Current Affairs 21st October

Pandemic fuelled rise in child sexual abuse online: report #GS2 #SocialIssues

The Global Threat Assessment report 2021, by WeProtect Global Alliance, launched on Tuesday, said COVID-19 had contributed to a significant spike in child sexual exploitation and abuse online.

WeProtect Global Alliance is a global movement of more than 200 governments, private sector companies and civil society organisations working toge- ther to transform the global response to child sexual exploitation and abuse online.

The report was a meta study that distils findings from multiple international studies on the issue. The findings show that in the past two years, the reporting of child sexual exploitation and online abuse has reached its highest level. “COVID-19 created a ‘perfect storm’ of conditions that fuelled a rise in child sexual exploitation and abuse across the globe,” it stated.

“This sustained growth is outstripping our global capacity to respond. Child sexual abuse remains a chronically underfunded issue,” said Iain Drennan, executive director, and Ernie Allen, chair, WeProtect Global Alliance, in their foreword.

The rise in child ‘self-generated’ sexual material is another trend that challenges the existing response, with the Internet Watch Foundation observing a 77% increase in child ‘self-generated’ sexual material from 2019 to 2020.

As part of the report, a global study of childhood experiences of more than 5,000 young adults (aged 18 to 20) across 54 countries was done by Economist Impact. About 54 % of the respondents had experienced at least one online sexual harm incident during childhood. More than a third of respondents (34%) had been asked to do something sexually explicit online they were uncomfortable with during their childhood.

Respondents who identified as transgender/non-binary, LGBQ+ and/or disabled were more likely to experience online sexual harms during childhood, it said. The report also featured a survey of technology companies that showed most were using tools to detect child sexual abuse material, but only 37% currently use tools to detect online grooming.

During the pandemic, the National Center for Missing and Exploited Children (NCMEC) indicated 106% increase in reports of suspected child sexual exploitation to its global CyberTipline. During the lockdown, there was a 95% rise in searches for child sexual abuse material, the NCMEC reported.

The report calls for prioritising prevention activities against abuse, creating safe online environments for children, besides calling on all with a role to protect children to work together to improve the response.

Army strengthens firepower along the LAC #GS3 #Defence

The Army has significantly augmented its firepower along the 1300-km-long Line of Actual Control (LAC) in the Eastern Sector, while also beefing up overall defences in the region, especially in the Tawang sector, by integrating various services in real time through automation.

This includes upgraded L-70 air defence guns, M777 Ultra Light Howitzers, and automated and electronic fusion of Bofors and other artillery guns deployed along the LAC.

The Army has set up “integrated defended localities” at several locations along the LAC. These integrate various arms of the Army such as infantry, engineers, artillery, air defence, aviation and also the fighter aircraft of the Air Force, to respond to any threat in real time and bring in maximum firepower, explained Maj. Rufus Johnson, a Company Commander at one such locality near the LAC near Bumla in Arunachal Pradesh.

“Integrated defensive battle is not fought at the company or battalion level. It is a cohesive and coordinated battle fought employing all arms and services that are available with the armed forces,” he said. The Army had infused significant technology to fuse various sensors and platforms for battlefield transparency and also quick response.

Talking of the significance of integrated defences built around the Bumla area, Maj. Johnson said there were primarily two approaches for the enemy to move towards Tawang, 35 km from the LAC. One was the valley after the ridgeline of the LAC and the road from Bumla to Tawang for a stretch of 35 km. Dominating this area would help in thwarting the enemy’s plans.

Air defence guns

Speaking of the upgraded L-70 air defence guns, Capt. Sariya Abbasi, an Air Defence officer posted in the Tawang sector near the LAC, said this was their first deployment in high altitude areas across the country.

“The limitations associated with the upgraded guns have been overcome by incorporation of state of the art components, latest technology, making it a potent weapon system against all low level air threat that include unmanned aerial vehicle, unmanned combat vehicle, attack helicopter and modern aircraft, to increase the target acquisition and automatic tracking capabilities of the gun,” she said briefing visiting journalists from Delhi.

