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Nuclear Diplomacy and Disarmament

World at the edge of a new nuclear arms race

Note4Students

From UPSC perspective, the following things are important :

Prelims level : CTBT, New START, INF etc.

Mains level : Paper 2- CTBT and reasons for India's decision to withdraw from the talks.

The focus of this article is on the possible revival of the nuclear arms race among the US, China and Russia. In this context, the purpose and present status of the CTBT, which was aimed at ending the nuclear arms race is also discussed. The article ends by predicting the beginning of new arms race and possible demise of the CTBT.

What were the findings of US compliance report?

  • State Department Report: In mid-April, a report was issued by the United States State Department on “Adherence to and Compliance with Arms Control, Nonproliferation, and Disarmament Agreements and Commitments (Compliance Report).
  • Tests with low yields by China: The report raised concerns that China might be conducting nuclear tests with low yields at its Lop Nur test site.
  • And these tests are conducted in violation of its Comprehensive Nuclear-Test-Ban treaty (CTBT)
  • Violation by Russia: The U.S. report also claims that Russia has conducted nuclear weapons experiments that produced a nuclear yield and were inconsistent with ‘zero yield’ understanding underlying the CTBT.
  • Though it was uncertain about how many such experiments had been conducted by Russia.
  • Russia and China have rejected the U.S.’s claims.
  • New nuclear arms race: With growing rivalry among major powers the report is a likely harbinger of a new nuclear arms race.
  • The demise of CTBT: This new nuclear arms race would also mark the demise of the CTBT that came into being in 1996 but has failed to enter into force even after a quarter-century.

Background of the CTBT

  • Test ban-first step: For decades, a ban on nuclear testing was seen as the necessary first step towards curbing the nuclear arms race but Cold War politics made it impossible.
  • A Partial Test Ban Treaty was concluded in 1963 banning underwater and atmospheric tests but this only drove testing underground.
  • By the time the CTBT negotiations began in Geneva in 1994, global politics had changed. The Cold War had ended and the nuclear arms race was over.
  • The Union of Soviet Socialist Republics, or the USSR, had broken up and its principal testing site, Semipalatinsk, was in Kazakhstan (Russia still had access to Novaya Zemlya near the Arctic circle).
  • In 1991, Russia declared a unilateral moratorium on testing, followed by the U.S. in 1992.
  • By this time, the U.S. had conducted 1,054 tests and Russia, 715.
  • Negotiations were often contentious.
  • Eventually, the U.S. came up with the idea of defining the “comprehensive test ban” as a “zero yield” test ban that would prohibit supercritical hydro-nuclear tests but not sub-critical hydrodynamic nuclear tests.

Make note of the points mentioned under “entry-into-force” provision given below. The reasons for India’s withdrawal from the negotiation are important from the UPSC perspective.

“Entry-into-force” provision and India’s objections to it

  • Another controversy arose regarding the entry-into-force provisions (Article 14) of the treaty.
  • Why India withdrew from negotiations? After India’s proposals for anchoring the CTBT in a disarmament framework did not find acceptance, in June 1996, India announced its decision to withdraw from the negotiations.
  • Unhappy at this turn, the U.K., China and Pakistan took the lead in revising the entry-into-force provisions.
  • What is “entry-into-force” provision? The new provisions listed 44 countries by name whose ratification was necessary for the treaty to enter into force and included India.
  • India’s objection: India protested that this attempt at arm-twisting violated a country’s sovereign right to decide if it wanted to join a treaty but was ignored.
  • The CTBT was adopted by a majority vote and opened for signature.
  • Of the 44 listed countries, to date, only 36 have ratified the treaty.
  • Signed but not ratified: China, Egypt, Iran, Israel and the U.S. have signed but not ratified.
  • China maintains that it will only ratify it after the U.S. does so but the Republican-dominated Senate had rejected it in 1999.
  • Not signed, not ratified: In addition, North Korea, India and Pakistan are the three who have not signed.
  • All three have also undertaken tests after 1996; India and Pakistan in May 1998 and North Korea six times between 2006 and 2017.
  • The CTBT has therefore not entered into force and lacks legal authority.

