Daily Current Affairs 08.07.2020 (Birdwing butterfly, Nuclear Power, E-commerce)

Daily Current Affairs 08.07.2020 (Birdwing butterfly, Nuclear Power, E-commerce)

1. Big flap: golden birdwing is India’s largest butterfly

It dethroned a specimen found by a British Brigadier in 1932


  • A Himalayan butterfly named golden birdwing is now India’s largest, a record the southern birdwing held for 88 years.
  • With a wingspan of 194 mm, the female of the species is marginally larger than the southern birdwing (190 mm) that Brigadier William Harry Evans, a British military officer and lepidopterist, recorded in 1932. But the male golden birdwing (Troides aeacus) is much smaller at 106 mm.
  • The new measurements of this and 24 other species of butterflies were published in the latest issue of Bionotes, a quarterly newsletter for research on life forms. Shristee Panthee of the University of Chinese Academy of Sciences in Yunnan and Peter Smetacek of the Butterfly Research Centre at Bhimtal in Uttarakhand are the authors of the study.
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Brigadier Evans’s record

  • “The hitherto largest Indian butterfly that Brigadier Evans recorded in 1932 was an individual of the southern birdwing (Troides minos), which was then treated as a subspecies of the common birdwing,” Mr. Smetacek told The Hindu on Tuesday.
  • “But the specimen he measured was unknown, and no other butterfly measured as much as the 190 mm that he recorded,” he added.
  • While the female golden birdwing was recorded from Didihat in Uttarakhand, the largest male was from the Wankhar Butterfly Museum in Shillong.
  • According to the authors, the only measurement used in the study of Lepidoptera is wingspan — a simple concept with various interpretations of the term.
  • “Some older authors measured a straight line between the forewing apices (pointed ends or tips) of pinned specimens. This was controversial, since the same butterfly could have different wingspans, depending on the position of its forewings in relation to each other,” the study says.

More reliable method

  • Brigadier Evans followed a more reliable method. He measured a butterfly from the centre of the thorax to the tip of the forewing apex and doubled the result. His contribution was to provide the wingspans of all butterfly species then known from the Indian subcontinent and his book is still the standard work on the subject.
  • The updated wingspan of three species — all from Uttarakhand — after the golden birdwing are the common windmill (Byasa polyeuctes) at 98 mm, the great windmill (Byasa dasarada) at 96 mm, and the common peacock (Papilio bianor) at 78 mm.
  • The smallest is the quaker (Neopithecops zalmora) with a wingspan of 18 mm and forewing length of a mere 8 mm.
  • The largest female golden birdwing’s forewing length is 90 mm.

2. In stand-off, keeping an eye on the nuclear ball

In the conventional escalation along the LAC, India cannot afford to ignore China’s expanding nuclear arsenal

  • Despite domestic and external challenges, there is now growing evidence that the People’s Republic of China (PRC) continues to expand its nuclear arsenal, which is worrisome but at the same time, not be surprising. China is pursuing a planned modernisation of its nuclear arsenal because it fears the multi-layered missile defence capabilities of the United States. It is arming its missiles with Multiple Independently Targetable Re-entry Vehicles (MIRVs) capabilities to neutralise America’s missile shield. China’s DF-31As, which are road mobile Intercontinental Ballistic Missiles (ICBMs), are equipped with MIRVs and potent penetration aids.

Estimates and what it means

  • The Peoples Liberation Army Rocket Force (PLARF) also fields a range of Medium Range Ballistic Missiles (MRBMs) and Short-Range Ballistic Missiles (SRBMs). The PRC’s ballistic missile tests in 2019 were the highest among the designated Nuclear Weapon States (NWS). China’s Lop Nur was the site of Chinese sub-critical testing since the PRC adopted a moratorium on hot testing in 1996, enabling China to miniaturise warheads and develop new designs that have been progressively integrated into its nuclear arsenal. The PRC also sits on a sizeable inventory of fissile material. China, according to the International Panel on Fissile Materials (IPFM) is estimated to possess 2.9+-0.6 metric tonnes of Weapons-grade Plutonium (WGP) compared to India’s is 0.6+-0.15 tonnes of WGP.
  • China’s expansion is cause for concern because even as the U.S. and Russia are attempting to reduce the size of their respective arsenals, the PRC is on an expansionist mode. The Stockholm International Peace Research Institute (SIPRI) observes that China’s nuclear arsenal has risen from 290 warheads in 2019 to 320 warheads in 2020.
  • This increase might not seem large relative to the size of the nuclear arsenal of the U.S. and Russia but it indicates a gradual shift toward a larger arsenal. This presents India with challenges because New Delhi has to contend with a nuclear-armed Pakistan as well. The Indian nuclear arsenal, according to the SIPRI, stands at roughly 150 nuclear warheads with the Pakistani slightly ahead with 160 warheads. The Chinese state mouthpiece, Global Times, has recently called for a 1,000-warhead nuclear arsenal, underlining the motivation of the PLA and the hard-line factions of the Communist Party of China (CPC) to match U.S. and Russian nuclear force levels.
  • While these numbers are important, what is equally, if not more, consequential for New Delhi is what China’s nuclear modernisation and diversified nuclear capabilities are likely to do for conventional military escalation along the China-India boundary. The conventional military balance between Indian and Chinese forces along the Line of Actual Control (LAC) presents significant challenges for Indian decision-makers. Given the variegated and highly sophisticated nature of Chinese nuclear capabilities relative to India, they give Beijing considerable coercive leverage. Beijing could commit further aggression under the cover of its nuclear arsenal.
  • Indeed, the PRC has already engaged in nuclear signalling with set piece videos, which have been doing the rounds on social media platforms. The message is clear to New Delhi from China’s leadership: we have presented you with a fait accompli; accept it and move on. Beijing is communicating that an escalatory response from New Delhi will incur punitive responses with China mounting aggressive military action at several points along the LAC. However, this time it will be more consequential, unlike the last in March-April when the Peoples Liberation Army (PLA) mounted a rapid tactical offensive to occupy small territory at Pangong Tso and caught the Indian Army by surprise. Notwithstanding efforts to de-escalate particularly at Patrolling Point 14 (PP-14) in the Galwan River Valley, Hot Springs and Gogra, Chinese ground units have consolidated their position in the Pangong Tso area and the entire stretch of the LAC. To be sure, India is doing the same, but the Fingers 4 to 8 in Pangong Tso, where the PLA is entrenched, is a serious potential flashpoint as the Indian Army is locked in an eyeball-to-eyeball confrontation against its Chinese adversary. It could become a staging ground for further PLA ingress, notwithstanding Indian defensive preparations, triggering hostilities that widen to the Karakoram and Arunachal Pradesh. The Chinese nuclear arsenal could serve as an instrument of coercion under which the PRC could press ahead with a limited aims war.

