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Current Affairs 30 November 2023

  1. Rat-Hole Mining
  2. Halal Certification Ban in Uttar Pradesh
  3. International Labour Organization’s Report on Safer and Healthier Working Environments at WCSHW
  4. NASA’s Psyche Spacecraft
  5. RBI’s Move to Increase Risk Weight for Lending
  6. Nolamba Dynasty
  7. Fattah 2


Context:

The rescue operation for 41 workers trapped in the partially-collapsed Silkyara tunnel in Uttarakhand utilized two scientific mining methods, vertical drilling and auger (horizontal drilling), after 17 days of being trapped. The final phase of the rescue involved the use of rat-hole mining, a technique previously employed in Meghalaya.

Relevance:

GS III: Infrastructure

Dimensions of the Article:

  1. Overview of Rat-Hole Mining
  2. Reasons for the Ban on Rat-Hole Mining
  3. Factors Leading to the NGT Ban on Rat-Hole Mining
  4. Challenges and Future Prospects

Overview of Rat-Hole Mining:

  • Rescue of Trapped Workers: Rat-hole mining was employed in the rescue operation of workers, including Ramprasad Narzary and Sanjay Basumatary, from the Silkyara tunnel in Uttarakhand.
Irony and Local Context:
  • Tragic History in Meghalaya: The use of rat-hole mining for rescue sparked local irony as lives from the Ramfalbil area in Assam had been lost in Meghalaya’s coal mines, where this method was banned by the National Green Tribunal in April 2014.
Characteristics of Rat-Hole Mining:
  • Tunnel Dimensions: Rat-hole mining involves digging tunnels 3-4 feet deep, allowing only crawling for workers.
  • Extraction Process: Workers squat to extract coal using pickaxes in these narrow tunnels.
Two Types of Rat-Hole Mining:
  • Side-Cutting Method:
    • Location: Usually performed on hill slopes by following a visible coal seam.
  • Box-Cutting Method:
    • Process: Involves digging a circular or squarish pit at least 5 sq. meters wide and up to 400 feet deep.
    • Horizontal Digging: Miners descend using cranes or rope-and-bamboo ladders to dig horizontally from the pit edge.
Pit Resemblance:
  • Octopus-like Configuration: Tunnels are dug in various directions from the pit edge, resembling the tentacles of an octopus.

Reasons for the Ban on Rat-Hole Mining:

Government Control Challenges:
  • Land Ownership Dynamics: Meghalaya operates under the Sixth Schedule, exempting it from the Coal Mines Nationalisation Act of 1973. Landowners, therefore, have control over both the land and minerals underneath.
  • Limited Government Authority: The government faces challenges in regulating mining activities due to limited control over the land.
Historical Context and Economic Factors:
  • Post-Statehood Coal Boom: Coal mining surged after Meghalaya attained statehood in 1972.
  • Limitations in Advanced Technology: Mine owners, deterred by challenging terrain and high expenses, opted for traditional methods like rat-hole mining.
  • Exploitative Labor Practices: Workers, often from Assam, Nepal, and nearby Bangladesh, engaged in rat-hole mining due to higher earnings compared to agricultural or construction work.
Hazards and Environmental Impact:
  • Safety Concerns: Rat-hole mining posed risks such as asphyxiation, mine collapse, and flooding due to poor ventilation, lack of structural support, and inadequate safety measures.
  • Environmental Degradation: Unregulated mining led to land degradation, deforestation, and water pollution with high concentrations of sulphates, iron, and toxic heavy metals.
  • Acidic Rivers: Rivers like Lukha and Myntdu became too acidic to support aquatic life.
NGT Ban and Observations:
  • Legal Intervention: The National Green Tribunal (NGT) banned rat-hole mining in Meghalaya in 2014.
  • NGT Observations: The NGT noted numerous cases of flooding during the rainy season causing deaths and emphasized the environmental and safety hazards associated with rat-hole mining.
Continued Illegal Activities:
  • Challenges in Enforcement: Despite the ban, illegal mining and coal transportation persisted, leading to loss of lives, including a tragic incident in Ksan, East Jaintia Hills, where 17 miners drowned in an illegal mine in December 2018 due to flooding from a river.

