Polity & Governance
- Rules governing Unparliamentary Expressions
- No reservation in promotion to SC and ST
Government Schemes & Policies
- Kerala imposes ban on CFLs and Filament bulbs
- Uncompensated Victims of trafficking
- Codifying laws to ban child pornography
- Kakinada Port
Bilateral & International Relations
- Agartala-Akhaura rail line
- Grand Ethiopian Renaissance Dam
Science & Technology
- NASA fixes Voyager-2
- Genome India Project
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Polity & Governance
Rules governing Unparliamentary Expressions
The heated exchanges in Parliament have brought back recurring questions around unparliamentary speech and conduct.
- Whatever an MP says is subject to the discipline of the Rules of Parliament, the “good sense” of Members, and the control of proceedings by the Speaker.
- These checks ensure that MPs cannot use defamatory or indecent or undignified or unparliamentary words inside the House.
What are Unparliamentary expressions?
- There are phrases and words, both in English and in other Indian languages, that are “unparliamentary”.
- The Presiding Officers — Speaker of Lok Sabha and Chairperson of Rajya Sabha — have the job of keeping these bad words out of Parliament’s records.
- For their reference and help, the Lok Sabha Secretariat has brought out a bulky tome titled ‘Unparliamentary Expressions’, the 2004 edition of which ran into 900 pages.
- The list contains several words and expressions that would probably be considered rude or offensive in most cultures.
- The state legislatures too are guided mainly by the same book, which also draws heavily from unparliamentary words and phrases used in the Vidhan Sabhas and Vidhan Parishads of India.
Rules made to prevent Unparliamentary expressions:
- Article 105(2): No Member of Parliament shall be liable to any proceedings in any court in respect of anything said or any vote given by him in Parliament or any committee thereof”, MPs do not enjoy the freedom to say whatever they want inside the House.
- Rule 380 of the Rules of Procedure and Conduct of Business in Lok Sabha: If the Speaker is of opinion that words have been used in debate which are defamatory or indecent or unparliamentary or undignified, the Speaker may, while exercising discretion order that such words be expunged from the proceedings of the House.
- Rule 381: The portion of the proceedings of the House so expunged shall be marked by asterisks and an explanatory footnote shall be inserted in the proceedings as follows: ‘Expunged as ordered by the Chair’.
No reservation in promotion to SC and ST
The Supreme Court has ruled that states are not bound to provide reservation in appointments and promotions and that there is no fundamental right to reservation in promotions.
What the law says about reservation?
- Article 16(4) empowers the state to make any provision for the reservation of appointments or posts in favour of any backward class of citizens which, in the opinion of the state, is not adequately represented in the services under the state.
- By way of the 77th Amendment Act, a new clause (4A) was introduced to Article 16, empowering the state to make provisions for reservation in matters of promotion to SC/ST employees if the state feels they are not adequately represented in services. The Supreme Court had upheld the amendment as constitutional.
Decision of the bench:
- The Supreme Court was deciding a group of appeals pertaining to reservations to SCs and STs in promotions in the posts of Assistant Engineer (Civil) in PWD, Uttarakhand.
- The states are not bound to make reservation for Scheduled Castes and Scheduled Tribes in matters of promotions.
- However, if they (state) wish to exercise their discretion, Article 16 (4) and 16 (4-A) empowers the state to make such provision, but the state has to collect quantifiable data showing inadequacy of their representation in the services of the state.
- If the decision of the state to provide reservations in promotion is challenged, the state concerned shall have to place before the court the requisite quantifiable data and satisfy the court that such reservations became necessary on account of inadequacy of representation of Scheduled Castes and Scheduled Tribes in a particular class or classes of posts without affecting general efficiency of administration.
Government Schemes & Policies
Kerala imposes ban on CFLs and Filament bulbs
Kerala’s Finance Minister has made an announcement to impose a ban on the sale of compact fluorescent lamps (CFL) and incandescent (filament) bulbs starting November 2020 as part of sustainable energy policy.
What is the decision?
- The streetlights and bulbs in government offices across the state will be converted to light-emitting diode (LED) bulbs.
- Nearly 2.5 crore LED bulbs have been produced on a mass scale in the state for public consumption.
- The announcement is in line with the government project of ‘Filament-free Kerala’ envisaged in 2018 as part of the state’s Urja Kerala mission.
- The Finance Ministry has allocated Rs 1,765 crores for the energy sector and hoped to create 500 MW from solar energy installations.
Why this ban?
- LED bulbs are energy-efficient than filament or CFL bulbs and will, therefore, generate less waste.
- Also, the filament bulbs contain the mercury element which, when broken, is polluting in nature.
