Government Schemes & Policies
- Easing Mining rules
- Telcos plea to SC seeking relief from AGR
- North-East Natural Gas Pipeline Grid
- GOCO Model for Army
Environment, Ecology & Disaster Management
- Making Re-grassing mandatory after mining
Defence & Security Issues
- CISF Wing for Courts
- Revised Norms for Data-led Probes
Science & Technology
- What is a Black Box?
- Advanced Lithium Sulphur battery
- Gravitational Ripples of Neutron Star
- Goldilocks zone
Key Facts for Prelims
- Epiphany Festival
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Government Schemes & Policies
Easing Mining rules
The Union Cabinet has approved an ordinance to amend two laws to ease mining rules and enable foreign direct investment (FDI) in coal mining.
- The ordinance to amend the Mines and Minerals (Development and Regulation) Act, 1957 and the Coal Mines (Special Provisions) Act, 2015 was approved.
Mineral Laws (Amendment) Ordinance 2020:
- The ordinance was issued in an attempt to attract investments in coal mining.
- The ordinance pulls off “end-use restrictions” and allows coal mining by any company present in any sector other than steel and power.
- While the move will help create an efficient energy market, usher in competition and reduce coal imports, it may also bring an end to state-run Coal India Ltd.’s (CIL) monopoly.
- The ‘historic’ decision would boost the ease of doing business and increase the growth avenues in the mining sector.
- The move is expected to strengthen Coal India and to achieve the set aim of production of one billion tonnes coal by 2023-2024.
- The ordinance would strengthen the auction process of those mines whose leases were expiring on March 31, 2020 and will facilitate seamless transfer of clearances.
- This will help India in gaining access to sophisticated technology for underground mining used by global miners.
- The move will also help the steel industry to get cheaper inputs (coal) leading to an increase in ‘competitiveness’ in the market.
Current status of Coal in India:
- Coal is the backbone of energy sector in India, it is formed of sedimentary rocks and is often known as ‘Black Gold’.
- Despite having the world’s fourth largest coal reserves, India imported 235 million tonnes (MT) of coal last year, of which 135 MT coal valued at ₹171,000 crores could have been met from domestic reserves, if India could raise natural resources production.
- Coking Coal is imported by Steel Authority of India Limited (SAIL) and other Steel manufacturing units mainly to bridge the gap between the requirement and indigenous availability.
- Coal based power plants, cement plants, captive power plants, sponge iron plants, industrial consumers and coal traders import non-coking coal for the same reason.
Telcos plea to SC seeking relief from AGR
The Telecom companies, including Bharti Airtel and Vodafone Idea have urged an open court hearing of their review petition of a Supreme Court judgment that upholds the recovery of past dues amounting to ₹1.47 lakh crore from the Telcos.
- By the judgment, various revenue heads were included within the gross revenue of Telcos, thereby imposing a burden of around Rs. 92,000 crores on them.
What is Adjusted Gross Revenue (AGR)?
- AGR is the usage and licensing fee that telecom operators are charged by the Department of Telecommunications (DoT).
- The telecom sector was liberalised under the National Telecom Policy, 1994 after which licenses were issued to companies in return for a fixed license fee.
- To provide relief from the fixed license fee, the government in 1999 gave an option to the licensees to migrate to the revenue sharing fee model.
- Under this, mobile telephone operators were required to share a percentage of their adjusted gross revenue (AGR) with the government as annual license fee (LF) and spectrum usage charges (SUC).
- License agreements between the Department of Telecommunications (DoT) and the telecom companies define the gross revenues of the telecom companies.
- The LF and SUC were set at 8 % and between 3-5 % of AGR respectively based on the agreement.
Bone of contention:
- The dispute between DoT and the mobile operators was mainly on the definition of AGR.
- The DoT argued that AGR includes all revenues (before discounts) from both telecom and non-telecom services.
- The companies claimed that AGR should comprise just the revenue accrued from core services and not dividend, interest income or profit on sale of any investment or fixed assets.
Developments till date:
- In 2005, Cellular Operators Association of India (COAI) challenged the government’s definition for AGR calculation.
