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Insights Daily Current Affairs, 15 February 2018

Insights Daily Current Affairs, 15 February 2018


Paper 1:

Topic: Urbanization, their problems and their remedies.


Bengaluru may face Cape Town fate



Context: As per a report based on “UN-endorsed projections” published by the BBC, Bengaluru city of India is “most likely” to be the first Indian urban settlement that will run out of drinking water. The report has listed 11 top cities of the world that are “most likely” to run out of drinking water, just like South Africa’s City of Cape Town, which is facing unprecedented water supply shortage in history.


Cities which are likely to run out of drinking water:

Sau Paulo, Brazil’s financial capital is on top of the list. The report ranks Bengaluru second in the list of 11 world cities that are “most likely” to run out of drinking water. Other cities are Chinese capital Beijing, Cairo in Egypt due to struggling rive Nile, Jakarta of Indonesia, Moscow in Russia, Istanbul of Turkey, Mexico City, London, Tokyo of Japan and Miami in the US.


Factors behind Bengaluru’s fate:

Bengaluru is a victim of urbanisation madness. The city is experiencing unprecedented rapid urbanisation and sprawl in recent times due to unplanned unrealistic concentrated developmental activities. This has posed “serious challenges to the decision-makers in the city planning and management process involving a plethora of serious challenges such as loss of green cover and water bodies, climate change, enhanced greenhouse gases (GHG) emissions, lack of appropriate infrastructure, traffic congestion, and lack of basic amenities (electricity, water, and sanitation) in many localities, etc.”

The report notes that not a “single” lake in the city has water fit for either drinking or bathing. Lakes of the city, including Bellandur, often make news for catching fire. Between 1973 and 2016, the city witnessed a 1005% increase in “concretization or paved surface increase”. Since 1981, the city has spread and has also experienced dramatic decadal population growth.


Why Indians should worry?

Shortage of water is a problem faced by almost all urban centres of the world. Even in India, the situation is not so happy. A world bank report last year had said that at least 21 Indian cities were moving towards zero groundwater level by 2020.

As per a report by World Resources Institute, as much as 54% of India’s area is under “high” to “extremely high water stress”. The stark future of the Indian cities can be judged from the fact that water requirement would rise up to 1.5 trillion, while the current supply of water is just 740 billion cubic meter. Experts believe that 40% of people in India may not get to drink water by 2030.


Way ahead:

The ominous prediction by the UN for Bengaluru must concern all residents and authorities of the city, especially after the Cape Town experience. The South African City of Cape Town is facing its worst drought in 100 years. Residents of the city have been told to cut their daily water consumption while the authorities of the city are scrambling to prevent the city running dry as soon as in April.

Bengaluru’s presence on the list should be a wake up call for other Indian cities. A mix of better planning, market-based thinking and technology adoption could help them, especially if local populations and governments are stakeholders in the process. It may be too late for Bengaluru, but there may still be a chance for other Indian cities.


What’s important?

  • For Prelims: The list of 11 cities which are likely to run out of drinking water.
  • For Mains: Water crisis- causes, effects and solutions.


Sources: the hindu.

Topic: Distribution of key natural resources across the world (including South Asia and the Indian sub-continent).


Massive reserves of mercury found in Arctic permafrost

Context: Scientists have discovered that permafrost in the northern hemisphere stores massive amounts of natural mercury and a warming climate could release large amounts of this dangerous toxin that may cause neurological effects in humans and animals.

The scientists measured mercury concentrations in permafrost cores from Alaska and found that northern permafrost soils are the largest reservoir of mercury on the planet, storing nearly twice as much mercury as all other soils, the ocean and the atmosphere combined.


Highlights of the study:

  • The study found approximately 793 gigagrams, or more than 15 million gallons, of mercury is frozen in northern permafrost soil. That is roughly 10 times the amount of all human-caused mercury emissions over the last 30 years, based on emissions estimates from 2016.
  • The study also found all frozen and unfrozen soil in northern permafrost regions contains a combined 1,656 gigagrams of mercury, making it the largest known reservoir of mercury on the planet. This pool houses nearly twice as much mercury as soils outside of the northern permafrost region, the ocean and the atmosphere combined.


Mercury- basic facts:

Mercury is a chemical element with symbol Hg and atomic number 80. It is commonly known as quicksilver and was formerly named hydrargyrum. It is the only metallic element that is liquid at standard conditions for temperature and pressure. The only other element that is liquid under these conditions is bromine.

Mercury is a very rare element in the Earth’s crust. It accounts for only about only 0.08 parts per million (ppm). It is a relatively poor conductor of heat. Most metals are excellent thermal conductors.

Mercury is used in thermometers, barometers, manometers, sphygmomanometers, float valves, mercury switches, mercury relays, fluorescent lamps and other devices. It is also used in lighting: electricity passed through mercury vapor in a fluorescent lamp produces short-wave ultraviolet light which then causes the phosphor in the tube to fluoresce, making visible light.


