Polity & Governance
- National Voters’ Day
- De-criminalization of Politics
Government Schemes & Policies
- Fund crunch hits MGNREGA scheme
- HRD Ministry flags graft in Rashtriya Uchchatar Shiksha Abhiyan (RUSA)
- India climbs eight places to rank 72 in global talent index
Environment, Ecology & Disaster Management
- Mineral accretion technology for Coral Restoration
Bilateral & International Relations
- Palestine threatens to quit Oslo Peace Accord
Defence & Security Issues
- A-SAT Missile & Air Defence Tactical Control Radar
- Vakataka Dynasty
Science & Technology
- Rare and Massive ‘Accretion Burst’ sighted
Key Facts for Prelims
- 71st republic Day
- Padma Awards 2020 Announced
- Bharat Parv 2020 inaugurated with fanfare at Red Fort
- International Summit on Women in STEM
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Polity & Governance
National Voters’ Day
Extending greetings to people on the National Voters’ Day Prime Minister said the country expresses gratitude to the Election Commission for its efforts to make the electoral process more vibrant and participative.
National Voters’ Day:
- Objective: to encourage more young voters to take part in the political process.
- The Election Commission (EC) has been celebrating January 25 as the National Voters’ Day for the past 10 years.
- The EC came into being on January 25, 1950, a day before India became a republic.
De-criminalization of Politics
The Supreme Court has asked the Election Commission to come up with a framework within one week to contain the entry of candidates having criminal background into politics to strengthen the democratic set-up.
2018 ruling of SC:
- A five-judge Constitution bench in 2018 held unanimously that all candidates will have to declare their criminal background to the poll panel before contesting polls and called for a wider publicity, through print and electronic media about antecedents of candidates.
- The candidate as well as the concerned political party shall issue a declaration in the widely circulated newspapers in the locality about the antecedents of the candidate and also give wide publicity in the electronic media.
- Fielding candidates with criminal antecedents has been one of the key concerns in the recent elections.
- According to an analysis by Association of Democratic Reforms (ADR), nearly half the MPs of the 17th Lok Sabha elected in May 2019 had declared criminal cases against them.
- Out of the 539 MPs which ADR analyzed, 233 had declared criminal cases against them which was an increase of 44% in the number of MPs with declared criminal cases since 2009.
Representation of Peoples (RP) Act 1951:
- Section 8 of the Representation of the People (RP) Act, 1951 a person convicted of any offence and sentenced to imprisonment for not less than two years, shall be disqualified from the date of such conviction and shall continue to be disqualified for a further period of six years since his release.
- But those under trial continued to be eligible to contest elections.
- The Lily Thomas case (2013), however, ended this unfair advantage.
- In 2002, it made it obligatory for all candidates to file an affidavit before the returning officer, disclosing criminal cases pending against them.
- The famous order to introduce NOTA was intended to make political parties think before giving tickets to the tainted.
- In its landmark judgment of March 2014, the SC accepted the urgent need for cleansing politics of criminalisation and directed all subordinate courts to decide on cases involving legislators within a year, or give reasons for not doing so to the chief justice of the high court.
Government Schemes & Policies
Fund crunch hits MGNREGA scheme
The Centre is on the verge of running out of funds for MGNREGA- More than 96% of the allocated money has already been spent or is needed to pay pending dues, with less than ₹2,500 crore left to sustain the scheme for the next two months.
- According to the scheme’s financial statement, Fifteen States are already in the red in which Rajasthan has the highest negative net balance followed in Uttar Pradesh.
- MGNREGA (Mahatma Gandhi National Rural Employment Guarantee Act) is the largest work guarantee programme in the world.
- It was enacted in 2005 with the primary objective of guaranteeing 100 days of wage employment per year to rural households.
- It aims at addressing causes of chronic poverty through the ‘works’ (projects) that are undertaken, and thus ensuring sustainable development.
- Coverage: all districts of the country with the exception of those that have a 100% urban population.
