About: Char Dham Highway Project

About: Char Dham Highway Project

  • The Chardham Mahamarg Vikas Pariyojna, or the Chardham highway project, is an initiative to improve connectivity to the Char Dham pilgrimage centres (Gangotri, Yamunotri, Kedarnath and Badrinath) in the Himalayas.
  • The Prime Minister had launched the construction of the Char Dham Mahamarg in December, 2016, as a tribute to those who died in the 2013 Kedarnath disaster.
  • The project will develop around 900 km of national highways in Uttarakhand at an approximate cost of Rs 12,000 crore.
  • It involves widening the existing, geometrically deficient highway that connects the four abodes.
  • Apart from widening, it plans to improve the stretches to two-lane carriageway with paved shoulders, protect landslide hazard zones, construct bypasses, long bridges, tunnels and elevated corridors to ensure safety for the users.

 

Advantages

  • The project will make travel to Char Dham safer and more convenient. Connectivity & tourism will get a strong boost through the project.
  • Proper slope stabilisation will ensure protection against landslides.
  • The project is also important from a strategic point of view as it is close to the China border.
  • In the eventuality of any aggression, improved roads will facilitate movement of heavy weapons, equipments and artillery guns.

 

Concerns

  • It is an extremely fragile region. The area forms the Main Central Thrust of the Lesser Himalayan region. This is where the Indian tectonic plate goes under the Eurasian Tectonic Plate.
  • The phenomenon makes the region susceptible to earthquakes and landslides.
  • The Geological Survey of India corroborates this in its report prepared after the Kedarnath disaster.
  • It states that road construction in mountains reactivates landslides as it disturbs the toe of the natural slope of the hill.

 

 

About: Char Dham

  • Char Dham refers to the 4 pilgrimage centres – Gangotri, Yamunotri, Kedarnath and Badrinath – in the Himalayas, in the state of Uttarakhand.

Badrinath

  • Badrinath or Badrinarayan Temple is a Hindu temple dedicated to Lord Vishnu, and situated in the town of Badrinath in Uttarakhand.
  • The temple is located in Garhwal hill tracks in Chamoli district along the banks of Alaknanda River.
  • The temple and town form one of the four Char Dham sites.
  • The temple is also one of the 108 Divya Desams, the holy shrines for Vaishnavites, dedicated to Vishnu (who is worshipped as Badrinath).
  • It is open for six months every year (between the end of April and the beginning of November), because of extreme weather conditions in the Himalayan region.

Kedarnath

  • Kedarnath Temple is a Hindu temple (shrine) dedicated to Lord Shiva. It is one of the twelve Jyotirlingas, the holiest Hindu shrines of Shiva.
  • It is located in the Garhwal Himalayan range near the Mandakini river, in Uttarakhand.
  • Kedarnath is seen as a homogenous form of Lord Shiva, the ‘Lord of Kedar Khand’, the historical name of the region.
  • Due to extreme weather conditions, the temple is open to the general public only between the months of April (Akshaya Tritriya) and November (Kartik Purnima, the autumn full moon).

Gangotri

  • Gangotri is a town and a Nagar Panchayat (municipality) in Uttarkashi district in the state of Uttarakhand.
  • It is a Hindu pilgrim town on the banks of the river Bhagirathi and origin of River Ganges. It is on the Greater Himalayan Range, at a height of 3,100 metres.
  • According to popular Hindu legend, it was here that Goddess Ganga descended when Lord Shiva released the mighty river from the locks of his hair.
  • The river is called Bhagirathi at the source and acquires the name Ganga (the Ganges) from Devprayag onwards where it meets the Alaknanda.
  • The origin of the holy river is at Gaumukh, set in the Gangotri Glacier, and is 19 kms from Gangotri. The temple is closed from Diwali every year and is reopened in May.

Yamunotri

  • Yamunotri Temple is situated in the western region of Garhwal Himalayas at an altitude of 3,291 metres in Uttarkashi district, Uttarakhand.
  • River Yamuna originates at Yamunotri.
  • The temple is dedicated to Goddess Yamuna and has a black marble idol of the goddess.

