Daily Current Affairs for 31th January 2023

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Polar Vertex

Why in News?

It has been a cold January in Asia from China, Japan, and the Korean Peninsula where heavy snow and blizzards temporarily shut down highways, to unusually chilly weather across South Asia,including many parts of India.

Key Highlights

  • Asia’s extreme cold is largely the result of the so-called ‘polar vortex’.
  • Theterm refers to an expanse of cold air that generally circles the Arctic but occasionally shifts south from NorthPole.
  • The polar vortex is held in place by the Earth’s rotation and temperature differences between the Arctic and midlatitude.
  • When those variations in temperatures grow, the polar vortex can shift south.
  • This month, the polar vortex brought Arctic air to Central Asia before slowly moving eastward.
  • Its southward bulge is accompanied by a shift in the jet stream, a ring of strong wind that blows from west to east along the vortex’s edges.

What is Polar Vortex?

  • The polar vortex is a large area of low pressure and cold air surrounding both of the Earth’s poles.
  • It always exists near the poles.
  • It weakens in summer and strengthens in winter.
  • It is denoted by the word “vortex” because it spins counter-clockwise, just like a hurricane does.
  • The counter-clockwise flow of air helps keeping the colder air near the Poles.
  • The Northern hemisphere polar vortex is stronger than the southern hemisphere because of greater variability in land and sea surface temperatures.

Formation of Polar Vortex

  • The polar vortex forms when a strong temperature gradient forms between low and high latitudes. This happens particularly in winter when the pole gets much less sunlight than areas closer to the equator.
  • The temperature gradient and the Coriolis Force, caused by the Earth’s rotation, produces the prevailing ‘westerlies’ in the mid-latitudes, which are stronger in winter because of the stronger temperature gradients.
  • A jet forms to balance this temperature difference. This jet is what we call the polar vortex or the polar night jet.
  • At the North Pole, greater variability in land and sea surface temperatures and elevations result in more waves propagating into the stratosphere, and a weaker and less stable stratospheric polar vortex than at the South Pole.

How possibly could the Polar Vortex affect the mid latitude regions?

Usually, the polar vortex remains strong and compact, meaning the mass of frigid air stays at the North Pole. But sometimes it weakens, like a wobbling top, and expands to influence the jet stream, an area of fast-moving air high in the atmosphere that surrounds the polar vortex. Once the jet stream is impacted, the cold polar air finds its way towards the mid-latitude regions.


Death sentences

Why in News?

At the end of last year, 539 prisoners were on death row in India, the highest since at least 2016. This is according to the Annual Statistics Report 2022, published by Project 39A, a study conducted by the National Law University Delhi.

Key Point

  • One major factor for the peak is that in 2022, trial courts imposed 165 death sentences, the highest in over two decades.
  • National Crime Record Bureau (NCRB) has released Prison Statistics in India (PSI) Report, 2021.

About PSI Report 2021

  • PSI is one of the 3 annual flagship reports by the NCRB.
  • It provides data like numbers and available capacity of different types of jails, strength and training of jail officials and prison budget and expenditure.

Key findings of the report

  • High Undertrials: Nearly 8 out of every 10 prisoners in Indian jails are awaiting trial.
    • Uttar Pradesh jails record the highest number of undertrials followed by Bihar and Maharashtra.
  • Disadvantaged sections prisoners: 67.5% inmates belong to SC, ST and OBC communities.
    • 80% of undertrials are from disadvantaged sections of society.
  • Understaffed: The sanctioned strength of jail-staff was 89,479 while the actual strength was 64,449 as due to vacancies not being filled up.
  • Budget & infrastructure: The sanctioned budget for the year 2021-22 has increased by 13.0% in comparison to the year 2020- 21.
  • Measures have been taken to improve the infrastructure of the prisons like construction and renovation of jails, quarters for jail staff, installing CCTV cameras, etc.

Reason for rise in Death Sentence

  • Rise in death row inmates was the low disposal rate of death penalty cases by the appellate courts.
  • In 2022, from the 67 decided cases by the High Courts involving 101 prisoners, three prisoners had their death sentences confirmed, 48 prisoners saw their death sentences commuted to life imprisonment, 43 were acquitted of all charges and six had their cases remitted to the trial court.
  • The Court enhanced the sentence imposed by the trial court from life imprisonment to the death penalty.

