24thFebruary,2022 ; Daily Current Affairs

Daily Current Affairs   Date :24thFebruary,2022

 (30+ Questions hit in Prelims 2021 from this series)

Covers 4 Most relevant Sources

  • The Hindu
  • Indian Express
  • PIB
  • Mint

Index

  • What is Quantum Cryptography (or Quantum Key Distribution)? (TH, pg 15)
  • Decommissioning the International Space Station (TH, pg 15)
  • Official Secrets Act(TH, pg 8)
  • Golan Heights (TH, pg 11)
  • Draft India Data Accessibility & Use Policy, 2022 (TH, pg 15)
  • Khajuraho Temples (TOI)
  • Brick Kilns (DTE)
  • One Rank, One Pension (OROP) (TH, pg 8)
  • Desert Kites or Mass Traps (TH, pg 11)
  1. What is Quantum Cryptography (or Quantum Key Distribution)? (TH, pg 15)
  • Context:DRDO and IIT Delhi scientists successfully demonstrated communication between two cities 100 kilometres apart using Quantum Key Distribution (QKD) technology, which is a “robust” way to share encryption keys.
  • In the QKD technology, encryption keys are sent as qubits in a fibre optic cable.
  • Quantum computing uses qubits as basic resources, similar to how bits are used as basic resources in classical computing.
  • The QKD is designed in a way that if an illegitimate entity tries to read the transmission, it will disturb the qubits – which are encoded on photons – and this will generate transmission errors, leading to legitimate end users being immediately informed.
Analysis
  • Quantum cryptography is a technology that uses quantum physics to secure the distribution of symmetric encryption keys. A more accurate name for it is quantum key distribution (QKD).
  • It works by sending photons, which are “quantum particles” of light, across an optical link.

Cryptography

  • Cryptography is the art of rendering information exchanged between two parties unintelligible to any unauthorized person.
  • Although confidentiality is the traditional application of cryptography, it is also used nowadays to achieve broader objectives, such as data authentication, digital signatures, and non-repudiation.

 

  • The way cryptography works is illustrated in Fig. 1. Before transmitting sensitive information, the sender combines the plain text with a secret key, using some encryption algorithm, to obtain the cipher text.
  • This scrambled message is then sent to the recipient who reverses the process, recovering the plain text by combining the cipher text with the secret key using the decryption algorithm.
  • An eavesdropper cannot deduce the plain message from the scrambled one without knowing the key.
  • The scheme relies on the fact that both sender and receiver have symmetric keys, and that these keys are known only to the authorized persons (also referred to as secret or symmetric key cryptography).
  • Numerous encryption algorithms exist. Their relative strengths essentially depend on the length of the key they use. The more bits the key contains, the better the security.
  • The presently used Advanced Encryption Standard – AES – has a minimum key length of 128 bits, and is now commonly used with 256-bit keys.
  • The key distribution rate of QKD is typically 1,000 to 10,000 times lower than conventional optical communications.
  • Therefore, in practice, QKD is often combined with conventional symmetric encryption, such as AES, and used to frequently refresh short encryption keys. This is sufficient to provide quantum-safe security.
  • In commercial applications, where general trust in the encryption scheme is necessary, the encryption algorithm is normally public – with the effectiveness of the encryption deriving from the fact that the key is secret.
  • Quantum cryptography solves the problem of key distribution by allowing the exchange of a cryptographic key between two remote parties with absolute security, guaranteed by the fundamental laws of physics.
  • This key can then be used securely with conventional cryptographic algorithms. The more correct name for quantum cryptography is therefore Quantum Key Distribution.
  • The basic principle of quantum key distribution (QKD) is quite straightforward. It exploits the fact that, according to quantum physics, the mere fact of observing a quantum object perturbs it in an irreparable way.
  • If one encodes the value of a digital bit on a single quantum object, its interception will necessarily translate into a perturbation because the eavesdropper is forced to observe it.
  • This perturbation causes errors in the sequence of bits exchanged by the sender and recipient. By checking for the presence of such errors, the two parties can verify whether an eavesdropper was able to gain information on their key.
  • It is important to stress that since this verification takes place after the exchange of bits, one finds out a posteriori whether the communication was intercepted or not. This is why the technology is used to exchange a key and not valuable information.

