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Daily Current Affairs

29-December-2023

1. Qatar court drops death penalty for 8 Indians, Govt says sentences reduced

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 Implications on India-Qatar Relations. 
Context:
  • Eight former Indian Navy officers who were on death row had their death sentences revoked by a Qatari appellate court, which is a noteworthy move.
  • As the entire order was being awaited, the Indian government announced that the sentences had been “reduced,” which represents a significant victory for New Delhi in the courts.
What is the Background of the Case? Accusations:
  • The accused individuals, while employed by Al Dahra in Doha, were allegedly accused of breaching sensitive secrets at the time of their arrest in 2022 in Qatar.
  • Dahra Global Technologies and Consultant Services, the company they worked for, was also linked to the production of advanced Italian-origin submarines known for their stealth capabilities.
  • However the specific charges against the eight Indian nationals have not been made public by Qatari authorities.
What is the significance of India-Qatar Relations?
  • Political Significance– Qatar’s membership in Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC) is politically significant for India, especially concerning issues like Kashmir. Also, India needs support of Qatar for UNSC permanent membership.
  • Energy Security– Qatar is the largest supplier of LNG to India. LNG makes up almost 50% of our LNG imports.
  • Strong economic and trade ties– India is among the top four largest export destinations for Qatar (Qatar exports to India- LNG, LPG, chemicals and petrochemicals, fertilisers, plastics). India is also among the top three sources of Qatar’s imports (India’s key exports to Qatar include cereals, copper articles, iron and steel articles, vegetables, fruits).
  • Strong Business Presence of Indian Companies– Several Indian Companies like L&T, Wipro, TCS and TechMahindra operate in Qatar.
  • Large Expatriate Community and Remittances– Around 8 lakh Indian expatriate community live and work in Qatar. The flow of remittances (around 750 million dollars) and safety of Indian expatriate community, makes Qatar vital for India’s interest.
  • Defence and strategic co-operation– India and Qatar have signed a Defence Cooperation Agreement for stronger defence cooperation . The maritime relations are further strengthened by Exercise Zair-Al-Bahr.
  • Vibrant Cultural Exchanges– Cultural events organised by community organizations affiliated to the Indian Cultural Centre (ICC). Qatar was a co-sponsor of India’s resolution for declaration of June 21 as International Yoga Day.
PYQ: The question of India’s Energy Security constitutes the most important part of India’s economic progress. Analyze India’s energy policy cooperation with West Asian Countries. (250 words/15m) (UPSC CSE (M) GS-2 2017)
Practice Question: Discuss the significance of the commutation of death sentences for the eight former Indian Navy personnel in Qatar, emphasizing the diplomatic, legal, and strategic dimensions of the case. (250 words/xy m)

