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Current Affairs for UPSC Civil Services Exam – June 15, 2024

{GS1 – A&C – Paintings} Restoration of Ajanta Paintings in Hyderabad

  • Context (TH): The Department of Heritage Telangana and Iran’s Noor International Microfilm Centre are collaborating to restore Ajanta paintings in the Telangana State Museum’s Ajanta Gallery.
  • The Ajanta Gallery of the Telangana State Museum in Hyderabad houses early 20th-century copies of Ajanta Caves paintings created by artists like Christiana Herringham, Nandalal Bose, and Syed Ahmad.
  • The project aims to use reversible and natural materials and herbs for conservation.

Ajanta Caves

  • The Ajanta Caves, a UNESCO World Heritage Site, feature paintings and sculptures created during the Satavahana rule between 200 and 100 BCE.
  • The Ajanta Caves, located in Aurangabad, Maharashtra, were discovered in the 19th century.

Ajanta Cave - PMF IAS

Credits: Wikipedia

  • These caves are built on a perpendicular cliff, so chaityas (4) are less compared to viharas (25).
  • The paintings in these caves are outlined in red colour, followed by the application of other colours.
  • The main themes are Jataka stories and mentions of Chinese travellers Fahien and Hiuen Tsang.
  • Of the 30 Ajanta Caves, 5 are dedicated to Hinayana Buddhism and 25 to Mahayana Buddhism.
  • The Ajanta Caves’ fresco art involves applying pigments to fresh, damp lime plaster, allowing the colours to bond with the surface as it dries, creating vibrant and durable paintings.

Mahajanaka Jataka tale - PMF IAS

Credits: Wikipedia

{GS2 – Governance – Laws} Period of Limitation

  • Context (IE): Fourteen years after an FIR against Arundhati Roy and Dr. Sheikh Showkat Hussain for allegedly delivering provocative speeches, the state has invoked UAPA charges.
  • It is done to bypass the statute of limitations that would otherwise bar prosecution due to the delay.

Charges and Limitations

  • Earlier, the Delhi Lt Governor granted sanction to prosecute them under IPC Sections 153A, 153B, and 505, which deal with hate speech cases and carry a maximum sentence of up to three years.
  • Under Section 468 of the Code of Criminal Procedure (CrPC), courts are barred from taking cognisance of offences brought after the lapse of the period of limitation, which is three years for offences punishable with imprisonment between one and three years.
  • The FIR, filed in 2010, also included IPC Section 124A (sedition), which could have removed the limitation bar. However, the SC stayed the operation of the sedition in 2022.
  • The period of limitation, in the context of criminal law, refers to the time limit within which a court can take cognisance of an offence and initiate legal proceedings against the accused.
  • It ensures cases are brought to court promptly, preventing undue delays and protecting the rights.

Unlawful Activities (Prevention) Act (UAPA) Charges

  • Section 13 of the UAPA deals with punishment for unlawful activities, including advocating, abetting, or inciting any unlawful activity, and is punishable with imprisonment up to seven years.
  • The UAPA grants the state more powers than ordinary criminal law, such as relaxing timelines for filing chargesheets and imposing stringent conditions for bail.
  • The definition of “unlawful activity” under the UAPA includes phrases used in IPC 124A.
  • Both laws criminalise acts that cause “disaffection” against India or the government established by law.
  • In the 1962 Kedar Nath Singh v State of Bihar ruling, the SC stated that sedition should only be applied when words or actions have the intention of creating public disorder or disturbance of law and order.

{GS2 – Polity – IC – Judiciary} Arbitration

  • Context (IE): The Indian government’s recent decision to move away from arbitration for dispute settlement in government contracts has raised concerns.
  • The policy shift, aimed at amicably settling disputes through “high-level” committees, may prove to be a costly mistake and a significant hindrance to infrastructural development and economic growth.
  • Despite the 2015 Amendment to the Arbitration Act, which mandates expeditious disposal of award challenges within one year, cases often linger for around five years in the court of first instance.

Why Arbitration is Preferable?

