12 & 13 , March 2017

1.Chennai team taps AI to read Indus Script
Source: The Hindu

A Chennai-based team of scientists has built a programme which eases the process of reading and classifying text and symbols on the artefacts carved in the Indus script.

The team have developed a “deep-learning” algorithm that can read the Indus script from images of artefacts such as a seal or pottery that contain Indus writing.

Scanning the image, the algorithm smartly “recognises” the region of the image that contains the script, breaks it up into individual graphemes (the term in linguistics for the smallest unit of the script) and finally identifies these using data from a standard corpus. In linguistics the term corpus is used to describe a large collection of texts which, among other things, are used to carry out statistical analyses of languages.12THSCIDEEPLEARNpnga

The process consists of three phases: In the first phase, the input images are broken into sub-images that contain graphemes only, by trimming out the areas that do not have graphemes. The grapheme-containing areas are further trimmed into single-grapheme pieces. Lastly, each of these single graphemes is classified to match one of the 417 symbols discovered so far in the Indus script.

The algorithms come under a class of artificial intelligence called “deep neural networks.” These have been a major part of the game-changing technology behind self-driving cars and Go-playing bots that surpass human performance. The deep neural network mimics the working of the mammalian visual cortex, known as convolutional neural network (CNN), which breaks the field into overlapping regions. The features found in each region are hierarchically combined by the network to build a composite understanding of the whole picture.

The Indus valley script is much older than the Prakrit and Tamil-Brahmi scripts. However, unlike the latter two, it has not yet been deciphered because a bilingual text has not yet been found.


2.The Janani Suraksha Yojana-On track, but more needed
Source: The Hindu

Issue: Institutional deliveries are up in India, but breastfeeding within the first hour of birth needs to keep pace.

Despite institutional delivery being as high as nearly 79% nationally, the number of children in India breastfed within one hour of birth is less than 42% — near 43% in urban areas and 41% in rural India, according to the National Family Health Survey 4 (NFHS-4) data released a few days ago.

The Janani Suraksha Yojana — cash incentives to pregnant women to attend antenatal clinics and opt for institutional deliveries — has led to a sharp increase in institutional delivery (from 39% in 2005-06 to 79% in 2015-16) and near doubling of children breastfed within one hour of birth in the last 10 years.

Breastfeeding babies soon after birth can prevent a significant number of neonatal deaths — about 20% newborn deaths and 13% under-five deaths.

The government launched the MAA — Mother’s Absolute Affection. Under the programme, there are special efforts to create community awareness and promotion of breastfeeding, capacity building and skilling of healthcare providers at all delivery points in the country.


3.Bangladesh declares March 25 as ‘Genocide Day’
Source: The Hindu

  • Bangladesh unanimously adopted a resolution declaring March 25 as Genocide Day, in remembrance of the atrocities carried out by the Pakistani Army in the night of March 25, 1971
  • Condemning the denial of history by Pakistan, the Bangladeshi legislators passed the motion unanimously after a marathon seven-hour discussion on Saturday night

Operation Searchlight: The Pakistan Army swooped on unarmed civilians on the night of March 25, 1971, to crush the Bengali rebellion following refusal by the military leadership to accept the election results of 1970 in which the Awami League got thumping majority. The operation began in the first hours of March 25 in Dhaka.


4.SC cracks down on judicial delays
Source: The Hindu

Supreme Court:

  • Non-performers and “dead-wood” among judges should be weeded out as the judicial service is not just a job to be done with but a mission to serve the cause of justice
  • Highlighted the importance of having men and women with leadership qualities among the subordinate judiciary, which has over two crore pending cases
  • Subordinate judiciary “cannot rest in a state of helplessness” as litigants wait in snaking, ever-longer queues for their turn
  • Public interest is above individual interest.Posting of suitable officers in key leadership positions of Session Judges and Chief Judicial Magistrates may perhaps go a long way in dealing with the situation


