Topic 1: Henley Passport Index
Context: India has climbed seven places to the 80th rank from 87th last year.
About the Index:
- The Henley Passport Index is the ranking of all the world’s passports according to the number of destinations their holders can access without a prior visa.
- The index is brought out by Henley and Partners.
- Top- Singapore, which is now officially the most powerful passport in the world.
- Japan has lost the top spot as it slipped to the joint third spot with visa-free entry to 189 countries.
- Afghanistan stands at the bottom of the ranking; its passport holders can visit just 27 destinations without a visa.
- First edition of the Henley Passport Index was published in 2006 India was ranked 71, with visa-free access to only 25 countries.
Topic 2: India supports U.N. on the Black Sea initiative
Context: Recently Russia announced that it would suspend its involvement in an agreement with Ukraine that has enabled both countries to continue exporting grain amid Russia’s ongoing invasion of the neighboring nation.
About the Initiative:
- The deal, brokered by the United Nations (UN) and Turkey, was signed in Istanbul.
- The deal put in place a Joint Coordination Centre (JCC), comprising senior representatives from Russia, Turkey, Ukraine, and the UN for oversight and coordination.
- Also known as “Breadbasket of Europe”.
- The central idea was to calm markets by ensuring an adequate supply of grains, thereby limiting food price inflation.
- Ukraine is among the largest exporters of wheat, maize, rapeseed, sunflower seeds, and sunflower oil, globally.
- It played an “indispensable role” in global food security.
- Its access to the deep-sea ports in the Black Sea enables it to directly approach Russia and Europe along with grain importers from the Middle East and North Africa.
- Russia’s action in the East European country has now disturbed this route, earlier used to ship 75% of its agricultural exports – precisely what the initiative sought to address.
What would the suspension of the deal mean?
- Introduce the price pressures on grain prices, especially that of wheat, with inventory being at historical lows.
- It could particularly impact countries in the Middle East and Africa such as Egypt, Turkey, Lebanon, Sudan, and Yemen which have benefitted from the resumption and are particularly dependent on Russian and Ukrainian exports.
- Impacts the farmers of Ukraine.
- Tight stocks are expected to cause higher prices and keep markets volatile.
- The production and availability of food will be disrupted.
- The breakdown of the grain deal will fuel the hunger so there is a need to resolve the conflict and an urgent return to the path of dialogue and diplomacy.
- This initiative has been a “lifeline” for global food security and a beacon of hope in a troubled world.
- The path to peace requires keeping all channels of diplomacy open.
Topic 3: Indus Water Treaty (IWT)
Context: India announced that it wants to modify the 62-year-old IWT with Pakistan, citing what it called Pakistan’s “intransigence” in resolving disputes over the Kishenganga and Ratle hydropower projects, both in Jammu and Kashmir.
- In 1947, the line of partition, aside from delineating geographical boundaries for India and Pakistan, also cut the Indus River system into two.
- The Indus Waters Treaty (1960) (IWT), regulates the Indus water courses between the two riparian states of India and Pakistan.
- The treaty lays down terms of distribution of the waters of the Indus and its tributaries that support agriculture and other economic activities of both north India and Pakistan.
- The Indus treaty, which divided up the six Himalayan rivers equally between India and Pakistan, allows India the unrestricted use of all water from the 3 eastern tributaries of the Indus River (Sutlej, Beas, and Ravi).
- While Pakistan receives use of the western tributaries (Indus or Sindhu, Jhelum, and Chenab).
- In recent years, the Indus Water Treaty has been brought up a couple of times during geo-political tension between India and Pakistan.
Importance of IWT:
- The Treaty has been a profoundly important international agreement in support of peace and development in South Asia.
- It has been hailed as one of the most successful transboundary water management treaties in the world.
- In an atmosphere of a lack of trust between the two neighbors, the World Bank, a party to the IWT, may use its forum to forge a transnational alliance of epistemic communities.
- Build convergent state policies, resulting in the ultimate inclusion of these two principles in the IWT.
- IWT does not have a unilateral exit provision and is supposed to remain in force unless both countries ratify another mutually agreed pact.
- To ensure rapid development revisiting the IWT is a much-needed step.
Topic 4: The Rajasthan Minimum Guaranteed Income Bill, 2023
Context: Recently, the Rajasthan government introduced ‘The Rajasthan Minimum Guaranteed Income Bill, 2023’ in the Assembly.
About Bill / (Main Provisions of the Bill):
- Additional 25 days of work for rural households that complete 100 days of work under the MGNREGA.
- A total of 125 days of guaranteed work for registered urban households.
- Every person falling in the category of old age and specially-abled/widow/single woman with prescribed eligibility shall be entitled to a pension under this Act.
- Several other States also have in recent years introduced employment guarantee schemes for the urban areas but only via executive order. This is the first time the Urban Employment Guarantee Scheme will get legislative backing.
- Social security is the right of deprived sections of society.
What is Minimum Guaranteed Income:
- It is a social welfare system that guarantees all citizens or families an income sufficient to live on.
- Every citizen will receive payments regardless of market conditions.
- A Minimum Income Guarantee (MIG) is a universal guarantee: an income floor beneath which no one should fall.