  • The government’s perceived lack of trust in arbitrators is fundamentally flawed. Arbitrators are meant to be independent and impartial, deciding disputes on merits rather than toeing the government line.
  • Adverse rulings don’t necessarily indicate bias; they could reflect shortcomings in the government’s case.
  • The proposed settlement system, based on internal committees, lacks the transparency and accountability of arbitration awards, as settlements are voluntary and not subject to legal challenges for bias.
  • The bureaucracy and accountability structure may impede efficient dispute resolution, causing delays and unfair outcomes. E.g. the 2023 Vivad se Vishwas scheme, which offered discounts to settle disputes instead of honouring arbitration awards, illustrates this issue.
  • If settlements fail, disputes will burden already overloaded courts, which are ill-suited for complex commercial cases. Arbitration provides a faster, more specialised alternative.
  • While arbitrations may not be perfect, they are more workable than court litigation in the current context.

Arbitration in India

  • Arbitration is a private dispute resolution process similar to litigation, with an arbitrator acting as a judge. Parties set the rules and appoint their own arbitrator.
  • The process is flexible, allowing parties to simplify technical court procedures.
  • The arbitrator’s decision, known as an “Award,” holds the same authority as a court order.
  • Arbitration in India is governed by the Arbitration and Conciliation Act of 1996.
  • Arbitration is a part of the Alternative Dispute Resolution (ADR) mechanism. Other types of ADR are mediation, negotiation, and conciliation.

{GS2 – Polity – IC} Death Penalty

  • Context (IE): The President rejected the mercy petition of the Red Fort attack convict, and the President’s decision can be challenged to prolong proceedings.
  • SC has previously commuted death sentences in cases of inordinate delays in deciding mercy petitions.
  • Shatrughan Chauhan v. Union of India (2014): SC commuted the death sentences of 15 convicts due to the inordinate delay in deciding their mercy petitions, terming it a violation of their fundamental rights.

Death Penalty in India

  • The death penalty (capital punishment) is the highest form of punishment awarded for the most heinous crimes. In India, it is awarded in the “rarest of rare” cases, as per the SC guidelines.

Legal Aspects

  • The IPC prescribes the death penalty for several offences, including:
    • Section 121: Waging war against the Government of India; Section 132: Abetment of mutiny.
    • Section 194: Perjury resulting in the conviction and death of an innocent person.
    • Section 302: Murder; Section 305: Abetment of the suicide of a minor or an insane person.
    • Section 307 (2): Attempted murder by a life convict; Section 364A: Kidnapping for ransom.
    • Section 376A: Rape causing death or leaving the woman in a vegetative state.
    • Section 376E: Certain repeat offenders in the context of rape; Section 396: Dacoity with murder.
  • Code of Criminal Procedure (CrPC) provides the procedural framework for awarding the death penalty.
    • Section 354(3): Requires a judge to provide special reasons for awarding the death sentence.
    • Section 366: Mandates the confirmation of the death sentence by the High Court.
    • Section 368: Specifies the procedure for executing the death sentence.
  • The important legislation which prescribes the death penalty is:
    • The Arms Act, 1959
    • The Narcotic Drugs and Psychotropic Substances Act, 1985
    • The Scheduled Castes and Scheduled Tribes (Prevention of Atrocities) Act, 1989
    • The Unlawful Activities (Prevention) Act, 1967, etc.

Supreme Court Judgements

Bachan Singh v. State of Punjab, 1980
  • SC upheld the constitutionality of the death penalty but established important guidelines.
  • The court emphasised that the death penalty should only be awarded in the “rarest of rare cases” when all alternative options are exhausted and mitigating circumstances have been considered.
Machhi Singh v. State of Punjab, 1983
  • SC laid down five categories of cases where the death penalty could be awarded:
  • (a) manner of commission of murder, (b) motive for the crime, (c) anti-social or socially abhorrent nature of the crime, (d) magnitude of the crime, and (e) personality of the victim.
  • The Law Commission of India (262nd Report)), recommended that the death penalty be abolished for all crimes other than terrorism-related offences and waging war.

{GS3 – Envi – Conservation} Microalgae

  • Context (TH): CSIR-IICT scientists identify the potential of Chlorella Growth Factor (CGF), a protein-rich extract derived from the microalgae ‘Chlorella sorokiniana, as an ideal ingredient.
  • Chlorella Growth Factor (CGF) is found exclusively in the cell nucleus of ‘chlorella’ and is produced during photosynthesis.
  • It is laden with a variety of beneficial components, including peptides, amino acids, nucleotides, polysaccharides, glycoproteins, vitamins, and minerals.