- Legal right to work: The Act provides a legal right to employment for adult members of rural households. At least one third beneficiaries have to be women.
- Time bound guarantee of work and unemployment allowance: Employment must be provided with 15 days of being demanded failing which an ‘unemployment allowance’ must be given.
- Decentralised planning: Gram sabhas must recommend the works that are to be undertaken and at least 50% of the works must be executed by them. Panchayati Raj Institutions (PRIs) are primarily responsible for planning, implementation and monitoring of the works that are undertaken.
- Work site facilities: All work sites should have facilities such as crèches, drinking water and first aid.
- Social audits are conducted by gram sabhas to enable the community to monitor the implementation of the scheme.
- Funding is shared between the centre and the states.
- There are three major items of expenditure – wages (for unskilled, semi-skilled and skilled labour), material and administrative costs.
- The central government bears 100% of the cost of unskilled labour, 75% of the cost of semi-skilled and skilled labour, 75% of the cost of materials and 6% of the administrative costs.
HRD Ministry flags graft in Rashtriya Uchchatar Shiksha Abhiyan (RUSA)
The HRD Ministry has approached the Prime Minister’s Office (PMO) to flag alleged corruption in the implementation of the Rashtriya Uchchatar Shiksha Abhiyan (RUSA), a central higher education scheme for states.
RUSA is a Centrally Sponsored Scheme (CSS), launched in 2013 aims at providing strategic funding to eligible state higher educational institutions.
- Improve the overall quality of state institutions by ensuring conformity to prescribed norms and standards and adopt accreditation as a mandatory quality assurance framework.
- Usher transformative reforms in the state higher education system by creating a facilitating institutional structure for planning and monitoring at the state level, promoting autonomy in State Universities and improving governance in institutions.
- Ensure reforms in the affiliation, academic and examination systems.
- Ensure adequate availability of quality faculty in all higher educational institutions and ensure capacity building at all levels of employment.
- Create an enabling atmosphere in the higher educational institutions to devote themselves to research and innovations.
- Expand the institutional base by creating additional capacity in existing institutions and establishing new institutions, in order to achieve enrolment targets.
- Correct regional imbalances in access to higher education by setting up institutions in unserved & underserved areas.
- Improve equity in higher education by providing adequate opportunities of higher education to SC/STs and socially and educationally backward classes; promote inclusion of women, minorities, and differently abled persons.
Funding process of the RUSA:
- The central funding (in the ratio of 60:40 for general category States, 90:10 for special category states and 100% for union territories) would be norm based and outcome dependent.
- The funding would flow from the central ministry through the state governments/union territories to the State Higher Education Councils before reaching the identified institutions.
- The funding to states would be made on the basis of critical appraisal of State Higher Education Plans, which would describe each state’s strategy to address issues of equity, access and excellence in higher education.
India climbs eight places to rank 72 in global talent index
India has climbed eight places to 72nd rank in the 2020 Global Talent Competitiveness Index (GTCI), which was topped by Switzerland, the US and Singapore.
- GTCI, launched in 2013, is an annual benchmarking report that measures the ability of countries to compete for talent.
- It is released by INSEAD business school in partnership with Adecco Group and Google.
- The report measures levels of Global Talent Competitiveness by looking at 70 variables such as ease of hiring, gender earnings gap, and prevalence of training in firms.
- The six metrics used to decide a country’s rank are: enable, attract, grow, retain, vocational skills and global knowledge skills.
Highlights of the index:
- The GTCI report said that more could be done to improve the India’s educational system, India’s key strength relates to growing talent.
- Reason: due to its levels of lifelong learning and access to growth opportunities.
- The India’s highest-ranked sub-pillar is employability,
- But the ability to match labour market demand and supply stands in contrast to the country’s poor mid-level skills which result in a mediocre score in vocational and technical skills.
- India’s greatest challenge is to address its weak ability to attract and retain talent.
- With regard to the former pillar, there is a need to strengthen the role of minorities and women in order to raise the level of Internal Openness.