Further, the use of modern proximity fuse ammunition had increased the hit probability of the gun, Capt. Abbasi added. The L-70 guns were manufactured by the Swedish company, Bofors AB, in the 1950s and India procured them in the late 1960s. These legacy guns were upgraded by Bharat Electronics Ltd.

The M-777 Ultra-Light Howitzers inducted in November 2018 have been deployed all along the LAC. The M777 is a 155-mm, 39-calibre towed artillery gun and weighs just four tonnes.

Significant flexibility

India has contracted 145 M777 guns from BAE Systems, of which over 75 had been delivered. Three regiments had been deployed and the fourth was in the process of being raised, Director-General of Artillery Lt. Gen. T.K. Chawla had said recently.

The M777 had given significant flexibility in employment options for long range fire power, one officer posted near the LAC said on condition of anonymity. “It can be airlifted by Chinook heavy lift helicopters to any forward location at short notice in case of any contingency,” the officer said.

Kushinagar now hub of Buddhist tourist circuit #GS1 #Culture

Prime Minister Narendra Modi on Wednesday inaugurated the Kushinagar International Airport in Uttar Pradesh, which will help connect key Buddhist pilgrimage sites.

Kushinagar is an important Buddhist pilgrim destination, and is believed to be the final resting place of Gautam Buddha.

An inaugural flight of Sri Lankan Airlines landed at the airport earlier in the day, bringing a large contingent of Buddhist monks and Sri Lankan Ministers, including Sports Minister Namal Rajapaksa, nephew of President Gotabaya Rajapaksa and son of Prime Minister Mahinda Rajapaksa. They met Mr. Modi at an event at the Mahaparinirvana Temple here.

Diplomats attend

Diplomats from 12 countries where Buddhism is practised, including Mongolia, Myanmar, Vietnam, Cambodia, Thailand, Bhutan, Republic of Korea, Nepal and Japan, were also present.

“There is a special focus on the development of places associated with Lord Buddha through better connectivity, and creation of facilities for devotees. Lumbini, the birth place of Lord Buddha, is not far from here. Sarnath, where Lord Buddha gave the first sermon, is also within a radius of 100-250 km. Bodh Gaya, where Buddha attained enlightenment, is also a few hours away. With the launch of this airport, I, as a representative of Poorvanchal, have also fulfilled one of my commitments to this region,” Mr. Modi said.

With the Uttar Pradesh Assembly election slated for early next year, several Union Ministers had also flown in from Delhi.

Apart from Civil Aviation Minister Jyotiraditya Scindia, Minister of State for External Affairs Meenakshi Lekhi, Tourism Minister G. Kishan Reddy, Law Minister Kiren Rijiju and Minister of State for Parliamentary Affairs Arjun Ram Meghwal were present.

Air India privatisation

In his first comments on Air India since privatisation, Mr. Modi said, “The decision on Air India will give new energy to the aviation sector in the country.”

Chief Minister Yogi Adityanath said, “This will be Uttar Pradesh’s ninth airport, seven of which have been developed in the past seven years alone. The State will get 11 more airports in the years to come, including two international ones.”

Secretary of the Ministry of Civil Aviation Rajiv Bansal told The Hindu that Thailand sends the largest number of tourists to this region, and he expected charter flights from there to Kushinagar to start soon.

On the sidelines of the Kushinagar airport inauguration, Mr. Namal Rajapaksa presented to Mr. Modi a Sinhala-Tamil-English translation of the Bhagavad Gita.

The Sri Lankan delegation also brought relics from the ‘Rajaguru Sri Subhuthi Maha Vihara’, a famed Buddhist shrine located 40 km south of Colombo.

Indian officials would organise an exposition of the relics in several cities, including Kushinagar and Sarnath, a statement from the Indian High Commission in Colombo said. The Sri Lankan delegation would visit Varanasi and offer prayers at the Kashi Vishwanath temple.

