Daily Current Affairs 20.04.2023 ( India’s population to edge ahead of China’s by mid-2023, says UN , Batting for bats, Kerala institute strives to dispel myths , In a first, Meghalaya schools shut due to prevailing heatwave , Caste census, even if morally flawed, can help in targeting of quota benefits , FSSAI needs an energy shot to regulate processed food, Conservationists in Sri Lanka slam plan to export monkeys to China )

Daily Current Affairs 20.04.2023 ( India’s population to edge ahead of China’s by mid-2023, says UN , Batting for bats, Kerala institute strives to dispel myths , In a first, Meghalaya schools shut due to prevailing heatwave , Caste census, even if morally flawed, can help in targeting of quota benefits , FSSAI needs an energy shot to regulate processed food, Conservationists in Sri Lanka slam plan to export monkeys to China )


1. India’s population to edge ahead of China’s by mid-2023, says UN

India’s population projected to reach 142.86 cr. against China’s 142.57 cr.; contrary to alarm bells, population trends point to slower growth and ageing societies, says report; family planning targets can lead to gender-based discrimination, it says

India is set to overtake China to become the world’s most populous country by the middle of 2023, according to data released by the United Nations.

India’s population is pegged to reach 142.86 crore against China’s 142.57 crore. This shows India will have 29 lakh more people than its Asian neighbour.

The United States is a distant third, with an estimated population of 34 crore, the data by the State of World Population Report, 2023 of the UN Population Fund (UNFPA) showed. The world’s population hit the 800-crore mark in November 2022.

The report says that contrary to the alarm bells about exploding numbers, population trends everywhere point to slower growth and ageing societies. Just eight countries will account for half the projected growth in global population by 2050 — the Democratic Republic of Congo, Egypt, Ethiopia, India, Nigeria, Pakistan, the Philippines and the United Republic of Tanzania — while two-thirds of people now live in a country where lifetime fertility corresponds with zero growth.

At a time when there have been increasing calls for imposing a two-child norm in India by various political leaders, and some States such as Assam have issued an order in 2021 to bar those with more than two children from government jobs, the UN agency said its findings for India too had suggested that “population anxieties have seeped into large portions of the general public”.

It called for a radical rethink on how countries address changing demographies and cautioned against use of family planning as a tool for achieving fertility targets. Global experience showed that family planning targets can lead to gender-based discrimination and harmful practices such as prenatal sex determination leading to sex-selective abortion, it says.

Imposition of such targets can lead to imbalanced sex ratios, preferential health and nutrition for male children, denial of the paternity of girl children, violence against women for giving birth to girl children, and coercion of women to have fewer or greater numbers of children.

“With close to 50% of its population below the age of 25, India has a time-bound opportunity to benefit from the demographic dividend,” and that it must convert this into “economic benefits through additional investments in health, education, and quality jobs for young people — including targeted investments in women and girls.”

2. Batting for bats, Kerala institute strives to dispel myths

People are largely unaware of the economic and environmental benefits that bats provide to humans

Bats have been cloaked in superstition since ancient times. Their nocturnal nature and spooky appearance place them in horror stories.

The Kerala Forest Research Institute (KFRI) is on a mission to dispel myths associated with bats and create awareness about their diversity, ecosystem functions, and threats faced by them.

KFRI Director Syam Viswanath launched a social media campaign ‘Bat for Bats’ at the institute recently as part of International Bat Appreciation Day. Founded by the Bat Conservation International in 2013, the day aims to remind people of the role bats play in daily lives of people.

Nithin Divakar, who is doing doctoral research on bats at the KFRI, says the public is largely unaware of the economic and environmental benefits that bats provide to humans. Globally, there are 1,460 species of bats categorised into 21 families. In India, 135 bat species belonging to nine families have been identified, with Kerala home to 48 of the species. Bats play a crucial role in pollination and seed dispersal of over 500 plants of commercial and ecological value, aiding in forest regeneration, he says.

“Studies show that an insectivorous bat, which can be as small as our little finger, can consume at least 1,400 small insects in an hour, helping to save billions of dollars in agricultural losses,” says Mr. Divakar. “Anthropogenic factors such as habitat loss, poaching, environmental pollution, climate change, and biological invasions have caused the decline of bat population worldwide,” he says.

At present, the KFRI is undertaking three key projects on bats, says Peroth Balakrishnan, Head of the Department of Wildlife Biology, KFRI.

