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15th December Current Affairs

Pacific ring of fire

(GS-I: Important Geophysical phenomena such as earthquakes, Tsunami, Volcanic activity, cyclone etc., geographical features and their location)

In News:

A 7.3-magnitude earthquake struck eastern Indonesia.

The epicentre was in the Flores Sea, north of East Nusa Tenggara province.

Why Indonesia is vulnerable to earthquakes?

Indonesia sit along the Ring of Fire region, an area where most of the world’s volcanic eruptions occur. The Ring of Fire has seen a large amount of activity in recent days, but Indonesia has been hit hard due to its position on a large grid of tectonic plates.

Indonesia is at the meeting point of three major continental plates – the Pacific, the Eurasian and the Indo-Australian plates – and the much smaller Philippine plate. As a result, several volcanoes on the Indonesian islands are prone to erupting. Indonesia is home to roughly 400 volcanoes, out of which 127 are currently active, accounting for about a third of the world’s active volcanoes.

What is the Ring of Fire?

The Ring of Fire is a Pacific region home to over 450 volcanoes, including three of the world’s four most active volcanoes – Mount St. Helens in the USA, Mount Fuji in Japan and Mount Pinatubo in the Philippines. It is also sometimes called the circum-Pacific belt.

Around 90% of the world’s earthquakes occur in the Ring of Fire, and 80% of the world’s largest earthquakes.

Location:

It stretches along the Pacific Ocean coastlines, where the Pacific Plate grinds against other, smaller tectonic plates that form the Earth’s crust – such as the Philippine Sea plate and the Cocos and Nazca Plates that line the edge of the Pacific Ocean.

The 40,000 kilometre horse-shoe-shaped ring loops from New Zealand to Chile, passing through the coasts of Asia and the Americas on the way.

Risk:

The people most at risk from activity in the Ring of Fire are in the US west coast, Chile, Japan and island nations including the Solomon Islands. These areas are most at risk because they lie on so-called subduction zones – which are boundaries that mark the collision between two of the planet’s tectonic plates.

How was the Ring of Fire formed?

The Ring of Fire is the result from subduction of oceanic tectonic plates beneath lighter continental plates. The area where these tectonic plates meet is called a subduction zone.

Why does the Ring of Fire trigger earthquakes?

The world’s deepest earthquakes happen in subduction zone areas as tectonic plates scrape against each other – and the Ring of Fire has the world’s biggest concentration of subduction zones.

As energy is released from the earth’s molten core, it forces tectonic plates to move and they crash up against each other, causing friction. The friction causes a build-up of energy and when this energy is finally released it causes an earthquake. If this happens at sea it can cause devastating tsunamis.

Tectonic plates usually only move on average a few centimetres each year, but when an earthquake strikes, they speed up massively and can move at several metres per second.

Char Dham

(GS-I: Indian culture – salient aspects of Art Forms, Literature and Architecture from ancient to modern times)

In News:

The Supreme Court has allowed carriageways of three highways to be widened to 10m as part of the Char Dham roads project after modifying its earlier order limiting the width to 5.5m.

What Has The Supreme Court Said?

A three-judge Supreme Court bench modified an earlier, September 2020 order by another three-judge bench directing that three highways being laid as part of a 899-km road network in Uttarakhand should stick to a width of 5.5 metres for the carriageway.

Following a review sought by the Defence Ministry, the Supreme Court has now decreed that the width of the roads can be of 10m as sought by the Centre, paving the way for their double-laning.

Acknowledging the strategic importance of the three highways — which act as feeder roads for connecting with the China border — the top court also noted the need for balancing such priorities with environmental concerns.

It also ordered the setting up of an oversight committee led by former Supreme Court judge AK Sikri to ensure that the works were executed in an environmentally conscious manner, incorporating the recommendations of a high-powered committee in this regard.

Developments so far wrt the Chardham Project:

The foundation stone for the Char Dham road project was laid by PM Narendra Modi in December 2016.

But the project was challenged on environmental grounds in courts with petitioners alleging irregularities vis-a-vis environmental clearances for the project and that it was being pursued in violation of existing norms.

The National Green Tribunal (NGT) cleared the project in September 2018, but its order was challenged for being passed by a bench different from the one that had heard the matter. Supreme Court stayed the NGT order in October 2018.

In September 2020, it passed an order on a writ petition stating that highways for the Char Dham project should not exceed 5.5m in width as prescribed in a 2018 circular of the Union Road Transport Ministry. But the Defence Ministry had in December that year sought a modification in the order to allow the width to be of 10m.

The top court then asked its high-powered committee (HPC) to look into the contentions raised by the Centre on the width of the highways.

What did the HPC say?

The width should be allowed to be of 10m in view of the strategic importance of these highways.

It would not be “feasible” to revisit those stretches where work has been already initiated on 10m width to reduce the same to 5.5m.

It would not be possible to grow trees on the patches that had cleared to pave the way for road-building.

