Polity & Governance
- Lok Sabha passed Admiralty (Jurisdiction and Settlement of Maritime Claims) Bill, 2016
- Non-lapsable fund sought for arms buy
- Ministers to brainstorm policy for an all-electric vehicle future
Bilateral & International Relations
- India to lose presence on U.N. scientific panel
Defence & Security Issues
- India successfully test-fires BrahMos supersonic cruise missile
- Sashastra Seema Bal signed MoU with NSDC & NSDF
Science & Technology
- Chennai team taps AI to read Indus Script
- Sweet spot in eye helps humans read
- Study on fish reveals key to cure blindness
- Indian researcher uses novel strategy to increase wheat yield
Key Facts for Prelims
- MySSB app
Polity & Governance
Lok Sabha passed Admiralty (Jurisdiction and Settlement of Maritime Claims) Bill, 2016
The Lok Sabha on 10 March 2017 passed the Admiralty (Jurisdiction and Settlement of Maritime Claims) Bill, 2016.
- The Bill seeks to establish a legal framework to consolidate the existing laws relating to admiralty jurisdiction of courts, admiralty proceedings on maritime claims, arrest of vessels and related issues.
The intended legislation also repeals the following five obsolete British statues on admiralty jurisdiction in civil matters.
- The Admiralty Court Act, 1840
- The Admiralty Court Act, 1861
- The Colonial Courts of Admiralty Act, 1890
- The Colonial Courts of Admiralty (India) Act, 1891
- The provisions of the Letters Patent, 1865
The repealing of five admiralty statutes is in line with the government’s commitment to do away with archaic laws which are hindering efficient governance.
What is Admiralty jurisdiction?
- Admiralty jurisdiction relates to powers of the High Courts in respect of claims associated with transport by sea and navigable waterways.
Highlights of the Bill:
- The bill confers admiralty jurisdiction on High Courts located in coastal States of India and this jurisdiction extends up to territorial waters.
- The jurisdiction is extendable, by a Central Government notification, up to exclusive economic zone or any other maritime zone of India or islands constituting part of the territory of India.
- It applies to every vessel irrespective of place of residence or domicile of the owner.
- Inland vessels and vessels under construction are excluded from its application, but the Central Government is empowered to make it applicable to these vessels also by a notification if necessary.
- It does not apply to warships and naval auxiliary and vessels used for non-commercial purposes.
- The jurisdiction is for adjudicating on a set of maritime claims listed in the bill.
- In order to ensure security against a maritime claim, a vessel can be arrested in certain circumstances.
- The liability in respect of selected maritime claims on a vessel passes on to its new owners by way of maritime liens subject to a stipulated time limit.
- In respect of aspects on which provisions are not laid down in the bill, the Civil Procedure Code, 1908 is applicable.
India is a leading maritime nation and maritime transportation caters to about ninety-five percent of its merchandise trade volume. However, under the present statutory framework, the admiralty jurisdiction of Indian courts flow from laws enacted in the British era.[Ref: PIB]
Non-lapsable fund sought for arms buy
Ministry of defence has sent a proposal to the Ministry of Finance proposing the setting up of a ‘Non-lapsable Capital Fund Account’.
- A proposal for obtaining ‘in-principle’ approval of the Finance Ministry on creation of the account has been sent by the Defence Ministry after obtaining approval of the Defence Minister, and a “response from the Ministry of Finance is awaited.”
Need for such a fund:
Defence procurement and acquisition is a complicated process, involving long gestation periods and funds allocated for capital acquisition in a particular financial year are not necessarily consumed in that year and ultimately have to be surrendered by the Defence Ministry.
A major defence purchase often takes years to complete, but the budget allocation lapses at the end of the financial year. As a result, the Ministry of Defence is often forced to return money meant for capital acquisition.
Why the Finance Ministry is not in favour of this fund?
- The Finance Ministry is still not in favour of creating a ‘Non-lapsable Defence Capital Fund Account’ to which the committee expressed its “disappointment” and pointed to the Non-lapsable Central Pool of Resources for the North Eastern region, which was constituted with the approval of Parliament in 1998-99.
