3 Jul | UPSC Current Affairs: Boat Race, Criminal Laws, Spacecraft, Moss, AI, and More

UPSC GS 1

Nouka Baich Boat Race

  • News: As the south-west monsoon sets in, the traditional nouka baich boat races will soon begin in various rural areas of West Bengal.
  • Traditional Significance: Nouka baich is a celebrated traditional boat race in West Bengal.
  • Timing: These races typically take place in September, during the last weeks of the monsoons when the rivers are swollen. In some areas, the races continue into October and even November.
  • Participation: While historically dominated by men, recent years have seen increased participation from women.
  • Cultural Connection: In southern West Bengal, these races are often associated with the worship of Manasa, the Hindu goddess of snakes, who is widely revered by agrarian communities.

Nouka Baich Boat Race

  • Types of Boats Used:
    • Commonly Used Boats: Some of the boats used include Chhip, Kaile Bachhhari, Chande Bachhari, Chitoi, and Sorpi.
    • Special Boat: The Sorengi, a distinctive boat approximately 90 feet long, designed to imitate natural forms, is also featured in these races.

Abhaya Mudra

  • News: Rahul Gandhi recently invoked the ‘abhaya mudra’ in Parliament.
  • What is the Abhaya Mudra?
    • The abhaya mudra, in the Buddhist context, is a significant hand gesture representing fearlessness, security, and compassion.
    •  It is one of the earliest and most widely recognized mudras found in the visual depictions of the Buddha.
  • Origins of the Abhaya Mudra:
    • The term “mudra” in Sanskrit can mean a seal, mark, sign, or currency. 
    • In Buddhism, it refers specifically to hand and arm gestures made during rituals or depicted in images of buddhas and other Buddhist figures. 
    • The abhaya mudra emerged around the turn of the first millennium with the earliest physical depictions of the Buddha. 
    • Initially, the Buddha was symbolized by symbols such as a vacant throne or footprint for about 500 years after his lifetime. 
    • It was through Gandhara art, influenced by Hellenistic styles, and later Gupta art, that physical representations of the Buddha, including the abhaya mudra, began to appear.

Abhaya Mudra

  • Symbolism of the Abhaya Mudra: 
    • The abhaya mudra is typically formed with the right hand raised to shoulder height, palm facing outward, and fingers pointing up.
    •  This gesture conveys a sense of fearlessness, protection, and reassurance.
    •  It is associated with the Buddha immediately after his Enlightenment, symbolizing the security, serenity, and compassion derived from Enlightenment.
    • The abhaya mudra also signifies a key moment in Buddhist legend when the Buddha, using this gesture, calmed a mad elephant sent by his cousin Devadatta. 
    • This act demonstrated the Buddha’s ability to grant fearlessness and protection to his followers. 
    • Consequently, the abhaya mudra is often referred to as a “gesture of protection” or “gesture of granting refuge.”
  • Adoption in Hindu Iconography: 
    • This cross-cultural adoption was facilitated by the integration of the Buddha into the Hindu pantheon as the ninth avatar of Vishnu, recognized between AD 450 and the sixth century. 
    • The first mention of the Buddha as an avatar of Vishnu is found in the Vishnu Purana (400-500 CE).
  • Symbolism in Hindu Deities:
    • In Hindu iconography, the abhaya mudra is prominently seen in depictions of deities such as Lord Shiva, Lord Vishnu, and Lord Ganesha. 
  • Early Depictions of Buddharupa:  In the earliest depictions of Buddharupa, four primary mudras are commonly found:
    • Abhaya Mudra: “Gesture of fearlessness”
    • Bhumisparsha Mudra: “Earth-touching gesture”
    • Dharmachakra Mudra: “Gesture of the wheel of dharma”
    • Dhyana Mudra: “Gesture of meditation”
  • Evolution and Expansion of Mudras
    • Mahayana Buddhism (Greater Vehicle): Expanded the use of mudras as Buddhism evolved.
    • Vajrayana Buddhism (Thunderbolt Vehicle): Introduced additional complexity and symbolic use of mudras.
    • Proliferation Outside India:  As Buddhist artwork spread outside India, hundreds of new mudras entered Buddhist iconography.
  • Tantric Buddhist Traditions:  In tantric traditions, mudras came to be associated with:
    • Dynamic Ritual Hand Movements: Used during rituals.
    • Symbolic Meanings of Mudras: They symbolised material offerings, enacted forms of worship, or signified relationships with visualised deities”. 