What does it mean in practice to encode the value of a digital bit on a quantum object?

  • In telecommunication networks, light is routinely used to exchange information. For each bit of information, a pulse is emitted and sent down an optical fiber – a thin fiber of glass used to carry light signals – to the receiver, where it is registered and transformed back into an electronic signal. These pulses typically contain millions of particles of light, called photons.
  • In quantum key distribution the same approach is followed with the difference that the pulses contain only a single photon.
  • The performance of a QKD system is described by the rate at which a key is exchanged over a certain distance – or equivalently for a given loss budget.
  • When a photon propagates in an optical fiber, it has, in spite of the high transparency of the glass used, a certain probability of getting absorbed. If the distance between the two QKD stations increases, the probability that a given photon will reach the receiver decreases.
  • The span of current QKD systems is limited by the transparency of optical fibers and typically reaches hundred kilometers (60 miles).
  • A much longer distance of 300 km in an optical fiber has been demonstrated. However, the lower key rate achievable for these distances makes real-world applications more challenging.
  • It is possible to exchange keys using quantum cryptography in free space, between a terrestrial station and a low earth orbit satellite.
  • Indeed, absorption in the atmosphere takes place mainly over the first few kilometers. If an adequate wavelength is selected, and the weather is fair, an optical link between the ground and the satellite at an altitude of roughly 800 km can be established.
  • Research groups have already performed preliminary tests of such a system. Advanced research is done in China, which has launched the first QKD satellite, named Micius in August 2016.
  1. Decommissioning the International Space Station (TH, pg 15)

  • Context: NASA plans to decommission the International Space Station (ISS) by 2031. The ISS was launched in 1998 as part of joint efforts by the U.S., Russia, Japan, Canada and Europe. It operates in low-earth orbit.
Analysis

Why is NASA planning to decommission the ISS?

  • The ISS was originally built to operate for 15 years. The ISS goes through 16 rotations of the earth per day, causing extreme temperature changes on the exterior.
  • The side facing the sun can get heated up to 121°C while the temperature on the opposite,darker side can fall to –157°C, causing intense expansion and contraction of the building material. This orbital thermal cycling, coupled with dynamic loading, affects the longevity of the primary structure of the space station.
  • NASA is planning to transition operations in low-earth orbit to private players and focus energies on its missions to explore the moon and Mars.
  • The station currently operates in low-earth orbit above 400 km in altitude, at a point where it still experiences atmospheric drag and requires re-boosts to continue in its orbit.
  • NASA plans to remove the ISS from its orbit around the earth and eventually plunge it into the ocean, leading it to Point Nemo over the South Pacific Oceanic Uninhabited Area (SPOUA).

What is the future of space stations?

  • As the ISS plans to end operations in space, new players are already lining up to replace it.
  • In January 2022, China announced that its space station will be ready for operations this year.
  • Blue Origin, the aerospace company founded by Jeff Bezos, has also announced its plans to build Orbital Reef, a commercially developed, owned, and operated space station in low-earth orbit.

International Space Station

  • The International Space Station (ISS) is the largest single structure humans ever put into space.
  • Its main construction was completed between 1998 and 2011, although the station continually evolves to include new missions and experiments.
  • The Mir Space Station of the former Soviet Union, and later operated by Russia, was functional from 1986 to 2001.
  • ISS has been continuously occupied since Nov. 2000.
  • Astronaut time and research time on the space station is allocated to space agencies according to how much money or resources that they contribute.
  • NASA (United States), Roscosmos (Russia) and the European Space Agency are the major partners of the space station who contribute most of the funding; the other partners are the Japanese Aerospace Exploration Agency and the Canadian Space Agency.
  • The ISSconsists of Canada, Japan, the Russian Federation, the United States, and eleven Member States of the European Space Agency (Belgium, Denmark, France, Germany, Italy, The Netherlands, Norway, Spain, Sweden, Switzerland and the United Kingdom).

