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4-April -2024- Top News of the Day

1. Taiwan Rattled: Deadly Earthquake Strikes Amidst Ring of Fire Vulnerability

Topic: GS1 – Geography – Important Geophysical phenomena – Earthquakes

This topic is relevant for both Prelims and Mains in the context of understanding seismic activities and geological phenomena like earthquakes and volcanoes.

 

Context:
  • Taiwan experienced its most significant earthquake in at least 25 years, resulting in nine fatalities and over 900 injuries.
  • Conflicting reports from Taiwan’s earthquake monitoring agency and the US Geological Survey (USGS) cited magnitudes of 7.2 and 7.4, respectively.
  • The epicenter was located 18 kilometers south-southwest of Hualien County in eastern Taiwan, accompanied by multiple aftershocks, including one with a magnitude of 6.5, according to USGS.
More about the news:

Ring of Fire: Geological Context:

  • The Ring of Fire encompasses a vast string of volcanoes and earthquake-prone areas along the fringes of the Pacific Ocean, covering approximately 40,250 kilometers.
  • This horseshoe-shaped region marks the convergence of numerous tectonic plates, including the Eurasian, North American, Juan de Fuca, Cocos, Caribbean, Nazca, Antarctic, Indian, Australian, and Philippine plates.
  • It spans through several Pacific coast countries, making it highly susceptible to seismic activities.

Vulnerability to Earthquakes:

  • The Ring of Fire’s susceptibility to earthquakes stems from the constant movement of tectonic plates along its perimeter.
  • As these plates slide past, collide, or subduct beneath one another, friction builds up at their boundaries.
  • When the accumulated stress exceeds the frictional resistance, it causes sudden release in the form of earthquakes.
  • Taiwan’s seismic activity, for instance, results from the interaction between the Philippine Sea Plate and the Eurasian Plate.

Volcanic Activity and Subduction Zones:

  • The abundance of volcanoes within the Ring of Fire is attributed to subduction zones, where one tectonic plate is forced beneath another due to collision.
  • As the subducted plate descends into the mantle, intense heat and pressure cause volatile elements to mix and generate magma.
  • This molten rock ascends through the overlying plate, resulting in volcanic eruptions.
  • Subduction zones, prevalent in the Ring of Fire, account for the majority of volcanic activity worldwide.

Implications and Conclusion:

  • The recent earthquake in Taiwan underscores the persistent threat posed by seismic events in regions within the Ring of Fire.
  • Understanding the geological dynamics of this area is crucial for assessing risks and implementing effective mitigation measures.
  • As one of the most seismically active regions globally, the Ring of Fire serves as a reminder of the Earth’s dynamic nature and the need for continuous monitoring and preparedness to mitigate the impact of natural disasters.
Why is Taiwan prone to earthquakes?

 

  • Taiwan is located in a region where three major tectonic plates meet: the Philippine Sea plate to the east and southeast, the Eurasia plate to the north and west, and the Sunda plate to the southwest.
  • This location makes Taiwan susceptible to moderate-to-large earthquakes, as confirmed by the U.S. Geological Survey (USGS).
  • Taiwan falls within the “Ring of Fire,” a zone encircling the Pacific Ocean known for frequent seismic activity. It’s where a significant portion of the world’s earthquakes occur.
  • What causes frequent earthquakes in the Ring of Fire?
  • The Ring of Fire experiences numerous earthquakes because the tectonic plates constantly interact with each other.
  • They slide past, collide, or move above or below one another. The edges of these plates are rough, so they often get stuck while the rest of the plate keeps moving.
  • When the stuck edges suddenly release, it triggers an earthquake along one of the faults.
  • How does this relate to Taiwan’s earthquakes?
  • Taiwan’s earthquakes are a result of the interactions between two specific tectonic plates: the Philippine Sea Plate and the Eurasian Plate.
  • These plates’ movements and interactions create seismic activity in the region.

