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Current Affairs 30 December 2023

  1. India-Russia Bilateral Meeting
  2. Pesticide Poisoning Crisis in Maharashtra
  3. Pegasus Spyware Targeting Indian Journalists
  4. eSoil
  5. Tansen Samaroh
  6. Sohagibarwa Wildlife Sanctuary


Context:

Summary: India’s External Affairs Minister undertook a recent visit to Russia, resulting in crucial bilateral agreements. The focus areas of collaboration encompassed nuclear power, medicines, pharmaceutical substances, and medical devices. This diplomatic engagement reflects the strengthening ties between the two nations across diverse sectors.

Relevance:

GS II: International Relations

Dimensions of the Article:

  1. Key Highlights of India-Russia Bilateral Meeting
  2. Indo-Russia Relations: A Historical Overview
  3. Significance of Russia for India: A Multifaceted Partnership

Key Highlights of India-Russia Bilateral Meeting

Strategic Collaboration:

  • Emphasis on strategic collaboration in defense, space exploration, nuclear energy, and technology sharing.
  • Reflects the robustness of the longstanding partnership and explores avenues for deeper cooperation.

Economic Cooperation:

  • Agreement to expand exports of Russian hydrocarbons to the Indian market.
  • Cooperation in the peaceful use of nuclear energy.

Far East Cooperation:

  • Finalization of the program of cooperation in the Far East.
  • Decision to hold an early meeting of EaEU-India FTA negotiations.

Nuclear Power Agreements:

  • Signing of agreements to advance future units of the Kudankulam nuclear power project in Tamil Nadu.
  • Operation of two Russian-built nuclear plants in India, with four more under construction in Kudankulam.
  • Expected full capacity operation of the Kudankulam NPP in 2027.

Multilateral Forums:

  • Discussion on multilateral forums and international organizations.
  • Collaboration and common interests in forums like BRICS, SCO, and UN affairs.

Indo-Russia Relations: A Historical Overview

Cold War Era:

  • Strong strategic, military, economic, and diplomatic ties during the Cold War.
  • Shared Special Strategic Relation after the Dissolution of the Soviet Union.

Recent Challenges:

  • Steep downfall in recent years, exacerbated by Russia’s close relations with China and Pakistan.
  • Geopolitical issues affecting Indo-Russia relations.

Bilateral Trade:

  • Total bilateral trade at ~USD 13 Billion in 2021-22 and USD 8.14 Billion in 2020-21.
  • Russia is India’s seventh-largest trading partner.

Military Cooperation:

  • Regular Tri-Services exercise ‘INDRA.’
  • Joint military programs include BrahMos cruise missile, 5th generation fighter jet, and Sukhoi Su-30MKI programs.
  • Acquisition of military hardware like S-400 Triumf, Kamov Ka-226, T-90S Bhishma, and INS Vikramaditya aircraft carrier.

Science & Technology Collaboration:

  • Key role of science & technology in bilateral partnership, especially in India’s early days after independence.
  • Soviet assistance crucial for establishing Bhilai Steel Plant, IIT Bombay, and India’s space program.
  • Ongoing collaboration in basic sciences, materials science, mathematics, and advanced areas like Gaganyaan, nanotechnologies, and quantum computing.

Significance of Russia for India: A Multifaceted Partnership

Diplomatic Role:

  • Russia’s role in defusing tensions between India and China during the eastern Ladakh border standoff.
  • Trilateral meetings involving Russia, India, and China to address regional challenges.

Economic Engagement:

  • Traditional cooperation in weapons, hydrocarbons, nuclear energy, and diamonds.
  • Emerging sectors include mining, agro-industrial, and high technology (robotics, nanotech, and biotech).
  • India’s expanding footprint in the Russian Far East and the Arctic.

Global Collaboration:

  • Cooperation on Afghanistan to address regional challenges.
  • Advocacy for India’s permanent membership in a reformed UN Security Council and the Nuclear Suppliers Group.

Arms and Defense:

  • Historical significance as India’s largest arms supplier.
  • A declining share in recent years, falling from 64% to 45% in arms imports, as per SIPRI’s Trends in International Arms Transfers 2022 report.

