Current Affairs Analysis

8th October 2020 Current Affairs Analysis – IASToppers

Tsirkon missile; Natural Gas Marketing Reforms; Natural gas; Liquefied Natural Gas (LNG); Persistent Organic Pollutants (POP); Stockholm Convention; Vaibhav Summit session on Sensor and Sensing for Precision Agriculture; Precision Agriculture; 2nd World Cotton Day; Mascarene High; Global warming hiatus; Mascarene Islands; MoU in Cybersecurity between India and Japan; India-Japan Relations; International Day for the Total Elimination of Nuclear Weapons; LEMOA; Strategic importance of Andaman and Nicobar Islands; Nobel Prize in Chemistry 2020; etc.
By IASToppers
October 08, 2020

Contents

Government Schemes & Policies

  • Natural Gas Marketing Reforms
  • Ratification of 7 Persistent Organic Pollutants under Stockholm Convention
  • Vaibhav Summit session on Sensor and Sensing for Precision Agriculture

Economy

  • 2nd World Cotton Day

Environment, Ecology & Disaster Management

  • Increased sea surface temperature affecting Indian monsoon

Bilateral & International Relations

  • MoU in Cybersecurity between India and Japan
  • S. Navy aircraft refuels at Port Blair

Defence & Security Issues

  • Tsirkon missile

Art & Culture

  • Nobel Prize in Chemistry 2020

Key Facts for Prelims

  • International Day for the Total Elimination of Nuclear Weapons

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Government Schemes & Policies

Natural Gas Marketing Reforms

The Cabinet Committee on Economic Affairs chaired by the Prime Minister has approved ‘Natural Gas Marketing Reforms’- a significant step to move towards gas-based economy.

About the approved Reforms:

  • The objective of the policy is to prescribe standard procedure to discover market price of gas to be sold in the market by gas producers, through a transparent and competitive process.
  • It permits Affiliates to participate in bidding process for sale of gas and allow marketing freedom to certain Field Development Plans (FDPs) where Production Sharing Contracts already provide pricing freedom.
  • The policy aims to provide standard procedure for sale of natural gas in a transparent and competitive manner to discover market price by issuing guidelines for sale by contractor through e-bidding. This will bring uniformity in the bidding process across the various contractual regimes and policies to avoid ambiguity and contribute towards ease of doing business.
  • The policy has also permitted Affiliate companies to participate in the bidding process in view of the open, transparent and electronic bidding. This will facilitate and promote more competition in marketing of gas.
  • However, rebidding will have to be done in case only affiliates participate, and there are no other bidders.
  • The policy will also grant marketing freedom to the Field Development Plans (FDPs) of those Blocks in which Production Sharing Contracts already provide pricing freedom.
  • These reforms will build on a series of transformative reforms rolled out by the Government in last several years.

Expected benefits:

  • These reforms in gas sector will further deepen and spur the economic activities in the following areas:
    • The whole eco-system of policies relating to production, infrastructure and marketing of natural gas has been made more transparent with a focus on ease of doing business.
    • These reforms will prove very significant for Atmanirbhar Bharat by encouraging investments in the domestic production of natural gas and reducing import dependence.
    • These reforms will prove to be another milestone in moving towards a gas-based economy by encouraging investments.
    • The increased gas production consumption will help in improvement of environment.
    • These reforms will also help in creating employment opportunities in the gas consuming sectors including MSMEs.
    • The domestic production will further help in increasing investment in the downstream industries such as City Gas Distribution and related industries.

Natural Gas:

  • Natural gas is a naturally occurring hydrocarbon gas mixture consisting primarily of methane, but commonly including varying amounts of other higher alkanes, and sometimes a small percentage of carbon dioxide, nitrogen, hydrogen sulfide, or helium.
  • It is formed when layers of decomposing plant and animal matter are exposed to intense heat and pressure under the surface of the Earth over millions of years.
  • The energy that the plants originally obtained from the sun is stored in the form of chemical bonds in the gas.
  • Natural gas is a fossil fuel.
  • Natural gas is a non-renewable Hydrocarbon.
  • It is used as a source of energy for heating, cooking, and electricity generation.
  • It is also used as a fuel for vehicles and as a chemical feedstock in the manufacture of plastics and other commercially important organic chemicals.

