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DAILY CURRENT AFFAIRS IAS | UPSC Prelims and Mains Exam – 14th December 2021

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  • December 14, 2021
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(PRELIMS + MAINS FOCUS)


LokpalOnline

Part of: Prelims and GS-II – Polity and Governance

Context Chairperson, Lokpal of India, Justice Pinaki Chandra Ghose recently inaugurated a digital Platform for Management of Complaints called ‘LokpalOnline’ 

  • It can be accessed by all citizens of the country and complaints can be filed from anywhere, anytime.

Key features 

  • LokpalOnline is an end-to-end digital solution for the management of complaints against public servants filed under the Lokpal and Lokayuktas Act, 2013.
  • Convenience to complainants for filing complaint online from anywhere anytime
  • Information to the complainant about action on complaint at every stage through e-mails and SMS
  • Facility to complainant to ascertain status of complaint at anytime
  • Identity of the complaint is kept confidential
  • The CVC, CBI and other inquiry agencies can upload their reports directly on ‘LokpalOnline’ platform.
  • Reminders to inquiry agencies through e-mails and SMS
  • Generation of analytical reports as per requirement 

Do you know?

  • Lokpal of India, has been established under the Lokpal and Lokayuktas Act, 2013 to inquire and investigate allegations of corruption against public functionaries falling within the scope and ambit of this Act. 
  • At present complaints sent by post, e-mail or delivered by hand are entertained by the Lokpal of India.

New Gas Stove for Domestic PNG

Part of: Prelims and GS-III -Economy

Context The Minister of Petroleum and Natural Gas recently informed that a novel fuel efficient domestic cooking stove for Piped Natural Gas (PNG) has been developed by Petroleum Conservation Research Association (PCRA) in collaboration with CSIR-Indian Institute of Petroleum (IIP) Dehradun.

Key takeaways

  • This is the first product of its kind in the Country. 
  • Entire combustion system has been customised in this new stove to handle PNG.
  • The stove has been optimised to have the highest thermal efficiency of around 55% in comparison to the maximum efficiency of 40% for the modified LPG stoves 
  • It has a cost almost similar to a normal LPG stove.

Central Asian leaders invited for R-Day

Part of: Prelims and GS-II – International relations

Context India has invited leaders of all five Central Asian nations to attend as chief guests of Republic Day.

  • If they accept, this will be the first time all five countries will attend the Republic Day parade together

India and the Central Asia

  • The Republic Day meeting will help strengthen India’s initiatives through Chabahar and through the International North South Transport Corridor.
  • The invitation is part of India’s reach-out to the former Soviet States which has intensified since 2015.
  • India joined the Shanghai Cooperation Organisation (SCO) in 2017, which all Central Asian States other than Turkmenistan are members of.
  • The India-Central Asia dialogue was launched in 2019, and in July 2021, Minister of External Affairs attended the Central Asia-South Asia connectivity conference.

Do you know?

  • Central Asia is a region in Asia which stretches from the Caspian Sea in the west to China and Mongolia in the east, and from Afghanistan and Iran in the south to Russia in the north
  • It includes the former Soviet republics of Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan, Tajikistan, Turkmenistan, and Uzbekistan

Portal ‘Bal Swaraj

Part of: Prelims and GS-II – Children issues

Context The Supreme Court directed States to take immediate steps to identify and rescue homeless children hit by the COVID-19 pandemic.

  • The court said their details should be uploaded on the National Commission for the Protection of Child Rights (NCPCR) portal ‘Bal Swaraj.
  • The court said the process of collecting the information with regard to the social background of the children and identification of benefits under the individual care plan had to be conducted by the Child Welfare Committees under the Juvenile Justice law.

What is Bal Swaraj Portal?