Now, there is will to confront graft: PM #GS2 #Governance

Prime Minister Narendra Modi on Wednesday said there was political will to attack corruption today, while previous governments lacked both political and administrative will.

Mr. Modi addressed CBI and Central Vigilance Commission (CVC) officers via a video message during a joint conference at Kevadia, Gujarat. He urged the officers to rededicate themselves to abolishing corruption. He said the Government had instilled confidence in people that graft could be contained.

Digital footprints

“Earlier, the way the governments and systems were run, they lacked both political and administrative will. Today, there is the political will to attack corruption and continuous improvement is also being carried out at the administrative level.”

He said his Government had simplified procedures, thereby reducing interference in the lives of the common people. He said digital footprints had made investigations easier than before.

“The Prime Minister exhorted the officers not to flinch from taking action against the corrupt and ensure that there is no safe haven for anyone who deceives the country and countrymen,” a statement from the Prime Minister’s Office said. He asked the officers to strengthen “New India’s policy of zero tolerance for corruption”.

House panel to study ‘border management’ #GS3 #Defence

The Parliamentary Standing Committee on Home Affairs headed by senior Congress leader Anand Sharma has decided to study “border management”, which will also entail deliberations on the contentious extension of jurisdiction of the Border Security force (BSF) up to 50 km inside the international borders in Punjab, West Bengal and Assam.

The Home Ministry, through a notification published on October 11, amended the BSF Act of 1968. The BSF’s powers which include arrest, search and seizure were till now only up to 15 km in these States. Punjab and West Bengal have objected to the change.

The parliamentary panel met to discuss the agenda. Other than the pending issues, it has added “border management” to the list, which will include deliberations of all borders protected by the Central Armed Police Forces. Informed sources said this was added on demand from the Trinamool Congress.

No policing powers

The BSF does not have policing powers and after apprehending a suspect, it can only conduct “preliminary questioning” and the seized consignment or a suspect have to be handed over to the local police within 24 hours.

West Bengal has 2,216 km long border with Bangladesh and the Trinamool contends that the extension of jurisdiction will effectively bring nearly one-third of the State’s territory under the BSF’s control. Out of 23 districts in the State nearly 10 districts will be affected. This will have an impact on 21 of the 42 Lok Sabha constituencies which could have larger political implications.

The Opposition is expected to register its protest on the new amendment in the winter session of Parliament. The BSF Act, Section 139(3) requires the Government to lay the notification before Parliament and the members, within 30 days, can raise a motion for discussion on annulment of such an order. “It is clearly a violation of the federal values laid down in the Constitution. We will press for annulment of the order,” a Trinamool leader said.

There was no objection or opinion from any other member from the committee on the issue when it was raised.

Alignment of U.S., India interests makes a great difference: Burns #GS2 #IR

U.S. President Joe Biden’s nominee for the post of Ambassador to Beijing, Nicholas Burns, said the alignment of U.S. and Indian interests in the Indo-Pacific “makes a great difference” in terms of the challenges posed by China.

Mr. Burns was answering a question on the U.S.’s opportunities and constraints in collaborating with different countries while dealing with Beijing.

“The comparative advantage that we have versus China is that we have treaty allies. We have partners who deeply believe in us and the Chinese really do not,” Mr. Burns said, highlighting U.S. President Joe Biden’s emphasis on treaty partnerships in the Indo-Pacific, such as with Japan, Australia, South Korea, Thailand and Indonesia. He also mentioned India which is not a treaty partner but a ‘Major Defence Partner’ and a country that regularly holds bilateral and multilateral security exercises with the U.S.

“As you know — and I think every administration since President [Bill] Clinton has been working on this — we have a newfound security partner in India, that makes a great difference to have Indian and American interests aligned as they clearly are, strategically, in the Indo-Pacific,” Mr. Burns said.

As a foreign services officer, Mr. Burns had played a key negotiating role in the U.S.-India Civil Nuclear Agreement. He held senior positions in both Democrat and Republican administrations — a point that came up during his hearing. Currently Mr. Burns is a professor at the Harvard’s John F. Kennedy School of Government.

