IASCLUB Daily Current Affairs : 26 June 2019

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Passports with advanced security features

Topic: GS –II: Governance

The government is on its way to integrate all the diplomatic missions and posts into the Passport Seva Project shortly.

More in news:

  • On the occasion of the Passport Seva Divas, External Affairs Minister Dr. S. Jaishankar said India would soon deliver passport booklets with advanced security features.
  • At present we have 505 Passport Seva Kendras of which 412 were Post Office Passport Seva Kendras.
  • Passport booklets will produced at the India Security Press, Nashik. They would have chips installed for security.
  • The Passport Seva Project had been issuing one crore passports a every year, according to the government.

Modi, Xi and Putin to have trilateral summit at G-20

Topic: GS –II: International relations

China confirmed that Prime Minister Narendra Modi, Chinese President Xi Jinping and his Russian counterpart Vladimir Putin will hold their second trilateral summit in Osaka, Japan, during the G-20 summit later this week.

More in news:

  • the two-day G-20 summit begins on June 28,
  • The top-level trilateral mechanism of Russia, India and China (RIC) had now become institutionalized.
  • Last year, during the Buenos Aires G-20 summit, the leaders had a meeting. And this time, given the current international landscape, the meeting of the three leaders is also of great significance.
  • The trio will meet again in September in Vladivostok for the Eastern Economic Forum, where Mr. Modi will be the chief guest.

Parliament voting: Ayes vs noes

Topic: GS –II: Constitution and Polity

All decisions in Parliament are taken by voting by MPs, whether it relates to extending working hours or passing a Bill.

Voice vote & division

  • Voice voting is the preferred method of decision making by Indian Parliament. MPs in favour of a decision call out “Ayes” and those opposed say “Noes”. The Speaker then takes a call on which voices were louder and conveys the decision of the House. The rules of procedure of Lok Sabha do not mandate recording of votes of MPs for every decision Voice voting does not reveal the individual positions taken by MPs.
  • MPs also have the right to ask for the vote of every MP to be recorded. This is called a division. MPs can vote in favour, oppose or abstain from the vote.
  • Recording of votes is also mandated when there is a constitutional requirement for a special majority of Parliament (for example a constitutional amendment), or after a no-confidence motion. However, MPs do not exercise their right for asking for recoding of votes very frequently. In each of the last three Lok Sabhas, there have been less than 50 occasions when votes of MPs have been recorded.
  • The first recorded vote (division) in Lok Sabha took place on the second day of its sitting in 1952.

Manual & electronic

  • The manual process of voting was inefficient and consumed a lot of time of the legislature. The West Bengal Legislative Assembly was the first to tackle this problem, by installing an electronic vote recording machine. The Speaker held the controls to the entire process, and the results were visible almost instantaneously on a display board.
  • In 1957, at the beginning of the second Lok Sabha, Parliament adopted a similar electronic vote counting system. Because of the proximity in the seating of MPs in Parliament, the system was designed in such a way that MPs had to use both their hands while voting. The idea being that MPs should not be able to press the voting buttons of their colleagues who might not be present for the vote.
  • Before the new voting machine could be put to use, a problem was highlighted to the Speaker. One of the MPs was differently-abled and had only one hand, and the machine required use of both hands. The solution provided by the Speaker was that an officer of the House would help the MP vote. In this instance, much to Speaker’s displeasure, rather than wait for the officer’s assistance, fellow legislators helped the MP cast his vote.
  • In most mature democracies, recorded voting is the preferred mechanism for decision making by Parliament. In India, the anti-defection law has led to limiting the use of recorded voting in Parliament.

Data protection debate

Topic: GS -III: Economic Development

The IT Ministry’s Bill on data protection is scheduled to be introduced in Parliament during the current session. Worldwide, the data flow debate is playing out at the World Trade Organisation (WTO) and G20.

Why is data valuable?

  • Data is any collection of information that is stored in a way so computers can easily read it. These days, most people refer to data to mean information about their messages, social media posts, online transactions, and browser searches. Big data refers to the immense amount of data that can now be collected, stored, and analysed to find patterns.
  • This large collection of information about people’s online habits has become an important source of profits. Your online activity can expose a lot about who you are, and companies find it valuable to use the information to target advertisements to you. Governments and political parties have also gained interest in these data sets for elections and policymaking.

What exactly about data laws are countries debating?

  • Data is stored in a physical space, like a file cabinet that can be the size of the Taj Mahal. Data is also transported across country borders physically, traveling through underwater cables that run as deep as Mount Everest and as long as four times the span of the Indian Ocean. Thirdly, just as oil is refined, data has to be processed to be useful. This means it is analysed by computers.
  • These aspects of data flows — where it is stored, where it is sent, where it is turned into something useful — determines who has access to the data, who profits off the data, who taxes the data, and who “owns” the data.
  • With these questions in mind, individual governments are developing their own domestic rules and negotiating with each other on a global stage, raising values of national security, economic growth, and privacy.

