Helmand River Dispute
Syllabus: GS2/ Foreign Affairs, IR
Why in News?
- Iran and Afghanistan dispute sharing water from the Helmand River.
- Helmand River crucial for agriculture, livelihoods, and ecosystems.
- Tensions arise due to competing water needs
What is the Dispute?
- 1973 Helmand River Treaty unratified and unimplemented, leading to ongoing disputes.
- Iran accuses Afghanistan of violating water rights, receiving only 4% of agreed share.
- Afghanistan cites climatic factors for reduced water volumes.
- Iran concerned about Afghanistan’s dam construction along the Helmand River.
- Helmand River originates near Kabul, flows 1,150 km southwest, empties into Lake Hamun.
- Lake Hamun is Iran’s largest freshwater lake, once a major wetland fed by the Helmand.
- Unai Pass separates the Kabul River watershed from Lake Hamun.
Iran -Taliban Ties
- Iran and Afghanistan have a 950-km land border with no major territorial disputes.
- Iran had previously maintained good relations with the Taliban before their capture of Kabul in August 2021
Syllabus: GS1/ History, GS2/ International
Why in News?
- Controversy in Nepal over mural of Indian subcontinent landmass in new Parliament building.
- Minister Pralhad Joshi refers to the mural as a map of “akhand Bharat” (undivided India).
- Mural depicts Lumbini, birthplace of Buddha, implying India’s claims. Nepal views Lumbini as a cultural center on its map.
Clarification by Government
- Ministry of External Affairs clarifies mural represents Ashokan empire and responsible governance.
- Official description emphasizes Ashoka’s spread of Buddhism.
- Mural is in one of 16 niches in Constitutional Foyer.
- Other niches dedicated to sages, texts, Ramayana, and Patel/Nehru.
History of the idea of Akhand Bharat
- Akhand Bharat envisions a unified Greater India.
- Concept includes Afghanistan, Bangladesh, Bhutan, India, Maldives, Myanmar, Nepal, Pakistan, and Sri Lanka.
- M. Munshi and Veer Savarkar advocated Akhand Bharat during the Indian independence movement.
- Hindu Mahasabha, RSS, Vishva Hindu Parishad, Shiv Sena occasionally support the idea.
Salt Cavern-based Oil Storage Facility
Syllabus: GS 1/GS 3/Natural Resources /Economy
Why in News?
- Engineers India (EIL) studying salt cavern-based strategic oil reserves in Rajasthan.
- Aims to increase India’s strategic oil storage capacity.
- Government-owned firm conducting feasibility study for the project.
What are salt caverns?
- Salt caverns: artificial underground cavities in salt formations.
- Created through controlled dissolution of rock salt using water injection during solution mining.
How is it different from rock caverns?
- Salt caverns developed through solution mining, not excavation like rock caverns.
- Water pumped into salt deposits to dissolve salt, creating space for oil storage.
- Salt cavern storage operations mostly conducted from the surface, unlike rock caverns.
Benefits Salt Cavern
- Salt caverns offer simplicity, speed, and cost-effectiveness compared to excavated rock caverns.
- Well-sealed and designed for rapid oil injection and extraction, making them attractive for storage.
- Low oil absorbency of salt lining creates impermeable barrier against hydrocarbons.
- Used globally for storing liquid fuels, natural gas, and potential for compressed air and hydrogen storage.
- Strategic crude oil reserves mitigate global supply disruptions.
- India heavily relies on imports for over 85% of its crude oil requirement.
- India’s current Strategic petroleum reserves (SPR) capacity is 5.33 million tonnes, meeting 9.5 days of demand.
- Expansion underway: Chandikhol (4 million tonnes) and Padur (2.5 million tonnes).
- Indian Strategic Petroleum Reserve (ISPRL) manages India’s strategic oil reserves; EIL played a key role in setting up the existing SPR.
- International Energy Agency (IEA) recommends 90 days of import protection; India has SPR for 9.5 days and additional storage (OMCs) for 64.5 days, covering around 74 days of petroleum demand.
Potential and Related Developments
- Rajasthan considered ideal for salt cavern-based strategic storage facilities due to ample salt formations.