What Were The Arguments For Seeking 10m Width?

These are inhospitable terrains where Army needs to move heavy vehicles, machineries, weapons, missiles, tanks, troops and food supplies.

What Are The Environmental Concerns That Were Flagged?

Large-scale construction works in hilly terrain is a recipe for disaster as it leads to a heightened risk of landslides given the felling of trees and loosening of rocks.

The project was being executed bypassing mandatory environment clearances and environment impact assessment (EIA) procedures.

Over 25,000 trees that have reportedly been felled to make way for the project as a grave worry for the ecologically sensitive zone.

Since wider carriageways would require more excavation and blasting, the purpose of having an all-weather highway may be compromised since the topography would become that much more sensitive to slippage and landslides.

About Chardham project:

The project involves developing and widening 900-km of national highways connecting the holy Hindu pilgrimage sites of; Badrinath, Kedarnath, Gangotri, and Yamunotri at an estimated cost of Rs.12,000 crores.

The highway will be called Char Dham Mahamarg(Char Dham Highway) and the highway construction project will be called Char Dham Mahamarg Vikas Pariyojana(Char Dham Highway Development Project).

Co-Lending Model- Bank-NBFC co-lending

(GS-III: Inclusive growth and issues arising out of it)

In News:

In September 2018, the RBI had permitted the banks to co-lend with all registered NBFCs (including HFCs) to increase lending to the priority sector based on a prior agreement.

Following this, several banks have entered into co-lending ‘master agreements’ with NBFCs, and more are in the pipeline.

What’s the concern now?

This has led to unusual tie-ups between banks and NBFCs. For instance, SBI signed a deal with Adani Capital, a small NBFC, for co-lending to farmers to help them buy tractors and farm implements.

Greater risk in co-lending: NBFCs are required to retain at least a 20 per cent share of individual loans on their books. This means 80 per cent of the risk will be with the banks — who will take the big hit in case of a default.

Corporates in banking: While the RBI hasn’t officially allowed the entry of big corporate houses into the banking space, NBFCs — mostly floated by corporate houses — were already accepting public deposits. They now have more opportunities on the lending side through direct co-lending arrangements.

What is the Co-Lending Model?

Co-Lending Model allows for a joint contribution of credit at the facility level by both the lenders, as also sharing of risks and rewards.

AIM: to improve the flow of credit to the unserved and underserved sector of the economy.

Significance of the model:

The lower cost of funds from banks and greater reach of the NBFCs will make available funds to the beneficiary at an affordable cost.

It will help banks to expand customer base and enables them to provide last mile banking services.

The Unlawful Activities (Prevention) Act

(GS-III: Role of external state and non-state actors in creating challenges to internal security)

As per the information given by the Union Home Ministry in Lok Sabha:

Nearly 57% of those arrested in the country under the Unlawful Activities (Prevention) Act between 2018 and 2020 were below 30 years of age.

Uttar Pradesh not only accounted for the highest arrests of those below 30 (931) under the anti-terror law in the past three years but also 70% of the total arrests made in the state under UAPA over this period were in the sub-30 age group.

About the Unlawful Activities (Prevention) Act:

Passed in 1967, the law aims at effective prevention of unlawful activities associations in India.

The Act assigns absolute power to the central government, by way of which if the Centre deems an activity as unlawful then it may, by way of an Official Gazette, declare it so.

It has death penalty and life imprisonment as highest punishments.

Key points:

Under UAPA, both Indian and foreign nationals can be charged.

It will be applicable to the offenders in the same manner, even if crime is committed on a foreign land, outside India.

Under the UAPA, the investigating agency can file a charge sheet in maximum 180 days after the arrests and the duration can be extended further after intimating the court.

As per amendments of 2019:

The Act empowers the Director General of National Investigation Agency (NIA) to grant approval of seizure or attachment of property when the case is investigated by the said agency.

The Act empowers the officers of the NIA, of the rank of Inspector or above, to investigate cases of terrorism in addition to those conducted by the DSP or ACP or above rank officer in the state.

It also included the provision of designating an individual as a terrorist.

Delhi High Court defines the contours of UAPA:

In June 2021, delivering a judgment defining the contours of the otherwise “vague” Section 15 of the Unlawful Activities (Prevention) Act, 1967, (UAPA), the Delhi High Court laid down some important principles upon the imposition of Section 15, 17 & 18 of the Act.

Sections 15, 17 and 18 of UAPA:

  1. 15 engrafts the offence of ‘terrorist act’.
  2. 17 lays-down the punishment for raising funds for committing a terrorist act.
  3. 18 engrafts the offence of ‘punishment for conspiracy etc. to commit a terrorist act or any act preparatory to commit a terrorist act’.

Key observations made by the court:

“Terrorist Act” Should not be used lightly so as to trivialise them.

Terrorist activity is that which travels beyond the capacity of law enforcement agencies to deal with under ordinary penal law (Supreme Court’s decision in the case of Hitendra Vishnu Thakur).