31 December 2020: Daily Current Affairs for UPSC Exam
GS 3: Defence & Security and indigenization of technology and developing new technology
- Defence Research and Development Organisation (DRDO) along with Indian Navy conducted the successful maiden test trial of ‘SAHAYAK-NG’.
- It is India’s first indigenously designed and developed Air Dropped Container from IL 38SD aircraft (Indian Navy) off the coast of Goa.
- Two DRDO laboratories i.e. NSTL, Visakhapatnam and ADRDE, Agra were involved in the development of the SAHAYAK-NG container along with the industry partner M/s Avantel for GPS integration.
- SAHAYAK-NG is an advanced version of SAHAYAK Mk I. The newly developed GPS aided air dropped container is having the capability to carry a payload that weighs up to 50 kg and can be dropped from heavy aircraft.
- It aims to enhance the Indian Navy’s operational logistics capabilities and provide critical engineering stores to ships that are deployed more than 2000 km from the coast.
- It reduces the requirement of ships to come close to the coast to collect spares and stores.
2) Ease Of Doing Business Reforms
GS 2: Government policies
- According to the Department of Expenditure, Ministry of Finance, Odisha has become the 7th State in the country to successfully undertake “Ease of Doing Business” reform.
- Odisha has become eligible to mobilize additional financial resources of Rs. 1,429 crore through Open Market Borrowings.
- There are six other States namely, Andhra Pradesh, Karnataka, Madhya Pradesh, Rajasthan, Tamil Nadu and Telangana, who have completed this reform.
- On completion of reforms facilitating Ease of Doing Business (EODB), these six States have been granted additional borrowing permission of Rs. 20,888 crore.
EASE OF DOING BUSINESS:
- It is an important indicator of the investment friendly business climate in the country. Improvements in the ease of doing business will enable faster future growth of the state economy.
- In May 2020, the Government of India decided to link the grant of additional borrowing permissions to States who undertake the reforms to facilitate ease of doing business. The reforms stipulated in this category are:
- Completion of first assessment of ‘District Level Business Reform Action Plan’
- Elimination of the requirements of renewal of registration certificates/approvals/licences obtained by businesses under various Acts.
- Implementation of computerized central random inspection system under the Acts wherein allocation of inspectors is done centrally, the same inspector is not assigned to the same unit in subsequent years, prior inspection notice is provided to the business owner, and inspection report is uploaded within 48 hours of inspection.
- Due to COVID-19 pandemic, the Government of India in May, 2020 enhanced the borrowing limit of the States by 2 percent of their GSDP. Half of this special dispensation was linked to undertaking citizen-centric reforms by the States.
- The four citizen centric areas for reforms identified were (a) Implementation of One Nation One Ration Card System, (b) Ease of doing business reform, (c) Urban Local body/ utility reforms and (d) Power Sector reforms.
- So far 10 States have implemented the One Nation One Ration Card System, 7 States have done ease of doing business reforms, and 2 States have done local body reforms.
- Total additional borrowing permission issued so far to the States who have done the reforms stands at Rs. 51,682 crore.
3) SARS-CoV-2 Genomic Consortia (INSACOG)
GS 3: Science and Technology- developments
- The government has launched the Indian SARS-CoV-2 Genomic Consortia (INSACOG), comprising 10 labs namely DBT-NIBMG Kalyani, DBT-ILS Bhubaneswar, ICMR-NIV Pune, DBT-NCCS Pune, CSIR-CCMB Hyderabad, DBT-CDFD Hyderabad, DBT-InSTEM/ NCBS Bengaluru, NIMHANS Bengaluru, CSIR-IGIB Delhi, and NCDC Delhi.
- It will have a high-level Inter-Ministerial Steering Committee which will provide guidance and oversight to the consortium, especially for policy matters.
- It will have a Scientific Advisory Group for scientific and technical guidance.
- The strategy and roadmap of the National SARS CoV2 Genome Sequencing Consortium (INSACOG) has been prepared and it is coordinated by the Department of Biotechnology (DBT) along with the Ministry of Health and Family Welfare, ICMR, and CSIR.