Number of prisoners on death row in India at the end of every year

  • The sudden rise in 2022 can be directly attributed to a special ruling in February in a case related to the 2008 Ahmedabad serial blasts which left 56 people dead and over 200 injured.
  • The court awarded the death penalty to as many as 38 convicts, and sentenced 11 others to life imprisonment until death.
  • In total, Gujarat courts imposed 51 death sentences in 2022, the highest among all the States.
  • This is also a huge rise from the average of 2.5 death sentences given by the State’s trial courts between 2016 and 2021.

Number of death sentences imposed by trial courts in 2022 and the average death sentences imposed between 2016 and 2021

  • Uttar Pradesh and Jharkhand recorded significant increases in death sentences imposed by trial courts in 2022.
  • Number of death sentences given by trial courts may decrease owing to a significant initiative on capital punishment taken by the Supreme Court in September last year.

Share of death penalty cases confirmed, commuted, acquitted and remitted each year by the High Court

  • The share of cases confirmed by the High Courts was very low in most years.
  • In the 11 cases decided by the Supreme Court involving 15 prisoners, five prisoners were acquitted of all charges , the death sentences for eight were commuted to life imprisonment; and the death penalty was confirmed for two.

Share of death penalty cases confirmed, commuted, acquitted and remitted each year by the Supreme Court

  • The share of cases confirmed by the Supreme Court was low in most years.

Way forward

  • The Constitution Bench may make it necessary for the trial court to get to know the accused better before passing the sentence.
  • Courts may draft the help of psychologists and behavioural experts
  • A study into the childhood experiences and upbringing of the accused, mental health history in the family and the likelihood of traumatic past experiences and other social and cultural factors may be mandated to be part of the sentencing process.


Wave of tech layoffs

Why in News?

New York ­headquartered International Business Machines Corp. (IBM) became the latest to join the list of tech companies that have made large­ scale layoffs since late 2022.

Who has made layoffs?

  • In 2022, the tech sector shed more than 1,50,000 employees, with several more job cuts (over 40,000) being announced since the start of the new year.
  • Four of the biggest tech companies in the U.S. Google Parent Alphabet, Amazon, Microsoft, and Facebook­ owner Meta accounted for 51,000 of the total tech layoffs announced in the last few months.
  • According to consulting firm Challenger, Gray & Christmas Inc.Tech sector layoffs in 2022 were up 649% compared to the previous year.
  • Facebook ­owner Meta Platforms Inc. announced in November last year that it cut more than 11,000 jobs or 13% of its workforce.
  • Bill Gates ­founded tech corporation Microsoft headquartered in Washington announced that it would cut 10,000 jobs or less than 5% of its headcount by March 2023, taking a $1.2 billion charge to its earnings.
  • Amazon, America’s second ­largest private employer after Walmart, said it would cut 18,000 jobs or 6% of its workforce in company ­wide layoffs.
  • Alphabet, the parent company of Google, said that it would be cutting 12,000 jobs or 6% of its workforce.
  • Music streaming platform Spotify’s CEO Daniel Ek disclosed in an allstaff memo that the company would cut 6% of its global workforce, laying off approximately 600 people.
  • San Francisco­ headquartered tech company Salesforce announced that it was laying off 10% of its jobs and closing down some offices.
  • Tesla CEO Elon Musk’s $44 billion takeover, social media company Twitter Inc. made aggressive job cuts, laying off half of its workforce or about 3,700 employees in various departments like communications, content curation, product, and engineering.
  • Networking and collaboration solutions firm Cisco said that it would lay off 5% of its workforce as part of a restructuring.
  • Computer maker HP also said it would cut up to 6,000 jobs by the end of the fiscal year 2025.

Do they affect Indian professionals?

  • Between 30% to 40% of those laid off are Indian IT professionals, a significant number of whom are on H­1B and L1 visas.
  • The H­1B visa is a non immigrant visa that allows U.S. companies to employ foreign workers in special occupations that require theoretical or technical expertise.
    • Technology companies depend on it to hire tens of thousands of employees each year from countries like India and China.
  • A sizeable number of them are now scrambling for options to stay in the U.S. in order to find a new job before their work visas expire

How huge are these Big Tech layoffs?

