CURRENT AFFAIRS – 30/05/2023

CURRENT AFFAIRS – 30/05/2023

Faster, stronger

India must use its supercomputers beyond weather forecasts

Later this year, India will have a new ‘supercomputer’ or, more correctly, an upgraded ‘high performance computing (HPC)’ system that will arguably be its fastest. This system is to be made and installed by the French corporation, Atos — an information technology service and consulting company. The Narendra Modi government signed a deal in December 2018 with France to procure high-performance computers worth ₹4,500 crore by 2025. These HPC systems will run at two institutions, the Indian Institute of Tropical Meteorology, Pune, and the National Centre for Medium Range Weather Forecasting, Noida, that currently host two of India’s most powerful such machines, Mihir and Pratyush. Like their predecessors, the Atos machines will be used primarily to run sophisticated weather models that, for some years now, are being used to prepare a range of forecasts, from long-term monsoon to fortnightly as well as daily weather changes. Extremely powerful machines are needed for this purpose as accurate forecasts are premised on being able to simulate the state of the atmosphere and oceans. ‘Supercomputers’ is a buzzword and term that is in constant flux. Supercomputers of two decades ago are today’s student laptops and gaming consoles.

While many challenging research questions, apart from weather modelling, are extremely dependent on computing — protein biology, aerospace-modelling applications, and now AI-linked applications — the possession of HPCs is also used as a medallion by countries wanting to signify their technological prowess. The Top500 project has for over two decades maintained a list of the top 500 most powerful HPC machines and this is updated twice a year, with countries prominently advertising the presence of their systems if they make it to the list. Currently, a machine housed at Pune’s Centre for Development of Advanced Computing (CDAC) is the only Indian machine in the top 100 with a top speed of 13 petaflops. Floating point operations per second (FLOPS) are an indicator of computer processing abilities and 1 petaflop is a 1,000 trillion flops. The to-be installed French machines are expected to be 18 petaflops and India already has a handful of machines at multiple research institutions in the petaflop range. The possession of powerful supercomputers is certainly a reassurance that Indian scientists, wanting to solve intractable problems, can always tap these behemoths, but whether the use of these machines has translated into significant breakthroughs in fundamental science or engineering commercial products is another matter. Much like India has improved its short-term weather forecasts and made cyclone forecasts more accurate on the back of such machines, there should be greater accounting of their worth in other fields, rather than be content with epithets of speed and power.


From Master of the Roster to Master of all Judges?

Recently, a Division Bench of the Supreme Court, in Ritu Chhabria v. Union of India, affirmed an undertrial’s right to be released on default bail in the event of the investigation remaining incomplete and proceeding beyond the statutory time limit. It frowned upon the practice of investigative agencies charge-sheeting an accused despite the investigation being unfinished. It held that the right to be released on bail will not be extinguished on the mere filing of a preliminary charge-sheet. It concluded that an accused’s right to seek default bail would be terminated only upon competition of the investigation within the statutory time limit.

An extraordinary decision

Subsequently, in a surprising turn of events, the Court of the Chief Justice of India (CJI) entertained a recall application moved by the Union of India against this judgment. It then passed an interim order directing courts to decide bail applications without relying on the decision laid down in Ritu Chhabria for a short period of time. In a nutshell, by stripping the decision of the Division Bench of its precedential value even if for a short while, the Court of the CJI indirectly stayed the decision despite not having any connection with the verdict.

Ordinarily, the only recourse available to the Union of India was the filing of a review petition, which is usually decided by the same Bench. There was no scope of the review petition being entertained by the Court of the CJI. The only way the Court of the CJI could enter the fray would be if there was another Coordinate Bench seized of the same issue in a separate matter, expressing its disagreement with the ratio laid in Ritu Chhabria and referring it to the CJI for recommendation to a larger Bench. There was no scope for a recall application being filed against a judgment, that too before an altogether different Bench. Doing so is tantamount to bench fishing or forum shopping. Therefore, by entertaining an intra-court appeal within the Supreme Court as an additional mechanism against an order passed by a Bench that did not include the CJI, the Court of the CJI has effectively instituted a mechanism that is completely devoid of any legislative or constitutional backing.

