Daily Current Affairs for UPSC CSE
- India’s 1996 proposal for a “Comprehensive Convention on International Terrorism” (CCIT)
- Gene therapy and cancer cure
- UNESCO Convention of 1970
- World Bank report on air pollution
- Admissibility of circumstantial evidence in case of bribe by public sevants
- Fusion Energy Breakthrough
- Facts for Prelims
1 . Comprehensive Convention on International Terrorism (CCIT)
Context: India is expected to raise its issues with cross-border terror attacks, call for the prosecution and conviction of those responsible for the Mumbai 26/11 terror attacks, as well as its demand that the UN adopts India’s 1996 proposal for a “Comprehensive Convention on International Terrorism” (CCIT) at UN Security Council meeting on terrorism.
- The Comprehensive Convention on International Terrorism (CCIT) is a proposed treaty which intends to criminalize all forms of international terrorism and deny terrorists, their financiers and supporters access to funds, arms, and safe havens.
- India has been pushing for the treaty consistently, particularly in the wake of the 2008 Mumbai attacks.
- The convention has been under negotiation by the United Nations General Assembly’s Ad Hoc Committee established by Resolution 51/210 of 17 December 1996 on Terrorism, but as of 2021 consensus has not yet been reached for the adoption of the convention.
- Although consensus has not yet been reached for the wording of the comprehensive terrorism convention, discussions have yielded three separate protocols that aim to tackle terrorism:
- International Convention for the Suppression of Terrorist Bombings, adopted on 15 December 1997;
- International Convention for the Suppression of the Financing of Terrorism, adopted on 9 December 1999; and
- International Convention for the Suppression of Acts of Nuclear Terrorism, adopted on 13 April 2005.
Objectives of CCIT
- The original draft that was tabled in 1996 and discussed until April 2013 included the following major objectives:
- To have a universal definition of terrorism that all 193-members of the UNGA will adopt into their own criminal law.
- To ban all terror groups and shut down terror camps.
- Deny safe haven to those who finance, plan, support, or commit terrorist acts.
- To prosecute all terrorists under a special law.
- Exchange information in accordance with international and domestic law and cooperate on administrative and judicial matters to prevent the commission of terrorist acts.
- To make cross-border terrorism an extraditable offence worldwide.
Why the deadlock?
- The negotiations of the Comprehensive Terrorism Convention are deadlocked because of differences over the definition of terrorism.
- The key sticking points in the draft treaty revolve around several controversial yet basic issues, including the definition of ‘terrorism’.
- For example, what distinguishes a “terrorist organisation” from a ‘liberation movement’?
- Organisation of Islamic Conference (OIC) has denied inclusion of liberation movement activities as terrorism, keeping in mind the Israel- Palestine conflict.
- The US and the allied countries who are involved in many counter-terrorism activities in various countries wanted the draft to exclude acts committed by military forces of states during peacetime. The Latin American countries want exactly the opposite.
- Hence, for the committee prescribing an overarching definition that satisfies all the parties is a bone of contention.
2 . Gene Therapy for Cancer Cure
Context: Scientists in the United Kingdom testing a new form of cancer therapy, reported success in a teenage girl, Alyssia, with a form of cancer called T-cell acute lymphoblastic leukaemia. Alyssia was the first person to receive experimental gene therapy that relied on a new technique called ‘base editing.’
About T-cell acute lymphoblastic leukaemia
- In this form of blood cancer, the T-cells, which are a class of white blood cells, equipped to hunt and neutralise threats to the body, turn against the body and end up destroying healthy cells that normally help with immunity.
- The disease is rapid and progressive and is usually treated by chemotherapy and radiation therapy.
About ‘Base Editing’
- Bases are the language of life. The four types of base – adenine (A), cytosine (C), guanine (G) and thymine (T) – are the building blocks of our genetic code.
