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Current Affairs – 30 December 2020

PREVENTING FINANCING OF PROLIFERATION OF WEAPONS OF MASS DESTRUCTION

In News

  • The Turkish parliament passed a bill called “Preventing Financing of Proliferation of Weapons of Mass Destruction” that would increase the monitoring of civil society groups in order to comply with UN Security Council’s recommendations to keep terror financing and money laundering in check.

About Bill

  • The Bill has come following the 2019 report on Turkey prepared by the intergovernmental body Financial Action Task Force (FATF) meant to fight money laundering and terror financing.
  • The bill consists of 43 articles and has made changes to seven laws on Turkey’s Law of Associations and is meant to keep Turkey from being blacklisted by the Paris-based watchdog of terror financing.
Arguments in favour Arguments in against
It gives the Turkish government the power to appoint trustees to NGOs, to suspend their activities, seize their assets and monitor their sources of funding. This move is seen as a way to crackdown on dissidents where civil society is already not very free.

 

‘DIGITAL OCEAN’

In News

  • Union Ministry for Science and Technology launched the ‘Digital Ocean’ platform of Indian National Centre for Oceanic Information Services (INCOIS) as a one stop-solution for all data related needs of a wide range of users, including research institutions, operational agencies, strategic users, academic community, maritime industry, and the public.

Significance

  • This first of its kind platform is expected to bring a sea-change in how the oceanographic data with geospatial technology is served for a better understanding of oceans surrounding us.
  • It will play a central role in sustainable management of our oceans and expanding our ‘Blue Economy’ initiatives.
  • It will facilitate an online interactive web-based environment for data integration, 3D and 4D data visualization, data analysis to assess the evolution of oceanographic features obtained from multiple sources like on site monitoring devices, remote sensing and model data.
INCOIS

  • It provides ocean information and advisory services to various stakeholders in the country, including Potential Fishing Zone (PFZ) advisories, Ocean State Forecast (OSF), high wave alerts, tsunami early warnings, storm surge and oil-spill advisories, among others., using state-of-the-art technologies and tools to get real time information on oceanographic and marine meteorological data.
  • The institute has been serving as the National Argo Data Centre and Regional Argo Data Centre of the International Argo Programme.

 

KOLAR LEAF-NOSED BAT

In News

  • Kolar Leaf-Nosed Bat became locally extinct in one of the two Kolar caves. Several years ago, it was found in only two Kolar caves in Karnataka.

Importance of Bats

  • Bats are one of the least studied mammals in the country, though there are 130 species in India.
  • They are very adaptable creatures and can often be found near human habitation or even in urban settlements, which makes them vulnerable.
  • They are absolutely vital for the ecology as they are pollinators, their main diet being nectar. The plants that bloom at night are entirely dependent on bats and moths for pollination.
  • Bats also help in insect control and therefore, help in the protection of crops.
  • There are five species of bats that live in the caves of Hanumanahalli, of which the Kolar Leaf-Nosed Bat is just one. According to recent estimates, there are just 150 Kolar Leaf-Nosed Bats left in these caves.

Steps taken

  • The Bat is exclusive to Karnataka and now the area has been notified, any development work including construction of new infrastructure, will need the permission of the National Board for Wildlife.
  • The Bat Conservation Society, which has been entrusted with drawing up a conservation plan, has also been awarded a grant to conduct further research on this species of bats.
  • In 2014, after a study conducted by Osmania University, that the state government immediately notified the 30 acres around the caves as protected area.

 

ELECTORAL BOND SCHEME OF 2018

In News

  • The Central Information Commission (CIC), statutory body for the implementation for the Right to Information Act (RTI), ruled that the disclosure of identity of Electoral Bond Scheme of 2018 donors will not serve any larger public interest and will violate provisions of the Act itself.

Issue

  • According to CIC, disclosure of names of donors and the donees may be in contravention of provisions contained in Section 8 (1) (e) (j) of the RTI Act itself, which exempt a public authority to give a citizen information available to a person in his fiduciary relationship, unless the competent authority is satisfied that the larger public interest warrant the disclosure of such information.
    • On the other hand, Section 8(2) directs that when public interest outweighs any harm to protected interests, the information sought for may be accessed. This Section begins with a non obstante clause. Therefore, it overrides the grounds erroneously relied upon by the CIC.
  • The public interest in the present matter is undisputable. In an earlier order, the CIC deemed political parties to be public authorities under the RTI Act. The funds received by political parties from donors would naturally be of interest to voters in order to understand their financing and functioning.Donations by corporate entities would also be of interest to their shareholders and potential shareholders.
  • Failure of the CIC is one of high public importance and resorting to technical objections defeats the objects of the RTI Act itself.
  • According to citizen groups, information of donors must be disclosed in the interest of transparency, accountability and efficient functioning of central investigating agencies.
  • Scheme is not transparent, promotes arbitrariness, illegal, and promotes the circulation of black money, money laundering, cross-border counterfeiting and forgery.
  • The scheme facilitates undisclosed quid pro quo arrangements between donors, who are likely to be corporates, and political parties. Such an arrangement goes against best practices of electoral democracy and is repugnant to the freedom of speech and expression.
  • In People’s Union for Civil Liberties v. Union of India (2003), the Supreme Court also held that the freedom of speech and expression also contained the fundamental right of a voter to secure information about the candidates who are contesting the election.