The Parliamentary Standing Committee on Defence has stated that it “would like the Ministry of Finance to look at the matter afresh” and work out the modalities for creation of the account.[Ref: The Hindu]
Ministers to brainstorm policy for an all-electric vehicle future
Enthused by India’s electric vehicle (EV) market potential, state-owned energy company NTPC Ltd is exploring a new business around it.
- To start with, India’s largest power generation utility is looking at setting up charging stations to help create the demand for electricity generated by its plants and keep pace with the fast-changing power sector.
- India envisages all passenger and commercial vehicles to powered by electricity by 2030.
- The government wants to see 6 million electric and hybrid vehicles on the roads by 2020 under the National Electric Mobility Mission Plan (NEMMP) 2020 and Faster Adoption and Manufacturing of Hybrid and Electric Vehicles (FAME).
Significance of the move:
- Any shift to EVs will help reduce pollutants and fuel imports. This assumes significance given India’s energy import bill of around $150 billion, which is expected to reach $300 billion by 2030.
- India imports around 80% of its oil and 18% of its natural gas requirements. India imported 202 million tonnes of oil in 2015-16.
Currently, electric vehicle sales are low in India.
National Electric Mobility Mission Plan:
- Government of India launched the National Electric Mobility Mission Plan (NEMMP) 2020 in 2013.
- It is aimed to achieve national fuel security by promoting hybrid and electric vehicles in the country.
- Its target is to achieve 6-7 million sales of hybrid and electric vehicles year on year from 2020 onwards.
- Government aims to provide fiscal and monetary incentives to kick start this nascent technology.
- Government has launched the scheme namely Faster Adoption and Manufacturing of (Hybrid &) Electric Vehicles (FAME India) under NEMMP 2020 in the Union Budget for 2015-16 with an initial outlay of Rs. 75 Cr. The scheme will provide a major push for early adoption and market creation of both hybrid and electric technologies vehicles in the country.
Bilateral & International Relations
India to lose presence on U.N. scientific panel
For the first time in two decades, India will not have a member in a prestigious U.N. scientific body that decides what portions of the seabed can be exclusively mined for natural resources such as oil, precious metals and minerals.
What’s the issue?
- India’s current member to the 21-person body, called Commission on Legal Continental Shelf (CLCS) and part of the United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea (UNCLOS). But, this year India has decided not to field a candidate for the upcoming election.
- Instead, the Ministry of External Affairs (MEA), which formally nominates Indian candidates, chose to nominate a person to another U.N. body, called the International Tribunal for the Law of the Sea (ITLOS).
Implications of this move:
- The CLCS has a five-year tenure and elections are due in June for the 2017-2022 term. Not having an Indian in this 21-member group would mean that China and Pakistan would likely “grab” two of the five seats allotted to the so-called Asia-Pacific group.
Membership of CLCS is important for India:
- Apart from signalling prestige, a membership of the commission allows India to gauge the scientific strength of claims by countries to parts of the seabed that, like territorial waters, are often hard to demarcate. Such information is privy only to participants.
- India also has huge interest in CLCS and applied for extending the Exclusive Economic Zone (EEZ) up to 350 nautical miles from the existing 200 nautical miles.
The United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea (UNCLOS), also called the Law of the Sea Convention or the Law of the Sea treaty, is the international agreement that resulted from the third United Nations Conference on the Law of the Sea (UNCLOS III), which took place between 1973 and 1982.
- The Law of the Sea Convention defines the rights and responsibilities of nations with respect to their use of the world’s oceans, establishing guidelines for businesses, the environment, and the management of marine natural resources.
- UNCLOS came into force in 1994, a year after Guyana became the 60th nation to ratify the treaty.
- While the Secretary General of the United Nations receives instruments of ratification and accession and the UN provides support for meetings of states party to the Convention, the UN has no direct operational role in the implementation of the Convention.