 

PYQ: Why are the world’s fold mountain systems located along the margins of continents? Bring out the association between the global distribution of Fold Mountains and the earthquakes and volcanoes. (150 words/10m) (UPSC CSE (M) GS-1 2014)
Practice Question:  Discuss the significance of the Ring of Fire in the context of seismic activities and geological phenomena. Analyze the factors contributing to the vulnerability of regions within the Ring of Fire to earthquakes and volcanic eruptions. (250 words/15 m)

2. Uttarakhand Takes Preemptive Measures Against Glacial Lake Outburst Floods Amid Rising Climate Risks

Topic: GS1 – Geography – Important Geophysical phenomena

GS3 – Disaster Management

This topic is relevant for both Prelims and Mains in the context of understanding the geographical factors contributing to GLOFs, such as glacial retreat and the formation of glacial lakes.

 

Context:
  • The Uttarakhand government has taken proactive steps by assembling expert teams to evaluate the potential threats posed by five hazardous glacial lakes in the region prone to Glacial Lake Outburst Floods (GLOFs).
  • These efforts aim to mitigate the risk of GLOF incidents and enhance preparedness for relief and evacuation in case of breaches.
More about the news:

Understanding GLOFs:

  • GLOFs are calamitous events triggered by the abrupt discharge of water from glacial lakes formed as glaciers recede, leaving depressions filled with meltwater.
  • As glaciers retreat further, these lakes become larger and more precarious.
  • The destabilization of ice or sediment dams surrounding these lakes can lead to catastrophic flooding downstream, posing significant risks to human settlements and infrastructure.

Rising Threats and Global Context:

  • Rising global temperatures, attributed to climate change, have amplified the risk of GLOFs worldwide, including in India.
  • Studies indicate that approximately 15 million people are at risk of sudden flooding from expanding glacial lakes, a phenomenon exacerbated by the accelerated melting of glaciers.

Himalayan Region Vulnerability:

  • The Himalayan region, including Uttarakhand, has witnessed a surge in GLOF events in recent years due to escalating glacier melting and rapid infrastructure development in vulnerable areas.
  • Studies underscore the increased frequency of GLOFs in the Himalayan region, posing threats to communities, infrastructure, and ecosystems.

Implications and Regional Impact:

  • The consequences of potential GLOFs in Uttarakhand are dire, with past events in 2013 and 2021 highlighting the devastation they can cause.
  • The categorization of glacial lakes into risk levels (‘A’, ‘B’, and ‘C’) underscores the urgency of addressing high-risk areas.
  • The projected rise in surface temperatures further exacerbates the situation, amplifying the risk of GLOFs in the state.

Global Studies and Policy Implications:

  • International research underscores the global significance of GLOF threats, with studies highlighting the vulnerability of millions of people in regions like India and Pakistan.
  • Collaboration between international institutions and local governments is essential to develop effective strategies for mitigating GLOF risks and enhancing resilience to climate-induced disasters.

Conclusion:

  • The Uttarakhand government’s initiative to assess GLOF risks reflects proactive measures to address a pressing environmental challenge.
  • However, sustained efforts are needed to implement robust mitigation strategies, strengthen early warning systems, and prioritize climate resilience in the face of escalating climate change impacts.
What are the Impacts of Glacial Lake Outburst Floods?

 

  • Loss of Life and Property: GLOFs can kill people, destroy houses, bridges, roads, forests, and farmland, as well as livestock and crops.
  • For example, a GLOF in Sikkim, India, in October 2023 killed at least 18 people and left more than 150 missing.
  • Another GLOF in Uttarakhand, India, in June 2013 killed more than 5,000 people and damaged several hydropower projects.
  • Disruption of Livelihoods: GLOFs can affect the livelihoods of the local communities for long periods, by reducing their access to resources, markets, services, and opportunities. GLOFs can also damage the tourism industry, which is a major source of income for many mountain regions.
  • Damage to Infrastructure and Environment: GLOFs can damage or destroy hydropower plants, which are important for providing electricity and reducing greenhouse gas emissions. GLOFs can also alter the landscape, erode the soil, increase the sediment load in the rivers, and affect the water quality and availability.
  • Trans-boundary Impact: GLOFs can also affect the downstream areas far from the glaciated headwaters where the threats originate.
  • For example, trans-national GLOFs originating in the upper Satluj River Basin (China) are a threat to downstream areas of eastern Himachal Pradesh.
  • How Vulnerable is India to GLOFs?
  • ISRO’s Glacial Lake Atlas: The ISRO’s National Remote Sensing Centre (NRSC) released a glacial lake atlas for the Himalayan River Basins. This atlas was prepared using images acquired by the RESOURCESAT-2 satellite during 2016-17 and identified over 28,000 glacial lakes larger than 0.25 hectares.
  • Sikkim: The Sikkim State Disaster Management Authority has identified more than 300 glacial lakes in the state. Out of these, 10 have been classified as vulnerable to outburst floods. However, NRSC’s assessment has identified a larger number, 733 glacial lakes in Sikkim.
  • Uttarakhand: The Geological Survey of India has found that 13 out of the 486 glacial lakes in Uttarakhand are vulnerable to GLOFs.
  • Jammu and Kashmir: A 2021 study led by Delhi University scientist reported that Jammu and Kashmir has the highest number of vulnerable glacial lakes, followed by Arunachal Pradesh and Sikkim. This indicates that the threat of GLOFs is not limited to a single region but is widespread in the Himalayan region.