Read more: Management of Nuclear Waste: Challenges and Mitigation | UPSC

UPSC GS 2

Three New Criminal Laws in India

  • News:   From July 1, India replaced its colonial-era criminal laws with a set of three new penal laws.
  • 3 New Laws:  India has completely overhauled its criminal justice system with three new criminal laws: The three laws were passed in parliament in December 2023.
    •  The Bharatiya Nyaya Sanhita (BNS) replaced the Indian Penal Code (IPC); 
    • Bharatiya Nagrik Suraksha Sanhita (BNSS) replaced the Code of Criminal Procedure (CrPC),
    • Bharatiya Sakshya Adhiniyam (BSA) replaced the Indian Evidence Act. 
  • Bharatiya Nyaya Sanhita (BNS): 
    • Electronic First Information Reports (e-FIRs): Introduced for fast reporting of crimes against women.
    • Sexual Act against Women: Sexual intercourse with a minor wife (under 18 years) has been brought under the ambit of rape.
    • Legislative Intent: Crimes against women are prioritised in Chapter V, before offences against the state like sedition.
    • Clause 69: Penalises sexual intercourse through “deceitful means.”
    • Clause 103: Recognises murder on the grounds of race, caste, or community as a separate offence for the first time.
    • Clause 304(1): Defines snatching as a distinct crime from theft.
    • Organised Crime and Terrorism: Includes offences related to organised crime and terror, previously covered under specific laws such as the Unlawful Activities Prevention Act (UAPA) and state-specific laws like the Maharashtra Control of Organised Crime Act (MCOCA).
    • Community Service: Community service has been introduced as an alternate form of punishment for some offences like small theft, defamation.
    • Technology in Criminal Justice: Mandatory audio-video recording in search and seizure proceedings to prevent evidence manipulation.
  • Bharatiya Nagrik Suraksha Sanhita (BNSS):
    • Designated Police Officer: State government to designate a police officer responsible for maintaining information on all arrests and who arrested them.
    • Display of Information: Arrest information must be displayed prominently in every police station and district headquarters.
    • Detention Limit: Increased from the 15-day limit in the CrPC to up to 90 days.
    • Opportunity to be Heard: In cases where the punishment is seven years or more, the victim must be given an opportunity to be heard before the government can withdraw the case.
  • Trials in Absentia: Allows for the trial and conviction of an accused in their absence, as if they were present in court and have waived their right to a fair trial for all offences.
    • Removal of Statutory Bail: No provision for statutory bail if an accused has more than one offence against their name.
    • Reduction in Detention for Undertrials: The maximum period of detention has been reduced for first-time offenders under certain circumstances.
    • First-Time Offender: A first-time offender (never convicted of any offence in the past) will be released on bail if they have undergone a third of the maximum sentence prescribed.
    • Jail Superintendent’s Role: Legally empowered to assist the accused or undertrials in applying for bail.
  • Bharatiya Sakshya Adhiniyam (BSA):
    • Inclusion of Electronic and Digital Records: Electronic and digital records are now explicitly included in the definition of documents.
    • Primary Evidence Status: Digital and electronic records are recognized as primary evidence, holding the same legal effect, validity, and enforceability as traditional documents.
    • New Categories: The scope of secondary evidence has been broadened to include additional forms such as oral admissions and written submissions.
    • Revised Relevance: Confessions made by an accused person are now considered irrelevant in criminal proceedings.