Giving credit to former President Donald Trump and his Secretary of State, Mike Pompeo, for reinvigorating the Quad grouping of countries, Mr. Burns said President Biden had organised two leader-level meetings of the Quad already. He also said the U.S.’s newly launched security partnership with the U.K. and Australia (AUKUS) was “transformational”.

Overall, Mr. Burns said he would support the Biden administration’s policy of “vigorously” competing with China in some areas (economy, infrastructure, technology) and cooperating in other areas (such as climate action), while also holding China accountable for its actions in the Indo-Pacific. Mr. Burns also supported the U.S. speaking out against human rights abuses in China, and said that genocide was occurring in Xinjiang.

Substantial weaknesses

“…The People’s Republic of China is not an Olympian power. It’s a country of extraordinary strength, but it also has substantial weaknesses and challenges, demographically, economically, politically, we should have confidence in our strengths,” he said.

Beijing’s recent actions towards Taiwan (China has sent a record number of jets into Taiwan’s Air Defence Identification Zone this month) were “especially objectionable”, Mr. Burns said. However, he added that the U.S. is right to continue its ‘One China’ policy — a policy that recognises that there is only one legal government of China but is compatible with the U.S. providing military assistance to Taiwan (as outlined in the U.S.’s Taiwan Relations Act of 1979).

“Given what China has done … I think the Congress and the executive branch have every right to continue to deepen our security cooperation, to expand our arms provisions to Taiwan. That’s the most important thing we can do,” he said, adding that the Act also called for providing the strongest possible deterrent in the ‘Western Pacific’ (Indian Ocean).

“As a third measure, we ought to be asking and we are asking our allies, to show a real commitment to Taiwan and we’re seeing that from Japan and other allies,” he said, adding that the U.S. had to be very clear in criticising China on its actions against Taiwan.

At various points in his testimony, Mr. Burns said it was important for the U.S. to work with both Indo-Pacific partners as well as European allies with regard to the challenges from Beijing. In response to a question on whether allies were “retreating” , i.e., shying away from confronting challenges with China, he said he was not observing that.

“I don’t see retreat. Certainly I think we’re seeing a stiffening of the resolve of Japan, which is so important for us. Australia, rock solid on these issues. India…not a treaty ally but a strategic military partner in the Bay of Bengal …[is] very important for us,” he said.

On Europe, he said countries had different views and that the German position would be clear once the new government was formed — the views of the Social Democrats and Greens being key.

“I would note that the Greens were very critical of China during the recent campaign,” he said, adding that in France, President Emmanuel Macron had spoke out about China too. The U.S. and France have recently been mending fences over a rift in their relationship over AUKUS.

The confirmation hearings of Rahm Emanuel, former Mayor of Chicago, who is the administration’s nominee to Tokyo, and entrepreneur Jonathan Kaplan, the nominee to Singapore, were also conducted conducted on Wednesday. A confirmation date has not been announced for Mr. Biden’s pick for New Delhi, Los Angeles Mayor Eric Garcetti.

High oil prices will sap global recovery #GS3 #Economy

India, the world’s third-largest energy consumer, on Wednesday warned that high oil prices will undermine global economic recovery, and nudged Saudi Arabia and other OPEC nations to work towards affordable and reliable supplies.

Petrol and diesel prices have hit record highs across the country after relentless price increases since May. “If energy prices remain high, global economic recovery will be undermined,” Petroleum and Natural Gas Minister Hardeep Singh Puri said at the India Energy Forum by CERAWeek.

Global oil prices crashed to $19 per barrel in April 2020 as demand evaporated with most nations clamping lockdowns to control the spread of the novel coronavirus.

Demand recovered this year as vaccination against the infection revived economies worldwide. International benchmark Brent crude has since rallied to $84 per barrel. This, he said, had made fuel expensive and was stoking fears of inflation. Mr. Puri said India’s oil import bill had climbed from $8.8 billion in June 2020 quarter to $24 billion this year because of a spike in global oil prices.