Advanced Towed Artillery Gun System (ATAGS)

News Summary:
  • During the firing trial at Pokhran ranges, ATAGS has covered the longest ever distance of 48 kms.
  • It has surpassed the maximum ranges of 35-40 kms fired by any artillery gun system in this category.
  • The record was achieved with special ammunition, “high explosive – base bleed” (HE – BB).
  • The next round of trials will take place in Sikkim in December.
ATAGS:
  • It is a 155 mm/52 calibre towed howitzer artillery gun.
Development of ATAGS:
  • The development of ATAGS was started in 2013 as a part of artillery modernisation programme for Indian Army.
  • It is being jointly developed by the Defence Research and Development Organisation (DRDO) and the private sector.
  • The DRDO’s Armament Research and Development Establishment has partnered with Kalyani Group, Tata Power and Ordnance Factory Board etc for the development of ATAGS.
Features of ATAGS:
  • It is configured with all electric drive to ensure maintenance free and reliable operation over a longer period of time.
  • It has a firing range of 40 Kms.
  • It has advanced features like high mobility, advanced communication system, automatic command and control system with night firing capability in direct fire mode etc.
  • It has a six round magazine instead of a standard three round magazine.
No new Inductions:
  • The Army has not inducted any new artillery gun since the Bofors in the 1980s.
  • After decades of failed attempts, it is gearing up to induct the Dhanush artillery gun (an indigenously upgraded variant of the Bofors gun).
  • In 2016, India has signed a contract with U.S for 145 M-777 Ultra-Light Howitzers.
Section : Defence & Security

In Focus: Land Degradation

In Focus: Land Degradation

What is Land Degradation?

  • Land Degradation can be termed as the degradation of the quality of land resulting in the reduction of fertility and crop production capacity of the land.
  • Land degradation is driven by both by changes in climate or human activities.
  • Globally, 24 billion tonnes of fertile soil and 27, 000 bio-species are lost every year.

What is Desertification?

  • When land degradation occurs in dryland areas, more specifically arid, semi-arid and dry sub-humid areas, it is referred to as

Major Causes of Land Degradation:

  • Extreme weather conditions particularly drought
  • Soil erosion
  • Poor farming practices and the absence of conservation works
  • Buildup of salts in soils
  • Loss of vegetation cover due to overgrazing, over exploitation and deforestation
  • Invasive alien plant species
  • Overuse of irrigation water
  • Inappropriate use of marginal land

Impact of Land Degradation

  • Loss of agricultural productivity
  • Increased risks of floods and erosion leading to the formation of gullies;
  • Loss of soil fertility leading to poor crop yields
  • Shortage of local surface water resources
  • Increased level of salt groundwater
  • Propagation of invasive species
  • Loss of vegetation
  • Threat to biodiversity
  • Formation of Sodic soils that create an impermeable crust reducing infiltration resulting in water scarcity

 

Land Degradation in India:

  • In 2011-2013, India’s land degradation area totaled 29.3 percent of India’s total land area, representing an area of 96.4 million hectares (mha).
  • This is an increase of 0.57 percent compared with 2003-2005 (an area larger than the state of Nagaland).
  • The top processes leading to degradation/desertification in India in both time periods were:
    • Water erosion (10.98 percent in 2011-2013)
    • Vegetation degradation (8.91 percent) and
    • Wind erosion (5.55 percent).
  • Overall, the areas affected by vegetation and water erosion increased in 2011-2013, while there was a slight drop in the total area degraded due to wind erosion and salinity, indicating improvement.
  • Although 1.95 mha of land was reclaimed or restored between 2003-2005 and 2011-2013, 3.63 mha of productive land degraded during this period.

Note: Land reclamation is bringing back the degraded land into its former state by adopting suitable management practices

States with highest area of lands undergoing degradation/desertification

  • Rajasthan
  • Gujarat
  • Maharashtra
  • Jammu & Kashmir
  • Karnataka

All these states amounting to 18.4 percent (out of India’s total 29.3 percent) while all the other states each had less than 2 percent of degraded lands.

 

United Nations Convention to Combat Desertification (UNCCD)

  • Desertification was addressed for the first time in 1977 in the United Nations Conference on Desertification.
  • This was followed by the adoption of the United Nations Convention to Combat Desertification in Paris in 1994, which entered into force in December 1996.
  • It is one of the three Rio Conventions, along with United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC) and Convention on Biological Diversity (CBD).
  • The UNCCD is the only legally binding international agreement linking environment and development issues to the land agenda.
  • The Convention holds a biennial Conference of Parties (CoP) to the Convention.

 

Combating Land Degradation in India:

  • India is signatory to the United Nations Convention on Combating Desertification (UNCCD).
  • India is committed to combat desertification and land degradation and intends to achieve land degradation neutral status by 2030.

