Today's Headlines

Today's Headlines - 11 March 2023

ISRO receives NISAR satellite

GS Paper - 3 (Space Technology)

The US Air Force C-17 aircraft landed in Bengaluru and handed over NASA-ISRO Synthetic Aperture Radar (NISAR) NISAR to the Indian space agency which marks a milestone in the US-India ties in space collaboration. NISAR, an Earth-observation satellite, is being jointly developed by the National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA) and the Indian Space Research Organisation (ISRO).

What is NISAR?

  1. NISAR was envisioned by NASA and ISRO eight years ago in 2014 as a powerful demonstration of the capability of radar as a science tool and help us study Earth's dynamic land and ice surfaces in greater detail than ever before.
  2. It is expected to be launched in January 2024 from Satish Dhawan Space Centre into a near-polar orbit.
  3. The satellite will operate for a minimum of three years. It is a Low Earth Orbit (LEO) observatory. NISAR will map the entire globe in 12 days.
  4. NISAR will be the first radar of its kind in space to systematically map Earthusing two different radar frequencies (L-band and S-band) to measure changes in our planet's surface less than a centimeter across.

Why is NISAR Important?

  1. NISAR will provide a wealth of data and information about the Earth's surface changesnatural hazards, and ecosystem disturbances, helping to advance our understanding of Earth system processes and climate change.
  2. The mission will provide critical information to help manage natural disasters such as earthquakestsunamis, and volcanic eruptions, enabling faster response times and better risk assessments.
  3. NISAR data will be used to improve agriculture management and food security by providing information about crop growthsoil moisture, and land-use changes.
  4. The mission will provide data for infrastructure monitoring and management, such as monitoring of oil spillsurbanization, and deforestation.
  5. NISAR will help to monitor and understand the impacts of climate change on the Earth's land surface, including melting glacierssea-level rise, and changes in carbon storage.

India-Australia relationship

GS Paper -2 (Bilateral Relations)

Australian Prime Minister Anthony Albanese, the first leader of his country to make a bilateral visit to India since Malcolm Turnbull in 2017. After a visit to the cricket stadium in Ahmedabad with Prime Minister Narendra Modi, Albanese said, Australia and India are competing to be the best in the world. Off the field, we are co-operating to build a better world.

More about the news:

Historical perspective

ü  The India-Australia bilateral relationship has been underpinned by the shared values of pluralistic, Westminster-style democracies, Commonwealth traditions, expanding economic engagement, and increasing high-level interaction.

ü  Several common traits, including strong, vibrant, secular, and multicultural democracies, a free press, an independent judicial system, and English language, serve as the foundation for closer co-operation and multifaceted interaction between the two countries.

ü  The end of the Cold War and beginning of India’s economic reforms in 1991 provided the impetus for the development of closer ties between the two nations.

ü  The ever-increasing numbers of Indian students travelling to Australia for higher education, and the growing tourism and sporting links, have played a significant role in strengthening bilateral relations.

ü  In recent years, the relationship has charted a new trajectory of transformational growth. With greater convergence of views on issues such as international terrorism, and a shared commitment to a rules-based order in the Indo-Pacific region, the two democracies have taken their cooperation to plurilateral formats, including the Quad (with the United States and Japan).

Strategic ties:

Ø  In September 2014, Australia’s Prime Minister Tony Abbott visited India, and in November that year, Modi became the first Indian Prime Minister to make an official visit to Australia after Rajiv Gandhi in 1986.

Ø  He also became the first Indian PM to address a joint sitting of the Parliament of Australia.

Ø  At the India-Australia Leaders’ Virtual Summit in June 2020, Modi and Prime Minister Scott Morrison elevated the bilateral relationship from the Strategic Partnership concluded in 2009 to a Comprehensive Strategic Partnership (CSP).

Ø  At the 2nd India-Australia Virtual Summit in March 2022, several key announcements were made, including on a Letter of Intent on Migration and Mobility Partnership Arrangement to foster the exchange of skills, and a Letter of Arrangement for Educational Qualifications Recognition to facilitate the mobility of students and professionals.

China factor

  • Ties between Australia and China were strained after Canberra in 2018 banned Chinese telecom firm Huawei from the 5G network.
  • India has been facing an aggressive Chinese military along the border. New Delhi and Canberra have been assessing the Chinese challenge since 2013.
  • Both Australia and India support a rules-based international order, and that they are partners in seeking to forge regional institutions in the Indo-Pacific which are inclusive, promote further economic integration, and can help, to manage the tensions as economic growth across the region shifts strategic weight and relativities.

Wide cooperation:

Economic cooperation: 

v  The Economic Cooperation Trade Agreement (ECTA) — the first free trade agreement signed by India with a developed country in a decade — entered into force in December 2022, and has resulted in an immediate reduction of duty to zero on 96% of Indian exports to Australia in value (that is 98% of the tariff lines) and zero duty on 85% of Australia’s exports (in value) to India.

v  Bilateral trade was US$ 27.5 billion in 2021; with ECTA, there is potential for it to reach around US$ 50 billion in five years.

People-to-people ties: 

v  India is one of the top sources of skilled immigrants to Australia. As per the 2021 Census, around 9.76 lakh people in Australia reported their ancestry as Indian origin, making them the second largest group of overseas-born residents in Australia.

v  To celebrate India@75, the Australian government illuminated more than 40 buildings across the country, and Prime Minister Albanese issued a personal video message.

Education: 

Ø  The Mechanism for Mutual Recognition of Educational Qualifications (MREQ) was signed on March 2 this year. This will facilitate mobility of students between India and Australia.

Ø  Deakin University and University of Wollongong are planning to open campuses in India.

Ø  More than 1 lakh Indian students are pursuing higher education degrees in Australian universities, making Indian students the second largest cohort of foreign students in Australia.