- As for the latter pillar, India’s low scores in the indicators that relate to the quality of life fall well short of its more positive showing in Sustainability.
- Sweden (4th), Denmark (5th), the Netherlands (6th), Finland (7th), Luxembourg (8th), Norway (9th) and Australia (10th) complete the top 10 league table.
- Report noted that the gap between high income, talent-rich nations and the rest of the world is widening.
- More than half of the population in the developing world lack basic digital skills.
- In the BRICS grouping, China was ranked 42nd, Russia (48th), South Africa (70th) and Brazil at 80th position.
- As far as the regional group (Central and Southern Asia) is concerned, Kazakhstan, India and Sri Lanka took the top three spots in the region.
- 2019 GTCI report explores how the development of artificial intelligence (AI) is not only changing the nature of work but also forcing a re-evaluation of workplace practices, corporate structures and innovation ecosystems.
Environment, Ecology & Disaster Management
Mineral accretion technology for Coral Restoration
The Zoological Survey of India (ZSI), with help from Gujarat’s forest department, is attempting for the first time a process to restore coral reefs using bio rock or mineral accretion technology.
- A Biorock structure was installed one nautical mile off the Mithapur coast in the Gulf of Kachchh, Arabian Sea, India.
- Biorock is the name given to the substance formed by electro accumulation of minerals dissolved in seawater on steel structures that are lowered onto the sea bed and are connected to a power source, in this case solar panels that float on the surface.
Biorock or mineral accretion technology:
- The technology works by passing a small amount of electrical current through electrodes in the water.
- When a positively charged anode and negatively charged cathode are placed on the sea floor and a small amount of electric current is passed through the electrodes.
- Due to it, Calcium ions combine with carbonate ions and adhere to the structure (cathode). This results in calcium carbonate (CaCO3) formation.
- Coral larvae stick to the CaCO3 and grow quickly, as they need not spend their energy in building their own calcium carbonate skeletons.
- Coral reefs are large underwater structures composed of the skeletons of colonial marine invertebrates called coral.
- They are important hotspots of biodiversity in the ocean and animals in the class Anthozoa of phylum Cnidaria.
- They secrete CaCO3 to form a hard skeleton.
- Coral Reefs are found only in the tropical seas between 30°N-25°S and the salinity requirement is 27 to 40%.
- Optimal temperature is 23°C-25°C, and must not fall below 20°C and above 35°C.
- Coral reefs control the level of carbon dioxide in the water by converting it into a limestone shell.
- They support a wide range of species and maintain the quality of the coastal biosphere.
Bilateral & International Relations
Palestine threatens to quit Oslo Peace Accord
Palestinian officials have threatened to withdraw from key provisions of the Oslo Accords, which define relations with Israel, if US President Donald Trump announces his Middle East Peace plan shortly.
Why this step?
- Palestine is skeptical that Trump initiative will turn Israel’s temporary occupation (of Palestinian territory) into a permanent occupation.
- Palestinians see east Jerusalem as the capital of their future state and believe Trump’s plan buries the two-state solution that has proposed to establish Palestine as an independent state in Gaza and most of the West Bank, leaving the rest of the land to Israel.
Oslo I Accord:
- Oslo I is formally known as the Declaration of Principles (DOP) signed between the two countries in 1993.
- The pact established a timetable for the Middle East peace process and planned for an interim Palestinian government in Gaza and Jericho in the West Bank.
- The meetings were carried out in secret over several months in 1992 and 1993.
Oslo II Accord:
- Officially called the Israeli-Palestinian Interim Agreement on the West Bank and Gaza, signed in 1995, expanded the Oslo Accord I.
- It set out the scope of Palestinian autonomy in the West Bank and Gaza.
- It included provisions for the complete withdrawal of Israeli troops from six West Bank cities and about 450 towns.
- Additionally, the pact set a timetable for elections for the Palestinian Legislative Council.
Details of Oslo Accords:
The Declaration calls for:
- Israel to withdraw from Jericho and Gaza, and eventually the West Bank.
