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Weekly Current Affairs (1st to 7th January 2024) Part - 2 | Current Affairs & Hindu Analysis: Daily, Weekly & Monthly - UPSC PDF Download

Technological Innovations Implemented Under MGNREGA Scheme

Context: The Ministry of Rural Development has addressed apprehensions surrounding the utilization of technology, specifically Aadhaar, which has led to the deprivation of welfare benefits for marginalized Indians and the delay in wage disbursements within the Mahatma Gandhi National Rural Employment Guarantee Act (MGNREGA) scheme.

  • In response to these issues, the ministry emphasized various technological advancements implemented under MGNREGA, intending to augment transparency and streamline efficiency in its execution.

What is the MGNREGA Scheme?

The MGNREGA scheme, introduced by the Ministry of Rural Development in 2005, stands as one of the world's most extensive work guarantee initiatives, ensuring 100 days of employment per fiscal year for adult members of rural households through unskilled manual labor in public projects, paying the minimum wage. The present status of the scheme reflects 14.32 crore registered Job Cards, with 68.22% being active, involving 25.25 crore workers, of which 56.83% are actively engaged.

Key Technological Innovations:

Aadhaar Integration:

  • Continuous Aadhaar seeding of bank accounts for de-duplication and authenticating genuine beneficiaries. Nearly 98.31% of active workers (14.08 crore) have been Aadhaar-seeded, with 13.76 crore Aadhaar authenticated, enabling 87.52% of active workers for Aadhaar Payment Bridge System (APBS). This system utilizes Aadhaar numbers to electronically transfer government subsidies and benefits to linked bank accounts.
  • National Payments Corporation of India (NPCI) data indicates a success rate of 99.55% or higher when Aadhaar is enabled for Direct Benefit Transfer (DBT), and payments for wage employment are made via APBS.

National Electronic Fund Management System (NEFMS):

  • Introduced in FY 2016-17 for direct wage payments, over 99% of wage payments are directly credited to beneficiaries' bank/post office accounts.

Real-time Monitoring through NMMS:

  • The National Mobile Monitoring System (NMMS) app tracks real-time attendance of beneficiaries at worksites, offering transparent monitoring.

Geotagging of Assets:

  • Utilizes remote sensing technology for geotagging assets generated under the scheme, ensuring accountability and public scrutiny by providing location-specific information.

Job Card Updation:

  • States/UTs regularly conduct exercises for job card updation/deletion to ensure authenticity. About 2.85 crore job cards have been deleted since April 2022, including fake, duplicate, or unused cards.

Drone Monitoring:

  • Pilot testing of drones is conducted for real-time monitoring and data collection to enhance decision-making in monitoring and implementing the scheme.

India’s Steel Sector

Context: In recent times, the Steel Sector has undergone substantial expansion, positioning India as a significant global player in steel manufacturing and ranking as the world's second-largest producer, following China.

What's the Current Scenario in the Steel Sector in India?

State of the Steel Industry:

  • In the fiscal year FY23, India's steel production reached 125.32 million tonnes (MT) of crude steel and 121.29 MT of finished steel.

Importance:

  • Steel is an essential material globally and holds a fundamental position in various sectors like construction, infrastructure, automotive, engineering, and defense.
  • The iron and steel industry serves as the foundational producer industry.

Economic Significance:

  • The steel industry significantly contributes to India's economy, accounting for approximately 2% of the country's GDP in FY 21-22.

Major Steel-Producing States:

  • Key steel-producing states in India include Odisha, leading among all, followed by Jharkhand and Chhattisgarh. Karnataka, Maharashtra, Gujarat, and West Bengal also significantly contribute to the steel production landscape.

What Government Measures are Supporting the Growth of the Steel Sector?

Specialty Steel Inclusion in PLI Scheme:

  • Approved with a Rs 6322 crore budget for five years, aimed at boosting the manufacturing of specialty steel, attracting investments, and promoting technological advancements in the sector.

Green Steel Initiatives:

  • The Ministry of Steel has established 13 Task Forces involving industry, academia, and various ministries to strategize and suggest methods for decarbonization in steel production.
  • The Ministry of New and Renewable Energy (MNRE) announced a National Green Mission focusing on green hydrogen production, involving the steel sector as a participant.

