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15 Jan 2024 : Daily Current Affairs

Daily Current Affairs

15 -January-2024

1. Last of Mizoram’s Bru refugees to settle down in Tripura.

Topic: GS2 – Social Justice – Vulnerable Sections

The Mizoram Bru refugee settlement showcases regional cooperation, humanitarian efforts, and addresses ethnic tensions—a crucial aspect for UPSC geopolitics and governance analysis.

Context:
  • The Tripura government completes the rehabilitation of Mizoram Bru refugees under a 2020 quadripartite agreement.
  • The 12th settlement in Laugangsom, South Tripura, accommodates 633 families on 30 hectares.
  • Basic amenities are underway, and the Ministry of Home Affairs allocated ₹661 crore for the resettlement, following ethnic tensions in Mizoram in 1997.

Additional information on this news:

  • Tripura government allocates land for the rehabilitation of the last batch of Mizoram Bru refugees.
  • Quadripartite agreement signed on January 16, 2020, initiated by the Home Ministry.
  • 6,959 Bru tribe families (37,136 individuals) permanently settled in 12 locations across four districts in Tripura.
  • The settlement process is now completed with the identification and allocation of land for the final group of refugees.
  • The 12th settlement colony, Laugangsom in Santirbazar subdivision, south Tripura district, established for 633 Bru families.
  • The colony will cover 30 hectares of previously unused land, and efforts are underway to provide basic amenities like electricity and drinking water.
  • Monthly rations, household items, and stipends are provided to refugees in accordance with the quadripartite agreement.
  • Ministry of Home Affairs (MHA) allocated ₹661 crore for the implementation of the agreement.
  • Bru refugees fled ethnic tensions in Mizoram in October 1997.

More about Bru refugees.
  • Bru refugees are a displaced community from Mizoram, India.
  • The displacement of Bru refugees in 1997 was triggered by ethnic violence in Mizoram, India, forcing them to seek refuge in Tripura.
  • The reasons were rooted in inter-community tensions and conflicts in the region.
  • They sought refuge in Tripura, facing challenges like inadequate living conditions.
  • The repatriation process began in 2010, but not all have returned.
  • Efforts are undergoing by the government and NGOs aim to address their needs for sustainable resettlement and livelihoods.
Practice Question: Discuss the causes and consequences of the Bru refugee displacement from Mizoram to Tripura in 1997. Analyze the challenges in their repatriation process and evaluate the measures taken by the government for their resettlement. (150 words/10 m)

2. Rising sea, shrinking sands erode vibrancy of Ganga Sagar Mela.

Topic: GS3 – Environment – Environmental pollution and degradation – climate change

UPSC may consider Ganga Sagar Mela’s environmental challenges as it tests candidates on governance, environmental issues, and disaster management.

Context:
  • The news discusses the threat posed by rising sea levels and beach erosion to the Ganga Sagar Mela on Sagar Island, West Bengal. The government seeks national fair status, deploying measures like tetrapods to combat erosion.

Ganga Sagar Mela: Beach Erosion and Rising Sea Levels
Erosion and Beach Conditions:

  • Rising sea levels and erosion threaten Ganga Sagar Mela on Sagar Island, West Bengal.
  • Kapil Muni temple’s beach, critical for the pilgrimage, eroded, covered with mud, impacting the annual religious congregation.

Government Response:

  • West Bengal government seeks “national fair” status for the event despite challenges.
  • Warning signs placed, pilgrims diverted to other beaches due to erosion near the temple.

Mitigation Measures:

  • Tetrapods, concrete wave-dissipating blocks, installed to combat erosion.
  • Effectiveness to be assessed after the monsoon; government spends ₹25 crore on dredging.

Environmental Impact:

  • Growing concern as erosion embarrasses government’s bid for national fair status.
  • Chief Minister Mamata Banerjee writes to Prime Minister Modi, urging national fair declaration.
  • Sea level rise threatens Kapil Muni temple, reminiscent of past temples submerged.

Human Interventions and Violations:

  • Past human interventions, including removal of barriers and flattening of beach, contribute to increased wave attacks.
  • Construction on Sagar Island often violates Coastal Regulation Zone norms.
  • Lack of sediment influx from Ganga-Meghna-Brahmaputra river system leads to Sundarbans land loss.

