Today's Headlines

Today's Headlines - 06 March 2023

Compensatory Afforestation in India

GS Paper - 3 (Environment)

As part of its international climate change commitments, India has promised to increase its forest and tree cover to ensure that they are able to absorb an additional amount of 2.5 billion to 3 billion tonnes of carbon dioxide equivalent by 2030. Unlike the two other commitments India has made — one related to improvement in emissions intensity and the other about the deployment of renewable energy — the forestry target is a relatively difficult one to achieve.

Forests are under stress

  1. Forests are under stress due to the need for rapid industrial and infrastructure development, and accompanying urbanisation.
  2. In the last 10 years, more than 1,611 square km of forest land, a little more than the area of Delhi, has been cleared for infrastructure or industrial projects. Nearly a third of this — 529 sq km — has been cleared in the last three years itself.
  3. But government data also shows that total forest cover had increased by 1,540 square km in the two years between 2019 and 2021.
  4. number of tree plantationafforestation and reforestation programmes are being implemented to increase India’s forest and tree cover.
  5. These include the Green India Missionnational afforestation programme, and the tree plantation exercises along the highways and railways. Other flagship government programmes like the national rural employment guarantee scheme (MGNREGS) and Namami Gange also have significant afforestation components.

What is Compensatory Afforestation?

  1. But the showpiece effort for extending India’s forest cover has been its compensatory afforestation programme that seeks to ensure that forest lands getting ‘diverted’ for non-forest purposes, like industrial or infrastructure development, is mandatorily accompanied by afforestation effort on at least an equal area of land.
  2. While the plantation exercise on new lands cannot be compared with the fully grown forests getting divertedcompensatory afforestation — made a legal requirement through the Compensatory Afforestation Fund Act of 2016 — does ensure that newer parcels of land are earmarked for developing them as forests. Project developerspublic or private, are required to fund the entire afforestation activity on these new lands.
  3. The law also acknowledges the fact that newly afforested land cannot be expected to immediately start delivering the range of goods and services — timberbamboofuelwoodcarbon sequestrationsoil conservationwater recharge, and seed dispersal — that the diverted forests were providing. As a result, project developers are also asked to pay for the Net Present Value (NPV) of the forests being cleared, based on a calculation decided by an expert committee.
  4. According to the recently revised calculations, companies have to pay NPV at rates ranging between Rs 9.5 lakh and Rs 16 lakh per hectare, depending on the quality of forests getting diverted.

 Iran claims to have lithium deposit

GS Paper - 1 (Resource)

A senior official in the Iranian Ministry of IndustryMine and Trade (MIMT) said that a deposit located in the western province of Hamedan contains some 8.5 million metric tons of lithium oreIndia recently established inferred lithium resources of 5.9 million tons in the Reasi district of Jammu and Kashmir.

The importance of lithium in today’s world

  1. Lithium is ubiquitous in modern life, found in all kinds of electronic devices, from mobile phones to EVs – basically, anything that requires a rechargeable battery.
  2. A battery is made up of an anodecathodeseparatorelectrolyte, and two current collectors (positive and negative).
  3. Lithium-ion batteries use aqueous electrolyte solutions, where ions transfer to and fro between the anode (negative electrode generally made of graphite) and cathode (positive electrode made of lithium), triggering the recharge and discharge of electrons.
  4. Even promising alternatives to the lithium-ion batteries, such as QuantumScape Corp’s solid-state lithium-metal battery, continue to use lithium.
  5. This is primarily due to Lithium’s low weight as compared to other metals (such as nickel, used in traditional batteries) as well as its superior electrochemical potential.
  6. Lithium has become especially valuable in the context of increasing climate concerns with the internal combustion engine and the rise of electric vehicles (EV) as an alternative.
  7. Currently, all EVs use lithium in their battery packs with demand set to rise exponentially over the coming decades.
  8. 2020 World Bank report on clean energy transition estimates that the production of minerals, such as graphite, lithium and cobalt, could increase by nearly 500 percent by 2050, to meet the growing demand for clean energy technologies.

Chemically modified nanosheets: IISc

GS Paper - 3 (Nanotechnology)

Surface changes of two-dimensional molybdenum disulphide nanosheets can lead to highly effective applications like delivering drugs to diseased cells, according to a study by the Department of Organic Chemistry (OC) and Materials Research Centre (MRC)Indian Institute of Science (IISc).

