News Snippet

News 1: ‘India fast emerging as Web3 ecosystem’

News 2: Rustom-2 UAV to complete user trials by August 2023

News 3: PM launches Mission DefSpace

News 4: Tamil Nadu launches mission to save critically endangered vultures

News 5: Centre to promote destinations in 15 States as part of Swadesh Darshan 2

News 6: Lothal, ‘oldest dock in the world’, to get heritage complex

News 7: Cuban missile crisis

News 8: Missed chances on India-China border

Other important news:

  1. Balance of Trade

News 1: ‘India fast emerging as Web3 ecosystem’


Background:

  • India has a rapidly growing Web3 ecosystem with more than 450 active start-ups, which cumulatively raised $1.3 billion in funding till April, Nasscom said.

Web3 ecosystem:

  • While global response to Web3 was still shaping up, India’s growing economy, demographic dividend and exponential adoption of emerging technologies across sectors, positioned the country to become one of the highest growth markets for Web3 globally.
  • Web3, a new iteration of the World Wide Web, incorporates concepts such as blockchain technologies and metaverse. In the last two years, Indian Web3 start-ups have grown to a 450-plus community with four unicorns.
  • In terms of distribution, more than 80% of the Web3 start-ups were in tier I cities. However, the tier II/III ecosystem was growing rapidly with locations such as Jaipur and Vadodara evolving as emerging hubs for Web3 start-ups.

Web3:

  • Web3 embraces decentralization and is being built, operated, and owned by its users.
  • Web3 puts power in the hands of individuals rather than corporations.
  • Web3 uses blockchains, cryptocurrencies, and NFTs to give power back to the users in the form of ownership.

Core principles:

  • Web3 is decentralized: instead of large swathes of the internet controlled and owned by centralized entities, ownership gets distributed amongst its builders and users.
  • Web3 is permissionless: everyone has equal access to participate in Web3, and no one gets excluded.
  • Web3 has native payments: it uses cryptocurrency for spending and sending money online instead of relying on the outdated infrastructure of banks and payment processors.
  • Web3 is trustless: it operates using incentives and economic mechanisms instead of relying on trusted third parties.

News 2: Rustom-2 UAV to complete user trials by August 2023


Background:

  • The indigenous medium altitude long endurance (MALE) unmanned aerial vehicle (UAV) developed by the Defence Research and Development Organisation is expected to complete all user trials by August 2023, defence officials said. Parallelly, a separate project for the weaponisation of the Rustom UAV is also under way.
  • “Four prototypes of Rustom-2 are currently flying. Five production models will be manufactured by Hindustan Aeronautics Ltd. (HAL), which is the production partner,” a defence official said on the sidelines of DefExpo-2022. “The production models will be ready in five or six months.”

Rustom:

  • DRDO Rustom is a Medium Altitude Long Endurance unmanned air vehicle (UAV) being developed by Defence Research and Development Organisation for the three services, Indian Army, Indian Navy and the Indian Air Force of the Indian Armed Forces.

News 3: PM launches Mission DefSpace


Background:

  • In an ambitious effort to develop innovative solutions for the three Services in the space domain through the Indian industry and start-ups, Prime Minister Narendra Modi on Wednesday launched the ‘Mission DefSpace’ at the ongoing DefExpo.
  •  “Space technology is an example of what security will mean for any strong nation in the future. Various challenges in this area have been reviewed and identified by the three Services. We have to work fast to solve them,” Mr. Modi said.
  • Under Mission DefSpace, 75 challenges are being opened to get innovative solutions, based on the defence requirements in the space domain, the Defence Ministry said.
  • Stating that space technology was shaping new definitions of India’s generous space diplomacy and giving rise to new possibilities, the Prime Minister stated, “Many African countries and many other small countries are benefiting from this.”

Real-time access to data

  • There are more than 60 developing countries with whom India is sharing its space science. “The South Asia satellite is an effective example of this. By next year, 10 Association of South East Asian Nations (ASEAN) countries will also get real-time access to India’s satellite data. Even developed countries like Europe and America are using our satellite data,” he stated.
  •  “Defence space challenges, which have been worked with the Services, Ministry of Defence, along with private industry and the ISpA, are primarily aimed at making a range of defence applications to enhance the capability of the three Services,” he stated.

