Current Affairs Analysis

16th June 2020 Current Affairs Analysis – IASToppers

NASA’s Gateway Lunar Orbiting outpost; Pre-Conception and Pre-Natal Diagnostic Techniques; Indian Gas Exchange; Guinea-Bissau; Locust Warning Organisation; Malathion 95 ULV; Indian Ocean Commission; Regional Maritime Information Fusion Centre; European Maritime Surveillance Initiative; Madagascar; Strait of Hormuz; Global Partnership on Artificial Intelligence; SIPRI yearbook 2020; India’s nuclear capability; Raja Parba; Talamaddale; Yakshagana; Commercial Mushroom Cultivation; Multi location claim settlement; Broomgrass; Monkey Park in Kerala; Anti-COVID coir mats; CAPTAIN ARJUN etc.
By IASToppers
June 16, 2020

Contents

Polity & Governance

  • Why suspend sex test rules? asks SC

Economy

  • Indian Gas Exchange

Environment, Ecology & Disaster Management

  • Death of hundreds of Vultures in Guinea-Bissau
  • HIL supplies Insecticides to Iran

Bilateral & International Relations

  • Naval liaisons for Information Exchange
  • India joins Global Partnership on Artificial Intelligence

Defence & Security Issues

  • China, Pakistan have more Nuclear Weapons than India

Science and Technology

  • NASA’s Gateway Lunar Orbiting outpost

Art and Culture

  • Raja Parba
  • Talamaddale Art goes digital

Key Facts for Prelims

  • Commercial Mushroom Cultivation
  • EPFO launches multi location claim settlement
  • Broomgrass
  • Monkey Park in Kerala
  • Anti-COVID coir mats
  • CAPTAIN ARJUN

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Polity & Governance

Why suspend sex test rules? asks SC

The Supreme Court has asked the government to explain its decision to suspend crucial rules of a parliamentary law against pre-natal sex determination and sex selection till June end.

Major Highlights:

  • As per a petition in SC, the Central government has arbitrarily and selectively weakened a legislation aimed at curbing the pernicious activity of sex-selection and sex-determination.
  • By suspending the Rules, the government has diluted the PCPNDT Act, the petition said.
  • SC issued formal notice to the government on April 4 notification issued by the Union Ministry of Health and Family Welfare which put on hold the implementation of certain rules of the Pre-Conception and Pre-Natal Diagnostic Techniques (Prohibition of Sex-Selection Rules) of 1994 till June 30, 2020.
  • One of the suspended provisions, Rule 8, is intrinsically connected with the statute’s provisions dealing with the mandatory registration of genetic counselling centres, laboratories and clinics.
  • This will result in misuse of technology by unscrupulous individuals who will no longer be deterred by the monitoring mechanism provided in the Rules.
  • This illegal suspension of Rules, while medical establishments continue to function, will provide avenues for misuse of technology for purposes of sex-selection and sex-determination, and will result in a loss of the gains made in the strict implementation of the Act.

Pre-Conception and Pre-Natal Diagnostic Techniques:

  • Pre-Conception and Pre-Natal Diagnostic Techniques (PCPNDT) Act, 1994 is an Act of the Parliament of India enacted to stop female foeticides and arrest the declining sex ratio in India.
  • The act banned prenatal sex determination.

Objectives:

  • To ban the use of sex selection techniques before or after conception.
  • To prevent the misuse of prenatal diagnostic technique for sex selective abortion.

Salient features:

Offences under this act include:

  • Conducting or helping in the conduct of prenatal diagnostic technique in the unregistered units,
  • Sex selection on a man or woman,
  • Conducting PNDT test for any purpose other than the one mentioned in the act,
  • Sale, distribution, supply, renting etc. of any ultra sound machine or any other equipment capable of detecting sex of the foetus.