Expert Commentary:

  • Professor Tuhin Ghosh, Jadavpur University, cites earlier visible temple remnants and blames human interventions.
  • Sundarbans facing land loss due to lack of sediment influx, exacerbating erosion issues.

Conclusion:

  • The erosion threatening Ganga Sagar Mela underscores environmental challenges and governance issues.
  • The government’s mitigation efforts, environmental impacts, and expert insights emphasize the complex interplay between human interventions and natural forces.

3. The devices that translate quantum effects to computing awesomeness.

Topic: GS3 – Science and technology – Development & their applications

UPSC values knowledge of information technology’s evolution, quantum computing’s potential, and societal implications for governance, science, and technology assessments.

Context:
  • Information technology’s omnipresence is vital, storing vast data, but challenges arise with quantum effects.
  • Quantum computing, using qubits and gates, exploits superposition for rapid operations. Research focuses on overcoming fragility, opening avenues for revolutionary applications.

Importance of Information Technology:

  • IT is integral to communication, banking, business, health, education, and entertainment.
  • Its prevalence raises questions about societal survival without it.
  • Gadgets store and process vast information at incredible speeds.

Computing Basics:

  • A bit, a binary digit, is the smallest information storage unit.
  • Modern household computers use terabytes of storage (8 trillion bits).
  • Quantum effects challenge semiconductor technology.

Quantum Computing Introduction:

  • Quantum gates change bit states in quantum computers.
  • Quantum computers use qubits, with each qubit having two states.
  • Moore’s Law slowing down; quantum revolution emerging.

Quantum Bits and Gates:

  • Qubit is the basic unit of a quantum computer.
  • Quantum gates, like quantum NOT and Hadamard gates, process information.
  • Superposition enables qubits to exist in multiple states simultaneously.

Superposition and Fragility:

  • Superposition allows quantum computers to process multiple inputs simultaneously.
  • Fragility occurs when qubits interact with the environment.
  • Research focuses on overcoming superposition fragility.

Quantum Computing Operations:

  • Quantum gates inter-convert qubit states, performing logical operations.
  • Controlled-NOT (CNOT) gate acts on two qubits, flipping the target qubit based on the control qubit.
  • Quantum circuits, using various gates, process binary information on qubits.

Future of Quantum Computing:

  • Ongoing global research on reliable quantum computers and algorithms.
  • Potential applications range from drug design to secure communications.
  • Quantum computers may revolutionize various industries with their processing capabilities.

Conclusion:

  • Understanding information technology’s evolution and the potential of quantum computing is crucial for UPSC aspirants, offering insights into governance, technological advancements, and the transformative impact on various sectors in a rapidly changing world.

Quantum Computing
Challenges:

  • Fragile Qubits: Short coherence times, sensitive to noise & errors.
  • Scaling Up: Building large, stable quantum computers with hundreds of qubits.
  • Software & Algorithms: Developing efficient algorithms for real-world problems.
  • High Costs: Research & development, cooling needs, and limited accessibility.

Way Forward:

  • Error Correction: New techniques to maintain & restore qubit information.
  • Novel Hardware: Exploring different qubit technologies for stability & scalability.
  • Algorithm Research: Tailoring quantum algorithms to specific applications.
  • Collaboration & Investment: Public & private partnerships to break through hurdles.

Potential Applications:

  • Drug Design: Simulating molecules for faster, more targeted drug discovery.
  • Materials Science: Designing advanced materials with desired properties.
  • Financial Modeling: Optimizing portfolio management & risk analysis.
  • Cryptography: Breaking current encryption methods & building unbreakable future solutions.
  • Logistics & Optimization: Solving complex routing & scheduling problems for efficiency.

4. Global surgery: why access to essential surgery is important.

Topic: GS2 – Social Justice – Health

Critical for UPSC as it aligns with global health, equity, and development, testing candidates’ awareness of pressing international issues.

Context:
  • This article discusses the historical context, challenges, and current initiatives in global surgery, emphasizing the substantial disparities in access, disease burden, and economic impact, while highlighting the need for research, innovation, and sustained financing. 

Global Surgery Overview:

  • Definition: Global surgery aims for equitable access to essential and emergency surgeries, with a focus on both low- and middle-income countries (LMICs) and under-served populations in high-income countries (HICs).
  • Key Procedures: Encompasses essential and emergency surgeries such as surgery, obstetrics, trauma, and anaesthesia (SOTA), with broad international consensus on approximately thirty procedures.