Effects of Mercury on Health:

Exposure to mercury – even small amounts – may cause serious health problems, and is a threat to the development of the child in utero and early in life. It may have toxic effects on the nervous, digestive and immune systems, and on lungs, kidneys, skin and eyes. It is considered by WHO as one of the top ten chemicals or groups of chemicals of major public health concern.

People are mainly exposed to methylmercury, an organic compound, when they eat fish and shellfish that contain the compound.


Way ahead:

Mercury pollution is a global problem that requires global action. It moves with air and water, transcends political borders, and can be transported thousands of miles in the atmosphere. The Minamata Convention on Mercury is an opportunity for the global community to address this mounting problem before it gets worse. Over the next decades, implementation of this international agreement will help reduce mercury pollution from the specific human activities responsible for the most significant mercury releases to the environment.


What’s important?

  • For Prelims: Facts on Mercury, Minamata convention.
  • For Mains: Effects of Mercury on Health, need for global cooperation.


Sources: toi.


Paper 2:

Topic: Government policies and interventions for development in various sectors and issues arising out of their design and implementation.


Atal Bhoojal Yojana

Context: The water resources ministry is working on a Rs 6,000 crore worth ‘Atal Bhoojal Yojana’ for water conservation.


About Atal Bhoojal Yojana:

The scheme is aimed at efficient management of available water resources and strengthening of recharge mechanism through community participation. The emphasis of the scheme will be on recharge of ground water sources and efficient use of water by involving people at the local level.

Funding: Rs 6,000 crore has been earmarked for this ambitious plan. Half of the total cost of this central scheme will be supported by the World Bank as loan while the remaining half (Rs 3,000 crore) will be funded by the government through budgetary support.

Implementation: The government plans to give 50% of the money to states, including gram panchayats, as incentives for achieving targets in groundwater management. That’s a first-ever move to encourage community participation and behavioural changes. The remaining 50% of the funds will be given to states for strengthening institutional arrangements such as providing a strong database and scientific approach to help them accomplish sustainable management of groundwater.


Need for groundwater conservation:

Ground water in India provides for about 60% of the country’s irrigation needs, 85% of rural drinking water requirements and 50% of urban water needs. Over-exploitation and contamination have left many blocks across the country in a critical stage.

The last assessment report of the Central Ground Water Board (CGWB) shows that 1,034 of 6584 assessed blocks in the country are over-exploited (usually referred to as ‘dark zones’). It means annual ground water consumption in those blocks is more than the annual ground water recharge. Besides, 934 blocks fall in different stages of criticality due to depletion without recharge. The over-exploited units are mostly concentrated in Punjab, Haryana, Delhi, western UP, Rajasthan, Gujarat, Karnataka, Andhra Pradesh, Telangana and Tamil Nadu. Tamil Nadu has the maximum number of ‘dark zones’.


Why there is an increased pressure on groundwater?

  • Main reason for excessive use of groundwater is the legal framework governing access to the resource. This was first introduced in the mid-19th century when judges decided that the easiest way to regulate this ‘invisible’ substance was to give landowners what amounts to a right to access groundwater found under their land, even if in the process they also used water found under their neighbours’ land.
  • Over the following decades, this led to a framework whereby landowners see groundwater as their own and as a resource they can exploit without considering the need to protect and replenish it since there are no immediate consequences for over-exploiting it.
  • Therefore, access to a source of groundwater has progressively become a source of power and economic gain. The latter has become increasingly visible in recent decades with the propagation of mechanical pumps, which allows big landowners to sell water to others.


Way ahead:

The increasing crisis of groundwater and the failure of the existing legal regime make it imperative to entrust people directly dependent on the source of water the mandate to use it wisely and to protect it for their own benefit, as well as for future generations. The theoretical case for water being in the Concurrent List is thus unassailable. Of all the subjects that are or ought to be in the Concurrent List, water ranks higher than any other. The practical and political difficulties of shifting it there remain, but these would need to be overcome.


What’s important?

  • For Prelims: Atal Bhoojal Yojana, concurrent list.
  • For Mains: Groundwater crisis, community participation in crisis management.


Sources: the hindu.

Topic: Government policies and interventions for development in various sectors and issues arising out of their design and implementation.


Anti-dumping duty

Context: India has initiated a review of the anti-dumping duty on flat base steel wheels from China to take a call on “the need for continued imposition of the duties in force.” The Directorate General of Anti-dumping and allied Duties (DGAD) will now examine whether the expiry of such duty (on imports of flat base steel wheels from China) is likely to lead to continuation or recurrence of dumping and injury to the domestic (Indian) industry.”


WTO Rules in this regard:

As per the World Trade Organisation, if a company exports a product at a price lower than the price it normally charges on its own home market, it is said to be “dumping” the product. The global body has also said that the WTO agreement allows governments to act against dumping where there is genuine (“material”) injury to the competing domestic industry.


What you need to know about Anti-dumping duty?

What is it? Anti dumping is a measure to rectify the situation arising out of the dumping of goods and its trade distortive effect.