UPSC GS 3

SEBEX 2

  • News:  India has taken a significant stride towards achieving self-reliance in defence with the development of SEBEX 2 which is more potent than Trinitrotoluene (TNT).
  • Definition:  SEBEX 2 is recognized as one of the most powerful non-nuclear explosives globally, leveraging a high-melting explosive (HMX) composition.
  • Composition and Lethality: 
    • Explosives which are used in conventional or non-nuclear warheads are measured in TNT equivalence.
    • Normally, this ranges from 1.25 to 1.30 times the strength of TNT. 
    • HEMEX, the explosive used in the warheads of Brahmos missiles, has 1.5 times TNT equivalence.
    • SEBEX 2, the formulation developed by Nagpur’s Solar Group has 2.01 equivalence, exceeds HEMEX. 
    • This formulation makes it highly sought after for enhancing the firepower of bombs, artillery shells, and warheads without increasing their weight.

SEBEX 2

  • Manufacture and Certification:
    • Manufactured by Economic Explosives Limited (EEL), Nagpur, a subsidiary of Solar Industries, SEBEX 2 is a product of India’s Make in India initiative.
    •  It has been rigorously evaluated, tested, and certified by the Indian Navy under its Defence Export Promotion Scheme.
  • Complementary Technologies:
    • SITBEX 1 – Thermobaric Explosive: SITBEX 1, certified by the Indian Navy, is renowned for its extended blast duration and intense heat generation, making it highly effective in demolishing enemy bunkers, tunnels, and fortified positions.
    • SIMEX 4 – Insensitive Munition: SIMEX 4 has also received certification, emphasizing enhanced safety in storage, transport, and operation, further aligning with stringent military safety standards.

Chiretolpis Erubescens

  • News: Chiretolpis erubescens, a rare moth species found exclusively in the Western Ghats, has been “rediscovered” in the Nilgiris after an absence of 132 years.
  • Discovery by George Francis Hampton: The Chiretolpis erubescens moth was initially documented by British entomologist George Francis Hampton in 1891.

Chiretolpis Erubescens

  • Description: Characterized by an orange head and thorax, streaked tibia, and wings adorned with hair-like scales, the moth was once prevalent in the Coonoor area of the Nilgiris.

Oldest Prehistoric Ostrich Nest discovered in Andhra

  • News:  A team of archaeologists unearthed the world’s oldest known ostrich nest in Andhra Pradesh.
  •  Prehistoric Ostrich Nest:
    •  The nest, measuring 9-10 feet in width, once held 9-11 eggs .
    • However, the nest was capable of accommodating 30-40 eggs at a time.
  • Understanding Megafauna:
    • Megafauna generally refers to animals weighing more than 50 kg.
    • The term was first used by English naturalist and explorer Alfred Russel Wallace in his 1876 book, The Geographical Distribution of Animals.
  • Classification: 
    • Megaherbivores: Plant-eaters
    • Megacarnivores: Meat-eaters
    • Megaomnivores: Eat both plants and meat
    • Ostriches are classified as megaomnivores.
    • Adult ostriches weigh between 90 and 140 kg and stand 7 to 9 feet tall.

Ostriches

  • Significance of the Andhra Discovery:  Prehistoric Megafauna Evidence: 
    • The discovery in Andhra Pradesh confirms the presence of ostriches in southern India 41,000 years ago.
    • This finding contributes to research on the extinction of megafauna in India.
  • Historical Evidence of Ostriches in the Subcontinent: 
    • 1884: Richard Lydekker documented the earliest evidence of ostriches in the subcontinent from the Dhok Pathan deposits in Upper Siwalik Hills, present-day Pakistan. He identified the extinct species as Struthio asiaticus (Asian ostrich).
    • 1989: Archaeologist S A Sali discovered ostrich eggshell beads and engraved pieces dating back 50,000-40,000 years at an Upper Palaeolithic site in Patne, Maharashtra.
    • 2017: Researchers at the Centre for Cellular and Molecular Biology (CCMB) in Hyderabad analyzed fossilized eggshells from Rajasthan, Madhya Pradesh, and Gujarat, establishing the presence of ostriches 25,000 years ago.