Benefits of CGF

  • It prevents viruses from growing, increases the body’s resistance to disease infection, and also controls cancer cells.
  • It helps stimulate tissue and genetic material repair, protect and support cellular functions, improve nutrient intake, regulate enzyme production, protect cells against toxin, and improve bowel function.
  • It helps lower blood pressure, improve liver function, improve blood counts, regulate blood sugar levels, renew cells, heal anaemia, restore body energy etc.

Microalgae

  • Microalgae are unicellular to filamentous in form.
  • They lack roots, vascular systems, leaves and stems, and are autotrophic and photosynthetic.
  • Microalgae are generally eukaryotic organisms, although cyanobacteria, such as spirulina (prokaryotes), are included under microalgae due to their photosynthetic and reproductive properties.
  • They range in size from about 5 micrometres (µm) to more than 100 µm.
  • They can be found all over the planet & even in extreme environmental conditions, such as high temperatures or salt concentrations, low acidity, in presence of high contaminant concentrations, etc.

Benefits

Environmental benefits
Economic advantages
  • Renewable Biofuel Production: Microalgae can be processed into biofuels such as biodiesel, bioethanol, and biogas, helping to reduce dependence on fossil fuels.
  • Cost-Effective Cultivation: Microalgae can be grown in ponds, photobioreactors, or even wastewater, requiring less land and resources compared to traditional crops.
Health and nutritional benefits
  • Rich Nutrient Profile: Microalgae are a source of high-quality proteins, omega-3 fatty acids, vitamins, minerals, and antioxidants, making them a superfood for human consumption.
  • Pharmaceutical Applications: Certain microalgae produce bioactive compounds that have anti-inflammatory, antiviral, and anticancer properties, which can be used in drug development.
Industrial and commercial applications
  • Bioplastics and Biochemicals: Microalgae can be used to produce biodegradable plastics and various biochemicals, reducing reliance on petrochemicals.
  • Cosmetics and Skincare: The antioxidants and vitamins in microalgae are valuable in the cosmetics industry for making skin care products.

Learn in detail about Algae.

 

{GS3 – Envi – Conservation} Pantanal Wetlands

  • Context (TH): Fires ravage Brazil’s Pantanal wetlands. El Nino weather patterns, supercharged by climate change, are the possible factors behind the fires.

Pantanal Wetland- PMF IAS

  • The Pantanal is the world’s largest freshwater wetland.
  • It is a low-altitude alluvial plain that is seasonally flooded and drained by the Paraguay River and its tributaries.
  • Location: Located in the upper Paraguay River basin.
  • It extends some 150,000 sq km through the heart of South America, crossing central-western Brazil, and spilling over the border into Bolivia and Paraguay. About 80 percent of the Pantanal is in Brazil.
  • Major Habitat Type: Flooded Grassland Savanna
  • The Pantanal is recognised as a World Heritage Site by the UNESCO, a Ramsar Site of International Importance and an Important Bird Area.
  • It is home to the world’s largest jaguar species as well as species like the endangered tapir and giant anteaters.

{GS3 – Envi – Degradation} Land Degradation and Restoration

  • Context (IE): World Environment Day was celebrated on June 5, 2024, with the theme ‘Land restoration, desertification, and drought resilience’ hosted by Saudi Arabia.
  • Land restoration plays a vital role in the UN Decade on Ecosystem Restoration (2021-2030) and is essential for achieving the Sustainable Development Goals.

Land degradation

  • It is a negative trend in land conditions caused by direct or indirect human-induced processes.
  • Long-term reduction or loss of: Biological productivity, ecological integrity or value to humans.
  • It is caused by including processes arising from human activities and habitation patterns such as
    • Soil erosion caused by wind and/or water;
    • Deterioration of the physical, chemical and biological or economic properties of soil;
    • Long-term loss of natural vegetation.