2. In Punjab & Jammu, fence may be moved closer to border with Pak

Topic: GS3 – Internal Security- Security challenges and their management in border areas
This topic is not much relevant in the context of Prelims but more for Mains in the context of challenges in border areas, and the role of security forces and government policies in addressing these issues..
Context:
  • A plan to move the security fence in Punjab and some areas of Jammu closer to the International Border (IB) with Pakistan is being actively considered by the Ministry of Home Affairs (MHA) and the Border Security Force (BSF).
  • The government is now considering this possible action to resolve a number of land acquisition and compensation-related issues.
Benefits for Farmers and Border Management:
  • It is anticipated that the security fence relocation will make it simpler for farmers in six districts of Punjab to reach their farms, which are located in the limited area between the fence and the IB.
  • The goal of this change is also to safeguard farmers against wild boars that endanger agriculture and public safety.
  • Additionally, it is hoped that the action will improve the effectiveness of border administration and patrolling in the affected areas.
Challenges and Current State:
  • The restricted region along the 461-km International Border (IB) with Pakistan includes about 45,000 acres of productive government and private land in Punjab.
  • The current fence was built between 1988 and 1993, during a time of increased militancy, and it follows an uneven terrain, which causes the fence’s distance from the IB to vary.
Issues Faced by Farmers:
  • Relocating the fence will benefit farmers in areas like Ferozepur, Tarn Taran, Amritsar, Gurdaspur, and Pathankot.
  • They currently have to deal with Pakistani drones and wild boars damaging their crops and safety.
  • that drones are used to smuggle weapons and drugs, and wild boars damage fields, the measure is anticipated to allay these worries.
Impact on Smuggling and Security Measures:
  • Residents have noticed a decrease in smuggling incidents when the fence is closer to the border, therefore it is believed that the proposed relocation is a calculated response to those incidents.
  • Significant drone, drug, and weapon captures are highlighted in data from the BSF’s Western Command, highlighting the security difficulties along the India-Pakistan border.
Surveillance and Technological Upgrades:
  • Vulnerability mapping has been done along the India-Pakistan border to improve surveillance.
  • While integrated surveillance technology, like as CCTV/pan-tilt-zoom cameras and infrared sensors, is being deployed at the IB, the BSF is deploying vehicles and more surveillance squads.
  • Enhancing border security and preventing invasions are the goals of these actions.
Support from Local Farmers:
  • Farmers in the area voiced support for the suggested adjustment of the fence.
  • They feel that moving the fence closer to the border will lessen the number of smuggling instances and ease the difficulties caused by having limited access to their property.
Conclusion:
  • In order to better serve farmers’ demands and enhance border management, there are implications for both agricultural and security issues with the possible relocation of the security fence.
  • The action shows a thorough effort to addressing the intricate problems that Punjab faces as a border region between India and Pakistan.
What is a Smart Fencing System?
  • An SFS is a technologically advanced border security infrastructure designed to enhance surveillance and control along sensitive border areas.
  • It typically includes a combination of physical barriers, sensors, cameras, and communication systems.
  • The term “smart” refers to the system’s ability to use technology for monitoring and responding to border threats effectively. 
PYQ: Border management is a complex task due to difficult terrain and hostile relations with some countries. Elucidate the challenges and strategies for effective border management. (200 words/12.5m) (UPSC CSE (M) GS-3 2016)
Practice Question: Evaluate the proposed shift in the security fence closer to the International Border (IB) in Punjab and parts of Jammu. Analyze the potential impact of this move on internal security and border management. (200 words/12.5 m)

3. Alleged Targeting of Indian Journalists with Pegasus Spyware

Topic: GS3 – Internal Security- Challenges to internal security through communication networks
This topic is relevant for both Prelims and Mains in the context of cybersecurity and its challenges
Context:
  • According to a forensic analysis carried out by Amnesty International’s Security Lab in association with The Washington Post, two Indian journalists, Anand Mangnale and Siddharth Varadarajan, were allegedly recently infiltrated with the Pegasus spyware on their iPhones.
What is Pegasus?
  • The spyware known by the moniker Pegasus was created by the Israeli company NSO.
  • Any malicious programme that targets your computer, collects your data, and sends it to a third party without your permission is called spyware.
  • It may be covertly installed on mobile devices, where it can monitor chats, discussions, and surfing in addition to sucking up all data and meta-data on the compromised device.
  • Pegasus is arguably the most potent spyware programme ever made.
  • It is intended to penetrate Android and iOS smartphones and transform them into monitoring tools.
  • However, the Israeli corporation pitches it as a tool for targeted spying, not for widespread surveillance, to track terrorists and criminals.
What can Pegasus do?
  • Once installed, the spyware requests a great deal of access, including the ability to track a user’s position, read emails, get contact lists, take screenshots, download media, retrieve SMS messages and instant messaging, access browsing history, and operate the phone’s microphone and cameras, among other features.
  • It is also possible to remotely erase Pegasus. It is extremely difficult to find and leaves very little evidence after deletion.
  • There are theories that it was used to fabricate evidence against activists in the Bhima Koregaon case because it can also be used to plant texts, emails, and other things.
Past Inquiries and Lack of Conclusive Evidence:
  • In 2021, the Supreme Court established a technical committee to look into claims of unapproved Pegasus surveillance.
  • The panel observed a lack of collaboration from the Centre even though it could not find any solid evidence.
  • The committee’s reports, which were turned in more than a year ago, are not available to the public.
Conclusion:
  • Concerns about digital surveillance are sparked by the claim that Pegasus malware was used to target journalists.
  • This has prompted continuing investigations and international cooperation.
  • The political ramifications of these kinds of events and past investigations highlight how difficult it is to solve cybersecurity concerns in India.
Types of Cyber Attacks
  • Malware: This abbreviation, which stands for malicious software, describes any software intended to harm a single machine, server, or computer network. Malware comes in many forms, including viruses, Trojan horses, worms, ransomware, and spy ware.
  • Phishing: It’s the practice of attempting to obtain personal data through shady websites and emails.
  • Denial of Service attacks: An attack known as a denial-of-service (DoS) aims to bring down a computer or network so that the intended users cannot use it.DoS attacks achieve this by transmitting information that causes a crash or by overloading the target with traffic.
  • Man-in-the-middle (MitM) attacks: Attackers who intrude into a two-party transaction are referred to as eavesdropping attackers.After severing the connection, the attackers can filter and pilfer information. 
PYQ: Discuss different types of cyber crimes and measures required to be taken to fight the menace. (150 words/10m) (UPSC CSE (M) GS-3 2020)
Practice Question: Examine the role and effectiveness of government agencies like CERT-In in addressing cybersecurity threats. How should nations navigate the delicate balance between national security concerns and individual privacy rights in the digital age? (250 words/15 m)

