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Current Affairs 08 July 2024

  1. ISRO Astronauts to Join Axiom-4 Mission to ISS
  2. Draft Karnataka Platform-based Gig Workers (Social Security and Welfare) Bill
  3. Shanghai Cooperation Organization
  4. Genome Sequencing
  5. People’s Biodiversity Register
  6. Zorawar Light Tank
  7. Groynes


Context:

As part of the Axiom-4 mission, the Indian Space Research Organisation (ISRO) has shortlisted two of its four trained Gaganyaan astronauts to travel to the International Space Station (ISS).

Relevance:

GS III: Science and Technology

Dimensions of the Article:

  1. About Axiom-4 Mission
  2. About International Space Station (ISS)

About Axiom-4 Mission:

Overview:
  • Axiom Mission 4 (Ax-4) is a private spaceflight mission to the International Space Station (ISS), operated by Axiom Space in collaboration with NASA. It utilizes a SpaceX Crew Dragon spacecraft and marks the fourth mission by Axiom Space.
Launch and Objectives:
  • Launch Date: Scheduled for 2024, Axiom-4 aims to continue advancing commercial activities in space, including scientific research, technological development, and potentially space tourism.
  • Objectives: The mission seeks to demonstrate the viability of commercial space stations for business and innovation, supporting a diverse crew of astronauts from multiple countries to foster international collaboration in space exploration.
Scientific Focus:
  • Axiom-4 will enable various scientific experiments and technological tests in microgravity. Research areas include materials science, biology, Earth observation, and more, aiming to contribute significant discoveries and innovations.
Key Features:
  • Spacecraft: Utilizes a SpaceX Dragon spacecraft launched atop a Falcon 9 rocket.
  • Crew: Comprises professional astronauts and private individuals, potentially including researchers and tourists who undergo rigorous training.
  • Duration: Expected to be a short-duration mission lasting approximately 14 days aboard the ISS.
  • Activities: Crew will conduct experiments, technology demonstrations, and educational outreach during their stay on the ISS.
Long-Term Vision:
  • Axiom Space aims to build the world’s first commercial space station, transitioning from the ISS to their own independent orbital outpost in the future.

About International Space Station (ISS):

  • Overview:
    • The ISS is a modular space station launched in 1998, serving as a large laboratory in space where astronauts conduct experiments in microgravity.
  • Objective:
    • Conducts scientific research across various fields including astrobiology, astronomy, meteorology, and physics.
  • Key Facts:
    • Size and Orbit: Largest artificial object in space, orbits Earth approximately every 93 minutes at an altitude of 400 km.
    • Power Generation: Eight solar arrays generate about 160 kilowatts of power for station operations.
    • Participants: Multinational collaboration involving space agencies from the USA (NASA), Russia (Roscosmos), Japan (JAXA), Europe (ESA), and Canada (CSA).
  • Segments:
    • Divided into the Russian Orbital Segment (ROS) operated by Russia, and the United States Orbital Segment (USOS) managed by NASA and other international partners.
  • Ownership and Use:
    • Governed by intergovernmental treaties and agreements, the ISS serves as a symbol of international cooperation in space exploration.

-Source: The Hindu



Context:

Recently, the Karnataka government published the draft of the Karnataka Platform-based Gig Workers (Social Security and Welfare) Bill, making it the second Indian State to initiate such a move, the first being Rajasthan.

Relevance:

GS II: Polity and Governance

Dimensions of the Article:

  1. Key Features of the Draft Bill
  2. Who is a ‘gig worker’?
  3. Concerns related to gig workers and the proposed labour codes in India
  4. Measures to address the issues related to gig workers

Key Features of the Draft Bill

The draft Karnataka Platform-based Gig Workers (Social Security and Welfare) Bill introduces several key provisions aimed at regulating and safeguarding the rights of platform-based gig workers in the state. Here are the main features of the draft bill:

  • Termination Regulations:
    • The bill mandates that contracts between aggregators (platforms) and gig workers include a comprehensive list of grounds for termination.
    • Aggregators cannot terminate a worker without valid reasons provided in writing and a prior notice period of 14 days.
    • This addresses concerns of arbitrary terminations and aims to ensure fair treatment of workers.
  • Payment Regulations:
    • Aggregators are required to make payments to gig workers at least weekly.
    • Workers must be informed about any deductions in payments and the reasons for these deductions, ensuring transparency in financial transactions.
  • Right to Refuse Gigs:
    • Gig workers have the right to refuse a specified number of gigs per week without facing adverse consequences, provided they have reasonable cause.
  • Welfare Fund:
    • A welfare fee will be levied on each transaction between the worker and the company, or based on the company’s total revenue.
    • Contributions from both the Union and State governments will also fund this welfare fund.
    • All gig workers must be registered, and aggregators are required to maintain a database of these workers.
  • Working Conditions:
    • Aggregators are obligated to provide reasonable and safe working conditions for gig workers. However, the draft bill does not specify what constitutes “reasonable” conditions.

