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IASbaba’s Daily Current Affairs [Prelims + Mains Focus] – 20th January 2018

  • IASbaba
  • January 20, 2018
  • 3
IASbaba's Daily Current Affairs Analysis
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IASbaba’s Daily Current Affairs (Prelims + Mains Focus)- 20th January 2018

Archives


(PRELIMS+MAINS FOCUS)


Pact to protect health of planet

Part of: Mains GS Paper III- Conservation, environmental pollution and degradation

Key pointers:

  • UN Environment and the World Health Organisation have agreed on a new, wide-ranging collaboration to accelerate action to curb environmental health risks that cause an estimated 12.6 million deaths a year.
  • UN Environment and WHO has signed the agreement to step up joint actions to combat air pollution, climate change and antimicrobial resistance, as well as improve coordination on waste and chemicals management, water quality, and food and nutrition issues.
  • The collaboration also includes joint management of the BreatheLife advocacy campaign to reduce air pollution for climate, environment and health benefits.
  • This represents the most significant formal agreement on joint action across the spectrum of environment and health issues in over 15 years.
  • There is an urgent need for the two agencies to work more closely together to address the critical threats to environmental sustainability and climate — which are the foundations for life on this planet.

This new agreement recognises this reality.

  • Our health is directly related to the health of the environment we live in. Together, air, water and chemical hazards kill more than 12.6 million people a year.
  • Most of these deaths occur in developing countries in Asia, Africa and Latin America where environmental pollution takes its biggest health toll.
  • The new collaboration creates a systematic framework for joint research, development of tools and guidance, capacity building, monitoring of Sustainable Development Goals, global and regional partnerships.

Article link: Click here


Smart City Mission: 99 cities

Part of: Mains GS Paper III- Infrastructure

Key pointers:

  • Nine more cities, including Silvassa, Erode, Moradabad and Itanagar, will now be part of Smart Cities Mission, increasing the total number of such cities to 99.
  • With 99 cities now part of the Smart Cities Mission(SCM), the total proposed investment in these cities is estimated to be Rs. 2,03,979 crore.
  • The newly announced cities will have approximately 409 projects. The funding sources for these projects is proposed to include contribution from State and Centre, convergence, PPP, the SCM’s own sources and other sources.

Liveability index

  • To make cities more ‘liveable’, Puri also announced the commencement of the Liveability Index Programme in 116 cities.
  • The programme seeks to develop a common minimum framework for cities to assess their existing status and chart their path towards better quality of life.

Article link: Click here


Office of Profit: Explained

Part of: Mains GS Paper III- Parliament and State Legislatures – structure, functioning, conduct of business, powers & privileges and issues arising out of these.

Key pointers:

What are the basic criteria to disqualify an MP or MLA?

Basic disqualification criteria for an MP are laid down in Article 102 of the Constitution, and for an MLA in Article 191.

They can be disqualified for:

  1. Holding an office of profit under government of India or state government;
  2. Being of unsound mind;
  3. Being an undischarged insolvent;
  4. Not being an Indian citizen or for acquiring citizenship of another country

What is ‘office of profit’?

The word ‘office’ has not been defined in the Constitution or the Representation of the People Act of 1951.

But different courts have interpreted it to mean a position with certain duties that are more or less of public character.

How do courts or EC decide whether an MP or MLA has profited from an office?

The Supreme Court, while upholding the disqualification of Jaya Bachchan from Rajya Sabha in 2006, had said, “For deciding the question as to whether one is holding an office of profit or not, what is relevant is whether the office is capable of yielding a profit or pecuniary gain and not whether the person actually obtained a monetary gain… If the office carries with it, or entitles the holder to, any pecuniary gain other than reimbursement of out of pocket/actual expenses, then the office will be an office of profit for the purpose of Article 102 (1)(a)…”
However, a person who acquires a contract or licence from a government to perform functions, which the government would have itself discharged, will not be held guilty of holding an office of profit.

