Global Partnership on Artificial Intelligence
India has recently joined the leading economies including USA, UK, EU, Australia, Canada, France, Germany, Italy, Japan, Mexico, New Zealand, Republic of Korea, Singapore to launch the Global Partnership on Artificial Intelligence (AI).
What is GPAI?
- GPAI is an international and multi-stakeholder initiative to guide the responsible development and use of AI, grounded in human rights, inclusion, diversity, innovation, and economic growth.
- This is also a first initiative of its type for evolving better understanding of the challenges and opportunities around AI using the experience and diversity of participating countries. In order to achieve this goal, the initiative will look to bridge the gap between theory and practice on AI by supporting cutting-edge research and applied activities on AI-related priorities.
- In collaboration with partners and international organisations, GPAI will bring together leading experts from industry, civil society, governments, and academia to collaborate to promote responsible evolution of AI and will also evolve methodologies to show how AI can be leveraged to better respond to the present global crisis around COVID-19.
India and AI –
- It is pertinent to note that India has recently launched National AI Strategy and National AI Portal and have also started leveraging AI across various sectors such as education, agriculture, healthcare, e-commerce, finance, telecommunications, etc. with inclusion and empowerment of human being approach by supplementing growth and development. By joining GPAI as a founding member, India will actively participate in the global development of Artificial Intelligence, leveraging upon its experience around use of digital technologies for inclusive growth.
- GPAI will be supported by a Secretariat, to be hosted by Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD) in Paris, as well as by two Centres of Expertise- one each in Montreal and Paris.
Indian Gas Exchange
Ministry of Petroleum and Natural Gas has launched the Indian Gas Exchange (IGX), first nationwide online delivery-based gas trading platform.
What is IGX?
- IGX will be a delivery-based trading platform for delivery of Natural Gas.
- Incorporated as a wholly owned subsidiary of the IEX – India’s energy market platform, IGX will enable market participants to trade in standardised gas contracts.
- The platform is fully automated with web-based interface to provide seamless trading experience to the customers.
- Imported Liquified Natural Gas (LNG) will be regassified and sold to buyers through the exchange, removing the requirement for buyers and sellers to find each other.
- This will mean that buyers do not have to contact multiple dealers to ensure they find a fair price.
- The exchange also allows much shorter contracts – for delivery on the next day, and up to a month – while ordinarily contracts for natural gas supply are as long as six months to a year. This, experts say, will allow buyers and sellers greater flexibility.
- As there will be a market driven pricing mechanism, India Gas Exchange will play a bigger role towards realising a free market for gas.
- The IGX is a digital trading platform that will allow buyers and sellers of natural gas to trade both in the spot market and in the forward market for imported natural gas across three hubs —Dahej and Hazira in Gujarat, and Kakinada in Andhra Pradesh.
- The new electronic trading platform completes the entire energy value chain from gas production from multiple sources and imports of LNG from different parts of globe to having a transparent price mechanism.
Way forward –
- An independent system operator for natural gas pipelines would help ensure transparent allocation of pipeline usage, and build confidence in the minds of buyers and sellers about neutrality in the allocation of pipeline capacity.
- Experts have also called for natural gas to be included in the Goods and Services Tax (GST) regime to avoid buyers having to deal with different levies such as VAT across states, when purchasing natural gas from the exchange.
Raja Parba festival
Prime Minister Narendra Modi has greeted the people of Odisha on the special festival of Raja Parba.
What is ‘Raja Parba’ festival?
- Raja Parba is a three-day-long festival dedicated to Mother Earth (Bhuma Devi) and womanhood at large. The festivities begin a day before Mithuna Sankranti and conclude two days after that.
- The first day of the festival is called Pahili Raja, the second is Mithuna Sankranti and the third Bhu daha or Basi Raja. The preparation begins one day before Pahili Raja, and it is called Sajabaja.
- Primarily, it is a time for the unmarried girls to prepare for their matrimony. They follow various customs related to the festival by consuming nutritious food like Podapitha, not walking barefoot, taking a bath on the first day, and merrily swinging on ropes attached to a tree.
How is it celebrated?
- During the Parba, Odia people do no undertake any construction works or tilling that requires the earth to be dug. And by not doing such activities, they pay ode to the Mother Earth who needs a break from routine work.
- The festival concludes with a custom called Vasumati Snana or the bathing of Bhuma Devi. Women worship a stone that symbolises the Mother Earth. They give her a bath with turmeric paste and offer her flowers and smear her with Sindoor.
- This festival is also associated with the end of the summer season and the arrival of the monsoon. And therefore, it is also associated with agriculture and cultivation related communities and activities.
Malabar Gliding Frog
A green frog with a slender body, webbed feet, unusual body positions, very well camouflaged and gliding in the air. This was how a juvenile Malabar gliding frog (Rhacophorus malabaricus), a rare amphibian that can glide in the air up to 10-12 m, was spotted in the orchard of a house at Pullad, near Kozhencherry in Kerala, recently.
- The frog is endemic to the rain forests of the Western Ghats.
- Their gliding abilities help these frogs cover 10-12 ft in one leap.
- The frog has got a body length of 10 cm, making it one of the largest mossy frogs.
- The fingers and toes are like sticks to attach to and walk through tree branches.
- Males are smaller than females.
Draft Electricity Amendment Bill, 2020
West Bengal Chief Minister Mamata Banerjee has written to the Chief Ministers of the States ruled by the opposition parties over the draft Electricity (Amendment) Bill, 2020.
What is the issue?
She has called the draft Bill a violation of the ‘spirit of cooperative federalism’ and accused the Centre of failure to consult the states on the Bill since Electricity is on the Concurrent List.
What are the contentious provisions?
