March 22nd-24th, 2021
Your 10 minute read!
LAW, POLICY & GOVERNANCE
1. Plea on emergency vehicle lane needs policy decision, says Delhi HC
- The Delhi High Court asked the government to treat as representation a petition, seeking direction to reserve a lane for unrestricted movement of emergency vehicles round-the-clock. An HC Bench said the issue raised in the petition required a policy decision. The petition stated that in case of emergencies, people will have the benefit of reaching the hospitals quickly if dedicated lanes are provided by the government.
2. SC walks a tightrope over vacancies
- The Supreme Court Collegium is striving to reach a consensus on recommendations to fill the five vacancies in the top court. The Collegium is discussing diverse opinions from within on issues like proportionate representation from various High Courts and seniority among High Court judges before finalising the names to recommend to the government for appointment.
3. ‘Varsity regrets events surrounding resignations’
- The top functionaries of Ashoka University said in a joint statement with Professors Pratap Bhanu Mehta and Arvind Subramanian on Sunday that they regretted the events surrounding the resignations of the two. Top functionaries of Ashoka University say there were some ‘lapses’ in institutional processes.
4. Research institution joins efforts to bring law on right to health
- A Jaipur based research institution has joined the efforts to bringing a “robust legislation” on right to health in Rajasthan with the emphasis on setting the standards for delivery of services, human resources and medical facilities. The 2021-22 State budget has made a provision for the law along with a new model of public health. Quality of medical services cannot be measured unless the standards are laid down, said the institution IIHMR.
5. Amid protests, LS passes GNCTD amendment Bill
- The Lok Sabha passed a Bill that defines that the word “government” in Delhi means the Lieutenant Governor (LG) and makes it mandatory for the elected government in the national capital territory to take the opinion of the LG before any executive action. Amid strong protests from Opposition parties, including the Congress and the Aam Aadmi Party (AAP), the Bill was passed by a voice vote.
6. Why stop at quota, asks SC judge
- Justice Ravindra Bhat, one of the judges on the Constitution Bench hearing the question of 50% ceiling limit on reservation, asked why welfare should be dependent on caste quota benefits alone. Affirmative action not just reservation, he says while hearing the 50% ceiling limit case.
7. Refund penal interest on EMIs, SC directs lenders
The Supreme Court directed banks and financial institutions to refund compound interest, interest on interest or penal interest collected on EMI for loans during the period of moratorium from March 1 to August 31 last year. The court said the amount accumulated as compound/penal interest or interest on interest during the six-month moratorium on term loan EMIs should be given as “credit/adjusted in the next instalment of the loan account”.
The judgment also spelt relief for banks and lenders with the court lifting its nearly six-month bar on them from declaring accounts of borrowers as non performing assets (NPAs). The judgment concluded that the government’s scheme to restrict the waiver of interest on interest to loans worth only up to Rs 2-crore was irrational.
8. Justice Kaul inaugurates web portal
- Supreme Court Judge Justice Sanjay Kishan Kaul inaugurated the SAHYOG web portal, a first-of-its-kind platform that connects student research assistants with lawyers and organisations who have taken up pro-bono cases.
9. Quota percentage should be left to the States, T.N. tells SC
- Tamil Nadu told a Constitution Bench of the Supreme Court that the percentage of reservation should be left to the “subjective satisfaction” of individual States. Another southern State, Karnataka, also came in support of its right to specify a particular community as ‘socially and educationally backward’ for inclusion in the State List for grant of reservation benefits. Senior advocate Shekhar Naphade and advocate Yogesh Kanna, for Tamil Nadu, contended that the Indira Sawhney judgment required a relook.
10. OTT case: SC stays all pleas in HCs
- The Supreme Court stayed the proceedings in High Courts in cases seeking regulation of content shown on over-the-top (OTT) platforms. The hearing was based on a plea by the Centre to transfer the cases in the High Courts to the Supreme Court.
11. Notify health policy on rare diseases: HC
The Delhi High Court asked the Centre to finalise and notify the National Health Policy for Rare Diseases by March 31. Justice Prathiba M Singh also directed the government to set up a National Consortium for Research, Development and Therapeutics (NCRDT) for treatment of such diseases.
A rare disease is any disease that affects a small percentage of the population. In some parts of the world, most rare diseases are genetic and thus are present throughout the person's entire life, even if symptoms do not immediately appear. Many rare diseases appear early in life, and about 30% of children with rare diseases will die before reaching their fifth birthday.