4. ULFA, Centre, Assam govt to sign peace accord today

Topic: GS3 – Internal Security- Security challenges and their management in border areas. This topic is not much relevant in the context of Prelims but more for Mains in the context of challenges posed by insurgent groups.
Context:
  • The Central and Assam governments, along with the pro-talks wing of the United Liberation Front of Asom (ULFA), are scheduled to sign a historic tripartite peace pact.
  • The signing ceremony for the agreement, which aims to end the decades-long insurgency in the northeastern state, will be attended by Assam Chief Minister Himanta Biswa Sarma, Union Home Minister Amit Shah, and over a dozen prominent members of the pro-talks ULFA faction, which is led by Arabinda Rajkhowa.
Significance of the Peace Agreement:
  • Officials have emphasised that a number of long-standing political, economic, and social challenges specific to Assam will be addressed by the peace accord.
  • It is intended to stop the insurgency while simultaneously giving the state’s indigenous people land rights and cultural protections.
  • The agreement is viewed as a comprehensive attempt to address all aspects of the region’s complicated problems and establish long-lasting peace.
Government’s Engagement with ULFA Faction:
  • A K Mishra, the government’s advisor on Northeast affairs, and Tapan Deka, the director of the intelligence bureau, are among the government representatives having discussions with the ULFA side.
  • Their participation in the negotiations shows a strong commitment to finding an all-encompassing solution to the current problems.
Conclusion:
  • The tripartite peace pact, which is about to be signed, is a major step towards putting an end to the insurgency in Assam and tackling the many issues the area is currently facing.
  • The accord’s comprehensive nature and involvement of prominent leaders highlight its potential to bring about significant and positive changes in the state.
About ULFA
  • A militant group that operates in Assam is called the United Liberation Front of Asom (ULFA). It uses military conflict to try and create an independent socialist state of Assam.
  • Paresh Baruah created it in 1979. The organisation started its own operations in 1990 after establishing connections with the Kachin Independent Army, which is based in Burma, in 1987 and the Nationalist Socialist Council of Nagaland in 1983.
  • The Indian Army started conducting military operations against the ULFA in 1990 and is still doing so now. Citing the organisation as a terrorist organisation, the Indian government outlawed it in 1990 under the Unlawful Activities (Prevention) Act.
PYQ: Cross-border movement of insurgents is only one of the several security challenges facing the policing of the border in North-East India. Examine the various challenges currently emanating across the India-Myanmar border. Also, discuss the steps to counter the challenges. (250 words/15m) (UPSC CSE (M) GS-3 2019)
Practice Question: Examine the significance of the tripartite peace accord between the pro-talks faction of the United Liberation Front of Asom (ULFA) and the Central and Assam governments in resolving the longstanding insurgency in Assam. (200 words/12.5 m)