Factors Leading to the NGT Ban on Rat-Hole Mining:

Early Environmental and Social Concerns:
  • Activist Warnings: Environmentalists and human rights activists raised concerns about the hazards of rat-hole mining in Meghalaya approximately two decades ago.
  • Impulse NGO Campaign: The campaign against rat-hole mining gained momentum when Impulse, a Meghalaya-based NGO, focused on human trafficking and child labor issues within these mines.
NGO Reports and Child Labor Issues:
  • NGO Investigations: Impulse, in collaboration with other organizations, conducted three reports highlighting the prevalence of child labor and human trafficking in rat-hole mines.
  • Child Labor Estimates: Reports estimated that around 70,000 children, mainly from Bangladesh and Nepal, were employed in these mines due to their size being suitable for such hazardous work.
  • Government Admission: Initially refuted by the State’s Department of Mining and Geology, the government later admitted, under National Human Rights Commission pressure, that 222 children were indeed employed in rat-hole mines, specifically in the East Jaintia Hills district.
National Green Tribunal (NGT) Intervention:
  • NGT Ban: Responding to the alarming reports and environmental concerns, the NGT imposed a ban on rat-hole mining in Meghalaya in 2014.
  • Human Rights and Environmental Focus: The ban aimed to address both human rights violations, particularly child labor, and the environmental degradation associated with this mining practice.

Challenges and Future Prospects:

Economic Viability and Thin Coal Seams:
  • Miner Perspective: Miners argue that the thin coal seams in Meghalaya make rat-hole mining economically more viable than opencast mining.
  • State’s Coal Reserves: Meghalaya possesses an estimated reserve of 576.48 million tonnes of low-ash, high-sulphur coal from the Eocene age.
Government Approval for Legal Mining:
  • Government Initiatives: In May 2023, Chief Minister Conrad K. Sangma announced Coal Ministry approval for mining leases, indicating a move toward ‘scientific’ mining.
  • Sustainable Extraction: The approved leases are expected to facilitate scientifically conducted mining with minimal environmental impact, adhering to legal and sustainable extraction procedures.
Debates and Activist Concerns:
  • Profit-Driven Mining: Activists argue that the term ‘scientific’ might be a cosmetic label in a region where profit has historically driven coal mining.
  • Ongoing Debates: The resumption of mining, even under approved leases, continues to be a subject of debate between pro-mining interests and those advocating environmental sustainability and social responsibility.

-Source: The Hindu



Context:

The Uttar Pradesh Government’s Food Security and Drug Administration has imposed an immediate ban on the “manufacture, sale, storage, and distribution of halal-certified products.”

Relevance:

GS II: Government policies and Interventions

Dimensions of the Article:

  1. About Halal Certification Ban
  2. Halal Certificate Issuance Process
  3. What has the government done?

About Halal Certification Ban

Halal Definition:
  • Arabic term signifying ‘permissible’ in Islam.
  • Denotes products fit for consumption by followers of Islam, particularly crucial for meat items and when exporting to Muslim nations.
Ban Reason:
  • A complaint filed in Lucknow by a BJP youth wing office bearer prompted the ban.
  • Halal certifying outfits accused of issuing “forged” certificates to boost sales among a specific community.
  • Alleged violation of “public trust” and creation of “social animosity.”
Government Stance:
  • Legal Basis: The government asserts that the ban aligns with existing laws and fair trade practices.
  • Objective: Official stance denies targeting any specific community, emphasizing adherence to legal and ethical standards.
Enforcement Actions:
  • Subsequent to the ban, police units conducted raids in various malls across Uttar Pradesh to seize halal-certified products.
Controversial Implications:
  • Community Concerns: Many view this government action as potentially marginalizing the Muslim community in the state.
  • Official Clarification: The government maintains its position, stating the enforcement is rooted in legal provisions and trade regulations.

