Polity & Governance
- Murder rate declining in India: NCRB data
- Parliamentary Standing Committee seeks transparency in appointment of judges
- Zero import duty on wheat will lead to dumping: Unions
Environment & Ecology
- Cancel illegal salt pans in Sambhar Lake: NGT
- India offers tsunami warning system to SCS countries
Bilateral & International Relations
- Kolkata-Mizoram trade route to open via Myanmar
Science & Technology
- Japan Launches Magnetic Tether To Clean Up Space Junk
- First detection of ammonia in the upper troposphere
- ‘Nanoceramic’ material for safer, cheaper nuclear reactors
Key Facts for Prelims
- ISRO signs deal for first privately built satellite
- Longest rail tunnel opens in Switzerland
- ‘100 Million for 100 Million’ Campaign
- Laureates and Leaders for Children Summit
Polity & Governance
Murder rate declining in India: NCRB data
Official data from the National Crime Records Bureau (NCRB) show that the murder rate in India has been steadily declining over the past two decades.
Highlights of the data:
- Murder rate for India in 2012 (3.5) was almost half compared to the world average (6.2). Among 209 countries for which comparable data was available, India ranked 133 (higher rank means higher murder rate).
- Murder rate has declined from 4.6 in 1992, the peak year of violence (in terms of murder rate) to 2.6 in 2015. The rate saw a steady rise from 2.7 in 1952 to the highest rate in the early nineties.
- Among mega cities, Patna turns out to be the least safe, having a murder rate of 11.3 — four times that of the national average in 2015.
- Meerut, Ludhiana, Faridabad and Agra come next. Kolkata, Kochi and Mumbai happen to be the safest, all having a rate of less than one murder per lakh population.
- Absolute numbers, however, are still high — 32,127 murders were recorded in 2015, which means 88 people were killed every day. In fact, murders in 2015 alone were almost similar in number to terrorism-related fatalities in India over the last two decades.
- In 2015, the major motive of murder was ‘Personal vendetta or enmity’ (4,758 cases), accounting for 14.8% of the total murder cases followed by ‘property dispute’ with 3,540 cases (11.0%).
The murder rate (murders per lakh population) for 64 years (from 1952 to 2015) from the NCRB were compiled by the Clio Infra Project — a project which has collected worldwide data on social, economic, and institutional indicators.
However, the NCRB numbers are based on FIRs alone. Crimes for which FIRs are not registered are not accounted for in the official data.[Ref: The Hindu]
Parliamentary Standing Committee seeks transparency in appointment of judges
The Parliamentary Standing Committee has tabled its 87th report on ‘Inordinate Delay in Filling up the Vacancies in the Court and High Courts’ before both houses of Parliament.
- The report points finger at the Judiciary for distorting the original mandate of the Constitution, and has urged the government to take appropriate measures for restoring it.
- The committee further suggested that the cases involving the interpretation of the Constitution should not be heard by a bench of less than seven judges.
- It also expressed concern about the present stand-off over the finalisation of Memorandum of Procedure between the Executive and the Judiciary, which is leading to delay in filling the vacancies in the Constitutional courts and is adversely affecting administration of justice.
Important recommendations/observations made by the committee:
- Judicial appointments are shared responsibility of the Executive and the Judiciary to be exercised jointly with neither organ of the State having a primacy over the other.
- Retirement of a particular Judge and appointment against the resultant vacancy is simultaneously completed. Such a mechanism will be in the interest of the judicial administration and its efficacy.
- The terms ‘national security’ and ‘larger public interest’ in the MoP should, in no ambiguous terms be defined and circumstances/antecedents which fall within their purview listed.
- In case a candidate’s name is rejected for any reason by the Collegium, the candidate must be informed of the grounds of rejection. Rejection by the Government of the names recommended by the Supreme Court Collegium without furnishing cogent reasons, therefore, is against the principles of natural justice and leads to opaqueness in the appointment process.
- Zone of consideration of the legal practitioners who are short listed should be done by wider consultation amongst judges. The views of all judges in the Court and Bar Association needs to be obtained within a definite timeframe.
- A dedicated Cell in the Registry of the Constitutional Courts be set up to assist initiation of the proposals in time for filling the various vacancies.
