7 December 2021 – Daily Current Affairs


Physella acuta is host to worms that can cause food-borne diseases, rashes

A tiny snail with a striking, pellucid, golden-yellow shell found in the Edappally canal in Kochi has been flagged as an
invasive species that could play havoc with native ecosystems.

Having spotted it during a biodiversity impact assessment study, researchers of the Department of
Marine Biology, Microbiology, and Biochemistry of the Cochin University of Science and Technology
(CuUSAT) identified it as the acute bladder snail Physella acuta, globally branded as highly invasive.

This is the first time this snail has been reported in Kerala, according to the research team. What makes
its discovery worrying is that it plays host to worms that can cause food-borne diseases and skin itches
in humans. Moreover, its rapid growth rate, air-breathing capability, and tolerance to pollution makes
the Physella acuta a potential competitor to native fauna.

First described by J.P.R. Draparnaud in 1805, Physella acuta is considered native to North America but is now found in all
continents except Antarctica.

It was first reported in India in the early 1990s. It is believed to have reached Kerala through the aquarium trade, a major
vector for invasive species. In the Edappally canal, the snail had made its home in a highly polluted stretch plagued by high
sedimentation, untreated sewage, effuents, construction waste and a thick growth of invasive aquatic weeds.

Small in size, the snail can grow to 16 mm in height and 9 mm in width. Physella acuta is easily identifed by its sinistral
(left-opening aperture) shell. Its good looks make this snail a favourite of aquariums, but Dr. Jayachandran is quick to add
a warning note. “Special care should be taken while dealing with this snail and it should not be kept in home aquariums,”


Natural gas will contribute to infating bill by ₹50,000 crore

The Centre’s fertilizer subsidy bill is set to soar 62% over the budgeted amount to ₹1.3 lakh crore this fscal due to the
massive rise in raw material prices despite lower demand, says a report. An unprecedented spike in natural gas prices and
other raw materials is set to infate the fertilizer subsidy bill by a whopping 62% or ₹50,000 crore to ₹1,30,000 crore this
fscal over the budgeted ₹79,530 crore.

This is despite sales volume declining 10% from the record level last fiscal, Crisil said in its report on Monday. To encourage
farmers to use fertilizers for better crop yield, government keeps the sale price signifcantly lower than market rates, and
reimburses the diference to manufacturers directly. But for long, budget provisioning for such subsidies has been inadequate,
leading to regular build-up of arrears. However, last fiscal, the government cleared arrears through an additional
disbursement of ₹62,638 crore helping frms nurse balance sheets to better health. However, what followed was a massive
spike in input costs, the biggest of which was of natural gas. Crisil expects the price of natural gas, the feedstock that
accounts for 75-80% of the total cost of production for urea plants, to rise more than 50% this fiscal.

This is on top of the prices of key raw materials like phosphoric acid and ammonia, for non-urea fertilizer companies, that
are already up 40- 60% over the past fiscal. All this will now have to be absorbed by the government.


What is the Digi Yatra scheme under which FRT is being implemented? What are the concerns surrounding the biometric

The story so far: Last week, Minister of State for Civil Aviation V.K. Singh, said four airports in the country will soon have
facial recognition technology (FRT)-based boarding system for passengers. In a written response to a question in Lok Sabha
on Thursday, Mr. Singh said that the Airports Authority of India (AAI) is working on a biometric boarding system at the
Varanasi, Pune, Kolkata and Vijayawada airports. “

This biometric boarding system is part of the first phase of Digi Yatra scheme’s implementation,” Mr. Singh said in the


Digi Yatra initiative aims to make air travel paperless and hassle-free in the country, and proposes to simplify passengerrelated processes at various check points at the airport by using FRT-based biometric scanning. Once implemented, air
travellers who choose to use the service won’t have to show their tickets, boarding passes, or physical identity cards at
several points at the airport.

This in turn would reduce queue waiting time and accelerate processing time.


The MoCA plans to build an identity management platform that will enable biometric-based scanning across all airports in
India. The platform will include passengers’ digital identities, like Aadhaar, passport details or other identity cards. The
‘Common Digi Yatra ID’ platform will be used to enrol passengers, authenticate their data, and share consenting passengers’
profles with other airport partners. The app-based interface will be built as a shared national infrastructure, which will
provide APIs to airports. It will also allow other apps to be integrated with it, according to a 2018 MoCA policy paper on
the scheme.


The scheme was planned to be made operational in early 2019, with pilot rollouts in Bengaluru and Hyderabad airports.
Bengaluru’s Kempegowda International Airport successfully tested the biometric-based self-boarding facility by mid-2019.
The AAI planned to launch the scheme at Kolkata, Varanasi, Pune and Vijayawada by April 2019. But the roll-out was
delayed, possibly due to the COVID-19 pandemic. The MoCA is now rescheduling its roll-out plans, and has proposed that
the Digi Yatra system go live in March 2022, and then be scaled up in a phased manner for adoption across various airports
in the country. The AAI has engaged NEC Corporation Pvt. Ltd. to implement FRT at the four airports.