- In 2015, the TDSAT (Telecom Disputes Settlement and Appellate Tribunal) stayed the case in favour of telecom companies and held that AGR includes all receipts except capital receipts and revenue from non-core sources such as rent, profit on the sale of fixed assets, dividend, interest and miscellaneous income.
- However, setting aside TDSAT’s order, Supreme Court on October 24, 2019 upheld the definition of AGR as stipulated by the DoT.
Why it matters?
- The definition of AGR has a huge financial implications for both Telcos and the Government.
- The revenue shared by Telcos with the government goes into the consolidated fund of India.
- It was estimated, after the SC’s judgment 2019, that the telecom operators owe the government about ₹92,000 crore in back charges, interest and penalties on license fee alone.
- While the government has been deprived of the extra revenue, the financial implications for telecom companies are serious especially at the current times when the profits for Telcos are under pressure from severe competition and the falling ARPUs (average revenue per user).
North-East Natural Gas Pipeline Grid
The Cabinet Committee on Economic Affairs (CCEA) has approved massive ₹5,559 crore for gap funding the 60% estimated cost for the proposed northeast gas pipeline grid.
- The gas pipeline grid will be developed in the eight states of the North-Eastern region-Arunachal Pradesh, Assam, Manipur, Meghalaya, Mizoram, Nagaland, Sikkim and Tripura.
- The funding support to the gas grid is a part of a broader goal of the government to raise the share of natural gas in the country’s energy mix to 15% by 2030 from current 6.2%.
- At present, about 16,788 km natural gas pipeline is operational and about 14,239 km gas pipelines are being developed to increase the availability of natural gas across the country.
About the pipeline:
- The 1,656-km long North-East Natural Gas Pipeline Grid will connect Guwahati in Assam to major cities in the region such as Itanagar, Dimapur, Kohima, Imphal, Aizwal, Agartala, Shillong, Silchar, Gangtok, and Numaligarh.
- The pipeline will enable the supply of piped cooking gas to the households, CNG to automobiles and fuel to industries in the region.
- The North-East pipeline grid is to be implemented by Indradhanush Gas Grid, a joint venture of state-owned GAIL India, Indian Oil Corp (IOC), Oil and Natural Gas Corp (ONGC), Oil India Ltd (OIL) and Numaligarh Refinery Ltd (NRL).
- The estimated cost of the project is around ₹9,265 crore, the consortium asked for a 60 % funding support from the government and will bear the remaining amount.
Other Major initiative:
Jagdishpur-Haldia and Bokaro-Dhamra (JHBDPL) gas pipeline project:
- The ambitious 2,655 km long JHBDPL project also known as ‘Pradhan Mantri Urja Ganga’ project originates at Jagdishpur (Uttar Pradesh) and ends to Haldia (West Bengal) and Dhamra (Odisha).
- The pipeline passes through Uttar Pradesh, Bihar, Jharkhand, West Bengal and Odisha.
- The estimated cost of the project is ₹12,940 crore and is being undertaken by GAIL.
- In 2016, the government provided a capital grant of ₹5,176 crore or 40% of the project cost.
- GAIL is also laying a 750-km line from Barauni (Bihar) to Guwahati (Assam) as part of the ₹12,940 crore JHBDPL project, which is proposed to be connected to the North-East via the Indradhanush grid.
Hydrocarbon Vision 2030 for the North-East:
- The vision envisages the development of the region by leveraging its hydrocarbon potential, enhancing access to clean fuel and accelerating the growth.
- About 20% of India’s natural gas production comes from the North-East or out of about 75 million standard cubic meters per day of gas output in India, 15 MMSCMD come from North East
- Currently Assam, Arunachal Pradesh and Tripura have established gas production potential while there are possibilities for the same in Nagaland and Manipur.
About Pradhan Mantri Urja Ganga Project:
- It is a gas pipeline project of government of India.
- This project, also known as Jagdishpur-Haldia & Bokaro-Dhamra Natural Gas Pipeline (JHBDPL), was inaugurated in 2015.
- This project aims to provide piped cooking (PNG) gas to residents of the eastern region of the country and CNG gas for the vehicles.