 

PYQ: Dam failures are always catastrophic, especially on the downstream side, resulting in a colossal loss of life and property. Analyze the various causes of dam failures. Give two examples of large dam failures.  (150 words/10m) (UPSC CSE (M) GS-3 2023)
Practice Question:  Assess the risk posed by Glacial Lake Outburst Floods (GLOFs) in the Himalayan region, with a focus on Uttarakhand. Examine the role of climate change in exacerbating the vulnerability of glacial lakes and its implications for disaster management and environmental conservation. (250 words/15 m)

3. US and UK Forge Alliance to Enhance AI Safety Testing and Collaboration

Topic: GS3 – Science & Technology –

This topic is relevant for both Prelims and Mains in the context of knowing facts about AI governance, international collaboration, and regulatory frameworks.

 

Context:
  • The United States and the United Kingdom have formalized their commitment to jointly develop tests for advanced artificial intelligence (AI) models.
  • This agreement stems from commitments made at the Bletchley Park AI Safety Summit and aims to enhance AI safety and security.
More about the news:

Information Sharing:

  • Both countries will exchange vital information regarding AI capabilities and risks, alongside conducting fundamental technical research on AI safety and security.
  • The collaboration extends to aligning their approach towards the safe deployment of AI systems.

Immediate Implementation:

  • The partnership will be immediately implemented, enabling seamless cooperation between the two countries.
  • This collaboration is essential as AI systems proliferate rapidly, presenting both opportunities and significant threats to various societal structures.

Joint Testing Initiative:

  • Aligned Scientific Approaches: The US and UK will work closely to align their scientific approaches and accelerate the development of robust evaluation frameworks for AI models, systems, and agents. The goal is to iterate and enhance testing methodologies efficiently.
  • Common Approach: Both countries plan to establish a common approach to AI safety testing and share their capabilities to effectively address associated risks. This includes conducting joint testing exercises on publicly accessible models and exploring personnel exchanges between their respective AI Safety Institutes.

US Consultation on Open Source AI Models:

  • Executive Order Impact: Following the Biden administration’s executive order on AI system deployment, the National Telecommunications and Information Administration (NTIA) in the US has initiated consultations on risks, benefits, and potential policies related to dual-use foundation models with widely available weights.
  • Industry Perspectives: Meta and OpenAI, prominent AI developers, have provided insights into open-source AI models. Meta emphasized the importance of open-source innovation, while OpenAI highlighted the benefits of releasing models via APIs and commercial products, enabling continuous study and risk mitigation.

Global AI Regulation Challenges:

  • Legislative Guardrails: Lawmakers worldwide are grappling with establishing legislative frameworks to regulate AI effectively. Recent developments include an advisory from India’s IT Ministry regarding the deployment of “untested” AI systems, which was subsequently revised after criticism.
  • EU AI Act: The European Union reached an agreement on its AI Act, which includes safeguards on AI use within the EU, particularly by law enforcement agencies. Consumers are empowered to launch complaints against perceived violations, ensuring accountability.
  • US Executive Order: The US White House issued an Executive Order on AI, offering a comprehensive framework that could serve as a blueprint for other countries. This initiative includes the development of an AI Bill of Rights, aimed at regulating AI deployment and ensuring ethical standards are upheld.
What is the Bletchley Declaration?