  • Created by: The National Commission for Protection of Child Rights (NCPCR) 
  • Significance: NCPCR has developed it as part of its role of a monitoring authority under section 109 of the Juvenile Justice Act, 2015 and to address the growing problem of Children being affected by COVID-19. 
  • Objective
    • Online tracking and 
    • Real-time monitoring of Children who have lost both parents/either of the parents during COVID-19 and are in need of care and protection
  • Working: It will track children affected by COVID-19 right from the production of children before the Child Welfare Committee (CWC) to the restoration of the children to their parent/guardian/relative and its subsequent follow-up.
  • The data will be filled in the portal by the District officers and State officers for each child.

Finn’s weaver bird

Part of: GS Prelims 

In News Finn’s weaver (Ploceus megarhynchus) bird, numbering less than 500 in India, which until now was listed as “vulnerable” in the IUCN Red List has been uplisted to “endangered” category.

  • The bird is primarily found in Terai grasslands in Uttarakhand and western Uttar Pradesh, apart from a few pockets in Assam.

(News from PIB)


Pradhan Mantri Jan Vikas Karyakram (PMJVK)

Part of: Prelims

About: Restructured in May 2018 earlier known as MsDP – Implemented for the benefit of the people from all sections of the society  in identified Minority Concentration Areas for creation of assets in education, skill and health sectors.

  • Provide better socio economic infrastructure facilities to the minority communities particularly in the field of education, health & skill development as compared to the present situation, which would further lead to lessening of the gap between the national average and the minority communities with regard to backwardness parameters.
  • The flexibility introduced in the programme will enable addressing important issues that would result in speedier implementation leading to greater inclusiveness of the minority communities.
  • The criteria for identification of Minority Concentration Towns and Clusters of Villages have been rationalized by lowering the population percentage criteria of Minority Communities and fulfilment of backwardness parameters in the following manners:-
    • Earlier only those Towns which were found backward in terms of both in Basic Amenities and Socio-economic parameters were taken up as MCTs. Now, the Towns which were found backward in either or both of the criteria have been taken up as MCT.
    • Earlier only those Cluster of Villages which were having at-least 50% population of Minority Community were taken. Now the population criterion has been lowered to 25%.

News Source: PIB


Commitment towards Freedom of Navigation

Part of: Prelims and Mains GS-II: International Treaty

Context: Government of India is committed to safeguarding maritime interests and strengthening security in the Indian Ocean Region (IOR) to ensure a favorable and positive maritime environment. 

  • India remains committed to promoting a free, open and rules-based order, rooted in international law and undaunted by coercion. 
  • India also supports freedom of navigation and over flight, and unimpeded commerce based on the principles of international law, reflected notably in the ‘United Nations’ Convention on the Law of the Sea (UNCLOS) 1982. As a State Party to the UNCLOS, India promotes utmost respect for the UNCLOS, which establishes the international legal order of the seas and oceans.
  • India develops its maritime cooperation with regional partners in consonance with the Government’s vision of Security and Growth for All in the Region (SAGAR). The steps taken include ‘Mission based Deployments’ of Indian Naval Ships and aircraft to enhance Maritime Domain Awareness, promote maritime security and address contingencies that may arise. 
  • India proactively engages with regional and extra regional maritime forces through multilateral exercises, joint surveillance, coordinated patrols etc. to promote maritime security in the region in an inclusive and cooperative manner. 
  • India also participated in regional frameworks such as the ASEAN Regional Forum (ARF), East Asia Summit (EAS) and ASEAN Defence Ministers Meeting Plus (ADMM Plus) to promote maritime cooperation and exchanges in the region

News Source: PIB


Successful Launch of Supersonic Missile assisted Torpedo System

Part of: Prelims 

In News: Defence Research and Development Organisation (DRDO) developed supersonic missile assisted torpedo system was successfully launched from Wheeler Island in Odisha

  • The system is a next generation missile-based standoff torpedo delivery system. 
  • Designed to enhance anti-submarine warfare capability far beyond the conventional range of the torpedo.
  • This canister-based missile system consists of advanced technologies viz. two stage solid propulsion, electro-mechanical actuators and precision inertial navigation. 
  • The missile is launched from ground mobile launcher and it can cover a range of distances.