India’s domestic policy on data

  • India’s recent drafts and statements have strong signals for data localisation, which means that data of Indians (even if collected by an American company) must be stored and processed in India.
  • Along with a Reserve Bank of India directive to payment companies to localise financial data, the Ministry of Commerce’s draft e-commerce policy from February is currently in public consultation. The IT Ministry has drafted a data protection law that will be introduced in Parliament and has also framed draft intermediary rules that were leaked in December.
  • These laws, broadly speaking, could require Facebook, Google, and Amazon to store and process in India information such as an Indian’s messages, searches, and purchases. In some cases, they restrict what type of data these companies can collect. In others, it requires only a copy of the data to be in the country. China has developed similar laws, which proponents say allow for a flourishing domestic economy of data centres and data processing by blocking foreign players out. This is why Indian companies, like Reliance and PayTM, usually support data localisation.
  • It will help law enforcement access the data. Currently, India has to use “mutual legal assistance treaties” (MLAT) with the US to get the data of Indians that are controlled by American companies.
  • It give more direct control over these companies, including the option to levy more taxes on them.
  • The government also argues for data localisation on the ground of national security, to prevent foreign surveillance and attacks.

Counter-arguments against data localisation

  • On the other side, the US government and companies want cross-border flow of data. It would allow companies to store the data of Indians in the most efficient place in the world.
  • Proponents of free flow of data worry that if all countries begin to protect their data, it may backfire on India’s own companies that seek global growth.
  • These laws could bring increased state surveillance, like India’s draft intermediary rules that would require WhatsApp to change its design to proactively filter messages.

Current happening at the global forums

  • Trade tensions worldwide are escalating, giving the data flow debate new relevance at the WTO and G20.
  • WTO member countries are negotiating rules about e-commerce, which is the buying and selling of goods and services online. Digital trade contributes more to global GDP than physical trade. India is one of the fastest growing markets, with e-commerce expecting to reach $1.2 trillion by 2021.
  • These laws raise questions about where companies can store, process, and transport data about transactions. In December 2017, a group of 71 WTO member countries, including the US, published a joint statement that marked the first large impetus to broaden e-commerce negotiations to the data flow debate. While other members like the European Union have joined since then, India has not joined this group.
  • In their proposals, the US and the EU have called to prohibit customs duties on online transactions while China and Pakistan have called for allowing them. The US has also recommended not having overly burdensome data standards nor localisation requirements, while the EU wants data localisation requirements.
  • From the G20 meeting in Tsukuba on June 8 and 9, the Ministerial Statement on Trade and Digital Economy championed cross-border flow of data. A principle titled “Data Free Flow with Trust” (DFFT) — supported by US, Japan, and Australia — is expected to be a significant talking point at the upcoming G20 summit.

Indian response

  • India submitted a November 2017 document opposing any WTO e-commerce negotiations.
  • In the recent G20 meeting, Commerce Minister explained India’s concern about playing catch-up in this technological frontier. “It is for this reason India does not, at this stage, support the (WTO) Joint Initiative on E-Commerce,” Goyal said. “We believe all nations should appreciate that the digital divide within and across nations is a serious impediment for developing countries to benefit from Digital Trade. Capacity constraints in developing countries, can be overcome, with timely support of training, and creation of digital infrastructure. This is important, for facilitating a level playing field, in the digital economy, for all countries to take equitable advantage of data free flows. Developing countries need time and policy space to build deepest understanding of the subject and formulate their own legal and regulatory framework before meaningfully engaging in e-commerce negotiations.”
  • On June 17, Goyal held an industry meeting to discuss the e-commerce draft policy and is currently collecting submissions. Along with the G20 summit on June 28 and 29, on the horizon are the 14th United Nation’s Internet Governance Forum next November and the World Summit on the Information Society Forum in March 2020.

Record temperatures

Topic: GS-III: Environment

Context:

Around the world, record temperatures have become more and more frequent in recent years. This month, Delhi reported its highest ever temperature of 48°C while Churu in Rajasthan crossed 50°C.

  • Last week, the United Nations’ World Meteorological Organization confirmed two very recent readings as being among the hottest on record globally — 53.9°C in Mitribah, Kuwait (2016) and 53.7°C in Turbat, Pakistan (2017). India’s highest ever, too, came as recently as May 19, 2016 — 51°C in Phalodi, Rajasthan.
  • Power and colleague Francois Delage have reported their findings in the journal Nature Climate Change.
  • This study has projected that the record-setting trend will continue for at least the next 20 years, and for longer unless measures are taken to reduce greenhouse gas emissions.
  • From the findings, it can be inferred that India too is projected to experience the frequent occurrence of unprecedented high temperatures over the next 20 years.

The big picture

  • Using 22 climate models from the world’s leading climate research centres, the new study projects temperature trends in two possible scenarios — high greenhouse gas emissions (called RCP8.5) and substantially reduced greenhouse gas emissions by 2020 (RCP2.6).
  • If the high-emissions scenario were to continue, the study found that by the end of the century, 58% of the Earth’s surface will likely witness at least one new monthly record temperature every year. In the low-emissions scenario, however, the likelihood would drop to 14%.