- Five years of limited autonomy for Palestinians in those areas.
- Election of Palestinian Legislative Council within nine months.
- Establishment of a Palestinian police force.
- The question of Jerusalem was left undecided.
Defence & Security Issues
A-SAT Missile & Air Defence Tactical Control Radar
A-SAT missile along with a second equipment, the Air Defence Tactical Control Radar (ADTCR), as President and Supreme Commander of the armed forces reviewed the parade on republic day.
- ASAT is essentially a missile that can destroy or jam an enemy country’s satellite in space. Until now, only USA, Russia and China had operational ASAT systems.
- Since most of the communication networks are satellite-based, this can have a disastrous impact on the country whose satellite gets targeted.
- US first tested the ASAT technology in 1958 which was followed by USSR in 1964. China joined the club in 2007.
- Before India, the last known ASAT test was conducted by Russia in September 2018 where a new type of ASAT missile was carried by MIG-31.
Air Defence Tactical Control Radar (ADTCR):
- The ADTCR is used for volumetric surveillance, detection, tracking and friend/foe identification of aerial targets of different types and transmission of prioritised target data to multiple command posts and weapon systems.
- The system employs Active Phased Array Technology with Digital Beam Forming, distributed Digital Receivers.
- The Radar System, power & cooling systems, operator shelter, communication equipment etc. is conﬁgured on two High Mobility Vehicles.
- The Radar can be deployed in plain lands, deserts and in the mountain regions for the purpose of tactical early warning for Ground based Weapon Systems.
What is Mission Shakti?
- The mission of shooting down a live satellite by an anti-satellite missile (A-SAT) targeted in the low earth orbit (LEO) in 2019 by India is known as Mission Shakti.
- Mission Shakti is a joint programme of the Defence Research and Development Organisation (DRDO) and the Indian Space Research Organisation (ISRO).
- India had announced in 2010 to develop a hit-to-kill A-SAT system, was fully successful and achieved all parameters as per plans.
- The target destroyed by DRDO’s Ballistic Missile Defence interceptor (A-SAT missile) was an out of service Indian micro satellite launched by Indian Space Research Organisation (ISRO) in 2014.
- The anti-satellite missile test was conducted in the lower atmosphere to make sure that there is no space debris. Whatever wreckage is generated will decompose and fall back in the earth within weeks.
Nagardhan excavations findings on Vakataka dynasty
Archaeological excavations at Nagardhan, near Nagpur, have provided concrete evidence on the life, religious affiliations and trade practices of the Vakataka dynasty and also about the Vakataka rule under Queen Prabhavatigupta.
Key findings and their significance:
- An oval-shaped sealing has been traced. It belongs to the period when Prabhavatigupta was the queen of the Vakataka dynasty.
- It bears her name in the Brahmi script, along with the depiction of a conch.
- The presence of the conch, scholars say, is a sign of the Vaishnava affiliation that the Guptas held.
- A copper plate issued by Queen Prabhavatigupta has also been found. It starts with a genealogy of the Guptas, mentioning the Queen’s grandfather Samudragupta and her father Chandragupta II.
- Since the Vakataka people traded with Iran and beyond through the Mediterranean Sea, scholars suggest that these sealings could have been used as an official royal permission issued from the capital city. Besides, these were used on documents that sought mandatory royal permissions.
Who was Queen Prabhavatigupta?
- The Vakataka rulers were known to have forged several matrimonial alliances with other dynasties of their times. One of the key alliances was with Prabhavatigupta of the mighty Gupta dynasty, which was then ruling north India.
- After marrying Vakataka king Rudrasena II, Prabhavatigupta enjoyed the position of Chief Queen.
- Scholars say Queen Prabhavatigupta was among a handful of women rulers in India to have reigned over any kingdom during ancient times. Also, there had been no evidence so far of any successor female ruler within the Vakataka dynasty, the researchers suggest.
- She ruled for about 10 years until her son Pravarasena II.
- She had a pivotal role in propagation of Vaishnava practices in the Vidarbha region of Maharashtra.
