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Current Affairs for UPSC IAS Exam – 23 January 2021

23rd January 2021 Current Affairs for UPSC IAS Exam

Contents

  1. India to expand research, tourism in Arctic
  2. ‘Anveshak’ by IISc. for ‘smart’ video tracking
  3. Ratle hydropower project on Chenab river
  4. Question Hour to be allowed for Budget Session

INDIA TO EXPAND RESEARCH, TOURISM IN ARCTIC

Context:

India has unveiled a new draft ‘Arctic’ policy that, among other things, commits to expanding scientific research, “sustainable tourism” and mineral oil and gas exploration in the Arctic region.

Relevance:

GS-I: Geography, GS-II: International Relations

Dimensions of the Article:

  1. About the Arctic
  2. Importance of the Resources in the Arctic region
  3. Member States and Observer States of the Arctic Council
  4. Highlights of India’s ‘Arctic’ policy
  5. India in The Arctic
  6. Himadri (research station)
  7. National Centre for Polar and Ocean Research

About the Arctic

  • The Arctic is a polar region located at the northernmost part of Earth.
  • The Arctic consists of the Arctic Ocean, adjacent seas, and parts of Alaska (United States), Canada, Finland, Greenland (Denmark), Iceland, Norway, Russia, and Sweden.
  • Land within the Arctic region has seasonally varying snow and ice cover, with predominantly treeless permafrost (permanently frozen underground ice) containing tundra. Arctic seas contain seasonal sea ice in many places.

Importance of the Resources in the Arctic region

  • The Arctic holds large quantities of minerals, including phosphate, bauxite, iron ore, copper, nickel, and diamond.
  • The United States Geological Survey estimates that 22 percent of the world’s oil and natural gas could be located beneath the Arctic.
  • Large Arctic mines include Red Dog mine (zinc) in Alaska, Diavik Diamond Mine in Northwest Territories, Canada, and Sveagruva in Svalbard.

Arctic Council

  • The Arctic Council is a high-level intergovernmental forum that addresses issues faced by the Arctic governments and the indigenous people of the Arctic.
  • The Arctic Council is a forum for promoting cooperation, coordination, and interaction among the Arctic states, with the involvement of the Arctic Indigenous communities and other Arctic inhabitants on issues such as sustainable development and environmental protection.
  • The Arctic Council has conducted studies on climate change, oil and gas, and Arctic shipping.

Member States and Observer States of the Arctic Council

  • The eight countries with sovereignty over the lands within the Arctic Circle constitute the members of the council: Canada, Denmark, Finland, Iceland, Norway, Russia, Sweden, and the United States.
  • Observer status is open to non-Arctic states approved by the Council at the Ministerial Meetings that occur once every two years.
  • The Observer States are: Germany, Netherlands, Poland, United Kingdom, France, Spain, China, India, Italy, Japan, South Korea, Singapore and Switzerland.

Highlights of India’s ‘Arctic’ policy

  • India expects the Goa-based National Centre for Polar and Ocean Research to lead scientific research and act as a nodal body to coordinate among various scientific bodies to promote domestic scientific research capacities.
  • India aims to promote scientific research in the Arctic by expanding “earth sciences, biological sciences, geosciences, climate change and space related programmes, dove-tailed with Arctic imperatives in Indian Universities.”
  • Other objectives of the policy include putting in place Arctic related programmes for mineral/oil and gas exploration in petroleum research institutes.
  • India’s Arctic policy also aims at encouraging tourism and hospitality sectors in building specialised capacities and awareness to engage with Arctic enterprises.

India in The Arctic

  • India launched its first scientific expedition to the Arctic in 2007 and set up a research station ‘Himadri’ in the international Arctic research base at Ny-Ålesund in Spitsbergen, Svalbard, Norway.
  • India has two other observatories in Kongsforden and Gruvebadet.
  • India has sent 13 expeditions to the Arctic since 2007 and runs 23 active projects.

Himadri (research station)

  • Himadri is India’s first permanent Arctic research station located at Spitsbergen, Svalbard, Norway.
  • It was set up during India’s second Arctic expedition in 2008 by the Ministry of Earth Sciences.
  • Himadri’s functions include long term monitoring of the fjord (Kongsfjorden) dynamics, and atmospheric research.
  • The primary goals of India’s research include research on aerosol radiation, space weather, food-web dynamics, microbial communities, glaciers, sedimentology, and carbon recycling.