What is the underlying principle for including ‘office of profit’ as criterion for disqualification?

Makers of the Constitution wanted that legislators should not feel obligated to the Executive in any way, which could influence them while discharging legislative functions. In other words, an MP or MLA should be free to carry out her duties without any kind of governmental pressure.

Recent instances:

In March 2006, President APJ Abdul Kalam disqualified Jaya Bachchan of the SP from Rajya Sabha with retrospective effect from July 14, 2004, for holding an office of profit as chairperson of the UP Film Development Council.

In January 2015, UP MLAs Bajrang Bahadur Singh (BJP) and Uma Shankar Singh (BSP) were disqualified from the assembly after they were indicted by the Lokayukta for bagging government construction contracts by misusing their position.

Article link: Click here


(MAINS FOCUS)


INTERNATIONAL 

TOPIC: General Studies 2:

  • India and its neighborhood relations, International relations.
  • Bilateral, regional and global groupings and agreements involving India and/or affecting India’s interests.
  • Effect of policies and politics of developed and developing countries on India’s interests, Indian diaspora.
  • Important International institutions, agencies and fora- their structure, mandate.

India admitted as the 43rd member of the Australia Group

Introduction:

India was recently admitted as the 43rd member of the Australia Group, an informal bloc of countries that keeps a tight control over exports of substances used in the making of chemical weapons.

With its admission into the Australia Group, India is now part of three of the four key export control groups in the world.

Australia Group is the third multilateral export control group – after the Missile Technology Control Regime (MTCR) and Wassenaar Arrangement – that India has become a member of.

India joined the MTCR in June 2016, followed by the Wassenaar Arrangement in December 2017.

The only export control group that India is not a part of is the elite Nuclear Suppliers Group (NSG), which controls the export of sensitive nuclear technologies and equipment, with the aim of preventing nuclear weapons’ proliferation.

Basics: The four key export control groups:

MTCR, NSG, Australia Group and the Wassenaar Arrangementare the four nuclear regimes – aim to restrict the proliferation of items that could lead to the spread of, among others, weapons of mass destruction and chemical and biological weapons.

Missile Technology Control Regime (MTCR):

  • It is a multilateral, consensus – based grouping of 35 member countries (includes India, China is not a member of this regime) who are voluntarily committed to the non-proliferation of missiles capable of carrying chemical, biological and nuclear weapons of mass destruction (WMDs).
  • It controls the export of the technologies and materials involved in ballistic missile systems and unmanned aerial vehicles particularly capable of carrying nuclear warheads of above 500kg payload for more than 300 km.
  • This is a non–treaty association of member countries with certain guidelines about the information sharing, national control laws and export policies for missile systems and a rule-based regulation mechanism to limit the transfer of such critical technologies of these missile systems.
  • India had joined MTCR as a full member and also agreed to join the Hague Code of conduct made it bolster its position as a responsible nuclear state and strengthen its case for the membership of other multilateral export control regimes like Nuclear Suppliers Group, Australia Group, and Wassenaar arrangement.

Nuclear Suppliers’ Group (NSG):

  • Nuclear Suppliers Group (NSG) is a group of nuclear supplier countries that seek to prevent nuclear proliferation by controlling the export of materials, equipment, and technology that can be used to manufacture nuclear weapons.
  • 48-nation group that frames and implements agreed rules for exporting nuclear equipment, with a view to controlling the spread of nuclear weapons. It is not a formal organization, and its guidelines are not binding. Decisions, including on membership, are made by consensus.
  • India is not a member of NSG.

Australia Group (AG):

  • It is an informal bloc of countries that keeps a tight control over exports of substances used in the making of chemical weapons.
  • It was established in 1985.
  • It has now has 43 members. China, Pakistan, Iran, North Korea are not its members.

