CURRENT AFFAIRS – 28/10/2023

CURRENT AFFAIRS - 28/10/2023

CURRENT AFFAIRS – 28/10/2023

CURRENT AFFAIRS – 28/10/2023

Dark pattern sales deemed ‘cybercrime’

(General Studies- Paper III)

Source : TH

The Ministry of Civil Aviation in India has demanded that low-cost carrier IndiGo rectify its website after numerous complaints about deceptive practices by airlines and online travel agents during flight ticket bookings.

  • A meeting scheduled to address issues such as the misrepresentation of paid seats, passengers being denied boarding despite valid tickets, and delays in flight cancellation refunds.

Key Highlight

  • Deceptive Practices and “Dark Patterns”
    • Consumer Affairs Secretary characterizes these practices as “dark patterns,” referring to deceptive website design that nudges consumers into unintended purchases, potentially constituting a cybercrime.
    • It has been described as a systemic practice of misleading consumers in the current online environment.
    • The Ministry has received nearly 10,000 complaints over the last eight to nine months through the National Consumers Helpline regarding such practices.
  • IndiGo’s Deceptive Seat Selection
    • IndiGo’s website uses “false urgency” to pressure consumers into paying extra fees of ₹99 to ₹1,500 for seat selection by making free seats appear unavailable.
    • Even when free seats are available, they are hidden at the bottom of the webpage, and the “skip” option is presented inconspicuously.
    • This practice of emphasizing certain information while obscuring other details is known as “interface interference.”
    • Ministry of Civil Aviation sources state that IndiGo’s website design was not intended maliciously but direct the airline to provide a more transparent option for auto-assigned seats.
  • Other Dark Practices
    • Manipulative Travel Insurance Sales by SpiceJet
      • SpiceJet’s booking website employs deceptive language to pressure passengers into purchasing travel insurance.
      • Phrases like “I will risk my trip” induce fear, making it appear harmful to decline insurance.
    • “Basket Sneaking” by MakeMyTrip
      • MakeMyTrip is accused of “basket sneaking,” where they add a convenience fee at the payment gateway after the booking process is completed, surprising consumers.
      • Some websites provide this information upfront, and the industry defends this as a standard practice.
    • The Ministry of Consumer Affairs has outlined these deceptive practices, known as “dark patterns,” in its draft guidelines, released for public comment on September 7.
    • Unbundling Airfares by DGCA
      • In 2015, the Directorate General of Civil Aviation (DGCA) allowed airlines to unbundle airfares for specific items, charging them separately.
      • These include preferential seating, meals, lounge access, and check-in baggage over 15 kgs. These options must be offered on an “opt-in” basis, with clear and unambiguous descriptions.
    • Airlines’ Explanation for Seat Pricing
      • Airlines have defended differential pricing for seat selection, based on factors like leg room, proximity to exit doors, and seat type (window or aisle).
      • They claim that all passengers receive free seats with random allocation, and fees apply only if passengers choose preferred seats different from the allocated ones.
    • Refunds and Compensation
      • The Ministry of Civil Aviation’s “Passenger Charter” covers concerns related to denied boarding and refunds.
      • For flight cancellations, airlines must accommodate passengers on an alternate flight or provide additional compensation if they fail to inform passengers at least 24 hours before departure.
      • Compensation ranges from ₹5,000 to ₹10,000 in certain situations.
      • Refunds must occur immediately for cash payments or within seven days for credit card payments.
    • Parliamentary Panel Recommendations
      • An August report from a Parliamentary panel recommended that airlines should display seat-wise airfares to ensure transparency.
      • It also urged the DGCA to ensure proper implementation of the Aircraft Rules, 1934, to ensure airlines earn only a “reasonable profit” when pricing their tickets.
      • The report called for an effective mechanism to address consumer grievances in a time-bound manner.

What are dark patterns?

  • Dark patterns refer to unethical user interface designs that intentionally make the online experience more challenging or exploit users for the benefit of the company or platform employing these designs.
  • They often involve deceptive tactics that reduce users’ control and access to full information about the services they are using.
  • The term “dark patterns” is credited to UI/UX researcher and designer Harry Brignull, who has cataloged these patterns and the companies using them since around 2010.

These practices raise ethical concerns and have led to discussions and regulatory actions in some cases.

Vikram generated halo on landing on moon

(General Studies- Paper III)

Source : TH

The Chandrayaan-3 mission’s lander module, Vikram, created an ‘ejecta halo’ on the lunar surface during its historic landing on the moon’s south pole.

  • A recent study published in the Journal of the Indian Society of Remote Sensing provides details about this phenomenon.

