Current Affairs 18th February

No records of chilla adjacent to Charminar, says ASI #GS1 #Culture

The Bhagyalakshmi Temple abutting the Charminar ‘came into into existence’ after the merger of Hyderabad State with the Union of India, and there are no records of the chilla at the monument. In its response, the ASI stated that the Charminar was declared a centrally protected monument 1951 under the Ancient Monuments Preservation Act of 1904.

Previous RTI

As per the AMASR Act 1958, Rules 1959, AMSR Act, 2010 (Amendment and Validation) the construction of temple adjacent to the south eastern minar of the Charminar has considered by the Archaeological Survey of India as an unauthorised construction (sic).”

Official records show that in December 1968, ASI Superintending Archaeologist (SA) M. Idrisullah wrote to the Commissioner of erstwhile Municipal Corporation of Hyderabad, seeking its assistance in the removal of ‘unauthorised brick construction on the south-eastern side of the monument, Charminar, which has abutted and to some extent encroached into the monument itself’.

No timely action

According to Mr Masood, who obtained the documents, lack of timely intervention by authorities in connection with dealing with unauthorised constructions, irrespective of which faith they belong to, has led to problems. 

Benefits of the NewsAbout Chilla

India to gift 2 lakh vaccine doses to UN peacekeepers #GS2 #IR

India announced a gift of 2,00,000 doses of vaccine to the UN Peacekeeping Forces. The announcement was made by External Affairs Minister S. Jaishankar during his remarks at a UN Security Council open debate on the implementation of resolution 2532 (2020), passed last year, noting the impact of COVID-19 globally and calling for the cessation of hostilities around the world to help combat the pandemic.

Keeping in mind the UN Peacekeepers who operate in such difficult circumstances, we would like to announce today a gift of 2,00,000 doses for them. The Minister said India had already sent vaccines to 25 countries under its Vaccine Maitri programme and that 49 more countries would be supplied in the coming days.

Mr. Jaishankar told his counterparts that COVAX (a global initiative to develop, purchase and deliver vaccines worldwide) would need to be strengthened, to ensure equitable distribution of vaccines. He also called for coordination between countries on “genomic surveillance” (tracking viral mutations) and addressing resistance to vaccines.

However, the government has been criticised for getting ahead of the science. Its approval of Bharat Biotech’s Covaxin vaccine for emergency use authorisation in India before its efficacy was established via Phase-III trials had created a stir last month.

Several rich countries have ordered more vaccine doses than required for their population, depriving developing economies of access to these doses. Just its orders of the Moderna and Pfizer vaccines alone are enough to cover all adults in the U.S., Axios reported recently. This still leaves its orders of AstraZeneca, Novavax and Johnson and Johnson vaccines, which add up to over 500 million more doses.

Benefits of the NewsVaccine Maitri Programme

Pangong disengagement will be completed in 2 or 3 days: official #GS2 #IR

The disengagement between Indian and Chinese troops on the north and south banks of Pangong Tso (lake) would be completed in two or three days, a government official said on Wednesday, stating that much of the withdrawal on both the banks had been completed.

Majority of de-induction of troops from the frontline had been completed, and most of the personnel now left there are those involved in logistics and movement, the official said, adding that it was quite a humongous tank given the scale of the build-up and the stocking that had been undertaken.

No tanks

On the south bank, all tanks and mechanised elements have moved out. There are also no tanks on the north bank. Tents, bunkers and other positions have been cleared in most areas, a second official said, adding that the cleaning up and the ground restoration work would take a few more days.

Constant communication

The resumption of patrolling would be worked out by both sides subsequently through diplomatic and military talks. The official said new patrolling guidelines would have to be worked out by both sides in the backdrop of recent developments to ensure such instances do not occur again. There is a lot of distrust that has to be addressed.

With quick progress in the disengagement at Pangong lake, both sides are also gearing up for the next round of Corps Commander talks which will take place as soon as the disengagement is complete, as stipulated in the agreement.

Benefits of the NewsIndia- China border issue

Social media issues come under Centre #GS2 #Governance

Social media is an “uncontrollable medium” with a potential to even destabilise society, but “response” to such a problem should be national in nature and come from Parliament.

