USS GERALD R FORD
- The USS Gerald R Ford is the largest warship ever built.
- It is 337 m long, 78 m wide (measured at the flight deck) and 76 m high.
- The carrier’s size allows it to support up to 90 aircraft.
- To conduct all operations aboard the carrier, a crew of over 4,500 personnel is needed.
- INS Vikrant operates a total of 36 aircraft and is run by a crew of roughly 1,650.
WHY GAZA IS KNOWN AS THE WORLD’S BIGGEST ‘OPEN AIR PRISON’
- It is a strip of land wedged between the Mediterranean Sea to the west, Israel to the north and east, and Egypt to the south.
- It is home to more than 20 lakh Palestinians.
- It has been under military occupation since 1967.
- Even though Israel maintains that it pulled out in 2005, the United Nations, the European Union and other international organisations still consider Gaza as occupied territory.
- The conditions created by the occupation and the blockade have led many to refer to Gaza as an “open air prison”.
The beginning of the Gaza blockade :
- In the Six-Day War of 1967, Israel captured Gaza from Egypt, and began its military occupation of the territory.
- Between 1967 and 2005, Israel built 21 settlements in Gaza and urged Palestinian residents, through coercive measures as well as by giving financial and other incentives, to leave the territory.
- However, that period saw rising Palestinian resistance, both violent and non-violent, against the Israeli occupation.
- In 2005, Israel withdrew its settlements from Gaza.
- Between then and 2007, it imposed temporary blockades on the movement of people and goods into and out of Gaza on multiple occasions.
Oslo Agreement :
- Under the 1993 Oslo Agreement, the Palestinian Authority got administrative control over Gaza after Israel pulled out, and an election was held in 2006.
- The voting took place at a time when an Israeli blockade was in force, and the militant group Hamas won a majority of seats.
- Following the election, deadly violence broke out between Hamas and Fatah, another Palestinian political faction, leading to the death of hundreds of Palestinians.
- In 2007, after Hamas assumed power in Gaza, Israel made the blockade permanent.
- Egypt, which also has a border crossing with Gaza, participated in the blockade. This effectively meant that most people could not go into or out of Gaza and that the movement of goods and aid was highly restricted.
- Israel justifies the blockade as being necessary for its security.
Walls and crossings :
- With walls on three sides and the Mediterranean on the fourth, Gaza Strip is surrounded by physical barriers.
- In 1994, Israel built a 60-km-long fence along its border with Gaza.
- Walled-off from the north and the east by Israel, Gaza’s southern border also got a wall when Egypt, with the help of the US, started constructing a 14-km steel border barrier.
- In the west, Israel controls the sea route into Gaza and doesn’t allow it be used for the transfer of people or goods.
- Currently, there are three functional border crossings between Gaza and the outside world – Karem Abu Salem Crossing and Erez Crossing controlled by Israel, and Rafah Crossing controlled by Egypt.
- Since the attack on Israel, all three crossings have been effectively sealed.
- Densely populated and impoverished
- The Gaza Strip is 41 km long and 12 km wide at its widest point. More than 20 lakh residents live in a total area of just around 365 sq km, making it one of the most densely populated areas in the world.
- According to a report published last year by the United Nations Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA), the blockade has “undermined Gaza’s economy, resulting in high unemployment, food insecurity and aid dependency”.
- The blockade also makes it very difficult for people from Gaza to go to the bigger Palestinian territory of West Bank, where many have familial and business connections.
- Many in Gaza also rely on going to the West Bank for medical treatment, but under the blockade, this is only possible after a long verification process conducted by Israel, which has a high rate of rejections.
‘KANITAMIL 24’ CONFERENCE
- The Tamil Nadu government will be organising a three-day ‘KaniTamil 24’ conference in February 2024.
- It is in line with an announcement made in the budget 2023 that an international conference on Tamil computing would be organised.
- The conference would elaborate on the latest advancements in computing and exploring the possibilities of using Tamil in natural language processing, artificial intelligence, machine learning, machine translation, sentimental analysis, large language models and automatic speech recognition.
- The conference is planned for February 8,9 and 10 at the Chennai Trade Centre.
- It will be organised by the Tamil Virtual Academy (TVA).
- TVA was born as a result of ‘TamilNet 99’.
- It was the conference on Tamil computing organised when M. Karunanidhi was the Chief Minister in 1999.
- The second such conference on Tamil computing is being organised after 25 years.
- India has launched Operation Ajay to facilitate the return of Indian citizens from Israel who wish to return.
- Special charter flights and other arrangements were put in place.
- 24-hour Control Room has been set up by the Ministry of External Affairs to monitor the situation and provide information and assistance.
