Daily Current Affairs 28-02-2024

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    Syllabus: GS2/Statutory bodies

    • Former Supreme Court judge A.M. Khanwilkar was appointed the Chairperson of the anti-corruption ombudsman Lokpal recently.
    • The Lokpal has been working without its regular chief after Justice Pinaki Chandra Ghose completed his term on May 27, 2022.
    • Justice Pradip Kumar Mohanty is currently the Acting Chairperson.

    Background:

    • In India, the ombudsman is known as Lokpal( “protector of people”) or Lokayukta( People’s appointee).
    • The Lokpal, established as an independent anti-corruption ombudsman at the central level to investigate allegations of corruption against public officials, including PM, derives authority from the Lokpal and Lokayuktas Act, 2013.
      • Social activist Anna Hazare’s movement against corruption in 2011 further fueled public demand, leading to the eventual passage of the Lokpal Act.
    • Aim: To eradicate corruption at all levels of the Indian polity. 
    • Mandate: to provide for the establishment of Lokpal for the Union and Lokayukta for States.
    • Functions: To inquire into allegations of corruption against certain public functionaries and for related matters. 
    • Structure of lokpal:
      • The institution of Lokpal is a statutory body established by the Lokpal Act 2013. 
      • Members: Lokpal is a multi member body, made up of one chairperson and maximum of 8 members.
        • Chairperson: Should be either the former Chief Justice of India, the former Judge of Supreme Court Or an eminent person with impeccable integrity and outstanding ability.
        • Eight members:
          • Half will be judicial members
          • Minimum fifty per cent of the Members will be from SC / ST / OBC / Minorities and women. 
          • The judicial member of the Lokpal should be either a former Judge of the Supreme Court or a former Chief Justice of a High Court. 
          • The non-judicial member should be an eminent person with impeccable integrity and outstanding ability. 
    • Selection committee: The members are appointed by the president on the recommendation of a selection committee, composed of:
      • The Prime Minister who is the Chairperson; 
      • Speaker of Lok Sabha ,
      • Leader of Opposition in Lok Sabha ,
      • Chief Justice of India or a Judge nominated by him / her, and 
      • One eminent jurist.
    • Jurisdiction of Lokpal:
      • The jurisdiction of the Lokpal will include the Prime Minister except on: Allegations of corruption relating to international relations, security, the public order, atomic energy and space.
      • Ministers and MPs: The Lokpal will also have jurisdiction over Ministers and MPs except not in the matter of anything said in Parliament or a vote given there. 
      • Public Servants: Lokpal’s jurisdiction will cover all categories of public servants within and outside India.
      • Related to CBI: It has the powers to superintendence over, and to give direction to CBI.
        • If Lokpal has referred a case to CBI, the investigating officer in such case cannot be transferred without the approval of Lokpal.
    • Limited Powers: Critics argue the Lokpal’s powers are insufficient, lacking the authority to initiate suo moto investigations and only being able to recommend action, not enforce punishment.
    • Delays in appointments: Resource limitations and delays in appointments hinder the Lokpal’s operational effectiveness.
      • The current Lokpal was appointed after a gap of 21 months when the post fell vacant in May 2022.
    • Jurisdictional Conflicts: Conflicts can arise between the Lokpal and existing vigilance agencies over investigatory jurisdiction.
    • Political Influence and Interference: The appointing committee of Lokpal consists of members from political parties that put Lokpal under political influence.
    • Wide criteria to decide eminent Jurist: The criteria to decide who is an ‘eminent jurist’ or ‘a person of integrity’ can be manipulated to appoint Lokpal of political choice. 
    • No proper immunity to Whistle Blowers: The Lokpal and Lokayukta Act 2013 failed to provide any kind of concrete immunity to the whistleblowers.
      • The provision related to the initiation of inquiry against the complainant, in cases where the accused is found innocent, leads to discouraging people from making complaints. 
    • Judiciary excluded: One of the biggest lacunae is the exclusion of the judiciary from the ambit of the Lokpal.
    • No constitutional backing: The Lokpal does not have any constitutional backing. 
    • Limited time period for filing Complaint: The Lokpal and Lokayukta Act also mandates that no complaint against corruption can be registered after a period of seven years from the date on which the mentioned offense is alleged to have been committed.
    • Strengthening Powers: Granting greater powers to the Lokpal to independently initiate investigations, enforce prosecutions, and implement punishments would enhance its effectiveness.
    • Resource Allocation: Sufficient funding and staffing to enable the Lokpal to effectively carry out its functions.
    • Political Will: Sustained political commitment to maintaining the Lokpal’s independence and supporting its anti-corruption efforts.
    • Proactive Approach: Embracing a proactive mindset to weed out corruption within the political and bureaucratic machinery.
    • Ensuring Autonomy: Robust institutional safeguards to protect the Lokpal from political pressure are crucial for ensuring its impartiality.
    • Public Awareness: Raising public awareness about the Lokpal’s role and functions will encourage its utilization.
    • Coordination with Existing Agencies: Streamlining coordination between the Lokpal and other anti-corruption bodies like the Central Vigilance Commission to avoid duplication and conflicts.
    • The Lokpal remains a significant institution in India’s fight against corruption. A powerful and independent Lokpal can play a pivotal role in fostering a culture of transparency and accountability within the Indian government. 
    • By addressing the challenges and implementing necessary reforms, India can maximize the effectiveness of this crucial anti-corruption institution.