Filament-free Kerala project:
- The filament-free Kerala project will be implemented by the Kerala State Electricity Board (KSEB) and the Energy Management Centre, Kerala.
- Consumers in the state can place orders for LED bulbs on the KSEB website in exchange for existing filament bulbs.
- Nine-watt LED bulbs are being sold at reduced prices by the government to encourage usage.
- The initiative is a part of long-term sustainable energy policy of the Left government to reduce the dependence on conventional energy sources and instead maximise potential on renewable sources like solar and hydel power.
- The project to install solar panels on rooftops of households and residential complexes, being implemented by the KSEB, is a step in that direction.
Uncompensated Victims of trafficking
In a response to a RTI query, it was revealed that from 25 States and seven Union Territories between March 2011 and April 2019 only 82 trafficking survivors were awarded compensation.
What was the matter?
- The details of compensation awarded to survivors of trafficking have been ascertained on the basis of RTI applications filed by five lawyers across the country and the outcome of the response compiled in the form of report titled “Uncompensated Victims”, released recently by Sanjog, a technical resource organisation that works to combat trafficking and gender-based violence.
- The report highlighted the poor status of compensation awarded to survivors of human trafficking in the country.
- The National Crime Records Bureau reports put the total number of cases of human trafficking at 35,983 between 2011 and 2018.
- Only 82 trafficking survivors i.e. 0.2% of all survivors of human trafficking received the compensation announced by the government in the last eight years.
- Among the 82 survivors who were awarded compensation, only 77 received the relief amount.
Central Victim Compensation Fund scheme (CVCF):
- The Ministry of Home Affairs has introduced a Scheme called the Central Victim Compensation Fund (CVCF) with initial corpus of Rs. 200 crores to enable support to victims of various attacks.
- To support and supplement the existing Victim Compensation Schemes notified by States UT Administrations.
- To reduce disparity in quantum of compensation amount notified by different States / UTs for victims of similar crimes.
- To encourage States / UTs to effectively implement the Victim Compensation Scheme (VCS) notified by them under the provisions of Section 357A of Cr. P.C. and continue financial support to victims of various crimes especially sexual offences including rape, acid attacks, crime against children, human trafficking, etc.
- The Nirbhaya Fund was created in 2013 in the aftermath of December 2012 Delhi gang rape and murder case.
- The government proposed an allocation of Rs 10,000 crore under Nirbhaya Fund to ensure safety of women.
- The Women and Child Development Ministry is the nodal agency for expenditure from the Nirbhaya Fund.
- Nirbhaya fund is being used in the Victim Compensation Scheme–a national scheme to compensate survivors of rape, acid burns and trafficking among other forms of violence — for the last few years.
- The amount of compensation to victims of trafficking varies from State to State, and in 2018, the Supreme Court directed NALSA (National Legal Services Authority) to frame a standardised victim compensation scheme.
Lack of Awareness:
- There remains a lack of information provided to survivors on victim compensation, lack of initiative on the part of legal services authority, low investment on part of legal aid that results in very few survivors having access to compensation.
Codifying laws to ban child pornography
A parliamentary panel has recommended a code of conduct for Internet service providers (ISPs) and strengthening the National Commission for Protection of Child Rights to curb child pornography.
- The report, was prepared by an ad hoc committee set up by the Rajya Sabha and led by Congress MP was submitted to the Chairman of the House on January 25 and was tabled by Women and Child Development Minister Smriti Irani recently.
- The report recommends a multi-pronged strategy detailing technological, institutional, social and educational as well as State-level measures.
- Among its key recommendations is a code of conduct or a set of guidelines for ensuring child safety online.
- It puts a greater onus on ISPs to identify and remove child sexual abuse material (CSAM) as well as report such content and those trying to access them to the authorities under the national cybercrime portal.
- It called for strengthening the National Commission for Protection of Child Rights (NCPCR) so that it can serve as the nodal body for curbing child pornography.
- The capabilities required in the NCPCR should include technology, cyber policing and prosecution.
- The committee has delved into great detail in using technology to curb circulation of child porn such as breaking end-to-end encryption to trace its distributors of child pornography, mandatory applications to monitor children’s access to pornographic content, employing photo DNA to target profile pictures of groups with CSAM.
Kakinada Port is located at Kakinada, Andhra Pradesh off the east coast of India.
- It is 170 km (106 mi) South of Visakhapatnam Port.
- Kakinada Deep Water Port is an all-weather deep water port, and the channel has a depth of 12 metres (39 ft.)
- The port is located in the East Godavari district of Andhra Pradesh, and is located between major Ports of Visakhapatnam and Chennai.
