CURRENT AFFAIRS – 20/01/2024
(General Studies- Paper II and III)
Source : Indian Express
China’s ambitious infrastructure projects are reshaping the geopolitical landscape, particularly in the context of declining Russian influence.
- Two key outlets connect Xinjiang to South and Central Asia, with recent developments indicating a renewed focus on the China-Kyrgyzstan-Uzbekistan railway (CKU-R) project.
- Key Transportation Routes:
- Two outlets connect Xinjiang to South and Central Asia.
- One route passes through the Khunjerab Pass to Pakistan-occupied Kashmir (PoK).
- The second route goes via the Irkashtam Pass to Kyrgyzstan.
- A narrow cliff-side road traverses the Pamir Mountains into Tajikistan.
- Despite decades of building infrastructure in Kazakhstan, entering the Fergana Valley with a railway faced geopolitical hurdles since the 1990s.
- Opportunity Amid Russia’s Decline:
- With Russia’s influence diminishing, Eurasia presents an opportunity for China.
- The renewed focus on the CKU-R comes against the backdrop of the Ukraine crisis, supply chain disruptions, and the need for alternative routes.
- CKU-R Project Details:
- Initiated during the BRI’s 10th-anniversary summit in Xi’an in 2023.
- Uzbekistan’s shift from isolationist policies facilitates the project.
- The 454-km CKU-R will connect Kashgar to Osh and Andijan, linking with the European railway network through Turkmenistan, Iran, and Turkey.
- Strategic and Economic Implications:
- The CKU-R establishes a vital link between Xinjiang and Fergana Valley.
- Xinjiang, bordering eight countries including India, will connect with the heart of Eurasia, creating a strategic intersection in Central Asia, Trans-Caspian, South Asia, and West Asia.
- The completed CKU-R will enhance China’s influence in Central Asia and the South Caucasus.
- It facilitates Europe-bound freight, providing an alternative to the longer Russian route.
- The infrastructure development transforms the region into a potential business hub.
- The project amplifies economic activities, promoting connectivity and trade.
- Central Asia is poised to become a critical hub for East and West transit trade, with the proposed Trans-Afghan Railway bringing Chinese trains closer to India.
- However, the realization of the China-Kyrgyzstan-Uzbekistan Railway (CKU-R) faces significant hurdles, presenting both opportunities and risks.
- Opportunities and Risks:
- CKU-R is envisioned to play a pivotal role in Central Asian integration into global supply chains.
- The proposed Trans-Afghan Railway could potentially facilitate closer trade ties between China and India.
- Fergana, a crucial point in the CKU-R, is known for hosting radical Salafi-Jihadi terror groups.
- The corridor is viewed as a double-edged sword, vital for integration but posing the risk of being a conduit for smuggling illicit goods to Russia.
- The region already grapples with grey zone trade, with parallel imports into Kyrgyzstan increasing since the Ukraine crisis.
- This surge suggests significant smuggling activities, possibly aimed at evading sanctions against Russia.
- Obstacles Delaying CKU-R:
- The primary reason for CKU-R’s delay is Kyrgyzstan’s political and financial challenges.
- While Bishkek desires the corridor, the lack of funds ($4.7 billion) for its construction poses a significant hurdle.
- Kyrgyzstan’s chronic debt to China, currently at $2 billion, complicates the financing of CKU-R.
- There is a fear of further entrenchment in the debt trap, perceived as a threat to the country’s sovereignty.
- Kyrgyzstan envisions CKU-R as a strategic project and seeks other players to form a consortium for its construction.
- The reluctance to bear the financial burden underscores the challenge of attracting investment or raising loans.
- The fear of sinking further into debt is intertwined with concerns about compromising the country’s sovereignty.
- The delicate balance between pursuing strategic projects and avoiding excessive financial dependence on China is a critical consideration.
- Historical Apprehensions and Sovereignty Concerns:
- The China-Kyrgyzstan-Uzbekistan Railway (CKU-R) project is not only a strategic infrastructure initiative but is entangled with historical apprehensions and sovereignty concerns.
- The fear of “Chinese expansionism” has deep roots, harking back to the 7th century when China last controlled the Syr and Amu Darya region.
- Kyrgyzstan, in particular, is apprehensive that the CKU-R could result in an influx of Chinese migrants, posing a threat to its sovereignty.
