Daily Current Affairs

Prelims Prominence - December 9, 2017

International Bodies

India gets admission into Wassenaar Arrangement

Space, defence to gain from entry to export control regime

  • The plenary meeting of the Wassenaar Arrangement (WA) held on 6 to 7 December 2017 in Vienna, Austria, has decided to admit India, which will become the Arrangement’s 42nd participating state
  • The Ministry of External Affairs on Friday welcomed the decision of the Wassenaar Arrangement to admit India as the 42nd member of the organisation which aims to regulate trade and use of dual use technology.
  • Admission into the club, India will get access to high technology, which will help address the demands of Indian space and defence sectors.
  • It will also boost New Delhi’s chances of joining the Nuclear Suppliers
  • India’s membership is expected to facilitate high technology tie-ups with Indian industry and ease access to high-tech items for our defence and space programmes.”

Enlighten about – Wassenaar Arrangement -

UAE & Saudi Arabia form new group separate from GCC

  • The United Arab Emirates (UAE) and Saudi Arabia have formed new economic and partnership group named Joint Cooperation Committee, separate from Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC).
  • This move that could undermine six-member GCC amid Saudi led Arab countries diplomatic crisis with Qatar as half of countries members are boycotting Qatar, accusing it for supporting and funding terrorism.

Enlighten about Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC)

  • GCC is a political and economic alliance of six countries in Arabian Peninsula: Kuwait, Oman, Bahrain, Qatar, Saudi Arabia and UAE.
  • It promotes economic, security, cultural and social cooperation between the six states and holds annual summit to discuss cooperation and regional affairs.
  • The Charter of GCC was signed in 1981, formally establishing the institution. Its headquarter is in Riyadh, capital city of Saudi Arabia.
  • All current member states of GCC are monarchies, including three constitutional monarchies (Kuwait, Qatar and Bahrain), two absolute monarchies (Oman and Saudi Arabia) and one federal monarchy (UAE which is composed of seven member states, each of which is absolute monarchy with its own emir).

Defence

Surface to Air – AKASH – Successfully tested with indigenous radio frequency

  • The Surface to Air Missile (SAM) AKASH was successfully tested with indigenous radio frequency seeker against target UAV Banshee. It was successfully launched from Launch Complex-III at ITR Chandipur.
  • During the test, radars, telemetry and electro-optical systems along coast had tracked and monitored all the health parameters of the missile.

Significance

  • This was the first supersonic surface-to-air missile (SAM) with indigenous seeker that has been test fired. With this success, India has achieved the capability of making any type of SAMs.

AKASH Missile

  • Akash (means sky in English) is a mid-range surface-to-air missile (SAM).
  • It is medium range nuclear capable supersonic missile. It has been indigenously developed by Defence Research and Development Organisation (DRDO) under Integrated Guided-Missile Development Programme (IGMDP).
  • It is multi target, multi directional, all weather air-defence missile system consisting of surveillance and tracking radars for defending vulnerable areas against medium range air targets penetrating from low, medium and high altitudes.
  • It has supersonic speeds ranging from Mach 2.8 to 3.5.
  • It has capability to carry 55- kg fragmentation warhead that is triggered by proximity fuse.
  • It can engage aerial targets up to range of approximately 25 kms. It can reach high altitude of 18 kms and as low as 30 meters.
  • It is powered by Ramjet-rocket propulsion system (RRPS) which renders thrust for the missile to intercept the target at supersonic speed without any retardation.
  • It is capable of neutralising aerial targets like cruise missiles, fighter jets, unmanned aerial vehicles (UAV) and air-to-surface missiles.
  • It has been inducted into Indian Army as short range surface to air missile. It was also formally inducted into IAF in July 2015.

UN Peace keeping

  • The opening ceremony of the Indian UN Peace Keeping Training by Mobile Training Team of CUNPK was recently conducted at the Vietnamese Centre for Peace Keeping located at Thaach Hon, Hanoi.
  • The ceremony was attended by the Indian Mobile Training Team (MTT).
  • This is in the furtherance to the ongoing training assistance being extended to the Vietnamese Centre for Peace Keeping by the Centre for UN Peace Keeping, New Delhi

