22 November 2021 Daily Current Affairs

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Prelims Specific Question

1) Operation Molten Metal sometimes in news is related to?

  1. Coal mining
  2. Drug trade
  3. Human trafficking
  4. Gold smuggling

2) Arrange the following islands from North to South:

  1. Spratly
  2. Paracel
  3. Thitu

Select the correct answer from the codes given below:

  1. 1 2 3
  2. 2 3 1
  3. 3 2 1
  4. 1 3 2

3) Jayant Kumar Dash committee was sometime seen in news. The committee is related to which of the following sector?

  1. Online banking
  2. Financial inclusion
  3. Digital Lending
  4. E-Commerce

Important News Items of the Day

1) M.P. launches a slew of ‘cow welfare’ measures

With an eye on the 2023 Assembly elections, the Shivraj Singh Chouhan Government has decided to set up a tax plan for “cow welfare” in the State where gau kalyan (cow welfare) has been at the heart of politics for years.

“A tax plan should be prepared to mop up funds for cow fodder. Similarly, cow products should be promoted and cow phenyl should be used in Government offices,”

He directed officials to build 2,200 gaushalas (cow shelters), develop six gaushalas as training centres, restart eight Gau Sadans that were shut down, develop the Salaria Gau Sanctuary of Agar-Malwa district as a model sanctuary, and set up a Gauvansh Van Vihar in Jabalpur district for which 530 acres of land is available with the Animal Husbandry Department.

2) Sri Lanka revokes ban on fertilizers

Sri Lanka abandoned its quest to become the world’s first completely organic farming nation on Sunday, announcing it would immediately lift an import ban on pesticides and other agricultural inputs.

The island country has been in the grips of a severe economic crisis, with a lack of foreign exchange triggering shortages of food, crude oil and other essential goods.

Food security – “Considering the need to ensure food security, we have taken this decision,”

Society /  Reports

1) Prolonged school closures pose threat to gender equality: study

Educational disruption due to prolonged closure of schools across the globe will not only have alarming effects on learning loss but also poses threat to gender equality, a new study by UNESCO has pointed out.

The global study titled “When schools shut: Gendered impacts of COVID-19 school closures” brings to the fore that girls and boys, young women and men were affected differently by school closures, depending on the context.

“In poorer contexts, girls’ time to learn was constrained by increased household chores. Boys’ participation in learning was limited by income-generating activities. Girls faced difficulties in engaging in digital remote learning modalities in many contexts because of limited access to internet-enabled devices, a lack of digital skills and cultural norms restricting their use of technological devices,” the report said.

2) Life expectancy lower for urban poor, says study

Life expectancy among the poorest is lower by 9.1 years and 6.2 years among men and women, respectively, compared to the richest in urban areas, noted a report released recently by Azim Premji University in collaboration with 17 regional NGOs across India.

Problems –

  • The report, besides finding disproportionate disease burden on the poor, also pointed to a chaotic urban health governance, where the multiplicity of healthcare providers both within and outside the government without coordination are challenges to urban health governance.
  • The other key findings include a heavy financial burden on the poor, and less investment in healthcare by urban local bodies.

Steps to be taken –

The report then calls for strengthening community participation and governance; building a comprehensive and dynamic database on the health and nutrition status, including co-morbidities of the diverse, vulnerable populations; strengthening healthcare provisioning through the National Urban Health Mission, especially for primary healthcare services; and putting in place policy measures to reduce the financial burden of the poor. It also advocates for a better mechanism for coordinated public healthcare services and better governed private healthcare institutions.

As urbanisation is happening rapidly, the number of the urban poor is only expected to increase. A well-functioning, better coordinated and governed health care system is crucial at this point. The pandemic has brought to attention the need for a robust and resourced healthcare system. Addressing this now will benefit the most vulnerable and offer critical services to city dwellers across income groups”

Geography

1) Langtang Microhydro Electricity Project

  • Langtang Microhydro Electricity Project, Nepal’s first hydropower from a glacial lake has become functional recently.
  • The Project was built three years after the 2015 earthquake-avalanche that devastated the valley, with help from the Hong Kong-based Kadoorie Charitable Foundation.
  • It has a weir and spillway at the moraine, and the water is taken through a fibre glass-insulated penstock pipe to a powerhouse that generates 100kW of electricity.
  • It seeks to provide 24 hours of electricity to 120 households and tourist lodges in Kyanjin and Langtang.

