The First Forum is an initiative that focuses on covering the latest happenings in a brief format. This is in lieu of the importance of knowledge about current happenings in this fast-changing world.
In the Forty-Sixth Edition of The First Forum we would be covering the following topics:
1. Politics
2. Society and Culture 
3. Science and Technology

(By Ankita Punjani, Ayush Harlalka, and Divyansh Gupta)


China Security Law to Override the Hong Kong Legal system
A controversial national security law imposed by China on Hong Kong has come into force, punishing crimes of secession, sedition, and collusion with foreign forces with terms of up to life in prison. Chinese President Xi Jinping signed the law some 40 days after the introduction of the bill by the central government in Beijing. The new suite of powers radically restructures the relationship between Beijing and Hong Kong, toppling the legal firewall that has existed between the city’s independent judiciary and the mainland’s party-controlled courts. Read MoreIt empowers China to set up a national security agency in the city, staffed by officials who are not bound by local laws when carrying out duties. It outlaws four types of national security crimes: subversion, secession, terrorism, and colluding with foreign forces to endanger national security. The text also specified that those who destroy government facilities and utilities would be considered subversive. Damaging public transportation facilities and arson would constitute acts of “terrorism”. Any person taking part in secessionist activities, whether organizing or participating, will violate the law regardless of whether violence is used. The law also said certain national security cases could be held behind closed doors without juries in Hong Kong if they contained state secrets, although the verdict and eventual judgments would be made public. China first announced its plan to impose the legislation on the eve of the National People’s Congress last month, after nearly a year of protests in the territory that began over a now-withdrawn extradition bill with the mainland.

Facebook to Label All Voting-Related Posts in the new policy
Facebook Inc. will begin labeling all posts that include information about voting with a link encouraging users to get facts from the company’s new voting hub, and expanding its prohibition on hate speech in advertising. The new policy on voting announced Friday by Chief Executive Officer Mark Zuckerberg means Facebook will label future posts from U.S President Donald Trump, and everyone else, about mail-in ballots or other voting-related issues, regardless of whether they contain misleading information. Read MoreFacebook will funnel users to a voting information hub meant to provide facts from state authorities. Users will also be able to register to vote using this hub. Facebook has set a goal of helping register 4 million new voters before the 2020 U.S. election in November. The social network has been criticized in recent weeks for allowing false or misleading voting information, including posts from Trump about mail-in ballots that Twitter Inc. flagged as inaccurate. Zuckerberg has said repeatedly that he doesn’t want to remove posts from elected officials, but would rather let users make up their minds about the content. A number of civil rights groups, including the NAACP and the Anti-Defamation League, are among those unhappy with Facebook’s history of allowing posts they say encourage voter suppression. Those groups have organized a Facebook advertising boycott for the month of July, and a number of well-known consumer brands are participating, including outdoor gear company Patagonia, Verizon Communications Inc., and Unilever.

Imran Khan accuses India for the attack on Pakistan Stock Exchange in Karachi
Four attackers armed with assault rifles and grenades attacked the Pakistan Stock Exchange in Karachi killing two guards, a policeman, and injuring several others before being killed by the security forces. Baloch Liberation Army (BLA), the separatist group has taken the responsibility of the attack. BLA is an insurgent group fighting in the Balochistan Province. BLA has targeted Chinese workers and infrastructure projects in recent times. Read MoreHowever, Pakistani Prime Minister Imran Khan has accused India of the attack. “There’s no doubt that India is behind the attack”, said the Prime Minister, addressing the parliament. He further claimed that his cabinet was well aware of a possible terror attack and all agencies were on high alert for the past couple of months. Indian Ministry of External Affairs has rejected the “absurd comments” by the Foreign Minister of Pakistan and asked Pakistan not to shift the blame of domestic issues on India.

