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Current Affairs 04 January 2022 for UPSC Exam | Legacy IAS

Contents

  1. China constructing bridge on Pangong Tso
  2. EdTech regulation policy on the anvil: Education Minister
  3. World powers vow to stop spread of nuclear weapons
  4. India, Israel in talks for free trade agreement
  5. Kaziranga elevated corridor plan

China constructing bridge on Pangong Tso

Context:

China is constructing a bridge in Eastern Ladakh connecting the North and South Banks of Pangong Tso which would significantly bring down the time for People’s Liberation Army (PLA) to move troops and equipment between the two sectors.

Relevance:

GS-II: International Relations (India’s Neighbors, Foreign Policies affecting India’s Interests, Border disputes)

Dimensions of the Article:

  1. About Pangong Tso lake
  2. Fingers in the lake
  3. Shifting Positions
  4. Tactical significance of the Panging Tso
  5. About the new bridge in Pangong Tso being constructed by China

About Pangong Tso lake

  • Pangong Tso is a long narrow, deep, endorheic (landlocked – a drainage basin that normally retains water and allows no outflow to other external bodies of water, such as rivers or oceans, but drainage converges instead into lakes or swamps that equilibrate through evaporation) lake situated at a height of more than 14,000 ft in the Ladakh Himalayas.
  • It is 134 km (83 mi) long and extends from India to the Tibetan Autonomous Region, China.
  • Approximately 60% of the length of the lake lies within the Tibetan Autonomous Region.
  • It is NOT a part of the Indus River basin area and geographically a separate landlocked river basin.
  • The lake is in the process of being identified under the Ramsar Convention as a wetland of international importance.
  • The 135 km-long lake sprawls over 604 sq km in the shape of a boomerang, and is 6 km wide at its broadest point. The western end of Tso lies 54 km to the southeast of Leh.

Fingers in the lake

  • The barren mountains on the lake’s northern bank, called the Chang Chenmo, jut forward in major spurs, which the Army calls “fingers”.
  • India claims that the LAC is coterminous with Finger 8, but it physically controls area only up to Finger 4.
  • Chinese use light vehicles on the road to patrol up to Finger 2, which has a turning point for their vehicles.
  • If they are confronted and stopped by an Indian patrol in between, asking them to return, it leads to confusion, as the vehicles can’t turn back.
  • The Chinese have now stopped the Indian soldiers moving beyond Finger 2.

Confrontation on the water

  • On the water, the Chinese had a major advantage until a few years ago — their superior boats could literally run circles around the Indian boats.
  • But India purchased better Tampa boats some eight years ago, leading to a quicker and more aggressive response.

Out of bounds for tourists

  • Tourists were not allowed at all at Pangong Tso until 1999, and even today, you need to obtain an Inner Line Permit from the office of the Deputy Commissioner at Leh.
  • Tourists are only allowed up to Spangmik village, around 7 km into the lake.

Shifting Positions

  • In 1960, India certainly viewed China’s presence in areas where the People’s Liberation Army (PLA) transgressed in May 2020 as being beyond Beijing’s own territorial claims.
  • At the north bank of Pangong Tso, the PLA moved up to Finger 4 and prevented India from crossing Finger 4.
  • China now claims up to Finger 4, while India says the LAC is at Finger 8.
  • However, since May 2020, for the first time, completely cut off India’s access to its LAC at Finger 8, effectively shifting the line 8 km west.
  • China’s current moves to enforce its Line of Actual Control (LAC) claims, which sparked the recent border incidents, mark a shift from what Beijing told India in 1960 about where its boundaries were, both in the Galwan Valley and Pangong Lake.

The Fingers refer to mountain spurs on the bank, and run from 1 to 8, west to east.

China controls 1,000 sq. km of area in Ladakh

  • About 1,000 square kilometres of area in Ladakh along the Line of Actual Control (LAC) is now under Chinese control, intelligence inputs provided to the Centre suggest.
  • From Depsang Plains to Chushul there had been a systematic mobilisation by the Chinese troops along the undefined LAC.
  • Chinese forces are occupying a considerable area from Finger 4 to 8 near Pangong Tso (lake).
  • The distance between Finger 4-8, the mountainous spurs abutting the lake, is about eight km.
  • The stretch was patrolled both by India and China till the clashes in May 2020 and India considers it to form part of its perception of the LAC.

