How to unify defence resources 

  • Chief of Defence Staff (CDS) General Bipin Rawat said his office is working on a tentative timeline for the establishment of joint commands among the three defence services — Army, Navy and Air Force — beginning with an Air Defence Command. 
  • With the creation of the CDS post on December 31, the government has set the ball rolling for bringing jointness and integration among the services.

 

What are joint commands? 

  • It is a unified command in which the resources of all the services are unified under a single commander looking at a geographical theatre. 
  • It means that a single military commander, as per the requirements, will have the resources of the Army, the Navy and the Air Force to manage a security threat. 
  • The commander of a joint command will have the freedom to train and equip his command as per the objective, and will have logistics of all the services at his beckoning. 
  • The three services will retain their independent identities as well.
  • There are two tri-services commands at the moment 
  1. The joint command at the moment, the Andaman and Nicobar Command (ANC), is a theatre command, which is headed by the chiefs of the three services in rotation. It was created in 2001 after a Group of Ministers had given a report on national security following the Kargil War. 
  2. The Strategic Forces Command was established in 2006 and is a functional tri-services command.

 

What is the structure right now? 

  • There are 17 commands, divided among the three services. 
  • The Army and the Air Force have seven commands each, while the Navy has three commands. 
  • The commands under the Army are Northern, Southern, Eastern, Western, Central, Southwestern and the Army Training Command. 
  • The Air Force has Eastern, Western, Southern, Southwestern, Central, Maintenance and Training commands, and the Navy is divided into Western, Eastern and Southern commands.
  • These commands report to their respective services, and are headed by three-star officers. Though these commands are in the same regions, but they are no located together.

 

How do joint commands help? 

  • One of the main advantages is that the leader of a unified command has control over more varied resources, compared to the heads of the commands under the services now. 
  • For instance, the head of one of the proposed commands, Air Defence Command, will have under him naval and Army resources, too, which can be used as per the threat perception.
  • The other key advantage is that through such integration and jointness the three forces will be able to avoid duplication of resources. 
  • The resources available under each service will be available to other services too. 
  • The services will get to know one another better, strengthening cohesion in the defence establishment.

 

When will the new commands be ready? 

  • Study for a proposed Air Defence Command has already been initiated and a report on the details of the command are expected by end of March.
  • Air Defence Command should start becoming operational by the end of this year, and the Peninsula Command by the end of 2021, followed by theatre commands — joint commands looking at the land boundaries — with the first of these to begin rolling out by the end of 2022 - said CDS Gen Bipin Rawat.

 

How many such commands are expected to roll out?  

  • While the number of commands India needs is still being studied, the CDS has envisaged that there could be between six to nine commands.

 

Do militaries of other countries have such commands? 

  • Several major militaries are divided into integrated theatre commands. 
  • China’s People’s Liberation Army has five theatre commands: Eastern, Western, Northern, Southern and Central. Its Western Theatre Command is responsible for India.
  • The US Armed Forces has 11 unified commands, of which seven are geographic and four functional commands. 
  • Its geographic commands are Africa, Central, European, Indo-Pacific, Northern, Southern and Space. 
  • Cyber, Special Operations, Transportation and Strategic are its functional commands.

 

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C. GRETATHUNBERGAE 

  • A group of citizen scientists working together with scientists from Taxon Expeditions, which organises field trips of taxonomic experts and laypeople to discover unknown species, has identified a new species of land snail. 
  • They have named it Craspedotropis gretathunbergae, in honour of Swedish climate activist Greta Thunberg. 
  • The species has been described in the Biodiversity Data Journal.
  • The newly described snail belongs to the so-called caenogastropods, a group of land snails comes from tropical rainforests known to be sensitive to drought, temperature extremes and forest degradation.

 

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MONSOON IN SUNDERBANS LIKELY TO GET LONGER, WARN CLIMATE EXPERTS  

  • The monsoon in Sunderbans is likely to last longer and get more intense, according to a fact sheet titled The Sunderbans and Climate Change , which was made public during the ongoing Convention on the Conservation of Migratory Species of Wild Animals. 
  • “Climate specialists have predicted that as climate change progresses, monsoon seasons in the Sundarbans will become longer and more intense. 
  • Conversely, drought conditions will also become more pronounced, presenting further challenges for agricultural producers in particular and ecosystems in general,” said the document released during the Conference of Parties at Gujarat. 

