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Current Affairs for UPSC Civil Services Exam – June 21, 2024

{GS2 – IR – Russia} Russia-North Korea pact

  • Context (IE): Russian President Vladimir Putin’s recent Pyongyang visit culminated with a landmark pact between Russia and North Korea.

North Korea, Korean Peninsula - PMF IAS

Historical context of Russia-North Korea relations

  • After WW II, the erstwhile Soviet Union wanted the installation of a communist regime in Korea. It offered significant military assistance to North Korean founder Kim Il Sung during the Korean War.
  • The USSR and China continued military and other aid to communist North Korea even after the war.
  • The two nations solidified their alliance in 1961 with the signing of the Russo-North Korea Treaty of Friendship, Cooperation and Mutual Assistance, which contained a mutual defence agreement.
  • After the dissolution of the USSR in 1991, this treaty was voided, and relations temporarily deteriorated.
  • Russia still did not back North Korea’s nuclear ambitions and, for a time, even supported sanctions against the country aimed at curbing Pyongyang’s nuclear capabilities.
  • However, in the aftermath of the Ukraine invasion, Russia and North Korea stood together against the Western liberal order based on highly pragmatic considerations.

About the recent pact

  • It talks about cooperation on a wide range of issues, including mutual military support and unspecified technological assistance.
  • The partnership also calls for developing economic ties, an especially important issue for North Korea, which suffers from an array of international sanctions.
  • Article 4 of the landmark pact states that both countries will cooperate to provide immediate military assistance without delay in accordance with Article 51 of the UN Charter and the laws of the DPRK (North Korea) and the Russian Federation if either faces armed aggression.
  • Article 51 of the United Nations Charter recognises a U.N. member state’s right to self-defence.

Implications and responses

  • It would lead to closer cooperation in weapons production, with North Korea manufacturing more munitions for Russia and Russia providing more high-end help for North Korea.
  • For South Korea and Japan, this treaty is likely to be perceived as a direct security threat, leading both countries to strengthen their defences and rethink their security policies.
    • Japan has already abandoned its long-standing pacifist foreign policy and building its military might.
    • South Korea convened an emergency meeting of its national security council in response and said it will now consider sending arms to Ukraine.
    • Both South Korea and Japan are likely going to cement their alliance with the United States further.
  • The Russia-North Korea pact could encourage similar partnerships elsewhere, most notably with Iran.
  • China would be wary of Russia’s growing military collaboration with North Korea, which could undermine its near-exclusive geopolitical influence over Pyongyang.

{GS2 – Social Sector – Health} Global Digital Health Initiative Faces Hurdles

  • The DEA is reluctant to create a “committed liability” and has suggested providing technical assistance to the GIDH instead of direct financial contributions.
  • India’s contribution proposal is “under consideration“, and the final decision is pending. This funding issue is crucial for India’s leadership in global digital health initiatives.
  • In 2023, the Permanent Mission of India to the UN flagged this issue, recommending that the government make a substantial financial commitment towards the establishment of the GIDH.

{GS3 – Envi – Air Pollution} State of Global Air Report

  • Context (IE | DTE): The State of Global Air Report was released recently.
  • The report is a collaborative assessment by the US-based Health Effects Institute (HEI) and Institute for Health Metrics and Evaluation’s Global Burden of Disease (GBD) project. This has been produced for the first time in partnership with UNICEF.
  • The results are linked to the disease burden estimated for the year 2021 in about 200 countries.
  • While the spotlight continues to be on PM2.5 and ozone, nitrogen oxides (NO2) has also been added for the first time in this risk assessment.

Key Findings

  • In 2021, air pollution contributed to 8.1 million deaths — more than 1 in 8 deaths worldwide. 58% deaths from ambient PM2.5, 38% from household air pollution and 6% from Ozone.
  • Air pollution was the second leading risk factor for early death worldwide in 2021, surpassed only by high blood pressure.
  • Among children under 5, it was the second leading risk factor after malnutrition. Exposure to air pollution was linked to approximately 15% of all global deaths in children under 5.
  • Countries in South Asia and Africa experience the largest burden of disease linked to air pollution. India, with 2.1 million deaths, and China, with 2.3 million deaths, account for 55% of the global burden.
  • Globally ambient PM2.5 levels are decreasing or stabilising in many regions. Populations from low and middle-income countries are exposed to 1.3-4 times higher levels of ambient PM2.5

{GS3 – Envi – Pollution} Nord Stream leaks

  • Context (DTE): A new study has revealed the fate of methane released from the September 2022 explosions that damaged the Nord Stream pipelines in the Baltic Sea.

