Daily Analysis: 13th September 2020

The Hindu, PIB, IE and Others

Index

A) Indices/Committees/Reports/Organisations

1. Global Economic Freedom Index 2020 (livemint)

2. Shanghai Cooperation Organisation | A counter-coalition of Eurasian powers (TH, pg 12)

B) Geography, Environment and Biodiversity

3. Ecological Threat Register (DTE)

C) Schemes/Policies/Initiatives/Social Issues

4. Bharat Craft Portal (livemint)

5. Integrated Road Accident Database Project (iRAD) (PIB)

D) International Relations

6. India’s Logistics Agreements (TH, pg 7)

7. Open trading border posts between India and China (TH, pg 1)

E) Science and Technology

8. Indian Brain Template (PIB)

9. Methane Hydrate Deposits (PIB)

10. Hypersonic Technology Demonstrator Vehicle (HSTDV) (TH, pg 11)

11. Some of the ground-breaking inventions and innovators who have made the hand-held fast, versatile computers possible (TH, pg 11)

E) Economy

12. Singapore Convention on Mediation comes into force (TH, pg 9)

F) Art, Culture and History

13. National School of Drama (PIB)

A) Indices/Committees/Reports/Organisations

1. Global Economic Freedom Index 2020 (livemint)

Context: India’s rank in the Global Economic Freedom Index 2020 dropped 26 spots from 79 to 105 among 162 countries and territories, according to the Economic Freedom of the World: 2020 Annual Report released recently.

Analysis

  • The report, prepared by Canada’s Fraser Institute, was released in India in collaboration with New Delhi-based think tank Centre For Civil Society.
  • The report measures the ‘economic freedom’, or the ability of individuals to make their own economic decisions in a country, by analysing policies and institutions of these countries.
  • It does so by looking at indicators like regulations, the freedom to trade internationally, size of government, property rights, government spending and taxation.
  • In India, the report was co-published by Delhi-based Centre for Civil Society.
  • According to the 2020 report, India performed worse in terms of size of government, regulations and the freedom to trade internationally.
  • China ranked worse than India overall and was positioned at 124 on the index.
  • The ranking is based on 2018 data, newer restrictions on international trade, tightening of the credit market due to NPAs and the impact of Covid-19 on debt and deficits were not reflected in India’s score.
  • Hong Kong and Singapore retain the top two positions.

2. Shanghai Cooperation Organisation | A counter-coalition of Eurasian powers (TH, pg 13)

  • The Shanghai Cooperation Organisation (SCO) is a permanent intergovernmental organisation.
  • The SCO grew out of the Shanghai Five grouping — of Russia, China, Kazakhstan, Tajikistan and Kyrgyzstan — which was set up in 1996 to resolve boundary disputes between China and each of the four other members.
  • It admitted Uzbekistan in 2001, re-christened itself the Shanghai Cooperation Organisation and broadened its agenda to include political, economic and security cooperation. 
  • In June 2017 in Astana (the capital city of Kazakhstan), India and Pakistan became full members of the Organization.
  • The admission of India and Pakistan has expanded the geographical, demographic and economic profile of the SCO, which now has about half the world’s population and a quarter of its GDP.
  • The SCO has four observer States: Afghanistan, Belarus, Iran and Mongolia.
  • The SCO has six dialogue partners: Azerbaijan, Armenia, Cambodia, Nepal, Turkey, and Sri Lanka.
  • The Heads of State Council (HSC) is the supreme decision-making body in the SCO which meets once a year.
  • The organisation has two permanent bodies — the SCO Secretariat based in Beijing and the Executive Committee of the Regional Anti-Terrorist Structure (RATS) based in Tashkent.
  • The SCO Secretary-General and the Director of the Executive Committee of the SCO RATS are appointed by the Council of Heads of State for a term of three years. 
  • The SCO’s official languages are Russian and Chinese.
  • Shanghai Cooperation Organization sometimes also referred as ‘Eastern NATO’.

The SCO’s main goals are as follows:

  • Strengthening mutual trust and neighbourliness among the member states;
  • Promoting their effective cooperation in politics, trade, the economy, research, technology and culture, as well as in education, energy, transport, tourism, environmental protection, and other areas;
  • Making joint efforts to maintain and ensure peace, security and stability in the region; and
  • Moving towards the establishment of a democratic, fair and rational new international political and economic order.
  • Regional Anti-Terrorist Structure (RATS) of the SCO – It coordinates cooperation for security and stability, through intelligence-sharing on criminal and terrorist activities. 
  • In 2005, the Astana declaration called for SCO countries to work on a “joint SCO response to situations that threaten peace, security and stability in the region”.

