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Current Affairs 18 December 2023

  1. Post Office Bill, 2023: Lok Sabha Consideration
  2. Indian Summer Monsoon Rainfall (ISMR) Study: Impacts of Global Warming
  3. Opium Cultivation Surge in Southeast Asia: UNODC Report
  4. IUCN Red List Update: Climate Change Impact on Species
  5. Bharat NCAP
  6. Vijay Diwas
  7. European Wood Bison


Context:

The Post Office Bill, 2023, recently passed in the Rajya Sabha, is now under consideration in the Lok Sabha. The bill aims to repeal the long-standing Indian Post Office Act of 1898.

Relevance:

GS II: Government Policies and Interventions

Dimensions of the Article:

  1. New Post Office Bill (2023)
  2. Criticism of the New Post Office Bill (2023)

New Post Office Bill (2023):

Need for Legislative Update:
  • The Indian Post Office Act of 1898, focused on mail delivery, lacked provisions for the expanded range of services offered by the modern Post Office.
  • Evolving into a provider of diverse citizen-centric services prompted the necessity for a new law.
Interception Powers (Section 9):
  • The Bill empowers the Centre to authorize officers, by notification, to intercept, open, or detain any item.
  • Grounds for interception include state security, friendly foreign relations, public order, emergencies, public safety, or law contravention.
Transfer to Customs Authorities:
  • Post officers can hand over postal items to customs authorities if suspected of containing prohibited items or being liable to duty.
Exemption from Liability (Section 10):
  • Post Office and its officers are not held responsible for issues like loss, wrong delivery, delay, or damage during services unless specific rules dictate responsibility.
Penalties and Offences:
  • All penalties and offences under the 1898 Act, including those related to post office officials’ misconduct, fraud, and theft, have been removed.
  • Non-payment for services results in recoverable charges, akin to arrears of land revenue.
Removal of Centre’s Exclusivity (Section 4):
  • The Bill removes Section 4 of the 1898 Act, which granted the Centre exclusive privilege for conveying all letters.
  • The rise of private courier services in the 1980s had already diminished this exclusivity.
  • The 2023 Bill regulates private courier services for the first time, extending interception powers beyond letters to any postal article.

Criticism of the New Post Office Bill (2023):

  • Retention of Draconian Provisions:
    • Critics argue that the Bill, despite its promise to update the colonial-era law, retains some of its most draconian provisions.
    • Concerns arise about the implications of maintaining potentially oppressive elements in the legislation.
  • Lack of Accountability:
    • The Bill is criticized for eliminating the burden of accountability that a governmental enterprise like India Post should constitutionally bear.
    • Questions are raised about the implications of reduced accountability in the functioning of the postal system.
  • Need for Holistic Reform:
    • Analysts contend that while the Bill aims for an update, it may fall short of bringing about comprehensive reforms needed in the postal sector.
    • Calls for a more extensive and inclusive legislative approach to address various challenges are emphasized.
  • Potential for Misuse:
    • Concerns are raised about the potential misuse of interception powers granted under Section 9.
    • Critics worry that broad grounds for interception could lead to violations of privacy and civil liberties.

-Source: Indian Express



Context:

A recent study published by Advancing Earth and Space Sciences (AGU) explores the geographical trapping of synchronous extremes during the Indian Summer Monsoon Rainfall (ISMR) from 1901 to 2019. The findings indicate significant alterations in the ISMR due to global warming, emphasizing the consistent presence of interconnected extreme hubs in Central India. This suggests a geographical concentration of concurrent extreme rainfall events in the region.

Relevance:

GS I: Geography

Dimensions of the Article:

  1. Indian Summer Monsoon Rainfall (ISMR) Trends: Insights from a Century
  2. Implications for Forecasting Synchronized Extreme Rainfall in India
  3. Factors Influencing the Indian Monsoon