Enlighten about UN Peacekeeping

  • United Nations Peacekeeping was created in 1948.
  • Its first mission involved the establishment of the UN Truce Supervision Organization (UNTSO), which served to observe and maintain ceasefire during the 1948 Arab-Israeli War.
  • UN Peacekeeping maintains three basic principles: Consent of the parties, impartiality and non-use of Force except in self-defence and defence of the mandate.
  • The UN Peacekeepers are led by the Department of Peacekeeping Operations (DKPO).
  • There are currently 17 UN peace operations deployed on four continents.
  • UN Peacekeepers are from diverse backgrounds, from areas all around the world.
  • They include police, military and civilian personnel. They are often referred to as Blue Berets or Blue Helmets because of their light blue berets or helmets.
  • The UN Peacekeeping Force won the Nobel Peace Prize in 1988.
  • The United Nations Charter gives the United Nations Security Council the power and responsibility to take collective action to maintain international peace and security. For this reason, the international community usually looks to the Security Council to authorize peacekeeping operations.

Government Initiatives

Soil Health Card

  • On the occasion of World Soil Day, Soil Health Card mobile App has been launched by the government to help the farmers.

Enlighten about the app –

  • The app will benefit field-level workers as it will automatically capture GIS coordinates while registering sample details at the time of sample collection in the field and indicate the location from where the sample has been collected.
  • This app works like other Geotagging apps developed for the Rashtriya Krishi Vikas Yojana.
  • The app contains farmers’ details including name, Aadhaar card number, mobile number, gender, address, crop details, etc.

Enlighten about the importance of SOIL

  • Soil is one of the most complex biological materials on our planet.
  • Soil is the network of interacting living organisms within the earth’s surface layer which support life above ground.
  • The nutritional value of the food we eat is directly related to the health of the soil in which it grows.
  • Carbon is a master variable within the soil that controls many processes, such as development of soil structure, water storage and nutrient cycling.
  • Soil high in organic carbon content enables better rainfall infiltration & rCLtion – providing greater resilience to drought.
  • Soil erosion within conventional agricultural practices can occur at rates up to 100 times greater than the rate of natural soil formation.
  • Natural processes can take more than 500 years to form 2 centimetres of topsoil.
  • Soils are vulnerable to carbon loss through degradation, but regenerative land management practices can build soil and restore soil health.
  • Therefore, management of agricultural soils should consider the structural, biological and mineral health of the soil (not just N, P, K) to produce nutritionally-dense food.

Enlighten about the Soil Health Card Scheme:

  • It is a scheme to provide every farmer a Soil Health Card in a Mission mode.
  • It is a scheme under which the Central Government provides assistance to State Governments for setting up Soil Testing Laboratories for issuing Soil Health Cards to farmers.
  • The scheme will be implemented in all states to promote soil testing services, issue of soil health cards and development of nutrient management practices.
  • State Governments have adopted innovative practices like involvement of agricultural students, NGOs and private sector in soil testing, determining average soil health of villages, etc., to issue Soil Health Cards.
  • The state governments will prepare yearly action plan on the issue and the cost will be shared in the ratio of 75:25 between the Centre and states.
  • The scheme assumes importance as the imbalanced application of fertilisers have caused deficiency of primary nutrients (nitrogen, phosphorus, and potassium), secondary nutrients (such as sulphur), and micro-nutrients (boron, zinc, copper etc.) in most parts of country.

Infrastructure Development

Railways appoints IRSDC as nodal agency for station redevelopment plan

  • Indian Railways has decided to appoint its joint venture company Indian Railway Station Development Corp. Ltd as the nodal agency for its ambitious station redevelopment programme, in an attempt to expedite the revamp of 400 A1 and A category railway stations.
  • Under the Rs1 trillion station redevelopment plan, Indian Railways plans to revamp 400 railway stations by monetizing 2,700 acres of spare railway land.

Enlighten about it –

  • The appointment of IRSDC, a joint-venture between Ircon International Ltd and Rail Land Development Authority (RLDA), took place following recommendations from a three-member committee of experts, which had submitted its report in November.
  • The report recommended IRSDC’s appointment as a nodal agency to ensure a speedy redevelopment process because the firm has shown notable performance in handling its model projects in places such as Gandhinagar and Surat.

Enlighten about IRSDC:

  • Indian Railway Stations Development Corporation Limited (IRSDC) is a Joint Venture company of Ircon International Limited (IRCON) (A Govt. of India Undertaking, under Ministry of Railways) and Rail Land Development Authority (RLDA), a statutory authority under the Ministry of Railways.
  • The core purpose of IRSDC as envisioned is to build world class railway stations that apply state of the art sustainable technologies in delivering delight to the users.