B) Geography, Environment and Biodiversity

3. Ecological Threat Register (DTE)

  • The Ecological Threat Register (ETR) covers around 157 independent states and territories.
  • Produced by the Institute for Economics and Peace (IEP), the ETR measures ecological threats that countries are currently facing and provides projections to 2050.
  • The ETR is unique in that it combines measures of resilience with the most comprehensive ecological data available to shed light on the countries least likely to cope with extreme ecological shocks, now and into the future.
  • The IEP’s Positive Peace framework is used to identify areas where resilience is unlikely to be strong enough to adapt or cope with these future shocks.
  • The ETR clusters threats into two major domains: resource scarcity and natural disasters.
  • The resource scarcity domain includes food insecurity, water scarcity and high population growth.
  • The natural disaster domain measures the threat of floods, droughts, cyclones, sea level rise and rising temperatures.
  • The ETR identifies three clusters of ecological hotspots, which are particularly susceptible to collapse:
  1. The Sahel-Horn belt of Africa, from Mauritania to Somalia;
  2. The Southern African belt, from Angola to Madagascar;
  3. The Middle East and Central Asian belt, from Syria to Pakistan.
  • Within these hotspots the most fragile countries will include Iran, Mozambique, Madagascar, Pakistan and Kenya.

C) Schemes/Policies/Initiatives/Social Issues

4. Bharat Craft Portal (livemint)

  • More than a year after being announced, the Micro, Small and Medium Enterprises (MSME)’s proposal to create an online e-marketplace similar to Amazon, which would be open to all consumers, is yet to take off due to lack of a business plan, the unavailability of a technology partner, and shortage of funds.
  • Officially set to be the government’s first foray into the private sector, initial estimates had eyed ~10 trillion worth of revenue from the project over a period of 2-3 years. But subsequent studies have shown the real figures may be substantially lower.
  • While the primary mandate remains an e-marketplace for showcasing products by tribal, rural, and small businesses, market surveys showed buyer interest may remain muted for such products.
  • Instead, online primary consumer activity remains focused on brands and bargain hunting, key attributes that products on the platform may not have.

5. Integrated Road Accident Database Project (iRAD) (PIB)

  • The Ministry of Road Transport & Highways is in the process of implementing ‘Integrated Road Accident Database Project (iRAD)’ which will be applicable across the country.
  • In the first instance, it has been decided to implement the proposal in six States, viz. Maharashtra, Karnataka, Madhya Pradesh, Rajasthan, Uttar Pradesh and Tamil Nadu.
  • The development and implementation of iRAD has been entrusted to lIT Madras and National Informatics Centre Services Inc.
  • This project is proposed on IT based system for capturing the spot accident data using mobile app configured for this purpose.
  • This data can then be utilized for various purposes like finding the causes of the accidents and remedial measures to improve the road infrastructure, to record the accidents data for the use of police, health services and other concerned departments.

D) International Relations

6. India’s Logistics Agreements (TH, pg 7)

Context: After concluding a logistics support agreement with Japan in September 2020, India is now working on three such agreements with Russia, the U.K. and Vietnam.

  • India now has military logistics agreements with all Quad countries, Australia, Japan and the U.S., significantly improving interoperability as they also operate several common military platforms.
  • India has been signing MLSAs with countries primarily eyeing deeper maritime cooperation which is important considering China’s rapid military expansionism in the Indo-Pacific, Indian Ocean and South China Sea.
  • India has already signed such agreements with a few countries beginning with the U.S.
  • India signed the Logistics Exchange Memorandum of Understanding (LEMOA) with the U.S. in August 2016 after decade-long negotiations.
  • After India signed the foundational agreement Communications Compatibility and Security Agreement (COMCASA) with the U.S., it got access to encrypted communication systems for seamless communication.
  • As part of this, in March 2019 the Navy and U.S. Navy signed a loan agreement and installed two Pacific fleet provided CENTRIXS (Combined Enterprise Regional Information Exchange System) kits at the Indian Navy headquarters.
  • Since then, it has concluded several such agreements with Australia, France, Oman, the Philippines and Singapore and gained access to the Sabang port in Indonesia.
  • In June 2020, India and Australia signed the long pending Mutual Logistics Support (MLSA), elevated their partnership to Comprehensive Strategic partnership, and also announced a joint declaration on a shared vision for maritime cooperation in the Indo-Pacific.
  • The logistics pact with Japan, Reciprocal Provision of Supplies and Services between armed forces, was signed in September. India and Japan have already signed an implementing arrangement for deeper cooperation between the Navy and the Japan Maritime Self-Defence Force (JMSDF).