Causes of land degradation and desertification

  • Unsustainable agricultural practices like extensive cropping of agricultural land, shifting cultivation without adequate recovery and excessive fertiliser use.
  • Conversion of land for various uses like cutting forests for using lands for various purposes and unplanned urbanisation.
  • Deforestation & loss of vegetative cover, including overgrazing, excessive fuelwood collection, unsustainable forest management practices, and forest fires.
  • Frequent Droughts and Land Degradation, including due to the absence of vegetative cover, can exacerbate drought effects and impact the hydrological regime.
  • Unsustainable Water Management, such as poor & inefficient irrigation practices and over-abstraction of groundwater.

Impacts of land degradation and desertification

  • Impact on Climate Change: Land degradation reduces the amount of carbon dioxide that is absorbed and consequently leads to a rise in emissions.
  • Threat to Food & Water Security: Land degradation impacts the global food and commodity supply chains, and altered cropping patterns further unsustainable pressure on land.
  • Impact on Biodiversity: Land degradation impacts the biodiversity of many land ecosystems caused by habitat degradation.

Land Restoration

  • It is ecological process of restoring a natural & safe landscape for humans, wildlife & plant communities.
  • This process protects our ecosystems, creates economic development, helps prevent natural disasters such as floods, and increases soil productivity and food supplies.
  • A UNEP study revealed that half of the world’s GDP is dependent on nature, and every dollar invested in restoration generates up to USD 30 in benefits.

Significance of land restoration

  • Land Restoration offers numerous benefits, such as preventing land degradation, improving soil fertility, and increasing water retention.
  • It also helps conserve biodiversity by providing habitat for plants, animals, and microorganisms, supporting overall ecosystem health.
  • Rehabilitating degraded lands can help sequester carbon, reduce greenhouse gas emissions, and support global initiatives for climate change mitigation.
  • Almost 80% of the carbon stored in terrestrial ecosystems is located in soils.

Global initiatives to combat land degradation and desertification

  • UN Convention to Combat Desertification (UNCCD): Established in 1994 to protect and restore land and to address the phenomenon of desertification.
  • Land Degradation Neutrality (LDN) Fund: Set up in 2018 to invest in profit-generating sustainable land management and land restoration projects globally.
  • UN Decade on Ecosystem Restoration: It aims to prevent, halt, and reverse the degradation of ecosystems on every continent and in every ocean.
  • International Drought Resilience Alliance (IDRA): This is a global alliance for a drought-resilient future that aims to mobilise political, technical, and financial capital to enhance drought resilience.

India’s initiatives to combat land degradation and desertification

  • India does not have a specific policy for combating desertification. However, many national policies reflect the concern for preventing and reversing land degradation and desertification.
  • Desertification and Land Degradation Atlas of India by ISRO (Indian Space Research Organisation).
  • The National Action Programme to Combat Desertification was prepared in 2001 to take appropriate action to address desertification.
  • National Afforestation Programme (NAP) scheme is the ecological restoration of degraded forests
  • Integrated Wastelands Development Programme (IWDP) to develop wastelands mainly in non-forest areas by involving local people at every stage of development.
  • Desert Development Programme by the Department of Land Resources was introduced in 1977-78 to address land degradation.
  • Centre of Excellence at the Indian Council for Forestry Research and Education (ICFRE) to engage parties at international, national and local levels in addressing land degradation-related issues.

Recommendations of UNCCD to achieve LDN Targets

  • Avoiding new degradation of land by maintaining existing healthy land.
  • Reducing existing degradation by adopting sustainable land management practices.
  • Ramping up efforts to restore and return degraded lands to a natural or more productive state.​
  • Other ‘zero net losses’ techniques include planting trees​, rotating crops​, water retention techniques such as building retention ditches and cut-off drains​, organic manures, and mineral fertilisers. ​
  • Local participation can help them gain sustainable livelihoods, leading to long-term success and resilience in land restoration projects.
  • As there is no one-size-fits-all approach, it is crucial to apply diverse approaches such as planting native vegetation, establishing protected areas, and adopting agroforestry systems.
  • Sustainable land management: Use of land resources, including soils, water, and plants, to produce goods to meet human needs while ensuring the long-term productive potential of land resources.
  • Land Degradation Neutrality (LDN) is a state whereby the amount and quality of land resources necessary to support ecosystem function and services and enhance food security remain stable or increase within specified temporal and spatial scales and ecosystems. (UNCCD)
  • Flash drought is simply the rapid onset or intensification of drought due to lower-than-normal rates of precipitation, accompanied by abnormally high temperatures, winds, and radiation.