Main provisions in the act:

  1. The Act provides for the prohibition of sex selection, before or after conception.
  2. It regulates the use of pre-natal diagnostic techniques, like ultrasound machine by allowing them their use only to detect- genetic abnormalities, metabolic disorders, chromosomal abnormalities, certain congenital malformations, haemoglobinopathies, Sex linked disorders.
  3. No laboratory or center or clinic will conduct any test including ultrasonography for the purpose of determining the sex of the foetus.
  4. No person, including the one who is conducting the procedure as per the law, will communicate the sex of the foetus to the pregnant woman or her relatives by words, signs or any other method.
  5. Any person who puts an advertisement for pre-natal and pre-conception sex determination facilities in the form of a notice, circular, label, or any document, or advertises through interior or other media in electronic or print form or engages in any visible representation made by means of hoarding, wall painting, signal, light, sound, can be imprisoned for up to three years and fined Rs. 10,000.

Key Facts:

  • The number of girls missing at birth due to the practice of gender biased sex selection in India has been estimated at 0.46 million girls per year for the period 2001-12 (which is 5.52 million girl children, missing at birth for the 12-year period).
[Ref: NRHM; The Hindu]

Economy

Indian Gas Exchange

The Minister of Petroleum and Natural Gas launched the Indian Gas Exchange (IGX), first nationwide online delivery-based gas trading platform.

How will this exchange work?

  • IGX will be a delivery-based digital trading platform for delivery of natural Gas.
  • It will allow buyers and sellers of natural gas to trade both in the spot market and in the forward market for imported natural gas across three hubs —Dahej and Hazira in Gujarat, and Kakinada in Andhra Pradesh.
  • The exchange is expected to facilitate transparent price discovery in natural gas, and facilitate the growth of the share of natural gas in India’s energy basket.
  • Imported Liquified Natural Gas (LNG) will be regassified and sold to buyers through the exchange, removing the requirement for buyers and sellers to find each other.
  • The exchange also allows much shorter contracts – for delivery on the next day, and up to a month – while ordinarily contracts for natural gas supply are as long as six months to a year.
  • The price of domestically produced natural gas is decided by the government, so, it will not be sold on the gas exchange.

Will this make India more import dependent?

  • Domestic production of gas has been falling over the past two fiscals as current sources of natural gas have become less productive.
  • Domestically produced natural gas currently accounts for less than half the country’s natural gas consumption; imported LNG accounts for the other half.
  • LNG imports are set to become a larger proportion of domestic gas consumption as India moves to increase the proportion of natural gas in the energy basket from 6.2% in 2018 to 15% by 2030.

What regulatory change is required?

  • Currently, the pipeline infrastructure necessary for the transportation of natural gas is controlled by the companies that own the network.
  • State-owned GAIL owns and operates India’s largest gas pipeline network, spanning over 12,000 km.
  • An independent system operator for natural gas pipelines would help ensure transparent allocation of pipeline usage, and build confidence in the minds of buyers and sellers about neutrality in the allocation of pipeline capacity.
  • Experts have also called for natural gas to be included in the Goods and Services Tax (GST) regime to avoid buyers having to deal with different levies such as VAT across states, when purchasing natural gas from the exchange.

Need for this platform:

  • The Government of India has set a policy target of increasing the share of natural gas in India’s energy basket from current 6.5% to 15% by 2030.
  • World average proportion of gas in the energy mix is currently at 23.5%.
  • To undertake such an increase in share of natural gas in India, it is imperative to drive investments in the overall gas economy value chain.
  • It includes domestic production, re-gasification of imported LNG, transportation (pipelines) and end-use consumption (industrial, commercial and residential applications).
  • The required investments call for a market-based mechanism for gas pricing and allocation that can generate effective price, demand and supply signals.
  • A market-based mechanism is possible if there is a transparent and neutral natural gas trading platform.
  • The trading platform will also drive competition across the value-chain, leading to innovative business models and efficient cost-structures, thus supporting the overall affordability of gas.
[Ref: PIB; IGX; Indian Express]

Environment, Ecology & Disaster Management

Death of hundreds of Vultures in Guinea-Bissau

More than 2,000 critically endangered Hooded Vultures are reported to have died in Guinea-Bissau since 2019. They were deliberately poisoned with an agricultural pesticide.

Reason:

  • Their body parts were harvested for ‘medicinal’ or belief-based purposes, as prevalent in West Africa.

Key Fact:

  • There are six resident vulture species in West Africa: Palm-nut Vulture, White-backed Vulture, Ruppell’s Vulture, Hooded Vulture, White-headed Vulture and Lappet-faced Vulture.