First amongst equals

Within the constitutional scheme of things, all judges of the Supreme Court are equal in terms of their judicial powers. However, the CJI enjoys special administrative powers such as constituting Benches and assigning matters and references for reconsideration of a larger Bench. The CJI is known as the ‘Master of the Roster.’ This is why he is regarded as ‘first amongst equals’ in relation to companion judges. But in any given Bench including the CJI, the vote or power given to the CJI is the same as that given to his companion judges. History is replete with examples of the CJI authoring a minority opinion of the Court. The most recent such order was the one passed by the Supreme Court in the Economic Weaker Sections quota dispute where the then CJI, Justice U.U. Lalit, along with Justice S. Ravindra Bhat authored the minority opinion of the Court. Most Commonwealth countries such as the U.K., Australia and Canada have this system in place. And countries which don’t, such as the U.S., instead have a system where all the judges collectively exercise power and render decisions since they sit en bloc. Thus, they reflect the collective strength of the Court and not of Benches, as is the case in India. In India, the legitimacy of the power of Master of the Roster has been hotly debated, and has been, from time to time, reaffirmed to the extent of administrative decisions for the smooth functioning of the Court. By no stretch of imagination does the present order of the CJI fall within the powers envisaged under the ‘Master of the Roster’ system. It is ironic that a judgment which emphasised on abiding by the statutory procedure for investigation and bail was effectively undone by a doubtful procedure that is completely alien to both the Constitution as well as the Supreme Court Rules. The interim order raises concerns because, in the near future, if the government is displeased with the order of one Bench, it can simply go before the CJI to get the decision stripped of all its legal sanctity instead of re-convincing the same Bench in a review.

Cause for concern

Despite the administrative usefulness of the ‘Master of the Roster’ system, the many recorded instances of abuse are a cause for concern. Just five years ago, four senior judges of the Supreme Court alleged serious infirmities and irregularities in the administration and assigning of cases for hearing to Benches of the Court. The powers vested in the CJI by his virtue of being the Master of the Roster are unending. It is impractical to lay any limits on these powers, meant for the smooth administrative functioning of the Court. It is imperative that the CJI himself refrains from expanding his powers as Master of the Roster; the practice of constituting Benches and allocating cases should be completely computerised and left out of the hands of the CJI.

The CJI’s powers as the Master of the Roster are meant only for administrative decision-making. The order has the effect of enlarging the powers of the CJI on the judicial side and of creating an unprecedented intra-court appellate mechanism within the Supreme Court in total disregard of the established procedure, which is a review petition. The instant order has also dulled the bright line prohibiting the Court of the CJI from assuming that it is superior to all other Benches.

A recent Supreme Court order has the effect of enlarging the powers of the CJI on the judicial side.


Northeast gets its first Vande Bharat Express

Prime Minister Narendra Modi flagged off northeast region’s first Vande Bharat Express virtually on Monday. The train will connect Guwahati in Assam with New Jalpaiguri in West Bengal and the journey will take five-and-a-half hours. Earlier, the fastest train on the route took 6.5 hours to cover the distance of nearly 400 km.

Mr. Modi also dedicated 182 route km of newly electrified sections to the nation. Now, 425 km of railway tracks in Assam and Meghalaya have been electrified. This will help provide pollution-free transportation at higher speeds and less running time.

Mr. Modi said that prior to 2014, the average Railway budget for the northeast was about ₹2,500 crore, which has grown to more ₹10,000 crore in the current year, which is a four-fold increase. “Now, the capitals of Manipur, Mizoram, Nagaland, Meghalaya and Sikkim are being connected to the rest of the country. Very soon, all capital cities of the northeast are going to be connected by a broad gauge network,” he said.

Mr. Modi said the Guwahati-New Jalpaiguri Vande Bharat train will strengthen the centuries-old ties between Assam and West Bengal. This will increase ease of travel and bring huge benefits to students as well as generate more job opportunities through tourism and business.


ISRO’s GSLV rocket takes navigation satellite into transfer orbit successfully

This mission happened after the debacle during the F10 mission where there was an issue in the cryogenic stage, says ISRO Chairman S. Somanath congratulating the team responsible for the feat

The Indian Space Research Organisation (ISRO) on Monday successfully placed the NVS-01 navigation satellite, weighing about 2,232 kg, into Geosynchronous Transfer Orbit.

The Geosynchronous Satellite Launch Vehicle (GSLV), which placed the satellite, lifted off with a thunderous roar precisely at 10.42 a.m. from the second launch pad at the Satish Dhawan Space Centre SHAR, Sriharikota.

“After a flight of about 19 minutes, the NVS-01 satellite was injected precisely into a Geosynchronous Transfer Orbit. Subsequent orbit-raising manoeuvres will take NVS-01 into the intended Geosynchronous orbit,” ISRO said.