  • The advent of the coronavirus pandemic brought along rapid growth for the tech sector as work became increasingly remote, e­commerce grew amid lockdowns across the world, and housebound people spent more and more time online.
  • Riding on the accelerating growth, Big Tech companies and even some small ones went on a hiring spree from the start of the pandemic.
  • Amazon’s headcount increased from 7,98,000 in 2019 to a whopping 15,44,000 in 2022, before the recent layoffs, doubling its employee base.
  • During the same period, Microsoft went from 1,44,000 employees to 2,21,000.
  • Google parent Alphabet went from a headcount of 1,18,899 to 1,86,779.
  • Meta, meanwhile, more than doubled its headcount, from close to 45,000 to over 87,000.
  • An analysis by The Washington Post notes that tech companies who hired aggressively in the pandemic, probably envisioning rapid growth to be the “new normal”, are now trying to shrink headcounts back to where they would have been if not for the hypergrowth offered by the pandemic.
  • This was evident in the introspective notes struck by company CEOs while announcing layoffs, with a lot of them admitting that they might have over­hired.
  • Apple, which hired modestly in the last couple of years, remains an outlier, and has held off on job cuts so far.
  • Twitter,, saw layoffs in the aftermath of Mr. Musk’s turbulent takeover, who was certain that the platform could run without half of its earlier workforce.
  • Meta CEO,who doubled his workforce in the pandemic years, for instance, said he was wrong to assess that revenue gains during that period were “permanent acceleration”.
  • He said in a message to employees: “Not only has online commerce returned to prior trends, but the macroeconomic downturn, increased competition, and ads signal loss have caused our revenue to be much lower than I’d expected. I got this wrong, and I take responsibility for that.” Alphabet and Google CEO said, “Over the past two years we’ve seen periods of dramatic growth. To match and fuel that growth, we hired for a different economic reality than the one we face today.
  • Amazon CEO said in a public staff note, that this time around, annual planning had “been more difficult given the uncertain economy and that we’ve hired rapidly over the last several years”. A Reuters analysis showed that even if all tech firms were to cut 5% of their workforce, tech employment would still be at 4.2 million (nearly 5% larger than it was at the end of 2019).

Do the layoffs signify trouble for the tech industry?

  • Growth has indeed slowed down from pandemic levels, as pointed out by the CEOs.
  • Analysts project that the five Big Tech companies, including Apple, are headed to report dismal profits for the October to December (2022) period.
  • A Reuters analysis states that Amazon is expected to report that earnings fell 38% and that revenue growth is at its slowest pace in more than 22 years.
  • Meta, meanwhile, could take a steep 42% plunge in profits.
  • These tech companies still remain huge and profitable.
  • Microsoft reported a more than $16 billion profit in the quarter ending December 2022, compared to a profit of about $11.6 billion in the same period in 2019.
  • Meta, while reporting a 52% decline from a year earlier,earned a profit of $4.4 billion in the quarter ending September 2022.
  • Besides, analysts told NPR that the job cuts are a form of belt­tightening “meant to send a message to shareholders at a time when tech companies have seen their stock prices plunge”. Alphabet’s shares, for instance, had fallen 30% in the past 12 months, in the backdrop of an overall 24% slump in the larger tech industry.
  • The firms were showing investors that they are “being prudent’, and want to come back to a growth path after overzealous spending.
  • Mr. Pichai’s remarks that it was time for the company to “sharpen its focus”, reengineer its cost base and direct talent and capital to its “highest priorities”.
  • Meta is also looking to rein in costs after its metaverse investments failed to gather steam. Moreover, these companies have also made significant investments in the recent past, especially in Artificial Intelligence driven tech.
  • For instance, while cloud revenues have seen a dip, Microsoft is eying an extension to its $1­billion stake in OpenAI, the startup behind the viral new chatbot ChatGPT.
  • It is also looking to acquire video game firm Activision Blizzard, which would then bring along a 10,000­strong workforce.
  • Smaller startups, meanwhile, who also capitalized on the pandemic digital boom, are trying to rein in costs while facing reluctance from venture capitalists to bet on their projects.