Logistics Agreements

  • Logistics agreements are administrative arrangements facilitating access to military facilities for exchange of fuel and provisions on mutual agreement, simplifying logistical support and increasing operational turnaround of the military away from India.
  • The biggest beneficiary of the logistics pacts has been the Navy which interacts and exercises the most with foreign navies.
  • When operating on the high seas, exercises or during humanitarian assistance missions fuel, food and other needs can be exchanged and settled through the established modalities later.

7. Open trading border posts between India and China (TH, pg 1)

  • India-China standoff casts a shadow on Nathu La border trade.
  • While the pandemic stalled business this year, the 200 traders from Sikkim fear LAC tensions may affect their work next year too.
  • Nathu La is one of the three open trading border posts between India and China; the other two being Shipkila in Himachal Pradesh and Lipulekh (or Lipulech) in Uttarakhand. 

E) Science and Technology

8. Indian Brain Template (PIB)

Context: An Indian brain template for five distinct age groups as well as a brain atlas to help accurate assessment of psychiatric illnesses and conduct neuro-surgical operations have been developed by neuroscientists at the Bengaluru-based National Institute of Mental Health and Neuro Sciences (NIMHANS).

Analysis

  • The neuroscientists studied over 500 brain scans of Indian patients to develop five sets of templates and a brain atlas for five age groups covering late childhood to late adulthood (six to 60 years).
  • The significance of this study is that neuroscientists need not be dependent upon the current universal standard of using the Montreal Neurological Index (MNI) template.
  • The MNI was developed by averaging Caucasian brains. Over a period of time, neuroscientists discovered that Caucasian brains are different from Asian brains.
  • Scientists from across the world have been pointing out that there are significant variations in the location of key brain regions and the density of neurons in various brain areas between racial types.
  • Drawing from this, several countries, including China, South Korea and Canada, have brain templates of their population.
  • The project is funded by the Indian Council of Medical Research (ICMR) and the Newton Grant from the Medical Research Council (MRC), UK.

What is a Brain Template?

  • Database of brain images from Magnetic Resonance Imaging (MRI), when compiled together, results in the so-called Brain Template (BT).

9. Methane Hydrate Deposits (PIB)

Context: Scientists have said that the massive methane hydrate deposits of biogenic origin in the Krishna-Godavari (KG) basin and near the coast of Andaman and Mahanadi make it necessary to study the associated methanogenic community.

  • Even the lowest estimate of methane present in the methane hydrates in KG Basin is twice that of all fossil fuel reserves available worldwide.

Analysis

  • Methane hydrate deposits are believed to be a larger hydrocarbon resource than all of the world’s oil, natural gas and coal resources combined. 
  • The current challenge is to inventory this resource and find safe, economical ways to develop it.

What is Methane Hydrate?

  • Methane hydrate is a crystalline solid that consists of a methane molecule surrounded by a cage of interlocking water molecules.
  • Methane hydrate is an “ice” that only occurs naturally in subsurface deposits where temperature and pressure conditions are favorable for its formation. 
  • Most methane hydrate deposits also contain small amounts of other hydrocarbon hydrates.
  • These include propane hydrate and ethane hydrate.

Where are the Methane Hydrate Deposits?

  • Four Earth environments have the temperature and pressure conditions suitable for the formation and stability of methane hydrate.

    These are:
  1. Sediment and sedimentary rock units below Arctic permafrost;
  2. Sedimentary deposits along continental margins;
  3. Deep-water sediments of inland lakes and seas; and,
  4. Under Antarctic ice.
  • With the exception of the Antarctic deposits, methane hydrate accumulations are not very deep below Earth’s surface.
  • In most situations the methane hydrate is within a few hundred meters of the sediment surface.

How are Methane Hydrates produced?

