Prelims Current Affairs UPSC CSE -Oct Week 2
Dastkari Haat Samiti
- Over 90 artisans handpicked by the Dastkari Haat Samiti from remote parts of India have gathered at the IGNCA, Janpath to participate at a craft bazaar to pay tribute to the handmade traditions of the country.
- The exhibition also pays homage to Mahatma Gandhi who was a supporter of handmade products. This exhibition celebrates that movement, said organisers.
- At a time when fast fashion is at its peak, a show like this brings us back to swadesh and is unapologetic of its rejection of a lifestyle that is not sustainable.
- Swadesh was a notion much supported by Gandhiji. This laid the foundation for village industries and helped the artisans to connect to the consumers. It is with that same zeal that Dastkari Haat Samiti has handpicked craftspersons to help them come to the forefront.
- Some of the crafts include beadwork and gudia shilp from Jhabua in MP, wooden comb and paper machie bird from Ujjain in MP, thread jewellery from Uttaranchal, silver jewellery from Rajasthan, weaving, bandani and wood work from Gujarat, embroidery and block from Hardoi, kotpad weaving from Orissa, and many more.
- There are 25 hand-crafted images of Gandhi in the bazaar, each one made in different textile craft styles.
Synthesis of photocatalyst to degrade organic pollutants
- Researchers at the Indian Institute of Science Education and Research (IISER) Pune have successfully converted the highly unstable perovskite into a highly stable photocatalyst capable of decomposing toxic organic pollutants commonly present in water.
- The catalyst that becomes active when exposed to sunlight was synthesised by encapsulating nanocrystals of organic-inorganic perovskite inside a metal-organic framework (MOF).
- The team led by Sujit K. Ghosh from the Department of Chemistry at IISER Pune utilised the hydrophobic nature of the MOF material to render greater chemical stability to perovskite nanocrystals that form inside the MOF cavities.
- The perovskite-MOF composites displayed “outstanding” stability when immersed inside water and alcoholic solvents for as long as 90 days.
- The composites remained stable in water even when at boiling temperature for 20 days.
- While perovskite encapsulated by MOF showed 70% similar photoluminescence intensity before and after heat treatment at the end of 20 days, the photoluminescence intensity of naked perovskite decreased by 95% in just five hours of heat treatment.
- Likewise, the photoluminescence intensity of the composite remained almost intact even after being exposed to UV light for 20 days.
- It is the hydrophobic nature of MOF that renders chemical, heat and photostability to perovskite.
- The researchers found less than 1 ppb of lead metal leached from the composite at the end of 90 days of being exposed to different solvents, including water.
- This is the first time perovskite-based composite material as a photocatalyst has been used for the degradation of toxic organic pollutants such as antibiotics, dyes etc. It will be a cost-effective method to produce clean water
- The researchers tested the composite’s photocatalytic property to degrade organic pollutants in water. They tested three organic commonly seen pollutants — methyl orange, methyl red and nitorfurazone antibiotic.
- When the composite was exposed to sunlight it was able to degrade the organic pollutants. When exposed to sunlight, the perovskite nanocrystals release electrons into water thus producing hydroxyl radicals. The hydroxyl radicals are highly active species that decomposes the organic pollutants.
India starts sharing maritime data
- The Information Fusion Centre – Indian Ocean Region (IFC-IOR) set up last year has started functioning as an information sharing hub of maritime data and “cuing incident responses” to maritime security situations through a collaborative approach.
- At the just concluded Goa Maritime Conclave (GMC), National Security Adviser Ajit Doval had offered countries in the IOR use of the facility to track movement of vessels on the high seas.
- The major centres with which regular exchange of maritime security information is being undertaken include Virtual Regional Maritime Traffic Centre (VRMTC), Maritime Security Centre-Horn of Africa(MSCHOA), Regional Cooperation Agreement on Combating Piracy and Armed Robbery (ReCAAP), Information Fusion Centre-Singapore (IFC-SG), and International Maritime Bureau-Piracy Reporting Centre (IMB PRC).
- The centre is administering a website to undertake collation and dissemination of information on a daily basis and also hosts the Monthly Maritime Security Update (MMSU) highlighting analysis on incidents, warnings and advisories in IOR.
- The IFC-IOR was inaugurated in December 2018 within the premises of the Navy’s Information Management and Analysis Centre (IMAC) in Gurugram.
- Several Indian Ocean littoral states have joined the coastal radar chain network.
- Addressing the GMC hosted last week by the Navy and attended by 10 Indian Ocean littoral states, Mr. Doval stated that India aspires to be a “major contributor” to maritime safety in the region with active cooperation of all and “we would like our neighbours to draw upon it, consider it as their own facility”
- Organisations representing five minor tribes in Meghalaya have asked Chief Minister Conrad K. Sangma to intervene in the move to exclude them from the provisions of the Sixth Schedule of the Constitution.
- The five minor tribes – Bodo-Kachari, Hajong, Koch, Mann and Rabha – are clubbed as “unrepresented tribes” for nomination in Meghalaya’s autonomous tribal councils.
- These councils are in the names of Garo, Jaintia and Khasi, the State’s three major matrilineal communities.
- Parts or the whole of four Northeastern States – Assam, Meghalaya, Mizoram and Tripura – fall under the Sixth Schedule, which makes special provisions for “tribal areas”.
