Insights Daily Current Affairs, 13 March 2017

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Insights Daily Current Affairs, 13 March 2017


 

Paper 2 Topic: Government policies and interventions for development in various sectors and issues arising out of their design and implementation.

 

Admiralty Bill,2016

 

The Admiralty (Jurisdiction and Settlement of Maritime Claims) Bill, 2016 was recently passed by the Lok Sabha. Admiralty laws deal with cases of accidents in navigable waters or involve contracts related to commerce on such waters.  The Bill repeals laws such as the Admiralty Court Act, 1861, the Colonial Courts of Admiralty Act, 1890.  

 

Objectives of the bill:

  • The Bill aims to establish a legal framework to consolidate the existing laws relating to admiralty jurisdiction of courts, admiralty proceedings on maritime claims, arrest of vessels and related issues.
  • It also aims to replace archaic laws which are hindering efficient governance.

 

Highlights of the Bill:

Admiralty jurisdiction:  The jurisdiction with respect to maritime claims under the Bill will vest with the respective High Courts and will extend up to the territorial waters of their respective jurisdictions.  The central government may extend the jurisdiction of these High Courts.  Currently admiralty jurisdiction applies to the Bombay, Calcutta and Madras High Courts.  The Bill further extend this to the High Courts of Karnataka, Gujarat, Orissa, Kerala, Hyderabad, and any other High Court notified by the central government.

Maritime claims:  The High Courts may exercise jurisdiction on maritime claims arising out of conditions including: (i) disputes regarding ownership of a vessel, (ii) disputes between co-owners of a vessel regarding employment or earnings of the vessel, (iii) mortgage on a vessel, (iv) construction, repair, or conversion of the vessel, (v) disputes arising out of the sale of a vessel, (vi) environmental damage caused by the vessel, etc.  The Bill defines a vessel as any ship, boat, or sailing vessel which may or may not be mechanically propelled.

While determining maritime claims under the specified conditions, the courts may settle any outstanding accounts between parties with regard to the vessel.  They may also direct that the vessel or a share of it be sold.  With regard to a sale, courts may determine the title to the proceeds of such sale.

Priority of maritime claims:  Among all claims in an admiralty proceeding, highest priority will be given to maritime claims, followed by mortgages on the vessel, and all other claims.  Within maritime claims, the highest priority will be given to claims for wages due with regard to employment on the vessel.  This would be followed by claims with regard to loss of life or personal injury in connection with the operation of the vessel.  Such claims will continue to exist even with the change of ownership of the vessel.

Jurisdiction over a person:  Courts may exercise admiralty jurisdiction against a person with regard to maritime claims.  However, the courts will not entertain complaints against a person in certain cases.  These include: (i) damage, or loss of life, or personal injury arising out of collision between vessels that was caused in India, or (ii) non-compliance with the collision regulations of the Merchant Shipping Act, 1958 by a person who does not reside or carry out business in India.  Further, Courts will not entertain action against a person until any case against them with regard to the same incident in any court outside India has ended.

Arrest of vessel:  The courts may order for the arrest of any vessel within their jurisdiction for providing security against a maritime claim which is the subject of a proceeding.  They may do so under various reasons such as: (i) owner of the vessel is liable for the claim, (ii) the claim is based on mortgage of the vessel, and (iii) the claim relates to ownership of the vessel, etc.

Appeals:  Any judgments made by a single Judge of the High Court can be appealed against to a Division Bench of the High Court.  Further, the Supreme Court may, on application by any party, transfer an admiralty proceeding at any stage from one High Court to any other High Court.  The latter High Court will proceed with the matter from the stage where it stood at the time of the transfer.

Assessors:  The central government will appoint a list of assessors qualified and experienced in admiralty and maritime matters.  The central government will also determine the duties of assessors, and their fee.  Typically, assessors assist the judges in determining rates and claims in admiralty proceedings.