Talking from the control room, ISRO Chairman S. Somanath congratulated the team responsible and said GSLV has placed the satellite in the precise orbit. He said, “This mission happened after the debacle during the F10 mission where there was an issue in the cryogenic stage. I’m very happy about the corrections and modifications that we have done and the lessons that we learnt to make our cryogenic stage more reliable.”

He also mentioned that NVS-01 is the first in the series of five satellites.

According to details provided by ISRO, the GSLV-F12 is the 15th flight of India’s GSLV and the 9th flight with indigenous cyro stage. This is the 6th operational flight of GSLV with an indigenous cryogenic stage. The NVS-01 carried navigation payloads L1, L5 and S bands. Interestingly, for the first time, an indigenous atomic clock was flown in NVS-01.

Later during a press meet, the Chairman said the space agency is planning to launch weather satellite INSAT-3DS on the Geosynchronous Satellite Launch Vehicle (GSLV). Mr. Somanath said that ISRO will have to complete the navigation satellite constellation by launching four more NVS series satellites.

ISRO is also working on designing a new rocket that can carry much higher luggage and also upgrading the LVM3 rocket to lift up to 5.5 ton from the current 4 ton capacity.

Noting that the next few months will be busy, Mr. Somanath said in July ISRO will test the crew escape systems for the Gaganyaan project rocket.


Kashmir’s ‘Sufiyana Mausiki’ revives the past

The songs were played during an event in Baramulla to pay tributes to the master weavers of shawls and carpets, and prominent folk singers; the event celebrated the onset of summer.

The fast fading Sufiyana Mausiki and Tchakri, devotional folk songs that assumed centrality for carpet and shawl weavers of Kashmir for centuries, were finally replayed with the old-charm setting in a rare bid to “reconnect with the past” at Kunzer area in Baramulla of north Kashmir on Sunday.

To revive the old tradition of celebrating the vibrancy of onset of summers, Mehboob Iqbal Shah, co-founder of the Artisane Art and Cultural Centre, an off-shoot of the ‘House of Ali Shah’ established in 1860, on Sunday evening organised ‘Dastaan-e-Bahaar’ to pay tributes to the master weavers of shawls and carpets and prominent folk singers.

Ustad Muhammad Yaqoob Sheikh, a known name in Sufiyana Mausiki, and Ghulam Ahmad Kachroo, a well-known Tchakri singer, sang soul-stirring poetry and verses in an open-air setting.

Sufiyana music helps to have peace at heart. This folk music has been granted classical status. It has 180 mukaams or stages and, unfortunately, several stages are lost because of decline in the tradition. The Mukaam-e-Bahaar is sung at low pitch and just before the sunset,” Mr. Sheikh said.

Two well-known artisans — Ghulam Muhammad, a carpet weaver, and Abdul Rasheed, a Kani shawl weaver — threw light on the centrality gained by devotional songs, especially Sufiyana Mausiki, among the tribe of artisans from Kashmir for many decades now.

Mr. Shah said Kunzer’s Takiya Batapora area had emerged as the centre of learning for the artisans of the entire Baramulla. “In 1970, the area was home to over 100 carpet looms, making it one of the biggest clusters in the district,” he added.

He said Sama, the musical performance, was organised on the demand of the local artisans who wanted to see the live performances of their folklore icons. He added that people in Kashmir no longer head for the Qamar Sahib’s shrine or flock to Badamwaeri for music at the onset of bahaar (summer), as used to be a tradition. “This event was to recreate the past and celebrate the onset of summer and its colourful vibrancy,” Mr. Shah said.

Highlighting the need to revive the past glory, Saleem Beg, former Director-General of Tourism and Convenor of INTACH-Kashmir, said the performances and the setting reflected the tapestry of Kashmir’s culture.


CAG voted in as WHO auditor for a second term

Girish Chandra Murmu

Girish Chandra Murmu, the Comptroller and Auditor General of India (CAG), has been re-elected as the External Auditor of the World Health Organization (WHO) for a four-year term from 2024 to 2027.

The CAG is already holding this position in the WHO since 2019 for a four-year term from 2019 to 2023.

The re-election was held on Monday in the 76th World Health Assembly in Geneva, where the CAG of India was re-elected with an overwhelming majority (114 out of 156 votes) in the first round of voting itself.

The CAG is a member of the United Nations Panel of External Auditors.


Srivastava sworn in as Central Vigilance Commissioner