Finding the space station in the sky

  • The ISS, at a height of about 402 km above the Earth (low-earth orbit), orbits it 16 times every day, once every 90 minutes at a speed of 28,000 km per hour. Over a period of 24 hours, the people inhabiting the ISS see 16 sunrises and sunsets.
  • The ISS travels at this speed to maintain an orbit around the Earth.
  • Orbits are elliptical (oval) in shape, but most spacecraft orbiting Earth travel in orbits that are as close to a circle as possible to keep a constant altitude (height) above the Earth.
  • In one day, the station travels about the distance it would take to go from Earth to the moon and back.
  • The space station can rival the brilliant planet Venus in brightness and appears as a bright moving light across the night sky.
  • If the ISS flies over your location a bit before sunrise or a bit after sunset, for those few minutes, it is usually the brightest object in the sky.
  • It can be seen from Earth without the use of a telescope by night sky observers.
  • The ISS generally holds crews of between three and six people.
  • The ISS is a platform for long-term research for human health, which NASA bills as a key stepping stone to letting humans explore other solar system destinations such as the moon or Mars.
  • Note: ISS is the only functional space station at present.
  1. Official Secrets Act(TH, pg 8)

  • Context: The Delhi headquarters of India’s currency and bank notes manufacturer which printed the new series of notes of ₹2,000 and ₹500 denomination in 2016, has been declared a “prohibited place” under the Official Secrets Act by the Union Home Ministry.
Analysis

What is the Official Secrets Act?

  • OSA has its roots in the British colonial era. The original version was The Indian Official Secrets Act (Act XIV), 1889.
  • This was brought in with the main objective of muzzling the voice of a large number of newspapers that had come up in several languages, and were building political consciousness.
  • It was amended and made more stringent in the form of The Indian Official Secrets Act, 1904, during Lord Curzon’s tenure as Viceroy of India.
  • In 1923, a newer version was notified. The Indian Official Secrets Act (Act No XIX of 1923) was extended to all matters of secrecy and confidentiality in governance in the country.
  • It broadly deals with two aspects — spying or espionage, covered under Section 3, and disclosure of other secret information of the government, under Section 5.
  • Under Section 5, both the person communicating the information and the person receiving the information can be punished.
  • For classifying a document, a government Ministry or Department follows the Manual of Departmental Security Instructions, 1994, not under OSA.
  • Also, OSA itself does not say what a “secret” document is.
  • It is the government’s discretion to decide what falls under the ambit of a “secret” document to be charged under OSA.
  • It has often been argued that the law is in direct conflict with the Right to Information Act, 2005.

Between the RTI Act and OSA, which has primacy?

  • Section 22 of the RTI Act provides for its primacy vis-a-vis provisions of other laws, including OSA. So, if there is any inconsistency in OSA with regard to furnishing of information, it will be superseded by the RTI Act.
  • However, under Sections 8 and 9 of the RTI Act, the government can refuse information.
  • Effectively, if the government classifies a document as “secret” under OSA Clause 6, that document can be kept outside the ambit of the RTI Act, and the government can invoke Sections 8 or 9.

Has there been any effort to change provisions of OSA?

  • In 1971, the Law Commission in its report on ‘Offences Against National Security’, observed that “it agrees with the contention” that “merely because a circular is marked secret or confidential, it should not attract the provisions of the Act if the publication thereof is in the interest of the public and no question of national emergency and interest of the State as such arises”.
  • The Law Commission, however, did not recommend any changes to the Act.
  • In 2006, the Second Administrative Reforms Commission (ARC) recommended that OSA be repealed, and replaced with a chapter in the National Security Act containing provisions relating to official secrets.
  1. Golan Heights (TH, pg 11)