What do the layoffs say about the larger U.S. job market?

  • The tech sector is seeing job cuts, labour department data shows the larger U.S. job market is still robust, with the number of Americans filing new claims for unemployment benefits falling. Economist said that the tech layoffs are not a “bellwether of the entire labour market”.
  • Analysts point out that tech companies represent about 2% of all employment in the country, compared to larger sectors which are still hiring.
  • The labour market has remained resilient despite the Fed’s aggressive measures to bring down inflation.


Chamundi Hills

Why in News?

The citizens’ committee to save Chamundi Hills and its environment has resolved to press for clearance from the heritage committee before the implementation of development works at the hill top under Pilgrimage Rejuvenation and Spiritual Heritage Augmentation Drive (PRASHAD).

About Chamundi Hills:

  • It is located in the city of Mysore, Karnataka.
  • The average elevation is 1,060 meters.
  • The famous Sri Chamundeshwari Temple dedicated to the Hindu goddess Chamundeshwari is situated on top of Chamundi hills.
  • In the earlier days, the Hill was identified as ‘Mahabaladri’ in honour of God Shiva who resides in the ‘Mahabaleswara Temple’. This is the oldest temple on the hills.
  • These hills have been mentioned in the ancient Hindu scriptures such as ‘Skanda Purana’.

Pilgrimage Rejuvenation and Spiritual Heritage Augmentation Drive (PRASHAD)

  • Introduced in 2015, it focuses on identifying and developing the pilgrim sites across the country to enrich the religious tourism experience.
  • It was launched by Union Ministry of Tourism.
  • It aims at integrated development of pilgrimage destinations in planned, prioritised and sustainable manner to provide complete religious tourism experience.


Amrit Udyan

Why in News?

MughalGarden at Rashtrapati Bhavan was renamed ‘Amrit Udyan’ , in keeping with the theme of Azadi ka Amrit Mahotsav.

Mughal style

  • The gardens drew their inspiration from the Mughal gardens of Jammu & Kashmir, the gardens around the Taj Mahal, and the miniature paintings of India and Persia,says the Rashtrapati Bhavan website.
  • Their architecture was based on the gardens of medieval Persia, particularly the charbagh (literally four gardens) structure, which Babur, the founder of the Mughal empire, described in his memoir Baburnama as his personal favorite.
  • The charbagh style was intended to create a representation of perfect harmony with the elements of nature.
  • Typical features of Mughal gardens in present-day India, Pakistan, Afghanistan, and Bangladesh include pools, fountains, and canals with flowing water.

Lutyens’ imprint

  • Edwin Lutyens had submitted the plan of the gardens, a grid of parterres, water channels,and walkways behind the erstwhile Viceroy’s palace in 1917.
  • He wrote to his wife that year that the Government of India had “commanded the Mughal garden which means terraces, waterways, sunk courts,high walls,etc.
  • It’s too Alice in Wonderland is hforwords.”(SwapnaLiddle: Connaught Place and the Making of New Delhi, 2018).
  • With the Mughal canals and terraces, Lutyens fused elements of European flower gardens, flower beds, lawns and private hedges.
  • Plantings started in 1928-29, with the Director of Horticulture, William Mustoe,collaborating closely with Lutyens.Liddle writes that Sarojini Naidu had suggested the name ‘Garden of Unity’ for the garden, but it was never adopted, and the garden came to be known simply as the Mughal Garden.

By the Presidents

  • The gardens inRashtrapatiBhavan also originally included the East Lawn,Central Lawn, Long Garden, and Circular Garden.
  • More gardens were developed during the terms of successive Presidents, especially Dr.APJ Abdul Kalam and Ram NathKovind such as Herbal-I, Herbal-II, Tactile Garden for the visually challenged, Bonsai Garden, and Arogya Vanam.
  • President R Venkataraman had added a cactus garden as well. “On the occasion of the celebrations of 75 years of Independence as‘Azadi kaAmrit Mahotsav’, the President of India is pleased to give a common name to the Rashtrapati Bhavan gardens as ‘Amrit Udyan’, the President’s Secretariat said in an official release.

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