yourNEWSpage

Your ten minute read!

Weekly Page : April 13th – April 20th, 2021

The week that went by!

Hope you are holding up well and taking all the precautions

START


LAW, POLICY & GOVERNANCE



Daily snippets

1. Gyanvapi Masjid: HC moved against lower court’s order

  • The managing committee of the Gyanvapi mosque in Varanasi and the Uttar Pradesh Sunni Central Waqf Board have moved the Allahabad High Court to restrain the proceedings of a local court which recently directed the Archaeological Survey of India (ASI) to conduct a physical survey of the mosque compound adjacent to the Kashi Vishwanath temple.

  • The two bodies filed applications in the High Court in the petition in which they had challenged the maintainability of a civil suit pending before the Varanasi district court regarding the title dispute in the case.

2. Delhi HC rejects plea to relax age criterion for vaccine

  • The Delhi High Court rejected a plea seeking direction to the Centre and the city government to relax the age criterion for COVID-­19 vaccination and to allow more private sector participation in the drive. An HC Bench said the plea appeared to be filed for publicity rather than doing any good to the society.

3. SC calls for details on migrant children’s welfare

  • The Supreme Court ordered the State governments to provide information on – the number of migrant children in their respective territories; steps taken for their welfare amid a surge in the pandemic, and benefits given to them.

  • A Bench of Chief Justice of India Sharad A. Bobde and Justices A.S. Bopanna and V. Ramasubramanian directed the States to file their responses. The order came in a petition filed by the Child Rights Trust, represented by senior advocate Jayna Kothari.

4. State obliged to facilitate access to education, says Supreme Court

  • Access to professional education is not government largesse, the Supreme Court said in a judgment. Bench orders admission to two students in medical colleges. The students moved the top court for justice, saying their fundamental right to education was at the whims and fancies of the government authorities.

  • The court said the State has an “affirmative obligation to facilitate access to education at all levels”. The court referred to the vision envisaged by the Committee on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights.

5. FASTag does not violate right to free movement: Centre

  • The Union government has told the Bombay High Court that making FASTag mandatory for all vehicles plying on national highways does not breach a citizen's fundamental right to freedom of movement in any way. The Centre went on to say that the double user fees or penalties imposed on vehicles without FASTag on national highways were in accordance with the National Highway Fee (determination of rates and collection) Rules, 2008.

6. Shoma Sen files plea in HC to quash sanction to prosecute under UAPA

  • Shoma Sen, an accused in the Bhima­-Koregaon case, has filed a plea in the Bombay High Court to quash the sanction to prosecute her under the Unlawful Activities Prevention Act (UAPA). Ms. Sen’s petition also seeks her release on bail as the prosecution’s case is based on fraudulent evidence, which was allegedly fabricated and planted to implicate her.

7. ISRO case: SC asks CBI to look into panel report

  • The Supreme Court ordered the Central Bureau of Investigation (CBI) to look into Justice D.K. Jain Committee report on senior Kerala police officials who allegedly framed space scientist Nambi Narayanan in the Indian Space Research Organisation (ISRO) espionage case of 1994.

  • A Bench, led by Justice A.M. Khanwilkar said the report concerned a “serious matter” warranting a CBI probe. The Supreme Court barred the public circulation of the contents of the report. The Supreme Court copy would be placed in a sealed cover.

8. Centre to push judges’ appointments

  • The Union government offered to decide in three months the Supreme Court Collegium recommendations for appointment of judges in the High Courts pending with it for over half a year.

  • Appearing before a Special Bench of Chief Justice of India Sharad A. Bobde and Justices S.K. Kaul and Surya Kant, Attorney General K.K. Venugopal made a statement that the High Courts continued to have 220 vacancies because their collegiums had not forwarded any names. Mr. Venugopal said those collegiums should be put on a clock to forward their recommendations.

9. Shun vaccine nationalism, say scientists

  • The All India People’s Science Network (AIPSN), in a statement issued on handling the second wave of the COVID­-19 pandemic in India, said vaccine nationalism was a “wholly misconceived” idea and it must be given up. AIPSN says export restrictions undo the goodwill earned by India’ earlier.

10. Girls face more pressure during pandemic: study

  • Twenty-five girls from seven cities set out to interview their peers to record the impact of COVID­-19 on their lives and found that adolescent girls were grappling with an increased pressure to get married, spent longer hours on household chores, lacked tools to continue school education online, and reported an increase in gender based violence.

  • On concluding the field research, seven girl leaders finalised a list of priority recommendations which include establishing girl-friendly spaces within the community such as skills training centres and violence free spaces.

11. NIA declares ₹7 lakh bounty on Hidma

  • The National Investigation Agency (NIA) has declared a reward of ₹7 lakh for the arrest of Madvi Hidma, who heads the People’s Liberation Guerrilla Army (PLGA) Battalion 1 of the Maoists, a lethally armed and trained unit of the banned group active in southern Chhattisgarh, one of the worst areas affected by Left Wing Extremism.

12. Request for withdrawal of advisory on J&K reporting

  • The Editors Guild of India (EGI) called for the Kashmir police to withdraw its advisory against live reporting of encounters. The EGI said the security forces were trying to escape scrutiny about the events behind instances of violence. It said the Kashmir police advisory was draconian and undemocratic.

13. Regulate groundwater use in cricket fields

  • Following a plea seeking remedial action against the use of groundwater for the maintenance of cricket fields, the National Green Tribunal (NGT) has directed the Jal Shakti Ministry to consider regulating extraction of groundwater for the purpose. The NGT has asked the ministry to act with a sense of responsibility to reduce environmental footprint. The directions came on a plea moved by petitioner Haider Ali seeking action against the use of groundwater for maintaining cricket fields.

14. Copyright war

  • On April 5, the U.S. Supreme Court ruled in favour of Alphabet Inc.’s Google in a case where it was accused by Oracle of violating the country’s copyright law. The case, dubbed “the copyright case of the century”, began with Oracle’s charge in the San Francisco federal district court in 2010 that Google’s Android platform infringed upon its copyright in a platform called Java SE.

  • In the process of finally being decided by the U.S. Supreme Court in a 6­2 verdict, this case made its journey through a federal district court and an appellate court twice. The Supreme Court said Google’s copying was transformative, as it “copied only what was needed to allow programmers to work in a different computing environment” (which is Android) using a familiar programming language ( Java).

  • There is a view that the software industry is relieved that the Supreme Court differentiated between the type of code Google copied, i.e., software interface, and other creative codes.

15. The battles of a space dreamer

  • When S. Nambi Narayanan, a senior ISRO scientist, was arrested on November 30, 1994, on charges of leaking secrets pertaining to the Indian space programme to foreign nationals, little did anyone think it would one day be looked upon as the starting point of one of the most extraordinary battles for justice the country has witnessed.

  • When the landmark verdict of the Supreme Court came out in 2018, Mr. Narayanan had told the media that he planned to do something that he had been forced to put off for almost 25 years – spending time with his family. While commenting on the latest SC decision, Mr. Narayanan says he has succeeded in fulfilling that dream in the past several months.

16. Explain basis for approving policies, Delhi HC asks insurance body

  • The Delhi High Court has asked the Insurance Regulatory and Development Authority of India (IRDAI) to explain on what basis it was approving insurance policies that excluded mental conditions from full coverage, noting that “a large number of insured persons would be affected by such an insurance policy”.

  • Justice Prathiba M. Singh said that a perusal of the Mental Healthcare Act of 2017, makes its clear that “there can be no discrimination between mental illnesses and physical illnesses and the insurance provided in respect thereof”.

17. Those dealing in narcotics key in causing deaths: SC

  • Persons dealing in narcotic drugs are instruments in causing the deaths of innocent and vulnerable victims, the Supreme Court said, adding that merely because an accused is poor is not reason enough to give him a lesser punishment.

  • A Bench of Justices D.Y. Chandrachud and M.R. Shah said while awarding a sentence under the Narcotic Drugs and Psychotropic Substances (NDPS) Act, the interest of the society had to be taken into consideration.


NATIONAL NEWS/ INTERVENTIONS



Daily snippets

1. WhatsApp: CCI defends nod for probe

  • The Competition Commission of India defended before the Delhi High Court its decision calling for an investigation into the new privacy policy of Whatsapp. The competition watchdog, represented by Additional Solicitor­ General Aman Lekhi, said the probe order was made to gauge whether access to data would lead to abuse of dominant position.

  • The commission said it was dealing with the instant messaging app’s new privacy policy that could lead to “excessive data collection” of consumers, the use and sharing of the data in an anti-competitive context. WhatsApp said the issue with respect to personal data of users, and sharing of personalised data was already before the Supreme Court, hence the CCI ought not to have intervened.

2. Nagaland’s version of NRC triggers concern

  • An apex body of Naga tribes has asked the Nagaland government not to be hasty with the exercise to prepare the Register of Indigenous Inhabitants of Nagaland (RIIN), seen as a variant of Assam’s National Register of Citizens. The Nagaland government has reportedly been trying to revive the RIIN exercise that was launched in July 2019 with the stated objective of preventing outsiders from obtaining fake indigenous certificates for seeking jobs and benefits of government schemes.

3. Sushil Chandra takes over as CEC

  • Election Commissioner Sushil Chandra took over the post of Chief Election Commissioner, after outgoing CEC Sunil Arora demitted office on Monday. Mr. Chandra has been an Election Commissioner since February 15, 2019 and a member of the Delimitation Commission for delimitation of Jammu and Kashmir since February 18, 2020, the ECI said in a statement. As an Indian Revenue Service officer, Mr. Chandra held several posts in the Income Tax department for nearly 39 years, according to the ECI.

4. Delhi govt. will seek priority vaccination for journalists

  • Chief Minister Arvind Kejriwal said the Delhi government would write to the Centre seeking priority COVID-­19 vaccination for journalists. The Federation of All India Medical Association (FAIMA), a group of doctors from leading government hospitals from across the country, also wrote to Prime Minister Narendra Modi requesting that journalists from both television and print media be vaccinated given their front­line worker status.

5. India, Russia committed to S­400 deal: envoy

  • India and Russia are “committed” to completing their contract for the S­400 missile system, due to be delivered to India at the end of the year, Russian Ambassador to India Nikolai Kudashev confirmed on Wednesday. He said both countries opposed U.S. sanctions on the issue.

  • The public comments made by both Mr. Kudashev and External Affairs Minister S. Jaishankar, however, made it clear that there are deep differences over America’s Indo-­Pacific strategy. The S­-400 contract is on track for a delivery of the systems in November, despite America’s repeated threat that the $2.5­ billion deal could attract sanctions under its CAATSA law. Washington has already sanctioned China over its purchase of the S­400, and on April 7, sanctions against Turkish defence institutions and certain officials also went into effect over a similar purchase.

  • Last month, U.S. Defence Secretary Lloyd Austin said he had spoken to Defence Minister Rajnath Singh about the deal, adding that sanctions would be determined once the systems were delivered.

6. ‘Quad navies enjoy high degree of interoperability’

  • The Quad navies of India, the U.S., Japan and Australia “already” enjoy a “high degree of interoperability” and have the capability and capacity to come together in an “almost plug and play mechanism” if the opportunity arises, Navy chief Admiral Karambir Singh said. He stated that it would not be surprising to see a Chinese naval expansion in the Indian Ocean region.

  • The Chinese Navy has seen massive expansion in recent years, with rapid addition of frontline warships. It has two aircraft carriers and a more capable one is under construction. In 2017, China opened its first overseas base at Djibouti in the Horn of Africa.

7. India, Australia must stand together: Morrison

  • India and Australia should stand together for democratic freedoms amid “a great polarisation” in the region between authoritarian countries and liberal democracies, Australian Prime Minister Scott Morrison said.

  • Addressing the annual Raisina Dialogue from Perth, organised virtually this year by the Observer Research Foundation and the Ministry of External Affairs, the Australian Prime Minister described the recently held first ever Quad leaders’ summit, as a “historic” moment for “like minded” countries in the region.

8. ‘China tried to change status quo’

  • China tried to change the status quo in Eastern Ladakh by the use of disruptive technologies without using force, and thought that India as a nation would “succumb” to the pressure due to its technological advantage, the Chief of the Defence Staff, General Bipin Rawat, said. “We stood firm on the northern borders and proved that we will not get pushed,” he said.

  • Japan’s Chief of General Staff General Yamazaki said China was attempting to unilaterally change the international order. He added that it was necessary to cooperate with other countries to counter such “grey zone tactics”. General Angus Campbell, Chief of the Defence Force, Australia, said grey zone tactics were a way to nibble away at territory.

9. Crossword community loses a giant

  • The crossword community has lost one of its giants. C.G. Rishikesh. He passed away in Chennai on Wednesday after a brief illness. He was 78.

  • A veteran setter of cryptic crosswords, with over a thousand published puzzles to his credit, ‘Gridman’ was more fondly known as Chaturvasi sir – or simply as “Rishi” – among countless friends, cruciverbalists and protégés in crossword forums and websites across the world. He was “the face of Indian crosswords in the international community”, being the first Indian setter to gain visibility in several global crossword groups.

10. Centre plans to import medical oxygen

  • Stating that there has been increasing demand for medical oxygen, especially from 12 States – Maharashtra, Madhya Pradesh, Gujarat, Uttar Pradesh, Delhi, Chhattisgarh, Karnataka, Kerala, Tamil Nadu, Punjab, Haryana and Rajasthan – with a high burden of active COVID­19 cases, the Centre said it would be mapping the oxygen sources of these States.

  • The Union Health Ministry said that in view of the increasing demand for medical oxygen, the import of 50,000 tonnes of medical oxygen was also being looked into.

11. ‘Lift ban on export of vaccine raw material

  • Adar Poonawalla, chief executive officer, Serum Institute of India (SII), made an appeal to the U.S. President Joe Biden seeking lifting of the embargo on U.S. export of raw materials, which, he said, was affecting its production of COVID-19 vaccine. The appeal comes when the World Health Organization (WHO) urged countries in the southeast Asian region to apply all tools to prevent further infections and save lives.

12. Bat with sticky discs found in Meghalaya

  • Meghalaya has yielded India’s first bamboo dwelling bat with sticky discs, taking the species count of the flying mammal in the country to 130. The disc footed bat (Eudiscopus denticulus) was recorded in the northeastern State’s Lailad area near the Nongkhyllem Wildlife Sanctuary, about 1,000 km west of its nearest known habitat in Myanmar

13. Amid high demand, Railways to run ‘Oxygen Express’ trains

  • The Railways will run ‘Oxygen Express’ trains over the next few days to transport liquid medical oxygen and oxygen cylinders across the country, the national transporter said. Amid spiralling coronavirus cases in the country, the demand for medical oxygen in the country has gone through the roof. Empty tankers will begin their journey from the Kalamboli and Boisar railway stations in and near Mumbai on Monday to load liquid medical oxygen from Visakhapatnam, Jamshedpur, Rourkela and Bokaro, officials said.

  • The Madhya Pradesh and Maharashtra governments had earlier approached the Ministry of Railways to explore whether liquid medical oxygen tanks could be moved by the rail network, they said. On the receipt of the request from the two States, the Railways immediately explored the technical feasibility of transportation of liquid medical oxygen. It has to be transported through roll­on-­rolloff service with road tankers placed on flat wagons.

14. Vande Bharat becomes one of top civilian evacuations

  • The Vande Bharat Mission (VBM), which started repatriating Indians stranded abroad due to COVID­-19 and the resultant lockdowns since May 7 last, has turned out to be one of the largest evacuations of civilians by a country. In the middle of Phase 10, the VBM surpassed the large scale airlift of 1,10,000 people in 1990 at the onset of the Gulf War.

  • Till now, the Air India (AI) Group has operated 11,523 inbound flights to carry 18,19,734 passengers and 11,528 outbound flights with 13,68,457 passengers. The national carrier, which carried out the bulk of air transfers under the mission, was supported by its budget carrier Air India Express

15. EU Council approves conclusions on Indo-­Pacific strategy

  • The Council of the European Union approved conclusions on a European Union strategy for cooperation in the Indo­-Pacific to “reinforce its strategic focus, presence and actions” with the aim to contribute to “regional stability, security, prosperity and sustainable development,” at a time of “rising challenges and tensions in the region.”

  • The renewed EU commitment to the Indo-­Pacific will have a long term focus and will be based on “upholding democracy, human rights, the rule of law and respect for international law,” it stated. The EU will aim to promote effective rules based multilateralism, it said, reiterating its support for ASEAN (Association of South-East Asian Nations) centrality, a point also stressed by India.

16. Vaccines for all above 18 from May 1st

  • Amidst a virulent second wave of COVID-­19 in India, the Centre allowed vaccination against the infec­tion for all persons above the age of 18 from May 1. However, questions re­main on whether enough stocks of vaccines will be available to cater to the ac­celerated demand. Earlier, the govern­ment’s plan was to inoculate 30 crore, or about a third of the adult population, by Au­gust.

  • The Phase 3 of the National Vaccine Strategy will enable vaccine manufacturers to sell half their vaccines to the State governments and the open market. The rest will mandatorily be sold to the Centre. Before May 1, manufactur­ers will have to make an ad­vance declaration of the price for the 50% of the stock to be supplied to the States and the open market. Private hospitals will have to procure their supplies exclusively from the 50% supplied to the States and the open market.

  • Serum Institute of India is supposed to have supplied 100 million doses of Covish­ield every month from May but has said it would not be able to do so before July. Bharat Biotech, manufacturer of Covaxin, whose current capacity is around 20 crore doses annually, is sup­plying around 1 crore vac­cines a month. Sputnik V, the Russian vaccine, has been approved and is set to begin supply by May.

17. Second wave is not more lethal, says ICMR

  • There is no difference in mortality among COVID­-19 patients in the first and se­cond waves, said leading doctors in charge of the na­tional COVID­-19 manage­ment strategy. A “marginally higher” proportion of patients youn­ger than 20 were present in the second wave (5.8%) compared with the first (4.2%). In the first wave, 25.5% of the patients were between the ages of 20 and 40, com­pared with 23.7% in the on­ going second wave.

  • Director-general of Indian Council of Medical Research (ICMR) Balram Bhargava said 47% of the symptomatic patients presented “short­ness of breath” in the se­cond wave (March April 2021), compared with 41% in the first (September-­Novem­ber 2020). However, A key caveat to the data was that for the first wave, 6,642 patients were ana­lysed, while in the second wave, only 1,405 were analysed.

  • V.K. Paul, who chairs the empowered group on vacci­nations and COVID­-19 man­agement (NEGVAC), said there was no difference in mortality, in the first and se­cond wave, in those 40 and under.

  • On drug protocol for treatment, AIIMS director Randeep Guleria stressed that none of the antiviral drugs – Remdesivir, Fapira­vir – as well as convalescent plasma had any established benefit in curing the dis­ease.

18. Adults and defenses against cybercrimes

  • About 52% of adults admit that they do not know how to protect themselves from cybercrime, according to a survey conducted by online security solutions pro­vider NortonLifeLock. The report also said 59% of the adults in India had be­come victims of cybercrime in the past 12 months.

  • The ‘2021 Norton Cyber Safety Insights Report,’ based on the research con­ducted online by The Harris Poll among 10,030 adults in 10 countries, including 1,000 adults in India, also found that cybercrime vic­tims collectively spent 1.3 billion hours trying to re­solve these issues.

  • As per the research 7 in 10 Indian adults (70%) believe that remote work has made it much easier for hackers and cybercriminals to take advantage of people.

19. Centre to fast track approvals of more vaccines

  • In a major shift in vaccine approval policy, the govern­ment has decided to fast track approvals for COVID­-19 vaccines that have been de­veloped outside India and have been granted the emer­gency use authorisation (EUA) by other drug regula­tory agencies. The decision was taken based on the recommenda­tion made by the National Expert Group on Vaccine Ad­ministration for COVID-­19 (NEGVAC). So far, clinical trials conducted in India were needed before the Indian regulator could approve the vaccine.

  • The vaccines that would be eligible for the fast­-track approval will include those that have been granted an EUA by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA), European Medicines Agency (EMA), the U.K. Medicines and Healthcare products Regulatory Agency (MHRA) and the Pharmaceuticals and Medical Devices Agency (PMDA) of Japan, or those that have been pre-qualified by the WHO for emergency use.

  • It is unclear at this point if the vaccines developed, tested and approved outside India will be made available through the government at a subsidised rate or will vac­cine manufacturers be able to import them and sell them in the private market.

20. Forecast of a healthy monsoon

  • Skymet Weather, a private weather forecast company, said that the monsoon was likely to be 103% of the long period average (LPA) this year. The LPA refers to the average all­-India monsoon rainfall of 88 cm, which is a 50­-year mean. The monsoon in 2019 and 2020 was only the third time in a century of back-to-back years of above normal rain­fall. The monsoon is also expected to be fairly well distributed, with even September (the month in which the season starts to recede) expected to post 10% more rainfall than normal.

  • In terms of geographical risk, Skymet expects that the plains of North India, along with a few parts of northeast India, to be at risk of being rain deficient through the season. Also, interior parts of Kar­nataka face scare or scanty rain in the core monsoon months of July and August, the forecast said.

21. Maharashtra and oxygen management

  • Maharashtra has laid down a set of rules for rational usage which include stopping of high flow nasal oxygen (HFNO) machines until further notice as the HFNO machines consumed a very large quantity of oxygen, so­metimes up to 80 litres per minute. The state task force recom­mended that those patients who may need HFNO should be managed on non­ invasive ventilation (NIV).

22. Kumbh and COVID

  • Throwing caution to the wind amid rising cases of COVID­-19, lakhs of people congregated on the ghats in Harid­war to take a dip in the Ganga during the third shahi snan of the Kumbh mela. Over 13.5 lakh people, including sadhus from 13 akhadas, had bathed in the Ganga up to a little before sunset. No masks were worn by a large proportion of them.

  • The ‘royal bath’ marked Mesh Sankranti and Baisak­hi, and fell two days after a similar convergence of seers and other devotees for the second shahi snan – mammoth events where following social distancing norms appears almost impossible.

23. National Task Force to combat air pollution

  • The National Green Tribu­nal (NGT) has constituted an eight member National Task Force to combat air pollution and monitor re­medial steps to improve air quality. A Bench headed by NGT Chairperson Justice Adarsh Kumar Goel observed that a holistic and coordinated ef­fort at all levels in the go­vernment was required. Ac­countability in terms of adverse entries in the an­nual confidential reports and recovery of compensa­tion for non­compliance were imperative for fixing accountability, the Bench said.

  • India has the world’s highest death rate from chronic res­piratory diseases. The NTF may also monitor enforcement of laid down air quality standards beyond non­attainment ci­ties in other identified air polluted areas where air quality is poor and above.

24. Last two rhinos translocated under IRV 2020

  • The ambitious Indian Rhino Vision 2020 (IRV 2020) came to a close with the release of two rhinos in Assam’s Manas National Park transported from Pobitora Wildlife Sanc­tuary. Designed in 2005, the IRV2020 is believed to have achieved its target of attain­ing a population of 3,000 rhinos in Assam.

  • The ears of the translo­cated rhinos are notched according to the In­ternational Union for Con­servation of Nature’s Species Survival Commission and Asian Rhino Specialist Group’s guidelines for identi­fication and monitoring.

  • Assam had at least five rhino­ bearing areas till the 1980s. Better conservation efforts helped maintain the popula­tion of the one ­horned herbi­vore in Kaziranga, Orang and Pobitora, but encroachment and poaching wiped the animal out of Manas and Laok­howa Wildlife Sanctuary. The translocated rhinos helped Manas National Park get back its World Heritage Site status in 2011 which was taken away by UNESCO in 1995.

25. Panel to list indigenous inhabitants in Nagaland

  • The Nagaland government has decided to form a joint consultative committee ( JCC) involving all traditional tribal bodies and civil so­ciety organisations for tak­ing an exercise to register the State’s indigenous inhabitants. The decision was taken on the issue of preparing the Register of Indigenous Inhabitants of Nagaland (RI­IN).

  • In July 2019, the Nagaland government launched the RIIN, seen as a variant of As­sam’s National Register of Citizens. The exer­cise was put on hold after some civil society and extre­mist groups opposed its stat­ed objective of preventing outsiders from obtaining fake indigenous certificates for seeking jobs and benefits of government schemes. December 1, 1963 – the day Nagaland attained Statehood – was the cut­off date for determining the “perma­nent residents” of the State.

26. The Great Indian Bustard

  • The GIB, which is the State bird of Rajasthan, is considered India’s most criti­cally endangered bird. It’s habitat is in Rajasthan's Desert National Park (DNP), where the GIB’s last remnant wild population is found. The DNP, situated near the towns of Jaisalmer and Barmer, forms a part of the mighty Thar desert. The GIB’s population of fewer than 100 in Rajasthan accounts for 95% of its total world population.

  • The Inter­national Union for Conserva­tion of Nature and Natural Resources (IUCN), a global authority on species surviv­al, which categorised the GIBs as “endangered” in 1994, was forced to upgrade the species to the status of “critically endangered” in 2011 because of continued threats faced in the survival of these large birds. As Rajasthan shares the international border with Pa­kistan’s Sindh and Punjab provinces, it is suspected that GIBs fly across to Pakistan’s desert and become easy prey for poachers there.

27. UK nod for extradition of Nirav Modi

  • The U.K.’s Home Depart­ment has approved the ex­tradition of diamond mer­chant Nirav Modi to India in connection with the ₹13,758 crore Punjab National Bank (PNB) fraud. The accused now has the legal recourse of approach­ing the U.K. High Court within 14 days to seek permission for moving an appeal against the Secretary of State’s deci­sion. Unless there is an ap­peal, a requested person must be extradited within 28 days of the Secretary of State’s decision to order ex­tradition.

  • The first case against Mr. Nirav Modi was registered by the CBI on January 31, 2018, alleging that they cheated the PNB of about ₹6,498 crore by get­ting Letters of Undertaking (LoUs) issued fraudulently to overseas banks for secur­ing buyer’s credit in favour of his three firms. Based on the CBI case, the ED also carried out a money laundering probe and attached assets worth hundreds of crores in India and abroad.

28. IMD forecasts a normal monsoon

  • India is likely to receive “normal” monsoon rainfall this year, the India Meteoro­logical Department (IMD) has said as part of its official April forecast. Except for parts of eastern and north­ eastern India, many parts of the country are expected to get “above normal” rainfall, the IMD’s models show. “Normal” rainfall refers to a range – 96%-­104% of the Long Period Average (LPA) of 88 cm.

  • In 2019, the IMD fore­cast 96% LPA in April, but In­dia ended up with record excessive rainfall of 110%. In 2020, it said 100% LPA, but India wound up with 109%. In 2019, the Indian Ocean Dipole (IOD) – defined as a swing in temperatures in the western and eastern sec­tions of the Indian Ocean, where a positive phase usually corresponds to good rains over India – contribut­ed to the excess rains. Last year it was La Nina – the converse of an El Nino and associated with a cooling of the equatorial central Pacific – again a feature correlated with heavy India rains.

  • Though the IMD now is­sues short-term and extend­ed range forecasts — that is, an estimate of rainfall in time frames of three days to 15 days — for the first time this year, it will begin giving monthly forecasts for all months. The IMD also said it was developing a separate fore­cast for the Monsoon Core Zone (MCZ), which repre­sents most of the rain­fed agriculture region in the country. “

  • For an adequate monsoon, it is im­portant for a temperature gradient to be present bet­ween the ocean and the land. In recent years, however, the Indian Ocean has been warming faster than the land surface, reducing this tem­perature differential and af­fecting the monsoonal flow.

29. Aditya-L1 and ARIES

  • The Indian programme to study the Sun and the region between the Sun and the Earth from space – Aditya­ L1 – is due to be launched next year. Once the mission is launched, there will be a need for a ground support centre to monitor and coordinate the work on its various payloads. This role will be played by the ARIES facility (short for Aryabhata Research Institute for observational Sciences) which is situated near Naini­tal. This centre will expand the visibility of Aditya­L1 beyond India at the interna­tional level. Also, it will expand its reach within India. It will al­low every interested indivi­dual to be able to perform scientific analysis of the da­ta.

INTERNATIONAL NEWS/EVENTS/ PERSONALITIES



Daily snippets

1. U.S. to withdraw troops from Afghanistan

  • The U.S. will begin its drawdown of troops in Afghanistan before May 1 and complete the process before September 11. There are between 2,500 and 3,500 U.S. troops in Afghanistan at present. Meanwhile, diplomatic efforts to arrive at an intra-­Afghan settlement are underway. Istanbul will host talks between the Taliban and the Afghan government between April 24 and May 4, joined by Qatar and the United Nations.

  • The U.S. , via Secretary of State Antony Blinken, had proposed a peace plan that included an interim government – a plan that Afghan President Ashraf Ghani has resisted, backing elections instead. India has said it would back a negotiated peace settlement via a regional process convened by the UN. The U.S. would continue its push for a diplomatic solution, saying the administration had “long known” that there was no “military solution” to Afghanistan’s problems.

2. WHO urges halt on sale of live wild mammals in markets

  • The World Health Organization called for a halt to the sale of live wild mammals in food markets to prevent the emergence of new diseases such as COVID­-19. The WHO said because traditional markets play a central role in providing food and livelihoods for large populations, banning the sale of live wild mammals could protect the health of market workers and customers alike.

  • The call came in fresh guidance drawn up by the WHO in conjunction with the World Organisation for Animal Health (OIE) and the United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP). The agencies recalled that some of the earliest known cases of COVID­-19 had links to a wholesale food market in Wuhan, with many of the initial patients being stall owners.

3. Hong Kong to amend poll laws in ‘favour’ of pro-Beijing camp

  • Hong Kong leader Carrie Lam announced amendments to voting laws that critics say favour pro­-Beijing candidates by redrawing constituency boundaries, creating more electoral districts, and criminalising calls for voters to leave ballots blank.

  • Legislative Council, known as LegCo, elections are set for December 19, while the Chief Executive elections are set for March 27, 2022. The proposals will be discussed on Wednesday in the Council. Critics fear voters would feel robbed of a choice if candidates are vetted for their loyalty to Beijing, while most opposition figures are either in jail or in exile.

4. Egypt presses for $900 million compensation, seizes megaship

  • The megaship which blocked Egypt’s Suez Canal and crippled world trade for nearly a week has been “seized” on court orders until the vessel’s owners pay $900 million, canal authorities said. The 2,00,000 ­tonne MV Ever Given got diagonally stuck in the narrow but crucial global trade artery in a sandstorm on March 23, triggering a mammoth six day-long effort by Egyptian personnel and international salvage specialists to dislodge it.

  • Maritime data company Lloyd’s List said the blockage by the vessel, longer than four football fields, held up an estimated $9.6 billion worth of cargo between Asia and Europe each day it was stuck. Egypt also lost between $12 and $15 million in revenues for each day the waterway was closed, according to the canal authority.

  • The MV Ever Given was seized due to its failure to pay $900 million compensation, Suez Canal Authority (SCA) chief Osama Rabie was quoted as saying by Al-­Ahram, a state-run newspaper. Negotiations over damages between that company, insurance firms and the canal authority were ongoing. The Japanese-owned, Taiwanese-­operated and Panama-flagged ship was moved to unobstructive anchorage in the canal’s Great Bitter Lake after it was freed on March 29.

5. Reuters gets its first woman editor in chief

  • Reuters has announced Alessandra Galloni will take over as its new editor­-in-chief from next week, becoming the first woman to head the global news agency in its 170­year history. Ms. Galloni is taking over from Stephen J. Adle.

6. ‘NATO to exit Afghanistan along with U.S.’

  • Foreign troops under NATO command will withdraw from Afghanistan in coordination with a U.S. pull­out by September 11, Washington’s said, after Germany said it would match American plans to leave after two decades of war. Around 7,000 non-­U.S. forces from mainly NATO countries, also from Australia, New Zealand and Georgia, outnumber the 2,500 U.S. troops in Afghanistan.

  • A key reason for a coordinated withdrawal is the fact that NATO relies on U.S. airlift capabilities and shipping to move valuable equipment in and out of landlocked Afghanistan. U.S. Secretary of State Antony Blinken said it was time for NATO allies to make good on their mantra that allies went into Afghanistan together and would leave together. He was accompanied by Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin.

  • After withdrawing, the U.S. and NATO aim to rely on Afghan military and police forces, which they have developed with billions of dollars in funding, to maintain security though peace talks are struggling and the insurgency is resilient. September 11 is a highly symbolic date as it will be 20 years since al-­Qaeda attacked the U.S. with hijacked airliners, triggering military intervention in Afghanistan.

7. 60% enrichment in response to Israel’s terrorism, says Iran

  • Iran’s President Hassan Rouhani said the decision to boost uranium enrichment to 60% was a response to arch­foe Israel’s “nuclear terrorism” against its Natanz facility. Tehran starting up advanced centrifuges and producing more highly refined uranium “is a response to your malice,” Mr. Rouhani said in a message aimed at the Jewish state.

  • Tehran’s announcement of stepped up enrichment has cast a shadow over talks in Vienna aimed at salvaging the 2015 nuclear deal between Iran and world powers. The European parties to the accord – Britain, France and Germany – expressed “grave concern” over Iran’s enrichment move.

  • Iran’s regional rival Saudi Arabia also expressed concern and called on Tehran to “avoid escalation”. The step will bring Iran closer to the 90% purity threshold for military use and shorten its potential “breakout time” to build an atomic bomb – a goal the Islamic republic denies it is seeking.

8. Pak. to ban radical Islamist party

  • Pakistan decided to ban a radical Islamist party under the Terrorism Act after its supporters clashed with the law enforcement agencies for the third consecutive day, leaving seven persons dead and over 300 policemen injured. Interior Minister Sheikh Rashid Ahmed told the media that the Tehreek­i­-Labaik Pakistan (TLP) was being banned under the Rule 11­B of Anti­Terrorism Act of 1997.

  • The announcement came hours after the Pakistani Rangers cleared the major thoroughfares of the country following sporadic clashes with TLP supporters in some towns and cities. The TLP had launched the country­wide protest after the arrest of its chief Saad Hussain Rizvi ahead of April 20 deadline the Islamists had given to the Imran Khan government demanding expulsion of the French Ambassador over the French government's support for Charlie Hebdo magazine to republish cartoons of the Prophet Mohammed – a move deemed blasphemous by many.

9. Denmark drops AstraZeneca vaccine

  • Denmark announced it would stop using the AstraZeneca COVID­19 vaccine altogether, becoming the first European country to do so over suspected rare but serious side­-effects. Denmark was the first country in Europe to suspend the use of the AstraZeneca jab in its vaccination rollout, after reports of rare but serious cases of blood clots among those that had received the vaccine.

  • More than a dozen countries followed suit but all but a few have since resumed the use after the European Medicines Agency (EMA) emphasised the benefits of the vaccine and deemed it “safe and effective”

10. Sri Lanka bans IS, 10 other extremist groups

  • Sri Lanka banned 11 radical Islamist groups, including the Islamic State group and al­Qaeda, a week ahead of the second anniversary of the Easter Sunday suicide bombings which killed 279 people. Anyone linked to the groups – the other nine of which are local religious and social organisations – faces up to 20 years in jail, President Gotabaya Rajapaksa said in a gazette notification.

11. U.S. imposes new sanctions on Russia

  • The United States announced sanctions against Russia and the expulsion of 10 diplomats in retaliation for what Washington says is the Kremlin’s U.S. election interference, a massive cyberattack and other hostile activity. President Joe Biden’s broadside against Russia came the same week as he offered to meet President Vladimir Putin for their first summit.

  • In an executive order, Mr. Biden widened restrictions on U.S. banks trading in Russian government debt, expelled 10 diplomats who include alleged spies, and blacklisted 32 individuals accused of meddling in the 2020 presidential election.

12. France asks citizens to temporarily leave Pak

  • The French Embassy in Pakistan advised all of its nationals and companies to temporarily leave the country after anti-France violence erupted in the Islamic nation over the arrest of a radical leader. Saad Rizvi was arrested for threatening the government with mass protests if it did not expel French envoy Marc Baréty over the depiction of Prophet Muhammed in a French magazine.

  • French Foreign Ministry spokeswoman Agnes Von Der Muhll said about 400 to 500 French nationals live in Pakistan and they will be able to leave via commercial flights. But, Interior Minister Sheikh Rashid Ahmad said French citizens living in Pakistan were safe and security had been provided to them. The development comes a day after the government announced a ban on the Tehreek­e-­Labiak Pakistan party, which is headed by Rizvi. His arrest sparked violent protests.

13. U.S. climate envoy Kerry in first China visit

  • In the first significant visit by an official of the Biden administration to China, Special Presidential Envoy for Climate John Kerry arrived in Shanghai for talks with senior Chinese officials. Mr. Kerry will meet China’s top climate official, Xie Zhenhua, and may also meet with other senior officials including Politburo member and top diplomat Yang Jiechi and Foreign Minister Wang Yi.

  • The first visit from the new administration in Washington follows last month’s dialogue in Alaska, where officials from both sides traded barbs publicly in an unusual exchange played out in front of the cameras. Despite that beginning, the visit underlines the Biden administration does plan to seek a meeting ground with China on some issues, including climate change as well as Iran and North Korea

14. Russia bans FBI chief, other U.S. officials as tensions soar

  • Russia banned top officials from the U.S. President Joe Biden’s administration, including FBI chief Christopher Wray, from entering the country as it announced a wave of tit­-for-­tat sanctions and expulsions of diplomats, as tensions soared between the rivals.

  • Moscow nonetheless said it viewed the prospect of a summit between Mr. Biden and Russian President Vladimir Putin “positively”. On Thursday, Washington had announced sanctions and the expulsion of 10 Russian diplomats in retaliation for what it says is interference by the Kremlin in U.S. elections, a massive cyberattack and other hostile activity.

15. ‘Biden, Suga may announce next in person Quad summit’

  • U.S. President Joe Biden will host Japanese Prime Minister Yoshihide Suga at the White House – the first foreign leader visit for a presidency that began at the height of the COVID­-19 pandemic. The two leaders are likely to announce the next in­-person Quad (India, the U.S., Japan and Australia) meeting.

  • At their first summit level meeting, held virtually on March 12, Quad leaders had committed to meeting in person before the end of this year. Mr. Suga and Mr. Biden are also expected to discuss regional security, including North Korea, China and China­-Taiwan issues. Japan is also expected to announce a $2 billion 5G network technology initiative.

16. Iran says it has started enriching uranium to 60%

  • Iran began enriching uranium to its highest level ever, edging closer to weapons grade levels to pressure talks in Vienna aimed at restoring its nuclear deal with world powers after an attack on its main atomic site. A top official said only a few grams an hour of uranium gas would be enriched up to 60% purity – triple the level it once did but at a rate far slower than what Tehran could produce. International inspectors already said Iran planned to do so above ground at its Natanz nuclear site, not deep within its underground halls hardened to withstand airstrikes.

  • The move is likely to raise tensions even as Iran negotiates in Vienna over a way to allow the U.S. back into the agreement and lift the crushing economic sanctions it faces. However, its scope also provides Iran with a way to quickly de-escalate if it chooses.

  • The announcement also marks a significant escalation after the attack that damaged centrifuges at Natanz, an attack this past weekend suspected of having been carried out by Israel. While Israel has yet to claim it, it comes amid a long running shadow war between the two rivals. While 60% is higher than any level Iran previously enriched uranium, it is still lower than weapons grade levels of 90%. The deal limited Iran’s enrichment to 3.67%.

17. U.S. says Russia was given Trump campaign poll data

  • It was one of the more tantalising, yet unresolved, questions of the investigation into possible connections between Russia and Donald Trump’s 2016 presidential campaign: why was a business associate of campaign chairman Paul Manafort given internal polling data – and what did he do with it?

  • A Treasury Department statement offered a potentially significant clue, asserting that Konstantin Kilimnik, a Russian and Ukrainian political consultant, had shared sensitive campaign and polling information with Russian intelligence services.

18. SC confirms annulment of Lula convictions

  • Brazil’s full Supreme Court upheld a ruling annulling former President Luiz Inacio Lula da Silva’s corruption convictions, clearing the way for him to run for a new presidential term. In an 8-3 ruling, the court upheld Justice Edson Fachin’s March 8 decision quashing Mr. Lula’s convictions on procedural grounds, which has upended Brazilian politics as far-right President Jair Bolsonaro gears up to seek reelection.

19. U.S., China agree to cooperate with urgency on climate crisis

  • The U.S. and China, the world’s two biggest carbon polluters, agreed to cooperate to curb climate change with urgency. The agreement was reached by U.S. special envoy for climate John Kerry and his Chinese counterpart Xie Zhenhua during two days of talks in Shanghai last week, according to a joint statement.

  • China is the world’s biggest carbon emitter, followed by the U.S. The two countries pump out nearly half of the fossil fuel fumes that are warming the planet’s atmosphere. Their cooperation is key to the success of global efforts to curb climate change.

20. Myanmar shadow govt. wants invite for ASEAN crisis talks

  • Myanmar’s shadow government urged Southeast Asian leaders to give it a seat at the table during crisis talks next week, and not to recognise the military regime that seized power in a February coup. Junta leader Min Aung Hlaing is expected to join a special ASEAN summit on Myanmar in Jakarta – his first official overseas trip since the putsch that ousted civilian leader Aung San Suu Kyi.

  • The Army has moved to quell mass protests against its rule, killing at least 730 people according to a local monitoring group. The military chief’s invitation to the meeting of the 10­ country Association of Southeast Asian Nations has drawn scorn from activists and former lawmakers who have urged foreign leaders not to formally recognise the junta.

21. Czechs to discuss ‘Russian link’ to 2014 blast with EU

  • The Czech Republic is informing its NATO and European Union allies about suspected Russian involvement in a 2014 ammunition depot explosion and will discuss the matter at an EU Foreign Ministers’ meeting, acting Foreign Minister Jan Hamacek said.

  • The central European country expelled 18 Russian Embassy staff and said that investigations linked Russian intelligence to the explosion, which killed two people. The expulsions and allegations by Prague have triggered its biggest dispute with Russia.

22. Sikhs call for gun reforms in U.S.

  • Members of Indianapolis’ tight knit Sikh community joined with city officials to call for gun reforms as they mourned the deaths of four Sikhs who were among the eight people killed in a mass shooting at a FedEx warehouse. At a vigil attended by more than 200 at an Indianapolis park on Saturday evening, Aasees Kaur, who represented the Sikh Coalition, spoke out alongside the city’s Mayor and other elected officials to demand action that would prevent such attacks from happening again.

  • The coalition says about 5,00,000 Sikhs live in the U.S. Many practicing Sikhs are visually distinguishable by their articles of faith, which include the unshorn hair and turban.

23. NASA Mars helicopter makes first flight on another planet

  • NASA successfully flew its tiny helicopter Ingenuity on Mars, the first powered flight on another planet and a feat a top engineer called “our Wright brothers’ moment.” The first powered flight on Earth was achieved by the Wright brothers in 1903 in North Carolina. A piece of fabric from that plane has been tucked inside Ingenuity in honour of that feat. Ingenuity travelled to Mars attached to the underside of Perseverance, which touched down on the planet on February 18 on a mission to search for signs of extraterrestrial life.

  • Ingenuity’s goal, by contrast, is to demonstrate its technology works, and it won’t contribute to Perseverance’s science goal.

24. Cuba gets new leader as Raul Castro retires

  • Cuba marked the end of an era with the transfer of power from the Castro clan, in charge for six decades, to the communist country’s first ever civilian leader, Miguel Diaz­Canel. As Raul Castro, 89, enters retirement, he handed the all-powerful position of first secretary of the Communist Party of Cuba to Mr. Diaz­Canel, 60, already Cuba’s president since 2018.

  • Fidel Castro, still revered as the country’s father and saviour, led the country from 1959 to 2006, when he fell ill and his brother Raul took over. Fidel Castro died in 2016. Mr. Diaz­Canel and some other members of the new PCC executive were born after the revolution led by the Castro siblings in the 1950s, leading in 1959 to the overthrow of dictator Fulgencio Batista. The PCC congress was held 60 years after Fidel Castro declared Cuba a socialist state, setting up decades of conflict with the United States, which has had sanctions against the country since 1962. It also marked six decades since the failed Bay of Pigs invasion by anti­revolutionary Cuban exiles, backed by the CIA.

  • The change at the top is not expected to yield any major policy shifts. Mr. Diaz­Canel, remains a staunch party disciple. And a new Constitution passed in May 2019 made it clear that the country’s commitment to socialism was “irrevocable.”

25. Greens name Baerbock as candidate to succeed Merkel

  • Germany’s Green party named its co-chair Annalena Baerbock as their candidate to succeed Angela Merkel, throwing down the gauntlet to the Chancellor’s conservatives who were locked in increasingly vicious infighting for her crown.

  • Ms. Baerbock, 40, is the first Chancellor candidate ever nominated by the Greens. Yet with the party polling in second place behind Ms. Merkel’s divided conservatives, the Greens now have a chance of becoming the biggest party and taking the chancellery.

26. Saudi activist wins top Europe rights award

  • Saudi activist Loujain al-Hathloul was awarded the Vaclav Havel Human Rights Prize, a top European rights award, in recognition of her fight for women’s rights in the kingdom, including her efforts to end a ban on women driving. Ms. Hathloul was detained in 2018. She is now on probation and barred from leaving Saudi Arabia for five years

27. France ‘enabled’ 1994 Rwanda genocide: report

  • The French government bears “significant” responsibility for “enabling a foreseeable genocide,” a report commissioned by the Rwandan government concludes about France’s role before and during the horror in which an estimated 8,00,000 people were slaughtered in 1994.

  • The report comes amid efforts by Rwanda to document the role of French authorities before, during, and after the genocide, part of the steps taken by France’s President Emmanuel Macron to improve relations with the central African country.

  • The report comes after a French report, commissioned by Mr. Macron, concluded that French authorities had been “blind” to the preparations for genocide and then reacted too slowly to appreciate the extent of the killings and to respond to them.

28. Probe China over Xinjiang crimes

  • A human rights group ap­pealed to the United Na­tions on Monday to investi­gate allegations China’s government is committing crimes against humanity in the Xinjiang region. China is not a member of the International Criminal Court and could use its veto power as a perma­nent UN Security Council member to block action against Chinese officials.

  • More than 1 million peo­ple have been confined to camps in Xinjiang, accord­ing to foreign governments and researchers. Authori­ties there are accused of imposing forced labour and birth controls. The Chinese govern­ment rejects complaints of abuses, saying the camps are for job training to sup­port economic develop­ment and combat radical­ism.

29. India and the regional trade pacts

  • Singapore’s Foreign Minister Vivian Balakrishnan said he hoped India would “reas­sess” its stand on regional trading agreements such as the Regional Comprehensive Economic Partnership (RCEP) pact that India withdrew from in 2019. he added that these trade pacts will give Indian companies a platform to showcase their strengths across even larger markets.

  • The RCEP came into force in November 2020 without India and is the world’s lar­gest trading agreement, co­vering the 10 ASEAN nations, China, Japan, South Korea, Australia and New Zealand. The CPTPP, successor of the Trans ­Pacific Partnership (TPP) which the U.S. with­drew from, includes Singa­pore, Brunei, Malaysia and Vietnam from ASEAN, along with Australia, New Zealand, Japan, Canada, Mexico, Chile and Peru.

  • India withdrew from the RCEP largely because of con­cerns it would open it up to Chinese goods amid an al­ready wide trade imbalance with China, and the failure of the agreement to adequately open up to services. The Singapore Foreign Mi­nister praised India’s strong support to global vaccine cooperation.

30. US refugee situation

  • Joe Biden plans to lift his predecessor’s historically low cap on refugees by next month, after initially moving only to expand the eligibility criteria for resettlements. In an emergency determi­nation signed by Mr. Biden earlier, he stated the admission of up to 15,000 refugees set by form­er President Donald Trump this year “remains justified by humanitarian concerns and is otherwise in the na­tional interest”. But if the cap is reached before the end of the budget year and the emergency refugee sit­uation persists, then a presi­dential determination may be issued to raise the ceiling.

  • Mr. Biden has been con­sulting with his advisers to determine what number of refugees could realistically be admitted to the U.S. bet­ween now and October 1, it’s now unlikely that Mr. Biden will be able to boost that number to 62,500, as he had proposed in his plan to Congress two months ago.

  • The new allocations pro­vide more slots for refugees from Africa, West Asia and Central America and lift Mr. Trump's restrictions on re­settlements from Somalia, Syria and Yemen.

32. Profile : Victory for Guillermo Lasso in Ecuador

  • Guillermo Lasso became the President-elect of Ecuador. Mr. Lasso, a former banker belonging to the centre-right creating opportunities (CREO) party, won 52.4% of the vote in the run­offs, de­feating his opponent Andrez Arauz of the leftist Union of Hope coalition, who se­ cured 47.7% despite leading in the first round with 32.7% over Mr. Lasso’s 19.7%. This was Mr. Lasso’ first presidential victory in three campaigns since 2013.

  • Mr. Aruaz was the handpicked nominee of popular ex-­President Rafael Correa, who continues to exert a sig­nificant influence in Ecua­dor despite being out of power since 2017. Mr. Correa’s com­ing to power in 2007 herald­ed the Ecuadorean version of the Latin American pink tide, a current that led to several left-wing parties winning power across the continent.

  • Ecuador has been rav­aged by COVID­-19 with the GDP shrinking by 7.8%. More than 17,500 deaths have been registered for a high 5% case fatality rate (among the highest in Latin Ameri­ca). Mr. Lasso will, however, have a tougher time in the presidency as the CREO on­ly has 12 seats in the 137­ member National Assembly with the left parties controlling 76 seats together.

33. SpaceX to partner with NASA

  • NASA said it has awarded Elon Musk-owned space company SpaceX a $2.9 billion contract to build a spacecraft to bring astronauts to the moon as early as 2024, picking it over Jeff Bezos’ Blue Origin and defence contractor Dynetics Inc. NASA said it would require a test flight to the moon before humans make the flight.

OPINION & ANALYSIS



Commentary : BIMSTEC needs to reinvent itself

(i). Background

  • While most multilateral groupings from G20 to ASEAN (Association of Southeast Asian Nations) and SCO (Shanghai Cooperation Organisation) held their deliberations at the highest political level in the midst of the COVID-­19 pandemic in 2020, BIMSTEC leaders failed to do so. In contrast to a meeting of even SAARC (South Asian Association for Regional Cooperation) leaders held at India’s initiative a year ago, BIMSTEC could not arrange its ministerial meeting until April 2021. This is due as much to contextual factors as the diplomatic environment prevailing today.

  • Established as a grouping of four nations – India, Thailand, Bangladesh and Sri Lanka – through the Bangkok Declaration of 1997 to promote rapid economic development, BIMSTEC was expanded later to include three more countries – Myanmar, Nepal and Bhutan.

(ii). The foreign ministers virtual conference on April 1.

  • Preparations have been completed for the signing of three agreements relating to mutual legal assistance in criminal matters, cooperation between diplomatic academies, and the establishment of a technology transfer facility in Colombo. What has been missing from recent deliberations is a reference to the lack of progress on the trade and economic dossier. A January 2018 study by the Federation of Indian Chambers of Commerce and Industry had suggested that BIMSTEC urgently needed a comprehensive Free Trade Agreement to be a real game changer.

(iii). Hurdles

  • First, a strong BIMSTEC presupposes cordial and tension free bilateral relations among all its member states. This has not been the case, given the trajectory of India-­Nepal, India­-Sri Lanka, and Bangladesh-­Myanmar ties in recent years.

  • Second, uncertainties over SAARC hovers, complicating matters. Both Kathmandu and Colombo want the SAARC summit revived, even as they cooperate within BIMSTEC, with diluted zeal.

  • Third, China’s decisive intrusion in the South-­Southeast Asian space has cast dark shadows. A renowned Bangladeshi scholar argued at a recent conference that BIMSTEC would make progress if China is accepted as its principal interlocutor and partner. This perspective has hardly any takers in India and its friendly partners in the grouping.

  • Finally, the military coup in Myanmar, brutal crackdown of protesters and continuation of popular resistance resulting in a protracted impasse have produced a new set of challenges. Despite this, the BIMSTEC foreign ministers could meet virtually – but will it be as easy for the summit to be held, with the much maligned Commander-­in-­Chief Min Aung Hlaing in attendance at Colombo.

(iv). Way ahead

  • The grouping needs to reinvent itself, possibly even rename itself as ‘The Bay of Bengal Community’. It should consider holding regular annual summits. Only then will its leaders convince the region about their strong commitment to the new vision they have for this unique platform linking South Asia and Southeast Asia.

Story : Navigation with permission

(i). Background

  • On April 7, the U.S.’s 7th Fleet Destroyer, the USS John Paul Jones, conducted a ‘Freedom of Navigation Operation’ 130 nautical miles west of the Lakshadweep Islands inside India’s Exclusive Economic Zone (EEZ). Not only was this exercise conducted without requesting India’s consent, but the U.S. 7th Fleet noted in its press release that India’s requirement of prior consent is “inconsistent with international law”.

  • In its response, India asserted that the UN Convention on the Law of the Sea (UNCLOS) “does not authorize other States to carry out in the Exclusive Economic Zone and on the continental shelf, military exercises or manoeuvres, in particular those involving the use of weapons or explosives, without the consent of the coastal state”. Owing to the different positions of the two countries, legal questions emerge here. The question is, can countries carry out military exercises in another country’s EEZ and if yes, subject to what conditions?

(ii). Understanding the law

  • UNCLOS binds all its signatories and customary international law binds all states, subject to exceptions like the doctrine of persistent objector. Most of the provisions of the UNCLOS are the result of codification of the existing rules of customary international law. India is a party to the UNCLOS while the U.S. is not. As per the UNCLOS, EEZ is an area adjacent to the territorial waters of a coastal state where the sovereign coastal state has rights and duties relating to management of natural resources; establishment and use of artificial islands, installations and structures; marine scientific research; and protection of the marine environment.

(iii). The way ahead

  • Both India and the U.S. should negotiate such concerns for the maintenance of international peace and security. Riding roughshod over international obligations premised either in an erroneous interpretation of the law or the scope of its application will not only threaten friendly relations but also undermine the progress made towards codification and development of international law in an area such as the law of the sea, which is particularly complex.

Commentary : Exiting Afghanistan

(i). Background

  • When Mr. Biden ordered a review of the U.S.’s Afghan strategy, there was speculation that he would delay the pullout at least until there was a political settlement. But he chose an orderly pull out – the remaining troops (officially 2,500) will start leaving Afghanistan on May 1, with a full withdrawal by September 11. Besides the U.S. troops, the thousands of coalition troops under the NATO’s command are also expected to pull back along with the Americans

(ii). Implications of the pullout

  • This leaves the already shaky Ghani government in an even more precarious situation. After September, the government will be left with itself on the battleground against the Taliban. For now, Mr. Ghani has held together the powerful sections of the state and society against the Taliban at least in the provincial capitals. But once the Americans are gone, the balance of power in the stalemated conflict could shift decisively in favour of the Taliban.

  • The country is already witnessing a series of targeted killings of journalists, activists and other civil society members opposed to the Taliban. The U.S. has promised that it would continue remote assistance to the government.

  • The role of regional players such as Russia, China and India, which have a shared interest in a stable Afghanistan, will also be crucial in deciding the country’s future. But one thing is certain: the U.S., despite all its military might, has lost the war and its withdrawal, without any settlement or even a peace road map, leaves the Taliban stronger and the government weaker.


Commentary : A multipolarity : Japan, Iran, Turkey and India are well set to shape the emerging world order

(i). Background

  • The acrimony between the United States and Chinese delegations at the Anchorage conclave on March 19, followed by U.S. President Joe Biden referring to Russian President Vladimir Putin as a “killer” and Mr. Putin’s sharp riposte, and Mr. Biden’s reluctance to rejoin the nuclear agreement with Iran, are positions which make it clear that in respect of three crucial relationships, namely China, Russia and Iran, Mr. Biden is following in the footsteps of his much reviled predecessor, Donald Trump.

(ii). The US game

  • It is clear that the U.S. continues to view China as its principal adversary on the world stage and that it will use the Quad to challenge China in the Indo­Pacific, possibly as part of a “new Cold War”.

  • The U.S.’s hostility for Russia goes back to the latter’s war with Ukraine and the occupation of Crimea in 2014, followed by allegations of Russian cyber interference in the U.S. presidential elections of 2016. Mr. Biden continues this hostility for Russia.

  • U.S. animosity has encouraged China and Russia to solidify their relations. Besides significantly expanding their bilateral ties, the two countries have agreed to harmonise their visions under the Eurasian Economic Union sponsored by Russia and China’s Belt and Road Initiative (BRI). This idea has now been subsumed under the ‘Greater Eurasian Partnership’ to which both are committed. Both have condemned the Quad for “undermining global strategic stability”. Thus, the new Cold War is now being reflected in a new geopolitical binary – the Indo­-Pacific versus Eurasia.

(iii). Four Middle Powers

  • The final shape of this divide will be determined by four nations, namely Japan, Iran, Turkey and India, which, as “middle powers'', have the capacity to project power regionally, build alliances, and support (or disrupt) the strategies of international powers pursuing their interests in the region.

  • The four middle powers, whose choice of alignment will impart a political and military binary to world order, are reluctant to make this a reality. While Cold War advocates in home capitals and in the U.S. will continue to promote ever­tighter alliances, these nations could find salvation in “strategic autonomy” – defined by flexible partnerships, with freedom to shape alliances to suit specific interests at different times. These four middle powers will thus make multipolarity, rather than a new Cold War, the defining characteristic of the emerging global order.


Commentary : It’s time to enact a Siras Act

(i). Background

  • A law to accord an ex-post facto pardon to those who were convicted under Section 377 of the Indian Penal Code (IPC) would do poetic justice to the LGBTQ+ community and Professor Ramachandra Siras. What happened to Siras is a perfect example of the persecution faced by the LGBTQ+ community in India.

(ii). The global precedents

  • A memorial in honour of the gay and lesbian victims of National Socialism stands in the city of Cologne in Germany today. The U.K. passed the Alan Turing law in 2017, which grants amnesty and pardon to those convicted of consensual same-sex relationships.

(iii). How India fares

  • From 1862, when Section 377 of the IPC came into effect, until September 6, 2018, when the Supreme Court of India ruled that the application of Section 377 of the IPC to consensual homosexual behaviour between adults was “unconstitutional, irrational, indefensible and manifestly arbitrary”, the LGBTQ+ community was treated as a criminal tribe in India.

  • The Delhi High Court’s verdict in Naz Foundation v. Govt. of NCT of Delhi (2009) resulted in the decriminalisation of homosexual acts involving consenting adults. The Court held that Section 377 offended the guarantee of equality enshrined in Article 14 of the Constitution.

  • In a retrograde step, the Supreme Court, in Suresh Kumar Koushal vs. Naz Foundation (2013), reinstated Section 377 in the IPC. Fortunately India witnessed the resurrection of Naz Foundation through the apex court’s judgment in Navtej Singh Johar & Ors. v. Union of India (2018).

  • To make amends for the excesses committed against the LGBTQ+ community in the past and present, the Indian state should enact a ‘Siras Act’ on the lines of the Alan Turing law.


Story : Implementing green contracts

(i). Green contracting and cutting emissions

  • ‘Green contracts’ refer to commercial contracts which mandate that contracting parties cut down green-house gas emissions at different stages of delivery of goods/services, including design, manufacturing, transportation, operations and waste disposal, as applicable to the industry.

  • Once a bidder is chosen, the contracting agreement between the parties can prescribe the ‘green obligations’ in detail, thus making the obligations binding and enforceable in the eyes of the law. It is this obligatory nature of green contracts which sets the tone for the parties to cut down emissions. This can be achieved by contractual clauses.

(ii). Adherence to contracts

  • One effective way to make sure that the service providers adhere to these contractual obligations would be to provide for measurement criteria and audit of the performance of the contractor with regard to these obligations. An organisation may also choose to contractually highlight non-performance of such obligations as a ground of contractual breach, with penalty prescriptions.

  • Another way to make sure that these obligations under the green contracts resonate far is to make sure that they flow down to all levels of the supply chain engaged in the delivery of goods and services.

  • The economic cost of executing green contracts may be greater than a normal brown contract, but global entities operating in a changing environment need to take into consideration the greater environment costs at stake.


Analysis : Ordinance route, and promulgation of ordinances

(i). Background

  • The central government has re-promulgated the ordinance that establishes a commission for air quality management in the National Capital Region, or the Commission for Air Quality Management in National Capital Region and Adjoining Areas Ordinance, 2020. This raises questions about the practice of issuing ordinances to make law, and that of re­issuing ordinances without getting them ratified by Parliament.

(ii). What the law says

  • The legal position is clear, and has been elucidated by constitution Benches of the Supreme Court. Ordinances are to tackle exigencies when the legislature is not in session, and expire at the end of six weeks of the next meeting of the legislature. This time period is given for the legislature to decide whether such a law is warranted. Re-promulgation is not permitted as that would be a usurpation of legislative power by the executive.