Indian Summer Monsoon Rainfall (ISMR) Trends: Insights from a Century

Consistent Geographical Concentration:
  • Overview:
    • Despite heightened variability in ISMR over the last century, synchronous extreme rainfall events consistently concentrate in a specific geographical region – Central India (CI).
  • Unchanged Corridor:
    • The identified corridor, spanning from parts of West Bengal and Odisha to parts of Gujarat and Rajasthan, has remained unchanged from 1901 to 2019.
  • Stable Pattern:
    • This stability denotes a consistent pattern of synchronized extreme events within the identified region, despite the overall increased variability.
Persistent Network of Extreme Hubs in CI:
  • Local Connections:
    • A persistent network of highly interconnected extreme rainfall hubs exists in CI.
  • Local Synchronization:
    • These hubs demonstrate strong local connections, emphasizing the enduring synchronization of extreme events in CI over the long term.
Relation to El Niño and La Niña:
  • Forecast Dependencies:
    • India’s monsoon forecasts heavily rely on the relation to El Niño and La Niña phenomena, showing accuracy approximately 60% of the time.
  • ENSO Correlation:
    • Indian Rainfall events exhibit correlation with El Niño Southern Oscillations (ENSO), with stronger synchronization during robust El Niño periods and less during La Niña conditions.
Insights for Risk Management:
  • Despite Increased Variability:
    • Despite the growing complexity of ISMR, recognizing the persistent nature of extreme rainfall synchronization in CI provides valuable insights for predicting synchronous extremes.
  • Implications:
    • This knowledge is crucial for developing effective adaptation strategies and risk management during the monsoon season.

Implications for Forecasting Synchronized Extreme Rainfall in India

  • Challenge to Global Warming Notion:
    • Despite assumptions that global warming eradicates stationary elements, the Indian monsoon’s ability to synchronize heavy rain events challenges this belief.
  • Persistence of Consistent Patterns:
    • Certain patterns, like synchronized extreme rainfall events along specific corridors, persist even amid climate change.
  • Identification of Geographic Corridor:
    • The identification of a geographic corridor, especially the mountain ranges along the west coast and across Central India, as a trapping zone for synchronized extreme rainfall events, provides a crucial insight.
  • Enhanced Forecast Understanding:
    • This insight enhances understanding of how and where these events occur, contributing to more accurate forecasts.
  • Optimizing Existing Models:
    • The research suggests that improving forecasts doesn’t necessarily require increased model resolution or higher computational costs. Instead, understanding synchronization dynamics within existing models could lead to more accurate predictions.
  • Strategic Shift in Forecasting:
    • The findings highlight a strategic shift in forecasting approaches, emphasizing the importance of synchronization dynamics.
  • Vital for Risk Reduction:
    • Accurate forecasts of large-scale extreme rainfall events are crucial for minimizing risks across sectors like agriculture, water management, energy, transportation, and public health.
  • Refining Risk Reduction Strategies:
    • The findings offer an opportunity to refine risk reduction strategies at a smaller scale, leveraging better forecasts for preparedness and mitigation.
  • Leveraging India’s Modelling Capacity:
    • The study underscores India’s strong modelling capacity and computational resources, positioning the country well to exploit this potential for better forecasting.
  • Minimizing Impacts on Various Sectors:
    • By delving into synchronization dynamics and optimizing forecasts, there is potential to minimize the impacts of extreme rainfall events on various sectors.

Factors Influencing the Indian Monsoon

Role of the Himalayas:
  • Mechanism:
    • The Himalayas play a crucial role in the formation of monsoon winds in India.
    • During summer, rapid heating of the Indian subcontinent creates a low-pressure system.
    • The Himalayas act as a barrier, preventing cool, dry air from the north and drawing in warm, moist air from the Indian Ocean.
 
Impact of the Thar Desert:
  • Rain Shadow Effect:
    • The Thar Desert, also known as the Great Indian Desert, is a significant factor.
    • It acts as a rain shadow for the Bay of Bengal branch, receiving little rainfall due to the Aravalli Mountain range.
    • The Arabian branch, moving parallel to the Thar Desert, also leads to minimal rainfall, impacting agriculture and the local economy.
    • Hot, dry air creates a low-pressure zone, drawing moisture-laden winds from the Indian Ocean, causing heavy rainfall in northwest India.
Contribution of the Indian Ocean:
  • Interaction with Low-Pressure System:
    • The Indian Ocean contributes significantly to monsoon winds.
    • The warm, moist air from the ocean interacts with the low-pressure system over the Indian subcontinent, contributing to the formation of monsoon winds.