Tactical significance of the Panging Tso

  • By itself, the lake does not have major tactical significance. But it lies in the path of the Chushul approach, one of the main approaches that China can use for an offensive into Indian-held territory.
  • Indian assessments show that a major Chinese offensive, if it comes, will flow across both the north and south of the lake.
  • During the 1962 war, this was where China launched its main offensive.
  • Over the years, the Chinese have built motorable roads along their banks of the Pangong Tso.
  • Even during peacetime, the difference in perception over where the LAC lies on the northern bank of the lake, makes this contested terrain.
  • In 1999, when the Army unit from the area was moved to Kargil for Operation Vijay, China took the opportunity to build 5 km of road inside Indian territory along the lake’s bank.

About the new bridge in Pangong Tso being constructed by China

  • A new bridge on Pangong Tso is being constructed by China which will provide an additional axis to deploy troops faster between the north and south banks of the lake, and closer to the LAC.
  • The bridge is being constructed more than 20 km east of Finger 8 on the lake’s north bank – (India says Finger 8 denotes the LAC). The bridge site is just east of Khurnak Fort in Rutog county where the PLA has frontier bases. (Historically a part of India, Khurnak Fort has been under Chinese control since 1958.)
Pangong Tso — Chinese Bridge Infrastructure 
December 2021 - 33.749700 N, 79.024110 E 
Finger 4 
Clash Point 
Pangong Tso 
China PLA Positions 
Rezang La 
Clash Point 
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Contains Materials@ CNES 2021 Airbus DS 
Representation Of Locations Are Approximates, Image Not To Scale, Boundary Representation Is Not Necessarily Authoritative 
New Bridge Under 
Construction Joining The 
North & Sooth Bank Of 
Pangong Lake 
The •l 
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a 
PLA Strongpoint & 
Staging Area - Rotog

Recent Developments along the border

  • Before India and China pulled back troops from the north and south banks in February 2021, the area had seen massive mobilisation and the two sides even deployed tanks, barely a few hundred metres apart in some locations.
  • China has been developing infrastructure in the entire region since the start of the standoff — it is still to be resolved. The widening of roads, building of new roads and bridges, new bases, airstrips, advance landing bases, etc are not restricted to the eastern Ladakh region, but are happening across the three sectors of the India-China boundary.
  • India too has been improving its infrastructure in the border areas – In 2021 alone, the Border Roads Organisation (BRO) completed more than 100 projects in border areas, the majority of which were close to the border with China.
  • India is also improving its surveillance along the entire 3488-km boundary, and has been building new airstrips and landing areas.

-Source: The Hindu


EdTech regulation policy on the anvil: Education Minister

Context:

The booming education technology sector, which has benefited from the disruptions in traditional education during the pandemic, is likely to face regulation soon by the means of a common policy, according to Education Minister Dharmendra Pradhan.

Relevance:

GS-II: Social Justice (Issues Related to Education), GS-III: Indian Economy

Dimensions of the Article:

  1. What is Ed-tech and what is its significance?
  2. EdTech industry in India
  3. Concerns to be addressed with the advent of EdTech
  4. Way Forward

What is Ed-tech and what is its significance?

  • ‘Educational Technology’ or Ed-Tech refers to hardware and software designed to enhance teacher-led learning in classrooms and improve students’ education outcomes.
  • EdTech is still in the early stages of its development, but it shows promise as a method of customizing a curriculum for a student’s ability level by introducing and reinforcing new content at a pace the student can handle.
  • The various potential advantages of EdTech are seen in:
    • Enabling greater personalisation of education
    • Enhancing educational productivity by improving rates of learning,
    • Reducing costs of instructional material and service delivery at scale
    • Utilizing of teacher/instructor time more effectively.
  • The impending need to weave technology into education can be seen from the disruption of traditional brick-and-mortar service delivery models across sectors.

