- CURRENT AFFAIRS – 11/01/2024
CURRENT AFFAIRS – 11/01/2024
India Joins Square Kilometer Array (SKA) Project
(General Studies- Paper III)
Source : The Indian Express
In a significant move, India has officially become a full member of the Square Kilometer Array (SKA) project, a global scientific collaboration aimed at constructing the largest radio telescope in the world.
- While India has been contributing to the project for several years, obtaining full member status involves signing and ratifying an international treaty, along with a financial commitment.
- India has allocated Rs 1,250 crore for its contribution to the SKA project, covering the funding required for the construction phase.
- This decision not only solidifies India’s involvement in SKA but also opens up greater scientific opportunities, as full members enjoy enhanced access to the facility.
- India’s commitment to cutting-edge scientific research is evident through its participation in various international mega science projects.
- Scientific Opportunities:
- Full membership in SKA not only cements India’s involvement but also grants enhanced access to the facility, opening up greater scientific opportunities.
- This move aligns with India’s broader strategy of actively participating in global scientific initiatives to advance its scientific capabilities and contribute to groundbreaking discoveries.
- Beyond SKA, India is actively contributing to other prominent international projects.
- The country is involved in the construction of a gravitational wave detector for the Laser Interferometer Gravitational Wave Observatory (LIGO) network, showcasing its commitment to diverse scientific pursuits.
- India also holds full membership in the ITER project, dedicated to harnessing energy from nuclear fusion reactions.
- Particle Physics and Large Hadron Collider (LHC):
- India’s commitment to scientific advancements extends to particle physics, with robust participation in the Large Hadron Collider (LHC).
- The LHC, recognized as the world’s largest and most powerful particle accelerator, serves as a platform for groundbreaking experiments pushing the boundaries of our understanding of the universe.
- Project Design and Structure:
- The SKA is not a singular large telescope but rather a revolutionary project involving thousands of dish antennas functioning as a unified system.
- The name “Square Kilometer Array” reflects the initial goal of creating one square kilometer of effective area for collecting radio waves, achieved through an array design making thousands of smaller antennas operate collectively as a single radio telescope.
- While the original aspiration was a one-square-kilometer collecting area, the current projection, at a cost of USD 2.4 billion (2021 prices), indicates a potentially lesser effective area.
- However, the project retains its original name despite this evolution in scope.
- The SKA comprises about 200 antennas in South Africa and over 130,000 antennas in Australia.
- These antennas are strategically placed in sparsely populated areas to minimize interference from Earth-based sources, emphasizing the project’s commitment to reducing signal interference by locating installations far from human activities.
- Construction activities commenced at both South African and Australian sites in December 2022.
- The project’s first phase is anticipated to be completed by the following year, showcasing a swift development timeline for this ambitious scientific endeavor.
- Once operational, the SKA is projected to be significantly more powerful than existing radio telescopes in comparable frequency ranges.
- The estimated enhancement ranges from 5 to 60 times the capabilities of the most advanced current radio telescopes, positioning SKA at the forefront of radio astronomy.
- India’s Participation in the Square Kilometer Array (SKA)
- While none of the SKA facilities are situated in India, the country’s full membership in the project offers substantial science and technology benefits.
- This strategic participation is akin to India’s involvement in projects like the LHC and ITER, both located on foreign soil but delivering significant dividends to the Indian scientific community.
- India already possesses highly developed capabilities in radio astronomy, exemplified by facilities such as the Giant Meterwave Radio Telescope (GMRT) near Pune.
- The SKA, positioned as the most promising tool for research in pressing scientific questions in astronomy, presents the next logical step forward for Indian scientists in this field.
- Full member status grants India preferential access to SKA facilities.
- While many telescopes operate under an open-use policy, the SKA model is shifting towards member countries having priority access, proportionate to their contributions.
- Limited time slots would be available through competitive bidding, emphasizing the value of full membership.
- Technological Advancements:
- The SKA involves cutting-edge technologies, spanning electronics, software, materials science, and computing.
- The project generates intellectual properties accessible to all member countries, providing extensive learning opportunities for scientists, academics, and the private industry in India.
- Expanding Science and Technology Base:
- Participation in the SKA is expected to contribute to the expansion of India’s science and technology base.