  • As governments, both at the Centre and States, are violating this principle, the legislatures and the courts should check the practice. That is what separation of powers and the concept of checks and balances means. By not checking this practice, the other two organs are also abdicating their responsibility to the Constitution.


Commentary : Ken-Betwa project

(i). Background

  • Last month, Uttar Pradesh, Madhya Pradesh and the Centre signed a tripartite agreement to transfer “surplus” water from the Ken basin in M.P. to the “deficit” Betwa basin in U.P. The Ken­ Betwa project is part of the national river linking project which proposes to connect 14 Himalayan and 16 pe­ninsular river. The project has the status of a national project, as the Centre will contribute 90% of the cost. It is India’s first river linking project and will take eight years to complete.

  • First mooted in the 1980s, the Ken­ Betwa project was taken up seriously only during former Prime Minister Atal Bihari Vajpayee’s regime. The pro­ject, the government says, will en­hance the irrigation potential of the water starved Bundelkhand region in U.P. and M.P., facilitate groundwater recharge and reduce the occurrence of floods.

(ii). Environmental concerns

  • Of the 12,500 hectares of land to get submerged by the project, more than 9,000 ha are categorised as forest land. The submergence area includes a critically important section of the Panna Tiger Reserve.

  • Also, the project may destroy about 7.2 lakh trees. South Asia Network on Dams, River and People convener Hi­manshu Thakkar fears that this will affect rainfall in the already parched region.

  • The claims of Ken having surplus wa­ter may be unrealistic as the river is not perennial – in the past some­ times, it has slowed to a trickle. Another difficulty will be that the Ken flows 60­70 feet lower than the Betwa and at least 30% of the 103 MW pow­er generated will be used for pump­ing the water up. The cost­ benefits calculations of the project also don’t take into consider­ation the environmental and social impacts.


Story : India and Russia look for a reset

(i). Background

  • It was clear from Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov’s ‘working visit’ to India two weeks ago that India-Russia relations are not quite the flavour of the season. Mr. Lavrov’s principal objective was to prepare the ground for the visit of President Vladimir Putin later this year. The break in 2020, after 20 annual summits, had provoked speculation, partly flowing from Mr. Lavrov’s criticism last year of a U.S. ­led Indo­-Pacific policy, drawing India into “anti­-China games” and undermining the India­-Russia partnership. A few weeks earlier, Mr. Putin had extolled the vibrancy of Russia-­China defence cooperation. These remarks encouraged the advocacy for a shift of India’s foreign policy away from a weak and China ­tethered Russia and towards the U.S.

(ii). Russia’s changing foreign policy goalposts

  • As India-­China tensions have grown, so have India’s concerns about Russia’s China embrace, encompassing close political, economic and defence cooperation (Russia accounted for 77% of China’s arms imports in 2016-­20).

  • Russia is now Pakistan’s second largest defence supplier, accounting for 6.6% of its arms imports in 2016-­20. Their cooperation includes joint “counterterrorism” drills and sharing perspectives on military tactics and strategic doctrines.

  • Russia supplied 49% of India’s arms imports in 2016-­20. The proportion has been falling, as India diversified its imports. Despite this, India’s second largest supplier, France, had only an 18% share. In this already complex mix, the American sanctions legislation, CAATSA (Countering America’s Adversaries Through Sanctions Act), adds an external layer of complexity.

(iii). Significance of Russia-China co-operation and way forward

  • The criticality of geography in geopolitics is often underestimated. The Eurasian landmass to India’s north is dominated by Russia and China. Strategic and security interests in Central Asia, West Asia and Afghanistan dictate our engagement with the region and the connectivity projects linking it, like the International North-­South Transport Corridor through Iran. India cannot vacate this space to a Russia­-China condominium (with Pakistan in tow), without potentially grave security consequences.

  • India has to explore the space within these processes to maximise its global influence by steering clear of alliances and retaining autonomy of policy. The partnership with Russia will not have the salience of past decades, but will remain important for our continental interests and defence capability. The depth of the relationship will depend on the willingness and capacity of both countries to show mutual sensitivity to core security concerns.


Analysis : Cuba after the Castros

(i). Background

  • The retirement of Raul Castro as the first secretary of Cuba’s ruling Communist Party brings to an end the six­ decades long rule of the “historic generation”, who, under the leadership of Fidel Castro, captured power in 1959 through an armed revolution. Fidel remained at the helm of affairs in the island, in the face of growing hostility from the U.S. until he fell sick in 2006. Two years later, he handed the party to his younger brother, who had fought alongside him in the guerrilla war against the dictatorship of Fulgencio Batista in the 1950s.

  • Now when the 89­ year old leader retires, leaving “a foot in a stirrup ready to defend socialism”, Mr. Díaz­Canel, 60, is expected to succeed him as the new party chief.

(ii). Castros legacy

  • The Castros built a closed, socialist economy that worked for many for decades. Cuba’s achievements in the fields of education and health care are inimitable. But many critics of the Cuban model feel that the historic generation was slow to open up the economy, generate growth and create more opportunities – something that China, another communist party ruled country, did. Mr. Raul took small steps and Mr. Díaz­Canel is continuing them, with a long promised currency reform having been implemented in January.

(iii). Cuba’s current state

  • The coronavirus pandemic practically shut down Cuba’s vital tourism sector, causing an 11% economic contraction last year. The crisis has triggered food shortages, bringing back memories of the early 1990s. There are also calls for more political freedoms.

  • Unlike in the past when the flow of information was controlled, the expansion of the Internet and social networks is allowing critics of the government, including U.S.­based dissidents, to amplify their voices. Mr. Raul’s successor cannot stay away from addressing these challenges as the revolution ages. The party always bets on continuity. But the contradiction it faces is that continuity is intrinsically linked to reforms.


Commentary : Demise of the Intellectual Property Appellate Board (IPAB)

(i). Background

  • The demise of the Intellectual Pro­perty Appellate Board (IPAB), India’s specialist tribunal for determining disputes relating to intellectual pro­perty (IP) rights, is symbolic of its tenuous life.

(ii). The board's turbulent life

  • Ever since its creation, the IPAB has been treated like an unwanted child. Perennially understaffed and under­ funded. Established under the Trade Marks Act of 1999, its jurisdiction was later extended to hear patent cases after the Patents (Amendment) Act of 2002.

  • Historically, appeals from the Intellectual Property Office (IPO), rectification and revocation applica­tions were heard by the various High Courts. However, the Patents (Amendment) Act of 2002 divested these powers from the High Courts and extended it to the IPAB.

  • Even though the IPAB has not been performing its adjudicatory function on the patent side regularly due to administrative reasons, it certainly has been the subject matter of judi­cial review before the various High Courts. In recent times, after remaining headless for al­most two years, in January 2018, the IPAB was given a head. The appointment of the technical member for patents was also regularly delayed.

  • One of the former chairpersons had publicly raised concerns regarding the judicial and institutional independence of the IPAB, and called for closing it.

  • The IPAB’s jurisdiction of cases was split between trademarks, pa­tents, copyright, and geographical indication, where the predominant business pertained to trademarks. Thus, the workload of the IPAB was typically split between trademarks and patents with the former consum­ing much of the time.

  • The patents bench of the IPAB would have probably taken longer to constitute had it not been for the limelight brought by the Novartis case. The Madras High Court while hearing an appeal from the IPO regarding Novartis’ Glivec patent application said that it ought to have been heard by the IPAB first. After the notification, the High Court trans­ferred Novartis’ petition and subse­quently all other pending patent cases to the IPAB.

  • Patent disputes owing to their technological complexity were the IPAB’s predominant time­ consuming business after trade­ marks. There was a paltry disposal rate of about 20 patent cases a year. Near­ly 70% of the patent cases filed were either pending at some stage or yet to be taken up for hearing. The irony was that tribu­nals were established with the prim­ary aim of speedy disposal of cases by specialised experts.

(iii). Missed Opportunity

  • India stands as a shining example for what it has done legislatively in pa­tent law. Be it the retraction of pro­duct patents for pharmaceuticals and chemicals between 1970 and 2005, the anti­ evergreening provi­sions or the robust compulsory li­censing regime, it has offered the world a host of TRIPS­ compliant flex­ibilities in its statute.

  • Barring a few bright spots, there has been a reluctance to extend the flexibilities in the Patents Act through judicial interpretation that expands the law.


Analysis : The second wave commentary

(i). What the data says

  • While the cumulative number at the peak (September 16, 2020) of the first wave was 51,15,893 (reached in six months), infections in the second wave in the last eight weeks are already 29,66,583, or 58% of the numbers at the first peak.

  • Earlier, we concluded that at the end of the first wave, 60% of the population had been infected (828 million). The uninfected 40% would be 1,380 million minus 828 million = 552 million. According to a recent Indian Council of Medical Research report, the reinfection rate in India is 4.5%, thus, out of 828 million initially infected, 37.26 mil­lion are susceptible to reinfection. The total number of susceptible subjects for the second wave would be 552 million+37.26 million = 589.26 million.

(ii). Comparison of the two waves

  • On June 12, 2020 and on Fe­bruary 16, 2021 the numbers were 11,320 and 11,795, respectively. Ov­er the next eight weeks, the curves differed in acceleration. From June 12, 2020 to August 7, 2020 the increase (to 61,455) was 5.4 ­fold. From February 16, 2021 to April 13, 2021 the increase (to 1,85,248) was 15.7 ­fold. The doubling time of 28 days during the first wave is 2.8 times the doubling time (10 days) of the second wave.

  • The R value of the initial ‘var­iant’ of the virus of the first wave was 2-­3, meaning, one infected person would infect 2­3 others; the variant(s) causing the second wave has a higher R value ≥ 4.

  • The herd immunity level required to bring the numbers down to end the se­cond wave (herd immunity thresh­old) would be about 75%­-80%, in contrast to 60% for the first wave – in terms of actual numbers, a max­imum of ~471 million (80% of 589.26 million).

  • Of the 828 million infected in the first wave, only 10,904,738 (1.32%) were diagnosed by Febru­ary 13, 2021. By the same token, only 6.223 million (1.32% of 471.4 million) are likely to be diagnosed by the end of the second wave. At the peak, the numbers detected would be half, namely 3.1 million.

  • We have already diagnosed 2,966,583 infections in the second wave by April 13, 2021 and the cur­rent doubling time is 10 days. The­refore, in the next few days we ought to reach ~3.1 million detect­ed cases, spelling the peak of the second wave.

  • The des­cent after the peak will take an equal length of time – two months – in a normal bell­ shaped epidem­ic curve. It is expected that steady low le­vels of infection (endemic state) will be reached by mid-­June 2021.


Story : COVID-19 vaccines and blood clots

(i). Background

  • Reports of rare blood clots occurring after COVID­-19 vaccination have led some countries to limit the usage of AstraZeneca’s vaccine for certain categories of people. More recently, the United States put the Johnson & Johnson vaccine on hold after reports of blood clots emerged.

(ii). What are the adverse effects

  • An adverse effect following immunisation with the AstraZeneca jab is not merely blood clots in large vessels, but also a low platelet count. Scientists are still trying to establish a clinical definition for this adverse effect of low platelet count.

  • The World Health Organization’s Global Advisory Committee on Vaccine Safety said, “A very rare new type of adverse event called Thrombosis with Thrombocytopenia Syndrome (TTS), involving unusual and severe blood clotting events associated with low platelet counts, has been reported after vaccination with COVID­19 vaccines Vaxzevria and Covishield”. So far, TTS has only been linked to vaccines built on adenovirus platform and not linked to vaccines built on mRNA platforms (Pfizer or Moderna), the group added.

(iii). Data on the phenomenon

  • The EU data put the deaths at 1 in 1,00,000, while in the U.K., it is one in 25,000, and in the U.S., it is one in a million. While specific TTS has not been assigned to any post ­vaccination adverse event in India, post facto analyses have shown that heart attacks and brain strokes were major factors for hospitalisation and deaths.

  • In India, where Covishield is being used widely, of 79 deaths caused after vaccination found that over 50% of the people had heart attacks and brain strokes. An important issue is the current inability to identify vulnerable groups in a population.

(iv). Risk vs Benefit principle

  • Virologists say that adverse events are bound to occur, but we need to make sure that every such event is investigated thoroughly. With any adverse event, there will be reasonable geographic variation.

  • A recent study by researchers at the University of Oxford stated, “The risk of the rare blood clotting known as cerebral venous thrombosis (CVT) following COVID­19 infection is around 100 times greater than normal, several times higher than it is post­ vaccination or following influenza”.

  • Adverse effects usually occur four to 20 days after the first dose right now. While fever, body pain and tiredness after vaccination last a couple of days and are not worrisome, symptoms of concern during this extended period include chest pain, persistent abdominal pain, shortness of breath, pain in the extremities, severe headache and blurry vision. A simple D-­dimer test can also be done to check whether blood clots have formed.

  • First, a rare side effect does not have the same rate of occurrence around the world. So, each country must pay attention to AEFI (Adverse event following immunization) that manifests as TTS. Second, since a class effect is suspected, paying attention to vaccines built on adenovirus platforms is important.


ECONOMICS & FINANCE



Daily snippets

1. Lockdowns to shave $1.25 bn a week

  • Amid surging pandemic cases forcing many States to curb mobility and busi­nesses, a British brokerag­e Barclay’s report has said that these localised lockdowns in key economic hubs can cost the economy an aver­age of $1.25 billion each week and may shave off 140 bps from the Q1 nomi­nal GDP.

  • If the current restric­tions remain in place until May end, the cumulative loss of economic and com­mercial activity could be approximately $10.5 bil­lion, or about 34 bps of no­minal GDP.

2. India's public debt levels

  • India’s public debt level is among the highest in emerg­ing economies with a quanti­tative easing programme un­derway, while its debt affordability is among the weakest, Moody’s Investors Service said. “With the exception of Chile, most of the 11 emerg­ing markets have weak go­vernment effectiveness, sug­gesting potential risks executing fiscal reforms or consolidation plans,” Moo­dy’s said. India, South Africa and Ghana have the highest public debt and weakest debt affordabil­ity.

  • The report highlighted that depending on recovery prospects and future debt servicing costs, high debt levels may become unsustainable for the more vulnerable economies.

  • What is quantitative easing? Quantitative easing is a monetary policy whereby a central bank purchases at scale government bonds or other financial assets in order to inject money into the economy to expand economic activity.

3. Blue collar jobs hiring on the rise

  • With the vaccination drive in full swing in the country and high optimism on eco­nomic recovery, the hiring of blue collar workers is re­surging as 70% of em­ployers polled in a survey said they had resumed recruitment. Of the 70% employers polled in the second edi­tion of OLX People Survey, nearly 16% said they were hiring 100% of capacity, while 54% are hiring up to 50% of capacity.

  • About 60% of employers stated they faced no chal­lenges in availability of ta­lent, despite the fact that a large number of gig work­ers had preferred to return to their native at the height of the pandemic.

4. Making India a hardware manufacturing hub

  • There is an opportunity for India to become a hardware manufacturing location as the world’s technology ma­jors have been moving their supply chains out of China over the past 18 months, Mi­crosoft president Brad Smith said. He added that hardware capacity had been shifting to Mexico, Vietnam, South Korea, and some southeast Asian countries.

  • Urging India and the U.S. to join the Paris Call for Trust and Security in Cyber­ space that now has 75 coun­tries on board to deal with new cybersecurity threats facing the world, he also emphasised the need to train more professionals to cope with these threats. He stated that many cybersecurity problems also emerged from the lack of IT administrators’ compliance with best practices.

5. CITIBank to exit retail banking in India, China

  • Citigroup announced it will exit 13 international con­sumer banking markets, shifting its focus to wealth management and away from retail banking in plac­es where it is small. Citigroup will focus its global consumer banking business on four markets: Singapore, Hong Kong, London and the UAE. “We don’t have the scale we need to compete,” said Citi chief executive Jane Fraser.

6. Flipkart to acquire Cleartrip

  • Walmart­ backed Flipkart made a pro­posal to acquire Cleartrip, an online travel technology firm. Flipkart would acquire 100% of Cleartrip’s share­ holding in a move to furth­er strengthen its digital commerce offerings for customers, the company said in a release. Post acquisition, Clear­trip would continue to op­erate as a separate brand and also retain all its em­ployees, Flipkart said.

7. RBI sets up authority to review regulations

  • The Reserve Bank of India (RBI) has set up the Regula­tions Review Authority 2.0. The authority will review regulatory prescriptions in­ternally as well as by seeking suggestions from RBI ­regu­lated entities for simplifica­tion and ease of implementation. Deputy Governor M. Ra­jeshwar Rao has been ap­pointed as the Regulations Review Authority.

  • The RBI had set up a simi­lar authority in 1999 for re­viewing regulations, circu­lars, reporting systems. The recommendations enabled streamlining and increasing the effectiveness of several procedures, pav­ing the way for issuance of master circular and reduc­ing reporting burden on reg­ulated entities.

8. US treasury keeps India on currency watchlist

  • India is one of the 11 coun­tries on the U.S. Treasury’s ‘Monitoring List’ with re­gard to their currency prac­tices. India was on the list in the December 2020 report as well. The report re­views currency practices of the U.S. 's 20 biggest trading partners. Three criteria are used to review partners: a significant (at least $20 bil­lion) bilateral trade surplus, a material current account surplus, and ‘persistent one-sided intervention’ in forex markets.

  • India met two of the three criteria – the trade surplus criterion and the “persis­tent, one-sided interven­tion” criterion, according to the U.S Treasury Department.

9. India imports sugar to Indonesia and Afghanistan

  • Major destinations for sugar exports from India this sea­son (October 2020 to Sep­tember 2021) are Indonesia and Afghanistan, according to the Indian Sugar Mills Association (ISMA). 29.72 lakh tonnes of sugar have been exported so far this season compared with 30.64 lakh tonnes during the same pe­riod in the previous season. During the last season, ma­jor sugar exports were to Iran and Afghanistan. This year, with currency restrictions, exports to Iran were affected. Also, with lower output in Thailand, Indian exports to Indonesia have picked up.

10. Production linked incentive (PLI) scheme for ACs, LED lights

  • The department for promo­tion of industry and internal trade (DPIIT) has notified the PLI scheme for ACs and LED light. It said that mere assembly of finished goods would not be incentivised and compa­nies investing in basic/core components would get a higher priority. Earlier this month, the go­vernment approved a pro­duction linked incentive (PLI) scheme for white goods – Air Conditioners (ACs) and LED lights – with an outlay of ₹6,238 crore. Selection of companies for the scheme shall be done so as to incentivise manufac­turing of components or sub­assemblies which are not manufactured in India presently with sufficient ca­pacity.

  • The Empowered Group of Secretaries chaired by the Ca­binet Secretary will monitor the PLI scheme, undertake periodic review of the outgo under the scheme, ensure uniformity of all PLIs and take appropriate action to ensure that the expenditure is within the prescribed outlay.


SPORTS



Daily snippets

1. Asian Weightlifting Championships

  • Jhilli Dalabehera emerged champion in the wo­men's 45kg field at the Asian weightlifting champion­ships in Tashkent. Jhilli, a former World ju­nior bronze medallist, to­talled 157kg (snatch 69kg, clean and jerk 88kg) to take the gold medal.

  • Former World champion Mirabai Chanu – who set a new re­cord of 119kg and improved her personal best by two more kg to do 205kg to clinch the women’s 49kg bronze medal. “It is a huge source of sa­tisfaction as I worked on my technique and strength after my failure in the Rio Olympics”, she said. Chief coach Vijay Sharma said a technical adjustment after the Rio Games lifted Mi­rabai’s clean and jerk performance.

2. Balbir Singh Jr passes away

  • Balbir Singh Jr., who was a member of the silver medal­ winning 1958 Asian Games Indian hockey team, died here at the age of 88. Balbir Singh Jr. was born on May 2, 1932, at Sansarpur in Jalandhar, also known as the nursery of hockey players in India. He was first selected to play for the Indian hockey team in 1951. Hockey India condoled his death.

3. India Open to be held in-camera

  • The Badminton Association of In­dia (BAI), an­nounced plans to hold the India Open badminton championship in camera at the K.D. Jadhav Indoor hall at the Indira Gandhi Stadium. Thrice World champion and reigning Olympic gold medallist Carolina Marin, Akane Yamaguchi, current World champion P.V. Sindhu and Saina Nehwal are among the leading names in wo­men’s singles.

  • Two-time World champion Kenta Momota, defending champion Viktor Axelson, reigning All England winner Zii Jia Lee along with home challengers K. Srikanth, B. Sai Praneeth, H.S. Prannoy and P. Kashyap promise to light up the men’s singles draw.

4. Medals in double-digit expected at Tokyo Olympics

  • Indian sports officials are ex­pecting a medal haul in dou­ble-­digit at the Tokyo Olym­pics. “We are expecting 120-­130 athletes to qualify for the Olympics and expect the In­dian contingent to be about 185-­190 people, including coaches and support staff. I expect the medal haul to be in double digits this time,” Indian Olympic Association President Narinder Batra said.

5. India's Payas Jain is World No. 2 in Under-17

  • Payas Jain has jumped to the second spot in boys’ (u­17) world table tennis age group rankings released. Payas, winner of the Na­tional youth and junior titles in Indore last month, is also the highest ranked Indian in the boys’ u­19 at 33rd.

6. Virat Kohli named Wisden's ODI player of 2010s

  • Virat Kohli has been named Wisden Almanack’s ODI player of the 2010s, while England all-­rounder Ben Stokes was declared the ‘Cricketer of the Year’ for a second successive time. Sachin Tendulkar was named the ODI Cricketer of the 1990s and Kapil Dev the best for the 1980s. Sir Vivian Richards claimed the prize in the 1970s while Sri Lankan great Muttiah Muralitharan got the nod for the 2000s.

7. Koneru Humpy eyes classical world crown

  • World rapid chess cham­pion Koneru Humpy has her eyes set on win­ning the classical format World championship. She won the World rapid chess championships in 2019. She added that being joint ­winners with Russia in the online Olympiad team gold in 2020 was one of the most memorable moments in her career. She has featured in nine World championships.

8. No cancellation of Olympic games

  • The head of the Tokyo Olym­pics was again forced to assure the world that the postponed Games would open in just over three months and not be cancelled despite surging COVID-­19 cases in Japan. “There are a variety of con­cerns but as the Tokyo 2020 organising committee we are not thinking about can­celling the Games,” organising committee president Seiko Hashi­moto said. However, polls show as many as 80% in Ja­pan oppose holding the Olympics during the pandemic.

  • The IOC, which relies on selling broadcast rights for 73% of its income, has seen its cash flow stalled by the postponement. Japanese Olympics Minister Tamayo Marukawa said the government was considering daily virus tests on athletes during the Games as a way to guarantee safety.

9. Olympian Ahmed Hussain passes away

  • Football Olympian Ahmed Hussain Lala passed away in Bengaluru, aged 89. Ahmed represented In­dia in the 1956 Melbourne Olympics. Ahmed was also a well­ known defender of the famed Hyderabad City Pol­ice team in the 1950s under the tutelage of one of In­dia’s greatest coaches ever, late S.A. Raheem. He was a regular for Mo­hammadan Sporting in the Kolkata league for many years. Ahmed represented India at various other international tournaments in­cluding the 1958 Asian Games and the Merdeka Tournament in 1959.

10. Inclusion of cricket in Olympics

  • The BCCI’s apex council offered conditional support for cricket’s inclu­sion in the 2028 Olympic Games. BCCI will sup­port the inclusion of men’s and women’s events in the quadrennial showpiece events only if the BCCI’s sta­tus as an autonomous sports federation is retained. The BCCI at present isn’t an affiliate of the Indian Olympic Association and is keen on participating in the Olympics without being a party to the proposed Na­tional Sports Code.

SUGGESTED READINGS



1. Indian scholars and content seizure https://www.thequint.com/voices/opinion/supreme-court-petition-indian-academics-scholars-content-seizure-right-to-privacy-bhima-koregaon-case-indian-constitution

2. Dr Ambedkar's concept of constitutional morality https://www.livelaw.in/columns/contemporary-relevance-of-dr-ambedkars-concept-of-constitutional-morality-172570

3. Case for non-compete clauses https://www.barandbench.com/columns/the-case-for-non-compete-clauses

4. Right to privacy and death https://www.barandbench.com/news/litigation/madras-high-court-dismisses-plea-jayalalitha-biopic-thalaivi-queen

5. Women, domestic responsibilities and Judiciary's patriarchy https://thewire.in/women/women-domestic-responsibilities-and-indian-judiciarys-grand-patriarchy

6. Private vehicle and public space https://www.livelaw.in/know-the-law/is-your-private-vehicle-a-public-place-law-has-different-answers-172717

7. Appointment of High Court Judges https://www.livelaw.in/top-stories/supreme-court-lays-down-time-line-for-appointment-of-high-court-judges-172852

8. Uploading photos on porn sites https://thewire.in/law/uploading-photos-lifted-from-social-media-to-porn-sites-without-consent-an-offence-delhi-hc


Download Page : https://e-clat.com/dailynewspage

Sources referred to : The Hindu, The Indian Express, Live Law, Bar & Bench

END

Weekly Page : April 5th – April 12th, 2021

The week that went by!

START


LAW, POLICY & GOVERNANCE



Daily snippets

1. Delhi HC asks Centre to treat CRPF officers’ plea as representation

  • The Delhi High Court has asked the Centre to treat as representation a petition by a group of officers of the Central Reserve Police Force (CRPF) raising the issue of acute stagnation suffered by Directly Appointed Assistant Commandants. Petition contends stagnated promotion among cadres.

2. Employer can reject candidate acquitted of serious crime: SC

  • The Supreme Court has held that a public employer can reject a candidate as unsuitable if he had, in the past, been acquitted of a serious crime merely on the benefit of doubt.

  • The case concerned a man acquitted of murder after witnesses turned hostile in Rajasthan in 2009. He was part of a group of people who ran a tractor over a woman and later knifed people who tried to resist them.

3. Salary, pension fundamental rights of all employees: HC

  • The Delhi High Court said salaries and pension are fundamental rights of employees or retirees while dismissing a plea by North Delhi Municipal Corporation to extend the time for clearing arrears of staff. The court said the non-availability of funds is not a ground to deny salaries and pension to the employees on time.

4. SC to take up report on ISRO frame-up

  • The Centre has put its weight behind a report filed by a three member committee chaired by former Supreme Court judge, Justice D.K. Jain, tasked to unravel rogue officials responsible for the infamous Indian Space Research Organisation (ISRO) “frame­up” case of 1994 that destroyed the life and reputation of Nambi Narayanan. The Centre has applied to the top court, urging it to accept on record the inquiry report submitted by the Justice Jain Committee and take suitable action on the suggestions made against the “erring officials”.

5. Justice Ramana will be next CJI

  • President Ram Nath Kovind appointed Justice N.V. Ramana as the 48th Chief Justice of India with effect from April 24. Justice Ramana has said one of his primary objectives, besides providing easy access to justice, would be to improve the judicial infrastructure through a special purpose vehicle called the ‘National Judicial Infrastructure Corporation’ to act as a nodal agency.

6. Wearing mask mandatory even if driving alone

  • The Delhi High Court ruled that wearing a mask, or face cover, in a vehicle is compulsory even if a person is driving alone. Court says mask is a suraksha kavach during the prevailing COVID­-19 pandemic. Justice Singh highlighted that a person travelling in a vehicle or car, even if he was alone, could be exposed to the virus in various ways.

7. Centre seeks nod to close Italian marines case

  • The government asked the Supreme Court to schedule an urgent hearing of its application to close the criminal trials pending in India against two Italian marines accused of killing two fishermen off the coast of Kerala in 2012. SC agreed to schedule hearing after govt. said victims’ families have been compensated.

  • The Supreme Court said it would order the closure of criminal proceedings against the two Italian marines accused of killing fishermen off the coast of Kerala only after Italy paid Rs 10 crore as compensation for the victims’ families.

  • The court directed that Italy should transfer the compensation to an account number which would be handed over to it by the Ministry of External Affairs. The Ministry would in turn deposit the money with the court. The SC would directly disburse the compensation to the families.

8. SC refuses to order release of Rohingya

  • The Supreme Court refrained from ordering the release of the Rohingyas detained in Jammu. It, however, said they should not be deported without proper procedure. A Bench, led by the Chief Justice of India, held that though rights to equality and due process of law enshrined in the Constitution are available to both citizens and foreigners, the right “not to be deported” is ancillary to citizenship.

9. ASI will survey mosque, orders court

  • A local court in Varanasi directed the Archaeological Survey of India (ASI) to conduct a survey of the Gyanvapi Mosque, adjacent to the Kashi Vishwanath Temple, to find out whether it was a “superimposition, alteration or addition or if there is structural overlapping of any kind, with any other religious structure”.

  • The order came on a petition demanding restoration of the land on which the Gyanvapi Mosque stands to the Hindus, claiming that Mughal Emperor Aurangzeb had pulled down parts of the old Kashi Vishwanath Temple to build the mosque.

  • The order is an unconscionable intervention that will open the flood-gates for another protracted religious dispute. Regardless of the merits of either side’s case, it ought to be clear to anyone concerned with peace and harmony in the country that the attempt to resurrect disputes buried by law is a serious setback to the cause of secularism and peaceful coexistence. That new challenges are emerging to the wisdom of Parliament in giving a statutory quietus to squabbles over religious sites is deeply disturbing.

10. Was exercising my right to protest, Sidhu tells court

  • Actor activist Deep Sidhu, arrested in connection with the violence at Red Fort on Republic Day, told a Delhi court that he did not instigate anyone to cause violence and was only exercising his “fundamental right” to protest. “I have not indulged in a single act of violence. I left before the violence broke out,” he claimed.

11. People are free to choose religion: SC

  • The Supreme Court said people are free to choose their religion, even as it lashed out at a “very, very harmful kind” of “public interest” petition claiming there is mass religious conversion happening “by hook or by crook” across the country.

  • The petition alleged that the court should direct the Centre and the States to control black magic, superstition and religious conversion being done through threats, intimidation or bribes.

  • Justice Nariman reminded Mr. Upadhyay of the Constitution Bench judgment which upheld inviolability of the right to privacy, equating it with the rights to life, of dignity and liberty.

12. Public streets should not be blocked: SC

  • “Public streets should not be blocked”, observed the Supreme Court while hearing a plea of a Noida based woman alleging difficulties in commuting to Delhi for work due to road blockades by protesting farmers.

13. Live-streaming of court proceedings soon: SC judge

  • Supreme Court judge and chairperson of its e­-committee, Justice D.Y. Chandrachud said live-streaming of court proceedings was on the brink of becoming a reality. The judge said the idea behind virtual court systems was not to replace physical courts, but, instead, to show the “flexibility” of the Indian judicial system to ensure that access to justice was not denied even during the hardest of times.

14. Rising virus cases pose fresh trial for prisons

  • The rising number of COVID­-19 cases in the Capital has again thrown a fresh challenge at the Delhi prisons where inmate count has touched the 20,000 mark for the first time.

  • The Delhi prison has a sanctioned capacity of around 10,000 inmates. However, the jail administration said that they are making all possible efforts to keep the prisoners safe and are following all COVID­ related protocols.

15. Paying extortion money is not terror funding: SC

  • Extortion money paid to a terrorist organisation to protect one’s business is not terror funding, the Supreme Court has said in a judgment. A Bench led by Justice L. Nageswara Rao released a Ranchi ­based coal businessman, booked under the draconian Unlawful Activities Prevention Act, on bail.

16. SC hears plea to decriminalise begging

  • The Supreme Court has asked the Centre and four States to file their response within three weeks on a plea seeking a direction to repeal the provisions criminalising begging. The plea filed by Meerut resident Vishal Pathak has referred to the August 2018 verdict of the Delhi High Court which had decriminalised begging in the national capital and said provisions of the Bombay Prevention of Begging Act, 1959, which treats begging as an offence cannot sustain constitutional scrutiny.

17. The abolition of FCAT

  • On April 4, the Centre notified the Tribunals Reforms (Rationalisation and Conditions of Service) Ordinance, 2021, issued by the Ministry of Law and Justice. The Tribunals Reforms Bill was introduced in the Lok Sabha in February, but was not taken up for consideration in the last session of Parliament.

  • The President later issued the ordinance, which scraps the Film Certification Appellate Tribunal (FCAT), a statutory body that had been set up to hear appeals of filmmakers against decisions of the Central Board of Film Certification (CBFC), and transfers its function to other existing judicial bodies. Eight other appellate authorities have also been disbanded with immediate effect. The ordinance has amended The Cinematograph Act, 1952, and replaced the word ‘Tribunal’ with ‘High Court’.

  • The move to abolish the FCAT along with other tribunals follows a Supreme Court order in Madras Bar Association vs. Union of India. Now that the FCAT has been disbanded, it will be left to the already overburdened courts to adjudicate.

  • With the government tightening its control on over-the-top (OTT) content and ordering players in this area to set up a grievance redressal body to address the concerns of the viewers, many observers point out that the courts will have to play a greater role as an avenue of appeal.

18. Centre to certify shrimp farms

  • To bolster confidence in India’s frozen shrimp produce, the country’s biggest sea food export item, the Centre has kicked off a new scheme to certify hatcheries and farms that adopt good aquaculture practices. The move is aimed at building exporters’ confidence in India’s frozen produce.

19. Centre bans export of Remdesivir

  • The Centre has prohibited the exports of Remdesivir injection and Remdesivir Active Pharmaceutical Ingredients (API) in an order issued stating there was a sudden spike in the demand for the drug used in COVID­-19 treatment. Drug inspectors have been directed to verify stocks and check malpractices.

NATIONAL NEWS/ INTERVENTIONS



Daily snippets

1. Lavrov­-Jaishankar talks today

  • An important round of discussion between India and Russia will take place between the visiting Russian Foreign Minister, Sergey Lavrov, and External Affairs Minister S. Jaishankar. Mr. Lavrov, who will be accompanied by Moscow’s Special Envoy on Afghanistan, Zamir Kabulov, is expected to brief the Indian side about the Russian plans regarding the difficult peace process under way in Afghanistan.

  • The meeting will also provide India with a window to share its frank assessment about the continuing scenario in eastern Ladakh along the Line of Actual Control. Mr. Lavrov’s visit will coincide with the tour of India by the U.S. Special Presidential Envoy for Climate, John Kerry.

  • The U.S. Embassy’s spokesperson said that Washington viewed “India as an important partner on future clean energy research, development, and deployment”. Another major item that is expected to feature in the talks is the pending delivery of the Russian S­400 missile defence system to India. The delivery may attract U.S. sanctions under the Countering America's Adversaries Through Sanctions Act

2. ‘INS Viraat now private property of ship-breaker’

  • INS Viraat, the Navy’s decommissioned aircraft carrier, has become the “private property” of a ship­breaker who has already torn down 40% of its body, chiefly for scrap, the Supreme Court told a private company, that wants to turn the vessel into a maritime museum­-cum-adventure centre. On February 10, the court had ordered a stay on the process of dismantling the ship. The carrier was bought by the Gujarat ­based Shree Ram Group, a ship­breaking firm, in a bid. The 67-year old iconic warship was towed to the breaking yard after over three decades’ service in the Navy

3. Russia calls for inclusive solution to Afghan crisis

  • A solution to the Afghan civil war should balance the ethnic and religious groups of Afghanistan and no group should be left out of the final settlement, said Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov after holding bilateral discussions with his Indian counterpart Dr. S. Jaishankar. Mr. Lavrov said India and Russia were working for stability and connectivity in the region, and urged that “military alliances'' should not come up in Asia. Apart from the Afghan situation, the major issue on the agenda for talks was expected to be the delivery of the Russian S400 missile defence system and the threat of U.S. sanctions that the delivery could attract.

4. Uttarakhand in the grip of unprecedented forest fire

  • In the last 24 hours, according to official sources, 75 incidents of forest fire – 50 in forest reserves and 25 in civil or van panchayat areas – had been reported affecting 105.85 hectares of forest land. In what is being seen as an unprecedented April, 414 incidents affecting 645.3 hectares have been reported in the first six days of the month.

5. India has U.S. as ally in fighting climate change, says envoy

  • India is a “red­hot” investment opportunity because of its “clean energy” shift, said U.S. special envoy, suggesting that having the U.S. as a partner in tackling climate change is a unique advantage. In his first public address after reaching Delhi for a four day visit to prepare for the U.S. President Joseph Biden’s Climate Change Summit on April 22, Mr. Kerry said the U.S. is committed to bringing emissions to below 1.5 degrees Celsius, and hoped to help India cut emissions as well.

6. India to receive another batch of Rafale jets

  • India will receive another 8 to 9 Rafale jets from France by mid-­May, with some ex­pected later this month, completing the first squa­dron of the fighters in the In­dian Air Force (IAF). In all, around 8­-9 jets are expected by mid-­May.

  • Last September, the IAF inducted the batch of five Rafales, of the 36 contracted from France under a €7.87 billion Inter­-Governmental Agreement signed in Sep­tember 2016. The first batch of five jets, three single seat and two two-seater trainers, were formally inducted into the No. 17 ‘Golden Arrows’ squadron of the IAF last Sep­tember at the Ambala Air Force station. The second batch of three Rafales arrived in India last November. The third batch of three Rafales arrived in India in January. The fourth batch of three jets arrived on March 31.

  • Air Chief Marshal R.K.S. Bhadauria said the Force would get three to four Ra­fales every two to three months till all 36 jets are de­livered and added that the first squadron would be ful­ly ready by the end of 2021 and the second squadron by 2023. The IAF has 33 fighter aircraft squadrons. Each squadron has 16 aircraft plus two trainer aircraft, which are two-seaters.

7. Arch closure of Chenab bridge

  • The Railways said it had completed the arch closure of the 1315m Chenab bridge, the world’s highest railway bridge. Terming it one of the big­gest civil engineering chal­lenges faced by any project in India, the Railways added that at 359m above the river bed level, the bridge would be 35 metres higher than the Eiffel Tower in Paris. The Chenab bridge is part of the Udhampur-­Srinagar­ Baramulla rail link project (USBRL).

  • The arch consists of steel boxes, which will be filled with concrete to improve stability. The bridge is being built at a cost of ₹1,486 crore and can withstand high wind speed up to 266 km per hour.

8. Maoist attack in Chhattisgarh

  • The fight against the Maoists will be intensified in the com­ing days, Union Home Minis­ter Amit Shah has said. The remarks came after the April 3 attack at Tarrem in Sukma where 22 security personnel were killed. As many as 14 of the 27 dis­tricts in Chhattisgarh are af­fected by LWE violence.

  • The deceased include seven from the Commando Battalion for Resolute Action unit (CoBRA) of the CRPF, a unit specially trained for operations in LWE affected areas, and 15 from the Chhattisgarh Police. Thirty one others were in­jured. A Central Reserve Pol­ice Force (CRPF) commando is still missing.

9. Health Ministry not for vaccinating all adults as of now

  • With a growing public clamor for making vaccines available to all adults, the Union Health Ministry said that India was following a scientific proto­col on administering vac­cines and that it wasn’t pos­sible “to suddenly ramp up” vaccinations.

  • The concerned official said that all countries had employed a restrictive criterion that prioritised the elderly, healthcare workers, and those with co­morbidities and India, too, was following a guidance protocol of the World Health Organization (WHO) in prioritising those most at risk.

  • While it wasn’t esta­blished what percentage of a region’s population need­ed to be vaccinated for ‘herd immunity’, it was a “fact” that vaccines protect against severe disease and reduced mortality, Dr. V.K Paul, Member (Health), NITI Aayog, said.

10. France and the alleged Rafale scandal

  • French anti­-corruption auth­orities made no serious attempts to investigate the sus­picions of corruption and favouritism surrounding the Rafale deal, according to the second of the three-part in­vestigative series by French media. French President Emma­nuel Macron and his prede­cessor François Hollande are also cited in the allegations levelled in the case.

  • Documents and first­hand accounts obtained by Media­ part show that, following the potentially explosive alert filed by Sherpa, PNF chief Éliane Houlette made no se­rious attempts to investigate the suspicions of corruption and favouritism surrounding the Rafale deal. Sherpa is the French NGO which, based on media reve­lations, had reported “sus­pected corruption, including money laundering, influence peddling and favouritism” surrounding the deal.

11. Assam writer arrested on sedition charge

  • Assam writer Sikha Sarma was arrested on the charge of sedition and sent to judicial custody for her alleged comment in the social media on security personnel massacred by Maoists in Chhattisgarh, police said.

12. Incentives for solar energy sector

  • The Union Cabinet approved two production linked incentive schemes for white goods (air conditioners and LED lights) and high ­efficiency solar photovoltaic modules. The Cabinet, at a meeting chaired by Prime Minister Narendra Modi, took another step towards the vision of “Atmanirbhar Bharat” (self reliant India) with the approval for the ₹6,238­crore PLI scheme for air conditioners and LEDs, a government statement said.

13. Pandemic offered key lessons: PM

  • Though students missed a year of school life and interaction with their teachers and friends due to COVID­-19, the pandemic has also taught them many lessons about the true value of essential things and strengthened the emotional bonds between family members at a time of social distancing, Prime Minister Narendra Modi said. He was responding to the only question related to the pandemic in his interaction with students and parents through a virtual Pariksha Pe Charcha event, despite the fact that social media saw a section of students clamouring for examinations to be cancelled due to the spike in cases.

14. ‘China is capable of launching cyberattacks’

  • Accepting that there is a capability differential between India and China, Chief of Defence Staff (CDS) General Bipin Rawat said the biggest differential lies in the cyber field and China is “capable of launching cyberattacks on us and it can disrupt a large number of systems”.

15. PM to launch vessel for the Seychelles

  • Prime Minister Narendra Modi will hand over a fast patrol vessel to the Seychelles Coast Guard. The handing over will be part of a high level virtual interaction between the Indian leader and the President of the Seychelles, Wavel Ramkalawan. This is the first interaction between the two leaders since Mr. Ramkalawan won the October 2020 election in the Seychelles.

  • The African archipelago nation has been a steady part of India’s policy for the Indian Ocean region and Mr. Modi visited the country in 2015. India gifted similar vessels to the Seychelles in 2005, 2014 and 2016.

16. ‘Double mutant’ strain named B.1.617

  • The “double mutant” virus that scientists had flagged last month as having a bearing on the spread of the pandemic in India, has a formal scientific classification: B.1.617. The variant is common in India – how much in every State is unclear though – and has a couple of defining mutations, E484Q and L425R, that enable it to become more infectious and evade antibodies.

  • India has not yet conducted studies on how vaccine efficacy is influenced by variants, except for limited laboratory trials, but international studies have shown reduced efficacy of vaccines – particularly those by Pfizer, Moderna and Novavax – to certain variants. However, the vaccines continue to be significantly protective in spite of this. So far, only three global VOCs have been identified: the U.K. variant, the South African and the Brazilian (P.1) lineage.

17. India protests U.S. naval exercise

  • India said it has protested the U.S. decision to conduct a patrol in the Indian Exclusive Economic Zone (EEZ) in the western Indian Ocean, rejecting the U.S.’s claim that its domestic maritime law was in violation of international law. In a rare and unusual public statement, the U.S. Navy announced that its ship, USS John Paul Jones, had carried out Freedom of Navigation Operation (FONOP) in the Indian EEZ, adding that its operations had “challenged” what the U.S. called India’s “excessive maritime claims”.

  • The Ministry of External Affairs (MEA) said in a statement on Friday that the Government of India’s stated position on the United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea (UNCLOS) is that the Convention “does not authorise other States to carry out in the EEZ and on the continental shelf, military exercises or manoeuvres, in particular those involving the use of weapons or explosives, without the consent of the coastal state”.

18. Dolphin boom in Odisha’s Chilika lake

  • The population of dolphins in Chilika, India’s largest brackish water lake, and along the Odisha coast has doubled this year compared with last year. The wildlife wing of the State Forest and Environment Department released the final data on the dolphin census conducted in January and February this year, indicating a spectacular growth in numbers.

19. India, China agree to avoid new incidents on border

  • India and China have agreed at the 11th Corps Commanders talks that the completion of disengagement in “other areas” would pave the way for the two sides “to consider de­escalation of forces and ensure full restoration of peace and tranquillity and enable progress in bilateral relations”.

  • The 11th round of talks were held at Chushul on Friday. The two sides also agreed that it was important to take guidance from the consensus of their leaders, continue their communication and dialogue and work towards a mutually acceptable resolution of the remaining issues at the earliest, the statement added. With disengagement complete on both banks of Pangong Tso in February, the focus of the talks is now on disengagement from patrolling points (PP) at Gogra and Hotsprings.

20. Reduce health inequities to tackle pandemic challenges

  • A study on the public health situation during the COVID­-19 pandemic here has recommended urgent action for reducing health inequities to face the challenges posed by the spread of the infectious disease that has led to the loss of livelihood and productivity, increase in poverty and decline in nutrition levels.

  • Jaipur ­based Indian Institute of Health Management Research (IIHMR) has identified some primary aspects of inequities, while underlining the need to integrate and address various determinants at the individual, community and the health system levels. Its study found that 40% of the health outcomes could be measured through social determinants.

21. Gen. Naravane interacts with officers of Bangladesh Army

  • Indian Army chief General M.M. Naravane interacted with the officers of the Bangladesh Army and witnessed an operational demonstration by the troops. He also planted a tree at Ramu Cantonment in Cox’s Bazar to commemorate the everlasting friendship between the two armies. Gen. Naravane, who is in Dhaka on a five day official tour, visited the 10 Infantry Division of the Bangladesh Army.

  • The year 2021 marks the 50th anniversary of diplomatic relations between India and Bangladesh, the liberation of Bangladesh from Pakistan and the birth centenary of ‘Bangabandhu’ Mujibur Rahman.

22. Odisha lighthouses hold huge tourism potential

  • As the Union Ministry of Ports, Shipping and Waterways seeks to develop 65 lighthouses on public private partnership mode, Odisha’s five lighthouses present a huge potential for tourism.

  • One of the five lighthouses situated along the Odisha coast was the 180-year old functional tower which continues to guide ships. The ‘False Point’ island lighthouse is situated off the Kendrapara coast while the other four are situated on the mainland.

23. Villagers lose grazing grounds at Pangong Tso

  • The south bank of Pangong Tso (lake), one of the two locations from where Indian and Chinese troops disengaged in February, has become a “no man’s land” for the cattle grazers of Chushul in Eastern Ladakh, the area’s councillor says. The Defence Ministry, in a communication to Konchok Stanzin, Chushul councillor, said that “due to the present operational situation in Ladakh, grazers have been asked to restrict their cattle movements”.

  • The disengagement at Pangong Tso, where Indian and Chinese troops were in an eyeball to eyeball confrontation on the north and south banks since June and August last year, respectively, was announced by Defence Minister Rajnath Singh in Parliament on February 11.

  • The process was completed on February 19 after a consensus was arrived at only for one of the friction points – the north and south banks of Pangong – after the 10th round of Corps Commander Level talks.

  • The 11th round of talks was held at Chushul on April 9. The focus of the talks was to work out a phased disengagement plan for the other friction areas in eastern Ladakh – Gogra, Hot Springs, Depsang and Demchok. Statements issued separately by India and China suggested that no concrete agreement had been reached.

  • As reported, since April 2020, Chinese troops blocked Indian troops from at least 10 patrolling points, from Depsang Plains in the north to Pangong Tso in the south. In all, there are more than 65 such points from the base of Karakoram to Chumar.

24. Meghalaya villagers oppose dam on Umngot

  • Stiff resistance from at least 12 villages in Meghalaya has cast a cloud on a 210 MW hy­droelectric project on Umngot, considered India’s clearest river. The dam is proposed upstream in the adjoining West Jaintia Hills district to the East Khasi hills. The locals fear that the project, if executed, would cause irreparable losses by wiping out their areas from the tourism map. The project documents say people of 13 villages along the Umngot are likely to lose 296 hectares of land due to submergence if the dam comes up.

25. Protection from reinfections may last only months : Study

  • A longitudinal cohort study in India has found that some people who had COVID­-19 lacked meaningful immuni­ty against the novel corona­virus to prevent reinfection months later. The study found that 20­-30% of infect­ed people had declining vi­rus neutralising activity des­pite having stable seropositivity six months la­ter. The declining neutralising activity seen in 20­-30% of in­fected people would mean that they might be vulnerable to reinfection.

  • Studies are now under way to under­stand the presence and ac­tivity of memory T cells which can prevent the infec­tion from progressing to sev­ere disease.

  • The study shows that if previously infected people are exposed to high viral loads months after infection, then 20-­30% of peo­ple may not have immunity against the virus as they are unable to neutralise the microbes and might get reinfect­ed. Similar observations have been made in a study undertaken in Denmark. The IgG antibodies [that can neutralise the virus] continue to increase and peak weeks after infection and then begin to decline. Since the IgG levels tapers after some time, a sig­nificant number have the neutralising activity below the first observed level at six­ month follow-up.

26. Indus and Ganges dolphins

  • De­tailed analysis of South Asian river dolphins has revealed that the Indus and Ganges River dolphins are not one, but two separate species. The study estimates that Indus and Ganges river dolphins may have diverged around 550,000 years ago. The international team studied body growth, skull morphology, tooth counts, colouration and genetic ma­keup and published the find­ings last month in Marine Mammal Science.

  • The Ganges dolphin is a Schedule I animal under the Indian Wildlife (Protec­tion) Act 1972, and has been included in Annexure – I of Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species (CITES), so you cannot transfer any tissue or sample to foreign countries without getting CITES permission from the Competent Author­ity of Government of India. The Indus and Ganges River dolphins are both classified as ‘Endangered’ species by the International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN).

27. MS Swaminathan felicitated for work towards TB eradication

  • Eminent agricultural scien­tist M.S. Swaminathan was felicitated for his contribution towards eradi­cation of tuberculosis. Professor Swaminathan pointed out the three steps to tackle an issue as crucial as TB – the first was to identify the problem, then to un­derstand the nature of the is­sue and third, to mobilise and organise people to work together towards the com­mon goal of TB elimination. ­

  • Soumya Swaminathan, Chief Scientist, World Health Organization, said that TB eradication needed more than a biomedical approach; nutrition, gender and liveli­hood issues also need to be addressed.

28. Vaccines aimed at curbing severe COVID-19

  • COVID­-19 vaccines are not infection preventing but dis­ease ­modifier vaccines, said Samiran Panda, member of the government’s National Expert Group on Vaccine Administration for Covid­-19 (NEGVAC). He said both the vaccines now available in India will prevent the asympto­matic stage from moving in­ to symptomatic stage and from symptomatic stage to developing severe disease where one requires inten­sive care.

  • N.K Arora, head of the op­erations research group of the Indian Council of Medi­cal Research’s National Task Force for COVID­-19 noted that “vaccine coupled with COVID appropriate behaviour is the way forward.”

29. Pandemic and northeast citizens

  • A study commissioned by the Indian Council of Social Science Research (ICSSR) on racial discrimination and hate crimes against people from the north-eastern States found that the “northeast In­dia seamlessly fits an In­dian’s imagination of a Chi­nese person”. Amid the COVID­-19 outbreak last year, people from the region “faced an in­creased number of acts of hate and prejudices against them”. A series of attacks were reported in various parts of the country, where people from the region were “harassed, abused, and trau­matised” and were disparag­ingly called “coronavirus”, the study said.

  • Around 1,200 people, mostly women from Aruna­chal Pradesh, Assam, Megha­laya, Manipur, Mizoram, Na­galand and Tripura, were interviewed for the research. Major­ity of those interviewed faced discrimination when it came to renting accommo­dation, visiting a restaurant and even while finding transportation. The highest number of inci­dents was reported from Mumbai (44.7%). Interest­ingly, 78% of the northeast people believed that physi­cal appearance was the most important reason for prejud­ice. More than 60% of those interviewed said their stu­dies and work were serious­ly hampered by such experiences. The M.P. Bezbaruah Committee in 2014 recom­mended amendments to the IPC by creating new offences under Section 153C and 509A to deal with com­ments, gestures and acts intended to insult a member of a particular racial group.

30. Boosting yield from poppy

  • The Union government has decided to rope in the priv­ate sector to commence pro­duction of concentrated poppy straw from India’s opium crop to boost the yield of alkaloids, used for medical purposes and ex­ported to several countries. India currently only extracts alkaloids from opium gum at facilities controlled by the Revenue Department in the Finance Ministry. This en­tails farmers extracting gum by manually lancing the opi­um pods and selling the gum to government factories. However, higher extraction of alkaloids have been observed using concen­trated poppy straw (CPS).

31. Chandra appointed Chief Election Commissioner

  • President Ram Nath Kovind appointed Election Commissioner Sushil Chandra as the next Chief Election Commissioner. The incumbent CEC Sunil Arora’s tenure ended on Monday. Mr. Chandra took office as an Election Commissioner on February 15, 2019, after retiring as the chairman of the Central Board of Direct Taxes. A 1980 batch Indian Revenue Service officer, Mr. Chandra had worked in the areas of international taxation and investigation.

32. Military exercise in Bangladesh ends

  • Multinational military exercise Shantir Ogrosena, under way in Bangladesh for the past 10 days, concluded on Monday. Army chief General Manoj Naravane, who is on a visit to the neighbouring country, witnessed the validation phase of the exercise.

  • The exercise, which started on April 4 at Bangabandhu Senanibas, saw participation by four countries, along with observers from the U.S., the U.K., Russia, Turkey, Saudi Arabia, Kuwait and Singapore. The aim of the exercise was to strengthen defence ties and enhance interoperability among neighbourhood countries to ensure effective peacekeeping operations, the Army said.


INTERNATIONAL NEWS/EVENTS/ PERSONALITIES



Daily snippets

1. Jordan Prince Hamzah under ‘house arrest’

  • Jordanian authorities said they foiled a plot to “destabilise” the kingdom involving a half­-brother of King Abdullah II and arrested at least 16 suspects. Hamzah bin Hussein – a former Crown Prince stripped of that title by the monarch in 2004 – and the others had worked with foreign parties to “undermine the security” of Jordan, Deputy Prime Minister Ayman Safadi said.

  • Prince Hamzah, 41, had on Saturday released a video message via the BBC, in which he accused Jordan’s rulers of nepotism and corruption and charged that he had been placed under house arrest.

2. Philippines accuses China of plans to occupy more areas

  • The Philippines’ Defence Secretary said on Sunday that China was looking to occupy more areas in the South China Sea, citing the continued presence of Chinese vessels that Manila believes are manned by militias in disputed parts of the strategic waterway.

  • An international tribunal invalidated China’s claim to 90% of the South China Sea in 2016, but Beijing does not recognise the ruling and has built artificial islands in the disputed waters equipped with radar, missiles batteries and hangars for fighter jets.

3. Hafiz Saeed’s 5 aides jailed

  • A Pakistani anti­terrorism court has sentenced five accomplices of Mumbai attack mastermind Hafiz Saeed’s Jamaat-­ud-­Dawah ( JuD) to nine years of imprisonment each in a terror financing case.

  • The ATC had sentenced the LeT founder, Saeed, for a collective imprisonment of 36 years on terror finance charges under sections 11­N of Anti­Terrorism Act 1997 in five cases so far. Saeed’s jail terms will run concurrently. That means he will not stay in jail for many years. He is serving his term in Lahore’s Kot Lakhpat jail along with other convicted JuD leaders

4. NASA’s chopper dropped on Mars’ surface

  • NASA’s Ingenuity mini helicopter has been dropped on the surface of Mars in preparation for its first flight, the U.S. space agency said. The ultra-light aircraft had been fixed to the belly of the Perseverance rover, which touched down on the Red Planet on February 18. Ingenuity had been feeding off the Perseverance’s power system but will now have to use its own battery to run a vital heater to protect its electrical components.

5. Japan expresses concerns to China on Hong Kong, Uighurs

  • Japanese Foreign Minister Toshimitsu Motegi expressed strong concerns to his Chinese counterpart about Chinese incursions into territorial waters, the situation in Hong Kong and the human rights situation of China’s Uighur minority.

  • China’s extensive territorial claims in the East and South China Seas have become a priority issue in an increasingly testy Sino­-U.S relationship and are a security concern for Japan. China claims a group of uninhabited Japan-­controlled islets, called the Senkaku in Japan and Diaoyu in China. The issue has plagued bilateral relations for years.

6. Putin signs law that could keep him in office till 2036

  • Russian President Vladimir Putin signed a law allowing him to potentially hold onto power until 2036, a move that formalises constitutional changes endorsed in a vote last year. The July 1 constitutional vote included a provision that reset Mr. Putin’s previous term limits, allowing him to run for President two more times. The change was rubber stamped by the Kremlin Controlled legislature and the relevant law signed by Mr. Putin was posted on an official portal of legal information.

  • The 68-year old President, who has been in power for more than two decades – longer than any other Kremlin leader since Soviet dictator Josef Stalin – said he would decide later whether to run again in 2024. The constitutional amendments also emphasised the primacy of Russian law over international norms, outlawed same-­sex marriages and mentioned “a belief in God” as a core value. Nearly 78% of voters approved the constitutional amendments during the balloting that lasted for a week and concluded on July 1. Turnout was 68%

  • In January, Russia imprisoned the country’s most prominent opposition figure, Alexei Navalny upon his return from Germany, where he spent five months recovering from a poisoning that he blamed on the Kremlin. Authorities have rejected the accusation.

7. Vietnam’s PM Phuc sworn in as President

  • The man behind Vietnam’s successful handling of the coronavirus pandemic, Nguyen Xuan Phuc, was formally sworn in as President in Hanoi on Monday. Mr. Phuc, 66, was Vietnam’s PM for the last five years, a period in which the economy boomed, and his government’s COVID­-19 response won plaudits at home and abroad.

  • Vietnam is run by the Communist Party and officially led by the party general secretary, President, and Prime Minister Pham Minh Chinh, who was a former deputy minister of public security, and was sworn in as PM on Monday.

8. Palma ‘safe’ from jihadists, says Mozambique Army

  • Mozambique’s military has said a “significant” number of militants were killed in fighting for the northern town and gas hub of Palma, seized by Islamic State-linked jihadists last month. Palma was taken in a coordinated attack on March 24, in a major escalation of an insurgency that has been raging in Cabo Delgado province for more than three years.

  • Thousands have fled the town of some 75,000 people and dozens killed, according to an early government toll, and French energy giant Total has abandoned a site where a multibillion dollar gas project is underway.

9. Talks begin to revive Iran nuclear deal

  • Iran and world powers will meet after their experts flesh out concrete plans on how the United States would lift sanctions and Iran return to its obligations, as part of indirect talks aimed at reviving the 2015 nuclear deal.

  • European intermediaries have started shuttling between Iranian and U.S. officials in Vienna as they seek to bring both countries back into full compliance with the accord that Washington abandoned three years ago, diplomats said. The 2015 deal lifted sanctions on Iran in return for curbs to its nuclear programme. Then­ President Donald Trump withdrew from the deal in 2018, prompting Iran to steadily overstep the accord’s limits.

10. Palace row: Jordan’s Prince pledges loyalty to King

  • Jordan’s Prince Hamzah pledged loyalty to the King as the monarch accepted mediation over a rift within the royal family that saw the Prince placed under house arrest, the palace said. The government has accused the former Crown Prince Hamzah, half­brother of King Abdullah II, of a “wicked” plot and involvement in a seditious conspiracy to “destabilise the kingdom’s security”

11. Beijing holds aircraft carrier drills near Taiwan

  • China is holding naval drills involving an aircraft carrier battle group near Taiwan, which it said were aimed at safeguarding Chinese sovereignty, an apparent allusion to Beijing’s claim to the self governed island. The navy said the exercises involving the Liaoning, one of its two aircraft carriers, were routine and assigned under an annual schedule.

  • China has been upping its threat to take control of the island militarily with exercises and routine incursions into the island’s air defence identification zone by Chinese warplanes. The Navy’s statement did not say when the exercises began, but it said more such drills would be held in future.

12. Don’t team up, China cautions Japan ahead of Biden-Suga meet

  • China’s Foreign Minister cautioned Japan against teaming up with the U.S. to counter Beijing, as Japan speaks up more on human rights in the Xinjiang region in China and Hong Kong ahead of a U.S.­Japan summit next week. Japan shares U.S. concerns about China’s military buildup and claims to territory in the South and East China Seas. However, its major trade and investment interests in China have at times reined in its criticism of its larger neighbour.

13. Ukraine urges NATO to speed up membership

  • Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky urged NATO to speed up his country’s membership in the alliance, saying it was the only way to end fighting with pro­-Russia separatists. Mr. Zelensky spoke with NATO Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg after an increase in clashes and Russian military movements on the border raised fears of an escalation of the separatist conflict in eastern Ukraine.