About Vakataka dynasty:
- Vakatakas are the Shaivite rulers of Central India between the third and fifth centuries.
- The empire of Vakatakas is believed to have extended from Malwa and Gujarat in the north to the Tungabhadra in the south and from the Arabian Sea in the west to the Bay of Bengal in the east.
- Vindhyashakti was the founder of the dynasty and territorial expansion of region began in the reign of his son Pravarasena I, who reached the Narmada River in the north by annexing the kingdom of Purika.
- In the period of Prithvisena, the Vakatakas came into contact with the powerful Gupta family of North India, which was making a bid to expand in the west at the expense of the Western Kshatrapas.
- After the Guptas became involved in a war against the Hunas, the Vakataka dynasty was free to expand in central India and influence spread to such central Indian states as Kosala, Mekala, and Malava.
- The elephant god was a commonly worshipped deity in those times.
- Animal rearing was one of the main occupations. Remains of seven species of domestic animals — cattle, goat, sheep, pig, cat, horse and fowl — have been traced.
- The rock-cut Buddhist viharas and chaityas of Ajanta Caves (a UNESCO World Heritage Site) were built under the patronage of Vakataka emperor, Harishena.
- The Vakataka rulers were known to have forged several matrimonial alliances with Prabhavatigupta of the mighty Gupta dynasty.
Science & Technology
Rare and Massive ‘Accretion Burst’ sighted
Recently, astronomers have sighted a rare and massive Accretion Burst, which is the only third sighting after the first seen in 2016.
- Astronomers have recently found that the funneling of matter into a forming star happens at different rates over time.
- Sometimes the forming star swallows up a huge amount of matter, resulting in a burst of activities in the massive star. This is called an accretion burst event.
- It is incredibly rare: only three such events have been observed, out of all the billions of massive stars in the Milky Way.
- This will help astronomers to understand how original stars are initially formed.
- They will be able to develop and test theories to explain how high-mass stars gain their mass.
Maser Monitoring Organisation (M2O):
- The group was formed during the September 2017 International Astronomical Union Symposium for unlocking the mysteries of the Universe.
- The aim of this group is to form a network of MASER monitoring telescopes and joint collaboration to observe, research and validate Accretion Burst.
What is MASER?
- A MASER (Microwave amplification by stimulated emission of radiation) is the microwave (radio frequency) equivalent of laser.
- MASERs are observed using radio telescopes and most of them are observed at centimeter wavelength: they are very compact.
- A MASER flare can be a sign of an extraordinary event such as the formation of a star.
Key Facts for Prelims
71st Republic Day
The 71st Republic Day was celebrated across the country on 26 January 2020.
Significance of Republic Day in India:
- January 26, 1950 is the day the Indian constitution came into being 70 years ago i.e. India established itself as a sovereign state.
- The chief architect of the Constitution of India, Dr. Bhim Rao Ambedkar, headed the drafting committee that prepared the ‘draft constitution‘ in November 1947.
- It took two years, 11 months and 18 days for the final constitution to be shaped on 26, November 1949.
- The Constituent Assembly adopted the Constitution on January 26, 1950, a date specially chosen to coincide with the anniversary of ‘Purna Swaraj Diwas’.
- January 26, 1930 was marked as ‘Purna Swaraj Diwas’, or the day the nation would attain complete freedom from its colonisers by the Congress.
- The members of the drafting committee felt that the birth of the constitution should be observed on a day that held some significance in their fight for independence.
- When India was ultimately granted freedom by the British in 1947, but on August 15 and not January 26, the date was instead assigned to celebrating India’s Republic Day.
- This was the day the Indian Independence Act was consequently repealed and India was established as a democratic republic, no longer a dominion of the British Crown.
How is Republic Day celebrated in India?
- Much like the Independence Day celebrations in India, Republic Day too is celebrated with grand parades in New Delhi and the different state capitals.
- The Indian Army, Navy, Air Force, artistes and performers from across the country participate in the parades to showcase the diversity of cultures.
