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Daily Current affairs 25 DECEMBER 2018

UPSC - Daily Current Affair

New Horizon hurtles toward historic flyby

The News 

  • New Horizon’, NASA’s space mission to Pluto and Kuiper Belt Object will flyby past the farthest planetary body called ‘Ultima Thule’ meaning ‘beyond the known world’.

 

Key Highlights

  • New Horizons spacecraft is currently at a distance of 6.4 billion km from the sun and is all set to fly past Ultima Thule, rocky planetesimal in the Kuiper belt, on January 1st 2019.
  • Ultima Thule is located in the Kuiper belt in the outermost regions of the Solar System, beyond the orbit of Neptune.
  • This is the most distant planetary flyby that has been attempted so far.
  • Ultima Thule belongs to a class of Kuiper belt objects called the "cold classicals".
  • It is called "Cold classicals" because of the circular uninclined orbits of these objects.
  • Further the Cold Classicals appear to be gravitationally unperturbed and original material of the Kuiper belt.
  • Thus it will be the most primitive planetary object explored so far.

 

Background

About New Horizon

  • New Horizons is NASA’s space mission to Pluto and Kuiper Belt Objects.
  • New Horizons has revolutionized our understanding of most remote members of the solar system.
  • Launched in 2006, it went past Pluto and Charon in 2015.
  • It is also the first mission to explore the solar system's "third zone," the region beyond the giant planets called the Kuiper Belt.

 

 

 

About Kuiper Belt Objects

  • Kuiper belt extends from about 30 to 50 AU (Astronomical Unit, 1 AU= distance between Sun and Earth) from the Sun
  • When the solar system was young, a large number of icy planetesimals formed in the region beyond Jupiter.
  • The gravitational forces of the massive Jovian planets pushed most of these planetesimals beyond Neptune’s orbit, concentrating them into a belt centered on the plane of the ecliptic called as Kuiper Belt.
  • The objects in the Kuiper Belt are called trans-Neptunian objects or Kuiper Belt Objects.
  • The objects within the Kuiper Belt are in orbits that are only slightly inclined to the ecliptic.
  • Thus they are gravitationally unperturbed and form the most primitive objects from the beginning of the formation of the solar system.
  • Further most of the comets have their origin in Kuiper belt.
  • Thus Kuiper Belt is a scientifically rich frontier which has important implications for better understanding of comets, small planets, the solar system as a whole, the solar nebula etc.
  • It's a laboratory for studying well-preserved primitive material from the planet formation era 4.5 billion years ago.

 

 

 

 

 

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Section : Science & Tech

 

Centre wants fake news traced

The News

  • The government has sought public comments on the proposed amendments to the Information Technology (IT) Act, 2000.

 

Background

  • The government’s push to curb fake news on social media platforms comes in the wake of more than 31 killings across India this year in mob lynchings, fuelled by rumours circulating on WhatsApp.
  • The government considers that social media has brought new challenges for the law enforcement agencies, including inducement for recruitment of terrorists, circulation of obscene content, spread of disharmony and incitement to violence
  • The Centre had been asking WhatsApp to help identify originator of fake news. However, the social media company had resisted the demand.
  • In this regard, the government resolved to strengthen the legal framework and make the social media platforms accountable under law.
  • Hence, the IT Ministry prepared the draft amendments to the Information Technology (IT) Act, 2000 to replace the rules notified in 2011.

 

Highlights of the news

  • The government on 24th December, 2018 placed the proposed amendments to the Information Technology (IT) Act, 2000 in public and sought comments on that.
  • MeitY has sought comments from stakeholders by January 15, 2019.
  • Following fears of “surveillance and censorship” with the proposed norms, the government clarified that it does not regulate content appearing on social network platforms.

 

Features of the draft ‘The Information Technology [Intermediaries Guidelines (Amendment) Rules] 2018’ -

  • The proposed rules state that intermediaries should within 72 hours, provide information or assistance asked for by any government agency “or assistance concerning security of the State or cyber security; or investigation or detection or prosecution or prevention of offence(s); protective or cyber security and matters connected with or incidental thereto.”
  • It seeks to make it mandatory for platforms such as WhatsApp, Facebook and Twitter to trace “originator” of “unlawful” information.
  • The intermediary after being notified by the appropriate authority should remove or disable access to unlawful content within 24 hours without vitiating the evidence in any manner in the interests of:
    • The sovereignty and integrity of India
    • The security of the State
    • Friendly relations with foreign States
    • Public order
    • Decency or morality
    • In relation to contempt of court
    • Defamation or incitement to an offence
  • The intermediary is also expected to preserve such information and associated records for at least 180 days for investigation purposes as against 90 days now.
  • The Centre’s draft SOP also include:
    • Setting up of proactive monitoring tools for auto deletion of unlawful content.
    • Deployment of trusted flaggers for identifying and deletion of unlawful content.
    • Setting up of a 24/7 mechanism for requisitions of law enforcement agencies.
    • Appointment of India-based contact officers.