 

  • The Bletchley Park Declaration is the first global pact on tackling frontier AI risks, and it reflects a high-level political consensus and commitment among the major AI players in the world.
  • It acknowledges the potential of AI to enhance human well-being but also recognizes the risks posed by AI, especially frontier AI, which may cause serious harm, either deliberate or unintentional, particularly in domains like cybersecurity, biotechnology, and disinformation.
  • It emphasizes the need for international cooperation to address AI-related risks, as they are inherently global, and calls for collaboration among all actors, including companies, civil society, and academia.
  • The declaration also announces the establishment of a regular AI Safety Summit, which will provide a platform for dialogue and collaboration on frontier AI safety. 

 

PYQ: With the present state of development, Artificial Intelligence can effectively do which of the following? (2020)

1.     Bring down electricity consumption in industrial units

2.     Create meaningful short stories and songs

3.     Disease diagnosis

4.     Text-to-Speech Conversion

5.     Wireless transmission of electrical energy

Select the correct answer using the code given below:

(a) 1, 2, 3 and 5 only
(b) 1, 3 and 4 only
(c) 2, 4 and 5 only
(d) 1, 2, 3, 4 and 5

Ans: (b)

Practice Question:  What is the recent agreement between the United States and the United Kingdom regarding AI safety testing, and what are its implications for international collaboration and technological governance? (250 words/15 m)

5. Nuclear power is key to development, says study

Topic: GS3 – Indian Economy – Infrastructure – Energy

Critical for UPSC as it addresses India’s energy transition, climate goals, infrastructure development, and financial planning challenges.

Context
●  The news highlights a study by IIM Ahmedabad, advocating significant investments in nuclear energy to achieve India’s net zero emissions goal by 2070, requiring substantial infrastructure development and financial investments.

 Additional information on this news:

  • A study by academics at IIM Ahmedabad, funded by the Office of the Principal Scientific Adviser and Nuclear Power Corporation of India, suggests prioritising investments in nuclear energy to achieve net zero emissions by 2070.
  • Current nuclear energy contribution to India’s energy mix is only 1.6%, with the report proposing scenarios ranging from high to low economic growth and various energy source emphases.
  • The “net zero” scenario requires nuclear power to rise five-fold to 30 GW by 2030 and 265 GW by 2050, contributing 4% and 30% of India’s total energy respectively.
  • Achieving these figures necessitates doubling investments and ensuring uranium availability despite international restrictions.
  • Coal remains crucial, and transitioning away would require infrastructure development for alternative sources like nuclear, along with flexible grid and storage infrastructure.
  • India would require approximately ₹150-200 lakh crore between 2020-2070 for these transitions.
 Nuclear power – Solution for India’s Clean Energy transition

Nuclear power offers a low-carbon energy source, crucial for India’s clean energy transition and achieving net zero emissions.

● It can significantly reduce greenhouse gas emissions compared to fossil fuels like coal and natural gas.

● Provides a reliable baseload electricity supply, complementing intermittent renewable energy sources like solar and wind.

Helps diversify India’s energy mix, reducing dependence on fossil fuels and enhancing energy security.

With proper infrastructure and safety measures, nuclear power can contribute to sustainable development and economic growth.

● India’s ambitious clean energy goals necessitate scaling up nuclear power capacity to meet increasing energy demand while mitigating climate change.

●However, challenges include investment requirements, uranium availability, and addressing public concerns about safety and waste management.

● Strategic planning and policy support are essential to harness the potential of nuclear power in India’s transition to a cleaner and sustainable energy future.

PYQ: With growing energy needs, should India keep on expanding its nuclear energy programme? Discuss the facts and fears associated with nuclear energy. (250 words/15m) (UPSC CSE (M) GS-3 2018)
Practice Question:  How can India prioritise investments in nuclear energy to achieve its net zero emissions target by 2070? (250 Words /15 marks)

5. SC to list pleas on verifying count in EVMs before polls

Topic: GS2 – Indian Polity – Judiciary

Critical for UPSC as it addresses electoral transparency, voter confidence, and the integrity of India’s democratic process.