  • Fears have been mounting of a major escalation of the conflict in eastern Ukraine, where government forces have battled separatists in the mainly Russian speaking Donbas region since 2014. Ukraine last week accused Russia of massing thousands of military personnel on its northern and eastern borders as well as on the Crimean peninsula annexed by Moscow in 2014. Kiev’s Western allies have rushed to its defence, with a series of statements warning Russia against taking further action

14. Wildfires rage across Nepal

  • Nepal is experiencing its worst fire season in almost a decade, as huge blazes rage across the country’s forests, engulfing the Himalayan nation in a shroud of brownish haze. Air quality in the capital Kathmandu was ranked on Tuesday as the worst in the world, according to monitoring site IQAir. More than 2,700 wildfires have been reported in Nepal since November, 14 times higher than in the same period last year, the government said.

15. Russia to supply military gear to Pakistan

  • Russia’s Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov said Moscow and Islamabad would boost ties in the fight against terrorism, with Russia providing unspecified military equipment to Pakistan and the two holding joint exercises at sea and in the mountains. It’s the first visit by a Russian Foreign Minister in nine years, part of an effort to improve ties. It comes as Moscow seeks to increase its stature in the region, particularly in Afghanistan. There, it has sought to inject itself as a key player in efforts to find a peaceful end to decades of war.

  • Russia is also building a gas pipeline between the southern port city of Karachi and eastern Lahore. Pakistan’s Foreign minister Shah Mahmood Qureshi said Islamabad will also buy 5 million doses of the Russian made COVID-­19 Sputnik V vaccine, and expressed a desire to eventually manufacture it in Pakistan. He said Pakistan also wanted Russian expertise to modernise its antiquated railway system as well as its energy sector.

  • The visit underlines the waning influence of the U.S. in the region, while Russian and Chinese clout grows, says Michael Kugelman, deputy director of the Asia Program at the U.S.­based Wilson Center. Pakistan also is a key player in China’s Belt and Road Initiative – a massive, cross­continental infrastructure development project aimed at expanding China’s commercial connections globally.

16. U.S. military cites rising risk of Beijing’s move against Taiwan

  • The American military is warning that China is probably accelerating its timetable for capturing control of Taiwan, the island democracy that has been the chief source of tension between Washington and Beijing for decades and is widely seen as the most likely trigger for a potentially catastrophic U.S.-­China war.

  • The worry about Taiwan comes as China wields new strength from years of military buildup. It has become more aggressive with Taiwan and more assertive in sovereignty disputes in the South China Sea. Beijing also has become more confrontational with Washington; senior Chinese officials traded sharp and unusually public barbs with Secretary of State Antony Blinken in talks in Alaska last month.

17. Iranian ship attacked in Red Sea, report says it was Israeli payback

  • An Iranian freighter was hit by an “explosion” in the Red Sea, Tehran said, after U.S. media reported Israel had struck the ship in retaliation for past Iranian strikes on its vessels. Iran was at pains to stress that the freighter was a civilian ship, although other sources said it had been used by Iranian commandos as a base for shipping protection and other duties in the area.

  • The explosion comes at a sensitive time as the U.S. President Joe Biden attempts to revive a 2015 nuclear deal with Iran which was strongly opposed by Israel and abandoned by his predecessor Donald Trump in 2018.

18. Rouhani says Vienna talks open ‘new chapter’

  • Iranian President Hassan Rouhani said that talks in Vienna on rescuing a troubled 2015 nuclear deal had opened a “new chapter”. An Iranian delegation met with representatives of the remaining parties to the agreement to discuss how to bring Washington back into it and end crippling U.S. sanctions and Iranian countermeasures. U.S. President Joe Biden has said he is ready to reverse the decision of his predecessor Donald Trump to withdraw from the agreement and reimpose unilateral sanctions. But differences remain over the mechanics of the move as Tehran has since responded by suspending compliance with some of its own obligations under the deal.

19. Biden govt. restores aid to Palestinians

  • In a significant reversal to the Trump administration’s policy towards Palestine, the U.S. State Department announced the restoration of at least $235 million in financial assistance to the Palestinians. The administration had already announced $15 million in coronavirus relief to the Palestinians in March. The new economic announcement includes $75 million in economic assistance to the West Bank and Gaza, $10 million towards ‘peacebuilding’ programmes of the U.S. Agency for International Development (USAID) and $150 million in humanitarian assistance to the UN Relief and Works Agency (UNRWA)

  • The Trump administration had almost ended all funding to the organisation in 2018. Mr. Trump’s policies towards West Asia, which included the relocation of the U.S. Embassy to Jerusalem, were criticised for being heavily tilted towards Israel.

  • Welcoming the move, the Prime Minister of the Palestine Authority, Mohammed Shtayyeh, called for “a new political path that meets the rights and aspirations of the Palestinian people based on international law and UN resolutions”. Israel, which has accused UNRWA of anti­Semitism, objected to the funding plans.

20. U.S. commits to withdrawal of combat troops from Iraq

  • The U.S. committed to move remaining forces from Iraq, although the two sides did not set a timeline in what would be the second withdrawal since the 2003 invasion. Iraq’s national security advisor, Qassem al­-Araji, promised efforts to protect foreign forces and confirmed that the United States would move ahead with a pull­out.

21. All options open on South China Sea’

  • The Philippines defence department said it was keeping its options open as a diplomatic row with Beijing grows over hundreds of Chinese vessels in the contested South China Sea. Tensions over the resource rich waters have spiked in recent weeks after over 200 Chinese boats were detected at Whitsun Reef in the Spratly Islands, where China and the Philippines have rival claims.

  • China, which claims almost the entirety of the sea, has refused repeated appeals by the Philippines to withdraw the vessels, which Manila says unlawfully entered its exclusive economic zone.

22. No U.S. decision yet on Afghan pull­out

  • President Joe Biden seems ready to let lapse a May 1 deadline for completing a withdrawal of U.S. troops from Afghanistan. Orderly withdrawals take time, and Mr. Biden is running out of it. At Least for some months, a stay of the remaining 2,500 troops and continuing support of the Afghan military at the risk of a Taliban backlash seems to be the order. Removing all the troops and their equipment in the next three weeks – along with coalition partners – would be difficult logistically.

  • Mr. Biden had said during the 2020 campaign that if elected, he might keep a counterterrorism force in Afghanistan but also would “end the war responsibly” to ensure U.S. forces never have to return.

23. U.K. to set up £43 million fund for migrants from Hong Kong

  • The British government said it is setting up a £43 million ($59 million) fund to help migrants from Hong Kong settle in the country as they escape increasing political repression in the former colony. The offer extends to holders of British National (Overseas) passports who have been offered special visas, opening a path to work, residency and eventual citizenship to up to 5 million of Hong Kong’s 7.4 million people.

  • The integration programme will provide funding to help arrivals in accessing housing, education and jobs. Around 10% of the funds will go towards establishing 12 “virtual welcome hubs' ' across Great Britain and Northern Ireland to “coordinate support and give practical advice and assistance”, the British Consulate­General said.

  • China has sharply criticised what it labels British abuse of the passports, saying it will no longer recognise them as travel documents or as a form of identification. But most residents also carry Hong Kong or other passports, so it’s not clear what effect that would have.

24. Britain’s Prince Philip passes away at 99

  • Prince Philip, the longest serving royal consort in British history who was a constant presence at Queen Elizabeth II’s side for decades, died on Friday aged 99, Buckingham Palace has announced. The death of the Duke of Edinburgh is a profound loss for the 94-year old monarch, who once described him as her “strength and stay all these years”. Military teams across the U.K. and on ships at sea fired 41 ­gun salutes on Saturday to mark his death, honouring the former naval officer and husband of Queen Elizabeth II.

  • Prior to this year’s crisis over relations with the Queen’s grandson Prince Harry and his wife Meghan, the monarchy had to weather the 1997 death in a car crash of Prince Harry’s mother Princess Diana.

25. China, Pakistan to back each other’s ‘core interests’ at UN

  • China and Pakistan have pledged to back each other’s “core and major interests” in the United Nations after holding bilateral consultations on UN affairs. The countries, which describe their relationship officially as one of “all­weather partners” and “iron brothers”, have in recent months stepped in to provide crucial support to the other on issues they see as sensitive, with Beijing raising the Kashmir issue at the UN Security Council and Islamabad backing China on Hong Kong and Xinjiang.

  • China in 2019 and 2020 raised the Kashmir issue at the UNSC on at least three occasions, calling for discussions in the wake of India’s dilution of Article 370, reorganisation of Jammu and Kashmir and revocation of special status.

  • Pakistan, meanwhile, has lobbied for China’s support amid increasing criticism from western countries over Xinjiang. In October, Pakistan also made a joint statement on behalf of 55 countries at the UN ``opposing interference in China’s internal affairs under the pretext of Hong Kong.

26. Bhutan, China to schedule boundary discussions soon

  • Bhutan and China have agreed to set up the next round of much ­delayed boundary talks between them “as soon as possible” and discussed a roadmap for expediting the boundary resolution, a joint release of the 10th Expert Group Meeting (EGM) on the Bhutan-China Boundary held in Kunming announced.

  • The upcoming talks, the 25th round of the boundary talks mechanism, will be the first since the Doklam standoff in 2017, and the first since China made new claims on Bhutan’s eastern boundary bordering Arunachal Pradesh in June 2020.

  • The talks have thus far focused on two areas of dispute: Pasamlung and Jakarlung valleys to the North of Bhutan and Doklam to the West of Bhutan, along the tri­junction with India. However, at a UN environmental meeting in June 2020, China raised an objection to a grant for Bhutan’s Sakteng Sanctuary to the East frontier as well, saying that it was disputed as well.

27. Iran unveils advanced nuclear centrifuges

  • Iran announced it has started up advanced uranium enrichment centrifuges in a breach of its undertakings under a troubled 2015 nuclear deal, days after the start of talks on rescuing the accord. Earlier, the United States had said that it had offered “very serious” ideas on reviving the accord but was waiting for Tehran to reciprocate.

  • President Hassan Rouhani inaugurated the three cascades of 164 IR­6 centrifuges, 30 IR­5 and another 30 IR­6 devices at Iran’s Natanz uranium enrichment plant in a ceremony broadcast by state television. Iran has demanded that the U.S. first lift all sanctions imposed by Trump, which include a sweeping unilateral ban on its oil exports, before it falls back in line with obligations it suspended.

28. At least 80 killed in Myanmar as UN envoy calls for ‘action’

  • Reports emerged of more than 80 killed in the latest bloodletting by Myanmar’s military, as the country’s own Ambassador to the United Nations called for “strong action” against the junta. Myanmar has been in turmoil since the military ousted civilian leader Aung San Suu Kyi in February, with protesters refusing to submit to the junta and demanding a return to democracy. After over two months of military rule, efforts to verify deaths and confirm news of crackdowns have been greatly curtailed by the junta’s throttling of mobile data – shunting most of the population into an information blackout.

29. UAE names 2 astronauts, including woman

  • The United Arab Emirates named the next two astronauts for its space programme, including the country’s first woman astronaut. Sheikh Mohammed bin Rashid Al Maktoum, the ruler of Dubai who also serves as the Prime Minister, named the two astronauts. He identified Noura al­-Matroushi as the UAE’s first woman astronaut, with her male counterpart as Mohammed al­Mulla. A promotional video described Ms. al-­Matroushi, born in 1993, as an engineer at the Abu Dhabi ­based National Petroleum Construction Co. Mr. AlMulla, born in 1988, serves as a pilot with Dubai police and heads the training division.

30. ‘Suspicious’ blackout hits Iran nuclear site

  • Iran’s underground Natanz nuclear facility lost power on Sunday just hours after starting up new advanced centrifuges capable of enriching uranium faster, the latest incident to strike the site amid negotiations over the tattered atomic accord with world powers. Iran described a blackout at its Natanz atomic facility an act of “nuclear terrorism,” raising regional tensions.

  • If Israel caused the blackout, it further heightens tensions between the two nations, already engaged in a shadow conflict across wider West Asia. Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, who on Sunday met with the U.S. Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin, has vowed to do everything in his power to stop the nuclear deal.

  • Israel typically doesn’t discuss operations carried out by its Mossad intelligence agency or specialised military units. In recent weeks, Mr. Netanyahu has repeatedly described Iran as the major threat to his country. Natanz was built largely underground to withstand enemy airstrikes. It became a flashpoint for Western fears about Iran’s nuclear plant in 2002, when satellite photos showed Iran building its underground centrifuges facility at the site.

31. ‘Mars chopper flight delayed for tech check’

  • NASA has delayed by at least several days the first flight of its mini-helicopter on Mars after a possible technical issue emerged while testing its rotors, the U.S. space agency said. Ingenuity's trip, which is to be the first-ever powered, controlled flight on another planet, was set for Sunday but is now on hold until at least April 14. A high-speed test of the 1.8-kg helicopter’s rotors on Friday ended earlier than expected due to a potential issue.

32. China considers mixing vaccine to boost efficacy

  • China is considering the mixing of different COVID-19 vaccines to improve the relatively low efficacy of its existing options. Authorities have to “consider ways to solve the issue that efficacy rates of existing vaccines are not high”, Chinese media outlet The Paper reported, citing Gao Fu, the head of the Center for Disease Control and Prevention.

  • China has administered around 161 million doses since vaccinations began last year, and aims to fully inoculate 40% of its 1.4 billion population by June. But many have been slow to sign up for jabs, with life largely back to normal within China’s borders and domestic outbreaks under control. Sinopharm’s vaccines have efficacy rates of 79.34% and 72.51% respectively, while the overall efficacy for CanSino’s stands at 65.28% after 28 days.

33. UK vaccine panel issues caution on oxford shots

  • Britain should not give Ox­ford/AstraZeneca’s CO­VID­-19 vaccine to under 30s where possible, Britain’s Joint Committee on Vaccina­tion and Immunisation ( JCVI) said. It advised people aged under 30 with no underlying conditions to be offered an alternative to the AstraZene­ca vaccine where available.

  • It said that for younger people, for whom chances of hospi­talisation were much lower, the risk/benefit calculation of the Oxford/AstraZeneca shot meant other vaccines were preferable. Medicines and Healthcare products Regulatory Agency (MHRA) said that the benefits of the shot outweighed the risks for the vast majority.

  • The committee stressed that there was no increased risk of blood clots in general from the shot developed by Ox­ford and AstraZeneca. However, it has been investigating small numbers of reports of a brain blood clot, known as cerebral ve­nous sinus thrombosis (CVST), that have occurred in combination with un­usually low blood platelet le­vels after the shot.

34. Iran blames Israel for nuclear plant outage, pledges revenge

  • Iran blamed Israel for a sabotage attack on its underground Natanz nuclear facility that damaged its centrifuges and vowed it would take “revenge”. Israel has not claimed responsibility for the attack. It rarely does for operations carried out by its secret military units or its Mossad intelligence agency. However, Israeli media widely reported that the country had orchestrated a devastating cyberattack that caused a blackout at the nuclear facility.

35. Suu Kyi hit with criminal charge

  • Myanmar’s ousted civilian leader Aung San Suu Kyi was hit with a fresh criminal charge. “Amay Suu has been charged again under section 25 of the natural disaster management law,” lawyer Min Min Soe said after a court hearing. “She has been charged in six cases altogether – five charges in Naypyidaw and one in Yangon.” In Tamu, near Myanmar’s border with India, a six year old girl was shot dead while walking to the shop to buy snacks on Monday, a local said.

36. ‘REGEN­COV prevents symptomatic infection’

  • Regeneron will seek U.S. approval for its COVID­-19 antibody cocktail as a preventative treatment after a trial showed it helped reduce the risk of symptomatic infections in households where someone else is ill, the U.S. drugmaker said.

  • REGEN­COV, as the combination shot of casirivimab and imdevimab is called, reduced the overall risk of progressing to symptomatic COVID­-19 by 31%, and by 76% after the third day. The trial also demonstrated that it shortened symptom duration and markedly lowered viral levels, Regeneron said in a statement. The drug has emergency U.S. approval for mild to moderate COVID-­19 patients, and the company is hoping the latest trial convinces regulators to expand its deployment.

  • EU regulators have voiced some support and are letting countries decide if they want to use it. Beyond reducing symptomatic infection risk, the total number of weeks patients experienced symptoms was nearly halved (45%) with REGENCOV, and the viral burden was cut by 90%­plus, potentially helping halt the disease’s spread.

37. Pakistan human rights icon I.A. Rehman dead

  • Pakistani Human rights crusader and former journalist Ibn Abdur Rehman, who won the Ramon Magsaysay award for his work on fostering India­-Pakistan relations, passed away in Lahore on Monday aged 90. I.A. Rehman, as he was called, had several run ins with the Pakistani establishment as he took a bold stand against atrocities by Pakistani forces in East Pakistan (later Bangladesh) in 1971, marital law under General Zia ul Haq and later the emergency imposed by General Pervez Musharraf, and fought for several causes, including minority rights and excesses by security forces

38. Save the deal

  • The Vienna talks between the remaining members of the Iran nuclear deal – China, Russia, the U.K., France, Germany and Iran – have raised hopes for the revival of the agreement from which then President Donald Trump unilaterally withdrew the U.S. in May 2018.

  • The U.S. wants Iran to end its uranium enrichment and centrifuge development programmes and return to the 2015 agreement, while Tehran has demanded the U.S. lift all sanctions imposed by Mr. Trump and still enforced by President Joe Biden.

  • The agenda at Vienna, therefore, is to produce a road map for the revival of the JCPOA by addressing these two critical issues – Iran’s nuclear enhanced programme and American sanctions. If security tensions rise in the region involving Iran and its proxies, it could derail the diplomatic efforts.


OPINION & ANALYSIS



Analysis : Fund support from govt. is vital for continual treatment of those with rare diseases

(i). The story so far

  • Securing the wellbeing of everyone, particularly those unable to help themselves, irrespective of whether they constitute a critical mass or not, is important. The recent notification of the National Policy for Rare Diseases 2021 after various interventions, including the court, is pegged on this principle of inclusion. A good start, it offers financial support for one time treatment of up to ₹20 lakh, introduces a crowdfunding mechanism, creates a registry of rare diseases, and provides for early detection. In its final form, however, the policy has left the rare diseases lobby sorely disappointed on a crucial note.

(ii). What are Rare diseases

  • These are broadly defined as diseases that infrequently occur in a population, and three markers are used – the total number of people with the disease, its prevalence, and the availability/non­availability of treatment options.

  • WHO defines rare disease as having a frequency of less than 6.5­10 per 10,000 people. As per an estimate, there are 7,000 known rare diseases with an estimated 300 million patients in the world; 70 million are in India. According to the Organization for Rare Diseases India, these include inherited cancers, autoimmune disorders, congenital malformations, Hirschsprung’s disease, Gaucher disease, cystic fibrosis, muscular dystrophies and Lysosomal Storage Disorders (LSDs).


Analysis : U.S. and China need each other

(i). Background

  • Former U.S. President Donald Trump accused China of unfair trade practices and pursued a dual policy of offering deals and threatening sanctions, but China continued to extend its influence and counter American increases in military funding by expanding its own military power.

  • The U.S. and Europe have imposed sanctions against China, Russia and others. The U.S.­sponsored Quad with Japan, India and Australia will prove an uphill effort because even some of the U.S.’s formal allies have re­shaped their foreign and economic relations with China.

(ii). Confrontation and competition between the U.S. and China

  • It will dominate this century. Mr. Biden has censured China for human rights abuses in Hong Kong and Xinjiang, aggression in the South and East China Seas, intimidation of Taiwan, intellectual property theft, currency manipulation, and cyberattacks, but these homilies are incidental to U.S.­China tension, which is due to China’s rise that is transforming power settings and the U.S.’s attempts to constrict China before it becomes a peer competitor.

  • To this, Chinese Communist Party leader Yang Jiechi countered that China would strongly oppose interference in China’s internal affairs, referred to the U.S.’s struggling democracy and poor treatment of minorities, and criticize U.S. policies as seeking military and financial hegemony to impose extra­territorial jurisdiction and suppress other countries.

(iii). China’s rise

  • China will surpass the U.S. as the world’s largest economy, has established a worldwide network of economic ties and set up multilateral and financial institutions like the Shanghai Cooperation Organisation, New Development Bank and Asian Infrastructure Investment Bank to compete with the West Dominated International Monetary Fund and World Bank.

  • The U.S.­-China rhetoric masks the reality that both countries need each other not only for world stability but growth, supply chains, jobs, services, investments and market access.


Analysis : Building an equitable post-COVID India

(i). Background

  • A recent Pew Research Report shows that India’s middle class may have shrunk by a third due to the novel coronavirus pan­demic while the number of poor people earning less than ₹150 per day more than doubled. International organizations like the World Bank, the In­ternational Monetary Fund and the International Labour Organi­zation have also warned about ris­ing inequalities in several coun­tries including India due to the pandemic.

(ii). The condition in India

  • India’s large informal sec­tor is particularly vulnerable. In­equalities were increasing earlier also but the pandemic has wi­dened them further. The quarterly net profit of the BSE200 compa­nies reached a record high of ₹1.67 trillion in the third quarter of FY21 and was up by 57% year-­on-­year. But the informal sector and work­ers have suffered a lot with loss of incomes and employment in the last one year.

  • According to the Centre For Monitoring Indian Economy, the employment rate is still 2.5 percentage points lower now as compared to the level before the lockdown last year. Wo­men lost more jobs and many are out of the workforce. Inequalities have increased in health care and education.

(iii). What can be done

  • From an economic perspective too, reduction in inequality is important for its own sake and for improving demand which can raise private invest­ment, consumption and exports for higher and sustainable eco­nomic growth. The focus should be on – em­ployment and wages; raising hu­man development, and quasi universal basic income and other social safety nets.

  • Employment and wages : Creation of quality or pro­ductive employment is central to the inclusive growth approach. The investment rate which declined from 39% in 2011-­12 to 31.7% in 2018­-19 has to be improved. Investment in infras­tructure including construction can create employment. Correcting the mismatch bet­ween demand and supply of labor (only 2.3% of India’s workforce has formal skill training). Structural change chal­lenge, manufacturing should be the engine of growth because of its labour intensive nature. Focusing on micro, small & medi­um enterprises and informal sec­tors including rights of migrants. Raising real wages of rural and urban workers and gua­ranteeing minimum wages and getting ready for automation and technology revolution.

  • The second approach is in creating equality of opportunity by improving human development. Increas­ing public expenditure on health and education is another form of redistributive measure. Public expendi­ture on health is only 1.5% of GDP. Apart from spending on vaccines and other related measures, we need to move towards universal health care and spend 2%­3% of GDP on health. Education and health achievements are essential for reducing inequality of oppor­tunities. We also have the experience of a digital gap in education during the pan­demic that needs to be looked at.

  • The third approach is in provid­ing a quasi-­universal basic income and other safety nets. A combination of cash transfers and an expanded gua­rantee scheme would provide income support to the needy. In­creasing farmers’ income, especial­ly for small and marginal farmers is needed to reduce inequalities and create demand. States have to be gi­ven a bigger role in Agri marketing reforms. The terms of trade for agriculture have to be improved.

  • On the financial front : Enhancing tax and non-­tax reve­nues of the government is needed to spend on the above priorities. The inequalities between the Centre and States in finances should be reduced. Apart from economic factors, non­economic factors such as dee­pening democracy and decentrali­sation can help in reducing inequalities.


Commentary : A way forward for trans persons

(i). Background

  • No less than 13 members of the transgender community have been selected recently as constables under the Chhattisgarh police. This is truly historic and thrilling for a community that had no legal recognition till the Supreme Court in NALSA vs. Union of India (2014) ruled that transgender persons have the right to decide their self­ identified gender. The binary notion of gender, which denied equal protection of law to transgenders, was rejected and the required relief was provided by the top court.

(ii). Where the journey stands

  • The journey of transgender people has indeed been a long struggle. However, soon after the 2014 Supreme Court judgment, the Chhattisgarh government constituted the Third Gender Welfare Board to take up various welfare measures in favour of trans people. Instructions were issued to all departments to include ‘third gender’ as an option (along with male and female) in official documents that require mentioning the gender or sex of a person.

  • The recently enacted Transgender Persons (Protection of Rights) Act, 2019, which paved the way for issuing a certificate of transgender identity, is in spirit with international conventions, particularly the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, 1948, the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights, 1966, and the Yogyakarta Principles, 2006.

  • The Act recognises that transgender persons have a legal right to self­-perceived gender identity in accordance with the principle of the “Psychological Test” instead of the “Biological Test”. According to law, transgender persons cannot be discriminated against in any matter relating to employment by any establishment.


Analysis : Explaining Pakistan’s flip flop on trade with India

(i). Background

  • Pakistan's double U-­turn on resuming trade with India highlights the internal differences within Ministries, between business and political communities, and the emphasis on politics over economy and trade. It also signifies Pakistan cabinet’s grandstanding, linking normalisation of ties with India to Jammu and Kashmir.

  • On March 31, Pakistan’s new Finance Minister Hammad Azhar, announced Pakistan’s Economic Coordination Committee (ECC)’s decision to import cotton, yarn, and 500,000 metric tons of sugar from India. The media dubbed it as a political breakthrough but the ECC’s decision was not on bilateral trade; it was about importing only three items – cotton, yarn and sugar. A day later, Pakistan’s cabinet overruled the decision.

(ii). Practical and economic considerations

  • For the textile and sugar industries in Pakistan, importing from India is imperative, practical and is the most economic.

  • The sugar industry in Pakistan is also in crisis. When compared to cotton, the sugar industry’s problem stem from different issues – the availability for local consumption and the steep price increase

(iii). The way forward

  • Three takeaways can be identified from the above. The first relates to the ECC’s decision to import only three items from India, namely cotton, yarn and sugar. It was based on Pakistan’s immediate economic needs and not designed as a political confidence-building measure to normalise relations with India.

  • The second takeaway from the two U­-turns – is the supremacy of politics over trade and economy, even if the latter is beneficial to the importing country.

  • The Kashmir link The third takeaway is the emphasis on Jammu and Kashmir by Pakistan to make any meaningful start in bilateral relations. This goes against what it has been telling the rest of the world that India should begin dialogue with Pakistan.


Story : HAMZAH BIN HUSSEIN The rebel prince

  • When Jordan’s King Hussein was on his deathbed, fighting cancer, he surprised the nation by dismissing his brother Hassan bin Talal as Crown Prince in favour of his son Abdullah. Prince Hassan had been Crown Prince for more than three decades and was almost sure to ascend the throne.

  • But he accepted the King’s decision and when Hussein died on February 7, 1999, Abdullah became the new monarch. As per the dying wishes of his father, King Abdullah II appointed his half brother Hamzah bin Hussein as the new Crown Prince. Hussein, who sacked his brother from the line of throne for his son, may have hoped that power would transfer from his one son to another in the future. But history repeated itself in a few years. In 2004, after consolidating power both within the royal court and the Hashemite family, King Abdullah stripped Hamzah of the Crown Prince status. In 2009, the King named his 15-year old school going son, Hussein bin Abdullah, the new Crown Prince

  • The Hashemite Kingdom has long projected itself as an oasis of stability in a volatile region. Jordan has been an important American ally for years. The palace feud has cut open the long simmering wounds within the Hashemites, who claim their ancestry to the Prophet Mohammed.

  • King Abdullah now says the crisis has been resolved. But it is unlikely. Even when he was detained, Prince Hamzah remained defiant, as the leaked messages show. He refused to keep quiet and accused the government of corruption, nepotism and misrule.


Analysis : Why the Personal Data Protection Bill matters

(i). Background

  • The Personal Data Protection Bill, 2019, now under scrutiny by a Joint Parliamentary Committee, could play a big role in providing robust protections to users and their personal data.

(ii). No effective protection

  • How different entities collect and process users’ personal data in India is mainly governed by the Information Technology Act, 2000, and various other sectoral regulations. However, this data protection regime falls short of providing effective protection to users and their personal data. The need for more robust data protection legislation came to the fore in 2017 post the Supreme Court’s landmark judgment in Justice K.S. Puttaswamy (Retd) v. Union of India that established the right to privacy as a fundamental right.

(iii). The upcoming regime

  • The proposed regime under the Bill seeks to be different from the existing regime in some prominent ways. First, the Bill seeks to apply the data protection regime to both government and private entities across all sectors. Second, the Bill seeks to emphasise data security and data privacy. While entities will have to maintain security safeguards to protect personal data, they will also have to fulfill a set of data protection obligations and transparency and accountability measures that govern how entities can process personal data to uphold users’ privacy and interests. Third, the Bill seeks to give users a set of rights over their personal data and means to exercise those rights. Fourth, the Bill seeks to create an independent and powerful regulator known as the Data Protection Authority (DPA).

(iv). The way forward

  • The time is ripe for India to have a robust data protection regime. The Joint Parliamentary Committee that is scrutinising the Bill has proposed 86 amendments and one new clause to the Bill – although the exact changes are not in the public domain. The Committee is expected to submit its final report in the Monsoon Session of Parliament in 2021. Taking this time to make some changes in the Bill targeted towards addressing various concerns in it could make a stronger and more effective data protection regime

Commentary : Abortion is a woman’s right to decide

(i). Background

  • The central government’s amendment to the abortion laws not only retains the traditional notion that the state must intervene and decide for women as to when and in what circumstances abortions may be carried out, but even the pathetic measures set out in the Medical Termination of Pregnancy (Amendment) Act 2021 are too little and have come too late.

(ii). Medical Termination of Pregnancy (Amendment) Act 2021

  • The Medical Termination of Pregnancy (Amendment) Act 2021 fails miserably on the main count while introducing few collateral progressive measures.

  • First, the Act fails to recognise the absolute right of a woman over her body in taking decisions regarding abortions and reproductive health. It still reserves to the state the right to dictate to the woman that she cannot have an abortion at will.

  • Second, even though the limit has been pushed back from 20 to 24 weeks, this comes with the same state conditionalities as before. Third, 24 weeks is not rational given today’s technology where abortions can be done safely up to full term.

(iii). What else stands

  • Enacting section 3(2B) which requires the pregnant woman to approach a medical board in cases of substantial foetal abnormalities and where she has crossed the 24 week limit. These boards impose insurmountable obstacles to the woman seeking late abortions.

  • First, what used to be an exchange between the pregnant woman and her gynaecologist who would take a decision as to safety, has now been replaced by a board of a minimum of three doctors. This is totally unnecessary and breaches privacy.

  • Second, the Act provides in section 3(2C) for a single board for a State. Given the millions of abortions taking place in India past the deadline, it is impossible for one board to handle all cases.

  • Third, assuming multiple boards will be established, the records show that no State has the finances or the human resources to maintain the operation and functioning of these boards.

  • Fourth, the right to seek termination is restricted to “such category of women as may be prescribed by rules”.

(iv). Conclusion and way forward

  • The main objection remains; that boards are totally unnecessary and an invasion of privacy, and pregnant women, like they used to do, should be left alone to consult their gynaecologist in late term pregnancies and carry out their abortion under the certificate of their own gynaecologist that the abortion can be performed safely. This is the trend worldwide and in the courts. The Indian government needs to wake up and educate itself on women’s emancipation worldwide.

Story : On Climate Change

(i). Background

  • Paris agreement for climate change is based on three pillars – temperature goals, car­bon neutrality, and equity. The temperature goal referred to is the intent of limiting temperature rise to well below 2°C and further pur­suing efforts to restrict it to 1.5°C above pre-­industrial levels. However, Is the achievement of carbon neutrality compatible with achieving the 1.5°C or 2°C goal is the real question. Also, the principle of equity states that the Paris Agreement will be im­plemented to reflect equity and the principle of common but diffe­rentiated responsibilities and res­pective capabilities, in the light of different national circumstances.

(ii). Are the current pledges adequate

  • According to the The Intergo­vernmental Panel on Climate Change Special Report on Global Warming of 1.5° warming what remains of the global carbon budget from 2018 onwards, for a 50% probabil­ity of restricting temperature rise to less than 1.5°C, is 480 Giga­ tonnes (billion tonnes) of carbon dioxide equivalent (GtCO2eq). At the current rate of emissions of about 42 GtCO2eq per year, this budget would be consumed in 12 years. To keep within the 480 Gt budget, at a steady linear rate of decline, global carbon neutrality must be reached by 2039.

  • For a 50% probability of res­tricting temperature rise to below 2°C, the budget is considerably more generous, amounting to about 1,400 GtCO2eq, which pro­vides considerably greater room for manoeuvre. The hollowness of nation level carbon neutrality declarations by developed countries is not helping the cause.

  • For example – Emissions in the U.S., peaked in 2005 and have declined at an average rate of 1.1% from then till 2017, with a maximum annual reduction of 6.3% in 2009, at the height of a re­cession. Even if it did reach net zero by 2050 at a steady linear rate of reduction, its cumulative emissions bet­ween 2018 and 2050 would be 106 GtCO2, which is 22% of the total re­maining carbon budget for the whole world. Similarly, the European Union, to keep to its fair share of the re­maining carbon budget would have to reach net zero by 2033, with a constant annual reduction in emissions.

(iii). India and her carbon debt

  • India’s current low carbon foot­print is a consequence of the utter poverty and deprivation of a ma­jority of its population, and not by virtue of sustainability. India’s emissions are no more than 3.5% of global cumula­tive emissions prior to 1990 and about 5% since till 2018.

  • Any self-­sacrificial declaration of carbon neutral­ity today in the current interna­tional scenario would be a wasted gesture reducing the burden of the developed world and transferring it to the backs of the Indian people. India’s twin burden of low ­car­bon development and adaptation to climate impacts, is onerous and requires serious, con­certed action.


Analysis : Lok Adalats

(i). Background

  • Lok Adalats (literally, ‘People’s Court’) were established to make jus­tice accessible and affordable to all. It was a forum to address the problems of crowded case dockets outside the formal adjudicatory system. As of now, Lok Adalats have been functioning for 38 years.

  • Lok Adalats had existed even before the concept received statutory recognition. In 1949, Harivallabh Pa­rikh, a disciple of Mahatma Gandhi, popularised them in Rangpur, Guja­rat.

  • Constitutional Mandate : The Constitution (42nd Amendment) Act, 1976, inserted Article 39A to ensure “equal justice and free legal aid”. To this end, the Legal Services Authorities Act, 1987, was enacted by Parliament and it came into force in 1995 “to provide free and competent legal services to weaker sections of the society” and to “organise Lok Adalats to secure that the operation of the legal system promotes justice on a basis of equal opportunity”.

(ii). The structure

  • As an alternative dispute resolution tool, Lok Adalats are regularly organ­ised to help parties reach a compro­mise. The State Legal Services Authori­ties (SLSAs) have been organising Lok Adalats on a daily, fortnightly and monthly basis. Lok Adalats organised across the country from 2016 to 2020 disposed of 52,46,415 cases. Similar­ly, National Lok Adalats (NLAs) or­ganised under the aegis of NALSA settle a huge number of cases across the country in a single day. NLAs have dis­posed of a total of 2,93,19,675 cases.

  • As per the National Judicial Data Grid, 16.9% of all cases in district and taluka courts are three to five years old; for High Courts, 20.4% of all cas­es are five to 10 years old, and over 17% are 10-­20 years old. Furthermore, over 66,000 cases are pending before the Supreme Court, over 57 lakh cases before various HCs, and over 3 crore cases are pending before various district and subordinate courts. As a result, litigants are forced to approach Lok Adalats mainly because it is a party driven process, al­lowing them to reach an amicable settlement.

  • Lok Adalats offer parties speed of settlement, as cases are disposed of in a single day; procedural flexibility, as there is no strict appli­cation of procedural laws such as the Code of Civil Procedure, 1908, and the Indian Evidence Act, 1872; eco­nomic affordability, as there are no court fees; finality of awards, as no further appeal is allowed. This prevents delays in settlement of dis­putes. More importantly, the award issued by a Lok Adalat, has the status of a civil court decree. Data show that the average number of cases disposed of per NLA since 2017 has gone up even when the number of NLAs organised each year has reduced. This proves that on average, the sys­tem is certainly efficient.

  • To overcome the challenges posed by the COVID-­19 pandemic, e­-Lok Adalats were organised at both na­tional and State level. However, the performance of the NeLA was less efficient than physical National Lok Adalats organised in 2017, 2018, and 2019.

(iii). Have they lived up to the mandate

  • Besides efficiency and speed, Lok Adalats both online and offline should focus on the quality of justice delivered. The Supreme Court, in State of Punjab vs Jalour Singh (2008), held that a Lok Adalat is purely conciliatory and it has no adjudicatory or judicial function.

  • In a majority of cases, litigants are pitted against enti­ties with deep pockets, such as insu­rance companies, banks, electricity boards, among others. In many cas­es, compromises are imposed on the poor who often have no choice but to accept them. Similarly, poor women under the so-called ‘harmony ideology’ of the state are virtually dictated by family courts to compromise matrimonial disputes under a romanticised view of mar­riage.


Analysis : India's refugee problem

(i). Background

  • Refugee protection in India debate. The current plight of the Myanma­rese coming into Manipur and Mizoram has been preceded by that of another group of Myanmarese, the Rohingya. And not too long ago, the debate was dominated by the Citizenship (Amendment) Act. Refugee flows to India are un­likely to end any time soon given the geopolitical, economic, ethnic and religious contexts of the re­gion.

(ii). Refugees versus immigrants

  • India has emphatically argued, particularly in the recent past, that illegal immigration from the neighbouring countries to In­dia must come to an end. Illegal immigra­tion is a threat to the socio-­politi­cal fabric of any country, including India, with potential security im­plications.

  • The reality is that much of the debate in the country is about the illegal immigrants, not refugees, the two categories tend to get bunched to­gether. Thus, our policies and remedies to deal with these issues suffer from a lack of clarity as well as policy utility. In the legal discourse in India, both categories of people are viewed as one and the same and are covered under the Foreigners Act, 1946, which offers a sim­ple definition of a foreigner – “fo­reigner” means “a person who is not a citizen of India”. Needless to say that there are fundamental dif­ferences between illegal immi­grants and refugees.

  • India is not a party to the 1951 Refugee Convention and its 1967 Proto­col, the key legal documents pertaining to refugee protection. The absence of such a legal fra­mework also leads to policy ambi­guity whereby India’s refugee poli­cy is guided primarily by adhocism. The absence of a legal framework increases the possibili­ty of the domestic politicisation of refugee protection and compli­cates its geopolitical fault lines.

(iii). Legal-Moral complexities

  • New Delhi has been one of the largest recipients of refugees in the world in spite of not being a party to the 1951 Refugee Conven­tion and its 1967 Protocol. A proper in­terpretation of the text of the 1951 Convention, a person, under the definition of the convention, could be considered if he/she is deprived of political rights, but not if he/she is deprived of eco­nomic rights. If the violation of economic rights were to be includ­ed in the definition of a refugee, it would clearly pose a major burden on the developed world. The West’s lopsided obses­sion with civil and political rights at the cost of economic rights is a convenient excuse with little mo­ral backing.

  • The non ­entrée (no entry) regime of the west : It is consti­tuted by a range of legal and admi­nistrative measures that include visa restrictions, carrier sanctions, interdictions, third safe country rule, restrictive interpretations of the definition of ‘refugee’, with­drawal of social welfare benefits to asylum seekers, and widespread practices of detention.

(iv). The way forward

  • A new domestic law aimed at refugees. It is morally untenable to have a discriminatory law like the CAA to ad­dress the concerns of refugees who are fleeing their home coun­try. A domestic refu­gee law should allow for tempor­ary shelter and work permit for refugees because in the absence of proper legal mea­sures, refugee documentation, and work permit, refugees may end up becoming illegal immi­grants using illicit means.

  • India should also make a distinction bet­ween temporary migrant workers, illegal immigrants and refugees and deal with each of them diffe­rently through proper legal and in­stitutional mechanisms.


Commentary : US and freedom of navigation

(i). Background

  • India’s strategic community was agi­tated last week when the USS John Paul Jones carried out a freedom of navigation operation (FONOP) 130 nautical miles west of the Lakshad­weep Islands. Some described it as an unnecessary provocation by the U.S. Navy. U.S. 7th Fleet commander, said the operation, which was carried out in India’s exclusive economic zone (EEZ), “asserted navigational rights and freedoms without requesting India’s prior consent”.

(ii). Strategic interpretations

  • In the aftermath of the incident, the U.S. Pentagon defended the military operation off India’s waters terming it “consistent with international law”. For the U.S. Navy, FONOPs are a way of showing that the maritime claims of certain states are incompat­ible with international law. India’s re­quirement of prior consent for the passage of foreign warships through Indian EEZs, U.S. officials believe, is a violation of the United Nations Con­vention on the Law of the Sea (UN­CLOS).

  • India interprets the maritime con­vention differently. Indian experts note that the UNCLOS does not expli­citly permit the passage of military vessels in another state’s EEZ. This po­sition is consistent with India’s dom­estic law – the Territorial Waters, Continental Shelf, Exclusive Eco­nomic Zone and Other Maritime Zones of India Act of 1976 – and re­mains unchanged.

  • Indian observers have come to accept U.S. FONOPs as an instrument in Wash­ington’s military and diplomatic tool­ kit that gives the U.S. Navy leverage in the contest with China in the South China Sea. Washington knows New Delhi’s real concern is the possi­bility of greater Chinese naval pre­sence in Indian waters. U.S. FONOPs in In­dian EEZs have been relatively low key, serving mainly to check a box on the U.S. Navy’s record of activity in Asia. Since 2016, the U.S. Navy has carried out three forays through Indian EEZs keeping well outside In­dian territorial waters.

  • To guard against any misreading of intent, the U.S. Navy coupled its FONOP in Indian waters with anoth­er sail through the territorial seas of the Maldives, a country with which the U.S. signed a defence agreement in 2020. The idea, ostensibly, was to signal to China that the U.S. Navy is committed to uphold the rules based order in the waters of opponents and partners alike.

(iii). The way forward

  • The U.S. must recognise that FONOPs have implications for New Delhi that go beyond the infringement of In­dian jurisdiction in the near seas. Such operations normalise military activism close to India’s island terri­tories that remain vulnerable to in­cursions by foreign warships. It encourages other regional navies to violate In­dia’s domestic regulations in the wa­ters surrounding the Andaman and Nicobar Islands.

  • New Delhi, too, must rethink its stand on freedom of navigation in the EEZs. India’s domestic regulation is worryingly out of sync with international law. India’s decla­ration of straight baselines delineat­ing zones around the Andaman and Nicobar Islands (on the Western edge), in particular, is a discrepancy that cannot be explained as a minor departure from the provisions of the UNCLOS.


ECONOMICS & FINANCE



Daily snippets

1. SC judgement may cost PSU banks around 2000 crores

  • The public sector banks may have to bear a burden of ₹1,800 crore­₹2,000 crore arising out of a recent Supreme Court judgment on the waiver of compound interest on all loan accounts which opted for moratori­um during March-­August 2020. The judgment covers loans above ₹2 crore as loans below this got blanket interest on interest waiver in November last year.

  • The RBI on March 27 last year announced a moratori­um on payment of installments of term loans falling due between March 1 and May 31, 2020. It was later ex­tended to August 31.

2. Airtel to sell spectrum to Jio

  • Bharti Airtel said it had entered into an agreement with Reliance Jio Infocomm to transfer ‘Right to Use’ for some of its 800 MHz spectrum in three cir­cles. Following this agreement, Bharti Airtel will receive a consideration of ₹1,037.6 crore from Reliance Jio for the proposed transfer. In ad­dition, Reliance Jio will as­sume future liabilities of ₹459 crore relating to the spectrum.

3. IMF warns on India's growth outlook of 12.5%

  • After an estimated contrac­tion of 8% in the 12 months ended March 31, India is pro­jected to grow at 12.5% in the current fiscal year, an out­look that, however, now fac­es significant downside risks because of the ongoing wave of COVID­-19 in the country, the IMF said. The International Mone­tary Fund’s ‘World Econom­ic Outlook (WEO): Managing Divergent Recoveries’ – re­leased ahead of the virtual World Bank­ IMF Spring Meetings – also forecast In­dia’s economy to expand by a relatively more sedate 6.9% in the next financial year. Gita Gopinath, IMF Chief economist, said that these fore­casts had preceded the cur­rent wave of COVID­-19 in India, “which is quite concerning”.

  • On the global economy, the IMF said it expected growth to rebound to 6% this year, after an estimated con­traction of 3.3% in 2020 (ca­lendar year), before easing to 4.4% in 2022. Pro­jections for 2021 were slight­ly higher than they were in October 2020 due to fiscal support in some large econo­mies and a vaccine support­ed recovery. The Euro Area is projected to grow at 4.4% and 3.8% over these time periods; China, at 8.4% and 5.6%.

  • Global growth is projected to settle at 3.3% in the medium term due to damage inflicted on supply potential as well factors that pre­date the pan­demic. The average annual loss in per capita GDP over the 2020­-24 period relative to pre-­pan­demic forecasts is expected to be 5.7% in low-income countries and 4.7% in emerg­ing markets. For advanced economies, this number is lower at 2.3%. Such losses are reversing gains in poverty reduction, with an additional 95 million people expected to have en­tered the ranks of the ex­treme poor in 2020.

4. SEBI bats for more transparency post COVID

  • Securities and Exchange Board of India (SEBI) chair­person Ajay Tyagi has highlighted the need for adeq­uate level of disclosures, risk assessment, sound dig­ital infrastructure and high standards of data protec­tion as well as cybersecuri­ty during the COVID­-19 era. SEBI had issued an ad­visory providing an illus­trative list of information that should be disclosed about the impact of the CO­VID-­19 crisis.

  • Companies must avoid selective disclosures while revealing material informa­tion. “A critical area that emerged during this pan­demic was the need to provide adequate level of disclosures to stakeholders about the health and per­formance of the company amid the uncertainty,” he said. He said company boards must critically consider if they were looking at the right risks, by remaining active in their risk assess­ment activities.

5. Flexible inflation targeting working well

  • The flexible inflation target­ing monetary policy regime has been successful in leash­ing the inflation rate within a range along with providing a favourable environment for economic growth, the finance ministry said. The government last week retained the 4% infla­tion target with upper and lower tolerance bounds of 6% and 2% respectively, adopted first in 2016.

  • The flexible inflation tar­geting led to a decline in price fluctuations, halved the volatility of core infla­tion, and moderated the me­dian inflation expectations of urban households over a one year ahead horizon. Vo­latility in interest rate and exchange rate also de­creased during 2017-­20. Until the pre-­COVID pe­riod, there was only one oc­casion [Q4 of 2019­20] when inflation exceeded the upper tolerance level.

6. RBI keeps policy rates unchanged

  • The Reserve Bank of India’s Monetary Policy Committee (MPC) voted unanimously to leave the policy repo rate unchanged at 4%. It was also unanimously de­cided to continue with the accommodative stance as long as necessary to sustain growth on a durable basis and continue to mitigate the impact of COVID­-19 on the economy.

  • RBI governor Shaktikanta Das stressed that the focus must now be on containing the spread of the virus as well as on economic revival by con­solidating the gains achieved so far and sustaining the im­pulses of growth in the new financial year. He added that rural demand remains buoyant and record agricultural production in 2020­-21 bodes well for its resilience. Urban demand has gained traction and should get a fil­lip with the ongoing vacci­nation drive.

  • The RBI also stressed that as part of re­taining its accommodative policy stance, it would stick to its commitment to ensure ample system liquidity. As part of its liquidity mea­sures it said it was putting in place a secondary market G­ sec acquisition programme or G­SAP 1.0 whereby the central bank would commit upfront to a specific amount of open market purchases of govern­ment securities with a view to enabling a stable and or­derly evolution of the yield curve amid comfortable li­quidity conditions. RBI’s decision to maintain its high GDP growth forecast also helped calm the market over its fears about the second wave of infections.

7. SEBI fines Ambani brothers 25 crores

  • SEBI has imposed a total pe­nalty of ₹25 crore on Mu­kesh Ambani, Anil Ambani, other individuals and enti­ties for non­compliance with takeover norms in a Re­liance Industries case dating back to 2000. In 2005, Mr. Mukesh and Mr. Anil had split the busi­ness empire built by their father Dhirubhai Ambani. As per the order, RIL’s promoters acquired 6.83% stake in the company during 2000 through conversion of 3 crore warrants issued to them in 1994, these were in excess of the ceiling of 5% prescribed un­der the takeover norms.

8. Mukesh Ambani tops Forbes rich list

  • India has the third highest number of billionaires in the world after the U.S. and China, according to a new list by the Forbes magazine, which said Reliance Industries chairman Mukesh Ambani reclaimed his spot as Asia’s richest person. Forbes’ 35th annual list of the world’s billionaires is topped by Amazon CEO and Founder Jeff Bezos for the fourth year in a row. His net worth is $177 bil­lion, up $64 billion from a year ago.

9. RBI extends 50000 cr to All India Financial Institutions

  • To help mitigate the impact of the pandemic and aid eco­nomic revival, the RBI said it would extend fresh support of ₹50,000 crore to the All India Financial Institutions for new lending in FY22. NABARD will be provided a special liquidi­ty facility (SLF) of ₹25,000 crore for one year to support agriculture and allied activi­ties. An SLF of ₹10,000 crore will be extended to the Na­tional Housing Bank for one year to support the housing sector. SIDBI will be provid­ed ₹15,000 crore under this facility for up to one year for funding of micro, small and medium enterprises (MSMEs).

  • The Central Bank noted that while Asset Reconstruction Companies had grown in number and size, their potential for resolving stressed assets was yet to be realised fully. A six-month extension to September 30 for Priority Sector Lending (PSL) classification for lending by banks to NBFCs for ‘on lending’ to sectors that contribute sig­nificantly to the economy in terms of export and employ­ment – has been approved.

  • What is Priority Sector lending : It is an important role given by the (RBI) to the banks for providing a specified portion of the bank lending to few specific sectors like agriculture and allied activities, micro and small enterprises, poor people for housing, students for education and other low income groups and weaker sections. This is essentially meant for an all round development of the economy as opposed to focusing only on the financial sector.

10. China fine $2.8 billion on Ma's Alibaba

  • China’s regulators have im­posed a record $2.78 billion fine on the Alibaba Group. The State Administration for Market Regulation (SAMR) in December an­nounced an antitrust probe. There were sharp comments made from Mr. Ma criticising China’s financial system, and a broader tug-of-war with the authori­ties over Alibaba’s amassing of consumer data, which reg­ulators felt gave it an unfair advantage over its rivals.

  • The SAMR said it had levied an 18.23 bil­lion yuan ($2.78 billion) fine on the Alibaba Group “for in­dulging in a monopolistic act of abusing its dominant mar­ket position”. The regulator con­cluded from a four month in­vestigation that Alibaba has been abusing its market do­minance since 2015 by prohibiting merchants from opening stores or participat­ing in promotional activities on other competitive platforms. It said the prohibition hinders competition in Chi­na’s services market, impedes the free flow of goods, services and resourc­es, and infringes the legiti­mate rights and interests of merchants.

  • The SAMR said the group had “abused its dominant market position” and “also used market forces, platform rules, data, algorithms and other technical means to en­sure the implementation of the exclusive dealing agreement. “

11. Forex reserves drop again by $2.4 billion

  • The country’s foreign ex­change reserves declined by $2.415 billion to stand at $576.869 billion in the week ended April 2, RBI data showed. The forex kitty had touched a record high of $590.185 billion in the week ended January 29. The decline in the reserves was mainly on account of a fall in fo­reign currency assets. Gold reserves dropped by $884 million to $34.023 billion, as per RBI data. The special drawing rights with the IMF dipped by $4 million to $1.486 billion.

12. Indian industry seeks vaccination for all age groups

  • The industry body CII called for accelerated vac­cine production and supply across the country and opening up vaccination for all age groups. It, however, stressed that factories and shop floors should be kept open for eco­nomic reasons. The industry body reit­erated that lockdown was not a solution in the present times and requested for maintaining stringent CO­VID ­related protocols for pu­blic places and workplaces.

13. Flipkart, Adani sign logistics, data unit pact

  • E­com firm Flipkart has entered into a strategic and commercial partnership with the Adani Group for logistics and data centre related businesses. Under the pact, Flipkart would work with Adani Logistics Ltd. to strengthen Flipkart’s supply­ chain infrastructure and enhance the ability to serve its customers. Flipkart would also set up its data centre at AdaniConneX Pvt.

SPORTS



Daily snippets

1. Former TT international Suhas Kulkarni no more

  • Former international table tennis player Suhas Kulkarni passed away. He was 68 and is survived by mother, wife and daughter. According to a release, after retiring, Kulkarni became a coach and also regularly played in Masters’ tournaments.

2. North Korea will not participate in the Olympics

  • North Korea will not attend this year’s Tokyo Olympics because of the coronavirus pandemic, Pyongyang’s sports ministry said. The isolated North’s parti­cipation in the last Winter Games, hosted by the South in Pyeongchang, was a cata­lyst in the diplomatic rappro­chement by North and South Korea in 2018. All IOC member countries are required to take part in each Games under the Olym­pic charter.

*3. Women's 4*100 team to make World Relays debut in Poland*

  • The Indian women’s 4x100m relay team will make its World Athletics Re­lays debut at the Silesian Sta­dium at Chorzow, Poland, on May1 and 2. The team includes un­der­20 World champion Hi­ma Das, World University Games gold medallist Dutee Chand, S. Dhanalakshmi, who came with some im­pressive times in the recent Grand Prix and Archana Suseendran.

  • Kiran Pahal, who came in­ to prominence with an im­pressive 52.73s as a 19­-year­ old at the 2019 National Open in Ranchi and who had consistently fin­ished second behind M.R. Poovamma in the recent Grand Prix meets, will be making her debut in the wo­men’s 4x400m team.

4. Snippets

  • Wrestling : Eighteen ­year ­old Sonam Malik became the youngest Indian female wrestler to qualify for the Tokyo Olym­pics as the country bagged two quota places. Sonam and Anshu Malik reached the finals of 62kg and 57kg respectively to book their berths for the To­kyo Olympics.

  • Doping : Five sports persons, includ­ing well-known weightlifter Rakhi Halder and kabaddi player Ajay Thakur, have been provisionally suspended last month for anti-­dop­ing rule violation. Other athletes in this list are Greco Roman wrestler Manish, and race walk­ers Sunil Vishwakarma (20km) and Vishvendra Singh (10km).

  • Sailing : The pair of Varun Thakkar and K.C. Ganapathy, along with Vishnu Saravanan, qualified for Tokyo Olympics in the 49er and laser stan­dard classes respectively from the Asian Olympic sail­ing qualifiers. Nethra Kumanan assured herself a spot in the laser ra­dial class category at the To­kyo Olympics, after finish­ing races nine and 10 in the first and second positions respectively of the Asian Olym­pic qualification sailing championships. The event, called the Mus­sanah Open, offered two Asian qualification spots each in the laser radial and laser standard classes and one in the other classes.

  • Chess : R. Praggnanandhaa won the prestigious Polgar Challenge and gained a berth to join the elite players in the next Meltwater Cham­pions Chess Tour event. Praggnanandhaa (15.5 points) scored 14 victories, drew thrice and lost twice in the four day online rapid tournament and earned $3,000 for his efforts. Viswanathan Anand hailed the young champion.

5. FIFA suspends Pakistan and Chad

  • FIFA suspended the national football federations of Pakistan and Chad amid disputes about how they should be run. The Pakistan federation, known as the PFF, was suspended for “third-party interference” for the second time. The suspension for Chad comes after the African country’s government tried to dissolve the national federation and appoint new officials to run the sport.

6. Russian Olympic champions banned

  • Russian Olympic cham­pions Andrei Silnov and Natalya Antyukh have each been banned for four years for doping offences. Silnov and Antyukh were both charged last year with using or attempt­ing to use a prohibited substance or method. The charges stemmed from a World Antidoping Agency investigation into Russian doping in 2016.

7. Davis Cup finals to be held in three cities

  • The 2021 Davis Cup Finals will be held in three cities, with Innsbruck and Turin joining Madrid as hosts, the International Tennis Feder­ation (ITF) announced. The ITF said Madrid, Aus­trian city Innsbruck and Tu­rin in Italy would host two of the six groups each, with the latter two both staging one quarterfinal. Madrid will host two last eight ties, the semifinals and the final. The 2020 tournament was called off due to compli­cations posed by the pan­demic.

SUGGESTED READINGS



1. Maratha Reservation case https://www.thequint.com/voices/opinion/is-the-maratha-reservation-case-a-constitutional-nightmare-for-the-supreme-court

2. Arrest of Hidme Markam https://thewire.in/rights/hidme-markam-chhattisgarh-arrest-adivasi-rights

3. Justice NV Ramana's story https://www.thequint.com/news/law/first-generation-lawyer-to-next-cji-justice-nv-ramanas-story

4. The Uttarakhand forest fires https://www.thequint.com/news/india/all-you-need-to-know-about-the-uttarakhand-forest-fires

5. Lockdown and released convicts https://www.thequint.com/news/law/post-lockdown-released-prisoners-are-struggling-to-make-ends-meet

6. IISc and Prorigo patent software https://economictimes.indiatimes.com/tech/tech-bytes/iisc-prorigo-build-a-homegrown-patent-management-software/articleshow/81917117.cms?from=mdr

7. Saurabh Kirpal's appointment as HC judge https://thewire.in/law/saurabh-kirpal-high-court-judge-appointment-discrimination

8. The Rohingya story https://www.thequint.com/news/law/the-crime-of-seeking-refuge-in-india-rohingyas

9. Italian Marine case https://www.barandbench.com/news/litigation/case-against-italian-marines-to-be-closed-after-10-crores-from-republic-of-italy-is-transferred-to-supreme-court-account

10. Phone Tapping and Article 21 https://www.legalindia.com/phone-tapping-violates-article-21-unless-permitted-by-procedure-established-by-law-chhattisgarh-hc/

11. Poll promises and burden on public exchequer https://www.legalindia.com/political-parties-should-be-prohibited-from-giving-election-promises-which-are-capable-of-adding-burden-on-the-public-exchequer-madras-hc/

12. Legality of fantasy gaming https://www.livelaw.in/columns/business-of-fantasy-sports-legality-of-fantasy-gaming-172440

13. Constitutionality of Section 69 of the IT Act https://www.livelaw.in/columns/information-technology-act-2000-ks-puttaswamy-fundamental-rights-172407

14. Incomprehensible writing and Law https://thewire.in/law/wherefore-therein-incomprehensible-writing-thy-name-is-law


Download Page : https://e-clat.com/dailynewspage

Sources referred to : The Hindu, The Indian Express, Live Law, Bar & Bench

END

Weekly Page : March 29th-April 4th, 2021

The week that went by!

START


LAW, POLICY & GOVERNANCE



Daily snippets

1. SC to study if POCSO Act can be used against minors

  • The Supreme Court has decided to examine whether the Protection of Children from Sexual Offences (POCSO) Act can be employed to punish teenagers for “consensual” physical relationships which later turn “sour.” Teens in ‘consensual relation’ have been later accused of rape.

2. Plea in SC to save academic freedom

  • The Supreme Court has asked the government to respond to a plea by five teachers to protect “academic freedom” from raids and seizures of police and investigative agencies.

  • A group of educationists have asked the court to frame guidelines so that the police treat the academic work and research, usually stored in computers they seize during raids, in a “civilised manner”. A Bench led by Justice Sanjay Kishan Kaul issued notice to the Centre and sought a reply in four weeks. Teachers say data in devices taken during police raids contain a lifetime of work.

3. Plea in SC against uniform civil law on divorce and alimony

  • A petition has been filed in the Supreme Court against the “blatant attempt” to take away the fundamental right of Muslim women to practise their religion, in the guise of providing a “uniform law” across all faiths. Amina Sherwani has asked the Supreme Court to hear her before deciding whether a uniform civil law for divorce, maintenance and alimony will leave Muslim women like her better-off.

4. Explain how contraband reaches prisoners: SC

  • The Supreme Court directed the Tihar Jail authorities to explain how contraband reaches prisoners, including death row convicts, and sought detailed information on the CCTV coverage both inside and outside the prison walls. The order concerns an incident on March 14 when three condemned men were found in an intoxicated condition inside their cells. The officials said the authorities had to use force to bring them to their senses. The court responded by ordering Raj Kumar, the Jail Superintendent, to file an affidavit by April “disclosing all the steps undertaken by him in connection with the incident that occurred on March 14”.

5. SC warns against mechanically granting bail in heinous offences

  • The Supreme Court has cautioned courts against mechanically granting bail in heinous offences, saying the seriousness of the charge is a basic consideration before releasing an accused on bail. A recent judgment by a Bench led by Justice Indira Banerjee set aside a Kerala High Court order bailing out a man accused of stabbing to death a 30 year old dentist in front of her father in September 2020. Though the trial court denied him bail, the High Court set him at liberty.

  • Justice Banerjee said, “while granting bail the court has to keep in mind not only the nature of the accusations, but the severity of the punishment”.

6. Maternal deaths rose during pandemic: study

  • The failure of the health system to cope with COVID-­19 pandemic resulted in an increase in maternal deaths and stillbirths, according to a study published in The Lancet Global Health journal. There was also a rise in maternal depression.