{GS3 – S&T – Defence} Nagastra – 1

  • Context (TOI): Indian Army has received the 1st batch of man-portable suicide drones, Nagastra-1.
  • The high-tech drones are designed and developed indigenously by Economic Explosives Limited (EEL), a subsidiary of Solar Industries, Nagpur.

Nagastra – 1 - PMF IAS

Credit: News9

  • Nagastra is a fixed-wing electric unmanned aerial vehicle with an endurance of 60 minutes.
  • Unlike other weapons, Solar’s Nagastra has the capability to abort an attack if necessary and can be safely retrieved.
  • It is named a loitering munition weapon due to its ability to hover over the target.
  • It can carry a 1-kilo warhead and carry out a precision strike via GPS with an accuracy of within two metres.
  • It offers a 15 km range with man-in-loop control and extends up to 30 km in autonomous mode.
  • Due to its electric propulsion system, Nagastra-1 provides a low acoustic signature, making it almost undetectable at altitudes over 200 metres.
  • It has a ‘Kamikaze mode’ in which it can search and destroy any target by crashing into it.
  • It is equipped with day and night surveillance cameras.
  • It has been designed to hit enemy training camps, launch pads, and infiltrators and thus reduce risk to soldiers.

{GS3 – S&T – Tech} Alternative method to cool Supercomputers

  • Context (TH): A team of researchers from IIT Bombay and the Centre for Materials for Electronics Technology (C-MET), Pune, has proposed using Low-Temperature Co-fired Ceramic (LTCC) as an efficient alternative to the conventionally used copper for making cold-plates.

Current method of cooling of Supercomputers

  • High-Performance Computing systems (HPCs) or supercomputers resort to cooling using liquid coolants and cold plates that dissipate heat.
    • In liquid cooled devices, liquid coolants like deionised water that is without any electrical charge, are circulated through the system to remove the excess heat.
    • Cold plates are used like heat sinks, transferring heat from the circuit components into the coolant liquid. Copper is the preferred material for manufacturing cold plates due to its low cost and high thermal conductivity.

Use of LTCC technology for cold plates

  • Low-Temperature Co-fired Ceramic (LTCC) technology is used to manufacture ceramic substrates for circuits.
    • Substrates are materials on which electrical interconnections are printed and other components like resistors, inductors and capacitors are mounted.
    • PCB (Printed circuit boards) is the most commonly used substrate in electronic devices.
  • LTCC Technology allows compact three-dimensional packing of the circuit, making it smaller and more efficient than conventional PCBs.
  • Microfluidic channels (micrometre sized tiny channels that allow flow of a liquid through it) can be created in an LTCC package to form a cold plate.
  • The cold plates can effectively cool microprocessor chips in supercomputers, successfully restricting temperatures below the safety limits, just as copper cold plates do.
  • It paves the way for integrating cooling solutions directly into the chip package.

Supercomputers

  • A supercomputer is an extremely robust computing device that processes data at speeds measured in floating-point operations per second (FLOPS). A supercomputer could perform computations at 100 PFLOPS (Peta FLPOPS).
  • It is used to perform complex calculations and simulations, usually in the field of research, artificial intelligence, and big data computing.
  • Uses of supercomputers: Weather forecasting, oil and gas exploration, medical research, nuclear fusion research, etc.
  • India’s supercomputers: PARAM Shivay (first supercomputer of India), PARAM Pravega (IISc, Bangalore), PARAM Utkarsh (C-DAC, Bangalore), PARAM Ananta (IIT, Gandhinagar), PARAM Himalaya (IIT, Mandi), PARAM Siddhi-AI (C-DAC, Pune), and PARAM Vidya series.