NATIONAL NEWS/ INTERVENTIONS
1. Myanmar border shut amid strains over refugee crisis
Mizoram Chief Minister Zoramthanga held a virtual meeting with Foreign Minister of Myanmar Zin Mar Aung amid the ongoing military crackdown following the February coup, even as India sealed all entry points along the border with the southeast Asian neighbour and is closely monitoring them to prevent any Myanmar national from entering the country.
The tussle between the Centre and the State on the issue has created a tough time for New Delhi and security agencies in handling the situation on the ground. There is considerable support and sympathy among the people of Mizoram over the situation in Myanmar as many have relations across the border. India and Myanmar have an arrangement called Free Movement Regime (FMR), which allows locals on both sides to go upto 16 km across the other side and stay up to 14 days.
In a letter to the four States bordering Myanmar dated March 10, the MHA said State governments have no powers to grant refugee status to any foreigner and India is not a signatory to the United Nations Refugee Convention of 1951 and its 1967 Protocol.
2. Indian-Israeli collaboration testing oral COVID vaccine
An Indian-Israeli collaboration has reportedly developed an oral vaccine for COVID-19, one that can be swallowed like a pill instead of being injected. A preliminary test in animals showed that the vaccine produced the expected antibodies that confer protection. However, the findings have not been reported in a scientific publication.
Premas Biotech, a Gurugram based biotechnology firm, and Oramed Pharmaceuticals, a Jerusalem headquartered company, have a long-standing collaboration on developing new drug delivery techniques. The nascent COVID19 vaccine candidate is a “protein based VLP (Virus Like Particle) vaccine candidate” that generates “triple protection” against the SARS CoV2 virus, i.e., it is able to target the spike, membrane, and envelope proteins of the coronavirus. Oravax, the company developing the vaccine, is a joint venture between Premas and Oramed.
3. Dhanush, Manoj Bajpayee, Kangana bag top honours
Priyadarshan’s Marakkar Arabikadalinte Simham was chosen as the best feature film and Sanjay Puran Singh Chauhan won the best director award for Hindi film Bahattar Hoorain at the 67th National Film Awards announced in New Delhi.
Manoj Bajpayee and Dhanush shared the best actor award, while Kangana Ranaut won the best actress award, announced by N. Chandra, chairman of the central panel. The announcement of the awards was delayed by almost a year because of the pandemic. This is the second National Award for best actor for Dhanush after he won it for Aadukalam in 2011. For Kangana, this is her fourth National Award.
The best supporting actor award went to Vijay Sethupathi for his performance in Tamil film Super Deluxe. Seasoned actress Pallavi Joshi won the best supporting actress award for The Tashkent Files. D. Immam got the best music award for his songs in Tamil film Viswasam. Prabuddha Banerjee bagged the award for the best background score in Bengali film Jyeshthoputro.
B. Praak won the best playback singer award for Hindi film Kesari and Savani Ravindra won the best female playback singer award for Marathi film Bardo. Telugu film Maharishi won the award for the best film providing wholesome entertainment. While Sushant Singh Rajput starrer Chhichhore won the best Hindi film award, the Nargis Dutt Award for the best film on national integration went to Marathi film Taj Mahal
4. MEA silent on reports of UAE role in IndiaPakistan détente
The Ministry of External Affairs refused to comment on the latest in a series of reports that the India-Pakistan détente, signalled by the ceasefire announcement by border commanders at the Line of Control (LoC) last month, was prompted by a backchannel dialogue between Indian and Pakistani officials, and facilitated by a third country.
The report said the surprise joint statement announced by the Directors-General of Military Operations (DGMOs) on February 25, that agreed to end crossLoC ceasefire violations (CFVs), was the outcome of talks “brokered by the UAE” months earlier and that the visit of UAE Foreign Minister Sheikh Abdullah bin Zayed to Delhi on February 26 also discussed progress in the India-Pakistan “peace” process with External Affairs Minister S. Jaishankar.
5. Gandhi Peace Prize for Mujib and Sultan Qaboos
The Culture Ministry announced that the father of the nation of Bangladesh Sheikh Mujibur Rahman and the former Sultan of Oman, the late Qaboos bin Said Al Said, will be awarded the Gandhi Peace Prize for 2020 and 2019, respectively.
