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5th January Current Affairs

China constructing bridge on Pangong lake in Ladakh

(GS-II: India and its neighbours)

In News:

China is constructing a bridge in eastern Ladakh connecting the north and south banks of Pangong Tso (lake).

About the Bridge:

On the north bank, there is a PLA garrison at Kurnak fort and on the south bank at Moldo, and the distance between the two is around 200 km.

The new bridge between the closest points on two banks, which is around 500 m, will bring down the movement time between the two sectors from around 12 hours to three or four hours.

This will significantly bring down the time for the People’s Liberation Army (PLA) to move troops and equipment between the two sectors.

The bridge is located around 25 km ahead of the Line of Actual Control (LAC).

About Pangong Tso:

Pangong Tso literally translates into a “conclave lake”. Pangong means conclave in Ladakhi and Tso means lake in Tibetan language.

Situated at over 14,000 feet, the Lake is about 135 km long.

It is formed from Tethys geosyncline.

The Karakoram Mountain range, which crosses Tajikistan, Afghanistan, Pakistan, China and India, with heights of over 6,000 meters including K2, the world’s second highest peak, ends at the north bank of Pangong Tso.

Its southern bank too has high broken mountains sloping towards Spangur Lake in the south.

The lake’s water, while crystal clear, is brackish, making it undrinkable.

Why there is a dispute here?

The Line of Actual Control (LAC) – the line that separates Indian and Chinese troops since 1962 – generally runs along the land except for the width of Pangong Tso. Here, it runs through water.

Both sides have marked their areas announcing which side belongs to which country.

India controls about 45 km stretch of the Pangong Tso and China the rest.

What are fingers?

The lake has mountain spurs of the Chang Chenmo range jutting down, referred to as fingers.

There are eight of them in contention here. India and China have different understanding of where the LAC passes through.

India has maintained that the LAC passes through Finger 8, which has been the site of the final military post of China.

India has been patrolling the area – mostly on foot because of the nature of the terrain – up to Finger 8. But Indian forces have not had active control beyond Finger 4.

China, on the other hand, says the LAC passes through Finger 2. It has been patrolling up to Finger 4- mostly in light vehicles, and at times up to Finger 2.

Why does China want to encroach areas alongside Pangong Tso?

Pangong Tso is strategically crucial as it is very close to Chusul Valley, which was one of the battlefronts between India and China during the 1962 war.

China appears to keep India constricted in the region by taking strategic advantage of looking over the Chusul Valley, which it can do if it advances along Pangong Tso.

China also does not want India to boost its infrastructure anywhere near the LAC. China fears it threatens its occupation of Aksai Chin and Lhasa-Kashgar highway.

Any threat to this highway also puts Chinese rather imperialist plans in Pakistan-occupied territories in Ladakh and Jammu and Kashmir, and beyond in Pakistan.

Russia vs NATO in Ukraine

(GS-II: Important International institutions, agencies and fora, their structure, mandate)

In News:

Russia has stationed more than 1,00,000 troops at its border with aspiring NATO member Ukraine.

What’s the issue? What are the demands by Russia?

Russia stated that only if NATO withdraws their forces from all countries in Europe that joined the alliance after May 1997, would they de-escalate the military build-up.

This would effectively mean that NATO cannot operate in any of the Baltic nations that border Russia (Latvia, Estonia, Lithuania), central European states such as Poland, Hungary, and the Czech republic, and Balkan states such as Croatia and Slovenia.

Russia also wants NATO to drop plans of any further ‘enlargement’, which means committing to not accepting Ukraine and Georgia as members. Another demand is that NATO must not hold drills in eastern Europe, Ukraine and Georgia without prior approval from Russia.

Response from the west:

The U.S and NATO officials have bluntly stated that Russia’s proposals are unrealistic. They insist that Ukraine and every other country has the right to determine its own foreign policy.

Citing the principle of sovereignty, they insist that Ukraine, and every other country in eastern Europe, has the right to determine its foreign policy without outside interference and join whichever alliance it wants.

They have also dismissed the idea of Russia wielding veto power over who gets to become a member of NATO, and pointed out that NATO would not take decisions affecting eastern Europe without involving the countries concerned.

About North Atlantic Treaty Organization:

  • It is an intergovernmental military alliance.
  • Established by Washington treaty.
  • Treaty that was signed on 4 April 1949.
  • Headquarters — Brussels, Belgium.
  • Headquarters of Allied Command Operations — Mons, Belgium.

Composition:

Since its founding, the admission of new member states has increased the alliance from the original 12 countries to 30. The most recent member state to be added to NATO was North Macedonia on 27 March 2020.

NATO membership is open to “any other European state in a position to further the principles of this Treaty and to contribute to the security of the North Atlantic area.”

Where does the 5G rollout stand?