India’s natural gas reserves:

  • As on 31 March 2018, India had estimated natural gas reserves of 1339.57 billion cubic meters (BCM).

Gas supply sources in India:

Domestic Gas Sources:

  • The domestic gas in the country is being supplied from the oil & gas fields located at western and southeastern areas viz. Hazira basin, Mumbai offshore & KG basin as well as North East Region (Assam & Tripura).
  • It is being supplied and distributed in terms of the guidelines related to pricing and utilization policies issued by the Government from time to time.
  • In FY 2018-19, total domestic gas production was about 90.05 MMSCMD.

Import of Liquefied Natural Gas (LNG):

  • In order to meet the gas demand, Liquefied Natural Gas (LNG) is imported through Open General License (OGL) in the country and it is imported by the gas marketer under various Long Term, Medium Term and Spot contracts.
  • The price and utilization of imported LNG is mutually decided by buyers and sellers.
  • At present, country is having six (6) operational LNG regasification terminals operational with capacity of about 38.8 MMTPA.
  • Since 2017 more than 1.6 lakh sq.km area under 105 exploration blocks have been allocated.
  • No blocks were allocated between 2010 and 2017 which has impacted the long-term viability of the domestic production.
  • This will ensure sustainability of the domestic production in long run.
  • Government brought a series of reforms in Gas sector and as a result investment of more than Rs. 70,000 crores are being made in the East coast. Gas production from East coast will contribute to Atmanirbhar Bharat by meeting increasing energy needs of the country.
  • In February 2019, Government implemented major reforms in upstream sector and brought paradigm shift by focusing on production maximization. Acreages under OALP rounds are being allocated based on work programme only in Cat II and Cat III basins.
  • The domestic gas production has complete marketing and pricing freedom.
  • All discoveries and field development plans approved after 28 Feb, 2019 have complete market and pricing freedom.
[Ref: PIB; Ministry of Petroleum and Natural Gas]

Ratification of 7 Persistent Organic Pollutants under Stockholm Convention

The Union Cabinet has approved the Ratification of seven chemicals listed under Stockholm Convention on Persistent Organic Pollutants (POPs).

  • The Cabinet further delegated its powers to ratify chemicals under the Stockholm Convention to Union Ministers of External Affairs (MEA) and Environment, Forest and Climate Change (MEFCC) in respect of POPs.
  • The ratification process would enable India to access Global Environment Facility (GEF) financial resources in updating the National Implementation Plan (NIP).

Chemicals listed as POPs under Stockholm Convention:

  1. Chlordecone
  2. Hexabromobiphenyl
  3. Hexabromodiphenyl ether and Heptabromodiphenylether (Commercial octa-BDE)
  4. Tetrabromodiphenyl ether and Pentabromodiphenyl ether (Commercial penta-BDE)
  5. Pentachlorobenzene
  6. Hexabromocyclododecane
  7. Hexachlorobutadiene
  8. The regulation inter alia prohibited the manufacture, trade, use, import and export.

Background:

  • India had ratified the Stockholm Convention on January 13, 2006 as per Article 25(4).
  • This enabled to keep itself in a default “opt-out” position such that amendments in various Annexes of the convention cannot be enforced on it unless an instrument of ratification/ acceptance/ approval or accession is explicitly deposited with UN depositary.
  • Considering its commitment, the Ministry of Environment, Forest and Climate Change (MoEFCC) had notified the Regulation of Persistent Organic Pollutants Rules, on March 5, 2018 under the provisions of Environment (Protection) Act, 1986.