Context
●   The news pertains to the Supreme Court’s consideration of petitions urging the Election Commission to mandate cross-verification of all EVMs’ vote counts with VVPAT slips.

 Additional information on this news:

  • Supreme Court agrees to hear petitions urging Election Commission to mandate cross-verification of all EVMs’ vote counts with VVPAT slips before Lok Sabha elections.
  • Current practice includes verifying votes from only five polling stations per Assembly constituency.
  • Petitions reference 2013 Supreme Court judgment in Subramanian Swamy v Election Commission, emphasizing transparency and voter confidence restoration.
  • Activist Arun Kumar Agrawal’s petition challenges EC’s sequential VVPAT verification guideline, proposing simultaneous verification.
  • Government spent ₹5,000 crore on nearly 24 lakh VVPATs, but only slips from around 20,000 VVPATs could be verified.
  • EC counters, stating no fundamental voter right to verify votes via VVPATs, assures EVM security.
  • EC assures SC that EVMs cannot be hacked or tampered, ruling out the need to redesign VVPATs.
  • EC highlights existing VVPATs’ role in allowing voters to verify their chosen candidate, with mandatory verification of printed VVPAT part slips from five randomly selected polling stations per constituency.
  • EC defends current VVPAT verification process, citing difficulties in verifying 100% of slips.

 

What is cross-verification of Electronic Voting Machines (EVMs):

● What it is: The process of verifying the electronic vote count recorded in EVMs by matching it with the Voter Verifiable Paper Audit Trail (VVPAT) slips.

●       Importance:

  • Enhances transparency and accountability in the electoral process.
  • Provides assurance to voters that their votes are accurately recorded and counted.
  • Helps in detecting and preventing potential malpractices or tampering with EVMs.
  • Upholds the credibility and integrity of democratic elections, ensuring public trust in the electoral system.
  • Safeguards against electoral fraud and manipulation, fostering a fair and free democratic environment.

What is Voter Verifiable Paper Audit Trail (VVPAT):

● Voter Verifiable Paper Audit Trail (VVPAT) is a method used in electronic voting systems to verify the accuracy of votes cast.

● After a voter casts their vote electronically using an Electronic Voting Machine (EVM), the VVPAT system generates a paper receipt.

●  This receipt displays the voter’s chosen candidate’s name, party symbol, and a verification code.

●   The voter can visually verify the details on the paper receipt to ensure that their vote was recorded correctly.

● VVPAT enhances transparency and confidence in the electoral process by providing a physical record of each vote cast electronically.

PYQ: In the light of recent controversy regarding the use of Electronic Voting Machines (EVM), what are the challenges before the Election Commission of India to ensure the trustworthiness of elections in India? (150 words/10m) (UPSC CSE (M) GS-2 2018)
Practice Question:  Discuss the significance of mandating cross-verification of all Electronic Voting Machines (EVMs) with Voter Verifiable Paper Audit Trail (VVPAT) slips for ensuring electoral integrity in India. (150 Words /10 marks)

6. India among countries mulling telescopes on, around the moon

Topic: GS3 – Science and Technology – Space

From a UPSC perspective, understanding lunar telescope initiatives is crucial for advancements in astronomical research and space exploration.

Context
●  This news highlights astronomers’ plans to deploy high-resolution telescopes on the moon and in lunar orbit, aiming to overcome Earth-based observational challenges for astronomical research.

Opening New Windows on the Universe:

  • Astronomers are exploring the deployment of high-resolution telescopes on the moon and in lunar orbit to enhance astronomical observations.
  • Proposals for lunar telescopes, including India’s PRATUSH project, aim to overcome challenges faced by Earth-based telescopes.

Challenges with Earth-based Telescopes:

  • Optical and radio telescopes on Earth encounter difficulties due to atmospheric interference and radio frequency noise.
  • Pollution, radio signals, and the ionosphere hamper observations, limiting the clarity and accuracy of data collected.

Advantages of Lunar Telescopes:

  • Placing telescopes on the moon’s far side offers pristine observing conditions during the lunar night, free from Earth’s atmospheric and radio interference.
  • The moon’s natural shielding provides protection against Earth’s radio transmissions and solar plasma winds.