- MoP must also contain eligibility criteria and procedure for their appointments of High Court Judges from the subordinate judiciary.
- There should not be any occasion of having a gap between vacation of the post of Chief Justice (due to retirement transfer, elevation or any other reason) and the appointment of his successor.
- Article 224 A may be invoked to allow chief justices of High Courts to appoint retired judicial officers as ad hoc judges. Such appointments should not be considered de novo. These must be given the same status what they were enjoying prior to their retirement in order to make the position more acceptable to them.
- Women representation in higher judiciary for which data has been provided, is not encouraging. The Bench of Higher Judiciary to be reflective of composition of society and its diversity and recommends that suitable measures to achieve that may be taken.
- Increase of retirement age of Supreme Court judge to 67 years and of High Court judge to 65 years.
- The Department of Justice should consider ways so that a Chief Justice in the High Courts and in the Supreme Court remains in position for a certain minimum tenure.
Zero import duty on wheat will lead to dumping: Unions
Farmers’ unions and agriculture experts are anguished over the Centre’s decision to scrap the import duty on wheat.
- They fear that farmers’ income will be affected and they will have to resort to distress sale during the rabi season.
What’re their arguments?
According to farmers’ unions and agriculture experts
- Government agencies had failed to procure wheat at the minimum support price (MSP), and without an adequate number of open purchasing centres, farmers are forced to sell their crop at lower prices.
- Big players in the wheat flour market had been demanding withdrawal of the duty, and this move was to suit their interests.
- Wheat traders are expecting imports to cross five million tonnes this year. The cost of imported wheat would be far below the MSP of ongoing rabi (Rs. 16,250 a tonne), resulting in crashing domestic wheat prices as the government has no effective procurement mechanism in many States.
- In every season that though the government promises to buy crop at the MSP, yet farmers sell their produce in distress at a lower price for various reasons.
- The government has been saying that wheat sowing has not been impacted by demonetisation and the area of cultivation has increased. If the area has actually increased, and there are no other indications that wheat production will be down in the ongoing season, then why is the government allowing import of duty-free wheat?
What’s the issue?
- The Union Government has waived the import duty on wheat to zero from 10 per cent for an indefinite period.
- This move aims to improve domestic availability in the wake of rising prices and concerns about the wheat crop in 2016-17.
Why government has taken this decision?
- The duty was waived because of uncertainty over the wheat output this year. Despite a rise in area sown, questions are raised over condition of the wheat crop, low fertiliser and pesticide use due to and fears of a warm winter.
Implications of the decision:
- The waiving of import duty will make wheat imports (especially from Australia and Ukrainian) considerably cheaper. This will fuel imports to over 6 million tonnes in 2016-17. This will be the highest wheat imports in the 10 years.
Production of wheat in India:
The wheat production in the country will be around 93.50 million tonnes in 2016-17 as per the government estimates. However, many experts have pegged the figures around 90 million tonnes due to year-on-year droughts in 2014 and 2015. Moreover, Union Government’s own wheat stocks are at an all-time low due to less procurement.[Ref: The Hindu]
Environment & Ecology
Cancel illegal salt pans in Sambhar Lake: NGT
The central zonal bench of the National Green Tribunal (NGT) has directed the Rajasthan government to cancel allotments of salt pans in the Sambhar Salt Lake.
What has the NGT directed to state government?
- Directed to cancel allotments of all salt pans falling within the wetland and run contrary to the mandate of Wetland Rules, 2010 must be cancelled.
- Directed not to make any further allotments or permit new salt pans within the wetland areas.
- The Sambhar Salt Lake should declare ‘no construction zone’ for the said purpose in accordance with the Wetland Rules, 2010.
What is the issue?
The petitioner had alleged that commercial, ground water extracting and other activities in and around the Sambhar Lake are detrimental to the eco-system of the wetland. These activities were carried out illegally contrary to the provisions of the Wetland (Conservation and Management) Rules framed under the Environment Protection Acts, 1986.
Vinod Kapoor Committee report:
- The illegal business of brine extraction in the Sambhar Salt Lake (SSL) was first highlighted in the Vinod Kapoor Committee report in 2010.
- The report had mentioned that 15-20 borewells were operating in every bigha of land in the vicinity of SSL. It resulted in to exploitation of water resources leading to decline groundwater level by almost 60 metres in the area.
