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Daily G.K. - Top Stories

04 Jan 2021

INTERNATIONAL AFFAIRS

Kazakhstan Abolishes Death Penalty

  • Kazakhstan abolished the death penalty, making permanent a nearly two-decade freeze on capital punishment in the authoritarian Central Asian country.
  • As per a notice, President Kassym-Jomart Tokayev had signed off on parliamentary ratification of the Second Optional Protocol to the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights -- a document that commits signatories to the abolition of capital punishment.
  • Executions were paused in Kazakhstan from 2003 but courts continued to sentence convicts to death in exceptional circumstances, including for crimes deemed acts of terror.
  • Ruslan Kulekbayev, a lone gunman who killed eight policemen and two civilians during a rampage in Kazakhstan's largest city Almaty in 2016, was among the convicts set to be executed if the moratorium were lifted.

Bill Introduced in US House to Terminate Designation of Pak as Major Non-NATO Ally

  • On the first day of the 117th Congress, a lawmaker has introduced a bill in the US House of Representatives to terminate the designation of Pakistan as a Major non-NATO Ally.
  • Introduced by Republican Congressman Andy Biggs, the bill removes Pakistan's designation as a major non-NATO ally, a status that allows for various benefits such as access to excess US defence supplies and participation in cooperative defence research and development projects.
  • The bill also notes that the US President cannot issue a separate designation of Pakistan as a major NATO ally unless a presidential certification that Pakistan continues to conduct military operations that are contributing to significantly disrupting the safe haven and freedom of movement of the Haqqani Network in Pakistan.
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ENVIRONMENT

World's Oldest Python Found in Messel Pit

  • Together with his colleague Hussam Zaher of the University in São Paulo, Senckenberg scientist Krister Smith described the world's oldest known fossils of a python. The almost completely preserved snake with a length around one metrre was discovered in the UNESCO World Heritage Site "Messel Pit" and is about 47 million years old. The new python species, Messelopython freyi, was named in honour of paleontologist Eberhard "Dino" Frey of the State Museum of Natural History in Karlsruhe.
  • Reaching a length of more than six meters, pythons are among the world's largest snakes. Today, various species of these constrictors are found primarily in Africa, Southern and Southeast Asia, and Australia. The geographic origin of pythons is still not clear. The discovery of a new python species in the Messel Pit is therefore a major leap forward in understanding these snakes' evolutionary history.
  • The new python species Messelopython freyi is the oldest known fossil record of a python anywhere in the world. 
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BUSINESS AND ECONOMY

ADB to Provide $231 mn Loan to Enhance Power Generation Capacity in Assam

  • The Asian Development Bank (ADB) will provide a USD 231-million loan to augment electricity generation capacity in Assam through construction of a 120-megawatt (MW) hydroelectric power plant.
  • ADB and the Government of India signed the loan agreement.
  • This is the third tranche loan for the ongoing Assam Power Sector Investment Program, which was approved by the ADB board in July 2014. The programme, including its two previous tranches, focuses on enhancing capacity and efficiency of the energy generation and distribution systems in Assam to improve electricity service to end users.
  • The proposed hydroelectric project is run-of-the-river project over Kopili river which will help increase electricity supplied from clean energy by 469 gigawatt-hour (GWh) by 2025 and reduce greenhouse gas emissions by 3.6 lakh tonnes of carbon dioxide annually.

Chinese Firm Bags Rapid Rail Contract

  • The Centre's strained financial position has compelled it to award a contract to a Chinese company for a vital section of the Delhi-Meerut Regional Rapid Transit System (RRTS).
  • India has so far borrowed $1.5 billion (over Rs. 10,000 crore) from the Asian Development Bank (ADB), Manila, and the New Development Bank, Shanghai, for the Delhi-Meerut RRTS, the first of its kind in the country on which sleek, aerodynamic trains will attain top speeds of 180 kmph.
  • Both banks make it conditional that its members must get to participate in tenders. As China is a member of both NDB and ADB, Shanghai Tunnel Engineering Company Limited was permitted to compete, and it won the tender for the construction of a 5.6-km underground stretch, from New Ashok Nagar to Sahibabad. The National Capital Region Transport Corporation (NCRTC), which awarded the tender to the lowest bid among five competitors, suggested the ADB's procurement guidelines for lending do not permit discrimination with member countries in bidding.