After India, China opens border dispute with Bhutan, objects funding for Sakteng Wildlife Sanctuary
Amid India-China tensions near LAC, China working on its expansionist agenda has now triggered a border dispute with Indian allay Bhutan over Sakteng Wildlife Sanctuary claiming it as a disputed territory between both nations. During the virtual meeting of the Global Environment Facility (GEF), China objected grant for Sakteng Wildlife Sanctuary in eastern Bhutan’s Trashigang district claiming it is a disputed territory. Read MoreChina has been attempting to alter the status quo in the East China Sea and the South China Sea along with Ladakh and Arunachal Pradesh amid the ongoing Wuhan originated pandemic. However, the majority of council members were in favor of Bhutan and the work program was adopted despite Chinese objection. The Bhutan government has issued a formal letter opposing anyone questioning the sovereignty of Bhutan and its territory of the wildlife sanctuary. The council approved the grant and barely added a footnote saying “China abstains and does not join the Council decision on this project”.

Society and Culture

HC extends time till Aug 11 for giving suggestions to draft EIA 2020
The Delhi High Court on Tuesday extended till August 11, 2020, the time granted to the public for giving an opinion on the controversial 2020 draft Environment Impact Assessment (EIA) notification. A Bench also questioned the Centre over the publication of the notification in only two languages. The draft EIA notification 2020 has several substantive new features and supersedes the EIA Notification 2006. It proposes significant changes to the existing regime, including removing public consultation entirely in certain instances, reducing the time for public consultation from 45 days to 40 days, and allowing post facto approvals for projects. Read MoreThe public hearing process is considered a key component of the EIA. An organization has to submit a detailed plan, as part of the EIA process, that details the nature, need, potential impact, and remedial measures, if their proposed infrastructure project threatens to significantly impact a region. As part of the process, representatives of the company, State and district administration representatives must discuss the environmental impact management plan, record objections from residents of the region and submit these to a committee of experts, constituted by the Union Environment Ministry, who will then take a holistic view of the comments and the management plan and decide on whether to accord clearance to the project. While expert committees constituted by the MoEF appraise projects, those below a certain size are appraised by State-level authorities called the State Environment Impact Assessment Authority (SEIAA).

World Bank approves fresh funds for Ganga cleaning mission
The World Bank has approved a five-year loan to the Namami Gange project worth ₹3,000 crores to develop and improve infrastructure projects to abate pollution in the river basin. The Namami Ganga or the National Mission for Clean Ganga (NMCG) has already received ₹4,535 crores from the World Bank until December 2021 as part of the first phase of the National Ganga River Basin Project. So far, 313 projects worth ₹25,000 crores have been sanctioned under the mission. Read MoreIn the second phase, the loan would fund ₹1,134 crores for three new ‘Hybrid Annuity Projects’ in Agra, Meerut, and Saharanpur for the tributaries of the Ganga. Another ₹1,209 crores is provided for the ongoing DBOT (Design, Build, Operate and Transfer) projects in Buxar, Munger, Begusarai. The first World Bank project helped build critical sewage infrastructure in 20 pollution hotspots along the river, and this project will help scale this up to the tributaries. It will also help the government strengthen the institutions needed to manage a river basin as large and complex as the Ganga Basin.

India bans 59 Chinese apps including TikTok, citing security concerns amid bilateral tensions
The Government of India (GoI) has decided to ban 59 Chinese mobile applications with the likes of Tiktok, WeChat, CamScanner, and ShareIt. This comes amid the rising tensions with China along the Line of Actual Control (LAC). According to GoI, this step has been taken to counter the threat posed by Chinese applications to the security, defence, public order, sovereignty, and integrity of the country. Read MoreThe ban has been imposed under Section 69A of the Information Technology Act. The government also cited several complaints about data of Indian users being accessed and transferred without authorization. The ban has affected millions of users across India, especially those who relied on these applications financially. Tiktok has denied sharing of any its data with the Chinese government. Few people regard this as a political move by the government. Chinese Foreign Ministry spokesperson Zhao Lijian said China is strongly concerned with India’s decision and is verifying the situation.

Unilever rebrands its skin-lightening cream Fair and Lovely drops the word “Fair”
Unilever has decided to drop the word fair and rebrand it’s cream Fair and lovely amid global protest against racial prejudice with the Black Lives Matter movement. This comes after Unilever has been criticized multiple times for promoting white skin tone and discriminating darker tones. Read MoreIt has decided to remove the words fair/fairness, white/whitening, light/lightening from its packaging, branding, and all kinds of marketing strategies. Unilever further stressed on celebrating skin glow rather than skin whitening and feature women of all skin tones in marketing to limit color-based discrimination. In recent times, leading Bollywood celebrities have been slammed for their hypocrisy in supporting “Black Lives Matter” and at the same time promoting light skin as a positive quality with Fair and Lovely.

