Daily Current Affairs for 19th May 2021

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Pleistocene rock art of Sulawesi

Why in News

According to the Scientists, the environmental degradation is destroying one of the oldest and most precious pieces of the world’s human heritage.

Key Points

  • According to the ‘Scientific Reports’, published by Nature Research, the Pleistocene-era rock paintings dating back to 45,000-20,000 years ago in cave sites in southern Sulawesi, on the Indonesian island of Sulawesi, are weathering at an alarming rate.

Significance of the Sulawesi Cave painting

  • A team of scientists, conservation specialists, and heritage managers examined 11 caves and rock-shelters in the Maros-Pangkep region in Sulawesi.
  • The artwork in the area includes the world’s oldest hand stencil, which is almost 40,000 years ago, is created by pressing the hand on a cave wall, and spraying wet red-mulberry pigments over it.
  • A nearby cave features the world’s oldest depiction of an animal, a warty pig painted on the wall 45,500 years ago.
  • The cave art of Sulawesi is much older than the prehistoric cave art of Europe.

Highlights of Study

  • The Study found that the flakes of rock that have begun to detach from cave surfaces to find that salts in three of the samples comprise calcium sulphate and sodium chloride, which are known to form crystals on rock surfaces, causing them to break.
  • The artwork made with pigments was decaying due to a process known as haloclasty.
  • Haloclasty is triggered by the growth of salt crystals due to repeated changes in temperature and humidity, caused by alternating wet and dry weather in the region.
  • Indonesia has also experienced several natural disasters in recent years, which have quickened the process of deterioration.

The recommendations

  • The area is known to be home to over 300 cave paintings, and more are being discovered with further explorations.
  • The accurate dating has been made possible with newer techniques, enriching our knowledge of their cultural and historical significance.
  • With increased rapid environmental degradation, the researchers have recommended regular physical and chemical monitoring of the sites, akin to the preservation efforts at the French and Spanish prehistoric cave art sites such as Lascaux and Altamira.

Cave Paintings in India

  • Cave paintings of India date back to the prehistoric times.
  • The finest examples of these paintings comprise of the murals of Ajanta, Ellora, Bagh, Sittanavasal, etc, which reflect an emphasis on naturalism.
  • Ancient cave paintings of India serve as a window to our ancestors, who used to inhabit these caves.

Pleistocene Epoch

  • The Pleistocene Epoch is the time period that began about 2.6 million years ago and lasted until about 11,700 years ago.
  • The most recent Ice Age occurred then, as glaciers covered huge parts of the planet Earth.
  • There have been at least five documented major ice ages during the 4.6 billion years since the Earth was formed.
  • The Pleistocene Epoch is the first in which Homo sapiens evolved, and by the end of the epoch humans could be found in nearly every part of the planet.
  • It was the first epoch in the Quaternary Period and the sixth in the Cenozoic Era. It was followed by the current stage, called the Holocene Epoch.



Why in News

India’s permanent representative to the United Nations made a statement at the UN Security Council “open debate” on the escalating Israel-Palestine violence, striving to maintain balance between India’s historic ties with Palestine and its blossoming relations with Israel.

Key Points

  • The statement first made by India on the issue, appears to implicitly hold Israel responsible for triggering the current cycle of violence by locating its beginnings in East Jerusalem rather than from Gaza.
  • The statement was emphatic on the historic status quo at the holy places of Jerusalem including the Haraml al Sharif/Temple Mount must be respected.
  • India’s policy on the longest running conflict in the world has gone from being unequivocally pro-Palestine for the first four decades, to a tense balancing act with its three-decade-old friendly ties with Israel.
  • In recent years, India’s position has also been perceived as pro-Israel.

India and Israeli bilateral ties

  • The ties between India and Israel began with India’s decision to normalise ties with Israel in 1992, which came against the backdrop of the break-up of the Soviet Union, and massive shifts in the geopolitics of West Asia on account of the first Gulf War in 1990.
  • In 1992, the Palestinian Liberation Organisation (PLO) lost much of its clout in the Arab world by siding with Iraq and Saddam Hussein in the occupation of Kuwait.
  • The opening of an Indian embassy in Tel Aviv in January 1992 marked an end to four decades of giving Israel the cold shoulder, as India’s recognition of Israel in 1950 had been minus full diplomatic ties.
  • The decision of PM Jawaharlal Nehru to recognise Israel was “an established fact”, and that not doing so would create rancour between two UN members.
  • But, the consulate in Mumbai which was established in 1953, mainly for issuing visas to the Indian Jewish community and to Christian pilgrims, was shut down in 1982, when India expelled the Consul General for criticising India’s foreign policy in a newspaper interview.
  • In 1948, India was the only non-Arab-state among 13 countries that voted against the UN partition plan of Palestine in the General Assembly that led to the creation of Israel.
  • There were various reasons for this India’s own Partition along religious lines:
  • As a new nation that had just thrown off its colonial yoke;
  • Solidarity with the Palestinian people who would be dispossessed; and
  • To ward off Pakistan’s plan to isolate India over Kashmir.
  • Later, India’s energy dependence on the Arab countries also became a factor, as did the sentiments of India’s own Muslim citizens.