Renewed Interest in Lunar Telescopes:

  • Despite past challenges and costs, global interest in lunar telescopes has resurged, driven by advancements in space exploration and technology.
  • Nations like China, the United States, and India are planning missions to deploy telescopes and scientific instruments on the moon.

Potential Discoveries:

  • Lunar telescopes hold the promise of revealing insights into cosmic phenomena, including the Dark Ages, cosmic microwave background radiation, and the evolution of the early universe.
  • Instruments like PRATUSH aim to study the reionization of the universe using signals from hydrogen, providing valuable data for cosmological research.

PRATUSH Radio Telescope:

  • PRATUSH, developed by the Raman Research Institute (RRI) in collaboration with the Indian Space Research Organisation (ISRO), will orbit the moon.
  • Initially placed in Earth orbit, PRATUSH will be launched towards the moon to study the universe from its far side, minimizing radio frequency interference.

Exciting Prospects for Astronomical Research:

  • Lunar telescopes offer unprecedented opportunities for astronomers to explore fundamental questions about the cosmos.
  • From studying dark energy to probing primordial black holes, lunar observations hold the key to unlocking the mysteries of the universe.

Conclusion:

  • As astronomers prepare to open new windows on the universe from the moon, they anticipate groundbreaking discoveries that will revolutionize our understanding of cosmic phenomena.
PYQ: With reference to ‘Astrosat’,’ the astronomical observatory launched by India, which of the following statements is/are correct?
1. Other than USA and Russia, India is the only country to have launched a similar observatory into space.
2. Astrosat is a 2000 kg satellite placed in an orbit at 1650 km above the surface of the Earth.
Select the correct answer using the code given below.

 

[A] 1 only

[B] 2 only

[C] Both 1 and 2

[D] Neither 1 nor 2

Answer: D

(UPSC Prelims 2016)

Practice Question:  How can the deployment of high-resolution telescopes on the moon enhance astronomical research? Discuss (150 Words /10 marks)

7. Should State Governments borrow more?

Topic: GS2 – Indian Polity – Federal structure.

Critical for UPSC as it underscores federalism, fiscal relations, and government spending’s impact on development and governance.

 

Context
●  The news highlights Kerala’s legal challenge against the Centre’s restrictions on its borrowing powers, emphasizing the crucial role of government spending in fostering economic and social development amidst federalism concerns.

 Background of the Issue:

  • Kerala has approached the Supreme Court regarding its borrowing powers, contested by the Centre, citing implications on federalism.
  • Union government limits State borrowing to 3% of State income or Gross State Domestic Product (GSDP), contested by Kerala.

State Government Spending vs Union Government:

  • While Union government focuses on defence and other sectors, most spending affecting daily life falls under State governments’ purview.
  • State governments outspend Union government in social services, education, and health by significant margins.

Trends in Expenditure and Development:

  • State governments’ developmental expenditures, particularly in social services, have risen substantially over two decades.
  • Kerala’s consistent investment in social sectors demonstrates the transformative power of government spending.

Challenges and Spending Patterns in Kerala:

  • Kerala allocates a significant portion of its budget to social services and pensions, with limited funds for capital expenditure.
  • Increased spending in response to the COVID-19 pandemic led to heightened borrowing, challenging Centre’s borrowing limits.

Supreme Court Intervention and Advocacy for More Spending:

  • Kerala’s plea for additional borrowing has been referred to a Constitution Bench, highlighting the need for expanded spending.
  • Advocacy for increased spending, especially in higher education and research, to foster a knowledge-driven economy.

Addressing Concerns and Potential Solutions:

  • Borrowing concerns often overstated; effective government spending can stimulate economic growth and job creation.
  • Collaboration between Union and State governments crucial to address common challenges and leverage resources effectively.

Conclusion:

  • Kerala’s borrowing dispute underscores the importance of government spending in driving economic and social progress, necessitating collaborative solutions for sustainable development.
Practice Question:  Discuss the significance of Kerala’s legal challenge against the Centre’s borrowing restrictions in fostering fiscal federalism and sustainable development in India. (150 Words /10 marks)

 

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