- All the genomic sequencing data will be maintained in a National database at two sites, DBT-NIBMG, Kalyani and CSIR-IGIB, New Delhi.
- The virus isolated will be deposited in the notified SARS-CoV-2 virus repository etc RCB, Faridabad and NIV, Pune
- It aims to monitor the genomic variations in the SARS-CoV-2 on a regular basis through a multi-laboratory network.
- It will also assist in developing potential vaccines in the future.
- It will ascertain the status of new variant of SARS-CoV-2 (SARS-CoV-2 VUI 202012/01) in the country, establish sentinel surveillance for early detection of genomic variants with public health implication, and determine the genomic variants in the unusual events/trends (super-spreader events, high mortality/morbidity trend areas etc.).
4) Akash Missile System
GS 3: Defence & Security and indigenization of technology and developing new technology
- The government has approved the export of the indigenous Akash missile system and created a committee, comprising the defence minister, foreign minister and the national security advisor, for faster approval of exports under the Atmanirbhar Bharat (scheme).
- This committee would authorise exports of major indigenous platforms and would also explore various available options including (sales through) the government-to-government route
- The Akash missile system is an important defence asset for the country with over 96 per cent indigenization. Akash is a surface-to-air missile with a range of 25 kilometres.
- It was inducted in 2014 in the Indian Air Force (IAF) and in 2015 in the Indian Army. The Army has bought four units of Akash and the IAF has seven units.
- Developed by DRDO, it is India’s first indigenously designed missile system and can target fighter jets, cruise missiles, drones and other aerial assets.
- The export version of Akash will be different from System currently deployed with Indian Armed Forces.
- Indian Government is pursuing sales to South East Asian countries that are wary of Chinese aggression, including Vietnam and the Philippines. In addition, the government is addressing interests from several African countries.
- Under the AtmaNirbhar Bharat, India is growing in its capabilities of manufacturing wide variety of Defence platforms and missiles. Hence, this step will help India increase its revenue from defence export.
- It will also help to achieve a target of 5 billion US dollar of defence export.
- It will improve strategic relations with friendly nations.
- It will open the door for increasing the number of big platform defence exports.
5) Ethanol Distillation Capacity
GS 2: Government policies and interventions for development in various sectors
- To meet the ambitious target of 20 percent ethanol blending with petrol by 2030 from less than 10 percent currently, the Cabinet Committee on Economic Affairs, CCEA extended the soft loan scheme to enhance ethanol distillation capacity in the country for producing 1st Generation, 1G ethanol from feedstocks such as cereals like rice, wheat, barley, corn and sorghum and sugarcane, sugar beet etc.
- So far, the soft loan scheme for capacity expansion was available for integrated and standalone distilleries that produced ethanol only from sugarcane.
- The Government has approved an interest subvention for new distilleries producing ethanol for five years including one year moratorium against the loan availed by project proponents from banks at 6 percent per annum or 50 percent of the rate of interest charged by banks whichever is lower.
- Government has fixed target of 10 percent blending of fuel grade ethanol with petrol by 2022, 15 percent blending by 2026 and 20 percent blending by 2030.
- India will need about one thousand crore litre of ethanol by 2030 with a view to cut dependency on imports for meeting oil needs. India currently has a capacity of 684 crore litres.
- India at present allows production of ethanol from both sugarcane and non-sugarcane sources that primarily include grains, maize and some other items.
- To achieve the target of 20 percent ethanol blending with petrol, just relying on sugarcane as a feedstock won’t be enough and the share of non-sugarcane sources in ethanol production needs to be ramped up.
- But, this will not be possible as distilleries didn’t have adequate capacity to produce ethanol from non-sugarcane sources.
- The scheme will be available even for those sugar mills that want to produce ethanol from both sugarcane and non-sugarcane sources.
- This step would encourage ethanol production from grains like barley, maize, corn and rice.
GS 2: Bilateral agreements involving India
GS 3: Developing new technology
- The Indian Space Research Organisation (ISRO) is set to launch Amazonia-1, the first satellite to have been developed completely in Brazil by the National Institute for Space Research (INPE), the Latin American nation's apex space research body.
- The satellite is due to be sent to space in February 2021 from the Satish Dhawan Space Centre on the East coast of India.
