1. Man-animal conflict: Kerala to conduct elephant, tiger surveys
The Kerala Forest Department is set to launch surveys to enumerate wild elephant and tiger populations as part of its efforts to mitigate man-animal conflict in the State.
Forest Minister A.K. Saseendran said the field-level enumeration of wild elephants in the State would be held from May 17 to 19, while the census of tigers would be undertaken in and around Wayanad in the first week of April. A meeting chaired by Head of Forest Force Bennichen Thomas and attended by Chief Wildlife Warden Ganga Singh, among other senior officials, was held here to chalk out a strategy.
While the activities would be supervised by Mr. Singh, Additional Principal Chief Conservator of Forests (Administration), P. Pugazhendi would be the nodal officer. The field directors of the Periyar and the Parambikulam tiger reserves would also coordinate the efforts.
The three-day survey would employ the dung count method in sample blocks to estimate the count of wild elephants. The exercise would also involve an assessment of man-animal interactions, water availability, farming practices, and the changes that had occurred in elephant habitats over the years.
The training for forest officials, watchers, and volunteers for the field-level survey would commence on April 17. Volunteers from eco-development committees and Vana Samrakshana Samitis would be also included in the participatory exercise.
The tiger census would be undertaken across the Wayanad landscape comprising areas under the Kannur, Wayanad North and Wayanad South forest divisions and Aralam, Kottiyoor and Wayanad wildlife sanctuaries.
Camera traps would be deployed.
2. Strawberry farming making waves in tribal land of Odisha
Toiling hard: Women from a tribal community working on a strawberry farm in Sunabeda.
The rugged Sunabeda plateau, 3,000 feet above sea level, along the Odisha-Chhattisgarh boundary, has always been a difficult terrain to traverse, but for Yuvraj Chhatria, it is just a part of his journey. The 30-km ride from the top of the plateau to the plains in Nuapada district of Odisha and the subsequent gruelling 550-km bus journey down the bumpy roads to Bhubaneswar would leave anyone exhausted.
Mr. Chhatria, a member of the Chuktia Bhunjia tribe, one of the particularly vulnerable tribal groups (PVTGs), has brought with him a fresh harvest of strawberries, and the fruit is selling out. He counts his cash in hand – at ₹37,500 for 1.5 quintals, this is the highest single-day profit he has ever made.
The strawberry harvest has triggered a celebration in the houses of 10 farmers who live in one of the 56 villages in the tropical deciduous forest of the Sunabeda Wildlife Sanctuary. The farmers, who from April to October plant paddy, were initiated into strawberry cultivation in November 2022.
“I had never heard about strawberries before. The government officers persuaded us to take up this new kind of farming. It provided saplings and financial aid to dig a borewell,” says Mr. Chhatria, adding that each family has been given 10 acres, and 20,000 saplings planted on each acre. The horticulture department was roped in for mulching and drip irrigation. Farmers took loans from women’s self-help groups (SHGs) to fund the labour component. Mr. Chhatria took a loan of ₹2 lakh.
Most people in Sunabeda are from the Chuktia Bhunjia tribe. They were given the requisite training by the Nuapada district administration and the Chuktia Bhunjia Development Agency (CBDA), set up in 1994-95 by the State government to work for the development of the tribe.
“A CBDA team had gone to Mahabaleshwar in Maharashtra, which accounts for 80% of India’s strawberry production. We found that the altitude and climate there are similar to that of Sunabeda. The soil quality of Sunabeda is better,” says CBDA Special Officer Himansu Mohapatra. He adds the saplings were sourced from Mahabaleshwar. In winter, the maximum daytime temperature of Sunabeda remains at around 25 degree Celsius and at night it drops to 10 degrees Celsius.
Farmers Kaliram Suanr and his wife, Gangabai, are able to pick more than 45 kg of strawberries daily. Women work the land and tend to the plants, and are involved from irrigation to harvest. “In mid-December 2022, when the first strawberry turned red, we were delighted. We first offered it to our deity Maa Sunadei,” says Ms. Suanr.