- On September 26, a sub-committee on the amendment to the Sixth Schedule constituted by the State government decided to recommend to the Standing Committee of Parliament the removal of the word “unrepresented tribes” from the amended special provision.
- The Constitution of India says that the Sixth Schedule is specially meant for the welfare and advancement of the Scheduled Tribes, but the proposed amendment will deprive some of the STs of their constitutional rights in the district councils.
- The association said it was also speaking on behalf of organisations of the other communities such as Meghalaya Koch Association, Meghalaya Rabha Jatio Sewa Sangha, All Bodo Students Union, Bodo Sahitya Sabha, All Meghalaya Mann Welfare Society, Hajong Students’ Union and All Rabha Students Union of Meghalaya.
- The MHWA asked former CM and Congress leader Mukul Sangma to clarify on the issue.
India to work with China, Pakistan to gauge impact of climate change
- To better gauge the impact of climate change on the Hindu Kush mountains, which includes the Himalayas, and spruce up data-gathering, the India Meteorological Department (IMD) will collaborate with meteorological agencies in China and Pakistan, among others, to provide climate forecast services to countries in the region.
- Earlier this month, the IMD organised a workshop to discuss ways to establish a regional climate centre that will provide forecasting services and climate analyses.
- It will be under the World Meteorological Organisation (WMO) and take a few years to take shape, IMD Director-General M. Mohapatra told The Hindu.
- The Hindu-Kush-Himalayan (HKH) region is considered the Third Pole [after the North and South Poles], and has significant implications for climate.
Largest store of snow
- The HKH region spans Afghanistan, Bangladesh, Bhutan, China, India, Kyrgyzstan, Mongolia, Myanmar, Nepal, Pakistan, Tajikistan, and Uzbekistan.
- The Third Pole, which contains vast cryospheric zones, is also the world’s largest store of snow and ice outside the polar region, and the source of 10 major rivers, and, therefore, particularly sensitive to climate change.
- Alongside forecasting weather over long periods, the regional centres would provide data services, training and capacity-building, research and development.
- The meeting in Delhi earlier this week was meant “to identify partnerships among relevant stakeholders, formulate research directions , identify user-groups and sectors and provide information on changes in hydrological extremes as part of climate change projections,” according to an official note.
Children face rising risk of diabetes, high cholesterol
- Indian children are facing the double burden of malnutrition and rising risk of non-communicable diseases including diabetes, high cholesterol, chronic kidney disease and hypertension, the findings of the Health Ministry’s recently released Comprehensive National Nutrition Survey (CNNS) 2016-18 show.
- The report presents data on the shifting conditions of both undernutrition and overweight, obesity among Indian children from 0-19 years.
Gold standard methods
- This was the largest micronutrient survey ever implemented globally and used gold standard methods to assess anaemia, micronutrient deficiencies and biomarkers of non-communicable diseases among children for the first time in India, noted the Ministry.
- Abdominal obesity among children and adolescents showed that prevalence of abdominal obesity increased with the level of mother’s schooling and household wealth.
- The highest percentage of children with abdominal obesity was observed in Nagaland, Arunachal Pradesh and Goa (7% each), while the lowest percentage was observed in Bihar (0.3%),” the survey observed.
- For adolescents, the highest percentage of abdominal obesity was observed in Delhi (7%) and Tamil Nadu (6%) and the lowest percentage was observed in Assam (0.2%)”.
- The survey noted that overall 8% of children aged 5-9 years and 6% of adolescents aged 10-19 years had a high subscapular skinfold thickness — an anthropometric measurement used to evaluate nutritional status by estimating the amount of subcutaneous fat — for their age.
- A much higher prevalence was observed among children and adolescents residing in urban areas as compared to rural settings.
- The largest prevalence was observed in Goa (21%) and Delhi (15%) with lowest prevalence being recorded from Madhya Pradesh and Jharkhand (3%) and for adolescents in Madhya Pradesh, Chhattisgarh and Assam (2%).
- To avoid communication blackouts that led to 20 fishermen going missing in the aftermath of Cyclone Ockhi in 2017, a slew of government departments, research agencies and private companies have developed GEMINI, a portable receiver linked to ISRO satellites, that is “fail-proof” and warn fishermen of danger.
- The Indian National Centre for Ocean Information Services (INCOIS), a Hyderabad institute collaborated with Accord, a private company, to develop a box-shaped receiver that has an antenna and in-built battery that can last three to four days, according to a brochure describing the device.
- GEMINI works on GAGAN, developed by ISRO and the Airports Authority of India, and is an India-made global positioning system. It relies on the positioning system of ISRO’s GSAT satellites.
- When GEMINI is connected to an app, it also lets fishermen know the probability of fish catch in the surrounding seas.
- At ₹9,000 a device, it’s relatively expensive, say officials, but attempts are on to subsidise it by as much as 90%.
Assam tea estates violating labour laws
- A report by Oxfam, a confederation of independent charitable organisations focussing on the alleviation of global poverty, has flagged violation of labour rights in the tea estates of Assam.
- Tea industry captains, however, said there was nothing new in Oxfam India’s report finding tea plantation workers with “no toilets, crumbling houses, poor wages, lack of quality health and education entitlements”.
- Along with the Tata Institute of Social Sciences, Oxfam India had conducted the research that yielded the report ‘Addressing the Human Cost of Assam Tea’ through interviews with 510 workers in 50 tea estates of the State.
