Daily Current Affairs

Prelims Prominence - August 30, 2018

International Organisations

4th BIMSTEC

What

  • Prime Minister Narendra Modi will be in Nepal this week for the fourth summit of the Bay of Bengal Initiative for Multi-Sectoral Technical and Economic Cooperation (BIMSTEC) in Kathmandu.
  • During his deliberations with regional leaders, the Prime Minister is likely to emphasise connectivity, counter-terrorism, radicalisation and maritime security in the Bay of Bengal, a key area of discussion during recent meetings.

Theme

  • The Prime Minister will attend the 4th BIMSTEC Summit, whose theme is 'Towards a peaceful, prosperous and sustainable Bay of Bengal region'.
  • Leaders from the nations last came together during a mini summit at Goa on the sidelines of BRICS Summit in October 2016.

Enlighten about the BIMSTEC meeting

  • In his fourth bilateral visit to Nepal, Modi will also be holding separate discussions with the Nepalese government.
  • During August 30 and 31, the PM will be visiting Nepal and pushing for seamless connectivity through Bangladesh and Thailand for goods trade.
  • India is revising its economic diplomacy with BIMSTEC nations at a time China continues to consolidate its position as a major regional power in the area.
  • Before the summit the foreign secretaries of the BIMSTEC member states reviewed the progress achieved so far during the 19th Senior Officials' Meeting (SOM) of the BIMSTEC held in Kathmandu on August 28, 2018.
  • Several measures, including exploring the possibility of establishing BIMSTEC development fund, rationalisation of areas of cooperation and identification of core prioritised areas, were deliberated in the meeting
  • The meeting also recommended for a Memorandum of Understanding (MoU) for the establishment of the BIMSTEC grid interconnections, which is expected to further cooperation in energy sector among the member states
  • The MoU will be signed during the two-day BIMSTEC summit which will commence on August 30 in Kathmandu

Issues likely to be finalized

  • Significant breakthroughs may occur on the BIMSTEC Coastal Shipping Agreement and BIMSTEC Motor Vehicle Agreement, which are currently being negotiated.
  • The most successful connectivity project so far involves the sub-group of Bangladesh, Bhutan, India and Nepal who signed a Motor Vehicles Agreement in 2015.
  • It enables vehicles to enter any of the four nations without the need for trans-shipment of goods from one country's truck to another's at the border.
  • Trial runs of trucks between Bangladesh and India have also begun. However, other major projects such as the Kaladan Multimodal project which seeks to link India and Myanmar, or the Asian Trilateral Highway connecting India and Thailand, are yet to finalize
  • A framework agreement to establish a free trade area was signed in 2004 but it is yet to be operationalized.

Enlighten about BIMSTEC

  • The Bay of Bengal Initiative for Multi-Sectoral Technical and Economic Cooperation (BIMSTEC) is an international organisation of seven nations of South Asia and South East Asia, housing 1.5 billion people and having a combined gross domestic product of $2.5 trillion (2014).
  • The BIMSTEC member states—Bangladesh, India, Myanmar, Sri Lanka, Thailand, Bhutan, and Nepal—are among the countries dependent on the Bay of Bengal.
  • Fourteen priority sectors of cooperation have been identified and several BIMSTEC centres have been established to focus on those sectors.
  • A BIMSTEC free trade agreement is under negotiation.
  • Leadership is rotated in alphabetical order of country names. The permanent secretariat is in Dhaka

FOCUS ARTICLE

Drying Ganga – A Report’s insight

What

  • Ganga, the 2600-km-long trans-boundary river of India, has witnessed "unprecedented low levels of water in several lower reaches" in the last few summer seasons.
  • This is as per a study undertaken by a professor of IIT-Kharagpur
  • The study was carried out under IITKGP Science and Heritage Initiative (SANDHI) Initiative

WHATS IN THE REPORT

  • The report finds out that the drying of the river in the recent years during the summer seasons was "possibly related to the groundwater depletion in the Gangetic aquifers".
  • The study has found that the summer water flow in the river is severely depleted, so much so that there may be hardly any flow in the non-monsoon months in large stretches of the river from Varanasi to Kolkata in the coming years.

