15th November 2020

India in Thirty Meter Telescope Project

The design of back-end instruments and other aspects of the Thirty Meter Telescope (TMT) project being installed at Maunakea in Hawaii has been developed by close collaboration between the 2020 Physics Nobel Laureate Prof. Andrea Ghez and Indian astronomers.

  • The Thirty-meter telescope (TMT) project is an international partnership between the USA, Canada, Japan, China, and India.
  • It will allow deeper exploration into space and observe cosmic objects with unprecedented sensitivity.
  • Other Global Projects with Indian Collaboration:
    • The Laser Interferometer Gravitational-Wave Observatory (LIGO) Project
      • The Indian scientists contributed in several aspects such as designing algorithms for analysis of signals from gravitational waves, estimating energy and power radiated from black holes etc.
      • Now LIGO-India is a planned advanced gravitational-wave observatory to be located in India as part of the worldwide network.
    • CERN Project
      • India became a full Associate Member of world’s largest particle Physics laboratory CERN in 2017, thereby getting full access to data generated there.
      • The contribution of Indian scientists there is mainly in building the Large Hadron Collider (LHC) and construction of two significant CERN experiments, CMS and ALICE.
    • Facility for Antiproton and Ion Research (FAIR)
      • FAIR is coming up at Darmstadt, Germany for studying the building blocks of matter and the evolution of the Universe.
      • FAIR is a sophisticated accelerator complex that will use the high energy and ion beams to mimic the condition inside the core of the stars and early phase of the universe.
      • The role of Indian scientists would be to build NUSTAR (Nuclear Structure, Astrophysics and Reactions), CBM(Compressed Baryonic Matter) and PANDA (Antiproton Annihilation at Darmstadt).
    • Square Kilometre Array (SKA)
      • India has joined nine other countries to build the world’s largest and most sophisticated radio telescope called Square Kilometre Array (SKA).
      • The core of the telescope will be based in Karoo desert in South Africa. Since the total detection area of the receiver dishes would exceed 1 square kilometer, it is called Square Kilometre Array.
    • International-Thermonuclear-Experimental-Reactor (ITER)
      • The International-Thermonuclear-Experimental-Reactor (ITER) is focused around creating an environment mimicking the Sun in laboratory conditions using nuclear fusion.
      • India’s scientists and institutions such as Institute for Plasma Research, Ahmedabad are playing an important role in this.


Striped Bubble-nest frog – New Species in Andaman

Recently a group of scientists has reported a new genus of treefrog from the Andaman Islands called Striped Bubble-nest frog.

  • Biological name: Rohanixalus vittatus
    • The new genus ‘Rohanixalus’ is named after Sri Lankan taxonomist Rohan Pethiyagoda.
  • Striped Bubble-nest frog belongs to the genus of the Old World treefrog family Rhacophoridae.
  • This is the first report of a tree frog species from the Andaman Islands.
  • Bodily Features
    • Small and slender body (2-3 cm long).
    • A pair of contrastingly coloured lateral lines on either side of the body. Minute brown speckles scattered throughout the upper body.
    • Light green-coloured eggs laid in arboreal bubble-nests.
      • Arboreal means living in trees or related trees
    • They are also known as Asian Glass Frog or see through frogs.
      • While the general background coloration of most glass frogs is primarily lime green, the abdominal skin of some members of this family is translucent (allowing light to pass through). The internal viscera, including the heart, liver, and gastrointestinal tract, are visible through this translucent skin, hence the common name.
    • The genus has several unique behavioural traits:
      • Maternal egg attendance:
        • The female (mother) attends the egg clutches until hatching and assists in release of the tadpoles into the water.
        • During the first three days after egg laying, the female sits over the eggs and produces a gelatinous secretionwith which she glazes (covers) the egg mass through clockwise movement of her legs. This behaviour provides necessary moisture to the eggs laid on exposed leaf surfaces and protects them from insect predation.
      • Community egg attendance:
        • A large number of egg clutches (over 50) of different developmental stages on a single leaf or plant. Multiple females usually attend such clutches in a behaviour termed as ‘community’ egg attendance.
    • Frequent male-male combats involving pushing, kicking and dislodging to mate with a female.