Appearing before a Bench led by Justice Sanjay Kishan Kaul, Solicitor General Tushar Mehta said the Delhi Legislature’s Committee on Peace and Harmony may lack the jurisdictional competence to pass recommendations to regulate social media.

The Centre was responding to a petition filed by senior Facebook official Ajit Mohan against his summons by the Committee to testify about any role played by social media platforms in the events leading up to the Delhi riots in February last year.

Mr. Mehta said Parliament has already passed the Information Technology Act which deals with social media intermediaries. “Offences pertaining to social media intermediaries are statutorily defined by Parliament. The field is occupied by a Central Act. The court will continue to hear the case next week.

Self-registration for COVID-19 vaccine soon: Health Ministry #GS3 #SnT

Version 2.0 of the CO-Win digital app for self registration of COVID-19 vaccine beneficiaries is ready and will be launched soon. Plans to involve private sector healthcare facilities in a significant way in the ongoing vaccination drive was also under way, it said.

This will enable registration of the population in the 50 yrs+ category for COVID vaccination, which is the third population priority group after healthcare workers and front line workers that are presently taking the vaccine.

The meeting reviewed the progress of the COVID-19 vaccination drive in detail, and said that 68.3% of all healthcare workers had been administered the first dose and 37.6% of eligible healthcare workers the second dose. Among frontline workers, 28.2% had been administered the first dose.

Additionally it was noted that India had supplied COVID-19 vaccine to 13 countries as grants through the Ministry of External Affairs. These countries are Bangladesh, Myanmar, Bhutan, the Maldives, Nepal, Mauritius, the Seychelles, Sri Lanka, Bahrain, Oman, Afghanistan, Barbados and Dominica. 

Also the vaccine had been supplied to 14 countries (Bangladesh, Myanmar, Morocco, Brazil, Egypt, Algeria, South Africa, Kuwait, the UAE, Saudi Arabia, Mexico, Dominican Republic, Saudi Arabia and El-Salvador) under commercial contract.

Benefits of the NewsCOVID-19 vaccine

‘Char Dham project, floods not linked’ #GS3 #DM

The government on Wednesday denied in the Supreme Court any link between the Char Dham road-widening project in Uttarakhand and the recent flash floods in the Rishiganga valley.

The denial, before a Bench led by Justice Rohinton Nariman, came from Attorney-General K.K. Venugopal, in response to a communication from a high-powered committee (HPC) chairperson Ravi Chopra, connecting the tragedy with the Char Dham project.

The 899-km-long project that connects the shrines of Gangotri, Yamunotri, Kedarnath and Badrinath in Garhwal Himalayas is under the Supreme Court’s scanner after NGO Citizens for Green Doon raised environmental concerns over the cutting of trees and harm to the fragile Himalayan ecology by the widening of the existing mountain roads.

Centre’s view

In January, the government supported a majority view within the committee favouring the need to broaden the Himalayan feeder roads to the Indo-China border to facilitate troop movement.

The Ministry of Defence, in an affidavit in court, had said it was unfortunate that three of the HPC members gave a minority view to reconsider a December 15, 2020 circular of the Ministry of Road and Transport and Highways, which fixed the carriageway width of the feeder roads at seven metre with a paved shoulder spanning 1.5 metre on either side.

The Centre, in its affidavit, said it was “unfortunate” that the HPC members, who were in the minority, had given such an opinion “notwithstanding the security of the country and the need of the defence forces to resist possible external aggression”. An earlier affidavit of the government said a double lane road with a width of 7 to 7.5 metre was necessary to meet the Army’s requirements.

Benefits of the NewsChar Dham Project

Cabinet nod for changes in juvenile law #GS2 #Governance

The Union Cabinet approved a slew of amendments to the Juvenile Justice (Care and Protection of Children) Act, 2015, empowering the District Magistrates (DM) to issue adoption orders as well as monitor the implementation of the law.

The amendments are aimed at “strengthening Child Protection set-up to ensure best interest of children”. These include empowering the DMs and the additional DMs to monitor the functioning of agencies responsible for implementing the JJ Act. The District Child Protection Units will function under the DMs.

