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Current Affairs 04 January 2024

  1. Square Kilometer Array Observatory
  2. Shifting Dynamics in Indian Inflation: A Supply and Demand Analysis
  3. Challenges Amidst Global Conflicts in 2023
  4. Snow Leopard
  5. Litchi Cultivation Expansion: A Nationwide Horticulture Boost in India
  6. South Africa’s Urgent Move to ICJ on Israel and Genocide Convention
  7. Indian Telecom Operators Seek Spectrum Auction for D2M Technology


Context:

Scientists in India will now also be part of the international mega-science project, the Square Kilometer Array Observatory (SKAO), that will function as the world’s largest radio telescope. India’s Giant Metrewave Radio Telescope (GMRT) is amongst the world’s six large telescopes.

Relevance:

GS III: Science and Technology

Dimensions of the Article:

  1. Radio Telescopes
  2. Square Kilometer Array Observatory (SKAO): Overview and India’s Role
  3. Giant Metrewave Radio Telescope (GMRT)
  4. Gravitational Waves

Radio Telescopes:

Detection of Radio Waves:

  • Radio telescopes are instruments designed to detect and amplify radio waves emanating from space, converting them into signals for astronomers to decipher.

Universal Observations through Light Waves:

  • Astronomy involves observing various waves of light.
  • Stars, galaxies, and celestial objects emit visible light as well as electromagnetic waves like radio waves, gamma rays, X-rays, and infrared radiation.

Components of a Radio Telescope:

  • A basic radio telescope consists of three essential components:
    • One or more antennas pointed towards the sky to gather radio waves.
    • A receiver and amplifier to strengthen the weak radio signals to measurable levels.
    • A recorder to document and preserve the received signals.

Versatility of Radio Telescopes:

  • Radio telescopes are operational both day and night, providing astronomers with continuous opportunities for observation.

Square Kilometer Array Observatory (SKAO): Overview and India’s Role

  • The Square Kilometer Array is an international radio telescope project situated in Australia and South Africa.
  • Its construction in the southern hemisphere is chosen for the optimal view of the Milky Way galaxy and minimal radio interference.
  • Participating countries include the UK, Australia, South Africa, Canada, China, France, India, Italy, and Germany.

Objective:

  • Aims to construct and operate cutting-edge radio telescopes to revolutionize our understanding of the Universe, fostering global collaboration and innovation.

Construction Phases:

  • The project has two construction phases: SKA1 (current) and a potential future phase known as SKA2.
  • Construction began in December 2022 in both South Africa and Australia.

Headquarters:

  • Jodrell Bank Observatory, United Kingdom.
India’s Role:
  • India, through the National Centre for Radio Astrophysics (NCRA) and other institutions, has been involved in SKAO’s development since the 1990s.
  • India’s primary contribution is in developing and operating the Telescope Manager element, the crucial software enabling the telescope’s functionality.
    • NCRA led an international team from nine institutions and seven countries in this software development.
  • Countries must sign and ratify the SKAO convention to formalize their membership.
  • Recently, the Central Government of India decided to join the project, allocating a financial sanction of Rs 1,250 crore.

Giant Metrewave Radio Telescope (GMRT)

  • GMRT is a low-frequency radio telescope used for investigating various radio astrophysical phenomena, ranging from nearby solar systems to the edge of the observable universe.
  • It is located at Khodad, situated 80 km north of Pune, and is operated by the National Centre of Radio Astrophysics (NCRA).
  • The NCRA is a part of the Tata Institute of Fundamental Research (TIFR) based in Mumbai.
  • GMRT is a project of the Department of Atomic Energy (DAE) and operates under the Tata Institute of Fundamental Research (TIFR).
  • The telescope consists of 30 fully-steerable dish-type antennas, each with a diameter of 45 meters, spread over a 25-km region.
  • Presently, GMRT holds the distinction of being the world’s largest radio telescope operating at meter wavelengths.
The objectives of GMRT include:

Detecting highly redshifted spectral lines of neutral Hydrogen:

  • GMRT aims to detect the faint signals of neutral Hydrogen in its highly redshifted state.
  • This can provide insights into the early phase of the Universe when proto-clusters or protogalaxies were forming before condensing into galaxies.
  • Redshift, in this context, refers to the change in the wavelength of the signal based on the object’s location and movement.

Studying rapidly-rotating Pulsars in our galaxy:

  • GMRT is also used to search for and study pulsars, which are rapidly rotating neutron stars with extremely high densities.
  • Pulsars emit regular radio beams that flash towards the Earth, similar to how a lighthouse emits beams.
  • By studying pulsars, scientists can gain valuable information about their properties, behavior, and the surrounding environment.