- Just as letters in the alphabet spell out words that carry meaning, the billions of bases in our DNA spell out the instruction manual for our body.
- In Alyssia’s case, her T-cells — perhaps because of a mis-arrangement in the sequence of bases — had become cancerous.
- Base editing allows scientists to zoom to a precise part of the genetic code and then alter the molecular structure of just one base, converting it into another and changing the genetic instructions.
- In the last two decades, the world of biomedical engineering has been enthused by a technique that allow genes to be altered and errors ‘fixed.’ The most popular among these approaches has been the CRISPR-cas9 system.
- Inspired by how certain bacteria defend themselves against viruses, by snipping out and storing pieces of their genes, the CRISPR-Cas 9 system, consists of an enzyme that acts like molecular scissors.
- It can be made to cut a piece of DNA at a precise location and a guide RNA can be used to insert a changed genetic code at the sites of the incision.
- The CRISPR-cas9 system is believed to be the fast, most versatile system to effect gene editing.
Base-editing in Alyssia’s therapy
- The large team of doctors and scientists used base editing to engineer a new type of T-cell that was capable of hunting down and killing Alyssa’s cancerous T-cells.
- They started with healthy T-cells that came from a donor and set about modifying them.
- The first base edit disabled the T-cells targeting mechanism so they would not assault Alyssa’s body
- The second removed a chemical marking, called CD7, which is on all T-cells
- The third edit was an invisibility cloak that prevented the cells being killed by a chemotherapy drug
- The final stage of genetic modification instructed the T-cells to go hunting for anything with the CD7 marking on it so that it would destroy every T-cell in her body – including the cancerous ones.
- That’s why this marking has to be removed from the therapy – otherwise it would just destroy itself.
How effective was the treatment?
- Three months after the treatment, her cancer seemed to resurface but the most recent investigations suggest no signs of it.
- It has been 1.5 years since she was first diagnosed with the disease and whether the treatment has reliably and entirely fixed her immune system, remains to be established.
3 . UNESCO Convention of 1970
Context: The Idol Wing CID (IWCID) of the Tamil Nadu police successfully stopped the scheduled auctioning of a bronze idol of Nataraja by Christies.com, France by establishing the ownership as required under the UNESCO Convention of 1970.
About the Convention
- The UNESCO 1970 Convention on the Means of Prohibiting and Preventing the Illicit Import, Export and Transfer of Ownership of Cultural Property is an international treaty.
- The treaty, signed to combat the illegal trade in cultural items, was signed on 14 November 1970, and came into effect on 24 April 1972.
- It urges States Parties to take measures to prohibit and prevent the illicit trafficking of cultural property.
- It provides a common framework for the States Parties on the measures to be taken to prohibit and prevent the import, export and transfer of cultural property.
- The return and restitution of cultural property is central to the Convention and its duty is not only to remember but to fundamentally safeguard the identity of peoples and promote peaceful societies whereby the spirit of solidarity will be strengthened.
- Thus, the 1970 Convention is fully in line with the Sustainable Development Goals defined in the United Nations 2030 Agenda.
About Cultural Property
- Cultural property includes anything of scientific, historical, artistic, and or religious significance, as defined by Article I of the convention.
- However, every state can define its own cultural property, as long as it is an item of importance and within the categories defined in Article I.
- The Convention recommends the enforcement of the protection of cultural property in “three main pillars”, each being preventive measures, restitution provisions, and international cooperation.
- The first pillar, preventive measures, states that those signed to the treaty are to enforce the security and safety of cultural property, such as taking inventory, exportation certifications, monitoring of trade, and imposition of penal sanctions.
- The second pillar, restitution provisions, states that each sovereign state is to assist one another in the recuperation of stolen cultural property.
- The third pillar, international cooperation, is an attempt by the convention to strengthen international ties between signatories, and to provide assistance and cooperation with one another.