Exports Fall 0.8 per cent in December, Trade Deficit Widens

  • Contracting for the third straight month, India's exports slipped marginally by 0.8 per cent in December 2020 even as the trade deficit widened to USD 15.71 billion due to the rise in imports.
  • Exports in December 2020 stood at USD 26.89 billion, as compared to USD 27.11 in the same month of 2019.
  • The rate of contraction in the country's outbound shipments has improved against a decline of 8.74 per cent in November, mainly due to the increase in shipments of certain sectors such as gems and jewellery, engineering and chemicals.
  • After a gap of nine months, imports in December recorded a positive growth of 7.6 per cent at USD 42.6 billion. In February 2020, it had registered a rise of 2.48 per cent.
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NATIONAL AFFAIRS

Prasar Bharati's Digital Channels Record 100% Growth in 2020

  • Digital channels of Prasar Bharati have registered more than 100 per cent growth in 2020.
  • The Ministry of Information and Broadcasting said that the channels across Doordarshan and Akashvani clocked over a billion digital views and over six billion digital watch minutes in the year.
  • Interestingly during 2020, Pakistan accounted for the second-highest digital audience for DD and AIR content after domestic audience from within India, with the United States close behind.

Delhi Govt. Sets up and Notifies Academy to Promote Tamil Language and Culture

  • The Department of Art, Culture and Language of the Delhi government, under the leadership of Deputy CM Manish Sisodia, set up and notified Tamil academy to promote Tamil language and culture.
  • The Delhi government has appointed Ex-MCD councillor and current member of Delhi Tamil Sangam N. Raja as the Vice-Chairman of the academy.
  • According to Sisodia, Delhi is a culturally rich city where people from all parts of the country live and work. It is this diversity that forms Delhi's vibrant and cosmopolitan culture.
  • Delhi has a large population of people from Tamil Nadu and we want to present a platform to the people of Delhi to get the taste of the art and culture of Tamil Nadu.

Rift Erupts in Maha Vikas Aghadi over Renaming of Aurangabad

  • The Congress has reiterated its objection to renaming Aurangabad even as its ally Shiv Sena said that the name change would happen soon but the issue would not rock the coalition government in Maharashtra.
  • Maharashtra minister and state Congress Chief Balasaheb Thorat had said two days ago that he would strongly oppose renaming the Aurangabad city in central Maharashtra as Sambhajinagar.
  • It was the Shiv Sena, which had first made the demand to rename Aurangabad as Sambhajinagar over two decades ago.
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DEFENCE

Forces Oppose Mapping by Private Firms

  • Citing security reasons, the armed forces have opposed a proposal of the Ministry of Defence (MoD) seeking to permit geospatial mapping of border and coastal areas by private entities.
  • At present, all areas up to a distance of 25 km from the land borders or from the coastline require special permission for terrain mapping.
  • Google Maps, app-based taxi services, food or shopping portals, location services, etc. are among other applications that need mapping data. Service providers in coastal cities need permission from the MoD. Similar is the case with land borders in Punjab, Jammu and Kashmir, Ladakh, Himachal Pradesh and Rajasthan, etc. The proposal through the MoD is to "review the policy on geospatial and geophysical systems" and seeks to allow private entities to freely map the areas falling within the "no-go" zone.
  • It also seeks permission to map the terrain underwater within 12 nautical miles from the coast. The only exception would be the pin-pointed areas that the forces want excluded.

