9 PM Current Affairs Brief – January 9th, 2020

LIGO team detects second merger of two neutron stars

News: For the second time ever, the Laser Interferometer Gravitational-Wave Observatory (LIGO) has detected gravitational wave signals. The gravitational eave event is likely due to the collision of two neutron stars.

Facts:

Neutron Stars: Neutron stars are the remnants of giant stars that died in a fiery explosion known as a supernova. They have a mass of about 1.4 times that of the sun.

Gravitational waves:

  • Gravitational waves are ripples in space-time caused by massive objects (e.g. neutron stars or black holes) moving with extreme accelerations.
  • Albert Einstein predicted the existence of gravitational waves in 1916 in his general theory of relativity.
  • The first gravitational-wave detection of merging neutron stars was spotted by LIGO in 2017.

LIGO

  • LIGO is the world’s largest gravitational wave observatory.
  • It operates three gravitational-wave detectors: Two are at Hanford, USA, and one is at Livingston, USA.

Additional Information

LIGO India

  • It is a planned advanced gravitational-wave observatory and will be a part of the global network of LIGO Observatories.
  • LIGO India will come up, near Aundha in Hingoli district of Maharashtra
  • The project will be jointly funded by the Department of Atomic Energy (DAE) and the Department of Science & Technology (DST)

In a first, submarines of China, Pakistan rehearse in Arabian Sea

News: China and Pakistan are holding nine-day naval exercise in the northern Arabian Sea.

Facts:

  • The naval exercise has been named “Guardians of Sea”
  • It aims to enhance all-weather strategic partnership between China and Pakistan.

Additional Information:

  • The Arabian Sea region is strategically important for India as major ports including Kandla, Okha , Mumbai, Nhava Sheva (Navi Mumbai), Mormugão, New Mangalore, and Kochi are located there
  • Further, Arabian Sea provides entry to the Indian Ocean where China currently has built a logistics base at Djibouti in the Horn of Africa.

Lithium-sulphur battery

News: Researchers from Australia have claimed that they have developed the world’s most efficient lithium-sulphur (Li-S) battery.

Facts:

About lithium-sulphur (Li-S) battery

  • It is a type of rechargeable battery with lithium or lithium alloys as anodic material and sulphur as cathodic material.

Advantages:

  • lower cost of production due to use of sulphur,
  • capable of storing up to 10 times more energy than lithium-ion ones
  • energy efficient
  • improved safety

Disadvantages:

  • battery physically breaks apart under the stress from repeated charging and discharging of the battery

Additional Information:

Lithium- ion battery

  • It is a type of rechargeable battery which use an intercalated lithium compound as the material at the positive electrode and typically graphite at the negative electrode.
  • Lithium-ion batteries are commonly used for portable electronics, electric vehicles and in aerospace applications.

Advantages:

  • low maintenance
  • self-discharge is less
  • lithium-ion cells cause less harm when disposed

Disadvantages

  • Susceptibility to overheating
  • Prone to damage at high voltages
  • Start losing their capacity over time
  • High cost due to need for rare earths
  • safety hazard

Did you Know? John B. Goodenough, M. Stanley Whittingham and Akira Yoshino received Nobel Prize in Chemistry 2019 for the development of lithium-ion batteries.

Cabinet clears Ordinance to remove restrictions on coal block bidding

News: The Union Cabinet has approved the Promulgation of Mineral Laws (Amendment) Ordinance 2020

Facts:

  • It amends Mines and Minerals (Development and Regulation) Act 1957 and Coal Mines (Special Provisions) Act 2015.

Key features:

  • Allows companies that do not have coal mine operations in India to also participate in coal block auctions.
  • It provides for composite prospecting licence-cum-mining lease for coal and lignite blocks.

Significance:

  • access to high-end technology for underground mining used by global miners
  • Boost to production and mining efficiency
  • Less imports
  • assured coal supply
  • accountable allocation of coal
  • affordable fuel leading to affordable electricity prices for consumers

RBI gives in-principle nod to Shivalik Mercantile to convert to SFB

News: The Reserve Bank of India (RBI) granted in-principle approval to Uttar Pradesh-based Shivalik Mercantile Co-operative Bank Ltd to convert to a small finance bank (SFB).