 

Sensitivity of such platforms

  • WhatsApp has more than 200 Mn users in India and such platforms retain minimal user data for electronic information exchange and also deploy end-to-end encryption to provide reliability, security and privacy to users.
  • These are used by millions of Indians to prevent identity theft, code injection attacks.
  • People rely on WhatsAppor other such platforms for all kinds of “sensitive conversations”, including with their doctors, banks, and families.

 

Criticism of the draft rules

  • The move has evoked strong criticism from social activists who say that “freedom of speech” will be hampered in the online space.
  • It is alleged that the move to trace people will force messaging apps to stop encrypting messages, endangering privacy of their users and increasing the possibility of hackers snooping on them.
  • Internet Freedom Foundation (IFF), formed by a group of volunteers to defend online freedom, criticized saying that these amendments “rather than checking misinformation will introduce a China model of censorship” in the country.
  • Building traceability on such sensitive platforms would undermine end-to-end encryption and the private nature of WhatsApp, creating the potential for serious misuse.

 

Way forward

  • It is suggested that our focus should be on working closely with citizens in India to educate people about misinformation and help keep people safe.
  • The law enforcement agencies in India along with social media platforms can create public awareness campaigns to prevent misuse of such apps.
  • Moreover, if such regulations are to be brought in, a law for data protection on the lines of Justice BN Srikrishnacommittee recommendations should be a pre-requisite.

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Section : Polity & Governance

 

Chabahar port: India, Afghanistan, Iran agree on routes for trade, transit corridors

The News

  • Recently, a crucial trilateral meeting of officials from India, Afghanistan and Iran on the strategically-important Chabahar port was held during which they agreed on the routes for trade and transit corridors between the three countries.

 

About Chahabar Agreement

  • Iran's Chabahar port is located on the Gulf of Oman and is the only oceanic port of the country.
  • The port gives access to the energy-rich Persian Gulf nations' southern coast and India can bypass Pakistan with the Chabahar port becoming functional. Also, it is the only Iranian port with direct access to the ocean.
  • In May 2016, India, Iran and Afghanistan inked a pact which entailed establishment of Transit and Transport Corridor among the three countries using Chabahar Port as one of the regional hubs for sea transportation.
  • The Chabahar Port is considered a gateway to golden opportunities for trade by India, Iran and Afghanistan with central Asian countries besides ramping up trade among the three countries after Pakistan denied transit access to India.

 

 

 

Background: Coordination Council of the Chabahar Agreement

  • The first trilateral meeting between India, Afghanistan and Iran of the Coordination Council of the Chabahar Agreement took place in October, 2018 in Tehran.
  • Detailed discussions were held between the three sides on full operationalisation of the trilateral Agreement for international transit and transport through Chabahar Port.
  • All sides shared the view that full operationalisation of trilateral Chabahar initiative will promote connectivity and economic development of Afghanistan and the region.
  • It was decided to constitute a follow-up committee that would hold its first meeting within two months in Chabahar Port, Iran.
  • It would discuss and aim to finalise protocol to harmonise transit, roads, customs, consular matters that was shared by the Indian side at the meeting for making the route attractive, decrease logistic costs and pave the way for smooth implementation of the Trilateral Chabahar Agreement.

 

Key Highlights of the First Follow-up committee meeting

  • The first meeting of the follow-up committee for implementation of the trilateral Chabahar agreement between India, Afghanistan and Iran at the level of Joint Secretary or Director General was held in the Iranian port city of Chabahar.
  • They agreed on the routes for the trade and transit corridors between the three countries.
  • It was agreed to finalise at the earliest the Protocol to harmonize transit, roads, customs, and consular matters.
  • A study would also be initiated for determining measures to make the route attractive, decrease logistic costs and pave the way for smooth operationalisation of the Chabahar Agreement.
  • During the meeting, it was agreed to allow cargo movement at Chabahar using Transports Internationaux Routiers Convention provisions.
  • The next Follow-up Committee meeting, followed by the second Coordination Council Meeting at the level of secretaries or deputy ministers, will held in India.

