite

  • Ice cover around the Arctic circle had been undergoing accelerated rates of melting because of mini eco-systems that contained dark hued algae.

  • Increase in the dust particles had caused a thinning over a large area, spelling trouble for the Arctic ice cover

  • Alien dust carried and deposited on the glacier surfaces by winds absorb more solar radiation owing to their darker colour.

  • Ice and snow cover on glaciers typically reflect about 60 % of solar radiation, this drops to 20 % when the surface is pockmarked with cryoconite holes.

  • The mineral dust forms the basis of nutrition in the cryoconite ecosystem. This can support a host of invertebrate life, and mircrobes are at the top of the cryoconite food-chain.

  • Cryoconite, which are sinks of CO2, are estimated to cover over 23, 000 sq km across the world, cumulatively remove about 63, 000 tonnes of CO2 from the atmosphere.

Researchers found that cryoconite samples from the Sutri Dhaka have a greater biodiversity than those in Antarctica and could change the chemistry of their environment.

It’s Easy to Die

Plight of few farmers

Farmers in the areas of Vidarbha, Telangana and other parts of the country are committing suicide for escaping the loan repayment or for compensation from government.

Problems of living members

  • The living members of their family used the compensation money for repaying the debts to money lenders.

  • Some surviving members of tenant farmers have not received the compensation and are awaiting it.

  • Some members of the deceased farmers are facing legal issues.

Works that have attempted to show the agrarian distress are

“Widows of Vidarbha”, a book written by Kota Neelima, captures the individual narratives of the widows of farmers in Vidarbha region in Maharashtra, who committed suicide due to the ongoing farm crisis.

The book has come out at a time when the agrarian crisis has brought farmers out on to the streets, bringing even metropolitan cities like Mumbai to a grinding halt.

Gurugram-based photographer Vijay S Jodha’s exhibition, The First Witnesses, portrays the emotions of women whose lives have been shattered in the aftermath of their husbands’ deaths.

Chinese: Trying to Rule the Patent World.

A report from the World Intellectual Property Organization (WIPO) says

  • Chinese companies and individuals filed 48, 882 international patents in 2017.

  • The filed patents have displaced Japan from 2nd place in global rankings.

  • China was the only country to record double-digit growth in its patent applications last year.

  • China is expected to take the top spot from the US in three years.

  • 2 Chinese firms are at the top of the innovators list, Huawei Technologies and ZTE Corp.

  • Intel Corp. of the US is third, followed by Mitsubishi Electric Corporation of Japan.

  • In the top 9 companies that filed patents between 2012 and 2017, 6 were Chinese.

The analysis of Financial Times put China at the top in the new blockchain technology filings since more than half of the 406 block chains filed, belonged to China.

WIPO’s latest World IP indicators report places India in the 12th spot on patent filings for 2016.

Indian firms are said to account for some six dozen patent filings, mostly by start-ups.

Spending on R&D in India has been stagnant at 0.6 to 0.7 % of GDP for the last two decades. China may be spending 2.1 % of GDP on R&D.

Blockchain is a public database that records transactions done with it and is well-protected against outside interference.

Sip Those Blues Away

  • Butterfly pea, abundantly found in southern India, known as shankhpushpi, aparajita and sankhali in different parts of the country has therapeutic values and can be used in the war against diabetes.

Medicinal uses of the plant

  • The flower contains polyacylated anthocyanins and flavonol glycosides as major constituents, which protect skin cells against oxidative stress or damages by ultraviolet rays and hydrogen peroxide, this giving a young skin

  • Preliminary results show the plant extracts have significant effects on breast cancer cells.

  • Extracts of the flower are traditionally used for the treatment of neurological disorders or as a brain and nervine tonic and laxative.

  • It is also used to thicken hair naturally.

  • Along with brahmi, flower is known to be used to sharpen memory. The flower has little side effects.

Other uses of the flower

  • In South East Asia, the royal blue ones are used to colour rice.

  • In Thailand, they are used to impart a blue colour to cakes and other dessert delicacies.

  • In India the flower is gaining popularity as a food colourant.

Several other flowers, such as Convolvulus pluricaulis, Evolvulus alsinoides and Canscora decussate, are also known as shankhpushpi

Body Clock

Circadian rhythms are the internal clock found inside every organism and every cell, works in sync with Earth’s 24-hour rotation and controls all body functions such as sleeping, waking up, digestion and functioning of the heart and kidneys. Examples are

  • Surgeons at the University of Michigan Medical School, USA, in operating theatres take vigilance breaks during afternoons to reduce mistakes while operating, because body clock is slow during afternoons

  • The dabbawalas of Mumbai deliver hot, cooked food from a person’s kitchen at home to his/her office each day, on time without making mistakes, which is a case of well synchronized method of working.

