March 19th-21st, 2021
Your 10 minute read!
LAW, POLICY & GOVERNANCE
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.
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
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
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
- 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
- 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
- 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
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
- 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.
- 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.
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.
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.
- 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.
- 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.
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
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
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Sources referred to : The Hindu, The Indian Express, Live Law, Bar & Bench