{GS3 – S&T – Tech} Zero Knowledge Proof Blockchain Technology

  • Context (ToI): Posidex Technologies, a Hyderabad-based data analytics company, has become the first in India to introduce zero-knowledge proof (ZKP) blockchain technology.
  • ZKP is a cryptographic technique that allows one party to prove to another party that they possess knowledge of a piece of information without revealing the actual information itself. This is particularly beneficial in situations where data privacy and security are paramount.
  • ZKP, along with homomorphic encryption (HME) and privacy-enhancing technologies (PETs), is considered one of the safest methods for processing encrypted data.
  • Data residency regulations and privacy concerns often hinder cross-border data sharing. ZKP enables secure data processing at the host level without moving data, ensuring compliance with residency rules.

Applications

  • Cross-Border Data Access: Enables banks to verify and authenticate Indian customers abroad without accessing encrypted (e-KYC) data.
  • Encrypted Data Handling: Facilitates secure data sharing among government agencies, addressing privacy concerns exemplified by the National Intelligence Grid in India.
  • Allows banks to verify identities for account access abroad without needing data stored in other countries.
  • Ensures secure inter-agency data sharing without compromising privacy.
  • Enables secure international data sharing, complying with regulations like GDPR and DPDP.

{Prelims – Envi – Species} Atlantic bluefin tuna (Thunnus Thynnus)

  • Context (DTE): The monitoring of the Atlantic bluefin tuna revealed that there are early indications of bluefins moving further north due to marine heatwaves.
  • They visit the coast of Ireland during the summer and autumn during their annual migration.
  • Bluefins have historically been abundant in Irish waters. But excessive commerical fishing has led to global population crashes and their disappearance from Ireland in the 2000s.
  • IUCN Status: LC.
  • Distribution: Sub-tropical to cold temperate latitudes of the Atlantic Ocean.
  • Habitat: Open ocean (pelagic)
  • Feeding habits: Aggressive and one of the largest open ocean predators.
  • Reproduction: Broadcast spawning Female Atlantic bluefin tuna produce up to 10 million eggs a year.
  • Countercurrent exchanger: A specialised blood vessel structure in Atlantic Bluefin that allows them to maintain a body temperature that is higher than the surrounding water.
  • Top Predators: Juveniles eat fish, squid, and crustaceans & adults eat baitfish like herring and bluefish.
  • Appearance: Torpedo-shaped with short pectoral fins and a dark red dorsal fin, dark blue-black on the back, white on the lower sides and belly.

    Atlantic bluefin tuna - PMF IAS

    Credits: NOAA

  • Constant swimmers: Like some shark species, the Atlantic Bluefin must constantly swim. To obtain oxygen from the water, fish pass water over their gills.
  • The tunas lack the ability to do so while stopped, so they must continuously swim forward with their mouths open to keep their blood oxygenated.
  • Atlantic bluefin tuna can live for 35 years, possibly longer.
  • In Broadcast spawning, several females and several males release millions of eggs and sperm into the water column simultaneously.

Also read about Indian Ocean Tuna Commission.

{Prelims – S&T – Defence} Vidyut Rakshak

  • Context (TH): The Indian Army (IA) has launched a tech-based innovation called ‘Vidyut Rakshak’, an integrated generator monitoring, protection, and control system.
  • The launch of Vidyut Rakshak marks a key milestone in the Indian Army’s “Year of Tech Absorption” initiative, showcasing its commitment to enhancing operational efficiency through technology.
  • It was developed by Major Rajprasad R S (recently showcased during ‘Exercise Bharat Shakti‘), and he also developed the ‘Portable Multi-Target Detonation Device’, which was patented by the Army.

Key Features of Vidyut Rakshak

  • Vidyut Rakshak is an Internet of Things (IoT) enabled system that allows generators to connect and exchange data with other IoT devices and the cloud.
  • It is applicable to all existing generators in the IA, regardless of their type, make, rating, and vintage.
  • In addition to monitoring generator parameters, Vidyut Rakshak enables fault prediction and prevention, ensuring optimal performance and longevity of the generators.
  • The system automates manual operation through a user-friendly interface.

Portable Multi-Target Detonation Device

  • The Portable Multi-Target Detonation Device (WEDC) enables long-range demolition, allowing soldiers to detonate targets up to 2.5 km away, either wired or wirelessly.
  • This microprocessor-based system can fire at multiple targets individually or simultaneously.
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