-Source: The Hindu



Context:

The United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime (UNODC) has released the “Southeast Asia Opium Survey 2023 – Cultivation, Production, and Implications,” revealing a substantial increase in opium cultivation in the Golden Triangle region of Southeast Asia.

Relevance:

GS III:  Linkages of Organized Crime with Terrorism

Dimensions of the Article:

  1. Key Highlights of the Report: Opium Cultivation in the Golden Triangle
  2. Recommendations: Addressing the Opium Cultivation Crisis in Myanmar
  3. Key Facts about Opium Poppy Plants
  4. United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime (UNODC)

Key Highlights of the Report: Opium Cultivation in the Golden Triangle

Expansion in Opium Cultivation:
  • Opium cultivation in the Golden Triangle, a notorious region for illicit drug production, witnessed significant growth in Myanmar.
  • The Golden Triangle encompasses the borders of Myanmar, Laos, and Thailand.
  • Another infamous region is the Golden Crescent, including Afghanistan and Iran, serving as a transit point for drug smuggling out of Pakistan.
Increase in Myanmar’s Opium Cultivation:
  • Myanmar experienced an 18% surge in opium cultivation, reaching 47,100 hectares.
  • This rise solidified Myanmar as the world’s largest opium source, influenced by disruptions following the Military Takeover in 2021.
Advancements in Farming Practices:
  • Average opium yield per hectare increased by 16%, reaching 22.9 kilograms/hectare.
  • This growth signifies improved farming methods, increased investments in irrigation, and fertilizers, indicating a more sophisticated approach by farmers and buyers.
Rising Prices Despite Increased Supply:
  • Despite an expanding opium supply, the price paid to farmers rose by 27% to around USD 355 per kilogram.
  • The price surge reflects the allure of opium as a crop and commodity, indicating robust demand fueling the opium trade in the Golden Triangle.
Anticipation of Impact from Afghanistan’s Opium Ban:
  • The report foresees that the sustained ban on opium in Afghanistan by the Taliban will likely result in prolonged high prices and further increases in cultivation in Southeast Asia.
  • The Taliban’s ban caused a 95% drop in opium poppy cultivation in Afghanistan.
Broader Implications on Illicit Economy:
  • Opium cultivation expansion contributes to a wider illicit economy in the Mekong region, encompassing Cambodia, China (Yunnan Province and Guangxi Zhuang Autonomous Region), Laos, Myanmar, Thailand, and Vietnam.
  • It fuels synthetic drug production and converges with drug trafficking, money laundering, and online criminal activities, generating significant profits for organized crime groups.

Recommendations: Addressing the Opium Cultivation Crisis in Myanmar

  • Comprehensive Solutions for Crime and Governance Challenges:
    • The crisis in Myanmar contributes to heightened crime and governance challenges in the region.
    • Addressing these issues requires comprehensive solutions that acknowledge the complex realities faced by people in opium-cultivation areas.
  • Viable Alternatives to Opium Cultivation:
    • To counter the growing trend, it is essential to provide viable alternatives to opium cultivation.
    • Improving socio-economic conditions in affected areas is crucial to steer communities away from reliance on opium.
  • UNODC’s Direct Engagement in Myanmar and Laos:
    • Given the insecurities and economic hardships experienced by farming communities, the direct engagement of the United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime (UNODC) with these communities in Myanmar and Laos is more critical than ever.
  • Building Resilience and Sustainable Alternatives:
    • Building resilience within these communities and offering sustainable income generation alternatives are vital strategies.
    • By addressing economic hardships and providing viable alternatives, the allure of opium cultivation can be effectively combatted.

Key Facts about Opium Poppy Plants

Scientific Name:

  • The opium poppy is scientifically known as Papaver somniferum.

Uses:

  • Opium derived from the sap of the opium poppy has been used for centuries.
  • Used as a pain reliever, sedative, and in the production of opioids like morphine, codeine, and heroin.
  • Medicinally employed to alleviate severe pain, suppress coughs, and induce sleep.

Global Production:

  • India is the sole country authorized by the United Nations Single Convention on Narcotic Drugs (1961) to produce gum opium.
  • Other countries cultivating opium poppies include Australia, Austria, France, China, Hungary, the Netherlands, Poland, Slovenia, Spain, Turkey, and the Czech Republic.
  • Some countries utilize the Concentrate of Poppy Straw process (CPS), involving the processing of the bulb with 8 inches of the stalk.