Facts:

About Small Finance Banks

  • It is a private financial institution set up with the objective of financial inclusion.
  • They undertake basic banking activities of acceptance of deposits and lending to un-served and underserved sections such as small business units, small and marginal farmers, micro and small industries and unorganised sector entities.
  • Small Finance Banks were created in 2014.

Scope of Activities

What they can do? What they cannot do?
Take small deposits and disburse loans Lend to big corporates and groups
Distribute mutual funds, insurance products and other simple third-party financial products Cannot open branches with prior RBI approval for first five years
Lend 75% of their total adjusted net bank credit to priority sector Other financial activities of the promoter must not mingle with the bank
Maximum loan size would be 10% of capital funds to single borrower, 15% to a group It cannot set up subsidiaries to undertake non-banking financial services activities
Minimum 50% of loans should be up to 25 lakhs Cannot be a business correspondent of any bank

Additional Information:

Comparison between Payment Banks and Small Finance Banks

800 FPOs registered on Farmer Connect Portal of APEDA

News:Recently,800 Farmer Producer Organisations(FPOs) have registered on Farmer Connect Portal of Agricultural and Processed Food Products Export Development Authority(APEDA).

Facts:

About Farmer Connect Portal:

  • Farmer Connect Portal has been established by Agricultural and Processed Food Products Export Development Authority(APEDA) on it’s website.
  • The portal provides a platform for Farmer Producer Organisations (FPOs) and Farmer Producer Companies(FPCs) to interact with exporters.

Market Intelligence Cell:

  • A Market Intelligence Cell has also been set up by the Agricultural and Processed Food Products Export Development Authority(APEDA)
  • The cell aims to provide e-market intelligence reports comprising detailed market analysis, international trade issues, current scenario of the interest to Indian exporters in important markets and statistical information.

About APEDA:

  • APEDA was established by the Government of India under the Agricultural and Processed Food Products Export Development Authority Act passed by the Parliament in 1985.
  • It comes under the Ministry of Commerce and Industries,Government of India.
  • It is mandated with the responsibility of promotion and development of the export of agricultural and its allied products.
  • It also provides support to exporters to set up infrastructure like pack houses and cold storages.
  • It also helps exporters to exhibit their products in several national and international expos and exhibitions.

Operation Sankalp

News:Indian Navy had commenced Maritime Security Operations code named Operation SANKALP in the Gulf Region in Jun 2019 to ensure safe passage of Indian Flag Vessels transiting through the Strait of Hormuz.

Facts:

About Operation Sankalp:

  • Indian Navy had initiated ‘Operation Sankalp in the Persian Gulf and the Gulf of Oman as a measure to ensure the safety and security of Indian ships.
  • The operation was initiated in the aftermath of escalating tension in the Gulf of Oman where two oil tankers were attacked.Further,the tensions in the Middle East are again on the rise after the US had killed Iran’s major general Qasem Soleimani in a drone strike
  • Indian Navy Ships INS Chennai and INS Sunayna were deployed to undertake maritime security operations in the Gulf of Oman and the Gulf of Persia. 
  • Furthermore,Indian Naval aircraft aerial surveillance is also being carried out in the region.

About Persian Gulf:

  • Persian Gulf is also called as the Arabian Gulf.The Gulf is an extension of the Indian Ocean(Gulf of Oman) through the Strait of Hormuz and lies between Iran to the northeast and the Arabian Peninsula to the southwest.
  • It is bordered on the north, northeast and east by Iran, on the southeast and south by part of Oman and the United Arab Emirates; on the southwest and west by Qatar, Bahrain, and Saudi Arabia and on the northwest by Kuwait and Iraq.
  • The area has approximately two-thirds of the world’s estimated proven oil reserves and one-third of the world’s estimated proven natural gas reserves.
  • A considerable amount of sea trade passes through the gulf, leading to heavy traffic in the region.