Adoption of Best Available Technologies:

  • Modernization and expansion projects in the steel sector have incorporated the Best Available Technologies (BAT) from global sources.

Ministry's Involvement in PM Gati Shakti National Master Plan:

  • Integration of BISAG-N capabilities into the PM Gati Shakti National Master Plan to map over 2000 steel units' geolocations for better insights into steel production facilities.

Steel Scrap Recycling Policy:

  • The 2019 Steel Scrap Recycling Policy (SSRP) facilitates setting up metal scrapping centers for scientific recycling of ferrous scrap, including end-of-life vehicles.

National Steel Policy 2017:

  • The National Steel Policy 2017 outlines a comprehensive roadmap for the Indian steel industry's long-term growth, both in demand and supply, until 2030-31.

Support for Infrastructure Development:

  • Government emphasis on infrastructure development through the Gati-Shakti Master Plan, 'Make-in-India' initiative, and flagship schemes bolster the demand for steel in the country.

Steel Quality Control Measures:

  • The introduction of the Steel Quality Control Order ensures only BIS standard-compliant quality steel is accessible to industry and the public, both domestically and through imports.

Safety Standards in the Iron & Steel Sector:

  • After extensive consultations, a set of 25 common minimum Safety Guidelines have been developed for the Iron & Steel Sector, aligning with global standards and the ILO Code of practice on safety.

National Metallurgist Award:

  • This prestigious Ministry of Steel award acknowledges the exceptional contributions of metallurgists in the iron and steel sector.

Bharatmala Phase-1: Deadline Extended

Context: The Government has decided to extend the deadline for the completion of the primary highway development initiative, Bharatmala Pariyojana Phase-I, until 2027-28. 

  • This decision comes after a significant rise of over 100% in the estimated project cost, showcasing a slowdown in implementation and financial limitations.

What is the Bharatmala Pariyojana all about?

Overview:

  • Bharatmala Pariyojana is a comprehensive initiative introduced under the Ministry of Road Transport and Highways.
  • Its initial phase was announced in 2017 with a targeted completion by 2022.

Key Features:

  • Bharatmala aims to optimize the efficiency of existing infrastructure, promote multi-modal integration, bridge gaps in infrastructure for seamless movement, and integrate National and Economic Corridors. The program comprises six primary elements:
    • Economic Corridors: Facilitating connectivity between crucial production and consumption hubs to enhance economic integration.
    • Inter-corridor and Feeder Routes: Focusing on connecting first and last-mile routes for comprehensive connectivity.
    • National Corridor Efficiency Improvement: Encompasses lane expansion and congestion alleviation along existing National Corridors.
    • Border and International Connectivity Roads: Enhancing border infrastructure to facilitate smoother movement and amplify trade with neighboring nations.
    • Coastal and Port Connectivity Roads: Boosting port-led development through connectivity in coastal regions, fostering both tourism and industrial growth.
    • Greenfield Expressways: Developing expressways aimed at addressing high-traffic areas and bottlenecks.

Progress:

  • As of November 2023, approximately 15,045 km or 42% of the project has been successfully completed.

Challenges:

  • The initiative faces challenges such as escalating raw material costs, increased expenses in land acquisition, construction complexities related to high-speed corridors, and elevated Goods and Services Tax (GST) rates.

Way Forward

  • Examine strategic procurement methods to acquire raw materials at competitive prices. Participate in negotiations with suppliers to ensure favorable rates, particularly during market fluctuations.
  • Implement efficient and transparent land acquisition practices to minimize compensation disputes. Explore alternatives such as land pooling and community engagement to streamline the process.
  • Conduct thorough feasibility studies before incorporating high-speed corridors. Optimize corridor designs to balance functionality with cost-effectiveness.
  • Advocate for stable and predictable GST policies to minimize uncertainties. Engage with government authorities to provide industry insights on the impact of tax rate changes.

Space Missions in 2024

Context: In 2023, significant strides were made in space exploration, notably NASA's OSIRIS-REx mission successfully retrieving a sample from an asteroid. Additionally, India's Chandrayaan-3 mission made progress. As we step into 2024, the realm of space exploration continues to promise excitement.

  • NASA is preparing for numerous fresh missions aligned with the Artemis program and Commercial Lunar Payload Services initiative, all focused on exploring the moon.

What Space Missions Are Planned for 2024?