“Data shared by the passenger is to be used for the purpose defined and would not be shared with any other external
stakeholders,” Mr. Singh said. Passengers’ biometric information will be collected via an app, and deleted 24 hours after
fight departure. And the security of the FRT system will be tested independently, according to the Minister. He also noted
that the FRT deployed will comply with the country’s data privacy and protection practices. But India’s recently adopted
Personal Data Protection Bill (PDPB), 2019, falls short of the standards set by the Justice Srikrishna Committee. The Bill
fails to build a legal structure on the landmark Justice K.S. Puttaswamy vs Union of India judgment on the right of privacy.
It diverges from the Committee’s 2018 draft, which proposed a judicial oversight in selecting members of the Data
Protection Authority. Globally, the rapid adoption of FRT raises several concerns, primarily related to the possibility of the
technology’s potential to undermine the right to privacy. Policies focused on mitigating risks associated with use of FRT
must be developed to protect personal data.


The use of iris scans, fngerprints and facial recognition to identify travellers has been operational in some international
airports in the past few years. They use algorithmic systems to get a face grab of passengers at the frst security checkpoint.
A camera scans the passenger’s face, and takes measurements of their facial features to build a biometric profle of them.
And then, when the same person boards the fight, another camera takes a picture of their face and runs an algorithm to check
whether the two images match with the boarding pass. In 2019, a traveller’s tweet went viral she posted her experience of
having to go through a biometric scanning system for the airline JetBlue without her knowledge. At the heart of her concern
was the option to opt in or out of a service. Without a clear idea of where the biometric data will be stored, and who else
will have access to it, some passengers prefer to keep their personal data private. “It might sound trite, but right now, the
key to opting out of face recognition is to be vigilant,” digital rights group Electronic Frontier Foundation said in its blog.

key to opting out of face recognition is to be vigilant,” digital rights group Electronic Frontier Foundation said in its blog.
 “There’s no single box you can check, and importantly, it may not be possible for non-U.S. persons to opt out of face
recognition entirely.”


A growing body of research shows that biometric scanning technologies coupled with AI have an inherent bias. A report
by the U.S. National Institute of Standards and Technology noted that facial recognition technology found Black, Brown
and Asian individuals to be 100 times more likely to be misidentifed than white male faces. A 2018 research paper, coauthored by ex-Google top AI scientist Timnit Gebru and MIT Media Labs’ Joy Buolamwini, found that machine learning
algorithms discriminate based on classes like race and gender.



Is the stalemate over NSCN(I-M) demanding a separate fag and constitution?

The story so far: On December 4, six villagers returning from a coal mine were killed in an operation by para commandos
in Nagaland’s Mon district. Seven more were killed in Army fring after protests broke out. Home Minister Amit Shah told
Parliament on Monday that it was a case of “mistaken identity.” Nagaland and Naga-inhabited areas in neighbouring States
saw a shutdown on Monday with a strong demand to repeal the Armed Forces (Special Powers) Act or AFSPA, which
gives unbridled power to the armed forces to conduct operations.

The Government is engaged in discussions with the Isak-Muivah faction of the National Socialist Council of Nagaland
(NSCN-IM) and seven Naga National Political Groups (NNPGs) to find a solution to the Naga political issue. The IsakMuivah faction, the key player in the Naga peace talks, described the incident in Mon as a “black day” for Nagas. The
NSCN-IM, one of the largest Naga groups, has been demanding ‘Greater Nagaland’ or Nagalim, an extension of Nagaland’s
borders by including Naga-dominated areas in neighbouring Assam, Manipur and Arunachal Pradesh and uniting 1.2
million Nagas. The Centre has said there will be no disintegration of the States of Assam, Arunachal Pradesh and Manipur
to merge Naga-inhabited areas with the existing State of Nagaland. More than hundred rounds of talks spanning over 24
years have taken place so far. The NSCN(I-M) frst signed a ceasefre agreement in 1997. The group was formed in 1980 to oppose the Shillong Accord signed by the then Naga National Council (NNC) with the Central Government to bring peace
in Nagaland.