-Source: The Hindu



Context:

In Maharashtra, particularly Yavatmal district, the prevalence of pesticide poisoning has led to the death of 20 farmers since 2017. The crisis has resulted in various health issues, including respiratory problems, skin rashes, neurological disorders, and reproductive issues, posing a severe threat to the well-being of farmers and farmworkers.

Relevance:

GS III: Agriculture

Dimensions of the Article:

  1. Understanding Pesticides: Types, Risks, and Recent Bans
  2. Regulation of Pesticides in India: Insights and Concerns

Understanding Pesticides: Types, Risks, and Recent Bans

  • Pesticides encompass chemical or biological substances designed to prevent, control, or eradicate pests, serving both agricultural and non-agricultural purposes.

Risks and Misuse:

  • Despite their utility, pesticides can pose significant threats to human health and the environment when misused, overused, or sold illegally.
Types of Pesticides:
  • Insecticides: Combat insects and pests harming plants.
  • Fungicides: Control fungal diseases in crops.
  • Herbicides: Manage weed growth in cultivation areas.
  • Bio-Pesticides: Derived from biological sources like animals, plants, and bacteria.
  • Others: Include plant growth regulators, nematicides, rodenticides, and fumigants.
Pesticide Poisoning:
  • Refers to adverse effects on humans or animals resulting from pesticide exposure.
  • Classified into acute (short-term) and chronic (long-term) poisoning.
  • Acute poisoning arises from substantial, rapid pesticide contact, ingestion, or inhalation.
  • Chronic poisoning occurs with prolonged exposure to low pesticide doses, causing organ and systemic damage.
Recent Bans:
  • In 2023, the government prohibited three insecticides—Dicofol, Dinocap, and Methomyl—in addition to monocrotophos due to their harmful effects.

Regulation of Pesticides in India: Insights and Concerns

Regulatory Framework:
  • Pesticides in India are governed by the Insecticides Act, 1968, and the Insecticides Rules, 1971.
  • The Act, under the administration of the Department of Agriculture and Farmers Welfare, Ministry of Agriculture and Farmers Welfare, addresses pesticide registration, manufacture, and sale.
Concerns Regarding Pesticide Use:
  • Health Impacts:
    • Chronic, low-level pesticide exposure is linked to various nervous system symptoms, including headaches, fatigue, dizziness, tension, anger, depression, impaired memory, Parkinson’s disease, and Alzheimer’s disease.
  • Biomagnification:
    • Pesticides move up the food chain, infiltrating soil or water systems and accumulating in aquatic animals or plants, posing risks to human health. This phenomenon is known as biomagnification.
  • Ecological and Economic Impact:
    • Prolonged pesticide use has contributed to the ecological, economic, and existential challenges in the Indian agriculture sector.
  • Global Disparities:
    • While agriculture is a state subject, the Insecticides Act, 1968, a central act, governs education and research related to insecticides. This has led to a disparity, with 104 pesticides used in India being banned in two or more countries globally.
  • List of Highly Hazardous Pesticides:
    • In 2021, the non-profit Pesticide Action Network (PAN) International identified over 100 approved pesticides in India as highly hazardous, raising concerns about their safety and impact.

-Source: The Hindu



Context:

A joint report by The Washington Post and Amnesty International reveals Pegasus spyware targeting Indian journalists.

  • Notable individuals affected include the founder editor of The Wire and the South Asia editor of OCCRP.
  • Intrusion detection occurred in October 2023, prompted by Apple’s warning of potential ‘state-sponsored attacks’ on iPhones, including MPs.

Relevance:

GS III: Cyber Security

Dimensions of the Article:

  1. Organised Crime and Corruption Reporting Project (OCCRP): Overview
  2. About the Pegasus Project
  3. What is a spyware and what are other similar types of Cyber Attacks?
  4. About the Pegasus Attacks in India

Organised Crime and Corruption Reporting Project (OCCRP): Overview

  • A global network of investigative journalists founded in 2006.
  • Specializes in reporting on organized crime and corruption.
  • Operates with staff on six continents and publishes stories through local media as well as its website in English and Russian.
Recent Works:
  • Involved in the coverage of the Pegasus spyware.
  • Played a key role in the investigation and publication of the Panama Papers leak.
  • Conducted research and published a report on the Adani Group (AG).