An organisation to verify CTBT

  • Even though CTBT has not entered into force, an international organisation to verify the CTBT was established in Vienna with a staff of about 230 persons and an annual budget of $130 million.
  • Ironically, the U.S. is the largest contributor with a share of $17 million.
  • The Comprehensive Nuclear-Test-Ban Treaty Organisation (CTBTO) runs an elaborate verification system built around a network of over 325 seismic, radionuclide, infrasound and hydroacoustic (underwater) monitoring stations.
  • The CTBTO has refrained from backing the U.S.’s allegations.

The revival of the nuclear arms race

  • End of the unipolar world for the US: The key change from the 1990s is that the S.’s unipolar moment is over and strategic competition among major powers is back.
  • The U.S. now identifies Russia and China as ‘rivals’.
  • Its Nuclear Posture Review asserts that the U.S. faces new nuclear threats because both Russia and China are increasing their reliance on nuclear weapons.
  • The U.S., therefore, has to expand the role of its nuclear weapons and have a more usable and diversified nuclear arsenal.
  • The Trump administration has embarked on a 30-year modernisation plan with a price tag of $1.2 trillion, which could go up over the years.
  • Concerns of Russia and China: Russia and China have been concerned about the U.S.’s growing technological lead particularly in missile defence and conventional global precision-strike capabilities.
  • Russia has responded by exploring hypersonic delivery systems and theatre systems while China has embarked on a modernisation programme to enhance the survivability of its arsenal which is considerably smaller.
  • Cyber capabilities being increased: In addition, both countries are also investing heavily in offensive cyber capabilities.
  • The New Strategic Arms Reduction Treaty (New START) limits U.S. and Russian arsenals but will expire in 2021
  • And U.S. President Donald Trump has already indicated that he does not plan to extend New START.
  • Instead, the Trump administration would like to bring China into some kind of nuclear arms control talks.
  • But China has avoided such talks by pointing to the fact that the S. and Russia still account for over 90% of global nuclear arsenals.

Context of the US backtracking from negotiated agreements

  • Both China and Russia have dismissed the U.S.’s allegations.
  • They pointed to the Trump administration’s backtracking from other negotiated agreements such as the Iran nuclear deal or the U.S.-Russia Intermediate-Range Nuclear Forces (INF)
  • Tensions with China are already high with trade and technology disputes, militarisation in the South China Sea and most recently, with the novel coronavirus pandemic.
  • The U.S. could also be preparing the ground for resuming testing at Nevada.

In the context of the latest developments, a question can be asked by the UPSC, for ex- “In the light of the latest developments on the global platform which are pointing to the revival of the nuclear arms race, how far India’s decision to not sign the CTBT is justified?”

Conclusion

New rivalries have already emerged. Resumption of nuclear testing may signal the demise of the ill-fated CTBT, marking the beginnings of a new nuclear arms race. 


Back2Basics: What is “zero-yield test?”

  • This means that the agreement prohibits all nuclear explosions that produce a self-sustaining, supercritical chain reaction of any kind whether for weapons or peaceful purposes.
  • The decision not to include a specific definition of scope in the Treaty was a deliberate decision by the negotiating parties, including the United States, made to ensure that no loopholes were created by including a highly technical and specific list of what specific activities were and were not permitted under the Treaty.
  • A thorough review of the history of the Treaty negotiation process, as well as statements by world leaders and the negotiators of the agreement, shows that all states understand and accept the CTBT as a “zero-yield” treaty.

Coronavirus – Economic Issues

The universal delivery of food and cash transfers by the state amid Covid-19

Note4Students

From UPSC perspective, the following things are important :

Prelims level : Not much.

Mains level : Paper 2- Provision and suggestions to reduce the impact of corona crisis on the poor.

This focus of this article is on the universal delivery of food and cash transfer amid corona pandemic. There are some estimates of the cost of universal cash transfer and food delivery in the article and suggestion to ensure universal delivery.