Key Highlights

  • Ejecta Halo Discovery
    • The Chandrayaan-3’s Vikram lander module generated a striking ‘ejecta halo’ on the lunar surface during its descent and landing on August 23, 2023.
    • Scientists from NRSC/ISRO estimate that around 2.06 tonnes of lunar surface material (epi regolith) were ejected and scattered over an area of 108.4 square meters around the landing site.
  • Research Findings
    • An article titled “Characterisation of Ejecta Halo on the Lunar Surface Around Chandrayaan-3 Vikram Lander Using OHRC Imagery” was published on October 26 in the Journal of the Indian Society of Remote Sensing.
    • The study used high-resolution imagery from the Orbiter High-Resolution Camera (OHRC) of the Chandrayaan-2 orbiter, acquired before and after the landing event, to characterize the ejecta halo as an irregular bright patch surrounding the lander.
    • The research estimated that approximately 2.06 tonnes of lunar epi regolith were ejected due to the landing event, based on mapped and classified ejecta halo pixels.
  • Historic Landing and Achievements
    • The Chandrayaan-3 mission achieved a significant milestone by becoming the fourth country to successfully land a spacecraft on the moon.
    • It was the first mission to land in the polar region of the moon.
    • Vikram landed with a rover on board, marking a successful soft landing on the lunar surface.
    • Since landing on the moon, Vikram and the Pragyan Rover have conducted various in-situ measurements, including confirming the presence of sulfur in the region and detecting minor elements.
    • Vikram also successfully executed a hop experiment, elevating itself by about 40 cm and landing safely at a slight distance.
  • After the end of one lunar day (equivalent to 14 Earth days), both the lander and rover entered sleep mode, and attempts to wake them up have not yet been successful.

In Image: Vikram Lander of Chandrayaan-3 can be seen resting on the surface of the moon in this image clicked with Pragyan Rover’s navigation camera.

Chandrayaan-3 Mission Overview

  • Chandrayaan-3 is a follow-on mission to India’s previous lunar mission, Chandrayaan-2, with specific objectives to demonstrate safe landing and roving capabilities on the lunar surface.
  • Configuration:
    • The mission consists of a Lander and Rover configuration, similar to its predecessor, Chandrayaan-2.
  • Chandrayaan-3 was launched into space by the LVM3 (Launch Vehicle Mark-3) from the Satish Dhawan Space Centre (SDSC) SHAR in Sriharikota, India.
  • The mission objectives of Chandrayaan-3 are:
    • To demonstrate Safe and Soft Landing on Lunar Surface
    • To demonstrate Rover roving on the moon and
    • To conduct in-situ scientific experiments.

Chandrayaan-3 was successfully landed on the moon’s south pole on August 23, 2023.

Mizoram has the highest rate of cancer in India

(General Studies- Paper III)

Source : TH

Mizoram, despite being the second least populated state in India, has the highest cancer incidence rate in the country, according to an 18-year trend study.

  • The study notes a consistent increase in cancer incidence and mortality in the state.
  • Stomach cancer is the primary cause of cancer-related deaths among men, while lung cancer is prominent among women.

Key Highlights

  • Younger Generation Affected
    • The study reveals a growing incidence of cancer among the younger generation in Mizoram.
    • Factors contributing to this trend include a sedentary lifestyle, dietary patterns, and potentially genetic predisposition within the endogamous tribal population.
    • Escalation in mortality rates is attributed to a lack of specialized diagnostic facilities, skilled human resources, genomic research-guided treatment strategies, and transportation challenges in Mizoram.
    • The study suggests that these challenges hinder early detection and effective treatment.
  • Global Perspective on Cancer
    • Globally, cancer is the second leading cause of death, responsible for one in six deaths in 2018.
    • Common types of cancer include lung, prostate, colorectal, stomach, liver, breast, colorectal, lung, cervical, and thyroid cancer.
  • Cancer Incidence in Mizoram
    • The study highlights the most prevalent cancer sites in Mizoram:
    • Among men: stomach, head and neck, lung, oesophagus, colorectal, liver, urinary, non-Hodgkin’s lymphoma, and prostate cancers.
    • Among women: lung, cervical, breast, stomach, head and neck, colorectal, oesophagus, liver, and ovarian cancers.
    • The study shows a rising trend in cancer incidence and mortality over time for overall cancer sites.
    • An increase in annual percentage change was observed for most primary cancer sites contributing to incidence and mortality.
    • The study utilized data from the Mizoram Population Based Cancer Registry (PBCR) spanning the years 2003–2020, supported by funding from the National Centre for Disease Informatics and Research of the Indian Council of Medical Research.
  • National and Global Estimates
    • Another study estimates that one in nine people in India are likely to develop cancer in their lifetimes.
    • Leading cancer types in India include lung and breast cancers, with an estimated 12.8% increase in cancer cases by 2025 compared to 2020.

