Daily Current Affairs

7TH FEBRUARY,2021 : MOST POWERFUL DAILY CURRENT AFFAIRS CONCEPTS

UPSC PRELIMS+MAINS

Index

  1. A) Economic Developments: India and World
  2. All about Currency Swap (TH)
  3. B) Polity, Bills, Acts and Judgments
  4. Information Technology Act, 2000 (TH)
  5. C) Science and Technology, Defence, Space
  6. African Swine Fever (TH)
  7. Mutations in the novel coronavirus (TH)
  8. Magnetic fields in plants (TH)
  9. Microbiome (TH)
  10. Ka-226T utility helicopters (TH)

 

A) Economic Developments: India and World

  1. All about Currency Swap (TH)

  • Context: The Central Bank of Sri Lanka (CBSL) settled a $400 million currency swap facility from the Reserve Bank (RBI) of India last week, meeting the terms that the two countries had agreed upon.
  • Of the many economic side effects of the global pandemic, is the drastic fall in Sri Lanka’s foreign exchange reserves — driven mainly by exports, remittances and tourism that have all suffered heavily post COVID-19
  • The Central Bank of Sri Lanka had sought a $400 million currency swap with the Reserve Bank of India (RBI), to boost its foreign reserves.
  • Sri Lanka has resorted to the currency swap facility with the RBI from time to time to maintain its reserves.

Analysis

What is a Currency Swap?

  • A currency swap is a transaction in which two parties exchange an equivalent amount of money with each other but in different currencies.
  • The parties are essentially loaning each other money and will repay the amounts at a specified date and exchange rate.
  • The purpose could be to hedge exposure to exchange-rate risk or to reduce the cost of borrowing in a foreign currency.
    • Currency Swaps are used to obtain foreign currency loans at a better interest rate than could be obtained by borrowing directly in a foreign market.
  • Central banks and Governments engage in currency swaps with foreign counterparts to meet short term foreign exchange liquidity requirements or to ensure adequate foreign currency to avoid Balance of Payments (BOP) crisis till longer arrangements can be made.
  • In the swap arrangement, a host nation provides dollars or any other currency agreed upon to a foreign central bank, which, at the same time, provides the equivalent funds in its home currency to the former, based on the market exchange rate at the time of the transaction.
  • The parties agree to swap back these quantities of their two currencies at a specified date in the future, which could be the next day or even two years later, using the same exchange rate as in the first transaction.

RBI and Swap Agreements with other nations

  • The RBI also offers similar swap lines to central banks in the SAARC region within a total corpus of $2 billion.
  • India already has a bilateral currency swap line with Japan, which has the second highest dollar reserves after China.
  • These swap operations carry no exchange rate or other market risks, as transaction terms are set in advance.
  • The absence of an exchange rate risk (Meaning exchange is fixed in advance for the total time period and is not subject to any volatility) is the major benefit of such a facility.
  • This facility provides the country, which is getting the dollars, with the flexibility to use these reserves at any time in order to maintain an appropriate level of balance of payments or short-term liquidity.

Framework on Currency Swap Arrangement for SAARC countries

  • To further financial stability and economic cooperation within the SAARC region, the Reserve Bank of India has put in place a revised Framework on Currency Swap Arrangement for SAARC countries 2019-2022.
  • The Framework is valid from November 14, 2019 to November 13, 2022.
  • Based on the terms and conditions of the Framework, the RBI would enter into bilateral swap agreements with SAARC central banks, who want to avail swap facility.
  • SAARC Currency Swap Facility came into operation with an intention to provide a backstop line of funding for short term foreign exchange liquidity requirements or balance of payment crises till longer term arrangements are made.
  • Under the Framework for 2019-22, RBI will continue to offer swap arrangement within the overall corpus of US $ Two billion.
  • The drawals can be made in US Dollar, Euro or Indian Rupee. The Framework provides certain concessions for swap drawals in Indian Rupee.
  • The Currency Swap Facility will be available to all SAARC member countries, subject to their signing the bilateral swap agreements.

 B) Polity, Bills, Acts and Judgments

2.Information Technology Act, 2000 (TH)

  • Context: An article in the Hindu dated 7th February 2021.

What does the Information Technology Act, 2000 in India cover?

  • In India, the Information Technology Act, 2000, as amended from time to time, governs all activities related to the use of computer resources.

Why the Information Technology Act, 2000 was enacted?

  • The Act was enacted to provide legal recognition for transactions carried out by means of electronic data interchange and other means of electronic communication, commonly referred to as “electronic commerce.”

What mandate has been given under the Act to electronic governance?

  • The Act is also meant to facilitate electronic filing of documents with the Government agencies and to promote efficient delivery of Government services by means of reliable electronic records.