News Source: PIB 


2001 Parliament attack

Part of: Mains GS-III: Terrorism

Context: On this day in 2001, a five-member suicide squad comprising Lashkar-e-Taiba and Jaish-e-Mohammad terrorists attacked Parliament house, while the Lok Sabha was in session: the Houses were adjourned at the time of the attack, but several parliamentarians and staff were present inside the building.

  • The attackers came in an Ambassador car, and were able to gain entry because of a forged government sticker. But as the car moved inside the Parliament complex, one of the staff members became suspicious. The vehicle was thus forced to turn back and in the course, hit then Vice President Krishan Kant’s vehicle.
  • The gunmen, armed with AK-47s and grenades, then got down and opened fire. The attack lasted for about 30 minutes, and all the five terrorists were neutralised outside the building itself. 
  • However, five security personnel of Delhi Police, one woman constable of the CRPF and two security assistants of Parliament Watch and Ward section died preventing the entry of terrorists into Parliament House. A gardener and a photojournalist too lost their lives.
  • Within days, four people were arrested and charged as masterminds of the attack. The case against the four – Mohammed Afzal Guru, Shaukat Hussain, Afsan Guru and SAR Geelani – went on for about a decade, with the Delhi High Court and the Supreme Court eventually acquitting two, and upholding the death sentence of one.
  • Geelani, a professor in Delhi University, was acquitted for “need of evidence” by the Delhi high court in 2003, a decision upheld by the Supreme Court in 2005. Afsan Guru, too, was cleared of charges and Hussain served jail time. Afzal Guru was hanged in 2013.

While the martyrs’ families suffered irreparable losses, India remembers the bravehearts with gratitude.


(Mains Focus)


INTERNATIONAL/ SECURITY

  • GS-2: Effect of policies and politics of developed and developing countries on India’s interests.

Europe’s Global Gateway

Context: Recently, European Commission launched the Global Gateway initiative

What is Global Gateway initiative of EU?

  • It is a new European Strategy to boost smart, clean and secure links in digital, energy and transport and strengthen health, education and research systems across the world.
  • It is essentially an umbrella strategy to synchronize already existing EU and member states global infrastructure investment programs.
  • Global Gateway aims to mobilize 300 billion euros (around $337 billion) over a five-year period to invest in digital and transport infrastructure, energy generation and transmission, and health projects.
  • In addition to smaller EU grants, Global Gateway taps into national and EU resources from financial institutions and development banks, in the hope that institutional spending will unlock significant private capital, too.

Merits of Global Gateway

  • Challenger to China’s BRI: Observers and officials were quick to frame the GG as a European challenge to China’s BRI — itself launched in 2013 to fund infrastructure development projects mostly in developing and middle-income countries in Asia and around the globe.
  • Strengthen EU ties with world: EU investments have made tangible differences on the ground in much of the developing world as well as in middle-income countries. This strengthens ties with Asia, Africa, and, importantly, the Western Balkan region, and it raises environmental, democracy, and human rights standards.
  • The European model is about investing in both hard and soft infrastructure, in sustainable investments in digital, climate and energy, transport, health, education and research, as well as in an enabling environment guaranteeing a level playing field.
  • Value Driven Model: The EU will offer not only solid financial conditions for partners, bringing grants, favourable loans, and budgetary guarantees to improve debt sustainability – but also promote the highest environmental, social and strategic management standards
  • Complements US initiative: This is Europe’s contribution to narrowing the global investment gap. Also, Global Gateway and the US initiative Build Back Better World will mutually reinforce each other. 