Wassenaar Arrangement (WG):

  • The Wassenaar Arrangement (not to be confused with the Wassenaar Agreement), (full name: The Wassenaar Arrangement on Export Controls for Conventional Arms and Dual-Use Goods and Technologies) is a multilateral export control regime (MECR) with 41 participating states.
  • The Wassenaar Arrangement was established to contribute to regional and international security and stability by promoting transparency and greater responsibility in transfers of conventional arms and dual-use goods and technologies, thus preventing destabilizing accumulations.
  • Participating States seek, through their national policies, to ensure that transfers of these items do not contribute to the development or enhancement of military capabilities which undermine these goals, and are not diverted to support such capabilities.

Non-Proliferation Treaty (NPT):

  • 1968 treaty to prevent the spread of nuclear weapons and weapons technology, to foster the peaceful uses of nuclear energy, and to further the goal of disarmament. It identifies “nuclear weapons states” as those that tested devices before January 1, 1967, which means India could never be one and thus it refused to sign it.

Conclusion:

With its admission into the AG, India has demonstrated the will to implement rigorous controls of high standards in international trade, and its capacity to adapt its national regulatory system to meet the necessities of its expanding economy

The inclusion will help to raise India’s stature in the field of non-proliferation, though it is not signatory to Non-Proliferation Treaty (NPT) and help in acquiring critical technologies.

It is also expected to strengthen India’s bid to enter 48-member Nuclear Suppliers Group (NSG).

Connecting the dots:

  • India wants to be part of the rule-making groups rather than being out of them and on the sidelines. Examine the statement keeping in view the steps and efforts taken by India to gain entry into the missile treaty club.
  • India’s admittance into three of the four key export control groups is a big step forward in its quest for formal acceptance as a responsible nuclear power. Comment.

ENERGY SECURITY

TOPIC: General Studies 3:

  • Technology, Energy Security
  • Achievements of Indians in science & technology; indigenization of technology and developing new technology.

Generating energy through nuclear fusion: Challenges

Background:

Power generation through fusion reaction has been one of the most attractive fields of nuclear research and has consequently seen considerable investment since the middle of the last century.

While the world has been awaiting a breakthrough in an affordable and clean power source for long, nuclear fusion has always been seen, since the 1950s, as the energy source that was 50 years away from commercial availability and would always remain so.

In recent years, however, it seems we are getting very close to the first real goals of harnessing this energy, i.e., working prototypes of fusion reactors.

Advanced technologies and supercomputing have remarkably accelerated the pace of R&D in this field, which has probably led to the recent confident claims.

Nuclear fusion technology:

  • In nuclear fusion, various isotopes of hydrogen are fused together to form a new element, helium.
  • In the process, a small amount of matter is converted into heat energy, as in the case of nuclear fission.
  • This energy is enormous and could be harnessed.
  • But the temperature required for nuclear fusion to occur is in the range of 13 million degrees centigrade.

No material can withstand such high temperatures. Hydrogen fusion experiments are therefore presently being carried out in apparatuses called ‘Tokamaks’ (toroidal plasma chambers), where the hydrogen in extremely hot plasma form is fused together while being suspended away from the walls of the apparatus using extremely strong magnetic fields.

Challenge:

  • The problems in achieving successful nuclear fusion have mainly related to sustaining the reaction for long durations and plasma containment.
  • The moment the plasma comes into contact with any other material in the tokamak, it immediately loses heat and the temperature required to be maintained comes down drastically, stopping the reaction.
  • At present, it has been possible to stably hold the plasma in the tokamak only for a few seconds or at best a few minutes. Large amounts of input energy are also required for the experimental apparatus to work and to sufficiently raise the temperature of the plasma for the fusion reaction to start.
  • In all the experimentation conducted till date, it has not proved possible to obtain a higher output of fusion energy than the input energy. The best output to input energy ratio has been 65 per cent.
  • For fusion to become a viable source of energy generation, the reaction will have to be sustained for long durations and output energy will have to be many times greater than input energy.
    Though research is being carried out at almost 200 tokamaks worldwide, including the famous International Thermonuclear Experimental Reactor (ITER), none is envisaging imminent breakthroughs as in the case of compact fusion, even though some successes have been recently achieved in boosting the energy output tenfold. India is also a prominent participant in the ITER programme.