 

Significance of the Chabahar port:

  • India gets sea-land access route to Afghanistan bypassing Pakistan which will open opportunities for Indian companies to explore Afghanistan’s mineral wealth.
  • Chabahar would be essential for any large-scale assistance from India to Afghanistan.
  • It would provide a major impetus to Afghanistan’s economic reconstruction efforts.The Chabahar port can spur unhindered flow of commerce throughout the region and its economic fruits will expand trade, attract investment, build infrastructure, develop industry and create jobs.
  • Chabahar Port remains an important gateway for providing commercially viable access to the sea linking the Indian Ocean with Afghanistan, Central Asia and beyond.
  • From a diplomatic perspective, Chabahar port could be used as a point from where humanitarian operations could be coordinated.
  • The Zaranj-Delaram road constructed by India in 2009 can give access to Afghanistan's Garland Highway, setting up road access to four major cities in Afghanistan - Herat, Kandahar, Kabul and Mazar-e-Sharif.
  • Afghanistan can also use the Port to ship its goods to markets like India, thereby reducing its dependence on Pakistan and its Karachi port.

 

 

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Section : International Relation

 

Bogibeel: from ‘small’ to big

Why in news?

  • Prime Minister Narendra Modi will inaugurate India's longest rail-cum-road bridge - Bogibeel Bridge on the Brahmaputra in Assam today

 

About Bogibeel project

  • Bogibeel is India’s longest rail-cum-road bridge connecting Assam's Dibrugarh and Dhemaji districts, bordering Arunachal Pradesh.
  • This bridge will be the lifeline of the north eastern part of the country and will facilitate connectivity between Assam and Arunachal Pradesh.
  • The bridge has been constructed by the railways.
  • It is 4.94 km long and 32 metres above the water level of the Brahmaputra.
  • In India’s North-East, it is the country’s longest rail-cum-road bridge and it will be the second largest bridge in Asia.
  • The Bogibeel bridge comprises of two railway lines and a three lane road bridge on top. 
  • The project also includes the development of a trans-Arunachal highway on the north bank of the Brahmaputra and new road and rail links over the mighty river and its major tributaries.
  • The bridge is India's only fully welded bridge and 80 thousand tonnes of steel plates have been used.
  • The iconic Bogibeel bridge is an architectural wonder and looks even more impressive as it spreads over the mighty Brahmaputra river.

 

 

 

Note:

  • Bogibeel is the fourth bridge across river Brahmaputra to ease the pressure on the 4,258-ft Saraighat Bridge on the western edge of Guwahati.
  • Until the Saraighat was built in 1962, the Brahmaputra was the only river in India that had not been bridged along its entire length from delta to foothills either for road or railway.

 

Background

  • The first push for the bridge was from a citizen’s forum in eastern Assam’s Dibrugarh.
  • In June 1977, members of the forum submitted a memorandum to Prime Minister Morarji Desai demanding the construction of the bridge at Bogibeel, about 17 km downstream of the town.
  • But the bridge found no takers in New Delhi until it dramatically made its way into the Parliament less than two decades later.
  • Based on another memorandum seeking the construction a bridge connecting Dibrugarh and Dhemaji, five MPs of the Asom Gana Parishad (AGP) had a detailed project report prepared for Bogibeel soon after their election in 1996.
  • Later, Bogibeel was accommodated in the Prime Minister’s special package and Mr. Deve Gowda (then PM) laid its foundation stone at Dhemaji on January 22, 1997.
  • Work, though, started after another round of initiation ceremony by his successor Atal Bihari Vajpayee in April 2002.
  • But the bridge missed several deadlines. Its project’s cost hence shot from ₹1,767 crore to ₹5,920 crore.

 

When was the Bogibeel bridge commissioned?

  • The Bogibeel bridge project was a part of the 1985 Assam Accord and was sanctioned in 1997-98.
  • The foundation stone of the project was laid by then prime minister HD Deve Gouda on January 22, 1997, and commencement of work on the project was done by Atal Bihari Vajpayee on April 21, 2002.
  • In fact, the inauguration of the bridge coincides with the 94th birth anniversary of Vajpayee, who passed away in August 2018.

 

What led to the delay?

  • The project has missed several deadlines and has been a victim of political unwillingness and red tapes despite being granted a national project status in 2007.
  • Changes to bridge design, revisions in the scope of the work and construction technology has resulted in the project’s cost escalating from the initial estimate of Rs 1,767 crore to Rs 5,800 crore — more than threefold.
  • The challenge of building the bridge over a turbulent Brahmaputra river also added to the delay since most of the crucial work of the bridge could only happen during the November to March period.

