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Daily Current AFfairs 22.08.2021 (War of words over Opposition’s silence on Article 370, U.S. lab makes headway in nuclear fusion energy, Will changes in AERA Act help smaller airports?)

Daily Current AFfairs 22.08.2021 (War of words over Opposition’s silence on Article 370, U.S. lab makes headway in nuclear fusion energy, Will changes in AERA Act help smaller airports?)

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1.War of words over Opposition’s silence on Article 370

Sajad Lone questions National Conference, Peoples Democratic Party silence over issue at Sonia’s meet

A war of words erupted between Sajad Lone’s Peoples Conference (PC) and Farooq Abdullah’s National Conference (NC) on Saturday, a day after the virtual meeting of 19 Opposition parties, chaired by Congress president Sonia Gandhi, stayed silent on the issue of the reading down of Article 370.

Taking on the NC and Mehbooba Mufti’s Peoples Democratic Party (PDP), who participated in Ms. Gandhi’s meeting, Mr. Lone said, “No mention of Article 370 in the Opposition parties meet. In wonderment, how can J&K leaders justify their presence in the meeting if they could not convince the leaders to talk about Article 370. The BJP’s anti-370 stance is clear. What is the national Opposition’s stance?”

Mr. Lone was not invited for the meeting.

The joint statement issued at the end of the meeting spoke of the need to restore statehood to J&K.

“Leaders from J&K should either get the national Opposition to endorse the demand for Article 370… Or just keep out of it,” Mr. Lone said.

Responding to the accusations, several NC leaders, in a joint statement, accused Mr. Lone of “changing narratives”.

“His only permanent character is that of a pendulum… From joining the Peoples Alliance for the Gupkar Declaration to leaving it, he has only damaged the cause of restoration of Article 370 and 35A,” the statement said.

On 5th of August 2019, the President of India promulgated the Constitution (Application to Jammu and Kashmir) Order, 2019. 

  • The order effectively abrogates the special status accorded to Jammu and Kashmir under the provision of Article 370 – whereby provisions of the Constitution which were applicable to other states were not applicable to Jammu and Kashmir (J&K).
  • According to the Order, provisions of the Indian Constitution are now applicable in the State.
  • This Order comes into force “at once”, and shall “supersede the Constitution (Application to Jammu and Kashmir) Order, 1954.”
  • A separate Bill – the Jammu and Kashmir Reorganisation Bill 2019 – was introduced to bifurcate the State into two separate union territories of Jammu and Kashmir (with legislature), and Ladakh (without legislature).
  • Jammu and Kashmir Reservation (Second Amendment) Bill, 2019 was also introduced to extend the reservation for Economically Weaker Sections (EWS) in educational institutions and government jobs in Jammu and Kashmir.

History

  • J&K acceded to the Dominion of India after the Instrument of Accession was signed by Maharaja Hari Singh, the ruler of the princely state of Jammu and Kashmir, on 26 October 1947.
  • Article 370 of the Indian Constitution provided that only Articles 1 and 370 itself would apply to J&K. The application of other Articles was to be determined by the President in consultation with the government of the state.
  • The Constitution Order of 1950 specified the matters on which the Union Parliament would be competent to make laws for J&K, in concurrence with the Instrument of Accession – 38 Subjects from the Union List were added.
  • The Constitution (Application to Jammu and Kashmir) Order, 1954 settled the constitutional relationship of J&K and the Union of India. It made the following provisions –
    • Indian citizenship and all related benefits (fundamental rights) were extended to the ‘permanent residents’ of Jammu and Kashmir.
    • Article 35A was added to the Constitution (empowering the state legislature to legislate on the privileges of permanent residents with regard to immovable property, settlement in the state and employment)
    • The jurisdiction of the Supreme Court of India was extended to the State.
    • Central Government was given the power to declare a national emergency in the event of external aggression. The power in case of internal disturbances could be exercised only with the concurrence of the State Government.
    • Normalized the financial relations between the Centre and J&K

Article 370 – Features and Provisions

  • Present in part XXI of the Indian Constitution which comprises of Temporary, Transitional and Special Provisions with rest to various states of India.
  • Forms the basis of the “Special Status” of J&K.
  • Provides for a separate Constitution of J&K.
  • Limits the Union Parliament’s power to make laws for J&K to those subjects mentioned in the Instrument of Accession (defense, foreign affairs, and communications) and others as and when declared by the Presidential Orders with the concurrence of the Government of the State.
  • Specified the mechanism by which the Article shall cease to be operative. That is, on the recommendation of the Constituent Assembly of the State before the President issues such a notification. However, this provision has been amended by the Constitution (Application to Jammu and Kashmir) Order, 2019.

