UPSC Exam  >  UPSC Notes  >  Current Affairs & Hindu Analysis: Daily, Weekly & Monthly  >  Weekly Current Affairs (1st to 7th February 2024) Part - 2

Weekly Current Affairs (1st to 7th February 2024) Part - 2 | Current Affairs & Hindu Analysis: Daily, Weekly & Monthly - UPSC PDF Download

Conserving Northern White Rhino Through Surrogacy

Weekly Current Affairs (1st to 7th February 2024) Part - 2 | Current Affairs & Hindu Analysis: Daily, Weekly & Monthly - UPSC

Context: The northern white rhino (NWR) stands as one of the planet's most critically endangered species, with only two surviving females. To rescue this species from the brink of extinction, scientists initiated a groundbreaking project named BioRescue in 2015, employing advanced reproductive technologies like in-vitro fertilization (IVF) and stem cell techniques.

  • Recently, the international consortium known as BioRescue made a historic announcement: the successful initiation of the first-ever rhino pregnancy through a lab-created embryo, which was subsequently transferred to a southern white rhino. This milestone serves as a beacon of hope for the survival of the northern white rhino.

How are Scientists Creating Test Tube Rhinos?

Breakthrough in In-Vitro Fertilization (IVF):

  • The BioRescue consortium achieved a monumental feat with the inception of the first rhino pregnancy via IVF. This involved the transfer of a laboratory-developed rhino embryo into a surrogate southern white rhino.

Surrogacy:

  • Following the demise of the last male northern white rhino in 2018, surrogacy emerged as the sole viable option for species preservation. Pathological factors rendered the remaining females, Najin and Fatu, incapable of reproduction.
  • The survival hope for the NWR hinges on utilizing frozen sperm from deceased males and eggs from the females to create embryos in the lab, which are then implanted into surrogate mothers from the southern white rhino subspecies, which boasts greater abundance and genetic similarity.

Concerns Surrounding Test Tube Rhinos:

Genetic Viability Concerns:

  • The embryos utilized in the process are derived from eggs of two females and sperm from deceased males, leading to restricted genetic diversity for a sustainable northern white population.

Preserving Northern White Rhino Traits:

  • Crossbreeding with southern white rhinos risks diluting the distinctive characteristics of the northern white, which are finely tuned for swampy habitats.

Behavioral Challenges in IVF Offspring:

  • Offspring born via IVF may lack the innate behavioral traits typical of northern white rhinos. Early interaction and learning from northern white adults are crucial for perpetuating species-specific behaviors.
  • Given the advancing age of the remaining northern white females, Najin (35) and Fatu (24), it is imperative for the first IVF calves to be born promptly to ensure they can acquire essential behavioral and social skills from the surviving females.

Conservation Beyond Test Tubes:

  • Critics emphasize the importance of not solely focusing on species regeneration but also addressing root causes of extinction, such as habitat degradation and poaching.

Clarification on Surrogacy:

  • Surrogacy involves an arrangement wherein a woman (the surrogate) agrees to carry and deliver a child on behalf of another person or couple (the intended parent/s).

What are the Key Facts Regarding the Northern White Rhino?

About:

  • The NWR is a subspecies of the white rhino (Ceratotherium simum), which is native to central and eastern Africa.
  • White rhinos are the second largest land mammal after the elephant. They are known as the square-lipped rhinoceros, white rhinos have a square upper lip with almost no hair.
  • The northern and southern white rhino are two genetically distinct subspecies of the white rhino.

Current Status:

  • The IUCN Red List Status of White Rhino is Near Threatened. The IUCN status of its subspecies is as follows:
  • Northern White Rhino: Critically Endangered.
  • Southern White Rhino: Near Threatened.

The NWR population has declined dramatically due to poaching, habitat loss, civil war, and disease.

  • In the 1960s, there were about 2,000 NWRs in the wild. By 2008, only four remained.
  • The last male NWR, named Sudan, died in 2018, leaving only two females, Najin and Fatu, who live in a conservancy in Kenya.
  • The majority (98.8%) of the southern white rhinos occur in just four countries: South Africa, Namibia, Zimbabwe, and Kenya.
  • Southern white rhinos are around 18,000 animals that exist in protected areas and private game reserves.