Europa Clipper:

  • Scheduled for launch, NASA's Europa Clipper aims to explore Europa, one of Jupiter's largest moons. Europa's icy surface covers a subsurface ocean that could potentially support extraterrestrial life. The spacecraft plans to conduct nearly 50 flybys to study the moon's geology, subsurface ocean, and potential geysers.

Artemis II:

  • Artemis II, part of NASA's Artemis program, is a manned lunar mission that aims to orbit the Moon. This mission, slated for a 10-day journey, marks humanity's return to lunar exploration since 1972 and aims to validate systems for extended lunar habitation.

VIPER Mission:

  • The VIPER (Volatiles Investigating Polar Exploration Rover) mission plans to deploy a golf cart-sized robot to explore the Moon's south pole. Designed to search for volatile substances like water and carbon dioxide, VIPER's mission is critical for future human exploration of the lunar surface.

Lunar Trailblazer and PRIME-1 Missions:

  • As part of NASA's SIMPLEx program, the Lunar Trailblazer mission will orbit the Moon to map water molecules' locations, while PRIME-1, a drill test mission, will explore the lunar surface.

JAXA's Martian Moon eXploration Mission (MMX):

  • JAXA's MMX mission aims to study Mars' moons, Phobos and Deimos, to determine their origin. The spacecraft will conduct observations, land on Phobos' surface, and collect samples before returning to Earth.

ESA's Hera Mission:

  • ESA's Hera mission, scheduled to launch in October 2024, aims to study the Didymos-Dimorphos asteroid system, focusing on altering an asteroid's orbit as a planetary defense technique, following NASA's DART mission in 2022.

What are ISRO’s Space Missions set for 2024?

PSLV-C58 with XPoSat:

  • XPoSat, India's first X-Ray Polarimeter Satellite, was launched in January 2023 aboard the Polar Satellite Launch Vehicle (PSLV-C58).
  • This mission aims to investigate the polarization of intense X-ray sources in the universe, focusing on pulsars, black hole X-ray binaries, and other celestial objects.

NASA-ISRO Synthetic Aperture Radar (NISAR):

The NISAR, a collaborative mission between NASA and ISRO, is a dual-frequency synthetic aperture radar satellite designed for remote sensing, providing insights into various Earth systems including ecosystems, ice mass, vegetation biomass, and natural hazards.

Gaganyaan 1:

  • The Gaganyaan 1 mission is a critical step in India's Human Spaceflight Programme.
  • This test flight, involving three crew members, is a collaborative effort between ISRO and Hindustan Aeronautics Ltd (HAL) to pave the way for Manned Space Exploration.

Mangalyaan-2 (MOM 2): .

  • Mangalyaan-2, or Mars Orbiter Mission 2 (MOM 2), is ISRO's ambitious sequel to its successful Mars mission.
  • This mission, aimed at studying the surface, atmosphere, and climatic conditions of Mars, will equip the orbiter spacecraft with advanced scientific instruments, including a hyperspectral camera, magnetometer, and radar.
  • MOM 2 is a testament to India's expanding prowess in planetary exploration.

Shukrayaan-1:

  • Under the Venus Orbiter Mission, ISRO plans to launch Shukrayaan-1, a spacecraft destined to orbit Venus for five years.
  • It aims to study the atmosphere of Venus, marking India's first foray into exploring the mysteries of the second planet from the Sun.

Biodiversity Credits

Context: Biodiversity Credits, also known as biocredits, are gaining traction as a financial instrument to support initiatives targeting the objectives outlined in the Kunming-Montreal Global Biodiversity Framework (KMGBF).

  • The KMGBF, introduced during the 15th Conference of Parties (CoP15) of the Convention on Biological Diversity (CBD), presents extensive goals for conserving biodiversity, promoting sustainable use, and ensuring fair distribution of benefits.

What are Biodiversity Credits?

Overview:

  • Biodiversity credits function as a financial mechanism aimed at raising funds to preserve, restore, and sustainably utilize areas abundant in biodiversity.
  • Similar to Carbon Credits, their focus lies in conserving biodiversity rather than offsetting adverse impacts.
  • The primary objective of biodiversity credits is to attract private investments towards initiatives aligned with global biodiversity conservation goals, such as those outlined in the KMGBF under the CBD.