    Source: TH

    Syllabus: GS3/Infrastructure

    • There is a media highlight that the unsold electric two/three-wheeler vehicles will not be able to claim subsidy after expiry of Faster Adoption & Manufacturing of Electric Vehicles (FAME) II.
    • India is witnessing a significant shift towards electric vehicles (EVs), driven by the government’s ambitious targets and increasing consumer awareness about the environmental benefits of EVs.
    • India has set a target that by 2030, 80% of two and three-wheelers, 40% of buses, and 30 to 70% of cars in India will be electric vehicles.
    • India offers the world’s largest untapped EV market, especially in the two-wheeler segment.
    • It is expected to be worth around at least ₹475 billion by 2025.
    • The Economic Survey of 2023 predicted that India’s domestic electric vehicle market will see a 49% Compound Annual Growth Rate (CAGR) between 2022 and 2030, with 10 million annual sales by 2030.
    • High Initial Cost: The upfront cost of EVs is a significant barrier to their adoption. Over 60% of consumers believe that an EV is beyond their budget.
    • Lack of Charging Infrastructure: The lack of adequate charging infrastructure is a major hindrance to the mass adoption of EVs.
      • Compared to traditional petrol stations, charging stations are harder to find, normally limited by investment costs and difficult infrastructure development.
    • Reduced Allocation: The government has ₹1,500 crore right now for disbursal from the revised estimate of nearly ₹4,807 crore allocated in FY24 for FAME schemes.
      • It has reduced the allocation by around 44% to ₹2,671 crore for FY25. Because of this cut, a slowdown is expected in the adoption of EVs in India in FY25. Last year too, the government slashed the incentive from ₹15,000 per kWh of battery to ₹10,000 per KWh from June 1, 2023.
    • Battery Technology and Raw Material Availability: It is anticipated that there will be a shortage of nickel, and scaling up lithium production would be a challenge, leading to supply shortage that may cause manufacturers to use lower-quality mineral inputs, adversely affecting battery performance.
    • Uneven Electricity Distribution: The issue of power shortage in India, especially in villages and smaller towns, can affect the EV switch on a large scale.
    • Limited Choice and Performance of EVs: There is a lack of high performing EVs in the market, and the choices available to consumers are limited.
    • Service and Repair Options: Consumers have concerns about the availability of service centres and repair options for EVs.
    • FAME India Scheme: It was launched with a budgetary outlay of Rs. 10,000 crore for a period of five years starting from April 1, 2019.
      • It aims to promote hybrid/electric technology in transportation to reduce dependency on fossil fuels and address issues of vehicular emissions.
    • Production Linked Incentive (PLI) Schemes: The government has launched PLI schemes for Advanced Chemistry Cell (ACC) and Auto and Automotive Components to boost the manufacturing of EVs and their components.
      • The budgetary outlay for the ACC PLI scheme is Rs. 18,100 crores, and for the Auto and Automotive Components PLI scheme, it is Rs. 25,938 crores.
    • Tax Exemptions and Subsidies: The government is offering subsidies for purchasing electric vehicles.
      • A tax exemption of Rs 1.5 lakh is also given for people buying electric cars on loan.
      • The GST for the purchase of EVs is set at just 5% with zero cess.
    • Infrastructure Development: Under the FAME scheme, the government has been trying to improve the infrastructure for electric vehicle manufacturing in the country.
      • There is also a plan for 22,000 EV charging stations to be set up by Oil Marketing Companies across the country.
    • Battery Swapping Policy: In the Union Budget (2022), a battery swapping policy was announced as an easier way to charge EVs.
    • The transition to electric vehicles is a key component of India’s strategy to reduce its carbon emissions and achieve its climate goals.
    • While there are challenges to overcome, the potential benefits of this transition – in terms of improved air quality, reduced dependence on fossil fuels, and opportunities for economic growth – make it a journey worth pursuing.