MeitY – Draft Data Centre Policy 2020

Recently, the Ministry of Electronics & Information Technology (MeitY) has released the Draft Data Centre Policy, which aims to simplify clearances for setting up data centres in the country.

  • Vision of the Draft Data Centre Policy:
    • Making India a Global Data Centre hub,
    • Promote investment in the sector,
    • Propel digital economy growth,
    • Enable provisioning of trusted hosting infrastructure to fulfil the growing demand of the country and facilitate state of the art service delivery to citizens.
  • Terms Defined:
    • Data Centre: It is a dedicated secure space within a building/centralized location where computing and networking equipment is concentrated for the purpose of collecting, storing, processing, distributing or allowing access to large amounts of data.
    • Data Centre Parks: These are specialized secure Data Zone, strategically located with the most conducive non-IT and IT infrastructure, and regulatory environment for housing mix of small scale/large scale clusters of Data Centres to serve the high needs of compute, storage, networking and provision of a wide range of data-related services.
  • Provisions:
    • Providing Infrastructure Status to the Data Centre Sector, at par with other sectors like Railways, Roadways, and Power.
      • The status will help the sector avail long-term credit from domestic and international lenders at easier terms and will give a boost to the investments.
    • Demarcation of specific zones with necessary infrastructure such as roads, running water and electricity to set up data centre parks.
    • A single-window, time-bound clearance system for all the approvals required to set up a data-centre park.
    • Formulation of Data Centre Incentivization Scheme (DCIS) which will specify the intended beneficiaries, applicability criteria and fiscal and non-fiscal incentives for the sector.
    • Setting-up at least four Data Centre Economic Zones (DCEZ) in the country, as a Central Sector Scheme – DCEZ Scheme. DCEZs would create an ecosystem of Hyperscale Data Centres, Cloud Service Providers, IT companies, R&D units and other allied industries.
    • In order to address the issues around the high consumption of power, data centre parks would be encouraged to set up their own power generation units, and use renewable energy.
    • Data centres will be declared as an Essential Service under “The Essential Services Maintenance Act, 1968 (ESMA)”which means that there would be a continuity of services even during times of calamities or crisis.
    • Strengthening the Atmanirbhar Bharat initiative by identifying possible opportunities of manufacturing of data centre equipment (IT as well as non-IT) in the country.
      • The Policy also identifies possible areas of participation by micro, small, and medium enterprises and start-ups.
    • Collaboration with the Ministry of Skills Development and Entrepreneurship (MSDE) and leading academic institutes to impart large scale training to workforce on Data Centre, Digital and Cloud technologies, and facilitate sector linkages for such trained workforce.
    • An Inter-Ministerial Empowered Committee (IMEC) would be set up under the Chairmanship of Secretary, MeitY, with participation from various Central Ministries and State Governments.
      • It shall be the key decision-making body to facilitate the implementation of various measures as defined under this policy framework, enabling ease of doing business in the sector.
    • An independent Data Centre Industry Council (DCIC) is proposed to be set up, which would act as an interface between the sector and the Government.