- The report noted that the Assam government’s commitment to increasing the minimum wages of tea plantation workers to ₹351 met with hurdles of financial viability in the sector.
‘Struggling tea industry’
- It hoped that the proposed Occupational Health and Safety Bill would help the “struggling Assam tea industry” be viable and at the same time “ensure fair living wages and decent working and living conditions for tea plantation workers and their families”.
- The report attributed the condition of plantation workers to the “relentless squeeze by supermarkets and brands on the share of the end-consumer price for tea”.
- The researchers found that despite working for over 13 hours a day, workers earn between ₹137-167, while tea brands and supermarkets “typically capture over two-thirds of the price paid by consumers for Assam tea in India — with just 7% remaining for workers on tea estates”.
- Oxfam asked consumers, supermarkets and brands to support the Assam government’s move to provide living wages to workers and to ensuring more of the price paid by the consumers trickle down to them.
Motor Vehicles (Amendment) Bill, 2019
- The Motor Vehicles (Amendment) Bill, 2019 passed by the Lok Sabha on July 23 and by the Rajya Sabha on July 31 has 63 clauses with the aim of reducing road traffic fatalities and injuries in India.
- The amended MVA has several new provisions: increased compensation for road accident victims, a Motor Vehicle Accident fund to provide compulsory insurance cover to all road users, defining a good Samaritan, recall of a defective motor vehicle, development of a National Transportation Policy, a National Road Safety Board, recognising taxi aggregators and increased penalties for several offences.
- All these are intended to reduce traffic crashes by at least 50% by 2030 (a target set by the United Nations).
- Out of the many amendments proposed in the Act, the increased penalties have been implemented in many States from September 1, 2019; at the same time, many States have decided to “dilute” the suggested increase in penalties.
Penalties as deterrents
- New penalties have been introduced for ‘faulty registration details, the concessionaire or the contractor who is responsible for a faulty road design or has not followed standards, and for guardians of juvenile offenders to be penalised.
- While there have to be penalties for offenders, there does not seem to be any correlation between stricter and higher penalties and a reduction in road traffic crashes in countries where road traffic deaths have reduced over the years’, examples being West Europe, the United States, Japan and Australia.
- The idea of higher fines as a deterrent to traffic crashes is based on the assumption that a driver is careless and that the fear of a higher penalty will encourage “careful” behaviour while on the road.
- This goes against current scientific understanding in reducing traffic crashes that promotes the design of a system which can forgive mistakes made by road users.
- Road safety experts suggest that road designs such as lane width, shoulder presence, number of lanes and median design influence driving behaviour such as operating speeds, lane changing, etc.
- Therefore, one could expect that ‘roads themselves play an important role in road safety, and improved geometry design and infrastructure could in turn help to improve road safety.
- Drivers can modify their behaviour based on what they see on the road ahead of them. Drivers are more likely to fall asleep or experience boredom on straight, monotonous, dual carriageway roads with little traffic’. Stricter penalties and intensive driver training cannot reduce the risk of driver fatigue.
- However, road engineers can change the road design to reduce boredom and monotony.
- Given the understanding from traffic safety theories of the last 50 years, safety interventions have to be based on three important principles: recognition of human frailty, acceptance of human error, and creation of a forgiving environment and appropriate crash energy management.
- Experience from the U.S. and European countries shows that road standards alone cannot ensure safe roads for all unless safety performance is evaluated.
- There is another factor in India. The density of small towns and villages along highways and the presence of tractors, three-wheelers, cars, buses, trucks and truck trailers on these highways present a very different traffic mix as compared to North America and western Europe where most highway standards have been developed. Pedestrian and motorcyclist involvement in fatal crashes on highways is greater than those involving other road users.
- In the past two decades, there have been major investments in expanding the national highway system in India. Yet, fatalities have continued to grow. Can the amended MVA address these concerns?
- Despite the efforts of the last few decades, the number of road traffic fatalities has continued to increase in India.
- A Ministry of Road Transport and Highways (MoRTH) report of 2018 has listed 1,51,430 fatalities. However, for the same year, the World Health Organisation estimates nearly 300,000 deaths.
- In fact a government of India study by the Registrar General and Census Commissioner, India (‘The Million Death’ study) also reports at least a 50% under-reporting of traffic fatalities and a higher share of pedestrian and motorised two wheelers as Road Traffic Collision victims when compared to the MoRTH report.
- The MVA amendments do not address the reliability of crash estimates, which form the basis of designing preventive strategies.
Road safety data
- It has been a tradition in ‘road safety to analyse road safety data in order to understand why crashes occur, which factors influence risks, and what determines crash severity, and then, based on this understanding, to arrive at reliable conclusions on how to prevent them most effectively and efficiently.
- This is called a data-driven approach. In this approach, priorities are derived by using crash data, background data, exposure data and data on safety performance indicators’. This is what researchers call as a scientific method and evidence-based interventions.
- India has still not created a culture of producing scientific evidence for designing preventive strategies. A report from New South Wales, Australia in 2007 evaluated the effectiveness of stricter penalties which said: “It is suggested that substantial increases in fines and licence disqualifications would have limited potential in deterring recidivist offenders.
- The present analysis failed to find any evidence for a significant relationship between [the] fine amount and the likelihood that an offender will return to court for a new driving offence.
