Daily Current Affairs for 19th July 2020

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Sacred groves

Paper: I

Mains: General Studies-I : Indian Heritage and Culture, History and Geography of the World and Society.

Why in news:

An award-winning scientist at the Institute of Forest Genetics and Tree Breeding, Coimbatore, Kannan Warrier was conferred the National Award of excellence for outstanding research in forestry, including conservation of endangered sacred groves in the Alappuzha district of Kerala.The award also recognises his research on Casuarina (savukku) trees.


  • They are a versatile group of plants with wide-ranging adaptability to grow in different environments.
  • They fix atmospheric nitrogen through a symbiotic association with the bacteria.


  • India is the largest planter of casuarina in the world.
  • The tree pulp goes into the paper-making industry.
  • Casuarina stems find use as fabrication material in scaffolding work, and are also used to safeguard banana plantations from the wind.
  • Of late it is also a preferred choice for biomass-based power generation.
  • Sacred groves refer to a piece of natural vegetation that is protected by a certain community due to religious reasons. The area is usually dedicated to a local deity.
  • As a result, local communities tend to take responsibility to protect and nurture the area. The groves are also looked after by joint families who fear the wrath of the resident god.
  • It could be only a few trees or an entire forest.

They are called by different names

  • In India, there are over a lakh sacred groves across different states. They go by different names like koyil kaadu in Tamil, orans in Rajasthan, devara kaadu in Karnataka, and sernas in Madhya Pradesh.
  • They are called kavu in Malayalam.
  • In Himachal Pradesh, people dust their clothes off when they cross the groves to ensure that they leave everything behind.
  • Such religious beliefs strengthen protection measures.


  • The sacred groves shelter medicinal plants of great value not only for the primary health care of the village communities, but also for the modern pharmacopoeia.
  • The groves harbour certain wild crop relatives and other endemic biotas.
  • They act as micro-watersheds and meet the drinking and irrigation water needs of the local communities.


  • Due to several socio-economic and cultural reasons, the traditional belief systems, which were fundamental to the concept of sacred grove conservation, are now considered mere superstitions. The traditional values appear to be gradually eroding with the advent of modernity and urbanization.
  • Invasion of exotic weeds into sacred groves has become a serious problem in the ecological functioning of some sacred groves.
  • Today, with the fast pace of industrialization, roads and highways are being widened for smooth vehicular movement. In the process, some sacred groves, which are on the edge of the village, near highway areas, have been reduced to less than half their size.
  • The increase in the number of construction of new buildings in the place of ancestral homes, which used to house sacred groves in its premises, has virtually led to the destruction of this biodiversity system.
  • In several areas, the land on which sacred groves are located is not declared as forestland and thus is not protected by the government. It is owned by individual persons, families, clans who would have converted them into agricultural land for the purpose of cultivation.

Way Forward

Therefore, there is an urgent need to strengthen the traditional concepts of sacred grove conservation by identifying the key issues and providing solutions through appropriate rehabilitation packages.

Domestic firms worried over small arms imports

Paper: II

Mains: General Studies- II: Governance, Constitution, Polity, Social Justice and International relations.


  • Indian Army has decided to buy 72,000 Sig Sauer assault rifles for its troops from the United States.
  • The new assault rifles will gradually replace the flaw-ridden 5.56 mm INSAS (Indian Small Arms System) rifles.
  • The rifles are currently being used by US forces as well as several other European countries.


  • Domestic small arms manufacturers have expressed concern over continuing imports and they have written a letter to the Defence Minister asking for a level playing field to showcase their products.


  • Several Indian companies have invested in the small arms segment, given the large requirement and efforts by the government to open up ammunition to the private sector and have started production as well.


  • Companies would have invested crores of rupees with the hope of business and contract from the Government, but today they are staring at an uncertain future.
  • If the domestic industries are not given a chance, it will only undermine the Make in India initiative and companies may shut their operations.

Foreign experts seek to leave Baghjan site

Paper: II

Mains: General Studies- II: Governance, Constitution, Polity, Social Justice and International relations.


  • Recently, there was a continuous flow out of gas in Baghjan gas well in Tinsukia district of Assam, following a blowout.
  • The Baghjan well is a purely gas-producing well in Tinsukia district.
  • Since 2006, the gas well is being drilled by Oil India Limited (OIL).
  • It underwent a blowout – uncontrolled escape of gas at tremendous velocity – on May 27, 2020 and has been burning since bursting into flames on June 9.
  • There were reports of death of a river dolphin.
  • Locals complained of symptoms such as burning of eyes, headache, etc.
  • As many as 1,610 families with 2,500-3,000 people were evacuated to relief camps.
  • It is at an aerial distance of 900 metres from the Dibru-Saikhowa National Park.
  • Also close to it is the Maguri-Motapung wetland —an Important Bird Area notified by the Bombay Natural History Society.

Natural Gas:

  • Natural gas is the cleanest fossil fuel among the available fossil fuels.
  • It is used as a feedstock in the manufacture of fertilizers, plastics and other commercially important organic chemicals as well as used as a fuel for electricity generation, heating purpose in industrial and commercial units.
  • Natural gas is also used for cooking in domestic households and as a transportation fuel for vehicles.

Why do blowouts happen?

  • Sometimes, the pressure balance in a well may be disturbed leading to ‘kicks’ or changes in pressure. If these are not controlled in time, the ‘kicks’ can turn into a sudden blowout.

Similar events in the past:

In the past, two comparable blowouts have happened in Assam:

  • At an OIL-owned oil well in Dikhom (Dibrugarh) in 2005.
  • At an ONGC-owned oil well in Rudrasagar in the 1970s. This took three months to contain.

What are the possible reasons for the blow out?

  • Possible reasons behind blowouts range from simple lack of attention, poor workmanship, bad maintenance, old age, sabotage to morpho-tectonic factors.
  • A device called a blowout preventer is usually installed in wells.
  • The gas well at Baghjan was being serviced, and a new sand was being tested at another depth in the same well. The blowout preventer was also removed and suddenly, gas started to ooze out of the exposed well.

Why is it so difficult to control?

  • The control of a blowout depends on two things: the size of the reservoir and the pressure at which the gas/oil is flowing out.
  • While many blowouts automatically collapse on their own, it can take up to months.
  • To control a blowout, the first step is to pump in water, so that the gas does not catch fire.
  • This reservoir was particularly difficult to control since it was a gas well and ran the risk of catching fire at any point.

What is being done?

  • A preliminary assessment by TERI team is in progress at the site for studying air quality and noise level.
  • Bioremediation of sludge is being done using a technology developed in-house by OIL’s research and development wing.
  • Bioremediation is the cleaning of polluted sites through naturally occurring or introduced microorganisms for breaking down environmental pollutants.
  • OIL also updated the efforts to kill the well fire before capping the blowout. Certain steps such as erection of heat shield have been completed.

Dibru-Saikhowa National Park:

  • Dibru-Saikhowa is a National Park as well as a Biosphere Reserve situated on the south bank of the river Brahmaputra in Assam.
  • It is an identified Important Bird Area (IBA) notified by the Bombay Natural History Society.

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