Criticisms/challenges of Global Gateway 

  • Repacking of Existing Projects: Global Gateway is mostly repackaging existing programs (InvestEU, our research programme, Horizon Europe and the Connecting Europe Facility) and also that the investment sum remains a fraction of what China is mobilizing.
  • Geopolitical Influence: Overseas infrastructure investments are always partly geopolitical, seeking to increase the investing country’s own influence while trying to minimize space for others. The EU is no different and naturally seeks to advance its interests and competitiveness.
  • China factor is exaggerated: Not China but Japan is the largest infrastructure investor, silently and seamlessly implementing affordable good quality projects, especially in Southeast Asia.
  • Value Driven Agenda of EU: While Europe meets high standards and enjoys great credibility and reputation, the assumption that China does not is flawed. Many middle- and low-income countries are demanding China’s investment that doesn’t come with value-driven agendas unlike that of Western investment which is invariably attached to Democracy & Human rights.
  • China adapting to criticisms: BRI is now approaching a decade of experience, and China, though relatively new to global investment projects, has learned important lessons from the first phase of BRI (2013-2017). Beijing is also increasingly showing greater empathy for the local economy and sensitivities, and the BRI is moving into new areas of sustainable growth and health where there is great demand.
  • Scope for complementary multi-source investment: Asian Development Bank estimates Asia’s needs to be $26 trillion through 2030. In other words, even if China were to double the BRI’s investment volume, would still be room for 10 Global Gateways.
  • Challenges in mobilising Private Capital: While the BRI mobilizes state-owned commercial and policy banks, it is unclear whether the EU will indeed be able to tap into private capital. Infrastructure projects are costly and yield uncertain returns.

Conclusion

  • Not everything needs to be seen through the lens of binary competition, and not everything Beijing does is ipso facto bad simply because Beijing does it. 
  • Global Gateway is an excellent and meaningful strategy. But instead of trying to outcompete China and lamenting low standards, the EU could make a difference by setting examples, gradually raising the bar for all.
  • Europe should find ways to coordinate and synergize various national and supra-national projects and share best practices and information. It can also prioritize areas less penetrated by the BRI, especially India and Eastern Europe.

Connecting the dots:


INTERNATIONAL/ SECURITY

  • GS-2: Effect of policies and politics of developed and developing countries on India’s interests.

Russia-Ukraine Tension

In News: Russia has been building up its military forces close to the Ukrainian border. As per reports, Russia has amassed more than 92,000 troops around 300 km from the Russian border with eastern Ukraine.

  • This territory is a conflict zone where Ukraine has been battling Russia-backed separatists. 
  • While Ukraine and the West have accused Russia of preparing for an invasion, Russia has, in turn, accused the West of ‘anti-Russia’ agenda.

Why the Russian military build-up? 

  • While the exact reasons remain open to interpretation, most strategic experts believe that an actual invasion is unlikely. 
  • Rather, the move seems aimed at signaling serious intent to impose costs on Ukraine if certain ‘red lines’ regarding Moscow’s security concerns are crossed. 
  • The background to Russia’s recent escalation vis-à-vis Ukraine is its discomfort with the steady eastward expansion of the U.S.-led North Atlantic Organisation (NATO). 
  • With even former constituents of the erstwhile Soviet Union such as Latvia, Lithuania, and Estonia becoming NATO members, Russia is determined to protect its domain of influence in the case of larger neighbours such as Belarus and Ukraine. 
  • While Belarus has a pro-Russia regime, Ukraine has been courting – and courted by — NATO. 
  • Russia is alarmed by the gradual expansion of military aid pouring into Ukraine from NATO member countries, which is allegedly being used in its war against Russia-backed separatists in the Donbas region (Eastern Ukraine). 
  • In this context, the troop build-up could be interpreted as a stern warning against any plans to escalate NATO activities or presence in Ukraine.

How has Ukraine responded to Russia’s mobilisation?

  • Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky claimed that a coup plot has been hatched to depose him. Without saying so in as many words, he has hinted that Russia was behind the plot. 
  • Russia has denied any role in the alleged coup attempt. 
  • Ever since Russia seized Crimea from Ukraine in March 2014 and war broke out in eastern Ukraine a month after, relations between the two countries have been fraught. 
  • Russia annexed Crimea to protect its naval base in the Crimean capital of Sevastopol, which was necessary to retain its dominance of the strategically critical Black Sea, which is otherwise surrounded by NATO states (Turkey, Bulgaria, and Romania, with Georgia and Ukraine being aspiring members whose induction has been stalled only by Russian opposition).