Universal food and cash delivery is needed

  • The immediate need for universal food and cash delivery is by now obvious and urgent.
  • Across the country, there are reports of people — migrant workers, local workers, peasants, pastoralists, fisherpeople, vendors, ragpickers, and the destitute — facing extreme hardship, even starvation, because their livelihoods have been extinguished by the lockdown.
  • These have created further an unprecedented humanitarian crisis, as millions of households with depleted savings have no way to access food and other basic necessities over the coming weeks.
  • The threat of infection from COVID-19 makes even harder their coping mechanisms.
  • In these dire circumstances, it is essential for the state to directly provide the basic means of survival to anyone who needs it.
  • This must be in both cash and kind. Food access is the most important.
  • But because of the closure of economic activity and the absence of any livelihood opportunity, this must be combined with cash transfers to tide over this period and the immediate aftermath.
  • Food transfers must be provided for at least six months, and cash transfers for at least three months, though these can be extended depending on the period of lockdown.
  • Because of the severity of the crisis and the high probability of widespread hunger and descent into poverty, these transfers must be universal, made available to every person who needs them, without relying on exclusionary criteria, existing lists or biometric identification.

The points mentioned below give us the ideal of food-grain stocks with India. And there are also the estimates of how much would be required if we decide to go for universal delivery of food. The data given below is important from Mains perspective.

How much will be the cost of universal food delivery?

  • Consider first free universal provisioning of 10 kg of grain (wheat or rice) per person per month.
  • This is likely to be availed of by at most around 80 per cent of the population.
  • With an estimated population of 1.3 billion, providing this for six months would require 62.4 million tonnes of grain.
  • This is a maximal estimate — the actual requirement would be lower.
  • Stocks with the FCI: The FCI is currently holding 77 million tonnes of foodgrain stocks, compared to buffer stock norms of 24 million tonnes.
  • It is expected to procure another 40 million tonnes from the current rabi harvest.
  • It could easily release and allow the free distribution of foodgrain of 5 million tonnes and still have foodgrain stocks of 54.5 million tonnes, if the expected rabi procurement targets are met.
  • Cost of storing grains: Furthermore, it is costly for the FCI to store this grain. The current costs of storage are estimated to be Rs 5.60 per kilogramme per year or Rs 2.80 for six months.
  • This means that by releasing 4 million tonnes to feed the hungry of India over the next six months, the FCI would actually be saving Rs 17,472 crore, assuming that these idle stocks would have persisted.
  • But even if these were sold, the costs are the revenue that would have been earned.
  • This is difficult to estimate but by using Finance Minister’s estimates in Budget we get a (maximal) figure of Rs 1,17,000 crore.

Cost of universal cash transfer

  • In addition, a proposed cash transfer of Rs 7,000 per month for three months to every household, assuming again that 80 per cent of households would receive this.
  • With five persons per household, this expenditure would be Rs 4,36,800 crore.
  • The two transfers together amount to Rs 5,53,800 crore, or around 9 per cent of currently estimated GDP.

Financing the expenditure through fiscal deficit

  • This sum of Rs. 5,53,800 is not a forbidding sum.
  • A great part of the responsibility to make these resources available vests with the Union government.
  • But whatever taxes are introduced in a supplementary budget that has become unavoidable, the expenditure incurred has to be financed immediately through a fiscal deficit.
  • Given the massive deflationary pressures and a complete collapse of economic activity, there is a strong case for financing the additional public expenditure through deficit financing or borrowing directly from the RBI.
  • This is required both for coping with the pandemic and for softening the blow of the lockdown.

Following two suggestions are important suggestions for the delivery of food and cash in case we don’t have reliable data.

How to ensure universal delivery of food?

  • The question arises of how universal delivery of these food and cash transfers is to be ensured.
  • Existing lists are inadequate for the purpose because they significantly underestimate and exclude those who should be beneficiaries.
  • For example, at least 100 million people are excluded from access to food under the National Food Security Act based on the 2011 Census.
  • The most effective way of dealing with the food emergency is to provide food delivery at doorsteps or neighbourhood collection points to anyone who asks for it, with a simple marker such as the indelible ink used during elections to serve as the indicator of receipt.

How to endure universal delivery of cash?