Enlighten about the details of why water level reaches to its lowest

  • River Ganga has witnessed unprecedented low levels of water in several lower reaches in last few summer seasons.
  • It had used combination of satellite images of groundwater levels of Ganga, numerical simulations and chemical analyses to draw the conclusion.
  • The decline of groundwater inflow (base flow) is also impacting health of river.
  • Present day base flow to Ganga from adjoining aquifers may be third or more of total river water volume in pre-monsoon months.
  • The base flow might have dipped by 50% from beginning of irrigation-pumping phase in 1970s.
  • In forthcoming summers, for next 30 years, groundwater contribution to river Ganga will continue decreasing.
  • This trend can lead to disastrous effect on riverine ecology and lead to food scarcity for 115 million people in Ganga basin.

How this report will help

  • It can help general public understand wider implications of groundwater depletion.
  • It also brings out scientific reasons for the decreased flows of the river Ganga, especially in the lower reaches.
  • The findings will be extremely helpful in providing quantitative data for future planning of water resources projects in Ganga basin

Food Security

Millions risk malnutrition as CO2 levels climb: study

What

  • Rising levels of carbon dioxide in the air threaten to sap wheat, rice, and other staple grains of valuable nutrients, raising the spectre of mass malnutrition, researchers have warned.

Higher CO2 concentrations

  • This could reduce iron, zinc and protein levels in the crops that feed the world by up to 17% by mid-century
  • Hundreds of millions of people could become newly deficient in these nutrients, primarily in Africa, Southeast Asia, India and the Middle East
  • These are in addition to the billions of people already deficient that could see their condition worsen.

Enlighten about how it will deteriorate the human growth and development

  • Protein, along with the minerals iron and zinc, are essential nutrients for normal human growth and development.
  • Zinc deficiency affects the immune system and makes children, particularly, more vulnerable to malaria, lung infections and deadly diarrhoeal diseases.
  • A lack of iron increases the likelihood of mothers dying during childbirth, can lower IQ, and causes anaemia, or a drop in red blood cells.
  • Wheat, rice and maize together account for roughly 40% of protein, zinc and iron supply in the diet worldwide.
  • In general, humans get three-fifths of dietary protein, four-fifths of iron, and 70% of zinc requirements from plants.
  • The global food system is also vulnerable to rising temperatures, prolonged drought, and other forms of extreme weather driven by climate change, earlier research has shown.
  • Impacts include reduced crop yields, heat-stressed livestock, and shifts in the quantity and location of commercially-fished ocean species.

Economy

Over 99% of demonetised notes were returned: RBI

What

  • The Reserve Bank of India’s annual report for 2017-18 said more than 99% of the ₹500 and 1,000 notes, which were withdrawn from circulation in November 2016, had been returned to the central bank.

Enlighten about the report

  • According to the report, after verification and reconciliation, the total value of the ₹500 and ₹1,000 notes as on November 8, 2016, when demonetisation was announced, was ₹15.41 lakh crore.
  • The total value of such notes returned from circulation is ₹15.31 lakh crore. RBI data showed that the value of banknotes in circulation increased by 37.7% over the year to ₹18.04 lakh crore at end-March 2018.
  • With more ₹500 notes having been pumped into the system over the last year, the share of ₹2,000 notes by value declined to 37.3% as on March 2018, compared with 50.2% a year earlier.
  • The share of ₹500 notes, in terms of value, increased from 22.5% to 42.9% in the same period.

Social Issues

Lynching Report submitted cited social media sites to be held responsible

What

  • A panel headed by Union Home Secretary Rajiv Gauba, which deliberated on measures to check incidents of lynching, submitted its report to a Group of Ministers headed by Home Minister Rajnath Singh.
  • In May and June, more than 20 people were lynched based on fake posts or rumours floating on various social media platforms.
  • The panel discussed such incidents and is learnt to have come to the conclusion that social media platforms needed to act in a “time-bound” manner.