Key fact about Guinea-Bissau:

  • Guinea-Bissau is a tropical country on West Africa’s Atlantic coast.
  • Capital: Bissau
  • It borders Senegal to the north and Guinea to the south-east.
  • The country uses the name of its capital Bissau, to distinguish it from Guinea, its neighbour to the east and south.
  • Guinea-Bissau has a history of political instability since independence, and only one elected president has successfully served a full five-year term.
[Ref: Down To Earth, Britannica]

HIL supplies Insecticides to Iran

HIL (India) Limited has supplied 25MT Malathion 95% ULV to Iran under Government-to-Government initiative for Locust Control Programme.

Major Highlights:

  • In order to control Locusts Iran has placed an order with HIL (India) Limited for the supply 25 MT of Malathion 95% ULV.
  • As per the reports of the Food and Agriculture Organisation, the hopper stage population of locust is building up in Sistan-Baluchistan Region of Iran, which shall migrate to India in coming months leading to further crop devastation.
  • Government of India has taken an initiative to counter the locust menace at its breeding ground itself and approached Iran for coordinated efforts.
  • Desert Locust after severe crop devastation in Horn of Africa, East Africa and Arabian Peninsula has entered into India in March/April 2020 and it has affected the field crop, horticulture crops and other plantation in the State of Rajasthan, Madhya Pradesh, Gujarat, Punjab and Uttar Pradesh.
  • India is experiencing worst locust invasion, which was last observed more than 25 years back.
  • HIL (India) Limited is also supplying Malathion 95% ULV to Ministry of Agriculture and Farmer’s Welfare Locust Control Programme in the country.

Locust Warning Organisation:

  • The Locust Warning Organisation is under the Ministry of Agriculture with its headquarters at Jodhpur in Rajasthan.
  • LWO monitors and controls the locust situation and implements the Locust Control and Research scheme.
  • The LWO’s responsibility is monitoring and control of the locust situation in Scheduled Desert Areas mainly in Rajasthan and Gujarat, and partly in Punjab and Haryana.
  • The LWO publishes a fortnight bulletin on the locust situation.
  • Drones are usedfor aerial spraying of Malathion, an organophosphate insecticide and a potentially toxic chemical for non-cropped areas.

Locust Watch:

  • Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) of the United Nations provides Locust situation, Current upsurge, Desert Locust Bulletin and Risk map as part of its Locust Watch initiative.
  • The initiative aims to monitor the world-wide locust situation and keep affected countries and donors informed of expected developments.

MALATHION 95 ULV:

  • MALATHION 95 ULV is an organophosphate insecticide and a potentially toxic chemical for non-cropped areas.
  • It is used undiluted in specially designed aircraft or ground equipment capable of applying ultra-low volumes for control of the insects indicated.
[Ref: PIB]

Bilateral & International Relations

Naval liaisons for Information Exchange

India is looking to post Navy Liaison Officers at the Regional Maritime Information Fusion Centre in Madagascarand at the European maritime surveillance initiative in the Strait of Hormuzfor improved Maritime Domain Awareness.

Significance:

  • This will be improving linkages of the Navy’s Information Fusion Centre for Indian Ocean Region (IFC-IOR) in Gurugram with other IFCs and become the repository for all maritime data in the Indian Ocean Region.

Indian Ocean Commission:

  • The IOC is a regional forum in the southwest Indian Ocean, comprising five nations — Comoros, France (Reunion), Madagascar, Mauritius and Seychelles.
  • The IOC was created in 1982 at Port Louis, Mauritius, and later institutionalised in 1984.
  • China and the European Union (EU) have been Observers in the IOC since 2016 and 2017, respectively.
  • Its principal mission is to strengthen the ties of friendship between the countries and to be a platform of solidarity for the entire population of the African-Indian Ocean region.
  • The mission also includes development through projects related to sustainability for the region, aimed at protecting the region, improving the living conditions of the populations and preserving the various natural resources that the countries depend upon.

Regional Maritime Information Fusion Centre:

  • The RMFIC functions under the aegis of the Indian Ocean Commission (IOC) of which India became an Observer in March 2020 along with Japan and the United Nations.
  • It is based in Madagascar and designed to deepen maritime domain awareness by monitoring maritime activities and promoting information sharing and exchange.