About Stockholm Convention:

  • The Stockholm Convention is a global treaty to protect human health and the environment from a class of chemicals known as Persistent Organic Pollutants (POPs).
  • Persistent Organic Pollutants are identified chemical substances that persist in the environment, bio-accumulate in living organisms, adversely affect human health/ environment and have the property of long-range environmental transport (LRET).
  • Exposure to POPs can lead to cancer, damage to central & peripheral nervous systems, diseases of immune system, reproductive disorders and interference with normal infant and child development.

Annexure:

  • Under the Convention, the chemicals can be listed as:
  • Annex-A: for complete elimination from production, use, export and import
  • Annex-B: Restriction in use and production for specific purpose only
  • Annex-C: Unintentional production
  • The implementation of the Convention requires the parties to take measures to eliminate or reduce the release of these POPs into the environment.
  • Till date, 26 chemicals are listed as POPs under the Stockholm Convention. In addition to the new 7 chemicals, India has now ratified 19 POPs.
  • The Convention was adopted on May 22, 2001 and entered into force on May 17, 2004. India ratified the Convention on January 13, 2006.
[Ref: PIB]

Vaibhav Summit session on Sensor and Sensing for Precision Agriculture

A session on “Sensors and Sensing for Precision Agriculture” was organized under Precision Agriculture by ICAR-Indian Agricultural Research Institute as part of the Vaishwik Bhartiya Vaigyanik (VAIBHAV) Summit 2020.

About the Summit:

  • This is a Government of India initiative to bring together the thought process, practices, R&D culture of Overseas and Indian scientists/academicians.
  • Through a series of structured deliberations and constructive dialogue.
  • To develop a road map for translational research/academic culture for tangible output and strengthening the S&T base for providing the impetus to endeavour of Aatma Nirbhar Bharat.
  • A total of 18 verticals have been identified for deliberation of which “Agro-economy and Food Security” deals directly with agriculture with several horizontals.
  • The horizontal on “Precision Agriculture” aims at discussing recent advances in the field on sensors, remote sensing, deep learning, artificial intelligence and IoT for monitoring and quantification of soil, plant and environment to enhance farm productivity with increased input use efficiency and environmental sustainability. 
  • ICAR-Indian Agricultural Research Institute, India and Washington State University, USA made presentations on the Indian and US scenario on high throughput sensor-based plant phenotyping for development of resource efficient, climate smart and high yielding cultivars, which is fundamental for smart agriculture.
  • The deliberation also took place on wireless sensor network and IoT technologies and potential use in precision agriculture.

Research gaps identified:

  • Each presentation was followed by panel discussion with eminent panellists and research gaps identified are:
    1. Development of indigenous low-cost sensors with integrated platforms, robotics, IoTs and WSN for high throughput field phenotyping and soil and crop health monitoring and management.
    2. Big data analytics and modelling for sensor based early detection of stresses, discrimination and near real time detection and management.
    3. Standardized protocols for UAV (unmanned aerial vehicle) based imaging using different sensors, inter sensor calibration and data analytics for near real time crop condition monitoring and management and
    4. Development of affordable scale neutral precision agricultural technologies suitable to ecosystem of Indian agriculture.
  • Keeping in view these gaps, a specific objective driven collaboration will be proposed with the universities of USA.

What is Precision Agriculture?

  • Precision agriculture is also known as precision ag or precision farming.
  • The easiest way to understand precision ag is to think of it as everything that makes the practice of farming more accurate and controlled when it comes to the growing of crops and raising livestock.
  • A key component of this farm management approach is the use of information technology and a wide array of items such as GPS guidance, control systems, sensors, robotics, drones, autonomous vehicles, variable rate technology, GPS-based soil sampling, automated hardware, telematics, and software.
  • Precision agriculture was born with the introduction of GPS guidance for tractors in the early 1990s, and the adoption of this technology is now so widespread globally that it’s probably the most commonly-used example of precision ag today.