Significance of GMRT

The significance of GMRT lies in its unique capabilities and contributions to various fields of astrophysics. Some key points highlighting its significance are:

Wide frequency bandwidth:

  • GMRT operates within the frequency range of 100 MHz to 1,500 MHz, allowing it to observe a broad range of radio emissions and signals from celestial objects.
  • This wide frequency coverage enables the study of diverse astrophysical phenomena.

International collaboration:

  • GMRT is highly sought-after by scientists from more than 30 countries, demonstrating its recognition and importance in the global scientific community.
  • Its capabilities and data are valuable for researchers worldwide.

Tracing the evolution of galaxies:

  • GMRT plays a crucial role in understanding the evolution of galaxies over cosmic time.
  • By detecting and analyzing the radio emissions from atomic hydrogen (21 cm wavelength), GMRT enables scientists to trace the distribution and behavior of neutral gas in galaxies.
  • This gas is essential for star formation and provides insights into the processes involved in galaxy evolution.

Studying distant galaxies:

  • GMRT’s large collecting area and sensitivity allow for the detection of faint radio signals emitted by distant galaxies.
  • This is particularly important when studying the 21 cm emission from atomic hydrogen in distant galaxies, which is otherwise challenging to detect.
  • GMRT’s data contributes to our understanding of galaxies across different cosmological periods.

Wide range of astrophysical studies:

  • GMRT’s capabilities extend beyond galaxy evolution.
  • Its large collecting area and frequency coverage make it a useful instrument for studying various astrophysical phenomena.
  • This includes investigating solar and planetary radio emissions, studying the relationship between solar activity and disturbances in the interplanetary medium, and exploring other frontier areas of astrophysics.

Gravitational Waves

  • Gravitational waves are space-time ripples resulting from violent and energetic processes in the Universe.
  • Albert Einstein predicted their existence in 1916 through his general theory of relativity.
  • According to Einstein’s mathematics, massive accelerating objects, such as orbiting black holes or neutron stars, disrupt space-time, causing undulating waves to propagate in all directions.
  • These waves carry information about their origins and provide insights into the nature of gravity.
  • Massive objects like neutron stars or black holes orbiting each other are sources of gravitational waves.
Production of Gravitational Waves
  • Cataclysmic events, including colliding black holes, supernovae, and colliding neutron stars, generate the strongest gravitational waves.
  • Gravitational waves can also be produced by non-spherical rotating neutron stars and possibly remnants of gravitational radiation from the Big Bang.
Feature
  • Gravitational waves are challenging to detect due to their weak interaction with matter.
  • Interferometers, highly sensitive instruments, have been developed to detect these waves.
  • The Laser Interferometer Gravitational-Wave Observatory (LIGO) is a well-known example that achieved the first direct detection of gravitational waves in 2015.

-Source: The Hindu, Indian Express



Context:

The Reserve Bank of India’s recent observations reveal a noteworthy shift in the dynamics of inflation in India, with supply and demand factors playing crucial roles. Over the period from January 2019 to May 2023, approximately 55% of the Consumer Price Index (CPI) headline inflation is attributed to supply-side factors, while demand drivers contributed 31%.

Relevance:

GS III: Indian Economy

Dimensions of the Article:

  1. Causes of Inflation in Recent Years in India
  2. Methodology for Assessing Inflation Causes
  3. Understanding Inflation: Definition and Impact

Causes of Inflation in Recent Years in India

Impact of Covid-19 Waves:
  • Supply disruptions during both Covid-19 waves were the primary contributors to inflation.
  • Pandemic-induced lockdowns led to a significant drop in production and demand, causing a sharp decline in economic growth.
  • Weakened demand during this phase also led to a reduction in commodity prices.
Reopening Challenges:
  • The reopening of the economy, coupled with vaccine distribution and pent-up demand release, resulted in a faster recovery of demand compared to supply.
  • This imbalance exerted upward pressure on commodity prices.
  • The Russia-Ukraine conflict in 2022 intensified supply chain challenges, compounding commodity price pressures.

Methodology for Assessing Inflation Causes

Monthly Shifts in Prices and Quantities:

  • Inflation’s nature is determined by unforeseen shifts in prices and quantities within a month.
  • Demand-driven inflation occurs when prices and quantities move in the same direction, while supply-driven inflation sees prices and quantities moving in opposite directions.