4 . World Bank Report on Air Pollution
Context: India has six large airsheds, some of them shared with Pakistan, between which air pollutants move. While existing measures by the government can reduce particulate matter, significant reduction is possible only if the territories spanning the airsheds implement coordinated policies, said a report by the World Bank made public recently.
- Using a modelling approach over South Asia as a whole, the report lays out multiple scenarios and the costs involved in reducing the average South Asian’s exposure to particulate matter.
- Currently over 60% of South Asians are exposed to an average 35 µg/m3 of PM2.5 annually.
- In some parts of the Indo-Gangetic Plain (IGP) it spiked to as much as 100 µg/m3 – nearly 20 times the upper limit of 5 µg/m3 recommended by the World Health Organisation.
6 Major Airheads
- The six major airsheds in South Asia where air quality in one affected the other were:
- (1) West/Central IGP that included Punjab (Pakistan), Punjab (India), Haryana, part of Rajasthan, Chandigarh, Delhi, Uttar Pradesh.
- 2) Central/Eastern IGP: Bihar, West Bengal, Jharkhand, Bangladesh;
- (3) Middle India: Odisha/Chhattisgarh;
- (4) Middle India: Eastern Gujarat/Western Maharashtra;
- (5) Northern/Central Indus River Plain: Pakistan, part of Afghanistan; and
- (6) Southern Indus Plain and further west: South Pakistan, Western Afghanistan extending into Eastern Iran.
Why coordinated policies by states required?
- When the wind direction was predominantly northwest to the southeast, 30% of the air pollution in Indian Punjab came from the Punjab Province in Pakistan
- On average, 30% of the air pollution in the largest cities of Bangladesh (Dhaka, Chittagong, and Khulna) originated in India. In some years, substantial pollution flowed in the other direction across borders.
- What this means is that even if Delhi National Capital Territory were to fully implement all air pollution control measures by 2030 while other parts of South Asia continued to follow current policies, it wouldn’t keep pollution exposure below 35 µg/m3.
- However if other parts of South Asia also adopted all feasible measures it would bring pollution below that number.
- Accounting for the interdependence in air quality within airsheds in South Asia is necessary when weighing alternative pathways for pollution control.
- The report analysed multiple scenarios to reduce air pollution with varying degrees of policy implementation and cooperation among countries.
- The most cost-effective one, which calls for full coordination between airsheds, would cut the average exposure of PM 2.5 in South Asia to 30 µg/m³ at a cost of $278 million (₹2,400 crore) per µg/mᶾ of reduced exposure, and save more than 7,50,000 lives annually.
Admissibility of circumstantial evidence in case of bribe by public servants-
Context: A Constitution Bench of the Supreme Court has held that the demand and acceptance of bribe or illegal gratification by a public servant can be inferred by a court on circumstantial proof in the absence of direct evidence.
Supreme Court remarks on corruption-
- The Bench said the stink of corruption has a pervasive impact on the efficient administration and governance of the country.
- Corrupt officials have a demoralising effect on honest public servants.
- Corruption by public servants has become a gigantic problem.
- Large-scale corruption retards nation-building activities and everyone has to suffer on that count.
- Corruption is corroding, like cancerous lymph nodes, the vital veins of the body politics, social fabric of efficiency in the public service and demoralising the honest officers.
About the judgement on bribes and circumstantial evidence-
- If a bribe-giver offers to pay illegal gratification without there being any demand from the public servant and the latter simply accepts the offer and receives the payment, it would be a case of “acceptance” under Section 7 of the PC Act.
- If the accused public servant makes a demand for a bribe and accepts the payment, it would be a case of “obtainment” and an offence under 13 (1)(d)(i) and (ii) of the PC Act.
- But both the offer by the bribe-giver and the demand and acceptance of the illegal gratification have to be effectively proved by the prosecution as a fact.
- In other words, mere acceptance and receipt of the illegal gratification without anything more would not make it an offence under Section 7 and 13 (1)(d)(i) and (ii) of the Act.