National Centre for Polar and Ocean Research

  • The National Centre for Polar and Ocean Research, (NCPOR) formerly known as the National Centre for Antarctic and Ocean Research (NCAOR) is an Indian research and development institution, situated in Vasco da Gama, Goa.
  • It is an autonomous Institution of the Department of Ocean Development (DOD), Ministry of Earth Sciences, which is responsible for administering the Indian Antarctic Programme and maintains the Indian government’s Antarctic research stations, Bharati and Maitri.
  • NCPOR complex is a home to a special low-temperature laboratory and is setting up a National Antarctic Data Centre and a Polar Museum.

The NCPOR operates in different fields or tasks:

  1. storing ice core samples, from Antarctica and the Himalayas.
  2. operating the Himadri and IndARC Arctic research stations in Svalbard, Norway.
  3. managing the oceanic research vessel ORV Sagar Kanya, the flagship of India’s fleet of oceanographic study vessels.

-Source: The Hindu


‘ANVESHAK’ BY IISC. FOR ‘SMART’ VIDEO TRACKING

Context:

Researchers at the Indian Institute of Science (IISc.) have developed a software platform from which apps and algorithms can intelligently track and analyse video feeds from cameras spread across cities according to IISc.

Relevance:

GS-III: Science and Technology, GS-IV: Ethics

Dimensions of the Article:

  1. More about ‘Anveshak’
  2. Recently in news: National Automated Facial Recognition System
  3. Face Recognition Case in India
  4. Using Facial Recognition for good
  5. Global obsession and fears regarding its use

More about ‘Anveshak’

  • ‘Anveshak’ will be useful not only for tracking missing persons or objects, but also for “smart city” initiatives such as automated traffic control.
  • ‘Anveshak’ not only runs the tracking models efficiently, but also plugs in advanced computer vision tools and intelligently adjust different parameters, such as a camera network’s search radius, in real time.
  • ‘Anveshak’ can be used to track an object across a 1,000-camera network. A key feature of the platform is that it allows a tracking model or algorithm to focus only on feeds from certain cameras along an expected route, and tune out other feeds.

Recently in news: National Automated Facial Recognition System

  • In 2019 the National Crime Records Bureau (NCRB) invited bids to create and establish the National Automated Facial Recognition System (NAFRS) (or just AFRS) protocol stating that “this is an effort in the direction of modernizing the police force, information gathering, criminal identification, verification and its dissemination among various police organizations and units across the country.”
  • The National Automated Facial Recognition System will have a searchable visual database of “missing persons, unidentified found persons, arrested foreigners, unidentified dead bodies and criminals based around dynamic police databases”.
  • It will also have individual information, such as name, age, addresses and special physical characteristics.
  • The AFRS is a centralised web application, and is expected to be the foundation for “a national level searchable platform of facial images”.
  • The surveillance tool will be integrated with centrally maintained databases such as the Crime and Criminal Tracking Network and Systems (CCTNS), the Inter-operable Criminal Justice System (ICJS), and the National Automated Fingerprint Identification System (NAFIS).

Face Recognition Case in India

  • During the February 2020 Delhi riots, it was declared in the parliament Delhi Police tapped into driving licence and voter identity databases to apprehend 1,900 rioters.
  • However, an affidavit filed by the Union Ministry of Women and Child Development to the Delhi High Court claims that the technology used to recognize faces cannot even distinguish between boys and girls.
  • Earlier in 2018, even the Delhi Police admitted in the high court that the accuracy of its facial recognition system was not more than 2 per cent.

Using Facial Recognition for good

  • The life of the facial recognition software in India began benevolently with the aim to identify missing children.
  • In those circumstances, an accuracy rate of even 1 per cent is admirable; one more child out of every 100 returned to the safety of their families.
  • But the same statistics seem totalitarian and dystopian when they are capable of implicating citizens with criminality.