Biodiversity Credit Alliance:

  • The Biodiversity Credit Alliance was introduced during the CBD's CoP15 to advocate for biodiversity credits.
  • In 2023, efforts were made to promote them at various platforms, including discussions at the UNFCCC's CoP28 in Dubai in December 2023.
  • It aims to mobilize support and raise awareness among diverse stakeholders, including governments, non-profits, and private enterprises.

Implementation and Initiatives:

  • Ocean Conservation Commitments (OCCs): Launched in September 2023, OCCs are linked to Niue's Moana Mahu Marine Protected Area, covering 127,000 square kilometers.
  • OCCs are available for purchase, signifying a commitment to support conservation efforts for 20 years.
  • Priced at USD 148 per OCC, these commitments have attracted investments from organizations like the Blue Nature Alliance, Conservation International, and private donors.
  • Wallacea Trust: A UK-based organization focusing on biodiversity and climate research has pledged 5 million biodiversity credits, demonstrating research-oriented entities' keen interest in supporting conservation via biodiversity credits.

Challenges and Uncertainties:

  • Despite their potential, the success of biodiversity credits remains uncertain. Challenges revolve around regulatory frameworks, establishing fair pricing structures for buyers and sellers, and ensuring that these mechanisms genuinely serve biodiversity conservation rather than corporate interests.

Way Forward

  • The concept of biodiversity credits holds promise in bridging the financial gap required for biodiversity protection outlined in the KMGBF. However, critical considerations about regulation, genuine conservation impact, and alignment with biodiversity goals underscore the need for cautious and meticulous implementation.
  • It is important to urgently figure out how they should be regulated and monitored. It has to be ensured that pricing is fair for sellers as well as buyers.
    • The United Kingdom and the French governments are leading the way in creating a roadmap for a high-integrity biodiversity credits market.
  • This is going to be tough considering that most of the proponents of biocredits are from the private sector and are likely to protect the interests of the corporations that are driving the biodiversity crisis and not biodiversity.

Caste-Based Discrimination in Indian Prisons

Context: The Supreme Court (SC) of India recently issued notice to the Centre and 11 states on a public interest litigation (PIL) that alleged caste-based discrimination and segregation of prisoners in jails and sought a direction to repeal provisions that mandate such practices under the state prison manuals.

What are the Instances of Caste Based Discrimination Highlighted by the PIL?

  • The PIL brings to light incidents within jails in Madhya Pradesh, Delhi, and Tamil Nadu where members of dominant castes are assigned cooking duties, while individuals from "specific lower castes" are relegated to menial tasks like sweeping and cleaning toilets.
  • Allegations suggest that the prison system in India perpetuates discriminatory practices by implementing labor divisions based on caste hierarchies and segregating barracks along caste lines.
  • Caste-based labor allocation is viewed as a vestige of colonial India and is condemned as degrading and detrimental to prisoners' right to a life with dignity.

Sanctioned by State Prison Manuals:

  • The petition asserts that prison manuals in various states condone caste-based discrimination and enforced labor within the prison structure.

Rajasthan Prison Rules 1951:

  • The rules assign Mehtars to latrine duties and Brahmins to kitchen work based on caste.

Palayamkottai Central Jail in Tamil Nadu:

  • The petition highlights caste-based separation of inmates in this facility, mentioning the segregation of Thevars, Nadars, and Pallars into different sections.

West Bengal Jail Code:

  • Directs tasks like sweeping to prisoners from the Mether or Hari caste, Chandal, and other castes.

2003 Model Prison Manual Guidelines:

  • The petition references the 2003 Model Prison Manual, stressing the guidelines for categorization based on security, discipline, and institutional programs.
  • It argues against any form of classification based on socio-economic status, caste, or class.

Fundamental Rights:

  • The petition argues that a person doesn't forfeit fundamental rights or equality simply because they are prisoners, citing the Supreme Court's ruling in the Sunil Batra v. Delhi Administration (1978) case regarding prisoners' fundamental rights.

Call for Repeal of Discriminatory Provisions:

  • The petition strongly advocates for the repeal of discriminatory clauses in state prison manuals, urging the safeguarding of prisoners' fundamental rights and the promotion of equality within the prison system.

What are the Supreme Court's Observations Regarding Caste Discrimination in Prisons?