Benefits of Precision Agriculture:

  • Monitor the soil and plant physicochemical parameters: by placing sensors (electrical conductivity, nitrates, temperature, evapotranspiration, radiation, leaf and soil moisture, etc.) the optimal conditions for plant growth can be achieved
  • Obtain data in real time: the application of sensing devices in your fields will allow a continuous monitoring of the chosen parameters and will offer real time data ensuring an updated status of the field and plant parameters at all time
  • Provide better information for management decisions
  • Save time and costs: reduce fertilizer and chemical application costs, reduce pollution through less use of chemicals
  • Provide better farm records essential for sale and succession
  • Can be integrated with farm management softwares, like Agrivi, to make all activities on farm easier and to improve farm productivity.

Challenges of Precision Agriculture:

Interoperability of different standards:

  • The interoperability is rapidly becoming a point of concern.
  • The various available tools and technologies often do not follow the same technology standards/platforms – as a result of which there is a lack of uniformity in the final analysis done by end users.
  • In many instances, the creation of additional gateway(s) becomes essential, for the translation and transfer of data across standards. As things stand now, precision agriculture (while evolving rapidly) is still, to a large extent, fragmented.
  • The challenge lies in transforming the smart standalone devices and gateways to holistic, farmer-friendly platforms.

The learning curve:

  • Precision farming involves the implementation of cutting-edge technology for bolstering crop growth. For the average farmer, setting up the necessary IoT architecture and sensor network for his/her field(s) can be a big task.
  • It has to be kept in mind that the room for error in a tech-upgraded ‘smart farm’ is minimal – and faulty management (a wrongly pressed valve here, forgetting to switch off the irrigation tank there, etc.) can be disastrous.
  • Getting farmers thoroughly acquainted with the concept of smart farming, and the tools/devices involved in it, is of the utmost importance – before they can actually proceed with the implementation. Lack of knowledge can be dangerous.

Connectivity in rural areas:

  • In many remote rural locations across the world (particularly in the developing countries, although several locations in the US suffers from this as well), strong, reliable internet connectivity is not available.
  • That, in turn, thwarts the attempts to apply smart agriculture techniques at such places. Unless the network performances and bandwidth speeds are significantly improved, implementation of digital farming will remain problematic. Since many agro-sensors/gateways depend on cloud services for data transmission/storage, cloud-based computing also needs to become stronger.
  • The farmlands that have tall, dense trees and/or hilly terrains, reception of GPS signals becomes a big issue.

Making sense from big data in agriculture:

  • The modern, connected agricultural farm has, literally, millions of data points. It is, however, next to impossible to monitor and manage every single data point and reading on a daily/weekly basis, over the entire growing seasons (neither is it necessary).
  • The problem is particularly bigger in large, multi-crop lands and when there are multiple growing seasons.
  • The onus is on the farmers to find out which data points and layers they need to track on a regular basis, and which data ‘noise’ they can afford to ignore.
  • Digital agriculture is increasingly becoming big data-driven – but the technology is helpful only when users can ‘make sense’ of the available information.

Non-awareness of the varying farm production functions:

  • In-depth economic analysis needs to complement internet tools, to ensure higher yields on farms. Users need to be able to define the correct production function (output as a function of key inputs, like nutrients, fertilizers, irrigation, etc.).
  • Typically, the production function is not the same for all crops, differs in the various zones of a farm, and also changes over the crop/plant-growth cycle.
  • Unless the farmer is aware of this varying production function, there will always remain the chance of application of inputs in incorrect amounts (spraying too much of nitrogen fertilizer, for example) – resulting in crop damages. Precision agriculture is all about optimizing output levels by making the best use of the available, limited inputs – and for that, the importance of following the production function is immense.