India and Palestine

  • The relationship with Palestine was almost an article of faith in Indian foreign policy for over four decades.
  • At the 53rd UN session, India co-sponsored the draft resolution on the right of the Palestinians to self-determination.
  • In the 1967 and 1973 wars, India lashed out at Israel as the aggressor.
  • In the 1970s, India rallied behind the Palestinian Liberation Organisation (PLO) and its leader as the sole and legitimate representative of the Palestinian people.
  • In 1975, India became the first non-Arab country to recognise the PLO as the sole representative of the Palestinian people, and invited it to open an office in Delhi, which was accorded diplomatic status five years later.
  • In 1988, when the PLO declared an independent state of Palestine with its capital in East Jerusalem, India granted recognition immediately.
  • Four years after the Narasimha Rao government established a diplomatic mission in Tel Aviv, India opened a Representative Office in Gaza, which later moved to Ramallah as the Palestinian movement split between the Hamas and the PLO.
  • In October 2003 India voted in favour of the UN General Assembly resolution against Israel’s construction of a separation wall.
  • It voted for Palestine to become a full member of UNESCO in 2011, and a year later, co-sponsored the UN General Assembly resolution that enabled Palestine to become a “non-member” observer state at the UN without voting rights.
  • India also supported the installation of the Palestinian flag on the UN premises in September 2015.

Changes after 2014

  • From 1992, the India-Israel relationship continued to grow, mostly through defence deals, and in sectors such as science and technology and agriculture. But India never acknowledged the relationship fully.
  • In 2000, L K Advani became the first Indian minister to visit Israel, and in the same year Jaswant Singh visited as Foreign Minister.
  • In 2000, the two countries set up a joint anti-terror commission and in 2003, Ariel Sharon became the first Israeli Prime Minister to visit India.
  • Recently, Prime Minister Narendra Modi decided to take full ownership of the relationship with Israel.
  • The first indication of the new phase came with an abstention by India at the UN Human Rights Council on a resolution welcoming a report by the HRC High Commissioner.
  • The report said it had evidence of alleged war crimes committed by Israeli forces and Hamas during the 2014 airstrikes against Gaza that killed over 2000.
  • The abstention was conspicuous because in 2014, India had voted for the resolution through which the UNHRC inquiry was set up.
  • In 2016, India abstained again at on a UNHRC resolution against Israel. But the big change was the status of the historic city that both Israel and Palestine claim.


  • The latest statement given by India is no different.
  • Though it was not pro Palestine, it hardly pleased Israel.


Why in News

According to a study that highlights the devastating impact on the environment, there are globally only 20 companies are responsible for more than half of single-use plastic items thrown away.

Key Points

  • The recently released Plastic Waste Makers Index, names the companies that are at the forefront of the plastic supply chain and manufacture polymers, known as the building block of plastics.
  • It also highlighted that the firms identified are supported by a small number of financial backers.
  • The study says 20 petrochemical companies are responsible for 55% of the world’s single-use plastic waste.
  • The study says 100 companies are the source of 90% of global single-use plastic production.
  • Australia and the U.S., respectively, were found to produce the greatest amounts of “throwaway” plastics, at more than 50 kg per person per year in 2019.
  • South Korea and the U.K. were found to generate 44 kg of single-use plastic waste per person.

About Single-Use-Plastics

  • Single-use plastics are the most commonly discarded type of plastic, such as bottles, bags and food packages.
  • Made almost exclusively from fossil fuels, these “throwaway” plastics often end their short lifecycle polluting the oceans, being burned or dumped into landfills.
  • Petroleum based plastic is not biodegradable and usually goes into a landfill where it is buried or it gets into the water and finds its way into the ocean.

Disadvantages of Single-Use-Plastics

  • Plastic is non-biodegradable:
  • It will degrade (break down) into tiny particles after many years.
  • In this process of breaking down, it releases toxic chemicals which make their way into our food and water supply.
  • Improper packaging of foodstuffs:
  • Disposable plastics used in packaging foodstuff which consumed by human contain harmful compounds.
  • Its improper packaging leads to harmful compounds finding their way to water bodies, where they dissolve over a long time due to their non-biodegradable nature.
  • Low melting point:
  • Plastics generally have a low melting point and it cannot be used where heat levels are high.
  • This means that, it cannot be used as protective barrier for furnaces.
  • Some plastic products are highly flammable that commonly used in packaging, home and office appliances which makes them a fire hazard.
  • Short Durability:
  • Plastics are short durable compared to metals.
  • It results in pile-ups of unwanted garbage which remain uncollected in dump sites and pollute the environment.
  • Toxic chemicals:
  • The toxic chemicals released by the plastics are found in our bloodstream and the latest research has found them to disrupt the Endocrine system which can cause cancer, infertility, birth defects, impaired immunity and many other ailments.