European Maritime Surveillance:

  • European Maritime Surveillance was started by France in February 2020.
  • It is aimed to monitor maritime activity and guarantee freedom of navigation in the Persian Gulf and the Strait of Hormuz.

Location of Madagascar:

  • Madagascar is an island country in the Indian Ocean off the coast of East Africa.
  • It is the world’s 4th largest island country after Greenland (1st), New Guinea (2nd) and Borneo (3rd).
  • It is a biodiversity hotspot; over 90% of its wildlife is found nowhere else on Earth.

Strait of Hormuz:

  • It is a strait between the Persian Gulf and the Gulf of Oman.
  • It provides the only sea passage from the Persian Gulf to the open ocean and is one of the world’s most strategically important choke points.
[Ref: The Hindu]

India joins Global Partnership on Artificial Intelligence

India has joined the Global Partnership on Artificial Intelligence on 15 June 2020.

Key Features:

  • The Global Partnership on Artificial Intelligence (GPAI) is an international and multi-stakeholder initiative to guide the responsible development and use of AI, grounded in human rights, inclusion, diversity, innovation, and economic growth.
  • India hasjoined the league of leading economies including USA, UK, EU, Australia, Canada, France etc. to launch GPAI.
  • GPAI aims for evolving better understanding of the challenges and opportunities around Artificial Intelligence using the experience and diversity of participating countries.
  • India will actively participate in the global development of Artificial Intelligence, leveraging its experience around use of digital technologies for inclusive growth.

Responsible Use of AI:

  • India’s AI strategy focuses on the transformative impact of such technologies on improving the quality of life and access to services for all segments of population. It includes:
    • Privacy and Security.
    • Implement the data protection law recognising individual’s right to informational privacy.
    • Spread awareness among citizens.
    • Craft sector-specific guidelines on privacy, security and ethics through a consultative mechanism with key stakeholders in the different industries.
    • Accountable AI Systems.
    • AI systems must have measures to ensure transparency, safety and security.
    • Rigorous auditing to remove human biases and prejudice.

To know more about National AI Portal and Responsible AI for Youth programme, refer the link given below:https://www.iastoppers.com/31st-may-1st-june-2020-current-affairs-analysis-iastoppers/ )

[Ref: AIR; ORF]

Defence & Security Issues

China, Pakistan have more Nuclear Weapons than India

According to SIPRI (Stockholm International Peace Research Institute) year book 2020, China and Pakistan have more nuclear weapons than India.

Major Highlights:

  • With 6,375 and 5,800 warheads, Russia and the United States together possess more than 90% of global nuclear weapons.
  • The number of nuclear warheads in the Chinese arsenal is 320, while the nuclear forces of Pakistan and India are estimated to have 160 and 150 weapons, respectively.
  • China is carrying out significant modernisation of its nuclear arsenal and developing a nuclear triad for the first time made up of new land and sea-based missiles and nuclear-capable fighter jets.
  • India and Pakistan are slowly increasing the size and diversity of their nuclear forces.
  • There has been an overall decrease in the number of nuclear warheads in 2019 as compared to last report.
  • The nine nuclear-armed countries — the US, Russia, the United Kingdom, France, China, India, Pakistan, Israel and North Korea — together account for an estimated 13,400 nuclear weapons as of January 2020.

Key Fact:

  • As per SIPRI’s report on Trends in World in World Military Expenditure India’s defence spending grew by 6.8% to reach $71.1 billion in 2019.

India’s nuclear capability:

Military fissile material production:

  • India’s nuclear weapons are believed to be single-stage plutonium-based implosion designs.
  • The plutonium was produced at the Bhabha Atomic Research Centre (BARC) in Trombay, Mumbai.
  • To extract the plutonium, India operates a plutonium reprocessing plant for military purposes at the BARC as well as three dual-use plants elsewhere.
  • India is also increasing its uranium enrichment capabilities and continues to produce enriched uranium at the expanded gas centrifuge facility at the Rattehalli Rare Materials Plant near Mysore, Karnataka, for highly enriched uranium (HEU) for use as naval reactor fuel.