Question for Weekly Current Affairs (1st to 7th February 2024) Part - 2
Try yourself:
What is the purpose of utilizing surrogacy in the conservation of the northern white rhino?
View Solution


Uttarakhand's UCC Draft Report

Weekly Current Affairs (1st to 7th February 2024) Part - 2 | Current Affairs & Hindu Analysis: Daily, Weekly & Monthly - UPSC

Context: Recently, the Uttarakhand Cabinet greenlit the Uniform Civil Code (UCC) draft report, slated for introduction as a bill in the state assembly on February 6, 2024, for potential enactment.

  • Leading the UCC drafting committee was retired Supreme Court judge Ranjana Prakash Desai. This proposed code is envisioned as a unified set of laws applicable to all residents of Uttarakhand, irrespective of their religion, caste, or gender.

Insights on Legal Framework:

  • Article 162 of the Indian Constitution empowers the executive authority of a State to legislate on matters within the purview of the State Legislature. 
  • Accordingly, the constitution of a committee to introduce and implement the UCC does not contravene legal bounds, as per Entry 5 of the Concurrent List.

Key Highlights of the Uttarakhand UCC Draft Report:

Objective:

  • The UCC aims at supplanting distinct personal laws affiliated with different religions, primarily concerning facets like marriage, divorce, adoption, and inheritance, in alignment with the directive principle enshrined in Article 44 of the Constitution.

Directive Principle of State Policy (DPSP):

  • Article 44 advocates for the establishment of a uniform civil code applicable to all citizens of India, transcending religious boundaries.

Proposals:

  • The committee's propositions encompass a prohibition on practices like polygamy, halal, iddat (mandatory waiting period following dissolution of a Muslim marriage), triple talaq, and child marriage. 
  • Additionally, uniform marriage age for girls across religions, mandatory registration of live-in relationships, and equal treatment of men and women in matters of inheritance and marriage are advocated.

Gender Equality Focus:

  • The draft UCC underscores gender parity, aiming to grant Muslim women an equal property share, as opposed to the current 25% accorded under Muslim personal laws.

Marriage Age:

  • The stipulated minimum marriage age remains consistent at 18 years for women and 21 years for men.

Exemption for Scheduled Tribes (STs):

  • STs have been exempted from the UCC bill's ambit, considering their distinct status. This exemption addresses concerns voiced by the tribal population, constituting around 3% of the state, regarding potential implications of the UCC on their special status.

Schemes Approved in Budget 2024-25

Weekly Current Affairs (1st to 7th February 2024) Part - 2 | Current Affairs & Hindu Analysis: Daily, Weekly & Monthly - UPSC

Context: The Union cabinet recently greenlit a series of pivotal economic decisions, including the extension of several key schemes such as the Subsidised Sugar Scheme.

Insights into Approved Schemes by the Union Government:

Extension of Subsidised Sugar Scheme:

  • The Cabinet sanctioned an extension of the Subsidised Sugar Scheme, ensuring the distribution of subsidized sugar to Antyodya Anna Yojana (AAY) families until March 31, 2026.
  • This initiative aims to provide access to sugar to the most economically disadvantaged, augmenting their nutritional intake and bolstering their health.
  • Under the Scheme, the Central Government extends a subsidy of Rs. 18.50 per kg per month of sugar to AAY families across participating States.
  • This approval is anticipated to yield benefits exceeding Rs. 1,850 crore during the tenure of the 15th Finance Commission (2020-21 to 2025-26).

Continuation of the Scheme for Rebate of State and Central Taxes and Levies (RoSCTL) for Apparel/Garments Export:

  • The Cabinet endorsed the continuation of the RoSCTL scheme, facilitating a rebate on state and central taxes and levies for apparel and garments exports until March 31, 2026.
  • This extension is poised to establish a stable policy framework conducive to long-term trade planning, particularly in the textiles sector.
  • Extension of the Animal Husbandry Infrastructure Development Fund (AHIDF):
  • The Cabinet granted an extension of the AHIDF, to be implemented under the Infrastructure Development Fund (IDF), for an additional three years until 2025-26.
  • The AHIDF seeks to incentivize investments in various facets of the animal husbandry sector, encompassing dairy processing, product diversification, meat processing, animal feed plants, and breed multiplication farms.
  • The Government of India will offer a 3% interest subvention for eight years, with a two-year moratorium, for loans up to 90% from scheduled banks and other financial institutions.