  • For cash transfers, the matter is more complicated.
  • In rural India, MGNREGA job cards and pensions cover most households and allow bank payments.
  • The urban poor include migrants, contract and casual workers mostly in small and medium enterprises, daily wagers, domestic workers, self-employed persons like street vendors, sex workers and ragpickers, and the destitute including homeless people.
  • But there is no comprehensive record of the urban poor because the state has instituted no effective mechanisms to secure labour rights or social security rights to most urban workers.
  • The urban poor build and service the city, surviving without rights and a hostile or indifferent state.
  • The legally-mandated registration of inter-state migrants and construction workers in practice excludes most because their employers with the connivance of the state don’t wish to be bound to secure their rights.
  • The humanitarian emergency created by the pandemic and lockdown entails universal cash transfers again to every adult who presents herself to designated officials in decentralised offices.
  • For those who have accessible bank accounts, the funds can be credited to these accounts.
  • For others, the Odisha system, whereby pensions are disbursed as cash in hand at pre-specified times, maybe a useful model to follow.
  • This also can be adopted with indelible ink as proof of receipt.

Employment schemes after cash transfers

  • The income transfers must quickly give way to an expanded rural employment guarantee scheme, and a new urban employment programme.
  • These urban employment programs include caregiving and building water supply, sanitation and shelter for the urban poor.
  • Private hospitals also need to be nationalised at least for the duration of the pandemic.

Conclusion

The working and poor people should not be made to bear the burden of the pandemic. There is a need for a bold resolve, by central and state governments, to literally reach the last person, rural or urban, with the food and cash they require to survive with dignity.

 

 

Coronavirus – Economic Issues

East India will require heavy investment to tide over the post-Covid loss of livelihood

Note4Students

From UPSC perspective, the following things are important :

Prelims level : Consumption expenditure.

Mains level : Paper 3- The lack of employment opportunities is one the biggest challenges facing eastern states and Covid-19 pandemic has made it the pressing issue. What are the reasons for the problem? Suggest the ways to deal with the problem.

The article discusses the issue of migrant labourers and the problems eastern states could face due to the return of labourers and the lack of employment opportunities in these states. The return of migrant labourers may lead to the mechanisation in the states where they worked. A relief-cum-stimulus package at least 5% of the GDP is suggested by the author.

IMF’s projections for the economy

  • The IMF’s projections for GDP growth for this year seem to be either in the negative or below 2 per cent for almost all major countries of the G-20 group.
  • India could do a little better compared to the other BRICS nations, but its growth will most likely be below 2 per cent.
  • This, of course, is under an optimistic scenario.
  • Many experts reckon that India could also go into negative GDP growth this year if it does not reboot the economy properly and in time.

The problem of collapse in demand

  • The Centre and the Reserve Bank of India are trying to remove all roadblocks so that factories and farms can resume operations.
  • The focus is largely on the supply side — how to ease restrictions and how to increase liquidity in the system for resuming production.
  • It may not take too long as the real problem is the collapse in demand.
  • And that demand may not pick up easily as the virus is likely to stay with us for quite some time.
  • We could have lockdowns again if there is a surge in infection.
  • This will surely limit our travel and restrict our shopping for non-essentials.
  • However, there is one demand that can easily revive — that of food.

Why food demand matters?

  • The NSSO survey of consumption expenditures for 2011-12 revealed that about 45 per cent of the total expenditure of an Indian household is on food.
  • For the poor, the NSSO reckoned, this figure was about 60 per cent.
  • We do not have information about the consumption patterns in 2020, guess is that about 35-40 per cent of the expenditure of an Indian household is on food and for a poor household, this figure is around 50 per cent.
  • Herein, lies the scope to reboot the economy.

Labour shortage and mechanisation

  • The sudden announcement of the nationwide lockdown gave labours no time to go back to their families.
  • They lost their jobs and incomes and having spent whatever little savings they had, these workers have been reduced to penury.
  • The Centre and states, despite their best efforts, have not managed to address the problem of hunger of these workers.
  • Even civil society has not managed to bridge the gap.
  • The migrant labourers may well have lost their trust in the state, and once the lockdown is lifted, most of them are likely to rush back to their families in villages.
  • And, it could be some time before they are back in the cities — that is, if they return at all.
  • So, farms and factories, especially the MSMEs in the relatively developed states of western, southern and north-western India are likely to face labour shortages for many months, perhaps years.
  • This could lead to more mechanisation of farms and factories in these states.
  • In Punjab, for example, most of the wheat harvesting is already done by combined harvesters.
  • Now even paddy harvesting could be done by mechanised harvesters.