Uniqueness of the project

The project is the first-of-its-kind in Nepal to power a village and holds promise for other remote Himalayan valleys where the risk posed by expanding glacial lakes can be mitigated.

Defence

Some nations stalling maritime order: Rajnath

Defence Minister commissions stealthguided missile destroyer INS Visakhapatnam

INS Visakhapatnam is the first of four P-15B ships designed by the Navy’s Directorate of Naval Design and constructed by Mazagaon Dock Shipbuilders Ltd., Mumbai.

Project-15B:

  • Four Guided missile Destroyers of Project 15B (P 15B) are under construction at M/s Mazagaon Dock Shipbuilders Limited, Mumbai. The contract for construction of these four ships was signed in 2011.
  • These ships are amongst the most technologically advanced Guided Missile Destroyers of the world, with state-of-the-art weapon/sensor package, advanced stealth features and a high degree of automation.

Polity

What does it mean for a law to be repealed?

Repealing a law is one of the ways to nullify a law. A law is reversed when Parliament thinks there is no longer a need for the law to exist. Legislation can also have a “sunset” clause, a particular date after which they cease to exist. For example, the anti-terror legislation Terrorist and Disruptive Activities (Prevention) Act 1987, commonly known as TADA, had a sunset clause, and was allowed to lapse in 1995.

For laws that do not have a sunset clause, Parliament has to pass another legislation to repeal the law.

Article 245 of the Constitution gives Parliament the power to make laws for the whole or any part of India, and state legislatures the power to make laws for the state. Parliament draws its power to repeal a law from the same provision.

A law can be repealed either in its entirety, in part, or even just to the extent that it is in contravention of other laws.

What is the process for repealing a law?

Laws can be repealed in two ways — either through an ordinance, or through legislation.

In case an ordinance is used, it would need to be replaced by a law passed by Parliament within six months. If the ordinance lapses because it is not approved by Parliament, the repealed law can be revived.

The government can also bring legislation to repeal the farm laws. It will have to be passed by both Houses of Parliament, and receive the President’s assent before it comes into effect. All three farm laws can be repealed through a single legislation. Usually, Bills titled Repealing and Amendment are introduced for this purpose.

International Relations

1) China – Lithuania Ties

China has officially downgraded its diplomatic ties with Lithuania after it allowed Taiwan to open a de facto embassy in Vilnius. China’s foreign ministry said in a statement on Sunday that Lithuania had ignored China’s solemn stance and the basic norms of international relations in allowing Taiwan to set up its representative office. China considers the self-ruled and democratically governed Taiwan island as its own territory. In August, Beijing expelled the Lithuanian ambassador and recalled its Ambassador from Lithuania in protest to the Baltic state’s decision to allow Taiwan to open its de-facto embassy in Vilnius. The Taiwanese Representative Office in Lithuania opened on Thursday.

Taiwan says, it is an independent country called the Republic of China, its official name, and that the People’s Republic of China has never ruled it and has no right to speak for it. Taiwan has been upbeat by growing international support for it, especially from the US and some of its allies, in the face of China’s military and diplomatic pressure.

Economy

1) ‘Bitcoin City’ to come up in El Salvador

President Nayib Bukele said El Salvador plans to build the world’s first “Bitcoin City”, powered by a volcano and financed by cryptocurrency bonds. He was speaking at the Latin American Bitcoin and Blockchain Meet.

2) What is the KIIFB?

Kerala Infrastructure Investment Fund Board (KIIFB) is a body corporate constituted by the Government of Kerala to mobilise financial resources for infrastructure development of the State. It was established on November 11, 1999 through legislation Kerala Infrastructure Investment Fund Act 1999 passed by the Kerala State Assembly

Editorials of the Day

Editorial 1 – ‘Go back to committees’ is the farm laws lesson

These farmer laws brought in first as ordinances which was quite perplexing.