Bilateral & International Relations
Agartala-Akhaura rail line
The landmark Agartala-Akhaura rail line to connect the North-Eastern region with Bangladesh is expected to be ready by the end of 2021, as per Union Minister for Development of North Eastern Region (DoNER).
About Agartala-Akhaura rail line:
- The Agartala-Akhaura rail line will connects Gangasagar in Bangladesh to Nischintapur in India (10.6 Km) and from Nischintapur to Agartala railway station (5.46 Km).
- The Ministry of Development of North Eastern Region would bear the cost of laying the 5.46-km track on the Indian side and the cost of the 10.6-km track on the Bangladesh side was being borne by the Ministry of External Affairs.
- The land had been bought and handed over to the executing agencies in both countries, and ₹580 crores had been sanctioned for the work on the Indian side.
- The project was scheduled to be completed in December 2020 but the condition of the soil is not very favourable for laying the track near Nischintapur on the Indian side.
- The soil is marshy and soft, and requires many kinds of treatments.
- The completion of the line between Agartala in Tripura and Akhaura in Bangladesh would pave the way for the first train to run from the north-eastern region to Bangladesh on the eve of the 75th anniversary of India’s independence in 2022.
Science & Technology
Grand Ethiopian Renaissance Dam
The ambitious Grand Ethiopian Renaissance Dam being constructed on Nile river, by Ethiopia has spurred waves of tensions in Egypt, of which the very existence is due to the river.
What is the issue?
- Grand Ethiopian Renaissance Dam or Hidase Dam, is a gravity dam on the Blue Nile River in Ethiopia that has been under construction since 2011.
- The dispute between Egypt and Ethiopia over the $4.5 billion Dam — Africa’s largest, with a reservoir about the size of London — has become a national preoccupation in both countries, stoking patriotism, deep-seated fears and even murmurs of war.
- Ethiopia has one of the world’s fastest-growing economies, to them the dam offers a chance to become Africa’s biggest power exporter and fulfil their domestic power needs.
- The main sticking point with Ethiopia is how quickly the dam should be filled. Ethiopia said as few as four years, but Egypt, fearing a drought during the filling period, has argued for 12 or longer.
- For eight years, officials from Egypt, Ethiopia and Sudan — which lies between the two countries — squabbled fruitlessly over the dam and presently the talks have moved to Washington, where the White House has been mediating.
Significance of Nile River in Egypt:
- Egypt is one of the driest countries on earth, with 95% of its people living along the Nile or its teeming Delta.
- The river, which flows south to north, provides nearly all of their drinking water.
- The Renaissance Dam spans the Blue Nile, the river’s main tributary, which supplies most of Egypt’s water.
- The Nile is under assault from pollution, climate change and Egypt’s growing population, which officially hits 100 million people this month.
- The colossal hydroelectric dam being built on the Nile 2,000 miles upriver, in the lowlands of Ethiopia, threatens to further constrict Egypt’s water supply—and is scheduled to start filling this summer.
- This will lead to parched fields, empty taps and threats to food production in the sprawling Nile Delta, which produces two-thirds of Egypt’s food supply.
- Nile River, the longest river in the world, called the father of African rivers.
- It rises south of the Equator and flows northward through north-eastern Africa to drain into the Mediterranean Sea.
- Its basin includes parts of Tanzania, Burundi, Rwanda, the Democratic Republic of the Congo, Kenya, Uganda, South Sudan, Ethiopia, Sudan, and the cultivated part of Egypt.
- The Nile is formed by three principal streams: Blue Nile and Atbara which flow from the highlands of Ethiopia, and the White Nile, the headstreams of which flow into Lakes Victoria and Albert.
Science & Technology
NASA fixes Voyager-2
NASA has managed to fix its Voyager-2 probe remotely, almost 11.5 billion miles away from its location, recently.
- The probe has reportedly been acting in an unexpected manner as it failed to carry out a maneuver as planned on January 25.
- Moreover, the glitch in the probe was detected by the spacecraft’s fault detection software which was relayed to NASA.
What did NASA do?
- On detection of the glitch, the spacecraft’s fault detection software shutdown Voyager 2’s science instruments.
- Soon, NASA engineers had managed to successfully powered down one of the systems and had also managed to reboot some of the science instruments.
- Mission operators report that Voyager 2 continues to be stable and that communications between Earth and the spacecraft are good. The spacecraft has resumed taking science data, placing another feather in NASA’s cap and an incredible feat for remote engineering.
- Voyager 1 is a space probe launched by NASA on September 5, 1977.
- Objective: To extend the NASA exploration of the solar system beyond the neighbourhood of the outer planets to the outer limits of the Sun’s sphere of influence, and possibly beyond.
- Having operated for 42 years, 5 months and 3 days as of February 9, 2020, the spacecraft still communicates with the Deep Space Network to receive routine commands and to transmit data to Earth.