- Emirates SkyCargo, the freight division of Emirates airline, has executed a cargo charter to transport Amazonia-1 from Sao Jose dos Campos, Brazil to Chennai. This is the first time that Emirates SkyCargo has transported a space satellite from South America.
- The earth Observation has been designed, assembled and tested in Brazil and took eight years to be developed.
- Amazonia-1 is a Sun synchronous (polar) orbiting satellite that can generate images of any part of the world every five days.
- It has a wide-view optical imager (camera with 3 visible frequency bands - VIS - and 1 near infrared band - Near Infrared or NIR) with swath of 850 km and 60 meters of resolution.
- The Amazonia series satellites are composed of two independent modules: a Service Module, which is the Multi-Mission Platform (MMP), and a Payload Module, which houses image cameras and equipment for recording and transmitting image data.
- Once launched into space, it will help monitor the ecosystem of the Amazon rainforest, the world’s largest tropical rainforest.
- India and Brazil signed a Framework Agreement for cooperation in the field of outer space in January 2004. Apart from this, an agreement on the programme of cooperation between the two space agencies was also signed. Under this, Brazil received data from ISRO's remote sensing satellite ResourceSAT-1.
- The two countries, in July 2014, also signed an agreement on cooperation to alter a Brazilian earth station to receive and process data from the Indian Remote Sensing satellites (IRS) series.
- The agreements also meant that ISRO is obliged to make data from its projects available to the National Institute for Space Research (INPE), the Brazilian executive agency receiving earth observation data, and remote sensing data from areas under the INPE's domain.
7) 'En Masse' Underwater Drones
GS 2: Effect of policies and politics of developing countries on India’s interests
- China has deployed a fleet of underwater drones called Sea Wing (Haiyi) glider in the Indian Ocean, which can operate for months on end and make observations for naval intelligence purposes.
- These sea gliders, which the Chinese are deploying "en masse", are a type of Uncrewed Underwater Vehicle (UUV) which were launched in mid-December 2019 and recovered in February 2020 after making over 3,400 observations.
- These gliders are similar to those deployed by the US Navy, one of which was seized by Beijing in 2016 to ensure "safe navigation of passing ships."
- China is now deploying these types of UUV en masse in the Indian Ocean. China has also deployed the Sea Wing from an ice breaker in the Arctic.
- 14 would be employed in the Indian Ocean mission but only 12 were used.
- These gliders are unpowered with large wings to glide that can run for long periods of time, they are not fast or agile; however, they are employed for long-range missions.
- Chinese gliders that are placed in the Indian Ocean were reportedly gathering oceanography data, which "sounds innocuous" however, is commonly gathered for naval intelligence purposes."
- The world is witnessing a race for strategic bases in the Indian Ocean Region (IOR). Of late along with geostrategic competition in the Indo-Pacific, India is also witnessing a race for strategic places and bases in the Indian Ocean region which is only going to gain momentum in the times to come.
- In the military field, technology must be a means of deterrence not a source of destruction. Approach to security hence needs to shift from unilateral to the multilateral mode which mandates increasing training engagements with partner nations in order to fortify the future.
- Based on the challenges that India face, it requires structured long term planning for capacity building and capability development of our defence forces.
Source: Live Mint
8) Infrastructure Expansion
GS 3: Infrastructure
- The Cabinet Committee on Economic Affairs (CCEA) approved three infrastructure proposals worth? 7,725 crore for setting up greenfield industrial cities with connectivity to major transportation corridors such as the eastern and western dedicated freight corridors, expressways and National Highways.
- CCEA has also approved the expansion of the Paradip port in Odisha at an initial cost of? 3,005 crore to enable it to handle large cargo ships under the public-private partnership (PPP) model.
INDUSTRIAL CORRIDOR PROGRAMME:
- The three projects, proposed by the Department of Promotion of Industry & Internal Trade, include construction of various trunk infrastructure components for:
- Krishnapatnam Industrial Area (Andhra Pradesh)
- Tumakuru Industrial Area (Karnataka)
- Multi-Modal Logistics Hub (MMLH) and Multi-Modal Transport Hub (MMTH) at Greater Noida (Uttar Pradesh)
- Envisioned on the backbone of major transportation corridors like Eastern & Western Dedicated Freight Corridors, Expressways and National Highways, proximity to ports, airports, etc., the objective of Industrial Corridor Programme is the creation of greenfield industrial cities with sustainable, ‘plug n play’, ICT enabled utilities to facilitate the manufacturing investments into the country.