This is not the first time strawberry farming has been experimented within Odisha. The practice had a fair bit of success when it was introduced in 2021 in the Kotia gram panchayat in Koraput district, situated at a similar altitude to Sunabeda, and with a similar climate. The area, the jurisdiction of which is claimed by both the Odisha and Andhra Pradesh governments, has seen a huge inflow of government funds over the last four years. Now, the cultivation has spread to 20 acres with seven SHGs involved.
In Daringbadi of Kandhamal district, a farmer was persuaded to take up strawberry farming. Kailash Dandapat, who works with Jagruti, a not-for-profit organisation, says, “The fruit was introduced in Daringbadi in two acres of land in 2022. As the place attracts tourists from all over the State and outside, the strawberries found their customers easily. The cultivator has already earned a profit of ₹1 lakh.”
3. Ukraine war is exacerbating fragilities in the global economy: G-20 Ministers
At a meeting of G-20 Finance Ministers and Central Bank Governors (FMCBG) on Saturday in Bengaluru, most members called for a “complete and unconditional withdrawal” of the Russian forces from Ukrainian territory.
An ‘Outcome Document’ released at the end of the meeting also hinted at differences of opinion among the G-20 members.
“Most members strongly condemned the war in Ukraine and stressed that it is causing immense human suffering and exacerbating existing fragilities in the global economy — constraining growth, increasing inflation, disrupting supply chains, heightening energy and food insecurity, and elevating financial stability risks,” the Outcome Document stated.
Impact of sanctions
A section of the members also raised the impact of the anti-Russia sanctions.
The Hindu had reported earlier that the Indian side was expected to highlight mainly economic and developmental issues that are vital for the Global South but the Outcome Document stated clearly that “Recognising that that the G-20 is not the forum to resolve security issues, we acknowledge that security issues can have significant consequences for the global economy.”
The document came out strongly in support of international law and reiterated the comment that Prime Minister Narendra Modi had made at last year’s Shanghai Cooperation Organisation (SCO) summit at Samarkand that “Today’s era must not be of war.”
The group also called for strengthening of the Financial Action Task Force (FATF) and FATF Style Regional Bodies (FSRBs) to ensure continued crackdown on money laundering and terrorism.
An Outcome Document says most members strongly condemned Russia’s war in Ukraine
4. Are neutrinos their own anti-particles?
Neutrinos are the second most abundant particles in the cosmos. Because they are so ubiquitous, their properties have an important influence on the structure of the universe.
An open question about neutrinos is whether they are their own anti-particles. An experiment in Japan recently reported that it failed to find “strong evidence” that this is so, ruling out a few theories trying to explain neutrinos’ many mysterious properties.
Every elementary particle has an anti-particle. If the two meet, they will destroy each other in a flash of energy. The electron’s anti-particle is the positron. They can be distinguished because they have opposite charges. Similarly, neutrinos have anti-neutrinos.
However, neither is electrically charged, nor possesses any other properties to really differentiate between them.
But physicists working with the Kamioka Liquid Scintillator Antineutrino Detector (KamLAND) in Japan recently reported that after analysing two years’ data, they could not find signs that neutrinos could be their own anti-particles.
KamLAND looks for an event called neutrinoless double beta-decay. In normal double beta-decay, two neutrons in an atom turn into two protons by emitting two electrons and two anti-neutrinos. In neutrinoless double beta-decay, the anti-neutrinos aren’t emitted, which can happen only if anti-neutrinos are just different kinds of neutrinos.
A KamLAND team looked for signs of neutrinoless double beta-decay in 750 kg of xenon-136. It reported on January 30, inPhysical Review Letters, that if a xenon-136 nucleus does undergo neutrinoless double beta-decay, it happens at most once every 230 million billion billion years. Even the universe is only 13.8 billion years old.
The result rejects theories that predict more frequent occurrences of neutrinoless double beta-decay. The physicists plan to upgrade KamLAND and test theories that predict lower frequencies in future.
The frequency can be used to estimate the mass of neutrinos, explained Itaru Shimizu from the Research Centre for Neutrino Science, Tohoku University, and a KamLAND team member.
So, 2.3×1026 years implies “an effective neutrino mass of 36-156 meV,” he said in an email. This is at least 5,000-times lighter than an electron.
Another unknown about neutrinos is their mass. So as KamLAND continues its quest for neutrinoless double beta-decay, it may be able to help crack this mystery as well.