Halal Certificate Issuance Process:

Certifying Authorities:
  • Organizations: Certificates issued by Jamiat Ulama-i-Hind’s Halal Unit and the Halal Shariat Islamic Law Board.
  • Accreditation: Both organizations cleared by the National Accreditation Board for Certification Bodies.
  • Scope: Shariat Islamic Law Board certifies food products, while Jamiat’s unit focuses on meat.
Reaction to Ban:
  • Surprise and Disapproval: Certifying agencies express surprise, claiming no prior notice from the government.
  • Legal Consideration: Considering legal options, citing potential infringement on citizens’ fundamental right to consume faith-permissible food.
  • Compliance Assertion: Jamiat emphasizes adherence to government regulations, including NABCB registration.
Export Product Certification:
  • Ban Scope: Ban applies to sales, manufacture, and storage within Uttar Pradesh, exempting export products.
  • Jamiat’s Clarification: Halal certificates by Jamiat’s unit exclusively for export purposes.
  • Misconception Clarification: Denial of issuing Halal certificates for vegetarian products in domestic markets.
Retailer Insights:
  • Business Disruption: Retailers affected by the sudden ban reveal complexities in the certification process.
  • Vegetarian Products: Acknowledgement of vegetarian products carrying Halal certificates for export, sometimes

entering the domestic market.

Concerns and Clarifications:
  • Sentimental Impact: Clarification that vegetarian products unlikely to hurt sentiments, emphasizing proper certification processes.
  • Financial Transparency: Assurance of legality and transparency in financial transactions, including GST and income tax payments.
Legal Exploration:
  • Exploration of Options: Consideration of legal avenues to address the ban, emphasizing adherence to established regulations.

What has the government done?

  • Within a week of the announcement of the ban, the State government gave a belated breathing period to all concerned.
  • It allowed retailers 15 days to withdraw any such food items from their shelves.
  • It asked the 92 state-based manufacturers who had been getting halal certification from non-certified organisations, to recall and repackage their products.

-Source: The Hindu



Context:

The ILO has unveiled a report titled ‘A Call for Safer and Healthier Working Environments,’ set to be deliberated at the 23rd World Congress on Safety and Health at Work (WCSHW) in Sydney, Australia. The WCSHW, a prominent global conference since 1955, serves as a major platform for connecting leaders worldwide in the field of work health and safety, fostering discussions and initiatives to enhance workplace well-being.

Relevance:

GS II: International Relations

Dimensions of the Article:

  1. Key Highlights of the ILO Report on Work-Related Fatalities:
  2. International Labor Organization (ILO)

Key Highlights of the ILO Report on Work-Related Fatalities:

Global Work-Related Deaths:

  • Approximately 30 lakh (3 million) workers die annually due to work-related accidents and diseases.
  • More than 63% of these deaths occur in the Asia-Pacific region.

Leading Causes of Fatalities (2016):

  • Long working hours (55 hours or more per week) contributed to nearly 7.45 lakh deaths.
  • Exposure to occupational particulate matter, gases, and fumes resulted in around 4.5 lakh deaths.
  • Occupational injuries caused approximately 3.63 lakh deaths.

Fatal Occupational Injury Rate (FOIR):

  • Sectors like mining, construction, and utilities are identified as the most hazardous globally based on FOIR.
  • FOIR is a statistical measure quantifying work-related deaths within specific occupational groups or industries.

ILO Conventions:

  • 79 out of 187 member countries ratified the ILO Occupational Safety and Health Convention.
  • 62 countries ratified the Promotional Framework for Occupational Safety and Health Convention, 2006.
  • India has not ratified these conventions, prompting calls for their adoption after the Uttarkashi tunnel incident.