About Gulf of Oman:

  • The Gulf of Oman or Sea of Oman is a gulf that connects the Arabian Sea with the Strait of Hormuz, which then connects to the Persian Gulf.
  • It borders Iran and Pakistan on the north,Oman on the south and the United Arab Emirates on the west.
  • It offers the only entrance from the Arabian Sea and the Indian Ocean into the Persian Gulf, thus the world’s major oil exporters and importers have a joint interest in its security.

Cabinet approves Memorandum of Understanding between India and Sweden on cooperation in Polar Science

News:Union Cabinet chaired by the Prime Minister has approved the Agreement on cooperation in polar science between India and Sweden.

Facts:

About the agreement:

  • The agreement between India and Sweden in polar science will enable sharing of the expertise available with both Countries.
  • The agreement becomes significant as both India and Sweden are signatories to the Antarctic Treaty and the Protocol to the Antarctic Treaty on Environmental Protection. 
  • Sweden is also one of the eight Arctic States and is one of the Member State in the Arctic Council whereas India has the Observer Status in the Arctic Council.

About Antarctic treaty:

  • The Antarctic Treaty was signed in Washington in 1959 by twelve countries whose scientists had been active in and around Antarctica during the International Geophysical Year (IGY) of 1957-58. 
  • The treaty entered into force in 1961 and has since been acceded to by many other nations.The total number of Parties to the Treaty is now 54.
  • The important provisions of the treaty are (a)Antarctica shall be used for peaceful purposes only (b)Freedom of scientific investigation in Antarctica and cooperation shall continue and (c)Scientific observations and results from Antarctica shall be exchanged and made freely available.

About Protocol on Environmental Protection to the Antarctic Treaty:

  • The Protocol on Environmental Protection to the Antarctic Treaty was signed in Madrid in 1991 and entered into force in 1998. 
  • It designates Antarctica as a natural reserve, devoted to peace and science.It sets forth basic principles applicable to human activities in Antarctica.
  • The treaty prohibits all activities relating to Antarctic mineral resources, except for scientific research.

About Arctic Council:

  • Arctic Council was formally established in 1996 by The Ottawa Declaration.
  • It is an intergovernmental forum for promoting cooperation, coordination and interaction among the Arctic States.
  • The members of the Arctic Council include (a)Canada (b)Denmark, (c)Finland (d)Iceland (e)Norway (f)Russia (g)Sweden and (h)United States.In addition, six organizations representing Arctic indigenous peoples have status as Permanent Participants.
  • Further,Observer status in the Arctic Council is open to non-Arctic states. Besides India,12 other nations, including China, France, Germany, Japan, UK, Switzerland and the Netherlands have the observer status.

Explained: Who was Ashfaqullah Khan, and why did the British hang him?

News:Recently,Uttar Pradesh government has announced that it will build a 121-acre zoo named after Ashfaqullah Khan.

Facts:

About Ashfaqullah Khan:

  • Ashfaqulla Khan (1900 – 1927) was a freedom fighter in the Indian independence movement.He was born in Shahjahanpur, Uttar Pradesh.
  • In 1920,Mahatma Gandhi had launched his Non-cooperation movement against the British rule in India. 
  • But after the Chauri Chaura incident in 1922,Mahatma Gandhi decided to withdraw the call for this movement. 
  • At that point, many young people including Ashfaqulla Khan became revolutionaries and turned to organisations like Hindustan Socialist Republican Association.

Kakori Conspiracy case:

  • The Kakori train robbery was a conspiracy against the British Empire to help Indian freedom fighters achieve freedom as soon as possible.
  • The robbery was carried out by the Hindustan Republic Association in the Kakori town of the United Provinces (now Uttar Pradesh) on 9 August 1925.
  • The Hindustan Republican Association(HRA) was a revolutionary party formed in 1924 by a youth group of the Indian National Congress disgruntled over Mahatma Gandhi’s sudden call to stop the non-cooperation movement.
  • The main freedom fighters arrested for their involvement in the Kakori conspiracy case were Ram Prasad Bismil, Ashfaqulla Khan, Roshan Singh, Chandrasekhar Azad among others.
  • During the trial,Ram Prasad Bismil, Thakur Roshan Singh, Rajendra Nath Lahiri and Ashfaqullah Khan were given death sentences and others were given life imprisonment.