HOW NEW ROYALTY RATES FOR STRATEGIC MINERALS LITHIUM, REES CAN HELP CUT THEIR IMPORTS
- The Centre has approved an amendment to a key law in order to specify competitive royalty rates for the mining of three strategically significant minerals such as lithium, niobium, and rare earth elements (REEs).
- The decision comes after the government removed six minerals, including lithium and niobium, from the list of ‘specified’ atomic minerals.
- It could set the stage for participation of the private sector through the auctioning concessions for these minerals.
- These changes are to ease the issuing of mining leases and composite licences for 24 critical and strategic minerals
- They are vital in key supply chains that include electric vehicle batteries, energy storage devices, and high-end motors.
- Lithium resources of 5.9 million tonnes were established in Jammu & Kashmir.
- It is the largest deposit of the white alkali metal in India.
- Lithium is a vital ingredient of rechargeable lithium-ion batteries that power electric vehicles, laptops, and mobile phones.
Significance of move
- The specification of new royalty rates by amending the Second Schedule of the Mines and Minerals (Development and Regulation) Act, 1957, effectively aligns India’s royalty rates with global benchmarks.
- It paves the way for commercial exploitation of these minerals through auctions, which can be conducted by the Centre or states.
- A competitive royalty rate ensures that bidders would be attracted to the future auctions.
- Item No. 55 of The Second Schedule of the MMDR Act, 1957 specifies a royalty rate of 12% of the average sale price (ASP) for minerals that are not specifically listed in that Schedule.
- This rate is much higher than global benchmarks.
Lower royalty rates
- After the Cabinet’s decision, lithium mining will attract a royalty of 3% based on the London Metal Exchange price.
- Niobium too, will be subject to 3% royalty calculated on the ASP.
- REEs will have a royalty of 1% based on the ASP of the Rare Earth Oxide (the ore in which the REE is most commonly found).
- These critical minerals are also seen as an important prerequisite for India to meet its commitment to energy transition, and to achieve net-zero emissions by 2070.
Push for lithium
- India currently imports all the lithium it needs.
- The domestic exploration push goes beyond the J&K exploration.
- It includes exploratory work to extract lithium from the brine pools of Rajasthan and Gujarat, and the mica belts of Odisha and Chhattisgarh.
- China is a major source of lithium-ion energy storage products that are imported into the country.
- India is a late mover in attempts to enter the lithium value chain.
REEs value chain
- The rare earths constitute another hurdle in the EV supply chain.
- Much of the worldwide production is either sourced from or processed in China.
- In an EV, the rare earth elements are used in the motors and not the batteries.
- Rare earths are typically mined by digging vast open pits, which can contaminate the environment and disrupt ecosystems.
- When poorly regulated, mining can produce waste-water ponds filled with acids, heavy metals, and radioactive material that might seep into groundwater.
Niobium: for alloys
- Niobium is a silvery metal with a layer of oxide on its surface.
- It makes it resistant to corrosion.
- It is used in alloys, including stainless steel, to improve their strength, particularly at low temperatures.
- Alloys containing niobium are used in jet engines, beams and girders for buildings, and oil and gas pipelines.
- Given its superconducting properties, it is also used in magnets for particle accelerators and MRI scanners.
- The main source of this element is the mineral columbite.
It is found in countries such as Canada, Brazil, Australia, and Nigeria.
AGRI INSTITUTE TO BE NAMED AFTER MS SWAMINATHAN
- Thanjavur-based Agricultural College and Research Institute will be renamed after the iconic scientist, Dr MS Swaminathan.
- It will be called as Dr MS Swaminathan Agricultural College and Research Institute.
- An award will be instituted in Swaminathan’s name to honour toppers in plant propagation and genetics in the Tamil Nadu Agricultural University.
- Dr M S Swaminathan is recipient of a number of national and international recognitions including Padma Vibushan and Magsaysay Award.
PROTECTED AGRICULTURAL ZONE
- The Tamil Nadu assembly adopted a Bill to amend the Tamil Nadu Protected Agricultural Zone Development Act to declare Mayiladuthrai as one of the districts in the protected agricultural zone in the Cauvery delta.
- The Bill also includes ‘animal husbandry and inland fishery’ within the ambit of the term ‘agriculture’.
- The State government had enacted the Tamil Nadu Protected Agricultural Zone Development Act, 2020.
- The act bans new industrial activities in the protected agricultural zone.
- This includes exploration, drilling and extraction of oil and natural gas including coal-bed methane, shale gas and other similar hydrocarbons and ship breaking industry.
- The protected zone includes Thanjavur, Thiruvarur and Nagapattinam districts and some blocks in Cuddalore and Pudukottai districts.