The double challenge for states which are home to migrants

  • However, eastern Uttar Pradesh, Bihar, Jharkhand, West Bengal, and Odisha, from where much of the migrant labour comes, will face a double challenge.
  • Their agriculture, with tiny farm holdings, is already saddled with a large labour force — this comprises 45 to 55 per cent of the total labour force of these states.
  • Non-farm income from wages and salaries, through migrant labour, was an important source of income for households in these states.
  • This is now severely hit. In all probability, the per capita rural incomes of these states could shrink, at least in the short run.
  • This could lead to poverty and increase hunger and malnutrition.
  • How does one then reboot the economy and also address hunger and malnutrition?

The lockdown and the subsequent plight of the migrant labourers brought to the fore uneven development in the country. The points mentioned below suggest the ways to address this problem. A question based on this issue could be asked by the UPSC, for ex- “The issue of migrant labourers amid Covid-19 pandemic highlighted the uneven development in the country. In this context, state the reasons which led to the uneven development of various regions of the country. Suggest ways to address the problem”.

The requirement of a special investment package for eastern states

  • A special investment package — like the Marshall Plan of USA in 1948 — for the eastern belt of India is required.
  • Investment should be used to build better infrastructure, agri-markets and godowns, rural housing, primary health centres, schools and enhances people’s skills.
  • The package will go a long way to revive the economy and augment the incomes of the migrant workers.
  • Rising incomes will generate more demand for food as well as manufactured products, giving a fillip to the growth engines of agriculture as well as the MSME sector.
  • Building better supply chains for food directly from farm-to-fork, led by the private sector, will enhance the export competitiveness of agriculture.
  • It will also ensure a higher share of farmers in the consumers’ rupee.
  • Long-term demand-driven growth: Such broad-based development in a relatively underdeveloped region of the country will lay the foundations of a long-term, demand-driven, growth of the industry in India.
  • The all India relief package of Rs 1.7 lakh crore announced by the central government earlier, which is about 0.8 per cent of the country’s GDP, is too small to reboot the economy.

Conclusion

If India has to bounce back quickly, it needs a much bigger relief cum stimulus package — certainly not below 5 per cent of GDP. And, it should focus more on the eastern belt, where the issue is that of survival.


Back2Basics: Marshall Plan, 1948

  • The Marshall Plan, also known as the European Recovery Program, was a U.S. program providing aid to Western Europe following the devastation of World War II.
  • It was enacted in 1948 and provided more than $15 billion to help finance rebuilding efforts on the continent.
  • The brainchild of U.S. Secretary of State George C. Marshall, for whom it was named, it was crafted as a four-year plan to reconstruct cities, industries and infrastructure heavily damaged during the war and to remove trade barriers between European neighbours – as well as foster commerce between those countries and the United States.

Contention over South China Sea

What’s behind diplomatic tensions in the South China Sea?

Note4Students

From UPSC perspective, the following things are important :

Prelims level : Spratly and Parcel Islands- Their location

Mains level : South China Sea dispute

In the middle of the global coronavirus pandemic, China has been busy increasing its presence in the South China Sea.

The dispute

  • In the past few years, China has stepped up military aggression and has created artificial islands for military and economic purposes in the South China Sea.
  • This has drawn criticism from neighbouring countries and other western powers.
  • Soon after, Chinese and Australian warships also entered the fray.
  • Following the arrival of American warships, regional observers expressed concern that the US’s presence may only serve to heighten tensions.
  • The US has no territorial claims in the South China Sea but is known to send its naval force into the waters each time there are provocative developments in the waters, particularly angering China.

Map observations in the South China Sea are must-dos for the CSE aspirants. UPSC often toggles in the Middle East,  West and Central Asian region. This year we can expect a different region for a  map-based question.

Why in news now?

China’s advent for islands

  • This past week, Beijing unilaterally renamed 80 islands and other geographical features in the area, drawing criticism from neighbouring countries who have also laid claim to the same territory.
  • The focus of Chinese acquisitory attention is the two disputed archipelagos of the Spratly Islands and the Paracel Islands in the middle of the South China Sea waters.
  • They lie between the territory of Vietnam and the Philippines.
  • If the dispute were to aggravate, Asia-Pacific researchers believe it could have serious consequences for diplomatic relations and stability in the region.