  • The study attributes the worsening trend to the failure of the “inefficiency of the healthcare system and their inability to cope with the pandemic” instead of strict lockdown measures. This resulted in reduced access to care. In India, there was a 27% drop in pregnant women receiving four or more ante­natal check-ups, a 28% decline in institutional deliveries and 22% decline in prenatal services.

7. Disquiet over policy for rare diseases

  • Caregivers to patients with ‘rare diseases’ and affiliated organisations are dissatisfied with the National Policy for Rare Diseases, 2021. Though the document specifies increasing the government support for treating patients with a ‘rare disease’ – from ₹15 lakh to ₹20 lakh – caregivers say this doesn’t reflect actual costs of treatment.

8. Panel submits report to SC on ISRO espionage case

  • A high level probe panel appointed by the Supreme Court to take erring cops to task for causing “tremendous harassment” and “immeasurable anguish” to Indian Space Research Organisation (ISRO) scientist Nambi Narayanan in the 1994 espionage case has submitted its report to the Supreme Court.

9. PFI men got funds to stoke riots in Hathras: chargesheet

  • The Uttar Pradesh Special Task Force (UPSTF) filed a chargesheet against eight members of the Popular Front of India in a Mathura Court. They have been accused of receiving funds from abroad to foment riots in Hathras in the wake of the alleged gang rape and murder of a Dalit girl in September 2020.

NATIONAL NEWS/ INTERVENTIONS



Daily snippets

1. Centre mulls unique ID for all plots of land by March 2022

  • The Centre plans to issue a 14­digit identification number to every plot of land in the country within a year. It will subsequently integrate its land records database with revenue court records and bank records, as well as Aadhaar numbers on a voluntary basis, according to a parliamentary standing committee report. The Unique Land Parcel Identification Number (ULPIN) scheme has been launched in 10 States this year and will be rolled out across the country by March 2022, the Department of Land Resources told the Standing Committee on Rural Development.

  • An official, who did not wish to be named, described it as “the Aadhaar for land” — a number that would uniquely identify every surveyed parcel of land and prevent land fraud, especially in rural India, where land records are outdated and disputed. The identification will be based on the longitude and latitude of the land parcel, and is dependent on detailed surveys and geo­referenced cadastral maps. This is the next step in the Digital India Land Records Modernisation Programme (DILRMP), which began in 2008. It’s due to come to an end next week, but the Department has proposed a further extension to 2023- 24, to complete its original targets as well as expand its ambit with a slew of new schemes

2. NRC-excluded to get rejection slips

  • The Centre has told the Assam government that “rejection slips'' to those excluded from the final National Register of Citizens (NRC) published in 2019 should be issued immediately. More than 19 lakh of the 3.29 crore applicants in Assam were left out of the final register that took five years to be compiled and cost ₹1,220 crore. Assam is the only State where an NRC was compiled under the supervision of the top court.

  • The Assam government has rejected the NRC in its current form and demanded reverification of 30% of names included in the NRC in areas bordering Bangladesh and 10% in the remaining State. The Assembly election is under way in Assam and the results are to be announced on May 2. According to Article 6 of the Constitution, the cut­off date for migration to India from Pakistan is July 19, 1948 whereas according to the 1985 accord, in Assam, which borders Bangladesh, it is March 24, 1971.

3. India attends Myanmar parade

  • Amid the crackdown by the military on protesters in Myanmar following the February 1 coup, India is one of the countries that attended the Armed Forces Day parade on March 27.

  • According to Nikkei Asia, eight countries – Russia, China, India, Pakistan, Bangladesh, Vietnam, Laos and Thailand – sent representatives for the annual parade. On Sunday, the defence chiefs of 12 countries, including Australia, the U.K. and the U.S., condemned the “use of lethal force against unarmed people'' in what was reported as the bloodiest day since the coup.

4. U.S. report flags curbs on Indian media

  • In its 2020 Human Rights Report, the U.S. State Department said the harassment and detention of journalists critical of the (Indian) government in their reporting and on social media, has continued, although the government generally respects freedom of expression. It also said the government's requests for user data from Internet companies had increased “dramatically.”

  • It also details cases against individual journalists and NGO activists, including Siddharth Varadarajan of The Wire (case by U.P. government) and Anirban Chattopadhyay of Anandabazar Patrika (summoned by Kolkata police). The government made 49,382 user data requests in 2019 from Facebook, a 32% increase from 2018. Over the same period, Google requests increased by 69%, while Twitter requests saw a 68% increase.

  • In a section on the arbitrary deprivation of life, the report highlights the case of the Sattankulam (Tamil Nadu) custodial deaths of P. Jayaraj and his son J. Benicks, who were arrested for allegedly keeping their shop’s shutters open past permitted hours during the pandemic. The report takes note of the April 2020 detention of pregnant Jamia Millia student Safoora Zargar, who was protesting the citizenship laws. It also mentions the arrest of JNU student Umar Khalid, who like Ms. Zargar, was detained under the Unlawful Activities Prevention Act. On the protracted detention of politicians in J&K, the report notes that former Chief Minister Mehbooba Mufti, arrested under the Public Safety Act, was released after a three month extension of her detention.

5. Jaishankar says India backs Afghan-Taliban dialogue

  • Calling for a “double peace” both inside Afghanistan and in the region, External Affairs Minister S. Jaishankar said India supports the Intra-Afghan Negotiations (IAN), in a rare direct reference to the Taliban at the 9th Heart of Asia conference in Tajikistan. Mr. Jaishankar attended the meet along with Foreign Ministers of 15 countries, including Afghanistan, Pakistan, Turkey, Iran, China, Russia, Saudi Arabia and Central Asian states.

  • Afghanistan President Ashraf Ghani, who spoke to both foreign ministers in separate meetings, thanked neighbouring countries for their support. He also lauded a number of regional connectivity initiatives including India’s air corridor programme and Chabahar port project, as well as the Turkmenistan -­ Afghanistan -­ Pakistan -­India (TAPI) pipeline.

6. Pakistan freezes plan to allow imports from India

  • Just a day after announcing its plan to allow import of cotton and sugar from India, the Pakistan government on Thursday said it was “deferring” the decision and linked any “normalisation” in ties to moves by New Delhi on Jammu and Kashmir. The U­-turn was seen as an embarrassment for the Imran Khan government and, in particular, for the newly appointed Finance Minister Hammad Azhar, who had addressed a press conference on Wednesday announcing clearances by the Economic Coordination Council (ECC) for imports from India, which have been suspended since August 2019.

  • “Cabinet stated clearly NO trade with India,” Ms. Mazaari emphasised in a tweet after the meeting, referring to India’s “illegal actions” in Jammu and Kashmir. Mr. Rashid told the media that India’s decision to overturn Article 370 was the precondition for any engagement.

7. Dadasaheb Phalke for Rajinikanth

  • The Centre announced the prestigious Dadasaheb Phalke Award for Rajinikanth for his contribution as an actor, producer and screenwriter. Announcing the decision in New Delhi, Information and Broadcasting Minister Prakash Javadekar said, “For the past 50 years, Rajinikanth has been ruling the film industry. His work is like the sun. Through his talent and hard work, he has made a space for himself in the hearts of millions of people.”

  • Instituted in 1969, the award is the highest honour for an artiste in Indian cinema. It is presented annually at the National Film Awards Ceremony by the Directorate of Film Festivals, an organisation of the Ministry of Information and Broadcasting. The award was decided by a jury of five members — Asha Bhonsle, director Subhash Ghai, Mohanlal, Shankar Mahadevan and actor Biswajeet Chatterjee. After Amitabh Bachchan received the award in 2018, there had been no nominee for the past three years.

8. BIMSTEC meet skirts Myanmar violence

  • India expressed commitment about taking the Bay of Bengal community to “new heights''. The statement was made by External Affairs Minister S. Jaishankar at the ministerial meeting of the BIMSTEC (Bay of Bengal Initiative for Multi­Sectoral Technical and Economic Cooperation), which was held virtually. The meeting drew participation from all the seven­ member States, including Myanmar which is witnessing a large-­scale crackdown against anti-­military protesters.

  • Cohesion among the members has been difficult to achieve mainly because of the Rohingya refugee crisis which created bitterness between Myanmar and Bangladesh. This affected the working of the organisation to some extent as it could not develop a common charter. However, Mr. Jaishankar announced that the organisation will soon have a common set of rules and goals. Thursday’s meeting, the 17th BIMSTEC Ministerial, chaired by Sri Lanka, however, avoided any reference to Myanmar’s current crisis.

9. First farm based solar power plant comes up in Rajasthan

  • The first farm based solar power plant under the Prime Minister’s Kisan Urja Suraksha Evam Utthan Mahabhiyan (KUSUM) scheme has come up in Jaipur district’s Kotputli tehsil with a provision for production of 17 lakh units of electricity every year. The 1 MW project has been established on 3.50 acres of farmland in Kotputli’s Balaji village.

  • RRECL chairman Subodh Agarwal said that the KUSUM scheme would ensure energy security for farmers, as they could generate revenue from their less productive or barren land. It would also help increase the clean green energy and generate employment in the rural areas, he said.

10. ‘India stands for revival of democracy in Myanmar’

  • India said it stood for revival of democracy in Myanmar, and added that violence would not solve the prevailing situation in the country. India was among the first countries to express concern after the February 1 military takeover which deposed the democratically elected leadership of Myanmar.

  • However, India’s subsequent behaviour indicated that it preferred to maintain communication links with the military junta. On March 27, an Indian official attended the Myanmar Armed Forces Day parade at capital Naypyidaw even as the day turned out to be the bloodiest with the military killing around 100 protesters.

  • Subsequently, on April 1, Myanmar participated in a foreign ministerial meeting of BIMSTEC, Bay of Bengal Initiative for Multi­Sectoral Technical and Economic Cooperation, which was chaired by Sri Lanka and attended by India along with other members like Bangladesh, Nepal, Bhutan, and Thailand.

11. Freeze on Co-WIN registration for healthcare and frontline workers

  • No fresh registration for COVID-­19 vaccination in categories of healthcare and frontline workers will be allowed with immediate effect, according to an order placed on Saturday.

  • The one-­page order issued by Health Secretary Rajesh Bhushan comes after “various inputs were received from different sources that in some of the vaccination centres, ineligible beneficiaries are being registered as healthcare and frontline workers and getting vaccinated in complete violation of the prescribed guidelines,” the Ministry said. The cumulative number of COVID­-19 vaccine doses administered has crossed 7.44 crore on Saturday, said the Health Ministry.

12. India extends condolences to Taiwan

  • India conveyed condolences to Taiwan after the worst rail accident in the history of the island nation left at least 50 dead. The message triggered a series of exchanges among the officials on both sides, a rare sight in public diplomacy between the two countries that do not maintain full fledged diplomatic ties because of objections from Beijing.

  • Taiwan and India have maintained strong trade relationships over the last three decades, but they continue to maintain bilateral relations at the level of Trade Representatives because of objections from China. Both sides are however expected to intensify collaboration in the post pandemic scenario in high end industrial sectors as well as in the production of vaccines.

13. No trade with India now: Imran

  • Prime Minister Imran Khan decided that Pakistan cannot go ahead with any trade with India under the current circumstances after holding consultations with key members of his Cabinet on importing cotton and sugar, a media report said on Saturday.

  • The Pakistani Cabinet rejected the proposal of the high powered committee to import cotton from India, with Foreign Minister Shah Mahmood Qureshi saying there can be no normalisation of ties until New Delhi reverses its decision to revoke the special status of Jammu and Kashmir in 2019.

14. Co-WIN platform upgraded for 1 crore daily jabs

  • The Co­-WIN platform, for COVID­-19 vaccination regis­tration, has been ramped up to accept one crore registra­tions and record vaccination of 50 lakh persons daily, said R.S. Sharma, Chairman, Em­powered Group on COVID­-19 vaccination. The sys­tem is operating at four le­vels – the one that is open to public (for registration), the verification level, platform management (open to hospi­tals giving the vaccine) and the certificate generation.

  • The current version of the Co­-WIN system does not schedule the ap­pointment for the second dose of the vaccine automat­ically, and beneficiaries should schedule this as per the recommended gap between the two doses.

15. Odisha suffered losses worth 31,945 crores in eight cyclones

  • The Odisha government re­ceived Central assistance of meagre one­-sixth of the loss­es incurred in eight different cyclones that visited after the Super Cyclone 1999. After the Super Cyclone 1999, the State was hit by Phailin (2013), Hudhud (2014), Titli, Phethai and Daye (2018), Bulbul and Fani (2019) and Amphan (2020). In these cyclones, Odisha suffered losses of life and property worth ₹31,945.80 crore.

  • As far as the loss is con­cerned, Phailin was the most devastating, with the State losing ₹14,373.47 crore. Total 160 persons had died in the eight cyclones during the past two decades. While the highest 72 had died in the Titli cyclone, Fani claimed 64 lives.

16. A look into election priorities

  • Tamil Nadu has the highest revenue deficit among the poll bound States. It stood at ₹65,994 crore, as per the re­vised budget estimate for 2020-­21. In terms of size of the eco­nomy, Tamil Nadu’s econo­my is the largest among these States (third largest in India), followed by West Bengal (sixth), Kerala (11th), Assam (17th) and Puducher­ry (26th). Together, they ac­count for around 20% of In­dia’s economy. At ₹19 lakh crore, Tamil Nadu accounts for 9% of In­dia’s economy.

  • Assam has witnessed a re­venue surplus in 2020­-21, as per the revised estimates for the year, while Puducherry had a revenue surplus for 2019-­20 and is yet to an­nounce the Budget for 2021­-22. The financial position of West Bengal and Kerala is also stressed, with revenue deficit of ₹34,345 crore and ₹24,206 crore in 2020­21, respectively.

  • Assam has witnessed the highest average economic growth of 8.6% during the four-year period to 2019-­20. West Bengal and Puducher­ry’s economy grew on a par with the national average, while at 6.3%, Kerala’s eco­nomic growth was lower than the national average due to the devastating floods of 2018 and 2019.

  • The unemployment rate in Tamil Nadu in February 2021 was 4.8%, lower than the na­tional average of 6.9%. The unemployment rates in the other four States were also below the national average. In February 2021, Tamil Nadu’s inflation stood at 7.2%, above the national av­erage of 5%. The inflation was 4.9% for Kerala, 5.3% for West Bengal, 8% for Pudu­cherry and 6.5% for Assam.

17. Manipur retracts letter on refugees

  • The Manipur government has withdrawn a letter is­sued directing officials to not set up any camps for Myanmar nationals cross­ing the border into India and to “politely turn away” those seeking refuge. The Union Home Ministry as­serted that the refugees should be identified and de­ported, the Mizoram govern­ment is planning to provide them employment under the Mahatma Gandhi National Rural Employment Guaran­tee Scheme.

  • In the March 26 letter to the Deputy Commissioners of five districts bordering Myanmar, it had been ordered in case of grievous injuries, medical attention may be provided on “hu­manitarian considerations” and also directed that Aad­haar enrolment “should be stopped immediately and Aadhaar enrolment kits ta­ken into safe custody.”

  • The MGNREGS is a Cen­tral scheme meant only for Indian citizens, but the rules are notified by the State government. The civil society groups, with the help of local televi­sion channels have so far raised more than ₹16 lakh to help the people. ­

18. Military Farms shut after 132 years

  • Military farms have been closed after 132 years of ser­vice, the Army said. In December 2016, the Lt. Gen. D.B. Shekatkar (retd.) committee, which was ap­pointed to recommend mea­sures to enhance combat capability and rebalance de­fence expenditure of the armed forces, recommended the closure of military farms.

  • The farms were set up with the sole requirement of supplying hygienic cow milk to troops in garrisons across British India. The first mili­tary farm was raised on Fe­bruary 1, 1889, at Allahabad. Post Independence, they flourished with 30,000 heads of cattle in 130 farms all over India. They were even established in Leh and Kargil in the late 1990s. For more than a century, the farms supplied 3.5 crore litres of milk and 25,000 tonnes of hay yearly.

  • “It is credited with pio­neering the technique of ar­tificial insemination of cattle and introduction of organ­ised dairying in India, pro­viding yeoman service dur­ing the 1971 war, supplying milk at the Western and East­ ern war fronts as well as dur­ing the Kargil operations to the Northern Command,” the Army said.

19. Arvind Kejriwal to represent Delhi at World cities cultural forum

  • Delhi Chief Minister Arvind Kejri­wal will represent the Capital and India at the World Cities Cultural Forum. Mr. Kejriwal, had recently ac­cepted an invitation by the Mayor of London to repre­sent Delhi at the forum, which comprises 40 world ci­ties including London, Tokyo and New York. All the cities ‘recognise the impact and importance of culture and creativity and seek to inculcate these values in public policy and city plan­ning’.

  • Delhi will also be part of the World Cities Cul­ture Report, the most com­prehensive global dataset on culture in cities. This year’s theme is “The Future of Culture”.

20. Best documentary film at the 67th National Film Awards 2019

  • Elephants Do Remember, a documentary on Netaji Sub­has Chandra Bose, recently adjudged the Best Biographi­cal Film at the 67th National Film Awards 2019, marks the directorial debut of Swati Pandey, Postmaster General, India Post, Mumbai Region. The film, which will bring to the fore unknown facts about the great freedom fighter, revolves around the life of Rama Khandwala, 94, a resident of Opera House, Mumbai, who served in the Indian National Army and worked closely with Netaji. Ms. Khandwala is the ol­dest tourist guide in India, she was at 16 an integral part of Netaji’s Rani Jhansi Regi­ment, that fought for India’s freedom, but also led a team of 30 women soldiers (known as Ranis) at the war front. The film was also nom­inated under the Short Doc­umentary category at the IFFI, Goa, 2019.

  • Swati Pandey is an Indian Postal Service officer of the 1997 batch. Ms. Pandey is now working on a documentary on the 160 ­year history of India Post along with Epic Chan­nel. Recently, she also pu­blished the first ­ever e­-book on the Mumbai General Post Office, co-authored with another government officer Orchida Mukherjee.

21. On Millets

  • The United Nations has declared 2023 as the International Year of Millets. India, Nigeria and China are the largest producers of millets in the world, ac­counting for more than 55% of the global production. In India, pearl millet is the fourth most widely cul­tivated food crop after rice, wheat and maize. It occu­pies an area of 6.93 million hectare with an average pro­duction of 8.61 million tonnes and productivity of 1,243 kg/ha during 2018-­19.

  • Millets are available al­most across India. They need very little water for growing. In a country such as India where there is a high inci­dence of diabetes, millets, being complex carbohy­drates with low GI [glycemic index], are indeed wonder grains and have a huge relevance in shifting consumers to millets and millet based products.

22. Centre praises Rajasthan's achievements in ration card scheme

  • The Centre praised the achievements of Rajasthan in the implementation of the “one nation, one ration card” scheme to enable mi­grant workers and their fa­milies to access the benefits of the public distribution system (PDS) from anywhere. Rajasthan is the 12th State to successfully under­take the reform. The centre praised the process for biometric auth­entication and transparen­cy in the distribution of ra­tion under the National Food Security Act (NFSA).

INTERNATIONAL NEWS/EVENTS/ PERSONALITIES



Daily snippets

1. Global outrage after Myanmar bloodbath claims over 100 lives

  • Defence chiefs from a dozen countries jointly condemned the bloodbath in Myanmar a day earlier, when at least 107 people, including seven children, were killed as security forces opened fire on anti coup protesters. The junta staged a major show of might for its annual Armed Forces Day as the death toll from crackdowns since the coup climbed to at least 423, according to a local monitoring group.

  • The UN put Saturday’s death toll at 107 people – including seven children – but expects it to rise further. The defence chiefs of 12 countries, including the U.S., Britain, Japan and Australia, condemned the Myanmar military’s use of lethal force against civilians. The military is also continuing to battle ethnic Karen fighters in the country’s east. The Karen National Union is one of the organisations that have been fighting for decades to gain more autonomy from Myanmar’s central government.

2. Philippines deploys aircraft as China ships spark tensions

  • The Philippines said it has started deploying its Air Force to carry out daily patrols over a flotilla of Chinese vessels that has sparked fresh tensions in the South China Sea. The latest dispute, Manila said, was triggered by what it described as a swarm of more than 200 Chinese fishing vessels that have refused to withdraw from waters off the Whitsun Reef, near the disputed Spratly Islands, in an area located within Manila’s Exclusive Economic Zone.

  • The stand-­off follows a similar incident in 2019 triggered by Chinese fishing vessels near another disputed island in the Spratlys. As it did then, Manila has called on Beijing to acknowledge the 2016 arbitration case which recognised many of its claims

3. UN in dialogue with China for ‘unrestricted’ Xinjiang visit

  • The UN is in negotiations with Beijing for a visit “without restrictions” to Xinjiang to see how the Uighur minority is being treated, Secretary­General Antonio Guterres said in an interview. At least one million Uighurs and people from other mostly Muslim groups have been held in camps in the northwestern region, according to U.S. and Australian rights groups, which accuse Chinese authorities of forcibly sterilising women and imposing forced labour. China has repeatedly bridled at criticism of its treatment of the group.

4. China cuts Hong Kong’s elected seats

  • China’s legislature formally approved sweeping changes to Hong Kong’s electoral system that will see a sharply reduced share of directly elected representatives and a tightening of Beijing’s control in the Special Administrative Region (SAR). President Xi Jinping signed orders to promulgate the amended annexes to Hong Kong’s Basic Law, the constitution that has governed the SAR under the “one country, two systems” model since its return to China in 1997, official media reported.

  • The amendments mark the biggest changes to Hong Kong’s political system since the handover, and reduce the share of directly elected representatives in its Legislative Council (LegCo). While previously 35 of its 70 members were directly elected, that number has been reduced by 15.

  • The other big change is the setting up of a Candidate Eligibility Review Committee “for reviewing and confirming the eligibility of candidates” and a “Committee for Safeguarding National Security'' that “will make findings as to whether a candidate for Election Committee member or for the office of Chief Executive meets the legal requirements”. There will be no scope for legally challenging the findings. The changes have also all but ended any prospect of realising the demands of the 2019 protest movement for universal suffrage and direct elections to choose the Chief Executive.

5. Hefazat-­e-­Islam, the group behind Bangladesh protests

  • At least 11 people were killed in Bangladesh over the weekend as protesters clashes with police during demonstrations called by Islamist groups against Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s Dhaka visit. Mr. Modi was in Bangladesh to attend the country’s Golden Jubilee celebrations of independence. The main group behind the violent protests was Hefazat­-e­-Islam Bangladesh that had in the past clashed with the Awami League government. Hefazat-­e-­Islam, literally ‘protector of Islam’, was formed in 2010 when the country was taking gradual measures to undo the Islamisation of its polity by the military rulers in the late 1970s and 1980s.

6. Global leaders push for new pandemic treaty

  • World leaders pushed for a new international treaty to prepare for the next global pandemic – and avoid the unseemly scramble for vaccines hampering the COVID­-19 response. Leaders from 25 countries, the European Union and the World Health Organization (WHO) sought to get the ground rules down in writing to streamline and speed up the reaction to future global outbreaks. The treaty would aim to ensure that information, virus pathogens, technology to tackle the pandemic and products such as vaccines are shared swiftly and equitably among nations.

7. Joe Biden set to announce $2 trillion infrastructure plan

  • U.S. President Joe Biden will visit Pittsburgh to announce a massive $2 trillion infrastructure plan, which will, over eight years, rebuild much of America’s infrastructure – from roads and bridges to high-­speed Internet infrastructure and water pipes.

  • The legislation, called the American Jobs Plan, is being pitched by the White House as America’s response to the climate crisis and “the ambitions of an autocratic China'', and is expected to be financed by corporate taxes. The plan will include $621 billion for modernising roads and bridges, modernising public transit (buses, rapid bus transport, railway tracks and coaches), passenger and freight rail services and electric vehicles, according to the White House. It will call for a $111 billion investment in drinking water infrastructure, including replacing all lead pipes. An outlay of $100 billion for clean power and another $100 for broadband infrastructure are also part of the plan. Mr. Biden will ask Congress for $180 billion in research and development (R&D), and $300 billion in supply chain investment and pandemic preparedness. Coming weeks after Congress passed his $1.9 trillion American Rescue Plan, the proposed infrastructure Bill and associated tax Bill is likely to face opposition from Republicans on Capitol Hill

8. Brazil military chiefs quit after Bolsonaro fires Defence Minister

  • The leaders of all three branches of Brazil’s armed forces jointly resigned following President Jair Bolsonaro’s replacement of the Defence Minister, causing widespread apprehension of a military shakeup to serve the President’s political interests. The Defence Ministry reported the resignations.

  • Gen. Braga Netto’s first statement on the new job showed he is aligned with Mr. Bolsonaro’s views for the armed forces. The incoming Defence Minister, unlike his predecessor Fernando Azevedo e Silva, celebrated the 1964­-1985 military dictatorship that killed and tortured thousands of Brazilians. His slide in popularity, and the likelihood that he will face leftist former President Luiz Inácio Lula da Silva in the 2022 presidential election, has analysts saying he is looking to the armed forces for support.

9. Italy expels Russians after Navy officer ‘caught’ selling secret files

  • Italy expelled two Russian officials on Wednesday after an Italian Navy captain was allegedly caught red­handed selling secret documents to a Russian military officer. The Italian frigate Captain was arrested on spying charges after a “clandestine meeting” with the Russian late on Tuesday in Rome, according to a police statement.

  • According to La Repubblica newspaper, the Navy Captain worked at the office of Chief of the Defence Staff and had access “to a wide range of documents” concerning both Italian defence and NATO activities.

10. Saudi Arabia to unveil $3.2 tn investment drive

  • Saudi Arabia announced plans to pump investments worth $3.2 trillion into the national economy by 2030, roping in the oil reliant kingdom’s biggest companies in a major economic diversification push. The announcement by de facto ruler Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman underscores an effort to jumpstart the domestic economy as the top crude exporter battles high youth unemployment and a coronavirus triggered downturn.

  • Twenty-­four of the kingdom’s biggest companies, including energy giant Aramco and petrochemical firm SABIC, will lead the investment drive by contributing five trillion riyals ($1.3 trillion) over the next decade, he said. The Public Investment Fund (PIF), the kingdom’s sovereign wealth fund, will provide three trillion riyals

11. Coup bid in Niger ahead of presidential inauguration

  • Elite troops in Niger thwarted an “attempted coup”, a security source said, just two days before the historic inauguration of Mohamed Bazoum as President of the chronically unstable Sahel nation. The alleged coup comes ahead of Mr. Bazoum’s inauguration on Friday – the first elected transition in Niger’s history since independence from France in 1960.

12. Biden allows H1­B visa ban to expire

  • The White House has allowed a 2020 ban on H1­B skilled workers and certain other temporary visas to expire on March 31. H1­B visas, used more by Indian professionals than any other nationality, were suspended by President Donald Trump in June last year, ostensibly to protect American jobs, already reeling under the impact of the COVID­19 pandemic.

  • Visas for intra­company transfers (L1), exchange visitors ( J1), temporary nonagricultural workers (H­2B) and dependents of H1­B holders (H4) were also impacted by the expiring ban. Indian IT industry body NASSCOM said it applauded the decision to let the visa ban expire

13. China pushes to expand virus origin search beyond its border

  • Chinese health officials pushed to expand the search for the origins of the novel coronavirus beyond China, one day after the release of a closely watched World Health Organization report on the issue. They also rejected criticism that China did not give enough data to a WHO team of international experts that visited Wuhan, the Chinese city where the first cases were detected, earlier this year.

  • The WHO report concluded that the virus or a progenitor of it was most likely carried by a bat, which infected another animal that infected a human. Researchers have not been able to trace the bat or the intermediate animal yet, but suspicion has fallen on bat habitats in southwest China or nearby Southeast Asia.

14. Jailed Barghouti backs challenge to Abbas

  • Imprisoned Palestinian leader Marwan Barghouti has endorsed a list of challengers opposing President Mahmud Abbas’s Fatah movement in legislative elections next month, the head of the dissident list said on Thursday. Mr. Barghouti, who is serving multiple life sentences in an Israeli jail and is described by some as the “Palestinian Mandela,” has been a closely watched figure ahead of the first Palestinian elections in 15 years.

  • Mr. Barghouti’s wife Fadwa is the second candidate on the “Freedom” list headed by Nasser al­Kidwa, nephew of the late iconic Palestinian leader Yasser Arafat. Mr. Kidwa was expelled from Fatah earlier this year after announcing his intention to run for the Palestinian presidency in a July 31 vote, a move seen as a direct affront to the Mr. Abbas,85. There remains widespread speculation that Mr. Barghouti may mount a presidential run from prison. Israel has convicted him of orchestrating deadly attacks during the 2000-­2005 second Palestinian intifada, or uprising. Mr. Barghouti refused to recognise the court during his trial.

15. U.S., Iran agree to indirect nuclear talks

  • The U.S. and Iran said that they would begin negotiations through intermediaries next week to try to get both countries back into an accord limiting Iran’s nuclear programme, nearly three years after President Donald Trump pulled the U.S. out of the deal. The announcement marked the first major progress in efforts to return both countries to the 2015 accord, which bound Iran to restrictions on its nuclear programmes in return for relief from U.S. and international sanctions.

  • President Joe Biden came into office saying that getting back into the accord was a priority. But Iran and the U.S. have disagreed over Iran's demands that sanctions be lifted first, and the stalemate threatened to become an early foreign policy setback for the Biden administration.

16. Biden vows support to Kiev after Russian buildup

  • U.S. President Joe Biden affirmed his “unwavering support” for Ukraine in a call to President Volodymyr Zelensky after Kiev accused Moscow of building up military forces on its border. The call, came after Russia warned the West earlier against sending troops to Ukraine to buttress its ally. It also came as tensions between the U.S. and Russia have hit rock bottom after Mr. Biden last month infuriated Moscow by agreeing with a description of his Russian counterpart Vladimir Putin as a “killer”.

  • Kiev has been battling pro-Russian separatists in the eastern Donetsk and Lugansk regions since 2014, following Moscow’s annexation of the Crimean peninsula after an uprising that ousted Ukraine’s Kremlin­ friendly president Viktor Yanukovych.

17. Biden lifts Trump’s sanctions on international court officials

  • President Joe Biden lifted sanctions that Donald Trump had imposed on two top officials of the International Criminal Court (ICC), undoing one of the past administration’s more aggressive moves targeting international institutions and officials.

  • The Trump administration was openly hostile to the tribunal for pursuing prosecutions of Americans for actions in Afghanistan and Israelis for actions against the Palestinians. Both sets of sanctions had been roundly denounced by the ICC. The removal of the sanctions was the latest signal that the Biden administration is intent on returning to the multilateral fold.


OPINION & ANALYSIS



Story : The Period Stigma

(i). Background

  • In February 2020, college authorities, including the principal, of the Shree Sahajanand Girls Institute (SSGI) in Bhuj, Gujarat, allegedly forced over 60 girls to remove their undergarments to check if they were menstruating. This shocking act, which rightly caused outrage, followed complaints that the girls had entered the temple and kitchen in the premises while on their period, which is against the institute’s rules. Four persons were later arrested.

(ii). Where are we standing

  • The stigma finds its roots in the notion of purity and pollution attached historically to menstruation. This was explained exceptionally by Justice D.Y. Chandrachud in Indian Young Lawyers Association v. The State of Kerala (2018), known popularly as the Sabarimala case, a decision that India is still struggling to accept.

  • He reasoned, and rightly so, that any social practice which excludes women from participation in public life as a result of their menstruation is discriminatory on the ground of their sex. That apart, such social exclusion can be attacked on the ground of privacy.

  • Taking cognisance of the incident at SSGI, the Gujarat High Court, in early March this year, proposed to introduce a set of guidelines that prohibit the social exclusion of menstruating women from private, public, religious and educational places.

  • The hope for women is that society will slowly but surely get past the taboo around menstruation, and abhorrent practices discriminating against menstruating women will be considered abnormal.


Story : Contribution of Women dairy farmers

(i). Background

  • The achievements of women dairy farmers in contributing to India’s ‘White Revolution’ are perhaps the greatest cause for celebrating Women's History Month in March. That this has happened despite a majority of dairy farmers owning only small landholdings – typically households with two to five cows – is also a testament to the success of the dairy cooperatives models that were at the heart of Operation Flood.

(ii). Winning the odds

  • According to latest data, there are more than 1,90,000 dairy cooperative societies across the country, with approximately 6 million women members. A study by the International Development Research Centre (IDRC) indicates that 93% of women farmers who receive training along-side financial support succeed in their ventures, compared to the 57% success rate of those who receive financial aid alone.

  • Institutionalising such inputs, the National Dairy Development Board (NDDB) now organises farmer’s orientation programmes across the country, under which women farmers are trained in scientific best practices on animal health, fodder quality, clean milk production, and accounts management.

  • Another major challenge in this sector is information asymmetry among farmers. Statistics indicate that small and marginal farmers have access to only 50­-70% of the resources that large and medium farmers have. Once again, the presence of collectives in the form of cooperatives and milk unions plays a significant role in enhancing the knowledge and bargaining power of women.

  • The NDDB has played a proactive role in setting up women-led producer enterprises. To conclude, Innovation in organisational structures has also spurred consistent growth in this sector. These testimonials of individual women dairy farmers are all the more remarkable for the fact that many of them have not had a formal education, but through the process of dairying and working with larger collectives, such as milk unions and cooperatives, they have mastered the nuances of finance and marketing.


Commentary : In Geneva face­off, outrage versus hope

(i). Background

  • Geneva as an idea is firmly embedded in the Sri Lankan consciousness. For many Sri Lankans, especially the Sinhalese, it is an attack on national honour, a place where their vulnerability as a small island is exploited. For many Tamils and now Muslims, it is a place of hope. For human rights activists the world over, it is their forum.

(ii). The government portrayal

  • The government playbook with regard to the Geneva process at the UN Human Rights Council is to present it as an enormous power play full of double standards. It is seen as western countries ganging up on Sri Lanka for its closeness to China. Imperialism and neocolonialism remain in the frame.

  • The government’s aim this year was to have no resolution at all, while the major Tamil groups wanted the Human Rights Council to begin a pathway to the International Criminal Court. In the end, the resolution decided to create capacity at the Office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights (OHCHR) to collect, preserve and consolidate evidence not only on war crimes but also on other gross violations of human rights and serious violations of humanitarian law. There is no date or time period.

(iii). The story

  • The “plus” factors around the Sri Lankan resolution were easy to identify. First came the legal experts of the Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights, as well as the Special Rapporteurs and procedures who took very strong positions. In addition to the work of OHCHR, the Tamil groups nationally and globally were extremely active. But, it was Muslim civil society and the Muslim diaspora that made the difference for this resolution.

(iv). How Sri Lanka stands

  • Sri Lanka has again become a global cause: The events unfolding in Geneva are particularly disturbing because of their shortsightedness. In 2014, Sri Lanka faced a hostile Council and was an outlier in the international system very much like today. With this dedicated capacity at the OHCHR, the human rights issues regarding Sri Lanka will not go away.

  • For many Sri Lankans, especially the Sinhalese, this is an outrage of double standards. There is real fury at what they see as global inequity. For many members of the minorities, opposition leaders, journalists, lawyers, victim groups and civil society activists who claim they are being harassed, prosecuted and intimidated on a daily basis by a surveillance state, there is relief to know that someone will be watching.


Profile : CARRIE LAM: In the line of fire

(i). Background

  • When Carrie Lam was in 2017 appointed as Hong Kong’s fourth Chief Executive(CE) – and the first woman to lead China’s Special Administrative Region (SAR) – her appointment by Beijing was greeted mostly with optimism. Ms. Lam triggered the unprecedented protest movement in 2019 that brought millions to the streets, by proposing a controversial extradition Bill that would allow suspects to be repatriated to the mainland.

(ii). The conflicts and the legacy

  • The protests against the Bills led to broader calls for democracy and for universal suffrage. Hong Kong’s residents only vote for half of their 70 legislators, with the rest nominated by pro­-Beijing bodies. The CE is also not voted for, but chosen by a Beijing-backed Election Committee.

  • Ms. Lam subsequently wholeheartedly backed Beijing’s crushing response to the protests, starting with a new national security law in 2020 and unprecedented changes to Hong Kong’s electoral system announced on March 30 that have drastically cut the share of democratically elected representatives. The number of elected legislators has been cut to 20 while the Legislative Council has been expanded to 90, thus ensuring a permanent majority for Beijing Nominated politicians and all but ending the pro democracy movement.

  • Ms. Lam will be remembered for presiding over the biggest changes to the “one country, two systems” model that has governed Hong Kong since 1997, guaranteeing a high degree of autonomy and a range of freedoms that distinguished the SAR from the mainland.


Story : The HIB visa rule

(i). The story so far

  • Last June, the administration of former President Donald Trump, a Republican, halted the issuance of non-­immigrant work visas of several types, including the skilled worker visa, or H­1B. At the time, the White House had stated that the aim of the policy was to stop foreign workers from cornering American jobs during the economic distress and consequent shortage of economic opportunities brought on by the ongoing COVID­-19 pandemic. While the original order was valid until December 31, 2020, it was extended by the Trump administration to be valid until March 31, 2021. Now, the 46th and current U.S. President, Democrat Joe Biden, has allowed the ban on H­1B visa issuance to expire, potentially bringing relief to a large number of Indian nationals, especially IT workers who are prospective applicants for the visa.

(ii). What was the context for the Trump administration issuing rules tightening immigration policy?

  • Immigration reforms in favour of protecting U.S. jobs for Americans and favouring legal over undocumented migration was a major policy thrust for Mr. Trump even during his days campaigning for the 2016 presidential election.

(iii). Was it economics or politics that prompted the ban?

  • It is unlikely that any significant economic benefits of the skilled worker visa ban, in terms of protecting U.S. jobs from foreigners, could have been realised during 2020 and early 2021 given the pressures of the COVID­19 pandemic on the U.S. economy.

(iv). What was the economic fallout of the visa ban?

  • Even more than Mr. Biden, it turned out that America Inc., the employers of perhaps millions of nonimmigrant foreign workers, from Wall Street to Silicon Valley, was at the vanguard of the backlash against the skilled worker visa ban.

(v). What will be the impact of the ban’s expiry on Indian corporations?

  • Given that the order banning H­1B visa issuance expired on Thursday, all H­1B applicants will now be in a position to receive a visa and travel to the U.S. to begin or resume work as full time employees or independent contractors. In time, that will lead to a steady increase in the size of the talent pool available to IT companies with U.S. operations.

Analysis : On what inflation targeting means in India

(i). Background

  • The Finance Ministry announced that the inflation target for the five years between April 2021 and March 2026 will remain unchanged at 4%, with an upper tolerance level of 6% and a lower tolerance level of 2%. This is the retail inflation target that will drive the country’s monetary policy framework.

(ii). Why is it important

  • India had switched to an inflation target­ based monetary policy framework in 2015, with the 4% target kicking in from 2016­17. Many developed countries had adopted an inflation ­rate focus as an anchor for policy formulation for interest rates rather than past fixations with metrics. In adopting a target for a period of five years, the central bank has the visibility and the time to smoothly alter and adjust its policies in order to attain the targeted inflation levels.

  • Moody’s Analytics recently pointed out that volatile food prices and rising oil prices had already driven India’s consumer price index (CPI)­based inflation past the 6% tolerance threshold several times in 2020. It was however predicted that, the Central government, whose topmost priority now is to revive growth in the COVID-­19 pandemic battered economy, may ease up on the inflation target by a percentage point or two. This would have given the Reserve Bank of India (RBI) more room to cut interest rates even if inflation was a tad higher.

(iii). RBI's position

  • RBI has been supportive of the targets. They are consistent with global experience in countries that have a large share of food items in their consumer price inflation indices. Accepting inflation levels beyond 6% would hurt the country’s growth prospects, the central bank had asserted.

  • The central bank has been perhaps the only major national institution to have made a pitch for both the Centre and the States to cut the high taxes they levy on fuels that have led to pump prices for petrol crossing ₹100 a litre in some districts. As high oil prices spur retail inflation higher, the central bank is unhappy as its own credibility comes under a cloud if the target is breached. If the upper threshold for the inflation target were raised to 7%, the central bank may not have felt the need to seek tax cuts (yet).


Story : China's push on digital currencies

(i). Background

  • China in February launched the latest round of pilot trials of its new digital currency. While several countries have been experimenting with digital currencies, China’s recent trials in several cities have placed it ahead of the curve.

(ii). How does the currency work

  • Officially titled the Digital Currency Electronic Payment (DCEP), the digital RMB (or Renminbi, China’s currency) is, as its name suggests, a digital version of China’s currency. It can be downloaded and exchanged via an application authorised by the People’s Bank of China (PBOC), China’s central bank.

  • Unlike an e­-wallet, the Digital RMB does not involve a third party. The digital currency is a legal tender guaranteed by the central bank, not a payment guaranteed by a third-party operator. There is no third-party transaction, and hence, no transaction fee. Unlike e­-wallets, the digital currency does not require Internet connectivity. The payment is made through Near ­field Communication (NFC) technology.

(iii). What are countries pushing the use of digital currency

  • Digital payment platforms have placed the countries' money in the hands of a few technology companies. For example, in China, in the fourth quarter of 2019, Alibaba controlled 55.1% of the market for mobile payments, Tencent controlled another 38.9%.

  • The central bank issued digital RMB will turn the logic of decentralised cryptocurrencies on its head, without the privacy and anonymity they offer, by giving regulators complete control over transactions. There are global motivations as well.


ECONOMICS & FINANCE



Daily snippets

1. Finance Minister on working with India on infra

  • Finance and Corporate Af­fairs Minister Nirmala Sitha­raman urged the New Development Bank (NDB) to consider working closely with India’s new de­velopment financing institution for funding infrastructure.

  • Set up by the BRICS na­tions in 2014, the NDB has so far approved 18 projects in India, including emergency loans of $2 billion to support health spending and eco­nomic recovery in the after­math of the COVID­-19 pan­demic. Ms. Sitha­raman is also India’s Gover­nor on the NDB board. She advised the NDB to ef­fectively meet the evolving development needs of mem­ber countries and encour­aged it to develop a synergis­tic relationship with various other multilateral develop­ment banks and DFIs, in­cluding the new DFI being set up by India.

2. Passenger vehicle segment expected to post 25% growth in FY-22

  • The passenger vehicle (PV) segment in India is expected to grow up to 25% in 2021-­22, even as shortage of semicon­ductors will continue to re­main a key challenge for the industry, ratings agency ICRA said. In case the growth mo­mentum is sustained, the in­dustry could surpass earlier peak volume of FY-2019 in FY-2022, ICRA said in a state­ment. The agency added that the semiconductor shortage was a key challenge in Q1 FY2022 as the automo­tive industry accounted for 12% of the global semicon­ductor demand.

3. India's inflation levels

  • Inflation has breached comfort levels and assumed ‘worrisome’ proportions in India, Moody’s Analytics said in a note on Asia’s inflation worries dri­ven by rising oil prices. India’s retail inflation has been breaching the Reserve Bank of India’s (RBI’s) 4% inflation target for the past eight months, the financial intelligence firm said India and Philippines are the two notable exceptions – in Asia – where inflation is beyond the comfort level.

  • Volatile food prices and rising oil prices led India’s CPI (consumer price infla­tion) to exceed the upper band of 6% several times in 2020, inhibiting the RBI’s ability to keep accommoda­tive monetary settings in place during the height of the pandemic. Higher fuel prices will keep upward pressure on headline CPI and keep the RBI from offer­ing further rate cuts. Food is a key driver of inflation, repre­senting 46% of the CPI bas­ket.

4. Government retains 4% inflation target for RBI's rate panel

  • The Centre has decided to retain the inflation target of 4%, with a tolerance band of +/­ 2 percentage points for the Monetary Policy Com­mittee of the RBI for the coming five years. Economists welcomed the continuity in the framework, despite the recent spate of high inflation prints beyond the 6% upper threshold of the inflation target. Inflation may have breached the 6% mark a few times recently, but this has been during an exceptional situation in the economy. The decision puts to rest speculation about the go­vernment considering a looser inflation target to ena­ble a more growth oriented focus in monetary policy.

5. World Bank predicts India's GDP growth between 7.5%-12.5% in FY22

  • India’s economy is expected to grow at 10.1% for the year starting April 1, 2021, as the vaccine roll­out drives activi­ty in contact­ Intensive sec­tors, as per the World Bank’s South Asia Economic Focus South Asia Vaccinates re­port. Fiscal year 2021 is expected to register the worst economic damage due to the pandemic, the report said (the economy contract­ ed 8.5% in FY 20­21 as per the World Bank’s estimate).

  • The Bank expects public consumption to contribute positively, but pent­ up priv­ate demand to fade by end 2021, as investment will pick up very gradually as a result of a large government capi­tal expenditure push. Negative spillovers from financial sector distress (par­ticularly concessions to deb­tors) are a risk to the growth outlook, the report warned.

6. Centre infuses capital of 14500 crore in four PSU's

  • The Centre has infused a fresh capital of ₹14,500 crore in four public sector lenders to improve their financial health. The lenders said they received the funds as part of Central Government’s investment in the preferential allotment of equity shares for FY21. Central Bank of India received ₹4,800 crore, IOB ₹4,100 crore, Bank of India ₹3,000 crore and UCO Bank ₹2,600 crore.

7. Government better revenue estimates for disinvestment

  • The government has mopped up ₹32,835 crore from CPSE share sale and buybacks, thus exceeding the disinvestment target set in the revised estimates (RE) for the current fiscal. The realisation is, howev­er, lower than the record ₹2.10 lakh crore originally budgeted. In the RE, the target was scaled down to ₹32,000 crore as COVID­-19 delayed planned big-ticket disinvestment.

  • A Department of Investment and Public Asset Management briefing stated that total DIPAM receipts in 2020­-21 stand at ₹71,857 crore, which include disin­vestment receipts of ₹32,835 crore and dividend receipts of ₹39,022 crore. For 2021-­22 fiscal, the Un­ ion government has set a disinvestment target of ₹1.75 lakh crore.

8. Rate cut on small savings instruments

  • The government has sharply slashed the rates on all small savings instruments for the first quarter of 2021­-22, bringing the rate of return on the Public Provident Fund down from 7.1% to 6.4% and effecting cuts rang­ing from 40 basis points (0.4%) to 110 basis points (1.1%) through a notification on Wednesday. The rate of re­turn on the Senior Citizen Savings’ Scheme was cut from 7.4% to 6.5%, while the Sukanya Samriddhi Account Scheme’s return was re­duced from 7.6% to 6.9%. The interest rate paid on National Savings Certificate and Kisan Vikas Patra were also reduced significantly, from 6.8% to 5.9%, and from 6.9% to 6.2%, respectively. Consequently, the Kisan Vi­kas Patra, which used to ma­ture in 124 months, will now mature in 138 months. Among time deposits, the return on five year depo­sits has been reduced from 6.7% to 5.8%. For savers, the option with the highest returns at this point is the Sukanya Samriddhi Account Scheme, followed by the Se­nior Citizens’ Savings Schemes and the Public Pro­vident Fund.

  • While the government re­sets the interest rate on small savings instruments every quarter, with a retail inflation hovering in excess of 6%, the rate cuts assume greater significance. The government plans to borrow ₹12.05 lakh crore in 2021-­22, on the back of a record gross borrowing of ₹13.71 lakh crore in 2020-­21. High small savings rates have been cited by the cen­tral bank as a major impedi­ment in ensuring policy rate cuts get transmitted into the banking system.

  • However, by early Thursday, the rate cuts had disappeared and the status quo reinstated, following a tweet by Finance Minister Nirmala Sitharaman. The only explanation: ‘Orders is­sued by oversight shall be withdrawn.’

9. Central Government on raising borrowings

  • The central government is confident that the Reserve Bank of In­dia will manage to help raise the funds at reasonable rates. The Budget has announced a gross borrow­ing of ₹12,05,500 crore and a net borrowing of ₹9,37,221 crore. The borrowings would be done across tenures ranging from two years to 40 years.

10. States get 45,000 crores as additional devolution

  • The Finance Ministry said it had re­leased ₹45,000 crore to the States as additional devolu­tion in FY21 following reve­nue buoyancy in the March quarter. As per the Revised Esti­mates for FY21, ₹5,49,959 crore, being 41% of the shareable pool of taxes and duties, were estimated to be released. The 15th Finance Commission has recom­mended that States be given 41% of the divisible tax pool of the Centre during FY21.

11. Cotton exports may touch 70 lakh bales : Cotton Corporation of India

  • Cotton exports so far have clocked 47 lakh bales and may touch 70 lakh bales by the end of season, accord­ing to Pradeep Kumar Agar­wal, CMD, Cotton Corpora­tion of India (CCI). However, International prices have dropped and those of Indian cotton are now on a par with prices overseas. So, ex­ports may not account for much. Prices in India are ex­pected to remain stable or vary slightly. It would depend on government agen­cies that have almost 50 lakh bales in stock.

12. India plans to diversify her oil sourcing

  • Amid tensions with Saudi Arabia over oil production cuts, India has asked its state refiners to review contracts for buying crude oil from the West Asian nation and nego­tiate more favourable terms. India imports 85% of its oil needs and is often vulnera­ble to global supply and price shocks. When oil pric­es started to rise in February, it wanted Saudi Arabia to re­lax output controls but the Kingdom ignored its calls.

  • Indian firms buy two­ thirds of their purchases on term or fixed annual con­tracts. These contracts pro­vide assured supplies of the contracted quantity but the pricing and other terms favor the supplier. While buyers have an obligation to lift all of the contracted quantity, Saudi and other producers have the option to reduce supplies in case OPEC decides to keep production artificially lower to boost prices.

  • Indian refin­ers will look to reduce the quantity they buy through term contracts and instead buy more from the spot or current market. Buying from the spot mar­ket would ensure that India can take advantage of any fall in prices on any day and book quantities. Indian refiners have raised spot purchases from 20% a decade back to 30­-35% of the total oil bought now. West Asia accounts for 60% of oil bought by India. Latin America and Africa are the other big supplier blocks.


SPORTS



Daily snippets

1. Shooting World Cup

  • It was a brilliant climax for the host India, as the men’s and women’s teams nailed the elusive trap gold in the shooting World Cup that concluded at the Dr. Karni Singh Range, Delhi. India topped the medals table with 15 gold, nine silver and six bronze. USA fol­lowed a distant second with four gold, three silver and a bronze.

  • Italy and Denmark had two golds each, while Ka­zakhstan, Slovakia, Iran, Es­tonia, Britain and Slovenia won at least one gold. The 82 medals, with 30 gold and 30 silver were shared by 22 of the 59 countries.

2. Merit-based selection for the Olympics

  • The president of the Nation­al Rifle Association of India (NRAI), Raninder Singh, as­sured a merit­-based selec­tion of the Indian shooting team for the Tokyo Olym­pics. It was also announced that there would be reserve shooters and they would be given the same level of train­ing as the Olympic­ bound shooters in the run­up to the Games.

  • Raninder was happy with the manner in which the young Indian shooters responded to the opportunity of competing in the World Cup at home. He expressed anguish about the National cham­pionship not being held any time before the Olympics, owing to the prevailing sit­uation in the country.

3. Bindra launches physiotherapy app

  • Former World and Olympic champion Abhinav Bindra has launched “one ­tap solu­tion for your healthier life”, a physiotherapy mobile application. The app will help people get high-tech physiotherapy and rehabilitation services from the six high performance centres across the country, as well as from the convenience of their home. The app will facilitate fix­ing appointments at specific locations apart from offer­ing access to the expert phy­siotherapists through video call and chat features. The app will be accessible from all metro ci­ties in the initial phase and will gradually cover other ci­ties.

4. Profile

  • Manpreet Singh : He is an Indian field hockey player and the captain of India men's national field hockey team since May 2017. He plays as a halfback. He first played for India in 2011 at the age of 19. He represented India at the 2012 Summer Olympics and was named Asia's Junior Player of the Year in 2014. He was named in the Indian squad for the 2016 Summer Olympics.

SUGGESTED READINGS



1. In search of the first women CJI https://www.barandbench.com/columns/in-search-of-the-first-woman-chief-justice-of-india

2. Madhya Pradesh Freedom of religion Act https://www.livelaw.in/news-updates/madhya-pradesh-freedom-of-religion-act-2020-madhya-pradesh-government-notification-171971

3. Recognition of indirect discrimination by the Supreme Court https://www.livelaw.in/columns/lt-col-nitisha-vs-union-of-india-supreme-court-indirect-discrimination-171943

4. Decentralising the Judiciary https://www.barandbench.com/columns/divide-and-unite-decentralizing-the-judiciary

5. Article 21 in prison https://www.livelaw.in/columns/article-21-prison-bail-under-trial-prisoners-172019

6. Grievance Redressal under the new IT rules https://thewire.in/government/it-rules-digital-media-grievance-redressal

7. Supreme Court and the question on reservation https://thewire.in/caste/the-supreme-courts-question-about-reservations-is-the-wrong-one-to-ask

8. Phishing – The modern techdemic https://www.livelaw.in/columns/phishing-cyber-crime-techdemic-information-and-technology-act-2000-172093

9. Selective activism and public faith in regulators https://www.livelaw.in/columns/competition-commission-of-india-whatsapp-privacy-policy-competition-act-172089


Download Page : https://e-clat.com/dailynewspage

Sources referred to : The Hindu, The Indian Express, Live Law, Bar & Bench

END

March 25th-28th, 2021

Your 10 minute read!

HAPPY HOLI

START


LAW, POLICY & GOVERNANCE



Daily snippets

1. Justice N.V. Ramana set to take over as 48th CJI

  • Chief Justice of India Sharad A. Bobde has recommended Justice N.V. Ramana, the senior most judge of the Supreme Court, as the next top judge. The recommendation to the government was followed by the publication of a short statement, informing that Andhra Pradesh Chief Minister Y.S. Jagan Mohan Reddy’s October 6 complaint to the CJI naming Justice Ramana was dismissed under an in-house procedure after due consideration. Justice Ramana is now set to take over as the 48th Chief Justice of India from April 24.

2. Supreme Court flags concern over misuse of electoral bonds

  • The Supreme Court flagged its concern that political parties could misuse crores of rupees received as donations through electoral bonds to bankroll violent protests or even terror. The court asked the government whether there was any “control” over how these donations were used by the political parties.

  • A “little effort” will go a long way in piercing the veil of secrecy about electoral bonds, the Supreme Court said in an order. The court said money spent by companies could be easily traced online on the website of the Ministry of Corporate Affairs.

3. SC tells Param Bir to move to the HC

  • The Supreme Court refused to intervene in a petition filed by former Mumbai Police Commissioner Param Bir Singh to order a CBI investigation into allegations of corruption and abuse of office levelled against Maharashtra Home Minister Anil Deshmukh.

  • Bench of Justices Sanjay Kishan Kaul and R. Subhash Reddy asked Mr. Singh, who was represented by senior advocate Mukul Rohatgi, to approach the Bombay High Court with his plea for investigation by an independent agency.

4. Madras HC upset with BJP for ‘accessing’ voter details

  • The Madras High Court took serious note of a complaint that the Puducherry unit of the BJP had accessed voters’ phone numbers linked to their Aadhaar cards and had been misusing the data for electioneering. It directed the Election Commission of India to file a report by Friday on the steps taken by it to prevent such acts.

  • The Madras High Court directed the Unique Identification Authority of India (UIDAI) to ascertain immediately if Aadhaar data of citizens had been compromised. The High Court asked the UIDAI to ascertain if the Puducherry unit of the BJP had been able to access mobile phone numbers of voters from the UIDAI database, as claimed by a public interest litigant.

5. LS clears Bill on allied healthcare

  • The Lok Sabha cleared the National Commission for Allied and Healthcare Professionals Bill, 2021, which seeks to set up a commission to regulate the allied healthcare sector, standardise training and qualifications across the country. The Bill was passed by the Rajya Sabha last week.

6. Apex court bats for women officers in Army

  • The Supreme Court in Lt. Col. Nitisha vs. Union of India held that the Army’s “selective” evaluation process discriminates against and disproportionately affects women short service commission officers seeking permanent commission. The evaluation pattern of women officers has caused them economic and psychological harm, the court said.

  • In a series of directions, the court ordered that the cases of women officers who have applied for permanent commission should be reconsidered in a month and the decision on them should be given in two months. They would be considered for permanent commission subject to disciplinary and vigilance clearance.

7. SC suggests posting retired judges to clear backlog in HCs

  • The Supreme Court pushed for the appointment of retired judges to battle pendency of cases in High Courts. CJI says some courts have cases pending for 30 years. The Bench said retired judges who had handled certain disputes and fields of law for over 15 years could deal with them faster if brought back into harness as ad­-hoc judges.

8. States told to take up crowd control

  • Union Home Secretary Ajay Kumar Bhalla wrote to the States “to take necessary measures to regulate crowds” during upcoming festivals by enforcing COVID­-19 appropriate behaviour such as wearing masks and maintaining physical distancing. Mr. Bhalla said the country was passing through a critical juncture.

9. 40% of RTI rejections did not cite valid reason, says analysis

  • The Centre has only rejected 4.3% of all Right to Information (RTI) requests in 2019-­20, the lowest ever rate, according to the Central Information Commission’s annual report. However, almost 40% of these rejections did not include any valid reason, as they did not invoke one of the permissible exemption clauses in the RTI Act, according to an analysis of report data by RTI activist Venkatesh Nayak. This includes 90% of rejections by the Prime Minister’s Office.

NATIONAL NEWS/ INTERVENTIONS



Daily snippets

1. Excluding India from Moscow talks a mistake: Afghan Minister

  • India should have been included by China­-Russia-U.S. “troika” that met in Moscow with regional stakeholders, including Pakistan, last week, said Afghanistan’s Foreign Minister Haneef Atmar during a three day visit to India, where he discussed a new peace plan proposed by President Ashraf Ghani.

  • According to the plan, Mr. Ghani was prepared to hold early Presidential elections in Afghanistan, if the Taliban agreed to a ceasefire and to take part in the elections. This could set the Ghani government at odds with the Biden administration as it runs counter to a recent U.S. proposal for an interim government in Afghanistan that would include the Taliban.

  • The Afghanistan government is expected to unveil its full proposal during the upcoming intra­Afghan talks due to be held in Istanbul in the beginning of April. The talks are a part of the U.S.’s latest push for intra­Afghan talks with the Taliban that appear to have stalled in Doha.

2. CBSE rolls out assessment framework

  • The Central Board of Secondary Education has rolled out a new assessment framework for Classes 6­-10 in English, Maths and Science in collaboration with the British Council. Under the new system, teachers will be trained to create question papers and other assessment methods that test the actual competency of students in these subjects, rather than their ability to memorise chunks of text. Launching the new framework, Education Minister Ramesh Pokhriyal Nishank said it was aligned with the National Education Policy’s vision of achieving a global standard in assessments.

  • British agencies worked with the CBSE team to analyse the current set­up in Indian schools and identify how competency based approaches can be integrated into the assessment system. They have developed materials to train teachers in new styles of pedagogy and lesson plan preparation and will hold capacity building workshops.

  • In the first phase, the framework will be implemented in select Kendriya Vidyalayas and Navodaya Vidyalayas, CBSE schools in Chandigarh, and a few private schools. By 2024, it will be rolled out to 25,000 CBSE schools across the country, with 1.32 lakh teachers and two crore students.

3. In signal to China, U.S. raised India ties during Alaska talks

  • The Joe Biden administration highlighted the strength of the U.S.­-India ties in its March 19 meeting with Chinese officials in Alaska, underlining how it has increasingly come to view India as central to its broader objectives in dealing with China in the Indo-Pacific region.

  • The reference to India, it is learnt, was not favourably received by China’s two officials in Alaska – top diplomat and Politburo member Yang Jiechi and Foreign Minister Wang Yi – and is being seen as reflecting how U.S.­ India relations, only two months into the new administration, are developing robustly.

4. Asha Bhosle to be honoured with Maharashtra Bhushan

  • The Maharashtra government said singer Asha Bhosle has been selected for the Maharashtra Bhushan award, the State government’s highest honour. The award, instituted in 1996 by the State government to recognise distinguished work and achievements of eminent persons from the State, representing different walks of life, carries a cash prize of ₹10 lakh and a citation.

  • Ms. Bhosle, whose sister Lata Mangeshkar won the award for 1997, said she got to know from Mr. Thackeray that she has been selected for the award for 2020. Ms. Bhosle received the Dadasaheb Phalke Award for 2000. The first Maharashtra Bhushan awardee was Marathi writer P.L. Deshpande and the last winner of this award was historian Babasaheb Purandare who got it for the year 2015

5. Vaccine export may be curbed

  • Amidst a fresh surge in COVID­-19 cases in India, and the rollout of vaccines for those above 45 years from April 1, the government has hinted it may need to “calibrate” its supply schedules to other countries, although it has not proposed a full ban on exports at this time.