  • Context:Israel bombarded a Syrian town near the armistice line on the Golan Heights with surface-to-surface missiles.
  • It is the third time this month that Israel has hit targets inside Syria as it keeps up a bombing campaign against pro-Iranian forces supporting the Damascus government in Syria’s more than decade-old civil war.
Analysis
  • Golan Heights, also called Al-Jawlān, is a hilly area which was part of extreme south-western Syria until 1967, when it came under Israeli military occupation, and in 1981 Israel unilaterally annexed the part of the Golan it held.
  • Geographically, the Golan is bounded by the Jordan River and the Sea of Galilee on the west, Mount Hermon on the north, and the Yarmūk River on the south.
  • On the last two days (June 9–10, 1967) of the Six-Day War, the Israeli armed forces, after defeating Egypt and Jordan, captured Golan heights from Syria.
  • In 1967, Israel also occupied East Jerusalem and the West Bank, as well as Gaza strip and the Egyptian Sinai peninsula.
  • Note: Boundary of Israel touches two seas namely Mediterranean Sea in the North and Red Sea in the South.
  1. Draft India Data Accessibility & Use Policy, 2022 (TH, pg 15)

  • Context: The Ministry of Electronics and Information Technology (MEITY) on February 21, 2022 released a policy proposal titled as, “Draft India Data Accessibility & Use Policy, 2022”.
Analysis
  • The policy objectives mentioned in this draft are primarily commercial in nature.
  • As the generation of citizen data is slated to increase exponentially in the next decade, the Government is looking to license and sell public data to the private sector.
  • The policy will be applicable to all data and information created and collected by the Central Government. It would also allow State governments to adopt its provisions.
  • Its operationalisation will be achieved through the establishment of an India Data Office (IDO) for overall management.
  • An India Data Council will also be formed as a consultative body.
  • The policy strategy is to make Government data open by default and then maintain a negative list of datasets which cannot be shared.

What are the privacy issues with the Draft Data Accessibility Policy?

  • India does not have a data protection law that can provide accountability and remedy for privacy violations such as coercive and excessive data collection or data breaches.
  • As a measure of privacy protection, there is a recommendation for anonymisation and privacy preservation.
  • A background note that accompanies the policy outlines existing bottlenecks in data sharing and use which includes the absence of a body for policy monitoring and enforcement of data sharing efforts, absence of technical tools and standards for data sharing, identification of high value datasets and licensing and valuation frameworks.
  • There are privacy issues which need to be addressed. Apart from that, with the adoption of the language of open data the Government strays from its core principle of providing transparency towards its citizens.
  • Other issues include questions of how the Centre and the State are going to share the proceeds from the sales.

 

E) Art, Culture and History

Khajuraho Temples (TOI)

  • Context: Renowned artists from across the country will be performing in the week-long 48th Khajuraho Dance Festival – 2022 in Madhya Pradesh.
  • The Khajuraho Dance Festival is organised by the Department of Culture of the government of Madhya Pradesh every year against the backdrop of these ancient Khajuraho temples.
Analysis
  • The temples at Khajuraho were built during the Chandella dynasty, between 950 and 1050 AD.
  • The common date palm – khajura – has given Khajuraho its name.
  • Only about 20 temples remain and belong to two different religions – Hinduism and Jainism.
  • These temples depict various forms like meditation, spiritual teachings, kinship, wrestling, royalty and most significantly, erotic art.
  • They strike a perfect balance between architecture and sculpture.One can witness the extravagant sculptures of various nayikas (nymphs) performing numerous activities in the exterior part of Kandariya temple.
  • Among other idols on the outer walls of the temple, there are sculptures of Uma-Maheshwar, Laxmi-Narayan and Vishnu’s vast forms.
  • The sculptures which are generally erotic in their themes drew inspiration fromVatsyayana’s Kamasutra.
  • The Khajuraho group of monuments have also been recognised by UNESCO as a World Heritage Site in 1986.
  • The group of temples of Khajuraho testifies to the culmination of northern Indian temple art and architecture of the Chandella dynasty who ruled the region in the 10th and 11th centuries CE that display the originality and high quality of Nagara-style temple architecture.
  • Built in sandstone, each temple is elevated from its environs by a highly ornate terraced platform, or jagati, on which stands the body, or jangha, including a combination of saptaratha plan topped by a tower, or shikhara, unique to the Nagara style.
  • The temples were generally north or east facing. Panchayatan style of temple making was followed. The subsidiary shrines had rekha-prasad shikharas creating an impression of a mountain range.
  1. Brick Kilns (DTE)