United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime (UNODC):

  • Established in 1997, designated as UNODC in 2002.
  • Acts as the Office for Drug Control and Crime Prevention, consolidating the United Nations International Drug Control Program (UNDCP) and the Crime Prevention and Criminal Justice Division of the United Nations Office at Vienna.

-Source: Indian Express



Context:

The recent update of the International Union for the Conservation of Nature (IUCN) Red List, revealed at the 28th Conference of Parties, highlights the growing impacts of climate change on a wide array of species. The updated list comprises 157,190 species, with 44,016 facing the threat of extinction.

Relevance:

GS III: Environment and Ecology

Dimensions of the Article:

  1. Key Highlights of the IUCN Red List Report
  2. IUCN Red List Overview

Key Highlights of the IUCN Red List Report

Species Threatened by Climate Change:
  • Various species, from Atlantic salmon to green turtles, are increasingly endangered due to climate change.
  • The IUCN Director General stresses the need for urgent and ambitious climate action to address species decline.
  • The report highlights the interconnectedness of climate and biodiversity crises, advocating collaborative efforts for sustainable solutions.
Freshwater Fish Assessment:
  • The first comprehensive assessment of global freshwater fish species is unveiled.
  • 25% of assessed freshwater fish species face extinction risks.
  • Contributing factors include climate change, pollution, overfishing, and invasive species.
Atlantic Salmon Decline:
  • Atlantic salmon, ray-finned fish in the North Atlantic Ocean basin, declined by 23% (2006-2020).
  • This shift moved them from the “Least Concern” to “Near Threatened” category.
Green Turtle Populations:
  • Central South Pacific and East Pacific green turtle populations are respectively classified as “Endangered” and “Vulnerable.”
  • Climate change impacts their life cycle, affecting hatching success and food sources.
Big-Leaf Mahogany Status:
  • Big-leaf mahogany, a sought-after timber tree, transitions from “Vulnerable” to “Endangered.”
  • Factors include unsustainable harvest, urban encroachment, and illegal logging, leading to a 60% reduction over 180 years.
Scimitar-Horned Oryx and Saiga Antelope:
  • Scimitar-horned oryx, a desert antelope, moves from “Extinct in the Wild” to “Endangered” due to successful reintroduction efforts in the Republic of Chad.
  • Saiga antelope improves from “Critically Endangered” to “Near Threatened” due to conservation measures.

IUCN Red List Overview

Purpose and Significance:
  • The IUCN Red List is a leading global tool for evaluating the risk of extinction in animals, fungi, and plant species.
  • It is universally accessible, providing a crucial indicator of global biodiversity health.
  • Offers comprehensive insights into species’ characteristics, threats, and conservation measures, influencing informed conservation decisions and policies.
Categories and Extinction Risk:
  • The IUCN Red List Categories define the extinction risk of species, ranging from NE (Not Evaluated) to EX (Extinct).
  • Critically Endangered (CR), Endangered (EN), and Vulnerable (VU) species are classified as threatened with extinction.
Role in Global Goals:
  • Serves as a key indicator for the Sustainable Development Goals and Aichi Targets, aligning with broader international conservation efforts.
Green Status of Species:
  • Introduces the IUCN Green Status of Species, assessing the recovery of species’ populations and gauging conservation success.
  • Eight Green Status Categories include Extinct in the Wild, Critically Depleted, Largely Depleted, Moderately Depleted, Slightly Depleted, Fully Recovered, Non-Depleted, and Indeterminate.
Conservation Action Assessment:
  • The Green Status assessment evaluates the impact of conservation actions on the current Red List status of species.
  • Offers a dynamic perspective on the effectiveness of conservation efforts and their outcomes.

-Source: IUCN



Context:

The first round of crash testing of the cars under the Bharat New Car Assessment Programme (Bharat NCAP) has been successfully completed recently.