 

Significance of the Bogibeel Project

  • Defence boost: The most significant beneficiary will be the Army and the bridge will help in quicker supply of logistical support from Assam to their posts at Kibithoo, Wallong, and Chaglagam on the Arunachal-China border.
  • Protection from weather: The structure of the bridge will protect it from harsh weather and also it has seismic restrainers that can withstand earthquake of 7 magnitude.
  • Connectivity:It will connect the North and South banks of river Brahmaputra in the Eastern region of Assam and Arunachal Pradesh. It will boost connectivity for around 50 lakh people residing in Upper Assam and Arunachal Pradesh.
  • Rail links:It will connect two existing railway networks, at the South bank of the river Brahmaputra, the railway link starts from Chalkhowa and Moranhat stations and joins in between the Sisibargaon and Siripani stations of Rangiya-Murkongselek section at North Bank of the river.
  • Road links:The bridge will also link two existing National Highways – NH-37 on the South Bank and NH-52 on the North Bank. Moreover, the remote districts of Anjaw, Changlang, Lohit, Lower Dibang Valley, Dibang Valley and Tirap of Arunachal Pradesh will also benefit.
  • Saving time and distance:It will help reduce the distance between Assam and Arunachal Pradesh by 600 km, which will save a lot of time both in terms of road and rail travel.
  • Fully welded structure: Bogibeel bridge is a 100% welded bridge, where technology from firms of Sweden and Denmark have been used for its construction, it has following advantages-
    • Fully welded structure is light and the fully welded girders mean reduction in the weight when compared to riveted girders.
    • Welding has made the connection between components a permanent one, which eliminates requirement of periodic replacement of bolts and rivets used in a normal steel bridge.
    • This will reduce wear and tear cost of the bridge.

 

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Section : Economics

 

Sniping like beheading, will avenge killings by Pakistan, say Army officials

The News

  • According to a senior official of the Indian Army, India should upgrade its sniping operations capabilities to effectively avenge ceasefire violations along LOC as well as its counter-terror operations.

 

Context

  • In 2018 India recorded the highest ceasefire violations, as many as 1,570, along the LOC since 2003
  • Recently two Army officers were killed in a sniping operation by Pakistani troops along the Line of Control in North Kashmir.
  • In this context a senior official of the Indian Army has expressed the need to upgrade our sniping operations capability to effectively avenge LOC ceasefire violations as well as counter-terror operations.

 

Background

  • Indian Army is the 3rd largest in the world with about 41000 officers and 11 lakh soldiers.
  • Further the Infantry is the largest arm of Indian Army with 4.6 lakh soldies.
  • In order to meet the shortages in its weaponry, the Defence Acquisition Council in February 2018, approved purchases of assault rifle, 17,000 light machine guns and 5,719 sniper rifles for the armed forces.
  • Currently the Indian infantry battalions use Russia’s Dragunov semi-automatic sniper rifles.
  • These 7.62 mm vintage sniper rifles have a limited effective kill range of 800-metre.
  • The new-generation SRS A-1sniper rifles to be acquired are 8.6mm rifles, with an enhanced effective kill range of 1200 meters.
  • The SRS A1 sniper rifles to be acquired are manufactured by Desert Tech of USA.
  • The maximum range of SRS A1 is about 1650 meters.

 

 

Importance of Sniper

  • Snipers are longer than assault rifles equipped with magnification and sight systems.
  • Snipers are more capable than assault rifles with the ability to hit a target at 600 meters with 90% accuracy.
  • Snipers are effective in reconnaissance operations and operations requiring camouflaging.
  • Snipers with the ability of killing high-value targets are effective in have a demoralizing effect on the rival troops.
  • With increasing hostilities by Pakistan along the Line of Control as well as China's aggressive posturing in several sectors along the 4,000-km-long Sino-India border, enhancing our sniper capability including better trained snipers in critical.

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Section : Defence & Security

 

A solution in search of a problem Editorial 25th Dec’18 TheHindu

Proposal for All India Judicial Service (AIJS):

  • The current federal structure in India vests the recruitment and appointment for the lower judiciary in the hands of State Governors, High Courts and State Public Service Commissions.
  • Recently, in its report ‘Strategy for New India@75’, the NITI Aayog mooted the creation of an All India Judicial Service (AIJS) for making appointments to the lower judiciary.
  • Similar proposals were made by the Union Law Minister.