- A Court of law could use its discretion to make a “presumption of fact” of the offer made and bribe demanded or accepted by an accused official based on the material on record but there should be relevant evidence.
- The prosecution can prove its case of corruption with the help of any other witness, oral or documentary evidence or circumstantial evidence in cases in which the complainants have turned hostile. The trial would not abate or result in an acquittal.
About Circumstantial Evidence-
- Circumstantial evidence is resorted to when direct evidence is not available. Certain offences are committed in such places and manner that it is difficult to find any evidence.
- Circumstantial evidence is not to be confused with hearsay or secondary evidence.
- The circumstantial evidence is always direct and primary, i.e., the facts from which the existence of the fact-in-issue is to be inferred must be proved by direct evidence.
Section 7 in The Prevention of Corruption Act, 1988-
- Section 7 in the Prevention of Corruption Act, 1988 talks about Public servant taking gratification other than legal remuneration in respect of an official act.
- Whoever, being, or expecting to be a public servant, accepts or obtains or agrees to accept or attempts to obtain from any person, for himself or for any other person, any gratification whatever, other than legal remuneration, shall be punishable with imprisonment which shall be not less than six months but which may extend to five years and shall also be liable to fine.
7 . Nuclear Fusion Energy Breakthrough
Context: U.S. government officials announced on December 13 that a federal facility had achieved a significant milestone in nuclear fusion research.
About nuclear fusion
- Nuclear fusion is defined as the combining of several small nuclei into one large nucleus with the subsequent release of huge amounts of energy.
- Nuclear fusion powers our sun and harnessing this fusion energy could provide an unlimited amount of renewable energy. The 2018 book Comprehensive Energy Systems notes: “Nuclear fusion energy is a good choice as the baseload energy in the future with many advantages, such as inexhaustibility of resources, inherent safety, no long-lived radioactive wastes, and almost no CO2 emissions.
- The nuclear energy currently in use across the world comes from the fission process, in which the nucleus of a heavier element is split into those of lighter elements in a controlled manner. In fusion, nuclei of two lighter elements are made to fuse together to form the nucleus of a heavier atom.
- A large amount of energy is released in both these processes, but substantially more in fusion than fission. For example, the fusion of two nuclei of a heavier isotope of hydrogen, called tritium, produces at least four times as much energy as the fission of a uranium atom which is the normal process of generating electricity in a nuclear reactor. Besides greater energy yield, fusion is also a carbon-free source of energy, and has negligible radiation risks.
- But fusion reactions happen only at very high temperatures, 10 times the temperature that exists at the core of the Sun, and creating such an extreme environment in a laboratory requires huge amounts of energy. So far, the energy released in such experimental fusion reactions have been lower than what is consumed to create the enabling high temperatures. At best, some of these reactions have produced ‘near break-even’ energies. That is why the latest experiment conducted at the Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory in California is being considered a big deal.
About the Experiment
- National Ignition Facility (NIF) at the Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory (LLNL), California, had conducted a fusion test recently that produced 153% as much energy as went into triggering it.
- NIF uses powerful lasers to heat and compress hydrogen nuclei.
- When the nuclei fuse, they release heat.
- When this heat is equal to or greater than the heat delivered to the container, the event is called ignition.
- The ratio of the output energy to the input delivered to the container is the gain.
- A gain of 1 is called ‘scientific breakeven’ – “an important milestone in the development of fusion energy because it signifies that very significant (but not all) plasma-physics challenges have been retired.
- NIF has reportedly achieved ignition with a gain of 1.53 with a yield of 3 megajoules.
- The recent results from the NIF are a major achievement on the road to fusion energy.
Inertial confinement fusion
- Magnetic confinement and inertial confinement are two popular ways to achieve nuclear fusion.
- Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory used a process called inertial confinement fusion for the experiment.