Relevance:

GS II- Governance

Dimensions of the Article:

  1. About Bharat NCAP
  2. Feature
  3. Significance

About Bharat NCAP

  • It is a new car safety assessment programme which proposes a mechanism of awarding ‘Star Ratings’ to automobiles based upon their performance in crash tests.
  • Bharat NCAP standard is aligned with global benchmarks and it is beyond minimum regulatory requirement.
  • The US was the first country to start a programme that provided information on car safety with regard to crashes to customers in 1978. Later, a number of similar programmes were started across regions.
Feature:
  • The proposed Bharat NCAP assessment will allocate Star Ratings from 1 to 5 stars.
  • The testing of vehicles for this programme will be carried out at testing agencies, with the necessary infrastructure.
  • Bharat NCAP (New Car Assessment Program) will be applicable on type approved motor vehicles of category M1 with gross vehicle weight less than 3.5 tonnes, manufactured or imported in the country.
    • M1 category motor vehicles are used for the carriage of passengers, comprising eight seats, in addition to the driver’s seat.
  • Auto firms in India follow AIS-145 (automotive Indian standard-145), which enforces safety features for vehicles such as seatbelts tell-tale, passenger airbags, and the speed limit alarm.
Significance
  • Bharat NCAP will encourage manufacturers to participate voluntarily in the safety testing assessment programme and incorporate higher safety levels in new car models.
    • It aims to reduce 50 per cent road accident deaths by 2024.
  • Bharat NCAP will also promote a healthy competition among original equipment manufacturers (OEMs) in India to manufacture safer vehicles.
  • Bharat NCAP will ensure structural and passenger safety in cars, along with increasing the export-worthiness of Indian automobiles.
  • Bharat NCAP will prove to be a critical instrument in making our automobile industry Aatmanirbhar with the mission of making India the top automobile hub in the world.

-Source: Times of India



Context:

Leaders across the political lines paid tribute to the soldiers who fought in the 1971 war, on the occasion of 52nd Vijay Diwas recently.

Relevance:

GS I: History

Vijay Diwas: Commemorating Triumph and Sacrifice

  • Date of Commemoration: December 16 every year.
  • Objective:
    • Honor the victory of the Indian armed forces in the 1971 war against Pakistan.
    • Pay tribute to the soldiers who sacrificed their lives for the country.
  • International Observance:
    • Also observed in Bangladesh as ‘Bijoy Dibos’ or Victory Day.
    • Marks Bangladesh’s formal independence from Pakistan.
Historical Context:
  • The 1971 war initiated due to the genocide by the Pakistani military regime in East Pakistan.
  • Conflict arose after the Awami League’s victory in the 1970 elections.
  • Pakistani military used force to influence results, leading to mass exodus from East Pakistan.
  • India intervened and provided refuge to those fleeing.
Key Events:
  • December 3, 1971: Pakistan launched air strikes on Indian airbases.
    • Indira Gandhi instructed a full-scale war against Pakistan.
    • ‘Operation Trident’ targeted Karachi Port, executed by the Indian Navy.
  • December 16, 1971: India achieved a decisive triumph, leading to the creation of Bangladesh.
    • General Amir Abdullah Khan Niazi of Pakistan signed the Instrument of Surrender, marking a significant military surrender.
Outcome:
  • Creation of Bangladesh from former East Pakistan.

Significance:

  • Marks one of the most substantial military surrenders post-World War II.
  • Honors the courage and sacrifice of soldiers during the conflict.

-Source: Indian Express



Context:

A new study has warned that the ongoing war in Ukraine could act as a spanner in the works for efforts to save the last remnant of the mega-fauna European wood bison.

Relevance:

GS III: Species in News

European Wood Bison (Wisent): Guardian of Grasslands and Forests

  • Also Known As: Wisent
  • Habitat: Thrives in grasslands, deciduous, and mixed forests.
  • Historical Challenges: Almost wiped out from Europe by 1927.
  • Ecological Role: Essential ecosystem engineer, contributing to the restoration of grassland habitat.
  • Conservation Status: IUCN Status: Near Threatened.
Key Characteristics:
  • Largest and heaviest land mammal in Europe.
  • Belongs to the species Bison bonasus.
Historical Distribution:
  • Originally three subspecies, with only one remaining (Bison bonasus bonasus).
  • Roamed across Europe in large herds at the end of the last ice age.
Threats:
  • Main drivers of extinction were rapid environmental change and human hunting.
  • Hunting led to range loss in the north and east, while land use change caused losses in the west and south.

-Source: India Today


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