- The Indian participation in the project is led by the National Centre for Radio Astrophysics (NCRA) in Pune, and the collaboration involves 22 institutions, including leading research institutions, IITs, IISERs, universities, colleges, and a few private companies.
- This broader engagement promises capacity building and training opportunities.
- Long-standing Contribution:
- India has been an integral part of the SKA project since its inception in the 1990s.
- Over the years, the country has actively contributed to the design and development of the telescope.
- Additionally, India played a crucial role in negotiating the SKA Observatory Convention, the international treaty that established the facility as an intergovernmental organization.
- A key contribution from India has been in the development and operation of the Telescope Manager, described as the ‘neural network’ or software responsible for running the entire SKA facility.
- This involvement showcases India’s expertise in advanced software development crucial for the success of the project.
- To further enhance its role in the SKA project, India has plans to establish an SKA regional center within the country.
- This center will be part of the global network, focused on processing, storing, and making data available for the international scientific community.
- Diverse Research Goals:
- Indian scientists have identified multiple areas of research leveraging the capabilities of the SKA telescopes.
- These research objectives encompass the evolution of the early universe, the formation and evolution of galaxies, neutron star physics, and solar sciences.
- The breadth of these scientific goals reflects the diverse interests and expertise within the Indian scientific community.
- India’s involvement extends beyond institutional collaboration, with more than 150 scientists, researchers, and students from over 30 different Indian institutions actively participating in ongoing science activities related to the SKA.
- The inclusive engagement involves contributions from both public and private sectors, highlighting the collaborative nature of India’s scientific endeavors.
The laws around remission policy
(General Studies- Paper II)
Source : TH
The Supreme Court, on January 8, overturned the remission granted by the Gujarat government to 11 convicts involved in the gang rape of BilkisBano and the murder of her family during the 2002 communal riots.
- This remission, issued in August 2022, allowed the convicts to be released from life imprisonment.
- The Supreme Court’s decision highlights the constitutional powers related to clemency and raises questions about the application of remission policies.
- Clemency Powers Defined:
- Article 72 and 161 of the Constitution grant clemency powers to the President and Governor, respectively.
- These powers include the authority to pardon, commute, remit, respite, or reprieve a convict.
- Such sovereign powers are exercised based on the advice of the council of ministers.
- Additionally, Section 432 of the Criminal Procedure Code (CrPC) empowers the State government to remit all or part of a convict’s punishment, with specific conditions for life imprisonment cases under Section 433A.
- Background of the Remission:
- The heinous crimes in question occurred during the 2002 Gujarat riots, but for a fair trial, the cases were moved to Maharashtra in 2004.
- In 2008, a CBI trial court in Mumbai sentenced the 11 convicts to life imprisonment.
- In 2022, one convict, Radheshyam Shah, petitioned the Supreme Court, invoking the Gujarat government’s ‘Remission policy’ of 1992.
- Arguing that this policy was in force during the commission of the offense and sentencing, Shah’s plea led the Supreme Court to direct the Gujarat government to consider his remission application.
- Subsequently, the Godhra Jail Advisory Committee recommended the remission of sentences, leading to the release of the 11 convicts in August 2022.
- Supreme Court Intervention:
- The recent Supreme Court decision set aside the remission, emphasizing concerns about the application of the 1992 policy and raising questions about the appropriateness of releasing the convicts involved in such grave offenses.
- The ruling underscores the judiciary’s role in ensuring justice and the need for careful consideration in granting remissions, especially for cases involving heinous crimes.
- Jurisdictional and Procedural Violations:
- The release raised questions about jurisdictional and procedural adherence to the Criminal Procedure Code (CrPC).
- According to CrPC provisions, the remission application should have been considered by the appropriate State government, which, in this case, is Maharashtra where the sentencing occurred. Additionally, the law mandates obtaining the opinion of the presiding judge of the convicting court, a step overlooked in this instance.
- The Supreme Court’s guidelines, as established in LaxmanNaskar versus Union of India (2000), outline five grounds for remission consideration.
- The first ground questions whether the offense is an individual act that does not affect society.
- Given the heinous nature of the crime in question, it challenges the notion that it doesn’t impact societal conscience.