Who is a ‘gig worker’?

  • Gig workers are those who work outside the traditional employer-employee relationship.
  • There are two groups of gig workers – platform workers and non-platform workers.
  • Gig workers who use online platforms are called platform workers, while those who work outside of these platforms are non-platform workers.
  • Gig workers have characteristics of both employees and independent contractors and do not fit into any rigid categorization.
  • As a result, gig workers have limited recognition under current employment laws and fall outside the ambit of statutory benefits.

Concerns related to gig workers and the proposed labour codes in India:

Limited benefits and protections:

  • Gig workers are excluded from the benefits and protections offered by the other proposed labour codes, such as minimum wage and occupational safety.
  • They are also not allowed to create legally recognised unions.

Lack of effective remedy:

  • Gig workers are excluded from accessing the specialised redressal mechanism under the Industrial Disputes Act, 1947.
  • This denies them an effective remedy for grievances against their employers.

No right to collective bargaining:

  • Gig workers do not have the right to collective bargaining, which is a fundamental principle of modern labour law crucial to safeguard the rights of workers.

Poor working conditions:

  • A 2022 report by Fairwork India highlighted the deplorable working conditions of digital platform workers in India.
  • There is a need for statutory affirmation of the rights of gig workers.

Delay in implementation:

  • The proposed labour codes have received the assent of the President, but are still awaiting implementation three years on.
  • The Centre has cited the delay in framing of rules by the States as the reason for the delay.

Measures to address the issues related to gig workers:

  • Evaluating scale of Gig economy: As of now there exists no authoritative estimate on the total number of gig workers in India, though the centralised nature of the platforms, and the larger platform labour market should make the collating of this data relatively straightforward for the Labour Ministry.
  • Making regulations related to Gig economy: A more viable strategy then would involve conditional government partnerships with platforms under some of its flagship schemes. Here, the successful pilot of Swiggy’s Street Food Vendors programme under the PM SVANidhi, or PM Street Vendor’s Atma Nirbhar Nidhi scheme, may prove to be an illustrative example.

-Source: The Hindu



Context:

Recently the 2024 Shanghai Cooperation Organisation (SCO) Summit was concluded in Astana, Kazakhstan and brought together leaders from across the region.  

Relevance:

GS II: International Relations

Dimensions of the Article:

  1. Key highlights from the SCO Summit 2024
  2. What is the SCO? 
  3. Organizational structure of SCO

Key highlights from the SCO Summit 2024:

  • Belarus Joins SCO: Belarus became the 10th member state of the SCO, expanding the organization’s reach and influence.
  • Adoption of Astana Declaration: The summit adopted the Astana Declaration and approved 25 strategic agreements covering energy, security, trade, finance, and information security.
  • SCO Development Strategy 2035: The Council of Heads of State approved the SCO Development Strategy until 2035, focusing on combating terrorism, separatism, extremism, anti-drug strategies, energy cooperation, economic development, and eco-tourism.
  • International Cooperation: Commitments included a memorandum to combat illicit drug trafficking and an interaction plan on international information security issues.
  • India-China Diplomatic Talks: India’s External Affairs Minister met with the Chinese Foreign Minister, emphasizing the need for complete disengagement of troops along the Line of Actual Control (LAC) and efforts to resolve remaining issues in Eastern Ladakh.
  • Make in India Initiative: India highlighted the ‘Make in India’ initiative as a significant driver of global economic growth and expressed openness to partnering with nations, especially those in the Global South, for capacity building and economic development.
  • Counterterrorism Efforts: India urged the global community to isolate countries that harbor terrorists and condone terrorism. Combating terrorism was emphasized as a foundational goal of the SCO, with India actively participating in security cooperation through the SCO’s Regional Anti-Terrorism Structure (RATS).
  • Russian President’s Remarks: The Russian President underscored the SCO’s role in promoting a fair, multipolar world order, reflecting on the organization’s strategic objectives and global influence.

What is the SCO? 