More challenges for India

  • Consequently, Indian decision-makers need to be aware of the PLARF’s land-based missile forces. The PRC is believed to base a part of its nuclear arsenal in inland territories such as in the Far-Western Xinjiang Region, which is close to Aksai Chin. China’s land-based missiles are a primarily road mobile and could play a key role in any larger conventional offensive the PLA might mount against Indian forces along the LAC.
  • Korla in Xinjiang is believed to host DF-26 IRBMs with a range of 4,000 kilometres, which can potentially strike targets across most of India. Their mobility gives them a high degree of survivability. The DF-26 IRBMs can be armed with either a conventional or nuclear warhead. Since the IRBMs could be either conventional or nuclear tipped, assessing Chinese trip-wires will make things tricky as the PLARF’s conventional and nuclear forces are likely to be embedded together, presenting challenges for both the Indian civilian and military leadership.

Be on guard

  • Thus, conventional escalation between Chinese and Indian forces along the LAC must factor the role of nuclear weapons and their impact on military operations executed by the Indian Army and the Indian Air Force. India’s Strategic Forces Command (SFC) needs to be on a heightened state of alert to ward off Chinese nuclear threats and brinksmanship as well as geared to support India’s conventional forces.
  • While escalation of the current stand-off between Indian and Chinese forces is not inevitable, it would be a terrible mistake on the part of the Indian government to ignore the possibility, because it might not come from New Delhi but Beijing.
  • Whatever the outcome of the current crisis, New Delhi should start seriously assessing its extant nuclear doctrine and redouble efforts to get a robust triadic capability for deterrence.
  • Harsh V. Pant is Director Studies at the Observer Research Foundation (ORF), New Delhi. Kartik Bommakanti is Associate Fellow at the ORF, New Delhi

3. ‘Centre won’t extend deadline for levy on foreign e-com firms’

Companies had sufficient time to pay the tax announced in Budget, says official

New Delhi

  • The government is not considering extending the deadline for payment of Equalisation Levy by non-resident e-commerce players, even though a majority of them are yet to deposit the first installment of the tax, an official said.
  • The 2% equalisation levy was introduced in the 2020-21 Budget and came into effect from April 1. The deadline for payment of the first installment for April-June is July 7. The tax would be levied on consideration received by e-commerce operators from online supply of goods or services.
  • An official aware of the development said the government was not considering any extension of the deadline and asserted that the entities liable to pay the levy had ample time to apply for PAN and prepare themselves for the levy.
  • “The scheme was notified in March,” the official said. “The companies liable to pay the levy should have applied for PAN then. When globally digital tax is there to stay, there should be no expectation of a rollback. There would be no extension of the deadline for payment,” the official added.

U.S. group seeks time

  • A lobby group representing U.S. technology giants said its members were not yet ready to make the first payment of the digital tax due this week, urging New Delhi to defer the move, Reuters reported.
  • The tax applies on e-commerce transactions on websites such as Google in particular has been worried as the tax applies on advertising revenue earned overseas if those ads target customers in India.
  • The first quarterly payment of the tax was due on Tuesday, but in a letter on July 6 the U.S.-India Strategic Partnership Forum (USISPF) urged the finance ministry to defer the tax or postpone the date for payment.
  • The group argued the tax was “riddled with various ambiguities and interpretational concerns” and it wasn’t clear on what amount the companies needed to pay the levy. “There are practical difficulties in meeting this timeline,” Reuters cited USISPF as saying.
  • The levy is seen aimed at taxing foreign companies which have a significant local client base in India but were billing them through their offshore units, effectively escaping the country’s tax system.
  • As per law, late-payment would attract interest at the rate of 1% per month or part of the month. Non-payment could result in a penalty equal to the amount of equalisation levy, along with interest, PTI reported.
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