- Nor was there any evidence from our analyses to suggest that longer license disqualification periods reduced the likelihood of an offender reappearing before the courts.” Increased fines alone, as suggested in the amended MVA, will not have the intended effect of reducing traffic crashes.
- Current traffic safety science suggests that if road users do not have their share of responsibility, for example due to a lack of knowledge or competence, or if personal injuries occur, or for other reasons that lead to risks, the system designers (road designers) must take further measures to prevent people from being killed or seriously injured.
- Therefore, if there is to be a reduction in India in the growing health burden due to traffic crashes, it requires establishing a system or institutional structure which enables the generation of new knowledge-new road standards thereby ensuring safe highways and urban roads.
- Thus, we have a long way to go in ensuring “safe road behaviour”.
Mahabalipuram’s China connection
- Mahabalipuram, or Mamallapuram, 56 km south of Chennai on the Tamil Nadu coast, where Prime Minister Narendra Modi met China’s President Xi Jinping on October 11 & 12 in an informal Wuhan-style summit, had ancient links with Buddhism and China through the maritime outreach of the Pallava dynasty.
- The setting speaks to several contemporary themes in India-China relations — and of contacts, both continuous and changing, across space and time.
- While the powerful symbolism of Mahabalipuram will likely not succeed in influencing China’s hard-nosed assertion over J&K and other issues with India, the remarkable historical significance of the venue bears underlining.
When the Pallavas ruled
- The name Mamallapuram derives from Mamallan, or “great warrior”, a title by which the Pallava King Narasimhavarman I (630-668 AD) was known. It was during his reign that Hiuen Tsang, the Chinese Buddhist monk-traveller, visited the Pallava capital at Kanchipuram.
- Narasimhavarman II (c.700-728 AD), also known as Rajasimhan, built on the work of earlier Pallava kings to consolidate maritime mercantile links with southeast Asia.
- Most interestingly, as historian Tansen Sen recorded in his 2003 work Buddhism, Diplomacy and Trade: The Realignment of Sino-Indian Relations, 600-1400, Narasimhavarman II sent a mission to the Tang court in 720 with a request that would seem unusual in the context of India-China relations today.
- The name Mamallapuram derives from Mamallan, or “great warrior”, a title by which the Pallava King Narasimhavarman I (630-668 AD) was known.
- The emissaries of the Pallava king sought the permission of Emperor Xuangzong to fight back Arab and Tibetan intrusions in South Asia.
- And, “Pleased with the Indian king’s offer to form a coalition against the Arabs and Tibetans, the Chinese emperor bestowed the title of ‘huaide jun’ (the Army that Cherishes Virtue) to Narayansimha II’s troops.
- The offer of help by the Pallava ruler, may have had more to do with furthering trade and for the prestige of association with the Chinese emperor, rather than any real prospect of helping him to fight off enemies in the faraway north.
- The Descent of the Ganga/Arjuna’s Penance, a rock carving commissioned by Narasimhavarman I, with its depiction of the Bhagirathi flowing from the Himalayas, may serve as a reminder of the geography of India-China relations, and their shared resources.
Hindus, Muslims and China
- Tamil-Chinese links continued after the Pallavas, flourishing under the Cholas as the Coromandel coast became the entrepot between China and the Middle East.
- The links extended to a wider area beyond Mahabalipuram, through a layered history that has left a rich tapestry of society, culture, art and architecture, which is diverse and complex, and reaches up to modern times.
- If he looks south from the platform of the 7th century Shore Temple, President Xi might be able to spot a key symbol of 20th century — the white domes of the Madras Atomic Power Station at Kalpakkam, 15 km down the coastline. MAPS, built in the 1980s, is India’s first indigenously constructed power station.
- India’s secularism and diversity would not be on the agenda of the two leaders — however, their meeting ground is in a part of the country where this ethos is a lived reality.
- Hindu- and Muslim-majority villages alternate along that coast, each community having lived next to the other for centuries.
- By the time Islam arrived on south India’s east coast in the 9th century, Muslims had already started trading with China by maritime routes.
- The trading missions that the Cholas sent to the Song court included Muslims. A trader named Abu Qasim was second-in-command of a mission sent in 1015; the next mission, in 1033, included one Abu Adil.
- In later centuries, the Coromandel coast retained its importance for trade between China and the west. In the 17th and 18th centuries, it was a staging post for the Dutch, French and British for control of the seas between South Asia and Southeast Asia, as the Europeans fought to protect their trade routes with China and other countries in the region.
- The ancient port city of Pondicherry, 80 km south of Mahabalipuram, was a French colony famous for its Chinese exports known as “Coromandel goods”, including crepe de chine.
- Today the Union Territory, with its French legacy, Tamil residents, Bengali and international devotees of Sri Aurobindo, is among the most diverse and cosmopolitan of cities in South India.
- After establishing their writ on the Coromandel Coast, the British expanded eastward and established control over the Straits of Malacca, essentially to protect their trade routes to China and the rest of the region.
- Among the colonial outposts on this coast is Sathurangapattinam, or Sadras, right next to Kalpakkam, where the Dutch East India Company built a fort, their second one on the east coast after establishing a capital at Pulicat, north of Chennai.
- Sadras became a huge centre for the Dutch-controlled manufacture of cotton and muslin. The Dutch presence in the region grew rapidly after they established themselves in Java in 1603.