The first is a long-term study that focusses on the community ecology of bats in Kerala across various vegetational gradients. The second is on participatory conservation efforts for Salim Ali’s fruit bat, the only endangered bat species in Kerala. The third is a citizen science programme called the Indian Fruit Bat Project launched in June 2022.

This project aims to map and conserve the roosting sites of Indian flying fox, one of the world’s largest bats.

3.  The caste imperative

Caste census, even if morally flawed, can help in targeting of quota benefits

With the Congress party joining the chorus for an updated caste census, there seems to be an emerging consensus among the political opposition on the need for this exercise. While the parties committed to reservations in the northern belt — the SP and the RJD in particular — have made this demand as a reaction to the expansion of reservation benefits to economically weaker sections among “forward” castes using income criteria, the Congress’s pivot towards supporting this stems from the party’s new political emphasis on expanding its support base. With the Mandal Commission report of 1980, that was based on caste census data of 1931, still remaining the basis of identifying backwardness and determining the extent of reservation to the OBCs, the need for a comprehensive census that provides data to support, or evaluate existing reservation quotas, or to assess demands for them remains pertinent. Such a diligent exercise would also serve a legal imperative allowing the government to answer the Supreme Court’s call for quantifiable data. But counting castes is not easy. An inherent weakness is evident in how the government described the Socio-Economic and Caste Census in 2011: as being riddled with infirmities that made the data collected unusable. Data here recorded 46 lakh different castes, sub-castes, caste/clan surnames, which required adequate parsing before being used for proper enumeration. The survey’s hurried conduct, without utilising the Census Commissioners and the Office of the Registrar General properly, also rendered it problematic.

A more thoroughgoing exercise would entail an adequate consolidation of caste/sub-caste names into social groups based on synonymity and equivalence of the self-identified group names revealed by respondents in the census. Marking these groups against the OBC/SC/ST lists for each State would build a useful database, which can be utilised in the decennial Census. The data obtained this way can be used to parse aggregated socioeconomic information for these groups. But with the government having postponed the long-delayed 2021 Census and not acquiescing to the demand of including caste counts, questions remain whether an effective caste census is possible. There is of course the risk of reification of caste identities even as the constitutional order seeks to build a casteless society. But with caste-based identification still predominant, such a census seems politically imperative, even if morally flawed, for the purpose of addressing socioeconomic inequities through facile reservation quotas that confer income benefits and a degree of social justice without actually advancing the cause of a truly casteless society.

4. In a first, Meghalaya schools shut due to prevailing heatwave

The plains belt of two districts in the Garo Hills have been worst hit, officials said.

After Tripura, Meghalaya has announced the closure of all educational institutions in parts of the State due to a heatwave. This is the first such instance for a State known more for its pleasant weather and ample rain.

Meghalaya’s Education Minister, Rakkam A. Sangma on April 18 said advisories have been issued to close down educational institutions in the West Garo Hills and South Garo Hills districts.

Parts of the Garo Hills, particularly the plain belts, have been experiencing temperatures of more than 35 degrees Celsius over the past few days.

‘Ensuring safety’

“In view of the massive surge in heat wave across the West Garo Hills district, and to ensure the safety and well-being of the students, teachers, and staff, all primary, middle, secondary and higher secondary school activities shall remain closed during the day (8 a.m. to 3 p.m.) in the district from April 19 to 21,” an order from West Garo Hills Deputy Commissioner, Jagdish Chelani read.

According to the order, the heatwave conditions in the district are a matter of concern, and the risk of heat stroke, dehydration, and other heat-related illnesses cannot be ignored. “As a precautionary measure, all authorities concerned, including the district school education officer, are hereby directed to ensure strict compliance with this order,” it said. A similar order was issued in the South Garo Hills district.

On April 17, the Tripura government announced the closure of all government and government-aided schools in the State for six days from April 18.

Health issues

An official notification said the decision was taken keeping the health issues of the schoolchildren in mind. According to the notification, the State government has also requested the private school authorities to keep their educational institutions closed for the same period.

“Tripura is currently experiencing high temperatures with the mercury reaching 40 degrees, which is 5-6 degrees above average for the current summer season,” officials said. The Meteorological Department said the maximum temperature is expected to be in the range of 35-39 degrees across Tripura for a few more days.

5. Why is a star-planet pair emitting radio signals?

What is YZ Ceti b? How have astronomers detected radio signals from this planet which is 12 light years away?