 

Background:

India is a leading maritime nation and maritime transportation caters to about ninety-five percent of its merchandise trade volume. However, under the present statutory framework, the admiralty jurisdiction of Indian courts flow from laws enacted in the British era. Admiralty jurisdiction relates to powers of the High Courts in respect of claims associated with transport by sea and navigable waterways. The repealing of five admiralty statutes is in line with the Government’s commitment to do away with archaic laws which are hindering efficient governance.

Sources: pib.


 

Paper 2 Topic: Government policies and interventions for development in various sectors and issues arising out of their design and implementation.

 

Non-lapsable fund sought for arms buy

 

Ministry of defence has sent a proposal to the Ministry of Finance proposing the setting up of a ‘Non-lapsable Capital Fund Account’.

 

Need for such a fund:

Defence procurement and acquisition is a complicated process, involving long gestation periods and funds allocated for capital acquisition in a particular financial year are not necessarily consumed in that year and ultimately have to be surrendered by the Defence Ministry.

A major defence purchase often takes years to complete, but the budget allocation lapses at the end of the financial year. As a result, the Ministry of Defence is often forced to return money meant for capital acquisition.

 

Concerns:

A proposal for obtaining ‘in-principle’ approval of the Finance Ministry on creation of the account has been sent by the Defence Ministry after obtaining approval of the Defence Minister, and a “response from the Ministry of Finance is awaited.”

However, the Finance Ministry is still not in favour of creating a ‘Non-lapsable Defence Capital Fund Account’ to which the committee expressed its “disappointment” and pointed to the Non-lapsable Central Pool of Resources for the North Eastern region, which was constituted with the approval of Parliament in 1998-99.  

 

Way ahead:

The Parliamentary Standing Committee on Defence has stated that it “would like the Ministry of Finance to look at the matter afresh” and work out the modalities for creation of the account.

Sources: the hindu.


 

Paper 3 Topic: indigenization of technology and developing new technology.

 

Brahmos missile

 

India has successfully test-fired the BrahMos supersonic cruise missile, which is capable of carrying a warhead of 300 kg, from a test range along the Odisha coast. The cruise missile was test fired from a mobile launcher.

 

Key facts:

  • BrahMos has been developed as part of a joint venture between India and Russia, and the missile had an initial range of 290 km. India has been able to work on increasing the range of the BrahMos missile from its current 290 km after it became a member of the prestigious Missile Technology Control Regime (MTCR).
  • In its current form (290-km), the BrahMos has a maximum velocity of 2.8 Mach and cruises at altitudes varying from 10 metres to 15 km.
  • It can be launched in either inclined or vertical configuration based on the type of the ship. The land-attack version of BrahMos is fitted on an mobile autonomous launcher. BrahMos is also capable of being launched from submarine from a depth of 40-50 metres.
  • The missile is capable of carrying a warhead of 300 kg.
  • The two-stage missile, one being solid and the second one ramjet liquid propellant, has already been inducted into the Army and Navy, while the Air Force version is in final stage of trial.

 

About MTCR:

Established in April 1987, the voluntary MTCR aims to limit the spread of ballistic missiles and other unmanned delivery systems that could be used for chemical, biological, and nuclear attacks.

The MTCR regime urges its members, which include most of the world’s key missile manufacturers, to restrict their exports of missiles and related technologies capable of carrying a 500-kilogram payload at least 300 kilometers or delivering any type of weapon of mass destruction.

Sources: the hindu.


 

Paper 3 Topic: Science and Technology- developments and their applications and effects in everyday life Achievements of Indians in science & technology; indigenization of technology and developing new technology.

 

Indian researcher uses novel strategy to increase wheat yield 

 

Using a novel route, an Indian researcher has been able to increase wheat grain yield by 20% and also improve the resilience of wheat to environmental stress such as drought.

 

How was it done?

By using a precursor that enhances the amount of a key sugar-signalling molecule (trehalose-6-phosphate (T6P)) produced in wheat plant, the researcher has been able to increase the amount of starch produced and, therefore, the yield.