Aircrafts:

  • The Indian Air Force has reportedly certified its Mirage 2000H fighter-bombers for delivery of nuclear gravity bombs.
  • India is acquiring a planned total of 36 Rafale aircraft from France. The majority of the aircraft are scheduled for delivery in 2021–22.
  • The Rafale aircraft could therefore potentially replace India’s Jaguar IS fighter-bomber in that role.

Land-based missiles:

  • The Indian Army’s Strategic Forces Command operates four types of mobile nuclear-capable ballistic missile:
    • The short-range Prithvi-II (250 kilometers) and Agni-I (700 km)
    • The medium-range Agni-II (2000+ km) and
    • The intermediate-range Agni-III (3200+ km).
  • India is pursuing a technology development programme for multiple independently targetable re-entry vehicles (MIRVs).
[Ref: Hindustan Times]

Science and Technology

NASA’s Gateway Lunar Orbiting outpost

NASA recently finalised the contract for the initial crew module of its Gateway lunar orbiting outpost.

Major Highlights:

  • The contract worth $187 million has been awarded to Orbital Science Corporation of Dulles, Virginia, which is a wholly-owned subsidiary of Northrop Grumman Space.
  • One of the most unique features of the Gateway is that it can be moved to other orbits around the Moon to conduct more research.
  • The Gateway is being built by both international and commercial partners and will support exploration on and near the Moon and later to Mars as well.

What is the contract for?

  • NASA has issued this contract to design the habitation and logistics (HALO) support for the Gateway, which is a part of NASA’s Artemis program that aims to send the first woman and the next man to the Moon by 2024.
  • The HALO refers to the pressurised living quarters where astronauts will spend their time while visiting the Gateway.

What is NASA’s Gateway Lunar Orbit outpost?

  • The Gateway is a small spaceship that will orbit the Moon, meant for astronaut missions to the Moon and later, for expeditions to Mars.
  • It will act as a temporary office and living quarters for astronauts, distanced at about 250,000 miles from Earth.
  • The spaceship will have living quarters, laboratories for science and research and docking ports for visiting spacecraft.
  • The Gateway will act as an airport, where spacecraft bound for the lunar surface of Mars can refuel or replace parts and resupply things like food and oxygen.
  • This will allow astronauts to take multiple trips to the Lunar surface and exploration of new locations across the Moon.
  • NASA has targeted the completion of the Gateway for 2026, while work on the spaceship is already underway.
[Ref: Indian Express]

Art and Culture

Raja Parba

The Prime Minister greeted the people of Odisha on the start of Raja Parba on 15 June 2020.

About the festival:

  • Raja Parba is a three-day-long festival celebrated in Odisha dedicated to Mother Earth (Bhuma Devi) and womanhood at large.
  • It is celebrated for three days during the mid of June, most probably from 14th June and ends in 16th.
  • It is believed that Goddess Earth (Bhuma Devi), the consort of Lord Vishnu, undergoes her menstrual cycle during this period.
  • During the Parba, Odia people do not undertake any construction works or tilling that requires the earth to be dug.
  • By not doing such activities, they pay ode to the Mother Earth who needs a break from routine work.
  • After the three days, the fourth day is meant for bathing of mother Earth.
  • In this eve people worship mother Earth by bathing pieces of stone as it’s a replica and pray for a prosperous agricultural year in the days to come.

Significance:

  • Menstruation is considered as a sign of fertility, and therefore, it celebrates femininity and her ability to give birth to another life.
  • This festival is also associated with the end of the summer season and the arrival of the monsoon.
  • It is also associated with agriculture and cultivation related communities and activities.
[Ref: TimesNow]

Talamaddale Art goes digital

The traditional art of Talamaddale, a variant of Yakshagana theatre was streamed live on social media recently.

Talamaddale:

  • Talamaddale is an ancient form of performance dialogue or debate performance in Southern India in the Karavali and Malnad regions of Karnataka and Kerala.
  • It is a derived form of Yakshagana—a classical dance or musical form of art from the same region.
  • Unlike the Yakshagana performance, in the conventional ‘talamaddale,’ the artists sit across in a place without any costumes and engage in testing their oratory skills based on the episode chosen.
  • The music is common for both Yakshagana performance and ‘talamaddale’, the latter has only spoken word without any dance or costumes.
  • Hence it is an art form minus dance, costumes and stage conventions.