    Source: BL

    Syllabus: GS3/Science and Technology

    • The 2024 theme for National Science Day, celebrated every year on February 28, is “Science for Sustainable Development”.
    • Science and technological developments are key drivers of India’s journey towards becoming a developed country by 2047. 
    • India is committed to making this progress through sustainable means, as evidenced by its commitments under the Paris Agreement, participation in global fora for sustainable development, and reinforced in this year’s theme for Science Day. 
    • The one key expectation for science to transform India has to be sustainably and consistently funded.
    • Funding for fundamental research in India is amongst the world’s lowest. 
    • In the recent past, India’s R&D expense has dropped to the current 0.64-0.65% of GDP from 0.8% in 2008-2009 and 0.7% in 2017-2018. 
    Funding for Research and Development in India
    • India’s Gross Expenditure on R&D (GERD) is lower than the other BRICS nations. 
      • Brazil, Russia, China and South Africa spend around 1.2%, 1.1%, above 2% and 0.8% respectively. The world average is around 1.8%.
    • Developed countries the United States, Sweden, and Switzerland spend about 2.9%, 3.2% and 3.4%, respectively. Israel spends approx. 4.5% of its GDP on R&D, the highest in the world.
    Israel spends approx. 4.5% of its GDP
    • National Goal: The 2013 Science, Technology, and Innovation Policy noted that “Increasing (GERD) to 2% GDP has been a national goal for some time”.
      • The 2017-2018 Economic Survey reiterated this in its chapter on science and technology transformation.
      • For India to achieve its goal of a $5 trillion economy, India’s GERD needs considerable improvement and needs to touch at least 2%
    • Investments in R&D take time to produce results and countries like India tend to have bigger issues like hunger, disease control, and raising the quality of life and authorities divert resources towards tackling them.
    • The low investment in R&D by the corporate sector: While the corporate sector accounts for about two-thirds of gross domestic expenditure on R&D (GERD) in leading economies, its share in India is just 37%.
    Brain Drain