- There is, however, a role played by organizations such as the International Maritime Organization, the International Whaling Commission, and the International Seabed Authority (ISA). (The ISA was established by the UN Convention.)
The Commission on the Limits of the Continental Shelf (CLCS) consists of 21 experts in geophysics, hydrography or geology.
- It was established by the United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea to review the submissions of coastal states and provide recommendations on the location of the outer limits of their continental shelves.
- The Commission meets in New York for up to six months per year.
- Members of the Commission are elected by states parties to the Convention for five years and can be re-elected. The composition of the Commission is based on geographic representation.
- The purpose of the CLCS is to facilitate the implementation of the United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea (the Convention) in respect of the establishment of the outer limits of the continental shelf beyond 200 nautical miles (M) from the baselines from which the breadth of the territorial sea is measured.
- Under the Convention, the coastal State shall establish the outer limits of its continental shelf where it extends beyond 200 M on the basis of the recommendation of the Commission.
- The Commission shall make recommendations to coastal States on matters related to the establishment of those limits; its recommendations and actions shall not prejudice matters relating to the delimitation of boundaries between States with opposite or adjacent coasts.
Defence & Security Issues
India successfully test-fires BrahMos supersonic cruise missile
India successfully test-fired the BrahMos Supersonic Cruise Missile, which is capable of carrying a warhead of 300 kg, from a test range along the Odisha coast.
- The purpose of the test was to validate the capabilities of the missile.
Key features of BrahMos Missile:
- BrahMos Missile is the first supersonic cruise missile system known to be in service, developed as part of a joint venture between India and Russia.
- The missile derives its name from the names of two rivers, namely the Brahmaputra of India and the Moskva of Russia.
- The missile is capable of carrying a conventional as well as nuclear warhead of 300 kilograms.
- The BrahMos is a multi-stage missile having a solid propellant in the first stage and the ramjet liquid propellant in the second stage.
- It can be launched from land, sea, sub-seas and air.
- It operates on ‘Fire and Forget Principle’ by adopting varieties of flights on its way to the target.
- It approaches the enemy target with a top speed of Mach 2.8, which is about three times faster than the US subsonic Tomahawk Cruise Missile System.
- The missile has been developed by the BrahMos Aerospace Private Limited.
- It is a joint venture between the Russian Federation’s NPO Mashinostroeyenia and India’s Defence Research and Development Organisation (DRDO).
- While the navy and army versions of the missile were inducted in 2005 and 2007 respectively, the air version is still in the testing stage.
- The Missile Technology Control Regime (MTCR) is a multilateral export control regime.
- It is an informal and voluntary partnership among 35 countries (India became the 35th country to join the regime) to prevent the proliferation of missile and unmanned aerial vehicle technology.
- Established in April 1987 by the G7 countries (Canada, France, Germany, Italy, Japan, Great Britain, and the United States), the voluntary MTCR aims to limit the spread of ballistic missiles and other unmanned delivery systems that could be used for chemical, biological, and nuclear attacks.
- MTCR aims at restricting the proliferation of missiles, complete rocket systems, unmanned air vehicles and related technology for those systems capable of carrying a 500 kilogramme payload for at least 300 kilometres, as well as systems intended for the delivery of weapons of mass destruction (WMD).
- The items included under MTCR guidelines are divided into Category I (complete rocket and unmanned aerial vehicle systems) and Category II (dual use missile related components and systems).
Sashastra Seema Bal signed MoU with NSDC & NSDF
The Sashastra Seema Bal (SSB) signed a Memorandum of Understanding (MoU) with the National Skill Development Corporation (NSDC) and the National Skill Development Fund (NSDF) for execution of skill development programmes.
- Under the MoU, the SSB will be able to provide gainful employment to the retiring and retired personnel of SSB.
- It will help the personnel in resettlement through the generation of second career option.
- The MoU will establish a framework under which the dependents of SSB personnel as well as locals, school dropouts, victims and potential victims of human trafficking will also be benefited directly in the area or the region where SSB is deployed.