Malayan Tigers

  • News: There are less than 150 Malayan tigers left in the wild.
  • Definition: The Malayan tiger (Panthera tigris jacksoni), known as Harimau Malaya in Malay, is native to Peninsular Malaysia.
  • Distribution: Found in southern and central parts of the Malay Peninsula, as well as southern Thailand.
  • Cultural Significance: The Malayan tiger is the national symbol of Malaysia.

Malayan Tigers

  • Behavior: The Malayan tiger is primarily solitary, except during the mating season from November to March.
  • Threats: Major threats include habitat loss, poaching, destruction of biodiversity, deforestation, and urbanization, which continue to endanger the species.

New Shepard Spacecraft

  • News: US-based Space Exploration and Research Agency (SERA), in collaboration with Jeff Bezos funded Blue Origin, has announced India as a partne in their human spaceflight programme for citizens.
  • Purpose and Naming
    • Named after Alan Shepard, the first American in space, New Shepard is a suborbital space travel vehicle designed for human spaceflight, offering unique experiences for both scientific research and space tourism.
  • Components
    • The spacecraft consists of two main components: a reusable booster and a pressurized crew capsule.
  • Capacity and Views
    • The capsule can accommodate six passengers, each with a window seat for breathtaking views of Earth.
    •  It features the largest windows ever flown in space, providing an unparalleled visual experience.
  • Journey Duration
    • New Shepard’s 11-minute journey takes passengers beyond the Karman line. 
    • During the flight, passengers experience several minutes of weightlessness before making a controlled descent back to Earth aided by parachutes.
  • Research Potential: In addition to its space tourism potential, New Shepard serves as a valuable platform for scientific research.

New Shepard Spacecraft

  • What is the Karman Line?
    • Definition: The Kármán line is a boundary 62 miles (100 kilometers) above mean sea level that borders Earth’s atmosphere and the beginning of space.
    • Establishment: It was established in the 1960s by the Fédération Aéronautique Internationale (FAI), a record-keeping body.
    • Namesake: The line is named after aerospace pioneer Theodore von Kármán.
    • Recognition: While not universally accepted (e.g., the Federal Aviation Administration, NASA, and the U.S. military place the boundary at 80 km (50 miles) above Earth’s surface), a majority of countries and space organizations recognize this boundary between Earth’s sky and space.
    • Significance: Anything traveling above the Karman line requires a propulsion system that doesn’t rely on lift generated by Earth’s atmosphere due to the thin air at that altitude.

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Supercapacitors

  • News: The researchers of the Government College for Women, Thiruvananthapuram, have devised a method to produce activated carbon, suitable for supercapacitor fabrication, from coconut husks, a major agricultural residue in Kerala.
  • Definition
    • Supercapacitors, also known as ultracapacitors, are next-generation energy storage devices. 
    • They offer several advantages over conventional capacitors and lithium-ion batteries (LIB), including high-power density, long durability, and ultrafast charging characteristics.

Supercapacitors

  • Components:
    • Electrode: A solid electric conductor that carries electric current into non-metallic solids, liquids, gases, plasmas, or vacuums.
    • Electrolyte: A substance that produces an electrically conducting solution when dissolved in a polar solvent, such as water.
    • Separator: A material that separates the electrodes to prevent short circuits while allowing the flow of ions.
    • Current Collector: A component that collects and conducts the current from the electrode to an external circuit.
  • Key Findings:
    • Efficiency: Prototype supercapacitors made from coconut husk-derived activated carbon are found to be four times more efficient than existing supercapacitors.
    • Material Properties: The innovative method of using coconut husk yields activated carbon with an impressive surface area of 1,200 m²/g and highly porous structures, making it ideal for various applications.
    • Performance: The device’s high-power output is capable of powering two LEDs for 20 minutes.

Microwave-Assisted Method

  • What is a Microwave-Assisted Method?
    • The microwave-assisted method is a relatively inexpensive technique that exhibits exceptional supercapacitor capability. 
    • By utilizing an advanced microwave pyrolysis reactor, high-quality carbon can be produced within five minutes. 
    • This method eliminates impurities like ash and generates zero waste, making it efficient and environmentally friendly.