Conclusion

  • An unsettled law is as dangerous as bad law. The Court must conclusively settle the questions around the constitutionality of electoral bonds.

 

CLIMATE POLICY

In News

  • India will meet its Paris Agreement target for 2030. Its per capita emissions are one-third of the global average and it will remain within its share of ecological space.
  • So, 2021 will be the year for a new global climate policy and India has the soft power to bring together the high and low emitters.

About

  • In an urbanised world, two-third of emissions arises from the demand of the middle class for infrastructure, mobility, buildings and diet.
  • Well-being in cities is reflected in saturation levels of:
    • Infrastructure with consumption (not production)
    • Driving growth
    • High urban per capita emissions.
  • Infrastructure worldwide has used half of total materials,mainly construction, cement and steel, which have no substitute, and will need half of the available carbon space before comparable levels of infrastructure are reached globally around 2050.
  • This saturation of construction has been achieved, with related high levels of well being, hence, peaking of emissions comes some 2030 years after.
  • India was justifiably cautious at the Climate Action Summit and avoided commitments to cap emissions.
  • Inequity is built into the climate treaty, which considers total emissions, size, and population, making India the fourth largest emitter, even though, according to the United Nations (UN), the richest 1% of the global population emits more than two times the emissions of the bottom 50%. Clearly, net zero or carbon neutrality by 2050, and the cap on emissions it implies, applies only to countries with high per capita emissions, GDP and well being.
  • Hence, Industrialisation and urbanisation are not the problem ‘per se’; the problem is the way they were designed in the colonial context: keeping commodity prices low, overly resource-intensive, defining progress as material abundance, and assuming that technology would solve the ecological problem.

Steps to be taken

  • The focus on physical quantities indicates effects on nature whereas solutions require analysis of drivers, trends and patterns of resource use. This anomaly explains why the link between well-being, energy use and emissions is not on the global agenda.
  • New thinking is the need of an hour and it must enable politics to acknowledge transformational social goals and the material boundaries of economic activity altogether.
  • Modifying unsustainable patterns of natural resource use and ensuring comparable levels of well-being are societal transformations and interlink with international cooperation is a must to serve sustainable development.
  • India must highlight its unique national circumstances. For example, the meat industry, especially beef, contributes to one-third of global emissions.
  • Transport emissions account for a quarter of global emissions. They are the fastest growing emissions worldwide and have surpassed emissions from generation of electricity in the U.S. Transport emissions are the symbol of Western civilisation and are not on the global agenda.
  • Coal accounts for a quarter of energy use. It powered colonialism. Rising Asia uses three quarters as coal drives industry and supports the renewable energy push into cities.
  • India, with abundant reserves and per capita electricity use that is one-tenth that of the U.S., is under pressure to stop using coal, even as it aims to shift to electric vehicles and eliminate oil instead.

Way Ahead

  • In each sustainability benchmark like housing size and density, public bicycle transport and eliminating food waste, India is doing better. The rising prosperity of the world’s poor does not endanger the planet; the challenge is to change wasteful behaviour in the West, and these changes occur at decadal scales.
  • India has the credibility and legitimacy to push an alternate 2050 goal for countries currently with per capita emissions below the global average — for example, the goal of well being within ecological limits, the frame of the Sustainable Development Goals, as well as multilateral technological knowledge cooperation around electric vehicles, energy efficiency, building insulation and a less wasteful diet.
  • Emissions are the symptom, not the cause of the problem. India, in the UN Security Council, must push new ideas based on its civilizational and longstanding alternate values for the transition to sustainability.

 

DEDICATED FREIGHT CORRIDOR

In News

  • Recently, Indian Prime Minister inaugurated a 351-km section between Khurja (12th stop after Sohnewal in the North) and New Bhaupur, near Kanpur in Uttar Pradesh for commercial operations of the Dedicated Freight Corridor (DFC).
  • A state-of-the-art Operation Control Centre in Prayagraj was also dedicated to the nation.