International Thermonuclear Experimental Reactor (ITER):

  • ITER is an international nuclear fusion research and engineering megaproject, which will be the world’s largest magnetic confinement plasma physics experiment.
    It is an experimental tokamak nuclear fusion reactor that is being built in southern France.
  • The machine aims to demonstrate the principle of producing more thermal power from the fusion process than is used to heat the plasma, something that has not yet been achieved in any fusion reactor.
  • The project is funded and run by seven member entities—the European Union, India, Japan, China, Russia, South Korea, and the United States. The EU, as host party for the ITER complex, is contributing about 45 percent of the cost, with the other six parties contributing approximately 9 percent each.

Positives:

  • Entities working on compact fusion also claim that their technology will avert the major environmental impacts of global warming, expected by 2050.

The positive climate mitigating impact of such technologies would, however, depend on the economic viability of fusion energy, which, in turn, would depend on the costs of reactors, cost of materials, complexity of technology, access to technology, product patenting, etc.

  • Cost effective fusion reactors would be able to provide practically limitless power for all the needs of mankind from domestic to industrial supply to desalination of sea water without environmental degradation and further energize pollution control mechanisms.
  • It is safe and cannot lead to the making of a fusion bomb.
  • There would be no danger of accidents similar to Chernobyl as a runaway fusion reaction is intrinsically impossible and any malfunction would result in a rapid shutdown of the plant.
  • Research being undertaken in fields of energy storage, especially vis-à-vis battery technology, are also showing encouraging results. High-capacity battery technology would form a perfect partner with compact fusion technology in providing clean energy in the future.
  • Fusion does not generate long-lived radioactive products and the unburned gases can be treated on site.

While there would a short-to-medium term radioactive waste problem due to the activation of structural materials. Some component materials will become radioactive during the lifetime of a reactor, and will eventually become radioactive waste. The quantity of such waste is, however, likely to be insignificantly small.

Disruptive potential of fusion energy:

  • The greatest and immediate hit of attaining success in harnessing fusion energy is likely to be on oil prices. FOil prices probably would similarly plummet if and when the fusion experiment succeeds. As such, global oil demand is predicted to see a downtrend beyond 2025.
  • Even other energy investments such as in wind, solar, coal, etc. could suffer major setbacks.

Issue:

The technology would be under strict US or UK governmental controls for many years or even decades to follow, as these are the nations which are making investments in fusion experiments. The percolation of fusion technology to other nations in all likelihood would, therefore, be at very carefully measured rates for the next two to three decades.
Besides, since compact fusion would be solely their creation, Western companies and governments are likely to exploit it for profits for many years to come.
Thus, even if this technology has the potential to take care of all of mankind’s energy needs it will not be so in near time.

Indian context:

India has its own plasma research experimental tokamaks called ‘Aditya’ and SST-1 at the Institute of Plasma Research, Gujarat, for conducting fusion research. These have given invaluable experience to Indian scientists because of which they have found a prominent place in the ITER project.

India has not ventured into compact fusion research so far.

In view of the various recent developments in compact fusion, India also needs to carefully tread forward in the energy sector, especially when getting into long-term contracts for power generation.

India’s demand for forthcoming decades is huge. It would be prudent therefore to keep an eye on developments in this field, conduct technological forecasts of fusion research and revisit future energy plans as needed.

Conclusion:

Energy generation through nuclear fission seems to be not very far away. Western nations are investing in the technology. Its time developing nations like that the benefit of such a technology is reaped by all, if the mankind has to benefit.

Connecting the dots:

  • What do you mean by nuclear fusion technology? Many experiments are going worldwide to generate energy for mankind usage using the technology. Discuss the challenges involved and the associated benefits.

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