Science & Technology

New graphene-based battery

  • Samsung Electronics has developed core battery technology using graphene to make lithium-ion batteries last longer and charge more quickly, a potential industry milestone if mass produced.

Significance of this breakthrough:

  • Standard lithium batteries require charging time of at least an hour to fully charge, even with quick charging technology, so numerous attempts to explore new innovative materials have been started.
  • Among the materials looked at, graphene, a material with high strength and conductivity, has widely become the primary source of interest. In theory, a battery based on the “graphene ball” material requires only 12 minutes to fully charge.

Enlighten about Graphene –

  • Graphene has been touted in the global electronics industry as a “miracle material” given its strength, electrical conductivity and elasticity, and has been seen as an alternative to lithium-ion batteries since its discovery in 2004.
  • It is a form of carbon that can be used to develop smaller, slimmer batteries but with higher capacity.
  • Graphene is a carbon material that is one atom thick. Its thin composition and high conductivity means it is used in applications ranging from miniaturised electronics to biomedical devices.
  • These properties also enable thinner wire connections; providing extensive benefits for computers, solar panels, batteries, sensors and other devices.
  • The potential applications of graphene include water filtration and purification, renewable energy, sensors, personalised healthcare and medicine, to name a few.
  • Graphene has excellent electronic, mechanical, thermal and optical properties as well. Its uses range from improving battery performance in energy devices, to cheaper solar panels.

Environment

New Zealand kiwi birds:

  • The International Union for the Conservation of Nature has upgraded the status of Okarito kiwi and Northern Brown kiwi from endangered to vulnerable.
  • The number of Okarito kiwi has risen from 160 in 1995 to 400-450 now, and Northern Brown kiwi numbers are also climbing.

Government Announcements

Announcement of additional incentives to boost exports

  • In its mid-term review of the Foreign Trade Policy 2015-2020, government announced additional incentives to help boost exports
  • This included simplified processes to help exporters and a commitment to roll out an e-wallet scheme to ease working capital issues for exporters in the post-GST regime
  • Government also raised the incentive rate by 2 percent under the most popular Merchandise Exports from India Scheme (MEIS) and Services Exports from India Scheme (SEIS)

Benefits

  • The additional incentives have been provided for exports by small and medium enterprises, labour-intensive and agriculture-based exports among others

Aim of Mid-term review

  • It aims to promote exports by simplification of processes
  • Enhance support to high employment sectors
  • Leverage benefits of GST
  • Promote services exports and monitoring exports performance through state-of-the-art analytics

Other steps to make processes relating to trade simpler

  • Self certification scheme for duty free imports
  • Single point electronic contact to traders with the Directorate General of Foreign Trade for trade and consignment related queries
  • Creating a logistics division in the department of commerce
  • Doing away with the testing of samples for drawback purpose and the introduction of e sealing facility for exporters
  • Relaxations in the EPCG (Export Promotion Capital Goods) scheme

Focus

Nuclear Suppliers Group (NSG) membership

  • China continues to stall India’s Nuclear Suppliers Group membership, Russia has come out strongly in support of India saying that India’s application cannot be “interlinked” with that of Pakistan and that Moscow is discussing the issue with Beijing at different levels.
  • China has favoured a criteria-based approach for expansion of the 48-member group, which controls international nuclear commerce, instead of one based on merit, in what India sees an attempt to draw a false equivalence between India’s case and Pakistan’s.

Enlighten about NSG

  • Nuclear Suppliers Group (NSG) is a multinational body concerned with reducing nuclear proliferation by controlling the export and re-transfer of materials that may be applicable to nuclear weapon development and by improving safeguards and protection on existing materials.
  • Interestingly, the NSG was set up in 1974 as a reaction to India’s nuclear tests to stop what it called the misuse of nuclear material meant for peaceful purposes.

Know more about the issue –

  • India sought membership of the NSG in 2008, but its application hasn’t been decided on, primarily because signing the NPT or other nuclear moratoriums on testing is a pre-requisite.
  • However, India has received a special waiver to conduct nuclear trade with all nuclear exporters.

India, Pakistan, Israel and South Sudan are among the four UN member states which have not signed the NPT, the international pact aimed at preventing the spread of nuclear weapons.

Why India should be granted NSG membership?