Projections for India

  • In the high-emissions scenario, the likelihood of setting at least one high monthly record in any given year varies regionally from 60% to 70% in the late 21st century, which is larger than the global average of 58%. In the low-emissions scenario, the likelihood of setting at least one high monthly record drops to approximately 15% over the whole country.
  • And if the projection is for frequent record temperatures over the next 20 years, after this, the frequency will increase if greenhouse gas emissions continue to rise or the frequency will fall if large and sustained cuts are made to global greenhouse gas emissions.

Why 20 years?

  • Although the study looks at the benefits of reducing global greenhouse emissions by the end of the 21st century, these benefits take more than 20 years to become clear. The likelihood of setting extreme temperature records is projected to remain at high levels for the next two decades.

Rest of world

  • The poorest countries are projected to witness the highest pace at which records are set, and the greatest benefits from reducing emissions on this pace. Approximately 68% of years will see records set in the world’s Least Developed Countries and in Small Island Developing States by the end of the century, whereas this figure is only 54% in wealthier nations, the study said.
  • The authors make a distinction between temperature records being “set” and “smashed”, using the latter for records being surpassed by a high amount. “Near the end of the century the likelihood of setting records that smash the records they replace by more than 1.0°C, “is eight times more likely if global greenhouse gas emissions are not markedly reduced, and are over twenty times more likely than would be the case if anthropogenic greenhouse gas emissions had not occurred at all.”

Punjab’s groundwater situation

Topic: GS -III: Economic Development

After ushering in the era of the Green Revolution and filling granaries of the Union government by over-exploiting its water for irrigation, Punjab is faced with the challenge of saving its underground water aquifers.

What is the situation vis-a-vis underground water in Punjab?

  • According to the state’s own report on the underground water situation, there is over-exploitation of groundwater to meet the agriculture requirements of the state. It says that about 79 percent area of the state is over-exploited. Of 138 blocks, 109 blocks are “over-exploited”, two blocks are “critical” five blocks are “semi-critical” while only 22 blocks are in “safe” category.

What amounts to the major drain on water resources?

  • The agriculture tube wells are a major factor. While groundwater is being over-exploited to meet the ever-increasing demands of water for diverse purposes — intensive irrigation, drinking, industry, power generation — tube wells get the blame for the situation. At the time of the introduction of the Green Revolution in the mid-sixties, the number of tube wells increased from 50,000 to above 70,000 in the early eighties. It went up to about 10.70 lakh in 2001 and then 11.80 lakh in the year 2005-06. In the year 2012-13, there were approximately 12 lakh tube wells according to the 5th Minor Irrigation Census Report. The state now puts the number at 14 lakh.

Free power supply for indiscriminate use of groundwater

  • It is often argued that tube wells have an auto-start switch. They turn on as soon as power is supplied and pump water even if it is not required. Various agriculture experts scoff at the free power supply saying it is making the state lose its precious resource.

How is paddy to blame?

  • On average, there are 34 tube wells per sq. km of net sown area in Punjab. The state policy of free power for agriculture in combination with central policy favorable to paddy cultivation has ended up in indiscriminate use of groundwater. The situation has reached a critical stage and a shift from existing practices is necessary to ensure that the next generation has adequate natural resources for its use. Experts suggest a dire need to diversify.

By when Punjab is feared to face water crisis?

  • As per a government report, groundwater resources are likely to be used up by the year 2039. Thereafter, only annual replenishable resources will be available.

Water quality

  • Lowering of water table coupled with the increased use of fertilizers and pesticides is causing water quality deterioration in surface and groundwater resources. Groundwater at shallow depth is largely contaminated due to surface water pollution.

NASA’s Curiosity

Topic: GS -III: Science and Technology

Context:

  • NASA Curiosity’s Sample Analysis at Mars (SAM) has detected the highest ever levels of methane in the course of its mission on Mars, an exciting discovery because the gas could point to the existence of microbial life.

Curiosity:

  • Curiosity is a car-sized rover designed to explore the crater Gale on Mars as part of NASA’s Mars Science Laboratory mission (MSL).
  • Curiosity was launched from Cape Canaveral on November 26, 2011.
  • The rover’s goals include an investigation of the Martian climate and geology; assessment of whether the selected field site inside Gale has ever offered environmental conditions favorable for microbial life, including investigation of the role of water; and planetary habitability studies in preparation for human exploration.
  • In December 2012, Curiosity’s two-year mission was extended indefinitely, and on August 5, 2017, NASA celebrated the fifth anniversary of the Curiosity rover landing.

Editorial section:

Basic needs, basic rights – The Hindu

A war of masks between Iran and the U.S. – The Hindu

Down to two- The Hindu

Upgraded planes in tough skies – The Hindu

A sound foundation – The Hindu

 

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