News 4: Tamil Nadu launches mission to save critically endangered vultures


Background:

  • Alarmed at the 96% decline in India’s vulture population between 1993 and 2003, the Central government put into place two action plans to protect the species at the national level — the first in 2006 and the second, ongoing plan for 2020-2025.
  • One of the important action points in this nationwide plan is the formation of State-level committees to save the critically endangered population of vultures.
  • Acting on it, the Tamil Nadu Government formed a State-level Committee to set up an institutional framework for the effective conservation of vultures, which almost went extinct in the country at the beginning of the 21st century.
  • In Tamil Nadu, four species of vultures are found — the Oriental white-backed vulture, the long-billed vulture, the red-headed vulture, and the Egyptian vulture. “The first three are residents and can be found in the landscapes of the Nilgiris and Sathyamangalam,” S. Bharathidasan, secretary of Arulagam, which works for vulture conservation, said. “There is evidence of Egyptian vulture breeding only at one site in Dharmapuri,” he said.
  • The committee, which has a two-year tenure, will take steps for monitoring the conservation and recovery of existing vulture sites.

Role of vultures:

  • Vultures play a key role as nature’s scavengers, keeping the environment clean. Their social and ecological significance cannot be underestimated, Ms. Sahu said, adding “It is the last level scavenger.”

UPSC Prelims 2012 question:

Vultures which used to be very common in the Indian countryside some years ago are rarely seen nowadays. This is attributed to

  1. The destruction of their nesting sites by new invasive species
  2. A drug used by cattle owners for treating their diseased cattle
  3. Scarcity of food available to them
  4. A widespread, persistent and fatal disease among them

Answer – Option b is correct. Cattle were fed a non-steroid anti-inflammatory drug called diclofenac. But once cattle died, vultures ate their carcasses. This Diclofenac drug leads to renal (kidney) failure of Vultures.

To save the birds, India, Nepal and Pakistan banned the manufacture of veterinary formulations of diclofenac in 2006. 


News 5: Centre to promote destinations in 15 States as part of Swadesh Darshan 2


Background:

  • Prayagraj, Chitrakoot, and Gwalior are among the cities identified in 15 States across the country to be promoted as part of India’s new domestic tourism policy which moves away from theme-based tourist circuits and focuses on revving up destination tourism.
  • The initiative is being taken as part of the first phase of the ‘Swadesh Darshan 2’ which will be kicked off in January.
  • Fifteen States are part of the first phase which include Madhya Pradesh, Karnataka, Tamil Nadu, Uttar Pradesh, and Maharashtra. Some of the prominent places identified are Jhansi and Prayagraj in Uttar Pradesh, Gwalior, Chitrakoot and Khajuraho in Madhya Pradesh and Ajanta and Ellora in Maharashtra.

Contribution of tourism:

  • “To create jobs including self-employment for local communities, to enhance the skills of local youth in tourism and hospitality, to increase private sector investment in tourism and hospitality and to preserve and enhance local cultural and natural resources,” the vision document said.
  • According to the third Tourism Satellite Account for 2017-18, 2018-19, and 2019-20, the contribution of tourism to the employment is 14.78%, 14.87% and 15.34%, respectively. 

Swadesh Darshan Scheme:

  • Launched: 2014 – 15
  • Ministry: Ministry of Tourism
  • Type: Central Sector Scheme
  • Objective: Integrated development of theme-based tourist circuits.
  • The scheme aims to promote, develop and harness the potential of tourism in India. Under the Swadesh Darshan scheme, the Ministry of Tourism provides Central Financial Assistance – CFA to State Governments, Union Territory Administrations for the infrastructure development of circuits.
  • This scheme is envisioned to synergise with other schemes like Swachh Bharat Abhiyan, Skill India, Make in India etc. with the idea of positioning the tourism sector as a major engine for job creation, the driving force for economic growth, building synergy with various sectors to enable tourism to realise its potential.

News 6: Lothal, ‘oldest dock in the world’, to get heritage complex


Background:

  • Prime Minister Narendra Modi on Tuesday evening reviewed the construction of the National Maritime Heritage Complex (NMHC) site at Gujarat’s Lothal via video conferencing. “There are many such tales of our history that have been forgotten,” the PM said. “Lothal was not only a major trading centre of the Indus Valley Civilisation, but it was also a symbol of India’s maritime power and prosperity.”

Where is Lothal?