5. Aztec hummingbirds, Indian sunbirds
Huitzilin — a “ray of the sun” — was the name given by the Aztecs to the hummingbird. Natives of the American continent, the iridescent colours of the 350 species of this bird has often fired the imagination of poets and jewellery designers.
They are small: the bee hummingbird is barely 5 cm long and weighs 2 grams. They can beat their wings up to 50 times per second, creating a hum that defines them. They can hover majestically as they sip nectar from a flower, and even fly backward. Tubular flowers that are bright red or orange (such as lantana and rhododendron) are preferred.
An examination of their wings reveals very long hand bones but very short arm bones that are connected to the body through exceptionally flexible ball-and-socket joints. These joints allow the wings to rotate after each half-stroke, permitting manoeuvrability and backward flight.
India has its sunbirds which, though unrelated to hummingbirds, share many common features through convergent evolution. The family that sunbirds are placed in is appropriately named Nectariniidae. Though slightly larger, the sunbirds can hover briefly, and go for bright, tubular flowers. They are critical pollinators of the Flame of the Forest.
However, they need to perch while feeding. Like hummingbirds, they may catch insects, especially to feed their young. The purple sunbird is a common sight in India — the larger and brighter male is at his shiny best in March, the mating season.
The energy demands of hovering are very high. Relative to their body mass, hummingbirds have the highest metabolic rate (calories burnt per minute) among vertebrates. Most of this energy comes from nectar. Rapid sugar uptake by their digestive system ensures that they utilise energy from nectar ingested just a few minutes ago.
Also, their lungs are 10 times better at absorbing oxygen from air than mammals of similar size.
Intense exercise in humans rather paradoxically leads to a spike in blood glucose levels. This is because in its immediate need for energy, your body resorts to gluconeogenesis — converting resources such as muscle protein into glucose. A negative consequence is that you may neither gain muscle nor lose fat after so much activity.
What about the high-intensity activities of hummingbirds? Recent genome studies have shown that during evolution, the gene for a key enzyme involved in gluconeogenesis was lost around the time when hovering appeared.
Removing this gene from bird cell lines grown in the laboratory leads to an increase in energy efficiency of these cells.
Mimicry and dance
Like parrots and some songbirds, hummingbirds are capable of vocal mimicry. When hummingbird pairs are reared in isolation, the two birds produce a song that is subtly different from the standard song of their species.
Remarkably, they are also able to align their muscular movements with auditory sensations that come to their ears — they can dance.
Anirudh Patel, a neuroscientist at the Tufts University, U.S., has theorised that the ability to control throat muscles to mimic a sound precedes the ability to move to the rhythm of sounds. However, hummingbirds cannot dance in pairs, or in groups, as we humans can.
6. Who will benefit from the UPI-PayNow link?
How did the real-time payment linkage between Singapore and India come about? How does the ecosystem work?
On Tuesday, India’s Unified Payments Interface (UPI) and Singapore’s PayNow were officially connected to allow for “real-time payment linkage”. Singapore is the first country with which cross-border Person to Person (P2P) payment facilities have been launched. The plan was first announced by the Reserve Bank of India (RBI) and the Monetary Authority of Singapore (MAS) in September 2021 to facilitate instant low-cost, cross-border fund transfer.
How will it help?
When the scheme was announced, the RBI had said that the cross-border interoperability of payments using cards and QR codes between India and Singapore would further anchor trade, travel and remittance flows between the two countries. The initiative is a part of the government’s push towards as UPI-based payment ecosystem. In January 2023, the National Payments Corporation of India (NPCI) enabled international phone numbers to be able to transact using UPI. The Union Cabinet had approved incentivisation schemes for promoting low-value BHIM-UPI transactions in April 2022.
On February 21, Prime Minister Narendra Modi and his counterpart, Singapore Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong, attended the virtual launch. The Ministry of External Affairs said this would help the Indian diaspora in Singapore, especially migrant workers and students and “bring the benefits of digitalisation and fintech to the common man through instantaneous and low-cost transfer of money from Singapore to India and vice-versa.”
How will the scheme work?