  • According to Global vaccine alliance GAVI, which runs the COVAX programme, Indian vaccine supplies to lower income countries are being delayed “as the Government of India battles a new wave of COVID­-19 infections”.

  • According to the Ministry of External Affairs, India has exported more than 60 million doses of COVID-­19 vaccines since January 20 this year. While about 8 million were grants from the Government of India to other countries, most of the supplies have been procured by the international GAVI alliance that runs the COVAX facility (17.86 million) and commercial orders (34.17 million).

6. India, Bangladesh must fight terror together: PM

  • Contemporary Bangladesh was created with the blood of the freedom fighters, and of the Indian soldiers who were martyred in the War of Liberation of 1971, Prime Minister Narendra Modi said in Dhaka on Friday. Addressing a special gathering on the National Day celebrations that marked the 50th anniversary of the country’s independence, Mr. Modi said the creation of Bangladesh received support from all sections of the Indian political class. Mr. Modi spoke at the National Day Programme in the presence of Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina and President Abdul Hamid. Recollecting the atrocities unleashed by the Pakistani military, Mr. Modi blamed “Operation Searchlight” of March 25, 1971 for unleashing a reign of terror in the country.

7. Double mutant virus variant in India

  • A unique “double mutant” coronavirus variant – with a combination of mutations not seen anywhere else in the world – has been found in India, the Union Health Ministry said. However, it is still to be esta­blished if this has any role to play in increased infectivity or in making COVID­-19 more severe.

  • Genome sequencing of a section of virus samples by a consortium of 10 laborato­ries across the country, called the Indian SARS-­CoV-­2 Consortium on Genomics (INSACOG), revealed the pre­sence of two mutations, E484Q and L452R together, in at least 200 virus samples from Maharashtra, as well as a handful from Delhi, Punjab and Gujarat. While the two mutations have been individually iden­tified in other variants of SARS-­CoV-­2 globally and have been associated with a reduction in vaccine effica­cy, their combined effect and biological implications have not yet been under­stood. So far, only three global VOCs have been identified: the U.K. variant (B.1.1.7), the South African (B.1.351) and the Brazilian (P.1) lineage.

  • Separately, genome varia­tion studies from Kerala have revealed the presence of other mutations associat­ed with the ability to help the coronavirus evade neu­tralising antibodies.

8. Earth hour

  • Earth Hour is a worldwide movement organized by the World Wide Fund for Nature (WWF). The event is held annually encouraging individuals, communities, and businesses to turn off non-essential electric lights, for one hour, from 8:30 to 9:30 p.m. on a specific day towards the end of March, as a symbol of commitment to the planet. It was started as a lights-off event in Sydney, Australia, in 2007.

9. Mizoram group on MHA order

  • A group representing ethnically related communities across the India­-Myanmar border said the Centre’s order to prevent Myanmar nationals from entering India was discriminatory. The Zo Reunification Organisation (ZORO) asked the Ministry of Home Af­fairs to revoke its March 10 order direct­ing four North-eastern States bordering Myanmar to deport people from the neighbouring country who have taken refuge in India following the military coup in February.

10. India has less than 50% mask compliance : Survey

  • Almost 90% of the CO­VID-­19 deaths in India con­tinue to be in the category of those aged above 45. In­ternal surveys showed that while 90% people were aware of the importance of masks, only 44% actually wore them, a statement from the Health Ministry said. India has seen the shar­pest rise in weekly CO­VID­-19 cases and fatalities since May 2020.

  • The total vaccination cov­erage in India approached six crore, with India being the third largest vaccinator in the world behind the Un­ited States and China. States were advised to in­crease testing in all districts and increase RT­-PCR tests, to more than 70% of total. About 70% of cases could be controlled through CO­VID appropriate behaviour, States were told.

11. Teesta River issue : India-Bangladesh

  • Bangladesh reit­erated that the livelihood of “millions'' of its citizens de­pended on Teesta river and the country should receive a proper share of its waters. The two leaders also in­structed their Ministries of Water Resources to firm up the Framework of Interim Agreement over the six com­mon rivers – Monu, Muhuri, Khowai, Gumti, Dharla and Dudhkumar.

  • The two Prime Ministers also agreed that the incidents of killings along the settled Indo-­Bangladesh borders is a matter of concern. The leaders have expressed their desire to bring the number of such incidents involving civilians to ‘zero’. India reiterated its demand for completion of border fencing by Bangla­desh “at the earliest”. Bangladesh has called upon India to revive the jute sector with investment and through public private part­nership.

  • On connectivity, Bangladesh also offered the airports of Sylhet and Chittagong for the passen­gers of the North-eastern States, especially of Tripura saying these airports will help in improving connec­tivity in the region.

12. SC allows poll bond sale of electoral bonds for now

  • The Supreme Court refused to stay the sale of electoral bonds prior to the Assembly elections in crucial States such as West Bengal and Tamil Nadu. Chief Justice Bobde, who read out the judgment, said the court found no reason to stall the sale of the electoral bonds now. The petition that was filed voiced serious apprehension that the sale of bonds before the elections would “further increase illegal and illicit funding of political parties through shell companies”.

  • The court agreed that the scheme protects the identity of purchasers of electoral bonds in a cloak of anonym­ity, but highlighted that such purchases happened only through regular banking channels. The State Bank of India would eventually know the identity of the buyer. It is also ensured that unidentified/unidentifiable persons cannot purchase the bonds and give it to the political parties. Under Clause 7 of the scheme, buyers have to apply in the prescribed form, either physically or online, disclosing their par­ticulars. Anyone buying bonds would have to fulfil KYC (Know Your Customer) norms, the court said. Mr. Prashant Bhushan had ar­gued that electoral bonds purchased using white mo­ney through banking chan­nels could be re­purchased by an anonymous entity us­ing black cash.

  • The court debunked fears that electoral bonds would help foreign corporate hous­es influence domestic electo­ral politics. It said the bonds could be purchased only by a person who was a citizen of India or incorporated or es­tablished in India.

13. Fall in TB notifications due to pandemic disruptions

  • In 2020, there were 18.05 tu­berculosis notifications, which was a fall of 24% from 2019 due to the disruptions caused by the pandemic, ac­cording to the India TB re­port released by the Health Ministry. The report said between January and February 2020, the notifications were on an upward trajectory, with 6% more cases reported in the same period in 2019. As a result of the lock­ down, notifications in the public sector fell by 38% and 44% in the private sector in April and May.

  • The approved bud­ gets toward the programme have increased substantial­ly, from ₹640 crore in 2016­-17 to ₹3,333 crores in 2019­-20, however, there was a fall in budget to ₹3,110 crore in 2020-­21.

14. Status-quo on supply of Yamuna water

  • The Supreme Court ordered the States of Haryana and Punjab and the Bhakra Beas Manage­ment Board to maintain sta­tus quo in the supply of wa­ter to Delhi till March 26. A Bench led by Chief Justice Sharad A. Bobde passed the order on a plea filed by the Delhi Jal Board (DJB) al­leging that Haryana would cut 20% of its water supply to Delhi due to repair work in one of its canals. Chief Justice Bobde, said the issue is a mat­ter of access to clean water, which is a fundamental right. The court agreed to hear the case on March 26 on an urgent basis.

15. Centre insists on DBT for welfare boards

  • The Centre has ordered State welfare boards for building and other con­struction workers (BOCW) not to distribute household and other articles to work­ers and instead stick to transferring monetary as­sistance into their bank accounts. The Labour and Em­ployment Ministry said in a statement that it issued an order to States directing the boards not to distribute articles. The BOCW boards are meant to carry out wel­fare activities for workers from the cess on construc­tion collected by States.

INTERNATIONAL NEWS/EVENTS/ PERSONALITIES



Daily snippets

1. China lashes out at U.S. and EU

  • China lashed out at the U.S. over racism, financial inequality and the federal government’s response to the COVID-­19 pandemic, in an annual report that seeks to counter U.S. accusations of human rights abuses by China’s ruling Communist Party.

  • The 28­-page report opens with “I can’t breathe”, a reference to George Floyd, a Black ­American who died last May after a police officer pressed his knee against Floyd’s neck for about nine minutes. The document also highlighted the January 6 attack on the Capitol, as well as gun violence and health disparities. China issues the report every year in response to U.S. criticism of its record on issues such as abuses against minority groups and a crackdown on opposition voices in Hong Kong. Separately, China also hit out at the European Union, accusing it of “hypocrisy” after the two sides summoned each other’s envoys in an escalating row over the treatment of China’s Muslim Uyghurs.

2. Biden calls for ban on assault weapons

  • Hours after a gunman opened fire in a supermarket in Boulder, Colorado, U.S. President Joe Biden asked Congress to ban assault weapons and mandate stricter background checks for those buying guns. The House of Representatives had passed two laws earlier this month that would require more background checks for potential gun buyers.

  • The U.S. Constitution’s Second Amendment grants the right to bear arms. According to a Gallup poll published in the autumn of 2020, 57% percent of Americans felt that gun laws need to be more strict and 42% of respondents said they kept a gun at home. More than 43,500 people died due to gun violence in 2020, according to the Gun Violence Archive

3. Uncertainty hangs over Israel election outcome

  • Israelis will have its fourth general election in less than two years, there was still no clear indication of who would form the next government. Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s right wing Likud party won the most votes, boosting his chances of building a coalition with a majority in the 120­-seat Knesset.

  • Mr. Netanyahu, 71, Israel’s longest serving premier after 12 years in power, had hoped that Tuesday’s election would finally allow him to unite a stable right wing coalition behind him, after three inconclusive elections since 2019.

4. Taliban slam Afghan President’s proposal for new election

  • The Taliban rejected a proposal by Afghan President Ashraf Ghani to hold elections later this year, after months of peace talks between the two sides have made little progress. Although he hasn’t made details public, Mr. Ghani will announce the election plan at a stakeholder conference in Turkey next month. The move is likely an attempt to undercut a U.S. proposal, supported by Russia, for the formation of an interim government involving the Taliban to rule the country once the last U.S. troops withdraw.

5. Ship blocks Suez Canal after running aground in sandstorm

  • Tug boats worked on Wednesday to free a giant ship stuck in the Suez Canal after it veered off-course in a sandstorm, creating huge tailbacks on one of the world’s busiest trade routes. Egypt’s Suez Canal Authority (SCA) said it was working to refloat the Taiwan-­run but Panama­-flagged MV Ever Given, a 400-metre long and 59-metre wide vessel, which was lodged at an angle across the waterway. Historic sections of the canal were reopened to ease the bottleneck of marine traffic, with dozens of ships waiting on both Mediterranean and Red Sea sides

6. Suez Canal temporarily halts navigation

  • The Suez Canal Authority (SCA) said it was trying to refloat the Panama­-flagged MV Ever Given, a 400­-metrelong vessel that veered off course and ran aground in a sandstorm on Tuesday. Satellite pictures released by Planet Labs Inc show the 59-metre wide container ship wedged diagonally across the entire canal.

  • As shipping specialists warned it could take days or even weeks to budge the vessel, the Suez Canal Authority announced it was “temporarily suspending navigation”. A MarineTraffic map showed large clusters of vessels circling as they waited in both the Mediterranean to the north and the Red Sea to the south.

  • Historic sections of the canal were reopened in a bid to ease the bottleneck, with dozens of ships waiting at both ends of the waterway. It is an “absolutely critical” route because “all traffic arriving from Asia goes through the Suez Canal”. Nearly 19,000 ships passed through the canal last year carrying more than one billion tonnes of cargo, according to the SCA. Egypt earned $5.61 billion in revenues from the canal in 2020.

7. Social media giants to testify on misinformation, speech

  • The CEOs of social media giants Facebook, Twitter and Google will face a new grilling by Congress, focused on their efforts to prevent their platforms from spreading falsehoods and inciting violence. This has been a familiar theme for lawmakers over the past few years. But the pressure is even higher following the January 6 insurrection at the U.S. Capitol, the rise in COVID­-19 vaccine misinformation and United Democratic control of Congress and the White House. The latter could make legislative action more likely, although it remains far from a sure thing.

  • Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg, Twitter chief Jack Dorsey and Google CEO Sundar Pichai, whose company owns YouTube, will testify in a virtual hearing before the House Energy and Commerce Committee. The session’s title is: “Disinformation Nation: Social Media’s Role in Promoting Extremism and Misinformation.”

8. As crackdown widens, Belarus opposition to restart protests

  • Opposition activists in Belarus were preparing for fresh protests to breathe life into a movement against President Alexander Lukashenko that fizzled out in the face of a severe crackdown. The resumption of the protests coincides with Freedom Day in Belarus, which the Opposition marks each year on the anniversary of the country’s declaration of independence in 1918. Officials have said the planned protests are illegal and have moved to crack down on dissent this week, accusing a group representing Polish people in Belarus of stirring up racial hatred and the “rehabilitation of Nazism”

9. Bangladesh protest turns violent, 4 dead

  • Four supporters of a hardline Islamist group were shot dead in Bangladesh on Friday in violent demonstrations over Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s tour to Dhaka. It comes as Bangladesh marks 50 years of independence from Pakistan with celebrations focused on its economic achievements, which activist groups say have been overshadowed by rights abuses.

  • The former East Pakistan emerged as a new nation in 1971 after a brutal war involving India marked by horrific abuses that Bangladesh says killed as many as three million and displaced many more.

10. Eritrea will pull out troops from Tigray: Ethiopian PM

  • Eritrea will pull its troops out of Ethiopia’s northern Tigray region, Ethiopian Prime Minister Abiy Ahmed said, a potential breakthrough in a drawn out conflict that has seen atrocities carried out against civilians. The announcement comes as Mr. Abiy, winner of the 2019 Nobel Peace Prize, faces mounting pressure to end fighting, in which both Eritrean and Ethiopian troops stand accused of abuses, including mass killings and rapes.

  • Mr. Abiy sent troops into Tigray on November 4 after accusing the region’s once dominant ruling party, the Tigray People’s Liberation Front (TPLF), of attacks on Army camps. Ethiopia and Eritrea fought a border war beginning in 1998 that left tens of thousands dead and resulted in a two decade stalemate. Mr. Abiy won his Nobel in large part for initiating a rapprochement with Mr. Afwerki after taking office in 2018, but Eritrea and the TPLF remained bitter enemies.

11. Beijing sanctions Britons over Xinjiang

  • China slapped sanctions on several British politicians and organisations on Friday after the U.K. joined the European Union and others in sanctioning Chinese officials accused of human rights abuses in the Xinjiang region. The U.K. responded by accusing China of violating human rights on an “industrial scale.”

  • British Prime Minister Boris Johnson condemned Beijing’s move, saying the sanctioned individuals “are performing a vital role shining a light on the gross human rights violations being perpetrated against Uighur Muslims”.

  • Meanwhile, China on Thursday launched a PR war on Western brands critical of rights abuses against Uighurs and other minorities in Xinjiang, with celebrities severing ties to Nike and Adidas, H&M facing a boycott and Burberry dumped from a deal with a gaming giant. Celebrities, tech brands and state media – aided by outrage on China's tightly controlled social media – piled in on several global fashion brands, as China's vast consumer market was mobilised against critics of Beijing's actions in Xinjiang.

12. ‘Brazil virus deaths biggest genocide in our history

  • Brazil’s over 3,00,000 deaths from the coronavirus amount to the “biggest genocide” in the Latin American country’s history, former President Luiz Inacio Lula da Silva said in a scathing attack on current leader Jair Bolsonaro. As Brazil surpassed 3,00,000 deaths from the virus on Wednesday, Mr. Lula called on Mr. Bolsonaro to apologise to the families of victims. Mr. Lula, 75, led Brazil through an economic boom from 2003 to 2010 before being sentenced to 26 years in prison on graft charges in 2017. The conviction was annulled earlier this month.

13. China, Iran sign a 25-year ‘strategic pact’

  • China and Iran signed what was described as a 25­-year “strategic cooperation pact”, during Chinese Foreign Minister Wang Yi’s ongoing six nation tour to West Asia. The deal, which has been in the works for five years, was signed between Mr. Wang and his Iranian counterpart Javad Zarif, AFP reported from Tehran.

  • The agreement comes amid a major push from China to back Iran, which counts on Beijing, its largest trading partner, as it deals with the continuing weight of sanctions re­instated following the then U.S. President Donald Trump’s decision to withdraw from the Iranian nuclear deal.

  • Earlier this week, China and Russia called for the U.S. to “unconditionally return to the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA) as soon as possible and revoke the unilateral sanctions against Iran'' as their Foreign Ministers met in China. In this context, they proposed “the establishment of a regional security dialogue platform to converge a new consensus on resolving the security concerns of countries in the region”

14. Alternative to China’s BRI needed, Biden tells Boris

  • U.S. President Joe Biden said he told British Prime Minister Boris Johnson that democratic countries should provide an alternative to China’s infrastructure strategy, the Belt and Road Initiative (BRI).

  • The White House said the two leaders discussed COVID­-19 and global health security, climate, China, Iran and the preservation of political stability in Northern Ireland. Earlier in March, the U.S. and its Quad partners (India, Australia and Japan) had committed to another initiative between democratic states- providing up to one billion vaccines in South East Asia and the Pacific.

15. Currents on Enceladus

  • Enceladus, Saturn’s moon, its diameter about one seventh that of our Moon, attracted space scientists when the Cassini spacecraft sampled water from its polar regions, making it a rare extraterrestrial spot. A study published in Nature Geoscience has found beneath its frozen surface, currents similar to those on the Earth

OPINION & ANALYSIS



STORY : Arts and awards

(i). What happened

  • The announcement of the 67th National Film Awards on Monday, to recognise films certified in 2019, quite predictably drew its share of controversies. While some attributed a few of the awards to the political alignment of the personalities and films concerned, there were others who thought that deserving candidates were overlooked. However, there was no disputing the fact that the awards acknowledged both well known and less known films from different pockets of the country.

(ii). Who won

  • Dhanush being declared the Best Actor for Asuran, which was also acknowledged the Best Tamil Film, and Sethupathi winning Best Supporting Actor for Super Deluxe, have been lauded widely.

  • Sharing the Best Actor honours with Dhanush is Manoj Bajpayee for his performance in Bhonsle. The Kannada film Avane Srimannarayana was chosen for Best Action Direction.

  • The Malayalam period magnum opus Marakkar: Lion of the Arabian Sea bagged Best Feature Film. The award that drew the fiercest criticism was that of Kangana Ranaut for being declared Best Actress for Panga and Manikarnika: The Queen of Jhansi.

(iii). All around recognition

  • The National Awards put the spotlight on films from the Northeast region — the Khasi film Iewduh for Best Audiography (Location Sound Recordist) and Water Burial, in Arunachal Pradesh’s tribal Monpa language, for Best Film for Environment Conservation.

  • For film industries that rarely enjoy their place in the sun, a National Award should ideally help winning films find a wider audience. It has not always been the case, but there is hope, in a world where cinema may increasingly be consumed on digital platforms


ANALYSIS : Adani’s Carmichael coal project

(i). Background

  • India has reaffirmed its commitment to bold plans for switching to renewable energy. Yet, one of the world’s largest new coal investments is Adani’s $16.5 billion dollar Carmichael coal mine project in Queensland. That this project is going ahead despite coal’s declining competitiveness raises valid concerns that the new coal investments are viable only because they are supported by the Australian government’s subsidies or incentives.

(ii). Gains and losses

  • Coal mining provides incomes for Australia’s local economy, but the health and environmental harm from mining and combustion represents a big net loss for the world. CO2 emissions, the chief cause of climate change, totalled 36 billion metric tonnes globally in 2019, of which nearly 40% came from coal. The Carmichael mine is set to become Australia’s largest coal mine, producing up to 60 million tonnes of coal annually and 2.3 billion tonnes over its 60-­year lifespan. As India is the primary buyer of the Carmichael coal, the project will significantly add to its emissions.

(iii). Leaving Coal underground

  • After facing heat waves, bushfires, and intense rainfall that are linked to climate change, Australia should be deeply concerned and so should India. The Government of India is drawing up plans for carbon neutrality, following several others that have announced 2050 as their target date for this. Achieving a zero carbon target will require vast investments in the production, storage, and distribution of renewable energy. But the approval for Adani to mine and export coal to India makes reaching those targets much harder.

ANALYSIS : Israel’s democracy is facing a stress test

(i). Background

  • Israel is past its fourth election in less than two years, is in search of political stability and, once again, faces the crisis of not having a leader who can form a coalition government and survive a full term. The election results now have highlighted a fractured mandate where there are 13 parties, most with single digit seats; it is only the Likud party (right­wing, nationalist and neo­liberal) led by Benjamin Netanyahu that has 30 seats out of 120 seats in Parliament. Mr. Netanyahu has lost his political magic but Israel is unable to go beyond him.

(ii). Coalitions are the reality

  • The Likud party could very well be in a position to get to 61 seats with its meagre 30 seats by forming a coalition with other smaller parties that share the same ideological leanings. However, several parties are opposed to Benjamin Netanyahu, as he is the first Israeli Prime Minister on trial for three criminal cases – bribery, fraud and breach of trust.

  • The Prime Minister in Israel does not have to resign when charged and indicted in court – any other Minister or the President of state has to step down. This strange legal loophole has given a very long rope to Mr. Netanyahu who not only is in office but could contest election after election. Israel does not have a full drawn Constitution; it does not have an institutional mechanism therefore to uphold public trust and the legal dignity of the highest political office.

  • Since 1996 (the year Mr. Netanyahu became Prime Minister for the first time), governments in Israel have lasted for an average 2.3 years. Once a unifier and a decisive leader, he has now become the dividing figure in Israeli domestic politics. For a long time, the issue of its conflict with neighbours and the Palestinians has served as a catalyst for national politics. But now, societal cleavages and ideological and cultural divisions have resulted in an offensive and antagonistic politics.The President of Israel, Reuven Rivlin, has been expressing his anguish over this situation for a long time now.

(iii). India must take note

  • The inner political crisis of Israel is a wake­up call for Indian democracy. There are many in India who look up to the Israeli model of a military­-led national security, its abilities to retaliate and carry out surgical strikes as well as its aggressive pursuit of power. This model may not serve Indian national security in the long run as the Israeli story unfolds. Strong nations are often those with social cohesion, common values and an inner­-capacity for dialogue and compromise.

STORY : The Afghan endgame

(i). The story so far

  • As the May 1 deadline for pulling out all American troops from Afghanistan nears, United States President Joe Biden faces some difficult decisions.

(ii). What is the U.S. likely to do

  • The plan proposes that Mr. Ghani step up negotiations with the Taliban for “power sharing”, discuss principles of future governance with the Taliban, and step aside eventually for a “more inclusive” or interim government. The tone of the letter seems to make it clear that the U.S. is not in favour of completely scrapping the 2020 agreement. Therefore, it is most likely to pursue the option of negotiating for an extension of the agreement, according to experts, as it builds other dialogue platforms.

(iii). What are those platforms

  • Apart from the intra-­Afghan negotiations in Doha, the U.S. revealed this month that it has been part of a “Troika” with Russia and China that have met several times since March 2019 along with Pakistan in search of a regional solution. The extended Troika met last on March 18 in Moscow, where Turkey, Qatar and Afghan and Taliban leaders were also invited.

(iv). What is President Ghani’s plan

  • Mr. Ghani has proposed his own peace plan. The plan was announced by Afghan Foreign Minister Haneef Atmar during his visit to Delhi this week, where he reached out for support. It would involve a full ceasefire, inviting the Taliban to participate in early elections in Afghanistan, and then for Mr. Ghani to hand over power to the elected government.

(v). Where does India stand

  • India’s position has been to back an “Afghan­-owned, Afghan-­led, Afghan-­controlled” peace process, backing the elected government in Kabul, and it has not yet held talks with the Taliban directly. The government has not yet announced a special envoy on Afghanistan who could be a part of the UN­-led process for regional countries, but it has made it clear that it seeks to be an integral part of the process, as the outcomes will have a deep impact on India’s security matrix as well.

STORY : The Suez Canal

(i). Background

  • M.V. Ever Given got stuck in a dust storm and strong winds on March 23 and ran aground in the channel blocking off the traffic. The 193-km long canal across Egypt’s Isthmus of Suez connecting the Mediterranean Sea in the north and the Red Sea in south – thereby bringing the Atlantic Ocean and the Indian Ocean closer – has been a critical artery for global trade since the mid-­19th century. If the channel is blocked, ships from Europe will have to sail around the Cape of Good Hope in southern Africa to reach Asia, and vice versa.

(ii). The History & where it stands

  • The idea of linking the Mediterranean Sea to the Erythraean Sea (today’s Red Sea) had excited both Egypt’s rulers and colonisers from ancient to modern times. In the mid­-19th century, French diplomat and engineer Ferdinand de Lesseps won permission from Egypt’s Ottoman­-appointed ruler Said Pasha to start building the canal. In 1858, Universal Suez Ship Canal Company was formed to execute the project and construction work began a year later. In 1869, the canal was officially opened for traffic.

  • France and Britain operated the canal, until Egypt’s socialist President Gamal Abdel Nasser nationalised it in 1956. By March 1957, the invading troops were fully withdrawn and Egypt’s authority over the canal was recognised. Interestingly, the Suez crisis also marked Great Britain’s dwindling influence in West Asia, a region it controlled since the fall of the Ottoman Empire, and the arrival of the U.S. as the new great power in the region. The canal was closed again during the 1967 war.

  • It reopened in 1975 after Egyptian­-Israeli relations started warming following the 1973 Yom Kippur War. Egypt’s President Abdel Fattah al­-Sisi, who came to power through a coup in 2013, launched an ambitious $8.5­billion expansion project at the canal in 2014 as part of which a second line was dug along its northern section, allowing two-­way traffic. The canal is an important source of revenue for Egypt’s battered economy. Last year, Egypt generated $5.61 billion in revenues from the canal and the authorities expect this to double by 2023. About 19,000 ships passed through the channel in 2020 carrying 1.2 billion tonnes of cargo, according to the Suez Canal Authority. As much as 13% of all maritime trade, from oil to automobiles, pass through the canal every year.


ECONOMICS & FINANCE



Daily snippets

1. Definition of unfair trade practice for e-commerce

  • A parliamentary panel has recommended that the go­vernment should offer a more clear-cut definition of what constitutes ‘unfair’ trade practice as well as spell out a practical legal remedy to tackle the issue, warning that there was a risk that pre­datory pricing by e­com­merce firms may result in competition being wiped out and prove detrimental to consumers in the long run.

  • The panel, headed by Par­tap Singh Bajwa, in its report on ‘The Consumer Protec­tion (E­Commerce) Rules, 2020’ tabled in Parliament, has also re­commended fixing a cap on delivery charges levied by e­-commerce firms, as well as providing for penal provi­sions for violation of rules re­lated to misinformation.

  • What is predatory pricing? It is a short-term strategy, adopted by some of the market giants with deep pockets to sustain short-term losses and reduce the prices of their products below the average variable costs.

  • The panel also recommended the ministry to clearly define ‘drip pricing' – wherein the final cost of the product goes up due to addi­tional charges, and provide for protecting consumers against this by including pe­nal provisions for violation.

2. No digital tax for goods sold via India arm

  • In a bid to provide a level­ playing field, the govern­ment has decided not to le­vy 2% digital service tax if goods and services are sold through an Indian arm of foreign e-commerce player. The amendment to the Finance Bill 2021 clarifies that offshore e-­commerce platforms don’t have to pay the levy if they have a per­manent establishment or they pay any income tax in India.

  • The digital tax, introduced in April 2020, applies only to non-resident companies with annual revenues in ex­cess of ₹2 crore, and covers online sales of goods and services to Indians.

3. Bank ratings and privatisation

  • Privatisation of two public sector banks can impact their ratings as the govern­ment support to the two entities will disappear, In­dia Ratings and Research (Ind­Ra) said. The rating agency said the Budget proposal to privatise the as­ yet uniden­tified PSBs “could lead to material negative migra­tion of the long-term issuer ratings (mapped to senior instruments such as infras­tructure bonds) and the ratings on tier 2 instru­ments of the banks.” The impact will be more if the government chooses to privatise weaker banks.

4. Infection surge and vaccine exports from India

  • India has put a temporary hold on all major exports of the AstraZeneca coronavirus shots made by the Serum In­stitute of India (SII). The move will also affect supplies to the GAVI/WHO­ backed COVAX vaccine­ shar­ing facility through which more than 180 countries are expected to get doses. COVAX has so far received 17.7 million AstraZeneca dos­es from the SII, of the 60.5 million doses India has shipped in total. COVAX has a deal to buy 1.1 billion doses of the AstraZeneca and Novavax shots that the SII is making.

5. RBI firm on FY22 forecast

  • Despite the fresh threat from rising COVID­-19 cases, the Reserve Bank of India (RBI) chief maintained the central bank’s forecast for GDP growth in FY22 at 10.5%. He said the Reserve Bank remained ‘fully committed’ to use all policy tools to se­cure a robust recovery of the economy from the debilitat­ing effects of the pandemic.

  • To a question on keeping rising bond yields in check, Mr. Das said, “The relationship between the central bank and bond markets need not be combative, it has to be cooperative.” The govern­ment’s borrowings for the next year would remain in the same range as it had been this year. RBI would manage the borrowings and that there should not be any dis­order in the yield curve.

6. Twitter firm on ensuring all voices are heard

  • Regulations are beneficial when they safeguard citi­zens’ fundamental rights and reinforce online free­dom; however, regulating online content requires strik­ing a careful balance bet­ween protecting from harm while preserving human rights, including freedom of expression, privacy and pro­cedural fairness for eve­ryone, said Kathleen Reen, senior director, Public Policy and Philanthropy, APAC, Twitter. She added that Twitter's purpose was to serve public conversation. Twitter supported a forward-looking approach to regulation that protected the open Internet, drove univer­sal access, and promoted competition and innovation.

  • “A global cross functional team with local, cultural and language expertise is in place and has been tasked with keeping the service safe from attempts to incite vio­lence, abuse, and threats that could trigger the risk of offline harm,” Ms. Reen said.

7. India eyes cape of good hope after Suez Canal blockade

  • With $200 billion of India’s trade flows with Europe, North America and South America at risk due to the blockage of the Suez Canal, the Department of Com­merce has worked out an ac­tion plan to cope with the crisis, including possibly re­-routing shipments through the Cape of Good Hope. Export promotion agen­cies have been asked to identify cargo with perisha­ble items that need priority movement. Container Ship­ping Lines Association was advised to explore the op­tion of re­-routing ships via the Cape of Good Hope.

  • Ship­ping firms have promised to honour existing freight con­tracts, while ports have been advised to be ready for a bunching up of vessels once the canal is unblocked

8. Finance Commission chairperson advises to move Health to concurrent list

  • Health should be shifted to the Concurrent list under the Constitution, and a deve­lopmental finance institu­tion (DFI) dedicated to healthcare investments set up, Fifteenth Finance Com­mission Chairman N.K. Singh said. Making a case for enhanc­ing government spending on health to 2.5% of GDP by 2025, Mr. Singh said primary healthcare should be a fun­damental commitment of all States in particular and should be allocated at least two thirds of such spending.

  • He also emphasised the importance of universalising healthcare insurance as a large section of the society still remained uncovered. While the PMJAY covers the bottom two income quintiles, commercial insu­rance largely covers the top­ in­come quintile, thereby creating a ‘missing middle’ class in between.

9. Chief Economic Advisor hopeful of achieving disinvestment target

  • Asserting that the disinvest­ment target of ₹1.75 lakh crore for 2021­-22 was ‘emi­nently achievable,’ Chief Economic Adviser (CEA) K. V. Subramanian on Saturday said the proposed initial pu­blic offering (IPO) by LIC itself could garner ₹1 lakh crore for the government. He also said targeting retail inflation by the Reserve Bank of India (RBI) has helped bring down the vola­tility and level of inflation.

  • The RBI’s Monetary Policy Committee has been mandated to maintain annual in­flation at 4% until March 31, 2021, with an upper tole­rance of 6% and lower limit of 2%. Mr. Subramanian also em­phasised that India needed a lot more banks for meeting its growth potential.

10. Requirement of DFIs for India's growth

  • The Rajya Sabha cleared the legislation to establish the National Bank for Financing Infrastructure and Development (NBFID), which was announced in the Budget speech by Finance Minister Nirmala Sithara­man as the principal deve­lopment financial institution (DFIs) for infrastructure financing. The infras­tructure that it planned to fund was not only roads but also social infrastructure like schools and hospitals.

  • The opposition pointed out that the first such institution was set up in 1948. In 1991, Man­mohan Singh, as Finance Mi­nister, had set up the Nar­simham committee, which came to the conclusion that the era of the DFIs was over. Criticism was made following despite the government having a 26% stake in this bank, the Bill did not provide for an oversight mechanism. The other lacuna was the protection provided to man­agement for the decisions it takes as an “act of good faith”.


SPORTS



Daily snippets

1. Olympic torch relay sets off

  • The Tokyo Olympics torch relay got underway on Thursday after a year's coro­navirus delay, with officials hoping it will be a “ray of light” after the problems caused by the pandemic. It will be a 121­day relay, which will criss-­cross Japan and involve 10,000 runners before the torch lights the Olympic cauldron on July 23.

  • Azusa Iwashimizu, one of Japan's 2011 World Cup­ win­ning women's footballers, was the first to carry the rose gold, cherry blossom­ shaped torch, accompanied by former teammates.

2. Para athletics fiasco

  • Paralympic Committee of In­dia (PCI) president Deepa Malik has said it was the ath­letes who had forced organ­isers to conduct some events of the National Para Athletics Championship at night, un­der the light of mobile phone torches. Deepa stated that since many tournament officials did not show up, there were delays that forced organisers to hold some events at night.

  • Deepa also dismissed con­cerns raised by the Sports Authority of India (SAI) re­garding COVID­-19 Standard Operating Procedures like physical distancing not be­ing followed at the cham­pionship.

3. Tour-de-France to start from Bilbao in 2023

  • The 2023 Tour de France will set off from Bilbao, marking the sixth time in 10 editions that the world’s most famous cycling race starts outside France, its organisers said. This year’s race will set off in home territory, beginning in Nice on June 26 and the next year in Copenhagen.

4. Sakshi wins trials

  • Olympic bronze medallist Sakshi Malik won the women’s 65 kg selection trials to earn a place in the upcoming Asian wrestling championships in Almaty, Kazakhstan.

SUGGESTED READINGS



1. Permanent Commission for women officers https://www.livelaw.in/top-stories/supreme-court-armys-evaluation-criteria-permanent-commission-women-officers-arbitrary-171703

2. Discrimination at Apple https://www.thequint.com/neon/gender/discrimination-at-apple-woman-moves-us-court

3. National Judicial Infrastructure Corporation https://www.barandbench.com/news/litigation/justice-nv-ramana-national-judicial-infrastructure-corporation-infrastructure-demands-judiciary

4. Supreme Court and electoral bonds https://www.livelaw.in/columns/supreme-courts-refusal-to-stay-electoral-bonds-undermines-transparency-in-electoral-process-171836

5. Goa and Uniform Civil Code https://thewire.in/law/goa-has-what-constitutional-makers-envisaged-cji-hails-uniform-civil-code-of-state


Download Page : https://e-clat.com/dailynewspage

Sources referred to : The Hindu, The Indian Express, Live Law, Bar & Bench

END

March 22nd-24th, 2021

Your 10 minute read!

START


LAW, POLICY & GOVERNANCE



Daily snippets

1. Plea on emergency vehicle lane needs policy decision, says Delhi HC

  • The Delhi High Court asked the government to treat as representation a petition, seeking direction to reserve a lane for unrestricted movement of emergency vehicles round-the-clock. An HC Bench said the issue raised in the petition required a policy decision. The petition stated that in case of emergencies, people will have the benefit of reaching the hospitals quickly if dedicated lanes are provided by the government.

2. SC walks a tightrope over vacancies

  • The Supreme Court Collegium is striving to reach a consensus on recommendations to fill the five vacancies in the top court. The Collegium is discussing diverse opinions from within on issues like proportionate representation from various High Courts and seniority among High Court judges before finalising the names to recommend to the government for appointment.

3. ‘Varsity regrets events surrounding resignations’

  • The top functionaries of Ashoka University said in a joint statement with Professors Pratap Bhanu Mehta and Arvind Subramanian on Sunday that they regretted the events surrounding the resignations of the two. Top functionaries of Ashoka University say there were some ‘lapses’ in institutional processes.

4. Research institution joins efforts to bring law on right to health

  • A Jaipur based research institution has joined the efforts to bringing a “robust legislation” on right to health in Rajasthan with the emphasis on setting the standards for delivery of services, human resources and medical facilities. The 2021-­22 State budget has made a provision for the law along with a new model of public health. Quality of medical services cannot be measured unless the standards are laid down, said the institution IIHMR.

5. Amid protests, LS passes GNCTD amendment Bill

  • The Lok Sabha passed a Bill that defines that the word “government” in Delhi means the Lieutenant Governor (L­G) and makes it mandatory for the elected government in the national capital territory to take the opinion of the L­G before any executive action. Amid strong protests from Opposition parties, including the Congress and the Aam Aadmi Party (AAP), the Bill was passed by a voice vote.

6. Why stop at quota, asks SC judge

  • Justice Ravindra Bhat, one of the judges on the Constitution Bench hearing the question of 50% ceiling limit on reservation, asked why welfare should be dependent on caste quota benefits alone. Affirmative action not just reservation, he says while hearing the 50% ceiling limit case.

7. Refund penal interest on EMIs, SC directs lenders

  • The Supreme Court directed banks and financial institutions to refund compound interest, interest on interest or penal interest collected on EMI for loans during the period of moratorium from March 1 to August 31 last year. The court said the amount accumulated as compound/penal interest or interest on interest during the six-month moratorium on term loan EMIs should be given as “credit/adjusted in the next instalment of the loan account”.

  • The judgment also spelt relief for banks and lenders with the court lifting its nearly six-month bar on them from declaring accounts of borrowers as non performing assets (NPAs). The judgment concluded that the government’s scheme to restrict the waiver of interest on interest to loans worth only up to Rs 2-crore was irrational.

8. Justice Kaul inaugurates web portal

  • Supreme Court Judge Justice Sanjay Kishan Kaul inaugurated the SAHYOG web portal, a first­-of-­its-kind platform that connects student research assistants with lawyers and organisations who have taken up pro-bono cases.

9. Quota percentage should be left to the States, T.N. tells SC

  • Tamil Nadu told a Constitution Bench of the Supreme Court that the percentage of reservation should be left to the “subjective satisfaction” of individual States. Another southern State, Karnataka, also came in support of its right to specify a particular community as ‘socially and educationally backward’ for inclusion in the State List for grant of reservation benefits. Senior advocate Shekhar Naphade and advocate Yogesh Kanna, for Tamil Nadu, contended that the Indira Sawhney judgment required a re­look.

10. OTT case: SC stays all pleas in HCs

  • The Supreme Court stayed the proceedings in High Courts in cases seeking regulation of content shown on over-the-top (OTT) platforms. The hearing was based on a plea by the Centre to transfer the cases in the High Courts to the Supreme Court.

11. Notify health policy on rare diseases: HC

  • The Delhi High Court asked the Centre to finalise and notify the National Health Policy for Rare Diseases by March 31. Justice Prathiba M Singh also directed the government to set up a National Consortium for Research, Development and Therapeutics (NCRDT) for treatment of such diseases.

  • A rare disease is any disease that affects a small percentage of the population. In some parts of the world, most rare diseases are genetic and thus are present throughout the person's entire life, even if symptoms do not immediately appear. Many rare diseases appear early in life, and about 30% of children with rare diseases will die before reaching their fifth birthday.


NATIONAL NEWS/ INTERVENTIONS



Daily snippets

1. Myanmar border shut amid strains over refugee crisis

  • Mizoram Chief Minister Zoramthanga held a virtual meeting with Foreign Minister of Myanmar Zin Mar Aung amid the ongoing military crackdown following the February coup, even as India sealed all entry points along the border with the southeast Asian neighbour and is closely monitoring them to prevent any Myanmar national from entering the country.

  • The tussle between the Centre and the State on the issue has created a tough time for New Delhi and security agencies in handling the situation on the ground. There is considerable support and sympathy among the people of Mizoram over the situation in Myanmar as many have relations across the border. India and Myanmar have an arrangement called Free Movement Regime (FMR), which allows locals on both sides to go upto 16 km across the other side and stay up to 14 days.

  • In a letter to the four States bordering Myanmar dated March 10, the MHA said State governments have no powers to grant refugee status to any foreigner and India is not a signatory to the United Nations Refugee Convention of 1951 and its 1967 Protocol.

2. Indian-­Israeli collaboration testing oral COVID vaccine

  • An Indian-­Israeli collaboration has reportedly developed an oral vaccine for COVID­-19, one that can be swallowed like a pill instead of being injected. A preliminary test in animals showed that the vaccine produced the expected antibodies that confer protection. However, the findings have not been reported in a scientific publication.

  • Premas Biotech, a Gurugram ­based biotechnology firm, and Oramed Pharmaceuticals, a Jerusalem headquartered company, have a long-standing collaboration on developing new drug delivery techniques. The nascent COVID­19 vaccine candidate is a “protein based VLP (Virus Like Particle) vaccine candidate” that generates “triple protection” against the SARS CoV­2 virus, i.e., it is able to target the spike, membrane, and envelope proteins of the coronavirus. Oravax, the company developing the vaccine, is a joint venture between Premas and Oramed.

3. Dhanush, Manoj Bajpayee, Kangana bag top honours

  • Priyadarshan’s Marakkar Arabikadalinte Simham was chosen as the best feature film and Sanjay Puran Singh Chauhan won the best director award for Hindi film Bahattar Hoorain at the 67th National Film Awards announced in New Delhi.

  • Manoj Bajpayee and Dhanush shared the best actor award, while Kangana Ranaut won the best actress award, announced by N. Chandra, chairman of the central panel. The announcement of the awards was delayed by almost a year because of the pandemic. This is the second National Award for best actor for Dhanush after he won it for Aadukalam in 2011. For Kangana, this is her fourth National Award.

  • The best supporting actor award went to Vijay Sethupathi for his performance in Tamil film Super Deluxe. Seasoned actress Pallavi Joshi won the best supporting actress award for The Tashkent Files. D. Immam got the best music award for his songs in Tamil film Viswasam. Prabuddha Banerjee bagged the award for the best background score in Bengali film Jyeshthoputro.

  • B. Praak won the best playback singer award for Hindi film Kesari and Savani Ravindra won the best female playback singer award for Marathi film Bardo. Telugu film Maharishi won the award for the best film providing wholesome entertainment. While Sushant Singh Rajput ­starrer Chhichhore won the best Hindi film award, the Nargis Dutt Award for the best film on national integration went to Marathi film Taj Mahal

4. MEA silent on reports of UAE role in India­Pakistan détente

  • The Ministry of External Affairs refused to comment on the latest in a series of reports that the India-­Pakistan détente, signalled by the ceasefire announcement by border commanders at the Line of Control (LoC) last month, was prompted by a back­channel dialogue between Indian and Pakistani officials, and facilitated by a third country.

  • The report said the surprise joint statement announced by the Directors-General of Military Operations (DGMOs) on February 25, that agreed to end crossLoC ceasefire violations (CFVs), was the outcome of talks “brokered by the UAE” months earlier and that the visit of UAE Foreign Minister Sheikh Abdullah bin Zayed to Delhi on February 26 also discussed progress in the India­-Pakistan “peace” process with External Affairs Minister S. Jaishankar.

5. Gandhi Peace Prize for Mujib and Sultan Qaboos

  • The Culture Ministry announced that the father of the nation of Bangladesh Sheikh Mujibur Rahman and the former Sultan of Oman, the late Qaboos bin Said Al Said, will be awarded the Gandhi Peace Prize for 2020 and 2019, respectively.

  • The Ministry said the jury, chaired by Prime Minister Narendra Modi and comprising the Chief Justice of India, the leader of the single largest Opposition party in the Lok Sabha, Lok Sabha Speaker Om Birla and founder of Sulabh International Bindeshwar Pathak, met on March 19 and decided on the awardees for the annual prize. The Ministry said Rahman was chosen in “recognition of his outstanding contributions towards social, economic and political transformation through non­violent and other Gandhian methods”.

  • Sheikh Mujibur Rahman: The award recognised his unparalleled contribution towards inspiring the liberation of Bangladesh.

  • Qaboos bin Said Al Said: The award recognised his leadership in strengthening the ties between India and Oman and his efforts to promote peace in the Gulf region. The Ministry said the award carries ₹1 crore, a citation, a plaque and an item of traditional handicraft or handloom.

6. Sagar Sarhadi passes away

  • The 87-year old writer director, Sagar Sarhadi, died on Monday at his Mumbai residence due to age related problems. Starting with Kabhi Kabhie, followed by Noorie (that Chopra presented), Silsila and Chandni, it was Sarhadi’s writing that was at the heart of Yash Chopra’s romantic turn in the mid­-70s and 80s.

7. India abstains in UNHRC vote on Sri Lanka

  • India abstained from a crucial vote on Sri Lanka’s rights record at the United Nations Human Rights Council in Geneva. The resolution on ‘Promoting reconciliation, accountability and human rights in Sri Lanka’ was, however, adopted after 22 states of the 47­member Council voted in its favour.

  • Sri Lanka, which had earlier deemed the resolution “politically motivated”, was quick to reject the UN move to collect and preserve evidence of war crimes in the country, committed by the armed forces and the LTTE. Ahead of the vote, both the government of Sri Lanka and the Tamil National Alliance (TNA), which sought the exact opposite outcomes on the resolution, had expressed hopes of obtaining India’s support.

  • Mr. Gunawardena in a tweet thanked the 14 countries, including India, Japan and Nepal, that abstained from voting. He also extended a “warm thank you” for the “solid support” shown by the 11 countries, including China, Pakistan, Russia and Bangladesh, that voted against the resolution, and in support of the Sri Lankan government. The Sri Lanka resolution was the first to be voted on using the extraordinary voting procedures established for the UNHRC 46th Session, which has been held virtually.

8. Delhi should have a bigger role in peace process: Afghanistan

  • Afghanistan wants a larger role for India in the peace and reconciliation process, said visiting Foreign Minister Haneef Atmar, adding that he had discussed President Ghani’s new peace plan, the ongoing Intra­-Afghan dialogue and “Extended Troika” talks in Moscow last week with the Indian leadership. Mr. Atmar met National Security Advisor Ajit Doval and External Affairs Minister S. Jaishankar.

  • The Afghanistan Ministry of Foreign Affairs (MFA) said Mr. Atmar had discussed the Ghani government peace plan, which is understood to include fresh elections within the year if the Taliban agrees to a ceasefire, and for Mr. Ghani to hand over power to the elected government. The plan runs counter to the U.S. proposal, which suggests Afghan-Taliban negotiations for a power sharing arrangement, and for an interim government to take over from President Ghani’s government.

9. Road construction near China border in Ladakh

  • The Central Public Works Department (CPWD) has floated tenders worth a total of ₹212.99 crore this month for laying and maintenance of three high-altitude roads near the India China border in Ladakh. The work is sit­uated in Leh District of U.T. of Ladakh near the International Border. All the three roads would be single lane pro­ jects as per the relevant specifications of National Highways, according to the documents.

  • According to the Parlia­mentary Standing Commit­tee on Home Affairs report, the Centre had informed the pa­nel that a “standalone pro­ject” of constructing a criti­cal road along the border in Ladakh was ongoing. The Ministry of Home Affairs told the panel, that 57 roads along the India­-China border were be­ing constructed, as well as 47 outposts, 32 helipads and 18 foot tracks in Arunachal Pradesh.

10. Rajasthan brings private medical colleges within RTI Act's purview

  • The private medical colleg­es in Rajasthan have been brought within the purview of the Right to Information (RTI) Act, 2005, following an order of the State Infor­mation Commission. The Commission’s first­of­ its ­kind order has paved the way for citizens to seek information under the RTI Act from the educational insti­tutions which have obtained land for their buildings and campuses at concessional rates from the State government.

  • Following a Supreme Court judgement that says the institutions like schools, colleges and hospitals which received “substantial aid” from the government in the form of land at discount­ed rate were bound to give information to the citizens under the RTI Act. The Information Com­mission accepted the appel­lant’s contention that the non­ government organisa­tions receiving financing from the government were a public authority under the provisions of the RTI Act.

11. UP-MP sign agreement on Ken-Betwa interlinking work

  • The governments of Uttar Pradesh and Madhya Pra­desh have signed an agree­ment that nudges forward a long stalled, con­troversial project to link the Ken and the Betwa rivers and irrigate the water­-deficient Bundelkhand region, spread over both States, and provide electricity.

  • Several obstacles have dogged the project. For one, the project will partly submerge the Panna Tiger Reserve in M.P. and affect the habitat of vultures and jack­als. After years of protests, however, it was finally cleared by the apex wildlife regulator, the National Board for Wildlife, in 2016. The project involves transferring surplus water from the Ken river in Mad­hya Pradesh to the Betwa in Uttar Pradesh and irrigating 3.64 lakh hectares in the Bundelkhand region of both States.

12. Odisha government plans 15% quota for government school students

  • Odisha government moved to reserve 15% of seats in medical and technical education courses for students passing out from government high schools. A resolution in this regard was tabled in the Assembly for acceptance of the House. The State government said the reservation was aimed at addressing inequity prevail­ing in students groups.

  • As per the observation the high po­wered committee headed by Justice Dr. A.K. Mishra, re­tired judge of the Orissa High Court , about 86% of students in Odisha are in go­vernment schools and they get 23% seats in the State medical colleges and 21% seats in engineering colleges. “This clearly shows that there inequity arising from physical and economic access to coaching institutions which play a major role in the national entrance exami­nations. This inequity affects a majority of students,” the resolution says.

13. Foreigners can apply under CAA after rules are notified : Centre

  • The Union Ministry of Home Affairs (MHA) told the Lok Sabha that “fo­reigners'' covered under the Citizenship (Amendment) Act (CAA), 2019, “may sub­mit applications for grant of Indian citizenship after appropriate rules are notified by the Central government”. Union Minister of State for Home Nityanand Rai said in a written reply in the Lower House that the CAA was not­ified on December 12, 2019, and came into force from Ja­nuary 10, 2020. Without the rules being notified, the Act remains in­ effective.

  • The CAA provides citizen­ship on the basis of religion to six undocumented non­ Muslim communities from Pakistan, Afghanistan and Bangladesh who entered In­dia on or before December 31, 2014. In a separate reply, the Mi­nister said the final National Register of Indian Citizens (NRC) in Assam had not been issued.

14. Indus water panel holds meeting

  • After a gap of more than two and half years Indian and Pa­kistani delegations on Mon­day began the 116th Meeting of the Permanent Indus Commission. Hours after the conclu­sion of the first day's meet­ing, Prime Minister Naren­dra Modi and President Ram Nath Kovind greeted Pakis­tan on the occasion of its Na­tional Day which marks the March 23, 1940 Lahore Reso­lution which paved the way for the creation of Pakistan. The Unit­ed Arab Emirates is playing a role in connecting India and Pakistan through back chan­nel negotiations.

  • The Permanent Indus Commission (PIC) is a bilateral commission consisting of officials from India and Pakistan, created to implement and manage the goals and objectives and outlines of the Indus Waters Treaty. The Indus Waters Treaty is a water-distribution treaty between India and Pakistan, brokered by the World Bank, to use the water available in the Indus River and its tributaries. The Indus Waters Treaty (IWT) was signed in Karachi on 19 September 1960 by Indian Prime Minister Jawaharlal Nehru and Pakistani President Ayub Khan. The Treaty gives control over the waters of the three “eastern rivers'' – the Beas, Ravi and Sutlej with a mean annual flow of 33 million acre-feet (MAF) – to India, while control over the waters of the three “western rivers” – the Indus, Chenab and Jhelum with a mean annual flow of 80 MAF – to Pakistan.

15. Oxfam's report on labor inequalities

  • Non-profit group Oxfam stated that the methodology used in its Inequality Index 2020 is in the public domain, a day after Labour Minister Santosh Kumar Gangwar told the Lok Sabha that the ranking and methodology lacked clarity. Oxfam India’s lead specialist against inequality Anjela Taneja stated: “The methodology adopted in the index is in the public domain as is the basis of India’s scoring.” India was ranked 151 out of 158 countries in terms of workers’ rights.

INTERNATIONAL NEWS/EVENTS/ PERSONALITIES



Daily snippets

1. Philippines accuses China of ‘incursion’ in disputed sea

  • The Philippines accused China of “incursion” after more than 200 militia boats were spotted near a disputed reef in the South China Sea, in a rare rebuke of its superpower neighbour. The Philippine coast guard detected the boats “in line formation” at the boomerang­-shaped Whitsun Reef, around 320 km (175 nautical miles) west of Palawan Island on March 7. The U.S. has previously accused China of using maritime militia to “intimidate, coerce and threaten other nations'' over its claims to almost the entire South China Sea.

2. Malaysia expels N. Korean diplomats

  • North Korean diplomats vacated their Embassy in Malaysia and were expelled, after the two nations cut diplomatic relations in a spat over the extradition of a North Korean criminal suspect to the United States. Malaysian Foreign Minister Hishammuddin Hussein said the expulsion was in response to Pyongyang’s “unilateral and utterly irresponsible decision” on Friday to sever diplomatic ties.

  • Ties between both countries have been virtually frozen since the 2017 assassination of the estranged half brother of North Korean leader Kim Jong­un at Kuala Lumpur International Airport. Two days after Kuala Lumpur extradited a North Korean man to the U.S. to face money laundering charges, a furious North Korea announced it was terminating ties with Malaysia. In response, Malaysia gave North Korean diplomats 48 hours to leave.

3. Thousands join anti­Netanyahu protest ahead of general polls

  • Thousands of Israelis rallied outside Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s Jerusalem residence to protest his policies and premiership, days before a general election that could see the long standing leader removed from power. Mr. Netanyahu, 71, in power for a record 12 consecutive years, is hoping to remain in office following Israel’s fourth election in less than two years on March 23. His detractors accuse him of corruption and say his management of the coronavirus pandemic, including protracted lockdowns, battered the economy and contributed to job losses.

4. As Congo Republic votes, Nguesso expected to win

  • Polls opened in Congo Republic, with President Denis Sassou Nguesso widely expected to extend his 36­-year rule despite an economic crisis in the Central African oil producing country. With his grip on power firm, diplomats and analysts doubt any of Mr. Sassou’s six opponents will unseat him or that the election will see a repeat of the sporadic violence that marred the last vote in 2016.

5. Australia’s east faces worst floods in 50 years

  • Heavy rain along Australia’s east coast over the weekend has brought the worst flooding in half a century in some areas, authorities said, forcing thousands to evacuate and damaging hundreds of houses. People in parts of Sydney’s northwest were ordered to flee their houses at night as waters caused widespread destruction

6. Bolsonaro critics face ‘intimidation’

  • Lawyers and human rights activists warn Brazil is seeing a surge in legal and extra­legal moves to stifle dissent against Mr. Bolsonaro, in some cases with legislation and tactics dating back to the country’s 1964­-1985 military dictatorship- for which the President is openly nostalgic.

7. China, Russia look to deepen ‘best’ ties

  • Russia’s relations with China were currently at “the best in their entire history”, Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov said. The visit comes shortly after the March 19 China­-U.S. dialogue in Alaska and follows the first leaders’ summit of the Quad – India, Australia, Japan and the U.S. – held virtually on March 12.

  • This year marks the 20th anniversary of the Treaty of Good Neighbourliness and Friendly Cooperation signed in July 2001, which Mr. Lavrov credited for deepening strategic relations and creating a model of interaction between Russia and China that is absolutely free from any ideological constraint.

  • Both countries are expected to discuss deepening coordination against the threat of sanctions from the West. Only on Monday, the EU imposed sanctions on four Chinese officials for human rights violations in Xinjiang. Trade ties are also on the agenda, with bilateral trade last year reaching $107 billion. China is Russia’s biggest trade partner.

8. Twitter CEO’s first tweet sold for $2.9 mn as NFT

  • Twitter CEO Jack Dorsey sold his first tweet as an NFT for just over $2.9 million. The tweet is in the form of a non-fungible token (NFT) – a kind of unique digital asset that has exploded in popularity so far in 2021. Each NFT has its own blockchain-based digital signature, which serves as a public ledger, allowing anyone to verify the asset's authenticity and ownership. The tweet – “just setting up my twttr” – was Mr. Dorsey’s first tweet, made on March 21, 2006. The NFT was sold via auction on a platform called Valuables.

9. U.K. to unveil global focus in defence modernisation plans

  • The U.K. government will unveil much anticipated military modernisation plans, vowing to bolster its defence of British interests “across multiple domains and in all corners of the globe”. The long awaited proposals, detailed in a report entitled “Defence in a Competitive Age”, focus heavily on boosting the country’s Navy and global footprint, the Ministry of Defence (MoD) said.

  • It promises more ships, submarines and sailors and the transformation of the Royal Marines into a new unit called the Future Commando Force. The force will be deployed on “an enduring basis” to secure shipping lanes and uphold freedom of navigation, the MoD said. However, reports said the size of the Army would be reduced by around 10,000 to about 70,000 soldiers, the latest in a series of reductions in the last decade.

  • The cut comes as the military shifts towards investment in robots, drones, and cyber warfare, the reports added. Despite that, the Army will create a new special operations Ranger Regiment, which would “be able to operate discreetly in high risk environments and be rapidly deployable across the world,” the MoD said.

10. ‘Russian jets hit gas facilities, civilian areas near Turkey border’

  • Russian jets hit a gas facility, a cement factory and several towns and cities in northwestern Syria near the Turkish border on Sunday, as Syrian army artillery killed seven civilians and injured 14 medics in an attack on a hospital in the area. The spokesman for the National Army, a Turkish backed rebel alliance in the northwest, said Russia, which backs the government in Damascus, sought to destabilise the last rebel stronghold in Syria and disrupt commercial activity but the strikes did not signal an imminent major assault against Idlib.

11. China, Russia propose new security dialogue platform

  • China and Russia have proposed setting up a new “regional security dialogue platform” to address security concerns of countries in the region, as their Foreign Ministers hit out at the United States for “forming small circles to seek bloc confrontation”. The proposal came following a meeting between Foreign Minister Wang Yi of China and his Russian counterpart Sergei Lavrov, and days after the March 19 U.S.­-China summit in Alaska and the March 12 leaders’ summit of the Quad (India, Australia, Japan and the U.S.), grouping that both Beijing and Moscow have viewed warily.

  • China and Russia are already part of the Shanghai Cooperation Organisation (SCO) security grouping, which includes India. The two day dialogue covered a range of issues, including Afghanistan, the Iranian nuclear issue, climate change and the Asia­Pacific situation. Both sides called for a summit of the UN Security Council’s five permanent members to be held. Both Ministers, in remarks to the press, criticised the U.S. and the EU for their recent sanctions on Russia and China.

12. Rejecting U.S. peace plan, Ghani to propose election in 6 months

  • Afghan President Ashraf Ghani will propose a new presidential election within six months, under a peace plan he will put forward as a counter-­offer to a U.S. proposal that he rejects. Mr. Ghani will unveil his proposal at a gathering in Turkey next month, signalling his refusal to accept the U.S.’s plan for his elected government to be replaced by an interim administration. The U.S. agreed last year to withdraw its troops from Afghanistan by May 1. Mr. Ghani is opposed to any solution that requires his government to step aside for unelected successors.

13. Israel voters take fourth shot at deciding Netanyahu’s fate

  • Israelis were voting in their fourth election in less than two years, with the nation deeply split on whether veteran Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu should stay in power. Mr. Netanyahu, 71, is Israel’s longest serving premier but his inability to unite a stable governing majority behind him has mired the country in political gridlock.

  • He hopes to be rewarded by voters for establishing ties with a series of Arab countries, and for a COVID-­19 vaccination campaign that has inoculated half of Israel’s roughly nine million people. That means Israel is looking at three possible outcomes: another coalition under Mr. Netanyahu, an ideologically divided government united only by its opposition to him, or a looming fifth election. He is on trial over corruption charges – allegations he denies, but which have helped fuel a protest movement with weekly rallies outside his Jerusalem residence. To form a government, Mr. Netanyahu would have to strike deals with small factions that control a handful of seats, possibly including Religious Zionism, a new extremist, far­right alliance

14. Xi, Kim exchange messages to reaffirm China-­N. Korea alliance

  • The leaders of China and North Korea are reaffirming their traditional alliance following contentious talks between top diplomats from Washington and Beijing and diplomatic isolation and economic problems in the North that have left it ever more dependent on the Chinese. The exchange came as the Biden administration stepped up diplomatic efforts to strengthen cooperation with Asian allies South Korea and Japan to deal with the North Korean nuclear threat and China’s growing regional influence.