(GS-III: Science and Technology (IT & Computers))

In News:

The Department of Telecommunications (DoT) has said that Gurugram, Bengaluru, Kolkata, Mumbai, Chandigarh, Delhi, Jamnagar, Ahmadabad, Chennai, Hyderabad, Lucknow, Pune, and Gandhi Nagar would be among the first cities to get 5G services in 2022.

Where does India stand in terms of trials and launch?

The government has said the auction of 5G spectrum would take place in March or April 2022. Some experts say it could be delayed by at least one quarter as telecom service providers are yet to complete their trials and test various aspects.

Telecom Regulatory Authority of India (TRAI) is in the final stages of stakeholder consultations, and is likely to submit its recommendations to the DoT early 2022.

Meanwhile, Private Telecom companies have progressed at various levels regarding the rollout of 5G – like conducting trials, testing speeds and building indigenous 5G networks.

What is 5G?

5G is the next generation of mobile broadband that will eventually replace, or at least augment 4G LTE connection.

Features and benefits of the 5G technology:

Operate in the millimeter wave spectrum (30-300 GHz) which have the advantage of sending large amounts of data at very high speeds.

Operate in 3 bands, namely low, mid and high frequency spectrum.

Reduced latency will support new applications that leverage the power of 5G, the Internet of Things (IoT), and artificial intelligence.

Increased capacity on 5G networks can minimize the impact of load spikes, like those that take place during sporting events and news events.

Significance of the technology:

India’s National Digital Communications Policy 2018 highlights the importance of 5G when it states that the convergence of a cluster of revolutionary technologies including 5G, the cloud, Internet of Things (IoT) and data analytics, along with a growing start-up community, promise to accelerate and deepen its digital engagement, opening up a new horizon of opportunities.

What are the potential health risks from 5G?

To date, and after much research performed, no adverse health effect has been causally linked with exposure to wireless technologies.

Tissue heating is the main mechanism of interaction between radiofrequency fields and the human body. Radiofrequency exposure levels from current technologies result in negligible temperature rise in the human body.

As the frequency increases, there is less penetration into the body tissues and absorption of the energy becomes more confined to the surface of the body (skin and eye).

Provided that the overall exposure remains below international guidelines, no consequences for public health are anticipated.

What are the international exposure guidelines?

Two international bodies produce exposure guidelines on electromagnetic fields. Many countries currently adhere to the guidelines recommended by:

  • The International Commission on Non-Ionizing Radiation Protection.
  • The Institute of Electrical and Electronics Engineers, through the International Committee on Electromagnetic Safety.

These guidelines are not technology-specific. They cover radiofrequencies up to 300 GHz, including the frequencies under discussion for 5G.

International efforts- International Electromagnetic Fields (EMF) Project:

WHO established the International Electromagnetic Fields (EMF) Project in 1996. The project investigates the health impact of exposure to electric and magnetic fields in the frequency range 0-300 GHz and advises national authorities on EMF radiation protection.

GST compensation

(GS-II: Government policies and interventions for development in various sectors and issues arising out of their design and implementation)

In News:

Finance Ministers of several States have demanded that the GST compensation scheme be extended beyond June 2022.

What’s the issue?

The adoption of GST was made possible by States ceding almost all their powers to impose local-level indirect taxes and agreeing to let the prevailing multiplicity of imposts be subsumed into the GST.

This was agreed on the condition that revenue shortfalls arising from the transition to the new indirect taxes regime would be made good from a pooled GST Compensation Fund for a period of five years that is set to end in June 2022.

Need for extension:

Citing the impact of the COVID-19 pandemic on the overall economy and more specifically States’ revenues, the States including Tamil Nadu, Kerala, West Bengal, Rajasthan and Chhattisgarh stressed that while their revenues had been adversely impacted by the introduction of GST, the hit from the pandemic had pushed back any possible rebound in revenue especially at a time when they had been forced to spend substantially more to address the public health emergency and its socio-economic fallout on their residents.

What is the GST compensation?

The Constitution (One Hundred and First Amendment) Act, 2016, was the law which created the mechanism for levying a common nationwide Goods and Services Tax (GST).

While States would receive the SGST (State GST) component of the GST, and a share of the IGST (integrated GST), it was agreed that revenue shortfalls arising from the transition to the new indirect taxes regime would be made good from a pooled GST Compensation Fund for a period of five years that is currently set to end in June 2022.

How is the GST Compensation Fund funded?

This corpus is funded through a compensation cess that is levied on so-called ‘demerit’ goods.

The items are pan masala, cigarettes and tobacco products, aerated water, caffeinated beverages, coal and certain passenger motor vehicles.

Computation of the shortfall:

The computation of the shortfall is done annually by projecting a revenue assumption based on 14% compounded growth from the base year’s (2015-2016) revenue and calculating the difference between that figure and the actual GST collections in that year.

Can the deadline be extended? If so, how?

The deadline for GST compensation was set in the original legislation and so in order to extend it, the GST Council must first recommend it and the Union government must then move an amendment to the GST law allowing for a new date beyond the June 2022 deadline at which the GST compensation scheme will come to a close.