- Under the MoU, skill development training programmes will be organised in collaboration with the Ministry of Skill Development and Entrepreneurship.
- Sectors like apparel, food processing, beauty and wellness, automotive, security and sports will be given emphasis for the said programme.
About Sashastra Seema Bal:
- The Special Service Bureau (now Sashastra Seema Bal) was conceived in November 1962 and eventually created in March 1963.
- It was established with the sole objective of achieving ‘total security preparedness’ in the remote border areas for performing a ‘stay-behind’ role in the event of a war.
- Presently, SSB has been deployed with its mandate to guard 1751 kilometers of Indo-Nepal and 699 kilometers of Indo-Bhutan borders.
- The force is also active in Bihar, Jharkhand and Chhattisgarh for anti-Naxal operations (ANO) duties.
Science & Technology
Chennai team taps AI to read Indus Script
The Indus script has long challenged epigraphists because of the difficulty in reading and classifying text and symbols on the artefacts. Now, a Chennai-based team of scientists has built a programme which eases the process.
- Researchers have developed a “deep-learning” algorithm that can read the Indus script from images of artefacts such as a seal or pottery that contain Indus writing.
How it is done?
Scanning the image, the algorithm smartly “recognises” the region of the image that contains the script, breaks it up into individual graphemes (the term in linguistics for the smallest unit of the script) and finally identifies these using data from a standard corpus.
In linguistics the term corpus is used to describe a large collection of texts which, among other things, are used to carry out statistical analyses of languages.
The process consists of three phases: In the first phase, the input images are broken into sub-images that contain graphemes only, by trimming out the areas that do not have graphemes. The grapheme-containing areas are further trimmed into single-grapheme pieces. Lastly, each of these single graphemes is classified to match one of the 417 symbols discovered so far in the Indus script.
About the technology:
- The algorithms come under a class of artificial intelligence called “deep neural networks.” These have been a major part of the game-changing technology behind self-driving cars and Go-playing bots that surpass human performance.
- The deep neural network mimics the working of the mammalian visual cortex, known as convolutional neural network (CNN), which breaks the field into overlapping regions.
- The features found in each region are hierarchically combined by the network to build a composite understanding of the whole picture.
About Indus script:
- The Indus valley script is much older than the Prakrit and Tamil-Brahmi scripts.
- Unlike the latter two, it has not yet been deciphered because a bilingual text has not yet been found.
- A bilingual text has in many other cases aided archaeologists in understanding ancient scripts, for example, the Rosetta stone.
- This stone which was found in the eighteenth century carries inscriptions of a decree, issued in 196 BCE, in three parts, the first two in ancient Egyptian hieroglyphic and the Demotic scripts, while the bottom is in Ancient Greek. Since the decree was the same, the Rosetta stone provided the key to deciphering Hieroglyphs.
- For the lack of such a “Rosetta stone,” the Indus script remains undeciphered today.
- It is a major effort to even build a standard corpus of the language and decode the writing on existing artifacts and map them to this standard corpus.
- The most widely accepted corpora of Indus scripts was brought together by the efforts of Iravatham Mahadevan, noted Indian epigraphist, from the 3,700 texts and 417 unique signs collected so far.
What is Artificial Intelligence?
The theory and development of computer systems able to perform tasks normally requiring human intelligence, such as visual perception, speech recognition, decision-making, and translation between languages.[Ref: The Hindu]
Sweet spot in eye helps humans read
A team led by Kolkata-born scientists has found that a special sweet spot in the eye called ‘fovea’ plays a crucial role in humans being able to focus on computer screens and also read, an ability which is unique to Homo sapiens.
What is fovea?
- The fovea is a specialised region that dominates our visual perception.
- It provides more than half of the input from the eyes to the visual cortex of the brain.
- The fovea is responsible for our visual experiences that are rich in colourful spatial detail.
How it works?
Located near the optic nerve, the fovea is at its best for fine tasks like reading. Compared to the peripheral retina, however, the fovea is less able to process rapidly changing visual signals.