Before someone sets up a shelter home for children and sends their proposal for registration under the JJ Act to the State, a DM will have to assess their capacity and conduct a background check. A DM could also independently evaluate the functioning of the Child Welfare Committee, Special Juvenile Protection Units and registered childcare institutes.

Benefits of the NewsAmendments to the Juvenile Justice (Care and Protection of Children) Act, 2015

Sri Lanka to ‘re-acquire’ key oil tanks #GS2 #IR

Sri Lanka will “re-acquire” the World War-era oil tanks in the eastern city of Trincomalee that were leased out to an Indian Oil Corporation (IOC) subsidiary in 2003.

In 2003, Sri Lanka leased out the oil tank farm to India, for the upgradation and commissioning of 99 tanks in it for a 35-year period. The project did not proceed as was envisaged. Over a decade later, the two countries renewed discussions during PM Narendra Modi’s visit to Sri Lanka in 2015 and got closer to a “roadmap” in 2017, that included a joint venture to execute the project, but could not finalise the deal amid protests from oil workers unions.

Minister Gammanpila indicated that discussions had recommenced, on new terms that included retrieving tanks that remain under lease, but mostly unused. The harbour in Trincomalee is considered one of the finest deep-sea, natural harbours, in a strategically coveted spot, on Sri Lanka’s north-eastern coast.

Benefits of the NewsIndia- Sri Lanka relations.

Cabinet approves PLI plan for telecom #GS3 #Economy

The Union Cabinet approved the production-linked incentive scheme for the telecom sector with an outlay of Rs. 12,195 crore over five years.

The scheme, which aims to make India a global hub for manufacturing telecom equipment, is expected to lead to an incremental production of about Rs. 2.4 lakh crore, with exports of about Rs. 2 lakh crore over five years and bring in investments of more than Rs. 3,000 crore.

 ‘Import dependence cut’

The Minister added the scheme was also likely to generate 40,000 direct and indirect employment opportunities and generate tax revenue of Rs. 17,000 crore from telecom equipment manufacturing, including core transmission equipment, 4G/5G Next Generation Radio Access Network and wireless equipment, access and Customer Premises Equipment (CPE), Internet of Things (IoT) access devices, other wireless equipment and enterprise equipment such as switches and routers.

Core ‘component’ of this scheme is to offset the import of telecom equipment worth more than Rs. 50,000 crore.

The Minister added that the approval for the scheme followed the success of PLI-scheme related to mobile and component manufacturing. Under this, Rs. 34,000 crore investment has been made by some of the top mobile companies, he said, adding that the government planned to bring similar incentives for laptops and tablet manufacturing.

For inclusion of MSMEs in the scheme, the minimum investment threshold has been kept at Rs. 10 crore, while for others it is Rs. 100 crore. For MSMEs, a 1% higher incentive is also proposed in the first three years.

Once qualified, the investor will be incentivised up to 20 times of minimum investment threshold enabling them to utilise their unused capacity.

“With the telecom industry going through a very difficult phase, this move of the government would surely incentivise telecom service providers,” who opt for equipment manufactured locally, thus saving on substantial costs relating to imports.

Benefits of the NewsAbout PLI plan for Telecom

India’s rating to hinge on lower fiscal deficit, debt: S&P #GS3 #Economy

S&P Global Ratings said India will be one of the fastest growing emerging-market economies with a 10% growth in the next fiscal, and future sovereign rating action would hinge on lowering fiscal deficit and sustaining debt burden.

The forecast for India in 2021 is on stronger side and shows that a lot of economic activity, which was frozen last year, is coming back on line to normalisation, thereby brightening the growth prospects.

Bounce back

“India will be one of the fastest-growing economy in the EM (emerging market) space. India’s contraction this year was steep and may be deeper than global average, but a bounce back of 10% that we are expecting next fiscal year will be putting India amongst the fastest growers in 2021 and more importantly, we see Indian economy growing at 6% over medium term, may be slightly higher, and that compares very well to EMs all around the world.