Deep Brain Stimulation Device

  • News: A UK-based teenager has become the first person to receive a brain implant for epilepsy through the deep brain stimulation (DBS) device.
  • Deep Brain Stimulation Device: 
    • Deep brain stimulation (DBS) is a treatment that involves an implanted device that delivers an electrical current directly to areas of your brain.
    • It is also utilised for movement disorders associated with Parkinson’s, and other neurological conditions.

Deep Brain Stimulation Device

  • Working of DBS: 
    • Neurostimulator Device: A neurostimulator is an implantable device that delivers mild electrical pulses to nerves.
    • Function: The device delivers constant electrical impulses to the brain to disrupt or block abnormal seizure-causing signals.
    • Implantation: Surgically implanted in the skull, the neurostimulator is connected to two electrodes inserted deep into the brain to reach the thalamus.
    • Recharging: The device can be recharged wirelessly.
  • What is Epilepsy?
    • Definition: Epilepsy is a condition that causes recurring seizures.
    •  Symptoms: These seizures can manifest as jerking of arms and legs, temporary confusion, staring spells, or stiff muscles. 
    • Causes: The condition is caused by abnormal electrical activity in the brain.
    • Other Causes: Head trauma, Brain tumors, Infections like meningitis, Genetic factors
    • Risks: Epilepsy increases the risk of accidents, drownings, and falls.

Syntrichia Caninervis

  • News: Scientists have identified a species of desert moss, ‘Syntrichia caninervis,’ that could revolutionize future space exploration and colonization efforts.
  • Context: Scientists in China have discovered that Syntrichia caninervis, a moss found in places like Antarctica and the Mojave Desert, can survive Mars-like conditions, including drought, high radiation levels, and extreme cold.
  • Global Presence: One of the most abundant desert mosses worldwide.
  • Dryland Regions: Predominant in the Gurbantunggut and Tengger Deserts in China and the Mojave Desert in the United States.
  • Other Regions: Found in mountainous regions of the Pamir, Tibet, Middle East, Antarctica, and circumpolar areas.

Syntrichia Caninervis

  • Environmental Tolerance:
  • Desiccation Tolerance: Can recover within seconds after losing more than 98% of its water content.
  • Freezing Tolerance: Capable of withstanding ultra-low temperatures of −196°C.
  • Radiation Resistance: Exhibits super resistance to gamma radiation, with a half-lethal dose estimated at 5,000 Gy.
  • Water Collection: Uses a tiny hair (awn) at the end of each leaf to collect water, supplementing the water gathered by the leaves themselves.
  • What is a Moss?
    • A moss is a flowerless, spore-producing plant – with the spores produced in small capsules.
    • Mosses are green and small nonvascular plants that create dense clumps or carpets in shady and moist locations.
      Moss
    • They do not have flowers or seeds and reproduce through spores or fragmentation. 
    • They do not have a well-developed vascular system online other higher plants.
    • Mosses are bryophytes that are characterized by their short flat leaves.

Artificial Intelligence (AI) Washing

  • News:  Tech companies and startups marketing themselves as using AI, but not doing so forms the basis of ‘AI washing’.
  • What is AI Washing?
    • AI washing involves companies exaggerating their integration of artificial intelligence (AI) in products or services to appear more advanced than they actually are.
    • Similarly, businesses that claim to have integrated AI into their products, when they’re actually using less sophisticated technology, can be accused of AI washing. 
    • Advertisements that overstate the capabilities of a company’s AI tools or mislead consumers about features that are not yet operational in their AI products also constitute AI washing. 
  • Comparison to Greenwashing: 
    • Similar to greenwashing, where environmental claims are overstated, AI washing misleads consumers about the true extent of AI capabilities.

Artificial Intelligence (AI) Washing

  • Examples of AI Washing
    • Case Study – Coca-Cola: Introduced a limited edition AI-generated flavor, which did not live up to consumer expectations, illustrating the pitfalls of AI washing.
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