Japan's Military Unit to Make Pilotless Fighter Planes

  • With an eye on China and visualising the future of warfare, Japan has begun to develop a remote-controlled fighter aircraft which will be ready for deployment in 2035.
  • As per reports, the 15-year project has acquired urgency to counter China's cascading advancement of hi-tech weaponry.
  • Currently, Tokyo stands outmanned and outgunned by its larger neighbour. It points out that China possesses more than 1,000 fourth-generation fighter jets that can reach supersonic speeds, about triple as many as Japan. It has also begun deploying fifth-generation stealth fighters.

China' s New National Defence Law

  • China has revised its National Defence Law, expanding the power of its armed forces headed by President Xi Jinping to mobilise military and civilian resources to defend its national interests both at home and abroad.
  • The new law, effective from January 1, weakens the role of the State Council, China's Cabinet headed by Premier Li Keqiang, in formulating military policy, handing decision-making powers to the Central Military Commission (CMC), the overall high-command of the two million-strong People's Liberation Army (PLA) headed by Xi.
  • The revised law came into force after the key conclave of the ruling CPC in November last year finalised plans to build a fully modern military on par with the US by 2027.
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PERSONS IN NEWS

Former Union Home Minister Buta Singh Passes Away

  • Former Union Home Minister Buta Singh, who remained in public service for a long time and served under four Prime Ministers, died at AIIMS. He was 86.
  • The senior Congress leader was in coma since October last year.
  • Singh began his political career with the Akali Dal in the 1960s. He was elected to Lok Sabha for the first time in 1962 on an Akali Dal ticket from Moga in Punjab but switched to the Congress soon. He was reelected to Lok Sabha in 1967, the second time from Ropar on a Congress ticket. In all, he was an eight-term Lok Sabha MP.
  • He became a minister for the first time in 1974; there was no looking back after that.

Nancy Pelsoi Re-elected as Speaker of US House of Representatives

  • Congresswoman Nancy Pelosi was narrowly re-elected as the speaker of the US House of Representatives for the 117th Congress.
  • Pelosi from the Democratic Party secured 216 votes in a tight contest against Republican Kevin McCarthy, who got support from 209 Congressmen.
  • According to the House Clerk, a total of 427 votes were cast. One vote went to Senator Tammy Duckworth and one to Congressman Hakeem Jeffries.
  • Notably, six Democratic lawmakers did not vote for Pelosi, while all the 209 Republicans stood by McCarthy, who is now the House Minority Leader. The Democratic Party has 222 seats in the House.
  • The US House of Representatives has a strength of 435 voting members and six non-voting members. 
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DAYS AND EVENTS

World Braille Day

  • World Braille Day is annually celebrated on January 4, the birthday of braille inventor, Louis Braille. The day recognises the contributions of Louis Braille in helping blind and visually impaired people to read and write.
  • The date for the event was chosen by the United Nations General Assembly via a proclamation in November 2018.
  • Non-governmental organisations (NGOs) around the world use this day to create awareness about the challenges faced by visually impaired individuals and to encourage businesses and governments to create economic and social opportunities for the blind.
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GENDER/ HEALTH/ EDUCATION

Indian School of Democracy Launches Bilingual Fellowship

  • Indian School of Democracy (ISD) founded by Teach For India Alumni Hemakshi Meghani and Prakhar Bhartiya launched a bilingual fellowship programme for aspiring political leaders. The programme named 'A Good Politician' will begin on August 15, 2021.
  • The Good Politician' is geared to nurture grassroots political leaders who are already involved in the political sphere.
  • Spanning over one year, it is meant for leaders aspiring to be elected as sarpanches and municipal councillors.
  • To ensure access to a range of people, the programme will be taught in Hindi and English.
  • Indian School of Democracy was founded with the basic principle of sarvodaya - upliftment of all.
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BOOKS AND AUTHORS

Amit Shah Releases 'National Police K-9 Journal'

  • Union Home Minister Amit Shah released the inaugural issue of 'National Police K-9 Journal.'
  • The publication of the Police K9 Journal is another step in creating an ecosystem in the country to train and learn on augmenting this vital resource. The journal comprises different sections in Hindi and English.
  • This is a unique initiative which will further enrich the subjects related to Police Service Canine (K-9) (PSK) teams in the country.
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