Size of individual management zones:

  • Traditionally, farmers have considered their entire fields as single farming units. That approach is, however, far from being effective for the application and management of IoT in agriculture.
  • Users have to divide their lands in several smaller ‘management zones’ – and there is quite a lot of confusion regarding the ‘correct’ size of these zones.
  • The zones have to be divided with respect to the soil sampling requirements (different zones have varying soil qualities) and fertilizer requirements. The number of zones on a field, and their respective sizes, should depend on the overall size of the growing area.
  • There is not much of reference work for the farmers to go by, while trying to divide their lands in these zones. As an alternative, many farmers continue to follow uniform fertilizer application and/or irrigation methods for the entire farm – leading to sub-optimal results.
[Ref: PIB; Agrivi]

Economy

2nd World Cotton Day

Union Minister of Textiles and Women & Child Development launched the 1st ever Brand and Logo for Indian Cotton on 2nd World Cotton Day on 7th October, 2020.

  • Now India’s premium Cotton would be known as ‘Kasturi Cotton’ in the world cotton Trade.
  • The Kasturi Cotton brand will represent Whiteness, Brightness, Softness, Purity, Luster, Uniqueness and Indianness.
  • The webinar was organised by TEXPROCIL and CITI on the theme of “NEW-LOOK COTTON”.

Government’s efforts towards cotton trade:

  • To ensure sustainability, integrity and end-to-end traceability of the organic products, a certification system based on comparable international standards.
  • Ministry of Textiles through APEDA under Ministry of Commerce and Industry has prescribed a certification system for organic Cotton which will be introduced in phases in the entire textile value chain.
  • Similarly, prescribing a certification system for non-organic Cotton has also been taken up with APEDA.
  • The Cotton Corporation of India (CCI) made ever highest Minimum Support Price (MSP) operation of cotton.
  • CCI has opened 430 procurement centres in all cotton growing states and payments are being made digitally to farmers’ account within 72 hours.
  • A mobile app, “Cott-Ally” has been developed by CCI for providing latest news regarding weather condition, Crop situation and best farm practices.
  • Discount of Rs.300/- per candy is being offered in its regular sale to MSME mills, Khadi and Village industry, Cooperative sector mills.

National Cotton Scenario:

  • Cotton is one of the most important cash crops and accounts for around 25% of the total global fibre production.
  • India is the 2nd largest cotton producer and the largest consumer of cotton in the world.
  • India produces about 6 Million tons of cotton every year which is about 23% of the world cotton.
  • India produces about 51% of the total organic cotton production of the world, which demonstrates India’s effort towards sustainability.
  • In the raw material consumption basket of the Indian textile industry, the proportion of cotton is around 59%.
  • It plays a major role in sustaining the livelihood of an estimated 5.8 million cotton farmers and 40- 50 million people engaged in related activities such as cotton processing and trade.
  • India also has the distinction of having the largest area under cotton cultivation in the world i.e. about 126.07 lakh hectares.

Production and Consumption:

  • India is the country to grow all four species of cultivated cotton: Gossypiumarboreum and herbaceum (Asian cotton), G.barbadense (Egyptian cotton) and G. hirsutum (American Upland cotton).
  • Gossypiumhirsutum represents 88% of the hybrid cotton production in India and all the current Bt cotton hybrids are G.hirsutuim.
  • In India, majority of the cotton production comes from nine major cotton growing states, which are grouped into three diverse agro-ecological zones:
  • Northern Zone – Punjab, Haryana and Rajasthan
  • Central Zone – Gujarat, Maharashtra and Madhya Pradesh
  • Southern Zone – Telangana, Andhra Pradesh and Karnataka.

Import/Export:

  • Cotton is a freely exportable commodity from India. India exports cotton mainly to Bangladesh, China, Vietnam, Pakistan, Indonesia, Taiwan, Thailand etc.
  • Although India is a major producer and exporter of cotton fibre, a small quantity of extra-long fibre variety of cotton which is not available in the country, is imported.