- Moreover, the Supreme Court’s ruling in Sangeet versus State of Haryana (2012) emphasized that a convict serving life imprisonment lacks an automatic right to premature release after 14 years, advocating for a case-by-case evaluation.
- This perspective was reinforced by a Union Home Ministry advisory in 2013, cautioning against wholesale remission.
- The Gujarat government’s decision to rely on the 1992 ‘Remission policy’ for the release, despite its revision in 2014, has drawn attention.
- The 2014 policy explicitly barred remission for those convicted of rape and murder.
- However, the 1992 policy, which was in force at the time of conviction, lacked such exclusions.
- This discrepancy underscores the need for alignment between state policies and legal principles.
- Key Points of the Supreme Court’s Ruling:
- The Supreme Court clarified that the Gujarat government lacks jurisdiction in considering the remission petition, emphasizing that Maharashtra, where the sentencing occurred, is the appropriate government for this purpose.
- The court ruled that the May 2022 order, which prompted the Gujarat government to consider remission, was tainted by fraud and suppression of facts before the court.
- This finding rendered the order invalid.
- All 11 convicts were instructed to surrender to jail authorities within two weeks, nullifying their premature release based on the flawed order.
- Maharashtra was identified as the proper authority to evaluate the remission petitions, with the directive that the evaluation should align with established legal principles and guidelines laid down by the court.
- The Supreme Court’s ruling serves to restore faith in the judicial system and the rule of law.
- By overturning a controversial order, the court has underscored the importance of adherence to legal principles, especially in cases involving grave offenses that impact society.
- The expectation is that the Maharashtra government will follow the court’s guidelines, particularly those outlined in the LaxmanNaskar case, which stress that crimes affecting society at large deserve no mercy in the consideration of remission petitions.
Article 72 of the Constitution
- Article 72 of the Indian Constitution empowers the President to exercise pardoning powers in specific cases, independently of the judiciary.
- This authority serves a dual purpose:
- correcting potential judicial errors and providing relief from sentences deemed excessively harsh.
- The President’s pardoning power encompasses various forms of intervention, each serving distinct purposes.
- The President’s pardoning power is an executive function, not subject to judicial review.
- It does not involve acting as a court of appeal.
- Pardoning Powers Criteria:
- Offences against Union Law.
- Sentences by a court martial (military court).
- Death sentences.
- Forms of Pardoning Power:
- Pardon: Complete removal of both the sentence and conviction, absolving the convict from all penalties and disqualifications.
- Commutation: Substitution of a harsher punishment with a milder one (e.g., death sentence commuted to rigorous imprisonment).
- Remission: Reduction of the sentence period without changing its character (e.g., reducing rigorous imprisonment from two years to one).
- Respite: Awarding a lesser sentence based on special circumstances, such as a convict’s physical disability or a woman offender’s pregnancy.
- Reprieve: Temporary stay of sentence execution (especially death sentence) to provide the convict time to seek pardon or commutation from the President.
Governor under Article 161
- Article 161 of the Indian Constitution grants pardoning powers to the governors of states, mirroring the authority vested in the President under Article 72.
- While both the President and the governors possess the ability to grant pardons, reprieves, respites, and remissions, distinctions exist in their powers, highlighting two key differences.
- Scope of Pardoning Power:
- President: Empowered to pardon sentences from court martial (military courts).
- Governor: Lacks the authority to pardon sentences inflicted by court martial.
- Power over Death Sentences:
- President: Holds the exclusive power to pardon death sentences, even if imposed under state law.
- Governor: Unable to pardon death sentences; however, possesses the authority to suspend, remit, or commute such sentences.
- Both the governor and the President share concurrent power in matters of suspension, remission, and commutation of death sentences.
Supreme Court’s Pronouncements on Presidential Pardoning Power: Key Principles
- The Supreme Court, in its examination of the President’s pardoning power, has established several fundamental principles that delineate the scope and nature of this constitutional authority.
- The following key principles emerge from the Court’s decisions:
- Petitioners seeking mercy have no inherent right to an oral hearing by the President.
- The President has the discretion to reexamine the evidence independently, diverging from the view taken by the court.
- The President’s pardoning power is to be exercised based on the advice of the union cabinet.
- The President is not obligated to provide reasons for the decisions made in exercising the pardoning power.