  • Founded in June 2001, it was built on the ‘Shanghai Five’, the grouping which consisted of Russia, China, Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan and Tajikistan.
  • They came together in the post-Soviet era in 1996, in order to work on regional security, reduction of border troops and terrorism.
  • They endowed particular focus on ‘conflict resolution’, given its early success between China and Russia, and then within the Central Asian Republics.
  • Some of their prominent outcomes in this arena entail an ‘Agreement on Confidence-Building in the Military Field Along the Border Areas’ (in 1996) between China, Russia, Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan and Tajikistan, which led to an agreement on the mutual reduction of military forces on their common borders in 1997.
  • It would also pitch in to help the Central Asian countries resolve some of their boundary disputes. 
  • In 2001, the ‘Shanghai Five’ inducted Uzbekistan into its fold and named it the SCO, outlining its principles in a charter that promoted what was called the “Shanghai spirit” of cooperation.
  • The precise assertion, combined with some of the member states’ profiles, of building a “new international political and economic order” has often led to it being placed as a counter to treaties and groupings of the West, particularly North Atlantic Treaty Organisation (NATO).
Member states
  • India, Kazakhstan, China, Kyrgyzstan, Pakistan, Russia, Tajikistan and Uzbekistan.
  • The SCO also has four observer states — Afghanistan, Iran, Belarus and Mongolia — of which Iran and Belarus are now moving towards full membership. 

Main goals

  • Strengthening mutual trust and neighbourliness among the member states;
  • Promoting their effective cooperation in politics, trade, economy, research and technology, and culture.

Focus areas:

  • Education, energy, transport, tourism and environmental protection.
  • It also calls for joint efforts to maintain and ensure peace, security and stability in the region; and the establishment of a democratic, fair and rational new international political and economic order.
Organizational structure of SCO

The SCO secretariat has two permanent bodies —

  • SCO Secretariat based in Beijing 
  • Executive Committee of the Regional Anti-Terrorist Structure (RATS) based in Tashkent.

Other than this, the grouping consists of

Heads of State Council (HSC):

  • It is the supreme decision-making body of the organisation.
  • It meets annually to adopt decisions and guidelines on all important matters relevant to the organisation.

Heads of Government Council (HGC):

  • The HGC (mainly including Prime Ministers) also meets annually to zero in on the organisation’s priority areas and multilateral cooperation strategy.
  • It also endeavours to resolve present economic and cooperation issues alongside approving the organisation’s annual budget. 

Foreign Ministers Council:

  • The Foreign Ministers Council considers issues pertaining to the day-to-day activities of the organisation, charting HSC meetings and consultations on international problems within the organisation and if required, makes statements on behalf of the SCO. 

-Source: Indian Express



Context:

Recently, a report published in the journal Nature revealed that a team of archaeologists and scientists from Germany, Mexico, Spain, the U.K. and the US has sequenced genetic material obtained from the human remains found from an ancient burial place.

Relevance:

GS III- Science and Technology

Dimensions of the Article:

  1. About Genome Sequencing
  2. Importance of Genome Sequencing
  3. Genome India Project

About Genome Sequencing: 

Genome sequencing is figuring out the order of DNA nucleotides, or bases, in a genome—the order of Adenine, Cytosine, Guanines, and Thymine that make up an organism’s DNA.

Human genome
  • It is made up of 23 chromosome pairs with a total of about 3 billion DNA base pairs.
  • There are 24 distinct human chromosomes: 22 autosomal chromosomes, plus the sex-determining X and Y chromosomes.
  • Chromosomes 1-22 are numbered roughly in order of decreasing size.
  • Somatic cells usually have one copy of chromosomes 1-22 from each parent, plus an X chromosome from the mother and either an X or Y chromosome from the father, for a total of 46.
  • There are estimated 20,000-25,000 human protein-coding genes.
  • The estimate of the number of human genes has been repeatedly revised down from initial predictions of 100,000 or more as genome sequence quality and gene finding methods have improved, and could continue to drop further.

Importance of Genome Sequencing

  • Sequencing the genome is an important step towards understanding it.
  • The genome sequence will represent a valuable shortcut, helping scientists find genes much more easily and quickly. A genome sequence does contain some clues about where genes are, even though scientists are just learning to interpret these clues.
  • Scientists also hope that being able to study the entire genome sequence will help them understand how the genome as a whole works—how genes work together to direct the growth, development and maintenance of an entire organism.
  • Finally, genes account for less than 25 percent of the DNA in the genome, and so knowing the entire genome sequence will help scientists study the parts of the genome outside the genes. This includes the regulatory regions that control how genes are turned on and off, as well as long stretches of “nonsense” or “junk” DNA—so called because significance of it hasn’t been established.