S&P said India’s economy has stabilised over recent months, with progressively better manufacturing, services, labour-market and revenue data. The hard part will be converting the trends into a sustained recovery over the next few years.

Benefits of the NewsS&P India’s forecast

Running cars on hydrogen: What is India’s National Hydrogen Mission? #GS3 #SnT

Traditionally a slow mover in frontier electric vehicle (EV) technologies, India has made an uncharacteristically early entry in the race to tap the energy potential of the most abundant element in the universe, hydrogen. Less than four months after the United States Department of Energy announced an investment up to $100 million in hydrogen production and fuel cell technologies research and development, India has announced a National Hydrogen Mission.

The proposal in the Budget will be followed up with a mission draft over the next couple of months — a roadmap for using hydrogen as an energy source, with specific focus on green hydrogen, dovetailing India’s growing renewable capacity with the hydrogen economy, government officials indicated.

And while proposed end-use sectors include steel and chemicals, the major industry that hydrogen has the potential of transforming is transportation — which contributes a third of all greenhouse gas emissions, and where hydrogen is being seen as a direct replacement of fossil fuels, with specific advantages over traditional EVs.

A handful of mobility-linked pilots are already under way.

In October, Delhi became the first Indian city to operate buses running on hydrogen spiked compressed natural gas (H-CNG) in a six-month pilot project. The buses will run on a new technology patented by Indian Oil Corp for producing H-CNG — 18 per cent hydrogen in CNG — directly from natural gas, without resorting to conventional blending.

Power major NTPC Ltd is operating a pilot to run 10 hydrogen fuel cell-based electric buses and fuel cell electric cars in Leh and Delhi, and is considering setting up a green hydrogen production facility in Andhra Pradesh.

IOC is also planning to set up a dedicated unit to produce hydrogen to run buses at its R&D centre in Faridabad.

As a supporting regulatory framework, the Ministry of Road Transport and Highways late last year issued a notification proposing amendments to the Central Motor Vehicles Rules, 1989, to include safety evaluation standards for hydrogen fuel cell-based vehicles.

Why hydrogen — and its types

Hydrogen’s potential as a clean fuel source has a history spanning nearly 150 years. In 1874, science fiction writer Jules Verne set out a prescient vision in The Mysterious Island — of a world where “water will one day be employed as fuel, that hydrogen and oxygen which constitute it, used singly or together, will furnish an inexhaustible source of heat and light, of an intensity of which coal is not capable”.

In 1937, the German passenger airship LZ129 Hindenburg used hydrogen fuel to fly across the Atlantic, only to explode while docking at Naval Air Station Lakehurst in New Jersey, killing 36 people. In the late 1960s, hydrogen fuel cells helped power NASA’s Apollo missions to the moon.

After the oil price shocks of the 1970s, the possibility of hydrogen replacing fossil fuels came to be considered seriously. Three carmakers — Japan’s Honda and Toyota, and South Korea’s Hyundai — have since moved decisively in the direction of commercialising the technology, albeit on a limited scale.

The most common element in nature is not found freely. Hydrogen exists only combined with other elements, and has to be extracted from naturally occurring compounds like water (which is a combination of two hydrogen atoms and one oxygen atom). Although hydrogen is a clean molecule, the process of extracting it is energy-intensive.

The sources and processes by which hydrogen is derived, are categorised by colour tabs. Hydrogen produced from fossil fuels is called grey hydrogen; this constitutes the bulk of the hydrogen produced today. Hydrogen generated from fossil fuels with carbon capture and storage options is called blue hydrogen; hydrogen generated entirely from renewable power sources is called green hydrogen. In the last process, electricity generated from renewable energy is used to split water into hydrogen and oxygen.

The case for green hydrogen

Green hydrogen has specific advantages. One, it is a clean burning molecule, which can decarbonise a range of sectors including iron and steel, chemicals, and transportation. Two, renewable energy that cannot be stored or used by the grid can be channelled to produce hydrogen.