The Ministry said the jury, chaired by Prime Minister Narendra Modi and comprising the Chief Justice of India, the leader of the single largest Opposition party in the Lok Sabha, Lok Sabha Speaker Om Birla and founder of Sulabh International Bindeshwar Pathak, met on March 19 and decided on the awardees for the annual prize. The Ministry said Rahman was chosen in “recognition of his outstanding contributions towards social, economic and political transformation through nonviolent and other Gandhian methods”.
Sheikh Mujibur Rahman: The award recognised his unparalleled contribution towards inspiring the liberation of Bangladesh.
Qaboos bin Said Al Said: The award recognised his leadership in strengthening the ties between India and Oman and his efforts to promote peace in the Gulf region. The Ministry said the award carries ₹1 crore, a citation, a plaque and an item of traditional handicraft or handloom.
6. Sagar Sarhadi passes away
- The 87-year old writer director, Sagar Sarhadi, died on Monday at his Mumbai residence due to age related problems. Starting with Kabhi Kabhie, followed by Noorie (that Chopra presented), Silsila and Chandni, it was Sarhadi’s writing that was at the heart of Yash Chopra’s romantic turn in the mid-70s and 80s.
7. India abstains in UNHRC vote on Sri Lanka
India abstained from a crucial vote on Sri Lanka’s rights record at the United Nations Human Rights Council in Geneva. The resolution on ‘Promoting reconciliation, accountability and human rights in Sri Lanka’ was, however, adopted after 22 states of the 47member Council voted in its favour.
Sri Lanka, which had earlier deemed the resolution “politically motivated”, was quick to reject the UN move to collect and preserve evidence of war crimes in the country, committed by the armed forces and the LTTE. Ahead of the vote, both the government of Sri Lanka and the Tamil National Alliance (TNA), which sought the exact opposite outcomes on the resolution, had expressed hopes of obtaining India’s support.
Mr. Gunawardena in a tweet thanked the 14 countries, including India, Japan and Nepal, that abstained from voting. He also extended a “warm thank you” for the “solid support” shown by the 11 countries, including China, Pakistan, Russia and Bangladesh, that voted against the resolution, and in support of the Sri Lankan government. The Sri Lanka resolution was the first to be voted on using the extraordinary voting procedures established for the UNHRC 46th Session, which has been held virtually.
8. Delhi should have a bigger role in peace process: Afghanistan
Afghanistan wants a larger role for India in the peace and reconciliation process, said visiting Foreign Minister Haneef Atmar, adding that he had discussed President Ghani’s new peace plan, the ongoing Intra-Afghan dialogue and “Extended Troika” talks in Moscow last week with the Indian leadership. Mr. Atmar met National Security Advisor Ajit Doval and External Affairs Minister S. Jaishankar.
The Afghanistan Ministry of Foreign Affairs (MFA) said Mr. Atmar had discussed the Ghani government peace plan, which is understood to include fresh elections within the year if the Taliban agrees to a ceasefire, and for Mr. Ghani to hand over power to the elected government. The plan runs counter to the U.S. proposal, which suggests Afghan-Taliban negotiations for a power sharing arrangement, and for an interim government to take over from President Ghani’s government.
9. Road construction near China border in Ladakh
The Central Public Works Department (CPWD) has ﬂoated tenders worth a total of ₹212.99 crore this month for laying and maintenance of three high-altitude roads near the India China border in Ladakh. The work is situated in Leh District of U.T. of Ladakh near the International Border. All the three roads would be single lane pro jects as per the relevant speciﬁcations of National Highways, according to the documents.
According to the Parliamentary Standing Committee on Home Aﬀairs report, the Centre had informed the panel that a “standalone project” of constructing a critical road along the border in Ladakh was ongoing. The Ministry of Home Aﬀairs told the panel, that 57 roads along the India-China border were being constructed, as well as 47 outposts, 32 helipads and 18 foot tracks in Arunachal Pradesh.
10. Rajasthan brings private medical colleges within RTI Act's purview
The private medical colleges in Rajasthan have been brought within the purview of the Right to Information (RTI) Act, 2005, following an order of the State Information Commission. The Commission’s ﬁrstof its kind order has paved the way for citizens to seek information under the RTI Act from the educational institutions which have obtained land for their buildings and campuses at concessional rates from the State government.