  • The T6P molecule stimulates starch synthesis, which in turn, increases the yield. Since the pathway of T6P molecule is the same in other plants, the yield can potentially be increased by using suitable precursors.
  • Researchers used four precursor compounds to increase the amount of T6P produced in the plant. While genetic methods can increase the T6P level two-three fold, the four precursor compounds were able to achieve 100-fold increase in the sugar-signalling molecule level compared with plants that did not receive the molecule.
  • In field trials using wheat, a tiny amount of precursor given to the plant increased the yield significantly — the grains produced were bigger as the amount of starch content in the grains increased by 13-20% compared to controls that got only water. “A particular precursor molecule — ortho-nitrophenyl ethyl — showed the best results in both A. thaliana plants and wheat studies,” he says. “The uptake of this molecule by the plants was much more than the other three molecules and the precursor took less time to release T6P.”

 

Resilience to drought:

To study the resilience of wheat to drought-like conditions when treated with the precursor molecules, the researchers carried out two different studies.

  • In the first case, four-week-old wheat plants already treated with the precursor molecules were not watered for nine days to simulate a drought-like condition. The plants were almost dying. When watered the plants after nine days, only those that were pre-treated with the precursors were able to regrow while the control plants did not surviveMisra.
  • In another experiment, four-week-old wheat plants that were not watered for nine days were sprayed with the precursor molecules. The regrowth of plants sprayed with the molecule was substantial when the plants were watered a day after treatment. Researchers saw regrowth of new tissue and also survival and growth of existing tissue. This also showed that the molecule could enter the plants directly when sprayed.
  • Two studies showed that wheat plants were able to survive environmental stress if treated with the precursors. The molecule 2 (dimethoxy(ortho-nitro)benzyl) was better in battling stress.

Sources: the hindu.


 

Paper 3 Topic: Science and Technology- developments and their applications and effects in everyday life Achievements of Indians in science & technology; indigenization of technology and developing new technology.

 

Study on fish reveals key to cure blindness

 

Scientists have discovered a chemical in the zebra fish brain that helps reveal how it regrows its retina, a finding that can potentially cure blindness in humans.

 

What is it?

The findings showed that the levels of GABA (gamma aminobutyric acid), a neurotransmitter, best known for its role of calming nervous activity, drop when the unique self repair process kicks in.

Thus, blocking the chemical (GABA) could lead to new treatments for AMD (age-related macular degeneration), the most common cause of blindness and and retinitis pigmentosa.

 

Background:

The structure of the retinas (the light-sensing tissue at the back of the eye) of fish and mammals are basically the same and a reduction in GABA might be the trigger for retinal regeneration.

Sources: the hindu.


 

Paper 3 Topic: Science and Technology- developments and their applications and effects in everyday life Achievements of Indians in science & technology; indigenization of technology and developing new technology.

 

Chennai team taps AI to read Indus Script

 

The Indus script has long challenged epigraphists because of the difficulty in reading and classifying text and symbols on the artefacts. Now, a Chennai-based team of scientists has built a programme which eases the process.

Key facts:

Researchers have developed a “deep-learning” algorithm that can read the Indus script from images of artefacts such as a seal or pottery that contain Indus writing.

Scanning the image, the algorithm smartly “recognises” the region of the image that contains the script, breaks it up into individual graphemes (the term in linguistics for the smallest unit of the script) and finally identifies these using data from a standard corpus. In linguistics the term corpus is used to describe a large collection of texts which, among other things, are used to carry out statistical analyses of languages.

The process consists of three phases: In the first phase, the input images are broken into sub-images that contain graphemes only, by trimming out the areas that do not have graphemes. The grapheme-containing areas are further trimmed into single-grapheme pieces. Lastly, each of these single graphemes is classified to match one of the 417 symbols discovered so far in the Indus script.

 

About the technology:

The algorithms come under a class of artificial intelligence called “deep neural networks.” These have been a major part of the game-changing technology behind self-driving cars and Go-playing bots that surpass human performance.

The deep neural network mimics the working of the mammalian visual cortex, known as convolutional neural network (CNN), which breaks the field into overlapping regions. The features found in each region are hierarchically combined by the network to build a composite understanding of the whole picture.