Reasons cited:

  • Fixing a broken system: Those in favour of AIJS say that the current system is broken and inefficient and the creation of the AIJS and a centralised recruitment process will help the lower judicial services.
  • To Maintain high standards: The appointments are proposed to be done through an all India judicial services examination conducted by the Union Public Service Commission (UPSC) in order to maintain “high standards” in the judiciary.
  • Faster filling of vacancies: The proposal is being mooted as a solution to the problems of vacancies in the lower judiciary and a lack of representation in the judiciary from marginalised communities.
  • Representation to marginalized communities: Another argument in support of the AIJS is that its creation, along with provisions of reservations for the marginalised communities and women, will lead to a better represented lower judiciary.

 

Constitutional provisions regarding appointments to lower judiciary:

  • As originally enacted, Articles 233 and 234 of the Constitution vested all powers of recruitment and appointment of lower judiciary (district judges and lower) with the State Public Service Commission and High Courts.

Superceding Art 233 and Art 234 through Art 312:

  • During the Emergency, Parliament amended Article 312 of the Constitution to allow for the Rajya Sabha to pass a resolution, by two-thirds majority, in order to kick-start the process of creating an all India judicial service for the posts of district judge.
  • Once the resolution is passed, Parliament can amend Articles 233 and 234 through a simple law (passed by a simple majority), which law will strip States of their appointment powers.
  • This is unlike a constitutional amendment under Article 368 that would have required ratification by State legislatures.

 

Some say AIJS is not the solution

  • Some say that the AIJS is not a solution to these problems and that the government should reconsider its stance over AIJS.
  • They say that the problem of vacancies is not what it is actually made out to be, and that the centralisation  of recruitment is not the solution.

Reasons:

  1. Problem of vacancies is not uniform across India:
  • Going by the latest figures published by the Supreme Court, many States are doing a very efficient job when it comes to recruiting lower court judges.
  • In Maharashtra, of the 2,280 sanctioned posts, only 64 were vacant. In West Bengal, of the 1,013 sanctioned posts, only 80 were vacant.
  • However, there are States such as Uttar Pradesh where the situation is shocking. Of the 3,204 sanctioned posts, 1,348 are vacant, i.e. 42% vacancies.
  • Solution could be to put pressure on poorly performing states:
    • These numbers show that the problem of vacancies is not uniform across different States.
    • The solution is to pressure poorly performing States into performing more efficiently.
  1. Centralization of recruitment is not a solution:
  • The argument that the centralisation of recruitment processes through the UPSC automatically leads to a more efficient recruitment process may be flawed and not a guarantee of a solution.
  • Examples of vacancies even in centralized recruitment:
    • The Indian Administrative Service — its recruitments are through the UPSC — reportedly has a vacancy rate of 22%.
    • Similarly, the Indian Army’s officer cadre, also under a centralised recruitment mechanism, is short of nearly 7,298 officers.
  1. Not a solution to improve representation in the judiciary from marginalised communities:
  • Will the creation of an AIJS lead to more representation from marginalised communities and women?
  • Many states already provide reservations:
    • The fact is that several States already provide for reservations in their lower judicial service.
    • For example, at least 12 States, which include Madhya Pradesh, Chhattisgarh, Uttar Pradesh, Rajasthan and Kerala, provide for caste-based reservation in the direct recruitment examination for district judges from the bar.
    • Karnataka also recognises two additional categories of reservation within caste-based reservation — for those from a rural background and those from Kannada medium backgrounds.
      • Karnataka is an example of how States are best suited to assess the level of intersectional disadvantage of various communities residing in the State.
  • States often provide wider representation that Centre:
    • States like U.P., Karnataka, Rajasthan and Chhattisgarh provide women with special reservations.
    • Unlike States, the Centre almost never provides reservation for women in the all India services.
  • Central recruitment will favour nationally dominant SC, ST and OBC groups:
    • On the issue of caste, an AIJS may provide for SC/ST reservation along with reservation for the Other Backward Classes (OBC).
    • However, it should be noted that a recent Supreme Court ruling has held that SC/STs can avail the benefit of reservation in State government jobs only in their home States and not when they have migrated.  The same principle is usually followed even for OBC reservations.
    • Thus, instituting an AIJS would mean that nationally dominant SC, ST and OBC groups would be at an advantage as they can compete for posts across the country, which they would otherwise be disqualified from because of the domicile requirement.

 

Importance:

GS Paper II: Polity

 

Relevant question:

Critially analayze if the proposal for a centralised judicial recruitment process through All India Judicial Service will help solve the problems related to recruitment and representation in the lower judiciary.

 

Section : Editorial Analysis