A year after the Narendra Modi led BJP Government came to power, the NSCN(I-M) group signed a framework agreement
on August 3, 2015 to end the decades-old Naga strife. The then Joint Intelligence Chief and interlocutor for Naga peace
talks, R.N. Ravi, signed the agreement on behalf of the Centre and was later appointed as Nagaland’s Governor in 2019.
The move was seen as an efort to steer the Naga talks to a conclusion. In 2020, the NSCN(I-M) demanded the removal of
Mr. Ravi accusing him of “high handedness” and tweaking the agreement to mislead other Naga groups. Home Minister
Shah then roped in Assam Chief Minister Himanta Biswa Sarma and two IB ofcers to continue the negotiation . One of the
ofcers, A.K. Mishra, who retired as special director last year, was appointed as an adviser in the Home Ministry to continue
the talks.


After inking the framework with the NSCN(I-M), Mr. Ravi signed a preamble in November 2017 with the NNPGs and
made them a party in the Naga peace deal. Following the breakdown of talks with Mr. Ravi, the NSCN(I-M) for the first
time on August 11, 2020, released the details of the 2015 framework agreement, till then a secret document. It accused Mr.
Ravi of deleting a key word from the original document and sharing the modifed version with other Naga groups. The
agreement released by the group talked about “sharing the sovereign power” and provide for an “enduring inclusive new
relationship of peaceful co-existence of the two entities.” It claimed that Mr. Ravi, “craftily deleted the word ‘new’ from
the original” to justify his own narrative.

The NSCN(I-M) said the word ‘new’ is politically sensitive as it goes to defne the meaning of peaceful co-existence of the
two entities (two sovereign powers). The group has been demanding a separate fag and a constitution.

The framework agreement said, “Both sides have understood each other’s respective positions and are cognisant of the
universal principle that in a democracy sovereignty lies with the people. Accordingly, the Govt. of India and the NSCN, respecting people’s wishes for sharing the sovereign power as defined in the competencies, reached an agreement on the
3rd August, 2015 as an honourable solution.” The NSCN(I-M) said Mr. Ravi insulted them when he reportedly told them
that “this can be understood even by Class VII students that it means acceptance of the Indian Constitution”.

In June 2020, Mr. Ravi had also written to Nagaland Chief Minister Neiphiu Rio that “over half a dozen organized armed
gangs were brazenly running their respective ‘so called governments’ challenging the legitimacy of the State Government.”
Mr. Ravi resigned as interlocutor on September 22, a few days after he was appointed as Tamil Nadu Governor. He
continues to advise the Government on Naga talks. Mr. Mishra continues the dialogue with the NSCN(I-M), NNPGs and
the other stakeholders.

The hushed negotiations have not been made public but it is understood that there is a stalemate on the NSCN(I-M)’s
demand for a separate fag and constitution. A working member of the NNPG told The Hindu, “We have conveyed all our
demands to the Government of India, the delay is at their end. They have to come up with a solution.”


Beyond existing felds such as defence and energy, there are other areas which can help deepen their links

Russian President Vladimir Putin’s visit to New Delhi for the 21st India-Russia Summit meeting with Prime Minister
Narendra Modi highlights the constant eforts by both leaders to nurture and to provide further impetus to the ‘India-Russia
Special and Privileged Strategic Partnership’. In the new grammar of multipolarity and globalisation, it is of utmost
importance for dependable partners to ensure enduring sensitivity to their mutual interests.

More importantly, the robust partnership between India and Russia has come out of the shackles of the Cold War inheritance.

A practical and result-oriented approach will pave the way for the most reliable partnership. The Putin-Modi meeting in an
atmosphere of unprecedented regional and global transformations can ensure not only a new lease of life but can also
generate more vitality to this trustworthy camaraderie. India-Russia relations have withstood the test of time and the ever
shifting nature of national interests. Relations between the two countries have deepened with time irrespective of the
quagmire of realpolitik.

This exceptional resilience is built on the firm foundation of strategic national interest and the synergy of geopolitics. In the
post-Cold War era, India has emerged as an economic powerhouse and a key stakeholder in today’s global debate be it
climate change, international trade, or the menace of terrorism. Russia with its global status and presence presents a winwin situation for deeper cooperation. This relation between both countries has evolved with time, deepening the integration
and widening the breadth of the relation.


Russia has been one of India’s closest friends and allies with the signing of the “Declaration on the India-Russia Strategic
Partnership” in October 2000 which unlocked new opportunities in strategic, science and technology, space, energy, nuclear
ties, trade and commerce, culture and a peopleto-people connect. For smooth functioning of this strategic partnership, it
was governed by an institutionalised dialogue mechanism involving key stakeholders at the political and ofcial levels. Mr.
Putin’s visit to India in December 2010 heralded a new chapter in India-Russia relations when the Strategic Partnership
was elevated to the level of a “Special and Privileged Strategic Partnership”.