  • Methane gas is primarily formed by microorganisms (methanogens) that live in the deep sediment layers and slowly convert organic substances to methane.
  • These organic materials are the remains of plankton that lived in the ocean long ago, sank to the ocean floor, and were finally incorporated into the sediments.
  • Methane hydrate is formed when hydrogen-bonded water and methane gas come into contact at high pressures and low temperatures in oceans.
  • But with increasing depth into the thick sediment layers on the sea floor, the temperatures begin to rise again because of the proximity to the Earth’s interior. In sediment depths greater than about 1 kilometre the temperatures rise to over 30 degrees Celsius, so that no methane hydrates can be deposited.
  • This, however, is where the methane formation is especially vigorous.
  • First, small methane gas bubbles are produced deep within the sediment.
  • These then rise and are transformed to methane hydrates in the cooler pore waters near the sea floor.
  • So, the methane is formed in the deep warm sediment horizons and is converted and consolidated as methane hydrate in the cold upper sediment layers.
  • No methane hydrates are found in marginal seas and shelf areas because the pressure at the sea floor is not sufficient to stabilize the hydrates.
  • At the bottom of the expansive ocean basins, on the other hand, where the pressure is great enough, scarcely any hydrates are found because there is insufficient organic matter embedded in the deep-sea sediments.
  • The reason for this is that in the open sea the water is comparatively nutrient poor, so that little biomass is produced to sink to the sea floor.
  • Methane hydrates therefore occur mainly near the continental margins at water depths between 350 and 5000 metres.
  • For one reason, enough organic material is deposited in the sediments there, and for another, the temperature and pressure conditions are favourable for methane to be converted to methane hydrates.

Greenhouse Gas Formation

  • At low temperatures the methane hydrates on the sea floor are stable, but if the water and the sea floor become warmer, then the hydrates can break down.
  • Because microorganisms then oxidize the resulting methane gas to form the greenhouse gas carbon dioxide (CO2), methane hydrates have recently become a topic of intense discussion within the context of climate change.
  • Methane, which itself acts as a strong greenhouse gas, does not escape directly out of the sea as methane because it is transformed into CO2.
  • But the formation and release of carbon dioxide are considerable.
  • An additional problem is that the oxygen in seawater is consumed through the formation of carbon dioxide.
  • Many bacteria use methane to provide energy for their meta­bolism. Some bacteria break the methane down with the help of oxygen. This is called aerobic oxidation. Other bacteria do not need oxygen. This kind of oxidation is called anaerobic.
  • Scientists therefore fear that large quantities of methane hydrate will melt there in the future, releasing increased amounts of CO2 into the ocean and the atmosphere. The oxygen content of the seawater will decrease accordingly.
  • Furthermore, the CO2 released not only contributes to further global warming, it also leads to acidification of the oceans.
  • Ocean acidification is the name given to the ongoing decrease in the pH and increase in acidity of the Earth’s oceans, caused by the uptake of anthropogenic carbon dioxide (CO2) from the atmosphere.

10. Hypersonic Technology Demonstrator Vehicle (HSTDV) (TH, pg 11)

Context: The Defence Research and Development Organisation (DRDO) recently successfully flight tested the Hypersonic Technology Demonstrator Vehicle (HSTDV) – an unmanned scramjet vehicle with a capability to travel at six times the speed of sound, making India the fourth country in the world after the US, China and Russia to develop such technology.

Analysis

  • The test was conducted using the Agni missile. A solid rocket motor of Agni missile was used to take to an altitude of 30 kilometers where the cruise vehicle separated from the launch vehicle and the air intake opened as planned
(Just for understanding!)
  •  On the D-day, a launch vehicle, which was derived from Agni 1 missile, rose from its launch pad in Odisha, carrying the HSTDV.
  • The Agni 1 booster climbed to a height of 30 km in 12 seconds at a speed of Mach 5.6.
  • When the launch vehicle reached an altitude of 30 km, the air intake ducts in the scramjet engine opened just before the launch vehicle separated smoothly.
  • At 30 km altitude, the cruise vehicle’s nose cone split in two and fell off. Besides, the heat shield covering the cruiser was jettisoned. All these events took place in micro seconds.
  • Air from the atmosphere was then rammed into the scramjet engine’s combustion chamber at a supersonic speed. (Main Reason why HSTDV is important)
  • The air mixed with the atomised fuel, the fuel was ignited and the scramjet engine revved into action.
  • The HSTDV flew for the next 20 seconds at a hypersonic speed of Mach six and fell 40 km away in the Bay of Bengal. The mission was a success.

Indigenous Technology

  • The centrepiece of the HSTDV was the indigenously developed air-breathing scramjet engine, which formed the HSTDV’s propulsion system. If the mission’s aim was to prove this scramjet engine in flight, it was achieved.
  • In a scramjet engine, air from the atmosphere is rammed into the engine’s combustion chamber at a supersonic speed of more than Mach two.
  • In the chamber, the air mixes with the fuel to ignite a supersonic combustion but the cruiser’s flight will be at a hypersonic speed of Mach six to seven. So, it is called supersonic combustion ramjet or Scramjet.

