New York Zoo tiger tests positive for coronavirus: Are cats at particular risk? 

GS Paper III

Topic: Ecology and Environment

Prelims: Keystone, Umbrella and Foundation Species

Mains: Importance of tigers for ecosystem

What’s the News?

  • A Malayan tiger at New York’s Bronx Zoo has tested positive for SARS-CoV2.
  • However it is strange that the four-year-old Nadia is believed to have caught the virus from a zoo employee, who had not shown symptoms.

Humans to Animals transmission:

  • The Bronx Zoo case suggests an employee spread the virus to the tiger, the US Department of Agriculture said in a statement.
  • Several lions and tigers at the zoo, in fact, have shown symptoms of respiratory illness. The others were not tested to limit the potential risks of general anaesthesia.
  • There have been reports about two dogs in Hong Kong testing positive. While their respective humans had COVID-19, the dogs themselves were not showing symptoms.
  • There has been a domestic cat, too, catching the virus, in Belgium. Unlike the dogs, the cat showed symptoms. After testing positive, it later recovered.

Can dogs and cats infect humans with COVID-19?

  • Chinese researchers recently published a pre-print paper on this subject. They inoculated cats with the novel coronavirus, placed them alongside uninfected cats, and found that cats can transmit the virus to one other. There has been no evidence about cats infecting humans either.
  • However, the virus replicates poorly in dogs and whether it can infect human with COVID-19 is yet to be seen.

Concern:

  • The Bronx Zoo case led to India’s Central Zoo Authority alerting all zoos to monitor animals 24×7 for signs of abnormal behaviour. It mentioned cats, ferrets and primates.
  • Primates are of particular concern. In a recent commentary published in Nature, a group of 25 scientists called for urgent discussions on the need to severely limit human interaction with great apes in the wild, and in zoos, until the risk of COVID-19 subsides.

Importance of tigers for ecosystem:

  • Tigers are one of the last apex predators of their region, and apex predators are important for the survival of an ecosystem.
  • They are a keystone species, which means that protecting enough habitat and resources so that a creature that needs as much prey, territory, and other resources as a tiger does (or, more accurately, a sustainable population of tigers) will preserve the region for many other species as well.

Keystone, Umbrella and Foundation Species:

  • Without keystone species, the ecosystem would be dramatically different or cease to exist altogether.
  • If the keystone species were to disappear from the ecosystem, no other species would be able to fill its ecological niche. The ecosystem would be forced to radically change, allowing new and possibly invasive species to populate the habitat.
  • Any organism, from plants to fungi, may be a keystone species; they are not always the largest or most abundant species in an ecosystem.
  • However, almost all examples of keystone species are animals that have a huge influence on food webs.

Umbrella Species

  • Umbrella species are often confused with keystone species however the key distinction between umbrella species and keystone species is that the value of an umbrella species is tied to its geographic species range.
  • Umbrella species have large habitat needs, and the requirements of that habitat impact many other species living there.
  • Most umbrella species are migratory, and their range may include different habitat types.
  • The Siberian tiger, an endangered species, is an umbrella species with a range of more than 1,000 kilometers (620 miles) in Russia’s far east, with territory stretching into China and North Korea.
  • Populations of deer, boar, and moose are under the snowy “umbrella” of the Siberian tiger range.

Foundation Species

Foundation species play a major role in creating or maintaining a habitat. Corals are a key example of a foundation species across many islands in the South Pacific Ocean. These tiny animals grow as a colony of thousands and even millions of individual polyps. The rocky exoskeletons of these polyps create enormous structures around islands: coral reefs.

Coral reefs are one of the most vibrant and biologically diverse ecosystems on the planet. Microscopic plankton, as well as crustaceans, mollusks, sponges, fish, and marine reptiles and mammals, are all part of healthy coral reef ecosystems.


Slowing Growth Shoots  Work Demand under MNREGA to 9-year high

Paper: II

For Prelims: About MGNREGA.

For Mains: Government Policies and Interventions for Development in various sectors and Issues arising out of their Design and Implementation.

Context of News:

  • AS THE economy slows down, the demand for work by households under the MGNREGA programme surged to a nine-year high in 2019-20.

About MGNREGA:

MGNREGA is important from various points of view:

  • To provide Social protection for the most vulnerable people living in rural India by providing employment opportunities to them.
  • To provide Livelihood security for the poor through creation of durable assets, improved water security, soil conservation and higher land productivity.
  • To have efficient Drought-proofing and flood management in rural Indi
  • Empowerment of the socially disadvantaged people, especially women, Scheduled Castes (SCs) and Schedules Tribes (STs), through the processes of a rights-based legislation.
  • Strengthening decentralised, participatory planning through convergence of various antipoverty and livelihoods initiatives.
  • Deepening democracy at the grass-roots by strengthening Panchayati Raj Institutions
  • Effecting greater transparency and accountability in governance

Details of MGNREGA Official Portal Figure:

  • According to figures uploaded on the MGNREGA official portal, 5.47 crore households sought MGNREGA works, the highest since 2010-11, when the number was 5.5 crore. It was 5.27 crore in 2018-19.
  • More individuals too worked under MGNREGA in 2019-20, with 7.86 crore employed at various sites across the country. This is the highest since 2012-13, when 7.97 crore individuals worked under this programme.
  • Data shows that the number of gram panchayats not recording any MGNREGA expenditure has also declined. It stood at 9,144 in the last financial year, from lower than 10,978 in 2018-19.
  • The data also showed that 263.73 crore person days were generated during 2019-20, slightly lower than 267.96 crore in 2018-19.