- The project is being implemented by state-run gas utility Gas Authority of India Limited (GAIL) which is scheduled to be completed by 2021 in phases.
- It aims to connect the eastern part of the country with the National Gas Grid by laying down 2,655 km long Jagdishpur-Haldia & Bokaro-Dhamra Natural Gas Pipeline that originates at Jagdishpur (Uttar Pradesh). The main trunk of pipeline ends to Haldia (West Bengal) and Dhamra (Odisha).
- The project includes 40 per cent capital grant from the Government of India.
- The pipeline passes through 5 states namely Uttar Pradesh, Bihar, Jharkhand, West Bengal and Odisha. At present the pipeline has been commissioned upto Barauni in Bihar.
Phases of the programme:
- Phase-I: Pipeline segment from Phulpur near Allahabad in UP to Dhobi in Bihar.
- Phase-II: The pipeline will be extended to West Bengal and Odisha and connect via en-route spur lines to Barauni, Haldia etc.
- Phase-III: The pipeline is extended to Assam via the Barauni-Guwahati pipeline by the end of 2021.
- Angul-Mumbai natural gas pipeline is another proposed extension on the JHBDPL pipeline system.
Significance of the project:
- The project is considered as a major step towards collective growth and development of the Eastern region of India. Under it, overall 20 lakh households will get PNG connections.
- It will usher Industrial development in East India by supplying environmentally clean natural gas to fertiliser and power plant, refineries, steel plants and other industries.
- From Varanasi’s perspective, 50,000 households and 20,000 vehicles will get cleaner and cheaper fuel PNG and CNG gas respectively.
- It will also help in revival of defunct fertilizer plants in Barauni in Bihar, Gorakhpur in UP, Sindri in Jharkhand and Durgapur in West Bengal by supplying gas.
What is High Pressure-High Temperature (HP-HT) reservoirs?
- An oil well is a hole dug into the Earth that serves the purpose of bringing oil or other hydrocarbons – such as natural gas – to the surface.
- In HP/HT well, the conditions of the well are hotter or more pressurized than the typical normal wells. In HP/HT wells, the temperature at the depth of the well is higher than 300 degrees Fahrenheit (149 degrees Celsius) and pressure reaches at least 0.8 psi per foot.
About National Gas Grid:
- To remove regional imbalance within the country with regard to access for natural gas and provide clean and green fuel throughout the country.
- To connect gas sources to major demand centres and ensure availability of gas to consumers in various sectors.
- Development of City Gas Distribution Networks in various cities for the supply of CNG and PNG.
- The National Gas Grid together with providing gas connections to households will provide better infrastructure for automobiles using gas.
- The National Gas Grid will also aid in renewing of the fertilizer sector and also give a boost to the Power and Automotive sector.
GOCO Model for Army
The Army has initiated the process of identifying potential industry partners to implement the Government Owned Contractor Operated (GOCO) model for its base workshops and ordnance depots to improve operational efficiency.
- A Request for Information (RFI) was issued to shortlist service providers with experience in warehousing, logistics and supply chain management.
Proposal for GOCO Model:
- The GOCO model was one of the recommendations of the Lt. Gen. DB Shekatkar (Retd.) committee to enhance combat capability and re-balancing defence expenditure.
How it works?
- The assets owned by government will be operated by the private industries.
- Under the model, the private companies need not make investments on land, machinery and other support systems.
- The missions are set by government and the private sectors are given full independence in implementing the missions using their best practices.
Significance of the model:
- The main advantage of the model is that the targets are achieved in lesser time frame. Also, it will boost competitiveness among the private entities paving way to newer technologies.
Environment, Ecology & Disaster Management
Making Re-grassing mandatory after mining
The Supreme Court has recently ordered the government to include re-grassing of mined areas as a mandatory condition in every mining lease, environmental clearance and mining plan across the country.
- The mining lease holders should be held responsible for re-grassing mined areas and bear the entire cost for re-grassing, so that biodiversity gets restored in these scarred landscapes.
- The Bench also directed the government to devise methods to ensure compliance by mining lease holders.
What is the need?