What is the Spratly Islands dispute about?

  • There has been an ongoing territorial dispute between China, Taiwan, Vietnam, the Philippines, and Malaysia concerning the ownership of the Spratly Islands archipelago and nearby geographical features like corals reefs, cays etc.
  • Since 1968, these nations have engaged in varying kinds of military occupation of the islands and the surrounding waters, with the exception of Brunei, that has contained its objections to the use of its maritime waters for commercial fishing.
  • Although the Spratly Islands are largely uninhabited, there is a possibility that they may have large reserves of untapped natural resources.
  • However, due to the ongoing dispute, there have been few initiatives to explore the scale of these reserves.

Quest for Oil

  • Over the years, US government agencies have claimed that there is little to no oil and natural gas in these islands, but these reports have done little to reduce the territorial dispute.
  • In the 1970s, oil was discovered in neighbouring islands, specifically off the coast of Palawan. This discovery ramped up territorial claims by these countries.

What is the Paracel Islands dispute about?

  • The Paracel Islands dispute is slightly more complex. This archipelago is a collection of 130 islands and coral reefs and is located in the South China Sea, almost equidistant from China and Vietnam.
  • Beijing says that references to the Paracel Islands as a part of China sovereign territory can be found in 14th century writings from the Song Dynasty.
  • Vietnam on the other hand, says that historical texts from at least the 15th century show that the islands were a part of its territory.
  • These islands also find mention in records starting from the 16th century by explorers who led expeditions to the East.
  • Colonial powers of the French-Indochina further accelerated the tensions with regard to the Paracel Islands due to their colonial policies in the 20th century.
  • By 1954, tensions had dramatically increased between China and Vietnam over the archipelago.

What is the most recent dispute about?

  • Recent China established new administrative districts on both Spratly and Paracel Islands.
  • It also renamed those 80 islands, reefs and other geographical features around the two archipelagos with Chinese names.
  • The last time China had unilaterally engaged in a similar initiative was in 1983 where 287 geographical features had been renamed in the disputed chain of islands.

Right To Privacy

What are the concerns around the AarogyaSetu app?

Note4Students

From UPSC perspective, the following things are important :

Prelims level : Aarogya Setu App

Mains level : Privacy issues with the app

  • Recently the AarogyaSetu app — for pan-India use was launched as the main contact tracing technology endorsed by the Central government.
  • Soon it became one of the most downloaded apps globally and has crossed the 75 million mark.
  • However, there are concerns for more transparency on the inner workings of an app that seeks the personal details of millions.

RIght to Privacy is a very much contested topic for GS. The Aarogya Setu app which has a lot more to offer, is under the radar due to underlying vacuum of Privacy Law in India.

AarogyaSetu App

  • The App enables people to assess themselves the risk of their catching the Corona Virus infection.
  • It is designed to keep track of other AarogyaSetu users that a person came in contact with and alert him or her if any of the contacts tests positive for COVID-19.
  • It achieves this using the phone’s Bluetooth and GPS capabilities.
  • Once installed in a smartphone through an easy and user-friendly process, the app detects other devices with AarogyaSetu installed that come in the proximity of that phone.
  • The app can then calculate the risk of infection based on sophisticated parameters if any of these contacts has tested positive.
  • The personal data collected by the App is encrypted using state-of-the-art technology and stays secure on the phone till it is needed for facilitating medical intervention.

Issues with the app

  • The AarogyaSetu app faces the same issue as every other contact tracing technology that has come up during the pandemic period — it is people dependent.
  • It needs widespread usage and self-reporting to be effective.
  • Given that any number of total users will be a subset of smartphone owners in India, and there are bound to be variations in the levels of self-reporting, the efficacy is not bulletproof.
  • The terms of use of the app also say as much, distancing the government from any failure on the part of the app in correctly identifying COVID-19 patients.

Are there privacy concerns?