    – Lower spending on R&D, and less innovative opportunities may lead people to move from one region to another region – state/ country for better opportunity.
    – This phenomenon is known as brain drain and reduces the competitive edge of a state, further impacting the country’s overall economy.
    • The National Mission on Transformative Mobility and Battery Storage, approved in 2019, seeks to promote R&D in production of electric vehicles and batteries.   
    • In 2021, the Union Cabinet established several programmes to promote R&D and manufacturing in the semiconductor and electronic display industry in India.
      • The Ministry of Electronics and Information Technology will take steps to modernise and commercialise the Semi-Conductor Laboratory, an autonomous body engaged in R&D in areas of microelectronics.
    • Ministry of Electronics and Information Technology released the National Strategy on Blockchain (2021) which seeks to promote advanced research in indigenous blockchain technology.
    • In the 2022-23 budget speech, there were two announcements for promoting R&D- (i) government contribution and support for R&D in upcoming fields such as artificial intelligence, drones, green energy, and space economy, and (ii) introduction of a PPP scheme for delivery of digital and high-tech services to farmers with involvement of public sector research alongside other stakeholders.
    • Atmanirbhar Bharat Abhiyan (Self-Reliant India Mission): This initiative aims to make India self-reliant in various sectors including technology and innovation. It includes incentives and schemes to boost R&D across sectors to reduce dependency on imports and foster domestic innovation.
    • Private Sector Funding: The Science, Technology, and Innovation Policy, 2013 had stressed that the expenditure on R&D by the private sector needs to go up.
    • CSR Fund: Since 2019, companies have been allowed to use corporate social responsibility funds (CSR) for contributions towards research.
      • They can spend CSR funds as contributions to public-funded incubators, research organisations and universities engaged in research in science, technology, engineering, and medicine.
    • Self-Reliance: The Draft Science and Tech Policy (2020) noted that India is largely dependent on the import of technologies in the priority sectors such as agriculture, health, energy, and environment.
      • The Policy outlined the need to achieve self-reliance and address local problems, through science, technology, and innovation.
    • Further, it observed that there is a need to focus on: (i) indigenous development of technology, (ii) providing sustainable solutions through technology, and (iii) promoting the development of disruptive technologies (such as blockchain, and artificial intelligence).
    • In the budget 2023-24, Finance Minister provided many indications that the government would like R&D expenditure to include more contributions from the private sector.
      • Against this backdrop, mitigating the under-spending and under-utilisation of funds earmarked for R&D stand out as obvious first steps. 
      • This in turn requires the political prioritisation of R&D spending and recognition of it as a core, irreplaceable element of India’s growth journey.
    • Finally, India also needs the bureaucratic capacity to evaluate science projects and, after allocations, monitor utilisation. 
    • Building such capacity is a prerequisite for India becoming a science power by 2047. 
    Structure of Ministry of Science and Technology

    – The Ministry of Science and Technology has three departments: (i) Department of Science and Technology (DST), (ii) Department of Scientific and Industrial Research (DSIR), and (iii) Department of Biotechnology (DBT).  
    a. DST formulates and implements policies for the promotion of science, technology, research, and innovation in the country.  
    b. DSIR is responsible for promotion, development, and transfer of indigenous technology.  The Council for Scientific and Industrial Research (CSIR) is an autonomous body under DSIR which undertakes research and development in diverse areas.  
    c. DBT is entrusted with the promotion and development of biotechnology.  

    Source: TH

    Syllabus: GS3/Science and Technology

    • The Department of Biotechnology (DBT) announced the completion of the ‘10,000 genome’ project.
    • The project was an attempt to create a reference database of whole-genome sequences out of India. 
    • The United Kingdom, China, and the United States are among the countries that have programmes to sequence at least 1,00,000 of their genomes.
    • The human genome is the entire set of deoxyribonucleic acid (DNA) residing in the nucleus of every cell of each human body. 
    • It carries the complete genetic information responsible for the development and functioning of the organism. 
    • The DNA consists of a double-stranded molecule built up by four bases – adenine (A), cytosine (C), guanine (G) and thymine (T). 
      • Every base on one strand pairs with a complementary base on the other strand (A with T and C with G).
    • In all, the genome is made up of approximately 3.05 billion such base pairs.
    • The process of deciphering the order of base pairs, to decode the genetic fingerprint of a human is called genome sequencing.
    • Disease-based human genetics: The Indian population of 1.3 billion consists of over 4,600 population groups, and many of them are endogamous.
      • These factors have contributed to the genetic diversity of the current population. Thus, the Indian population harbors distinct variations and often many disease-causing mutations are amplified within some of these groups. 
      • Therefore, findings from population-based or disease-based human genetics research from other populations of the world cannot be extrapolated to Indians.
    • Evaluation of disease: Genome sequencing has been used to evaluate rare disorders, preconditions for disorders, even cancer from the viewpoint of genetics, rather than as diseases of certain organs. Nearly 10,000 diseases, including cystic fibrosis and thalassemia are known to be the result of a single gene malfunctioning.
    • Treatments of diseases: Advanced analytics and AI could be applied to essential datasets created by collecting genomic profiles across the population, allowing to develop greater understanding of causative factors and potential treatments of diseases. 
    • Help in customizing drugs and therapies: Creating a database of Indian genomes means that researchers anywhere can learn about genetic variants that are unique to India’s population groups and use that to customize drugs and therapies. 
    • This project allows India to draw upon its tremendous genetic diversity, given the series of large migrations historically, and thus, add greatly to the current information about the human species.
    • This initiative reflects India’s progress in gene therapies and precision medicine, and its movement towards emerging next-generation medicine which yields the possibilities for greater customization, safety, and earlier detection.
    The Human Genome Project (HGP)

    – The project was a voyage of biological discovery led by an international group of researchers looking to comprehensively study all of the DNA (known as a genome) of a select set of organisms. 
    – It was launched in 1990 and completed in 2003.
    – The Project’s signature accomplishment provided fundamental information about the human blueprint, which has since accelerated the study of human biology and improved the practice of medicine.