Multi-Modal Logistics Hub (MMLH) and Multi-Modal Transport Hub (MMTH)
- MMLH will be developed as a world-class facility that will provide efficient storage/transitioning of goods to/from dedicated freight corridors, and offer a one-stop destination to freight companies and customers. The facility will not only provide standard container handling activities but also various value-added services to reduce logistics cost with improved efficiency of operations.
- MMTH located near the already existing Indian Railways station of Boraki will act as a transport hub with provisioning of rail and road. It will have space for an Inter-State Bus Terminal, a Local Bus Terminal, a Metro transit system, commercial, retail and hotel space, and green open spaces.
- The project will provide world-class passenger movement facilities for the growing population of the catchment zone catering to upcoming developments in the U.P. sub-region of NCR (National Capital Region) and thus, decongest Delhi.
- The industrial corridor program thrives to attain the objective of the creation of an Atmanirbhar (self-reliant) Bharat to drive the growth of industries and create greater avenues for investments across the country.
- It will attract investments into manufacturing and position India as a strong player in the global value chain.
- These projects will generate ample employment opportunities through industrialization.
EXPANSION OF THE PARADIP PORT:
- This includes the development of a new western dock and fresh dredging by the selected concessionaire.
- On commissioning of the project, it shall cater to the requirement of coal and limestone imports, besides export of granulated slag and finished steel products considering the large number of steel plants established in the hinterland of Paradip Port.
- The project shall also facilitate:
- de-congestion of the port;
- reduction of sea freight, making coal imports cheaper; and
- boost the industrial economy in the hinterland of the port,
- creation of job opportunities.
9) Indian Missions in Estonia, Paraguay and the Dominican Republic
GS 2: Effect of policies and politics of developing countries on India’s interests, Indian diaspora
- Recently, the Cabinet approved opening of three Indian Missions in Estonia, Paraguay and the Dominican Republic in 2021.
- It will help expand India’s diplomatic footprint, deepen political relations, enable growth of bilateral trade, investment and economic engagements, facilitate stronger people-to-people contacts, bolster political outreach in multilateral fora and help garner support for India’s foreign policy objectives.
- Indian missions in these countries will also better assist the Indian community and protect their interests.
- The objective of our foreign policy is to build a conducive environment for India's growth and development through partnerships with friendly countries. There are presently missions and posts across the world which serve as conduits of our relations with partner countries.
- The decision to open the three new missions is a forward-looking step in pursuit of India's national priority of growth and development or "Sabka Saath Sabka Vikas".
- Enhancement of India's diplomatic presence will, inter-alia, provide market access for Indian companies and bolster Indian exports of goods and services.
- This would have a direct impact in augmenting domestic production and employment in line with our goal of a self-reliant India or "Atmanirbhar Bharat".
10) The Assam Repealing Bill, 2020
GS 1: Salient features of Indian Society: Education
GS 2: Government policies and interventions for development in various sectors and issues arising out of their design and implementation
- The Assam assembly passed the Assam Repealing Bill, 2020 to abolish all state-run madrassas and convert those into general schools with effect from April 1, 2021.
- The bill proposes to abolish two existing acts – The Assam Madrassa Education (Provincialisation) Act, 1995, and The Assam Madrassa Education (Provincialisation of Services of Employees and Re-Organisation of Madrassa Educational Institutions) Act, 2018.
- All madrassa institutes will be converted into upper primary, high, and higher secondary schools with no change of status, pay, allowances and service conditions of the teaching and non-teaching staff.
- There are 610 state-run Madrassas across Assam with the government spending Rs 260 crore annually.
- In April 2018, the Education ministry had brought many private Madrassas under the government ambit by introducing The Assam Madrassa Education (Provincialisation of Services of Employees and Re-Organisation of Madrassa Educational Institutions) Act, 2018.