Scheme to promote cotton cultivation in the country:

  • Department of Agriculture, Cooperation and Farmers Welfare is implementing Cotton Development Programme with a focus on cropping system approach under National Food Security Mission (NFSM) in 15 major cotton growing states.
  • Under the scheme, thrust is given for transfer of latest technology to cotton growers through Front Line Demonstration (FLD) on Integrated Crop Management (ICM), Intercropping & Desi/Extra Long Staple Cotton and trials on High Density Planting System.
  • From 2015-16, NFSM is being implemented on sharing basis between Government of India and States on 60:40 basis for general category states and 90:10 basis for North East & Hilly states.
  • Central Agencies are funded 100% by Government of India.
  • States can support cotton development programme under Rashtriya Krishi Vikas Yojana (RKVY) with the approval of State Level Sanctioning Committee (SLSC).
[Ref: PIB]

Environment, Ecology & Disaster Management

Increased sea surface temperature affecting Indian monsoon

A recent study on variability in the Mascarene High (MH) during global warming hiatus (GWH) revealed that the Indian subcontinent experienced significantly increased sea surface temperature (SST) during the period (1998-2016).

Mascarene High:

  • The Mascarene High (MH) is a semi-permanent subtropical high-pressure zone in the South Indian Ocean.
  • Apart from its large influence on African and Australian weather patterns, it also helps in driving the inter-hemispheric circulation between the Indian Ocean in the south and subcontinental landmass in the north.

Global warming hiatus:

  • A global warming hiatus is referred to a global warming pause, or a global warming slowdown.
  • It is a period of relatively little change in globally averaged surface temperatures.
  • The hiatus can result in an increase in the sea surface temperature (SST).

Major Highlights of the study:

  • The warming in SST resulted in a decrease in the pressure gradient between the MH and the Indian landmass.
  • This in turn suppressed the intensity of low-level cross-equatorial winds over the western Indian Ocean.
  • It affected the onset of the monsoon over the Indian subcontinent and rainfall over East Asia.

Mascarene Islands:

  • The Mascarene Islands is a group of islands in the Indian Ocean east of Madagascar from where the cross-equatorial winds blow to India.
  • It is also called the Indian Ocean subtropical high, which is a high-pressure area located between 20° to 35° South latitude and 40° to 90° East longitude.
  • The southwest monsoon caused by this high-pressure area is the strongest component of the Indian subcontinent monsoon that contributes about more than 80 per cent of the annual rainfall in entire East Asia.

Concerns:

  • The findings are alarming for a country whose food production and economy depend heavily on monsoon rainfall.
  • The weakening of the MH in the southern Indian Ocean during GWH may affect the strength of the upwelling along the coast of Somalia and Oman and thus, influence the Arabian Sea ecosystem.
[Ref: DownToEarth]

Bilateral & International Relations

MoU in Cybersecurity between India and Japan

An MoU in Cybersecurity was signed between India and Japan was signed, recently.

Focus Areas:

  • Capacity building in the area of cyberspace.
  • Protection of critical infrastructure.
  • Cooperation in emerging technologies.
  • Sharing information on cybersecurity threats/incidents and malicious cyber activities, as well as best practices to counter them.
  • Developing joint mechanisms for practical cooperation to mitigate cyber threats to the security of Information Communication Technology (ICT) infrastructure etc.
  • Affirm cooperation in the international arena including in the United Nations.
  • Discussing and sharing strategies and best practices to promote the integrity of the supply chain of ICT products.
  • Strengthening the security of ICT infrastructure through Government-to-Government and Business-to-Business cooperation.
  • Continuing dialogue and engagement in Internet governance fora, and to support active participation by all the stakeholders of the two countries in these fora.

Other Initiatives:

  • Japan will play a leading role in the connectivity pillar of the Indo-Pacific Oceans’ Initiative (IPOI).
  • The IPOI was launched by Prime Minister of India in Bangkok during the East Asia summit in 2019.

India-Japan Relations:

  • The friendship between India and Japan dates back to the visit of Indian monk Bodhisena in 752 AD.
  • In contemporary times, prominent Indians associated with Japan were Swami Vivekananda, Nobel laureate Rabindranath Tagore, JRD Tata, Netaji Subhash Chandra Bose and among others. 