OPINION & ANALYSIS



STORY : Iran deal could be rescued by the IAEA

(i). Background

  • Even as the chicken and egg game is being played between the U.S. and Iran on the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action ( JCPOA) as to whether Iranian compliance comes first or the lifting of sanctions by the U.S., the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) is back on the stage to rescue the JCPOA. If the stalemate continues on JCPOA, because of the U.S. pressure, public opinion may shift towards the Indian model of creating a deterrent and then seeking a special dispensation to avoid severe sanctions. But the risks involved in such a policy will be grave, including the possibility of military action by Israel.

(ii). How the story stands

  • A technical ‘understanding’ reached on February 21 by IAEA Director General Rafael Grossi allowing monitoring by the IAEA to continue in Iran for three months augured well for a possible IAEA effort in case the JCPOA talks broke down. Mr. Grossi expects that in the event of the present efforts to renew the JCPOA failing altogether, it should be possible to consider a fresh initiative by the IAEA to deal with the issue.

  • At the broadest level, the IAEA provides two service functions under the NPT (Non Proliferation Treaty). It facilitates and provides a channel for endeavours aimed at the “further development of the applications of nuclear energy for peaceful purposes, especially in the territories of non-nuclear weapon States Party to the Treaty, with due consideration for the needs of the developing areas of the world.” Its other major function is to administer international nuclear safeguards, in accordance with Article III of the Treaty, to verify fulfillment of the non­-proliferation commitment assumed by the non nuclear weapon States party to the Treaty. The IAEA, thus, may provide an alternative venue to open discussions on Iran’s obligations under the NPT, which do not have a time limit.


ANALYSIS : No rights despite reforms

(i). Background

  • Qatar, the richest of the six countries in terms of per capita GDP, is the most dependent on migrant labour. Nationals count for less than 15% of the 2.6 million population and about 7% of the labour market. About 60% of the population lives in labour camps.

(ii). Policy and its shortcomings

  • The main reason for the growing demand to boycott Qatar as the host of the FIFA World Cup for 2022 is that the country treats its migrant workers poorly, resulting in destitution and unexplained deaths. The problem is viewed as one of inadequate legal protection, and the solution is framed as reforming or abolishing the Kafala (sponsorship) system, without acknowledging the many facets of various laws and practices that are the foundation of this system.

  • The global scrutiny and demand for accountability does affect the emirate’s reputation, but not enough to lose its rich and influential friends. There is no attempt to curb the unchecked powers of the kafeel, who can have the workers they sponsor arrested, detained and deported without due process.

  • From domestic and care work, construction and hospitality, to nursing and maintenance, even if a quarter of the employed stop work for a week, Qatar will come to a standstill. It is this fear that drives the GCC countries to exercise control over the most essential of their labour. So, celebrating reforms is questionable. What Qatar is doing is making exploitative laws that enable forced labour more palatable.


COMMENTARY : Recalibrating India-Taiwan ties

(i). Background

  • India and Taiwan are celebrating 25 years of their partnership. However, the growing relationship has been a low­key affair as India has been hesitant to acknowledge the improving ties in public. Though mutual efforts between Delhi and Taipei have enabled a range of bilateral agreements covering agriculture, investment, customs cooperation, civil aviation, industrial cooperation and other areas, the time has come to recalibrate India­-Taiwan relations.

(ii). Cultivating political framework

  • Both sides can create a group of empowered persons or a task force to chart out a road map in a given time frame. India and Taiwan already collaborate in the area of traditional medicine. The time is ripe to expand cooperation in the field of healthcare. Maintaining air quality has become a mammoth challenge for the Indian government and stubble burning is an important reason for severe air pollution. Taiwan could be a valuable partner in dealing with this challenge through its bio­friendly technologies. Further, New Delhi and Taipei can also undertake joint research and development initiatives in the field of organic farming. With the Taiwan Tourism Bureau partnering with Mumbai Metro, Taiwan is trying to raise awareness about the country and increase the inflow of Indian tourists.

(iii). Deepening economic ties

  • Trade relations have grown. India’s huge market provides Taiwan with investment opportunities. Taiwan’s reputation as the world leader in semiconductor and electronics complements India’s leadership in ITES (Information Technology­Enabled Services). The signing of a bilateral trade agreement in 2018 was an important milestone. There are around 200 Taiwanese companies in the field of electronics, construction, petrochemicals, machine, Information and Communications Technology and auto parts operating in India. Policymakers need to coordinate better with the business community to help them navigate the regulatory and cultural landscape for better ties.

STORY : The surge of geopolitics in South Asia’s power trade

(i). Background

  • India has released new rules governing the trade of electricity across its borders. They define the contours of the South Asian electricity market, placing clear limits on who can buy from and sell into India. This has ramifications for the electricity markets of Bangladesh, Bhutan, and Nepal, which, to varying degrees, have aligned their energy futures with the Indian market. The new rules show that India’s approach is unmistakably political. It attempts to balance China’s growing influence in the region with developmental aims, both its own and the region’s.

(ii). Rules on ownership

  • Of central importance is the ownership of power plants wishing to sell to India. In masterful legalese, the rules strongly discourage the participation of plants owned by a company situated in “a third country with whom India shares a land border” and “does not have a bilateral agreement on power sector cooperation with India”.

(iii). India Centricity no advantage

  • India will thus enjoy preeminent rule­setting powers, but continually attract the ire of its smaller neighbours who feel their economic growth is being stunted by decisions in Delhi.

(iv). Mega solar project

  • These rules provoke some larger questions that must be tackled soon. India’s ambition of anchoring a global super­grid called One Sun One World One Grid, or OSOWOG needs an institutional vision. It aims to begin with connections to West Asia and Southeast Asia and then spread to Africa and beyond.

(v). Countering China

  • It is worth considering releasing the vice-like grip on South Asia, aimed at countering China, by creating a rule based regional institution that can counter Chinese offerings in other theatres.

ANALYSIS : Scrappage policy for automobiles

(i). Background

  • Vehicle scrappage policy announced by the transport Ministry, coming after the move for a green tax on ageing and polluting automobiles, promises economic benefits, a cleaner en­vironment and thousands of jobs. It will take until April 1, 2022 for vehicles belonging to the govern­ment and the public sector to be scrapped, another year thereafter to identify junk heavy commercial veh­icles through mandatory fitness checks, and finally oth­er vehicles by 2024.

(ii). The execution paradigm

  • To put in place a credible sys­tem of automated fitness checking centres with help from States to assess whether commercial and private vehicles are roadworthy after 15 and 20 years, respec­tively, as the policy envisages. After that, to get them scrapped once they are found unfit for use and to stop them from moving to smaller towns.

  • States have to come on board to pro­vide road tax and registration concessions, while the automobile industry is expected to provide discounts on new vehicles.

  • Heavy com­mercial vehicles, which contribute disproportionately to pollution – 1.7 million lack fitness certificates – pose the biggest challenge. Many of these cannot be replaced quickly in the absence of financial arrangements for small operators.

(iii). Why the policy

  • Vehicle scrappage and replacement is seen interna­tionally as a route to rejuvenate COVID­-19­affected eco­nomies by privileging green technologies, notably elec­tric vehicles (EVs), and also as an initiative to achieve net zero emissions by mid-century under Paris Agree­ment commitments.

  • India's automobile ecosystem is complex, with dominant, legacy motors spanning fos­sil-­fuel driven vehicles and a nascent EV segment. The industry’s share pre-­COVID-­19 was about 7.5% of GDP with significant downstream employment and it also imposes a fuel import burden.


ANALYSIS : Treating unpaid work

(i). Background

  • Women everywhere carry a disproportionately higher burden of unpaid work. Though this work contributes to overall well-being at the household level and collectively at the national level, it is invisible in the national database and particularly in national policies. The unequal division of unpaid work between women and men is unfair and unjust and it deprives women of equal opportunities as men.

  • For political parties to recognise this work is a positive development and the demand for wages for house-wives has emerged from this concern. However, its implementation may create problems such as affordability of the government and calculation of the amounts.

(ii). The government can

  • Recognise this unpaid work in the national database by a sound time use survey and use the data in national policies. Also, they could relieve women’s burden of unpaid work by improving technology, better infrastructure, shifting some unpaid work to the mainstream economy and by making basic services accessible to women. Also, they could redistribute the work between men and women by providing different incentives and disincentives to men and financial incentives for sharing house-work. These measures will give free time to women and open up new opportunities to them.

  • By excluding this work from the economy, macroeconomics shows a clear male bias. There is an urgent need to expand the purview of economics not only for gender justice but mainly for moving towards a realistic economics.


ECONOMICS & FINANCE



Daily snippets

1. District-wise export promotion

  • The government has readied a draft district-­wise export promotion plan for 451 dis­tricts in the country after identifying products and ser­vices with export potential in 725 districts. Aiming for double-digit export growth from 500 dis­tricts over 3-­5 years, the Commerce Ministry has asked States to prepare an annual ‘export ranking in­dex’ of districts on export competitiveness with the as­sistance of the Directorate General of Foreign Trade (DGFT). While foreign trade consti­tutes 45% of India’s GDP, most export promotion ef­forts are driven by the Centre.

  • The district ­specific approach that perforce in­volves the States in identify­ing potential export sectors and the logistics bottlenecks ­to be fixed, was taken up af­ter Prime Minister Narendra Modi pushed for each dis­trict to aim to be an export hub.

2. RBI names panel for bank licenses

  • The Reserve Bank of India (RBI) has named members of the Standing External Advisory Committee (SEAC) for evaluating appli­cations for universal and small finance banks. Shyamala Gopinath, former Deputy Governor, RBI, has been appointed as the chairperson of the Committee.

  • The members are Re­vathy Iyer, director, Cen­tral Board, RBI; B. Mahapa­tra, Chairman, NPCI; T.N. Manoharan, former chair­man, Canara Bank; and He­mant G. Contractor, form­er MD, SBI and former Chairman, Pension Fund Regulatory and Develop­ment Authority. Secretarial support will be provided by the Depart­ment of Regulation, RBI.

3. Workers in government contract to possess skill certificate

  • All workers executing go­vernment contracts must have official certification for their skills, the government has decided. Only 2.4% of India’s workforce is formally trained as per the Periodic Labour Force Survey of 2018-­19. The Ministry of Skill Deve­lopment and Entrepreneur­ship has told all government departments to mandate this requirement for all contracts issued under their watch. Government contractors’ preference for low wage in­formal workers, was creating a dichoto­my where the government was trying to promote skill­ing in the workforce without in­sisting on the use of skilled manpower for its projects.

4. Return to normalcy not till 2022, KPMG

  • As several countries grapple with the second wave of CO­VID­-19, almost half of global CEOs surveyed have said they did not expect to see a return to ‘normal’ until 2022. As per the findings of the 2021 KPMG CEO Outlook Pulse Survey, 45% of global top honchos executives said ‘normal’ course of business would not return until some­time in 2022, as opposed to 31% who anticipated this would happen later this year.

  • About 55% of CEOs remained concerned about employees’ access to a COVID­-19 vaccine, which is influencing their outlook as to when employees will re­turn to the workplace; while 90% were considering ask­ing staff to report for duty af­ter they are vaccinated. 34% of global executives remained wor­ried about misinformation on COVID-­19 vaccine safety and the potential this might have on employees choosing not to have it administered.

5. States to get 30,000 crores in GST dues

  • The Centre will release ₹30,000 crore as GST com­pensation to States this month, from the compen­sation cess collections dur­ing the year. The pending compensation dues to States for 2020-­21 are expected to be more than ₹77,000 crore. The GST Compensa­tion due to States from April 2020 to January 2021 is ₹2,17,844 crore, and back-to-back loans re­leased to States to meet the compensation shortfall are ₹1,10,208 crore.

SPORTS



Daily snippets

1. Shooting

  • World Cup : It was a consistent flow of gold medals, both in Olym­pic and non­-Olympic events, as India continued to assert its shooting prowess in the World Cup. India leads the medals ta­ble with seven gold, three sil­ver and four bronze. USA fol­lows with two gold, one silver and one bronze, while Kazakhstan, Iran, Denmark and Britain have at least one gold each.

2. Sabre Title

  • Bhavani Devi, who recently became the first Indian fencer to secure an Olympic berth, won ninth successive individual National sabre title on Saturday.

3. National Para athletics

  • The 19th National para athletics Championship is scheduled to be held in Bengaluru from March 24 to 27. The competition has been moved from Chennai owing to cancellation of permission by the Govt. of Tamil Nadu. Events will be held at the Sree Kanteerava and Vidyanagar stadiums.

4. Tokyo Olympics rules

  • Volunteers from abroad will not be allowed into Japan for the postponed Tokyo Olympics, organisers said. The announcement came two days after Tokyo organizers said they would ban in­ternational fans from com­ing into Japan. Both measures are aimed at pre­venting the spread of CO­VID-­19. Earlier, Organisers had planned to use about 80,000 unpaid volunteers. The Tokyo Me­tropolitan government had lined up 30,000 more. Japan's Kyodo news agen­cy, quoting “sources close to the matter,” said around 500 overseas volunteers would be given exemptions to enter Japan.

  • The first big test for the Olympics begins on Thurs­day with the torch relay starting from north-eastern Japan. The relay will last 121 days, involve 10,000 run­ners, and end at the open­ing ceremony in Tokyo’s new National Stadium.

5. Khelo India scheme extended till 2025-26

  • The Khelo India scheme has been extended to 2025­-26, Sports Minister Kiren Rijiju announced in the Rajya Sabha. He said “an amount of ₹8750 crore has been estimated as the financial implication of the new Khelo India Scheme (2021-­22 to 2025­-26) in the EFC memorandum furnished to the Ministry of Finance”.

  • The Khelo India programme has been introduced to revive the sports culture in India at the grass-root level by building a strong framework for all sports played in our country and establish India as a great sporting nation. Link to article

6. Profile : Nikhat Zareen

  • Nikhat Zareen, returning to competition after a year, beating two World cham­pions in a row to land a bronze medal in the Bospho­rus tournament in Turkey is a huge confidence­ booster. A former World junior champion and an Asian championships bronze medallist, Nikhat now wants to build on this performance and prepare herself for the Commonwealth Games and Asian Games in 2022.

SUGGESTED READINGS



1. Reservation and Caste https://www.thequint.com/neon/kaafi-real-when-reservations-are-more-unequal-than-caste

2. On CAA : People, Religion and discrimination https://thewire.in/rights/caa-religion-unconstitutional-former-sc-judge

3. Places of Worship Act https://thewire.in/law/places-of-worship-act-ashwini-kumar-supreme-court-ayodhya

4. On Judicial vacancies https://www.thequint.com/news/law/dear-cji-a-short-reminder-of-vacancies-in-judiciary-collegium-meeting


Download Page : https://e-clat.com/dailynewspage

Sources referred to : The Hindu, The Indian Express, Live Law, Bar & Bench

END

March 19th-21st, 2021

Your 10 minute read!

START


LAW, POLICY & GOVERNANCE



Daily snippets

1. SC to hear plea against sale of electoral bonds

  • Chief Justice of India Sharad A. Bobde agreed with advocate Prashant Bhushan to urgently hear a plea by NGO Association for Democratic Reforms to stay the sale of a new set of electoral bonds on April 1, before the Assembly elections in crucial States such as West Bengal and Tamil Nadu. Mr. Bhushan said the Reserve Bank of India (RBI) and the Election Commission had both said that the sale of electoral bonds had become an avenue for shell corporations and entities to park illicit money and even proceeds of bribes with political parties. The application reminded the court that both the central bank and the poll panel had objected to the electoral bond scheme.

2. Don’t stereotype women in court rulings, says SC

  • The Supreme Court forbade judges from making gender stereotypical comments like “good women are sexually chaste”, women who drink and smoke “ask” for sexual advances or presume that a sexually active woman consented to rape while hearing cases of sexual offence. The 24-­page verdict, authored by Justice Bhat, set aside a Madhya Pradesh High Court order granting bail to a suspected molester provided he visits his victim at her home and ‘allows’ her to tie a rakhi on him.

3. Justice Ramana outlines ways to reverse pendency

  • Supreme Court judge, Justice N.V. Ramana, has outlined a three pronged approach, with special focus on alternative dispute resolution, to reverse the nearly 4 crore pendency in courts across the country. First, improving judicial infrastructure through use of platforms and setting up of more courts; second, settling disputes at pre litigation stage through counselling; third, strengthening the existing Alternative Dispute Resolution (ADR) mechanism would go a long way in clearing the huge pendency of cases in courts.

4. SC stays ban on teachers contesting elections

  • The Supreme Court stayed a Kerala High Court decision barring aided school teachers and non teaching staff from contesting Assembly elections or engaging in political activities. A Bench led by Chief Justice of India Sharad A. Bobde issued notice to the Kerala government while staying the High Court verdict in February. Petitioners in the High Court had challenged the 1951 law, saying their participation in politics would affect the quality of education.

5. SC transfers COVID-19 vaccination case to itself

  • The Supreme Court stayed suo motu proceedings before the Delhi High Court on the administration of COVID-­19 vaccines and transferred the case to itself. Vaccine makers Serum Institute of India and Bharat Biotech argued that vaccination was an “all­ India” issue.

6. SC agrees to hear petition on Rohingya ‘detained’ in Jammu

  • The Supreme Court agreed to urgently hear a plea to release and protect over 150 Rohingya refugees reportedly “detained” in Jammu. Solicitor General (S­G) Tushar Mehta said the averments made in the application were “factually wrong”.

  • India is bound to adhere to the principle of non refoulement – or not sending refugees to a place where they face danger – through customary international law, the application contended.

7. ‘State resolutions on Central laws are fine’

  • The Supreme Court prima facie found no harm in State Legislative Assemblies, such as those in Kerala and West Bengal, passing resolutions against Central laws like the controversial Citizenship Amendment Act or the new agriculture laws. A Bench, led by Chief Justice Sharad A. Bobde, said these resolutions are merely “opinions” of the majority members of a Legislative Assembly and do not have the force of law.

8. Centre asks HC to stop WhatsApp’s new privacy policy

  • The Centre asked the Delhi High Court to restrain WhatsApp from implementing its new privacy policy, which is likely to take effect on May 15. The Ministry of Electronics and Information Technology (MeitY), in an affidavit, said the policy was not in tune with the IT (Intermediary Guidelines) Rules, 2011. The Ministry said WhatsApp’s policy “fails to specify types of sensitive personal data being collected”.

9. Scrap 1886 lease on Mullaperiyar Dam: Plea

  • The Supreme Court decided to examine a plea to terminate the lease deed concerning the Mullaperiyar dam, originally signed between the Maharaja of Travancore and the British Secretary of State for India in Council for ‘Periyar Project’ in 1886. A Bench led by Justice A.M. Khanwilkar issued notice to the Centre and other parties, including Tamil Nadu and Kerala on a petition filed by an NGO, Suraksha Public Charitable Trust. The petition contended that the States of Kerala and Tamil Nadu, which succeeded the original signatories of the lease deed in 1970, have breached the terms of the deed.

10. New IT rules target digital news producers, says plea

  • The Delhi High Court asked the Centre to respond to a petition challenging the new Information Technology rules which seek to regulate digital news media. “The present petition challenges the IT Rules, 2021 only in so far as they affect digital news portals, and is not with reference to ‘publishers of online curated content’, that it, OTT media platforms or any other entities sought to be regulated by the impugned Rules,” the plea said.

11. Plea seeks candidates’ names, details on EVMs

  • The Supreme Court asked a petitioner who wants to replace political party symbols from electronic voting machines with the names and details of the candidates to send a copy of his petition to the Attorney General. A Bench, led by Chief Justice of India Sharad A. Bobde, did not issue formal notice on the plea by petitioner, advocate Ashwini Kumar Upadhyay, at the present stage.

12. Railways to ensure women’s safety

  • Rattled by a surge in incidents of crimes against women passengers, the Indian Railways have rolled out an elaborate security plan to ensure safety of women on their premises. The RPF Director General said the Railways were providing free Internet to passengers and steps should be taken in coordination with service providers to ensure denial of access to porn sites. Passengers in distress can dial 182, the Railway helpline operational round the clock.

13. ‘ART not appropriate for live-­in or same-­sex couples’

  • Given the Indian family structure, social milieu and norms, it will not be very easy to accept a child whose parents are together but not legally married, says the 129-­page report of the Parliamentary Standing Committee on Health and Family Welfare on the Assisted Reproductive Technology (ART) (Regulation) Bill, 2020, submitted in Parliament earlier this week. The committee, in its report, said that keeping the best interest of the child born through ART services and other parentage issues in case of their separation, it would not be appropriate to allow live-­in couples and same sex couples to avail themselves of ART.

14. The debate around the Places of Worship Act

  • Earlier this month, the Supreme Court asked the Centre to respond to a petition that challenges the constitutional validity of the Places of Worship (Special Provisions) Act, 1991.

  • The law was enacted to freeze the status of all places of worship in the country as on August 15, 1947. An exception was made to keep the Babri Masjid-­Ram janmabhoomi dispute out of its ambit as the structure was then the subject of litigation. The dispute ended after the court ruled that the land on which the Masjid stood should be handed over to the Hindu community for the construction of a Ram temple. The challenge to the Act questions the legality of the prohibition it imposes on any community laying claim to the places of worship of another.

15. Irregularities in toll collections on Mumbai-Pune expressway

  • The Bombay High Court said it may direct the Comptroller and Auditor General (CAG) of India to look into alleged irregularities in toll collection on the Mumbai­ Pune Expressway. A Division Bench of Chief Justice Dipankar Datta and G.S. Kulkarni was hearing a public interest litigation (PIL) filed chal­lenging toll collection on the expressway. The plea sought that the toll collected from Au­gust 10, 2019, be declared ille­gal and light motor vehicles be exempted from paying toll till the matter is heard.

  • The PIL said, “The Motor Vehicles Tax Act allows the go­vernment to collect toll only to recover the capital cost plus toll collection expenses. Ho­wever, the actual cumulative toll revenue data of the Mum­bai-­Pune Expressway for the last 15 years until July 31, 2019, is ₹6,773 crore, well in excess of ₹4,330 crore spent.

16. Rajya Sabha passes bill to raise FDI limit in insurance sector

  • The Rajya Sabha passed the Insurance Amendment Bill, 2021 that increases the maximum fo­reign investment allowed in an insurance company from 49% to 74%, amid criticism from the Opposition parties on the clause enabling “con­trol and ownership” by fo­reign investors.

  • Replying to the debate, Fi­nance Minister Nirmala Sith­araman assured the House that the policy holder’s mo­ney will not leave Indian shores and have to be com­pulsorily invested here. She argued that more FDI would mean greater competition and thus better negotiated premiums for the end user.

17. Lok Sabha passes the MMDR (Mining) amendment Bill

  • The Lok Sabha passed a Bill to amend the Mines and Mineral (Develop­ment and Regulation) Act. The Bill re­moves the distinction bet­ween captive and non­cap­tive mines and seeks to introduce an index based mechanism by developing a National Mineral Index (NMI) for statutory pay­ments. The National Mineral Exploration Trust (NMET), to see the functioning of the sector, will be made an auto­nomous body.

  • Mines Minister Pralhad Joshi said the min­ing sector right now contri­butes 1.75% to the country’s GDP but the proposed reforms will raise the contribu­tion to 2.5% as it seeks to make a large number of mines available for auctions by resolving legacy issues.


NATIONAL NEWS/ INTERVENTIONS



Daily snippets

1. ‘India has assured Sri Lanka of support’

  • India has assured Sri Lanka of its support at the UN Human Rights Council, Sri Lankan Foreign Secretary Jayanath Colombage has said, just days before member countries vote on a new resolution on the island nation’s rights record.

  • Human Rights Council sessions in Geneva usually invoke sharp responses from nationalist forces within Sri Lanka’s Sinhala Buddhist majority, who see the process as “targeting” their country and “interfering with its sovereignty”. The Rajapaksa government, whose core support comes from Sinhala Buddhist nationalists, has “categorically rejected” the UN Human Rights chief’s latest report, while accusing the Council of being “politically motivated”, even as a “core group” comprising the United Kingdom, Canada, Germany, North Macedonia, Malawi and Montenegro tables the new resolution.

2. ‘Raise CAA, S-400 deal with India’

  • Saying the Indian government is moving away from democratic values, the Chairman of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, Bob Menendez, has written to the U.S. Secretary of Defense Lloyd Austin asking him to raise concerns about democracy and India’s purchase of the S­400 Russian missile defence system, during his visit to New Delhi. Mr. Austin is expected to meet Defence Minister Rajnath Singh and senior national security officials between March 19 and 21 when he is in New Delhi.

  • Among his concerns, Mr. Menendez cited crackdown on journalists and critics of the government, its handling of the farmers’ protests and the use of sedition laws, and the Citizenship (Amendment) Act (CAA). “Moreover, in recent years, rising anti­-Muslim sentiment and related government actions like the Citizenship (Amendment) Act, the suppression of political dialogue and arrest of political opponents following the abrogation of Article 370 in Kashmir, and the use of sedition laws to persecute political opponents have resulted in the U.S. human rights group Freedom House stripping India of its ‘Free’ status in its yearly global survey,” he said.

3. ‘Terror biggest hurdle to Indo-­Pak. Relationship’

  • Punjab Chief Minister Captain Amarinder Singh termed Pakistan-sponsored terrorism as the biggest hurdle to normalising relations between India and Pakistan. He also said Pakistan’s Chief of Army Staff, General Qamar Javed Bajwa, should back his rhetoric on peace with India with solid action.

4. India, United States resolve to intensify defence cooperation

  • India on Saturday resolved to intensify defence cooperation with the U.S. Central Command in Florida and with the U.S. Commands in the Indo­-Pacific region and Africa. The announcement was made by Defence Minister Rajnath Singh who held talks with U.S. Secretary of Defense General Lloyd James Austin III (retd). Mr. Austin described the partnership as a “central pillar” of the American policy for the Indo­-Pacific.

  • Mr. Austin’s visit is crucial as it comes in the midst of expectations that the U.S. is likely to deliver a message over India’s plans to acquire the Russian S­400 missile defence system in the coming months. The move could attract U.S. sanctions under the Countering America's Adversaries Through Sanctions Act. In a clear hint to Beijing’s growing military activities in the South China Sea region, Mr. Austin said the India-­U.S. defence partnership will “grow” in the coming years.

  • U.S. Defense Secretary General Lloyd James Austin III (Retd.) addressed the issue of human rights in India during his meetings with Cabinet Ministers here on Saturday. An informed source said the issue also came up during his conversation with External Affairs Minister S. Jaishankar, which also covered a broad range of topics such as the situation in Afghanistan and the West Asian tensions.

5. Hosabale is RSS general secretary

  • Dattatreya Hosabale was elected the Sarkaryavah or general secretary of the Rashtriya Swayamsewak Sangh (RSS) at the All India Pratinidhi Sabha (AIPS) meet of the organisation in Bengaluru. Mr. Hosabale now holds the second highest office in the RSS, the ideological mothership of the Sangh Parivar and the ruling BJP.

6. WCD Ministry to seek ₹37,000 cr. loan to execute schemes

  • The Women and Child Development Ministry plans to seek loans totalling ₹37,179 crore from five different multinational development banks to implement new and existing schemes, including a research centre on child development as well as plantation of 200 million trees under mission Kalpatru to eradicate malnutrition.

  • The Ministry is planning to apply for a loan of ₹14,600 crore from Asian Infrastructure Investment Bank, ₹11,550 crore from Japan International Cooperation Agency, ₹7,300 crore from New Development Bank (formerly BRICS Development Bank), ₹3,650 crore from Asian Development Bank and ₹79 crore from GIZ (German Development Cooperation). It is already implementing Poshan Abhiyaan or Nutrition Mission at a cost of ₹9,000 crore for three years from 2017, half of which is funded through a World Bank loan.

7. Roads to be freed of toll booths

  • India will implement a GPS­ based toll collection system and do away with all toll booths within a year, Union Minister for Road Transport and Highways Nitin Gadkari informed the Lok Sabha. He said 93% of the vehi­cles were paying toll using FASTag – a system that facil­itates electronic payment of fee at toll plazas seamlessly – but the remaining 7% had still not adopted it despite paying double the toll.

  • He also shared details of the vehicle scrapping policy, first announced in the Union Budget for 2021­-22, accord­ing to which the automobile industry in India will see a jump in turnover to ₹10 lakh crore from ₹4.5 lakh crore. The new policy, he claimed, would reduce pollution, im­prove fuel efficiency, and increase government’s reve­nue collection from the sale of new vehicles. The new policy provides for fitness tests after the completion of 20 years in the case of privately owned vehicles and 15 years in the case of commercial vehi­cles. Any vehicle that fails the fitness test or does not manage renewal of its regis­tration certificate may be declared as an End of Life Vehicle. All government vehicles and those owned by PSUs will be de­registered after 15 years.

  • The policy will kick in for government vehicles from April 1, 2022. Mandatory fit­ness testing for heavy com­mercial vehicles will start from April 1, 2023, and for all other categories of vehi­cles, including personal vehicles, it will start in phas­es from June 1, 2024. There are 51 lakh light motor vehicles older than 20 years and 34 lakh light motor vehicles older than 15 years, the Minister said.

8. Delhi registers own school education board

  • Delhi’s own school educa­tion board, The Delhi Board of School Education (DBSE) has been registered and an official notification detailing its mo­dalities is expected soon, ac­cording to officials at the Di­rectorate of Education (DoE). To start with, 20 to 25 Delhi government schools will be affiliated to DBSE from the 2021-­22 academic session.

  • The board will have a go­verning body chaired by the Education Minister. It will also have an executive body for day-to-day functions and will be headed by a CEO. Both bodies will have ex­perts from industries, the education sector, principals of government and private schools, and civil servants. At present, there are about 1,000 government and 1,700 private schools in Delhi, nearly all of which are affiliated with the CBSE.

9. Bihar Assembly passes Lokayukta Amendment Bill

  • The Bihar Assembly passed the Bihar Lokayukta (Amendment) Bill, 2021 that proposes to punish people filing false cases before the anti­-corrup­tion ombudsman body to prevent any waste of time or misuse of the institution. According to the minister concerned, the pro­posed legislation has been brought keeping in view the misuse of the Lokayukta in­stitution in false cases.

  • Lokayukta carries out ex­peditious investigation and prosecution relating to alle­gations involving corruption against public servants of all grades. According to the minister, the Lokayukta acts of oth­er States have the provision of punitive action against such erring persons.

  • The Bill proposes that a case against a person filing a false case can be filed in the district court. If the person is found guilty of it or for giving false testimony or fled the wrong affidavit, he/she will be sentenced to a jail term of up to three years besides a provision for fine. Several members who moved amendments to the Bill were of the view that it will dissuade people from approaching the Lokayukta and will work against whistleblowers who expose corruption.

10. Government questions Global Hunger Index Method

  • Union Minister of State for Agriculture Parshottam Ru­pala, in the Rajya Sabha, questioned the meth­odology and data accuracy of the Global Hunger Index (GHI) report, which has placed India at 94th among 107 countries in 2020.

  • In a written reply, the Mi­nistry stated that according to the National Family Health Survey (NFHS)-­4, the percentage of wasted, stunt­ed and malnourished chil­dren in 2015­-16 stood at 21, 38.4 and 35.7, respectively. It said that compared to NFHS­4 data, the Compre­hensive National Nutrition Survey (CNNS) of 2017­-18 showed an improvement of 4%, 3.7% and 2.3% in wasted, stunted and malnourished children respectively. The first ­ever CNNS was commissioned by the go­vernment in 2016 and was conducted from 2016-­18, led by the Union Health Minis­try, in collaboration with UNICEF.

  • About the Global hunger Index : According to the GHI website, the data for the indicators come from the United Nations and other multilateral agencies, includ­ing the World Health Organi­zation and the World Bank. GHI is a peer reviewed an­nual report, jointly pu­blished by Concern World­wide, an Ireland based humanitarian group, and Welthungerhilfe, a Germany­ based NGO, designed to comprehensively measure and track hunger at the glo­bal, regional, and country le­vels. It says the aim of pu­blishing the report is to trigger action to reduce hun­ger around the world.

11. Increase in tourism for Kashmir

  • Tourist inflow in the Union Territory of Jammu and Kashmir has risen from over 3,700 persons in January 2020 to 19,000 persons in Ja­nuary 2021, Tourism Minis­ter Prahalad Singh Patel in­formed the Rajya Sabha. Mr. Patel said the govern­ment would not change the goalpost of doubling the number of foreign tourists by 2024. He also said that 26 films were currently be­ing shot in the Union Territo­ry.

12. AIIMS to study effect of Gayatri Mantra, pranayama

  • The Department of Science and Technology (DST) has funded a clinical trial at the All India Institute of Medical Sciences (AIIMS), Rishikesh, to determine if the chanting of the Gayatri Mantra, a reli­gious hymn, and performing the Yoga practice of pra­nayama, can aid the quality of recovery as well as cure COVID­-19 quicker in a subset of patients.

13. COVID and doubling of poverty in India

  • India’s middle class may have shrunk by a third due to 2020’s pandemic driven re­cession, according to an analysis by the Pew Research Center. In compari­son, Chinese incomes re­mained relatively unshaken, with just a 2% drop in the middle class population, it found. The report uses World Bank projections of economic growth to estimate the im­pact of COVID-­19 on Indian incomes.

  • The middle class in India is estimated to have shrunk by 3.2 crore in 2020 as a consequence of the downturn, compared with the number it may have reached absent the pandemic,” said the re­port, defining the middle class as people with incomes of approximately ₹700­-1,500 or $10­20 per day.

  • Meanwhile, the number of people who are poor in India (with incomes of $2 or less a day) is estimated to have in­creased by 7.5 crore because of the COVID-­19 recession. This accounts for nearly 60% of the global increase in po­verty,” the report added. It also noted the record spike in MGNRE­GA participants as proof that the poor were struggling to find work.

  • The vast majority of In­dia’s population fall into the low income tier, earning about ₹150 to 700 per day. Pew’s projections suggest this group shrank from 119.7 crore to 116.2 crore per day, with about 3.5 crore dropping below the poverty line.


INTERNATIONAL NEWS/EVENTS/ PERSONALITIES



Daily snippets

1. EU regulator backs AstraZeneca vaccine after safety investigation

  • The EU’s drug watchdog said it is convinced the benefits of AstraZeneca’s COVID­-19 vaccine outweigh the risks following an investigation into reports of blood disorders that prompted more than a dozen nations to suspend its use. The news came as the European Medicines Agency (EMA) director Emer Cooke said the watchdog could not definitively rule out a link between blood clot incidents and the vaccine in its investigation into 30 cases of a rare blood clotting condition.

  • Many countries, including France, Italy, Latvia and Lithuania, and regions such as Germany’s Rhineland-­Palatinate, announced resumption of vaccine rollout from Friday. Spain will restart its use from next week. British Prime Minister Boris Johnson said he will get the vaccine on Friday.

2. Austin visit may allay concerns about Indo­-Pacific, Afghanistan

  • U.S. Secretaries of State and Defense, Antony Blinken and Lloyd Austin, are on a trip to Tokyo and Seoul. Secretary Austin is heading towards New Delhi after Seoul and Secretary Blinken will fly to Anchorage, Alaska, where he and National Security Adviser Jake Sullivan will meet their Chinese counterparts, Wang Yi and Yang Jiechi, for the first China­-U.S. bilateral of the Biden administration. In India, Mr. Austin is scheduled to meet Defence Minister Rajnath Singh and other “senior national security officials”. They will discuss a deepening of the major Defence partnership, the Pentagon had said.They will also discuss the Indo­-Pacific and are expected to discuss operationalising the ‘foundational agreements’ of U.S. defence cooperation, the last of which was signed in October (the Basic Exchange and Cooperation Agreement).

3. Beijing says ‘no compromise’ on sovereignty ahead of key meet

  • China’s Foreign Ministry said it would not make concessions to the U.S. on key issues, including Xinjiang and Hong Kong, ahead of high level meetings between the two countries’ diplomats in Alaska. Secretary of State Antony Blinken and National Security Adviser Jake Sullivan are set for talks with senior Chinese official Yang Jiechi and Foreign Minister Wang Yi later Thursday. It is the highest level face to face diplomatic meeting between the two countries since U.S. President Joe Biden took office. China wants a reset in relations, which were pitched into turmoil by Donald Trump’s presidency, which brought a damaging trade war and spats over everything from defence to tech and rights in Hong Kong.

4. Russia hosts Afghan peace meet

  • Russia hosted a peace conference for Afghanistan, bringing together government representatives and their Taliban adversaries along with international observers in a bid to help jump­start the country’s stalled peace process. The one­day gathering is the first of three planned international conferences ahead of a May 1 deadline for the final withdrawal of U.S. and NATO troops from the country, a date fixed under a year old agreement between the U.S. and the Taliban. Call for ceasefire Moscow’s attempt at mediation comes as talks in Doha between the Afghan government and the Taliban, still waging an insurgency, have stalled. Washington and Kabul have been pressing for a ceasefire while the Taliban say they will negotiate it as part of peace talks with the Afghan government.

  • The Moscow conference is attended by U.S. peace envoy Zalmay Khalilzad, Abdullah Abdullah, head of Afghanistan’s National Reconciliation Council, and Taliban co-founder Mullah Abdul Ghani Baradar. Representatives of Pakistan, Iran, and China are also participating. Moscow, which fought a 10­-year war in Afghanistan that ended with Soviet troops’ withdrawal in 1989, has made a diplomatic comeback as a mediator in Afghanistan.

5. Tanzania mourns after Magufuli’s sudden death

  • Tanzania was in mourning over the sudden death of President John Magufuli, an authoritarian leader and COVID-­19 sceptic who leaves behind a divided legacy and a question mark over his fatal illness. Flags flew at half mast as the country began a 14-­day mourning period after VicePresident Samia Suluhu Hassan – who is set to become the country’s first female leader – announced Magufuli’s death before midnight on Wednesday. Ms. Hassan said Magufuli had died on Wednesday of a “heart condition” from which he had long suffered, in a hospital in Dar es Salaam.

6. Children faced abuse in German diocese: report

  • An independent study commissioned by the Roman Catholic Church has uncovered hundreds of cases of sexual violence allegedly committed by clergy and laymen in Germany’s top diocese. The long­awaited 800­ page report on the Cologne diocese found 202 alleged perpetrators of sexual assault and 314 victims between 1975 and 2018, Bjoern Gercke, a lawyer mandated by the Church, told reporters.

  • “More than half of the victims were children under the age of 14,” Mr. Gercke said. The findings show “that for decades, apparently no one dared to report such cases''. However, the investigation cleared Cologne’s Archbishop Rainer Maria Woelki of breach of duty over the abuse. He had faced months of protests for refusing to allow the publication of an earlier study on abuse committed by priests in his diocese. Most of the allegations cover the tenure of Archbishop Woelki’s predecessor, Cardinal Joachim Meisner, who died in 2017. He had justified his decision citing a right to privacy for those accused in the report.

7. U.S., China spar at Alaska meet

  • The Biden administration’s first bilateral engagement with Beijing got off to a rocky start as the two sides traded barbs with each other in front of the press, during the opening session of their dialogue in Anchorage, Alaska. The U.S. side, led by Secretary of State Antony Blinken and National Security Adviser Jake Sullivan, opened with remarks that included references to China’s actions in Tibet, Hong Kong, Xinjiang and accused Beijing of economic coercion. The Chinese side, led by Director of Foreign Affairs Yang Jiechi and State Councilor Wang Yi, questioned the U.S. narrative of China’s role in the world and expressed, often sarcastically, its own concerns about U.S. actions – domestic and international.

  • In his opening remarks, Mr. Blinken spoke of the rules based international order. “The alternative to a rules based order is a world in which might makes right and winners take all, and that would be a far more violent and unstable world for all of us,” he said, apparently referring to a China-­led world order.

8. New phase of U.S.-China ties comes with tests for India

  • This will particularly pose a test for India’s diplomacy, starting with affecting India’s defence supplies from Russia, with the U.S. making it clear that importing Russian equipment like the S­400 missile defence system will attract sanctions as well as the U.S. withholding high tech exports. While India confronts its own problems with China amid a slow moving disengagement process along the Line of Actual Control (LAC), it has still made clear it does not want to be part of any alliances. This balancing act is reflected in India’s varying multilateral engagements, ranging from the Quad to groupings like RIC (Russia-India-­China), the BRICS, and the China and Russia­led Shanghai Cooperation Organisation. The U.S.­China divide will also mean a tightrope walk for India at the UN Security Council, where it is serving a two year term as non­permanent member, as the split between the U.S., the U.K. and France on the one hand and Russia and China on the other grows ever wider, as seen in response to the Myanmar coup.

9. Houthis march on Yemen’s Marib

  • Yemen’s Iran-­backed Houthi rebels have made major advances on Marib city after seizing a strategic mountain in clashes that caused dozens of casualties on both sides, government sources said. The Houthis and the internationally recognised government have been locked in a power struggle since 2014, when the rebels seized control of the Yemeni capital Sanaa. Since last month, the rebels have been pushing to seize Marib, the government’s last northern stronghold and the capital of an oil rich region. The Houthi rebels took control of Mount Hilan overlooking the city, after fighting which left dozens of dead and wounded on both sides. The loss of Marib would be a huge blow for the Yemeni government, but would also affect civilians, including one million displaced people sheltering in desolate camps in the surrounding desert. The Houthis had cut the supply lines of some fronts and are now within firing range of the Al­Mashjab line west of Marib city. Meanwhile, a drone strike sparked a fire at a Riyadh oil refinery on Friday, in an attack claimed by Houthis

10. U.S.­China talks end on subdued note

  • The U.S.-­China talks started with a bang but ended with a whimper as Chinese officials left the site of the talks in Anchorage without a press conference on Friday and the rancour and sparring evident in Thursday’s opening session did not have a sequel to match. The U.S. has determined that the Chinese government is engaged in a “genocide” on the Uighur Muslim minority in Xinjiang. Days before the talks, the State Department announced sanctions against Chinese and Hong Kong officials for increasing Beijing’s control over Hong Kong’s legislature.

11. ‘AstraZeneca exports can be banned if EU not supplied first’

  • European Union chief Ursula von der Leyen threatened to halt exports of AstraZeneca’s COVID-­19 vaccines if the bloc did not receive its promised deliveries first, escalating a row that has fanned international tensions.The EU warning comes as the struggles to speed up its COVID­-19 inoculation campaign, just as many member states are facing a third coronavirus wave and renewed curbs on public life. Ms. Von der Leyen said Anglo­Swedish pharma giant had delivered only 30% of the 90 million vaccine doses it had promised for the first quarter of the year. The company has blamed production delays at its EU plants, but European officials are furious that AstraZeneca has been able to deliver its U.K. contract while falling short on the continent.

12. Biden condemns violence against Asian­Americans

  • U.S. President Joe Biden on Friday denounced the upsurge of violence against Asian­-Americans, telling a community plunged into grief after this week’s Atlanta murders that the nation must not be complicit in the face of racism and xenophobia. Mr. Biden noted that attacks on Asian Americans and Pacific Islanders have been “skyrocketing”, a trend confirmed by the group Stop AAPI Hate, which says nearly 3,800 cases have been reported since last year, including verbal and physical assaults, discrimination and civil rights abuses.

OPINION & ANALYSIS



Commentary : The message in Alaska, from Washington to Beijing

(i). Background

  • A week after the first Leaders’ Summit of the Quadrilateral Framework, held on March 12, the message of the virtual meeting between leaders of Australia-­India-­Japan-­the United States was delivered directly to Beijing, as U.S. Secretary of State Antony J. Blinken and Yang Jiechi, Chinese Communist Party Politburo member and Director of the Central Foreign Affairs Commission Office, accompanied by U.S. National Security Adviser Jake Sullivan, and Chinese Foreign Minister and State Councillor Wang Yi, met in Anchorage, Alaska.

(ii). Quad in focus

  • The message was broadly a three pronged one: that under the new U.S. President, “America is back” in terms of its desire to play a leading role in other regions, that it views China as its primary challenger for that leadership, and that the Quad partnership is ready to mount a counter­challenge, albeit in “soft power” terms at present, in order to do so

(iii). Vaccine diplomacy

  • For India, however, the outcomes of the Quad Summit need more nuanced analysis. On the “3C’s Working groups”, it is clear that New Delhi is on board, but with some riders. The vaccine initiative, for example, is a major boost for India’s pharmaceutical prowess, which has already been proven during the current pandemic. However, the effort could have been made much easier had India’s Quad partners also announced dropping their opposition to India’s plea at the World Trade Organization, which it filed along with South Africa in October 2020.

(iv). Climate change, technologies On climate change

  • India has welcomed the return of the U.S. to the Paris accord, after former U.S. President Donald Trump decided to walk out of American climate change commitments. However, while Mr. Biden has promised to restart the U.S.’s funding of the global Green Climate Fund, which Mr. Trump ended, India still awaits a large part of the $1.4 billion commitment by the U.S. to finance solar technology in 2016, which Mr. Trump subsequently slowed down on. Mr. Biden might also consider joining the International Solar Alliance, founded by India and France, which the other Quad members are a part of.

(v). Handling China

  • It is on the “4th C”, however, where it is still unclear how far the Narendra Modi government can go on the Quad’s intended outcomes, especially on “collaboration, including in maritime security, to meet challenges to the rules-­based maritime order in the East and South China Seas,” as the joint statement reads. While India shares the deep concerns and the tough messaging set out by the Quad on China, especially after the year long standoff at the Line of Actual Control (LAC) and the killings at Galwan that India has faced, it has demurred from any non-­bilateral statement on it.

(vi). Direction for India

  • The Modi government has said that it sees the Quad formation as it does its other multilateral commitments including the Shanghai Cooperation Organization (SCO) in Central Asia, BRICS (or Brazil, Russia, India, China, and South Africa) in the emerging economies, the South Asian Association for Regional Cooperation/Bay of Bengal Initiative for Multi­Sectoral Technical and Economic Cooperation in the neighbourhood, etc and seeks to broaden the space for its principle of Strategic Autonomy; not narrow its bilateral choices.

Story : The row over Myanmar refugees in Mizoram

(i). The story so far

  • With the February 1 military coup in Myanmar, Mizoram is caught between a humanitarian urge and India’s policy on refugees. At least 1,000 people from the adjoining Chin State of Myanmar are said to have crossed over to Mizoram, fearing a military crackdown. The Mizoram government favours providing refuge to the Chins, who are ethnically related to the majority Mizos in the State, but the Ministry of Home Affairs has made it clear that “India is not a signatory to the 1951 UN Convention relating to the Status of Refugees and the 1967 Protocol theron.”

(ii). Is this the first time this has happened

  • Extremism, counter­insurgency and sectarian violence have driven people out of Myanmar into India in the past as well. Manipur, too, has been dealing with the influx issue, although on a smaller scale, for a long time.

(iii). How porous is the border

  • Unlike India’s border with Pakistan and Bangladesh, much of the border with Myanmar is without any fence. The Assam Rifles personnel guard the border but a tough terrain comes in the way of maintaining airtight vigil. The two countries had in 2018 agreed to streamline the movement of people within 16 km of the border on either side. There are more than 250 villages with about 3,00,000 people living within 10 km of the India­-Myanmar border.

(iv). Where do the Centre and Mizoram stand now

  • As a humanitarian gesture, the Mizoram government on February 26 issued a standard operating procedure (SOP) to Deputy Commissioners of border districts to facilitate the entry of refugees and migrants. But the SOP was revoked on March 6 after the Centre conveyed its displeasure to the State over the development. The Ministry pointed out that State governments have no powers to grant “refugee status to any foreigner”.

Analysis : Governance of Delhi

(i). Background

  • The Government of National Capital Territory of Delhi (Amendment) Bill, 2021 was introduced by the Ministry of Home Affairs in the Lok Sabha. The Bill states clarification of the expression “Government” and addressing “ambiguities” in legislative provisions as its core objectives. Underlining Delhi’s status as a Union Territory, modifications have been proposed to the Government of National Capital Territory of Delhi Act, 1991.

(ii). Changes sought

  • The amendments seek to promote “harmonious relations between the legislature and the executive” and provide for rules made by the Legislative Assembly of Delhi to be “consistent with the rules of the House of the People” or the Lok Sabha.

  • It seeks to define the responsibilities of the elected government and the Lieutenant Governor (LG) along the constitutional scheme of governance of the NCT interpreted by the Supreme Court in recent judgments. On July 4, 2018, a five ­judge bench of the Supreme Court held that the “real authority to take decisions lies in the elected government”. The NCT’s government, it also ruled, needed only to inform the L­G of its “well­ deliberated” decisions instead of obtaining his “concurrence” in every issue of day-to-day governance.

  • The amendments also propose to ensure that the Lieutenant Governor is “necessarily granted an opportunity” to exercise powers entrusted to him under proviso to Clause (4) of Article 239AA of the Constitution. The clause provides for a Council of Ministers headed by a Chief Minister for the NCT to “aid and advise the Lieutenant Governor” in the exercise of his functions for matters in which the Legislative Assembly has the power to make laws.

(iii). The tussle and way ahead

  • Some experts believe that the amendments will turn the administrative clock of the Capital back, and “snatch” the right of the city’s citizens to vote for those they deem fit to administer them. Other experts argue that the elected government of Delhi had always been a local administrative body to be headed by the L­G as an administrator.

  • Terming the Bill as an instrument of the BJP-­led Centre to curtail the Delhi government’s powers, the AAP has hit the streets to demand its withdrawal. It may challenge the Bill in court


Story : The Helium story

(i). Background

  • Helium is colourless, odourless, tasteless, inert and a no­ble gas. It finds many ap­plications, mainly in magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) scans, in rockets and in nuclear reactors. India im­ports helium for its needs. India needs to become self-reliant towards its needs of Helium gas with the US set to cut-off exports of Helium since 2021.

(ii). Helium on Earth

  • The U.S. is the most important exporter of heli­um across the world and the biggest store house of helium. The U.S., now, is planning to switch off export of helium from 2021. Qatar is a possible exporter but acute political and diplomatic wrangles have made Qatar unreliable.

  • Every year, India imports helium worth Rs 55,000 crores from the U.S. to meet its needs. India’s Rajmahal volcanic basin around Bakreswar and nearby Tantloi in Jhark­hand is the store house of he­lium trapped for billions of years, since the very birth of our Earth from the Sun. The target is to at least meet India’s requirement of helium. India consumes about 70 million cubic metres per year, but the reserve of helium by far ex­ceeds this.


ECONOMICS & FINANCE



Daily snippets

1. Rising cases and RBI's delayed liquidity normalisation

  • India’s central bank may have to delay the start of mo­netary policy normalisation by three months amid rising COVID­-19 cases. Though analysts are un­likely to rush to review their growth forecasts, several be­lieve policy normalisation, may now take a backseat. The RBI in early January said it wanted to start restor­ing normal liquidity opera­tions in a phased manner.

2. RBI to buy sell G-secs

  • The Reserve Bank of India (RBI) has decided to conduct simultaneous purchase and sale of government securities under Open Market Operations (OMO) for an amount of ₹10,000 crore each on March 25. The decision to conduct the OMO was taken after a review of current liquidity and financial conditions, the central bank said in a statement.

3. Delhi High Court stays Future-Reliance Deal

  • In a major victory for U.S.­ based e­-commerce giant Amazon, the Delhi High Court ruled that Future Retail Limited (FRL) and its promoters in­cluding Kishore Biyani “de­liberately and wilfully” vio­lated the order of an emergency arbitrator (EA) restraining FRL from going ahead with its assets sale deal with Reliance Retail. Noting that the intention of FRL and its promoters “do not appear to be honest”, the high court directed attachment of the assets of Fu­ture Coupons Private Limited (FCPL), FRL, Mr. Biyani and 10 other promoters.

  • The high court also im­posed a cost of ₹20 lakh on Future Group which will be deposited in the Prime Mi­nister’s Relief Fund for pro­viding COVID­-19 vaccines to senior citizens of Below Poverty Line (BPL) category. It directed Future Group not to take any further action in violation of the interim or­der passed by the emergency arbitrator at the Singapore Centre (SIAC) on October 25, 2020. The high court’s order came on a plea of Amazon, which has 49% stake in FCPL, seeking enforcement of the EA award.

4. Scrappage policy to boost the automobile sector

  • Auto majors have welcomed the new vehicle scrappage policy saying it would en­courage people to replace older vehicles, thus boost­ing demand in the sector. The new policy presents a huge business opportunity for original equipment ma­nufacturers (OEMs) and can significantly cut pollution while bolstering road safety. Only a joint effort by the government, industry and customers can result in a policy that offers true safety, economic and environmen­tal benefits, the stakeholders maintained.

5. IRDAI goes tough on insurers

  • The Insurance Regulatory and Development Authority of India (IRDAI) has cau­tioned insurers against not being transparent to policyholders while rejecting health insurance claims. “Insurer shall ensure that the repudiation of the claim is not based on presump­tions and conjectures,” the IRDAI said in a circular.

  • IRDAI said when a claim is denied or repudiated, the in­surer should communicate the same, specifically men­tioning reasons and also referring to the corresponding policy conditions. ­Separately, IRDAI asked insurers to make special ar­rangements to facilitate eligi­ble policyholders to get vac­cinated against COVID­-19 as a group or individually eith­er at government or private facilities as per the option of the policyholders.

6. Advanced nations failing world on climate change : FM

  • Finance Minister Nirmala Sitharaman ad­monished advanced coun­tries for failing to keep their financing commitments to help emerging economies cope with climate change. The government, she said, was committed to building infrastructure that would not only revive the economy but also prove re­silient to the risks of climate change.

  • Arguing that advanced economies had failed to fulfill their ‘quantitative com­mitment’ to provide $100 billion a year to help smaller countries, she pointed out that this amount itself was ‘meagre’, to begin with.

7. Digital transactions rise to 67% : SBI

  • The country's largest lender State Bank of India (SBI) has seen a perceptible increase in the number of transactions with its customers taking place via multiple digital channels. The percentage has moved from 60% in the pre-­pandemic period to 67% currently, Chairman Dinesh Kumar Khara said. The rise was largely driven by a pick up in e­commerce during the lockdown, he said.

8. Traditional firms lagging on cybersafe

  • Following a recent spurt in cyberattacks, pharma ma­jors, banking and insurance firms have started seeking cyber insurance and crime insurance security cover, even as traditional and ma­nufacturing companies have been lagging behind, said officials at a reinsu­rance brokerage. Traditional companies were going slow on the issue, as they were giving priority to safeguarding physical assets against vulnerability, cargo in transit, employee safety and money in transit. Whenever there was a cyberattack, they simply changed the server and sys­tem and started operations using back­up data.

9. 20 states complete ease of doing business reforms

  • As many as 20 States have successfully completed ease of doing business reforms, the Finance Ministry said. States completing the re­ forms are eligible for addi­tional borrowing of 0.25% of Gross State Domestic Product (GSDP). The ease of doing busi­ness is an important indica­tor of the investment friend­ly business climate in the country. Improvements in the ease of doing business will enable faster future growth of the state econo­my. Therefore, the govern­ment of India, in May 2020, decided to link grant of additional borrowing permissions to States that un­dertook the reforms to facili­tate ease of doing business, the Ministry added.

10. Former SEBI chief no more

  • G.V. Ramakrishna, 91, who was the first chairman of the Securities and Exchange Board of India (SEBI) after it became a statutorily empo­wered markets regulator, passed away. An administrator renowned for his ‘unimpeachable inte­grity’ and no nonsense ap­proach to addressing tasks, Ramakrishna was appoint­ed in 1990 as the second chairperson of the then two­ year-old Securities and Ex­change Board. During his tenure, he oversaw the transi­tion of the Board into a legally empowered markets regulator following the enactment of the Securities and Exchange Board of In­dia Act, 1992.

  • Ramakrishna, who served the government in several other capacities both at the Centre and abroad during his more than five ­decade career in public service, was also the first chairman of the Disinvestment Commis­sion and a member of the Planning Commission.


SCIENCE, TECHNOLOGY & ENVIRONMENT



Daily snippets


SPORTS



Daily snippets

1. Boxing

  • Bosporus boxing tournament : Nikhat Zareen (51kg) and Gaurav Solanki (57kg) were beaten in the semi-finals and will return with bronze medals from the Bosporus boxing tourna­ment in Istanbul. Zareen, who defeated World champions Paltceva Ekaterina of Russia and Na­zym Kyzaibay of Kazakhstan in her last two bouts, lost 5­0 to Busenaz Cakiroglu of Turkey. Solanki lost 5­0 to Argentina's Nirco Cuello.

2. Tennis

  • Wimbledon to scrap queues : Wimbledon’s famous queue will not operate at this year’s championships because of coronavirus measures. The snake of tennis fans waiting to gain access to the event in southwest London has become one of the defining sights of the Grand Slam. There will also be no re-selling of tickets within the grounds.

3. Table-tennis

  • Indian players qualify for the Tokyo Olympics : India’s top singles table ten­nis players, Sharath Kamal, G. Sathiyan, Manika Batra and Sutirtha Mukherjee, all booked their places in the Tokyo Olympics, on Thursday. At the Asian Olympic qualification event in Doha, Sathiyan and Sutirtha quali­fied as group toppers for what will be their maiden Olympics, while Sharath and Manika made the cut as the highest ranked second­ placed players in their res­pective categories. It will be Sharath’s fourth appearance at the Olympics, and second for Manika.

  • Indian table tennis contin­gent’s Olympic qualification campaign saw a fitting end on Saturday with A. Sharath Kamal and Manika Batra stunning the World No. 5 Korean pair of Sang­Su Lee and Jihee Jeon in Doha, Qatar, to seal the mixed doubles spot at Tokyo.

4. Federation Cup

  • Discus : Kamalpreet Kaur's first throw of 65.06m went past the nine-year old National re­cord of 64.76m by Krishna Punia and the Olympic qual­ifying mark of 63.50m earning her a place at the Tokyo Olympics. It is also the fourth best throw in the world this year.

  • Gurmeet Singh set a new meet record in hammer throw, Hima Das, India's frontline sprinter won the battle between a star and the new kid on the track in 23.21 seconds in the 200m.

5. Cricket

  • Under 19 Women's world cup likely to be deferred : The pandemic is set to result in the deferment of the inaug­ural edition of the Under­19 women’s World Cup from 2021 to 2023. The ICC in October 2019 had announced a path­ break­ing initiative for women’s cricket with the first U­19 World Cup awarded to Ban­gladesh to be held in 2021. While the women’s U­19 event is set to be postponed, the ICC Board is likely to wait and watch before suspending or deferring the men’s Under-19 World Cup, scheduled to be played in the West In­dies in 2022.

  • Afghanistan completes 3-0 sweep : Najibullah Zadran hit a career- best 72 as Afghanistan completed a 3-0 sweep over Zimbabwe with a dominant 47-run win in the final T20I on Saturday. The victory makes Asghar Afghan the most successful captain in all T20 internationals with 42 wins in 52 matches, passing India's M.S. Dhoni who won 41 out of 72.

  • India-England T20 series : India won the T20 series with a margin of 3-2. Kohli’s men roared back from 1-2 down to clinch the series 3-2 against England. Virat Kohli was adjudged Man of the series.

6. Badminton

  • All England Championships : Reigning world champion P.V. Sindhu suffered yet another semi-final defeat at the prestigious All England Championships. She lost the semi-finals in 2018 as well.

7. Shooting

  • Shooting World Cup, Day 2 : Yashaswini Singh Deswal de­livered India’s only gold me­dal in women’s air pistol on the second day of the shoot­ing World Cup at the Dr. Kar­ni Singh Range on Saturday. Qualifying on top with 579 and winning the gold medal with a 2.1 point margin over compatriot Manu Bhaker, Yashaswini said that the competition was “only with the self”.

8. Foreign fans not allowed in Tokyo Olympics

  • Spectators from abroad will be barred from the Tokyo Olympics when they open in four months, the IOC and local organisers said. The decision was announced after an online meeting of the International Olympic Committee, the Japanese government, the Tokyo government, the International Paralympic Committee, and local organisers. Organisers have promised refunds, but this will be determined by so­-called Authorized Ticket Resellers that handle sales outside Japan.

SUGGESTED READINGS



1. The price of wrongful prosecution https://www.thequint.com/news/law/the-price-of-wrongful-prosecution#read-more

2. SC's directions against misogyny https://www.thequint.com/news/law/sc-vows-to-end-judicial-misogyny

3. Stopping rolling out of WhatsApp's new privacy policy https://thewire.in/tech/centre-urges-delhi-hc-to-stop-whatsapp-from-rolling-out-new-privacy-policy

4. Profile : Begum Aizaz Rasul https://www.livelaw.in/columns/women-in-constituent-assembly-wide-ranging-interventions-of-begum-aizaz-rasul-171489

5. What are Non-fungible tokens (NFTs) https://www.reuters.com/article/us-crypto-currency-nft-explainer-idUSKBN2B92MA


Download Page : https://e-clat.com/dailynewspage

Sources referred to : The Hindu, The Indian Express, Live Law, Bar & Bench

END

March 16th-18th, 2021

Your 10 minute read!