Marketing Margin for Supply of Domestic Gas to Fertiliser Units:

  • The Cabinet ratified a formula for determining the marketing margin on the supply of domestic gas to fertilizer (urea) units, effective from May 1, 2009, to November 17, 2015.
  • This structural reform aims to provide additional capital to various fertilizer (urea) units, relieving them of the burden of marketing margins paid on domestic gas procured between 2009 and 2015.
  • Aligned with the vision of AatmaNirbhar Bharat, this approval is expected to incentivize manufacturers to bolster investment, fostering self-sufficiency in fertilizers and instilling confidence for future investments in the gas infrastructure sector.

MEA's Development Aid

Weekly Current Affairs (1st to 7th February 2024) Part - 2 | Current Affairs & Hindu Analysis: Daily, Weekly & Monthly - UPSC

Context: The Ministry of External Affairs (MEA) recently unveiled its development assistance plans in the Interim Budget for the fiscal year 2024-25, emphasizing strategic partners and neighboring nations.

  • The MEA's approach to development aid is crafted to bolster India's global presence and interests, in alignment with its foreign policy objectives. Furthermore, it seeks to foster regional connectivity, collaboration, and stability through targeted development assistance initiatives.

How is Development Assistance Allocated Amongst Countries?

  • The ministry has earmarked a total of Rs 22,154 crore for the fiscal year 2024-25 in the Interim budget, a notable increase from last year's allocation of Rs 18,050 crore.
  • Reflecting India's 'Neighbourhood First' policy, the largest portion of the aid package is dedicated to Bhutan, with an allocation of Rs 2,068 crore compared to Rs 2,400 crore in the previous fiscal year.
    • Bhutan emerges as the primary beneficiary, receiving a significant portion of the aid budget.
  • The Maldives is allocated Rs 600 crore in development assistance, a slight reduction from the previous year's Rs 770 crore, as per budget documents.
  • Continuing India's close ties with Afghanistan, a budgetary allocation of Rs 200 crore has been designated for the country.
  • Nepal is slated to receive Rs 700 crore in development aid, while Bangladesh is allocated Rs 120 crore.
  • Sri Lanka is designated Rs 75 crore in development assistance, Mauritius Rs 370 crore, and Myanmar Rs 250 crore.
  • An additional Rs 200 crore is allocated for African countries.
  • The total development assistance for various regions, including Latin America and Eurasia, stands at Rs 4,883 crore.
  • Maintaining continuity, Rs 100 crore is set aside for the Chabahar Port project, underscoring India's commitment to connectivity initiatives with Iran.

What are the Other Development Partnerships of MEA?

Humanitarian Assistance:

  • The MEA extends humanitarian assistance to partner countries in times of natural disasters, emergencies, and pandemics.
  • India has provided relief supplies, medical teams, and financial assistance to several countries and also supplied medicines, vaccines, and medical equipment to over 150 countries to combat the Covid-19 pandemic.

Cultural and Heritage Cooperation:

  • The MEA promotes cultural and heritage cooperation with partner countries. India's assistance programme more than 50 cultural and heritage projects have been completed, including the restoration of Ananda Temple; Shwedagon Pagoda (Myanmar), Indian Gallery at Sacred Tooth Relic Temple, Kandy (Sri Lanka), renovation of BalaTiripuraSundari Temple; construction of Dharamshalas-Pashupathinath temple (Nepal).
  • Currently around 25 cultural and heritage projects are under implementation in various countries.

Capacity Building and Technical Assistance:

  • India's development partnership prioritises capacity building, offering civilian and military training, on-site programs, and expert deputation to friendly nations.
  • The Indian Technical and Economic Cooperation (ITEC) program, initiated in 1964, spans 160 partner countries, providing short-term training across diverse disciplines, witnessing significant growth from 4,000 to 14,000 slots by 2019-20.
  • Courses cover areas such as Engineering, Climate Change, Health, and Women Empowerment, contributing to holistic skill enhancement globally.