Yakshagana:

  • Yakshagana is a traditional Indian theatre form, developed in Dakshina Kannada, Udupi, Uttara Kannada, Shimoga and western parts of Chikmagalur districts of Karnataka and in Kasaragod district in Kerala.
  • It is a combination of dance, music, dialogue, costume, make-up, and stage techniques with a unique style and form.
  • It is believed to have evolved from pre-classical music and theatre during the period of the Bhakti movement.
  • It is based on mythological stories, Puranas, Ramayana, Mahabharata, Bhagavata and other epics from both Hindu and Jain and other ancient Indian traditions.
  • The most popular episodes are from the Mahabharata and Ramayana.
  • Yakshagana is strongly influenced by the Vaishnava Bhakti movement.
[Ref: The Hindu]

Key Facts for Prelims

Commercial Mushroom cultivation

  • Four new high yielding varieties of Mushrooms were launched by the Directorate of Mushroom Research (DMR) in Solan, Himachal Pradesh during the 22nd annual workshop of All India Coordinated Research Project on Mushrooms.
  • Mushrooms are known for their immunity-boosting and anti-viral properties.
  • Mushroom cultivation can act as a means to cushion employment loss in the wake of COVID-19 outbreak.
  • The advantages of mushroom cultivation include that the crop does not get affected by vagaries of climate since it is cultivated in controlled atmosphere under a roof.
  • It requires very little space and ensures up to 100 per cent profit.

EPFO launches multi location claim settlement

  • Employees Provident Fund Organisation (EPFO) has recently launched a multi-location claim settlement facility.
  • This facility will allow EPFO offices to settle online claims (provident fund, pension, partial withdrawal and claims and transfer claim) from any of its regional offices.
  • Currently, EPFO has existing system of geographical jurisdiction for claim processing.

Significance:

  • Allow offices with lesser workload to share the burden of offices that have accumulated a higher level of pendency, due to COVID-19 restrictions.
  • Ushering faceless claims processing thereby bringing greater levels of transparency and expeditious settlement of online claims.

Broomgrass

  • Van Dhan Vikas Kendras have helped tremendously to the Tribal communities in Langleng, one of Nagaland’s poorest districts, in selling their hill broomgrass.
  • Broom grass has an important ecological and economical role for hillside dwellers.
  • Broomgrass is a perennial, high value, non-timber forest product that grows abundantly in degraded, steep or marginal land.
  • The panicles of this multipurpose crop are widely used for making brooms.
  • Its non-perishable nature makes broomgrass a suitable cash crop establishing high market demands.
  • Assam government has also initiated ‘Hill Brooms and Maize Value Chain Development’ programme in Rhongkhang and Lumbajong blocks of District Karbi Anglong in 1000 Self Help Groups (SHG) households.

Monkey Park in Kerala

  • Kerala plans to establish a monkey park, on the uninhabited islands in the Sharavathi backwaters region, which was formed due to the Linganamakki dam built across the Sharavathi river.
  • Need for such park: Due to spike in the cases of monkeys raiding agricultural and plantation crops in Malnad region in recent times.
  • In Himachal Pradesh, there are state-of-the-art monkey sterilisation and rehabilitation centres to address the monkey menace.

Anti-COVID coir mats

  • Kerala State Coir Corporation has launched Anti-COVID Health Plus Mats (comprising coir mat, a tray and sanitizing solution).
  • These mats will be required during reverse quarantine measures that could happen in the future when houses have to ensure hygiene.
  • It was made out of 100% natural material.

CAPTAIN ARJUN

  • Protection Force, Pune has launched a Robotic ‘CAPTAIN ARJUN’ (Always be Responsible and Just Use to be Nice) to screen passengers while they board trains and keep a watch on anti-social elements.
  • Captain ARJUN is equipped with a motion sensor, one PTZ (pan–tilt–zoom) camera and one Dome Camera.
  • The Cameras use Artificial Intelligence algorithms to track suspicious and antisocial activity.
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