5. Pegasus spyware found on journalists’ phones after Apple alert, says Amnesty.

Topic: GS3 – Internal Security – Cyber Security UPSC relevance: Pegasus spyware targeting Indian journalists, a critical issue for aspirants due to implications on national security, cyber security and governance
Context:
  • Siddharth Varadarajan and another Indian journalist were targeted with Pegasus spyware, revealed by Amnesty International.
Additional information on the news:
  • The founder editor of The Wire news website, Siddharth Varadarajan, and another journalist in India were targeted with Pegasus spyware.
  • The Security Lab of Amnesty International conducted tests on their devices after the journalists received alerts from Apple about “state-sponsored hacking.”
  • NSO Group, the developer of Pegasus spyware, sells its technology only to governments, and India’s Intelligence Bureau imported hardware from NSO Group in 2017.
Most Common Cyber Threats
  • Phishing: Deceptive attempts to obtain sensitive information by posing as a trustworthy entity, often through emails or fake websites.
  • Ransomware: Malicious software that encrypts files, demanding payment for their release.
  • Malware: Viruses, Trojans, or other malicious software designed to harm or exploit computer systems.
  • Password Attacks: Brute force attacks or credential stuffing to gain unauthorized access by exploiting weak or stolen passwords.
  • DDoS Attacks: Overloading a system or network with traffic to disrupt its normal functioning, making it inaccessible.
  • Man-in-the-Middle (MitM) Attacks: Intercepting and potentially altering communication between two parties without their knowledge.
  • Zero-Day Exploits: Exploiting undiscovered vulnerabilities in software or hardware before developers can create a fix (patch).
PYQ: What are the different elements of cyber security? Keeping in view the challenges in cyber security, examine the extent to which India has successfully developed a comprehensive National Cyber Security Strategy. (UPSC CSE (M) GS-3 2022) (250 words/15 m)
Practice Question: Discuss the evolving landscape of cybersecurity threats and their implications on national security. Highlight the significance of addressing common cyber threats and propose strategies to enhance resilience in the digital era. (150 words/10 m)

6. Government orders genome sequencing of all COVID cases.

Topic: GS3 – Science & Technology- Applications
UPSC Significance: important for addressing public health challenges, reflecting vital governance and health policy strategies.
Context:
  • Delhi marked by increased COVID-19 testing, with 636 tests on Wednesday.
  • Health Minister Bharadwaj stressed genome sequencing for all cases, confirming one case of the new JN.1 variant. Emphasizes caution despite its perceived lower severity.
What is genome sequencing:
  • Definition: Genome sequencing is the process of determining the precise order of nucleotides within an organism’s DNA.
  • Procedure: It involves extracting DNA, fragmenting it into small pieces, sequencing each fragment, and then assembling the entire sequence.
  • Technology: Modern methods, like Next-Generation Sequencing (NGS), have revolutionized genome sequencing, enabling rapid and cost-effective analysis.
  • Applications: Genome sequencing is crucial in various fields, including medicine (personalized treatment, disease understanding), agriculture (crop improvement), and evolutionary biology.
  • Genomic Variants: It helps identify genetic variations, mutations, and the presence of specific genes or traits.
  • Disease Surveillance: In the context of COVID-19, genome sequencing is vital for tracking virus variants, understanding their spread, and informing public health responses.
  • Global Initiatives: Various countries and organizations engage in large-scale genome sequencing projects to enhance scientific understanding and address health challenges.