Coordinating and synchronising with other people is a powerful way to lifting physical and psychological well being.

There is a huge body of research to show that human internal clock is easily disturbed by artificial lights, addiction to the cell phone and medicines we consume.

Oaks and Chirpines of Himalaya

The chirpines in Uttrakhand

  • Could be used to generate power

  • Could contain forest fires which are threatening native oak trees.

  • A pioneer species could survive and flourish in extreme conditions

  • Chirpine needles, which have over 50 % holocellulose needs high bleach chemical but can be used to make pulp and paper

Oak in Uttrakhand

  • Scientifically known as Quercus leucotrichophora, belongs to the Fagaceae family.

  • Used Oak as fodder and fuelwood

  • Oak-based agroforestry is popular in the region as it conserves soil and water in the rain-fed area.

  • Oak plantations in the recent past been replaced by chirpine

  • play a crucial role in saving natural water springs

The State of Forest Report 2017 by the Forest Survey of India shows consistent forest fires in the subtropical pine region since 2003.

Avani Bio Energy, set up in 1997 in Pithoragarh, initially experimented with chirpine in 2003 when it started an ambitious 120-kw power plant, now has many chirpine powered plants.

Steps to be taken by ministry

  • Agrisilviculture, a type of agroforestry, should also be popularised where people grow alternative fodder tree species like bhimal (Grewia optiva), khadik (Celtis australis) and guriyal (Bauhinia variegata).

  • For scientific documentation and research purposes, a geographic information system map of oak and pine forest is required.

White Rhino: Extinct?

  • The death of the last male Northern White Rhino named Sudan, housed at the Ol Pejeta Conservancy in Kenya, paved a path for extinction of the species.
  • Genetic material had been harvested from Sudan and could be used for in vitro fertilisation with ova from the surviving females.

Why Extinction?

  • In 2009, Sudan and a few other rhinos were transferred from a zoo in the Czech Republic to Ol Pejeta.

  • Tens of millions of dollars were raised and spent by Ol Pejeta in the following years trying to make the Rhinos kept in captivity breed.

  • The two remaining females are descendants of Sudan, so even if the fertilisation happens, it would produce an inbred offspring which would be expected to reproduce with its own parent.

Other Important News

  • Shri Ayutchandi Mahayagya Samiti was to perform the nine-day-long “mahayagya” that would require 50, 000 kg of mango wood. The yagya was being performed to “reduce pollution”. A Meerut-based NGO has filed a petition in NGT seeking to stop it.
  • A landslide hazard assessment model was created by NASA’s Goddard Space Flight Center, that would provide an indication of where and when landslides are likely to occur around the world.
  • Kumbharwadi, a unique village in Maharashtra’s Ahmednagar district budgeted water resources which made it water-sufficient during the 2016 drought in the state.
  • Palash is a flowering tree, in Indian subcontinent used to make Holi dyes and to make a healthy sherbet to beat the heat.
  • India was certified “Polio Free” by WHO
  • Sahara, the world’s largest hot desert, expanded by 10 % in the 20th century, aided primarily by human induced climate change.
  • Interstitium, the largest organ of the human body, was discovered by the researchers.
  • Rice could be a vital source of health-benefiting substances if some of its traditional varieties can be popularized.
  • 87 % of the world’s wetlands have been lost over the past 300 years, mainly due to rapid urbanization and unsustainable agriculture
  • 124 million people suffered from acute food insecurity in 2017, says Global Report on Food Crises by Food Security Information Network on March 26. This is an 11 % increase from 2016

Food Insecurity in the World:

  • 74 million of them are in urgent need of assistance in 18 countries

  • 39 million face the crisis due to climate change related disasters, mainly droughts.

  • 32 million of those facing food insecurity due to climate change are in Africa

  • 32 million or more living in northeastern Nigeria, Somalia, Yemen and South Sudan are in urgent need of assistance.

  • Two counties of South Sudan declared famine in February 2017

“Muskaan”, a Himalaya Lip care Initiative, supports Corrective Cleft lip and palate surgery in India. Rs. 2 from the sale of each unit of Himalaya Lip Care goes to Muskaan.

- Published/Last Modified on: May 9, 2018


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