Note: The Ministry of Environment, Forest and Climate Change (MoEFCC) is the nodal Ministry to co-ordinate all issues pertaining to the Convention.

Schemes launched for capacity-building of the stakeholders at multiple levels:

  • Pradhan Mantri Fasal Bima Yojana (PMFBY)
  • National Food Security Mission (NFSM)
  • Soil Health Card Scheme
  • Pradhan Mantri Krishi Sinchayee Yojana (PKSY)
  • Per Drop More Crop,
  • Swacch Bharat mission,
  • Har Khet Ko Pani (HKKP) and
  • National Rural Drinking Water Programme.

 

Prevention and Control Measures for Land Degradation:

  • Strip farming: It is a practice in which cultivated crops are sown in alternative strips to prevent water movement.
  • Crop Rotation: It is one of the agricultural practice in which different crops are grown in same area following a rotation system which helps in replenishment of the soil.
  • Ridge and Furrow Formation: Soil erosion is one of the factors responsible for land degradation. It can be prevented by formation of ridge and furrow during irrigation which lessens run off.
  • Construction of Dams: It checks or reduces the velocity of run off so that soil support vegetation.
  • Contour Farming: It is usually practiced across the hill side and is useful in collecting and diverting the run off to avoid erosion.
Section : Environment & Ecology

About: Trouts

About: Trouts
  • Mahaseer, Snow trout and Indian hill trout are the principle indigenous cold water fish species inhabiting the mountain waters of India.
  • Snow trouts are found in snow fed streams of Assam, Eastern Himalayas, Sikkim, Nepal, Kashmir.
  • Normally trout is a fish of perennial mountain streams of clear cool water of high oxygen content and thrives in lakes also.
  • As a habit, it breeds in shallow slow-moving waters with gravely bottom; but because of high mortality in natural streams and difficulty of collecting the young ones, the fish is usually bred artificially in hatcheries.
  • After hatching of eggs and nurture of fry to fingerling stage on artificial feeds, the fingerlings are released into natural streams for further growth.
  • Their natural food, and that of adults also, is usually small fish, shrimps, crabs, water-insect larvae and other aquatic organisms.
Exotic Trouts:
  • Major exotic trouts in India are the Rainbow trout (or steel head) and Brown trout. They were introduced to the streams of India by the British.
  • Recently the American Brook Trout from Canada, and a land-locked variety of Atlantic Salmon (Salmo solar) from north Americe, have also been transplanted into trout hatcheries in Kashmir.
  • Brown Trout:
    • Brown Trout was the first one reproduced and reared artificially in India.
    • They were imported in early 1900s from Scotland as a present from Duke of Bedford to the Maharaja of Kashmir.
    • The first hatchery for breeding trout was established at Harwan near Srinagar and from there, after a few years, eyed-eggs were transplanted to many streams and lakes in and out of Kashmir.
  • Rainbow Trout:
    • Also introduced by the British in early 1990s, Rainbow Trout are one of the most successful trouts of Indian waters for cultural purpose because these adapt easily in comparison to the Brown Trouts.
    • Moreover, they promptly feed on artificial food and can withstand the high temperature and O2 depleted water as well.
About: Wildlife Institute of India (WII)
  • With India’s once rich biodiversity considerably depleting, the need was felt for an organization to help and strengthen endeavors for recovery.
  • Wildlife Institute of India (WII) was established at Dehradun in 1982 with a mandate to train government and non-government personnel, carry out research, and advise on matters of conservation and management of wildlife resources.
  • The Institute is actively engaged in research across the breadth of the country on biodiversity related issues.
  • In 1986, it was granted the status of an autonomous Institution of the Union Ministry of Environment & Forests.
  • WII is now recognized as a premier regional institution for training and research in biodiversity conservation.
  • WII has international and bilateral collaborations for institutional building, faculty development, infusion of modern technology and creation of a scientific infrastructure.
Section : Environment & Ecology