Does the Minsk Protocol have any bearing on the current scenario?

  • The Minsk Protocol was an agreement signed by representatives of Ukraine, Russia, OSCE (Organization for Security and Co-operation), and the then heads of the two separatist groups to end the war in the Donbas region. 
  • It enjoins Ukraine to devolve more powers to the local governments – likely controlled by the separatist groups — in the Donbas region. 
  • Ukraine, which has made no move to implement the agreement, believes that doing so would give Russia too much say in its internal matters. 
  • Russia, on the other hand, believes the Minsk Protocol to be the basis for lasting peace.

What are the larger geo-political ramifications? 

  • With the end of the Cold War, the dissolution of the Warsaw Pact, and the collapse of the Soviet Union, NATO’s original objective – to thwart an invasion of Western Europe from the east – had been achieved. 
  • But NATO, rather than disbanding, reinvented itself as a vehicle of American strategic dominance. It began to expand, acquiring new members at a fast clip. 
  • Recently, with the U.S. viewing China rather than Russia as its primary security threat, American strategic focus has been shifting to the Asia-Pacific theatre. 
  • Some analysts believe that Russian President Vladimir Putin might have decided that it was a good time to test NATO’s (and the U.S.’s) strategic will to get involved in case things escalate in Ukraine.

What next?

  • In the event of Russia actually invading Ukraine, it is doubtful if NATO would intervene militarily to protect Ukraine, which is not currently a member. At the same time, it would not want to be seen as ineffective. 
  • At the very least, Russia, which already faces an array of economic sanctions sparked by the Crimea invasion, might end up with more painful ones, including possibly against the Nord Steam-2 pipeline, which delivers Russian gas directly to Germany.

Connecting the dots:


(ORF: India Matters)


Dec 13- The rise of the platform economy and access to educational resources – https://www.orfonline.org/expert-speak/the-rise-of-the-platform-economy-and-access-to-educational-resources/ 

TOPIC:

  • GS-2 – Government policies and interventions for development in various sectors and issues arising out of their design and implementation.
  • GS-2 – Issues relating to development and management of Social Sector/Services relating to Education.

The rise of the platform economy and access to educational resources

Context: The COVID pandemic has jump-started a new trend—the use of digital platforms to access learning materials. A new study points out, India’s online education market for classes 1-12 is poised to grow more than six-fold to become a US $1.7-billion market by 2030, while higher education is likely to grow almost four-fold to become a US $1.8-billion market in the same period.

The rise of a platform economy in India 

It has been a key driver of the surge in online learning. In the sphere of online education, a digital platform translates into a network that brings together educational publishers and content providers on the one hand, and learners on the other, facilitating transactions between them such that the value of the platform grows with the volume of transactions, publishers, and learners on it.

  • Open educational platforms refer to those whose contents are freely available, and on which publishers or research institutions can place their academic products on the basis of their proven credentials as content providers. 
  • Closed educational platforms tend to be commercially driven—access to content is restricted by paywalls; a commercial publisher or ed-tech firm could be the platform owner; and multiple publishers might enter into an arrangement with the platform to make their contents commercially available.

In India, the pandemic has triggered an explosion in the demand for educational resources across both kinds of platforms. For instance, SWAYAM, the government’s national platform for massive open online courses (MOOCS) has seen traffic increase exponentially since the COVID outbreak. Similarly, the National Digital Library of India (NDLI)—an open platform offering free access to over 55 million educational resources—has experienced an unprecedented spike in use since March 2020; and in October this year, the number of NDLI e-resources viewed and downloaded crossed the 100 million mark. Closed platforms too have witnessed spectacular growth. Ed-tech platform upGrad’s revenues grew by over 100 percent in 2020. And BYJU’s, India’s largest ed-tech company, has reported that 40 million new users have joined its platform since the pandemic began.