‘Energy access crucial’

“India believes energy access has to be reliable, affordable and sustainable,” he said adding economic recovery after a devastating pandemic had been fragile and it was further being threatened by the high prices.

India, which imports almost two-thirds of its oil needs from West Asia, has told oil producers, including the Organisation of Petroleum Exporting Countries (OPEC), that high crude prices will hasten the transition to alternate fuels and such rates will be counter-productive for the producers.

Mr. Puri has in recent weeks flagged the issue of high oil prices to Saudi Arabia, the UAE, Kuwait, Qatar, the U.S., Russia and Bahrain. He conveyed India’s strong preference for responsible and reasonable pricing, which was mutually beneficial for consumers and producers. Mr. Puri said volatility in international prices was not just hurting India but also industrialised nations.

While the world had begun the transition towards cleaner fuels such as electric-powered vehicles and hydrogen, most nations were still dependent on oil to fuel their economies. And high oil prices would hurt the recovery in demand. India is 85% dependent on imports to meet its oil needs.

Indian team meets Taliban Dy. PM #GS2 #IR

India joined a 10-nation statement recognising the “new reality” of the Taliban in power in Afghanistan at the Moscow format meeting on Wednesday, as Indian officials reportedly met Taliban Deputy Prime Minister Abdul Salam Hanafi and offered humanitarian aid to the regime in Kabul.

News of the meeting between the Taliban delegation and J.P. Singh, Joint Secretary for Pakistan-Afghanistan-Iran, Ministry of External Affairs, was reported over the Twitter handle of the Taliban Deputy Information and Broadcasting Minister and spokesperson, Zabihullah Mujahid.

The MEA made no immediate comment, but Government sources confirmed to The Hindu that the meeting had taken place, and India was considering donation of a large consignment of wheat and other aid to Afghanistan.

“Both sides considered it necessary to take into account each other’s concerns and improve diplomatic and economic relations. The Indian side finally expressed readiness to provide a wide range of humanitarian assistance to the Afghans,” Mr. Mujahid said in a series of tweets announcing the meeting between “the Special Representative of India for Iran, Pakistan and Afghanistan” and Mr. Hanafi in Moscow.

This would be the first time India has officially announced aid for Afghanistan after the August 15 takeover of Kabul by the Taliban.

Maharashtra firm sold ‘GM-contaminated’ rice #GS3 #Economy #SnT #GS2 #IR

The Centre has identified a Maharashtra-based exporter as the source of the broken rice flagged in Europe as contaminated with genetic modifications (GM) earlier this year, the Commerce Ministry said on Wednesday.

It added that the 500-tonne consignment was given a non-GMO certification by an independent agency before it was shipped to France.

While reiterating that GM rice is not grown commercially in India, the Ministry asked genetic and rice experts, including the Indian Agricultural Research Institute (IARI), to investigate.

‘Share details’

IARI Director A.K. Singh told The Hindu that the European Commission must share details of specific genetic markers found in the consignment, so that it could be tracked to ascertain whether there were any linkages to any of the approved field trials of GM rice in India.

The European Commission’s contamination alert prompted the recall of tonnes of confectionery items and baked goods throughout Europe this summer, and provoked concerns that India’s Rs. 65,000 crore worth of annual rice exports could be hurt by the allegations, as The Hindu reported on Wednesday.

“The GMO contamination is suspected to have been found in rice flour which was processed in the EU, and they themselves are not sure of the exact source of the contaminant. The broken white rice exported from India, which is allegedly one of the possibilities, has passed through many hands before reaching the actual processors in the EU,” said a Commerce Ministry statement.

Ministry spokesperson D.J. Narain told The Hindu that the exporter had been identified as wholesale trader Omprakash Shivprakash of Akola in Maharashtra, who said the exported rice was non-GM.

‘Cross contamination’

The Ministry suggested that cross contamination could have taken place while the broken rice was being processed into final products in Europe.