- They traded within Asia, buying textiles, metal, and porcelain, importing and exporting between India, China and Japan, to keep the spice trade going.
124A: Has British Raj Returned?
- The Bihar police has done well to dub the complaint of sedition as “maliciously false” against 49 public spirited citizens, including Mani Ratnam, Shyam Benegal, Anurag Kashyap, Aparna Sen, Shubha Mudgal and Ramachandra Guha, who wrote to Prime Minister Narendra Modi in July this year expressing concern about the increasing incidents of lynching.
- But it is inexplicable that the court in Muzaffarpur took cognizance of the complaint. Equally, it is very worrying that this outdated provision on sedition still remains in our law books.
Origin & continuation of 124A
- Section 124A of the Indian Penal Code (IPC), which deals with sedition, was drafted by Thomas Babington Macaulay and included in the IPC in 1870.
- It is truly a colonial relic, and should have been junked decades ago. The exact provision is a classic example of deliberately ambiguous drafting, with a view to stifling dissent and debate.
- The clause reads: “Whosoever by words, either spoken or written, or by signs, or by visible interpretation, or otherwise, brings or attempts to bring into hatred or contempt, or excites or attempts to excite disaffection towards the government established by law in India” shall be punished with life imprisonment.
- Mahatma Gandhi called Section 124A “the prince among the political sections of the IPC designed to suppress the liberty of the citizen”.
- Jawaharlal Nehru said that the provision was “obnoxious” and “highly objectionable”, and “the sooner we get rid of it the better”.
- But in July 2019 Nityanand Rai, minister of state for home affairs, told the Rajya Sabha that “there is no proposal to scrap the provision under the IPC dealing with the offence of sedition. There is a need to retain the provision to effectively combat anti-national, secessionist and terrorist elements.”
- The real problem arises here. What exactly is anti-national, and secessionist, and who exactly is a terrorist? The manner in which governments have been labelling people seditious is ludicrous to say the least.
- Consider these examples:
- In September 2012 Aseem Trivedi, a cartoonist in Mumbai, was arrested for sedition for a series of cartoons against corruption.
- In February 2016 JNU student union president Kanhaiya Kumar was arrested for sedition, but released later on interim bail for want of conclusive evidence.
- In August 2016 the internationally respected organisation Amnesty International was accused of sedition. The police complaint was filed by an activist of the Akhil Bhartiya Vidyarthi Parishad (ABVP), an RSS affiliated organisation.
- In September 2018 Divya Spandana, then social media chief of the Congress party, was booked for sedition for accusing PM Modi of corruption.
- In January this year a sedition case was registered against 80 year old Cambridge scholar and leading Assamese intellectual, Hiren Gosain, for remarks against the Citizenship Amendment Bill.
The Muzaffarpur Scenario
- Sudhir Kumar Ojha, the local advocate in Muzaffarpur who filed the complaint against the 49 citizens, is a serial litigant. In his complaint he said that the letter these citizens wrote supported “secessionist tendencies” and “tarnished the image of the country and undermined the impressive performance of the Prime Minister”.
- The letter, in fact, was not secessionist at all. It spoke about the immediate need to take steps to stop the lynchings of Muslims and Dalits, and to prevent the slogan ‘Jai Shri Rama’ from becoming “a provocative war cry”.
- Such a critique is natural in a democracy. If it annoys Ojha, so be it. But – as the Bihar police is now saying – it is certainly not seditious.
- The question then is why Surya Kant Tiwari, the chief judicial magistrate at a Muzaffarpur court, admitted the petition. The Bihar police can only recommend to him that the case is totally frivolous and needs to be dropped.
- Is the magistrate not aware that the higher judiciary has categorically said that any expression must involve incitement to imminent violence for it to amount to sedition? Does he not know that Article 19 of the Constitution guarantees freedom of speech and expression as a fundamental right? Is he oblivious to the fact that in 2018 the SC had said that “dissent is the safety valve of a democracy. If dissent is not allowed, then the pressure cooker may burst”?
- For judicial officers to show such abysmal ignorance both about the law and what superior courts have pronounced, is unpardonable. It should prompt the higher judiciary to severely reprimand him.
- The fact of the matter is that the draconian sedition law is being used recklessly, indiscriminately, punitively and purposefully against anybody or any institution that has the temerity to disagree with the ruling establishment, and has the courage to publicly voice such an opinion.
- This deliberate misuse is an augury of an authoritarian state that looks upon all dissent as some form of anti-national activity, and wishes to live in an echo chamber where all opinion must be congruent with its own self-estimation.
- In the year that we are celebrating the 150th birth anniversary of Mahatma Gandhi with so much fanfare, this growing intolerance to criticism is deeply saddening. Gandhiji was a flamboyant dissenter, and unrepentantly democratic.
- We cannot go through the rituals of paying tribute to him, and yet remain mute spectators to the undermining of democracy and the sacrosanct right to dissent within it.
- A decade after NASA sent a rocket crashing into the moon’s south pole, spewing a plume of debris that revealed vast reserves of ice beneath the barren lunar surface, the space agency is racing to pick up where its little-remembered project left off.
- The so-called LCROSS (Lunar CRater Observation and Sensing Satellite) mission was carried out 10 years ago in a complex orbital dance of two “suicide” spacecraft and one mapping satellite.