  • In a slew of guidelines for High Courts, the Supreme Court fixed a time-bound hearing and disposing of criminal cases, especially in bail applications
  • Bail applications be decided in a week by subordinate courts, while High Courts do the same within a month
  • Magisterial trials, where accused are in custody, should normally be concluded within six months and sessions trials, with accused in custody, within two years

5 year pendency:

  • It asked the High Courts to ensure that subordinate courts dispose of cases pending for five years by the end of 2017
  • In case of High Courts, the judgment said criminal appeals, where accused are in custody for more than five years, should be concluded at the earliest

Monitor actions:

  • High Courts should monitor action plans for lower courts and keep a constant watch
  • The timelines prescribed in the judgment would be used to assess judicial performance in the annual confidential reports of judicial officers

Human rights:

  • 50% of the population in jails consists of undertrial prisoners and long periods of incarceration without bail or trial is human rights violation
  • Those undertrials who have already completed their entire period of their sentence had they been found guilty should be released on personal bond
  • Liberal adjournments of cases must be avoided and witnesses once produced must be examined on consecutive dates
  • It held that suspension of work or strikes were “clearly illegal and it is high time that the legal fraternity realises its duty to the society which is the foremost”


5.India to lose presence on U.N. scientific panel
Source: The Hindu

 For the first time in two decades, India will not have a member in a prestigious U.N. scientific body-Commission on Legal Continental Shelf (CLCS)

India has decided not to field a candidate for the upcoming election to CLCS

This comes in the backdrop when India is strenuously lobbying for seats in global high tables such as the United Nations Security Council and the Nuclear Suppliers Group

The process:

  • The Ministry of External Affairs (MEA), which formally nominates Indian candidates, chose to nominate a person to another U.N. body, called the International Tribunal for the Law of the Sea (ITLOS)
  • The Ministry of Earth Sciences (MoES) is the nodal Ministry of the Government for the Law of the Sea-related issues
  • However, the MEA went on to nominate a retired Joint Secretary-level officer for ITLOS membership, whereas the MoES candidate for CLCS was not agreed to by the MEA
  • Despite several representations by the MoES Secretary at various levels, the issue was not addressed

CLCS and the importance of membership:

  • It is a 21 person body and part of the United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea (UNCLOS)
  • Decides what portions of the seabed can be exclusively mined for natural resources such as oil, precious metals and minerals
  • The CLCS has a five-year tenure and elections are due in June for the 2017-2022 term

Seabed demarcation:

  • Apart from signalling prestige, a membership of the commission allows India to gauge the scientific strength of claims by countries to parts of the seabed that, like territorial waters, are often hard to demarcate
  • Such information is privy only to participants
  • India has had disputes with several neighbours — Pakistan, Bangladesh and Sri Lanka — over how the continental shelf (the seabed under the Arabian Sea, the Indian Ocean and the Bay of Bengal) can be fairly distributed
  • India has huge interest in CLCS and applied for extending the Exclusive Economic Zone (EEZ) up to 350 nautical miles from the existing 200 nautical miles
  • India’s submission to CLCS will likely come up for scrutiny later this year, and Sri Lanka, which has claimed a larger area than India, will be examined first
  • India’s application number is 48, while Sri Lanka’s is 43
  • The presence of an Indian at this strategic period is essential and in national interest


  • Not having an Indian in this group would mean that China and Pakistan would likely “grab” two of the five seats allotted to the so-called Asia-Pacific group
  • Fielding candidates for ITLOS and CLCS would require India’s Permanent Commission to The United Nations, which coordinates the process, to canvass for votes for both positions and could reduce future “diplomatic leverage”
  • It’s also one of those rare occasions when there’s been a vacancy in both ITLOS and CLCS…and maybe the MEA deems ITLOS more important
  • In CLCS, the sitting members from the Asia-Pacific region are China, Japan, South Korea, Pakistan, Malaysia and India, and all countries, except India, are learnt to be sending candidates for both posts
  • While ITLOS is a judge position and the appointee is paid annual wages, there is no remuneration for the sitting CLCS member
  • India became a signatory to the UNCLOS in 1982 and has had continuous representation in CLCS, ITLOS and the International Seabed Authority (ISA) since their inception in 1997, 1996 and 1994 respectively


6.What is hyperloop? When can we see it?
Source: The Hindu

The term hyperloop has suddenly taken the India by storm, with everybody having an opinion on the best route in India to deploy the futuristic transportation system.