About

  • This new section is built at a cost of Rs 5,750 crore through a loan from World Bank (which is funding a majority of the EDFC; the WDFC is being funded by the Japan International Cooperation Agency).
  • This total 2,843-km project is the largest rail infrastructure being built in independent India which has been in the making since 2006.

What is the DFC?

  • The DFC consists of two arms:
    • This recent section is part of the 1,839-km Eastern DFC (EDFC) that starts at Sohnewal (Ludhiana) and ends at Dankuni in West Bengal.
    • Around 1,500-km Western DFC (WDFC) from Dadri, Uttar Pradesh to Jawaharlal Nehru Port [JNPT], Mumbai.

Significance of new section

  • Around 70% of the freight trains currently running on the Indian Railway network are slated to shift to the freight corridors, leaving the paths open for more passenger trains.
  • This is like building an entire railway network from scratch, independent of Indian Railways. All the installations are new. Including the stations, and that’s why the names of a majority of its stations are prefixed with ‘New’, such as New Bhaupur, New Khurja etc.
  • Freight trains usually suffer from unpredictable running times and low speeds of around 25 km per hour (kph). But they can run at 50-60 kph on this new section.
  • Tracks on DFC are designed to carry heavier loads than most of Indian Railways. DFC will get track access charge from the parent Indian Railways, and also generate its own freight business.
  • Freight trains plying on this section will now decongest the existing Kanpur-Delhi main line, which currently handles trains at 150% of its line capacity.
  • Now, on the Indian Railway main line, more passenger trains can be pumped in and those trains can, in turn, achieve better punctuality.
  • This new section is free from any permanent or temporary speed restrictions. This in a way sets the bar for rest of the DFC to also make stretches free from speed restrictions, or “cautions”.
  • Food grain and fertilisers from the northern region are transported to the eastern and Northeast regions. From East and Northeast, coal, iron ore, jute and petroleum products are transported North and West.
  • For Business development plan, this section will also catch the freight traffic originating from key centres like Kanpur Dehat, Aurayia, Etawah, Firozabad, Hathras, Aligarh and Bulandshahr. The existing industrial areas will become major growth centres of the area.
  • The agricultural produce will get a pan-India market because of cheaper and faster DFC connectivity.
  • New Makhanpur (Firozabad) and New Daudkhan (Aligarh) will be opened as common user terminals aimed at local farmers in sending their produce to the larger markets.

 

SHIFT TOWARDS ELECTRIC VEHICLES

In News

  • The electric vehicle (EV) segment in India is very much in its infancy. Companies have not only started to manufacture electric scooters and bikes in Uttar Pradesh, but have also begun to research for alternatives to lithium-ion batteries, which are mostly imported from China.

About

  • In due course of time, as more money is flowing into research, India could emerge as the number one manufacturer of electric vehicles like cars, bikes, and tractors. These are welcome developments, and signal the long-term attractiveness of the EV market segment in India.
Arguments in favour Arguments in against
  • This shift towards electric vehicles is arising largely as a response to the challenges of pollution and energy security.
  • Adoption of electric vehicles will reduce overall emissions and also help meet the targets under the Paris agreement.
  • Such a shift would also help lower the country’s dependence on oil imports.
  • Considering such a shift will lead to enormous socio-economic and environmental benefits, a prudent approach would be to channel investment towards facilitating the shift of various modes of public transport, two-wheelers and taxis to electric vehicles.
  • Covering these modes of transport itself would include nearly 80 % of vehicles on Indian roads as per the NITI Aayog study.
  • This approach, as an analysis by TERI suggests, would help reduce pollution, lower oil imports, and cut carbon emissions and road congestion.
  • The shift from premium four-wheeler cars ignore that they account for only 2 per cent of total vehicle sales in India.
  • However, there is the issue of creating the charging infrastructure at the scale required to facilitate its large-scale adoption. Affordable and convenient charging will, after all, increase the segment’s attractiveness for consumers. However, while public funding may well be required to incentivise both manufacturers and consumers to shift, governments should be agnostic between various EV technologies.
  • The government has outlined its goals to have electric vehicles replace 30 per cent of the current automobile fleet by 2030 but much of this has to do with the electrification of two-wheelers, three-wheelers and commercial vehicles.

 

 

Conclusion

  • As far as electric car sales are concerned, India hasn’t even managed to sell 8,000 vehicles over the last six years. But technical skills prevalent in the industry coupled with low manufacturing costs, and component availability make the EV segment a prime candidate for future investment.