Avalanche warning issued for Leh, Ladakh

News:Snow and Avalanche Study Establishment (SASE) has issued an Avalanche warning to Leh in Ladakh region.

Facts:

About Avalanche:

  • Avalanche is a mass of snow, often mixed with ice and debris which travels down mountain sides destroying everything in its path.
  • It is caused when the force of gravity on the snow cover exceeds its mechanical strength. 
  • The necessary factors for an avalanche are (a) snow cover (b) a weak layer in the snow cover (c) a trigger to initiate movement and d) steep slope. 
  • Jammu & Kashmir, Himachal Pradesh and Uttarakhand are among the most avalanche vulnerable regions in India. 

Types of Avalanche:

  • Powder avalanche:This type of avalanche is a fast moving, very destructive avalanche.These avalanches can travel up to 160 kilometers per hour or 100 miles per hour.Powder avalanches are usually triggered by something small, such as a piece of ice or a rock.
  • Wet avalanche:These avalanches are slow-moving and consist of snow, ice, rock and other material.These avalanches look like slow-moving water but have enormous force behind them.
  • Slab avalanches:These avalanches occur when a slab of snow breaks free and flows down a slope.This type of avalanche is usually triggered by humans and therefore causes the most fatalities.

About Snow and Avalanche Study Establishment(SASE):

  • The responsibility of dealing with the different aspects of avalanches rests with the Snow and Avalanche Study Establishment (SASE).
  • SASE is a laboratory of the Defence Research and Development Organization(DRDO).It is located near Manali, Himachal Pradesh.
  • Its primary function is research in the field of snow and avalanches to provide avalanche control measures and forecasting support to Armed forces. 

Indian Army begins work on GOCO Model

News:Indian Army has began its work on the GOCO (Government Owned Contractor Operated) Model.

Facts:

About GOCO Model:

  • The GOCO model was one of the recommendations of the Lt. Gen. DB Shekatkar (Retd.) committee to enhance combat capability and re-balancing defence expenditure.
  • In GOCO model, the assets owned by government will be operated by the private industries.
  • The Private companies need not make investments on land, machinery and other support systems.
  • The missions are set by government and the private sectors are given full independence in implementing the missions using their best practices.

Significance of the model:

  • The main advantage of the model is that the targets are achieved in lesser time frame.
  • It will also boost the competitiveness among the private entities.
  • It also helps in reducing government expenditure on armed forces and increase combat capability of the army.

Cabinet approves agreement between India and Mongolia on Cooperation in the Exploration and Uses of Outer Space

News:Cabinet approves agreement between India and Mongolia on Cooperation in the Exploration and Uses of Outer Space for Peaceful and Civilian Purposes.

Facts:

India-Mongolia outer space cooperation agreement:

  • The Union Cabinet has approved an agreement between India and Mongolia on cooperation in the exploration and uses of outer space for peaceful and civilian purposes.
  • The agreement enables the countries to pursue research in planetary exploration, space system and application of space technology. 
  • The plan is to set up a Joint Working Group by drawing members from ISRO (Indian Space Research Organisation), DOS (Department of Space). Communications and Information Technology Authority(CITA) of Mongolia. 
  • The finances for the project are to be approved by the countries in stage-by-stage basis.

Additional information:

India-Mongolia Relations:

  • India has established diplomatic relations with Mongolia in December 1955.
  • Mongolia along with India and Bhutan co-sponsored famous UN Resolution for the recognition of Bangladesh as an independent country in 1972.
  • The first-ever visit by Indian Prime Minister to Mongolia was in 2015 to mark the 60th anniversary of the establishment of diplomatic relations between India and Mongolia.
  • During the visit,Indian PM had announced a credit line of US$1 billion for infrastructure sector in Mongolia.This is currently being utilized by Mongolia to build a first oil refinery.
  • Mongolia is one of the 29 resource rich developing countries in the world according to the International Monetary Fund. 
  • In 2018, India exported 51.6 million USD of goods to Mongolia and imported goods with 1 million USD.However,this is very little as compared to that of its neighbours China and Soviet Union.