Nord Stream pipeline

  • Nord Stream comprises a network of offshore pipelines (Nord Stream 1 and 2) that supply natural gas to northern Europe. The pipelines run on the Baltic Sea floor from Russia to northern Germany.
  • Russia supplied around 40% of all the gas consumed in the EU in 2021. Germany is especially reliant on this supply of cheap gas.
  • The Nord Stream 1 pipeline was completed in 2011, and the second in 2012.

Nord Stream - PMF IAS

Credits: BBC

Impacts of the methane leak

  • The environmental implications of excess methane — a potent greenhouse gas — include local impacts on water carbon budgets and changes to the composition of microbial organisms.
  • The European Space Agency satellite observed the plume at the Danish leakage site and estimated that 79 tonnes of methane per hour had reached the atmosphere from the Nord Stream 2 breach.
  • The high concentration of methane in surface water following the Nord Stream gas leak may promote the growth of methanotrophic bacteria, affecting the Baltic Sea microbial food web.
  • Methanotrophic bacteria use methane as their sole source of carbon and energy.

{GS3 – Infra – Initiatives} National Monetisation Pipeline

  • Context (TP): The government has successfully monetised Rs 3.85 lakh crore through the core assets of various ministries and Public Sector Enterprises (PSEs).
  • Asset monetisation is a limited period transfer of performing assets (or disposing of non-strategic/ underperforming assets) to unlock “idle” capital and reinvesting it in other assets or projects that deliver improved or additional benefits.
  • Monetisation is different from ‘privatisation’. It signifies ‘structured partnerships’ with the private sector under certain contractual frameworks.
  • Asset monetisation has two important motives: It unlocks value from the public investment in infrastructure and utilises productivity in the private sector.

National Monetisation Pipeline (NMP) - PMF IAS

Credit: Niti.gov

National Monetisation Pipeline

  • The National Monetisation Pipeline (NMP) is a roadmap for identifying potential monetisation-ready projects across various infrastructure sectors.
  • It was announced in the Union Budget 2021-22 for monetisation of assets worth an estimated Rs 6 lakh crore.
  • Only the core assets of the government are monetised under NMP. Non-core assets are not included under NMP.
  • Objective: To unlock value in brownfield public sector projects by tapping private sector capital and efficiencies and using the funds so generated for greenfield infrastructure creation across India.
  • Framework:
    • Brownfield assets have been de-risked from execution risks and have stable revenue streams.
    • Monetisation of ‘Rights’ not ‘ownership’ as the primary ownership continues to be with the GoI. The assets will be handed back to the public authority at the end of the transaction life.
  • Duration: 4 years (2022-25).
  • Monetisation models:
    • Direct Contractual models
    • Structured Financing models such as Infrastructure Investment Trusts, etc.
  • Sector wise monetisation pipeline:

National Monetisation Pipeline (NMP) - PMF IAS

Credit: Niti.gov

  • The top 5 sectors (by estimated value) capture ~83% of the aggregate pipeline value, including Roads (27%) followed by Railways (25%), Power (15%), oil & gas pipelines (8%) and Telecom (6%).
  • Implementation & Monitoring Mechanism: An empowered Core Group of Secretaries on Asset Monetization (CGAM) under the chairmanship of Cabinet Secretary has been constituted.
  • This pipeline is intended to support investments under the National Infrastructure Pipeline (NIP).
  • Assets that are central to an entity’s business objectives and used for delivering infrastructure services to the public or users are considered Core Assets for the purposes of monetisation. E.g. Road & Railways, Power, seaports & airports, etc.
  • The other assets, which generally include land parcels and buildings, can be categorised as non-core assets.