  • A three-judge Bench, led by the Chief Justice of India, has identified that prison manuals in more than 10 states endorse caste-based discrimination and compulsory labor practices.
  • The states include Uttar Pradesh, Odisha, Jharkhand, Kerala, West Bengal, Madhya Pradesh, Andhra Pradesh, Maharashtra, Telangana, Punjab, and Tamil Nadu.
  • The Supreme Court has categorized caste-based discrimination, segregation, and the treatment of denotified tribes as "habitual offenders" within prisons as a "significant issue."
  • The Court has stressed the urgent need for a thorough and rapid resolution to the alleged discriminatory practices.
  • It has issued a notice and sought responses from the States and the Union within four weeks concerning the petition.

How Do Laws Permit Caste Discrimination in Indian Prisons?

Legacy of Colonial Policies:

  • Rooted in a colonial legacy, India's criminal justice system primarily focuses on punishment rather than the reformation or rehabilitation of prisoners.
  • The 'Prisons Act of 1894,' which is nearly 130 years old, exemplifies the antiquated nature of the legal framework.
  • This Act lacks provisions for prisoner reformation and rehabilitation.
  • Acknowledging the shortcomings in existing laws, the Ministry of Home Affairs (MHA) reviewed 'The Prisons Act, 1894,’ ‘The Prisoners Act, 1900,’ and ‘The Transfer of Prisoners Act, 1950.’
  • This review led to the incorporation of relevant provisions into the forward-thinking 'Model Prisons Act, 2023.’
  • The effective implementation of the Model Prisons Act, 2023, finalized by the MHA in May 2023, is anticipated to enhance prison conditions and administration, as well as protect the human rights and dignity of prisoners.

Prison Manuals:

  • State-level prison manuals, largely unaltered since the establishment of the modern prison system, reflect colonial and caste mentalities.
  • These manuals reinforce the fundamental premise of the caste system, emphasizing ideas of purity and impurity.
  • They mandate that tasks such as cleaning and sweeping must be carried out by specific caste members, perpetuating caste-based discrimination.
  • For instance, the prison manual in West Bengal, under Section 741, ensures the dominance of "savarna Hindus" in cooking and distributing food for all inmates.
  • Despite constitutional and legal prohibitions against untouchability, caste-based regulations persist in prison administration.

The Prohibition of Employment as Manual Scavengers and their Rehabilitation Act, 2013 (MS Act, 2013):

  • Although the 2013 Act prohibits manual scavenging, it does not explicitly cover prison administration. Consequently, prison manuals endorsing caste discrimination and manual scavenging in jails are not in violation of this Act.
  • Manual scavenging refers to manually cleaning, handling, and disposing of human waste materials from dry latrines, open drains, and sewers.

Way Forward

  • The states should adopt the Model Prison Manual of 2016 released by the Ministry of Home Affairs based on the Nelson Mandela Rules in 2015.
  • The United Nations General Assembly adopted the Nelson Mandela Rules in 2015, emphasizing dignity and non-discrimination for all prisoners.
  • Courts should consider judicial intervention to strike down discriminatory provisions, ensuring the protection of fundamental rights and promoting equality within the prison system.
  • Establish robust monitoring mechanisms to track progress in implementing reforms, holding authorities accountable for creating a more equitable prison system.

Peace Pact with ULFA

Context: The pro-talks faction of the United Liberation Front of Assam (ULFA) entered into a tripartite peace agreement with the Centre and the Assam government.

What are the Major Provisions of Peace Pact with ULFA?

Context and History:

  • Background: From the 19th century, Assam's rich culture faced challenges due to an influx of migrants drawn by its thriving tea, coal, and oil industries.
    • This influx, compounded by Partition and then refugees from East Pakistan, heightened insecurity among the indigenous population.
    • Resource competition sparked a six-year mass movement, culminating in the 1985 Assam Accord aiming to address the issue of foreigners in the state.
  • Origin of ULFA: ULFA was formed in 1979, advocating for an independent Assam through armed struggle against the Indian state.
    • Over a decade, ULFA recruited and trained members in Myanmar, China, and Pakistan, resorting to abductions and executions to establish a sovereign Assam.
    • In 1990, the government's Operation Bajrang resulted in the capture of a large number of ULFA rebels. Assam was labeled a 'disturbed area,' prompting the imposition of President's rule and invoking the Armed Forces Special Powers Act (AFSPA).
  • Protracted Peace Talks: Negotiations between ULFA, the Indian government, and the Assam state government began in 2011.