Was it Temporary

  • The Article was introduced to accommodate the apprehensions of Maharaja Hari Singh who would not have acceded to India without certain concessions.
  • Territorial integrity was of paramount importance to India post-independence, thus, such a special provision was inducted in the constitution.
  • The provision, however, is part of the “Temporary, Transitional and Special Provisions” of our constitution.
  • Moreover, Article 370 could be interpreted as temporary in the sense that the J&K Constituent Assembly had a right to modify/delete/retain it; it decided to retain it.
  • Another interpretation was that accession was temporary until a plebiscite.

Issues in Revoking

  • Article 370 is the bedrock of the constitutional relationship between Jammu and Kashmir and the rest of India.
  • It has been described as a tunnel through which the Constitution is applied to J&K.
  • India has used Article 370 at least 45 times to extend provisions of the Indian Constitution to J&K. This is the only way through which, by mere Presidential Orders, India has almost nullified the effect of J&K’s special status.
  • By the 1954 order, almost the entire Constitution was extended to J&K including most Constitutional amendments.
  • However, abrogating the article altogether may threaten the peace in the state which is already a hotspot of conflicts and militancy.
  • It will completely change the relationship between the state and the rest of India.
  • It will also clear the path for abrogating Article 35A which would allow Indian citizens to purchase land and settle permanently in J&K.
  • Thus, the move is bound to have a significant impact on the demography, culture, and politics of J&K.

2.U.S. lab makes headway in nuclear fusion energy

The National Ignition facility demonstrated fusion energy equal to about 1.3 megajoule

Nuclear fusion is a clean and green route to producing energy, as it does not involve any remnant radioactive waste products. Fusion reactions power hydrogen bombs. However, so far, fusion devices that show a net energy gain have not been demonstrated in labs.

An experiment at the U.S. National Ignition Facility (NIF), within the Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory, Livermore, California, comes close to demonstrating this. In this lab, using laser beams, tiny pellets of deuterium and tritium (heavier isotopes of hydrogen) have been fused to form helium and release energy that very nearly matches the amount of energy input using the lasers.

The NIF has been trying to achieve this for nearly a decade. Now, the experiment has produced a yield that almost equals the laser energy input. To be functional, a reactor has to produce an output that is at least tens of times the input energy.

A tiny pellet of the fuel (deuterium and tritium) is placed in a cylidrical thumbnail-sized vessel, known as a hohlraum that has holes on both faces. A total of 192 laser beams are directed through the holes to strike the walls of the hohlraum. This causes the hohlraum to emit x-rays which, in turn, impinge on the pellet and compress it. The heated core of the pellet reaches 100 million degrees temperature which starts the fusion reactions. Further, the pellet has to “ignite” and only then can it reach the stage of becoming a microbomb – a deuterium-tritium fusion reactor – and release energy that can be tapped.

Laser facility

The laser facility itself occupies a large area, equal to nearly three cricket fields, and the lasers can deliver up to 500 terawatts of power using its 192 individual laser beams. This is focused into the openings in the hohlraum which contains the pellet measuring some 2-3 mm.

“The amount of laser energy used in these experiments is quite modest, 1.9 megajoule (MJ). This is approximately equal to the energy it takes to heat a large pot (8 litres) of water by 100 degrees Celsius. The amount of fusion energy produced in these experiments was approximately 1.3 MJ which is now for the first time comparable to amount of laser energy input,” says Arthur Kazdan Pak, Stagnation Science Team lead, Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory, in an email to The Hindu. This is the first time, in a controlled laboratory setting, that an inertial fusion system ( another name for a laser driven fusion system) has produced nearly as much energy was supplied to initiate the reaction. Dr Kazdan Pak further explains: “If we do the energy accounting we estimate that the fusion energy production is approximately 5 times the amount of energy coupled from the laser to target.”

Tremendous progress

“To make a fusion reactor, hundreds of pellet implosions have to happen per second and means have to be found to extract the neutron energy as heat and produce electricity. This [experiment] is far from that stage, but the researchers have made tremendous progress in the last decade,” says P. I John, Former Meghnad Saha Chair Professor, Institute for Plasma Research, Gandhinagar, and an expert in thermonuclear fusion.

Several steps remain before a viable nuclear fusion reactor can be realised. Ignition, or energy break-even must be achieved. Many laser pulses must be made to act per second to increase the net yield to a sufficiently high value. Then the technology to convert the neutron energy into electricity has to be developed.