India and Russia have much convergence spanning diferent sectors. Russia is the key and principal supplier of arms and
armaments to the Indian armed forces accounting for over 60% of weapons. It comprises the whole gamut covering the
Indian Army, Indian Air Force and Indian Navy. India recently inducted the S-400 Triumf missile systems. Sukhoi Su-30
fghter aircraft, T-90 tanks, and the Talwar and the Krivak class stealth frigates are key weapons in the armoury of the Indian
armed forces. The India-Russia defence cooperation has evolved from a buyer-seller model to new areas of militarytechnical collaboration. The BrahMos missile system was a successful collaboration of joint research, development, and
production. Science and technology, nuclear, energy, space have been key driving forces. But changes in interests and
capabilities being fuelled by geopolitical diferences are widening the divergence between India and Russia. In terms of geostrategy, Russia is aligned with China and India is more anchored toward the United States. This dissonance was
apparent in the Indian and Russian approach over Afghanistan. Bilateral trade has seen the two countries progressing from
defence and energy to IT, pharmaceuticals, agro-industries, mineral and metallurgy, fertilizers, and infrastructure projects.
India-Russia trade was valued at the U.S.$10.11 billion in 2019–20, but is not a true refection of the potential that can be


The ‘2+2’ mechanism has become the standard framework of cooperation to widen collaboration. The inaugural ‘2+2’
dialogue between the Foreign and Defence Ministers of the two countries promises to provide new vitality to the special
and privileged strategic partnership. The uniqueness of this approach not only ensures result-oriented cooperation but also
deliberates upon regional and global matters of mutual concerns and interests. At a time when global politics is in a state
of fux, it becomes more important to have compatibility with geopolitical and geoeconomic realities along with the trust of
the leadership. Therefore, this evolving political framework provides the necessary agility to the relationship in fnetuning
their diferences and deepening their bonds. The Modi-Putin meeting has sent the unambiguous signal to the world that the
India-Russia partnership is an incredible friendship ensuring stability and diversity. Defence, trade and investment, energy,
and science and technology may be part of the agenda, but India and Russia need to work together in a trilateral manner or
using other fexible frameworks, particularly in Southeast Asia and Central Asia. Their growing collaboration can be a force
of stability and will bring more diversity to the region while strengthening multilateralism. Second, the two countries also
need to look at peoples’ power — youth exchanges as well as deeper links in various felds including sport, culture, spiritual
and religious studies. Finally, Buddhism can be an area where both countries can expand their interaction, where peace and
sustainability can act as a balm in this turbulent world.


The botched Army operation in Nagaland is yet another reason why AFSPA should go

Notwithstanding the rationale provided by the Union Government and the armed forces for the horrifc killing of six coal
miners and the deaths of nine civilians and a soldier in the aftermath of the incident in Mon district, the residents of
Nagaland, and indeed many in North-east India, will only read this incident as an outcome of impunity accorded by the
Armed Forces (Special Powers) Act, or AFSPA.

It is no wonder that two Chief Ministers Conrad Sangma of Meghalaya and Neiphiu Rio of Nagaland have immediately
demanded its repeal; the Act remains in place in Assam, Nagaland, Manipur, three districts of Arunachal Pradesh, and areas
falling within the jurisdiction of eight police stations of the State bordering Assam, with the authority to use force or open
fire to maintain public order in “disturbed areas”

The firing on the vehicle carrying the coal miners in Oting village, home to the Konyak Naga community, was carried out
by soldiers of the ‘21 Para Commando Unit’, and attributed to a case of mistaken identity. This action should be problematic
even within the purview of AFSPA, as soldiers who open fire can do so only after warning the person found in contravention
of the law.

The Army’s and later Union Minister of Home Amit Shah’s contention that the vehicle was shot at only after the miners
refused to “cooperate” when asked to stop seems incongruous as this was not an action at the Myanmar border seeking to
take on armed infltrators but an operation well within the country’s boundaries. That an ambush was purportedly laid on
insurgents of the NSCN (Khaplang-Yung Aung) faction following an intelligence input and yet a civilian vehicle which
ofered no hostility was fred upon, suggests that the armed forces were too triggerhappy and showed barely any intent in
securing order, which is the purpose of their presence in the region.

The Government has promised an inquiry by a Special Investigation Team. It is clear that the continued reliance on AFSPA
as a way to impose public order must be brought to a halt and the long-pending demand for its repeal acceded to.
Unfortunately, the incident could put a spanner in the Naga peace talks between the Government and the National Socialist
Council of Nagalim (NSCN-IM) and seven Naga National Political Groups for a solution that has been in the works. The
secretive nature of the talks, largely due to the Government’s smoke and mirrors approach to the Peace Accord, has not
helped matters either. An approach that shows genuine remorse for the actions, brings the culprits to book and seeks
rapprochement with the Konyak Nagas through compensation for the violence, besides a renewed purpose to conclude the
peace talks with the Naga groups, is now the only imperative.

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