 

Background:

The Indus valley script is much older than the Prakrit and Tamil-Brahmi scripts. However, unlike the latter two, it has not yet been deciphered because a bilingual text has not yet been found.

Sources: the hindu.


 

Paper 3 Topic: Science and Technology- developments and their applications and effects in everyday life Achievements of Indians in science & technology; indigenization of technology and developing new technology.

 

Sweet spot in eye helps humans read

 

Scientists have found that a special sweet spot in the eye called ‘fovea’ plays a crucial role in humans being able to focus on computer screens and also read, an ability which is unique to Homo sapiens.

 

What is fovea?

The fovea is a specialised region that dominates our visual perception. It provides more than half of the input from the eyes to the visual cortex of the brain.

The fovea is responsible for our visual experiences that are rich in colourful spatial detail.  

 

How it works?

Located near the optic nerve, the fovea is at its best for fine tasks like reading. Compared to the peripheral retina, however, the fovea is less able to process rapidly changing visual signals.

This low sensitivity is what makes us see motion in flipbooks and movies. It’s also what prevents us from seeing flicker when a computer or TV screen refreshes, unless we glance at the screen (especially the old-fashioned CRT monitors) from the corner of our eye.

When you look at a scene an arm’s length away, the fovea subtends a field only about the size of your thumbnail. Our eyes undergo rapid movements to direct the fovea to various parts of the scene.   

 

Key facts:

  • Vision scientists have uncovered some of the reasons behind the unusual perceptual properties of the eye’s fovea. Among mammals, only humans and other primates have this dimple-like structure in their retinas. Owls, some other predatory birds, and some reptiles have a similar structure.
  • Diseases such as macular degeneration are much more debilitating than deficits in peripheral eyesight because of the importance of the fovea to everyday vision.
  • The findings decipher the mechanism that lets humans read the text, recognise faces, enjoy colours.

Sources: the hindu.


 

Paper 2 Topic: Important International institutions, agencies and fora, their structure, mandate.

 

India to lose presence on U.N. scientific panel

 

India will — for the first time in two decades — not have a member in a prestigious, U.N. scientific body that decides what portions of the seabed can be exclusively mined for natural resources such as oil, precious metals and minerals.

 

What’s the issue?

India’s current member to the 21-person body, called Commission on Legal Continental Shelf (CLCS) and part of the United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea (UNCLOS). But, this year India has decided not to field a candidate for the upcoming election.

Instead, the Ministry of External Affairs (MEA), which formally nominates Indian candidates, chose to nominate a person to another U.N. body, called the International Tribunal for the Law of the Sea (ITLOS).

Commission on Legal Continental Shelf (CLCS)

Implications of this move:

The CLCS has a five-year tenure and elections are due in June for the 2017-2022 term. Not having an Indian in this 21-member group would mean that China and Pakistan would likely “grab” two of the five seats allotted to the so-called Asia-Pacific group.

 

Why membership of CLCS is important for India?

Apart from signalling prestige, a membership of the commission allows India to gauge the scientific strength of claims by countries to parts of the seabed that, like territorial waters, are often hard to demarcate. Such information is privy only to participants.

India also has huge interest in CLCS and applied for extending the Exclusive Economic Zone (EEZ) up to 350 nautical miles from the existing 200 nautical miles.

 

About CLCS:

The purpose of the Commission on the Limits of the Continental Shelf (the Commission or CLCS) is to facilitate the implementation of the United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea (the Convention) in respect of the establishment of the outer limits of the continental shelf beyond 200 nautical miles (M) from the baselines from which the breadth of the territorial sea is measured.

  • Under the Convention, the coastal State shall establish the outer limits of its continental shelf where it extends beyond 200 M on the basis of the recommendation of the Commission.
  • The Commission shall make recommendations to coastal States on matters related to the establishment of those limits; its recommendations and actions shall not prejudice matters relating to the delimitation of boundaries between States with opposite or adjacent coasts.

Sources: the hindu.