START


LAW, POLICY & GOVERNANCE



Daily snippets

1. Over 60% OBC,SC posts vacant in IIMs

  • More than half of the faculty positions reserved for the OBCs in Central institutions of higher education are vacant while about 40% of those reserved for the Scheduled Castes and Tribes also remain unfilled, Education Minister Ramesh Pokhriyal ‘Nishank’ told the Lok Sabha. 93% of ST posts of professors at Central varsities are unfilled.

2. Bill to define Delhi L­G’s powers moved in LS

  • The Ministry of Home Affairs (MHA) moved a Bill in the Lok Sabha in which it proposed that the “government” in the National Capital Territory of Delhi meant the Lieutenant ­Governor of Delhi. The Bill gives discretionary powers to the L­G even in matters where the Legislative Assembly of Delhi is empowered to make laws. The Home Ministry seeks to amend the 1991 Act.

3. Govt. opposes inclusion of judges, lawyers in vaccine priority group

  • The Centre told the Supreme Court that prioritising COVID-­19 vaccination on the basis of profession will amount to “discrimination” and is against larger national interests. It was responding to a PIL to include judges, lawyers and court staff in the “prioritised group of population who will get the COVID­-19 vaccine first”.

4. Call for fresh polls if NOTA tops count

  • The Supreme Court asked the Centre and the Election Commission of India to respond to a plea that fresh elections should be conducted in constituencies where the highest number of votes polled are NOTA. The Supreme Court asked the Centre and the Election Commission of India to respond to a plea that fresh elections should be conducted in constituencies where the highest number of votes polled are NOTA.

  • “None of the Above” (or NOTA) has been provided as an option to the voters of India in most elections since 2009. The Supreme Court in PUCL vs. Union of India Judgement 2013 directed the use of NOTA in the context of direct elections to the Lok Sabha and the respective state assemblies.

5. HC orders probe into ‘illegal’ arrest of labour rights activist

  • The Punjab and Haryana High Court marked an inquiry into allegations of illegal detention and custodial torture of labour rights activist Shiv Kumar, who was arrested by the Haryana police in January this year.

  • The court asked the District and Sessions Judge at Faridabad to hold the inquiry after hearing a petition that sought transfer of the investigation of cases registered under the section 307 of the IPC and other sections at the Kundli police station in Sonipat to an independent agency.

6. Come out with ‘rule curve’ for Mullaperiyar: SC

  • The Supreme Court said the Tamil Nadu Chief Secretary will be “personally responsible” and “appropriate action” will be taken on failure to give information on the ‘rule curve’ for the Mullaperiyar dam to the Supreme Court appointed Supervisory Committee.

  • After a nearly day long hearing, a Bench led by Justice A.M. Khanwilkar directed the Supervisory Committee to issue directions or take steps to address the three core safety issues – the monitoring and performance of the instrumentation of the dam, finalising the ‘rule curve’ and fixing the gate operating schedule – and submit a compliance report in four weeks.

7. Karnataka HC wants end to postings for money

  • In an unprecedented order, the High Court of Karnataka has urged the Chief Justice to initiate suo motu proceedings against the State government to put an end to the “pernicious practice” of posting officers “for monetary considerations and reasons other than public interest”.

8. Rajya Sabha passes MTP Bill

  • The Rajya Sabha passed the Medical Termination of Pregnancy (Amendment) Bill, 2020 that increases the time period within which an abortion may be carried out. The Opposition’s demand to send the Bill to a parliamentary Select Committee for detailed scrutiny was defeated by a voice vote.

  • Currently, abortion requires the opinion of one doctor if it is done within 12 weeks of conception, and two doctors if it is done between 12 and 20 weeks. The Bill allows abortion to be done on the advice of one doctor up to 20 weeks, and two doctors in the case of certain categories of women, between 20 and 24 weeks. For a pregnancy to be terminated after 24 weeks in case of substantial foetal abnormalities, the opinion of the State level medical board is essential.

9. No more adjournment of Zakia Jafri plea: SC

  • The Supreme Court made it clear that it would brook no further adjournment from both sides while posting a petition filed by Zakia Jafri, widow of slain Congress MP Ehsan Jafri, against the SIT’s clean chit to then Gujarat Chief Minister Narendra Modi in the 2002 Godhra riots to April 13.

10. Serious issue if 3 cr. ration cards were cancelled, says SC

  • The Supreme Court said it was a “very serious” matter if the Centre had really cancelled around three crore ration cards, even those of tribal people and the poor, solely because they could not be biometrically linked with Aadhaar.

  • A Bench, led by Chief Justice of India Sharad A. Bobde, asked the Centre to respond to the allegation made in a petition by Koili Devi, represented by senior advocate Colin Gonsalves, that such cancellations had led to starvation deaths across the country.

11. Who will police the police, asks Haryana court

  • A court in Pehowa in Haryana’s Kurukshetra acquitted a washerman in a four year old bicycle theft case saying “this matter has shaken the conscience of this court”. Judicial Magistrate First Class Amitendra Singh observed that it was an exemplary case of an “absolute ill motivated” and “botched up investigation”, where some police officers misuse their powers to harass an innocent person for the simple reason that he dared to file a complaint against one of their colleagues and succeeded in getting the officer punished by a court of law.

12. Enact law to make Facebook, Google pay for news, says MP

  • India should take a cue from Australia and enact a law to make tech giants such as Facebook and Google pay local publishers of news content, senior BJP leader Sushil Kumar Modi demanded in the Rajya Sabha. Rajya Sabha Chairman M. Venkaiah Naidu remarked that the suggestion was “worth considering”.

13. ‘Frame rules for amicus curiae’

  • Solicitor General Tushar Mehta made a strong appeal to the Supreme Court to frame guidelines to rein in lawyers appointed as the court’s amici curiae in various cases, especially sensitive ones.

  • An amicus curiae (literally, “friend of the court”) is someone who is not a party to a case who assists a court by offering information, expertise, or insight that has a bearing on the issues in the case.


NATIONAL NEWS/ INTERVENTIONS



Daily snippets

1. SKM raises farm laws in UN Human Rights Council

  • Samyukt Kisan Morcha leader Darshan Pal raised the issue of India’s contentious farm reform laws at the United Nations Human Rights Council, asking the UN to urge the Indian government to repeal the laws. Speaking via video message during the general debate at the ongoing 46th session of the Council, Dr. Pal noted that India was a signatory to the UN Declaration on the Rights of Peasants and was thus committed to the protection of small farmers. However, he alleged that the farm laws will remove such protections by endangering the MSP system, the use of profits for rural infrastructure, and access to the courts.

2. Kathakali maestro Kunhiraman Nair no more

  • Guru Chemancheri Kunhiraman Nair, a recipient of Padma Shri, died at the age of 104. He was a seasoned Kathakali actor and played a significant role in making Bharatanatyam popular in north Kerala.

  • Kathakali is a major form of classical Indian dance. It is a “story play” genre of art, but one distinguished by the elaborately colorful make-up, costumes and face masks that the traditionally male actor-dancers wear. Kathakali is a Hindu performance art in the Malayalam-speaking southwestern region of Kerala.

3. ₹2,000 notes not printed since 2019, govt. tells LS

  • The government informed the Lok Sabha that ₹2,000 currency notes have not been printed in the past two years even as the quantum of the highest denomination currency note has come down. In a written reply, Minister of State for Finance Anurag Singh Thakur said 3,362 million currency notes of ₹2,000 denomination were in circulation on March 30, 2018, constituting 3.27% and 37.26% of the currency in terms of volume and trade respectively.

  • As of February 26, 2021, 2,499 million pieces of ₹2,000 notes were in circulation, constituting 2.01% and 17.78% of banknotes in terms of volume and value, respectively. Printing of banknotes of a particular denomination is decided by the government in consultation with the RBI to maintain desired denomination mix for facilitating transactional demand of the public.

4. Delhi remains most polluted capital: report

  • Delhi remained the most polluted capital city in the world but India, on the whole, had improved its average annual PM2.5 (particulate matter) levels in 2020 than in 2019, according to a report from IQAir, a Swiss air quality technology company specialising in protection against airborne pollutants, and developing air quality monitoring and air cleaning products.

  • Bangladesh and Pakistan were the countries in 2020 with worse average PM2.5 levels than India, said the report. China ranked 11th in the latest report, a deterioration from the 14th in the previous edition of the report. In the 2020 report, 106 countries were evaluated. The pollution levels are weighted averages, meaning that the population of a country influences the pollution values reported. However, of the 106 monitored countries, only 24 met the World Health Organization annual guidelines for PM 2.5, the report underlined.

5. Maharashtra told to plan for the worst

  • The Health Ministry has cautioned Maharashtra to plan for a “worst case scenario” with sufficient lead time as the State continues to report the highest number of new daily COVID­-19 cases and deaths across India. It has also directed the resumption of death audits to support public health action and minimise mortality.

  • The Health Ministry has now recommended monitoring of the situation at the highest level, strengthened surveillance, enhanced involvement of private practitioners, increased testing and reviewing the practice of isolating 80-­85% of active cases kept at home. It added that measures such as night curfews and weekend lockdowns had limited impact on containing/suppressing the transmission.

6. Govt. appoints new chiefs for CRPF, NSG

  • The Modi government named senior IPS officer Kuldiep Singh as the new Director General (DG) of the Central Reserve Police Force (CRPF). Another IPS officer of the 1986 batch M.A. Ganapathy of Uttarakhand cadre has been named as the DG of National Security Guard (NSG).

7. ‘No parliament should discuss internal issues of other nations’

  • No parliament should discuss laws passed in other parliaments and issues that are internal to sovereign countries, Lok Sabha Speaker Om Birla said on Tuesday. Mr. Birla made these remarks in the Central Hall of Parliament while hosting the Inter-­Parliamentary Union (IPU) president Duarte Pacheco.

  • The event was attended by Prime Minister Narendra Modi, Deputy Chairman of Rajya Sabha Harivansh, Union ministers, Members of Parliament and members of the diplomatic community. The Speaker’s remarks are significant as they come just days after lawmakers in Britain discussed the farmers’ protests in India in the British parliament. Without naming any country, the Lok Sabha Speaker also asserted that India has a clear policy against terrorism and expansionism.

8. Plan to test anganwadi food by FSSAI

  • Mission POSHAN 2.0, likely to be sent for Union Cabinet approval soon, provides for testing of meals and food packets distributed at anganwadis for nutritional standards and quality by FSSAI labs. The government proposes to rope in NABL laboratories notified by the Food Safety and Standards Authority of India (FSSAI) and also use rapid food testing kits approved by the regulator. The latter will mitigate the need for samples to be sent to the laboratories for testing.

  • The Ministry of Women and Child Development, the nodal Ministry for implementing the Mission POSHAN, will also partner with the Panchayati Raj Ministry so that FSSAI and the National Institute of Nutrition can train Panchayati Raj functionaries at village level and anganwadi workers in maintaining and monitoring quality.

9. Saving the Great India Bustard

  • The Supreme Court intervened on behalf of the critically endangered Great Indian Bustards over the birds falling dead after colliding with power lines running through their dwin­dling natural habitats in Guj­arat and Rajasthan. A Bench led by Chief Jus­tice of India Sharad A. Bobde will examine on a priority basis whether overhead power cables can be re­placed with underground ones to save one of the hea­viest flying birds on the planet.

  • Attorney General K.K. Ve­nugopal, appearing for the Power Ministry, however submitted that only low vol­tage lines can go underground but not the high vol­tage ones. “Wherever there are high voltage power lines, they can use flight bird diverters even if the recurring costs are high. Wherever there are overhead low voltage lines, these lines can be placed un­derground,” Chief Justice Bobde remarked.

10. India's arms imports down by 33%

  • Arms imports decreased by 33% between 2011–15 and 2016–20 while India conti­nues to remain the second largest arms importer after Saudi Arabia, according to a report from Swedish think tank Stockholm Internation­al Peace Research Institute (SIPRI). The report said Russia was the largest arms supplier to India in both years. The U.S. was the second largest arms supplier to In­dia in 2011–15 but in 2016–20 India’s arms imports from the U.S. were 46% lower than in the previous five ­year period, making the U.S. the fourth largest supplier in 2016–20. France and Israel were the second and third largest arms suppliers in 2016–20.

  • The report said that combat aircraft and associated missiles made up more than 50% of arms imports. Arms imports by Pakistan between 2011–15 and 2016– 20 decreased by 23%. China accounted for 61% of its im­ports in 2011–15 and for 74% in 2016–20.

11. India to expand air-bubble pact with more countries

  • The Government wants to expand the “air bubble” arrange­ment with more countries, and the priority would be Saudi Arabia, Kuwait in the west and Japan, China and Singapore in the east. Under the air bubble scheme, commercial airlines from specific countries are allowed to travel to and from India on a limited basis.

  • External Affairs Minister S. Jaishankar told the Rajya Sabha that the Vande Bharat Mission saw more than 45 lakh people return home. He said the focus had now shifted to Indians going back to their usual places of work, study and domicile and restoring em­ployment opportunities abroad with the help of partner countries. So far, air tran­sport bubble arrangements had been concluded with 27 countries. The Minister said India was fully aware of the em­ployment concerns of peo­ple working abroad.

12. Innovation : Bee fences to ward off elephant attacks

  • A pilot project launched in Kodagu entails installing bee boxes along the periphery of the forest and the villages with the belief that the ele­phants will not venture anywhere close to the bees and thus avoid transgressing into human landscape. An initiative of the Khadi and Village In­dustries Commission (KVIC), Project RE­HAB (Reducing Elephant ­Human Attacks using Bees) in­tends to create “bee fences'' to thwart ele­phant attacks in human habitations using honeybees. ­Bee boxes have been placed on the ground as well as hung from the trees. High resolution, night vision cameras have been installed at strategic points to record the impact of bees on elephants and their behaviour.

  • The big­gest advantage of Project RE­HAB is that it dissuades ele­phants without causing any harm to them. Between 2015 and 2020, nearly 2,500 people have lost their lives in elephant attacks across India, of which 170 human fatalities have been reported in Karnataka alone, says the KVIC.

13. Census interim data by 2024

  • The provisional data for the latest Census and National Population Register (NPR) will be available before the Lok Sabha election in 2024, according to information provided by the Union Home Ministry to a parliamentary committee. The Ministry informed the committee that Census and update of the NPR would be among the major thrust areas for the financial year 2021-­22. The previous Census was conducted in 2011 and the NPR, which has a database of 119 crore residents, was last updated in 2015.

  • The first phase of census – House listing and Housing Census – will provide data on housing conditions, household amenities and as­sets possessed by the house­holds. The second phase is popula­tion enumeration phase to provide data on demogra­phy, religion, SC/ST, lan­guage, literacy and educa­tion, economic activity, migration and fertility. The committee was in­formed that the mobile app through which Census will be conducted will be availa­ble in 16 languages.

14. Shifting to renewable sources of energy

  • The COVID-­19 crisis offers an unexpected opportunity for countries to decouple their eco­nomies from fossil fuels and ac­celerate the shift to renewable energy sources, says the World Energy Transitions Outlook re­port, brought out by the Inter­national Renewable Energy Agency (IRENA). The report proposes energy transi­tion solutions for the narrow pathway available to contain the rise of temperature to 1.5 degree Celsius.

  • IRENA observed that the emergence of a new energy sys­tem based on renewable tech­nologies and complemented by green hydrogen and modern bioenergy. It estimated that by 2050, 90% of total electricity needs would be supplied by re­newables, followed by 6% from natural gas and the remaining from nuclear. Ugandan climate activist Va­nessa Natake, who delivered the keynote address, criticised the leaders for continuing to invest in fossil fuel commitments.

15. Post-vaccine blood clots

  • Scientists at the Germany­ based Paul-­Ehrlich-­Institute report that the blood clots observed in some of those vaccinated are a “special form of very rare cerebral vein thrombosis”. This cor­responds to a deficiency in platelets and bleeding following vaccination with the AstraZeneca COVID-­19 vac­cine. Several cases of immune thrombocytopenia, a lack of platelets in the blood that can lead to bleeding and bruising, had been reported under its vaccine safety monitoring process. Several EU countries – France and Italy for instance – have called a halt to the As­traZeneca vaccine after re­ports from Denmark and Norway of possible serious side­ effects, including bleed­ing and blood clots.

  • The World Health Or­ganization (WHO) has ruled out any link between Astra­ Zeneca’s vaccine against the coronavirus disease (CO­VID-­19) and reported blood clots. “We do not want people to panic and we would, for the time being, recommend that countries continue vac­cinating with AstraZeneca,” WHO Chief Scientist Soumya Swaminathan said. India also is reliant on Covishield, which is based on the AstraZeneca vaccine, and forms the bulk of the nearly 30 million vaccines that have been so far admi­nistered to the population.

16. No decision on National NRIC till now

  • The Union government in­formed the Rajya Sabha on Wednesday that “till now”, it had not taken any deci­sion to prepare the National Register of Indian Citi­zens (NRIC) at the national level. From December 2019 to March 2020, 69 persons were killed in various inci­dents in the wake of prot­ests against the Citizenship Amendment Act, the Na­tional Population Register and the National Register of Citizens (NRC).

  • In 2018, before the passage of the CAA, the then Minis­ter of State for Home Hans­ raj Gangaram Ahir had informed the Rajya Sabha that “as per the provisions con­tained in Rule 3 of the Citi­zenship Rules 2003 framed under the Citizenship Act, 1955, the Registrar General of Citizen Registration shall establish and maintain the National Register of Indian Citizens and prepare the Population Register”. NPR's link with the NRC and the yet­ to ­be ­im­plemented CAA has been opposed by many States and civil society groups.

  • The Citizen­ship Rules framed in the year 2003 say that NPR is the first step towards compi­lation of NRC. NPR was first collected in 2010 and then updated in 2015; it already has a database of 119 crore residents. The rules have not been amended or scrapped. The CAA passed by the Parliament on December 11, 2019 allows citizenship on basis of religion to six un­documented communities from Pakistan, Afghanistan and Bangladesh who en­tered India on or before De­cember 31, 2014. There are apprehensions and fear that the CAA, fol­lowed by a countrywide NRC, will benefit non­-Mus­lims excluded from the pro­posed citizens’ register, while excluded Muslims will have to prove their citizen­ship.

17. Appropriation Bill passed by the Lok Sabha

  • The Lok Sabha cleared the Appropria­tion Bill, allowing the Cen­tral government to draw funds from the Consolidated Fund of India for its opera­tional requirements and im­plementation of various programmes. The Bill was passed after Speaker Om Birla put it through guillotine, a legisla­tive mechanism to approve the fast-tracking of the pas­sage of outstanding de­mands for grants without discussion.

18. Amendments proposed to the Government of Na­tional Capital Territory of Delhi Act, 1991

  • According to experts, While some were of the opinion that the new Bill will seek to render the office of the Chief Minister a vestigial organ in the name of simpli­fying administration, others argued that the amendments will iron out “needless” is­sues arising out of politics in a city where the Lieutenant­ Governor had “always been the government”. Senior advocate at the Su­preme Court Rebecca John said the Bill would snatch away from the residents of Delhi the accountability and answerability they sought from the elected representa­tives and hand them to a nominated official. Senior advocate at the Su­preme Court Sanjay Hegde said the Bill would set in mo­tion a reversal of the clock on statehood for Delhi. Manisha Priyam, political analyst and researcher, said the Bill may seek to clarify who or what the term “go­vernment” meant in the city, but residents may not take kindly to the exercise.

  • K.S. Mehra, a former bu­reaucrat who led the unified Municipal Corporations of Delhi as Commissioner, saw the step as one in the right direction. “In the Government of Na­tional Capital Territory of Delhi] Act, 1991, it is already clear that the Lieutenant­ Go­vernor is the government. This [amendments] seems to be a positive step for the wel­fare of the people of Delhi,” he said. The Delhi Assembly, as far as the larger constitutional picture is concerned, is not comparable to other le­gislatures because Delhi is not a State.


INTERNATIONAL NEWS/EVENTS/ PERSONALITIES



Daily snippets

1. Pak. envoy raises concern over ‘burqa ban’ in Sri Lanka

  • The Pakistani High Commissioner in Colombo has raised concern over Sri Lanka’s recent announcement on outlawing the burkha, noting that such a ban would “injure” the feelings of ordinary Muslims in Sri Lanka and elsewhere.

  • The UN resolution on Sri Lanka’s rights record is expected to draw upon the January 2021 report of the Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights, which observed that the country’s Tamil and Muslim minorities “are being increasingly marginalised and excluded from the national vision and Government policy, while divisive and discriminatory rhetoric from the highest State officials risks generating further polarization and violence”.

  • Sri Lanka has reached out to different member states, including India, seeking support at the Council. About a third of the 47-­member Council’s current membership, including Pakistan, is part of the Organisation of Islamic Cooperation (OIC), which earlier criticised Colombo’s mandatory cremations policy for COVID­-19 victims that affected the island’s Muslim minority.

2. Adani Ports confirms role in Colombo terminal project

  • In its first confirmation yet of investing in the Colombo Port, after much controversy within Sri Lanka and an apparent strain in Indo-­Lanka ties, Adani Ports and Special Economic Zones said it was “bolstering” its global footprint with the West Container Terminal (WCT) project in the island nation’s strategic port.

  • The Adani Group’s investment in the WCT project comes after the Sri Lankan government, in early February, ejected India and Japan out of a 2019 trilateral agreement to jointly develop the East Container Terminal (ECT) at the Colombo Port, as trade unions opposed “foreign involvement” in the country’s national assets.

  • In what Colombo termed a “compromise”, the government offered the WCT instead, with higher stakes for the Adani Group, along with its local partner and Sri Lanka’s largest conglomerate John Keells Holdings, to execute the project with the Sri Lanka Ports Authority.

3. China worried for safety of citizens in Myanmar

  • Beijing said it was “very concerned” for the safety of its citizens in Myanmar, after Chinese factories were attacked amid a bloody crackdown on pro-democracy protests in Yangon. Chinese state media said 32 factories in Yangon were attacked on Sunday, causing $37 million in damage and leaving two staff injured. Martial law has been declared in the townships where the factories were located. Many in Myanmar’s pro-democracy movement believe China has sided with the Army since the coup.

4. Catholic Church cannot bless same­sex unions, says Vatican

  • The Vatican said that priests and other Roman Catholic Church ministers cannot bless same­ sex unions and that such blessings are “not licit” if carried out. The ruling was a response to practices in some countries, such as the U.S. and Germany, where parishes and ministers have begun blessing same­sex unions in lieu of marriage, and calls for bishops to defacto institutionalise these.

5. Iran unveils underground missile facility

  • Iran’s paramilitary Revolutionary Guard inaugurated a new underground facility designated for missile storage, the country’s state TV reported. The report quotes Guard commander General Hossein Salami as saying that cruise and ballistic missiles will empower the force’s Navy even more. Since 2011, Iran has boasted of underground facilities across the country as well as along the southern coast near the strategic Strait of Hormuz.

  • Iran claims to have missiles that can travel 2,000 km, placing much of West Asia, including Israel, within range. The U.S. and its Western allies see Iran’s missile programme as a threat, along with the country’s nuclear programme, particularly after Iran breached its commitments to the 2015 nuclear deal, following the U.S. administration’s withdrawal from the deal in 2018. Last July, the Guard launched underground ballistic missiles as part of an exercise involving a mock­up American aircraft carrier in the Strait of Hormuz.

6. U.S., Japan warn China against ‘coercion’

  • The U.S. and Japan warned Beijing against “coercion and destabilising behaviour” after top level diplomatic and defence talks aimed at bolstering their alliance against rising Chinese influence. Pentagon chief Lloyd Austin and top U.S. diplomat Antony Blinken are on their first overseas trip, which began on Monday in Japan, looking to shore up regional alliances and send a message to Beijing.

  • Issues from the coup in Myanmar to the way forward with North Korea were also on the table. Mr. Blinken accused the Myanmar military of “attempting to overturn the results of a democratic election”, saying it was “brutally repressing peaceful protesters''. But he declined to comment on the latest bombastic pronouncement from North Korea, where leader Kim Jong­un’s sister warned Washington against “struggling to spread the smell of gunpowder on our land from across the ocean”. The joint statement called again for Pyongyang’s “complete denuclearisation”, warning North Korea’s arsenal “poses a threat to international peace and stability”

7. U.K. turns to Indo­Pacific in post­Brexit foreign policy

  • Britain wants to expand its influence among countries in the Indo­Pacific region to try to moderate China’s global dominance, a document laying out post­-Brexit foreign and defence policy priorities said. The document sets out a planned increase of Britain’s nuclear warhead stockpile by more than 40% to weigh against evolving global security threats, and underlines the importance of strong ties with the U.S. while naming Russia as the top regional threat.

  • Calling the Indo­-Pacific “increasingly the geopolitical centre of the world”, the government highlighted a planned British aircraft carrier deployment to the region. Britain, the world’s sixth largest economy, is dwarfed economically and militarily by China, but believes through soft power and strategic alliances it can help persuade Beijing to play by the rules of a new, more dynamic international system

8. Beijing warns EU on Xinjiang sanctions

  • China’s Ambassador to the EU warned against imposing sanctions on Beijing over its actions in the Xinjiang region, as the bloc decides how to respond to the crackdown on the Uighur minority. The EU is currently drawing up plans to expand the bloc’s global human rights sanctions regime after sanctioning four Russian officials over the jailing of Kremlin critic Alexei Navalny. Officials in other countries including Russia, North Korea and Eritrea are also expected to be hit with asset freezes and visa bans over alleged human rights abuses.

9. Burqa ban is just a proposal, says Sri Lanka

  • Sri Lanka said a call to ban the wearing of the burkha was “merely a proposal”, following outcry ahead of a crucial United Nations vote on human rights in the island nation. Minister for public security Sarath Weerasekera said it would “definitely” ban the full face covering worn by some Muslim women on national security grounds, pending Cabinet approval. But the Foreign Ministry said on Tuesday a decision had not yet been taken on what it described as “merely a proposal... under discussion”.

10. ‘Tough’ to withdraw troops from Afghanistan by May 1, says Biden

  • U.S. President Joe Biden has said that it would be “tough” to meet the deadline to withdraw American troops from Afghanistan by May 1, as agreed with the Taliban in a deal secured under Donald Trump. The Taliban quickly reacted to Mr. Biden’s comments, with a spokesman saying there would be “consequences” if the U.S. did not stick to the agreed timetable – further raising pressure on the fragile peace process. Mr. Biden also took a direct swipe at Mr. Trump’s Afghanistan policy, saying it “was not a very solidly negotiated deal” that the then President oversaw.

11. Katherine Tai unanimously confirmed as USTR by Senate

  • The U.S. Senate voted unanimously, 98­-0, to confirm Katherine Tai as the next U.S. Trade Representative (USTR). Ms. Tai, whose parents are from Taiwan, is the first woman of colour to hold the position. From determining how to take forward a Trump­era trade deal with China and negotiating with the Europeans on aircraft subsidies and a digital services tax to implementing the U.S. Mexico Canada Agreement, Ms. Tai is expected to have a packed agenda.

  • Ms. Tai was also questioned on restoring India’s access to the U.S.’s preferential trade programme, the Generalized System of Preferences – which was revoked by the Trump administration – as well as being quizzed on access to Indian markets for Washington State’s apples and Montana’s pulses. While she did not commit to specific positions on these, Ms. Tai said she was aware that U.S. interests with India were “manifold” and looked forward to engaging with India on trade.

12. Japan court backs same­sex marriage

  • Japan’s failure to recognise same­sex marriage is unconstitutional, a court ruled on Wednesday, in a landmark verdict on the issue that campaigners welcomed as a major victory. Lawyers for plaintiffs in the case said the ruling should pile pressure on lawmakers to accept samesex unions, but the path to any such recognition is still likely to be lengthy.

  • The court in northern Sapporo ruled that the government’s current failure to offer same­sex couples ways to “enjoy even a part of the legal effects that arise from marriage... violates Article 14” of the constitution, which mandates equality under the law.


OPINION & ANALYSIS



Analysis : A robust economic relationship

(i). Background

  • Under the new U.S. administration, the economic relationship with India can be expected to be on the radar as India has enjoyed bipartisan support in the U.S. A closer economic partnership would bring gains to both sides in terms of GDP, employment, and productivity, given the complementary natures of their economies.

(ii). Areas for collaboration

  • One, a collaborative response to the pandemic would contribute to global containment of the virus.

  • Two, the macro trade architecture can be strengthened with a broad trade agreement focusing on resolving the low hanging fruit. The U.S.­India Trade Policy Forum meetings can be revived along with a cross sector track­2 group to look at convergence on issues such as market access.

  • Three, mobility of professional labour would aid trade in services. The MoU on labour cooperation signed in 2011 could be updated in line with India’s recent labour regulatory changes.

  • Four, defence industry ties can be stepped up in coordination with industry, as both sides benefit from U.S. technology and Indian manufacturing in this sector.

  • Five, engagement of small and medium enterprises (SMEs) can be stepped up. Smaller U.S. companies can find significant new opportunities for investments in India and sourcing from India.

  • Six, clean energy and climate change, high priorities of the U.S. administration, are also areas where India has made rapid strides.

  • Seven, a digital economy partnership is critical. India has proved its mettle in this space with new opportunities opening up in robotics, space, AI and electric vehicles.

  • Other opportunities in the bilateral economic relationship include education, innovation and R&D, and agricultural trade and technology. Industry is confident that the relevant dialogue mechanisms will be instituted at the earliest.


Story : Aligning a missile deal with Manila

(i). Background

  • Earlier this month, India and the Philippines signed the “Implementing Arrangement” for “procurement of defense material and equipment procurement”. This agreement lays the groundwork for sales of defence systems such as the highly anticipated export of the BrahMos cruise missile, through the government­-to-­government route.

(ii). Export as a goal

  • These advanced and powerful capabilities of the BrahMos not only augment the strength of the Indian military but make it a highly desirable product for other countries to procure as well. Doing so would boost the credibility of India as a defence exporter, and help it meet the target of $5 billion in defence exports by 2025.

(iii). Geo-political impact

  • The implications of the Philippines becoming the first country to import the BrahMos would be wide ranging and consequential in the Indo­Pacific. To begin with, it would caution China, with whom the Philippines has been engaged in a territorial conflict in the South China Sea, and act as a deterrent to Beijing’s aggressive posturing. Indeed, this is why China has been wary of the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN) countries acquiring defence systems such as the BrahMos.

(iv). Possible hurdles

  • The first is the Countering America’s Adversaries Through Sanctions Act (CAATSA), which aims to sanction individuals and entities who engage in a “significant transaction” with a listed entity. So far, Turkey and China have been penalised under CAATSA for purchasing the S­400 Triumf air defense systems from Russia. And since 65% of the components, including the ramjet engine and radar seeker used in the BrahMos, are reportedly provided by NPO Mashinostroyenia, the export of the missile systems may attract sanctions. Hesitant of being sanctioned themselves, countries may shy away from purchasing the BrahMos. However, there is an excellent case for India to receive a waiver from CAATSA, especially vis-à-vis the BrahMos that can help contain a confrontational China.

  • The second issue pertains to financing. Ravaged by the COVID­19 pandemic, many countries which are interested in the BrahMos would find it difficult to purchase it. With India determined to develop itself as a hub of defence manufacturing, how it handles the sale of the BrahMos would be an important factor in its potential emergence as a net provider of regional security in the Indo-­Pacific.


Commentary : The limits of POCSO

  • A single bench of the Madras High Court recently allowed a petition seeking to quash a case of kidnap, aggravated penetrative sexual assault and aggravated sexual assault of a minor. Under POCSO, the consent of a person under the age of 18 is irrelevant, regardless of the nature and circumstance of the sexual interaction, or the particulars of the person with whom it takes place.

  • The judgment echoes the arguments that child rights activists have been making for years: by ignoring the natural sexual tendencies of adolescents, POCSO can and does become a tool for the persecution of young people in consenting sexual relations.

  • The five State studies on the functioning of Special Courts under the POCSO Act, conducted by the Centre for Child and the Law, National Law School of India University, Bengaluru, have demonstrated that these de facto consensual cases are complicated. The Judgement highlighted the urgent need for a reconsideration of the absolutist approach of POCSO when it comes to the sexual interactions of adolescents with other young people.


Commentary : Bridging the Gap

(i). Background

  • A severe deficit in the number of OBC, SC, ST candidates recruited as faculty in Central institutes of higher education has been revealed by Union Education Minister Ramesh Pokhriyal in Parliament, drawing attention once again to the pallid state of reservation in some of India’s elite institutions.

(ii). The interpretations and Solutions

  • The data confirm that the trend seen earlier in the IIT system extends to many more institutions, highlighting a serious mismatch between the government’s equity building goals and actual recruitment outcomes.

  • What could help bridge the gap is a better understanding of the lacunae in the education system, marked by a sea of deprived public schools and colleges, hyper commercialised private universities and colleges and islands of elite institutions such as the IIMs.

  • One of the forward looking remedial measures suggested by the panel was to start government sponsored preparatory programmes, which would both equip aspiring faculty, and create a pool of research talent.

(iii). Larger questions to be asked

  • whether there should not be even greater attention devoted to the most marginalised within the reserved categories, such as SC, since trickle down quota benefits for them are scarce. The egalitarian answer would be to continue expanding the pie of opportunity in the public realm, through ever greater funding of quality universal education at all levels and aiding the deprived through affirmative action on the road to equality.

ECONOMICS & FINANCE



Daily snippets

1. Despite pandemic, India saw $10­bn VC deals in ’20

  • India witnessed continued inflow of venture capital (VC) money, with deal value reaching $10 billion in 2020, $1 billion less than in 2019, Bain & Company’s India Venture Capital Report 2021 said. Despite the pandemic, India maintained its position among the top five start­up ecosystems globally, with 7,000 new startups founded in 2020 and the emergence of 12 new unicorns to take the country’s unicorn tribe to 37. The top three sectors — consumer tech, SaaS, and fintech accounted for nearly 75% of all VC investments by value, with consumer tech attracting the maximum funding, the report said.

2. Trade deficit widens to $12.62 billion

  • India’s exports grew marginally by 0.67% to $27.93 billion in February while imports rose by 6.96% to $40.54 billion, according to official data. The trade deficit widened to $12.62 billion in February compared with $10.16 billion a year earlier, the data showed.

  • Exports during April­ February 2020-­21 period contracted by 12.2% to $256.18 billion compared with $291.87 billion in the year­ earlier period. Imports dipped 23.1% to $340.8 billion. Oil imports in February fell 16.6% to $8.99 billion.

3. IT firms want to shift out of Haryana

  • A majority of IT­-ITeS firms in Haryana were willing to shift operations to other States/ countries as they fear the the Haryana State Employment of Local Can­didates Bill, 2020, provid­ing 75% job reservation for locals, could adversely im­pact operations and hiring, as per a NASSCOM study.

  • Given the Act applies to new hires, the impact is ex­pected to be severe in 1­-2 years as the industry sees a high attrition rate. A major­ity of them said this would result in shifting/ growing their operations to other States and in other coun­tries, as per the study. Over 500 IT­ ITeS firms in Haryana employ over four lakh people directly.

4. India Post eyes global speed post delivery via DHL

  • In­dia Post is in advanced dis­cussions with global logistics firm DHL to deliver Speed Post to all countries. Currently, India Post delivers Speed Post to about 100 countries, and aims to deliver world­ wide with the tie-up. The department, which currently gets a majority of its revenue from banking and related services, is also working to compete with private players for e­-com­merce deliveries in big cities. As per the annual report for 2020­-21, India Post targets to achieve 10% revenue market share by 2024 in the domestic courier, express and parcel sector.

5. Suggestions for bringing CNG under GST

  • India needs to bring CNG under the GST regime and tackle challenges such as high vehicle cost and limit­ed boot space for the growth of the natural gas vehicle market, according to a re­port by Nomura Research Institute Consulting & Solu­tions India. “India has large domestic reserves of natural gas as compared to crude oil. India has explored about 5 trillion cubic metres of recoverable reserves, of which less than 0.5% is used as fuel in the current CNG fleet,” it said. High vehicle volume and favourable conditions in the Indian automotive market presented an opportunity to promote NGVs, it added.

6. India's fuel demand back to pre-COVID levels

  • India’s fuel demand, except for aviation turbine fuel, has returned to pre­-COVID levels and a reflating economy will help consumption grow in the near future, the head of the nation’s top oil firm, Indian Oil Corporation said. Fuel sales had fallen a re­cord 45.8% in April when a nationwide lockdown was imposed. Demand started to recover with the easing of lockdown restrictions, with petrol re­turning to normal growth first and now diesel too reaching pre-COVID levels. With airlines not op­erating all flights, ATF sales remain below normal.

  • India’s economy re­turned to growth in the last quarter as real GDP is esti­mated to have expanded 0.4% year­-on-­year after two quarters of contraction. OPEC’s monthly report last week forecast a 13.6% jump in India’s oil demand in 2021 to 4.99 million bar­rels per day.

7. NPAs likely to rise in first half of 2021

  • Asset quality of banks, which saw some improve­ment in the second half of 2020, is likely to worsen during the first six months of 2021. The findings are part of the 12th round of bankers’ survey carried out by FICCI­-IBA between July and De­cember 2020. The survey was conduct­ed on 20 banks, including public sector, private sector and foreign banks. In terms of outlook, nearly 68% of respondent bankers expect the NPA levels to be above 10% in the first half of 2021.

SPORTS



Daily snippets

1. Player Profile

  • Murali Shreeshankar – He is an Indian athlete who competes in the long jump event. He holds the national record of 8.26 metres set in 2021. The record ensured his birth at the Tokyo Olympics. The 21­year­ old bettered his own 2018 Na­tional Record of 8.20m.

2. All-England Badminton tournament

  • P.V. Sindhu spearheads India’s challenge at the prestigious All England Open badmin­ton championships, begin­ning on Wednesday. The trophy has been won by just two In­dians so far – the legendary Prakash Padukone (1980) and P Gopi Chand (2001). While former world num­ber one Saina Nehwal had a runner­-up finish in 2015, Sindhu’s best finish was a semi-final in 2018.

3. Avinash Sable betters his own National steeplechase record

  • In the Federation Cup the steeplechas­er set yet another National record, his fifth in three years, while also breaching the Olympic qualification mark, also for the second time. Sable clocked 8:20.20, more than a second off his 2019 National mark. It start­ed with breaking Gopal Saini’s long standing mark in 2018 and since then, Sable has only gotten better.

4. Shooting World Cup in India

  • The National Rifle Associa­tion of India president, Ra­ninder Singh, has assured that all the COVID protocols and safety measures are in place for the World Cup in ri­fle, pistol and shotgun to be staged at the Dr. Karni Singh Range from Friday. India will have an overwhelming presence with 57 of the total 294 shooters in competition. As many as 53 countries are in the fray even though many leading shooting na­tions are missing out owing to COVID related travel constraints. He hoped that India would add another Olympic quota, the 16th, in men’s ra­pid fire pistol, through the world ranking system.

SUGGESTED READINGS



1. Limitations on General/Special laws due to COVID https://www.livelaw.in/columns/covid-19-limitation-prescribed-under-generalspecial-law-171177

2. Child Marriage and Muslim Personal Law in India https://www.livelaw.in/columns/the-puttaswamy-test-right-to-privacy-article-21-171181?infinitescroll=1

3. Inquiry into custodial torture of Shiv Kumar https://thewire.in/law/shiv-kumar-punjab-haryana-high-court-orders-inquiry-custodial-torture

4. Karnataka High Court and Midday Meals https://thewire.in/law/karnataka-high-court-midday-meal-schools

5. Responsible AI – need for ethical guard rails https://www.thehindu.com/opinion/lead/responsible-ai-the-need-for-ethical-guard-rails/article34086236.ece

6. Mizoram and Myanmar https://scroll.in/article/989166/why-mizo-groups-are-organising-events-to-show-solidarity-for-coup-protestors-in-myanmar


Download Page : https://e-clat.com/dailynewspage

Sources referred to : The Hindu, The Indian Express, Live Law, Bar & Bench

END

March 13th-15th, 2021

Your 10 minute read!

START


LAW, POLICY & GOVERNANCE



Daily snippets

(i). Bureaucrats cannot be State Election Commissioners : SC

  • The Supreme Court held that independent persons and not bureaucrats should be appointed State Election Commissioners. The top court directed that the States should appoint independent persons as Election Commissioners all along the length and breadth of the country. The judgment came on an appeal against an order of the Bombay High Court which had set aside the election notification issued by the Goa State Election Commission in the municipalities of Margao, Mapusa, Mormugao, Sanguem and Quepem.

(ii). Census data may decide food subsidy

  • Once the new census data is available, the Centre may consider revising the number of people who get subsidised food grains under the National Food Security Act, Food Secretary Sudhanshu Pandey said. He said there is no proposal under consideration, but that the Food Ministry was having conversations on a NITI Aayog paper on the issue, which recommended a reduction in the NFSA coverage.

(iii). Centre’s reply sought on plea against Places of Worship Act

  • The Supreme Court asked the government to respond to a plea challenging a special law enacted in 1991 by the Congress government, which freezes the status of places of worship as it was on August 15, 1947.

  • A Bench led by Chief Justice of India Sharad A. Bobde issued notice to the Union Ministries of Home, Law and Culture on a plea filed by advocate Ashwini Kumar Upadhyay against various provisions of the Places of Worship (Special Provisions) Act of 1991. The petition said Sections of the Act that dealt with the bar on legal claims were against the principles of secularism.

(iv). Rollout of labour codes likely after elections

  • The implementation of the four new labour codes, replacing 29 Central labour laws, is likely to take place after the ongoing State Assembly elections, according to officials in the Labour and Employment Ministry. An official said the rules framed under the four codes, on wages; occupational safety, health and working conditions; industrial relations; and social security, were “ready” to be rolled out “soon”.

(v). Centre reconstitutes panel on mythical Sarasvati river

  • The Centre has reconstituted an advisory committee to chalk out a plan for studying the mythical Sarasvati river for the next two years, after the earlier panel’s term ended in 2019. One of the officials in the panel said the committee would review the work done by the previous panel and then formulate a plan. The committee would advise the Government Departments conducting research.

(vi). Right to dissent is central, says Sainath

  • Pointing out that the right to dissent should be the central focus of press freedom, independent journalist P. Sainath struck a dissenting note in the report submitted by the Index Monitoring Cell (IMC). Among the key recommendations is the decriminalising of defamation. India is one of the few countries in the world to criminalise defamation. The panel has also recommended that consent of the Press Council of India is a prerequisite before filing an FIR against the media or a publication.

NATIONAL NEWS/ INTERVENTIONS



Daily snippets

(i). Quad leaders for ‘open, free’ Indo­-Pacific

  • Members of the Quadrilateral framework, or Quad, will become “closer than ever before”, Prime Minister Narendra Modi said, in his address to the first ever leadership summit of the grouping. Addressing the virtual summit, Mr. Modi, President Joe Biden of the United States, Japanese Prime Minister Yoshihide Suga and Australian Prime Minister Scott Morrison highlighted cooperation among the member countries to beat the global pandemic, with joint partnership on vaccines and emphasised the need for an “open” and “free” Indo­Pacific region. The Quad members agreed to ensure “equitable” access to vaccines.

  • Mr. Biden emphasised that the Indo­-Pacific region should be governed in accordance with human rights. The Quad had been taken to the “apex level”, Foreign Secretary Harsh Vardhan Shringla said during a special briefing on the leaders’ summit. The issue of military takeover in Myanmar also came up during the discussion among the leaders.

  • The Quad does not stand against anything, it stands for something,” Mr. Shringla said, explaining that the Quad was a value-based grouping that was trying to deal with the need for vaccines, climate change and other such issues.

(ii). Bring down benzene emission at fuel outlets, says panel

  • A joint committee appointed by the National Green Tribunal (NGT) to study air pollution in Kerala has recommended the installation of vapour recovery systems at fuelling stations and retrofitting of diesel vehicles with particulate filters to improve air quality.

  • The report submitted before the Southern Bench of the tribunal pointed out that petrol refuelling stations were a major source of benzene emissions, volatile organic compounds, and particulate matter 2.5 concentration. “Therefore, installation of vapour recovery systems is an important step in improving air quality. This is to be implemented in coordination with the Petroleum and Explosives Safety Organization [PESO] shortly,” it said.

  • Other recommendations include promoting battery operated vehicles and banning old diesel vehicles in a phased manner, greening of open areas, and creation of green buffers along traffic corridors. The short term measures recommended include strict action against visibly polluting vehicles, introduction of wet / mechanised vacuum sweeping of roads, controlling dust pollution at construction sites, and ensuring transport of construction materials.

(iii). Maths, physics no longer must for engineering admissions

  • Prospective engineering students will not have to mandatorily study maths and physics in Class 12, according to new norms released by the All India Council for Technical Education (AICTE) for 2021­-22. Council Chairperson Anil Sahasrabudhe defended the changes, saying they are in line with the multi­disciplinary approach of the new National Education Policy.

  • According to the AICTE’s approval process handbook for 2021-­22, students only need to score 45% in any three subjects from a list of 14 in order to qualify. The diverse list includes physics, mathematics, chemistry, computer science, electronics, information technology, biology, informatics practices, biotechnology, agriculture, technical vocational subject, engineering graphics, business studies and entrepreneurship.

(iv). Modi, Gotabaya speak ahead of Geneva vote

  • Prime Minister Narendra Modi and Sri Lankan President Gotabaya Rajapaksa reviewed “topical developments” during a telephone call, an official press release said, just over a week before a crucial vote on Sri Lanka at the U.N. Human Rights Council, where Colombo has sought New Delhi’s support.

  • The call assumes significance amid strained bilateral ties, following Colombo’s recent policy choices on key infrastructure projects, including a decision to boot India out of a Colombo Port terminal project and an approval for a Chinese energy project on the northern islands, close to the Tamil Nadu coast. New Delhi conveyed its displeasure on both moves. Colombo has subsequently offered an alternative terminal project and is negotiating with the Adani Group.

  • As the Human Rights Council prepares to vote on a resolution on Sri Lanka’s rights record later this month, the Rajapaksa administration is counting on friends and neighbours, who are currently members of the Council, to back it. China, which is also currently a member of the 47­ member council, has assured Sri Lanka of its support. Irrespective of how the Geneva vote goes, Colombo is faced with a major economic challenge, as it prepares to repay over $4 billion of its outstanding debt by next year.

  • During his last call with Mr. Modi in May 2020, President Rajapaksa sought an additional $1-­billion currency swap facility – the RBI extended $400 million – to boost the foreign reserves that are under enormous strain since the pandemic struck. India is yet to respond.

  • Prime Minister Mahinda Rajapaksa’s debt freeze request made over a year ago, too, awaits New Delhi’s response. Earlier this week, Sri Lanka said China approved a 10 billion yuan ($1.54 billion) currency swap. In March last year, China granted an ‘urgent’ $500 million loan to Sri Lanka to cope with the economic stress of the novel coronavirus. Colombo has sought a further $700 million loan from Beijing.

(v). Ayushman Bharat campaign picks up pace

  • The “Aap Ke Dwar Ayushman” campaign of the National Health Authority (NHA) recorded more than 4.7 lakh beneficiary verifications in a single day on March 10 for free healthcare services under the Ayushman Bharat Pradhan Mantri Jan Arogya Yojana (ABPMJAY) scheme.

  • The aim is to create large-scale awareness about the ABPM­JAY health insurance scheme, especially in rural and interior parts, which provides cashless healthcare benefits of up to ₹5 lakh per family per year. The drive is being implemented in Bihar, Uttar Pradesh, Madhya Pradesh, Chhattisgarh, Punjab, Uttarakhand, Haryana and J&K, among other States. So far, about 1,16,83,808 Ayushman cards have been issued in this calendar year.

(vi). NOVAVAX reports 96.4% efficacy on original virus

  • Novavax, a U.S.­based biotechnology company deve­loping a recombinant vac­cine for COVID­-19, announced a final efficacy of 96.4% against mild, mod­erate and severe disease caused by the original SARS­ CoV­2 strain in a pivotal Phase­-3 trial in the U.K. The Serum Institute of India has an agreement with Novavax to manufac­ture a substantial volume of the vaccine.

  • In the U.K. trial, the study enrolled more than 15,000 participants between 18 and 84 years of age, including 27% over the age of 65. Efficacy was 96.4% (95% CI: 73.8, 99.5) against the original virus strain and 86.3% (95% CI: 71.3, 93.5) against the B.1.1.7/501Y.V1 variant, or the so called U.K. variant.

  • An analysis of trial results by the company in January suggested that prior infec­tion with the original CO­VID-­19 strain might not com­pletely protect against subsequent infection by the variant predominantly cir­culating in South Africa. Ho­wever, the complete analy­sis of the South Africa trial indicates that there could be a late protective effect of prior exposure with the ori­ginal COVID­-19 strain.

(vii). Gregarious bamboo flowering in Wayanad poses threat

  • The “gregarious flowering of bamboo” inside the Waya­nad Wildlife Sanctuary (WWS) and the nearby Mu­dumalai Tiger Reserve and Gudalur forest division in Ta­mil Nadu this year may pose a threat to wildlife in the Nil­giri biosphere, a major tiger and elephant habitat.

  • The bamboo groves in the Wayanad forest are the mainstay of herbivores in the Nil­giri biosphere during summer. With the advent of the season, migration of wild animals starts from the adja­cent sanctuaries in Karnata­ka and Tamil Nadu to Wayanad due to shortage of fodder and water. ­“The gregarious flowering may adversely affect migra­tion, especially by elephants, wild gaur, and other lower herbivores owing to the mass destruction of bamboo groves after the flowering,” S. Narendra Babu, wildlife warden, WWS, said.

(viii). 1991 Act on places of worship

  • The Act mandates that the character of all religious places of worship should be maintained as it was on Au­gust 15, 1947, and no suit or proceedings shall lie in a court of law with respect to the character of places of worship. This effectively barred courts from entertaining cases which raise disputes over places of worship that existed as of August 15, 1947.

(ix). Mizoram group demands sanctions on Myanmar

  • A Mizoram­ based group re­presenting the Zo indige­nous people of India, Ban­gladesh and Myanmar has petitioned President Ram Nath Kovind and Prime Mi­nister Narendra Modi to im­pose sanctions on the military­ ruled Myanmar. The Zo Reunification Or­ganisation (ZORO) compris­ing the Chin­-Kuki-­Mizo-­Zomi group of people has also asked the Centre not to turn away the Myanmar nationals who crossed over to escape the military regime and pro­vide them shelter on human­itarian grounds.

  • The four States – Aruna­chal Pradesh, Nagaland, Ma­nipur and Mizoram – share a 1,643 km border with Myan­mar and people on either side are ethnically related. The Mizo people of Mizoram and the Kuki-­Zomi commun­ities in Manipur have a strong kinship with the Chins across the border in Myanmar.

(x). Residents might be allowed to fill NPR details online

  • The Centre will allow resi­dents to fill the National Population Register (NPR) form on their own, through the online mode, a month before the door­-to-­door enum­eration by Census officials starts. After filling the form online, residents will get a refe­rence code that they can mention to the field enumer­ator at the time of her or his visit.

  • The first phase of the de­cennial Census exercise – the House listing and Hous­ing Census – along with up­ dating the NPR was sche­duled to be held from April 1, 2020. It was postponed indefinitely due to the COVID­-19 pandemic . The NPR earlier collated in 2010 and 2015 has an electronic database of more than 119 crore residents.

  • According to the recently published report for the year 2019­-20, there will be a three­ pronged approach for updating the NPR database – self updating, wherein it is proposed to allow residents to update their own data fields after following some authentication protocols on a web portal; updating of NPR data in the paper for­ mat; and the mobile mode. No documents or biomet­rics would be collected dur­ing updating of NPR. The NPR is prepared under va­rious provisions of the Citi­zenship Rules, 2003, framed under the Citizenship Act, 1955. The questions for the fresh NPR have not been made public yet.

  • Finance Minister Nirmala Sitharaman announced on February 1 that ₹3,768 crore had been allocated for the Census in the financial year 2021-­22. Though no separate budget for the NPR has been allocated in this fiscal, ₹3,941.35 crore was ap­proved for updating the NPR in 2019-­20. NPR's link with the pro­posed National Register of Citizens (NRC) and the yet to be implemented Citizenship Amendment Act (CAA), 2019, has been opposed by many States and civil socie­ty groups.

  • The Citizenship Rules framed in the year 2003 say that the NPR is the first step towards the compilation of the National Register of In­dian Citizens (NRIC), or the NRC. The CAA passed by the Parliament on December 11, 2019, allows citizenship on the basis of religion to six undocumented communi­ties from Pakistan, Afghan­istan and Bangladesh, who entered India on or before December 31, 2014. The Union Home Minis­try informed the Lok Sabha on February 4, 2020 that “till now, the government has not taken any decision to prepare the NRIC at the national level”.

(xi). Legalisation of mining in Aravalis

  • Envi­ronmentalists and the resi­dents are strongly opposed to mining being legalised and demand that forest cov­er be increased in the State. They demand that the go­vernment should come out with a three ­year roadmap to take the legal native for­est cover in the State to 20%, as per the Haryana Forest Department policy target and an all India average. The other demands in­clude demolition of all ille­gal construction in the Aravalis, planting of native saplings, notifying 50,000 acre of the Aravalis as deemed forest and retain­ing the Aravalis in South Ha­ryana as a Natural Conserva­tion Zone. ­
  • They argued that destruction of the Aravalis would worsen the air pollution situation in the NCR and the mountain range is the only natural barrier against desertifica­tion. The Aravalis, with their natural cracks and fis­sures, have the potential to put two million litres of wa­ter per hectare in the ground every year. Besides, the mountain range is a bio­diversity hotspot.

(xii). Football : Indian Super League

  • Mumbai FC secured its maiden Indian Super League crown with a come­ from ­behind 2­-1 win over ATK Mohun Bagan (ATKMB) at the Fatorda Stadium, Goa, on Saturday.

INTERNATIONAL NEWS/EVENTS/ PERSONALITIES



Daily snippets

(i). U.S. NSA implies LAC situation discussed at Quad leaders meet

  • U.S. National Security Advisor Jake Sullivan told reporters after the Quad leaders summit that China was discussed at the meeting but was not the focus. He also implied that one of the China Related challenges discussed was the India-­China border situation.

  • Checking Chinese expansionism : Mr. Sullivan implied that the situation along the Line of Actual Control (LAC) was discussed by the Quad leaders as one of several examples of Chinese aggression. “This is our effort to communicate clearly to the giant Chinese government, how the U.S. intends to proceed at a strategic level. What we believe are fundamental interests and values, and what our concerns with their activities are, whether it’s on Hong Kong or Xinjiang or in the Taiwan Strait, or frankly, the issues that we heard today from our Quad partners: their coercion of Australia, their harassment around the Senkaku Islands, their aggression on the border with India,” Mr. Sullivan said, implying that the India­China border standoff had been discussed.

  • Cybersecurity incidents impacting Quad members. The discussions included not just the cyberattacks on U.S. targets (Microsoft Exchange and SolarWinds ) but also cybersecurity incidents in India, Japan and Australia, Mr. Sullivan said. Weeks ago, news broke that spyware originating in China had made its way into several Indian power installations and port facilities.

  • Quad equivalent to NATO? Mr. Sullivan reiterated that the Quad was not a military alliance or NATO equivalent (it has been referred to by some commentators as ‘Asian NATO’).

  • Huawei decision – Asked about recent news that India was likely to block Indian telecom operators from using Huawei equipment for security reasons, Mr. Sullivan said it was a sovereign decision for India to make but consistent with the decisions the U.S. has been advocating. The U.S., during the Trump administration, campaigned internationally for countries to exclude Huawei from its 5G networks, citing security concerns

(ii). Russia for Taliban’s inclusion in Afghan interim govt.

  • Russia said it backed the Taliban’s integration into a future interim government in Afghanistan, as global powers ramped up efforts to secure a peace deal and end decades of war. Washington has encouraged the Afghan leadership to work towards establishing an “inclusive” government and proposed talks with the Taliban to secure a peace accord.

  • U.S. President Joe Biden is reviewing whether to stick to a deal with the Taliban negotiated by his predecessor Donald Trump, who wanted to pull out the U.S. troops from Afghanistan by May. The Biden administration has signalled that it wants to take a hard look at Mr. Trump’s deal and its repercussions for Afghanistan and regional stability.

  • U..S Secretary of State Antony Blinken wrote a letter to Afghan leaders, encouraging them to consider a “new, inclusive government.” The U.S. withdrawal is being complicated by a new surge in fighting and concern that a speedy exit may only unleash further chaos. Mr. Blinken’s letter to Afghan President Ashraf Ghani said bluntly that Washington feared the “security situation will worsen and the Taliban could make rapid territorial gains” if the U.S. suddenly withdrew. He proposed a 90­-day reduction in violence that would avoid the Taliban’s annual bloody spring offensive.

(iii). Suu Kyi’s lawyer rejects military graft claims

  • Myanmar’s ousted leader Aung San Suu Kyi’s lawyer rejected the junta's allegations of corruption against her as “groundless”, calling it “illegal mudslinging” by the Generals who seized power from her. The country has been in uproar since a February 1 putsch that saw Ms. Suu Kyi ousted, detained and accused of several criminal charges, including owning unlicensed walkie talkies and violating coronavirus restrictions. On Thursday, a junta spokesman made new accusations, saying a now­ detained Chief Minister had admitted giving her $6,00,000 and more than 10 kg of gold.

(iv). WHO says no reason to stop using AstraZeneca vaccine

  • The World Health Organization said there was no reason to stop using AstraZeneca’s COVID­-19 vaccine after several countries suspended the rollout over blood clot fears. The WHO, which said its vaccines advisory committee was examining the safety data coming in, stressed that no causal link had been established between the vaccine and clotting.

  • The UN agency also said that after the injection of more than 260 million vaccine doses so far around the world, no deaths had yet been attributed to a COVID­19 jab. Denmark, Norway and Iceland paused the use of the AstraZeneca jab as a precaution after isolated reports of recipients developing blood clots.

  • Italy and Austria have banned the use of shots from separate batches of AstraZeneca, and Thailand and Bulgaria said they would delay the rollout of the shot. A range of health authorities around the world have insisted the jab is safe, including the European Medicines Agency and the WHO.

(v). China defying Hong Kong joint treaty: U.K

  • China is no longer compliant with Hong Kong’s joint declaration after Beijing announced sweeping changes to the region’s electoral system, Britain said. Britain handed Hong Kong back to China in 1997 and was designed to allay fears about its future under Beijing’s rule. It guarantees the financial hub special status, including a high degree of autonomy to manage its own affairs and the right to freedom of speech.

  • British Foreign Secretary Dominic Raab said that Beijing’s decision “to impose radical changes to restrict participation in Hong Kong’s electoral system” was a “further clear breach” of the agreement. Britain has been a strong critic of China’s crackdown on pro democracy campaigners in Hong Kong, and angered Beijing by announcing a visa scheme offering millions of its residents a pathway to U.K.’s citizenship.

  • Beijing has acted decisively to dismantle Hong Kong’s democratic pillars after massive protests there in 2019. China’s rubber stamp Parliament on Thursday voted to give Beijing the power to veto candidates as it moves to ensure that only “patriots” run the city. The new election rules sparked international condemnation

(vi). Bolivia’s former President Anez arrested in ‘coup’ probe

  • Bolivia’s former interim President Jeanine Anez was arrested on terrorism and sedition charges over what the government claims was a coup attempt against her predecessor and political rival Evo Morales. Police were also rounding up former Ministers who backed the conservative politician’s caretaker government, which was in place for a year after Mr. Morales fled the country in November 2019 amid disputed elections, media reports said. The arrests came months after Mr. Morales returned to Bolivia from exile on the back of a fresh election victory in October 2020 for the leftist Movement for Socialism (MAS) party he founded. Both the presidency and congress are now under the control of MAS.

(vii). Netflix testing ways to curtail password sharing

  • Streaming giant Netflix is testing a way to crack down on password sharing with people living elsewhere. Netflix offers to verify who is trying to log into an account by sending a code via text message or email to the subscriber to confirm the user lives with them.

(viii). U.S. court removes Xiaomi from blacklist

  • A U.S. judge ordered Chinese smartphone maker Xiaomi to be temporarily removed from a government blacklist that barred American investment in the company. Six days before Donald Trump left office last year, his administration cemented its trade war legacy against Beijing with a series of announcements targeting Chinese firms, including Xiaomi, state oil giant CNOOC, and social media darling TikTok.

  • Xiaomi was one of nine firms classified by the Pentagon as “Communist Chinese military companies”. Judge Contreras’s decision came the same day U.S. regulators listed Huawei and ZTE among Chinese telecom gear firms deemed a threat to national security, signalling that a hope ­for softening of relations is not on the cards.