About: Trouts

About: Trouts
  • Mahaseer, Snow trout and Indian hill trout are the principle indigenous cold water fish species inhabiting the mountain waters of India.
  • Snow trouts are found in snow fed streams of Assam, Eastern Himalayas, Sikkim, Nepal, Kashmir.
  • Normally trout is a fish of perennial mountain streams of clear cool water of high oxygen content and thrives in lakes also.
  • As a habit, it breeds in shallow slow-moving waters with gravely bottom; but because of high mortality in natural streams and difficulty of collecting the young ones, the fish is usually bred artificially in hatcheries.
  • After hatching of eggs and nurture of fry to fingerling stage on artificial feeds, the fingerlings are released into natural streams for further growth.
  • Their natural food, and that of adults also, is usually small fish, shrimps, crabs, water-insect larvae and other aquatic organisms.
Exotic Trouts:
  • Major exotic trouts in India are the Rainbow trout (or steel head) and Brown trout. They were introduced to the streams of India by the British.
  • Recently the American Brook Trout from Canada, and a land-locked variety of Atlantic Salmon (Salmo solar) from north Americe, have also been transplanted into trout hatcheries in Kashmir.
  • Brown Trout:
    • Brown Trout was the first one reproduced and reared artificially in India.
    • They were imported in early 1900s from Scotland as a present from Duke of Bedford to the Maharaja of Kashmir.
    • The first hatchery for breeding trout was established at Harwan near Srinagar and from there, after a few years, eyed-eggs were transplanted to many streams and lakes in and out of Kashmir.
  • Rainbow Trout:
    • Also introduced by the British in early 1990s, Rainbow Trout are one of the most successful trouts of Indian waters for cultural purpose because these adapt easily in comparison to the Brown Trouts.
    • Moreover, they promptly feed on artificial food and can withstand the high temperature and O2 depleted water as well.
About: Wildlife Institute of India (WII)
  • With India’s once rich biodiversity considerably depleting, the need was felt for an organization to help and strengthen endeavors for recovery.
  • Wildlife Institute of India (WII) was established at Dehradun in 1982 with a mandate to train government and non-government personnel, carry out research, and advise on matters of conservation and management of wildlife resources.
  • The Institute is actively engaged in research across the breadth of the country on biodiversity related issues.
  • In 1986, it was granted the status of an autonomous Institution of the Union Ministry of Environment & Forests.
  • WII is now recognized as a premier regional institution for training and research in biodiversity conservation.
  • WII has international and bilateral collaborations for institutional building, faculty development, infusion of modern technology and creation of a scientific infrastructure.
Section : Environment & Ecology

Microplastics

What are Microplastics?

  • Plastic debris that is less than five millimeters in length is called “microplastics.”

 

Types and sources of Microplastics:

Primary Microplastics:

  • These are the microplastics which have been made as plastics less than 5mm in length.
  • Microbeads are the type of primary microplastics which are less than 1mm in length.
  • They are made from polyethylene (PE), polypropylene (PP), polystyrene (PS), polyethylene terephthalate (PET) and polyesters.
  • Common sources:
    • Microbeads are used as exfoliants in health and beauty products- in facewash, toothpaste etc.
    • From tyres: Most of car tyres contain synthetic rubber and it is rubbed off on the road and eventually washed to water sources.
    • Machine washing synthetic fabric

 

Secondary Microplastics

  • These are the plastics that result from fragmentation and weathering of plastic larger objects. It contributes to 75% of the total microplastics pollution.

 

 

Harmful effects of Microplastics

  • Microplastics are non- biodegrade i.e. they are not broken down into simpler substances by the microorganisms. So, the microplastics never dissolve and stay in water or soil.
  • Microplastics enter marine fauna (fishes, zooplanktons, oyster, shrimps etc.) by ingestion of marine debris containing the pollutant.
    • From there, they may bioaccumulate up the food chain and enter the human diet.
    • These particles can produce toxins which can affect various organs of the body. (Exact mechanisms are not known yet)
    • These microparticles can act as vectors of contaminants.

 

Steps that can be taken

  • Data on freshwater microplastics are lacking in India, whereas research on this pollutant is drawing attention globally. The magnitude of the problem should be assessed.
  • As 75% of the pollution is from secondary source, controlling plastics at the source is the option to be explored because once microplastics are released into the environment there is little can be done to limit their distribution and impacts.
  • Concerted efforts in improving and monitoring waste management programs.
  • Emphasis should be given on ‘three R principle’: Reduce, Reuse, and Recycle, for the plastic management. This will reduce the influx of plastics.
  • Strict legislations on plastic ban and their regulations should be enacted.

 

Section : Environment & Ecology

About: SO2 Pollution

Headline : Coal-based power makes India largest SO2 emitter in world

Details :

In News:

  • Greenpeace India has come up with a new report on sulphur dioxide pollution using NASA data from the OMI (Ozone Monitoring Instrument) satellite.
  • As per the report, India is the world’s largest emitter of anthropogenic sulphur dioxide (SO2), which is produced from coal burning. It says India has more than 15 per cent of all anthropogenic SO2 hotspots in the world.