Significance

  • Eases government fiscal constraints and frees up balance sheets for more greenfield infrastructure creation. This enables the government to deploy resources towards the social sector and other competing public priorities.
  • Enables a balanced risk-sharing framework between the public and private partners.
  • Operational optimization: By enlisting private sector participation, the NMP endeavours to streamline operational efficiencies and elevate service standards,
  • Promotes asset recycling, where public sector assets are transferred to the private sector for operation and management while the government retains ownership. This allows the government to focus on core functions like policy-making and regulation.
  • Brings overall efficiency in infrastructure operations: Asset recycling and monetisation taps private sector efficiencies in infrastructure operations and management, augmentation, and maintenance.
  • Improves efficiency of Public Sector Undertakings (PSUs): Access to additional resources that can be utilized for restructuring, reinvestment, and expansion.

Challenges

  • Lack of identifiable revenue streams.
  • Regulatory issues: The government’s retention of ownership rights may create fear of undue political interference, lack of operational autonomy, and corruption.
  • Lack of independent sectoral regulators, for, e.g. in Railways, Road, Port sector, etc.
  • Asset-specific challenges: For example, Low capacity utilisation in gas and petroleum pipeline networks, regulated tariffs in the power sector, low interest in national highways below four lanes, etc.
  • Price rise for the end users due to the transfer of public infrastructure to the private sector.
  • Possibility of Monopoly and Cronyism, where few business houses corner the bulk of the assets.

{GS3 – Infra – Railways} Trial Run on the World’s Highest Railway Bridge

  • Context (TH): Indian Railways conducted a successful trial run of the Udhampur-Srinagar-Baramulla Rail Link (USBRL) project on the Chenab Bridge in Jammu and Kashmir.
  • This railway line will enhance social and economic integration by easing the movement of people and goods between Kashmir Valley, Jammu, and the rest of India.
  • The USBRL project is a 272-km railway line connecting Udhampur to Baramulla, which aims to provide an alternative and reliable transportation system for Jammu and Kashmir.
  • It was declared as a national project in 2022.
  • The project includes 38 tunnels (total length 119 km) and 927 bridges (total length 13 km).
  • The Chenab Bridge (above the Chenab River) is the world’s highest arch railway bridge.
  • The electrification work on the route utilises state-of-the-art technology, featuring the ROCS (Rigid Overhead Conductor System) at 25 kV for the first time on Indian railways.
  • National Project status is a special designation given by the central government to certain infrastructure projects that are considered to be of strategic importance and national significance.
  • These projects receive priority funding and special attention for speedy completion.

{Prelims – Envi – Species} A New Diatom Genus Discovered

  • Context (PIB): Researchers (Agharkar Research Institute, Pune) have identified a new genus of Gomphonemoid diatom, named Indiconema, in the clean waters of the Eastern Ghats.
  • The study reports the presence of Indiconema species in both the Eastern and Western Ghats.
  • This unique organism differs from its relatives by possessing a pore field at both ends (head and foot pole) instead of just the foot pole.
  • Researchers suggest that based on morphological features, Indiconema is related to Afrocymbella, a genus endemic to East Africa. Early studies noted similarities between Gomphonema species from India and those from East Africa and Madagascar.

Diatoms

  • Diatoms are the tiny, microscopic algae and workhorses of the aquatic ecosystem.
  • They are responsible for producing 25% of the world’s oxygen.
  • They are chief ‘producers’ in the oceans and form the base of the aquatic food chain.
  • They serve as excellent indicators of water quality due to their sensitivity to chemical changes.
  • India has nearly 6,500 diatom taxa, of which 30% are endemic.
  • Diverse biogeographic zones, from freshwater to marine environments, sea level to high mountains, and alkaline lakes to acidic swamps in India, provide a plethora of habitats for diatoms to thrive.
  • The Eastern and Western Ghats, with their unique physiographic, edaphic, and climatic gradients, host distinct diatom communities specific to these geographical locations.

{Prelims – Envi – Species} Striped caecilian

  • Context (TH): A team of herpetologists recorded striped caecilian (Ichthyophis spp) in the Kaziranga National Park for the first time.