Govt issues revised norms for mutual legal assistance in criminal matters with other nations

News:Government has revised guidelines for seeking assistance from foreign countries under the Mutual Legal Assistance Treaty(MLAT).

Facts:

About the guidelines:

  • These guidelines were made in the backdrop of complaints against the bureaucratic delays in the Ministry of Home Affairs(MHA) on MLAT issues.
  • The guidelines have provisions for service of documents to authorities of foreign country preferably within ten days of receipt of request in respect of offences committed against women and children.

About Mutual Legal Assistance Treaty(MLAT):

  • A mutual legal assistance treaty (MLAT) is an agreement between two or more countries for the purpose of gathering and exchanging information in an effort to enforce public or criminal laws.
  • MLATs can be bilateral (country to country), multilateral, regional (any regional grouping example ASEAN) and country to regional (India with all the countries of European Union).
  • This assistance may take the form of (a)examining and identifying people (b)places and things (c)custodial transfers and (d)providing assistance with the immobilisation of the instruments of criminal activity.
  • Ministry of Home Affairs (MHA) is the nodal Ministry and the Central authority for seeking and providing mutual legal assistance in criminal law matters.
  • Currently,India has Mutual Legal Assistance Treaties(MLAT) with 42 countries and is signatory to various International Conventions for cooperation in criminal matters.

Explained: What is Epiphany festival

News:Recently,the Epiphany festival has been celebrated in parts of India such as Goa and Kerala.

Facts:

About Epiphany festival:

  • Epiphany is a feast day or a day of commemoration.It is among the three oldest and major festival days in Christianity.The two others being Christmas and Easter.
  • This festival is celebrated in Christianity to mark the visit of the Magi (meaning the Three Wise Men or Three Kings) to the Infant Jesus (Christ from his nativity until age 12).
  • This day also commemorates the baptism of Jesus in the Jordan River.
  • In Goa, the celebration is known by its Portuguese name ‘Festa dos Reis’ and in parts of Kerala by its Syriac name ‘Denha’.

Additional information:

Easter Festival:Easter is a Christian festival.The day marks the resurrection of Jesus Christ after he rose from the dead.

CCI Releases ‘Market Study on E-commerce in India’

News:The Competition Commission of India(CCI) has released a Report titled ‘Market Study on E-commerce in India: Key Findings and Observations’.

Facts:

Key takeaways from the study:

  • The E-Commerce Sector was established in 2009.However, the sector gained momentum in 2014. 
  • In 2017, the sector held 3,500 million USD investment.There are around 4757 E-commerce start-ups in India today in 2019.
  • The revenue from the E-Commerce sector is growing at the rate of around 51%. 
  • In July 2018, the number of online transactions in the E-Commerce sector was 1 million to 1.2 million per day.

Problems in the E-Commerce Sector:

  • Deep Discounting:The study said that in e-commerce platforms,deep discounting was the key factor influencing competition.The discounts are so high that it impairs the ability of brick and mortar players to compete in the market.
  • Contract Terms:The study has also found that online platforms exercised superior bargaining position by imposing unfair contract terms on sellers.
  • Data Collection:There is also a lack of transparency on the data that is collected on the platforms and shared with third-party entities.
  • Manipulation:The study has also noted that there are three elements which are susceptible to manipulation by E-commerce platforms namely the search results, sellers’/service providers’ data and user review/rating mechanisms.

Recommendations to E-commerce Companies:

  • To reduce information symmetry and increase transparency.This will increase competition among the stakeholders
  • To set out terms and conditions that will prevent the business users from influencing search ranking. 
  • To set up a transparent policy on data collection of customers, product rating policies.

Additional information:

About Competition Commission of India:

  • Competition Commission of India is a statutory body of the Government of India established in 2003.
  • The commission is responsible for enforcing the Competition Act,2002 throughout India and to prevent activities that have an appreciable adverse effect on competition in India.
  • CCI consists of a Chairperson and 6 Members appointed by the Central Government.
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