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Current Affairs – 24 September 2021

Rare Species of Sundarbans are Threatened

The Indian Express

GS 3: Conservation

Context:

  • Settlement mangroves in Sundarbans, which used to be safe havens of diverse molluscs and crustaceans, are disappearing due to the polluted discharges from shrimp ponds.

About:

  • Our world recently completed the ‘United Nations Decade on Biodiversity (2011-2020)’ and biological diversity plays a key role in ecosystem functioning and is essential for human well-being and local livelihoods.
  • Despite every effort made nationally to motivate actions in support of biodiversity conservation in all ecosystems, continuous loss of biodiversity is observed across the shorelines of settlement zones in Indian Sundarbans.
  • This region harbours many rare and threatened flora and fauna which maintain the mangrove ecosystem’s integrity and complexity.
  • Small patches of mangroves are being lost gradually and quietly due to their indiscriminate destruction for either coastal development or short-term gains. The loss of relatively small patches of mangroves may seem less perilous than large-scale deforestation. However, these patches are observed to be enriched habitats of several rare and threatened flora and fauna.
  • The continued loss of shoreline mangrove ecosystems has created fragmented and fragile mangrove habitats for rare taxa and framed barriers to their movement and dispersal.
  • This irreversible loss of biodiversity is often neglected, which could never be compensated with any ‘cut the established and plant the new’ theory.

Hub of coastal fisheries:

  • Coastal mangrove habitats across the world are the preferred hub of coastal fisheries, aquaculture, pisciculture, shrimp farming, crab farming, all providing livelihoods to local people. In Indian Sundarbans, conversion of shoreline mangroves to shrimp farms and other pisciculture farms is very popular and it is the main source of income for the local people.
  • However, these livelihoods come at the cost of frequent clearing of the shorelines once occupied by native mangrove species.
  • Thus, the habitats of many species continue to be reclaimed for shrimp culture, in spite of knowing that mangrove destruction could also be counter-productive, as the shrimp industry depends on various ecological services provided by the mangrove ecosystem in order to maintain its continued productivity.
  • The building of dykes for the protection of coastal villages from tidal aggression/storm surges is another major cause that makes mangrove communities across the estuarine shorelines in the settlement regions of the Sundarbans, the most vulnerable targets of destruction.
  • Extensive surveys for the last few years (2014-2021) by our group observed that loss of these mangrove habitats also leads to loss of species that belong to IUCN’s near-threatened or endangered category.
  • These settlement mangroves used to be safe havens of diverse molluscs and crustaceans, but these are also disappearing due to the polluted discharges from shrimp ponds, harming the native habitat and breeding activities of these species.
  • One such crustacean is a sesarmid mangrove tree-climbing crab called Episesarma mederi, rarely reported from Sundarban settlement mangroves.
  • Instead of popularising shrimp farming, if more indigenous fishing activities were encouraged, we could protect both our coastal threatened biodiversity and at the same time provide livelihood options to the coastal dwellers.
  • The accreting mudflat is a favoured habitat for mangrove-dependent fish species, which enter the mudflat with the tidal flow but are trapped in these nets during the ebb current of the tides.
  • In Vietnam, 100 km of concrete sea-dyke buffered with 9,000 hectares of reforested mangroves in front, proved worthwhile.
  • The co-benefits of these nature-based strategies without perturbing the coastal development and local livelihood options will result in protecting biodiversity in the long run and would keep pace in developing eco-resilience of the Sundarban mangrove ecosystem to confront future climate change scenarios.

 

Caste Census

The Hindu

GS 1: Society

Context:

  • The government has made it clear in the Supreme Court that a caste census of the Backward Classes is “administratively difficult and cumbersome”.

About:

  • The Centre reasoned that even when the census of castes were taken in the pre-Independence period, the data suffered in respect of “completeness and accuracy”.
  • Caste data enumerated in the Socio-Economic and Caste Census (SECC) of 2011 is “unusable” for official purposes as they are “replete with technical flaws”.