 

Natural habitats  

  • The document highlights the need for "long term coastal planning to ensure that these critically important intertidal habitats with their unique flora and fauna and local inhabitants have a space to retreat inland". 
  • The paper also points out that the habitat of the Bengal tiger (Panthera tigris tigris) in the Sunderbans is also affected by the storm due to a decline in the availability of prey. 
  • While the fact sheet puts the rise in the sea level at 3.2 mm per year currently, it states that an estimated rise of 28 cm above the sea levels registered in the year 2000 would result in a 96 % decline of the habitat of the Bengal tiger in Bangladesh. 
  • Discussions were also held on the Transboundary Conservation of Threatened Freshwater Fauna, including species like Indian River Terrapin ( Batagur baska ), Hilsa (Tenualosa ilisha) and Ganges River Dolphin (Platanista gangetica). 
  • There is clear evidence of the habitat of all the three species extending to the Sunderbans in both India and Bangladesh.  
  • The forum comprised scientists from the Wildlife Institute of India, World Wildlife Fund for Nature, Wildlife Trust of India, Turtle Survival Alliance (TSA) and the member secretary of Central Zoo Authority. 

 

Risk of flooding  

  • The fact sheet points out that large parts of Sunderbans, which are designated as ‘Ramsar Sites’, are highly susceptible to flooding. 
  • Due to this, any swelling of ocean water is going to dramatically affect the area. Alhough mangroves are somewhat resistant to submersion in water, they can die when tidal inundation occurs too frequently or lasts too long,” the document stated.
  • Apart from the frequent storms and the rise of sea level, another concern is the rise of salinity both in water and soil. 
  • Excess levels of soil salinity can be incredibly damaging to ecosystems as salts can accumulate in the soil and hinder plant growth. It also threatens the health of freshwater aquatic life such as fish and giant prawns.

 

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HIMALAYAN WOLVES WITH HYPOXIA ADAPTATION ARE SEPARATE SPECIES  

  • Himalayan wolves, also called as Tibetan wolves, which live at more than 4,000 metres altitudes are genetically distinct from grey wolves, according to a study published in the Journal of Biogeography. 
  • The divergence of Himalayan wolves relates to past uplift of the region, the authors of the paper note. 
  • Living at such high altitudes, these wolves have genetically adapted themselves to live in low oxygen (hypoxic) conditions. 
  • While effective oxygen availability at sea level is nearly 22%, at 4,000 metres altitude, the effective oxygen availability is nearly half — 12.7%. 
  • The researchers collected 280 wolf faeces from across the Tibetan Plateau of China, Kyrgyzstan and Tajikistan and studied the mitochondrial DNA. A subset of 110 samples was genotyped too. 
  • The genetic analysis revealed a clear divergence of Himalayan wolves and marked them as separate breed. 
  • There was considerable admixture at the lower edges of the range. 
  • The study based on mitochondrial DNA supports an early divergence for the Himalayan wolves, making them the sister taxon to the grey wolves. The nuclear genome markers analysed also suggests differences between Himalayan wolves and grey wolves. But other studies suggest a recent ancestry for all extant wolf lineages. 
  • Interestingly, unlike the grey wolves that inhabit the lower elevations the Himalayan wolves showed clear hypoxia adaptation. 
  • The admixed wolves had a mixture of genes belonging to Himalayan wolves and grey wolves but always carried the Himalayan wolf hypoxia adaptation. The specialised genes for hypoxia adaptation allowed the animals to overcome the lack of oxygen at such high altitudes. 
  • Such adaptations are seen in dogs and humans to mitigate the deleterious effects of free radicals that are produced in response to low oxygen availability. 
  • While the precise genetic mechanism that facilitates humans to live in hypoxic conditions remain poorly understood, interbreeding of wolves and dogs is how the dogs might have acquired highaltitude adaptation.

 

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ONLINE CHATBOT ‘ASKDISHA’ UPGRADED TO CONVERSE WITH RAILWAY CUSTOMERS IN HINDI LANGUAGE  

  • Ministry of Railways Online Chatbot ‘ASKDISHA’ upgraded to converse with Railway customers in Hindi language. 
  • Artificial Intelligence based chatbot is developed to resolve queries of railway passengers over the internet pertaining to various services offered by IRCTC introduced the services of Artificial Intelligence based ASKDISHA chatbot started in October 2018.
  • The ASKDISHA Chatbot was initially launched in English language but in order to further enhance the customer services rendered and to further strengthen the services of the chatbot, IRCTC has now powered voice enabled ASKDISHA to converse with customers in Hindi language also in the e-ticketing site.
  • The customers can now ask queries to ASKDISHA in Hindi language by voice as well as text. 
  • IRCTC plans to launch ASKDISHA in more languages along with many other additional features in the near future. 
  • The chatbot is a special computer programme designed to simulate conversation with users, especially over the internet. The first-of-its-kind initiative by IRCTC is aimed at facilitating accessibility by answering users queries pertaining to various services offered to railway passengers. 
  • Since its initial launch, more than 150 million passengers have been benefited by ASKDISHA with 10 billion interactions for seeking help on reservation of tickets, cancellation, enquiry of refund status, fare, PNR search, train running status, enquiry about retiring rooms and tourism products.

 

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