Current Engagement:

  • India and Japan regularly engage with each other at a bilateral, trilateral and multilateral level. In 2014, relations were upgraded to Special Strategic and Global Partnership.
  • Apart from the Annual Summits, the annual Foreign Minister level Strategic Dialogue, Defense Ministers Meeting, NSA-level Dialogue, Ministerial level 2+2 and FOC Consultations and other bilateral dialogue mechanisms ensure engagements at all levels.
  • The Act East Forum, established in 2017, aims to provide a platform for India-Japan collaboration under the rubric of India’s “Act East Policy” and Japan’s “Free and Open Indo-Pacific Vision”.
  • There are growing links between Japan’s Prefectures and States in India.

Economic and Commercial relations

  • The bilateral trade between India and Japan for FY 2019-20 (April – December) totalled to US$ 11.87 billion.
  • India’s exports from Japan amounted to US$ 3.94 billion while India’s import from Japan amounted to US$ 7.93 billion.
  • India’s primary exports to Japan have been petroleum products, chemicals, elements, compounds, non-metallic mineral ware, fish & fish preparations, metalliferous ores & scrap, clothing & accessories, iron & steel products, textile yarn, fabrics and machinery etc.
  • India’s primary imports from Japan are machinery, electrical machinery, iron and steel products, plastic materials, non-ferrous metals, parts of motor vehicles, organic chemicals, manufactures of metals, etc.
  • Japan was among the few countries that bailed India out of the balance of payment crisis in 1991.

Japanese Support to India:

  • Joined the International Solar Alliance (ISA).
  • Signed a Currency Swap Agreement of US$ 75 billion
  • Japan through Overseas Development Assistance is supporting various infrastructure projects like the Mumbai-Ahmedabad High-Speed Rail, the Western Dedicated Freight Corridor (DFC), the Delhi-Mumbai Industrial Corridor with twelve industrial townships, the Chennai-Bengaluru Industrial Corridor (CBIC).
  • India and Japan are jointly launching a fund-of-funds of $187 million (Rs 1,298 crore) to invest in technology startups in India.
[Ref: Indian Express]

U.S. Navy aircraft refuels at Port Blair

A U.S. Navy P-8A long range Maritime Patrol Aircraft (MPA) landed at Port Blair in the Andaman and Nicobar Islands for refuelling under the bilateral the Logistics Exchange Memorandum of Agreement (LEMOA).

  • This is the first time a U.S. P-8 has got access to the islands for operational turnaround.

Key Facts:

  • Along with the LEMOA, India has signed three of the four foundational agreements with the U.S., the others being the Communications Compatibility and Security Agreement (COMCASA) and the General Security of Military Information Agreement (GSOMIA).

Andaman and Nicobar Islands:

  • The Andaman and Nicobar Islands are a group of 572 islands (37 inhabited) located at the juncture of the Bay of Bengal and the Andaman Sea.
  • They span 450 nautical miles in a roughly north-south configuration adjacent to the western entrance to the Malacca Strait (a major Indian Ocean chokepoint).
  • The Islands connect South Asia with South-East Asia.
  • The northernmost point of the archipelago is only 22 nautical miles from Myanmar, the southernmost point (Indira Point), is a mere 90 nautical miles from Indonesia.
  • The islands dominate the Bay of Bengal, the Six Degree and the Ten Degree Channels that more than sixty thousand commercial vessels traverse each year.
  • ANI constitute just 0.2 % of India’s landmass but provide 30% of its Exclusive Economic Zone.