- The primary goal of a guaranteed minimum income is the reduction of poverty.
- It can reduce poverty, inequality and insecurity for citizens – regardless of their work status.
Topic 5: Bacteriophages
Context: Not all viruses are killers as with bacteria, “good” or “friendly” viruses (bacteriophages) can also be beneficial for health.
- The vast majority of viruses inside us are bacteriophages.
- Bacteriophages are viruses that kill bacteria in our microbiomes.
- Bacteriophages, also known as phages, are harmless to human cells as they do not recognize them as their bacterial prey.
- They work by hunting down bacteria and attaching themselves to the surface of a bacterial cell, before injecting viral DNA material into the cell.
- The viral DNA then replicates inside the bacteria, sometimes by borrowing the DNA replication hardware of the bacteria.
- Once enough new viruses have been created inside the bacterial cell, the cell then bursts to release the new viral particles.
Significance of Phage therapy
- The advantages of phages lie in their effectiveness against every multi-resistant pathogen.
- Phages are extremely precise in their elimination of bacterial strains — so much so that it don’t disturb the gut microbiome, as is the case with antibiotics.
- In theory, then, phages could be a huge boon in the fight against antibacterial resistance.
- For eg., Georgia has developed into one of the global centers of phage therapy, hosting one of the largest therapeutic collections of bacteriophages in the world.
- A central problem is that there is no standardization of therapy.
- Phage therapy must be precisely tailored to the bacteria that cause an infection in a patient.
- Infections can be caused by bacteria with various properties, so you need a cocktail of different phages as a therapy, and that mix of phages has to be available very quickly before the infection gets out of hand.
- Bacteria do also develop resistance to phage therapies.
- Phage therapies have good safety records.
- Humans ingest billions of phages every day with our food without any relevant side effects.
- That means our bodies should be able to tolerate phage therapies very well.
- The next steps should include large-scale research and clinical projects to nail down effective phage therapies for different types of infections.
- For now, bacteriophages are unlikely to replace antibiotics.
- But scientists are optimistic they could be used in combination to make antibiotics more effective, especially against resistant strains of bacteria.
Topic 6: Tankai method
Context: The Ministry of Culture and the Indian Navy sign an MoU to revive the ancient stitched shipbuilding method (Tankai method)
- It is a 2000-year-old technique of shipbuilding known as the ‘stitched shipbuilding method’.
- Throughout history, India has had a strong maritime tradition, and the use of stitched ships played a vital role in trade, cultural exchange, and exploration.
- These ships, constructed by stitching wooden planks together rather than using nails, offered flexibility and durability, making them less susceptible to damage from shoals and sandbars.
- Although the arrival of European ships led to a shift in shipbuilding techniques, the art of stitching ships has survived in a few coastal regions of India, primarily for small local fishing boats.
- Significance of the Project:
- The project aims to leverage the expertise of the remaining traditional shipwrights in India and showcase their exceptional craftsmanship.
- By sailing along ancient maritime routes using traditional navigational techniques, the project seeks to gain insights into the historical interactions across the Indian Ocean, which facilitated the flow of Indian culture, knowledge systems, traditions, technologies, and ideas.
- It aims to revive the maritime memory and instill a sense of pride in India’s rich maritime heritage among its citizens.
- It aims to promote cultural memories among the Indian Ocean littoral countries.
Topic 7 : Why did Turkey lift its opposition against Sweden?
Context: The North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO) held its two-day summit in Vilnius, Lithuania.
Why was Turkey against Sweden’s membership in NATO?
- Türkiye’s government accuses Sweden of being too lenient toward groups that Ankara says pose a security threat, including militant Kurdish groups and people associated with a 2016 coup attempt.
- Turkey says Sweden and Finland have ties with “terrorist” groups — a reference to the Kurdistan Workers Party (PKK) and the People’s Protection Units (YPG).
- The PKK, which seeks greater autonomy for Turkey’s Kurdish minority, has waged an armed insurgency since the mid-1980s. The YPG is the armed wing of Syrian Kurdistan which controls parts of the Kurdish region in Syria
Why did Turkey withdraw its opposition?
- Sweden has taken significant concrete steps to meet Turkey’s concerns.
- Sweden has amended its constitution, changed its laws, significantly expanded its counter-terrorism cooperation against the PKK, and resumed arms exports to Türkiye, all steps set out in the Trilateral Memorandum agreed in 2022.
- Sweden has assured to implement the new “Terrorist Offenses Act” from July 1.
- Sweden has now agreed to execute the pending “deportations or extraditions” of listed ‘terror’ suspects made by Turkey.
- The two countries also agreed to create a new bilateral Security Compact that will meet annually at the ministerial level.
What does Sweden’s membership mean for NATO?
- This membership aligns with NATO’s expansion plans.
- It helps consolidate NATO’s security efforts and defense integration in the Nordic, Baltic region, and Arctic regions. All other Nordic countries are already members of the alliance.
- It also brings NATO closer to Russia’s borders. Further, Sweden has a sophisticated army and defence technology, which could benefit NATO.
- For Sweden, it means securing NATO protections that only formal membership brings. For instance, Article 5 of NATO says that any attack on a NATO member “shall be considered an attack against them all”.