What is Cancer?

  • Cancer is a group of diseases characterized by the uncontrolled growth and spread of abnormal cells in the body.
  • These abnormal cells can form tumors, interfere with the functioning of normal organs, and even metastasize, spreading to other parts of the body.
  • There are over 100 types of cancer, each with its unique characteristics and treatments.
  • The exact causes of cancer are often complex and may include genetic, lifestyle, environmental, and other factors.
  • Global Burden of Cancer:
    • Cancer is the second leading cause of death worldwide, responsible for one in six deaths.
    • In 2018, it accounted for over 9.6 million deaths.
    • Lung, prostate, colorectal, stomach, and liver cancer are among the most common cancer types in men, while breast, colorectal, lung, cervical, and thyroid cancer are prevalent among women.
    • Cancer Risk Factors:
      • Risk factors for cancer include genetic predisposition, lifestyle choices (such as smoking, unhealthy diet, and lack of physical activity), exposure to carcinogens (cancer-causing substances), and infections (e.g., HPV and hepatitis B and C).
    • Prevalence of Cancer in India:
      • The increasing incidence of cancer in India is a concerning trend.
      • Over the past decade, the average annual incidence of cancer in the country has risen significantly, from approximately 10 lakh (1 million) cases in 2012 to 14.6 lakh (1.46 million) cases in 2022.
      • What is even more worrisome is the projection that this annual figure is expected to continue rising.
      • According to the Indian Council of Medical Research (ICMR), the annual incidence of cancer is anticipated to further increase to 15.7 lakh (1.57 million) cases by the year 2025.

The Purpose of APAAR, the Student ID System

(General Studies- Paper II)

Source : The Indian Express

APAAR, the Automated Permanent Academic Account Registry, is an initiative aimed at providing a lifelong identification system for students in India, streamlining their academic records from early education to higher education.

  • This system serves various purposes to improve the education ecosystem in India.

Key Highlights

  • Streamlining Academic Records
    • The primary purpose of APAAR is to create a unique ID system for students that will accompany them throughout their academic journey, simplifying the tracking of their progress from pre-primary education to higher education.
    • APAAR serves as a gateway to Digilocker, a digital platform where students can store essential documents, including exam results and report cards, making them easily accessible and transferable for future educational and employment purposes.
    • The introduction of APAAR aims to make the education process more convenient for students by reducing the need to carry physical documents, ensuring their academic records are easily accessible and secure.
  • National Education Policy 2020
    • APAAR is part of the National Education Policy 2020, a significant educational reform initiative by the Indian government, demonstrating the commitment to modernize the education system and improve its efficiency.
    • APAAR also serves as a tool for state governments to track important education-related data, including literacy rates and dropout rates, which can be used to identify areas for improvement in the education sector.
  • Authenticity and Fraud Prevention
    • To reduce fraud and the use of duplicate educational certificates, APAAR establishes a trusted reference for educational institutions.
    • Only the first-party sources that issue certificates are allowed to deposit credits into the system, ensuring the authenticity of the records.
  • Unique APAAR ID Linked to Academic Bank Credit (ABC)
    • Every individual will receive a unique APAAR ID linked to an Academic Bank Credit (ABC), a digital repository that stores a student’s educational credits from formal and informal learning.
    • Students can digitally certify and securely store their academic achievements in their ABC through authorized institutions.
    • When students change schools, their data in the ABC can be seamlessly transferred to the new school by sharing their APAAR ID, eliminating the need for physical documents or transfer certificates.
  • Registration Process for Students
    • To create an APAAR ID, students provide basic information, which is verified using their Aadhar number.
    • The Aadhar number is used solely for verification and not shared with third parties during registration.
    • Registration for an APAAR ID is voluntary and not mandatory.
    • For minors, parental consent is required to use the student’s Aadhar number for authentication.
  • Addressing Concerns
    • Concerns about sharing Aadhar details are prevalent due to fears of data leakage.
    • The government assures that shared information will be kept confidential and not shared with external parties, except for entities involved in educational activities.
    • Students have the option to stop sharing their information with specific parties at any time, and data processing will cease upon withdrawal of consent.

Punjab farm fires down by half than last year

(General Studies- Paper III)

Source : The Indian Express

Punjab has recorded a notable decrease in stubble burning incidents this year, particularly between September 15 and October 27.