- Mining has huge environmental issues that include erosion, formation of sinkholes, loss of biodiversity, and contamination of soil, groundwater and surface water by chemicals from mining processes and the effects persist for years.
- The court held that the area which has been mined should be restored so that grass and other vegetation, including trees, can grow in the mining area for the benefits of animals.
- This could be achieved by directing the Union of India to impose a condition in the mining lease and a similar condition in the environmental clearance.
- The mining plan should contain that the mining lease holders shall, after ceasing mining operations, undertake re-grassing the mining area and any other area which may have been disturbed due to their mining activities and restore the land to a condition which is fit for growth of fodder, flora, fauna, etc.
Defence & Security Issues
CISF Wing for Courts
The Supreme Court has asked the Union government to explore possibility of creating a special wing of Central Industrial Security Force (CISF) for providing security to courts across the country, including the High Courts and the SC.
About Central Industrial Security Force (CISF):
- The CISF is a central armed police force under the aegis of Union Ministry of Home Affairs.
- It was initially established under the Central Industrial Security Force Act, 1968 to protect major Public Sector Undertakings (PSUs). However, it was converted to an armed force with a larger ambit under an amendment to the Act in 1983.
- Now, CISF provides security to industrial ventures and establishments, VIPs and engages in disaster management amongst others. It also has a Fire Wing to response to fire emergencies/accidents.
- Presently, CISF is also providing security to the protected persons classified as Z Plus, Z, X, Y.
- CISF is the only force with a customized and dedicated fire wing.
- CISF is a compensatory cost force.
- Currently, the CISF guards 59 civil airports across the country.
[Ref: Times of India]
Revised Norms for Data-led Probes
The Ministry of Home Affairs has issued revised guidelines to streamline the process of seeking legal assistance from foreign countries in criminal matters and issued directives on drafting and processing letters, mutual legal assistance requests, service of summon notices and other judicial documents.
- The revised norms have come in the backdrop of recently tabled Personal Data Protection Bill, 2019 in the parliament.
- As most intermediaries and social media platforms such as Facebook, WhatsApp, Google, Yahoo, Twitter and YouTube have their servers outside India, thus Indian investigation agencies need to follow a particular procedure to access the data from these platforms.
- Before seeking information about a person’s e-mail account hosted on servers in foreign countries, investigating agencies will have to establish that it is linked to a crime.
- The ministry held, the rationale that the account must have something to do with the crime being investigated was the lowest legal standard required of all investigative processes.
- All the data, including personal, must be obtained and processed fairly and lawfully.
- The Ministry stressed on “data preservation” as the key to the investigation of cyber-offences and those involving digital evidence and directed G-8 countries’ 24/7 Network was one such channel that could be used to place request for preserving data in real time.
- The transferred data shall be kept for no longer than the period required for the purpose for which it has been received and shall be returned to the requested country or deleted at the end of the period specified.
G-8 24/7 Network
- The G8 24/7 High Tech Crime Network (HTCN) is an informal network that provides around-the-clock, high-tech expert contact points, which permits the sharing of information on ongoing investigations against cyber criminals.
- It was created in 1997 and includes 45 countries and also allows law enforcement agencies to make urgent preservation requests of the digital data before it perishes.
Science & Technology
What is a Black Box?
Recently a Boeing passenger plane bound for Ukraine exploded in Iran minutes after its take-off killing more than 170 people on-board, of which the majority of nationals were from Iran and Canada.
- Iran labelled it as a technical issue, whereas US and other nations are keen to find out the reasons of the crash which they suspect of being a terrorist attack.
- The Black box of the plane is the only answer for the questions raised but Iran has refused to hand it over to Boeing.
- Any commercial aeroplane or corporate jet is required to be equipped with a ‘Black Box.’ which is extremely important after the plane crashes, to find out the real reasons of the crash.
- Black Box is an equipment which consists of a cockpit voice recorder and a flight data recorder.
- While they do nothing to help the plane when it is in the air, both these pieces of equipment are vitally important should the plane crash, as they help crash investigators find out what happened just before the crash.