Defence cooperation: 

v  The 2+2 Ministerial Dialogue was held in September 2021, and the Deputy Prime Minister and Defence Minister of Australia visited in June 2022.

v  The Mutual Logistics Support Agreement (MLSA) was concluded during the Virtual Summit in June 2020, and the two militaries held several joint exercises in 2022.

v  Australia will host military operations with India, Japan, and the US in the “Malabar” exercises off the coast of Perth in August, and has invited India to join the Talisman Sabre exercises later this year.

v  Albanese visited INS Vikrant and declared “there has never been a point in both of our country’s histories where we’ve had such a strong strategic alignment”.

Clean energy:

v  The countries signed a Letter of Intent on New and Renewable Energy in February 2022 which provides for cooperation towards bringing down the cost of renewable energy technologies, especially ultra-low-cost solar and clean hydrogen.

v  During the Virtual Summit in March 2022, India announced matching funds of AUD 10 million for Pacific Island Countries under Infrastructure for Resilient Island States (IRIS) and of AUD 10 million for Pacific Island Countries under International Solar Alliance (ISA).

Digital India Bill

GS Paper - 3 (ICT)

The government has presented a broad overview of the upcoming Digital India Bill – the proposed successor to the decades-old Information Technology Act, 2000. The proposed law will impact a host of entities on the Internet, including social mediae-commerce, and artificial intelligence-based platforms.

What is the new law for the Internet?

  1. Currently, the Information Technology Act, 2000 is the core framework that regulates entities on the Internet.
  2. However, the law needs an update since it was framed for an Internet era that looked very different from the Internet of today.
  3. Given its limitations, the government has also on occasion found it difficult to promulgate rules since the parent Act is limited in its scope.
  4. The core objectives of the new Digital India Bill are to ensure an open and safe Internet in the country to ensure users’ rights and reduce risks for them online; accelerate the growth of technology innovation.
  5. The Bill is a key pillar of an overarching framework of technology regulations the Centre is building, including the draft Digital Personal Data Protection Bill, 2022Indian Telecommunication Bill, 2022; and a policy for non-personal data governance.

What is ‘safe harbour’?

  1. Safe harbour – as prescribed under Section 79 of the IT Act, 2000 – is legal immunity that online intermediaries enjoy against content posted by users on their platforms.
  2. This is available as long as these platforms abide by certain due diligence requirements, such as censoring content when asked by the government or courts. The concept originally came from Section 230 of the United States’ Communications Decency Act, which has been termed “one of the foundational laws behind the modern Internet”.
  3. It is one of the main reasons behind the meteoric rise of Internet giants such as Facebook that have defined the Web 2.0 era where users can post content on the internet.
  4. Tech experts believe that safe harbour is a crucial tenet for ensuring free speech on the Internet since platforms only have to act on speech that is deemed illegal.

Multilateral reforms and G-20

GS Paper -2 (International Reforms)

During the G-20 presidency, India stated its agenda would be inclusive, ambitious, action-oriented, and decisive. New Delhi also said that its primary objectives are to build global consensus over critical development and security issues and deliver global goods. This resulted in placing multilateral reform as one of the top presidential priorities for India.

More about the news:

ü  Accordingly, the G-20 idea bank, Think 20, also placed multilateral reforms as one of its priorities.

ü  The T20 Task Force on ‘Towards Reformed Multilateralism’ (TF7) aims to construct a roadmap for ‘Multilateralism 2.0’.

Multilateralism challenges:

  • Due to persistent deadlocks, multilateralism has lost the majority’s trust. Multilateralism is facing a utility crisis, where powerful member-states think it is no longer useful for them.
  • Due toincreasing great-power tensions, de-globalisation, populist nationalism, the pandemic, and climate emergencies added to the hardships. 
  • Due to hardships,states sought other arenas, including bilateral, plurilateral and minilateral groupings, which subsequently contributed to further polarisation of global politics.

Multilateralism need of the hour:

  • Most of the challenges nations face today are global in nature and require global solutions.
  • Pressing global issues such as conflicts, climate change, migration, macroeconomic instability, and cyber-security can indeed only be solved collectively.
  • Disruptions such as the COVID-19 pandemic have reversed the social and economic progress that the global society made in the past couple of decades, requiring multilateralism.

Why is reform difficult?

v  Multilateralism is deeply entrenched in global power politics. As a result, any action in reforming multilateral institutions and frameworks automatically transforms into a move that seeks changes in the current distribution of power.

v  The status quo powers see multilateral reforms as a zero-sum game.

v  Multilateralism appears at odds with the realities of the emerging multiplex global order. The emerging order seems more multipolar and multi-centred.

Role of G-20 and India in multilateralism:

Ø  Currently, the multilateralism reform narrative lives only in elite circles and some national capitals, particularly the emerging powers. Therefore, the G-20 should first focus on setting proper narratives of multilateral reform.

Ø  G-20 may constitute an engagement group dedicated to bringing the narrative to the forefront of global discourse. India should also urge the upcoming chairs of the grouping, Brazil and South Africa, to place multilateral reforms as their presidential priorities.

Ø  G-20 should continue encouraging minilateral groupings as a new form of multilateralism and try to transform them into multi-stakeholder partnerships.

Ø  Creating networks of issue-based minilaterals, particularly in areas related to the governance of the global commons will be helpful in preventing competitive coalitions where other actors play the same game to their advantage, leading to a more fragmented world order.

Ø  The world requires a model, and the G-20 can be one. However, to fit the purpose, the group needs to be more inclusive without sacrificing efficiency.

Ø  To address the crisis of trust and utility, G-20 should put all its efforts into solving one or two pressing global issues and showcase it as the model of new multilateralism.

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