About Sambhar Salt Lake:
- Sambhar Salt Lake is India’s largest inland salt lake.
- It is located in Nagaur and Jaipur districts of Rajasthan.
- It is surrounded on all sides by the Aravali hills.
- The lake is actually an extensive saline wetland with circumference of 96 km.
- It is source of most of Rajasthan’s salt production.
- It has been designated as a Ramsar site (recognized wetland of international importance).
- It is important wintering area for flamingos and other birds that migrate from northern Asia.
India offers tsunami warning system to SCS countries
India has offered tsunami early warning-system to South China Sea (SCS) countries like Vietnam, Malaysia and Philippines as part of soft-diplomacy.
- India already provides earthquake and tsunami-warning alerts to several countries in the Indian Ocean neighbourhood, as do Japan and Australia.
Features of Tsunami early warning-system:
- It is developed by scientists at the Indian National Centre for Ocean Information Services (INCOIS).
- It warns concerned authorities of any large earthquake in the Ocean and threat it poses.
- It uses mathematical model to estimate if an earthquake in India’s oceanic neighbourhood can result in a tsunami.
- It sends out a series of graded warnings to warn officials of danger based on data received form sensors lodged on the ocean floor. These sensors can measure actual earthquake signals and based on it generates warnings.
The South China Sea (SCS) is a controversial region on which China exerting territorial rights over its large part. Some of these territorial claims have been challenged by Vietnam, Malaysia and the Philippines.
On this issue, India considers that all countries must abide by the United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea (UNCLOS), which governs how countries must respect ocean boundaries and international waters of countries. India and China are signatory to this convention.[Ref: The Hindu]
Bilateral & International Relations
Kolkata-Mizoram trade route to open via Myanmar
A deep water port built in Myanmar’s Sittwe on the Bay of Bengal by India is ready to be commissioned.
- An inauguration ceremony for this strategically important facility will be held soon.
- Construction of the sea port is the first phase of an integrated $500-million project being funded by a long-term interest-free loan provided by India.
Where is Sittwe port located?
- Sittwe is the capital of Rakhine State situated in south-western Myanmar.
- It is located at the mouth of the Kaladan river, which flows into Mizoram in north-eastern India.
- The Sittwe port is starting point for the Kaladan Multi Modal Transit Transport Project in Myanmar. Once shipments arrive at Sittwe port from Kolkata, they will be transferred to smaller freight carriers which would sail upstream into Mizoram. [The work on Kaladan Multi Modal Transit Transport Project was conceived in 2010.]
Significance of this port for India:
- Provides alternative route to India to ship goods to the landlocked north-eastern States.
- Significantly lower the cost and distance of movement from Kolkata to Mizoram and beyond.
- Reduces dependency on only route narrow strip dubbed as the Chicken’s Neck in West Bengal, sandwiched between Bhutan and Bangladesh.
- India has piped post Chinese endeavour to create a deep-sea berthing infrastructure and SEZ at Kyaukphyu in Rakhine.
Science & Technology
Japan Launches Magnetic Tether To Clean Up Space Junk
Japan’s space agency (JAXA) successfully launched a Kounotori 6 (HTV-6) spacecraft that will deliver a large magnetic tether, a space junk collector technology into orbit.
- The space junk collector (electromagnetic tether) will perform Kounotori Integrated Tether Experiments (KITE) in order to test out new technology.
- It is an experimental space scavenger that aims to study possibility of getting rid of space junk (debris) left into orbit by earlier space exploration missions.
- The space scavenger is large magnetic tether made from thin wires of stainless steel and aluminium.
- It is designed to redirect space junk towards Earth’s atmosphere.
- In theory, the net-like tether will generate enough slowing effect to influence the trajectory of space debris toward Earth’s atmosphere where they will burn up.
Why we need a space junk collector technology?
- A relatively small piece of orbital debris can inflict a great deal of damage on satellites or spacecrafts orbiting in the space. This phenomenon is Kessler Syndrome which describes a self-sustaining cascading collision of space debris in low earth Orbit.
- There is estimated to be more than 100 million pieces of space junk in orbit, including discarded equipment from old satellites, tools and bits of rocket.
- Many of these objects are moving at high velocity around the Earth at speeds of up to 28,000km/h (17,500mph) and could cause catastrophic accidents and damage to the world’s orbital telecommunications network.