Lines of Credit for Development Projects:

  • Development assistance in the form of concessional Lines of Credit (LOCs) is extended by India under the Indian Development and Economic Assistance Scheme (IDEAS) through the Exim Bank of India.
  • In total 306 LOCs worth USD 30.59 billion have been extended to 65 countries. The projects under the LOCs cover critical infrastructure sectors such as transport, power generation; agriculture; manufacturing industries, healthcare, education and capacity building.

Why Bhutan Holds Significance for India

  • Bhutan plays a crucial role as a buffer state between India and China, offering an additional layer of security against potential northern threats due to its strategic location.
  • During the 2017 Doklam standoff between India and China, Bhutan's cooperation was pivotal, allowing Indian troops to enter its territory to counter Chinese incursions.
  • India's steadfast commitment to Bhutan's socio-economic advancement aligns with its priorities to enhance cross-border connectivity and bolster trade, infrastructure, and energy ties.
  • Under the 12th Five Year Plan (2018-2023), the Government of India has pledged Rs. 45 billion to Bhutan, with Rs. 28 billion designated for Project Tied Assistance (PTA), spanning sectors such as health, education, culture, and infrastructure.
  • High Impact Community Development Projects (HICDPs)/Small Development Projects (SDPs) form another facet of India's grassroots development efforts in Bhutan, focusing on swiftly implementing small-scale infrastructure projects in remote areas.
  • Hydropower cooperation stands as a cornerstone of bilateral economic collaboration, with ongoing projects operationalizing significant hydroelectric capacity already benefiting both nations.
  • India and Bhutan's partnership in the hydropower sector, governed by a bilateral agreement since 2006, continues to evolve, with joint ventures like the 600 MW Kholongchhu hydropower project contributing to Bhutan's revenue and employment opportunities.
  • Bhutan ranks India as its top trading partner, and their historical and cultural ties, rooted in shared civilizational bonds and Buddhism, further strengthen their relationship.
  • India's 'Neighbourhood First Policy' underpins its strategic approach to fostering connectivity, trade, and people-to-people exchanges across South Asia, including with Bhutan, in line with mutual interests and shared values.

Public Examinations (Prevention of Unfair Means) Bill, 2024

Weekly Current Affairs (1st to 7th February 2024) Part - 2 | Current Affairs & Hindu Analysis: Daily, Weekly & Monthly - UPSC

Context: The Public Examinations (Prevention of Unfair Means) Bill, 2024, recently introduced in Lok Sabha, seeks to curb instances of "Unfair Means" in public examinations to enhance transparency, fairness, and credibility within the examination system.

  • Upon enactment, the Bill will not only address the pressing issue of unfair means but also serve as a prototype for states to consider adopting as per their discretion.

Rationale Behind the Bill

Rising Cases of Question Paper Leaks:

  • In recent years, there has been a surge in incidents of question paper leaks during recruitment exams nationwide.
  • Reports indicate at least 48 instances of paper leaks across 16 states in the past five years, disrupting government job recruitment processes.
  • These leaks have affected around 1.51 crore applicants vying for approximately 1.2 lakh positions.

Impact of Malpractices on Examination Schedules:

  • Malpractices in public examinations often result in exam delays and cancellations, adversely affecting the aspirations of millions of young individuals.
  • Currently, there exists no specific substantive legislation to address unfair means or related offenses.
  • It is imperative to identify and effectively tackle elements exploiting vulnerabilities within the examination system through comprehensive central legislation.

Enhancing Transparency and Fairness:

  • The primary goal of the Bill is to enhance transparency, fairness, and credibility within public examination systems, ensuring that sincere efforts of youth are duly recognized and rewarded, and their future prospects safeguarded.
  • The Bill seeks to effectively deter individuals, organized groups, or institutions from engaging in various unfair practices that undermine the integrity of public examinations for personal gain or wrongful motives.

What are the Key Provisions of the Bill?

Defines Public Examination:

  • Under Section 2(k), a Public Examination is defined as any examination conducted by a “public examination authority” listed in the Schedule of the Bill, or any such other authority as may be notified by the Central Government.
  • The schedule lists five public examination authorities, Union Public Service Commission (UPSC), the Staff Selection Commission (SSC), the Railway Recruitment Boards (RRBs), the Institute of Banking Personnel Selection (IBPS), the National Testing Agency (NTA).
  • NTA conducts the JEE (Main), NEET-UG, UGC-NET, the Common University Entrance Test (CUET)
  • Apart from these designated public examination authorities, all “Ministries or Departments of the Central Government and their attached and subordinate offices for recruitment of staff” will also come under the purview of the new law.
  • The central government can add new authorities in the schedule through a notification as and when required.