  • Lothal was one of the southernmost sites of the Indus Valley civilization, located in the Bhāl region of what is now the state of Gujarat. The port city is believed to have been built in 2,200 BC.
  • Lothal was a thriving trade centre in ancient times, with its trade of beads, gems and ornaments reaching West Asia and Africa. The meaning of Lothal (a combination of Loth and (s) thal) in Gujarati is “the mound of the dead”.
  • Incidentally, the name of the city of Mohenjo-daro (also part of the Indus Valley Civilisation, now in Pakistan) means the same in Sindhi.
  • Indian archaeologists started the search for cities of the Harappan Civilisation post-1947 in Gujarat’s Saurashtra. Archaeologist SR Rao led the team which discovered a number of Harappan sites at the time, including the port city of Lothal.
  • Excavation work was carried out in Lothal between February 1955 and May 1960. According to the Archaeological Survey of India (ASI), Lothal had the world’s earliest known dock, connecting the city to an ancient course of the Sabarmati river.
  • Additionally, the National Institute of Oceanography in Goa discovered marine microfossils and salt, gypsum crystals at the site, indicating that sea water once filled the structure and it was definitely a dockyard.
  • In later excavations, ASI unearthed a mound, a township, a marketplace, and the dock. Adjacent to the excavated areas stands the archaeological site museum, where some of the most prominent collections of Indus-era antiquities in India are displayed.

Heritage Value

  • Lothal was nominated in April 2014 as a UNESCO World Heritage Site, and its application is pending on the tentative list of UNESCO. As per the nomination dossier submitted to UNESCO, “The excavated site of Lothal is the only port-town of the Indus Valley Civilisation. A metropolis with an upper and a lower town had in on its northern side a basin with vertical wall, inlet and outlet channels which has been identified as a tidal dockyard.
  • Satellite images show that the river channel, now dried, would have brought in considerable volume of water during high tide, which would have filled the basin and facilitated sailing of boats upstream.
  • The remains of stone anchors, marine shells, sealings which trace its source in the Persian Gulf, together with the structure identified as a warehouse further aid the comprehension of the functioning of the port.”

The Project

  • The project began in March 2022, and is being developed at a cost of Rs 3,500 crore. It will have several innovative features such as Lothal mini-recreation, which will recreate Harappan architecture and lifestyle through immersive technology; besides four theme parks – Memorial theme park, Maritime and Navy theme park, Climate theme park, and Adventure and Amusement theme park.
  • It will also house the world’s tallest lighthouse museum, 14 galleries highlighting India’s maritime heritage starting from the Harappan time till today, as well as a coastal states pavilion displaying the diverse maritime heritage of Indian states and UTs.
  • The Prime Minister said that the National Maritime Heritage Complex at Lothal will act as a centre for learning and understanding India’s maritime history. The NMHC is being developed with the aim of displaying India’s diverse maritime heritage and also help Lothal emerge as a world-class international tourist destination.

News 7: Cuban missile crisis


Background:

  • The October of 1962 saw the Cold War hit its height, when the two great superpowers, the Soviet Union and the US, teetered on the brink of nuclear warfare for 13 days. The standoff, known as the Cuban missile crisis, was resolved and disaster narrowly averted thanks to timely negotiations between Soviet First Secretary Nikita Khrushchev and US President John F Kennedy.
  • Earlier this month, US President Joe Biden said that his Russian counterpart Vladimir Putin’s veiled threat of using tactical nuclear weapons against Ukraine marked the first prospect of nuclear “armageddon” since the Cuban missile crisis.

Background to the standoff

  • An important precursor of the Cuban missile crisis was the failed Bay of Pigs invasion of 1961, in which US-backed Cuban counter-revolutionaries attempted to overthrow Fidel Castro’s regime in the country and establish a non-communist government friendly to the US.
  • After successfully fending off the operation, Castro turned increasingly towards the USSR and its premier Khrushchev, to deter any future invasion by the US. An agreement was made between the two, and by July 1962, a number of clandestine missile launch facilities began to be constructed in Cuba.
  • Other than wanting to protect another communist country, Khrushchev also wanted to place nuclear weapons in Cuba to counter the urgent threat of US missiles close to its own borders.
  • From the late 1950s, Washington had begun placing nuclear missiles in Turkey and Italy, which had the capability of destroying strategic centres within the USSR. By placing nuclear missiles in Cuba, the USSR could challenge the strategic status-quo favourable to the US.