- It involves bombarding a tiny pellet of hydrogen plasma with the world’s biggest laser.
- In NIF’s setup, 192 high-power lasers fire pulses at a 2-mm-wide capsule inside a 1-cm-long cylinder called a hohlraum, in less than 10 billionths of a second.
- The capsule holds deuterium and tritium atoms.
- As the pulses strike the hohlraum’s insides, the latter heats up and releases X-rays, which heat the nuclei to millions of degrees centigrade and compress them to billions of Earth-atmospheres.
- The high temperature is required to energise the positively charged nuclei to overcome their mutual repulsion.
- The technique is called inertial confinement because the nuclei’s inertia creates a short window between implosion and explosion in which the strong nuclear force dominates, fusing the nuclei.
- The total mass of the final helium nucleus is lower than the masses of the fusing hydrogen nuclei.
About burning plasma-
- For fusion reactions to be sustainable, the energy released by the initial reaction needs to set the stage for more reactions. To this end, NIF’s goal has been to create a “burning plasma”.
- “Burning plasma” is created when nuclei are encouraged to fuse not by the external heat source but by the heat of other fusion reactions.
- NIF achieved this in 2021.
- In August 2022, the facility reported it had produced a burning plasma that met the Lawson criterion: the heat generated was sufficient to potentially trigger other fusion reactions as well as offset heat loss during the reaction.
Significance of the breakthrough-
- NIF’s achievement is significant in the evolving story of inertial confinement.
- Fusion produces more energy than it consumes.
- The reaction also doesn’t produce environmentally deadly waste like nuclear fission does.
- This is why it’s so lucrative as a power source.
- Requirement of huge energy: Fusion reactions happen only at very high temperatures which is 10 times the temperature that exists at the core of the Sun and creating such an extreme environment in a laboratory requires huge amounts of energy.
- Lower energy in these experiments: The energy released in such experimental fusion reactions have been lower than what is consumed to create the enabling high temperatures.
- Future potential: Use of the fusion process for generating electricity at a commercial scale is still two to three decades away.
- Shorter time for the experiment: The fusion reactions currently being run in labs last for barely a few seconds. Those based on laser beams run for even shorter times. It is difficult to sustain such extreme high temperatures for prolonged periods.
8 . Facts for Prelims
- The Patriot is a surface-to-air guided missile system that was first deployed in the 1980s and can target aircraft, cruise missiles and shorter-range ballistic missiles.
- Each Patriot battery consists of a truck-mounted launching system with eight launchers that can hold up to four missile interceptors each, a ground radar, a control station and a generator.
- The U.S. batteries are regularly deployed around the world.
- In addition, Patriots also are operated or being purchased by the Netherlands, Germany, Japan, Israel, Saudi Arabia, Kuwait, Taiwan, Greece, Spain, South Korea, the United Arab Emirates, Qatar, Romania, Sweden, Poland and Bahrain.
- A Patriot battery can need as many as 90 troops to operate and maintain it. It is also very costly which restricts its usage against small missiles.
- One Patriot battery has a long firing range, but can cover only a limited broad area.
Central inventory control group (CICG)-
- CICG is an automated centralised database which has been created to mitigate issues of prcourement and issuing of essential items to Army personnel.
- The Public Accounts Committee (PAC), in its 55th report on “Provisioning, procurement and issue of High Altitude Clothing, Equipment, Ration and Housing”, has said that all efforts should be made to fully implement Phase III of the Central Inventory Control Group (CICG) for effective inventory management and procurement. On completion of Phase III, computerisation of all India inventory visibility will be achieved.
- Phase III is at the grant of Acceptance of Necessity (AoN) stage; its roll-out is expected to commence 16 months after the AoN is accorded and is to be deployed fully in the subsequent 24 months thereafter.
Public Accounts Committee-
- The Public Accounts Committee was introduced in 1921 after its first mention in the Government of India Act, 1919 also called Montford Reforms.