Science and Technology

ESO telescope captures the disappearance of a massive star
Using the European Southern Observatory’s Very Large Telescope (VLT), astronomers have discovered the absence of an unstable massive star in a dwarf galaxy. Scientists think this could indicate that the star became less bright and partially obscured by dust. An alternative explanation is that the star collapsed into a black hole without producing a supernova. If this would be the first direct detection of such a monster star ending its life in this manner. Read MoreThe group first turned the ESPRESSO instrument toward the star in August 2019, using the VLT’s four 8-meter telescopes simultaneously. But they were unable to find the signs that previously pointed to the presence of the luminous star. A few months later, the group tried the X-shooter instrument, also on ESO’s VLT, and again found no traces of the star. Future studies are needed to confirm what fate befell this star. Planned to begin operations in 2025, ESO’s Extremely Large Telescope (ELT) will be capable of resolving stars in distant galaxies such as the Kinman Dwarf, helping to solve cosmic mysteries such as this one.

Researchers identify multiple molecules that shut down SARS-Cov-2 polymerase reaction
Researchers at Columbia Engineering and the University of Wisconsin-Madison have identified a library of molecules that shut down the SARS-CoV-2 polymerase reaction, a key step that establishes the potential of these molecules as lead compounds to be further modified for the development of COVID-19 therapeutics. Five of these molecules are already FDA-approved for use in the treatment of other viral infections including HIV/AIDS, cytomegalovirus, and hepatitis B. Read MoreIn an earlier set of experiments testing the properties of the polymerase of the coronavirus that causes SARS, the researchers found that the triphosphate of sofosbuvir was able to terminate the virus polymerase reaction. Using the molecular insight gained in these investigations, the team devised a strategy to select 11 nucleotide analogue molecules with a variety of structural and chemical features as potential inhibitors of the polymerases of SARS-CoV and SARS-CoV-2. Prodrug medications of five of these nucleotide analogues (Cidofovir, Abacavir, Valganciclovir/Ganciclovir, Stavudine, and Entecavir) that terminate the SARS-CoV-2 polymerase reaction are FDA-approved for the treatment of other viral infections and their safety profiles are well established. Once the potency of the drugs to inhibit viral replication in cell culture is demonstrated in future investigations, then the candidate molecules and their modified forms may be evaluated for the development of potential COVID-19 therapies.

No impact of COVID-19 on India’s first human space mission ‘Gaganyaan’, says Union Minister
Union Minister, Dr. Jitendra Singh said that the preparations are in the right direction and the COVID-19 pandemic will have no impact on the launch of India’s first human space mission ‘Gaganyaan’. Although training of four Indian astronauts in Russia was halted due to the pandemic, ISRO Chairman and scientific team believe that the launch will be as per schedule before the 75th Independence Anniversary of India in 2022. Read MoreA “cushion” period was already available both for the training program and launch deadline, which has been utilized and training of all the astronauts has now resumed. The Union Minister said that the Indian National Space Promotion and Authorization Centre will be established which will encourage private participation and enhance the capacity and resources of space missions. He also pointed out that Chandrayaan-3 Lunar mission is planned for launch in 2021 as of today.

The South Pole witnessed 3 times faster temperature rise than the rest of the world in the past 3 decades
The Amundsen-Scott station in the South Pole has recorded warming three times higher the global average from 1989 to 2018, according to a study published in the journal Nature Climate Change. This can have a huge impact as it will increase the melting of Antarctic ice sheets which will eventually, lead to a rise in global sea levels affecting marine life. Read MoreBetween 1989 and 2018, the South Pole warmed at an annual rate of 0.06 degrees Celsius, making it about 1.8 degrees in three decades. The main reason behind this is believed to be increasing sea surface temperatures in the tropics thousands of kilometers away. The warm air from the western tropical Pacific Ocean was being carried continuously to the South Pole. Apart from human greenhouse gas emission, researchers believe in the natural process behind the warming. Interdecadal Pacific Oscillation (IPO), a climate phenomenon, flipped from a positive to negative phase during the beginning of the century which warmed tropical pacific and ultimately the South Pole.

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