EdTech industry in India

  • India’s school education landscape is facing daunting challenges as reflected by successive ASER surveys and the Covid-19 pandemic threatens to exacerbate this crisis. This combined with the emergence of the Fourth Industrial Revolution has made it imperative to reimagine education and align it with the unprecedented technological transformation.
  • The Indian ed-tech ecosystem has a lot of potential for innovation. With over 4,500 start-ups and a current valuation of around $700 million, the market is geared for exponential growth — estimates project an astounding market size of $30 billion in the next 10 years.
  • India is well-poised to take this leap forward with increasing access to tech-based infrastructure, electricity, and affordable internet connectivity, fueled by flagship programmes such as Digital India and DIKSHA (Digital Infrastructure for School Education).
  • Government of India’s Aspirational Districts Programme on tech-enabled monitoring and implementation that emphasises citizen engagement, partnerships and effective service delivery.
  • Accelerated by increasing smartphone users and the shift to digital-learning models, the sector was already witnessing huge traction but with COVID-pandemic led lockdown, the edtech industry has witnessed exponential growth.
  • India has emerged to be among the top three countries in the world after China and the USA to get the most venture capital funding in the edtech sector. Because of the growth, the edtech industry has garnered the interest of investors globally. In 2020 alone, the edtech sector received $16.1B in VC funding, a 32x increase from 500M received in 2010.
  • There are around 624 million active internet users in India as of February 2021. These active users offer a huge growth opportunity for the edtech stakeholders.

Concerns to be addressed with the advent of EdTech

  • According to National Sample Survey data for 2017-18, only 42 percent of urban and 15 percent of rural households had internet access – hence, NOT everyone who can afford to go to school can afford to have phones, computers, or even a quality internet connection for attending classes online.
  • Technology is not affordable to all, shifting towards online education completely is like taking away the Right to Education of those who cannot access the technology.
  • Technology cannot substitute schools or replace teachers. It’s not “teachers versus technology”; the solution is in “teachers and technology”. In fact, tech solutions are impactful only when embraced and effectively leveraged by teachers.
  • There is a danger in providing digital infrastructure without a plan on how it’s to be deployed or what teaching-learning approaches it would support – technology must be in service of the learning model.
  • Ed-tech can increase the already existing digital divide – as those who cannot access education through online means will be pushed further away from digitization.

Way Forward

  • There must be a mechanism to thoroughly map the ed-tech landscape, especially their scale, reach, and impact. The focus should be on access, equity, infrastructure, governance, and quality-related outcomes and challenges for teachers and students.
  • The policy formulation and planning process must strive to enable convergence across schemes (education, skills, digital governance, and finance), foster integration of solutions through public-private partnerships, factor in voices of all stakeholders, and bolster cooperative federalism across all levels of government.
  • It must be ensured that ed-tech policies focus on four key elements:
    • Access – providing access to learning, especially to disadvantaged groups
    • Enabling processes of teaching, learning, and evaluation
    • Teaching – facilitating teacher training and continuous professional development
    • Governance – Improving governance systems including planning, management, and monitoring processes.

-Source: The Hindu


World powers vow to stop spread of nuclear weapons

Context:

Five global nuclear powers pledged to prevent atomic weapons spreading and to avoid nuclear conflict, in a rare joint statement ahead of a review of Treaty on the Non-Proliferation of Nuclear Weapons (NPT) in 2022.