Strategic importance:

  • One-Fourth of the total world population and one-third of littoral states of the world are located around the Indian Ocean Region (IOR).
  • A large volume of the World’s trade, particularly oil and gas passes through this ocean.
  • The island chain acts as a physical barrier that secures busy Sea Lines of Communications by creating a series of chokepoints.
  • It includes the Preparis Channel in the north, Ten Degree Channel between ANI groups and Six Degree Channel to the south.
  • All the vessels that pass-through Malacca Strait must traverse the Six Degree Channel.
  • The islands are located 1,500 kilometres from the mainland, they help to connect India to the Indo-Pacific.
  • They act as a buffer zone between India and the nations present in IOR.
  • India can defend its vital stakes in IOR and is a part of many maritime regional groupings due to the location of the islands.

For further details on the four foundational agreements of the US, Kindly visit ‘U.S. keen on finalizing Geo-Spatial cooperation’ in the link given below:

[Ref: The Hindu; Future directions]

Defence & Security Issues

Tsirkon missile

Russia has successfully tested a new hypersonic anti-ship cruise missile in a move hailed by President Vladimir Putin as a great event for the country.

  • Russia boasts of developing a number of “invincible” weapons that surpass existing systems and include Sarmat intercontinental missiles and Burevestnik cruise missiles.
  • Tsirkon missile was fired from the Admiral Gorshkov frigate in the White Sea in the Russian Arctic.
  • The missile hit its target 450 kilometres (280 miles) away in the Barents Sea and reached a speed of Mach 8 – eight times the speed of sound.
  • The first Avangard hypersonic missiles were put into Russian service in December, 2019.
[Ref: Aljazeera]

Art & Culture

Nobel Prize in Chemistry 2020

Emmanuelle Charpentier and Jennifer Doudna have been awarded the Nobel Prize in Chemistry 2020 for discovering one of gene technology’s sharpest tools: the CRISPR/Cas9 genetic scissors.

CRISPR/Cas9 genetic scissors:

  • CRISPR is an abbreviation for clustered regularly interspaced short palindromic repeats.
  • These sequences are a part of the bacteria’s immune system.
  • Bacteria that have survived a virus infection add a piece of the genetic code of the virus into its genome as a memory of the infection.
  • In addition to these CRISPR sequences, the researchers discovered special genes called CRISPR-associated, abbreviated as cas.
  • Using components of the CRISPR system, researchers can add, remove, or even alter specific DNA sequences.
  • This technology has introduced new opportunities in cancer therapies, curing inherited diseases and also in plant inbreeding.

Ethical Concerns:

  • In November 2018, a Chinese researcher claimed that he had altered the genes of a human embryo that eventually resulted in the birth of twin baby girls.
  • This was the first documented case of designer babies being produced using the new gene-editing tools like CRISPR, and raised the ethical concerns.
  • In the case of the Chinese twins, the genes were edited to ensure that they do not get infected with HIV, the virus that causes AIDS.
  • This special trait would then be inherited by their subsequent generations as well.
  • The concerns were over the ethics of producing babies with particular genetic traits.
  • Further, the CRISPR technology was incredibly precise, it wasn’t 100% accurate, and it is possible that some other genes could also get altered by mistake.
[Ref: The Hindu; Indian Express]

Key Facts for Prelims

International Day for the Total Elimination of Nuclear Weapons

India reiterated that nuclear weapons should be abolished in a step-by-step non-discriminatory process on the occasion of the International Day for the Total Elimination of Nuclear Weapons.

  • India said it remains committed to No First Use against nuclear-weapon states.

About the day:

  • The introduction of the International Day for the Total Elimination of Nuclear Weapons through a UN General Assembly resolution in 2013 marked a shift in the dialogue on nuclear weapons. The International Day for the Total Elimination of Nuclear Weapons has been observed annually since 2014.
  • Celebrated on 26 September every year with the main aim is to raise public awareness and to seek deeper engagement on nuclear disarmament matters.
  • Various stakeholders such as Member States, the United Nations system and civil society, including non-governmental organizations, academia, parliamentarians, the mass media and individuals play a key role in increasing awareness of nuclear disarmament matters.
[Ref: The Hindu]
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