Need for a Data Centre Policy

  • The need to set up data centre infrastructure in India comes against the backdrop of data localization norms under theproposed personal data protection legislation and for “protection of the digital sovereignty of the country in an increasingly connected world”.
    • Launch of National Digital Health Mission (NDHM) and Global Partnership on Artificial Intelligence (GPAI), which involve use of data.
  • The size of the digital economy in India is estimated to grow from USD 200 billion in 2017-18 to USD 1 trillion by 2025.
    • India has witnessed an exponential growth in digital-commerce, digital entertainment and use of social media.
    • India’s mobile data consumption is already the highest in the world and is constantly increasing.
  • India also offers advantages of having a favourable geographical location on the world map, availability of economic resources, established global connectivity through submarine cables, easy and cost-effective access power and readily available skilled manpower, enabling the nation to become a global Data Centre hub.
  • There are known impediments to the growth of data centre sector such as lack of infrastructure or Industry status of the Data Centres, complex clearance processes, time consuming approvals, high cost of power, lack of published standards, absence of specialised building norms for building the Data Centres, submarine cable network connectivity limited to few states and high cost of capital and operational expenditure etc.
    • Further, the data centre industry has been largely concentrated in top 4 cities, with Mumbai, Delhi, Bengaluru and Chennai accounting for 60% of total sites.

Road ahead

  • The data centre expansion will be supported by growth in data volumes to support high growth in e-commerce, increase in usage of social media, greater preference for over the top (OTT) platforms, the government’s impetus to the Digital India initiative and rapid digitalisation of services across industries (Industry 4.0 and 5G).
  • Currently, there is no large-scale foreign investment in data centres in the country. India could essentially become a data centre hub for global enterprises, if the government has a clear cut policy around it.


FCRA Rules – Amendment

Recently, the Ministry of Home Affairs (MHA) has notified new rules under the Foreign Contribution Regulation Act (FCRA), 2010.

    • Foreign Contribution Regulation Act (FCRA) first enacted in 1976, was once amended in the year 2010 to regulate the foreign contributions or donations and hospitality (air travel, hotel accommodation etc) to Indian organizations and individuals and to stop such contributions which might damage the national interest
      • It has been amended again in 2020 to enhance transparency and accountability in the receipt and utilisation of foreign contributions and facilitating the genuine non-governmental organisations or associations who are working for the welfare of society.
    • The Act is applicable to all associations, groups and non-governmental organisations (NGOs) who intend to receive foreign donations.
    • As per the FCRA, members of legislatures, political parties, government officials, judges and media persons are prohibited from receiving any foreign contribution.
  • The MHA has notified new rules under the FCRA, 2010 thereby amending the FCRA Rules, 2011.
  • New Rules:
    • Norms for farmers, students, religious and other groups who are not directly aligned to any political party to receive foreign funds, if the groups are not involved in active politics, has been relaxed.
    • FCRA registrations have been made more stringent.
      • Any organisation that wants to register itself under FCRA shall be in existence for three years and should have spent a minimum amount of 15 lakh on its core activities for the benefit of society during the last three financial years.
        • However, the Central Government in exceptional cases or in cases where a person is controlled by the Central Government or a State Government may waive the conditions.
      • Office bearers of NGOs or organisations seeking registration under the FCRA are required to submit a specific commitment letter from the donor indicating the amount of foreign contribution and the purpose for which it was being given.
    • Political Groups:
      • A new clause has been inserted which says that groups mentioned in Clause V and VI will only be considered a political group by the Centre if they participate in “active politics or party politics”.
        • Earlier, the rules on said clauses dealt with “guidelines for the declaration of an organisation to be of a political nature, not being a political party”, and the Central government could specify an organisation as that of political nature based on six criteria.
        • Clause V of Rule 3 (FCRA rules 2011) qualified a political group as organisations of farmers, workers, students, youths based on caste, community, religion, language or otherwise, which is not directly aligned to any political party, but whose objectives as stated in the memorandum of association, or activities gathered through other material evidence, include steps towards advancement of political interests of such groups.
        • The other 2011 clause (VI) qualified a group as political if the organisation by whatever name habitually engages itself in or employs common methods of political action like rasta roko, jail bharo, rail roko, bandh or hartal in support of public causes.


17th ASEAN-India Summit

Recently, India has participated in the 17th ASEAN-India Virtual Summit on the invitation of Vietnam, the current Chair of Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN).