  • Data from the Indian Council of Agricultural Research (ICAR) indicates that Punjab registered 4,059 stubble burning cases during this period in 2022, compared to 8,147 cases in 2021 and 20,910 cases in 2020.
  • On October 27 this year, the state reported 766 farm fires, a significant decline from 1,111 in 2022, 279 in 2021, and 2,563 in 2020.

Key Highlights

  • Contributing Factors for Reduction
    • The decrease in stubble burning is attributed to the ex-situ stubble management program, which encourages the use of stubble as a fuel by industries.
    • This year, the program aims to manage approximately 4.5 million tonnes of paddy stubble using ex-situ methods, with around 2,000 baler machines already in operation.
    • The Punjab government has sanctioned an additional 2,300 new balers, including the big baler, to further support this initiative.
    • Big baler machines, costing around Rs 1 crore each, can cover significant acreage and produce bales ranging from 2.5 quintals to 7 quintals each.
  • Stubble Management Methods
    • Stubble management involves two primary methods: in-situ and ex-situ.
    • In the in-situ method, stubble is incorporated into the soil during wheat sowing using specialized machines or left on the field to decompose naturally.
    • In the ex-situ method, stubble is removed from fields using cutter, rake, and baler machines and transported to various industries.
    • The ex-situ method is currently favored due to increasing demand for stubble from biomass plants, boilers, pelletization units, and ethanol plants.
  • Government Initiatives
    • The Punjab government has been distributing stubble management machines since 2018 under the Crop Residue Management (CRM) scheme, providing both in-situ and ex-situ management machines.
    • The focus has now shifted toward promoting ex-situ methods, driven by the demand for stubble by various industries.
    • The government has set a target to collect 4.5 million tonnes of paddy stubble through the baler machines this year.
    • Approximately 5,000 officers are educating farmers about these methods, with more farmers choosing ex-situ methods for stubble management.
  • Remaining Challenges
    • Despite the reduction in stubble burning, a significant quantity of stubble is still being burned in Punjab.
    • Efforts are ongoing to encourage farmers to adopt sustainable stubble management practices and reduce the environmental impact of burning.

About Indian Council of Agricultural Research (ICAR)

  • ICAR is an autonomous organization in India responsible for coordinating and managing agricultural education and research.
  • ICAR was established on July 16, 1929, as a registered society under the Societies Registration Act.
  • It operates under the Department of Agricultural Research and Education, Ministry of Agriculture and Farmers Welfare, Government of India.
  • Mandate:
    • ICAR’s primary mandate is to promote and advance agricultural research, education, and extension.
    • It focuses on enhancing agricultural productivity, improving the livelihood of farmers, and ensuring food and nutritional security in India.

What is stubble burning?

  • Stubble burning, also known as crop residue burning, is the practice of intentionally setting fire to the agricultural residue left in the fields after harvesting crops such as rice, wheat, and sugarcane.
  • This practice is primarily followed by farmers to quickly clear their fields and prepare them for the next crop cycle.
  • Stubble burning is most common in regions with mechanized farming where combine harvesters are used, leaving behind significant amounts of crop residues.
  • Effects on the Environment:
    • Air Pollution:
      • Stubble burning releases a substantial amount of particulate matter, carbon dioxide, carbon monoxide, and other harmful gases into the atmosphere.
      • These pollutants contribute to air pollution and smog formation, particularly during the post-harvest season.
    • Health Risks:
      • Poor air quality resulting from stubble burning can lead to a range of respiratory problems and other health issues among the local population.
      • Vulnerable groups, such as children and the elderly, are at higher risk.
    • Reduction in Soil Fertility:
      • Stubble burning reduces the organic content in the soil and disrupts the natural ecosystem, affecting soil fertility and long-term agricultural sustainability.
    • Effects on Human Health:
      • Respiratory Issues:
        • The inhalation of smoke and pollutants from stubble burning can lead to respiratory problems, exacerbating conditions such as asthma, bronchitis, and chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD).
      • Eye Irritation:
        • Smoke and pollutants can cause eye irritation and discomfort, leading to redness, itching, and other eye-related issues.
      • Cardiovascular Problems:
        • Prolonged exposure to poor air quality resulting from stubble burning can increase the risk of cardiovascular diseases and heart attacks.
      • Skin Conditions:
        • Skin irritation and rashes can occur due to exposure to smoke and pollutants.
      • Reduced Immunity:
        • Long-term exposure to air pollution may weaken the immune system, making individuals more susceptible to infections.

India, Qatar and Natural Gas

(General Studies- Paper II and III)

Source : The Indian Express

The death sentence imposed on eight former Indian Navy personnel by a Qatari court has created a significant diplomatic challenge for India, as the case threatens historically friendly ties with Qatar.