Historical Context:

  • Inflection Point (2015): Recognized as a pivotal year with the Disease Control Priorities Network (DCPN) report and The Lancet Commission on Global Surgery (LCoGS), leading to the World Health Organization Declaration on Safe Surgery.
  • Decades-Long History: Pre-2015, global surgery had roots in knowledge exchange and humanitarian missions, notably addressing disparities and serving rural populations.

Magnitude of the Problem:

  • Access Disparities: Over 70% of the global population lacks timely access to safe and affordable surgical care; 99% and 96% face access gaps in LMICs compared to 24% in HICs.
  • Disease Burden: Surgically treatable conditions caused 17 million deaths in 2010, surpassing combined mortality from HIV/AIDS, tuberculosis, and malaria; South Asia contributes significantly to surgically avertable Disability-Adjusted Life-Years (DALY).
  • Economic Impact: Projected loss to GDP due to the lack of surgical care scale-up is estimated at $20.7 trillion globally by 2030, with South Asia contributing about 7% to the global lost welfare.

Current status:

  • International Neglect: Despite the substantial burden, surgery receives less than 1% of attention in major international reports, with limited mentions in national health plans.
  • Funding Disparities: Neglect in funding, as seen in Developmental Assistance for Health (DAH) contributions and limited research funding from major organizations like the National Institutes of Health (NIH).
  • Research Gap: Significant disparities in research, with only 315 ‘global surgery’ titles compared to 21,453 ‘global health’ titles in the Pubmed database in 2022.

Challenges and Solutions:

  • Solvable Challenges: LCoGS and DCPN findings indicate that emergency and essential surgical care is cost-effective and cost-beneficial.
  • Progress and Commitment: Several LMICs, including India and African nations, have subnational data, implemented NSOAPs, and demonstrated political commitment since 2015.
  • Innovation and Financing: Research, innovation, policy focus, and sustained financing are identified as key elements to overcome global surgery challenges.
Practice Question: In the context of global surgery, discuss the challenges, historical milestones, and potential solutions to address disparities in access, disease burden, and economic impact. (150 words/10 m)

5. Diplomatic Strain: Maldives Sets March 15 Deadline for Indian Troop Withdrawal Amid Growing Tensions

Topic: GS2 – International Relations- Bilateral Relations 

This topic is not much relevant in the context of Prelims but more for Mains in the context of diplomatic tensions between India and the Maldives. 

Context:
  • President Mohamed Muizzu obliquely criticised India for alleged bullying in a move that signalled increased diplomatic tensions between the Maldives and India.
  • India has until March 15 to remove its military forces from the Maldives, according to a top Muizzu government official who made the announcement.
  • The first meeting of the India-Maldives high-level core group took place in Male on the same day as this development.

Proposal for Troop Withdrawal and Ongoing Discussions:

  • According to Ahmed Nazim, the President’s Office policy director, the Maldivian delegation suggested that Indian forces leave by March 15 during the core group conference.
  • Statements from the Maldives Foreign Office and the Ministry of External Affairs in India, however, did not mention this deadline.
  • The main topics of conversation included continuing development initiatives, bilateral cooperation, and ways to make it easier for Indian aviation platforms that supply the Maldives with vital services to operate.

Diverging Statements on Troop Withdrawal:

  • The Maldives Foreign Office issued statements mentioning “fast-tracking” but did not provide a date, despite the fact that both parties agreed that the removal of Indian military personnel needed to happen sooner rather than later.
  • Prime Minister Modi and President Muizzu met during the COP 28 summit in Dubai, when they formed the core group. The next meeting of the group is expected to take place in India.

Diplomatic Row and Shifting Alliances

  • This latest event comes in the wake of a diplomatic spat that began when Maldivian government representatives made disparaging remarks about Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi on social media.
  • During a state visit to China, President Muizzu made suggestions about the Maldives moving closer to Beijing and becoming less dependent on India.
  • The President reaffirmed the nation’s independence and sovereignty and promised to fend off outside interference in internal issues.
  • China, in a joint statement, expressed resolute opposition to external meddling in the Maldives’ internal affairs and reaffirmed mutual support for vital interests.