- India’s strategic oil reserves resemble those set up by the US and Western allies after the 1970s oil crisis.
- Commercialization initiated with Abu Dhabi National Oil Company (ADNOC) storing 0.8 million tonnes in Mangaluru reserve.
- Reserves filled during low crude oil prices in April-May 2020, resulting in estimated savings of Rs 5,000 crore.
- In 2021, India released 5 million barrels from reserves as part of a coordinated action against oil output cuts by major producing nations.
- Indian companies lacked technical expertise for salt cavern-based hydrocarbon storage.
- EIL partnered with DEEP.KBB GmbH, a German company specializing in cavern storage and solution mining technology.
- Specific site selection and project cost estimation are still pending.
- Salt cavern-based storage offers cost and labor advantages over rock caverns for India’s SPR.
- Potential for India’s first salt cavern-based oil storage facility.
- Existing strategic oil storage facilities in Mangaluru, Padur, and Visakhapatnam are rock cavern-based.
UGC (Institutions Deemed to be Universities) Regulations, 2023
Syllabus: GS 2/Education
Why in News?
- New UGC regulations released by Union Education Minister.
- Replacing the 2019 guidelines for deemed universities.
- UGC Act 1956 allows non-university institutions to be deemed universities under certain provisions.
- UGC Regulations govern the process, eligibility, governance, and establishment of deemed universities.
- Regulations were first notified in 2010, with revisions in 2016 and 2019.
- Expert committee formed to review and simplify the Regulations following the National Education Policy 2020.
Salient features of the regulations:
- New rules align with the “light but tight” approach of NEP 2020.
- Aim to simplify eligibility criteria for institutions seeking deemed-to-be university status.
- Focus on multi-disciplinarity, NAAC grading, NIRF ranking, and NBA grading.
- Cluster of institutions managed by multiple bodies can also apply for the status.
- The new regulations also introduce the “Distinct Institution” category, where an existing institution
- or an institution starting from the beginning with the focus on teaching and research in unique disciplines and/
- or addressing the strategic needs of the country or engaged in the preservation of Indian cultural heritage
- or preservation of the environment or dedicated to skill development or dedicated to sports or languages
- or any other discipline, so determined by the Expert Committee of Commission, will be exempted from eligibility criteria.
- Faculty strength increased from 100 to 150.
- Corpus fund for private institutions increased from Rs 10 crore to Rs 25 crore.
- Creation of executive councils like central universities.
- Deemed universities must register on Academic Bank of Credits (ABC).
- Permitted to offer twinning, joint, and dual degree programs.
- Emphasis on quality and excellence in universities.
- Strengthening the research ecosystem.
- Transforming the higher education landscape.
- Promoting objective and transparent establishment of quality-focused deemed universities.
Accidents in Indian Railways
Syllabus: GS3/ Infrastructure, Railways
Why in News?
- Three-train collision in Balasore District, Odisha.
- Bengaluru-Howrah Superfast Express, Shalimar-Chennai Central Coromandel Express, and a Goods train involved.
- Approximately 250 fatalities.
- Railway Accident Manual defines an accident as any occurrence that affects railway safety, including engines, rolling stock, tracks, passengers, causing delays or loss to the railway.
Train Accidents: Statistics
- In 2020, there were over 13,000 train accidents in India, resulting in the deaths of nearly 12,000 passengers.
- Approximately 70% of these accidents occurred due to passengers falling off trains or crossing tracks unsafely.
- Maharashtra and Uttar Pradesh had the highest number of railway accidents and fatalities.
- In the year 2019-2020, the Indian Railways reported no deaths from consequential accidents caused by operational failures.
What are the causes of Railway accidents in India?
- Ageing infrastructure and lack of resources contribute to poor performance in the Indian Railways.
- Accidents are also caused by lapses from railway staff, including long working hours and manpower shortages.
- Failures in rolling stock, track, electrical systems, signaling, and telecommunications can lead to accidents.
- Traffic and commercial lapses, such as defective loading and train operations, also contribute to accidents.
- Incidental accidents result from natural or human-made factors like landslides, floods, earthquakes, or sabotage.
Accident type in Indian Railways
- The accident type occurred in Indian Railways over the years following the trend Derailment > Level crossing accidents > Collisions > Fire in trains > Miscellaneous accidents.