- The President can grant relief not only from sentences deemed unduly harsh but also from situations involving evident mistakes.
- The Supreme Court acknowledges that there is no necessity for laying down specific guidelines for the exercise of the pardoning power by the President.
- The exercise of the pardoning power by the President is generally not subject to judicial review.
- However, exceptions exist where the presidential decision is arbitrary, irrational, mala fide, or discriminatory.
- Filing another petition for mercy after the President has already rejected an earlier one does not grant a basis for obtaining a stay.
Why did north India fog heavily in last weeks of 2023?
(General Studies- Paper I)
Source : TH
As winter intensified in northern India towards the end of 2023 and the beginning of 2024, a dense blanket of fog enveloped several states, presenting challenges for residents and travelers.
- The weather conditions, marked by low temperatures, were particularly pronounced in Punjab, Haryana, northern Rajasthan, and Uttar Pradesh.
- Minimum temperatures ranged from 6-9 degrees Celsius in Punjab, Haryana, and northern Rajasthan and Uttar Pradesh.
- In New Delhi, south Rajasthan, and north Madhya Pradesh, some places recorded minimum temperatures between 10-12 degrees Celsius.
- Dense fog significantly reduced visibility in various areas, dropping to as low as 50 meters in some regions.
- Haryana, Chandigarh, Uttarakhand, Uttar Pradesh, Bihar, Rajasthan, and Madhya Pradesh reported dense fog, reducing visibility to under 200 meters.
- Effects of Fog:
- Nearly 450 flights faced delays or cancellations on December 27 at Delhi’s Indira Gandhi International Airport due to dense fog.
- Subsequent days saw ongoing disruptions, with almost a hundred and 80 flights delayed on December 29 and 30, respectively.
- Poor visibility and dense fog on December 29 impacted the arrival and departure of Delhi-bound trains.
- At least eight trains scheduled for the previous night did not reach the national capital, and others faced delays on the morning of December 29.
- Auto-rickshaws and taxi drivers in the city reported difficulties due to low visibility, making road travel challenging.
- Understanding Fog: Causes, Formation, and Varieties
- Fog, a common weather phenomenon causing disruptions in North India, is a collection of small water droplets formed when evaporated water cools and condenses.
- Fog can be described as a thick cloud close to the Earth’s surface, dependent on lower temperatures and abundant surface moisture.
- Key Characteristics of Fog:
- Fog forms due to a temperature disparity between the ground and the air, prevalent during Indian winters.
- It condenses on aerosols in the atmosphere when the nighttime temperature drops.
- High humidity, coupled with ample water vapor or moisture, encourages the development of foggy conditions.
- Fog formation is facilitated by infrared cooling, especially during the transition from summer to winter.
- Warm, moist air, generated during summer, cools when encountering cooler weather, causing rapid condensation of water vapor and fog formation.
- Another common type occurs when an unseasonably warm day with high humidity is followed by rapidly dropping temperatures.
- The type, duration, and effects of fog depend on various environmental factors.
- Certain types of fog, like that promoting faster snow melting, exhibit unique characteristics.
- Causes of Fog in Northern India:
- Northern India experiences frequent fog during the winter season, primarily attributed to a combination of specific meteorological factors that create conducive conditions.
- Indo-Gangetic Plains’ Vulnerability:
- The entire Indo-Gangetic plains are prone to fog formation during winters due to the presence of essential conditions:
- low temperatures, minimal wind speed, abundant moisture, and a high concentration of aerosols.
- Western Disturbance Influence:
- Moisture incursion, a significant contributor to fog formation, occurs when a Western Disturbance traverses northern parts of India.
- Western Disturbances are precipitation patterns that bring rain to North India during the winter months.
- Arabian Sea Influence:
- Additionally, moisture incursion can happen from the Arabian Sea, contributing to the atmospheric conditions conducive to fog formation in the region.
- The entire Indo-Gangetic plains are prone to fog formation during winters due to the presence of essential conditions:
What is infrared cooling?
- Infrared cooling refers to a process by which the Earth’s surface cools down during the night by radiating infrared radiation into the atmosphere.
- During the daytime, the Earth’s surface absorbs solar radiation from the Sun.
- The ground becomes warmer as it absorbs this energy.