Global obsession and fears regarding its use

  • Without legal safeguards, facial recognition technology is set to undermine democratic values.
  • Recently, in the U.S. a man was arrested wrongly after being misidentified by Facial Recognition. This is the biggest fear as most countries including India and the US lack the legal framework that can bring accountability into the system.
  • Almost 85 per cent of countries with facial recognition systems employ it for surveillance, suggests the Artificial Intelligence Global Surveillance Index 2019.
  • The index, released by the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace, found that facial recognition systems were in place in 75 countries.
  • In 2011, the technology helped confirm the identity of Osama bin Laden when he was killed in a US raid.
  • Corporations are also expanding the scope of facial recognition to study and predict human behavior. By assessing customers’ facial expressions and even bodily responses, retailers aim to gain better insights into consumer behavior and increase their sales.

-Source: The Hindu


RATLE HYDROPOWER PROJECT ON CHENAB RIVER

Context:

The Union Cabinet has given its approval for 850 MegaWatt (MW) Ratle hydropower project on Chenab river in Jammu and Kashmir.

This comes in the backdrop of India’ plan to expedite strategically important hydropower projects in the union territory post its reorganization, and to utilize Indias share of water under the Indus Waters Treaty of 1960.

Relevance:

GS-III: Industry and Infrastructure, GS-II: International Relations

Dimensions of the Article:

  1. Ratle Hydroelectric Project
  2. Benefits of Ratle Hydroelectric Project
  3. Indus Waters Treaty (IWT)
  4. Significant Points regarding Ratle Hydroelectric Project and the Indus Waters Treaty (IWT)

Ratle Hydroelectric Project

  • Ratle Hydroelectric Project is a run-of-the-river hydroelectric power station on the Chenab River, Kishtwar district of the Indian Union Territory of Jammu and Kashmir.
  • The Project includes a gravity dam and two power stations adjacent to one another.
  • Pakistan has frequently alleged that it violates the Indus Water Treaty, 1960.

Benefits of Ratle Hydroelectric Project

  • The construction activities of the Project will result in direct and indirect employment to around 4000 persons and lead to socio-economic development of the region.
  • The Power generated from the Project will help in providing balancing of Grid and will improve the power supply position and also the UT of Jammu and Kashmir will be benefitted by getting free power supply.
  • Through levy of Water Usage Charges from Ratle Hydro Electric Project, during project life cycle of 40 years.

Indus Waters Treaty (IWT)

  • The Indus Waters Treaty is a water-distribution treaty between India and Pakistan, brokered by the World Bank, to use the water available in the Indus River and its tributaries.
  • The Indus Waters Treaty (IWT) was signed in Karachi in 1960.
  • The Treaty gives control over the waters of the three “eastern rivers” — the Beas, Ravi and Sutlej to India, while control over the waters of the three “western rivers” — the Indus, Chenab and Jhelum to Pakistan.
  • India was allocated about 16% of the total water carried by the Indus system while Pakistan was allocated the remainder.
  • The treaty allows India to use the Western River waters (the ones in Pakistan’s control) for limited irrigation use and unlimited non-consumptive use for such applications as power generation, navigation, floating of property, fish culture, etc.
  • It lays down detailed regulations for India in building projects over the western rivers.
  • The preamble of the treaty recognises the rights and obligations of each country in the optimum use of water from the Indus system in a spirit of goodwill, friendship and cooperation.

Significant Points regarding Ratle Hydroelectric Project and the Indus Waters Treaty (IWT)

  • According to the terms of the IWT, India has the right to build run-of-the-river (RoR) projects like the Ratle project on the three ‘western’ rivers — the Chenab, Jhelum and Indus — provided it does so without substantially impeding water flow in Pakistan downstream.
  • Pakistan believes that the project’s current design does pose a serious impediment and has told the World Bank that it wants a Court of Arbitration (CoA) set up to decide on the issue.
  • India says this is only a technical issue and mutually solvable and has agreed to a ‘neutral party’ since a CoA potentially could stall any form of construction on all Indus projects.

-Source: The Hindu


QUESTION HOUR TO BE ALLOWED FOR BUDGET SESSION

Context:

Question Hour, which had been suspended temporarily due to the Covid-19 restrictions, will resume when Parliament meets for the budget session.