Factors Contributing to Vulnerability
- Safety in railways in most developing countries is influenced by the following constraints:
- High level of dependency on the human element.
- Low motivation, non-ideal working conditions for staff.
- Indiscipline and lack of work ethics amongst the workforce.
- Casual approach to safety amongst middle level managers.
- Paying of lip service to safety by top management.
- Lack of administrative and political will.
Impact of train accidents
- Train accidents lead to loss of life, property damage, and economic repercussions.
- Economic losses include transportation and logistics costs, damage to the railway infrastructure, and compensation payments.
- Train accidents involving hazardous materials can cause environmental contamination and damage to the surrounding ecosystem.
- Mission Zero Accident aimed to eliminate unmanned level crossings and implement the Train Collision Avoidance System (TCAS).
- The Rashtriya Rail Sanraksha Kosh Fund was created with a corpus of ₹1 lakh crore for critical safety-related works.
- Over 300,000 non-gazetted officers received refresher training, including disaster management and safety skills.
- The Fog PASS Device aids crew during foggy weather using GPS and audio-visual alarms.
- ‘Kavach’ is an indigenously developed automatic train protection system.
- Construction is underway for the Western Dedicated Freight Corridor to decongest the railway network.
- Chenab Bridge, the world’s tallest railway bridge, will open in Jammu and Kashmir later this year.
High Level Safety Review Committee (Railways) Recommendations
- Anil Kakodkar chaired the High Level Safety Review Committee appointed by the Ministry of Railways.
- The financial state of Indian Railways is critical, leading to neglect of infrastructure maintenance.
- The committee recommends an independent mechanism for safety regulation.
- The Research Design and Standards Organization (RDSO) is limited in its capabilities to incorporate emerging technologies.
- Adoption of an Advanced Signalling System for the trunk route length of 19,000 km is recommended, estimated to cost Rs 20,000 crore.
Syllabus: GS 3/Economy
Why in News?
- Insurance Regulatory and Development Authority of India (IRDAI) issued draft guidelines for Bima Vahaks, outlining regulations for insurance agents or intermediaries.
About Bima Vahaks
- The draft guidelines aim to establish a distribution channel at the Gram Panchayat level.
- It introduces Corporate Bima Vahaks (registered legal entities) and Individual Bima Vahaks (appointed by insurers or Corporate Bima Vahaks) as distributors.
- These Bima Vahaks will facilitate the sale of insurance products in rural areas.
- BVs (both corporate and individual) can collect proposal information, KYC documents, and assist with claims-related services.
- Insurers are responsible for ensuring KYC and AML compliance for policies sourced through BVs.
- Emphasis on local resource development and women’s participation as BVs to build trust.
- The Chairperson of the Authority has the power to issue clarifications to address any challenges in guideline application or interpretation.
Importance and Objectives:
- Dedicated distribution channel for insurance inclusion and awareness in every Gram Panchayat.
- Improved accessibility and availability of insurance across the country.
- Bima Vahak initiative holds great potential to enhance insurance inclusion and awareness.
Zambia’s Obstetric Fistula Strategic Plan
- Ministry of Health launched Obstetric Fistula Strategic Plan for 2022-2026.
- Obstetric fistula is a condition with a hole between birth canal and bladder/rectum.
- Collaboration with UNFPA in developing the plan emphasizes the importance of partnerships.
- Over two million women globally live with obstetric fistula, with a high concentration in Africa.
- In Zambia, over 33,000 women and girls were affected by obstetric fistula in 2018, requiring urgent interventions and support.
- India bans fourteen fixed-dose combination (FDC) medicines that are found to lack therapeutic relevance.
- Texas becomes largest state to ban transgender care for minors
- 88% of wage payments made through Aadhaar Based Payment Bridge System till May: Rural Development Ministry.
- Integrated Command and Control Centre set up in Srinagar under Smart City Mission.
Person in News
- Celeste Saulo of Argentina has been appointed as the first female Secretary-General of the World Meteorological Organization (WMO).
- UAE Meteorologist Dr Abdulla Al Mandous has been elected as the new President of the World Meteorological Organization (WMO)