  • Context: The Union Ministry of Environment, Forest and Climate Change (MoEF&CC) came up with stringent standards for brick kilns.
  • Brick kilns are recognized as one of the largest stationary sources of black carbon which, along with iron and steel production, contributes 20% of total black carbon emissions
Analysis
  • The salient features of the notification are:
  • Standard for particulate matter (PM)emissions — 250 milligram per normal cubic metre (mg / Nm3).
  • Existing brick kilns shall be converted to either zig-zag technology or vertical shaft or use of PNG as fuel in brick making within a period of one year in case of kilns located within a 10 km radius of non-attainment cities and two years for other areas (older technology like Fixed Chimney Bull’s Trench Kiln (FCBTK) has not been banned but allowed if run on PNG as the fuel).
  • All brick kilns shall use approved fuel such as PNG, coal, fire wood and / or agricultural residues. Use of pet coke, tyres, plastic, hazardous waste shall not be allowed in brick kilns.
  • Brick kilns shall construct permanent facility for port hole and platform according to the norms laid down by the Central Pollution Control Board (CPCB).
  • Brick kilns shall follow fugitive dust emission control guidelines as prescribed by concerned SPCBs.
  • The brick kiln owners shall ensure that the roads utilised for transporting raw material or bricks are paved.
  • The disappointing factor is that here is no mention of unconventional and polluting clamp type kilns which are prevalent from western to southern India.The Policy is silent on ‘shift to commercial clamps to cleaner technology.’

Pollution from Brick Kilns

  • Soot or black carbon is the second biggest global warming pollutant after carbon dioxide.
  • It affects health and visibility and accelerates the melting of Himalayan snow and ice. 
  • Brick kilns are one of the biggest emitters of soot.
  • Carbon monoxide, carbon dioxide, black carbon, sulphur dioxide, nitrogen oxides and fine particulate matter are the pollutants released by the brick kilns.
  • According to a recent NASA study, South Asia has the highest soot emissions in the world and most of this is emitted by the 150,000 plus brick kilns in India, Bangladesh, Pakistan and Nepal.

Brick Kiln Initiative and Zig Zag Technology

  • The International Centre for Integrated Mountain Development (ICIMOD) has started Brick Kiln Initiative.
  • Under the initiative, ovens are redesigned and the bricks are stacked in a zig-zag pattern.
  • The new design became popular with brick kiln owners as the technique improved brick quality and reduced coal consumption considerably.
  • In the new kilns, the bricks to be baked are arranged in a zigzag pattern, allowing hot air to cover a longer path. Zig-zag technology basically enhances energy efficiency of brick making.
  • As the air takes this zigzag path, it improves the heat transfer to the bricks, thus making the operation more efficient.
  • Besides, the mixing of air and fuel in the new kilns allows for complete combustion, thus reducing coal consumption by about 20 per cent. The new kilns also use fans to regulate air.
  • In new technology, less ash is produced.
  • Agricultural waste can also be used in zigzag brick kilns.

Do you know?

  • The Climate and Clean Air Coalition (CCAC) to Reduce Short-Lived Climate Pollutants (SLCPs) is a voluntary global partnership of governments, intergovernmental organizations, business, scientific institutions and civil society.
  • It specifically targets brick klins urging them to adopt new technologies.
  • It is committed to substantial action to reduce SLCPs(including methane, black carbon and many hydrofluorocarbons).
  1. One Rank, One Pension (OROP) (TH, pg 8)

  • The Supreme Court on Wednesday reserved its judgment on a petition claiming that the government’s implementation of One Rank, One Pension (OROP) for the armed forces has been faulty.
  • OROP means a uniform pension would be paid to retired servicemen of the same rank with the same length of service, regardless of their date of retirement.
  1. Desert Kites or Mass Traps (TH, pg 11)

  • A team of Jordanian and French archaeologists said that it had found a roughly 9,000-year-old shrine at a remote Neolithic site in Jordan’s eastern desert.
  • The ritual complex was found in a Neolithic campsite near large structures known as “desert kites,” or mass traps that are believed to have been used to corral wild gazelles for slaughter.

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