Relevance:

GS-II: International Relations (Important International Treaties and Agreements, Foreign Policies affecting India’s Interests)

Dimensions of the Article:

  1. Non-Proliferation Treaty (NPT)
  2. About the recent joint statement
  3. Highlights of the SIPRI Year Book 2021

Non-Proliferation Treaty (NPT)

  • The Treaty on the Non-Proliferation of Nuclear Weapons, commonly known as the Non-Proliferation Treaty or NPT, is an international treaty whose objective is to prevent the spread of nuclear weapons and weapons technology, to promote cooperation in the peaceful uses of nuclear energy, and to further the goal of achieving nuclear disarmament and general and complete disarmament
  • The NPT is often seen to be based on a central bargain: “the NPT non-nuclear-weapon states agree never to acquire nuclear weapons and the NPT nuclear-weapon states in exchange agree to share the benefits of peaceful nuclear technology and to pursue nuclear disarmament aimed at the ultimate elimination of their nuclear arsenals.”
  • The treaty defines nuclear-weapon states as those that have built and tested a nuclear explosive device before 1 January 1967; these are the United States, Russia, the United Kingdom, France, and China.
  • Four other states are known or believed to possess nuclear weapons: India, Pakistan, and North Korea have openly tested and declared that they possess nuclear weapons, while Israel is deliberately ambiguous regarding its nuclear weapons status.
  • The Treaty has 189 States Parties, which is the largest number of any arms control agreement.
  • However, India, Israel and Pakistan have not signed the NPT.
  • North Korea announced its withdrawal in 2003, and further announced that it had conducted an underground nuclear explosion in 2006 and 2009.

About the recent joint statement

  • In January 2022, UN Security Council members China, France, Russia, the U.K. and U.S. – said that they believe strongly that the further spread of such weapons must be prevented, and a nuclear war cannot be won and must never be fought.
  • Putting aside current differences that have caused major tensions between both China and Russia and their Western partners, the five world powers said they saw “the avoidance of war between nuclear-weapon states and the reduction of strategic risks as our foremost responsibilities.”
  • “As nuclear use would have far-reaching consequences, we also affirm that nuclear weapons — for as long as they continue to exist — should serve defensive purposes, deter aggression, and prevent war,” they said.
  • The statement comes as tensions between Russia and the United States have reached heights rarely seen since the Cold War over a troop build-up by Moscow close to the Ukrainian border.
  • The rise of China meanwhile under President Xi Jinping has also raised concerns that tensions with Washington could lead to conflict, notably over the island of Taiwan.

Highlights of the SIPRI Year Book 2021

  • The overall number of warheads in global military stockpiles now appears to be increasing, a worrisome sign that the declining trend that has characterized global nuclear arsenals since the end of the cold war has stalled.
  • According to the year book, India possessed an estimated 156 nuclear warheads at the start of 2021 compared to 150 at the start of 2020, while Pakistan had 165 warheads, up from 160 in 2020.
  • China’s nuclear arsenal consisted of 350 warheads up from 320 at the start of 2020.
  • The nine nuclear armed states – the U.S., Russia, the U.K., France, China, India, Pakistan, Israel and North Korea – together possessed an estimated 13,080 nuclear weapons at the start of 2021.
  • Russia and the U.S. together possessed over 90% of global nuclear weapons and have extensive and expensive modernisation programmes under way, SIPRI said.

Signs that decline in nuclear arsenals has stalled

  • The nine nuclear-armed states—the United States, Russia, the United Kingdom, France, China, India, Pakistan, Israel and the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea (North Korea)—together possessed an estimated 13080 nuclear weapons at the start of 2021. This marked a decrease from the 13400 that SIPRI estimated these states possessed at the beginning of 2020.
  • Despite this overall decrease, the estimated number of nuclear weapons currently deployed with operational forces increased to 3825, from 3720 last year. Around 2000 of these—nearly all of which belonged to Russia or the USA—were kept in a state of high operational alert.
  • While the USA and Russia continued to reduce their overall nuclear weapon inventories by dismantling retired warheads in 2020, both are estimated to have had around 50 more nuclear warheads in operational deployment at the start of 2021 than a year earlier.
  • Russia also increased its overall military nuclear stockpile by around 180 warheads, mainly due to deployment of more multi-warhead land-based intercontinental ballistic missiles (ICBMs) and sea-launched ballistic missiles (SLBMs).
  • Both USA’s and Russia’s deployed strategic nuclear forces remained within the limits set by the 2010 Treaty on Measures for the Further Reduction and Limitation of Strategic Offensive Arms (New START), although the treaty does not limit total nuclear warhead inventories.
Country 
Russia 
France 
India 
Israel 
Total 
Deployed warheads* 
1 800 
1 625 
120 
280 
3 825 
Other warheads* * 
750 
4 630 
105 
10 
156 
go 
[40-50] 
g 255 
Total 2021 
5 550 
6 255 
225 
2go 
156 
go 
[40-50] 
13 080 
Total 2020 
5 800 
6 375 
215 
2go 
150 
go 
[30-40] 
13 400 
Source: SIPRI Yearbook 2021.