 

News Summary:

  • Sulphur dioxide (SO2) is a significant contributor to air pollution.
  • As per the Green Peace report, India is the largest cumulative emitter SO2 in the world.
  • However, analysis of ambient air quality data by the Central Pollution Control Board (CPCB), India’s national pollution watchdog, however, shows that sulphur dioxide levels were within the acceptable limits in all 50 major cities, including Delhi, Mumbai, Bengaluru, Chandigarh, Kolkata, Pune and Kanpur, in the country during 2016-18.
  • Although SO2 concentration monitored directly across cities in India might show low values, being a reactive pollutant, SO2 reacts with other air pollutants to form sulphate particles and makes a significant part of particulate matter (PM2.5), which has proven to be a major health risk across the world, leading to millions of deaths.
  • The primary reason for the country’s high emission output is the expansion of coal-based electricity generation over the past decade. The vast majority of coal-based power plants in India lack flue-gas desulphurization (FGD) technology to reduce air pollution. The rapid rise in demand for power and the absence of regulations are seen as the reasons behind the drastic rise.

SO2 emission hotspots:

  • As per country-wise world rankings, India was found at the top position in emitting SO2 as it has the maximum hotspots. Five of the top 10 SO2 emission hotspots from coal/power generation industry across the world are in India
  • The major SO2 emission hotspots in India are Singrauli in Madhya Pradesh, Neyveli and Chennai in Tamil Nadu, Talcher and Jharsuguda in Odisha, Korba in Chhattisgarh, Kutch in Gujarat, Ramagundam in Telangana and Chandrapur and Koradi in Maharashtra.
  • Russia’s Norilsk smelter complex is the largest individual SO2 emission hotspot. 

 

About: SO2 Pollution

  • Sulfur dioxide (SO2), a colorless, bad-smelling, toxic gas, is part of a larger group of chemicals referred to as sulfur oxides (SOx). These gases, especially SO2, are emitted by the burning of fossil fuels — coal, oil, and diesel — or other materials that contain sulfur.
  • Like nitrogen dioxide, sulfur dioxide can create secondary pollutants once released into the air. Secondary pollutants formed with sulfur dioxide include sulfate aerosols, particulate matter, and acid rain.

Sources of SO2 pollution:

  • The greatest source of SO2 in the atmosphere is the burning of fossil fuels in power plants and other industrial facilities like metals processing and smelting facilities etc.
  • A substantial amount is produced by human activities such as the combustion of fuels with high sulfur-containing impurities in ships and other vehicles and use of other heavy equipment.
  • SO2 in small quantities is produced by volcanoes and other natural processes.
  • Old India’s power plants with antiquated technology emit more sulfur dioxide.

Impact SO2 pollution:

  • Sulfur dioxide pollution can cause respiratory problems like asthma, heart and lung disease, and even dementia and fertility problems.
  • Sulfur dioxide and other SOx are partly culpable in the formation of thick haze and smog, which can impair visibility in addition to impacting health.
  • The gas contributes to the formation of acid rain which can harm sensitive ecosystems.
  • It is also a precursor for sulfate aerosols, a type of suspended particle that can affect the properties of clouds.
  • Sulfur-containing air pollutants such as sulfate can be transported long distances to affect public health and the environment at a regional scale.

Steps to manage and reduce the amount of sulfur dioxide:

  • Setting up of monitoring network for assessment of ambient air quality. For example, government launched National Air Quality index starting with 14 cities and now extended to more cities.
  • Implementing national fuel quality standards. For example, implementation of Bharat Stage norms.
  • Promoting alternative fuels. For example, introduction of cleaner / alternate fuels like gaseous fuel, ethanol blend etc. replacing petrol and diesel.
  • Revision of existing environmental standards and formulation of new standards for prevention and control of SO2 pollution. For example, the environment ministry brought new norms for coal-based power stations to cut down emissions of sulphur dioxide (SO2) and improve the ambient air quality around power plants.
  • Use of latest technology is encouraged. For example, the FGD or Flue-gas desulfurisation is used to remove sulphur dioxide from exhaust flue gases of fossil-fuel power plants, and from the emissions of other sulphur oxide emitting processes.
Section : Environment & Ecology