Current Affairs (23rd July 2021)
Great Indian Bustards
- Recently, the Central government informed the Rajya Sabha that there were no Great Indian Bustards (GIB) in Kutch Bustard Sanctuary (KBS) in Gujarat’s Kutch district as on January 1 this year.
GIBs and their habitats
- GIBs are the largest among the four bustard species found in India, the other three being MacQueen’s bustard, lesser florican and the Bengal florican.
- GIBs’ historic range included much of the Indian sub-continent but it has now shrunken to just 10 per cent of it.
- Among the heaviest birds with flight, GIBs prefer grasslands as their habitats. Being terrestrial birds, they spend most of their time on the ground with occasional flights to go from one part of their habitat to the other.
- They feed on insects, lizards, grass seeds etc. GIBs are considered the flagship bird species of grassland and hence barometers of the health of grassland ecosystems.
On the brink of extinction
- In February 2020, the Central government had told the 13th Conference of Parties to the United Nations Convention on Migratory Species of Wild Animals (CMS) held in Gandhinagar, that the GIB population in India had fallen to just 150.
- Of them 128 birds were in Rajasthan, 10 in Kutch district of Gujarat and a few in Maharashtra, Karnataka and Andhra Pradesh.
- Pakistan is also believed to host a few GIBs. The historical range of these majestic birds included much of Indian sub-continent but it has now shrunk by 90 per cent.
- Due to the species’ smaller population size, the International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN) has categorised GIBs as critically endangered, thus on the brink of extinction from the wild.
- Scientists of Wildlife Institute of India (WII) have been pointing out overhead power transmission lines as the biggest threat to the GIBs.
- WII research has concluded that in Rajasthan, 18 GIBs die every year after colliding with overhead powerlines as the birds, due to their poor frontal vision, can’t detect powerlines in time and their weight make in-flight quick manoeuvres difficult.
- Coincidentally, Kutch and Thar desert are the places which have witnessed creation of huge renewable energy infrastructure over the past two decades, leading to installation of windmills and construction of power lines even in core GIB areas.
- For example, windmills whirr on the north, south and western border of the 202-hectare KBS while two power transmission lines run on its eastern border.
- KBS has also recorded deaths of two GIBs after hitting powerlines. Change in landscape by way of farmers cultivating their land, which otherwise used to remain fallow due to frequent droughts in Kutch, and cultivation of cotton and wheat instead of pulses and fodder are also cited as reasons for falling GIB numbers.
Why no bustard in KBS?
- KBS near Naliya in Kutch district’s Abdasa block is a tiny sanctuary notified in 1992 and spread over just two square kilometres (sqkm). But its eco-sensitive zone spread over 220 sqkm covers most of present-day core GIB habitat.
- The creation of safe-haven for the birds led to an increase in the GIB population in KBS—from 30 in 1999 to 45 in 2007. But windmills and powerlines started coming up right on the borders of the sanctuary from 2008 onward and GIB numbers started dwindling hence.
- The population fell to just 25 individuals by 2016 and now there are only seven, all of them female.
- No male has been sighted for the past two years. Besides the KBS, Prajau, Bhanada and Kunathia-Bhachunda are important grasslands which have been declared unclassified forests recently.
- Due to the barrier created by the power infrastructure on all its sides, sightings of GIB inside the KBS’ notified two sqkm area is becoming increasingly rare.
Supreme Court’s intervention
- The Supreme Court in April this year ordered that all overhead power transmission lines in core and potential GIB habitats in Rajasthan and Gujarat should be undergrounded.
- The SC also formed a three-member committee to help power companies comply with the order. But committee notes that nothing has happened on the ground.
- In 2015, the Central government launched the GIB species recovery programme. Under the programme, the WII and Rajasthan forest department have jointly set up conservation breeding centres where GIB eggs harvested from the wild are incubated artificially and hatchlings raised in controlled environment.
- Till last year, nine eggs had hatched successfully and the plan is to create a population which can act as insurance against the threat of extinction and release the third generation of these captive-bred birds into the wild.