India in Single-use-Plastics

  • Prime Minister of India announced at the Sabarmati river on October 2, 2019 to phase out single-use plastics by 2022.
  • According to the Draft Notification Plastic Waste Management (Amendment) Rules, 2021, published by the Ministry of Environment, Forest and Climate Change on March 12, 2021, the ban of single-use-plastic would be in three phases.
  • First step would be taken on September 30, 2021:
  • Non-woven plastic carry bags must at least 60 grams per square meter (GSM) or 240 microns thick.
  • Compostable plastic carry bags would be exempted.
  • Second step starting on January 1, 2022:
  • India is proposing to ban the manufacture, import, stocking, distribution, sale, and use of certain single-use plastic commodities, including candy sticks and ice-cream sticks.
  • Other single-use plastic commodities to be banned after this date include ear buds with plastic sticks, plastic sticks for balloons, plastic flags, and polystyrene decorations.
  • Third step as of July 1, 2022:
  • India would ban the manufacture, import, stocking, distribution, sale and use of additional single-use plastic items.

New Naming System of Virus Variant

Why in News

According to the WHO Chief Scientist, the World Health Organization (WHO) would unveil a system of naming of coronavirus variants drawn from the way tropical storms are named.

Key Points

  • The new naming system should go live soon and it will be names like hurricanes.
  • The WHO and health and science agencies across the world like Indian Council of Medical Research, the United States’ Centres for Disease Control and the Public Health England refer to viruses and their variants by formal lineage names.
  • They are a combination of letters and names that point to the relationships between different variants.
  • To the trained eye, variants such as B.1.1.7 and B.1.617 suggest that they have certain mutations in common and as well clues to their evolutionary history.

Geographical tag

  • Virus names and their associated diseases have frequently been named after geographical places where outbreaks were first reported or samples first isolated, such as the West Nile virus or Ebola.
  • B.1.1.7 started to be known as the ‘U.K. variant’ and B.1.351 as the ‘South African’ variant.
  • India’s Health Ministry, in the aftermath of B.1.617 that was popularly called the ‘Indian variant’, issued a press release decrying the media’s use of the name.
  • The World Meteorological Organisation leaves it to countries that surround a particular ocean basin to come up with names.

World Health Organization (WHO)

  • The World Health Organization (WHO) is a specialized agency of the United Nations responsible for international public health.
  • The WHO was constituted on 7 April 1948 with its main objective as “the attainment by all peoples of the highest possible level of health”.
  • It is headquartered in Geneva, Switzerland, with six semi-autonomous regional offices and 150 field offices worldwide.
  • The first meeting of the World Health Assembly (WHA), was placed on 24 July 1948.
  • Objectives:
  • To act as the directing and coordinating authority on international health work.
  • To establish and maintain effective collaboration with the United Nations, specialized agencies, governmental health administrations, professional groups and such other organizations as may be deemed appropriate.
  • To provide assistance to the Governments, upon request, in strengthening health services.
  • To promote cooperation among scientific and professional groups which contribute to the advancement of health.

Formation of District

Why in News

On May 14, Punjab Chief Minister declared Malerkotla the 23rd district of the State.

Key Points

  • Section 5 of the Punjab Land Revenue Act, 1887 states that, “State government may, by notification, vary the limits and alter the numbers of tehsils, districts and divisions into which the State is divided.”
  • According to the 2011 Census, there were 593 districts in the country.
  • The Census results showed that between 2001-2011, as many as 46 districts were created by States.
  • Know India is a website run by the Government of India, says currently there are 718 districts in the country.
  • The surge in number is also due to bifurcation of Andhra Pradesh into A.P and Telangana in 2014.
  • Telangana at present has 33 districts and A.P has 13 districts.

Formation of New Districts

  • The power to create new districts or alter or abolish existing districts rests with the State governments.
  • This can either be done through an executive order or by passing a law in the State Assembly.
  • Many States prefer the executive route by simply issuing a notification in the official gazette.


  • The State government has been vested with unfettered powers under Section 5 of the Punjab Land Revenue Act, 1887 to create new districts.
  • This power is generally held temporarily in abeyance only during active census operations or during the delimitation exercise of Lok Sabha/Vidhan Sabha constituencies.

Role of Central Government

  • The Centre has no role to play in the alteration of districts or creation of new ones.
  • States are free to decide.
  • But the Home Ministry plays role when a State wants to alter the name of a district or a railway station.
  • For this, the State government’s request is sent to other departments and agencies such as the Ministry of Earth Sciences, Intelligence Bureau, Department of Posts, Geographical Survey of India Sciences and the Railway Ministry seeking clearance.
  • A no-objection certificate may be issued after examining their replies.

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