Other nuclear-armed states investing in future capabilities

  • All the other seven nuclear-armed states are also either developing or deploying new weapon systems or have announced their intention to do so.
  • The UK’s ‘Integrated Review of Security, Defence, Development and Foreign Policy’, published in early 2021, reversed a policy of reducing the country’s nuclear arsenal and raised its planned ceiling for nuclear weapons from 180 to 260.
  • China is in the middle of a significant modernization and expansion of its nuclear weapon inventory, and India and Pakistan also appear to be expanding their nuclear arsenals.
  • North Korea continues to enhance its military nuclear programme as a central element of its national security strategy. While it conducted no nuclear test explosions or long-range ballistic missile tests during 2020, it continued production of fissile material and development of short- and long-range ballistic missiles.

-Source: The Hindu


India, Israel in talks for free trade agreement

Context:

India is in dialogue with Israel for concluding a Free Trade Agreement (FTA) according to Commerce and Industry Minister.

Relevance:

GS-II: International Relations, GS-III: Indian Economy

Dimensions of the Article:

  1. Trade relations between India and Israel
  2. Free Trade Agreement (FTA) between India and Israel
  3. Way Forward for FTA talks between Israel and India
  4. Back to basics: History of India–Israel relations
  5. Bilateral Cooperation on defence between India and Israel

Trade relations between India and Israel

  • India was the third-largest Asian trade partner of Israel in 2014.
  • Israeli companies have invested in India in energy, renewable energy, telecom, real estate, water technologies, and are focusing on setting up R&D centers or production units in India.
  • Trade in diamonds constitutes close to 40% of bilateral trade.
  • The first recipients of grants from the Israel-India Industrial R&D and Technological Innovation Fund (I4F) [to help Israeli entrepreneurs enter the Indian market] were announced in July 2018, including companies working to better the lives of Indians and Israelis through efficient water use, improving communications infrastructure, solar energy use, and life-changing surgeries.

Free Trade Agreement (FTA) between India and Israel

  • Discussions regarding FTA have been going on between India and Israel for more than a decade.
  • First round of negotiation was held in 2010 and several rounds of attempts to negotiate have taken place since then – however, talks have lapsed over a number of issues, including Israel’s reluctance to include an agreement on services in trade.
  • During the last round of talks in 2021, both sides explored the possibility of a Preferential Trade Agreement for about 200 goods – which had also not been concluded.
  • The latest effort for an FTA with Israel comes on the back of the government’s recent drive to resume a number of trade negotiations – such as the push to resume talks with the U.K., Australia and the European Union.
  • The FTA, if agreed upon, will open the Israeli market for Indian businesses in a more favourable way.

Way Forward for FTA talks between Israel and India

  • The two sides must expedite talks on trade and investment in an effort to take bilateral ties to the next level.
  • A Free Trade Agreement (FTA) as well as a Bilateral Investment Treaty (BIT) at the “earliest” would forge greater business-to-business ties.
  • Indian and Israeli innovation ecosystems together can create a global impact.
  • It will scale up India’s manufacturing sectors and also bring greater partnership in new R&D projects in India in areas like digital healthcare, agriculture and water.