Criticism of Mgnrega:

  • VERY POOR ARE NOT ABSORBED:
  • The primary target of this programme is very, very poor families. But it has not delivered on its aims up to the level intended. According to Maryland-NCAER survey, of every 100 MGNREGA jobs provided, an overwhelming proportion, 75 per cent, went to the not-poor.
  • RAISE RURAL WAGES AND FOOD INFLATION:
  • MGNREGS has drawn criticism for sharply raising rural wages and triggering food inflation. But inefficiencies in food distribution and indifferent agriculture output too play a role in high food prices.
  • Distort LABOUR MARKET:
  • Industry’s complaint is that the scheme has distorted the labour market. Even as the MGNREGS-induced shortage of farmhands cannot be wished away, there have been other forces driving up labour demand, such as the construction sector.
  • CORRUPTION AND LEAKAGES:
  • Those who allege that officials steal programme funds are not off the mark. States with better civil society involvement and panchayati raj bodies, such as Rajasthan and Tamil Nadu, have fared better. Direct bank and post office transfers have curbed wage siphoning, and the JAM (Jan Dhan, Aadhar, Mobile) network can add to the impact.

Way Forward:

  • In the wake of rising sufferings to poor due to lockdown , government of India has taken slew of measures  like Centre releases Rs 4431 crore to clear pending wages under MGNREGA, to pay all dues by April 10. But , releasing only money is not going to help government ,what is need of an hour is to foresee  how these scheme are being implemented at ground level.
  • Government of India has also increased rise in wages, the national average wage under MGNREGA will increase to Rs 202 per person per day from Rs 182.Increasing wages should also come with guarantee of work to this labours that will be more beneficial to people, who are involved in the sector of work.

Bhilwara model: Full curfew, ‘ruthless containment’, more than 20 lakh surveyed

GS Paper I

Topic: History and Culture

Prelims: Bhil tribe culture, Baneshwar fair, Tana Bhagat movement

Mains: Significance of Baneshwar fair, origin of Bhils

What’s the News?

  • Bhilwara in Rajasthan was one of the early hotspots of the COVID-19 outbreak. As of 6th april 2020, Rajasthan had 274 confirmed cases of the disease.
  • The government responded with extraordinarily aggressive measures and the ‘Bhilwara model’ could now be replicated elsewhere in the country.

Background:

Baneshwar fair:

  • The Baneshwar fair is the main festival celebrated among the Bhils. This fair is held during the period of Shivaratri in the months of January or February.
  • The fair is dedicated to Baneshwar Mahadev also known as Lord Shiva and is actually the combination of 2 fairs, which are held in reverence of Lord Shiva and the other one that commenced after the setting up of the Vishnu temple by Jankunwari.
  • The Hindu festivals of Holi and Dusshera are the other major festivals celebrated among the Bhil Tribes in India.

Role in independence movement:

Tribal movements or rebellions or uprising in India were inspired by revolutionary tendencies.

They wanted to make use of the situation to fight and eliminate evils and ill-tendencies that existed in the contemporary tribal society.

The Munda Uprising (1899-1900 AD):

It took place in the Chhotanagpur region near Ranchi under the leadership of Birsa Munda. This revolt is also known as Ulgulan revolt which means ‘great commotion.

Jatra Bhagat and Tana Bhagat Movement (1914 AD):

  • This movement was started by Jatra Bhagat in 1914 AD. It was a movement for monotheism, a
  • bstention from meat, liquor and tribal dance.
  • The Jatra Bhagat and Tana Bhagat movements stressed both anti-colonialism and internal reforms.
  • The Tribal rebellion in India took place for social, cultural and political reasons, particularly against the acquisition of their land and exerted their rights over forest resources.

“Bhilwara COVID-19 containment model”:

  • It refers to the steps taken by the administration in Rajasthan’s Bhilwara district to contain the disease, after it emerged as a hotspot for coronavirus positive cases.
  • Bhilwara district was among the most-affected places in India during the first phase of the COVID-19 outbreak.

Measures taken:

  • Imposing a curfew in the district which also barred essential services, extensive screening and house-to-house surveys to check for possible cases.
  • Detailed contact tracing of each positive case so as to create a dossier on everybody they met ever since they got infected.
  • The state Health Department also took the help of technology, using an app to monitor the conditions of those under home quarantine on a daily basis along with keeping a tab on them through geographical information system (GIS).