Applications

  • This successful test will pave the way for missiles that can travel at six times the speed of sound.
  • Apart from being used as a vehicle for hypersonic and long-range cruise missiles, the HSTDV is a dual-use technology that will have multiple civilian applications, including the launch of small satellites at low cost. 
  • Mastering the air-breathing scramjet technology will lead to the development of hypersonic missiles, faster civilian air transportation and facilities for putting satellites into orbit at a low cost.

The Hypersonic Vehicle and its Scramjet Engine

  • The scramjets are a variant of a category of jet engines called the air breathing engines.
  • The ability of engines to handle airflows of speeds in multiples of speed of sound, gives it a capability of operating at those speeds.
  • Hypersonic speeds are those which are five times or more than the speed of sound (Mach 5 or more).

Hypersonic Nuclear Missiles

  • Hypersonic missiles travel at speeds faster than 3,800 miles per hour or 6,115 km per hour, much faster than other ballistic and cruise missiles.
  • They can deliver conventional or nuclear payloads within minutes.
  • They are highly manoeuvrable and do not follow a predictable arc as they travel.
  • They are said to combine the speed of ballistic missiles with the manoeuvring capabilities of cruise missiles.
  • The speed makes them hard to track compared to traditional missile tech.
  • In March this year, the United States announced it had successfully tested an unarmed prototype of a hypersonic missile.

11. Some of the ground-breaking inventions and innovators who have made the hand-held fast, versatile computers possible (TH, pg 11)

  • FORTRAN or Formula Translation: This translated the binary language (0 and 1) of digital computers into everyday language that can be understood and used by all.
  • Integrated Circuits or ICs: Until they were invented, signals were amplified using vacuum tubes. Invention of transistors reduced the size, and power consumption of amplifiers. This caused a revolution in information technology, because using these could actually make a fully integrated complex electronic circuit on a single silicon chip.
  • Relational Database Management System, or RDBMS: Earlier, these files were stored in magnetic tapes, then in floppy discs and now in CDs and pen drives.
  • Local Area Networks (or LANs): A wireless broadcast system to interconnect computers.
  • Ethernet: It allows multiple computers to share and exchange messages and files through cable connections.
  • Public Key Cryptography: To open your phone or a computer, you need a passcode, which is secure and known only to you. And when a bank or a sender sends you a ‘confidential’ message, they too send a secure passcode (e.g., OTP). This aspect is what is known as an encryption system. This public key cryptography is one of the Innovations.
  • Computer Graphics: These are built-in programs that not only allow you to take photographs, movies and send them using applications like WhatsApp, Facetime and such.

E) Economy

12. Singapore Convention on Mediation comes into force (TH, pg 9)

Context: The Singapore Convention on Mediation came into force recently (September 2020) and will provide a more effective way for enforcing mediated settlements of corporate disputes involving businesses in India and other countries that are signatories to the Convention.

Analysis

  • Also known as the United Nations Convention on International Settlement Agreements Resulting from Mediation, this is also the first UN treaty to be named after Singapore.
  • With the Convention in force, businesses seeking enforcement of a mediated settlement agreement across borders can do so by applying directly to the courts of countries that have signed and ratified the treaty, instead of having to enforce the settlement agreement as a contract in accordance with each country’s domestic process.
  • The harmonised and simplified enforcement framework under the Convention translates to savings in time and legal costs, which is important for businesses in times of uncertainty, such as during the current COVID-19 pandemic.
  • As on September 1, the Convention has 53 signatories, including India, China and the U.S.
  • The Convention would boost India’s ‘ease of doing business’ credentials by enabling swift mediated settlements of corporate disputes.

F) Art, Culture and History

13. National School of Drama (PIB)

Context: President of India appoints veteran actor Paresh Rawal as new Chairman of National School of Drama.

Analysis

  • Established in 1959, the National School of Drama is the only one of its kind in India and is an autonomous organization, fully financed by the Ministry of Culture.
  • One of the foremost theatre training institution in the world, NSD was incepted under the aegis of the Sangeet Natak Akademi and became an independent entity in 1975.
  • National School of Drama had been declared as deemed university by University Grant Commission in 2005.
  • However, National School of Drama has requested the government to declare it as institute of national importance and therefore status of deemed university was not accepted.
  • It is one of the major organisations involved in preservation and propagation of the 13 Intangible cultural heritage (ICH) elements from India that have been inscribed till date on the UNESCO’s Representative List of the Intangible Cultural Heritage of Humanity.
  • In 2019, NSD was ranked 14th among the best film schools in the world by CEOWORLD Magazine of the USA.

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