More about the Study

  1. Nanomaterials must usually modified or customised depending on the application to improve efficiency.
  2. They are chemically modified through functionalisation, which involves attaching ligands (small or large molecules) to the surface of the nanomaterial.
  3. Thiols can be exchanged with naturally-occurring thiols in biological systems, which could allow drugs attached to these nanosheets to be released.
  4. These chemically-modified nanosheets were also found to be safe to use inside living cells, according to the IISc.
  5. In the new study, the researchers modified the surface of 2D-MoS2 nanosheets with thiol (sulphur-containing) ligands.

How would it be possible?

  1. To modify the surface of the 2D-MoS2 nanosheets to create a functional version (BOD-MoS2), the team first used a fluorescent thiol called boron-dipyrromethene (BOD-SH).
  2. After that, they tested the possibility of thiol-to-thiol exchange on BOD-MoS2 using glutathione (GSH), a naturally occurring thiol found in abundance in cancer cells.
  3. GSH molecules swapped places with BOD-SH on the surface of the nanosheet—a process that they confirmed using fluorescence techniques.
  4. The researchers attached an anti-cancer drug doxorubicin (DOX) to the nanosheet surface. They found the possibility of thiol exchange between GSH and DOX, allowing DOX to get dropped off at the diseased site.
  5. Because the exchange happens only in the presence of high concentrations of GSH found in diseased cells, drugs like DOX can be delivered specifically to cancer cells without affecting normal cells, which can also potentially reduce any side effects.


  1. Previous efforts have focused on using gold nanoparticles for such biomedical applications, according to the researchers.
  2. Still, these nanoparticles are expensive and have limited efficiency due to their non-selectivity between mono thiols and disulphides.
  3. Our experiments show that 2D-MoS2 nanosheets can be an effective substitute for gold nanoparticles, and they will be greatly beneficial in the field of nanomedicine, said IISc.
  4. Moreover, the MoS2 nanosheets were found to be stable in biofluids. They also have a higher surface area than gold nanoparticles, meaning they can be more efficient.

 Again Controversy around Pegasus

GS Paper - 3 (ICT)

In his recent lecture at Cambridge University, Congress leader Rahul Gandhi alleged that the Israeli-made spyware Pegasus had been used to snoop on him. He also claimed that intelligence officers asked him to be “careful” while talking on the phone as his calls were being tapped.

What was the Pegasus controversy?

  1. Pegasus, developed by the Israel-based cybersecurity company NSO Group, first made headlines in October 2019, when Facebook-owned platform WhatsApp said that journalists and human rights activists in India had been targets of surveillance by operators using the spyware. At the time, WhatsApp didn’t reveal the names, identities and “exact number” of those targeted for surveillance but told the media that it had contacted each one of them.
  2. Two years later, a global collaborative investigative project revealed that Pegasus might have targeted 300 mobile phone numbers in India, including that of two ministers in the Central government, Opposition leaders, a constitutional authority, and several journalists, civil society leaders, and business persons.
  3. Although the government repeatedly rejected the findings of the global media investigation, it didn’t provide any facts on the matter, and never explicitly denied the use of the spyware.

How does Pegasus work?

  1. When initial reports on Pegasus came out, it was thought that the spyware works only by sending an exploit link, and if the target user clicks on the link, the malware or the code that allows the surveillance is installed on the user’s phone.
  2. However, later it was revealed that Pegasus had evolved its method by using ‘zero-click attacks’, which do not require any action from the phone’s user.
  3. Once spyware is installed in a phone, it begins contacting its operator’s control servers to receive and execute operator commands and send back the target’s private data, including passwordscontact listscalendar eventstext messages, and live voice calls from popular mobile messaging apps.
  4. The operator can even turn on the phone’s camera and microphone to capture activity in the phone’s vicinity.

The aftermath

  1. Following a huge furore, the Supreme Court, in October 2021, ordered an investigation headed by Justice RV Raveendran to conduct a “thorough inquiry” into the allegations.
  2. After months of examination, two reports were submitted to the court, one by Justice Raveendran and another by a technical committee that analysed some of the phones allegedly targeted by Pegasus.
  3. On 25 August 2022, then Chief Justice of India N V Ramana said that the committee didn’t find any conclusive evidence on the use of the spyware in phones examined by it.