Relevance:

GS-II: Polity and Governance

Dimensions of the Article:

  1. Question Hour
  2. Zero Hour in Parliament
  3. Half-an-Hour Discussion
  4. Type of Questions
  5. Supplementary Question
  6. Extras: What is the Guillotine provision used often during the Budget sessions?

Question Hour

  • The question hour is slated for 11am every day (for an hour) in both the houses.
  • This is a very important part of the proceedings where MPs ask questions on important subjects and the respective ministers respond with data, information & other details.
  • These are also a very important source of information since a lot of latest up to date information/data is provided in the form of answers which are not usually available elsewhere.

Zero Hour in Parliament

  • Firstly, there is no mention of zero hour in rules of Parliamentary Procedure. This term was coined by press in 1960s.
  • A zero Hour is the hour after the Question Hour in the two houses of Parliament.
  • During this hour, the members raise matters of importance, particularly those which they feel, cannot be delayed.
  • Since this is unscheduled and without permission or prior notice, it generally results in avoidable loss of precious time of the house.
  • It also obstructs the legislative, financial and regular proceedings and business of the House.

Half-an-Hour Discussion

  • A Half-an-Hour Discussion can be raised on a matter of sufficient public importance which has been the subject of a recent question in Lok Sabha or Rajya Sabha, irrespective of the fact whether the question was orally answered or the answer was laid on the table of the House.
  • Generally, not more than half an hour is allowed for such a discussion.
  • The Chairman/Speaker decides whether the matter is of sufficient public importance to be put down for discussion.

Type of Questions

Members have a right to ask questions to elicit information on matters of public importance within the special cognizance of the Ministers concerned.

The questions are of four types:

  1. Starred Questions– A Starred Question is one to which a member desires an oral answer from the Minister in the House and is required to be distinguished by him/her with an asterisk. Answer to such a question may be followed by supplementary questions by members.
  2. Unstarred Questions– An Unstarred Question is one to which written answer is desired by the member and is deemed to be laid on the Table of the House by Minister. Thus, it is not called for oral answer in the House and no supplementary question can be asked thereon.
  3. Short Notice Questions– A member may give a notice of question on a matter of public importance and of urgent character for oral answer at a notice less than 10 days prescribed as the minimum period of notice for asking a question in ordinary course. Such a question is known as ‘Short Notice Question’.
  4. Questions to Private Members– A Question may also be addressed to a Private Member (Under Rule 40 of the Rules of Procedure and Conduct of Business in Lok Sabha), provided that the subject matter of the question relates to some Bill, Resolution or other matter connected with the business of the House for which that Member is responsible. The procedure in regard to such questions is same as that followed in the case of questions addressed to a Minister with such variations as the Speaker may consider necessary.

Supplementary Question

  • Starred Questions are those for which an oral answer is expected. The member is allowed to ask a supplementary question, with the permission of the Speaker, after the reply is obtained from the Minister concerned.
  • Non-starred questions are those for which a written reply is expected. After the reply has been provided, NO supplementary question can be asked.
  • A notice period is to be given to the minister to reply to a question. However, if a Member seeks to ask a question urgently and cannot wait for the duration of the notice period, then the member can do so provided it is accepted by the Speaker. Such questions are called supplementary questions.

Extras: What is the Guillotine provision used often during the Budget sessions?

  • In legislative parlance, to “guillotine” means to put together and fast-track the passage of financial business.
  • After the Budget is presented, Parliament goes into recess for about 3 weeks.
  • During this time, the House Standing Committees examine Demands for Grants for various Ministries, and prepare reports.
  • After Parliament reassembles, the Business Advisory Committee (BAC) draws up a schedule for discussions on the Demands for Grants.
  • Given the limited time, the House cannot take up the expenditure demands of all Ministries.
  • The BAC therefore identifies some important Ministries for discussions.
  • These may include Ministries of Home, Defence, External Affairs, Agriculture, Rural Development and Human Resource Development.
  • This is when Members discuss the policies and working of Ministries.
  • Once the House is done with these debates, the Speaker applies the “guillotine”.
  • This is to put to vote at once, all the other outstanding demands for grants that have not been discussed.
  • This usually happens on the last day earmarked for the discussion on the Budget.
  • The purpose is to ensure timely passage of the Finance Bill, marking the completion of the legislative exercise with regard to the Budget.

-Source: The Hindu

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