- To help locate the cockpit voice recorder and a flight data recorder in the aftermath of a plane crash that occurs at sea, each recorder has a device fitted to it known as an Underwater Locator Beacon (ULB). The device is activated as soon as the recorder comes into contact with water and it can transmit from a depth as deep as 14,000 feet. Also, to help investigators find them; a Black Box is not actually black at all, but bright orange.
The Cockpit Voice Recorder (CVR):
- The main purpose of the Cockpit Voice Recorder is to record what the crew say and monitor any sounds that occur within the cockpit.
- The trained investigators can pick up on sounds such as engine noise, stall warnings
- It can give crucial flight information such as the speed the plane was travelling and engine rpm and can pinpoint the cause of a crash from the very sounds the plane was making before it crashed.
- The Cockpit Voice Recorder is also extremely important for determining the timing of events as it contains information such as communication between the crew and ground control and other aircraft.
- The Cockpit Voice Recorder is usually located in the tail of a plane.
The Flight Data Recorder (FDR):
- The Flight Data Recorder is an equipment essential as it records the operating functions of a plane all at once, such as the time, altitude, airspeed and direction the plane is heading.
- The modern Flight Data Recorders are able to monitor the movement of individual flaps on the wings, auto-pilot and fuel gauge.
- The data stored on the recorders helps Air Crash Investigators generate computer video reconstructions of a flight, so that they can visualise how a plane was handling shortly before a crash.
- The Flight Data Recorder and the Cockpit Voice Recorder are invaluable tools for Air Crash.
Advanced Lithium Sulphur battery
University of Monash in Australia have managed to create a super-capacity prototype by re-engineering a Lithium Sulphur (Li-S) battery.
- The battery can retain 99 % of its charge even after 200 charge cycles.
Problems with Li-S batteries used today:
- Li-S batteries are not new. They have an intrinsic problem with the sulphur electrode, which would break after repeated charge cycles because of expansion and contraction during cycles, making its superior capacity redundant.
How was this problem overcome?
- To overcome the problem, researchers gave the electrodes more space to expand and contract.
- The electrodes are bound inside the battery using polymers. The research team used lesser quantity of these adhesives so that the electrodes had more space-out structures inside them.
- These structures behaved more like bridges between the sulphur particles rather than a dense network, which stopped the electrodes from disintegrating.
- The advanced lithium-sulphur batteries operate in the same way as regular lithium-ion work i.e. lithium ions flow between electrodes producing power while not being chemically changed.
- Charging a battery involves those ions being returned to their starting positions for the process to begin from start.
- The Li-S batteries are many times cheaper than lithium ion batteries that could bring down the cost of electric mobility.
- The battery technology is said to have the capacity to power a smartphone for five days straight or allow an electric vehicle to travel for a 1000km on a single charge.
- The prototype of these cells have been successfully fabricated by Germany’s Fraunhofer Institute for Material and Beam Technology. These batteries will be put to trial around the world in 2020.
Gravitational Ripples of Neutron Star
An international team led by LIGO-Virgo scientists has identified second event of gravitational ripples from a collision of two neutron stars.
Merger of two neutron stars:
- The LIGO Livingston Observatory in the United States picked up the gravitational ripples on April 25, 2019.
- The ripples were too faint to be visible to Virgo which is the Italy-based gravitational-wave detector, but information was still gained about where the signal was originated.
- The researchers found that the collision of two neutron stars produced an object with an unusually high mass and the combined mass of this binary is much higher than what was expected.
- The LIGO data revealed that the combined mass of the merged bodies is about 3.4 times the mass of Earth’s sun.
- In our galaxy, known binary neutron star systems have combined masses of up to only 2.9 times that of our sun.
- The merger did not result in any light being detected.
- In August 2017, the gravitational ripples from a neutron star collision were observed for the first time.
- The observation detected both the gravitational waves and light from the same cosmic occurrence.
- The Laser Interferometer Gravitational-Wave Observatory (LIGO) is the world’s largest gravitational wave observatory.
- LIGO utilises the physical properties of light and of space itself to detect and understand the origins of gravitational waves and hence understand the mysteries like origin of the universe.
- The project has three gravitational-wave (GW) detectors. Two are at Hanford, Washington, north-western US, and one is at Livingston in Louisiana, south-eastern US.