- Financial Deals and Resource Exchange:
- China has the financial capability to fund the CKU-R project, but it seeks strategic returns.
- Beijing aims to secure Kyrgyzstan’s largest iron ore and gold mining site, Zhetim Too, valued at $50 billion, located at the China-Kyrgyz border.
- The area, besides its mineral wealth, is situated in a significant glacier water belt that China wishes to divert.
- Beijing’s negotiation includes acquiring valuable resources and territorial control, exemplified by Tajikistan ceding 1,122 sq km of territory to China in 2011 due to debt-related negotiations.
- Strategic Diplomacy vs. Economic Reality:
- President SadyrJaparov’s decision to skip the 2023 BRI Forum in Beijing, citing a “tight schedule,” underscores Kyrgyzstan’s cautious approach.
- Premier Li Qiang’s immediate visit to Bishkek to discuss the CKU-R highlights China’s determination and strategic interest in the project.
- Potential Delay and Technical Realities:
- Despite hopes for CKU-R construction to commence in 2024, skeptics argue that it may be far from reality.
- Technical reports are being prepared by Uzbek, Kyrgyz, and Chinese specialists, but uncertainties persist regarding the feasibility and timeline of the ambitious railway project.
- Central Asian geopolitics remains intricate, with Kazakhstan and Kyrgyzstan maintaining close ties with Moscow, while Uzbekistan opens up to the West and even engages with the Taliban regime.
- Tajikistan, critical of the Taliban government, grapples with opium trafficking issues through its porous border.
- Changing Chinese Engagement:
- China shifts its engagement terms, relying less on consensus-based SCO and favoring the 5+1 format and Belt and Road Initiative (BRI) schemes.
- Trade statistics reveal China’s increasing economic influence, surpassing Russia in trade with Kazakhstan and Uzbekistan.
- China’s trade with Kazakhstan reaches $21.7 billion, exceeding Russia’s $18.9 billion.
- Similarly, China’s trade with Uzbekistan stands at $12.23 billion, compared to Russia’s $8.86 billion.
- In contrast to Russia’s belligerent stance, Chinese diplomats employ subtlety, avoiding the “wolf warrior” diplomacy observed in other regions.
- Trans-Afghan Railway (TAR) Ambitions:
- Chinese trains reached Afghanistan’s Hairatan city in 2022.
- Tashkent proposes the 753-km Trans-Afghan Railway (TAR) from Hairatan to Kabul and into Pakistan via Peshawar.
- Security concerns in Afghanistan pose challenges to the realization of TAR.
- CKU-R and Russian Response:
- Moscow’s response to CKU-R remains muted, but the potential replacement of Russia-oriented connectivity by a China-led east-west network could alter its position.
- CKU-R could symbolize Chinese expansion, navigating Himalayan terrain and gaining influence in the region.
- CKU-R could serve as a strategic instrument for Chinese expansion, potentially gaining a foothold in Central Asia to reach India.
- India’s Connectivity Challenges:
- India’s connectivity via Chabahar faces viability issues.
- A direct railroad to Central Asia is possible without compromising on India’s territorial integrity so long as it learns to defend its interest in Eurasia while maneuvering regional norms in the shifting balance of power.
Learning the Geography
- Fergana Valley:
- Location: The Fergana Valley is a large fertile valley in Central Asia, primarily situated in eastern Uzbekistan, with parts extending into Tajikistan and Kyrgyzstan.
- Geography: It is surrounded by mountain ranges, including the Tian Shan to the north, the Pamir-Alai to the south, and the Fergana Range to the west.
- Importance: The Fergana Valley is known for its rich agricultural land and has historically been a center of trade and cultural exchange. It is home to several major cities, including Fergana, Andijan, and Namangan.
- Khunjerab Pass:
- Location: Khunjerab Pass is a mountain pass on the border between Pakistan and China, at the northern end of the Karakoram Range.
- Elevation: It is one of the highest paved international border crossings in the world, with an elevation of 4,693 meters (15,397 feet).
- Importance: The pass is part of the Karakoram Highway, which connects Pakistan to China. It serves as a vital trade route and is also significant for tourism, providing stunning views of the surrounding mountains and landscapes.