About the Pegasus Project

  • Pegasus is a type of malicious software or malware classified as a spyware that enables law enforcement and intelligence agencies to remotely and covertly extract” data “from virtually any mobile devices”
  • Pegasus is designed to gain access to devices, without the knowledge of users, and gather personal information and relay it back to whoever it is that is using the software to spy.
  • A zero-click attack helps spyware like Pegasus gain control over a device without human interaction or human error. Pegasus can infect a device without the target’s engagement or knowledge. So, all awareness about how to avoid a phishing attack or which links not to click are pointless.
  • Pegasus was developed by the Israeli firm NSO Group that was set up in 2010 and since then NSO’s attack capabilities have become more advanced.

How dangerously compromising is Pegasus?

  • Upon installation, Pegasus contacts the attacker’s command and control (C&C) servers to receive and execute instructions and send back the target’s private data, including passwords, contact lists, calendar events, text messages, and live voice calls (even those via end-to-end-encrypted messaging apps).
  • The attacker can control the phone’s camera and microphone, and use the GPS function to track a target.
  • To avoid extensive bandwidth consumption that may alert a target, Pegasus sends only scheduled updates to a C&C server.
  • The spyware is designed to evade forensic analysis, avoid detection by anti-virus software, and can be deactivated and removed by the attacker, when and if necessary.

What is a spyware and what are other similar types of Cyber Attacks?

What is Malware?
  • Malware is short for malicious software and it is a catch-all term for various malicious software, including viruses, adware, spyware, browser hijacking software, and fake security software.
  • Ransomware, Spyware, Worms, viruses, and Trojans are all varieties of malware.
Types of Malware
  • Viruses which are the most commonly-known form of malware and potentially the most destructive. They can do anything from erasing the data on your computer to hijacking your computer to attack other systems, send spam, or host and share illegal content.
  • Worm is a type of malware that spreads copies of itself from computer to computer which can replicate itself without any human interaction, and it does not need to attach itself to a software program in order to cause damage.
  • Trojan is a type of malware that is often disguised as legitimate software which can be employed by cyber-thieves and hackers trying to gain access to users’ systems.
  • Spyware collects your personal information and passes it on to interested third parties without your knowledge or consent. Spyware is also known for installing Trojan viruses.
  • Ransomware is malware that employs encryption to hold a victim’s information at ransom.
  • Adware displays pop-up advertisements when you are online.
  • Fake security software poses as legitimate software to trick you into opening your system to further infection, providing personal information, or paying for unnecessary or even damaging “clean ups”.
  • Browser hijacking software changes your browser settings (such as your home page and toolbars), displays pop-up ads and creates new desktop shortcuts. It can also relay your personal preferences to interested third parties.

About the Pegasus Attacks in India

  • Human Rights activists, journalists and lawyers around the world have been targeted with phone malware sold to authoritarian governments by an Israeli surveillance firm.
  • Indian ministers, government officials and opposition leaders also figure in the list of people whose phones may have been compromised by the spyware.
  • Indian politicians and journalists, several Delhi-based diplomats, employees of international NGOs like the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation etc., have been reported to be present in the list of those targeted by the Pegasus Spyware.
  • The Indian government has denied any wrong doing or carrying out any unauthorised surveillance, but has not confirmed or denied whether it has purchased or deployed Pegasus spyware.

-Source: The Hindu



Context:

Researchers have developed a new electronic soil that was found to increase the growth of barley seedlings by 50 per cent in a new study.