    Source: TH

    Syllabus: GS2/Government Policies and Interventions

    Context: 

    • In a bid to overhaul the film certification process in the country, the Ministry of Information and Broadcasting is going to publish a new set of cinematograph rules.

    About

    • Presently, films are certified for screening by the CBFC under the Cinematograph (Certification) Rules, 1983, which the new Cinematograph (Certification) Rules, 2024, aim to supersede.

    Major highlights of the New Rules

    • Age-based indicators: While the ‘U’ (unrestricted public exhibition), ‘A’ (restricted to adults) and ‘S’ (restricted for specialised viewing) categories of certification have been left unaltered, the new age-based indicators within the ‘UA’ category will be visible on the certificates.
    • At least one-third women representation: The Union Government may take such steps as it thinks fit to appoint women members in the Board so that there is due representation for women, where one-third of the members in the Board shall be women and preferably half shall be womens.
    • Third parties: The role of third parties in the certification process has been totally done away with in the wake of allegations of bribery against middlemen. 
    • The applications can only be submitted online: Every application to certify a film for public exhibition shall be made on the online portal of the Board, hereinafter referred to as the e-cinepramaan portal.
    • Perpetual Validity: The new rules also provide that a certificate granted by the CBFC will be perpetually valid. As of now, a certificate was only valid for 10 years, after which a film had to be recertified.
    • Re-certifying a film: As per the 2024 draft rules, any application to recertify or change the category of a film for exhibition on television or media other than the medium originally certified can be made on the e-cinepramaan portal.
      • Currently, films certified ‘A’ are prohibited from exhibition on television. 

    Source: IE

    Syllabus: GS3/Environment

    Context:

    • Recently, Tanzania has switched on its first turbine of a Julius Nyerere Hydropower Plant in Selous Game Reserve, a UNESCO’s World Heritage Site.

    Selous Game Reserve (partially renamed as Nyerere National Park):

    • It is one of the largest protected areas and is relatively undisturbed by human impact, located in southern Tanzania in Africa.
    • It was designated a UNESCO World Heritage Site in 1982 due to its wildlife diversity and undisturbed nature.
    About Tanzania

    – It is an East African country situated just south of the Equator, and was formed as a sovereign state in 1964 through the union of the Tanganyika and Zanzibar.


    a. Mainland Tanganyika covers most of the area.
    – It is bounded by Uganda, Lake Victoria, and Kenya to the north, by the Indian Ocean to the east, by Mozambique, Lake Nyasa, Malawi, and Zambia to the south and southwest, and by Lake Tanganyika, Burundi, and Rwanda to the west.
    Islands:  Zanzibar, Pemba and Mafia Islands.
    Capital: Dodoma;
    a. Dar es Salaam is the largest city and port in the country.

    Source: Reuters

    Syllabus: GS3/Science and Technology

    In Context

    • When analysing genetic material from bacteria present in the human gut, the scientists identified a new form of life lying between viruses and viroids on the scale of simplicity. They called them ‘obelisks’.

    About

    • Obelisks have a circular single-stranded RNA genome and no protein coat but, like viruses, their genomes contain genes that are predicted to code for proteins.
    • The discovery was made possible using data obtained using a powerful technique called next-generation sequencing (NGS).

    What is Virus?

    • A virus is an infectious microbe consisting of a segment of nucleic acid (either DNA or RNA) surrounded by a protein coat called capsid.
    • Viruses are not considered living organisms because they cannot carry out metabolic processes on their own.
    • A virus cannot replicate alone; instead, it must infect cells and use components of the host cell to make copies of itself. 
    • Often, a virus ends up killing the host cell in the process, causing damage to the host organism. 
    • Well-known examples of viruses causing human disease include AIDS, COVID-19, measles and smallpox.
    • Viruses can infect a wide range of organisms, including animals, plants, fungi, bacteria, and archaea.
    Examples of viruses

    What are Viroids?