- It proved a milestone in the discovery of a natural lunar resource that could be key to NASA’s plans for renewed human exploration of the moon and ultimately visits to Mars and beyond.
- The agency now has the chance to follow up on the pioneering mission, after U.S. Vice-President Mike Pence in March ordered NASA to land humans on the lunar surface by 2024, accelerating a goal to colonise the moon as a staging ground for eventual missions to Mars.
- NASA chief Jim Bridenstine says the moon holds billions of tons of water ice, although the exact amount and whether it’s present in large chunks of ice or combined with the lunar soil remains unknown. To find out, NASA is working with a handful of companies to put rovers on the lunar surface by 2022.
- Instead of launching expensive fuel loads from Earth, scientists say the lunar water could be extracted and broken down into its two main components, hydrogen and oxygen, potentially turning the moon into a fuel arsenal for missions to deeper parts of the solar system.
- Weeks before the LCROSS impact booster struck the moon’s south pole, the mission’s development timeline “was a bad rush to the finish line.
- Engineers and mission leaders used the business phrase “open kimono” about disclosing company information to characterise the programme’s breakneck development speed and the need for clear and open lines of communication between contractors and NASA.
- Delhi Chief Minister Arvind Kejriwal called off his visit to Copenhagen to attend the C40 World Mayors’ Summit after he failed to receive the mandatory clearance from the Ministry of External Affairs (MEA).
- Kejriwal was scheduled to address the conference recently, where he was to speak about Delhi’s anti-pollution measures.
- The C40 summit is being held in Denmark’s capital, and attendees include mayors representing over 90 cities from around the world.
What is the C40 World Mayors’ Summit?
- The C40 World Mayors’ Summit is a three-day conference where city leaders from around the world share ideas on green urban development, and on ways to get national governments to act on climate issues.
- According to its website, the C40 connects more than 96 of the world’s largest cities to deliver urgent and essential climate action needed to secure a sustainable future for urban citizens worldwide.
- The group is committed to delivering on climate targets set under the 2016 Paris Agreement, and sets the bar for cities to develop and implement local level plans that comply with those targets.
- The C40 group was started in 2005 by the then Mayor of London, Ken Livingstone, and got its name in 2006, since it had 40 members that year. It has 96 members at present, representing over 70 crore people, and one-quarter of the global economy.
- Cities, according to the C40 website, have the potential to deliver 40 per cent of the emissions reductions to meet the Paris targets.
- Analysts believe that cities are better equipped to deal at climate negotiations than nations, since the former do not have to deal with issues such as borders and sovereignty.
The C40 session this year
- The host city of this year’s conference Copenhagen, plans to become carbon neutral by 2025.
- Apart from Mayors and Deputy Mayors, the Summit is being attended by climate experts, influencers, business leaders, innovators, changemakers, and citizens.
- C40 Summits are known for publishing important research, showcasing innovations by cities, and for forging global partnerships.
- At the 2019 Summit, the Mayor of Los Angeles will take over as chair of the group.
- The cities from India that are part of the C40 are Delhi NCR, Bengaluru, Jaipur, and Kolkata.
- An unusual warming event over the Antarctica that has soared temperatures in the South Pole by more than 40 degrees Celsius is driving record-breaking warm temperatures in Australia, according to meteorologists.
- This rare phenomenon, known as sudden stratospheric warming, occurs when rapid warming begins high up in the stratosphere — second major layer of Earth’s atmosphere.
- The rapid heating, which began in the last week of August, spiked temperatures in the Antarctica to minus 25°C from close to minus 70°C, according to Australia’s Bureau of Meterology (BOM).
- It has leapt up more than 40 degrees warmer than normal in the course of three weeks.
- The BOM has also predicted the strongest Antarctic warming on record, after September 2002.
- This can trigger hot, dry winds across Australia over the next three months, impact rainfall and worsen droughts in the continent, the BOM noted.
- Dry and windy conditions are likely to increase the fire threat in a number of regions, with 15 fires already burning in the south-east region, media reports said.
- The month of October has a high chance of being drier than average for virtually the entire country. This also means there’s an increased chance of early heatwaves and windy days will see higher fire danger.
- The impact may be felt in Australia through to the end of the year, he noted.
- While the sudden stratospheric warming is common and occurs every second year on average in the northern hemisphere associated with cold weather, it is a rarity in the southern hemisphere.
- The events typically start towards the end of winter, when mountains or the contrast between warm ocean temperatures and cold land masses generate continental-scale atmospheric disturbances known as Rossby waves.
- If these are large enough, they can reach into the stratosphere and break like a wave over a beach, compressing and warming the air in the stratosphere above the pole.
- While it is unclear what sparked this year’s sudden stratospheric warming, scientists argue that it is not caused by global warming.
- While January 2019 was the hottest for Australia, the continent also recorded the fourth-driest January–September on record and the driest since 1965.
- Rainfall in September was very much below average for most of Australia. Rainfall was fourth-lowest on record for Australia as a whole in the last 120 years.
Commerce Minister Piyush Goyal was in Bangkok for the eighth Regional Comprehensive Economic Partnership (RCEP) ministerial meeting. The meeting, which is likely to be the last one at this level, is expected to work out the unresolved issues in the negotiations on the mega trade deal that is to be concluded later this year.
What is the RCEP?