Maharashtra’s plea and stand of centre:

  • Though the Ministry was replying to a writ petition filed by the State of Maharashtra to gather Backward Classes’ caste data in the State while conducting Census 2021.
  • The Centre takes it a step forward to clarify that “exclusion of information” regarding any other caste — other than Scheduled Castes and Scheduled Tribes — from the purview of the census is a “conscious policy decision”.
  • According to the government, caste-wise enumeration in the Census was given up as a matter of policy from 1951. It said there was a policy of “official discouragement of caste”.
  • On the specific issue of collecting caste data during Census 2021, the Centre explained that a population census was not the “ideal instrument” for collection of details on caste.
  • There is a “grave danger” that the “basic integrity” of census data would be compromised. Even the fundamental population count may get “distorted”.
  • Besides, the Centre said, it was too late now to enumerate caste into the Census 2021. Planning and preparations for the census exercise starts almost four years earlier. The phases of Census 2021 had been finalised after detailed deliberations with ministries, data users, recommendations from technical advisory committees, etc. Preparatory work was already in place. The census questions were finalised in August-September of 2019. Instruction manuals were ready.

Unusable:

  • To Maharashtra’s plea to reveal the SECC 2011 “raw caste data” of Other Backward Classes (OBC), the Centre said the 2011 Census was not an “OBC survey”.
  • It was, on the other hand, a comprehensive exercise to enumerate caste status of all households in the country in order to use their socio-economic data to identify poor households and implement anti-poverty programmes.
  • The Centre said the raw caste/tribe data of 2011 was unusable. For example, Mappilas in Malabar region of Kerala were spelt in 40 different ways, resulting in the listing of 40 different castes.
  • The government said the data was stored in the Office of the Registrar General and had not been made official. It cannot be used as a source of information for population data in any official document.

 

Evergrande Crisis in China

Indian Express

GS 3: Indian Economy & Related Issues

Context:

  • Chinese real estate major Evergrande, $305 billion in the red, is on the brink of explosion.
    • Evergrande is China’s biggest and most indebted real estate developer.
  • The Global Equity Market is fearing the contagious effect just like the 2008 subprime lending crisis.

Evergrande Company and its Status

  • The Evergrandewas started in 1996 by selling bottled water followed by a stint in pig farming.
  • It also owns China’s top professional soccer team (Guangzhou Football Club, managed by former Real Madrid centre back Fabio Cannavaro).
  • At present it is the poster boy of the Chinese real estate boom.
    • It rode on a sustained property prices surge in China.
    • It is the main driver of the post-pandemic Chinese economic expansion.
    • It also expanded into more than 250 Chinese cities selling home  ownership dreams to the country’s middle class.

Crisis at Evergrande

  • Worsening fund crunch at Evergrande:
    • It could prompt a regulatory crackdown on the country’s real estate sector.
    • There are concerns that it could potentially spiral into a global financial contagion.
  • The company is now struggling under a $300 billion liabilities burden that has decimated its credit rating and share price.
  • It is faced with
    • nearly 800 unfinished residential buildings,
    • many unpaid suppliers and
    • over a million home buyers who have partially paid for their properties.

Other Concerns

  • Huarong, a Chinese state-owned financial conglomerate, has liabilities of nearly $240 billion.
    • Huarong is reported to be in trouble as well, escalating the perception of a wider systemic crisis in China.
  • Demand to hike a legally imposed Debt Ceiling in USA
    • The US Treasury Secretary issued a warning of an “economic catastrophe” if the USA failed to hike a legally-imposed debt ceiling.
  • Presumptions of slowing down in USA Central Bank’s bond purchases
    • It was presumed that the US Federal Reserve may flesh out plans to taper the central bank’s bond purchases after the Federal Open Market Committee met.

Impact of Crisis

  • Key Market indices slumped sharply across Asia-Pacific and Europe
  • Fall in fortunes across globe
    • The global rout in stock markets also hit the world’s biggest fortunes, with the richest 500 people losing a combined $135 billion.
    • Tesla Inc’s Elon Musk’s net worth fell $7.2 billion to $198 billion on Monday as per the Bloomberg’s Report.
    • Jeff Bezos, the founder of Seattle-based Amazon.com, lost $5.6 billion, paring his fortune to $194.2 billion.
    • Evergrande founder and Chairman Hui Ka Yan dropped sharply in Bloomberg’s wealth ranking, with his fortune standing at $7.3 billion from a peak of $42 billion in 2017.
  • Indian Stock Markets
    • In India’s stock markets, the metals segment tanked sharply after the news came out.
      • It has been surging since the start of the year and appeared to show signs of overheating.
  • Indian Exports of Iron Ore
    • India’s buoyant iron ore exports, much of which is headed to China, could also see an impact if the twin crises in China triggers an extended slowdown in the Chinese real estate market.
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