Work-Related Diseases:

  • 26 lakh work-related deaths are attributed to diseases like circulatory diseases, cancers, and respiratory diseases.
  • Changing disease trends due to occupational exposure, including increased cases of cancers and asbestos-related diseases.

Decrease in Deaths:

  • Deaths due to asthmagens and particulate matter, gases, and fumes have decreased by over 20%.

ILO Recommendations:

  • ILO advocates five “Fundamental Principles and Rights at Work” for ensuring safety and health.
  • Principles include freedom of association, elimination of forced labor and child labor, non-discrimination, and a safe working environment.

International Labor Organization (ILO):

Nature and Structure:

  • The only tripartite United Nations (UN) agency.
  • Brings together governments, employers, and workers from 187 member States, including India.
  • Aims to set labor standards, develop policies, and create programs promoting decent work for all.

Recognition and Awards:

  • Received the Nobel Peace Prize in 1969 for its efforts in promoting social justice and labor rights.

Establishment and Affiliation:

  • Established in 1919 by the Treaty of Versailles.
  • Initially affiliated with the League of Nations.
  • Became the first affiliated specialized agency of the UN in 1946.

Headquarters:

  • Geneva, Switzerland.

-Source: The Hindu



Context:

NASA’s Psyche Spacecraft, currently journeying over 16 million kilometers away in space, recently achieved a ground breaking feat by successfully firing a laser signal at Earth.

Relevance:

GS III: Science and Technology

Dimensions of the Article:

  1. NASA’s Psyche Mission
  2. Significance of Deep Space Optical Communications (DSOC)

NASA’s Psyche Mission:

Objective:
  • Explore the asteroid Psyche, situated between Mars and Jupiter.
  • Psyche is a rare metallic asteroid, believed to be the exposed nickel-iron core of an early planet.
  • Directly study a planetary core to gain insights into the formation of terrestrial planets like Earth.
Scientific Goals:
  • Determine if Psyche is a core or unmelted material.
  • Analyze relative ages of different regions on Psyche’s surface.
  • Compare elemental composition with Earth’s core.
  • Investigate whether Psyche’s formation conditions were more oxidizing or reducing than Earth’s core.
  • Study Psyche’s surface features.
Scientific Instruments:
  • Multispectral Imager:
    • Captures images across different wavelengths.
  • Gamma Ray & Neutron Spectrometer:
    • Analyzes elemental composition.
  • Magnetometer:
    • Measures magnetic fields; confirmation of a remanent magnetic field would support the asteroid’s formation from a planetary core.
  • X-band Gravity Science Investigation:
    • Studies gravitational effects of the asteroid on the spacecraft.
  • Deep Space Optical Communication (DSOC):
    • Tests laser-based communication technology for faster data transmission between the spacecraft and Earth, using near-infrared wavelengths.

Significance of Deep Space Optical Communications (DSOC):

  • Introduction on Psyche:
    • Psyche is the first spacecraft featuring NASA’s Deep Space Optical Communications (DSOC) transceiver.
  • Technology Overview:
    • DSOC Encodes Data in Near-Infrared Light Photons:
      • Departure from traditional radio waves for data transmission.
      • Uses near-infrared light photons for encoding data.
  • Enhanced Data Rates:
    • Data rates at least ten times higher than current radio systems.
    • Facilitates improved imaging, extensive scientific data transmission, and video streaming.
  • Faster Data Transmission:
    • Outperforms current space communication technologies reliant on radio waves.
    • Near-infrared waves offer faster data transmission capabilities.
  • Propagation Capabilities:
    • Radio waves excel in traversing various mediums and obstacles due to their propagation capabilities.
  • Limitations:
    • Near-infrared waves have shorter wavelengths compared to radio waves.
    • While useful for specific applications, they lack the penetration and distance capabilities of radio waves.
  • Ongoing Technological Quest:
    • Continued efforts to improve technology, addressing limitations in data transmission rates.

-Source: Indian Express



Context:

The Reserve Bank of India (RBI) has directed banks and non-banking financial companies (NBFCs) to reserve more capital for risk weights.