This is what the government’s Hydrogen Energy Mission, to be launched in 2021-22, aims for. India’s electricity grid is predominantly coal-based and will continue to be so, thus negating collateral benefits from a large-scale EV push — as coal will have to be burnt to generate the electricity that will power these vehicles. In several countries that have gone in for an EV push, much of the electricity is generated from renewables — in Norway for example, it is 99 per cent from hydroelectric power. Experts believe hydrogen vehicles can be especially effective in long-haul trucking and other hard-to-electrify sectors such as shipping and long-haul air travel. Using heavy batteries in these applications would be counterproductive, especially for countries such as India, where the electricity grid is predominantly coal-fired.

How hydrogen fuel cells work

South Korea and Japan especially, are focussed on moving their automotive markets to hydrogen, and the potential of the fuel cell. What is a fuel cell?

Hydrogen is an energy carrier, not a source of energy. Hydrogen fuel must be transformed into electricity by a device called a fuel cell stack before it can be used to power a car or truck. A fuel cell converts chemical energy into electrical energy using oxidising agents through an oxidation-reduction reaction. Fuel cell-based vehicles most commonly combine hydrogen and oxygen to produce electricity to power the electric motor on board. Since fuel cell vehicles use electricity to run, they are considered electric vehicles.

Inside each individual fuel cell, hydrogen is drawn from an onboard pressurised tank and made to react with a catalyst, usually made from platinum. As the hydrogen passes through the catalyst, it is stripped of its electrons, which are forced to move along an external circuit, producing an electrical current. This current is used by the electric motor to power the vehicle, with the only byproduct being water vapour.

Hydrogen fuel cell cars have a near zero carbon footprint. Hydrogen is about two to three times as efficient as burning petrol, because an electric chemical reaction is much more efficient than combustion.

FCEVs and other EVs

Electric vehicles (EVs) are typically bracketed into four broad categories:

* Conventional hybrid electric vehicles or HEVs such as Toyota Camry combine a conventional internal combustion engine system with an electric propulsion system, resulting in a hybrid vehicle drivetrain that substantially lowers fuel usage. The onboard battery in a conventional hybrid is charged when the IC engine is powering the drivetrain.

* Plug-in hybrid vehicles or PHEVs such as the Chevrolet Volt too have a hybrid drivetrain that uses an IC engine and electric power for motive power, backed by rechargeable batteries which can be plugged into a power source.

* Battery powered electric vehicles or BEVs such as Nissan Leaf or Tesla Model S have no IC engine or fuel tank, and run on a fully electric drivetrain powered by rechargeable batteries.

* Fuel cell electric vehicles or FCEVs such as Toyota’s Mirai, Honda’s Clarity and Hyundai’s Nexo use hydrogen gas to power an on-board electric motor. FCEVs combine hydrogen and oxygen to produce electricity, which runs the motor. Since they’re powered entirely by electricity, FCEVs are considered EVs, but unlike BEVs, their range and refuelling processes are comparable to conventional cars and trucks.

The major difference between a BEV and a hydrogen FCEV is that the latter enables a refuelling time of just five minutes, compared to 30-45 minutes charging for a BEV. Also, consumers get about five times better energy storage per unit volume and weight, which frees up a lot of space for other things, while allowing the rider to go farther.

The problem of critical mass

Despite its promise, hydrogen technology is yet to be scaled up. Tesla CEO Elon Musk has called fuel cell technology “mind- bogglingly stupid”.

Globally, there were under 25,000 hydrogen fuel cell vehicles on the road at the end of 2020; by comparison, the number of electric cars was 8 million.

A big barrier to the adoption of hydrogen fuel cell vehicles has been a lack of fuelling station infrastructure — fuel cell cars refuel in a similar way to conventional cars, but can’t use the same station. There are fewer than 500 operational hydrogen stations in the world today, mostly in Europe, followed by Japan and South Korea. There are some in North America.

Safety is seen as a concern. Hydrogen is pressurised and stored in a cryogenic tank, from there it is fed to a lower-pressure cell and put through an electro-chemical reaction to generate electricity. Hyundai and Toyota say safety and reliability of hydrogen fuel tanks is similar to that of standard CNG engines.

Scaling up the technology and achieving critical mass remains the big challenge. More vehicles on the road and more supporting infrastructure can lower costs. India’s proposed mission is seen as a step in that direction.