  • First of all, the app exists in the privacy law vacuum that is India.
  • With no legislation that spells out in detail how the online privacy of Indians is to be protected, AarogyaSetu users have little choice but to accept the privacy policy provided by the government.
  • The policy goes into some detail on where and how long the data will be retained, but it leaves the language around who will have access to it vague.
  • As per the policy persons carrying out medical and administrative interventions necessary in relation to COVID-19” will have access to the data.
  • This suggests interdepartmental exchanges of people’s personal information and is more excessive than countries like Singapore and even Israel.

Technical issue

  • Beyond the legal loopholes, there are technical loopholes as well.
  • The unique digital identity in AarogyaSetu is a static number, which increases the probability of identity breaches.
  • The abundance of data collected is also potentially problematic.
  • AarogyaSetu uses both Bluetooth as well as GPS reference points, which could be seen as overkill whereas other apps such as TraceTogether make do with Bluetooth.

Other issues

  • Experts emphasise that automated contact tracing is not a panacea.
  • They caution against an over-reliance on technology where a competent human-in-the-loop system with sufficient capacity exists.

Gravitational Wave Observations

GW190412: The first merger of two black holes with unequal masses

Note4Students

From UPSC perspective, the following things are important :

Prelims level : General Relativity, Black Holes, Black Holes merger

For the first time since it started functioning, the gravitational wave observatories at LIGO scientific collaboration have detected a merger of two unequal-mass black holes.

This newscard contains few basic terms that one must know-

Gravitational waves

General Relativity

Black Holes

GW190412

  • The event, dubbed GW190412, was detected nearly a year ago, and this is almost five years after the first-ever detection of gravitational-wave signals by these powerful detectors.
  • Subsequent analysis of the signal coming from the violent merger showed that it involved two black holes of unequal masses coalescing.
  • One of them was some 30 times the mass of the Sun and the other which had a mass nearly 8 times the solar mass.
  • The actual merger took place at a distance of 2.5 billion light-years away.

Significant feature observed

  • The detected signal’s waveform has special extra features in it when it corresponds to the merger of two unequal-sized black holes as compared with a merger of equal-sized black holes.
  • These features make it possible to infer many more things about the characters such as- a more accurate determination of the distance from the event, the spin or angular momentum of the more massive black hole and the orientation of the whole event with respect to viewers on Earth.
  • While the mass of the black hole bends the space-time close to it, the spin or angular momentum of this inscrutable object drags the nearby space-time, causing it to swirl around, along with it.
  • Hence both these properties are important to estimate.

Confirmed General Relativity

  • An Indian team consisting of researchers verified the consistency of the signal with the prediction of General Relativity.
  • The existence of higher harmonics was itself a prediction of General Relativity.

Must refer for an easy and illustrated understanding of General Relativity-

 

Innovations in Sciences, IT, Computers, Robotics and Nanotechnology

The Curie Family and its Nobel legacy

Note4Students

From UPSC perspective, the following things are important :

Prelims level : Radioactivity

Mains level : NA

This newscard is inspired by an article published in the DTE which talks about a family which has received a total of four Nobel prizes, the highest won by a single-family.

Last year in 2019 CSP, there was a question on pure Biology about Hepatitis and its variants. With such news trending, we can expect a core chemistry or physics based question coupled with a slight Current Affairs blend.

The ‘Nobel’ family

  • On April 20, 1902, Marie and Pierre Curie successfully isolated radioactive radium salts from pitchblende, a mineral, in a laboratory in Paris, France.
  • They were inspired by French physicist Henri Becquerel’s 1896 experiment on phosphorescence or the phenomenon that allows certain objects to glow in the dark.
  • They were able to find traces of two radioactive elements—polonium (Element 84) and radium (Element 88).
  • Curie shared the 1903 Nobel with her fellow researcher Pierre Currie and Becquerel for their combined work on radioactivity.

Important facts

  • In 1903, Marie Curie received the Nobel Prize in Physics making her the world’s first woman to win the prize.
  • In 1911, she created history again by becoming the first woman to have won two Nobel awards.
  • The 1911 Nobel Prize in Chemistry was awarded to Marie after she managed to produce radium as a pure metal. This proved the new element’s existence beyond doubt.
  • However, this was not the last Nobel for the Curie family.
  • The 1935 Nobel in Chemistry went to Irène Curie and her husband and co-researcher Frédéric Joliot for their joint work on the artificial creation of new radioactive elements.
  • The Curies have received a total of four of Nobel prizes, the highest won by a single-family. They also have the unique distinction of having three Nobel-prize winning members in the family.