- The Regional Comprehensive Economic Partnership (RCEP) is a trade deal that is currently under negotiation among 16 countries — the 10 member countries of the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN), and the six countries with which the ASEAN bloc has free trade agreements (FTA).
- The ASEAN, which includes Brunei, Cambodia, Indonesia, Laos, Malaysia, Myanmar, the Philippines, Singapore, Thailand, and Vietnam, has FTAs with India, Australia, China, South Korea, Japan and New Zealand.
- Negotiations on the details of the RCEP have been on since 2013, and all participating countries aim to finalise and sign the deal by November.
What does the RCEP propose?
- The purpose of RCEP is to create an “integrated market” spanning all 16 countries, making it easier for products and services of each of these countries to be available across this region.
- ASEAN says the deal will provide “a framework aimed at lowering trade barriers and securing improved market access for goods and services for businesses in the region”.
- The negotiations are focussed on areas like trade in goods and services, investment, economic and technical cooperation, intellectual property, competition, dispute settlement, e-commerce, and small and medium enterprises.
Why is the RCEP important?
- It is billed as the “largest” regional trading agreement ever — these countries account for almost half of the world’s population, contribute over a quarter of world exports, and make up around 30% of global Gross Domestic Product (the value of all goods and services produced in a year).
How does India stand to gain?
- Sections of Indian industry feel that being part of RCEP would allow the country to tap into a huge market, if the domestic industry becomes competitive.
- Pharmaceuticals and cotton yarn are confident of gains, and the services industry too, may have new opportunities.
- Several industries feel India needs to be mindful of the amount of access it gives to its market. There is fear that some domestic sectors may be hit by cheaper alternatives from other RCEP countries. Apprehensions have been expressed that cheaper Chinese products would “flood” India.
- Critics are also not confident that India would be able to take advantage of the deal, given its poor track record of extracting benefits from the FTAs with these countries. India’s trade gap with these countries may widen if it signs the RCEP deal, they say.
- Industries like dairy and steel have demanded protection. The textile industry, which has already raised concerns about growing competition from neighbouring countries with cheaper and more efficient processes, fears the deal would impact it negatively.
- There are some differences within industries. The bigger players in steel, for example, are apprehensive of the potential impact on their businesses; however, makers of finished goods have argued that limiting steel supply to domestic producers through higher import duties will put them at a disadvantage.
PERSON IN NEWS
James Peebles, Michel Mayor, Didier Queloz
- A Canadian-American cosmologist and two Swiss scientists won this year’s Nobel Prize in Physics recentlyfor exploring the evolution of the universe and discovering a new kind of planet, with implications for that nagging question: Does life exist only on earth.
- Canadian-born James Peebles, 84, an emeritus professor at Princeton University, won for his theoretical discoveries in cosmology.
- Swiss star-gazers Michel Mayor, 77, and Didier Queloz, 53, both of the University of Geneva, were honoured for finding an exoplanet — a planet outside our solar system — that orbits a sun-like star, the Nobel committee said.
- Peebles, hailed as one of the most influential cosmologists of his time, who realized the importance of the cosmic radiation background born of the Big Bang, will collect one half of the 9 million kronor ($918,000) cash award.
Stanley Whittingham, John B Goodenough, Akira Yoshino
- This year’s Nobel Prize in Chemistry recognises the work that led to the development of something that we all are familiar with, and depend very heavily upon – the rechargeable lithium-ion batteries that power most of the portable devices that we use, such as mobile phones.
- The prize has been given jointly to Stanley Whittingham, now with Binghamton University, State University of New York; John B Goodenough, now with the University of Texas at Austin; and Akira Yoshino of Asahi Kasei Corporation.
- Whittingham developed the first functional lithium-ion battery in 1976, Goodenough brought in a major improvement in 1980, while Yoshino made the first practical-use lithium-ion battery in 1985.
- Commercially manufactured lithium-ion batteries, based on what Yoshino had developed, made their first appearance in 1991.
How batteries work
- Batteries convert chemical energy into electricity. A battery comprises two electrodes, a positive cathode and a negative anode, which are separated by a liquid chemical, called electrolyte, which is capable of carrying charged particles.
- The two electrodes are connected through an electrical circuit.
- When the circuit is on, electrons travel from the negative anode towards the positive cathode, thus generating electric current, while positively charged ions move through the electrolyte.
- Single-use batteries stop working once a balance is established between the electrical charges. In rechargeable batteries, an external power supply reverses the flow of electric charges, so that the battery can be used again.
- STANLEY WHITTINGHAM: When Whittingham began working on batteries in the 1970s, rechargeable batteries were already available, but were bulky and inefficient. Whittingham worked with newer materials to make his battery lighter and more efficient. The older rechargeable batteries used to have solid materials in the electrodes which used to react with the electrolyte and damage the battery. Whittingham’s innovation came from the fact that he used the atom-sized spaces within the cathode material, titanium disulphide, to store the positive lithium ions. The choice of lithium was dictated by the fact that it let go of its electron quite easily and was also very light.
- JOHN B GOODENOUGH: Whittingham’s battery worked at room temperature, making it practical, but was prone to short-circuits on repeated charging. An addition of aluminium, and a change of electrolyte, made it safer, but the big breakthrough was made by Goodenough who changed the cathode to a metal oxide instead of metal sulphide (titanium disulphide) that Whittingham had been using. Goodenough’s battery was almost twice as powerful as Whittingham’s.