Strained Bilateral Relations and Policy Shifts:

  • President Muizzu’s government intends to review more than 100 bilateral agreements with India and lessen reliance on Indian aid, which includes the call for the departure of Indian military forces.
  • This change involves plans to obtain essentials from other sources and not to renew contracts, including the hydrographic survey, that were previously signed with India.
  • The aforementioned occurrences highlight the changing nature of the Maldives’ foreign policy, which deviates from the former practice of giving precedence to India in diplomatic interactions.
PYQ: Discuss the political developments in Maldives in the last two years. Should they be of any cause of concern to India? (200 words/10m) (UPSC CSE (M) GS-2 2013)
Practice Question: Discuss the recent diplomatic developments between India and the Maldives. How might these developments shape India’s approach towards its neighboring countries, and what strategies could be employed to mitigate the escalating situation? (200 words/12.5 m)

6. Delhi Grapples with Severe Air Quality: Bans on Construction and Select Vehicles Reinforced Amid Deteriorating Conditions

Topic: GS3 – Environment- Environment pollution and degradation 

This topic is not much relevant in the context of Prelims but more for Mains in the context of deteriorating air quality in Delhi, the measures taken by authorities, and the broader context of the Graded Response Action Plan (GRAP). 

Context:
  • On Sunday, Delhi’s air quality declined to a “severe” level, forcing officials to act right away.
  • On Sunday, the Air Quality Index (AQI) averaged 447, while on Saturday, it was 399.
  • According to the India Meteorological Department, low wind speed and high moisture levels, conducive to pollutant deposition, contributed to the terrible air quality.

Government Response:

  • The Commission for Air Quality Management (CAQM), functioning under phase III of the Graded Response Action Plan (GRAP), reintroduced restrictions.
  • Construction and demolition projects are included in the moratorium; however, projects pertaining to hospitals, trains, metro rail, airports, national significance projects, water supply, sanitation, and linear public projects are not.

Restrictions on Vehicles:

  • Apart from the prohibitions on construction, there were also reinstated limitations on operating four-wheelers classified as BS-III petrol and BS-IV diesel.
  • The prescribed fine for breaching these limitations is twenty thousand rupees.

Persistent Poor Air Quality:

  • The cold weather that Delhi has been experiencing for the past two days has made the situation with the air quality worse.
  • Compared to prior years, the city saw lower air quality in November and December, with several instances during these months where the AQI fell into the “severe” or “severe +” category.

Graded Response Action Plan (GRAP):

  • There have been several activations of the GRAP, a series of emergency procedures designed to keep Delhi-NCR’s air quality from getting worse.
  • Since October of last year, GRAP III and IV have been in place for a total of 36 and 13 days, respectively.
  • The activation of the stages is determined by the AQI classifications, which span from “poor” to “severe +.” 

Forecast and Future Outlook:

  • The Early Warning System for Air Quality forecast indicates that conditions may marginally improve over the following two days, but they will still be classified as “severe.”
  • There is a chance that the AQI will thereafter improve to the “very poor” category, suggesting that further attention to detail and preventative actions are required to address the air quality emergency.
PYQ: Describe the key points of the revised Global Air-Quality Guidelines (AQGs) recently released by the World Health Organisation (WHO). How are these different from its last update in 2005? What changes in India’s National Clean Air Programme are required to achieve these revised standards? (150 words/10m) (UPSC CSE (M) GS-3 2021)
Practice Question: Examine the recent measures implemented in Delhi to combat severe air quality issues. Analyze the factors contributing to the deterioration of air quality in the region and assess the effectiveness of the Graded Response Action Plan (GRAP) in addressing such environmental challenges. (250 words/15 m)

7. Global Diplomatic Push: Switzerland Calls for Collective Efforts, Highlights India’s Role in Ukraine Peace Talks

Topic: GS2 – International Relations- Regional and global groupings 

This topic is not much relevant in the context of Prelims but more for Mains in the context of international diplomatic efforts, the role of various countries, and the ongoing situation in Ukraine. 

Context:
  • National Security Advisors (NSAs) from several nations met in Switzerland to talk about plans for bringing peace to the war-torn country of Ukraine as soon as possible.
  • India’s possible role was highlighted by the host nation, Switzerland, stressing its influence and diplomatic links with Russia.

India’s Stance on Peaceful Resolution:

  • Several attendees of the fourth NSA conference, including India, reaffirmed their belief that violence is not a viable solution and emphasised the necessity of communication in order to end the current crisis.
  • Deputy NSA Vikram Misri represented India during the event.

