March 16th-18th, 2021
Your 10 minute read!
LAW, POLICY & GOVERNANCE
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
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
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
- 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
- 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
- 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
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.
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.
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
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Sources referred to : The Hindu, The Indian Express, Live Law, Bar & Bench