- It s one of the three Financial Parliamentary committees, the other two are the Estimates Committee and the Committee on Public Undertakings.
- PAC is now constituted every year under Rule 308 of the Rules of Procedure and Conduct of Business in Lok Sabha.
- The Chairman of the Committee is appointed by the Speaker of Lok Sabha.
- It presently comprises 22 members (15 members elected by the Lok Sabha Speaker, and 7 members elected by the Rajya Sabha Chairman) with a term of one year only.
- It was framed with the purpose of ascertaining whether money granted to the Government by the Parliament has been spent by the former within the scope of demand or not.
- The PAC restricts any Minister from being elected as a member of it.
- Its role is only advisory in nature.
National Security Council Secretariat (NSCS)-
- It is the headquarters of National Security Council of India.
- The National Security Council (NSC) of India is an executive government agency tasked with advising the Prime Minister’s Office on matters of national security and strategic interest.
- It was established by the former Prime Minister of India Atal Bihari Vajpayee in 1998, with Brajesh Mishra as the first National Security Advisor.
- Prior to the formation of the NSC, these activities were overseen by the Principal Secretary to the preceding Prime Minister.
- Besides the National Security Advisor (NSA), Chief of Defence Staff (CDS), the Deputy National Security Advisors, the Ministers of Defence, External Affairs, Home, Finance of the Government of India, and the Vice Chairman of the NITI Aayog are members of the National Security Council.
- Recently National Security Council Secretariat (NSCS) has formulated a draft National Cyber Security Strategy, which holistically looks at addressing the issue of security of national cyberspace.
- It is a wooden dhow (ship / sailing boat / sailing vessel) handcrafted by skilled artisans and carpenters in Beypore, Kerala.
- The Khalasis are the traditional artisans responsible for the manufacture of the Uru.
- They are also referred to as Mappila Khalasis as majority of them are Mappila Muslims.
- The Khalasis are considered as pioneers in the ship-building industry and the Arab traders were especially enamoured of them, and were among the first major patrons of these vessels.
- The Beypore Urus are purely made of premium wood, without using any modern techniques.
- The wood used to build the Uru is still sawed the traditional way which requires immense expertise.
- It takes anywhere between 1-4 years to build each Uru and the entire process is done manually.
- These ships have been in demand for over 1500 years.
- Recently, the District Tourism Promotion Council, Kozhikode has applied for a Geographical Indication (GI) tag for Beypore Uru.
- Zero Hour is an Indian parliamentary innovation. The phrase does not find mention in the rules of procedure.
- The concept of Zero Hour started organically in the first decade of Indian Parliament, when MPs felt the need for raising important constituency and national issues.
- During the initial days, Parliament used to break for lunch at 1 pm.
- Therefore, the opportunity for MPs to raise national issues without an advance notice became available at 12 pm and could last for an hour until the House adjourned for lunch.
- This led to the hour being popularly referred to as Zero Hour and the issues being raised during this time as Zero Hour submissions.
- Over the years, presiding officers of both Houses have given directions to streamline the working of Zero Hour to make it even more effective.
- Its importance can be gauged from the support it receives from citizens, media, MPs and presiding officers despite not being part of the rulebook.
- India Ratings and Research (Ind-Ra) is India’s most respected credit rating agency committed to providing India’s credit markets accurate, timely and prospective credit opinions.
- Ind-Ra currently maintains coverage of corporate issuers, financial institutions (including banks and insurance companies), finance and leasing companies, managed funds, urban local bodies, and structured finance and project finance companies.
- Headquartered in Mumbai, Ind-Ra has seven branch offices located in Ahmedabad, Bengaluru, Chennai, Delhi, Hyderabad, Kolkata and Pune.
- Ind-Ra is recognised by the Securities and Exchange Board of India and Reserve Bank of India.
- Ind-Ra is a 100% owned subsidiary of the Fitch Group.