Supply-Driven Inflation Indicators:

  • Unexpected changes in prices and quantities moving in opposite directions indicate supply-driven inflation.
  • A decrease in supply linked with a lower volume but increased prices, and vice versa, characterizes supply-driven inflation.

Combining Demand and Supply Factors:

  • Assessing overall headline inflation involves combining demand and supply factors at the sub-group level using CPI weights.

Headline Inflation Measurement:

  • Headline inflation is a comprehensive measure of total inflation within an economy, encompassing volatile commodities like food and energy.
  • Calculated through the Consumer Price Index (CPI), it determines inflation by assessing the cost of purchasing a fixed basket of goods.

Understanding Inflation: Definition and Impact

Definition of Inflation:
  • Inflation, according to the International Monetary Fund, is the rate of increase in prices over a specified period, encompassing a broad measure of overall price increases or specific goods and services.
  • It signifies the rising cost of living, indicating the increase in the expense of a set of goods and/or services over a defined period, typically a year.
Impact of Inflation in India:
  • In India, the impact of inflation is particularly significant, given economic disparities and a large population.
Causes of Inflation:
  • Demand-Pull Inflation:
    • Occurs when the demand for goods and services surpasses their supply.
    • High overall demand in the economy prompts consumers to pay more for available goods and services, resulting in a general price increase.
    • A booming economy with substantial consumer spending can create excess demand, exerting upward pressure on prices.
  • Cost-Push Inflation:
    • Driven by an increase in the production costs for goods and services.
    • Factors such as increased incomes, rising costs of raw materials, or disruptions in the supply chain contribute to this type of inflation.
  • Built-In or Wage-Price Inflation:
    • Described as a feedback loop between wages and prices.
    • When workers demand higher wages, businesses may raise prices to cover increased labor costs.
    • Collective bargaining by labor unions can lead to higher wages, escalating production costs and subsequently causing higher prices for goods and services.

-Source: The Hindu



Context:

Despite India’s emphasis on an era of peace, the year 2023 saw significant conflicts, including the Russia-Ukraine conflict and the ongoing war in the Gaza Strip. These destructive conflicts, coupled with China’s assertive behavior, present substantial challenges and disrupt diplomatic efforts, causing concern not only in the West but also in India.

Relevance:

GS II: International Relations

Dimensions of the Article:

  1. Overview of 2023 Global Geopolitical Trends
  2. Upcoming Challenges for India in 2024

Overview of 2023 Global Geopolitical Trends

Disruption in Israel-Arab Reconciliation:

  • Two years of efforts to normalize ties between Israel and the Arab world were disrupted by a Hamas attack, leading to casualties and hostages.
  • Israel’s disproportionate response garnered criticism, derailing the Israeli-Arab reconciliation process.

Bilateral Ties with the U.S.:

  • Despite successful visits, bilateral ties between India and the U.S. faced challenges over allegations of an Indian official’s link to an assassination plot against a Khalistani separatist in the U.S.
  • India’s response differed from its reaction to a similar accusation from Canada, emphasizing commitment to the rule of law.

Funding Challenges in Ukraine War:

  • Funding challenges for the West in the ongoing Ukraine war, with obstacles to assistance from the U.S. Congress and Hungary in the EU.
  • Putin’s imminent re-election and the resilient Russian economy, coupled with Moscow’s proximity to Beijing, cause concern in the West.

Geopolitical Shifts in Maldives:

  • The Maldivian government, close to China, asks India to withdraw military personnel and signals the termination of a water survey pact.

China as a Strategic Challenge:

  • China remains India’s major strategic challenge, with the ongoing Border Standoff and concerns about Moscow’s economic dependence on Beijing.
  • The Maldives aligning with China in the Indian Ocean adds to India’s strategic concerns.

India’s Diplomatic Success at G20:

  • India surprises the international community by negotiating a joint declaration at the G20 summit.
  • New Delhi’s mobilization of developing and less developed countries under the Global South umbrella is seen as a continuation of India’s Non-Alignment legacy in the 21st century.

Change in Afghanistan Embassy Leadership:

  • Change of guard in the Afghanistan embassy in New Delhi, with reassurances that Taliban symbols won’t be displayed.

Upcoming Challenges for India in 2024

Resolution of ‘Assassination Plot’ Issue with the U.S.:

  • Resolving the alleged Indian official link to an assassination plot in the U.S. poses a challenge, with the absence of the U.S. President at Republic Day causing delays in the Quad summit.

