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Current Affairs – 17 November 2021

S-400 Purchase & Implications

Indian Express

GS 2: International Relations

GS 3: Defence and Security

Context:

  • Delivery of the S-400 air defence system, five of which were bought by India from Russia in 2018 for nearly US$5.5 billion, has begun, and is going on as per schedule.

About:

  • The first unit is expected to be operational by the end of the year. The acquisition has the potential to cause a diplomatic rupture between the US and India when the two countries are on a path to a tighter relationship.

What is S-400?

  • It is considered one of the most advanced and potent air defence systems in the world, S-400 Triumf has the capability to protect against almost all sorts of aerial attacks, including drones, missiles, rockets and even fighter jets.
  • The system, intended to act as a shield over a particular area, is a long-range surface-to-air missile system.
  • S-400 can engage intruding aircraft, unmanned aerial vehicles, cruise missiles, and ballistic missiles.
  • It has “surfaced as an anti-access/area denial (A2/AD) asset designed to protect military, political, and economic assets from aerial attacks”.
  • Each unit has two batteries, each of which has a command-and-control system, a surveillance radar, and engagement radar and four lunch trucks.
  • Russia has been developing S-400 since 1993. Testing began in 1999- 2000 and Russia deployed it in 2007.
  • China was the first foreign buyer to make a government-to-government deal with Russia in 2014, while Saudi Arabia, Turkey, India and Belarus have all acquired, or expressed interest, in the system since.
  • In 2017, the S-400 was described by The Economist as “one of the best air-defence systems currently made” and an official of Stockholm International Peace Research Institute (SIPRI) said it “is among the most advanced air defense systems available”.
  • Max. target speed: 4.8 km/s (17,000 km/h; 11,000 mph; Mach 14)
  • Operational range: 40 Km to 400 Km

How does it work?

  • S-400 detects an aerial threat approaching the air defence bubble (the area it has to protect), calculates the trajectory of the threat, and fires missiles to counter it.
  • It has long-range surveillance radars that sends information to the command vehicle. On identifying the target, the command vehicle orders a missile launch.

Why has India bought them?

  • To protect against attacks by missiles, or fighter jets from China or Pakistan.
  • A report in February by the think tank Observer Research Foundation mentioned that from the perspective of the Indian Air Force, “there is no alternative system capable of serving its long-range air defence requirements, from the standpoint of either capability or cost”.
  • The S-400 can “constrain the adversary’s air operations even within their own airspace” a capability “unmatched by typical Western systems offered up as analogues”.
  • From India’s point of view, China is also buying the system. In 2015, China signed an agreement with Russia to purchase six battalions of the system. Its delivery began in January 2018.

 

Internet Shutdowns

The Hindu

GS 2: Government Policies and Interventions

Context:

  • The parliamentary standing committee on information and technology pressed for a detailed study on the economic impact owing to frequent and prolonged Internet shutdowns.
  • There were no verifiable, centralised records of Internet shutdowns in the country. Neither the Ministry of Home Affairs nor the Department of Telecom maintain such a record.

About:

  • India topped the list of countries that resorted to government imposed Internet clampdown.
  • In absence of the database there was no mechanism to review whether the Internet clampdowns followed the laid down rules or the Supreme Court guidelines.
  • It is equally revealing, the committee noted, there were no coherent rules dictating these shutdowns.
  • On the grounds of maintaining “public safety” or in a scenario of “public emergency” the State governments have the right to impose an Internet clampdown.
  • But the report pointed out that “public safety” and “public emergencies” were not clearly defined. The Net shutdowns have been reduced as a “routine policing and administrative tool”.
  • The Temporary Suspension of Telecom Services (Public Emergency or Public Safety) Rules, 2017 under the Indian Telegraph Act contains the procedure to restrict internet access.
  • The Rules empowers the central and state governments to suspend internet services during public emergencies or for protecting the public interest.
  • However, this provision has been frequently used in India. In the past 4 years, India has witnessed more than 400 internet shutdowns throughout the country. Which is the highest compared to any democracy in the world.
  • For instance, after the abrogation of Article 370, J&K witnessed the longest Internet shutdown across the world.
  • The committee stated that there should be a “standard operating procedure” in place to review from time to time a shutdown and it could not go on indefinitely.