  • The summit focused on measures to recover from the economic turmoil triggered by the Covid-19 pandemic and ways to further broad-base strategic ties.
  • ASEAN’s Centrality with respect to:
    • India’s Act East Policy:
      • Against the backdrop of aggressive moves by China, including the Ladakh standoff, India placed the ASEAN at the centre of India’s Act East policy and held that a cohesive and responsive ASEAN is essential for security and growth for all in the region.
    • India’s Indo-Pacific Vision and Security And Growth for All in the Region Vision:
      • India underscored the importance of strengthening convergence between India’s Indo-Pacific Oceans Initiative(IPOI) and the ASEAN Outlook on Indo-Pacific, to ensure a free, open, inclusive and rules-based region.
      • It also highlighted the importance of cooperation by ASEAN in for the Security And Growth for All in the Region(SAGAR) Vision.
    • Regional Comprehensive Economic Partnership:
      • India would explore ways to increase trade despite its exit from the 15-nation RCEP agreement in 2019.
      • The RCEP free trade agreement is expected to be signed on 15th November 2020 between China, Australia, South Korea, Japan, and the ASEAN Members.
      • However, experts have warned that once the RCEP is adopted, trade between RCEP nations will assume primacy,which could affect trade ties with other countries including India.
    • South China Sea:
      • Affirmed the importance of maintaining and promoting peace, stability, safety and security in the South China Sea, and ensuring freedom of navigation and overflight.
      • Noted the importance of promoting a rules-based order in the region including through upholding adherence to international law, especially the United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea (UNCLOS).
    • Regulating Covid-19 Pandemic:
      • India welcomed ASEAN’s initiatives to fight the pandemic and announced a contribution of USD 1 million to Covid-19 ASEAN Response Fund.
      • It also underlined the importance of cooperation and regular exchanges in the field of traditional medicines as a source of healthy and holistic living.
    • Trade and Investment:
      • India underlined the importance of diversification and resilience of supply chains for post-Covid-19 economic recovery.
      • India called for an early review of ASEAN-India Trade in Goods Agreement (AITIGA), which is pending for a long time.
    • Connectivity:
      • Underscoring the importance of greater physical and digital connectivity, India reiterated its offer of USD 1 billion Line of Credit to support ASEAN connectivity.
  • India’s Significance Highlighted by ASEAN:
    • Towards promoting peace and stability in the region and India’s support to ASEAN centrality.
    • Welcomed the adoption of the new ASEAN-India Plan of Action for 2021-2025.
    • Acknowledged India’s capacity-building initiatives, including the PhD Fellowship Programme at IITs and setting up of Centres for Excellence in Software Development and Training.

Association of Southeast Asian Nations

  • It is a regional grouping that promotes economic, political, and security cooperation.
  • It was established on 8th August 1967 in Bangkok, Thailand with the signing of the ASEAN Declaration (Bangkok Declaration) by the founding fathers of ASEAN, namely Indonesia, Malaysia, Philippines, Singapore and Thailand.
  • Ten Members: Brunei, Cambodia, Indonesia, Laos, Malaysia, Myanmar, the Philippines, Singapore, Thailand, and Vietnam.
  • Chairmanship: It rotates annually, based on the alphabetical order of the English names of Member States.
  • ASEAN countries have a total population of 650 million people and a combined Gross Domestic Product (GDP) of USD 2.8 trillion. It is India’s 4th largest trading partner with about USD 86.9 billion in trade.
  • The group has played a central role in Asian economic integration, signing six free-trade agreements with other regional economies and helping spearhead negotiations for what could be the world’s largest free trade pact.

Road Ahead

  • A cohesive and responsive ASEAN is essential for security and growth for all in the region and cementing the connection between India and ASEAN on all fronts, including economic, social, digital, financial, maritime, is an important priority area.
  • ASEAN-India Strategic Partnership stands on a strong foundation of shared geographical, historical and civilisational ties. A fruitful exchange with ASEAN leaders and a successful Summit will further strengthen this relationship.


Panna Biosphere Reserve

Recently, the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO) has included the Panna Biosphere Reserve (PBR) in its World Network of Biosphere Reserves (WNBR).