Managing Ties with Canada and the U.S.:

  • Canada’s allegations strain ties, but public support backs India’s response. Different approaches are required for the U.S. and Canada issues due to their distinct importance for India.

Ties with Pakistan and Elections:

  • India-Pakistan ties have remained strained since 2019, with elections due in Pakistan after February 2024. The outcome may influence the dynamics between the two countries.

Bangladesh Elections and Security Imperatives:

  • Bilateral ties with Bangladesh under the Sheikh Hasina government have seen positive momentum. India will be keen on her return to power, driven by security imperatives and concerns about the opposition.

Ongoing Border Standoff with China:

  • The border standoff with China, ongoing since 2020, remains a critical challenge. Any escalation may impact the security environment and India’s domestic political atmosphere.

Diplomatic Stance in Israel-Hamas Conflict:

  • India’s evolving stance in the Israel-Hamas conflict presents complex diplomatic challenges that require careful navigation.

Balancing Russian Oil Imports and U.S. Pressure:

  • Balancing India’s interests in importing Russian oil while navigating pressure from the U.S. amid the ongoing war shapes the country’s foreign policy strategy.

-Source: The Hindu



Context:

Kyrgyzstan has officially declared the Snow Leopard(Panthera uncia) as its national symbol, signifying its commitment to conservation and ecological balance.

Relevance:

GS III- Environment and Ecology

Dimensions of the Article:

  1. About the Snow leopard
  2. Snow Leopards in India and their conservation

About the Snow leopard

  • The snow leopard is a large cat native to the mountain ranges of Central and South Asia.
  • It is listed as Vulnerable on the IUCN Red List.
  • The snow leopard, like all big cats, is listed on Appendix I of the Convention on International Trade of Endangered Species (CITES), which makes trading of animal body parts (i.e., fur, bones and meat) illegal in CITES signatory countries.
  • Global population is estimated to number less than 10,000 mature Snow Leopards.
  • It inhabits alpine and subalpine zones at elevations from 3,000 to 4,500 m.
  • It is threatened by poaching and habitat destruction following infrastructural developments.

Snow Leopards in India and their conservation

  • In India, their geographical range encompasses a large part of the western Himalayas including the states of Jammu and Kashmir, Himachal Pradesh, Uttarakhand and Sikkim and Arunachal Pradesh in the eastern Himalayas. The last three states form part of the Eastern Himalayas – a priority global region of WWF and the Living Himalayas Network Initiative.
  • Project Snow Leopard (PSL): It promotes an inclusive and participatory approach to conservation that fully involves local communities.
  • SECURE Himalaya: Global Environment Facility (GEF)-United Nations Development Programme (UNDP) funded the project on conservation of high-altitude biodiversity and reducing the dependency of local communities on the natural ecosystem. This project is now operational in four snow leopard range states, namely, Jammu and Kashmir, Himachal Pradesh, Uttarakhand, and Sikkim.

-Source: The Hindu



Context:

The cultivation of litchi, traditionally confined to Muzaffarpur, Bihar, has experienced substantial growth, extending to 19 Indian states. This notable expansion is attributed to the initiatives of the National Research Centre on Litchi (NRCL) based in Muzaffarpur, Bihar, showcasing a positive trend in horticulture across the country.

Relevance:

GS III: Agriculture

Dimensions of the Article:

  1. Key Facts about Litchi
  2. Horticulture

Key Facts about Litchi

  • Botanical Background:
    • Litchi belongs to the Sapindaceae family, recognized for its delectable and juicy translucent aril or edible flesh.
  • Climate and Growing Conditions:
    • Thrives in sub-tropical climates and prefers moist conditions.
    • Flourishes in regions with low elevation, up to approximately 800 meters.
  • Ideal Soil and Sensitivity to Temperature:
    • Optimal soil for cultivation is deep, well-drained loamy soil enriched with organic matter.
    • Sensitive to extreme temperatures, with intolerance to temperatures above 40.5 degrees Celsius in summer or freezing temperatures in winter.
  • Impact of Rain on Cultivation:
    • Prolonged rain, particularly during flowering, can disrupt pollination and adversely affect the crop.
  • Traditional Cultivation Regions in India:
    • Historically cultivated in the northern Himalayan foothills, from Tripura to Jammu & Kashmir, and plains of Uttar Pradesh and Madhya Pradesh.
  • Expansion of Cultivation in India:
    • Due to increased demand and viability, cultivation has expanded to states such as Bihar, Jharkhand, and Chhattisgarh.
  • Leading States in Litchi Production:
    • Bihar accounts for nearly 40% of India’s litchi production, followed by West Bengal (12%) and Jharkhand (10%).
  • Global Production and Rankings:
    • India ranks as the second-largest global producer of litchi, following China.
    • Other significant litchi-producing countries include Thailand, Australia, South Africa, Madagascar, and the United States.