    Striped caecilian - PMF IAS

    Credits: TH

  • Reptiles and amphibians, collectively called herpetofauna, are the least studied but most vulnerable to climate change. They are indicator species with a crucial role in controlling pests.
  • Caecilians are limbless amphibians that spend most of their lives burrowed under soil.
  • As ancient species, their presence holds critical linkages to evolution and intercontinental speciation.
  • Kaziranga’s ‘Big Five’ — rhinoceros, tiger, elephant, wild water buffalo, and swamp deer.
  • Kaziranga with a mix of floodplains, wetlands, grasslands, and hilly terrains, provides an ideal habitat for a variety of amphibians and reptiles.

{Prelims – In News} 5G Intelligent Village and Quantum Encryption Algorithm

  • Context (PIB): The Department of Telecommunications (DoT) has announced two proposals aimed at fostering innovation and technological advancement in India’s telecommunications sector.
  • It is part of the Jai Anusandhan movement, which seeks to promote innovative startups and establish a robust ecosystem for research and entrepreneurship in India.
  • Both initiatives will be funded under the Telecom Technology Development Fund (TTDF) scheme.
  • These initiatives highlight the DoT’s commitment to:
    • Promoting Indigenous research and development (R&D)
    • Encouraging intellectual property (IP) creation
    • Achieving inclusive digital growth across the nation
  • TTDF is an initiative under the Universal Services Obligation Fund (USOF) of DoT, aimed at promoting research, design, prototyping, testing, IPR creation, and manufacturing in the telecommunication field.

5G Intelligent Village

  • It aims to leverage 5G technology to transform rural life, driving digital inclusion and economic growth.
  • The call for proposals, titled “From Connectivity Gaps to Smart Solutions: Designing 5G Networks for Rural Innovation—5G Intelligent Villages,” focuses on critical areas such as agriculture, education, healthcare, governance, and sustainability.
  • Ten villages across India have been selected for this initiative.
  • The initiative invites proposals for using 5G’s Ultra-Reliable Low-Latency Communication (URLLC) and massive Machine Type Communication (mMTC) in villages and establishing 5G in uncovered areas.
  • It aims to unite telecom providers, sensor manufacturers, CCTV suppliers, and IoT providers to explore 5G benefits and become a research and development hub.

Quantum Encryption Algorithm (QEA)

  • This call to action seeks the development of an India-specific Quantum Encryption Algorithm (QEA) to secure digital communication channels by harnessing the principles of quantum mechanics.
  • Key features: Unparalleled security, Advanced encryption capabilities, Ultrafast and efficient encryption.

{Prelims – In News} Diyya (blood money) in Islamic law *

  • Context (IE): After her death penalty was upheld by Yemeni courts, there is only one avenue to save Kerala nurse Nimisha Priya: ‘blood money’.
  • The $40,000 payment being made now is to get negotiations started. Eventually, Priya’s family will likely have to pay close to $300,000-$400,000 to waive the death penalty.

About the case

  • Priya, who hails from Palakkad, Kerala, was found guilty of murdering a Yemeni citizen in 2017.
  • She was apprehended while trying to flee the country and sentenced to death in 2018.

Rationale behind the Diyya (blood money)

  • According to Islamic law (traced to the Holy Quran), victims of crimes have a say in the punishment of criminals. In murder cases, this principle applies to the families of victims.
  • Although murder is punished via the death penalty, the victim’s family (specifically, heirs) may choose to “forgive” the murderer in exchange for monetary compensation.
  • Scholars believe that the idea behind this is to encourage the virtue of forgiveness while also providing reparative justice to the victims’ families.
  • The scriptures do not set any specific amount as compensation, generally decided by negotiation.

{Prelims – In News} Energy Transition Index

  • Context (TH): India has shown improvement in its energy transition efforts, according to the Energy Transition Index and top positions held by the European Countries.
  • It is released by the World Economic Forum (WEF).