- Irkeshtam Pass:
- Location: The Irkeshtam Pass is a mountain pass on the border between Kyrgyzstan and China, in the Tian Shan mountain range.
- Elevation: It is situated at an elevation of approximately 2,950 meters (9,678 feet).
- Importance: The Irkeshtam Pass is a key transit point for trade and transportation between Kyrgyzstan and China. It is part of the Irkeshtam border crossing, facilitating road and rail connectivity between the two countries.
Andhra becomes 2nd State to take-up ‘caste census’
(General Studies- Paper II)
Source : TH
In a significant development, the Andhra Pradesh Cabinet has given its approval for a comprehensive caste-based census, marking a significant move to address a longstanding demand.
- The enumeration is scheduled to commence by the end of November.
- The decision positions Andhra Pradesh as the second state in India to take concrete steps towards a caste census, with Bihar being the first to enumerate and publish caste census data in October.
- Background: Lack of Caste Data Since 1931 Census
- The last publicly available data on caste in India dates back to the 1931 census.
- The information collected during the 2011 Census was not released, making this initiative crucial for filling a longstanding data gap.
- Implementation Plan and Key Departments Involved
- The Andhra Pradesh government aims to release the caste census data in January 2024, according to Chelluboina Srinivas Venugopal Krishna, the Minister for Backward Classes (BC) Welfare.
- The BC Welfare Department will play a central role, with involvement from the Planning Department, SC Welfare, Tribal Welfare, and Minority Welfare Departments.
- Village and ward secretariat volunteers will be actively engaged in the census exercise.
- Purpose and Potential Impact
- The comprehensive caste census is expected to aid in targeted delivery of the State’s poverty alleviation and other government schemes.
- By understanding the distribution of different caste groups, the government aims to enhance the effectiveness of its development initiatives.
- Population Composition and Objectives of Caste Census
- In Andhra Pradesh, Backward Classes (BCs) constitute nearly 50% of the population, with 139 subcastes, while Scheduled Castes (SCs) and Scheduled Tribes (STs) make up around 19% and 5.6%, respectively.
- The caste-based census aims to provide clarity on population proportions, including insights into the most backward castes and nomadic tribes.
- The data is crucial for ensuring the inclusivity of beneficiaries in welfare schemes like “Navaratnalu.”
- The data will assist in adjusting existing policies and formulating new ones for education and employment.
- Understanding the circumstances of castes with obsolete occupations will guide the government in providing better support for their sustenance and livelihoods.
- The government aims to gain a comprehensive understanding of population dynamics, especially in regions dominated by BC groups, addressing issues faced by the most marginalized populations.
- The census will aid in studying below poverty line (BPL) populations among BCs, SCs, STs, minorities, and other communities.
- The caste census will enumerate every existing caste in Andhra Pradesh, including Muslim and Christian populations.
- While reservation-related aspects are not discussed, the data could support demands related to the socio-economic conditions of Dalit Christians and their SC status.
Gearing up for change
(General Studies- Paper III)
Source : TH
The India Meteorological Department (IMD) marked its 150th year, originally established to study the southwest monsoon during colonial times.
- While the IMD now analyzes a wide range of weather phenomena, a recent study by the Council on Energy, Environment and Water (CEEW) focused on monsoon trends at the tehsil (sub-divisional) level from 1982-2022.
- Historical Context
- Initially conceived to understand the southwest monsoon’s influence on harvests, the IMD has evolved to cover various climate and weather aspects.
- During colonial times, the British administration was keenly interested in predicting future torrents and droughts due to their impact on revenues.
- Monsoon Trends at Tehsil Level: 1982-2022 Analysis
- Monsoon rainfall is increasing in 55% of India’s tehsils, while 11% witnessed decreasing rainfall.
- In tehsils with reduced rainfall, 68% experienced declines in all four monsoon months, and 87% showed a decline in June and July crucial for kharif crop sowing.
- Most affected tehsils are in the Indo-Gangetic plains, northeastern India, and the Indian Himalayan region, major contributors to India’s agricultural production.
- District-wise Rainfall Patterns
- 30% of India’s districts faced deficient rainfall in several years, while 38% experienced excessive rainfall.
- Tehsils in historically dry regions like Rajasthan, Gujarat, central Maharashtra, and parts of Tamil Nadu were getting wetter.