The Recent Peace Pact:

Key Terms:

ULFA to:

  • Renounce violence and disband their organization.
  • Join the democratic process.
  • Surrender weapons and camps.

Government to:

  • Address ULFA's concerns regarding Assamese identity, culture, and land rights.
  • A ₹1.5 lakh crore investment for Assam's holistic development
  • Following the principles applied for the 2023 delimitation exercise for future delimitation exercises in Assam

What Should be the Additional Considerations to Enhance the Recent Peace Pact?

  • Legislative Safeguards: The pact aims to restrict non-indigenous communities' representation in the Assam Assembly and seeks exemptions from specific sections of the Citizenship Act of 1955.
  • Transparency and Accountability: Implementation mechanisms ensuring transparency and holding accountable those responsible for fulfilling the pact's provisions.
  • Engagement with Anti-Talks Faction: Strategic engagement with the ULFA's anti-talks faction to pursue a unified resolution and broader acceptance of the peace agreement.
  • Legal Safeguards: Ensuring legislative changes comply with constitutional principles and safeguard the rights of all residents, preventing any discrimination based on ethnicity or origin.
  • International Cooperation: Collaborating with neighboring countries to prevent cross-border insurgencies and maintain regional stability.
  • Long-Term Development Plans: Formulating sustainable and comprehensive developmental strategies that go beyond immediate investments to foster holistic growth in the region.

Conclusion

The recent peace pact with ULFA presents a significant opportunity for peace and development in Assam. But only by addressing underlying grievances, fostering economic growth, and ensuring social integration can a lasting peace be built in the region.


The document Weekly Current Affairs (1st to 7th January 2024) Part - 2 | Current Affairs & Hindu Analysis: Daily, Weekly & Monthly - UPSC is a part of the UPSC Course Current Affairs & Hindu Analysis: Daily, Weekly & Monthly.
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FAQs on Weekly Current Affairs (1st to 7th January 2024) Part - 2 - Current Affairs & Hindu Analysis: Daily, Weekly & Monthly - UPSC

1. What are some technological innovations implemented under the MGNREGA scheme in India?
Ans. Some technological innovations implemented under the MGNREGA scheme in India include the use of biometric attendance systems to ensure transparency and accountability, the adoption of digital payment methods to ensure timely and accurate wage payments, the use of GIS and remote sensing technology for planning and monitoring of works, and the use of mobile applications for real-time data collection and reporting.
2. How has technology been utilized in India's steel sector?
Ans. Technology has played a crucial role in the transformation of India's steel sector. It has led to the adoption of advanced techniques such as continuous casting, hot rolling, and cold rolling, which have improved the quality and efficiency of steel production. Additionally, automation and robotics have been introduced in various processes, leading to increased productivity and reduced costs. The use of digital technologies and data analytics has also enabled better monitoring and optimization of operations in the steel sector.
3. What is Bharatmala Phase-1, and why was its deadline extended?
Ans. Bharatmala Phase-1 is a highway development program in India aimed at improving road connectivity across the country. The deadline for completion of Bharatmala Phase-1 was extended due to various reasons such as delays in land acquisitions, environmental clearances, and funding constraints. The extension of the deadline allows for adequate time to complete the planned road projects and ensure their quality and effectiveness.
4. What are some of the space missions planned by India for 2024?
Ans. India has planned several space missions for 2024, including the Chandrayaan-3 lunar mission, which aims to land a rover on the Moon's surface. Another mission, Aditya-L1, aims to study the Sun and its corona. The Gaganyaan mission is also scheduled for 2024, which will be India's first manned space mission, sending astronauts to low Earth orbit. These missions reflect India's growing capabilities and ambitions in the field of space exploration.
5. What are biodiversity credits, and how do they work?
Ans. Biodiversity credits are a market-based mechanism to incentivize the conservation and sustainable use of biodiversity. They work by assigning a monetary value to the ecological services provided by a particular area or ecosystem. These credits can be bought and sold, allowing businesses or individuals to invest in biodiversity conservation projects or offset their own impacts on biodiversity. The credits are typically generated through the implementation of conservation measures or restoration activities and can be traded in markets or used to meet regulatory requirements.
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