What is the jurisdictional extent of this Act?

  • The Act extends to the whole of India (including the State of Jammu & Kashmir).
  • It applies also to any offence or contravention thereunder committed outside India (extra-territorial jurisdiction) by any person, irrespective of his nationality, if the act or conduct constituting the offence or contravention involves a computer, computer system or computer network located in India.

What is meant by the term Functional Equivalent Approach?

  • The functional equivalent approach extended notions such as “writing”, “signature” and “original” of traditional paper-based requirements to electronic form.

What are the various cyber offences listed under the Act?

  • The Act has categorised cyber offences under the following categories:
  • (a) Computer related offences, including unauthorized access, disruption, damage, destruction, etc. of computer resource.
  • (b) Obscenity in electronic form (including child pornography).
  • (c) Non-compliance of directions, cyber terrorism etc. (including cybersecurity).
  • (d) Breach of confidentiality, privacy etc.
  • (e) Offences related to Electronic Signatures Certificate.

Is hacking an offence under the Act?

  • Yes, hacking is an offence under the Act though the term “hacking” per se is not defined by the Act.

Is ethical hacking an offence under the Act?

  • The Act does not distinguish between ‘hacking’ and ‘ethical hacking’.
  • Both ‘hacking’ and ‘ethical hacking’ could be treated as computer related offences as articulated under section 66 of the Act.

Whether section 66A covers telemarketers or any such service providers whose business models include sending bulk SMSs, Emails etc.?

  • Yes, it is clear from section 66A that any person who sends, by means of a computer resource or a communication device any electronic mail or electronic mail message for the purpose of causing annoyance or inconvenience shall be punishable with imprisonment for a term which may extend to three years and with fine.

Whether cyber terrorism has been defined under the Act?

  • Section 66F defines cyber terrorism. It is an intention to threaten the unity, integrity, security or sovereignty of India or to strike terror in the people or any section of the people by using computer resource to access restricted information, data or computer database with reasons to believe that such restricted information, data or computer database may cause or likely to cause injury to:
  • (i) the interests of sovereignty and integrity of India, the security of the State, friendly relations with foreign States, public order, decency or morality, or
  • (ii) in relation to contempt of court,
  • (iii) defamation, or
  • (iv) incitement to an offence, or
  • (v) the advantage of any foreign nation, group of individuals or otherwise.
  • The offence of cyber terrorism is punishable with imprisonment which may extend to imprisonment for life.

Whether data theft is classified as cyber contravention or cyber offences or both?

  • Data theft is being classified as both cyber contravention as well as cyber offences.
  • The difference between ‘cyber contravention’ and ‘cyber offence’ is more of the degree and extent of criminal activity than anything else.

What are digital signatures?

  • It is a block of data at the end of an electronic message that attests to the authenticity of the message.
  • Digital signatures are an actual transformation of an electronic message using public key cryptography.
  • It requires a key pair (private key for encryption and public key for decryption) and a hash function (algorithm).
  • Digital signature is a two-way process, involving two parties: signer (creator of the digital signature) and the recipient (verifier of the digital signature).
  • A digital signature is complete, if and only if, the recipient successfully verifies it.

How digital signatures are different from electronic signatures?

  • Digital signature is a sub-set of electronic signature.
  • The Amendment Act, 2008, in order to maintain continuity with the regime of the digital signature has introduced the concept of ‘electronic signature’.
  • Examples of electronic signatures may include biometric signatures, passwords, PINs, encryption applications etc.
  • Digital signatures are never issued in the name of the company, partnership, association etc. These can only be issued to company personnel individually, but never collectively.

What is meant by the term PKI?

  • Public Key Infrastructure (PKI) is about the management and regulation of key pairs by allocating duties between contracting parties (Controller of Certifying Authorities /Certifying Authorities/ Subscribers), laying down the licensing and business norms for CAs and establishing business processes/ applications to construct contractual relationships in a digitized world.
  • The idea is to develop a sound public key infrastructure for an efficient allocation and verification of digital signatures certificates.

What is meant by the term “Critical Information Infrastructure”?

  • The term “Critical Information Infrastructure” means the computer resource, the incapacitation or destruction of which, shall have debilitating impact on national security, economy, public health or safety.

Who is responsible under the Act to issue directions for interception or monitoring or decryption of any information through any computer resource?

  • The Secretary in the Ministry of Home Affairs, in case of the Central Government; or the Secretary in charge of the Home Department, in case of a State Government or Union Territory, as the case may be, to act as the “Competent Authority” to issue directions for interception or monitoring or decryption of any information through any computer resource under section 69 of the Act.

What are the roles of CERT-In?