Horticulture:

  • Horticulture involves the science, art, and practice of cultivating fruits, vegetables, flowers, ornamental plants, and various crops.
  • Encompassing a wide range of activities, it includes plant cultivation, management, propagation, and enhancement for human use and enjoyment.
Mission for Integrated Development of Horticulture (MIDH):
  • MIDH is a Centrally Sponsored Scheme designed for the comprehensive advancement of the horticulture sector, covering fruits, vegetables, and related areas.
  • Government of India contributes 60% of the total outlay for developmental programs in states (except North Eastern and Himalayan states where GOI contributes 90%), while State governments contribute 40%.
Horticulture Cluster Development Programme:
  • A central sector initiative focused on the growth and development of identified horticulture clusters to enhance their global competitiveness.
  • A horticulture cluster refers to a regional/geographical concentration of targeted horticulture crops.

-Source: The Hindu



Context:

Recently, South Africa has urgently approached the International Court of Justice (ICJ), seeking an order declaring Israel in violation of its obligations under the 1948 Genocide Convention.

Relevance:

Facts for Prelims

Dimensions of the Article:

  1. Genocide Convention 1948: A Definition and Framework
  2. Key Facts about the International Court of Justice (ICJ)

Genocide Convention 1948: A Definition and Framework

  • The term ‘genocide’ is commonly used informally to describe attacks on various communities globally.

Definition in the UN’s Convention (1948):

  • The UN’s Convention on the Prevention and Punishment of the Crime of Genocide, established in 1948, provides a defined criteria for the term.
  • Genocide, as per the convention, involves acts committed with the intent to destroy, in whole or in part, a national, ethnical, racial, or religious group, including killing members, causing serious bodily or mental harm, inflicting conditions leading to physical destruction, imposing measures to prevent births, and forcibly transferring children.

Applicability in Time:

  • The convention considers genocide a crime whether committed during wartime or peacetime.
  • India ratified the convention in 1959, although no specific legislation on the subject currently exists.

Key Facts about the International Court of Justice (ICJ)

Establishment and Official Languages:

  • Established in June 1945, the International Court of Justice (ICJ) is the principal judicial organ of the UN.
  • French and English are the official languages of the Court.

Powers and Functions:

  • The ICJ handles legal disputes between States (contentious cases) and provides advisory opinions on legal questions referred to it by UN organs and specialized agencies (advisory proceedings).
  • Advisory proceedings are limited to five UN organs and 16 specialized agencies.
  • Judgments in contentious cases are final and binding on the involved parties, while advisory opinions are not binding.

Composition:

  • The ICJ consists of 15 judges from different countries, elected for nine-year terms by the UN General Assembly (UNGA) and the UN Security Council (UNSC).
  • Candidates need an absolute majority of votes in both UNGA and UNSC for election.
  • One-third of the Court’s composition is renewed every three years.
  • Once elected, a member of the Court represents neither their own government nor any other State.

-Source: The Hindu



Context:

Indian telecom operators have formally requested the government to conduct an auction for the spectrum designated for direct-to-mobile (D2M) technology services.

Relevance:

Facts for Prelims

Direct-to-Mobile (D2M) Technology: Revolutionizing Content Delivery

Underlying Science:

  • D2M technology operates on a principle similar to FM radio, utilizing a receiver within the device to access diverse radio frequencies.

Broadband-Broadcast Fusion:

  • A cutting-edge fusion of broadband and broadcast, D2M leverages mobile phones to capture territorial digital TV signals.

Streaming without Internet Dependency:

  • D2M facilitates the direct streaming of multimedia content, including live TV matches, to mobile phones without relying on internet connectivity.

Versatility of D2M:

  • D2M ensures the direct and reliable delivery of emergency alerts, authentic disaster management audio content, and citizen-centric information, all without dependence on internet or cellular networks.

Benefits for Consumers:

  • Consumers benefit from reduced reliance on internet data consumption for staying informed and entertained.

Challenges:

  • D2M technology is still in the developmental stage.
  • A significant challenge lies in bringing various stakeholders, including telecommunications, on board to launch D2M technology on a wide scale.

-Source: Times of India


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