Reasons behind high cases:

  • That prompted the swift action by the authorities was that the virus had spread in the district from doctors and medical staff, apparently corrupt private hospital of Bhilwara, which is a thriving textile city  with a large number of migrant workers.
  • However, the Rajasthan government has maintained that even though both the deceased had tested positive, the cause of their death was not coronavirus, but underlying medical conditions, such as kidney failure and high blood pressure, for which they were already undergoing treatment.

Challenges Faced:

  • Containing the rising number of cases after the initial outbreak-The doctors of the private hospital who had tested positive had come into contact with numerous people including the staff and patients who visited the private hospital during the period when the doctors were already infected.
  • An uphill task ahead of them assembling the teams of doctors, auxiliary nurse and midwives and nursing students who went to conduct the house-to-house surveys.
  • The outbreak in Bhilwara came as a sudden shock to the administration and it was a major challenge to cover more than 22 lakh houses within a matter of days.

Conclusion:

Owing to the fact that Bhilwara, a thriving textile city with an estimated population of 30 lakh, it was also a difficult task for the government to strictly impose the curfew uniformly in all areas.


Despite RBI liquidity push, banks stare at fresh NPAs

Paper: III

For Prelims: Non performing Asset.

For Mains: Indian Economy and Issues Related to planning and mobilisation of resources.

Context of News:

  • As the Reserve Bank of India has injected fresh liquidity into the banking system and given banks leeway to deal with potential stress in loan accounts, bankers have discussed with the government their concerns about MSME loans and those extended to manufacturing sectors, such as auto, steel, renewable energy, as those where fresh NPAs are looming.
  • Banks are bracing up for a fresh bout of non-performing assets (NPAs) as the disruption caused to business operations and supply chains during the 21-day lockdown period will take time to repair.

What is a Non-Performing Asset?

  • A non-performing asset (NPA) is a classification used by financial institutions for loans and advances on which the principal is past due and on which no interest payments have been made for a period of time. In general, loans become NPAs when they are outstanding for 90 days or more, though some lenders use a shorter window in considering a loan or advance past due.
  • Standard Assets:
  • They are NPAs that have been past due for anywhere from 90 days to 12 months, with a normal risk level.
  • Sub-Standard Assets:
  • They are NPAs that have been past due for more than 12 months. They have a significantly higher risk level, combined with a borrower that has less than ideal credit. Banks usually assign a haircut (reduction in market value) to such NPAs because they are less certain that the borrower will eventually repay the full amount.
  • Doubtful Debts:
  • Non-performing assets in the doubtful debts category have been past due for at least 18 months. Banks generally have serious doubts that the borrower will ever repay the full loan. This class of NPA seriously affects the bank’s own risk profile.
  • Loss Assets:
  • These are non-performing assets with an extended period of non-payment. With this class, banks are forced to accept that the loan will never be repaid, and must record a loss on their balance sheet. The entire amount of the loan must be written off completely.

Steps taken by RBI for Economy during 21 Days Lockdown:

  • RBI has announced 75 basis points cut in repo rate, effectively taking the repo rate to 4.4% from the earlier 5.15%. Along with this, RBI has allowed banks and financial institutions to put a moratorium on term loans.
  • RBI has also announced a comprehensive package, including measures to expand liquidity, steps to reinforce monetary transmission, efforts to ease financial stress by relaxing repayment and endeavour to improve the functioning of the market.

Concerns coming out of 21 days Lockdown:

  • There is concern among bankers that even if the lockdown is lifted on April 14, operations of a number of companies in specific sectors will not see business getting back to normal as the labour has moved out and the production may not be able to restart.
  • Concerns has also been raised about capital intensive sectors such as aviation, real estate, consumer durables, and jewellery may take a long time before there is a demand revival. While moratorium provides temporary relief to borrowers and helps check the NPAs during that period, an extended lockdown is expected to have a significant adverse effect on the economy.
  • Leading analysts and rating agencies have flagged these concerns in their reports. Moody’s Investors Service has changed the outlook for Indian banking system to negative from stable, as it expects deterioration in banks’ asset quality due to disruption in economic activity.

Way Forward:

  • The RBI policy is making sure that there is enough liquidity in the market once the lockdown is lifted by way of reducing the reverse repo rate by 90 basis points. This will pump in cash required into the system and make the fund available for the MSMEs and helps the economy to be on track.
  • RBI measures will boost sentiments of a common Indian and also signals are very strong that the government is not leaving any stone unturned to fight this epidemic on the financial front. However, large increase in liquidity, substantially through monetisation, can pose a potential threat to economic stability in the medium term unless the capacity utilisation expands fast when the normalcy returns.
  • Announcements and measures are timely but one needs to be very careful about how the situation unfolds in the coming days. Regulatory forbearance has to be temporary and must be closely monitored to prevent an increase in NPAs