- The President and state Governors receive the military salutes during the parades with the ‘fly past’ by the Indian Air Force officially concluding the parade in the national capital.
Chief guest of Republic Day 2020:
- The President of Brazil Jair Messias Bolsonaro was the chief guest this year.
- For the first time Prime Minister paid homage to martyrs at the newly constructed National War Memorial (NWM) near India Gate instead of Amar Jawan Jyoti (AJJ).
- The NWM is located near the India Gate and was built in memory of about 22,500 Indian soldiers who laid down their lives in the post-independence period, inaugurated in February 2019.
- Amar Jawan Jyoti will now be used only for regimental events and visiting dignitaries.
- Mission Shakti, Anti-satellite weapon developed by DRDO, Army’s battle tank Bhishma, infantry combat vehicles, Air Forces’ newly inducted Chinook and Apache helicopters were showcased during the parade.
- Captain Tania Shergill led an all-men marching contingent of the Corps of Signals at the Republic Day parade and became the first woman Parade Adjutant in the history of the Army Day function.
Padma Awards 2020 Announced
Padma Awards – one of the highest civilian Awards of the country, are conferred in three categories, namely, Padma Vibhushan, Padma Bhushan and Padma Shri.
Disciplines/ fields for Padma awards:
The Awards are given in various disciplines/ fields of activities, viz.- art, social work, public affairs, science and engineering, trade and industry, medicine, literature and education, sports, civil service, etc.
- ‘Padma Vibhushan’ is awarded for exceptional and distinguished service (it is a second degree honour).
- ‘Padma Bhushan’ for distinguished service of high order (it is a third degree honour).
- ‘Padma Shri’ for distinguished service in any field (it is a fourth degree honour).
The awards are announced on the occasion of Republic Day every year. These awards are conferred by the President of India.
Bharat Ratna Awards:
- Bharat Ratna’, the highest civilian Award of India, was instituted in the year 1954.
- The award was originally limited to achievements in the arts, literature, science, and public services, but the government expanded the criteria to include any field of human endeavour in December 2011.
- It is not mandatory that Bharat Ratna be awarded every year.
- The recommendations for Bharat Ratna are made by the Prime Minister himself to the President. No formal recommendations for this are necessary.
- The Award does not carry any monetary grant.
- The number of annual awards is restricted to a maximum of three in a particular year.
- The first ever Indian to receive this award was Chandrasekhara Venkata Raman.
- In terms of Article 18 (1) of the Constitution, the award cannot be used as a prefix or suffix to the recipient’s name.
- However, should an award winner consider it necessary, he/she may use the ‘Awarded Bharat Ratna by the President’ or ‘Recipient of Bharat Ratna Award’.
- There is no written provision that Bharat Ratna should be awarded to Indian citizens only.
Bharat Parv 2020 inaugurated with fanfare at Red Fort
To celebrate the spirit of India, the annual event Bharat Parv is being celebrated from 26th to 31st January, in front of Red Fort at Gyan Path and Red Fort grounds.
- Central theme of Bharat Parv 2020 is ‘Ek Bharat Shreshtha Bharat’ and ‘Celebrating 150 Years of Mahatma Gandhi’.
- Objective of Bharat Parv is to encourage Indians to visit different tourism places of India and to inculcate the spirit of ‘Dekho Apna Desh’.
International Summit on Women in STEM
The Department of Biotechnology organized an International Summit on Women in STEM- (Science, technology, engineering, and mathematics) “Visualizing the Future: New Skylines” at India Habitat Centre, New Delhi.
- Aim: to boost the participation of women in STEM field for development of scientific career.
- Summit included mechanisms of leadership building, empowering women through networking, career opportunities and interactive exercises with scientists.
- Around 350 participants from different STEM field across the globe participated in the event including scientists, socialists, entrepreneurs, researchers, teachers and students.
- The summit provided a good platform for young students and researchers to interact and network with leaders in the field, to develop ideas and generate a future action plan for making career in STEM fields.