YZ Ceti b is a rocky, earth-sized exoplanet rotating around a small red dwarf star, YZ Ceti, barely 12 light-years from Earth.

Astronomers deduced that the radio signals detected were a result of the interaction between the planet’s magnetic field and the star.

Such signals can only be produced if the exoplanet orbits very close to its parent star and has its own magnetic field to influence the stellar wind and generate the signals.

An alien world called YZ Ceti b has suddenly become the cynosure of astronomers. YZ Ceti b is a rocky, earth-sized exoplanet rotating around a small red dwarf star, YZ Ceti, barely 12 light-years from Earth. Astronomers have detected a repeating radio signal from this exoplanet, suggesting the presence of a magnetic field — one of the prerequisites for a habitable planet — around it.

How was the discovery made?

The discovery was made by Jackie Villadsen from Bucknell University, Pennsylvania, and Sebastian Pineda from the University of Colorado, Boulder, using the Karl G. Jansky Very Large Array radio telescope in New Mexico. They published their findings in the journal Nature Astronomy on April 3.

They had to make multiple observations before they could detect the radio signals from the star YZ Ceti, which seemed to match the orbital period of the planet YZ Ceti b. From this, they deduced that the signals were a result of the interaction between the planet’s magnetic field and the star.

Why does the magnetic field matter?

Just as energy surges from the sun sometimes disrupt telecommunications on earth and damage orbiting satellites, intense bursts of energy from the YZ Ceti star-exoplanet exchange produce spectacular auroral lights. “We get to see this indirectly in the form of the radio emission we receive,” Dr. Pineda said.

These radio waves, strong enough to be picked up on earth, confirmed the existence of an exoplanetary magnetic field. Such signals can only be produced if the exoplanet orbits very close to its parent star and has its own magnetic field to influence the stellar wind and generate the signals.

What does this mean for YZ Ceti b?

YZ Ceti b has a small orbit — astronomers determined that the planet takes just a couple of earth-days to circle its star. Since the mid-1990s, astronomers have found hundreds of planets orbiting stars similar to the sun. To have an atmosphere and sustain water, a planet has to be at a certain distance from its star (in orbits said to be in the star’s “Goldilocks zone”), or it will get burnt. Earth, for example, would have been a lot more like Venus if it had been just a little closer to the sun or cold like Mars if it had been any farther. Astronomers believe nearly 30% of all star systems discovered could potentially have “Goldilocks zones”.

How common are such magnetic fields?

With such overwhelming numbers, it always stood to reason that strong planetary magnetic fields should be common outside the solar system. Nevertheless, despite many of the larger exoplanets detected being found to possess magnetic fields, planetary scientists have never been able to identify such fields on smaller, rocky exoplanets — until now. Dr. Pineda said that if the latest findings are confirmed by further research, they will confirm their method’s ability to lead to the “magnetic characterisation of exoplanets”. This is important because the survival of a planet’s atmosphere may well depend on its having, or not having, a strong magnetic field, since the field protects its atmosphere from being eroded by the charged particles from its star.

What happens next?

Curiously, Mars orbiting the sun at a ‘safe’ distance has a similar story to tell. Both Mars and Earth were very much alike billions of years ago, with a lot of water and similar atmospheric systems. But in spite of this, life started on one planet while the other became cold as the solar winds stripped it of most of its atmosphere. Will the story of YZ Ceti b be the same? “We are hoping to get additional observations on this target,” Dr. Pinade said. “Longer-term monitoring is important to confirm these results and further investigate the properties of the radio signals.” But one thing is certain: these findings will help astronomers learn more about rocky worlds in the deepest reaches of space running rings around their parent stars.

6. FSSAI needs an energy shot to regulate processed food

On the cover: The FSSAI has been discussing labelling to indicate if the product is high in fat, sugar and salt.

The social media influencer drawn into the Cadbury’s Bournvita controversy has a supporter. The Nutrition Advocacy in Public Interest — India (NAPi), a think tank working on nutrition policy, has issued a statement saying it stands by him.

Revant Himatsingka, who calls himself @foodpharmer on social media, with 1,35,000 followers on Instagram, drew the ire of Mondelez India, the company that owns Bournvita, with his April 1 video in which he flagged the product’s high sugar content. He, however, deleted the video following a legal notice from the company on April 13. He has also apologised on his Instagram handle, while his Twitter handle has been suspended.