7. Life through geometry in Warli.

Topic: GS1 – Indian Art and Culture – Paintings
UPSC Significance: Examining Warli art illuminates cultural preservation, tribal representation, and the role of traditional forms in contemporary expression. 
Context:
  • Warli art, originating in Maharashtra, reflects rural life. Mashe family, led by Jivya Soma Mashe, transformed it globally.
  • The art preserves tradition while evolving, symbolizing tribal voices.
Warli Art Form:
  • Depicts rural life, customs, and traditions through triangles, circles, and lines.
  • Originated in the tribal Warli community in Maharashtra, India.
Mashe Family Legacy:
  • Jivya Soma Mashe, known as the father of Warli art, introduced varied themes.
  • Mashe family from Ganjad village in Palghar, Maharashtra, preserves the authenticity.
Evolution of Warli Art:
  • Traditionally practiced by Warli women on mud walls for centuries.
  • Jivya Soma Mashe was the first male artist to bring Warli art to galleries and global recognition.
Artistic Techniques:
  • Layers of cow dung on walls served as canvases, painted in mud brown for background.
  • Bamboo-stick brushes used for detailed scenes, figures, and objects.
Shift in Themes:
  • Initially confined to joy and marriage celebrations, later expanded to diverse themes.
  • Jivya introduced imaginative compositions capturing the cyclical movement of life.
Contemporary Presentation:
  • The Mashe family showcases Warli art in galleries worldwide on art paper.
  • Aims to bring tribal art forms into urban consciousness and increase visibility.
Preserving Authenticity:
  • Open to modern elements but emphasizes preserving ancestral traditions.
  • Warli art serves a social function by recording events and transmitting local stories.
Symbolism in Warli Art:
  • Geometric patterns inspired by nature, using circles for the sun, triangles for trees, and squares for sacred enclosures.
  • Acts as the voice of the Warli community, expressing their experiences and heritage.
PYQ: Safeguarding the Indian art heritage is the need of the moment. Discuss. (UPSC CSE (M) GS-1 2018) (150 words/10 m)
Practice Question: Discuss the cultural significance and evolution of Warli art, highlighting its role in preserving tribal heritage and its contemporary relevance. (150 words/10 m)

8. Houthi attacks: a threat to global shipping?

Topic: GS2 – International Relations GS3: Security- Cross Border
UPSC Significance: Examining Red Sea security highlights global economic vulnerabilities, maritime safety, and the need for international cooperation. 
Context:
  • Houthi rebel drone attacks in the Red Sea disrupt global shipping, prompting U.S. and Indian security initiatives.
  • Shipping route shifts impact costs. Concerns arise about potential major attacks and economic repercussions.
Incident Overview:
  • Liberian-flagged vessel Chem Pluto attacked near Gujarat, India, just outside the Exclusive Economic Zone.
  • Similar incidents involving drone attacks reported on Indian-crewed vessel m.v. Sai Baba and Norwegian-flagged m.v. BLAAMANEN.
Impact on Shipping and Global Trade:
  • Houthi rebel attacks disrupt major shipping artery in the Red Sea, threatening supply chains and global commerce.
  • About 12% of global trade passes through the Red Sea, with potential economic repercussions.
Responses and Initiatives:
  • S. announces Operation Prosperity Guardian to enhance security in the Red Sea.
  • Indian Navy and Coast Guard increase presence and surveillance in the region.
  • Several global shipping companies reevaluate routes, potentially adding weeks to voyages.
Strategic Shifts and Implications:
  • Some shipping majors avoid the Red Sea route, opting for longer routes, impacting fuel, operating costs, and schedules.
  • Strategic implications for the Suez Canal revenue and operational dynamics of ports in Djibouti and the Gulf of Aden.
Questions and Challenges:
  • Challenges remain regarding the safety of Indian sailors, foreign-owned vessels carrying Indian cargo, and potential loss of life or cargo in a major attack.
  • Uncertainties about drawing a line in responding to such attacks and the looming economic impact.
International Coordination:
  • S.-led Operation Prosperity Guardian aims to safeguard maritime commerce.
  • Indian Navy’s Information Fusion Centre monitors the region, coordinating responses and assistance in the Indian Ocean.
Remaining Concerns:
  • Ongoing joint investigations to determine the nature of the attacks and the type of explosives used.
  • Questions about the extent of international cooperation in responding to potential major attacks and safeguarding global shipping routes.
PYQ: What are the maritime security challenges in India? Discuss the organisational, technical and procedural initiatives taken to improve the maritime security. (UPSC CSE (M) GS-3 2022) (150 words/10 m)

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