  • First, these laws have a far-reaching impact on the farmers and it was very improper and quite unwise to push them through without taking the farmers into confidence.
  • Second, under Article 123 of the Constitution the President can legislate on a matter when there is great urgency in the nature of an emergency and the sitting of Parliament is quite some time away. Farm laws which make radical changes in the farm sector and affect the life of farmers in very significant ways do not have the kind of urgency which necessitates immediate legislation through the ordinances.

Obviously, someone not very familiar with the working of Parliament must have advised the Government to take the ordinance route in order to avoid the standing committees’ scrutiny. It is a wrong impression that Bills which are brought to replace the ordinances are not or cannot be referred to the standing committees of Parliament. There is no such restriction. The Speaker/Chairman has the authority to refer any Bill except a money Bill to the standing committees.

What should have been done–?

These farm Bills should have been referred to the standing committee on agriculture for a detailed scrutiny. The committee could have held comprehensive discussions with the farmers. They would have thus got an opportunity to present their views before the committee and Parliament.

House wisdom is invaluable

The English monarchs of the 13th century, powerful and arrogant though they were, felt the need to consult the commoners for running the realm because they became wiser after many battles and wars. Parliament emerged from these consultations. Consultation with Parliament and its time honoured system is a sobering and civilizing necessity for governments howsoever powerful they may feel. The accumulated wisdom of the Houses is an invaluable treasure.

What Can be done –

Repealed laws can be brought back in future may be with certain modifications. There are no legal hurdles in that. The basic approach to corporatization of the farm sector has not been abandoned.

A proper parliamentary scrutiny of pieces of legislation is the best guarantee that sectoral interest will not jeopardise basic national interest. Protection of farmers is an essential part of national interest. So, in any future legislation on farmers it is absolutely necessary to involve the systems of Parliament fully so that a balanced approach emerges.

A missed step

In fact, available data shows that Bills are very rarely referred to the committees these days. House rules have vested the discretion in the presiding officers in the matter of referring the Bills to committees. No reasoned decisions of the presiding officers for not referring them are available. Since detailed examination of Bills by committees result in better laws, the presiding officers may, in public interest, refer all Bills to the committees with few exceptions. 

Editorial 2 – Keeping a close eye on China’s nuclear capabilities

Context – China Military Power Report (CMPR) recently released by the Pentagon that categorically underscores the growing challenge posed by the increasing capabilities of the People’s Republic of China (PRC) and its ambitions across various dimensions of military power. The PRC’s nuclear capabilities, in particular, are undergoing a fundamental transformation and a shift seems to be evident in both the quantity and the quality of the PRC’s atomic arsenal.

CMPR reveals four specific areas where change is underway — quantitative strength, atomic yield, delivery capabilities and posture.

  • First is the size of the PRC’s nuclear arsenal, which is set to increase. Hitherto, the PRC’s nuclear arsenal has hovered at roughly 200 nuclear warheads, half of which directed at the United States (U.S.). By 2027, the CMPR estimates that this number is likely to increase to 700 weapons consisting of varying yields which is three and half times the current Chinese warhead strength.
  • Second, the PRC is likely to privilege expansion in the direction of low-yield weapons. Low-yield weapons have been an area of interest and development for the PRC. They are weapons meant for battlefield use during conventional military operations and against conventional targets such as concentrations of armoured, artillery and infantry forces. Lower yield warheads help the PRC avoid causing collateral damage.
  • Third, these low-yield nuclear warheads are also likely to find their way into a key delivery capability — the PRC’s Dong-Feng-26 (DF-26) ballistic missile.

In addition to the DF26, China has also developed the JL2 Submarine Launched Ballistic Missiles (SLBMs) with a range of 7,200 kilometres capable of striking targets across continental Asia.

A key shift

Finally, China’s move towards a Launch on Warning (LoW) nuclear posture marks an important shift in the PRC’s commitment to ensuring that no adversary doubts its response in the event of a nuclear first strike. A higher alert posture not only risks reducing the threshold for nuclear use in the form of preemption but it could also sow the seeds of miscalculation and unintended nuclear use.

launch on warning (LOW), military strategy that allows high-level commanders to launch a retaliatory nuclear-weapons strike against an opponent as soon as satellites and other warning sensors detect an incoming enemy missile.

Actions of this kind have evoked strategic concern and increasingly confirm that China’s atomic arsenal consists of a large number of lowyield weapons ideal for battlefield use.