ARGUMENTS IN FAVOUR
ARGUMENTS IN AGAINST
Madrassas teach theology as a subject. If only Arabic is taught, no issue would have been there. But, as a government we cannot allow teaching of the Quran on public funding. Then tomorrow, Hindus, Christians, Sikhs, Jains and other people will also come seeking support to teach their religious books.
It will change the atmosphere of Assam. This bill is aimed at polarisation of votes on religious lines.
Madrassas teach Arabic language apart from other general subjects and learning a language cannot be termed communal. Because of learning Arabic, many youths have got lucrative jobs in Arab countries and they are contributing to Indian economy by sending foreign exchanges.
Learning of Arabic will open job opportunities in 52 countries and already many Hindus from other states like Kerala are earning lakhs of rupees by working in such places.
- In fact, Madrassas should be modernized rather than abolishing them.
- Winding up all government Madrassas is a big decision and it should be sent to the select committee of the house for discussion with all the stakeholders.
11) Legalisation of Abortion
GS 1: Role of women
- Argentina had has some of the world’s most restrictive abortion laws but recently, its government took a ground-breaking decision by legalizing abortions up to the 14th week of pregnancy.
- This change is historic and its implications may be witnessed beyond Argentina, in Latin America at large.
- Prior to the passing of the bill, abortions were only permitted in cases of rape or when the woman’s health was at serious risk. Activists have been campaigning for years, calling for an overturning of this law that has been in existence since 1921.
- The bill calls for greater autonomy for women over their own bodies and control of their reproductive rights, and also provides better healthcare for pregnant women and young mothers.
WHY IS IT A LANDMARK BILL?
- Prior to this, girls and women were forced to turn to illegal and unsafe procedures because abortion was against the law in Argentina. For girls and women from socio-economically disadvantaged backgrounds, the scope of access to safe medical procedures for abortion was even narrower. According to Human Rights Watch, unsafe abortion was the leading cause of maternal mortality in the country.
- The Catholic Church and the evangelical community strongly opposed the passing of this bill. Following the beliefs of the Catholic Church, even the sale of contraceptives was prohibited in the country.
- According to opponents, the interruption of a pregnancy is a tragedy. It abruptly ends another developing life.
IMPACT IN LATIN AMERICA
- The passage of this law will have an impact in other countries in Latin America.
- At present, abortions are illegal in Nicaragua, El Salvador and the Dominican Republic. In Uruguay, Cuba, Guyana, and in some parts of Mexico, women can request for an abortion, but only in specific cases, and each country has its own laws on the number of weeks of pregnancy within which the abortion is legal.
- The countries also have varying degrees of punishment and penalties meted out to girls and women, including jail.
Source: Indian Express
12) India - Bhutan MOU
GS 2: International Relations
- The Union Cabinet approved the Memorandum of Understanding (MoU) between the Government of India and Bhutan on Cooperation in the peaceful users of outer space signed on November 19, 2020 by both sides at Bangalore/Thimpu and exchanged.
- This MoU shall enable India and Bhutan to pursue cooperation in potential interest areas, such as remote sensing of the earth; satellite communication and satellite-based navigation; Space science and planetary exploration; use of spacecraft and space systems and ground system; and application of space technology.
- This MoU would lead to set up a Joint Working Group, drawing members from DOS/ISRO and the Ministry of Information and Communications (MoIC) of Bhutan, which will further work out the plan of action including the time-frame and the means of implementation.
Source: Economic Times
13) Current Account Surplus
GS 3: Indian Economy: Growth and Development
- The current account surplus moderated to $15.5 billion (2.4 percent of GDP) in the quarter ended September of 2020-21 from $19.2 billion (3.8 percent of GDP) in the first quarter this fiscal.
- According to the RBI, a deficit of $7.6 billion (1.1 percent of GDP) was recorded a year ago — Q2 of 2019-20.
- According to the Reserve Bank of India (RBI), the narrowing of the current account surplus in Q2 of FY21 was on account of a rise in the merchandise trade deficit to $14.8 billion from $10.8 billion in the preceding quarter.
- Net services receipts increased both sequentially and on a year-on-year (y-o-y) basis, primarily on the back of higher net earnings from computer services.