Key Findings

  • Top Position: Sweden, Denmark, Finland, Switzerland, and France.
  • India secured the 63rd position and China ranked 20th.
  • 83% of countries retreated in at least one of the three energy system performance dimensions: security, equity, and sustainability.
  • India, China, and Brazil made significant advancements despite ranking lower.
  • 107 out of 120 countries showed progress over the past decade.
  • China and India leading in developing new energy solutions and technologies.

India’s Role in the Global Energy Transition

  • India is the 4th largest in renewable energy.
  • Renewable energy and biomass comprise 42% of its power generation capacity.
  • India’s progress is noted in energy equity, security, and sustainability.
  • India invests nearly $10 billion annually in electric vehicles and green hydrogen production.
  • India’s clean energy solutions focus on affordability and economic viability, promoting sustainability and local economic growth. India’s per capita CO2 emissions are well below the global average.
  • Other important reports by WEF are the Global Competitiveness Report, Global Gender Gap Report, Global Risk Report, and Global Travel and Tourism Report.

{Prelims – In News} New Security Regime at Parliament Complex

  • Context (IE): Recently, a Rajya Sabha MP filed a complaint with the Chairman regarding alleged mistreatment by Central Industrial Security Force (CISF) personnel at the Parliament complex.

Shift in Security Management

  • The Parliament Security Service (PSS) and the Watch and Ward committee, established in response to a 1929 security breach, handled security within the complex.
  • These specialised units offered familiarity with the unique needs of Parliament and its members.
  • Following the 2022 security breach, the CISF was tasked with taking over Parliament security duties (from April 2024, in a phased approach) to centralise security under a single, well-trained force.

From Watch and Ward to PSS

  • The Watch and Ward Committee, established in 1929, was a direct response to a central assembly security incident involving Bhagat Singh and Batukeshwar Dutt.
  • Established by: Vithalbhai Patel, the then-president of the Assembly (equivalent to today’s Speaker).
  • It was tasked with creating an exclusive security service for the Central Legislative Assembly.
  • In 2009, it was transformed into a more robust security force – the Parliament Security Service (PSS).
  • The PSS developed a comprehensive strategy for Parliament security, including preventive and protective measures for MPs, visitors, and employees.
  • It implemented strict access control using verification, identification, and modern security technology.
  • During the 2001 Parliament attack, PSS personnel bravely defended the complex.

Why a Separate Security Force for Parliament?

  • Article 98 of the Indian Constitution provides for a separate Secretariat of Parliament.
  • Own security force allows Parliament to maintain control over its own premises.
  • It prevents potential government interference with parliamentary access.
  • PSS personnel receive specialised training, particularly in identifying MPs and VIPs.
  • The 2020 Model Law for Independent Parliaments by the Commonwealth Parliamentary Association backs “making Parliament a self-contained and self-sufficient unit”.

Central Industrial Security Force (CISF)

  • The CISF, a Central Armed Police Force under the Union Home Ministry, was established in 1969 with three battalions to secure sensitive public sector undertakings.
  • CISF protects critical infrastructure, including nuclear installations, space establishments, airports, seaports, power plants, government buildings, heritage monuments, etc.
  • It has a VIP Security division providing round-the-clock protection to important individuals.

{Prelims – Sci – Bio – Diseases} African Trypanosomiasis (Sleeping sickness)

  • Context (DTE): Chad has become the first country in 2024 and the 51st globally to eliminate the gambiense form of human African trypanosomiasis (HAT), also known as sleeping sickness.

Chad - PMF IAS

Credits: Countryreports.org

  • African trypanosomiasis, also called sleeping sickness, is a disease caused by protozoan parasites of the genus Trypanosoma. It is endemic in sub-Saharan Africa.
  • There are two forms of HAT, determined by the subspecies of the parasite involved: Trypanosoma brucei gambiense, which accounts for 92 per cent of reported cases and Trypanosoma brucei rhodesiense, responsible for the remaining 8 per cent.
  • It is transmitted to humans by bites of tsetse flies (glossina).
  • Symptoms: Fever, headaches, tiredness and inflammation of the lymph nodes. If the disease is not treated, it progresses slowly, causing fatigue, headaches and, in severe cases, coma.

African Trypanosomiasis (Sleeping sickness) - PMF IAS

Credits: cdc.gov

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