  • Trade relations and India’s heavy dependence on Qatari liquefied natural gas (LNG) add complexity to the situation.

Key Highlights

  • Trade Imbalance and LNG Dependency:
    • India’s trade with Qatar is heavily imbalanced, with Qatar exporting far more to India than India exports to Qatar.
    • The trade relationship is predominantly centered around LNG, which makes up nearly 50% of India’s imports by value from Qatar.
    • India relies on Qatar as its largest source of LNG, accounting for over half of its LNG imports.
  • Gas Import Dependency:
    • India’s dependence on natural gas imports is approximately 50%, and this dependence is expected to grow due to the government’s efforts to increase natural gas consumption.
    • This includes both long-term contracts and spot market purchases of Qatari LNG.
  • India’s Energy Transition and Security Concerns:
    • India has set a target to increase the share of natural gas in its primary energy mix to 15% by 2030, up from slightly over 6% at present.
    • Achieving this target will require a significant increase in LNG imports.
    • India’s high import dependency for crude oil (over 85%) makes natural gas a more affordable and cleaner alternative.
    • It is considered a crucial part of India’s energy security and transition.
  • Sensitive Diplomatic Challenge:
    • The case of the former Navy personnel facing a death sentence in Qatar presents a sensitive diplomatic challenge for India, given its energy security concerns and aspirations.
    • Any disruption in LNG supplies from Qatar could impact India’s energy goals and plans for a cleaner and more sustainable energy future.
  • India-Qatar LNG Trade:
    • In the fiscal year 2022-23, India’s total imports from Qatar were valued at $16.81 billion, with LNG imports accounting for a significant portion at $8.32 billion, representing 49.5% of the total imports.
    • India also imports other fossil fuel-related products from Qatar, such as liquefied petroleum gas (LPG), plastics, and petrochemicals.
    • In contrast, India’s exports to Qatar were much lower, totaling $1.97 billion in the same fiscal year.
      • Major exports to Qatar included cereals, copper articles, iron and steel products, vegetables, fruits, spices, and processed food items.
    • India imported a total of 19.85 million tonnes of LNG in FY23, with 54% of it, approximately 10.74 million tonnes, coming from Qatar.
      • This includes both supplies from the Petronet LNG term contract and additional spot purchases.
    • Challenges in Reducing Reliance on Qatar:
      • While Indian LNG importers are working on diversifying their sources, reducing the country’s heavy reliance on Qatar is expected to take several years.
      • The global LNG market is currently favoring sellers due to factors like Russia’s invasion of Ukraine and sanctions affecting natural gas supplies to Europe.
      • Spot LNG purchases are more susceptible to price volatility compared to term contracts, which have fixed pricing formulas.
    • Qatar’s Strength in LNG Markets:
      • Qatar’s strong position in the global LNG market is reinforced by its supply stability and long-term contracts.
      • Doha has recently signed long-term LNG supply contracts with major energy companies in France, the Netherlands, Italy, China, and Germany.
      • Petronet’s current term contract with Qatar runs until 2028, with negotiations underway for an extension.
      • Industry experts anticipate that the LNG market may shift to a buyer’s market in the coming years as new LNG export projects become operational.
      • However, Qatar is expected to play a significant role in this expansion.
      • India is exploring additional long-term LNG contracts as it seeks to secure stable supplies and pricing in a dynamic global market.

About Liquefied Natural Gas (LNG)

  • Liquefied Natural Gas (LNG) is natural gas that has been cooled to a very low temperature (approximately -162 degrees Celsius or -260 degrees Fahrenheit) to convert it from a gaseous state into a liquid state.
  • LNG is a clear, colorless, non-toxic, and odorless liquid.
  • It is primarily composed of methane, with small amounts of other hydrocarbons and impurities removed to ensure its purity.
  • LNG Liquefaction:
    • The process begins at the production site, where natural gas is extracted from underground reservoirs.
    • It is then transported via pipelines to LNG processing facilities.
    • At these facilities, impurities are removed, and the natural gas is cooled and condensed into LNG by refrigeration.
  • Advantages of LNG:
    • Energy Density:
      • LNG has a high energy density, making it an efficient fuel for power generation and transportation.
    • Cleaner Energy Source:
      • LNG is considered a cleaner alternative to traditional fossil fuels like coal and oil. When burned, it produces fewer greenhouse gas emissions, sulfur dioxide, and particulate matter.
    • Versatility:
      • LNG is used for various applications, including power generation, industrial processes, heating, and as a transportation fuel for ships and trucks.