Back to basics: History of India–Israel relations

  • India and the State of Israel have an extensive economic, military, and strategic relationship.
  • India’s position on the establishment of the State of Israel was affected by many factors, including India’s own partition on religious lines, and India’s relationship with other nations.
  • Indian independence leader Mahatma Gandhi believed the Jews had a good case and a prior claim for Israel, but opposed the creation of Israel on religious or mandated terms. Gandhi believed that the Arabs were the rightful occupants of Palestine, and was of the view that the Jews should return to their countries of origin.
  • Albert Einstein wrote a four-page letter to Jawaharlal Nehru in 1947, to persuade India to support the setting up of a Jewish state. (Einstein’s request was not accepted).
  • India voted against the Partitioning of Palestine plan of 1947 and voted against Israel’s admission to the United Nations in 1949.
  • It was only in 1950, that India officially recognised the State of Israel.

Bilateral Cooperation on defence between India and Israel

  • The strategic cooperation between the two countries began during the Sino-India War of 1962 and improved when Israel supplied M-58 160-mm mortar ammunition to India in the war against Pakistan in 1965.
  • Israel was also one of the few countries that chose not to condemn India’s Pokhran nuclear tests in 1998.
  • India is the largest buyer of Israeli military equipment and Israel is the second-largest supplier of military equipment to India after Russia.
  • Israel has been among the top four arms suppliers to India for almost two decades now, notching military sales worth around USD 1 billion every year.
  • The Indian armed forces have inducted a wide array of Israeli weapon systems over the years, which range from Phalcon AWACS (airborne warning and control systems) and Heron, Searcher-II and Harop drones to Barak anti-missile defence systems and Spyder quick-reaction anti-aircraft missile systems.
  • Military and strategic ties between the two nations extend to intelligence-sharing on terrorist groups and joint military training.

-Source: The Hindu


Kaziranga elevated corridor plan

Context:

The Assam government is awaiting the Centre’s clearance for an elevated road over nine corridors used by the animals of the Kaziranga National Park and Tiger Reserve usually during high floods.

Relevance:

GS-III: Environment and Ecology

Dimensions of the Article:

  1. About the impact of Roads on Wildlife
  2. Possible Solution: Eco Bridges

About the impact of Roads on Wildlife

  • The impact of road developments on biodiversity has become one of the central environmental issues when planning for road infrastructure as India’s protected areas have increasingly come under pressure from an ever-increasing infrastructure network —161 wild animals were killed in road or train accidents in 2018.
  • Linear infrastructures like roads and railways potentially fragment the habitat of wild animals and act as epicentres of fatal accidents for innumerable wild species, small and big.

How does it affect animals?

  • The impact of road developments on biodiversity has become one of the central environmental issues when planning for road infrastructure.
  • Wild animals are vulnerable to vehicular traffic passing through forests, especially at night when, blinded by bright headlights, even swift species like cats freeze.
  • Over time, as animals learn to avoid roads, busy multilane highways become barriers that hinder wildlife movement, fragment populations, and restrict gene flow.
  • By blocking access to potential habitats, roads, railway lines and irrigation canals act as a major contributor to habitat loss.

Possible Solution: Eco Bridges

  • Eco Bridges are wildlife corridors also known as wildlife crossing that are a link of wildlife habitat which connects two larger areas of similar wildlife habitat.
  • Eco Bridges aims at enhancing wildlife connectivity. It connects wildlife populations that would otherwise be separated by human activities or structures such as roads and highways, other infrastructure development, or logging and farming, etc.
  • These are made up of native vegetation i.e., it is overlaid with planting from the area to give a contiguous look with the landscape.
  • Eco-bridges include underpass tunnels, viaducts, and overpasses (mainly for large or herd-type animals); amphibian tunnels; fish ladders; Canopy bridge (especially for monkeys and squirrels), tunnels and culverts (for small mammals such as otters, hedgehogs, and badgers); green roofs (for butterflies and birds).
  • The two main aspects considered in building the eco bridges are size and location. These bridges should be built based on the animals’ movement pattern.

Why eco-bridges matter?

  • They enhance wildlife connectivity that can be disrupted because of highways or logging.
  • Many road projects cut across animal corridors. For example, National Highway 37 through the Kaziranga-Karbi Anglong landscape in Assam, and State Highway 33 through the Nagarhole Tiger Reserve in Karnataka.

-Source: The Hindu

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