Clearly, there is a burgeoning market for subscribed content and price is not necessarily a deterrent for certain audiences. But if quality educational resources are to reach a wider user base while also ensuring that publishers’ rights and incentives are protected, a more sensitive balance between open access and access to paywalled content will have to be found.

Towards balanced models in India

The pursuit of access models that balance user benefits with publishers’ commercial interests pre-dates COVID, but the pandemic has imbued the quest with a new level of urgency. 

  • Free content initiatives: Since early 2020, several publishers in India and elsewhere have made previously subscribed bundles of content freely accessible for home teaching and learning, or for COVID research. But providing free content is not sustainable in the long run, and some means of monetising these resources will need to be devised. Indeed, as the pandemic wears on, publishers are beginning to cut back on their free content initiatives.
  • One nation, one subscription: The bold ‘One Nation, One Subscription’ (ONOS) scheme that the Indian government is currently deliberating upon could benefit both publishers and learners. ONOS would require the government to negotiate and purchase a single unified subscription from a consortium of academic book and journal publishers, after which their educational resources would be available to all citizens and publicly funded institutions.
  • National licensing: Somewhat similar to ONOS, though on a more limited scale, national licensing is a creative arrangement instituted by the Ministry of Education and the NDLI. Thanks to a bulk subscription paid by the Ministry to a range of publishers and digital platforms, their contents can be accessed for free exclusively through the NDLI platform. Accessing them directly from their source platforms, however, requires a payment or a subscription. The availability of nationally licensed contents has proved to be enormously beneficial to learners. 
  • Gold and green open access: Gold open access refers to the practice of making authors—or their institutional funders—pay journals an article processing charge (APC), after which their articles are made available on an OA basis. This approach, while reasonably common in developed countries, has proved to be less popular in India because steep APCs are often beyond the reach of authors and funders. Green OA, by contrast, does not involve an APC, but requires authors to post pre-print versions of academic papers in an open online repository, sometimes immediately after publication. It remains to be seen whether India will formally adopt green OA as a publishing standard.

Conclusion

As growing numbers of learners flock to platforms and publishers expand their programmes to meet the rising demand for content, we must ensure that learners everywhere can avail of the educational resources they need, and that the publishers who produce them are rewarded. The idea of access for all should not throttle publishers; but neither should quality academic content be beyond learners’ means. A fine balance must be maintained if education is to be reimagined.

Can you answer the following question?

  1. ‘One of the biggest clashes in our time is between the movement towards open access and the defence of intellectual property, including copyright.’ What are your views? Discuss.
  2. Digital platforms and ICT-based educational initiatives must be optimised and expanded to meet the current and future challenges in providing quality education for all. Suggest ways to optimize these platforms.

(TEST YOUR KNOWLEDGE)


Model questions: (You can now post your answers in comment section)

Q.1 Finn’s weaver bird was recently uplisted to which of the following categories by IUCN?

  1. Vulnerable 
  2. Extinct
  3. Endangered 
  4. Critically endangered 

Q.2 Which of the following is not a Central Asian nation?

  1. Turkmenistan
  2. Afghanistan
  3. Uzabekistaan 
  4. Kyrgyzstan

Q.3 Consider the following statements regarding the Lokpal and Lokayuktas Act, 2013:

  1. The Lokpal Act envisages establishment of the anti-graft body Lokpal at the Centre and Lokayuktas in states to look into cases of corruption against certain categories of public servants.
  2. The Lokpal selection committee is headed by the Prime Minister and consists of the Lok Sabha Speaker, leader of the opposition in the lower house, the Chief Justice of India or a judge of the apex court nominated by him, and an eminent jurist who could be nominated by the President or any other member.

Which of the above is or are correct? 

  1. 1 only 
  2. 2 only 
  3. Both 1 and 2 
  4. Neither 1 nor 2 

ANSWERS FOR 14th Dec 2021 TEST YOUR KNOWLEDGE (TYK)

1 C
2 B
3 C

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