  • The PBR is the third in Madhya Pradesh to be included in the list after Pachmarhi and Amarkantak.
  • Along with PBR, the Fuvahmulahand Addu Atoll in the Maldives has also been included in the WNBR.
    • Established in 1981, PBR is located in the Panna and Chhatarpur districts of Madhya Pradesh with an area of around 540 km. sq.
    • It is situated in the Vindhya mountain range in the northern part of Madhya Pradesh.
    • Ken River (one of the least polluted tributaries of the Yamuna River) flows through the reserve and the Ken-Betwa river interlinking project will also be located in it.
    • The region is also famous for Panna diamond mining.
  • Conservation and Recognition:
    • 1994: The Panna National Park got the status of Project Tiger Reserve as India’s 22nd tiger reserve.
    • 2011: It was notified as a Biosphere Reserve by the Union Ministry of Environment, Forest and Climate Change (MoEFCC).
    • 2018: By 2018, it witnessed a remarkable turnaround in tiger population by increasing their numbers remarkably from zero estimated a decade ago.
      • Madhya Pradesh has the highest number of tigers in the country followed by Karnataka and Uttarakhand.
    • 2020: UNESCO included it in the Man and Biosphere Programme (MAB).

Biosphere Reserves

  • Biosphere Reserves (BRs) are representative parts of natural and cultural landscapes extending over large areas of terrestrial or coastal/marine ecosystems or a combination thereof and representative examples of biogeographic zones/provinces.
  • The idea of the biosphere reserve was initiated by UNESCO in 1974 under the MAB with the objective of obtaining international cooperation for the conservation of the biospheres.
  • The first biosphere reserve of the world was established in 1979 and since then the network has increased to more than 600 in 119 countries across the world.
  • A scheme called Biosphere Reserve has been implemented by the Government of India since 1986.
    • Under it, financial assistance is given in a 90:10 ratio to the North Eastern Region States and three Himalayan statesand in the ratio of 60:40 to other states for maintenance, improvement and development.
  • The State Governments prepare the Management Action Plan which is approved and monitored by the Central MAB Committee.
  • India has a total of 18 Biosphere Reserves and with the inclusion of PBR, the number of internationally designated WNBR has become 12.
    • In 2000, the Nilgiri Biosphere Reserve became the 1st BR from India to be included in the WNBR.
    • In 2018, the Khangchendzonga Biosphere Reserve became the 11th BR to be included in the list.

Man and Biosphere Programme

  • Launched by the UNESCO in 1971, it is an intergovernmental scientific programme that aims to establish a scientific basis for the improvement of relationships between people and their environments.
  • Every year UNESCO designates new Biosphere reserves and removes others to promote the conservation of biodiversity and resolve man-animal conflict at that site and enable sustainable use of natural resources.
  • MAB combines the natural and social sciences, economics and education to improve human livelihoods and the equitable sharing of benefits, and to safeguard natural and managed ecosystems, thus promoting innovative approaches to economic development that are socially and culturally appropriate, and environmentally sustainable.


Swarna Jayanti Fellowship: DST

The Department of Science & Technology (DST) has selected 21 scientists for the Swarna Jayanti fellowship.

  • The Swarna Jayanti Fellowships scheme was instituted by the Government of India to commemorate India’s fiftieth year of Independence.
  • It provides special assistance and support to a selected number of young scientists with a proven track record to enable them to pursue basic research in frontier areas of science and technology.
  • The award consists of a Fellowship of Rs. 25000 per month in addition to the salary drawn from the parent Institute along with a Research Grant of Rs. 5 lakh per annum by Department of Science and Technology (DST) for a period of 5 years.
    • In addition to fellowship, grants for equipment, computational facilities, consumables, contingencies, national and international travel, and other special requirements, if any, is covered based on merit.
    • The fellowships are scientist specific and not institution-specific, very selective, and have close academic monitoring.
  • Scientists selected for the award are allowed to pursue unfettered research with a freedom and flexibility in terms of expenditure as approved in the research plan.
    • The project should contain innovative research ideas and it should have a potential of making impact on R&D in the discipline.
  • The project submitted by the selected Fellows are considered for funding by the Science & Engineering Research Board (SERB) as per SERB norms.
    • SERB is a statutory body under the Department of Science and Technology, established by an Act of the Parliament of India in 2009.