LIGO- India project:
Indian Scientists are testing the suitability of land in Maharashtra’s Hingoli district to host the ambitious Laser Interferometer Gravitational Wave Observatory-India project after getting nod from the Ministry of environment.
- LIGO-India received the Indian Government’s in-principle approval in February 2016 and around 300 acres of land has been acquired for the project.
- The project involves constructing a network of L-shaped arms, each four kilometres long, which can detect even the faintest ripples from cosmic explosions millions of light years away.
- The project is piloted by the Department of Atomic Energy and Department of Science and Technology and is expected to be ready by 2025.
- LIGO India is a joint scientific collaboration between LIGO laboratories of MIT and Caltech and three leading Indian institutions – the Inter-University Centre for Astronomy and Astrophysics, Pune, Institute for Plasma Research, Gandhinagar, and the Raja Ramanna Centre for Advanced Technology, Indore.
- The project will open avenues for research on gravitational wave and take global leadership in this new astronomical frontier.
- Gravitational waves are disturbances in the curvature of space-time, generated by accelerated masses, which moves forward as waves in outward direction from their source with the speed of light.
- They are extremely weak so are very difficult to detect and hence LIGO is being used by scientists to identify Gravitational waves.
- A neutron star is thought to form by the gravitational collapse of remnants of a massive star after a supernova explosion.
- The stars are of very high density and composed predominantly of closely packed neutrons.
[Ref: The Hindu]
NASA has recently reported the discovery of an Earth-size planet, named TOI 700 d orbiting its star in the “goldilocks zone”.
- Any rocky exoplanet in the habitable zone of its star is an exciting find for the scientists who search for the possibility of alien life.
What is Goldilocks zone?
- “Goldilocks zone” is the habitable zone or the area around a star where it is not too hot and not too cold for liquid water to exist on the surface of surrounding planets.
- Our Earth lies in the Sun’s Goldilocks If Earth were where the dwarf planet Pluto is all its water would freeze; on the other hand, if Earth were where Mercury is, all its water would boil off.
Exoplanet TOI 700 d:
- The planet measures 20% larger than Earth. It orbits its star once every 37 days and receives an amount of energy that is equivalent to 86% of the energy that the Sun provides to Earth.
- The star TOI 700, is an “M dwarf” located just over 100 light-years away in the southern constellation Dorado, is roughly 40% of our Sun’s mass and size, and has about half its surface temperature.
- The star has three planets orbiting around it and TOI 700 d is the outermost planet, and the only one in the star’s habitable zone.
How was it discovered?
- The planet was found by NASA’s Transiting Exoplanet Survey Satellite (TESS) mission, launched in 2018.
- Very few such Earth-size planets have been found so far and the find was confirmed by the Spitzer Space Telescope, which sharpened the measurements that TESS had made, such as orbital period and size.
- NASA will try to identify whether the planets have atmosphere and determine their compositions in future missions.
Key Facts for Prelims
The Epiphany festival was celebrated in parts of India such as Goa and Kerala.
- In Goa, the celebration is known by its Portuguese name ‘Festa dos Reis’ and in parts of Kerala by its Syrian name ‘Denha’.
Why is Epiphany day celebrated?
- Epiphany is among the three oldest and major festival days in Christianity, the two others being Christmas and Easter.
- It is celebrated on January 6 by a number of Christian sects, including Roman Catholics and on January 19 by some Eastern Orthodox churches.
- In the West, the duration between December 25 and January 6 is known as the Twelve Days of Christmas.
- Epiphany is a feast day Christianity marks the visit of the Magi (meaning the Three Wise Men or Three Kings) to the Infant Jesus.
- According to Christian belief, the Magi — Balthasar, Melchior, and Gaspar (or Casper), the kings of Arabia, Persia, and India, respectively — followed a miraculous guiding star to Bethlehem, where they paid homage to the Infant Jesus. The three are said to have brought gifts for Jesus: gold by Melchior, myrrh by Balthasar, and incense by Gaspar.
- The visit is believed to signify Jesus’ physical manifestation to the Gentiles (non-Jewish people).
- The day also commemorates the baptism of Jesus in the Jordan River.