Finally, India must pay close attention to the subsurface leg of the PRC’s nuclear arsenal.

Editorial 3 – Russia and Ukraine must abide by their commitments in the Minsk accord

Minsk is the capital and the largest city of Belarus, located on the Svislach and the now subterranean Niamiha rivers. 

In 2015, an open conflict was averted after the ‘Minsk II’ peace agreement was signed, under the mediation of France and Germany. It was designed to end the fighting in the rebel regions and hand over the border to Ukraine’s national troops.

Ukraine was required to delegate more power to the breakaway regions and introduce constitutional reforms, codifying their special status. Russia’s nod for the agreement was possibly because it thought that delegation of power to the rebels would enhance Moscow’s leverage that it could use to prevent Ukraine’s full integration with the West. But Kiev’s reluctance to implement the agreement and its growing military, economic and political ties with the West seem to have prompted Mr. Putin to change his approach — to putting Kiev under direct military pressure. Kiev is now in a tough spot. It lacks the military resources to deter its giant neighbour. While it gets military supplies from the West, there is no guarantee that the West would come to its help in the event of a Russian invasion.

On the other side, Russia might make tactical gains from an invasion, like it did from the annexation of Crimea in 2014, but such a move could further deteriorate its already ruptured ties with the West.

So a practical solution is to revive the Minsk peace process. The West should push both sides to resume talks and live up to their commitments as per the Minsk agreement to restore relative peace on the border.

Editorial 4 – Reliable data, good policy

When evidence-based policymaking becomes the cornerstone of good governance, it is difficult to overstate the importance of reliable and timely public data. Such data have a direct bearing on the state’s capability to design and implement programmes effectively. Among the emerging economies, India is credited to have a relatively robust public data system generated through its decennial Census and yearly sample surveys on specific themes.

What are the problems –

  • Unreliable data
  • The second is the issue of comparability.
  • Data calculated but not released
  • Data was not compatible.
  • Growing delay, sometimes by years, in the release of the collected data.

Editorial 5 – The panoptic nature of biometric technology

Facial recognition technology (FRT) has been deployed by social media platforms to tag a person in a photo or video, and by law enforcement agencies to nab criminals. Rights activists have for long questioned its use citing algorithmic bias and mass surveillance.

Facebook, now renamed as Meta Platforms Inc, said earlier this month it is shutting down its facial recognition technology (FRT) on its platform. It would no longer auto-recognise faces from images and videos and as a result, the company hit the delete button on over a billion users’ faceprint templates it holds.

Facebook built this large dataset pixel by pixel since it launched the photo-tagging feature in 2010. The controversial automatic face-tagging feature scans faces and suggests who the person might be. Although users were given an option to switch off the biometric feature, there was no explicit consent to use the feature in the first place.

Facebook isn’t the first company to be accused of using biometric technology inappropriately, and it won’t be the last as several large tech firms build and sell FRT tools to government agencies.

Using a software, built by Clearview AI, the police were able to identify perpetrators and submit their names in court. The technology has been hailed as a great tool that helps law enforcement agencies nab criminals.

India lacks a robust legal framework to address the use of biometric technology even as the Union Government deployed over a dozen different FRT systems across the country that collect and use biometric data.

The National Crime Records Bureau (NCRB) has requested for proposals to create a National Automated Facial Recognition System (NAFRS) to build a national database of photographs to identify criminals.

Algorithmic bias

But a growing body of research shows that biometric scanning technologies coupled with AI have an inherent bias. A report by the U.S. National Institute of Standards and Technology (NIST) noted that facial recognition technology found Black, Brown and Asian individuals to be 100 times more likely to be misidentified than white male faces.

In the EU, the General Data Protection Regulation (GDPR) provides the bloc a first line of defence against FRT infringing on individual’s privacy. Article 9 of GDPR prohibits processing of personal biometric data for the purposes of identifying an individual.

Scanning technology and biometric tracking pose a grave threat to freedom of expression. Its use by law enforcement agencies in India during protests against the Citizenship (Amendment) Act, 2019, and in Hong Kong against pro-democracy protesters, highlights how this technology can be used by law enforcement agencies for mass surveillance.

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