Armenia Azerbaijan Peace Deal

Recently, Russia has brokered a new peace deal between Armenia and Azerbaijan. Both counties have been in a military conflict over the disputed region of Nagorno-Karabakh in the South Caucasus.

  • Nagorno-Karabakh Region
    • The region extends across western Asia and Eastern Europe.
    • It has been part of Azerbaijan territory since the Soviet era and is being internationally recognised so but most of the region is controlled by Armenian separatists who have declared it a republic called the “Nagorno-Karabakh Autonomous Oblast”.
      • While the Armenian government does not recognise Nagorno-Karabakh as independent, it supports the regionpolitically and militarily.
  • Conflict and Ceasefire:
    • When the Soviet Union began to collapse (with the end of the Cold War) in the late 1980s, Armenia’s regional parliament voted for the region’s transfer to Armenia but the Soviet authorities turned down the demand.
    • Clashes and the violence lasted till 1994, when Russia brokered a ceasefire, by which time ethnic Armenians had taken control of the region.
    • In 2016, the region saw a Four-Day War before Russia mediated peace.
    • The Organisation for Security and Co-operation in Europe (OSCE) Minsk Group, chaired by France, Russia and the USA, has also tried to get the two countries to reach a peace agreement for several years.
      • OSCE is the world’s largest security-oriented intergovernmental organisation. Its mandate includes issues such as arms control, promotion of human rights, freedom of the press, and fair elections.
      • OSCE Minsk Group was created in 1992 by the Conference on Security and Cooperation in Europe (CSCE) to encourage a peaceful, negotiated resolution to the conflict between Azerbaijan and Armenia over Nagorno-Karabakh.
    • In October 2020, both countries agreed to a Russia brokered ceasefire agreement, however, it also proved to be unsuccessful.
  • Reason for the Conflict:
    • Decades-old Ethnic tensions have a crucial role in the dispute. While the Azeris claim that the disputed region was under their control in known history, Armenians maintain that Karabakh was a part of the Armenian kingdom.
    • Currently, the disputed region consists of a majority Armenian Christian population, even though it is internationally recognised as a part of Muslim-majority Azerbaijan.
  • New Peace Deal:
    • Both sides will now maintain positions in the areas that they currently hold, which will mean a significant gain for Azerbaijan as it has reclaimed over 15-20% of its lost territory during the recent conflict.
    • All military operations are suspended and Russian peacekeepers will be deployed for a period of five years, along the line of contact in Nagorno-Karabakh and along the Lachin corridor which links the Karabakh capital, Stepanakert, to Armenia.
    • Refugees and internally displaced persons will return to the region and the adjacent territories and the two sides will also exchange prisoners of wars and bodies.
    • A new corridor will be opened from Nakhchivan to Azerbaijan, which will be under Russian control.
    • Reactions: Armenian people are against the deal and have protested while Azerbaijan is pleased with the deal and considered it of “historic importance”.
  • Russia’s Role:
    • Russia has always taken a balanced position on the matter and has traditionally good relations with both countries. Itsupplies arms to both countries.
    • Russia has a military base in Armenia and both are members of the Moscow-led Collective Security Treaty Organisation.
      • The treaty envisages Russia’s military support if Armenia is attacked. However, it does not include Nagorno-Karabakh or the other Azerbaijani regions around it seized by Armenian forces.
    • At the same time, Russia also has strong ties to Azerbaijan, which is being openly backed by Turkey, a North Atlantic Treaty Organisation (NATO) member.
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