This low sensitivity is what makes us see motion in flipbooks and movies. It’s also what prevents us from seeing flicker when a computer or TV screen refreshes, unless we glance at the screen (especially the old-fashioned CRT monitors) from the corner of our eye.
When you look at a scene an arm’s length away, the fovea subtends a field only about the size of your thumbnail. Our eyes undergo rapid movements to direct the fovea to various parts of the scene.
- Vision scientists have uncovered some of the reasons behind the unusual perceptual properties of the eye’s fovea.
- Among mammals, only humans and other primates have this dimple-like structure in their retinas. Owls, some other predatory birds, and some reptiles have a similar structure.
- Diseases such as macular degeneration are much more debilitating than deficits in peripheral eyesight because of the importance of the fovea to everyday vision.
- The findings decipher the mechanism that lets humans read the text, recognise faces, enjoy colours.
Study on fish reveals key to cure blindness
Scientists have discovered a chemical in the zebra fish brain that helps reveal how it regrows its retina, a finding that can potentially cure blindness in humans.
About the findings:
- The prevailing belief has been that the regeneration process in fish retinas is triggered by secreted growth factors, but this new research results indicate that the neurotransmitter GABA might initiate the process instead.
- All the regeneration models assume that a retina must be seriously damaged before regeneration takes place, but studies indicate that GABA can induce this process even in undamaged retinas.
- It turns out that the structure of the retinas of fish and mammals are basically the same.
Significance of the findings:
The discovery raises the possibility that human retinas can be induced to regenerate, naturally repairing damage caused by degenerative retinal diseases and injury, including age-related macular degeneration and retinitis pigmentosa.
- Although the retina is very thin – less than 0.5 millimetres thick – it contains three layers of nerve cells:
- Photoreceptors that detect the light,
- Horizontal cells that integrate the signals from the photoreceptors and
- Ganglion cells that receive the visual information and route it to the brain.
- In addition, the retina contains a special type of adult stem cell, called Muller glia, that span all three layers and provide mechanical support and electrical insulation. In fish retinas, they also play a key role in regeneration.
- When regeneration is triggered, the Muller glia dedifferentiate, begin proliferating, and then differentiate into replacements for the damaged nerve cells. Muller glia are also present in mammalian retinas, but do not regenerate.
Indian researcher uses novel strategy to increase wheat yield
A team of researchers, using a novel route, has been able to increase wheat grain yield by 20% and also improve the resilience of wheat to environmental stress such as drought.
What was the technique used?
- By using a precursor that enhances the amount of a key sugar-signalling molecule (trehalose-6-phosphate (T6P)) produced in wheat plant, the researcher has been able to increase the amount of starch produced and, therefore, the yield.
- The T6P molecule stimulates starch synthesis, which in turn, increases the yield. Since the pathway of T6P molecule is the same in other plants, the yield can potentially be increased by using suitable precursors.
- Scientists used four precursor compounds to increase the amount of T6P produced in the plant. While genetic methods can increase the T6P level two-three fold, the four precursor compounds were able to achieve 100-fold increase in the sugar-signalling molecule level compared with plants that did not receive the molecule.
- In field trials using wheat, a tiny amount of precursor given to the plant increased the yield significantly — the grains produced were bigger as the amount of starch content in the grains increased by 13-20% compared to controls that got only water.
To study the resilience of wheat to drought-like conditions when treated with the precursor molecules, the researchers carried out two different studies. These two studies showed that wheat plants were able to survive environmental stress if treated with the precursors. The molecule 2 (dimethoxy(ortho-nitro)benzyl) was better in battling stress.[Ref: The Hindu]
Key Facts for Prelims
- Union government has launched an android based and in-house developed mobile application “MySSB”.
- The mobile application will cater to the general requirements and information of force personnel.
- It facilitates accessibility to details of salary and allowance, general provident fund (GPF) subscription, service particulars including posting profiles and annual performance assessment report (APAR).