  • The Indian Computer Emergency Response Team (CERT-In) to serve as the national agency for performing the following functions in the area of Cyber Security–
  • (a) collection, analysis and dissemination of information on cyber security incidents;
  • (b) forecast and alerts of cyber security incidents;
  • (c) emergency measures for handling cyber security incidents;
  • (d) coordination of cyber incidents response activities;
  • (e) issue guidelines, advisories, vulnerability notes and white papers relating to information security practices, procedures, prevention, response and reporting of cyber incidents; and
  • (f) such other functions relating to cyber security as may be prescribed.

Whether CERT-In plays any role in blocking the websites?

  • No, CERT-In no longer plays any role in blocking the websites

What are the Centre’s powers vis-à-vis intermediaries?

  • The Act covers all ‘intermediaries’ who play a role in the use of computer resources and electronic records.
  • The term ‘intermediaries’ includes providers of telecom service, network service, Internet service and web hosting, besides search engines, online payment and auction sites, online marketplaces and cyber cafes.
  • It includes any person who, on behalf of another, “receives, stores or transmits” any electronic record. Social media platforms would fall under this definition.
  • Section 69 of the Act confers on the Central and State governments the power to issue directions “to intercept, monitor or decrypt…any information generated, transmitted, received or stored in any computer resource”.
  • The grounds on which these powers may be exercised are: in the interest of the sovereignty or integrity of India, defence of India, security of the state, friendly relations with foreign states, public order, or for preventing incitement to the commission of any cognisable offence relating to these, or for investigating any offence.

How does the government block websites and networks?

  • Section 69A, for similar reasons and grounds on which it can intercept or monitor information, enables the Centre to ask any agency of the government, or any intermediary, to block access to the public of any information generated, transmitted, received or stored or hosted on any computer resource.
  • Any such request for blocking access must be based on reasons given in writing.
  • Failure to comply with a direction to block access to the public on a government’s written request attracts a prison term of up to seven years, besides a fine.

What are the obligations of intermediaries under Indian law?

  • Intermediaries are required to preserve and retain specified information in a manner and format prescribed by the Centre for a specified duration.
  • Contravention of this provision may attract a prison term that may go up to three years, besides a fine.

Is the liability of the intermediary absolute?

  • Section 79 of the Act makes it clear that “an intermediary shall not be liable for any third-party information, data, or communication link made available or hosted by him”.
  • This protects intermediaries such as Internet and data service providers and those hosting websites from being made liable for content that users may post or generate.

National Critical Information Infrastructure Protection Centre (NCIIPC)

  • National Critical Information Infrastructure Protection Centre (NCIIPC), an organization under the National Technical Research Organization (NTRO), is created under Sec 70A of the Information Technology Act, 2000 (amended 2008).
  • Under the NCIIPC Rules, a “critical sector” has been defined to mean sectors, which are critical to the nation and whose incapacitation or destruction will have a debilitating impact on national security, economy, public health or safety.
  • These sectors have been classified into five main groups:
  • (i) power and energy;
  • (ii) banking, financial services and insurance (“BSFI”);
  • (iii) ICTs;
  • (iv) transportation and
  • (v) e-governance and strategic public enterprises.
  • Unlike the critical sectors identified under the Strategic Approach of the Ministry of Electronics and Information Technology, the sectors identified by the NCIIPC do not include the defence sector.

Functions and Duties

  • National nodal agency for all measures to protect nation’s critical information infrastructure.
  • The basic responsibility for protecting CII system shall lie with the agency running that CII.
  • Protect and deliver advice that aims to reduce the vulnerabilities of critical information infrastructure, against cyber terrorism, cyber warfare and other threats.
  • Identification of all critical information infrastructure elements for approval by the appropriate Government for notifying the same.
  • Calling for information and giving directions to the critical sectors or persons serving or having a critical impact on Critical Information Infrastructure.
  • For further details on cyber security, refer 7th Nov file.

C) Science and Technology, Defence, Space

3.African Swine Fever (TH)

  • Context: Chinese scientists have found a natural mutation in the African swine fever virus they say could be less deadly than the strain that ravaged the world’s largest pig herd in 2018 and 2019.
  • Reuters reported last month that at least two new strains of African swine fever had been found on Chinese pig farms, which appeared to be man-made.
  • The strains are causing a chronic form of African swine fever that is impacting production on sow farms, industry insiders have said.

Analysis

14th Aug 2020: Meghalaya hit by African swine fever

  • Earlier in February 2020, thousands of pigs died in Assam due to African Swine Fever (ASF), which does not affect humans but can be catastrophic for pigs.
  • This is the second time (first time in Assam in Feb 2020) that an ASF outbreak has been reported in India.
  • In September 2019, the outbreak of the disease swept through pig populations in China — which is the largest exporter and consumer of pork — leading to large scale culling.
  • As a result, the prices of pork shot up by over 50 per cent in the country over pre-outbreak levels.