- AKIRA YOSHINO: Yoshino started working on Goodenough’s battery and tried using various lighter carbon-based materials as the anode in order to bring down the weight further. He got excellent results with petroleum coke, a byproduct of the oil industry. This battery was stable, lightweight, and as powerful as Goodenough’s.
Lithium-ion still best
- Researchers have continued to look for other materials to make more efficient batteries, but so far none of these has succeeded in outperforming lithium-ion battery’s high capacity and voltage.
- The lithium-ion battery itself has, however, gone several modifications and improvements so that it is much more environment friendly than when it was first developed.
Olga Tokarczuk and Peter Handke
- Polish author Olga Tokarczuk was awarded the 2018 Nobel Prize in Literature for a ‘narrative imagination that with encyclopedic passion represents the crossing of boundaries as a form of life.’
- The 2019 prize was given to Austria’s Peter Handke for ‘an influential work that with linguistic ingenuity has explored the periphery and the specificity of human experience,’ the Swedish Academy in Stockholm said in a statement recently.
- The 2018 prize had been postponed after a scandal in which the husband of former academy member Katarina Frostenson was sentenced to prison for rape.
- In the wake of the scandal, a number of academy members left the more than 200-year-old institution, which had also been accused of being old-fashioned and opaque.
- It has since changed some of its statutes and also invited outside experts to its awards committee, which was previously open only to lifetime academy members.
- The Nobel Foundation had warned that another group could be picked to award the prize if the academy didn’t improve its tarnished image, but said in March it was satisfied the Swedish Academy had revamped itself and restored trust.
- The 2018 and 2019 awards were chosen by the Swedish Academy’s Nobel Committee, a new body made up of four academy members and five “external specialists.”
- With the glory comes a 9-million kronor ($918,000) cash award, a gold medal and a diploma. The laureates receive them at an elegant ceremony on Dec. 10 — the anniversary of Nobel’s death in 1896 — in Stockholm and in Oslo.
- Annual prizes for achievements in physics, chemistry, medicine, peace and literature were established in the will of Alfred Nobel, the Swedish inventor of dynamite, who died in 1896.
- Hailed as a visionary and reformer, Ethiopian Prime Minister Abiy Ahmed won the Nobel Peace Prize for his efforts to resolve the long-running conflict with neighbouring Eritrea.
- Abiy was honoured “for his efforts to achieve peace and international cooperation, and in particular for his decisive initiative to resolve the border conflict with neighbouring Eritrea,” the Nobel Committee said.
- The award is seen as a boost to Africa’s youngest leader as he faces inter-community violence ahead of a parliamentary election in May 2020.
- This is the second year in a row that an African has received the award.
- Congolese gynaecologist Denis Mukwege shared the prize with Yazidi activist Nadia Murad in 2018 for their work combating sexual violence.
What Abiy did
- When Abiy became Prime Minister in 2018, Ethiopia had been locked in conflict with Eritrea for 20 years.
- In July that year, the former Army officer-turned-PM, then 41, stepped across the border, held Eritrean President Isaias Afwerki in a warm embrace and signalled the beginning of a peace effort, announcing to the world that war was no longer an option.
- The Nobel Committee noted how Abiy, in cooperation with Afwerki, worked out the principles of a peace agreement, set out in declarations the two leaders signed in Asmara during that July visit and in Jeddah in September.
- It also listed domestic achievements by Abiy in his first 100 days as Prime Minister — lifting Emergency, granting amnesty to thousands of political prisoners, discontinuing media censorship, legalising outlawed opposition groups, dismissing military and civilian leaders suspected of corruption, and increasing the influence of women in political and community life.
The conflict, its roots
- The stalemate Abiy helped break is about a border dispute that began in 1998. Conflict between the two countries, however, has a longer history.
- Eritrea, once an Italian colony, was merged with Ethiopia in 1936 during Benito Mussolini’s regime, then taken over by the British during the Second World War.
- After the War, a United Nations declaration in 1950 made Eritrea part of a federation with Ethiopia. When Eritrean groups launched a struggle for independence in 1961, Ethiopia dissolved the federation and annexed Eritrea in 1962.
- After a war that lasted 30 years, Eritrea gained international recognition as an independent country in 1993.
- Just five years later, however, war broke out over the control of Badme, a border town both countries coveted.
- The violence, which went on until an agreement to cease hostilities in 2000, claimed 80,000 lives and separated countless families. Since then, the two countries were in a state the Nobel Committee described as “no peace, no war”.
What peace brings
- In the two agreements during and after Abiy’s visit, the two countries have announced the resumption of trade, diplomatic, and travel ties and “a new era of peace and friendship” in the Horn of Africa.
- “… Telecommunications have been restored, allowing families that were split up in the war to contact each other. In the days that followed this breakthrough, some Ethiopians called Eritrean numbers randomly, and vice versa, just to speak to someone on the other side, simply because they could. Others tracked down parents, siblings and friends,” The New York Times reported.
- Ethiopia is Africa’s second largest country by population, but landlocked, while tiny Eritrea is connecting by sea to the Middle East.
- Through the years of conflict, Ethiopia had depended heavily on Djibouti for access to the Gulf of Aden and onward to the Arabian Sea. The peace deal opened up Eritrean ports for Ethiopian use.
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