Genome India Project

  • India’s population consists of over 4,600 diverse population groups, many of which are endogamous.
  • These groups have unique genetic variations and disease-causing mutations that cannot be compared to other populations.
  • The Genome India Project aims to create a database of Indian genomes to learn about these unique genetic variants and use the information to create personalized drugs and therapies.
  • The project was started in 2020 and is inspired by the successful decoding of the entire human genome in the Human Genome Project (HGP).
  • The project seeks to better understand the genetic variations and disease-causing mutations specific to the Indian population, which is one of the most genetically diverse in the world.
  • By sequencing and analyzing these genomes, researchers hope to gain insights into the underlying genetic causes of diseases and develop more effective personalized therapies.
  • The project involves the collaboration of 20 institutions across India and is being led by the Centre for Brain Research at the Indian Institute of Science in Bangalore.
  • Other countries, such as the United Kingdom, China, and the United States, also have similar programs to sequence their genomes.

-Source: The Hindu



Context:    

Thazhakara has become the first grama panchayat in Alappuzha and one of the first in Kerala to update and publish a comprehensive People’s Biodiversity Register (PBR) with the involvement of local communities.

Relevance:

GS III: Environment and Ecology

Dimensions of the Article:

  1. About People’s Biodiversity Register (PBR)
  2. Status of Biodiversity Management in India
  3. Challenges related to Biodiversity Conservation
  4. About Convention on Biological Diversity (CBD)

About People’s Biodiversity Register (PBR)

  • The PBR is a comprehensive record of biodiversity, encompassing conservation of habitats, preservation of land races, folk varieties, cultivars, domesticated stocks and breeds of animals, and micro-organisms.
  • Biodiversity Management Committees (BMC) are established under the Biological Diversity Act 2002 to promote conservation, sustainable use, and documentation of biological diversity.
  • BMCs, formed by local bodies in states and union territories, are responsible for creating PBRs in consultation with local communities.
Importance and Objectives:
  • Conservation of biodiversity: The PBR contributes to the preservation of biodiversity, crucial for maintaining ecological balance.
  • Benefit sharing: It enables local communities to share the benefits derived from genetic resources and associated traditional knowledge.
  • Implementation of regulations: The PBR supports the implementation of the Biological Diversity Act 2002, which regulates access to biological resources and ensures fair and equitable benefit sharing.
  • Cultural and natural overlap: By being a bottom-up exercise, the PBR facilitates understanding the intersection of cultural and natural biodiversity.
  • Decentralized and inclusive approach: The PBR follows a decentralized approach, involving local communities and institutions, promoting inclusivity in biodiversity conservation.
  • LiFE concept: The PBR aligns with the “Lifestyle for the Environment (LiFE)” concept introduced by the Indian Prime Minister at COP26 in Glasgow. It calls for mindful and deliberate resource utilization to protect and preserve the environment.

Status of Biodiversity Management in India

  • Despite occupying only 2.4% of the world’s land area, India is home to 7-8% of the world’s recorded species.
  • India boasts four of the world’s 36 biodiversity hotspots: The Himalayas, Western Ghats, Indo-Burma area, and Sundaland.
  • Two of these hotspots, the Indo-Burma area and Sundaland, extend beyond India’s formal borders and are spread throughout South Asia.
Legislative Framework:
  • The Biological Diversity Act (BDA) of 2002 in India aligns closely with the Nagoya Protocol and aims to implement the provisions of the Convention on Biological Diversity (CBD).
  • The Nagoya Protocol aims to ensure that the commercial and research utilization of genetic resources results in the sharing of benefits with the government and the community responsible for conserving those resources.
  • The BDA is a significant step toward preserving India’s extensive biodiversity as it recognizes the sovereign rights of countries over their natural resources.
  • The BDA promotes the decentralized management of bio-resources and establishes a three-layered structure:
    • The National Biodiversity Authority (NBA) operates at the national level.
    • The State Biodiversity Boards (SBBs) function at the state level.
    • Biodiversity Management Committees (BMCs) operate at the local level.
  • The act also strengthens India’s position regarding intellectual property rights related to biodiversity knowledge, preventing unauthorized claims.

Challenges related to Biodiversity Conservation:

Invasive Alien Species:

  • Invasive alien species, including non-native plants, animals, and pathogens, pose a significant challenge to biodiversity conservation.
  • These species can cause environmental harm and disrupt the ecological balance of ecosystems.
  • Reports from the Convention on Biological Diversity (CBD) indicate that invasive alien species have contributed to nearly 40% of all animal extinctions.