The Cuban missile crisis

  • On October 14, 1962, a US U-2 spy plane flying over Cuban territory took pictures of several medium-range and intermediate-range ballistic nuclear missile sites being constructed in Cuba, which had the capacity to target strategic centres in the heartland of the US.
  • Kennedy opted for another route and on October 22, announcing the discovery of the missiles, ordered a naval “quarantine” of Cuba. The ‘quarantine’ was different from a blockade announcement, which would indicate the occurrence of war. US destroyers and submarines were placed around Cuba in order to prevent military supplies being brought to the island.

The stalemate

  • The same day, Kennedy sent Khrushchev a letter, stating that the US would not allow offensive weapons to be delivered to Cuba and demanded that Soviets dismantle their missile bases and return all offensive weapons to the USSR.
  • The US recognised that the Soviet missile sites were reaching closer to a state of operational readiness and the nuclear crisis was not resolved. In response, it increased the Strategic Air Command’s readiness to an unprecedented DEFCON II, only one step away from war being declared “imminent.”

The agreement

  • The first sign of de-escalation came on October 26, when Khrushchev sent Kennedy a letter, stating that he would be willing to stop military shipments and withdraw his forces from Cuba if the US agreed to not invade or support any invasion of its neighbour.
  • The following day, Khrushchev announced on a public broadcast in the USSR that they would remove missiles from Cuba if the US would remove its missiles from Italy and Turkey first, contrary to what he had said in the letter to Kennedy.
  • Kennedy, however, refused to retaliate to this, and chose to respond favourably to the agreement from Khrushchev’s letter while ignoring the additional condition from his broadcast.
  • At the same time, US Attorney General Robert Kennedy met Soviet Ambassador Anatoly Dobrynin secretly. He agreed to not invade Cuba and to remove the missiles from Turkey and Italy, but added that the latter could not be part of any public resolutions.
  • On October 28, Khrushchev announced that Soviet nuclear missile sites would be removed from Cuba, while Kennedy pledged to never invade Cuba and secretly agreed to remove nuclear missiles from Turkey and Italy. Both superpowers began to fulfil their promises over the coming weeks, and the crisis was over by late November.

News 8: Missed chances on India-China border


Background:

  • Sixty years ago on this day — October 20, 1962 — Chinese troops came down from the Himalayan heights all along the India-China border and confronted an unprepared India, shredding Prime Minister Jawaharlal Nehru’s faith in the Himalayan shield.
  • But relations with China, whether on the borders or in the political sphere, had long been a cause for concern, Nehru’s benign view notwithstanding. As would be seen, there were infirmities in India’s boundary with China, both in the east and the west.

Uncertainty in east & west

  • Back in 1950, Nehru had declared in Parliament that in the east, “McMahon Line was our border, map or no map”. In the west, the border in Aksai Chin was marked “undefined” in the Survey of India maps that India inherited on Independence — but Nehru said it was known by custom and usage.
  • On March 13, 1949, with the civil war in China at its peak, India had rejected a suggestion to demarcate the Aksai Chin border: “In the present disturbed conditions, it is not possible to demarcate undefined frontier between Kashmir and Sinking (Xinjiang).”
  • Subsequently in 1954, the border along Aksai Chin was defined by Nehru’s fiat, dispensing with the mandatory requirement of consulting the other stakeholder, China. The new, unilaterally defined boundary included Aksai Chin within India; however, no effort was made to occupy it or to even plant the Indian flag there as a mark of sovereignty.
  • India remained unaware that this area was already in use by China. It came to know that the Chinese had built a 220-km-long road there only after the completion of the project was announced in 1957.
  • In the eastern sector, the McMahon Line had been drawn in 1914 without even a survey. Henry McMahon admitted in 1935 that the “want of local accurate knowledge and absence of detailed surveys rendered it impossible to define large portion of it, except in a general term”.

Unrealistic expectations

  • While negotiating the Tibet agreement in 1954, India consciously avoided discussions about the border, leaving the boundary question open while giving up all the facilities it had inherited from the British. By the end of 1959 there were enough straws in the wind to suggest an impending escalation, since the dialogue between the two countries had by then become polemical.
  • The April 1960 discussions between Nehru and Chinese Premier Zhou Enlai in New Delhi failed to bridge their differences. The major stumbling block was in the western sector, involving Aksai Chin.
  • At the same time, Nehru remained unsure of India’s position. On December 9, 1959 he told Rajya Sabha that “a lingering doubt remained in my mind and in my ministry’s mind” as to the future, but insisted that “we should hold our position and lapse of time and events would confirm it and by the time challenge came, we would be in a much stronger position to face it”.
  • China, on the other hand, had accepted that its maps were old, and its borders — not only with India but with other neighbours — needed surveys and discussions before new maps were printed. Zhou specifically told Nehru in Beijing in October 1954 that China “would undertake surveys and hold discussions with the other stakeholders before finalising its international boundaries”.
  • Nehru had acquiesced with that position. Yet, he expected that China should accept the delineations as on the Indian maps and replicate them in its own maps, which was unrealistic.