African Swine Fever: How did the current outbreak start?

  • As per the latest update issued by the UN Food and Agriculture Organisation (FAO), the current outbreak of ASF has affected China, Mongolia, Vietnam, Cambodia, Myanmar, the Philippines, Republic of Korea and Indonesia among others.
  • Officials believe ASF came into India through Tibet into Arunachal Pradesh and then into Assam, the state with the highest population of pigs in the country.
  • This virus can be carried by wild pigs too, so one cannot say for sure how and where exactly it entered Assam since we still have not been able to determine the route yet.
  • According to the World Organisation for Animal Health (WOAH), between 2018 and 2019, the disease spread was notified in three countries in Europe and 23 countries in

What is African Swine Fever (ASF)?

  • ASF is a severe viral disease (DNA virus) that affects wild and domestic pigs typically resulting in an acute haemorrhagic fever.
  • The disease has a case fatality rate (CFR) of about 100 percent.
  • Its routes of transmission include:
  • direct contact with an infected or wild pig (alive or dead),
  • indirect contact through ingestion of contaminated material such as food waste, feed or garbage; or
  • through biological vectors such as ticks.
  • The disease is characterised by the sudden deaths of pigs.
  • Classical Swine Fever (CSF) has signs which may be similar to ASF, but is caused by a different virus for which a vaccine exists.
  • As of now, there is no approved vaccine, which is also a reason why animals are culled to prevent the spread of infection.
  • ASF is lethal and is less infectious than other animal diseases such as foot-and-mouth disease.
  • Any country with a pig sector is at risk of the spread of the disease and its spread is most likely via meat arriving aboard ships and planes, which is incorrectly disposed of and by meat carried by individual travellers.

How is ASF different from swine flu?

  • Swine influenza or swine flu is a respiratory disease of pigs, which is caused by type A influenza virus that regularly causes outbreaks of influenza in pig populations.
  • While the swine flu causing virus leads to a high number of infections in pig herds, the disease is not as fatal and causes few deaths.
  • Specific swine influenza vaccines are available for pigs.
  • The swine flu viruses are spread among pigs through close contact and through contaminated objects moving between infected and uninfected pigs.
  • Further, while swine flu viruses don’t typically infect humans, cases have been reported in the past (for instance during the 2009 H1N1 pandemic).
  1. Mutations in the novel coronavirus (TH)

  • Scientists have identified a pattern of mutations in the novel coronavirus which enable it to evade the immune system’s antibodies, findings that shed light on how the virus may possibly escape existing vaccines and therapeutics.
  • According to the researchers, the coronavirus undergoes selective deletions in parts of its genetic sequence that encode for the shape of its spike protein.
  • The spike protein is the part of the coronavirus which enables it to infect host cells, and is also the segment of the virus against which the body produces neutralising antibodies.
  1. Magnetic fields in plants (TH)

  • A recent study (Scientific Reports) from Germany found that the Venus flytrap plant is capable of generating small magnetic fields.
  • When these plants send electrical signals to trigger the closure of their traps, to catch an insect, a biomagnetism phenomenon was observed.
  • The leaf stalk, or petiole, is not excitable and is electrically insulated from the trap.
  • The signal magnitude recorded is similar to what is observed during surface measurements of nerve impulses in animals.
  1. Microbiome (TH)

  • Microbiome refers to micro-organisms living inside humans and animals. There is a balance of useful and harmful components, which If disturbed results in ill-health. A recent study published in Journal of Experimental Biology finds that eating too much fat and sugar as a child can alter one’s microbiome forever, even if the person later switches to healthy food.
  1. Ka-226T utility helicopters (TH)

  • Context: The total indigenous content of the Ka-226T utility helicopters, to be jointly manufactured locally by India and Russia with Transfer of Technology (ToT), is between 27%-33%, said Chairman and MD of Hindustan Aeronautics Limited (HAL)
  • In 2015, India and Russia had concluded an Inter-Governmental Agreement (IGA) for at least 200 Ka-226T twin engine utility helicopters estimated to cost over $1 billion with 60 helicopters to be directly imported and remaining 140 manufactured locally.

Analysis

  • The Ka-226T is a light-weight utility helicopter and features a coaxial twin-rotor systeme. it has two sets of rotors mounted one on top of the other and it does not have a tail rotor.
    • Coaxial rotors give a helicopter improvement in lift and payload capacity over conventional choppers.
    • This is especially advantageous in high-altitude environments where an aircraft’s performance at take-off tends to diminish due to the lower air density.
  • It is eco-friendly features, cost-effective, with advanced avionics and extra flight safety solutions make this helicopter one among the simplest models in its class.

 

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