- Northeast monsoon rain increased by over 10% in the past decade (2012-2022) in 80% of Tamil Nadu’s tehsils, 44% in Telangana, and 39% in Andhra Pradesh.
- Monsoon Significance and Challenges: Global Warming and Research Focus
- Southwest monsoon accounts for 76% of India’s annual rainfall, with concerns about increasing dry spells and intense wet spells.
- The study underscores the need to differentiate between natural variability and global warming effects, an active area of research.
- The study’s contemporary relevance lies in making region-specific plans to enhance climate resilience and allocate necessary funds and resources.
- Advocates prioritizing regional and sub-district forecasts over national ones to improve government planning and response strategies.
About India Meteorological Department (IMD)
The India Meteorological Department (IMD) is the national meteorological service of India, responsible for providing weather forecasts, warnings, and other meteorological information to the public and various sectors of the economy.
- The IMD was established on January 15, 1875.
- It is one of the oldest meteorological departments in the world.
- The primary objective of the IMD is to observe, understand, and forecast weather and climate-related phenomena in the Indian subcontinent.
- It plays a crucial role in providing information for agricultural planning, disaster management, aviation, shipping, and other sectors.
- Weather Forecasting: The IMD issues daily weather forecasts for different regions of India, including information on temperature, precipitation, and wind patterns.
- Cyclone Warning: One of the critical functions of the IMD is to track and provide early warnings for tropical cyclones in the Indian Ocean, especially those affecting the coastal regions of India.
- Monsoon Forecasting: The IMD is well-known for its role in predicting the onset and progress of the monsoon, which is crucial for agriculture in the country.
- Seismological Activities: The IMD is involved in monitoring and reporting seismic activities in the region.
- Climate Research: The department conducts research on various aspects of climate, weather patterns, and atmospheric conditions
Think tank warns WhatsApp users of scams, data breach
(General Studies- Paper III)
Source : TH
The Bureau of Police Research and Development (BPRD), a police think tank under the Union Ministry of Home Affairs in India, has issued a warning to WhatsApp users regarding various scams on the messaging platform.
- In a note published on its website, the BPRD highlighted “do’s and don’ts” for users, revealing that WhatsApp has been informed about data-breach incidents.
- The police think tank mentioned ongoing efforts by government bodies and Ministry officials to address the issue.
- Concerns Raised by BPRD:
- The BPRD emphasized a particular vulnerability related to the recently introduced “screen share” feature on WhatsApp.
- Scammers are reportedly posing as officials from banks, financial institutions, and government bodies.
- By persuading victims to share their screens, scammers discreetly install malicious applications or software to obtain sensitive information such as bank details and passwords, and even gain access to their banking services.
- Scale of the Issue:
- India, with over 400 million users, stands as one of the largest markets for WhatsApp.
- The BPRD revealed that numerous fraud cases have been reported where scammers fraudulently acquire victims’ screen access to engage in illicit activities.
- These incidents involve the unauthorized installation of malicious software, leading to the compromise of sensitive information.
- The warning serves as a precautionary measure for users to be vigilant and adopt necessary precautions while using WhatsApp, particularly regarding the “screen share” feature.
About the Bureau of Police Research and Development (BPR&D)
- The Bureau of Police Research and Development (BPR&D) was established on 28 August 1970, aligning with the Government of India’s objective to modernize police forces across the country.
- This move was driven by the recognition of the evolving nature of crime and the need for law enforcement agencies to adapt to new challenges.
- It serves as the national police organization tasked with conducting research and providing policy inputs to enhance the effectiveness and efficiency of policing in India.
- The primary objective of BPR&D is to assist in the modernization of police forces, improve their capabilities, and contribute to the development of better policies and practices.
- Organizational Structure: The BPR&D has evolved into a multifaceted consultancy organization with a structure that comprises four key divisions:
- Research Division:
- Conducts research activities to explore various facets of policing, crime, and law enforcement.
- The division aims to generate insights and recommendations that can contribute to the development of effective policies and practices.
- Development Division:
- Focuses on developing innovative solutions, technologies, and strategies to address emerging challenges faced by police forces.
- This division plays a pivotal role in introducing advancements and modernization efforts in law enforcement.