Purpose: The purpose of anti dumping duty is to rectify the trade distortive effect of dumping and re-establish fair trade.

Is it permitted? The use of anti dumping measure as an instrument of fair competition is permitted by the WTO. It provides relief to the domestic industry against the injury caused by dumping. It is levied on distrustfully low-priced imports, so as to protect the domestic manufacturers.

Need for anti-dumping duty: Dumping is an unfair trade practice of exporting goods to another country at a price lesser than what is paid in the exporting nation or their normal production cost, thereby distorting international trade and causing injury to the domestic manufacturers of the goods in the importing country.


Sources: the hindu.


Paper 3:

Topic: awareness in space.



Context: The White House budget proposal has called for the cancellation of the Wide Field Infrared Survey Telescope (WFIRST), a move that could be interpreted as a warning to the mission’s leaders to rein in the program’s expanding costs. But if the cancellation goes through, some scientists worry it could hurt the international standing of the U.S. astrophysics community.

WFIRST was tentatively scheduled to launch in the mid-2020s, to become NASA’s next “flagship mission,” a classification applied to large-scale missions with broad science objectives. Other NASA flagship missions include the Hubble Space Telescope, the Chandra X-Ray Telescope, and the upcoming James Webb Space Telescope.



WFIRST, the Wide Field InfraRed Survey Telescope, is a NASA observatory designed to settle essential questions in the areas of dark energy, exoplanets, and infrared astrophysics. The telescope has a primary mirror that is 2.4 meters in diameter (7.9 feet), and is the same size as the Hubble Space Telescope’s primary mirror. WFIRST will have two instruments, the Wide Field Instrument, and the Coronagraph Instrument.

The Wide Field Instrument will have a field of view that is 100 times greater than the Hubble infrared instrument, capturing more of the sky with less observing time. As the primary instrument, the Wide Field Instrument will measure light from a billion galaxies over the course of the mission lifetime. It will perform a microlensing survey of the inner Milky Way to find ~2,600 exoplanets. The Coronagraph Instrument will perform high contrast imaging and spectroscopy of dozens of individual nearby exoplanets.


What’s important?

  • For Prelims: WFIRST, the Hubble Space Telescope, the Chandra X-Ray Telescope, and the upcoming James Webb Space Telescope.
  • For Mains: Need for understanding dark energy and exoplanets.


Sources: nasa.

Topic: awareness in space.


ESPRESSO Instrument

Context: The search for Earth-like planets just got a major upgrade: The European Southern Observatory’s Very Large Telescope (VLT) in Chile successfully integrated the light from all four of its 8.2-meter (27 feet) unit telescopes into a new instrument, making VLT the optical telescope with the largest collecting area in the world. The instrument is called ESPRESSO (Echelle Spectrograph for Rocky Exoplanet and Stable Spectroscopic Observations).

The upgrade will make it easier for scientists to use the observatory to search for faint, rocky planets around distant stars.



ESPRESSO is designed to exploit the light-gathering power of the individual telescopes. It has the light-collecting power of a 16-meter (52 feet) telescope. Light gathering is important for telescopes because, as they receive more photons of light, fainter objects appear brighter. Bigger telescopes typically see distant objects such as galaxies more easily because they have more light-gathering power.

ESPRESSO has a second major scientific goal besides looking for Earth-like worlds: to seek variability in fundamental physics constants. ESPRESSO will observe faint and faraway quasars to uncover more about basic physics, and the combined light of the four telescopes will greatly benefit it in its observations.

How it operates? Each of the VLT units sends its light to the instrument using mirrors, prisms and lenses. ESPRESSO can use the light from either all four telescopes at once or just one individual telescope. That design is intended to provide more flexibility in observing time.


What’s important?

  • For Prelims: VLT, ESPRESSO and Quasars.


Sources: toi.


Facts for Prelims:


International Conference for Reconstruction of Iraq:

The Kuwaiti capital is hosting the second day of an international conference aimed at raising funds for reconstructing Iraq. It will bring together a number of economically powerful countries, as well as regional and international organizations on contributions to rebuild Iraq after many years of war and conflicts.

The conference will also touch on several developments and vital aspects pertaining to Iraq, including the participation of the private sector in the reconstruction process. The World Bank, as a major contributor to the event, will provide the required investment guarantees for private companies and institutions to participate in the development of Iraq.


Indira Gandhi Canal:

Context: Rajasthan Government has signed a new loan agreement with the New Development Bank for restructuring of Indira Gandhi Canal. The restructuring and repairing of Indira Gandhi Canal and its distributaries will help solve the problems of loss of water and water-locking in the agricultural fields. It will also ensure the supply of irrigation water to the farmers at the tail-ends of the Indira Gandhi Canal Project.

About Indira Gandhi Canal: The Indira Gandhi Canal is one of the largest canal projects in India. It starts from the Harike Barrage at Harike, a few kilometers below the confluence of the Satluj and Beas rivers in the Indian state of Punjab and terminates in irrigation facilities in the Thar Desert in the north west of Rajasthan state. Previously known as the Rajasthan Canal.