Birth of Radioactivity

  • While delivering a lecture at the Royal Academy of Sciences in Stockholm, Sweden in 1911, Curie shared some critical details about “radioactive elements” and the phenomenon called “radioactivity”.
  • She also spoke about the chemical properties of radium, the new element that was about a million times more radioactive than uranium.
  • Radium in solid salts was about 5 million times more radioactive than an equal weight of uranium.

Back2Basics: Radioactivity

  • Radioactivity refers to the particles which are emitted from nuclei as a result of nuclear instability.
  • It is the process by which an unstable atomic nucleus loses energy by radiation.
  • The most common types of radiation are called alpha, beta, and gamma radiation, but there are several other varieties of radioactive decay.
  • Radioactive decay rates are normally stated in terms of their half-lives, and the half-life of a given nuclear species is related to its radiation risk.
  • Examining the amounts of decay products makes possible radioactive dating.

Its applications

  • Medical use: Many diseases such as cancer are cured by radiotherapy. Sterilization of medical instruments and food is another common application of radiation.
  • Scientific use: Alpha particles emitted from the radioisotopes are used for nuclear reactions.
  • Industrial use: Radioisotopes are used as fuel for atomic energy reactors. Also used in Carbon dating.

Roads, Highways, Cargo, Air-Cargo and Logistics infrastructure – Bharatmala, LEEP, SetuBharatam, etc.

Rohtang Pass and its location

Note4Students

From UPSC perspective, the following things are important :

Prelims level : Various passes in news, BRO

Mains level : NA

The Border Roads Organisation (BRO) has opened the Rohtang Pass, three weeks in advance, for transporting essential supplies and relief materials to Lahaul and Spiti districts of Himachal Pradesh.

 Rohtang Pass

  • It is a high mountain pass (elevation 3,980 m) on the eastern Pir Panjal Range of the Himalayas around 51 km from Manali.
  • It connects the Kullu Valley with the Lahaul and Spiti Valleys of Himachal Pradesh, India.
  • The pass lies on the watershed between the Chenab and Beas basins.
  • On the southern side of this pass, the Beas River emerges from underground and flows southward and on its northern side, the Chandra River, a source stream of the river Chenab, flows westward.

Another pass in new:

Sela Pass Tunnel Project

Indian Air Force Updates

Exercise Pitch Black 2020

Note4Students

From UPSC perspective, the following things are important :

Prelims level : Exercise Pitch Black 2020

Mains level : NA

Australia has informed India that their premier multilateral air combat training exercise Pitch Black 2020 scheduled in July has been cancelled due to the COVID-19 situation.

All-time generic question seeking ‘match the pairs’ can be asked from the news as such.  Click here for more exercises.

 Ex Pitch Black 2020

  • Exercise Pitch Black is a biennial warfare exercise hosted by the Royal Australian Air Force (RAAF).
  • The aim of the exercise is to practice Offensive Counter Air (OCA) and Defensive Counter Air (DCA) combat, in a simulated war environment.
  • In the last edition of Pitch Black in 2018, the IAF for the first time participated with its Su-30MKI fighters, one C-130 and one C-17 transport aircraft.
  • It provided a unique opportunity for an exchange of knowledge and experience with these nations in a dynamic warfare environment.
  • The next edition of Pitch Black is scheduled in 2022.

India’s defence relation with Australia

  • The defence and strategic engagement with Australia have steadily gone up in recent years especially on the bilateral front with naval cooperation at the forefront.
  • The bilateral naval exercise AUSINDEX early last year saw the participation of the largest Australian contingent ever to India with over 1,000 personnel.
  • The Mutual Logistics Support Agreement (MLSA) has been long pending and is expected to be concluded soon as well as a broader maritime cooperation agreement including the Maritime Domain Awareness (MDA) to elevate the existing strategic partnership.
  • Australia recently made a pitch for trilateral cooperation among India, Australia and Indonesia to identify new ways that our three countries can collaborate to be the best possible custodians of the Indian Ocean.