- One of the sweeping changes proposed in the Bill is an end to subsidies. All consumers, including farmers, will have to pay the tariff, and the subsidy will be sent to them through direct benefit transfer.
- The draft “divests” the States of their power to fix tariff and hands over the task to a Central government-appointed authority. It is considered discriminatory, since the tariff can be tweaked according to the whims and fancies of the Central government.
- The bill is also criticised for the provision that makes it compulsory for the State power companies to buy a minimum percentage of renewable energy fixed by the Centre. It is said that this would be detrimental to the cash-strapped power firms.
Changes proposed in the ‘Draft Electricity (Amendment) Bill, 2020 –
- Renewable Energy – This Amendment seeks to promote a legal and administrative eco-system which harbours special attention to renewable energy. The said policy may also prescribe minimum percentage of purchase of electricity from renewable sources of production.
- Cross Border Trade – The Central Government has been delegated with the power to prescribe rules and guidelines to allow and facilitate cross border trade of electricity.
- Electricity Contract Enforcement Authority – The Amendment has inserted a new chapter in the Act which prescribes the creation and functioning of the Electricity Contract Enforcement Authority (“Authority”). This Electricity Contract Enforcement Authority has been proposed to be given sole jurisdiction to adjudicate upon matters on performance of obligations under a contract regarding sale, purchase and transmission of electricity, which exclusion of this specialised authority’s jurisdiction on determination of tariff or any other dispute regarding tariff.
- Payment Security – Lack of payment security mechanism has created a large pool of unpaid dues. To disrupt any future trickle down of such unrealised revenues, this Amendment proposes a mechanism wherein “no electricity shall be scheduled or despatched under such contract unless adequate security of payment as agreed upon by the parties to the contract, has been provided”.
- Grant of subsidy – The benefit of subsidy to be granted directly to the consumer and the licensee shall charge the consumers as per the tariff determined by the Appropriate Commission. The determination of tariffs shall be fixed by the commission without accounting for subsidies. Further, basis the tariff policies, surcharges and cross subsidies shall be progressively reduced.
- Time limit for adoption of tariff so determined – There had been the issue of lazy attempts from the commissions in adopting the tariffs determined, causing issues of cost escalation. To address this problem, the Amendment has prescribed a period of 60 days to adopt the determined tariffs.
- Inclusion of distribution sub-licensee and franchisee – To ease the burden of distribution licensees and in order to promote some form of demographic specialisation, the distribution licensees, can appoint another entity for distribution of electricity on its behalf, within its area of supply.
- Enhancement of the powers of the Appellate Tribunal of Electricity – APTEL is proposed to have the powers of a High Court to deal with wilful disobedience of persons and entities under the Contempt of Courts Act, 1971. Additionally, any person can appeal the decisions of the Authority which is introduced by this Amendment in front of the APTEL. The numbers of members at the APTEL have also been proposed to be increased by the Amendment.
- Applicable to the whole of India – The Act shall now be applicable to the territory which was erstwhile exempted from the State of Jammu and Kashmir.
Naval Liaisons at RMIFC and EMASOH
After joining the Indian Ocean Commission (IOC) as Observer in March, India is looking to post Navy Liaison Officers at the Regional Maritime Information Fusion Centre (RMIFC) in Madagascar and also at the European maritime surveillance initiative in the Strait of Hormuz (EMASOH) for improved Maritime Domain Awareness (MDA).
What is RMFIC?
The RMFIC functions under the aegis of the IOC, of which India became an Observer in March 2020 along with Japan and the United Nations.
What is EMASOH?
The EMASOH headquarters is composed of Belgium, Denmark, the Netherlands and French officers and based at the French naval base in Abu Dhabi. The aim is “to monitor maritime activity and guarantee freedom of navigation in the Persian Gulf and the Strait of Hormuz.
Indian Ocean Commission –
- Founded in 1982, the IOC is an intergovernmental organisation comprising five small-island states in the Western Indian Ocean: the Comoros, Madagascar, Mauritius, Réunion (a French department), and Seychelles.
- It was institutionalised in 1984 by the Victoria Agreement in Seychelles.
- Over the years, the IOC has emerged as an active and trusted regional actor, working in and for the Western Indian Ocean and implementing a range of projects.
- The IOC granted observer status to India on March 6 at the Commission’s 34th Council of Ministers.
India’s engagement with IOC –
- More recently, the IOC has demonstrated leadership in the maritime security domain. Since maritime security is a prominent feature of India’s relations with Indian Ocean littoral states, India’s interest in the IOC should be understood in this context.
- India has preferred to engage bilaterally with smaller states in the region. What India will not find in the IOC is a cluster of small states seeking a ‘big brother’ partnership.
Gateway Lunar Orbiting Outpost
NASA recently finalised the contract for the initial crew module of the agency’s Gateway lunar orbiting outpost.
NASA has described the Gateway as key to the new era of lunar explorations both in the orbit and on the surface of the Moon. One of the most unique features of the Gateway is that it can be moved to other orbits around the Moon to conduct more research. The Gateway is being built by both international and commercial partners and will support exploration on and near the Moon and later to Mars as well.
What is the Gateway Lunar Orbit outpost?
- Essentially, the Gateway is a small spaceship that will orbit the Moon, meant for astronaut missions to the Moon and later, for expeditions to Mars.
- It will act as a temporary office and living quarters for astronauts, distanced at about 250,000 miles from Earth. The spaceship will have living quarters, laboratories for science and research and docking ports for visiting spacecraft.
- Further, astronauts will use the Gateway at least once per year and not stay around the year like they do on the International Space Station (ISS).
- Compared to the ISS, the Gateway is much smaller (the size of a studio apartment), while the ISS is about the size of a six-bedroom house.
- Once docked to the Gateway, astronauts will be able to stay there for three months at a time, conduct science experiments and take trips to the surface of the Moon.