Relevance:

GS III: Indian Economy

Dimensions of the Article:

  1. Background
  2. Understanding ‘Risk Weights’
  3. Reasons for Regulatory Changes
  4. Chief Concerns
  5. Impact on Consumers
  6. Conclusion

Background:

  • RBI’s Risk Weight Adjustments:
    • RBI has increased the risk weight for consumer loan, credit card exposures, and loans to NBFCs by 25%, reaching a total of 125%.
  • Application Scope:
    • Applies to personal loans, excluding housing loans, education loans, vehicle loans, and loans secured by gold and gold jewellery.
  • Concerns Raised by RBI:
    • RBI expresses concerns about the rapid expansion of consumer loans, prompting this regulatory move.
    • Anticipates potential risks associated with the increasing volume of these types of loans.
  • Impact on Costs:
    • Adjustment leads to higher costs for both banks and non-banking lenders engaged in consumer lending.

Understanding ‘Risk Weights’:

  • Concept of ‘Credit Risk’:
    • Core focus of RBI’s action is to address ‘credit risk.’
    • Refers to the risk linked with a borrower’s inability to fulfill obligations, leading to defaults.
  • Role of ‘Risk Weights’:
    • Essential tool for banks to manage credit risk.
    • Presented in percentage factors, it adjusts for the risk associated with a specific type of asset.
  • Indicator for Risk Management:
    • Indicates the ideal holding percentage that a lender should have to appropriately adjust for the associated risk.
    • RBI has directed an increase in this indicator to align with the perceived rise in risk in consumer lending.

Reasons for Regulatory Changes:

  • Governor’s Concerns:
    • Governor Shaktikanta Das, in October’s monetary policy statement, expressed worries about the “high growth” in specific components of consumer credit.
    • Advised banks and NBFCs to strengthen internal surveillance, address risks, and institute safeguards.
  • Monitoring by RBI:
    • The apex banking regulator closely monitored signs of potential stress in the consumer credit segment.
  • Moody’s Assessment:
    • Higher risk weights aim to curb lenders’ enthusiasm for consumer loan growth.
    • Rapid growth in the unsecured segment exposes financial institutions to elevated credit costs during economic or interest rate shocks.
  • Data on Personal Loans:
    • RBI’s latest figures indicate a 23% YoY increase in unsecured personal loans as of September 22.
    • Outstanding loans from credit cards rose by about 30% during the same period.
  • Concerns for Small Loans:
    • Loans below Rs 50,000 carry high default risk, with delinquencies at 5.4% as of June.
  • Shift in NBFC Focus:
    • Some NBFCs, traditionally focused on secured lending, have shifted to riskier segments.

Chief Concerns:

  • Impact on Capital Adequacy:
    • Primary concerns revolve around the impact on capital adequacy and overall profitability for banks.
    • Capital adequacy ensures banks have sufficient capital to absorb losses from unforeseen events or risks.
  • Asset Quality and Profitability:
    • S&P’s report suggests that slower loan growth and increased risk management could support better asset quality.
    • Estimates a decline of about 60 basis points in Tier-1 capital adequacy.
  • Tier-1 Capital Adequacy:
    • Tier-1 capital adequacy represents banks’ highest-quality capital to absorb losses immediately.
  • Potential Capital Raising:
    • Drop in capital adequacy may prompt lenders with weaker positions to raise capital.
    • Public sector banks generally have lower capital adequacy compared to large private sector banks.
  • Impact on Finance Companies:
    • Finance companies might be worst-affected, facing a surge in incremental bank borrowing and impacting their capital adequacy, according to S&P.