- Private transfer receipts, mainly representing remittances by Indians employed overseas, declined on a y-o-y basis but improved sequentially by 12 percent to $20.4 billion in Q2FY21.
- Net outgo from the primary income account, primarily reflecting net overseas investment income payments, increased to $9.3 billion from $8.8 billion a year ago.
- In the financial account, net foreign direct investment (FDI) recorded robust inflow of $24.6 billion as against $7.3 billion in the second quarter of 2019-20.
- Net foreign portfolio investment (FPI) was $7 billion as compared with $2.5 billion in Q2FY20, largely reflecting net purchases in the equity market.
- With repayments exceeding fresh disbursals, external commercial borrowings to India recorded net outflow of $4.1 billion in Q2 of 2020-21 as against an inflow of $3.1 billion a year ago.
- Net accretions to non-resident deposits moderated to $1.9 billion from $2.3 billion in the second quarter last fiscal. There was an accretion of $31.6 billion to the foreign exchange reserves (on a BoP basis) as compared with that of $5.1 billion in Q2 of 2019-20.
- The country recorded a current account surplus of 3.1 percent of gross domestic product (GDP) in the first half this fiscal as against a deficit of 1.6 percent in H1 of 2019-20.
Source: Indian Express
14) Facial Recognition Technology
GS 3: Science and Technology- developments and their applications and effects in everyday life
- There are currently 16 different facial recognition tracking (FRT) systems in active utilisation by various Central and State governments across India for surveillance, security or authentication of identity.
- Another 17 are in the process of being installed by different government departments.
- FRT system has seen rapid deployment by multiple government departments in recent times, there are no specific laws or guidelines to regulate the use of this potentially invasive technology.
- This poses a huge threat to the fundamental rights to privacy and freedom of speech and expression because it does not satisfy the threshold the Supreme Court had set in its landmark privacy judgment in the ‘Justice K.S. Puttaswamy Vs Union of India’ case.
- In 2018, the Delhi police became one of the first law enforcement agencies in the country to start using the technology. It, however, declined to answer to a Right to Information (RTI) query on whether it had conducted a “privacy impact assessment” prior to deployment of the facial recognition system (FRS).
- A function creep happens when someone uses information for a purpose that is not the originally specified purpose.
- This might lead to an over-policing problem or problems where certain minorities are targeted without any legal backing or any oversight as to what is happening.
- Another problem that may arise is of mass surveillance, wherein the police are using the FRT system during the protest.
- If someone goes to a protest against the government, and the police are able to identify the person, then there might be repercussions. This obviously has a chilling effect on the individual’s freedom of speech and expression and right to protest as well as my right to movement.
- Supreme Court in the Puttaswamy judgment ruled that privacy is a fundamental right even in public spaces. And if these rights needs to be infringed, then the government has to show that such action is sanctioned by law, proportionate to the need for such interference, necessary and in pursuit of a legitimate aim.
- In case an inaccurate system is installed, two things can happen. There can be a ‘false positive’ wherein somebody is recognized as somebody they are not or ‘false negative’ wherein the system refuses to recognize the person as themselves.
- If a ‘false negative’ occurs when the government is using the FRT system to provide its schemes, then this could lead to many people facing exclusion from such government schemes.
- Many cities and states in the U.S. have either completely banned the usage or impose moratorium on the usage of facial recognition tech.
- Companies like IBM, Microsoft have decided not to sell these technologies to law enforcement at all. Even Amazon has imposed a moratorium. Facial recognition technology has not only been invasive, inaccurate and unregulated but has also been unapologetically weaponised by law enforcement against people of color.
- In India, there is no law to protect people, no guardrails about usage of data by private players or government. There are several news on police abuse even without the aid of technology.
- Facial recognition is perfect form of surveillance that builds tyrannical societies. It automates discriminatory policing and will exacerbate existing injustices in our criminal justice system.
- India is facing a facial recognition pandemic — one without any safeguards or remedies for the harms of exclusion, profiling and surveillance. Without urgent action, such systems of mass surveillance will erode democratic liberties and threaten the rights of lakhs of Indians.
Source: The Hindu