(ix). Sri Lanka to ban burqa, shut 1,000 madrasas

  • Sri Lanka will soon ban the burkha or face veil, a Cabinet Minister said, as he announced the Rajapaksa administration’s latest policy decision impacting the minority Muslim community. Public Security Minister Sarath Weerasekara said the authorities would henceforth use the controversial Prevention of Terrorism (PTA) law – that human rights defenders have termed “draconian” – to deal with religious extremism, with wide-ranging powers to detain suspects for up to two years, to “deradicalise” them.

  • The announcement on the burqa ban comes after a year­long controversy over the government’s policy of mandatory cremation of COVID­-19 victims, based on unsubstantiated claims that the bodies would contaminate groundwater. The government reversed its decision recently, amid persistent calls for burial rights from Muslims, who make up about 10% of the 21­ million population, as well as international bodies including the U.N.

(x). UK police action on vigil criticized

  • Police in London drew wi­despread criticism on Sun­day after handcuffing mour­ners at a vigil for a woman who was murdered after set­ting out to walk home, in a case that has sparked nation­al fury about violence against women. The murder of Everard, who vanished after setting out to walk home from a friend’s flat, has shocked the country and brought discus­sion around women’s safety to the fore once again.

(xi). US and child migration surge

  • The Biden administration ordered the government’s disaster emergency agency to help with a surge in migrant children crossing the southern bor­der that has overwhelmed processing facilities. The Health and Human Services (HHS) department is currently holding about 8,800 migrant children and the U.S. Customs and Border Protection has hundreds more in their charge, with more arriving every day.

  • President Joe Biden faces growing pressure from migrants, ap­parently encouraged to try to enter the United States by his rejection of previous pre­sident Donald Trump’s “ze­ro tolerance” policy toward undocumented immigrants. While migrant adults and families continue to be sent back to Mexico when they are caught, unaccompanied children are being pro­cessed and get help reset­tling with U.S. relatives.

(xii). A decade of war in Syria

  • The overall death toll for Syria's civil war has reached 3,88,652 since it began a decade ago this month, Britain ­based Syrian Observatory for Human Rights said. The figures include almost 1,17,388 civilians, among them more than 22,000 children. Attacks by the Syrian regime and allied militia forces accounted for the majority of civilian deaths, said the Britain based monitor, which relies on sources inside Syria for its reports.

(xiii). Zaghari-Ratcliffe faces new charges

  • British ­Iranian dual national Nazanin Zaghari ­Ratcliffe appeared in a Tehran court to face new charges of “propaganda against the system”, a week after she finished serving a five-year sentence, her lawyer said. The hearing has dashed hopes for a swift release of the 42-­year­old, in a case that has heightened tensions between London and Tehran. British Foreign Secretary Dominic Raab said it was “unacceptable that Iran has chosen to continue a second wholly arbitrary case”.

(xiv). Ireland, Italian region halt AstraZeneca shots

  • Ireland became the latest country to sus­pend the use of the AstraZe­neca vaccine over concerns about patients developing post-­jab blood clots, as na­tions across the world sought to step up their CO­VID-­19 immunisation drives. Several countries includ­ing Denmark, Norway and Bulgaria last week paused the rollout of vaccines from the Anglo/Swedish pharma giant over fears of blood clots. Italy’s north­ern region of Piedmont said it would stop us­ing a batch of AstraZeneca coronavirus shots after a teacher died following his vaccination.

  • The World Health Organi­zation has said no causal link had been established between the vaccine and blood clotting. An AstraZeneca spokesperson said “an analysis of our safety data that covers re­ported cases from more than 17 million doses of vac­cine administered has shown no evidence of an increased risk” in blood clot conditions. AstraZeneca’s shot is among the cheapest available, and forms a bulk of deliveries to poorer nations under the WHO ­backed Covax initia­tive, which aims to ensure the equitable global distribution of vaccines

(xv). India-Uzbekistan exercise : Dustlik-II

  • At the ongoing India-Uzbek exercise Dustlik-II at Ranikhet, Uzbek troops learnt the handling of SIG-716 assault rifles, recently inducted into service by the Army and also got orientation in slithering from helicopters for heliborne operations in a counter terrorist environment.

OPINION & ANALYSIS



Analysis : The electoral overhaul in Hong Kong

(i). The story so far

  • The National People’s Congress (NPC) of China, the ceremonial legislature in Beijing, on March 11 approved what it called “a decision on improving Hong Kong’s electoral system”. This paves the way for sweeping changes in how Hong Kong, the Special Administrative Region (SAR) that has been ruled under the “one country, two systems'' model since its return to China in 1997, chooses its leaders.

(ii). How does the new NPC amendment change Hong Kong’s political system

  • The NPC amendment essentially gives Beijing appointed politicians greater power in running the HKSAR’s politics. Now, the size of the Legislative Council will be expanded to 90, with the additional 20 members joining the 35 others who are nominated, thus reducing the share of directly elected representatives. Perhaps the most controversial change is the setting up of a new “candidate qualification review committee”, which, the NPC said, “shall be responsible for reviewing and confirming” the qualifications of candidates for Election Committee members, the Chief Executive, and Legislative Council members.

(iii). How will the “one country, two systems” model be impacted

  • Under the Basic Law, the Constitution that has governed Hong Kong since 1997, the SAR is a part of China but enjoys “a high degree of autonomy” and “executive, legislative and independent judicial power”, except in foreign policy and defence. It also says “the socialist system and policies shall not be practised” in Hong Kong for 50 years. The amendment is the second major recent legislative change that has been seen by the opposition in Hong Kong as undermining this autonomy.

(iv). What lies ahead

  • With the national security law and the new electoral changes, the space for the pro democracy opposition in Hong Kong has been drastically reduced. Beijing’s bet is that China’s market may remain a big enough draw to allay broader concerns about the changes sweeping through the SAR. If the direction of its politics seems clear, its economic future appears less so.

ECONOMICS & FINANCE



Daily snippets

(i). Infusion of 14,500 crores into banks under PCA

  • The Finance Ministry is like­ly to decide on infusion of ₹14,500 crore mainly in banks that are under the RBI’s prompt corrective ac­tion (PCA) framework, to im­prove their financial health. Indian Overseas Bank, Central Bank of India and UCO Bank are currently un­der this framework that places several curbs, includ­ing on lending and managing compensation.

  • For the current financial year, the government had allocated ₹20,000 crore for capital infusion into PSBs to help them meet their regula­tory requirements.

(ii). TRAI sets deadline for telemarketing entities

  • According to TRAI, entities who need to send bulk messages to customers, such as those involved in banking, logistics and e­commerce, will need to complete the registration process within three days to comply with telemarketing rules, failing which they will be barred from sending commercial communication to customers.

(iii). Indian fintech valuation pegged to reach $160 billion

  • India’s financial technology firms are poised to become three times as valuable in the next five years, reaching a valuation of $150­-160 bil­lion by 2025, according to a study that Boston Consulting Group (BCG) and FICCI undertook to size the value ­creation potential and identify imperatives for In­dia’s fintech growth. It is estimated that to meet this ambition, India’s fintech sector will need investments of $20-­25 billion over the next five years, said the report.

  • India has more than 2,100 fintech firms, of which 67% have been set up over the last 5 years alone. The valuation of the industry is estimated at $50­-60 billion.

(iv). Africa may grow at 3.4%

  • African economies are ex­pected to grow by an aver­age of 3.4% this year, the African Development Bank said, as the continent re­covers from its worst con­traction in half a century. The 54 economies shrank by 2.1% last year, the AfDB said in its 2021 economic outlook report, as the coronavirus crisis disrupted economic activi­ty across the continent. An estimated 39 million Africans are like­ly to slip into extreme po­verty as a result of the pan­demic.

(v). E-commerce policy and data misuse safeguards

  • The government plans to lay down principles for usage of data for the development of any industry, where such norms do not already exist, and put in place adequate safeguards to prevent mis­use and access of data by unauthorised persons, accord­ing to a draft national e-commerce policy. The government is in the process of developing regu­lations for personal and non­ personal data, the policy, which is under discussion, said.

  • According to the draft, the government acknow­ledges the importance of da­ta as an asset and needs to use data emanating from In­dia for ‘Indian entities first’. For free and informed choice, it said that e­-com­merce operators would have to ensure that algorithms used by them were not biased and that no discrimi­nation due to digitally in­duced biases was prevalent. “Consumers have a right to be made aware of all rele­vant details about the goods and services offered for sale including country of origin, value addition in India, and any other such information which may be necessary for making an informed deci­sion at the pre­ purchase stage,” it said.

(vi). Framework for water testing launched

  • Citizens can now get the wa­ter quality in their taps test­ed at reasonable rates, as part of a monitoring framework rolled out by the Centre’s flagship Jal Jeevan Mission. Using an information management system, the samples tested will create a nationwide database of wa­ter quality, Jal Shakti Minis­ter Gajendra Singh Shekhaa­wat said. Detailed testing protocols and standards have been laid out to check for chemi­cal and biological contami­nants, which are present in more than half of all blocks, according to a 2018 assess­ment by the Central Ground­ water Board. The suggested tariffs would allow one to test a wa­ter sample’s pH level, turbidity, alkalinity and hardness for a package rate of ₹50. Apart from voluntary tests by members of the pu­blic, officials have been man­dated to do regular inspec­tions. All results of testing will be fed into the Water Quality Information Man­agement System, a portal de­veloped with the support of the Indian Council of Medi­cal Research.

SCIENCE, TECHNOLOGY & ENVIRONMENT



Daily snippets

(i). Optical monitoring of power line health

  • Researchers at IIT Madras have demonstrated that by using Raman thermometry on fibre optic cables, they can achieve monitoring of power transmission cables. Interestingly, they achieve this by using the optical fibres that are already embedded in the power cables for establishing optical communication. The work is part of a larger ongoing project on distributed fibre sensors and has been published recently in IEEE Sensors Journal.

  • Raman effect : In the Raman effect, when light is scattered off an object, say a molecule, two bands are observed, with higher and lower frequency than the original light, called the Stokes and anti­-Stokes bands, respectively. By studying the relative intensity of the two bands, it is possible to estimate the temperature of the object.

  • Cost Effective solution : Alternative methods of measuring the temperature of power cables include using a thermal camera to manually monitor their length, which is cumbersome. The present method devised by the team is both economical and provides real time information.


SUGGESTED READINGS



1. Arrest of Safoora Zargar https://thewire.in/diplomacy/united-nations-safoora-zargar-arrest-india-international-law

2. Haryana's Bill on reservation jobs https://www.livelaw.in/columns/haryana-state-employment-of-local-candidates-bill-2020-haryana-governor-sh-sn-arya-haryana-171159

3. Congestion in Prisons https://www.barandbench.com/columns/crisis-making-from-decongestion-to-recongestion-in-prisons

4. Cairn Energy tax dispute explained https://rb.gy/o4q9hu

5. India and cyber attacks https://rb.gy/jmzrlj


Download Page : https://e-clat.com/dailynewspage

Sources referred to : The Hindu, The Indian Express, Live Law, Bar & Bench

END

March 10th-12th, 2021

Your 10 minute read!

START


LAW, POLICY & GOVERNANCE



Daily snippets

(i). Over 72% rise in UAPA cases registered in 2019

  • There has been over 72% increase in the number of persons arrested under the UAPA (Unlawful Activities [Prevention] Act) in 2019 compared to year 2015, data provided by the Ministry of Home Affairs (MHA) in the Lok Sabha show. As many as 1,948 persons were arrested under the UAPA in 1,226 cases registered across the country in 2019.

(ii). SC questions delay in setting up environment regulator

  • The Supreme Court asked the government to explain why it had not set up an “independent environment regulator” to oversee green clearances. The lapse was highlighted by advocate Prashant Bhushan, who said the top court had ordered the setting up of a national environment regulatory body to ensure independent oversight of green clearances way back in July 2011 in Lafarge Umiam Mining Private Limited v. Union of India, commonly known as the ‘Lafarge mining case’.

(iii). Wear masks properly or get off plane: Delhi HC

  • Flight passengers who exhibit stubborn reluctance to wear their masks properly, could now get offloaded immediately or be placed in the “no ­fly” list, as per a fresh guidelines issued by the Delhi High Court. Justice Shankar said he was constrained to pass the order because of an alarming situation, which he witnessed during the Air India flight from Kolkata to New Delhi on March 5, 2021.

(iv). Delhi HC seeks response on petition against new IT Rules

  • The Delhi High Court sought a response from the Centre on a petition challenging the new IT (Intermediary Guidelines and Digital Media Ethics Code) Rules, 2021, claiming it seeks to regulate online news portals by imposing government oversight and a vaguely worded ‘Code of Ethics’. The Plea was filed by Foundation for Independent Journalism.

  • The plea stated that the IT Rules, 2021, introduced two distinct sets of regulations – one, due diligence norms to be followed by ‘intermediaries’ and two, ‘Code of Ethics’ ought to be adhered to by ‘publishers’, along with a three tier compliance mechanism.

(v). Kerala HC restrains Centre on IT rules

  • The Kerala High Court restrained the Centre from taking coercive action against Live Law Media Private Ltd., which owns a legal news portal, for not complying with Part III of the new IT (Intermediary Guidelines and Digital Media Ethics Code) Rules, 2021. The court issued notice to the Centre on a petition filed by the firm challenging the rules regulating digital news media, curated content (OTT platforms), and social media intermediaries.

(vi). Stick to code, Karnataka HC tells media

  • The Karnataka High Court ordered issue of notices to the Centre and the State government and 70 media platforms, including newspapers, on a petition filed by a lawyer and BJP member, seeking a direction to the authorities to take steps to safeguard the right to privacy of individuals and ensure that media outlets don’t invade the privacy of individuals by breaching law.

  • Acting on the directions of the Karnataka High Court, Bengaluru Police Commissioner Kamal Pant has issued a general order prohibiting all television channels from airing programmes that are not in conformity with the “Programme Code” notified under the Cable Television Networks (Regulation) Act, 1995. The order also stated that any violation of the order is liable for prosecution under Section 16 of the Act.

(vii). No proposal to release caste data: MHA

  • The Ministry of Home Affairs informed the Rajya Sabha that there was “no proposal at present to release the report of the caste census” carried out in 2011 (SECC). The SECC 2011 data, excluding the caste data, had been finalised and published by the Ministry of Rural Development (MoRD) and the Ministry of Housing and Urban Affairs (HUPA).

(viii). Gender discrimination alleged in NDA admission

  • The Supreme Court asked the government to respond to a plea alleging discrimination against women by barring them from taking the exam for admission to the prestigious National Defence Academy and the Naval Academy.

  • A Bench led by Chief Justice of India Sharad A. Bobde issued notice to the government and the Union Public Service Commission on a petition filed by advocate Kush Kalra, who said eligible and willing women who aspire for a career in the Armed Forces are prohibited entry into these centres of excellence solely on the ground of gender.

(ix). Plea to include mental illness in list of comorbidities

  • A petition has been filed before the Delhi High Court to include severe mental illness in the list of specified comorbidities to enable getting priority COVID­-19 vaccination. The plea also sought direction to frame a policy to provide COVID-­19 vaccination to homeless, mentally ill persons wandering on the streets.

(x). Petition in HC seeks expansion of ambit of electric vehicles scheme

  • A petition filed before the Delhi High Court has sought direction to expand the ambit of the FAME (Faster Adoption and Manufacturing of Electric Vehicles) India Phase-­II scheme to the hydrogen energy infrastructure. The petition filed by advocate Ashwini Kumar sought direction to the government to allocate a part of the unutilised funds from the FAME India Phase-­II Scheme for promoting and incentivising demand for hydrogen fuel cell electric vehicles and construction and operation of hydrogen refuelling stations.

(xi). PM’s photo removed from COVID vaccine certificates

  • The Health Ministry informed the Election Commission (EC) that the “necessary filters” were added to the Co-WIN platform in the four poll ­bound States and one Union Territory, removing Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s photo from the COVID­-19 vaccine certificates in those regions. The EC had taken up the issue after the Trinamool Congress complained that publishing Mr. Modi’s photo on the certificates was a violation of the model code. What are the moral code of conducts (https://rb.gy/fgzglf)

(xii). Javadekar meets digital media outlets

  • After severe criticism over not holding consultations with digital media publishers before bringing in the new IT (Intermediary Guidelines and Digital Media Ethics Code) Rules, 2021, Information and Broadcasting Minister Prakash Javadekar held a meeting with members of the Digital News Publishers Association. Minister, Mr. Javadekar reiterated at the meeting that the new rules placed certain responsibilities on digital news publishers.

(xiii). Lok Sabha gives approval for National Capital Territory Bill

  • The Lok Sabha passed the National Cap­ital Territory of Delhi Laws (Special Provisions) Second (Amendment) Bill, 2021 that seeks to regularise unauth­orised colonies that existed in the National Capital Terri­tory of Delhi as on June 1, 2014, and had seen develop­ment up to 50% as on Janu­ary 1, 2015. Delhi MP Meenakshi Lek­hi, said that a large number of people living in unauthor­ised colonies in Delhi were not receiving proper ameni­ties and that this Bill provided ownership rights to those living in these colonies. It would facilitate access to in­stitutional credit and also improve the basic amenities. The bill was passed by voice vote.

NATIONAL NEWS/ INTERVENTIONS



Daily snippets

(i). Uttarakhand political crises

  • Uttarakhand Chief Minister Trivendra Singh Rawat tendered his resig­nation to Governor Baby Ra­ni Maurya. There were complaints from his own party MLAs and oth­ers about his style of func­tioning and administration. From being tardy in im­plementing the ‘Chardham yatra’ projects to not being accessible to his own party­men, to facing a corruption charge wherein the Uttarak­hand High Court had or­dered a CBI inquiry against him (later stayed by the Supreme Court).

  • Garhwal MP Tirath Singh Rawat will take over as the new CM of Uttarakhand. Mr. Tirath, 57, who was the Uttarakhand BJP chief from 2013 to 2015, was a mem­ber of the Uttar Pradesh Le­gislative Council, before the creation of Uttarak­hand, during the period 1997­-2002. He was an MLA in Utta­rakhand from 2012 to 2017, and previously held the post of Education Minister from 2000 to 2002.

(ii). Parliamentary Committee on meagre pensions

  • The Centre must increase the “meagre” pensions pro­vided for poor senior citi­zens, widows and disabled people, said the Parliamen­tary Standing Committee on Rural Development in its report submitted to the Lok Sabha. The panel also slammed the government’s laxity in raising the amount. “The Committee is baffled to observe the meagre amount of assistance ranging from ₹200 to ₹500 per month under the different components of this Scheme,” it said. ­

  • The panel pointed out that it had previously urged the increase of these minis­cule pensions in its reports on the Department of Rural Development’s (DoRD) de­mand for grants in 2019-­20 and 2020-­21. The panel also pulled up the DoRD for delays and dispar­ities in the payment of wag­es and unemployment allo­wances under the flagship MGNREGA scheme. Another issue with MGNREGA is the disparity in wages in different States.

(iii). Delhi government presents 69k crores 'Deshbhakti Budget'

  • Delhi government presented a ₹69,000 crore ‘Deshbhakti Budget’ for the 2021­22 fiscal replete with provisions seek­ing to inspire patriotism in the run up to the 75th Inde­pendence Day, free COVID vaccination, and a vision for “India at 2047”. Manish Sisodia, the finance minister also announced that the Delhi government aims to bid for hosting the 2048 Olympic Games. “Our aim for 2047 should be that the per capita income of Delhi is equal to that of Singapore. For that, we will have to increase the per capita income 16­fold, and we will do whatever it takes to achieve that,” he said.

  • The education sector got the lion’s share of funds – ₹16,377 crore (24%) – in the 2021-­22 budget, followed by the health sector at ₹9,934 crore (14%). A total of ₹9,394 crore (13%) has been pledged towards transport, roads and bridges. A separate budget of ₹10 crore each has been allocat­ed to conduct programmes to honour Shaheed Bhagat Singh and Babasaheb BhimRao Ambedkar.

(iv). ISRO-NASA collaboration

  • ISRO has completed development of a Synthetic Aperture Radar capable of producing high-resolution images for a joint earth observation satellite mission with the U.S. space agency NASA. The mission is targeted to be launched in 2022.

(v). Rolling out of cyber volunteer programme

  • The Ministry of Home Affairs (MHA) informed the Lok Sabha that a “cyber volunteer” pro­gramme has been rolled out for “cyber hygiene promo­tion” and the services of vo­lunteers would be utilised by the State police as per requirement. The MHA, through its cyber crime grievance por­tal­ cybercrime.gov.in, aims to raise a group of “cyber crime volunteers'' to flag “unlawful content” on the Internet. The MHA had operationalised the Na­tional Cyber Crime Report­ing Portal on August 30, 2019 to provide a centralised mechanism to the citizens for online reporting of all types of cyber crime inci­dents, with a special focus on cyber crimes against women and children.

  • The govern­ment had approved the set­ting up of 1,023 Fast Track Special Courts (FTSCs), in­cluding 389 exclusive POC­SO Courts, for expeditious trial and disposal of cases re­lated to rape and the Protec­tion of Children from Sexual Offences (POCSO) Act.

  • Various groups, in­cluding the Internet Free­dom Foundation (IFF), have expressed concern that the programme enables a cul­ture of surveillance and could create potential social distrust by encouraging civi­lians to report the online ac­tivities of other citizens.

(vi). Exercise Dustlik-II

  • At Exercise Dustlik-­II bet­ ween India and Uzbekistan from March 10­-19, the Army will showcase its Counter In­ surgency (CI) and Counter Terrorism (CT) skills. The fo­cus will be on people­ centric intelligence based surgical operations, incorporating technological advancements to minimise collateral dam­age. The broad aim of the exer­cise is CI,CT operations in mountainous, rural and ur­ban scenarios under United Nations (UN) mandate and the Army will share the ex­periences and lessons it has gained in Kashmir.

  • India has a series of joint exercises scheduled in the next financial year beginning April 2021 including with Central Asian Republics – Kyrgyzstan and Kazakhstan – in addition to Mongolia and Russia as part of its growing engagement with the region. The Army’s 13 Kumaon re­giment, also called the Re­zang La battalion for its he­roic action in the 1962 war with China, has been nomi­nated from the Indian side for the company level CI, CT exercise being held at Chaubatia, near Ranikhet in Utta­rakhand.

(vii). Mizoram & Manipur awaits centre's direction on refugees

  • The Mizoram government has declined to provide de­tails or the number of Myan­mar nationals who have crossed over since March 1 seeking asylum after the coup in the neighbouring country. The government is also awaiting instructions from the Ministry of Home Affairs (MHA) on how to handle the foreign nationals who had fled fearing a military crackdown. Locals said more than 100 Myanmar nationals have en­tered Mizoram since March 1. The bor­der district authorities had initially put up some of the refugees in community halls, providing them food and security.

  • Manipur Chief minister N. Biren Singh said that schools may be ar­ranged by the State govern­ment for “refugees from Myanmar,” but since it was a bilateral issue, they were awaiting directions from the Ministry of Home Affairs (MHA). Manipur shares a 398 km border with Myanmar.

(viii). Haryana government defeats no-trust vote

  • The no­-confidence motion moved by the Congress against the Bharatiya Janata Party­-Jannayak Janta Party coalition government in Ha­ryana on Wednesday was defeated by 55 votes to 32. In the 90 ­member As­sembly, the BJP and the JJP have 40 and 10 MLAs res­pectively, besides the sup­port of five Independents.

  • Moving the no­-confidence motion against the Manohar Lal­ led govern­ment, Leader of the Oppo­sition Bhupinder Singh Hooda said the coalition go­vernment had completely lost the confidence of the people.

(ix). Recommendation for providing breakfast in schools

  • The Parliamentary Stand­ing Committee on Educa­tion has recommended that all government schools start providing free breakfast in the coming academic year as part of an expansion of the mid­-day meal scheme envisaged by the National Education Pol­icy. Free breakfasts would involve an additional budget of ₹4,000 crore, according to senior officials, but the School Education Depart­ment has seen a budget cut of almost ₹5,000 crore this year. The School Education De­partment saw an 8% cut in allocation from the 2020-­21 budget estimate of ₹59,845 crore to ₹54,873 crore in the coming year.

  • In its submission to the panel, the Department said it had proposed two new components to the mid­ day meal scheme during 2021-­22 – an expansion of coverage from the current Class 1-­8 students to in­clude pre ­primary stu­dents as well, and the pro­vision of breakfast. A number of States have already started provid­ing breakfast to the students in the mid­day meal scheme. The Centre bears the entire cost of food grains, but shares the cost of food prep­aration and distribution with the states.

(x). Rajasthan to grade public work

  • The government in Rajasthan has formulat­ed a new public service de­livery monitoring frame­work with the indicators for 17 departments to en­sure transparency in pu­blic works. The framework is expected to lead to good governance in various sectors. The framework’s provisions for grading and ranking would help the common people in getting their grievances resolved and facilitate monitoring of works. The online data of various depart­ments would be obtained for their grading and rank­ing on the basis of 100 indi­cators. The primary schemes for development at the grassroots would get the highest attention in the framework.

(xi). Protecting people from second-hand smoke

  • Doctors, cancer victims and restaurateurs in Assam have asked the Centre to amend the COTPA 2003 for remov­ing designated smoking rooms in hotels, restaurants and airports to protect peo­ple from second-­hand smoke. COTPA expands to Ciga­rettes and Other Tobacco Products (Prohibition of Ad­vertisement and Regulation of Trade and Commerce Production, Supply and Distri­bution) Act, 2003. Section 4 of the COTPA 2003 prohibits smoking in any place to which the pu­blic has access. But the Act allows smok­ing in designated smoking areas of certain public places such as restaurants, hotels and airports.

  • Appreciating the govern­ment for initiating the pro­cess to amend COTPA 2003, they sought immediate re­moval of a current provision that permits smoking areas to make India 100% smok­ing ­free and check the spread of COVID­-19 infection in the country.

(xii). Punjab study links rise in farm incomes to FPO

  • A study at the Ludhiana­ based Punjab Agricultural University to track the im­pact of Farmer Producer Or­ganisations (FPO) on the in­come and employment of farmers in Punjab during 2019-­20, has revealed that in­comes increased after farm­ers joined the FPOs and the impact was greater among small, marginal and semi­ medium farmers. The study, titled “Eco­nomic Impact of Farmer Pro­ducer Organisations on Pun­jab Peasantry”, asserts that overall, while permanent la­bour employment has margi­nally increased, the income of farmers has increased by 15.71% due to a shift in cropping patterns and proper use of farm inputs. FPOs consist of member farmers and are run by them with support from organisa­tions-­agencies.

  • “Multiple linear regres­sion analysis reveals that farm size, family size and membership of FPOs significantly influenced the income level of farmers. These FPOs have been improving the income level of the member farmers. The change in the net an­nual income of the FPO members after and before joining the FPO was ana­lysed. Overall increase in in­come of a sample of 100 FPO members was 15.71%, mainly due to a shift in the cropping pattern and awareness about farm inputs used by farmers such as seeds and fertilizers, insecticide, pesticide, insect and pest attack, timely use of inputs and subsidised farm implements.” In Punjab, out of the total of 10.53 lakh land holdings, about 34% are held by small and marginal farmers. Farm­ers in general and small farmers in particular, have been facing several problems in production and market­ing.

(xiii). India-Japan space agencies review ties

  • Indian and Japanese space agencies re­viewed cooperation in earth observation, lunar coopera­tion and satellite navigation, and also agreed to explore opportunities for coopera­tion in “space situational awareness and professional exchange programme”. This was agreed during a bilateral meeting between the Indian Space Research Organisation (ISRO) and the Japan Aerospace Explora­tion Agency ( JAXA) held virtually.

  • India and Japan are already working on a joint lunar polar exploration (LUPEX) mission and the two space agencies have been working on the mis­sion that aims to send a lan­der and rover to the Moon’s south pole around 2024.

  • Early this month, India and Italy decided to explore opportunities in earth ob­servation, space science and robotic and human exploration. Last month, India and Australia signed an amend­ment to the MoU which will build on the Comprehensive Strategic Partnership. Both countries are also in discus­sions for Australia to host vi­tal tracking infrastructure to support the Gaganyaan manned space flight mis­sion.

(xiv). Navy inducts third Scorpene submarine

  • The Navy inducted the third Scorpene class conventional diesel- electric submarine, INS Karanj, into service. It was commissioned into the Navy by former Navy Chief Admiral V.S. Shekhawat, who was the Commanding Officer of the earlier INS Karanj in the 1971 India-Pakistan War, a Navy statement said.

INTERNATIONAL NEWS/EVENTS/ PERSONALITIES



Daily snippets

(i). Farm laws discussion in UK

  • Discussion on the farm laws by the British Parliament amounts to “gross interfe­rence” in the domestic af­fairs of India, Foreign Secre­tary Harsh Vardhan Shringla told British High Commis­sioner Alex Ellis. He advised that British MPs should re­frain from practising vote bank politics by misrepre­senting events, especially in relation to another fellow democracy.

(ii). China launches 'virus passport'

  • China has launched a health certificate pro­gramme for Chinese inter­national travellers, leading the world in plans for so­ called virus passports. The digital certificate, which shows a user’s vacci­nation status and virus test results, is available for Chi­nese citizens. The certificate is being rolled out “to help pro­mote world economic re­covery and facilitate cross­ border travel”, a Foreign Ministry spokesman said. Although the certificate is meant for travel in and out of China, it is currently only available for use by Chinese citizens.

(iii). First quad summit to be held on March 12th

  • The first ever summit of the leaders of the Quadrilateral Framework or ‘Quad’ will take place virtually on March 12, the Ministry of External Affairs announced. The United States, Japan, Australia and India comprise the Quadrilateral Framework.

  • Prime Minister Na­rendra Modi will join U.S. President Joseph Biden, Australian PM Scott Morri­son and Japanese PM Yosh­ihide Suga for a virtual summit of the Quadrilater­al Framework (Quad) on Friday – the first time lead­ers of the Indo-­Pacific grouping are meeting. The Quad meeting, that China has referred to as an “Indo­-Pacific NATO'', will be watched most closely for signals on how the grouping will deal with the challenge from Beijing’s recent moves in the Pacific as well as at the Line of Actual Control in Ladakh.

(iv). Brazil SC judge annuls convictions against Lula

  • A Brazilian Supreme Court judge annulled the criminal convictions against former leftist Presi­dent Luiz Inacio Lula da Sil­va, a move that could allow the popular politician to run in next year’s presidential election. The decision roiled finan­cial markets and scrambled forecasts for the 2022 race, with many investors betting it would polarise voters between President Jair Bolso­naro, a far­ right populist, and Mr. Lula, his greatest opponent on the left.

  • The office of Brazil’s Pro­secutor ­General said it will appeal the decision, which will also be reviewed by the full Supreme Court. Mr. Lula governed Latin America’s largest economy between 2003 and 2011, overseeing a commodities boom that turbocharged economic growth. In 2018, he was convicted of taking bribes from firms in return for contracts.

(v). US offers temporary refuge to Venezuelans

  • The U.S. will allow tens of thousands of Venezuelans to seek refuge. Temporary Protected Status is being offered to people who fled political repression and economic chaos in the South American country. Over 300,000 indivi­duals are estimated to be eligible.

(vi). Indo-Pacific is key priority for Biden administration

  • The scheduling of the first­ ever Quad leaders’ summit­ level meeting within 50 days of the Biden administration signified the importance the administration places on the Indo­-Pacific, the White House said. Friday’s virtual meeting between U.S. Presi­dent Joe Biden, Prime Minis­ter Narendra Modi, Prime Minister Scott Morrison of Australia and Prime Minister Yoshihide Suga of Japan. The White House is ex­pecting a range of issues to be discussed, including COVID­-19, economic cooperation and the climate crisis.

  • Earlier, Pre­sident Biden had said China was “the only competitor po­tentially capable of combin­ing its economic, diplomatic, military, and technological power to mount a sustained challenge to a stable and open international system.” However, the Biden administra­tion has been careful to por­tray the Quad as something bigger than a grouping centred around the China challenge – “the Quad is not about any single challenge. It’s not about any single com­petitor. This is an entity forged and formed because we share common interests. There, maritime security is, of course, an important one, but our shared interests go well beyond that.”

  • Asked about the summit, Chinese Foreign Ministry spokesperson Zhao Lijian said China “believes that any regional cooperation archi­tecture should follow the principle of peaceful deve­lopment and win­-win coop­eration, which is the prevail­ing trend of the times. We hope the relevant countries will keep in mind the common interests of the regional countries, uphold the princi­ples of openness, inclusive­ness and win­-win coopera­tion, and do things that are conducive to regional peace stability and prosperity, rather than the opposite,” he said.

(vii). Russia targets Twitter over 'illegal' content

  • Russia said it was disrupting Twitter’s services because the plat­form had failed to remove “illegal” content, the latest in a series of moves exert­ing control over foreign tech giants. The Kremlin has been clamping down on sites, in­cluding Facebook, Twitter and YouTube, in recent months for hosting content supporting jailed opposi­tion figure Alexei Navalny.

  • Roskomnadzor, Russia’s media watchdog, said the disruption aimed to “pro­tect Russian citizens” after Twitter failed to comply with its requests to delete content related to child pornography, drug use and calls for minors to commit suicide.

(viii). UNSC slams violence in Myanmar

  • The UN Security Council agreed on a statement that condemns violence against Myanmar protesters and urges mili­tary restraint, diplomats said, but dropped language condemning the Army ta­keover as a coup and threa­tening possible further ac­tion due to opposition by China, Russia, India and Vietnam. “The Security Council strongly condemns the vio­lence against peaceful protestors, including against women, youth and children. The council calls for the military to exercise utmost restraint and em­phasizes that it is following the situation closely”.

(ix). China overhauls Hong Kong's poll system

  • China passed sweeping changes for Hong Kong’s electoral system that will give Beijing ­appointed politicians a greater say in running the Special Adminis­tration Region (SAR), mark­ing the biggest change since the handover in 1997. At the heart of the new proposal is a move to give Beijing­ appointed politicians greater power in running the HKSAR’s politics, through a newly expanded Election Committee of 1,500 members.

  • The NPC (National Party Congress) said the move was to ensure that “the elec­toral system should conform to the policy of ‘one country, two systems’, meet the reali­ties in the HKSAR and serve to ensure that Hong Kong is administered by people who love the country and love Hong Kong''. Currently, only half of the 70 members of Hong Kong’s Le­gislative Council (Leg Co) are directly elected and the rest are nominated. With this change, the number of LegCo members will be in­creased to 90, with the additional members also nominated, thereby reduc­ing the share of elected representatives. The expanded Election Committee will be com­posed of 1,500 members, up from 1,200 previously. The Election Committee, as previously, will be responsible for elect­ing the Chief Executive, and will also choose some of the members of LegCo. The new electoral system is the second significant change in the administration of the HKSAR since the 2019 protests, with a national se­curity law passed last year which has eroded the political free­doms that distinguished Hong Kong from the main­ land under the “one country, two systems'' model.

(x). Biden's $1.9 trillion COVID relief package

  • In a massive and early victo­ry for the Democrats, the House of Representatives approved a $1.9 tril­lion COVID­19 relief Bill, he American Rescue Plan. Eligible Americans will re­ceive $1,400 cheques under a $400 billion measure con­tained in the Bill. Another $350 billion will be directed towards vaccine distribu­tion, assistance to State and local governments and to fund tax credits for those with children.

  • The Bill extends by six months a $300 weekly un­employment insurance scheme which was due to ex­pire in March. It also covers assistance to schools to facil­itate the return of children to classrooms, a 15% increase in food stamp bene­fits for another six months and assistance for the heat­ing and cooling of homes in­ come for poor families among other measures. Republicans, all of whom opposed the Bill, both in the Senate and the House, ar­gued that the Bill was too ex­pansive and pushed through a raft of progressive policy priorities. A significant majority of Americans (70%) support the Bill, according to a survey released by the Pew Research Center. The stimulus is expected to boost the global economic recovery from COVID-­19, the OECD had said on Tuesday.


OPINION & ANALYSIS



Commentary : US Plans for Afghanistan

(i). Background

  • The inclusion of India in the United States' latest strategy of regional talks on Afghanis­tan. U.S. Special Envoy to Afghanistan Zalmay Khalil­zad’s talks with External Af­fairs Minister S. Jaishankar and a letter written by U.S. Secretary of State Anthony Blinken to Afghanistan Presi­dent Ashraf Ghani.

  • According to the letter to Mr. Ghani, which was pu­blished by Afghan agency Tolo News, Mr. Blinken’s plan is to ask the United Na­tions to convene a meeting of “Foreign Ministers and Special Envoys from Russia, China, Pakis­tan, Iran, India and the U.S.” to discuss an “un­ified approach” on Afghanis­tan.

(ii). Role for New Delhi

  • For India, which has protested being left out of re­gional formulations in the past both in the original Mos­cow process, and in the Unit­ed Nations April 2020 “6+2+1” that included Af­ghanistan’s “immediate neighbours” only, the U.S.’s suggestion is a relief.

  • Concerns however suggest that, the U.S. just wants to accelerate its exit from the conflict by propos­ing this grouping at the U.N. Equally puzzling is the U.S.’s plan to ask the government of Turkey to host a senior­ level meeting of “both sides in the coming weeks to finalise a peace agreement.”

  • Another concern is the U.S. has pushed for a road map to a “new, inclusive govern­ment” in Kabul, which indi­cates its desire to replace Mr. Ghani’s government with an interim one that would in­clude the Taliban’s nomi­nees as well. Afghan Vice ­President Am­rullah Saleh denounced the ideas in the letter, saying that the Taliban could enter elec­tions but that the country’s fate would not be decided by “20 people in a room”.

(iii). Role of Turkey

  • The new em­phasis for an Istanbul pro­cess over the current process in Doha, might indicate a greater role for Turkey, as well as Turkish troops as a part of a proposed “NATO stabilisation force”, someth­ing that New Delhi might have concerns about, given close ties between Turkey and Pakistan.

ECONOMICS & FINANCE



Daily snippets

(i). Government asks refiners to diversify oil imports after OPEC+ move

  • India has asked state refiners to speed up diversification of oil imports to gradually cut their dependence on West Asian suppliers after OPEC+ decided last week to largely continue production cuts in April. India, the world’s third biggest oil consumer imports about 84% of its crude needs with over 60% of that coming from West Asian countries. India, hit hard by rising oil prices, has urged producers to ease output cuts and help the global economic recov­ery. OPEC’s share in India’s oil imports declined to historic lows in the first 10 months of this fiscal year.

  • One plan is to import oil from new producer Guya­na. Indian Oil Corp. has also renewed its oil import contract with Russia. Iraq and Saudi Arabia are the two biggest suppliers of crude oil to India.

(ii). GDP to grow at 11% in FY22 says CRISIL

  • CRISIL said it expects the Indian economy to grow at 11% in fiscal 2022, after an estimated 8% contraction this fiscal due to the pandemic. The growth, it said, will be driven by four factors – people learning to live with the new normal, flattening of the COVID­-19 affliction curve, roll­out of vaccines, and investment ­focused government spending.

(iii). Rise in hiring of apprentices

  • India’s apprenticeship eco­system is currently wit­nessing a positive momen­tum, shows a study by the National Employability Through Apprenticeship Program (NETAP), a Team­ Lease Skills University and the Ministry of Skill Deve­lopment & Entrepreneur­ship initiative. As per NETAP’s recent apprenticeship outlook, some 41% of the employers in India are keen on hiring apprentices while 58% of enterprises want to increase the quantum of ap­prenticeship hiring this year. The report indicated positive hiring for women apprentices.

(iv). IDBI Bank exits PCA framework

  • The Reserve Bank of India (RBI) re­moved IDBI Bank from its enhanced regulatory super­vision, or the Prompt Cor­rective Action (PCA) framework, after almost four years, on improved finan­cial performance. The RBI had placed IDBI Bank under the framework in May 2017, after it had breached the thresholds for capital adequacy, asset quality (net NPAs were over 13% in March 2017), return on assets and leverage ratio.

  • What is the PCA framework? Prompt Corrective Action or PCA is a framework under which banks with weak financial metrics are put under watch by the RBI. The PCA framework deems commercial banks as risky if they slip below certain norms on three parameters – Capital Ratios, Asset Quality and Profitability. PCA is intended to help alert the regulator as well as investors and depositors if a bank is heading for trouble. The idea is to head off problems before they attain crisis proportions.

(v). Government tells telcos to buy from trusted sources

  • Telecom service providers will be able to procure equipment only from ‘trusted sources’ as defined by the government. This follows the Depart­ment of Telecommunica­tions (DoT) amending li­cence conditions for equipment procurement. Service providers have to take permission from the National Cyber Security Coordinator (NCSC) for upgrading existing networks utilising equipment not designated as trusted products.

  • “The govern­ment, through the Designat­ed Authority [the NCSC], will have the right to impose conditions for procurement of telecommunication equipment on grounds of defence of India, or matters directly or indirectly related thereto, for national securi­ty,” according to the DoT.

(vi). India blocked over 9800 URLs

  • The government blocked over 9,800 URLs, accounts and web pages in 2020, an increase of about 170% from 2019, under Section 69A of the Information Technology Act, 2000. In a written reply to Lok Sabha, Electronics and IT Minister Ravi Shankar Pra­sad said, wherever the sit­uation warrants, under the provision of section 69A of the Information Technolo­gy Act, 2000, the govern­ment blocks unlawful and malicious online content.

(vii). US curbs and vaccination targets

  • The U.S. backed Quad al­liance aims to invest in In­dia’s pharmaceutical capaci­ty as it looks to ramp up COVID vaccine output, but U.S. curbs on exports of key materials could hamper that effort. The alliance, grouping the United States, Japan, Austra­lia and India, wants to ex­pand global vaccinations and in turn counter China’s grow­ing vaccine diplomacy in Southeast Asia and world­ wide. India is the world’s biggest vaccine maker.

  • Earlier this week Reuters reported that the U.S. and Ja­pan would help fund Indian firms manufacturing vac­cines for U.S. drug makers Novavax Inc. and J&J. Some of the additional supplies from India will go to Southeast Asia as China pushes its vaccines to supply Indonesia, Philippines and others in the region. The Serum Institute of In­dia (SII), the world’s biggest vaccine maker, has said it is worried the U.S. ban on ex­ports of materials like filters and bags, keeping them for U.S. companies, could limit production. Limitations to production of the Novavax and Covish­ield shots risk hurting the GAVI/WHO COVAX initiative that is heavily reliant on those two vaccines as it shares inoculations with poorer countries.

(viii). Google pay adds new user privacy features

  • Google Pay announced new features for improved user privacy, including the option to delete transaction records as well as the choice to opt out of getting personalised offers and rewards.

SPORTS



Daily snippets

(i). BBC's sportsperson of the year

  • World rapid chess cham­pion Koneru Humpy has won the BBC Indian Sportswoman ­of ­the ­Year award. BBC director-general Tim Davie, hosting the virtual awards ceremony, said: “Huge congratulations to Koneru Humpy for winning this year’s BBC ISWOTY award. She has made a fan­tastic contribution to chess and this accolade is well deserved.”

  • The Lifetime Achieve­ment award went to veteran athlete Anju Bobby George. Ben Stokes announced young shooter Manu Bhaker winner of the Emerging Player­ of ­the ­Year award. Bhaker, aged 16 won two golds at the ISSF World Cup in 2018, followed by gold at the Youth Olympics and a Commonwealth Games gold with a record to boot.

(ii). IOC and China enter into a vaccine deal

  • The International Olympic Committee and China have teamed up to offer vaccines to athletes and teams preparing for the upcoming games in both Tokyo and Beijing. IOC president Thomas Bach said the body would “pay for extra doses” for Olympic and Paralympic participants.

(iii). Tokyo Olympics

  • Several IOC members reminded Tokyo Olympic organisers about the potential negative con­sequences of banning over­seas fans from attending the postponed Games. Tokyo organisers say a final decision about fans from abroad will be made before the torch relay starts on March 25. The Olympics open on July 23.

SUGGESTED READINGS



1. Satyarani Chaddha : India's anti-dowry movement https://www.barandbench.com/columns/remembering-satyarani-chaddha-the-face-of-indias-anti-dowry-movement

2. Defamation : Pursuit of justice and Free Speech https://thewire.in/law/defamation-priya-ramani-metoo-slapp-free-speech-media

3. The Information technology Rules 2021 https://www.barandbench.com/columns/the-information-technology-rules-2021-an-assault-on-privacy-as-we-know-it

4. Justice Indu Malhotra https://www.livelaw.in/top-stories/i-leave-this-court-with-a-sense-of-fulfillment-justice-indu-malhotra-on-her-last-working-day-as-sc-judge-171077

5. Working towards climate justice https://www.thehindu.com/opinion/op-ed/working-towards-climate-justice-in-a-non-ideal-world/article34047239.ece


Download Page : https://e-clat.com/dailynewspage

Sources referred to : The Hindu, The Indian Express, Live Law, Bar & Bench

END

March 9th, 2021

Your 10 minute read!

START


LAW, POLICY & GOVERNANCE



Daily snippets

1. SC seeks States’ views on 50% cap on quota

  • The Supreme Court decided to examine whether its nearly three decades old judgment which fixed reservation for the marginalised and the poor in government jobs and educational institutions at 50% needs a relook. A five judge Bench, led by Justice Ashok Bhushan, set up to hear the challenge to the Maratha quota law, decided not to confine the question of reservation spilling over the 50% limit to just Maharashtra.

  • Another question is whether the Maharashtra State Reservation for Socially and Educationally Backward Classes (SEBC) Act of 2018, which provides 12% to 13% quota benefits for the Maratha community, thus taking the reservation percentage in the State across the 50% mark, was enacted under “extraordinary circumstances”.

2. Batla House encounter: ‘IM operative’ convicted

  • A Delhi court convicted Ariz Khan, allegedly associated with the terror outfit Indian Mujahideen (IM), for the murder of Delhi police inspector Mohan Chand Sharma in a case related to the 2008 Batla House encounter. The court will hear arguments on the quantum of sentence on March 15.

NATIONAL NEWS/ INTERVENTIONS



Daily snippets

1. Will handle national security projects: ISRO

  • The Indian Space Research Organisation (ISRO) has said it will be in charge of projects linked to “national security and advanced technology”, such as the forthcoming Chandrayaan­-2 missions and the Gaganyaan mission that plans to send Indian cosmonauts into space.

  • However, the bulk of commercial activities would increasingly be handled by the newly formed New Space India Ltd (NSIL). The comments were in response to a query by the Standing Committee on Science and Technology, led by Rajya Sabha member Jairam Ramesh on whether the NSIL would “replace'' ISRO.

  • The NSIL recently coordinated the launch of the Amazonia satellite by Brazil on February 28, its first fully commercial mission that also saw 18 other satellites being launched. The NSIL was incorporated in March 2019 and in June 2020, its scope was “enhanced”. Its mandate, according to a standing committee report on space laid in the Rajya Sabha on Monday, includes owning satellites for earth observation and communication applications.

2. Five themes for 75th year celebration of freedom

  • Prime Minister Narendra Modi said the celebrations of the 75th anniversary of Independence would be based on public participation and revolve around five themes – the freedom struggle and ideas, achievements, actions and resolve at 75.

  • He said this festival should embody the glimpse of the glory of Sanatan Bharat and also the glow of modern India. He said it should reflect the light of the spirituality of the sages and also the talent and strength of our scientists. He said it will also showcase our achievements of these 75 years to the world and also give a framework for resolution to us for the next 25 years,” a government statement said.

3. Plea to NHRC on refugees in Mizoram

  • A New Delhi Based rights group has asked the National Human Rights Commission (NHRC) to process the asylum or refugee claims of Myanmar nationals who fled the military coup­-affected country and had taken shelter in Mizoram. Over 50 people from the Chin ethnic group have taken shelter in Mizoram.

4. Defense Acquisition Council for purchase of drones, submarines

  • Multi­billion deals for 30 armed drones from the U.S. and six advanced submarines under Project­75I are likely to be taken by the Defence Ac­quisition Council (DAC) in April for approval. India has been looking to procure 30 armed drones, 10 for each service, from the U.S. The three Services have since finalised the Qualitative Requirements and all the processing has been complet­ed. Since the stand­off with China, the need for long endurance drones to main­tain continuous surveillance of the border has been acute­ly felt.

  • In January 2020, the DAC had shortlisted Mazgaon Docks Limited (MDL) and Larsen & Toubro (L&T) as the Indian partners for the P­75I deal worth over ₹45,000 crore.

5. Schools in Anganwadi and tap water

  • Only half of the government schools and anganwadis have tap water supply, despite a 100-day campaign for 100% coverage being launched by the Jal Shakti Ministry last October, according to Information provided to the Parliamentary Standing Committee on Water Resources. Less than 8% of schools in Uttar Pradesh and 11% in West Bengal have it, while it is available in only 2­6% of anganwadis in Assam, Jhark­hand, Uttar Pradesh, Chhat­tisgarh and Bengal.

  • The campaign to provide potable piped water supply for drinking and cooking purposes and tap water for washing hands and in toilets in every school, anganwadi and ashramshala or residen­tial tribal school was launched on October 2, 2020, Gandhi Jayanti. Howev­er, as of February 15, only 48.5% of anganwadis and 53.3% of schools had tap wa­ter supply, the Ministry told the Parliamentary panel.


INTERNATIONAL NEWS/EVENTS/ PERSONALITIES



Daily snippets

1. ‘Hong Kong fully welcomes poll reforms’

  • Hong Kong leader Carrie Lam said the city’s government “fully welcomes'' changes to the city’s electoral system that will substantially increase central government control over Hong Kong politics and exclude critics of Beijing. Chinese authorities have said the draft decision before China’s National People’s Congress would mean the largely pro-­Beijing committee that elects Hong Kong’s leader would also choose a large part of the legislature to ensure the city is run by “patriots.”

  • The Election Committee would also have the right to vet candidates for the Legislative Council, weeding out any people suspected of being insufficiently loyal to China and the ruling Communist Party. Currently, half of Hong Kong’s legislature is directly elected by voters, although the mass resignation of opposition legislators to protest the expulsion of four of their colleagues for being “unpatriotic” means the body is now entirely controlled by Beijing loyalists.

2. After historic visit, Pope leaves Iraq for Rome

  • Pope Francis wrapped up his historic whirlwind tour of Iraq that sought to bring hope to the country’s marginalised Christian minority with a message of coexistence, forgiveness and peace. The pontiff and his travelling delegation were seen off with a farewell ceremony at the Baghdad airport.

  • At every turn of his trip, Pope Francis urged Iraqis to embrace diversity – from Najaf in the south, where he held a historic meeting with powerful Shia cleric Grand Ayatollah Ali al­Sistani, to Nineveh to the north, where he met with Christian victims of the Islamic State group’s terror and heard their testimonies of survival.

  • In Iraq’s south, the Pope convened a meeting of Iraqi religious leaders in the deserts near a symbol of the country’s ancient past – the 6,000year old ziggurat in the Plains of Ur, also thought to be the birthplace of Abraham, the patriarch revered by Jews, Christians and Muslims. The gathering brought religious representatives across the country rarely seen together, from Muslims, Christians, Yazidis and Mandaeans.

3. Libya Parliament urged to vote for new Cabinet

  • Libya’s Prime Minister designate Abdulhamid Dbeibeh urged lawmakers to vote for his new unity government, a crucial step toward December elections and stability in the country. The oil-rich African nation descended into chaos after dictator Muammar Gaddafi was killed in 2011.

  • A UN-supervised process aims to unite the country after an October ceasefire between forces loyal to two rival administrations, each backed by foreign powers, based in the east and west of the country.

4. Senegal opposition leader indicted, gets bail

  • Senegal opposition leader Ousmane Sonko was indicted and released on bail, his lawyer said, as he faces a rape accusation that has sparked violent protests. Mr. Sonko’s release could help ease tensions over his arrest in the past week that left at least eight dead in clashes between protesters and police, right group Amnesty International said on Monday. “He (Sonko) has been indicted for rape and death threats and placed under judicial supervision. He is going home,” Mr. Sonko’s lawyer, Cheikh Koureyssi Ba, said

5. Afghan women leave journalism in droves

  • Nearly 20% of Afghan women journalists have quit or lost their jobs in the past six months, as a wave of murders targeting the press has intensified in the war torn country. The Afghan Journalists Safety Committee said that more than 300 women had left the industry in recent months, citing the “wave of targeted killings'' as one of the main reasons – along with financial difficulties caused by the coronavirus pandemic.

  • The report comes as the world marks International Women’s Day and less than a week after three female media workers from Enikass TV were gunned down by militants in the eastern city of Jalalabad in an attack claimed by the local Islamic State group affiliate. Journalists, religious scholars, activists and judges have all been victims of a recent wave of political assassinations across Afghanistan, forcing many into hiding and some to flee the country.

  • The killings have been acutely felt by women, whose rights were crushed under Taliban rule from 1996 to 2001 – which included a ban on them working. Intelligence officials have previously linked the attacks against women to demands at ongoing peace talks in Doha – between the Kabul government and the Taliban – for their rights to be protected

6. Uighur women stage a march in Istanbul against Chinese camps

  • Several hundred Muslim Uighur women in Turkey staged an International Women’s Day march along the Bosphorus on Monday demanding the closure of mass incarceration camps in China’s Xinjiang region. The protesters chanted “stop the genocide” and “close the camps” as they marched within a few hundred metre’s of China’s walled­off consulate in Istanbul.

  • Rights groups believe at least one million Uighurs and other Muslim minorities have been incarcerated in camps spread out across the vast northwestern region.

  • Uighurs speak a Turkic language and have cultural ties with Turkey that make it a favoured destination for avoiding persecution in Xinjiang. But many in the 5,00,000 ­strong community fear that Ankara’s dependence on Chinese investments could jeopardize their future status in Turkey.


OPINION & ANALYSIS



Analysis : The contours of the endgame in Afghanistan

(i). Background

  • Afghan social media and political circles are rife with details, corroborated by official sources in Afghanistan, that the U.S. Secretary of State, Antony J. Blinken, has unveiled the initial conclusions of the review by the United States of its strategy in Afghanistan in a letter he has addressed simultaneously to Afghanistan President Ashraf Ghani and the head of the Afghan High Council for National Reconciliation of Afghanistan, Abdullah Abdullah. It confirms the intention to fully withdraw all U.S. military forces from Afghanistan as early as May 1, as specified in the Doha Agreement.

(ii). Afghanistan-US-Taliban-Pakistan-Russia

  • If training, combat support, and the supply of weapons are stopped from Pakistan, the Taliban could be on its knees. The U.S. Government is wary but resigned about Pakistan’s negative role. Instead of pressuring Pakistan, it is seeking Afghan acquiescence for a power sharing arrangement with the Taliban, enabling the exit of U.S. soldiers.

  • When the intra­-Afghan negotiations envisaged under the Doha Agreement stalled, Russia offered Moscow as an alternate venue. Instead, the United Nations is being asked to convene, with Turkey being asked to host a meeting of foreign ministers or envoys from China, India, Iran, Pakistan, Russia, and the U.S. to discuss a unified approach to supporting peace in Afghanistan.

  • Mr. Ghani is being encouraged to work closely with a broad consultative group, for which the core leaders identified are Abdullah Abdullah, former President Karzai, and an important former Mujahideen commander, Professor Abdul Rasul Sayyaf.

(iii). India’s role in Afghanistan

  • If the American plan results only in a ‘reduction in violence’ and not its complete cessation, and U.S. forces are pulled out, India must step up to assist materially those who want to defend the Afghan republic. It should explore commonalities with key countries in dealing with the rapidly evolving situation. When in the late 1990s no country was willing to help the democratic forces in Afghanistan, India and Iran had scaled up their support.

Commentary : Haryana Reservation : An alarming diktat

  • Haryana Governor Satyadeo Narain Arya’s assent to a law regulating private sector hiring portends a potentially perilous slide in India’s investment climate and its socio economic framework. The Haryana State Employment of Local Candidates Act of 2020 seeks to ensure that 75% of all jobs with gross monthly salaries of up to ₹ 50,000 are provided to the State’s own residents.

  • Haryana’s law could face legal challenges, as it ostensibly flies in the face of the Constitution, especially Article 19 (1)(g) and Article 16(2). Operationally, the law imposes onerous and contentious responsibilities on key personnel of firms in the State. Most preposterous is seeking exemptions to the law – firms can hire outsiders by proving that local candidates for a desired skill are not available.

  • It is time the Centre dissuades such legislation which threatens to not only unleash a sort of ‘work visa’ regime for Indians within the country but also damage crucial workplace diversity. Immobilising a much vaunted young workforce and rupturing the social fabric with this push for insularity would be the start of an unstoppable slide.


ECONOMICS & FINANCE



Daily snippets

1. Iran's oil trade

  • Iran moved about 17.8 mil­lion tonnes of crude into China during the past 14 months, with volumes reaching record levels in Ja­nuary and February. The US sanctions imposed by President Trump caused a drop in Iran’s exports to Chi­na, India, Japan and South Korea. Those measures, and output cuts by fellow OPEC+ producers, have led to tight supplies of West Asian sour crude in Asia. India, hurting from the sustained recovery in prices, expects Iranian supplies to return to the market in 3-­4 months.

2. Retail industry to create 25 million jobs by 2030

  • About 25 million new jobs will be created by the In­dian retail sector by 2030, as per Retail 4.0 Report re­leased by NASSCOM in part­nership with Technopak. According to the study, Retail 4.0 would result in a significant rise in the size of the domestic market, in job creation and exports.

  • As India leaps forward to become a digitally ­trans­formed nation, the coun­try’s retail sector has emerged as one of the most dynamically ­evolving, ra­pidly digitising sectors, with the second­ largest consumer base in the world, from fifth largest in 2020,” as per NASSCOM. Over the last decade, as per the study, the Indian retail market size has wit­nessed a massive threefold growth, accounting for $800 billion, contributing 10% to India’s GDP in FY20 and 8% to the total work­ force with more than 35 million employees.

3. Cairns energy tax dispute with India

  • Courts in five countries in­cluding the U.S. and the U.K. have given recognition to an arbitration award that asked India to return $1.4 billion to Cairn Energy plc – a step that now opens the possibility of the British firm seizing Indian assets in those countries if India does not pay. Cairn Energy had moved courts in nine countries to enforce its $1.4 billion arbi­tral award against India, which the company won af­ter a dispute with the coun­try’s revenue authority over a retroactively applied capi­tal gains tax.

  • The December 21 award from a three member tribunal at the Permanent Court of Arbitration in the Netherlands has been recog­nised and confirmed by courts in the U.S., the U.K., the Netherlands, Canada and France. Finance Minister Nirmala Sitharaman had indicated the Centre’s intent to appeal against the award when she said it was her ‘du­ty’ to appeal in cases where the nation’s sovereign auth­ority to tax is questioned.


SPORTS



Daily snippets

1. Player Profile

  • Pravin Jadhav – He is an Indian archer who competes in the recurve discipline. At the 2019 World Archery Championships, he was a member of the first Indian team to qualify for the final since 2005; the team received the silver medal. He hails from Maharashtra.

  • Deepika Kumari – She is an Indian athlete who competes in the event of archery, is currently ranked World No. 9, and is a former world number one. She won a gold medal in the 2010 Commonwealth games in the women's individual recurve event. She also won a gold medal in the same competition in the women's team recurve event along with Dola Banerjee and Bombayala Devi. The Government of India awarded her the civilian honour of the Padma Shri in 2016.

2. Ishar Singh Deol passes away

  • Veteran Indian athlete Ishar Singh Deol, has died at the age of 91. Deol had won many medals for the country and the State of Punjab since 1951 and was awarded the Dhyan Chand National Award in 2009 for his lifelong contribution towards sports.

3. Djokovic beats Federer's record for most weeks at the Number 1 spot

  • Novak Djokovic set a new landmark of 311 weeks as World No. 1 on Monday, one week longer than Roger Fe­derer whose tally of a record 20 Grand Slam titles is now firmly in the Serb’s sights. Djokovic, 33, won his 18th major at the Australian Open in February. Djokovic reclaimed the top ranking from Nadal in February 2020 and finished as year­ end number one for the sixth time, tying the re­cord set by Pete Sampras. Djokovic first became World No.1 at the age of 24 on July 4, 2011.

SUGGESTED READINGS



1. About Preventative Detention & National Security Act https://www.livelaw.in/columns/indian-all-constitution-preventative-detention-act-national-security-act-170887

2. On absolute immunity of the American President https://www.livelaw.in/columns/us-supreme-court-donald-trump-american-constitution-170888

3. Electoral Bonds explained https://indianexpress.com/article/what-is/what-are-electoral-bonds-6130061/


Download Page : https://e-clat.com/dailynewspage

Sources referred to : The Hindu, The Indian Express, Live Law, Bar & Bench

END

Enter your email to subscribe to updates.