Report suggested

  • Social media platforms — Facebook, WhatsApp, YouTube and Twitter — would be made accountable for not blocking malicious posts and videos when brought to their notice and an “FIR could be lodged against their country heads” for not complying with government orders and they could be prosecuted under law.
  • The committee of secretaries held consultations with a cross-section of society and other stakeholders before submitting its report to the Group of Ministers.
  • The GoM will now submit its recommendations to Prime Minister Narendra Modi for a final decision

What needs to be done/Steps taken by the Central government

  • There is a provision in law which enables the government to issue orders to remove objectionable content, block websites, etc.
  • Law enforcement agencies should be able to step up the act and monitor more proactively
  • The social media platforms were given a report showing their compliance with the various government orders.
  • Compliance should be timely, Some countries employ non-governmental organisations and volunteers who proactively surf the Internet.
  • The government has created a portal where people can report such videos and content and that can be forwarded by the National Crime Records Bureau [the nodal body] to the States concerned for appropriate action
  • The Home Ministry issued advisories to the State governments and authorities of the Union Territories after the Supreme Court issued directives to check incidents of lynching in the country.
  • The Centre asked the states to appoint an officer in each district at the level of Superintendent of Police, set up a special task force to gather intelligence, and closely monitor social media contents to prevent mob attacks on people on the suspicion of being child-lifters or cattle smugglers.

Cabinet Decisions

Cabinet clears ₹1,600 cr. mission to map coasts O-SMART to include warning systems, desalination plants

What

  • India is set to get more disaster warning systems along its coasts.
  • The new systems will keep an eye out for “tsunamis and storm surges.
  • The system is part of a programme called O-SMART (Ocean Services, Technology, Observations, Resources Modelling and Science) that is being piloted by the Union earth sciences ministry.
  • It was cleared by the Cabinet Committee on Economic Affairs at an outlay of ₹1,623 crore.

Enlighten about O-SMART

  • It will provide economic benefits to a number of user communities in the coastal and ocean sectors, namely, fisheries, offshore industry, coastal States, defence, shipping, ports, etc.

Other key missions under O-SMART include

  • Strengthening of Ocean Observations and Modelling, strengthening of Ocean Services for fishermen, setting up marine observatories for monitoring marine pollution, setting up Ocean Thermal Energy Conversion Plant (OTEC) in Kavaratti, acquiring two coastal research vessels, continuation of ocean survey and exploration of minerals and living resources, technology development for Deep Ocean Mining and manned submersibles and the setting up six desalination plants in Lakshadweep.

Bilateral Relations

2+2 talks to focus on China

What

  • The first-ever 2+2 meeting between top defense and diplomatic officials marks a milestone for the U.S.-India relationship
  • The first U.S.-India 2+2 dialogue next week in New Delhi will discuss regional and strategic issues of Asia and “will also have some real outcomes
  • The encounter will bring together U.S. Secretary of Defense Jim Mattis, U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo, Indian Minister of External Affairs Sushma Swaraj, and Indian Minister of Defense Nirmala Sitharaman.
  • Both countries will confer on bilateral, regional, and global issues, including the state of the U.S.-India defense relationship.

What

  • The two outstanding agreements are COMCASA, or the Communications Compatibility and Security Agreement, and BECA, the Basic Exchange and Cooperation Agreement for Geo-spatial Cooperation.
  • Negotiations on the former are close to their conclusion, with a few remaining reservations on the Indian side concerning sovereignty.
  • BECA talks had not started as of late-July, but will begin soon. In 2016, the United States and India concluded the first of the enabling agreements after more than a decade of talks; the Logistics Exchange Memorandum of Agreement (LEMOA).
  • LEMOA allows the armed forces of both sides to mutually access logistical support for compensation either in kind of cash.