Impact on Consumers:

  • Caution in Credit Extension:
    • With increased risk weightage, banks may exercise caution in extending credit, especially to those with higher perceived risk.
    • Some individuals might find it challenging to obtain credit cards or personal loans.
  • Stricter Terms and Conditions:
    • Eligible consumers may face stricter terms and conditions when availing credit.
    • Lenders could implement more stringent criteria for loan approval.
  • Objective of RBI:
    • RBI’s move to raise risk weightage aims to manage growing defaults and risks associated with unsecured loans.
    • Lenders must account for higher credit risk, leading to pricier lending.
  • Higher Costs for Borrowers:
    • Adjustment in risk weightage will result in higher costs for borrowers taking out unsecured loans.
    • Interest rates in this loan category may see an increase.

Conclusion:

  • Growing Unsecured Loans:
    • Unsecured loans, including personal loans and credit card dues, are experiencing rapid growth.
  • Cost Implications:
    • Due to higher risk provisioning, these loans may become marginally more expensive.
    • Impact on interest rates will vary among lenders.
  • Fundraising Challenges:
    • Both banks and NBFCs need to raise funds while recalibrating priorities based on new risk weights.
    • Balancing profit margins and managing risks from non-performing assets (NPAs) becomes crucial.

-Source: The Hindu



Context:

Ancient inscriptions, hero stones, and idols of Shiva Linga and Nandi have been unearthed during recent research about the history of Nolamba Pallavas.

Relevance:

GS I: History

The Nolamba Dynasty:

Historical Significance:

  • A significant political power in South India, the Nolambas held sway from the 8th to the 12th centuries C.E.

Territorial Dominance:

  • Ruled over Nolambavadi, covering southeast Karnataka, parts of Tamil Nadu, and Andhra Pradesh.
  • Initially, served as feudatories to various powers, including Pallavas, Chalukyas of Badami, Gangas, Rashtrakutas, and later, Chalukyas of Kalyani.

Capital Shifts:

  • Capital was initially Chitradurga, later shifted to Hemavati in modern Andhra Pradesh during the 8th to 10th centuries AD.

Self-Identification:

  • Referred to themselves as Nolamba Pallava in inscriptions, suggesting a connection with the Pallava family.

Founder and Origin:

  • Mangala Nomabathi Raja (735–785 A.D.) is considered the founder.
  • Originated as governors during the supremacy of Pallavas and Chalukyas.

Political Changes:

  • Initially, feudatories of Pallavas due to territorial changes after Pallava ruler Mamalla Narasimhavarman I seized Badami.
  • Later, aligned with Chalukyas under Vikramaditya I after Chalukyas regained lost territories.

Decline:

  • Overrun by Ganga king Marasimha, marked by his title Nolambakulantaka.

Temple Complexes:

  • Three notable temple complexes attributed to the dynasty: Kalleshwara Temple in Aralaguppe, Bhoganandishwara Temple in Nandi, and Ramalingeshwara Temple in Avani.

-Source: Indian Express



Context:

Iran recently unveiled its new and improved hypersonic weapon, the Fattah-2.

Relevance:

Facts for Prelims

About Fattah 2:

Name and Origin:

  • Fattah: Conqueror in Farsi.
  • Developed by Iran as an advanced version of its initial hypersonic ballistic missile named ‘Fattah.’
Features:
  • Hypersonic Glide Vehicle (HGV):
    • Equipped with an HGV warhead that can manoeuvre and glide at hypersonic speeds.
  • Propellant:
    • Uses a liquid-fuel rocket propellant.
  • Range and Velocity:
    • Precision-guided two-stage missile with a range of 1500 kilometres.
    • Velocity of Mach 15 (fifteen times the speed of sound, approximately 18522 km/hr).
  • Manoeuvrability:
    • Capable of quick turns to evade defence systems.
  • Warhead Characteristics:
    • Equipped with a warhead featuring a spherical engine running on solid fuel and movable nozzles for course changes outside the atmosphere.
Hypersonic Missile
  • A missile flying at least at Mach 5 (five times the speed of sound) and is manoeuvrable.
  • Extremely fast, making them challenging targets for surface-to-air missile defence systems.

-Source: The Hindu


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