Percolating effect:

  • The report noted that the absence of Internet and regular telecom services also had a percolating effect.
  • The Cellular Operators Association, in their submission to the committee, said that every hour of Internet/telecom shutdown cost them Rs. 25 million in every circle area.
  • Apart from this, trade, which is now heavily dependent on Internet banking, also was strongly hit.
  • Lack of internet connectivity or digital illiteracy will force many citizens to be excluded from social and economic systems.
  • It will cut off the most vulnerable i.e. the elderly, and pregnant women, from accessing vital digital health services, health and welfare alerts.
  • It denies access to learning for students as most of the classes are shifting online to maintain physical distancing norms.
  • On January 10, 2020, the Supreme Court declared that freedom of speech and expression and freedom to practice any profession over the medium of Internet enjoyed constitutional protection under Article 19(1)(a) and Article 19(1)(g).

Way forward:

  • The committee recommended that there should be an in-depth study on the economic fallout of this.
  • The importance of the Internet, the committee stressed, could not be overemphasised. There is need to maintain a delicate balance between the citizen’s right to access the Internet and the State’s duty to deal with a public emergency.
  • Internet bans should be used as a last resort and must be enforced following well-formulated protocols.
  • Emergency response and relief systems for the vulnerable should be planned in advance before enforcing internet shutdowns.
  • The government should focus on balancing civil liberties with security concerns. For that modern, independent institutions having expertise in this domain, can be created.

 

 

Constitutional Courts can’t Interfere with Temple Rituals

The Hindu

GS 2: Polity

Context:

  • Recently, a writ petition was filed alleging that rituals were not being performed as per traditions at the famous Tirumala Tirupati temple and complained about the procedure for darshan.
  • Supreme Court could not interfere with the daily conduct of rituals in a temple on the basis of a writ petition.

About:

  • The Supreme Court said constitutional courts could not interfere with day-to-day rituals and sevas performed in temples on the basis of “public interest” petitions.
  • Religious scholars and priests were best equipped to go into the question whether rituals in a temple were being conducted in accordance with customs and traditions.
  • The writ jurisdiction of a constitutional court under Articles 226 and 32 was limited.

  • Whether a particular ritual was being performed in the right way or not was a “disputed question of fact”. At most, it could be a subject for filing a civil suit in a subordinate court.
  • The court, at the most, it could ask the temple administration to clarify in case devotees complain about discrimination or of not allowing darshan while taking into consideration the current public health crisis.

 

Russian ASAT Test

The Hindu

GS 3: Nuclear Technology, Space Technology

Context:

  • Russia has carried out a Direct-Ascent Anti-Satellite (DA-ASAT) test by shooting down an old Soviet Tselina-D SIGINT satellite (Kosmos-1408) which has created a huge debris in the low earth orbit, according to the S. space command.

What is the test and its significance?

  • Kosmos-1408 which was launched in 1982 and had been dead for a long time.
  • The test so far has generated more than 1,500 pieces of trackable orbital debris and will likely generate hundreds of thousands of pieces of smaller orbital debris.
  • While Russia has previously tested ASAT weapons, the DA-ASAT is more advanced and similar to the ones the US has in its inventory.
  • ASAT weapon gives the capability to destroy satellites in orbit disrupting the communications and surveillance capabilities of adversaries.
  • Only a handful of countries have successfully demonstrated ASAT capability – China, India, Russia and U.S.

Concerns:

  • It risks astronauts’ lives, the integrity of the International Space Station, and the interests of all nations.
  • The debris created by Russia’s DA-ASAT will continue to pose a threat to activities in outer space for years to come, putting satellites and space missions at risk, as well as forcing more collision avoidance maneuvers.
  • Debris will remain in orbit for years and potentially for decades, posing a significant risk to the crew on the International Space Station and other human spaceflight activities, as well as multiple countries’ satellites.