Enlighten about the issues to be addressed

  • The United States and India conduct a range of exercises, but are expected to conduct a first-ever three-service exercise later this year.
  • The upcoming meeting may also address the addition of more specialized exercises beyond the main Yudh Abhyas and Malabar exercises.
  • The upcoming two-plus-two meeting will emphasize the continuity in the U.S.-India relationship from the Obama administration into the Trump administration—at least on matters of defense and strategic cooperation.
  • Last year, during Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s trip to Washington, D.C., he and U.S. President Donald J. Trump pledged to position their countries as “responsible stewards in the Indo-Pacific region.”
  • In the lead-up to the upcoming meeting, the U.S. Department of Commerce designated India a Strategic Trade Authorization Tier 1 country, granting New Delhi access to a wider range of U.S. defense products.
  • That too builds on the 2016 designation of India as a U.S. Major Defense Partner, which sought to give New Delhi access to U.S. defense technology at a level comparable to a NATO ally.

Issue of Russia and S-400

  • The Trump administration is mindful of India’s legacy ties with Russia, but does not appreciate its continuing defence cooperation with it
  • If India continued with new purchases then Granting a waiver to India from sanctions if it went ahead with the planned purchase of S-400 missile defence system from Russia would be the main bone of contention and whether the U.S. would offer an alternative missile defence platform

Science and Technology

Prime Minister’s Science, Technology and Innovation Advisory Council (PM-STIAC)

What

  • Union Government has constituted new 21-member advisory panel on science, technology and innovation
  • It will be headed by Principal Scientific Advisor to government K Vijay Raghavan.
  • It will replace earlier Scientific Advisory Committee to Prime Minister and to Cabinet.

Enlighten about PM-STIAC

  • The council will advise PM on science, technology, as well as innovation.
  • It will also coordinate implementation of PMs scientific vision.
  • It will actively aid in formulation and timely implementation of major science and technology missions and evolve interdisciplinary technology development programmes.
  • It will also advise government on developing ‘Clusters of Excellence’ in science including city-based R&D clusters.
  • It has nine members, including Chairperson. Apart from nine members, it will also have twelve special invitees — eleven ex officio secretaries 10 central ministries, related to science, technology, energy and education, are special invitees to the panel.

Defence

Exercise Peace Mission 2018

What

  • Exercise Peace Mission 2018, the joint military exercise of the Shanghai Cooperation Organisation (SCO), ended in Russia
  • The eight-member states undertaking joint training on combating terrorism.
  • This is the first time India and Pakistan participated in the exercise, which began on August 24 at the firing ranges in Chebarkul.

Enlighten about the exercise

  • After intense training, the joint exercise concluded with multinational forces exhibiting their combat power and dominance over the extremist groups in simulated situation.
  • The closing ceremony showcased the immense talent and unique military ethos of all the member-nations
  • India, China, Kazakhstan and Russia showcased their armoured and mechanised forces while Pakistan had sent only Special Forces personnel.

Enlighten about SCO

  • The Shanghai Cooperation Organisation (SCO), or Shanghai Pact, is a Eurasian political, economic, and security alliance, the creation of which was announced on 15 June 2001 in Shanghai, China by the leaders of China, Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan, Russia, Tajikistan, and Uzbekistan
  • The Shanghai Cooperation Organisation Charter, formally establishing the organisation, was signed in June 2002 and entered into force on 19 September 2003.
  • The Heads of State Council (HSC) is the supreme decision-making body in the SCO, it meets once a year and adopts decisions and guidelines on all important matters of the organisation.
  • Military exercises among members are also regularly conducted to promote coordination against terrorism, and to maintain regional peace and stability.
  • The original six nations, with the exception of Uzbekistan, were previously members of the Shanghai Five group, founded on 26 April 1996.
  • India and Pakistan joined SCO as full members on 9 June 2017 at a summit in Astana, Kazakhstan.

Sources – PIB , The Hindu , Livemint