    • Viroids are small, infectious pathogens that consist of a short, single-stranded RNA molecule without any surrounding protein coat. 
    • They are significantly smaller than viruses and were first discovered in the 1970s by the American plant pathologist Theodor Otto Diener.
    • They infect a wide range of plant species, including agricultural crops, ornamental plants, and trees.
    • While viroids are primarily known for their impact on plants, there is no evidence to suggest that they infect animals or humans.
    • Some well-known viroid families include the Pospiviroidae, which includes the Potato spindle tuber viroid (PSTVd), and the Avsunviroidae, which includes the Avocado sunblotch viroid (ASBVd).

    Source: TH

    Syllabus:GS3/Infrastructure

    Context

    • PM Modi inaugurated ‘Sudarshan Setu’, the country’s longest cable-stayed bridge on the Arabian sea.

    About

    • The bridge connects Beyt Dwarka island to mainland Okha in Gujarat’s Devbhumi Dwarka district.
    • It is a 2.32 km bridge, including 900 meters of central double span cable-stayed portion and a 2.45 km long approach road.

    Beyt Dwarka

    • Beyt Dwarka is an island near Okha port, which is nearly 30 km from Dwarka town, where the famous Dwarkadhish temple of Lord Krishna is situated.
    • Before the construction of the bridge, pilgrims had to rely on boat transport to reach Bet Dwarka. 

    Source: AIR

    Syllabus: GS3/Science and Technology

    In Context

    • Google DeepMind has introduced Genie, a new model that can generate interactive video games from just a text or image prompt. 

    About

    • Genie is a foundation world model that is trained on videos sourced from the Internet. 
    • The model can generate an endless variety of playable (action-controllable) worlds from synthetic images, photographs, and even sketches.
    • Genie can be prompted to generate a diverse set of interactive and controllable environments although it is trained on video-only data.
    • Significance: This opens up many possibilities, especially new ways to create and step into virtual worlds.
      • With Genie, anyone will be able to create their own entirely imagined virtual worlds. 

    Source: IE

    Syllabus: Species in News

    In News

    • New research revealed that the green anaconda, formerly believed to be a single species, is actually two genetically distinct species.

    About 

    • The first is the known species, Eunectes murinus, which lives in Perú, Bolivia, French Guiana and Brazil.
      • It is named as  “southern green anaconda”
    • The second, newly identified species is Eunectes akayima or “northern green anaconda”, which is found in Ecuador, Colombia, Venezuela, Trinidad, Guyana, Suriname and French Guiana.
    Green Anaconda

    About Green Anacondas

    • Historically, four anaconda species have been recognised, including green anacondas (also known as giant anacondas).
    • Green anacondas are the world’s heaviest snakes (weigh more than 250 kilograms), and among the longest.
    • Predominantly found in rivers and wetlands in South America.
    • The snakes are well-adapted to a life lived mostly in water.
    • Importance : Anacondas are highly sensitive to environmental change. Healthy anaconda populations indicate vibrant ecosystems, with ample food resources and clean water.
    • IUCN RedList Status : It is listed as Least Concern.
    • The species is protected under CITES Appendix II. 

    In News

    • The 14th Conference of the Parties to the Convention on the Conservation of Migratory Species of Wild Animals (CMS COP14)  adopted the Single Species Action Plan for conservation of the Hawksbill Turtle. 

    About Hawksbill Turtle

    • Hawksbills are named for their narrow, pointed beak. 
    • They inhabit the tropical and sub-tropical waters of all of the world’s major oceans.
    • They are the only species of sea turtle that can survive on a diet consisting mainly of sponges.

    • Hawksbills help maintain the health of coral reefs. 
    • Threats : In many parts of the world, hawksbills face the unique threat of being hunted for their beautiful shell, also known as “tortoise shell”, which is used by craftspeople to create many types of jewelry and trinkets. 
    • Habitat and Distribution: The largest populations of hawksbills are found in the west Atlantic (Caribbean), Indian, and Indo-Pacific Oceans.
      • The largest nesting populations of hawksbill turtles occur in Australia and Solomon Islands.
    • IUCN Red List status : s Critically Endangered