- Training Division:
- Designs and implements training programs for police personnel at different levels.
- These programs are geared towards enhancing the skills, knowledge, and capabilities of law enforcement officers, keeping them abreast of the latest developments in the field.
- Correctional Administration Division:
- Addresses issues related to correctional facilities and the administration of justice.
- This division is likely involved in developing policies and practices related to the rehabilitation and correction of individuals within the criminal justice system.
- Research Division:
Airbus, CSIR-IIP to collaborate on sustainable aviation fuel
(General Studies- Paper III)
Source : TH
Airbus, a leading aerospace manufacturer, and the CSIR-Indian Institute of Petroleum (CSIR-IIP) have signed a Memorandum of Understanding (MoU) to jointly develop and test indigenous sustainable aviation fuel (SAF) technologies in India.
- The collaboration aims to support the Indian aerospace industry’s efforts to decarbonize by promoting the production and commercialization of SAF.
- The focus will be on utilizing a new HEFA (Hydroprocessed Esters and Fatty Acids) technology pathway and locally sourced feedstocks.
- Key Collaborative Objectives:
- The partnership will address the challenges associated with the production and commercialization of SAF in India, contributing to the aviation industry’s decarbonization goals.
- Airbus and CSIR-IIP will work together on technical assessments, regulatory approvals, market access, and sustainability accreditation efforts related to SAF production.
- The collaboration will explore the use of HEFA technology, a proven pathway for producing sustainable aviation fuels, emphasizing its potential in the Indian context.
- The initiative will specifically address challenges such as scaling up SAF production and reducing the cost differential between SAF and conventional jet fuel.
- Significance of SAF in Decarbonization:
- SAF, including variants developed by CSIR-IIP, is considered a critical element in the aviation industry’s efforts to decarbonize.
- The Director of CSIR-IIP, Harender Singh Bisht, emphasized that increasing SAF uptake requires addressing production challenges and cost differentials compared to traditional jet fuel.
- Airbus’ Commitment and Goals:
- Airbus has set ambitious goals for SAF adoption.
- Currently, all Airbus aircraft are certified to fly on a 50% SAF blend, with a target to achieve 100% SAF compatibility by 2030.
- The collaboration with CSIR-IIP aligns with this goal, as both entities work on assessing fuel properties, environmental impact, and aircraft system compatibility.
- Leveraging local feedstock availability, talent, and technological expertise, India can contribute significantly to scaling up sustainable aviation solutions.
About the CSIR-Indian Institute of Petroleum (CSIR-IIP)
- The CSIR-Indian Institute of Petroleum (CSIR-IIP) is a premier research institute located in Dehradun, Uttarakhand, India.
- It operates under the Council of Scientific and Industrial Research (CSIR), which is one of the largest and oldest scientific research organizations in India.
- CSIR-IIP was established on September 20, 1960, with the objective of conducting research and development activities in the field of petroleum and hydrocarbon industries.
- The institute plays a crucial role in addressing challenges and promoting advancements in the petroleum sector.
A case of established law lagging behind new tech
(General studies- Paper III)
Source : TH
The New York Times (NYT) has filed a significant lawsuit against OpenAI and Microsoft, alleging copyright infringement.
- The lawsuit claims that the companies used NYT’s content to train large language models (LLMs) and generative AI (GenAI) systems without permission.
- The outcome of this lawsuit could have far-reaching implications for the use of copyrighted material in training artificial intelligence systems.
- Key Allegations by The New York Times:
- The NYT contends that OpenAI and Microsoft utilize information from various sources to develop AI products but give special emphasis to NYT’s content.
- This, according to the NYT, allows the companies to benefit from the newspaper’s substantial investment in journalism without proper authorization or compensation.
- The lawsuit suggests that the unauthorized use of NYT’s content may reduce the perceived need for readers to visit the Times website.
- This, in turn, could lead to a decrease in advertising and subscription revenue for the newspaper.
- The NYT provided examples of outputs from ChatGPT and Bing Chat (Copilot) that were nearly identical copies of NYT articles without proper attribution.
- These examples serve as evidence of the alleged copyright infringement.
- The complaint mentions that despite reaching out to OpenAI and Microsoft, attempts to find an “amicable resolution” have stalled, leading the NYT to pursue legal action.