- The Ganga is heavily polluted with microplastics at Varanasi, Haridwar and Kanpur, Delhi-based non-profit Toxic Link noted recently.
- Microplastics are plastics that are less than 5 millimetres in size but are a major source of marine pollution.
- They are non-degradable plastics that often entered the Ganga through industrial waste or packaging of religious offerings.
- The density of population in the three cities also added to the problem because a large chunk of pollutants got directly discharged into the river by people living on the banks.
- Among the three cities, Varanasi showed the maximum load of microplastics in the water of the Ganga.
- This might be due to cumulative downstream pollution as well as industrial and human activities. Assi Ghat in Varanasi had the maximum abundance of microplastics.
- The Dohri ghat in Kanpur ranked topmost among all 15 sites (five each from all three cities) from where the river water sample was collected. This is due to the sewage and / or industrial effluents coming from the city of Kanpur.
- Pollution of all kinds increased as one travelled downstream from Haridwar to Varanasi.
- It indicates that municipal and industrial discharges are responsible for microplastics pollution in the river water.
- The pollution becomes more prominent in Kanpur and Varanasi, which may be due to discharge from tanneries and other industries like textiles, etc.
- The researchers tried to compare the microplastics concentration in Ganga water with similar studies on other rivers across the globe, like the Rhine in Europe, the Patapsco, Magothy, Rhode in North America and the Elqui, Maipo, Biobio, and Maule in South America.
- They found the Ganga microplastics pollution was much higher. This was despite a higher per capita consumption of plastic in the European countries, North and South America, as compared to India.
- The study not only measured the amount of microplastics but also did an analysis of its types present in the Ganga. Ehylenevinyl is particularly suited for food, drugs, and cosmetic packaging.
- Polyacetylene is used as a doping agent in the electronics industry. Polypropylene is also used in packaging, plastic sheets, fibre, fabrics, rope, etc.
- Polyamide, commonly known as nylon, is used as a natural fibre and as metal wires in clothing and industry. All these and 36 other types were found in the samples. Their concentration varied from site to site.
How does it impact people?
- The results of this study are a matter of grave concern not just for academic and scientific interests but also from the public health perspective.
- The Ganga is a source of water for not just drinking and bathing purposes but also for irrigation to a large extent.
- Microplastics in river water, if ingested in humans or other organisms, can cause toxicity through various means.
- Not only are these microplastics toxic themselves, they also have a tendency to absorb various toxins present in water, including harmful chemicals.
- The river is acting as a carrier of plastics and microplastics and transporting significantly large quantities into the ocean.
- Microplastics could have a serious impact on human health considering their property to absorb toxic pollutants. Studies needed to be taken up to understand this in depth.
- The study also recommended the strengthening of implementation of Extended Producer Responsibility (EPR) in Plastic Waste Management Rules since a lot of pollution in the Ganga was due to industrial waste.
- EPR put the onus of plastic waste management on the producers or the companies manufacturing the products. It also pushes the argument that rivers should be declared as ‘no plastic zones’.
Northern Ireland Protocol
- Recently, the United Kingdom(UK) has highlighted the need to renegotiate the Northern Ireland Protocol.
- According to the UK, the protocol has the potential to create so many problems.
- It aims to resolve the issue of the border between Northern Ireland and the Republic of Ireland.
- Northern Ireland is part of the UK and the Republic of Ireland remains part of the European Union (EU).
- It has been one of the major issues created by Brexit.
- This frontier is contested and parts of it were fortified during the decades of violence known as “The Troubles”.
- With the Good Friday Agreement/ Belfast Agreement (10th April 1998) those visible signs of division melted away along the open border, however, it has again come into a troubled position with Brexit.
- It was an agreement between the British and Irish governments and most of the political parties in Northern Ireland, on how Northern Ireland should be governed.
- Under Brexit, the UK Prime Minister insisted on leaving Europe’s customs union and its single market, allowing goods to flow freely across European borders without checks.
- The protocol sets out a plan to deal with this unique situation by effectively leaving Northern Ireland half inside the European system and half inside the British one.