Punishments:

  • Section 9 of the Bill states that all offences shall be cognizable, non-bailable, and non-compoundable.
  • In cognizable offences, police has a duty to investigate the case without seeking permission from the Magistrate.
    • A non-compoundable offence is one in which the case cannot be withdrawn by the complainant even when the complainant and the accused have reached a compromise, and a trial must necessarily follow.
    • It means that an arrest can be made without a warrant and bail will not be a matter of right; rather, a magistrate will determine whether the accused is fit to be released on bail.
    • Punishment for “any person or persons resorting to unfair means and offences” can be three to five years in prison, and a fine up to Rs 10 lakh.
  • If the convict fails to pay the fine, “an additional punishment of imprisonment shall be imposed, as per the provisions of the Bharatiya Nyay Sanhita, 2023.

Punishment for the Service Providers:

  • A service provider, engaged by the public examination authority for the conduct of examinations, shall also be liable to be punished with imposition of a fine up to Rs 1 crore and proportionate cost of examination shall also be recovered from it, if the service provider is involved in illegal practices.
  • Defines Unfair Means:
  • Section 3 of the Bill lists at least 15 actions that amount to using unfair means in public examinations for monetary or wrongful gain.
  • These acts include: leakage of question paper or answer key or part thereof and taking possession of question paper or an Optical Mark Recognition (OMR) response sheet without authority, providing solution to questions by any unauthorised person during a public examination.
  • The section also lists tampering with any document necessary for short-listing of candidates or finalising the merit or rank of a candidate; tampering with the computer network or computer system; creation of fake website and issuance of fake admit cards or offer letters to cheat or for monetary gain as illegal acts.

Investigation and Enforcement:

  • The bill mandates that offenses under the proposed law will be investigated by officers not below the rank of Deputy Superintendent of Police or Assistant Commissioner of Police.

Model Draft for States:

  • The bill also serves as a model draft for states to adopt at their discretion, with the aim of assisting states in preventing criminal elements from disrupting the conduct of their state-level public examinations.

High Level National Technical Committee:

  • Formation of a High-Level National Technical Committee on Public Examinations.
  • This committee will focus on developing protocols to secure digital platforms. It will devise strategies for implementing foolproof IT security systems.
  • The committee will formulate national standards and service levels for both IT and physical infrastructure. These standards will be deployed for the conduct of examinations to ensure efficiency and reliability.

What Concerns Arise Regarding the Bill?

Discretion of State Governments:

  • Although the bill aims to set a standard for states to adopt, granting discretion to state governments may result in varying implementations across different regions.
  • Such discrepancies could potentially undermine the law's efficacy in curbing unfair practices in public examinations.

Exploitable Loopholes in Sanctions:

  • Certain provisions of the bill, particularly regarding penalties for offenders, might contain loopholes that can be exploited to evade legal repercussions.
  • For instance, if fines imposed on service providers do not match the financial gains obtained through unfair means, they may not act as a significant deterrent.

Ambiguity Surrounding the National Technical Committee:

  • While the bill proposes establishing a High-Level National Technical Committee on Public Examinations, there remains uncertainty regarding its composition, qualifications, and mandate.
  • The absence of clear criteria for selecting committee members may raise concerns about their expertise and impartiality in developing robust IT security systems and national standards for examination conduct.

Potential for Legal Challenges:

  • Legal challenges may arise concerning the bill's provisions on the cognizability, non-bailability, and non-compoundability of offenses.
  • Debates could ensue regarding whether such stringent measures proportionately address the seriousness of the offenses and adhere to principles of natural justice.

Conclusion

  • While the bill delineates measures for investigation and enforcement by designated law enforcement officers, there is a pressing need for comprehensive oversight mechanisms to ensure accountability and transparency in the examination process.
  • This entails monitoring examination conduct, handling complaints, and auditing examination procedures to effectively identify and prevent malpractices.

Question for Weekly Current Affairs (1st to 7th February 2024) Part - 2
Try yourself:
What is the objective of the Uniform Civil Code (UCC) draft report in Uttarakhand?
View Solution


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