March 13th-15th, 2021
Your 10 minute read!
LAW, POLICY & GOVERNANCE
(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
(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
(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
(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
(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.
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
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Sources referred to : The Hindu, The Indian Express, Live Law, Bar & Bench