Global Warming and Climate Change:

  • Global warming and climate change pose threats to plant and animal species.
  • Many organisms are sensitive to changes in carbon dioxide concentration in the atmosphere, which can lead to their disappearance.
  • The use of pesticides and the release of tropospheric ozone, sulfur, and nitrogen oxides from industries further contribute to the degradation of natural ecosystems.

Plastic Pollution:

  • Inefficient management of plastic waste leads to the dumping of microplastics into oceans.
  • This pollution chokes and starves marine life, causing liver, reproductive, and gastrointestinal damage in animals.
  • Marine biodiversity is directly impacted by the presence of microplastics, affecting the overall health and balance of marine ecosystems.

Genetic Modification:

  • Genetically modified plants carry risks of disrupting ecosystems and biodiversity.
  • Engineering genes for desirable traits can favor certain organisms over others, leading to imbalances.
  • Disruptions in the natural process of gene flow can eventually impact the sustainability of indigenous varieties and disrupt overall ecological processes.

About Convention on Biological Diversity (CBD)

  • The Convention on Biological Diversity (CBD) is an international treaty that was negotiated and signed by nations during the Earth Summit in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil, on June 5, 1992. The convention officially came into force on December 29, 1993. India became a party to the convention on February 18, 1994, and currently, there are 196 Parties to the CBD.
  • The CBD is a legally binding treaty with three primary objectives:
    • Conservation of biodiversity: The convention aims to promote the conservation and sustainable management of biological diversity, including ecosystems, species, and genetic resources.
    • Sustainable use of biodiversity components: It encourages the sustainable utilization of biological resources while ensuring the preservation of biodiversity and ecological balance.
    • Fair and equitable sharing of benefits: The CBD emphasizes the fair and equitable sharing of benefits that arise from the utilization of genetic resources, ensuring that the benefits reach both the providers of those resources and the communities involved.
  • The Secretariat of the CBD is located in Montreal, Canada, and serves as the administrative hub for coordinating and supporting the implementation of the convention’s objectives.

-Source: The Hindu



Context:

Recently, defence officials said that the prototype of the country’s indigenous light tank Zorawar is ready and will soon be subjected to extensive trials.

Relevance:

Facts for Prelims

About Zorawar Light Tank: 

The Zorawar Light Tank, named after the 19th-century military general Zorawar Singh Kahluria, is an indigenously designed and developed tank jointly created by the Defence Research and Development Organisation (DRDO) and Larsen & Toubro (L&T) as the lead integrator. Here are its key features:

  • Design and Development: Designed to weigh a maximum of 25 tonnes, the Zorawar Light Tank meets crucial requirements for air transportability. It integrates modern technologies such as Artificial Intelligence, drone integration, high situational awareness, and amphibious operation capability.
  • Versatility: The tank is designed to operate effectively in diverse terrains, including high-altitude areas, marginal terrains, and island territories. It is optimized to maintain a balance between firepower, mobility, and protection.
  • Role and Capabilities: It can fire at high angles of elevation, enabling it to perform roles akin to limited artillery. Its agility and modern features make it a versatile weapon platform suitable for various operational scenarios.
  • Induction Timeline: The Zorawar Light Tank is expected to complete all trials and be inducted into the Indian Army by the year 2027.

-Source: The Hindu



Context:

In a bid to resolve the extensive coastal erosion in Poonthura region in Kerala, the irrigation department is all set to construct eight groynes at a cost of Rs 17.5 crore.

Relevance:

Facts for Prelims

Groynes

Groynes are coastal structures designed to manage shoreline erosion and sediment movement. Here are some key points about groynes:

  1. Structure and Purpose: Groynes are typically built perpendicular or at a slight angle to the shoreline. They are constructed from materials such as wood, rock, concrete, or metal. Their primary purpose is to trap sediment moving along the shore due to longshore drift.
  2. Functionality: Groynes work by interrupting the movement of sediment along the beach caused by wave action and longshore currents. By trapping sediment on their updrift side, they help widen beaches and reduce erosion on the downdrift side.
  3. Advantages:
    • Erosion Control: Groynes effectively reduce shoreline erosion by stabilizing the beach profile and preventing sediment loss.
    • Sediment Trapping: They trap sediment carried by longshore drift, promoting beach nourishment and wider beaches.
    • Wave Energy Dissipation: Groynes dissipate wave energy, reducing the impact of waves on the shoreline and protecting coastal infrastructure.
    • Durability and Maintenance: They are relatively easy to construct, have long-term durability, and require minimal maintenance compared to other coastal protection measures.
  4. Long-Term Stability: When properly designed and maintained, groynes serve as robust structures that contribute to the long-term stability of coastal areas used for various societal activities, such as recreation and development.

-Source: Times of India


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