Swiss Call for Mediation and Peace Plan:

  • Speaking at a press conference, Swiss Foreign Minister Ignazio Cassis said that some nations would need to mediate before Russia could be allowed to participate in the peace plan’s deliberations.
  • Cassis emphasised that in order to get both Russia and Ukraine to the negotiation table, more than 100 nations including those outside of Europe must unite in their efforts, since Russia is currently showing no signs of conceding.

Importance of BRICS Countries:

  • Cassis emphasised the importance of the engagement of the BRICS nations, especially India, in response to questions.
  • Even though these countries are geographically far away from the crisis area, they still have significant influence because of their continued relationship with Russia.
  • Cassis notably cited China as a crucial role and stressed the necessity to involve China in the peace talks, recognising its capacity to contribute to the collective impetus for a diplomatic resolution.
Practice Question: Analyze the challenges and opportunities in engaging countries like Russia and China in the peace process and assess the importance of collective efforts from a global perspective. How can multilateral cooperation contribute to finding a diplomatic solution to the ongoing crisis in Ukraine? (200 words/12.5 m)

8. Underutilization Woes Persist: Agriculture Ministry Surrenders Rs 21,005 Crore in Latest Fiscal Year, Sparks Budgetary Concerns

Topic: GS3 – Indian Economy- Issues relating to mobilization of resources 

This topic is not much relevant in the context of Prelims but more for Mains in the context of budget utilization, surrender of funds, and the Standing Committee’s recommendations. 

Context:
  • Despite continuous budget increases for the Agriculture Ministry, a report by the Agriculture Ministry found considerable underutilization, with over Rs 1 lakh crore forfeited in the last five years.
  • A surrender of Rs 21,005.13 crore was recorded in the financial year 2022–2023 alone, according to the most recent report, “Accounts at a Glance for the Year 2022-2023,” which was over four times the amount surrendered in the year prior.

Historical Surrender Trends:

  • The report mentioned the surrender amounts from the previous years, which were Rs 21,043.75 crore in 2018–19, Rs 23,824.53 crore in 2020–21, Rs 5,152.6 crore in 2021–22, and Rs 34,517.7 crore in 2019–20.
  • The regular return of allotted funds creates questions regarding how best to use the budget.

Department of Agricultural Research and Education’s Surrender:

  • The same ministry’s Department of Agricultural Research and Education likewise turned over money, disclosing that it had received only Rs 9 lakh out of its allotted Rs 8,658.91 crore for 2022–2023.
  • Similar surrender incidents were noted in previous years, which begs the question of how well funds are used in this area.

Budget Increase and the PM Kisan Samman Nidhi:

  • During the fiscal year 2022–2023, the total budget of the two departments under the Agriculture Ministry increased dramatically to Rs 1.32 lakh crore.
  • The PM Kisan Samman Nidhi, which was introduced in 2018–19, is credited with this increase.
  • Over the previous five years, the scheme’s annual funding has varied between Rs 20,000 crore and Rs 75,000 crore.

Government’s Response and Current Allocation:

  • The government somewhat lowered the ministry’s overall budget to Rs 1.25 lakh crore in the fiscal year 2023–24 from Rs 1.32 lakh crore in the previous year due to worries about underutilization.
  • The decline may suggest a response to the non-utilization of funds in previous years. 

Standing Committee’s Recommendation:

  • The Standing Committee on Agriculture, Animal Husbandry, and Food Processing, chaired by PC Gaddigoudar, recommended the government to refrain from the “practice” of fund surrender, indicating that the issue of fund surrender by the Agriculture Ministry has not gone undetected.
  • The committee’s report on the Demand for Grants (2023–24) highlighted that reduced requirements in parts such as the Tribal Area Sub-Plan (TASP), Schedule Caste Sub-Plan (SCSP), and North Eastern States (NES) were the main reason for relinquishing funds.
  • The demand to address this practice emphasises how important it is to use funds effectively and allocate them specifically to fulfil needs.
PYQ: Faster economic growth requires increased share of the manufacturing sector in GDP, particularly of MSMEs. Comment on the present policies of the Government in this regard. (150 words/10m) (UPSC CSE (M) GS-3 2023)
Practice Question: Critically examine the challenges associated with the underutilization of budget allocations in the Agriculture Ministry, as highlighted in a recent report. (150 words/10 m)

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