War and no settlement

  • With the Panchsheel agreement (1954) having squeezed India out of Tibet, China found the time right to enforce its territorial claims along the Indian border. Its initial intrusions were dismissed by the PM as minor incidents, which used to occur “long before Chinese came to Tibet (and) conceded that the frontier was not clearly demarcated”. While the intrusions continued, and became worrying, no serious view was taken until it was too late.
  • The unfortunate part of Nehru’s China’s policy was that the differences on borders were kept wrapped in a false veneer, and an uninformed but mesmerised public went hoarse shouting “Hindi-China bhai bhai”.
  • After the Kongka pass incident (1959), in which nine Indian policemen were killed, tore apart the veneer of friendship, the government held China responsible, creating a sense of betrayal in the public. The border problem snowballed into armed conflict in 1962.
  • Even after the ceasefire, Nehru did not respond positively to Zhou’s suggestion to create a demilitarised zone to avoid future conflicts. The two countries were left without an agreed line separating them. A couple of unsuccessful attempts were made at reaching a settlement, including one by a group of non-aligned countries led by Sri Lanka.

Prisoners of the past

  • After Nehru’s death, successive governments remained prisoners of the past and stuck to the position taken by him, failing to respond positively to the Chinese offer made in 1960 for a swap between the western and eastern sectors, which was available until the mid-eighties, when that offer was withdrawn. China now claims the eastern sector too as part of any settlement, while holding on to the western sector.
  • In an interview in 2016, Dai Bingguo, State Councillor and China’s Special Representative at 15 rounds of talks with his Indian counterparts between 2003 and 2013, described the eastern sector as “inalienable from China’s Tibet in terms of cultural background and administrative jurisdiction”, and called for “meaningful and mutually acceptable adjustment” to reach a “package settlement”.
  • The “package” that Dai demanded: India must “take care of China’s concern in the eastern sector”, which is Arunachal Pradesh, a state of the Indian Union, with a population of 1.4 million.

In for the long haul

  • Nehru’s failure to react positively to Zhou’s suggestion for a demilitarised zone after the ceasefire in 1962 has become a bane in relations, with both countries batting on their own perceptions of the Line of Actual Control (LAC).
  • Rajiv Gandhi’s visit to China in 1988, the first by an Indian prime minister since Nehru’s visit in 1954, froze the border in China’s favour in return for relationships in various other domains such as trade, science and technology, and culture. It is open to question whether freezing the borders and promoting relations in other domains benefitted India. The Chinese remain in all the territories they had occupied in 1962.
  • It has created a stalemate in China’s favour with little urgency for a settlement. The several agreements between the countries since then — on ‘Maintenance of Peace and Tranquillity’ (1993), military CBMs (1996), ‘Political Parameters and Guiding Principles’ for the settlement of boundary question (2005), and border defence cooperation (2012) — have failed to lead to a settlement of the border question.
  • This has primarily been on account of the failure to find a mutually acceptable LAC. It needs to be noted that Dai Bingguo’s claim on the eastern sector violated the agreement on political parameters. His demand for adjustment in the east violated Article VII, which called on the two countries to “safeguard due interests of their settled populations in the border areas”.
  • Since the appointment of the Special Representatives in 2003, 22 meetings at their level and more at higher levels, have not helped to resolve the border issue. If the stand Dai took remains China’s final position, the two countries are stuck for the long haul.

Other important news


Balance of Trade:

  • The favourable trade balance that China has enjoyed with India, since bilateral commerce began to boom in the early 2000s, has cumulatively exceeded $1 trillion, according to estimates.
  • The trade gap has particularly widened in the past decade.
  • While some economists say India’s trade imbalance with China should not be viewed in isolation — for instance, pharmaceuticals that India exports to the world require ingredients that are imported from China — Mr. Kondapalli said an imbalance over an extended period of time posed problems.
  • Balance of Trade – Balance of trade (BOT) is the difference between the value of a country’s exports and the value of a country’s imports for a given period. Balance of trade is the largest component of a country’s balance of payments (BOP).

 

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