- In the absence of sunlight during the night, the warmed Earth’s surface begins to lose heat by radiating infrared radiation back into the atmosphere.
- This process is known as infrared radiation or longwave radiation.
What is Western Disturbance phenomena?
- A Western Disturbance is a weather phenomenon that originates in the Mediterranean region and moves eastwards, affecting the weather in the Indian subcontinent, particularly in northern parts.
- It is a low-pressure system or an extra-tropical storm that brings precipitation, rain, and snow to the region.
- Key features and characteristics:
- Western Disturbances typically originate over the Mediterranean region and adjacent areas, such as the Caspian Sea.
- These disturbances are associated with upper-level westerly winds.
- Once formed, Western Disturbances move eastwards, crossing countries like Iran, Afghanistan, and Pakistan before reaching northern India.
- Western Disturbances play a crucial role in influencing the weather patterns in the Indian subcontinent, especially during the winter months.
- They bring precipitation in the form of rain and snow to various regions.
- In northern India, Western Disturbances are a significant source of winter rainfall.
- They can lead to rain in the plains and snowfall in the higher altitudes of the Himalayan region.
FCRA Registrations Granted to NGOs Surge
(General Studies- Paper III)
Source : TH
In the first month of the year, 30 Non-Governmental Organizations (NGOs) and associations secured registration under the Foreign Contribution (Regulation) Act (FCRA), allowing them to receive foreign donations.
- Last year witnessed a record number of 1,111 NGOs gaining permission for foreign donations, the highest since 2014.
- FCRA registration is obligatory for NGOs seeking foreign contributions, requiring a defined cultural, economic, educational, religious, or social program.
- The Ministry of Home Affairs reported that 3,294 associations received fresh FCRA registration from 2014 to 2023.
- As of January 10, 16,987 FCRA-registered NGOs were active in India, while nearly 6,000 NGOs saw their registrations become inoperative from January 1, 2022, either due to non-renewal by the Ministry or failure to apply for renewal.
- FCRA registrations are valid for five years.
About the Foreign Contribution (Regulation) Act (FCRA)
- The Foreign Contribution (Regulation) Act (FCRA) has undergone significant changes since its inception in 1976, with amendments aimed at regulating the utilization of foreign contributions by entities in India.
- Originally enacted on March 31, 1976, the FCRA aimed to maintain control over organizations receiving foreign funding.
- In 1984, an amendment mandated the registration of all Non-Governmental Organizations (NGOs) with the Ministry of Home Affairs.
- The original FCRA was repealed in 2010, and the Foreign Contribution (Regulation) Act, 2010 was implemented to address shortcomings in its predecessor.
- Enacted to consolidate the law governing foreign contributions, ensuring regulation of acceptance and utilization by individuals or associations.
- Aimed at preventing the acceptance and utilization of foreign contributions for activities detrimental to national interest.
- Then, the FCRA, 2010 underwent changes through the Foreign Contribution (Regulation) Amendment Bill, 2020.
- Introduced a provision prohibiting the transfer of foreign contributions to any other person or organization.
- Reduced the limit for using foreign contributions for administrative expenses from 50% to 20%.
- Mandatory provision for office bearers of NGOs to provide their Aadhaar numbers.
- Granting the government the authority to conduct a “summary enquiry” to prevent organizations from utilizing foreign funds.
- Changes aimed at increasing transparency regarding the utilization of foreign funds by NGOs.
Under new deal, each State can field tableau once in three years
(General Studies- Paper I)
Source : TH
In response to repeated controversies and complaints from States regarding the selection of tableaux for the Republic Day parade, the Defence Ministry has put forth a proposal for a rollover plan.
- The plan aims to provide equitable opportunities for States and Union Territories (UTs) to showcase their tableaux over a three-year cycle.
- Under the proposed memorandum of understanding (MoU), every State and UT would have the chance to participate in the Republic Day parade within three years.
- Currently, approximately 15 tableaux are selected each year, making it challenging to accommodate all States annually.
- The Defence Ministry conducted discussions with Resident Commissioners from various States, resulting in 28 States signing the draft agreement.
- To further encourage new talent, the Ministry of Culture has empanelled 30 agencies for the design and fabrication of tableaux through an open selection process.