- The lawsuit also addresses the issue of AI “hallucinations,” where incorrect material is mistakenly credited to The Times.
- The NYT seeks to address and rectify this problem.
- The NYT demands that any chatbot models and training data utilizing Times copyrighted content be destroyed to prevent further unauthorized use.
- OpenAI argues that using copyrighted content to train GenAI models serves a transformative purpose and falls under the concept of “fair use.”
- OpenAI’s position is that their actions should be permitted under fair use, emphasizing the transformative nature of their use of copyrighted material.
- Potential Implications:
- If the NYT’s lawsuit is successful, it could set a precedent for copyright issues related to the use of content in training artificial intelligence models.
- The outcome may have significant consequences for the practices of AI developers and the use of copyrighted material in the industry.
- Widespread Lawsuits in the AI Industry for Copyright Infringement:
- Numerous lawsuits have been initiated against AI services, accusing them of using unpaid web content scraping and alleging systematic theft on a mass scale.
- Notable authors like George Martin, Jonathan Franzen, and John Grisham sued GenAI companies, while Philip Pullman and Margaret Atwood demanded payment for the use of their works by AI entities.
- OpenAI, Microsoft, and GitHub faced lawsuits from IT professionals, alleging code misuse in Copilot training.
- Visual artists sued Stability AI, Midjourney, and DeviantArt for copyright infringement, with Getty Images also suing Stability AI.
- Universal Music Group urged Spotify and Apple Music to prevent scraping its material for AI training.
- However, The New York Times’ recent lawsuit against OpenAI and Microsoft represents the first instance of a major U.S. media house suing Big Tech for copyright infringement, extending beyond a mere copyright dispute.
- Legal Landscape and Comparisons:
- The legal battles in the GenAI era are compared to challenges in the digital domain, drawing parallels with a copyright lawsuit against Napster over two decades ago.
- The lawsuit is seen as an epic battle between AI-generated push-button information and labor-intensive human newsgathering, highlighting the clash between established law and evolving technology.
- Potential Legal Ramifications:
- The outcome of The New York Times’ lawsuit may redefine intellectual property rights in the U.S. and establish global precedents, especially at a time when regulatory frameworks are struggling to keep pace with technological advancements.
- The case is considered crucial, with potential impacts on the legal contours around AI and intellectual property.
- If successful, the lawsuit could set a precedent for compensating content producers and increase the cost of GenAI models, influencing the development of AI technology.
- Stakeholder Perspectives:
- Stakeholders in the AI industry express varied opinions.
- The U.S. Copyright Office received comments from venture capital firm Andreessen Horowitz, stating that exposing AI companies to copyright liabilities could hinder their development significantly.
- A victory for The New York Times might align with global efforts to regulate AI and intellectual property, potentially curbing the rapid development of AI technology.
- Ongoing Developments:
- Despite legal challenges, significant players are making moves in the industry.
- Apple’s multi-year deals to license news story archives for over $50 million and OpenAI’s agreements with Associated Press and Axel Springer for material sharing with ChatGPT indicate ongoing negotiations and adaptations within the AI landscape.
- Revisiting the Napster Case:
- The Napster case, where record companies won against the file-sharing service, is revisited to draw parallels with the current lawsuit involving The New York Times, OpenAI, and Microsoft.
- Despite Napster’s quick disappearance, the impact on the music industry was substantial.
- Publishers, including The NYT, acknowledge the importance of embracing AI as the future but seek to protect their business models and ensure proper compensation for the use of their content.
- While there’s a possibility of an out-of-court settlement, the lawsuit has the potential to orchestrate a resolution.
- The outcome of this legal dispute may significantly shape the future of Generative AI (GenAI) worldwide.
- Impact on GenAI’s Future:
- The resolution of this legal dispute has the potential to significantly shape the future of GenAI globally.
- The case highlights the essential role of data in training Generative AIs and emphasizes the need for legal frameworks to adapt to the evolving technological landscape.
- Copyright laws, originally designed for the era of the printing press, may need to be updated to address the unique challenges posed by Large Language Models (LLMs) like ChatGPT.
- As technology advances, it becomes imperative for legal frameworks to keep pace with the changing landscape, especially in the context of data usage and intellectual property in the age of AI.