In January, the NAPi said that a Bournvita advertisement and product packaging was misleading and did not disclose the sugar content. The organisation has filed a formal complaint with the Department of Consumers Affairs, working under the Ministry of Consumer Affairs, Food & Public Distribution. It alleges the ads violate the provision of the Consumer Protection Act, 2019.

However, this has brought to the boil the real issue at hand — the Food Standards and Safety Authority of India (FSSAI) dragging its feet over implementing its own guidelines to regulate packaged and processed food.

Labelling on front

The FSSAI has been discussing the possibility of front-of-pack labelling. According to this, brands would need to put a notification indicating if a food product was high in fat, sugar, and salt (HFSS). The labelling would allow consumers to make informed choices.

In September 2022, the statutory body had issued a draft notification on front-of-package labelling that proposed “Indian Nutrition Rating” (INR). The health star-rating system for packaged foods will assign half a star (least healthy) to five stars (healthiest) depending on the ingredients and the degree of processing.

Dr. Arun Gupta, paediatrician and NAPi convener, said the FSSAI has not been at the forefront of implementing its regulations. “Stars are a method to reward, and they should not be used. An upfront warning that a product is high in sugar content is required,” he said.

In a statement, Mondelez India said, “Every serving of 20 grams of Bournvita has 7.5 g of added sugar, which is approximately a teaspoon and a half. This is much less than the daily recommended intake limits of sugar for children.”

In 2020, the FSSAI looked into 1,306 product samples across 30 food companies, including dairy, confectionery, sweets and snacks. None complied with its threshold for sugar to avoid warning labels — 6 g per 100 g.

A panel then proposed increasing the threshold arbitrarily by six times. Despite that, only 20% of products were found to be meeting the new threshold — 36 g of sugar per 100 g. The rest had over 36 g of sugar, a source in the technical expert committee constituted by the FSSAI told The Hindu. The panel was later dissolved.

7. Conservationists in Sri Lanka slam plan to export monkeys to China

Stopgap measure: Activists fear that the monkeys, allegedly causing crop damage, could end up in testing laboratories.

Zoologists and conservationists in Sri Lanka on Wednesday slammed a recent government proposal exploring the export of monkeys to China, terming it an ad-hoc, illegal, and short-sighted response to a long-standing human-animal conflict.

Earlier this month, Minister of Agriculture Mahinda Amaraweera said the government was studying a proposal from a Chinese company to purchase Sri Lankan toque macaques, a golden brown-coloured monkey endemic to the country.

The Chinese firm, said to be an animal breeding company according to Sri Lankan portal Newswire, had written to the Ministry, making an offer to buy “a large quantity of monkeys” from Sri Lanka, as the island nation was reportedly looking to “get rid of certain crop-destroying species”. Local media reports said authorities were considering exporting about 1,00,000 monkeys.

Sri Lanka’s farmers have been voicing concern over crop damage and consequent financial losses, owing to frequent attacks by monkeys in their areas. However, the government’s announcement came abruptly, the conservationists told a media conference in Colombo, adding that farmers had not demanded such an “ad-hoc” solution.

Even as environmental groups in Sri Lanka raised alarm over the Minister’s remarks, Sri Lanka’s Cabinet spokesman recently said the government was yet to hold a discussion on the subject.

Testing labs

Further, the conservationists said they were worried that the monkeys could end up in testing laboratories abroad. “If the monkeys are exported to Chinese labs [as some reports claim], they would be tested, and their skin and eyes could be burnt. They will effectively be tortured and killed,” said Panchali Panapitiya, an animal rights activist from the non-profit Rally for Animal Rights and Environment (RARE).

Challenging the official estimates of 3 million toque macaques, Sri Lanka-based primatologist Wolfgang Dittus said that in 1977, when a large-scale enumeration was undertaken, Sri Lanka had about 6,00,000 toque macaques. “Since then, their natural habitat [forest cover] has decreased by 50 to 70 % and that would mean that the monkey population has also dropped, because their existence depends on their natural habitat. So, my estimation is that Sri Lanka currently has about 3,00,000 toque macaques. They are an endangered species,” he said.

“We fully sympathise with the farmers and the point is to reduce the conflict between monkeys and humans. We can’t change monkey behaviour, but feeding monkeys at temples, or poor management of garbage are serious problems we need to address.”


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