What is a hyperloop?

It was entrepreneur Elon Musk who came up with the idea for a hyperloop.


It is a system where magnetically levitating capsules are sent at high speeds through low-pressure tubes, thereby potentially reducing transport time — of people and goods — by more than 80%.

Such a system is now being developed to connect Abu Dhabi and Dubai.

But why is India so excited about it?

Hyperloop One, the company developing the technology, has begun an online vote for people to suggest and choose the best route to deploy a hyperloop in their countries. It said the Hyperloop One Global challenge received 2,600 registrants from 90 countries. It then selected 35 semi-finalists from across the world, five of which are from India.

The route choices for India are:

  • Bengaluru-to-Chennai (334 km in 20 minutes)56595323.cms
  • Bengaluru-to-Thiruvananthapuram (736 km in 41 minutes)
  • Delhi-to-Mumbai via Jaipur and Indore (1,317 km in 55 minutes)
  • Mumbai-to-Chennai via Bengaluru (1,102 km in 50 minutes)
  • Bengaluru to Chennai (334 km in 20 minutes).

When can we see it in action in India?

Hyperloop One has announced its intentions to begin operations in India by 2021. There are also reports that the company has already begun talks with the Indian government to see how to make this possible, and how to combine this with the Make in India mission by sourcing the necessary material locally.

Any pros and cons?

  • If approved, such plans would enable India to jump forward in its transport infrastructure and could revolutionise the way business is conducted.
  • Businesses are likely to pay for the premium charged to be able to schedule meetings and presentations cities apart, all in the same day. And this doesn’t even factor in the potential benefits to the goods transport industry.
  • But in a country like India, the flip side of such a system is also clearly visible. At a time when railway infrastructure is abysmal and the airline industry is priced beyond the abilities of most of the populace, can India really afford another transport system only to be used by businesses and businesspeople?


7.Non-lapsable fund sought for arms buy
Source: The Hindu


  • Defence procurement and acquisition is a complicated process, involving long gestation periods.
  • Funds allocated for capital acquisition in a particular financial year are not necessarily consumed in that year and ultimately have to be surrendered by the Defence Ministry
  • A major defence purchase often takes years to complete, but the budget allocation lapses at the end of the financial year
  • As a result, the Ministry of Defence is often forced to return money meant for capital acquisition

Solution proposed:

To overcome this, the MoD has sent a proposal to the Ministry of Finance proposing the setting up of a ‘Non-lapsable Capital Fund Account’

Review of stand:

The Parliamentary Standing Committee on Defence observed in its report that it is glad to note that the Ministry of Defence has now reviewed its stated position and has admitted that the utility of creation of a non-lapsable rollover fund for capital


Importance of such a fund cannot be completely negated as the same would help in eliminating the prevailing uncertainty in providing adequate funds for various defence capability development and infrastructure projects


8.When butterflies do not flit about in large numbers

Source: The Hindu

  • The Wynter-Blyth Association, which undertook a survey of butterfly species in seven different locations in the Nilgiris and the foothills. More than 88 species of butterflies were seen and recorded
  • The survey was undertaken as part of the ‘National Butterfly Trail Day’ — an initiative of the National Butterfly Club in Mumbai — the first time such an initiative had been taken up nationwide.
  • Issue : However very few butterflies were seen this year
  • Reasons: The lack of rainfall, combined with the fact that there has been little or no migration of butterfly species between the Eastern and Western Ghats
  • Indicators: The presence of butterflies indicates the plant diversity of a particular place. Butterflies are key indicators of the health of the local ecosystem, and a lot can be gauged about the state of the local environment from their presence, or indeed their absence


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