  • In this game of developing nuclear weapons India has not indulged in any dubious/clandestine activity and its programme has been developed solely by years of hard work indigenously.
  • By this single act India has shown that developing a credible nuclear weapons programme through honest and civilian means is possible for any country having high-level scientific manpower and materials.
  • Besides, by declaring a voluntary moratorium on further underground nuclear tests India has effectively acted in sense and spirit of NPT/CTBT provisions.
  • By steering its programme only as a minimum deterrence and pledging NFU unless faced with an attack of weapons of mass destruction (WMD), India has established itself as a responsible nuclear state.

Benefits associated with NSG membership- Once admitted, an NSG member state gets:

  • Timely information on nuclear matters.
  • Contributes by way of information.
  • Has confirmed credentials.
  • Can act as an instrument of harmonization and coordination.
  • Is part of a very transparent process.

US recognizes Jerusalem as Israel’s capital

  • In a major announcement, United States President Donald Trump has officially recognized Jerusalem as the capital of Israel night and has directed the State Department to initiate the process of moving the American embassy from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem, which many Arab leaders warn can trigger an upheaval in the already volatile Middle East.
  • Israel considers the “complete and united Jerusalem” its capital, but Palestinians claim East Jerusalem for the capital of their future state.

What is the international status of Jerusalem?

  • The walled Old City of Jerusalem, at just one square kilometer, is home to sites that are among the holiest in Judaism, Christianity, and Islam.
  • Because of its unique cultural and religious significance, the UN General Assembly set aside Jerusalem to be a corpus separatum, or separated body, under UN trusteeship when it voted in 1947 to divide the British mandate of Palestine into two states, an Arab one and a Jewish one.
  • That position remained the international consensus even after the partition plan itself was preempted by Israel’s declaration of independence in 1948 and the subsequent invasion by Arab powers.
  • An armistice the following year divided the mandate along what has become known as the Green Line, which cuts through the middle of Jerusalem. Israel established its seat of government in the western half of the city, while, across a no man’s land lined with barbed wire, Jordan took control of the city’s eastern half, including the Old City.
  • Israel captured East Jerusalem in 1967 and subsequently annexed it, redrawing its municipal borders to include surrounding Arab villages.
  • In 1980, Israel’s parliament, the Knesset, designated the united city as Israel’s capital. By contrast, the West Bank, also captured in 1967, was not annexed; it remains under military occupation and Palestinians have partial self-government there, through the Palestinian Authority (PA).
  • While Israel controls the city, the Oslo Accords, signed by Israel and the Palestine Liberation Organization (PLO) in 1993, stipulated that Jerusalem’s disposition would only be decided on in permanent-status negotiations between the parties.
  • Other major issues under negotiation concern refugees’ right of return, security arrangements, borders, and mutual recognition.

Who lives in Jerusalem?

  • Jerusalem is home to nearly one million residents. West Jerusalem’s population of some 330,000 is almost entirely Jewish.
  • The eastern half of the city, which comprises the Old City, Palestinian neighborhoods, and refugee camps, along with some newer Jewish settlements, is home to about 320,000 Arabs and 212,000 Jews.
  • Unlike Palestinians who live elsewhere in Israel, most Palestinian East Jerusalemites have permanent residency, but not citizenship, since they do not recognize Israeli sovereignty over the city.

Other countries reaction -

  • The Islamic world is outraged. Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas has warned of “dangerous consequences”, Jordan’s King Abdullah II and Saudi King Salman have cautioned the US, Turkey has threatened to cut ties with Israel, Iran has declared that “the Palestinian nation will achieve victory”, China has said it “could sharpen regional conflict”, Egypt, the Arab League and several European nations have expressed grave reservations, and the Pope has pleaded for status quo.
  • Hamas has threatened an intifada, and Hezbollah could react aggressively.
  • India, friends with both Palestine and Israel, could face a quandary.
  • Trump’s announcement is likely to compound a broader crisis of confidence among Palestinians that President Mahmoud Abbas, who has been in office for many years beyond his electoral mandate, can deliver statehood. Fatah and Hamas have called for protest.

Rescue Operation

OP Sahayam:

  • It is an Indian Navy exercise for undertaking Search and Rescue (SAR) and providing Humanitarian Assistance and Disaster relief (HADR) material support, over Southeast Arabian Sea and L& M islands in the aftermath of Very Severe Cyclonic Storm ‘OCKHI’.