Relevance:

GS III: Science and Technology

Dimensions of the Article:

  1. eSoil: Advancing Hydroponics with Bioelectronic Growth Substrate

eSoil: Advancing Hydroponics with Bioelectronic Growth Substrate

  • In hydroponic setups, eSoil serves as a low-power bioelectronic growth substrate.
  • Derived from cellulose and the conductive polymer PEDOT, it offers an environmentally friendly alternative to traditional methods.
  • Acts as a growth stimulator for plant roots and the overall growth environment.
Key Features:
  • Environmentally friendly: Derived from cellulose and a conductive polymer.
  • Low energy: Operates on low power, providing a safe alternative to high-voltage methods.
  • Sustainable: Biodegradable materials reduce environmental impact.
Working Mechanism:
  • Utilizes low-energy electrical stimulation to enhance root system and plant growth.
  • Barley seedlings subjected to electrical stimulation with eSoil demonstrated a 50% increase in growth over 15 days.
Applications:
  • Promotes effective and sustainable development in hydroponic farming.
  • Enables diverse crop cultivation in a controlled and resource-efficient environment.
Benefits:
  • Offers a low-energy, safe alternative for enhancing plant growth.
  • Particularly useful in areas with limited arable land and challenging environmental conditions.
  • Supports closed hydroponic systems with water recirculation, minimizing resource consumption.

-Source: Indian Express



Context:

Around 1,300 musicians played Vande Mataram on tabla to enter the Guinness World Record for the “largest table ensemble” during the ongoing 99th International Tansen Samaroh in Gwalior.

Relevance:

Facts for Prelims

Tansen Samaroh: Honoring the Melodic Legacy of Mian Tansen

  • Tansen Samaroh pays tribute to the legendary Indian classical musician, Shri Ramtanu Misra, known as Tansen.
  • Held annually in December in Gwalior, it serves as a celebration of Tansen’s contribution to Indian music.
Significance:
  • Commemorates the life and musical prowess of Mian Tansen, a distinguished classical music composer and vocalist.
  • Artists and music enthusiasts worldwide gather to pay homage to the Great Indian Musical Maestro.
Key Facts about Mian Tansen:
  • Renowned composer, musician, and vocalist in Indian classical music.
  • Instrumentalist credited with popularizing and enhancing the plucked rabab.
  • Honored as one of the Navaratnas at the court of Mughal Emperor Akbar.
  • Bestowed with the title “Mian” by Emperor Akbar, signifying a learned man.
  • Historical details about Tansen are intertwined with legendary narratives.
Contributions:
  • Credited with introducing famous ragas like Miyan ki Malhar, Miyan ki Todi, and Darbari.
Annual Celebration:
  • Tansen Samaroh attracts artists and music lovers globally to celebrate the enduring legacy of Mian Tansen.
  • Provides a platform for showcasing classical music and fostering cultural exchange.

-Source: Indian Express



Context:

Recently, the Chief minister of Uttar Pradesh directed officials to conduct archaeological excavation in the Sohagibarwa Wildlife Sanctuary.

Relevance:

Facts for Prelims

Sohagibarwa Wildlife Sanctuary: Exploring Uttar Pradesh’s Natural Haven

  • Location:
    • Situated in the Maharajganj district of Uttar Pradesh.
  • Designation:
    • Declared as a Wildlife Sanctuary in June 1987.
  • Geographical Features:
    • Northern border shares an international boundary with Nepal.
    • Eastern border adjoins Bihar’s Valmiki Tiger Reserve.
  • Vegetation:
    • Encompasses North Indian Moist Deciduous vegetation.
  • Rivers:
    • Drained by significant rivers, including the great Gandak, little Gandak, Pyas, and Rohin.
  • Flora:
    • Approximately 75% of the area dominated by Sal forest.
    • Humid areas feature Jaamun, Gutal, Semal, Khair trees.
    • Lower regions exhibit waterlogged grasslands and patches of Cane forests during the monsoons.
  • Fauna:
    • Diverse wildlife, including Leopard, Tiger, Jungle Cat, Small Indian Civet, and Langur.
    • Avifauna includes Little Cormorant, Snake Bird, Brahimini Duck, Common Teal, Little Egret, Cattle Egret, Paddy Bird, and more.
  • International Borders:
    • Shares a northern international boundary with Nepal.
  • Conservation Status:
    • Designated as a Wildlife Sanctuary to protect and preserve its rich biodiversity.
  • Cultural and Ecological Significance:
    • Contributes to the conservation of flora and fauna in the region.
    • Offers a unique blend of natural landscapes, supporting a variety of ecosystems.

-Source: Hindustan Times


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