- Voyager 1 entered interstellar space in 2012.
- At a distance of 148.71 AU (22.2 billion km; 13.8 billion mi) from Earth as of January 19, 2020, it is the most distant man-made object from Earth.
- Voyager 1’s extended mission is expected to continue until about 2025 when its radioisotope thermoelectric generators will no longer supply enough electric power to operate its scientific instruments.
- Launched in 1977, Voyager-2 is the twin of Voyager-1 which was launched a few weeks prior to it.
- Both probes were launched to perform a ‘grand tour’ of the outer solar system.
- Both spacecraft have conducted flybys of Jupiter and Saturn – with Voyager 2 successfully zooming past Uranus in 1986 and Neptune in 1989, making it the only spacecraft to have had a close look of the icy planets.
- Voyager 2 entered the interstellar space in 2018 and has become the second human made object to do so.
- Voyager 2 is the only spacecraft to have visited all four gas giant planets — Jupiter, Saturn, Uranus and Neptune — and discovered 16 moons, as well as phenomena like Neptune’s mysteriously transient Great Dark Spot, the cracks in Europa’s ice shell, and ring features at every planet.
- Interstellar space is defined as the region that which lies beyond a magnetic region that extends about 122 AU from the sun, as detected by Voyager 1, and the equivalent region of influence surrounding other stars.
- It is the place where the sun’s constant flow of material and magnetic field stop affecting its surroundings.
- The heliosphere is the vast, bubble-like region of space which surrounds and is created by the Sun.
- In plasma physics terms, this is the cavity formed by the Sun in the surrounding interstellar medium.
- The sun sends out a constant flow of solar material called the solar wind, which creates a bubble around the planets called the heliosphere. The heliosphere acts as a shield that protects the planets from interstellar radiation.
- The heliopause marks the end of the heliosphere and the beginning of interstellar space.
Genome India Project
The government has cleared an ambitious 238-crore gene-mapping project that is being described as the first scratching of the surface of the vast genetic diversity of India.
What is DNA?
- Every organism’s genetic code is contained in its Deoxyribose Nucleic Acid (DNA), the building blocks of life.
- The discovery that DNA is structured as a “double helix” by James Watson and Francis Crick in 1953, for which they won a Nobel Prize in 1962, was the spark in the long, continuing quest for understanding how genes dictate life, its traits, and what causes diseases.
- Most DNA is located in the cell nucleus (where it is called nuclear DNA), but a small amount of DNA can also be found in the mitochondria (where it is called mitochondrial DNA or mtDNA.
What is Genome?
- A genome, is all the genetic matter in an organism.
- It is defined as an organism’s complete set of DNA, including all of its genes.
- Each genome contains all of the information needed to build and maintain that organism.
- In humans, a copy of the entire genome — more than 3 billion DNA base pairs — is contained in all cells that have a nucleus.
Human Genome Project (HGP):
- HGP was an international programme that led to the decoding of the entire human genome.
- It was a discovery looking to sequence and map all of the genes — together known as the genome — of members of our species.
- Beginning on October 1, 1990 and completed in April 2003, the HGP gave the ability, for the first time, to read nature’s complete genetic blueprint for building a human being.
Genome India Project:
- The project is being headed by the Indian Institute of Science, Bengaluru as the nodal point of about 20 institutions including a few IITs, each doing its bit in collecting samples, doing the computations, and then the research.
- Aim: To ultimately build a grid of the Indian reference genome, to understand fully the type and nature of diseases and traits that comprise the diverse Indian population.
- The mega project hopes to form a grid after collecting 10,000 samples in the first phase from across India, to arrive at a representative Indian genome.
- The Indian project will aim to vastly add to the available information on the human species and advance the cause, because of the scale of the Indian population and the vertical and horizontal diversity here.
What are the challenges involved?
- In a project that aims only to create a database of genetic information, gene modification is not among the stated objectives.
- The risks involved are misuse or unqualified access to the technology.
Data & Storage:
- After collection of the sample, anonymity of the data and questions of its possible use and misuse would need to be addressed.
- Keeping the data on a cloud is fraught with problems and would raise questions of ownership of the data.
- India is yet to pass a Data Privacy Bill with adequate safeguards.
- Launching a Genome India Project before the privacy question is settled could give rise to another set of problems.
- The question of heredity and racial purity has obsessed civilisations, and more scientific studies of genes and classifying them could reinforce stereotypes and allow for politics and history to acquire a racial twist.
- In India a lot of politics is now on the lines of who are “indigenous” people and who are not. A Genome India Project could add a genetic dimension to the cauldron.
- It may also add to the existing problem of Selective Breeding.