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26th February Current Affairs

Council of Europe

(GS-II: Important International Organisations)

In News:

Russia’s membership in the Council of Europe has been suspended after its invasion of Ukraine.

What’s the issue?

Russia has launched a full-blown attack on Ukraine, with Russian forces entering the Obolon district, which is less than 10 km away from Central Kyiv – the government’s seat of power.

Resolution against Russia’s position on Ukraine:

India abstained on a US-sponsored UN Security Council resolution that “deplores in the strongest terms” Russia’s “aggression” against Ukraine, with New Delhi saying dialogue is the only answer to settling differences and disputes.

The resolution was presented by the US and Albania, and co-sponsored by several other nations.

The Council’s resolution reaffirmed its commitment to the sovereignty, independence, unity and territorial integrity of Ukraine within its internationally recognised borders.

It demanded that Russia “shall immediately, completely, and unconditionally withdraw all of its military forces from the territory of Ukraine within its internationally recognised borders”.

Why did India abstain?

India did not endorse the harsh language used in the resolution condemning Russia’s actions. It wants to maintain a balance between the Western bloc led by the US, and Russia, since it has strategic partners on both sides.

About the Council of Europe:

The Council of Europe is an international organization founded in the wake of World War II to uphold human rights, democracy and the rule of law in Europe.

Founded in 1949 (Treaty of London (1949)), it has 46 member states (including all 27 EU members), with a population of approximately 820 million, and operates with an annual budget of approximately 500 million euros.

Headquarters: Palace of Europe, Strasbourg, France.

Roles and responsibilities:

The Council of Europe cannot make binding laws, but it does have the power to enforce select international agreements reached by European states on various topics.

SC asks Centre to clarify on legality of cryptocurrency

(GS-III: Awareness in the fields of IT, Space, Computers, robotics, nano-technology, bio-technology and issues relating to intellectual property rights)

In News:

The Supreme Court has asked the Centre whether dealing with cryptocurrencies like bitcoin is legal in India.

Details:

The Court posed the query while hearing a plea by one of the accused in the GainBitcoin scam, seeking quashing of the charges against him.

How is it regulated?

There’s no formal regulation on cryptocurrencies in India so far. The Centre has been working on crypto regulatory framework since 2019 but is yet to introduce a bill.

The central bank has always maintained a strong stance against private digital currencies. It had banned the banking system from aiding such trades, which was struck down by the Supreme Court in 2020.

Latest developments:

In Union Budget 2022, finance minister Nirmala Sitharaman had proposed 30 per cent tax on earnings from cryptocurrencies and non-fungible tokens (NFTs).

She also said that losses from their sale could not be offset against other income, delivering another disincentive to trading and investment in digital assets.

The government also introduced 1 per cent tax deducted at source (TDS) on digital assets.

It also announced that RBI will introduce its digital currency in FY23 that will lead to more efficient and cheaper currency management system.

What are Cryptocurrencies?

Cryptocurrencies are digital currencies in which encryption techniques are used to regulate the generation of units of currency and verify the transfer of funds, operating independently of a central bank.

They use Blockchain technology.

Examples: Bitcoin, Ethereum etc.

Why is the RBI against the use of cryptocurrencies?

Sovereign guarantee: Cryptocurrencies pose risks to consumers.  They do not have any sovereign guarantee and hence are not legal tender.

Market volatility: Their speculative nature also makes them highly volatile.  For instance, the value of Bitcoin fell from USD 20,000 in December 2017 to USD 3,800 in November 2018.

Risk in security: A user loses access to their cryptocurrency if they lose their private key (unlike traditional digital banking accounts, this password cannot be reset).

Malware threats: In some cases, these private keys are stored by technical service providers (cryptocurrency exchanges or wallets), which are prone to malware or hacking.

SC Garg Committee recommendations (2019):

Ban anybody who mines, hold, transact or deal with cryptocurrencies in any form.

It recommend a jail term of one to 10 years for exchange or trading in digital currency.

It proposed a monetary penalty of up to three times the loss caused to the exchequer or gains made by the cryptocurrency user whichever is higher.

However, the panel said that the government should keep an open mind on the potential issuance of cryptocurrencies by the Reserve Bank of India.

Lachit Borphukan

(GS-I: Modern Indian history from about the middle of the eighteenth century until the present- significant events, personalities, issues)

In News:

President Ram Nath Kovind recently inaugurated the year-long celebration of the 400th birth anniversary of Lachit Borphukan, commander of the Ahom forces and an icon of Assamese nationalism.

Who was Lachit Borphukan?

He was a commander in the Ahom kingdom.

Known for his leadership in the 1671 Battle of Saraighat that thwarted a drawn-out attempt by Mughal forces under the command of Ramsingh I to take over Ahom kingdom.

The battle of Saraighat was fought on the banks of the Brahmaputra in Guwahati.

The National Defence Academy (NDA), ever since 1999 has been conferring the best passing out cadet with the Lachit Borphukan gold medal.

Outcomes of the battle:

During the last phase of the Battle of Saraighat 1671, when the Mughals attacked the Assamese forces through the river in Saraighat, many Assamese soldiers began losing their will to fight. It was Lachit’s clarion call to all the soldiers that made them fight till their last breath, ultimately resulting in the defeat of the Mughals.

Battle of Alaboi:

The Battle of Alaboi was fought on August 5, 1669, between the Ahoms and Mughals in which the Ahoms suffered severe reverses and thousands of its soldiers were killed.

Chernobyl disaster

(GS-III: Disaster management)

In News:

After a brief but fierce battle, Russian troops were able to capture the Chernobyl nuclear plant in northern Ukraine, the site of one of the worst nuclear disasters in human history.

What is Chernobyl disaster?

The Chernobyl tragedy was the result of a nuclear accident on 26 April 1986 at reactor No. 4 at the Chernobyl Nuclear Power Plant, near the town of Pripyat in the Ukrainian SSR (Ukrainian Soviet Socialist Republic).

There were nearly 8.4 million people exposed to radiation in the three nations.

It occurred when a group of technicians in what was then Soviet-controlled Ukraine carried out a botched safety test that led to a series of explosions.

It is said to have released 400 times more radiation than the atomic bomb that was dropped on Hiroshima in Japan.

What’s the concern now?

Since the Chernobyl is under Russia’s control now, damage to the nuclear waste storage facility could lead to radioactive dust spreading across Ukraine, Belarus and parts of Europe.