- The rollover plan aims to address controversies and ensure fair distribution of opportunities for States and UTs to showcase their tableaux at the Republic Day parade.
- States and UTs would enter into a three-year memorandum of understanding (MoU) under the proposed plan, securing their participation in the Republic Day Parade over the specified period.
- States and UTs were asked in advance for their willingness to participate in the Republic Day Parade for the next three years (2024, 2025, and 2026).
- Most States/UTs expressed their readiness for all three years.
- Republic Day Parade 2024: Selections
- The 16 States and UTs selected for the Republic Day Parade 2024 have been identified through a thorough selection process, maintaining the annual tradition.
- States that did not secure a spot in the parade have been invited to showcase their tableaux at Bharat Parv, scheduled from January 23 to 31, 2024, at Red Fort.
- Out of the 28 States that signed the Memorandum of Understanding (MoU), Karnataka, Himachal Pradesh, Tripura, Jammu and Kashmir, Goa, Assam, and Uttarakhand will take part in Bharat Parv at Red Fort, as outlined in the MoU.
- An expert committee, comprising artists and Padma awardees, was established to finalize the theme and aesthetics of the tableaux.
- The committee operates independently, based on recommendations from the Indira Gandhi National Centre for the Arts and the Indian Council of Cultural Research.
- The selection process involves an Expert Committee, ensuring impartiality and independence in deciding themes and aesthetics.
- Government officials or ministers are not directly involved in the decision-making process.
ILO warns of rise in unemployment, decline in real wages
(General Studies- Paper II)
Source : TH
The International Labour Organisation (ILO) released its “World Employment and Social Outlook: Trends 2024” report in Vienna, highlighting concerns about the increasing global unemployment rate in 2024.
- While joblessness and the jobs gap have fallen below pre-pandemic levels, the report notes that growing social inequalities and stagnant productivity are worrisome trends.
- The macroeconomic environment deteriorated significantly in 2023 due to ongoing geopolitical tensions, inflation, and aggressive moves by central banks.
- Global Unemployment Projection:
- Despite the improvement in joblessness and the jobs gap, the report anticipates a rise in global unemployment in 2024.
- The global unemployment rate was 5.1% in 2023, showing modest improvement from the previous year.
- Ongoing geopolitical tensions and inflation led to significant macroeconomic challenges in 2023.
- Central banks, both in advanced and emerging economies, implemented the fastest increase in interest rates since the 1980s, with global repercussions.
- Countries like China, Türkiye, and Brazil experienced a considerable slowdown, impacting global industrial activity, investment, and trade.
- Positive Global Growth:
- Despite the economic challenges, the report notes that global growth in 2023 exceeded expectations.
- Labour markets demonstrated resilience, with strong job growth leading to a decline in both the unemployment rate and the jobs gap below pre-pandemic values.
- Concerns about Structural Imbalances:
- While some imbalances in the labour market eased in 2023, there are rising concerns that these imbalances may be structural rather than cyclical in nature.
- Labour market participation rates largely recovered from pandemic lows, but the report warns about the persistence of structural challenges.
- India’s Real Wages:
- In a positive note for India, the report indicates that real wages in the country are “positive” compared to other G20 countries.
- In most G20 countries, real wages declined as wage increases failed to keep pace with inflation.
- Only China, the Russian Federation, and Mexico experienced positive real wage growth in 2023.
- Extreme Poverty Increase:
- The report notes a global increase of about one million workers living in extreme poverty (earning less than US$2.15 per day per person in PPP terms) in 2023.
About the International LabourOrganisation (ILO)
- The International Labour Organization (ILO) is a specialized agency of the United Nations that focuses on promoting social justice and internationally recognized labor rights.
- It was established in 1919 as part of the Treaty of Versailles that ended World War I, and it became the first specialized agency of the UN in 1946.
- The ILO is headquartered in Geneva, Switzerland.
- The primary mission of the ILO is to promote social justice and fair labor practices globally.
- The unique feature of the ILO is its tripartite structure, which involves the equal representation of governments, employers, and workers in its decision-making processes.
- This ensures that policies and standards are developed with the input of all relevant stakeholders.
- The ILO also provides technical assistance and capacity-building support to member states to help them implement and comply with international labor standards.