- The junk has accumulated in the more than 50 years of human space exploration since the Soviet-launched Sputnik satellite in 1957. Collisions between satellites and the testing of anti-satellite weapons have made the problem worse.
First detection of ammonia in the upper troposphere
Scientists for the first time have detected trace amounts of ammonia in the upper troposphere, the lowest atmospheric layer of Earth.
What are the key findings?
- The ammonia (NH3) was released into the atmosphere as agricultural emission from livestock farming and fertilisation.
- It was found in highest concentrations above Asian monsoon regions of India and China.
- Similar levels of ammonia were detected nowhere else on Earth.
Effects of ammonia in the troposphere:
- The detected ammonia may be playing a role in formation of aerosol (tiny particles made from super-fine solid particles) in the troposphere. The aerosol may have influence cloud formation and altering properties of existing clouds.
- It is thought that accumulation of ammonia in the troposphere could have a cooling effect. It can be compensating in part for the human-caused greenhouse effect. Thus, it can help to mitigate the effects of global warming.
‘Nanoceramic’ material for safer, cheaper nuclear reactors
Scientists, including one of Indian origin, have created a nanoceramic material, which may be used in next-generation nuclear reactors.
- The new material is made of aluminium oxide nanoceramic coating.
- It can withstand high temperatures, the harsh effects of radiation and also becomes tougher under radiation.
How it is different from earlier methods?
Traditionally, water has been used as the primary coolant in reactors for absorbing the heat released from fission reactions. Its use poses fewer risks of corrosion damage to materials, also limits the temperatures up to which water-cooled reactors can operate. Due to the temperature limitation, it was not viable to use it in advanced reactors. Even new coolants, such as liquid metals like lead and sodium were effective at much higher temperatures, but were more corrosive to the materials from which a nuclear reactor is made.
- It can be used in next- generation nuclear reactors that will operate at higher temperatures and radiation fields, producing more energy efficiently, safely and economically.
Key Facts for Prelims
ISRO signs deal for first privately built satellite
- The Indian Space Research Organisation (ISRO) has signed a contract with a consortium of six companies to deliver the country’s first industry-built spacecraft by late 2017.
- The contract includes assembly, integration and testing (AIT) of two spare navigation satellites.
- This is the first time that ISRO has outsourced an entire satellite to industry. The entities in the consortium are Alpha (defence manufacturing contractor), Newtech Solutions, Aidin Technologies and DCX Cables of Bengaluru, Vinyas Technologies of Mysuru and Avantel Systems of Hyderabad.
- The work to build the spacecraft will begin in January and will be carried out consecutively for 18 months.
Longest rail tunnel opens in Switzerland
- The famed Gotthard Base Tunnel (GBT) has started regular commercial rail service in Switzerland.
- The twin-bore GBT is world’s longest and deepest railway tunnel with length of 57-kilometer.
- It runs from Erstfeld in the central canton of Uri, to Bodio in the southern Ticino canton.
- GBT is the first flat low-level route through the Alps Mountain.
- It had overtaken Japan’s Seikan tunnel (53.9 kilometers) as the longest rail tunnel in world after it was opened in June 2016 for its maiden ride.
- The 50.5-kilometre Channel Tunnel that links England and France has been bumped into third place.
‘100 Million for 100 Million’ Campaign
- ‘100 Million for 100 Million’ Campaign was recently launched by President Pranab Mukherjee.
- It was conceptualized by Nobel laureate Kailash Satyarthi and was organized by the Kailash Satyarthi Children’s Foundation.
- The campaign aims to mobilise 100 million youth and children for 100 million underprivileged children across the world.
- Its prime objective is to end child labour, child slavery, violence against children over the next 5 years.
- It also seeks to promote the right of every child to be safe, free, and educated.
Laureates and Leaders for Children Summit
- The two-day ‘Laureates and Leaders for Children Summit’ was recently held at Rashtrapati Bhavan in New Delhi.
- The summit had brought together collective leadership of around 25 Nobel laureates and leaders on a single platform for creating a child-friendly world.
- It even had channelized world leaders, thinkers, representatives of UN, award winning youth/child leaders and eminent persons from academia, business, cinema, sports and civil society.