For users at the Indian end, State Bank of India, Indian Overseas Bank, Indian Bank and ICICI Bank will facilitate both inward and outward remittances, while Axis Bank and DBS India will only facilitate inward remittances for now. DBS-Singapore and Liquid Group, a fintech company, will facilitate the service for users in Singapore. More banks will be included in the linkage with time, the RBI said in a press release. Account holders of listed banks can transfer funds to/from India using their UPI ID, mobile number, or Virtual Payment Address (VPA). To begin with, Indian users can remit up to ₹60,000 per day. This is equal to around $ (Singapore) 1,000. Cross-border remittances to Singapore can be done through the bank’s mobile application or internet banking facilities. Apps of participating Indian banks will have an opt in/opt out feature for receiving remittances from Singapore. Currently, only UPI IDs registered with the same bank where an account is held can be used to receive remittances in accounts of participating banks. The P2P remittances between India and Singapore are only allowed for purposes of “maintenance of relatives abroad” and “gifts”. According to the RBI, participating banks will roll out updates to allow global remittances in their UPI apps in a phased manner.
India has also considered allowing UPI remittances from other countries like the United Arab Emirates (UAE) which hosts a large Indian population. In November 2022, India and UAE discussed allowing cross-border remittances through UPI platforms during a meeting between External Affairs Minister S. Jaishankar and UAE Foreign Minister Sheikh Abdullah bin Zayed Al Nahyan in New Delhi.
What are real-time payments (RTP)?
As the name suggests, real-time payments are money transfers that are mostly settled as soon as they are performed. RTPs are allowed 24×7, 365 days a year. They help simplify the process of fund transfer as well as ease communication between the payer and the payee. P2P payments involve the transfer of funds from one user’s bank account to another through a digital medium. Common examples of P2P mobile apps in India include GPay and Paytm. Using P2P payments eliminates the risk of sharing bank account details. In 2022, UPI payments worth ₹8,31,993.11 crore were recorded in January. This figure climbed to ₹12,81,970.86 crore in December.
7. IMF, FSB to flesh out global crypto rules
Toning up: Finance Minister Nirmala Sitharaman addresses a
news conference at the end of G20 meeting in Bengaluru.
Finance Minister Nirmala Sitharaman pitched for a coordinated regulatory mechanism for such assets at the G20 meeting, a move broadly backed by U.S. Treasury Secretary Janet Yellen; the Reserve Bank of India has been seeking an outright ban on the use of crypto currencies and assets
The International Monetary Fund (IMF) and the Financial Stability Board (FSB) will formulate a technical paper in a bid to gain a coordinated global approach for regulation of crypto assets as proposed by the Indian Presidency of the G20. The paper will be presented for consideration at the next meeting of G20 Finance Ministers and Central Bank Governors scheduled in October.
While the RBI has been pitching for an outright ban on the use of crypto assets, Finance Minister Nirmala Sitharaman has made the case for a coordinated regulatory mechanism for such assets rather than individual countries adopting different stances. The idea had found backing from U.S. Treasury Secretary Janet Yellen, who also mooted international cooperation to set high regulatory standards for crypto assets and steps to reduce the cost of cross-border payments.
To weigh the broader macroeconomic and financial stability implications of crypto assets, India had urged the IMF to prepare a discussion paper that was discussed at a seminar titled “Policy Perspectives: Debating the Road to Policy Consensus on Crypto Assets” at the G20 Finance and Central Bank Deputies meeting in Bengaluru.
The paper by the division chief in the IMF’s Monetary and Capital Markets Department, Tommaso Mancini-Griffoli, noted the consequences of crypto adoption on the internal and external stability of a country’s economy as well as on the structure of its financial system, according to an official statement.
Benefits versus risks
“Mr. Mancini-Griffoli underlined that the purported benefits of crypto assets include cheaper and faster cross border payments, more integrated financial markets, and increased financial inclusion, but these are yet to be realised. He further added that problems with interoperability, safety and efficiency cannot be guaranteed by the private sector and critical digital infrastructure/platforms for ledgers should be viewed as a public good,” the Finance Ministry said.
The IMF official also flagged the global information gaps pertaining to the crypto asset universe and the need to build a deeper understanding of the interlinkages, opportunities and risks from crypto assets at the G20 forum.
There was a consensus that there is an existential question on whether crypto assets are the optimal solution for existing global financial system challenges, the Ministry said.