Meanwhile, Dr Kazdan Pak makes a mind-blowing comparison: “The fusion energy produced is released in an incredibly short amount of time, approximately, 90 picoseconds producing close to 15 petawatts of power. This is approximately equivalent to some recent estimates of the total world power consumption, however the experiment only produces this power for an incredibly short period of time, whereas power is consumed continuously across the world.”

3.Will changes in AERA Act help smaller airports?

Are private players going to invest in aviation if a profitable sector is clubbed with non-profitable ones?

The story so far: In the monsoon session, Parliament passed the Airports Economic Regulatory Authority of India (Amendment) Bill, 2021. The Bill, tabled in March this year and sent to a standing committee, seeks to broaden the category of airports for which the Airports Economic Regulatory Authority (AERA) of India can determine tariff by amending the definition of major airports.

Why has the definition of a major airport been amended?

The AERA regulates tariffs and other charges for aeronautical services rendered at ‘major’ airports. Under the AERA Act, 2008, a major airport is one which “has, or is designated to have, annual passenger throughput in excess of three-and-a-half million or any other airport as the Central Government may, by notification, specify”. However, it does not provide for determination of tariff for a group of airports. The Amendment Bill has amended the definition of a major airport to include “a group of airports” after the words “any other airport”. The government hopes the move will encourage development of smaller airports and make bidding for airports with less passenger traffic attractive. It plans to club profitable airports with non-profitable ones and offer them as a package for development in public-private partnership mode to expand connectivity.

Was there a need to amend the AERA Act?

The Airports Authority of India (AAI) awarded six airports — Lucknow, Ahmedabad, Jaipur, Mangaluru, Thiruvananthapuram and Guwahati — for operations, management and development in public-private partnership mode in February 2019. Later that year, the AAI Board, in its 190th meeting held on September 5, approved leasing of another six airports — Bhubaneswar, Varanasi, Amritsar, Raipur, Indore and Tiruchi — for undertaking operations, management and development in public-private partnership mode. The Ministry of Civil Aviation plans to club each of these airports with nearby smaller airports for joint development. The move follows Finance Minister Nirmala Sitharaman’s Budget Speech this year, in which she said the government planned to monetise airports in tier-2 and tier-3 cities.

How did AERA come into existence? What tariffs does it determine?

The AERA Act was enacted in 2008 and an independent economic regulator, i.e., the AERA, was established in 2009 for determining the tariff for aeronautical services rendered at major airports. The initial benchmark passenger throughput to qualify as a major airport was 1.5 million passenger per annum (mppa), which was amended in 2019 to 3.5 mppa. According to the AERA website, there are 25 major airports. For the remaining non-major airports owned by AAI, the Ministry of Civil Aviation approves the charges for aeronautical services. There are a total of 154 airports in the country. Among these, AAI owns 136 airports and provides air traffic services over the entire Indian airspace and adjoining oceanic areas.

What are the apprehensions?

“Though this Bill proposes to make changes which appear to be lucrative for the aviation sector, there is a lack of clarity regarding what will be the criterion for deciding which airports get clubbed together. Will it be passenger traffic of more than 3.5 million or some other factors too? This clarity needs to be brought in to achieve the objective of the Bill,” says Poonam Verma, Partner, J Sagar Associates, adding that the government will also have to ensure that a monopoly situation is not created in the airport operating business while awarding a group of airports to the same entity.

“Balancing the interests of the private sector and the government’s objective of privatising smaller airports will be a tightrope walk,” says Jagannarayan Padmanabhan, Practice leader and Director, Transport and Logistics, CRISIL Limited. “Whether the government succeeds will also depend on how the airports are packaged and if there are enough growth prospects, economic activity or tourist attractions near the non-profitable airports that will be clubbed.”

Airports Economic Regulatory Authority of India

  • Background:
    • Initially, the Airports Authority of India (AAI) w as running and managing the airports. After some time, a change was made in the civil aviation policy as some private players were also given airports to run. The reason behind this was to provide consumers with great services.
    • Typically, airports run the risk of becoming a monopoly because cities usually have one civilian airport which controls all aeronautical services in that area.
    • To ensure that private airport operators do not misuse their monopoly, the need for an independent tariff regulator in the airport sector was felt.
  • About:
    • The Airports Economic Regulatory Authority of India Act, 2008 (AERA Act) was passed which set up the AERA as a statutory body.
    • It was set up, keeping in mind that the country needs to have an independent regulator who has transparent rules and can take care of the interests of the service providers as well as that of the consumers.
  • Functions:
    • The AERA regulates tariffs and other charges (development fee and passenger service fee) for aeronautical services (air traffic management, landing and parking of aircraft, ground handling services) at major airports.
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