Following a Supreme Court judgement that says the institutions like schools, colleges and hospitals which received “substantial aid” from the government in the form of land at discounted rate were bound to give information to the citizens under the RTI Act. The Information Commission accepted the appellant’s contention that the non government organisations receiving ﬁnancing from the government were a public authority under the provisions of the RTI Act.
11. UP-MP sign agreement on Ken-Betwa interlinking work
The governments of Uttar Pradesh and Madhya Pradesh have signed an agreement that nudges forward a long stalled, controversial project to link the Ken and the Betwa rivers and irrigate the water-deﬁcient Bundelkhand region, spread over both States, and provide electricity.
Several obstacles have dogged the project. For one, the project will partly submerge the Panna Tiger Reserve in M.P. and aﬀect the habitat of vultures and jackals. After years of protests, however, it was ﬁnally cleared by the apex wildlife regulator, the National Board for Wildlife, in 2016. The project involves transferring surplus water from the Ken river in Madhya Pradesh to the Betwa in Uttar Pradesh and irrigating 3.64 lakh hectares in the Bundelkhand region of both States.
12. Odisha government plans 15% quota for government school students
Odisha government moved to reserve 15% of seats in medical and technical education courses for students passing out from government high schools. A resolution in this regard was tabled in the Assembly for acceptance of the House. The State government said the reservation was aimed at addressing inequity prevailing in students groups.
As per the observation the high powered committee headed by Justice Dr. A.K. Mishra, retired judge of the Orissa High Court , about 86% of students in Odisha are in government schools and they get 23% seats in the State medical colleges and 21% seats in engineering colleges. “This clearly shows that there inequity arising from physical and economic access to coaching institutions which play a major role in the national entrance examinations. This inequity aﬀects a majority of students,” the resolution says.
13. Foreigners can apply under CAA after rules are notified : Centre
The Union Ministry of Home Aﬀairs (MHA) told the Lok Sabha that “foreigners'' covered under the Citizenship (Amendment) Act (CAA), 2019, “may submit applications for grant of Indian citizenship after appropriate rules are notiﬁed by the Central government”. Union Minister of State for Home Nityanand Rai said in a written reply in the Lower House that the CAA was notiﬁed on December 12, 2019, and came into force from January 10, 2020. Without the rules being notiﬁed, the Act remains in eﬀective.
The CAA provides citizenship on the basis of religion to six undocumented non Muslim communities from Pakistan, Afghanistan and Bangladesh who entered India on or before December 31, 2014. In a separate reply, the Minister said the ﬁnal National Register of Indian Citizens (NRC) in Assam had not been issued.
14. Indus water panel holds meeting
After a gap of more than two and half years Indian and Pakistani delegations on Monday began the 116th Meeting of the Permanent Indus Commission. Hours after the conclusion of the ﬁrst day's meeting, Prime Minister Narendra Modi and President Ram Nath Kovind greeted Pakistan on the occasion of its National Day which marks the March 23, 1940 Lahore Resolution which paved the way for the creation of Pakistan. The United Arab Emirates is playing a role in connecting India and Pakistan through back channel negotiations.
The Permanent Indus Commission (PIC) is a bilateral commission consisting of officials from India and Pakistan, created to implement and manage the goals and objectives and outlines of the Indus Waters Treaty. The Indus Waters Treaty is a water-distribution treaty between India and Pakistan, brokered by the World Bank, to use the water available in the Indus River and its tributaries. The Indus Waters Treaty (IWT) was signed in Karachi on 19 September 1960 by Indian Prime Minister Jawaharlal Nehru and Pakistani President Ayub Khan. The Treaty gives control over the waters of the three “eastern rivers'' – the Beas, Ravi and Sutlej with a mean annual flow of 33 million acre-feet (MAF) – to India, while control over the waters of the three “western rivers” – the Indus, Chenab and Jhelum with a mean annual flow of 80 MAF – to Pakistan.
15. Oxfam's report on labor inequalities
- Non-profit group Oxfam stated that the methodology used in its Inequality Index 2020 is in the public domain, a day after Labour Minister Santosh Kumar Gangwar told the Lok Sabha that the ranking and methodology lacked clarity. Oxfam India’s lead specialist against inequality Anjela Taneja stated: “The methodology adopted in the index is in the public domain as is the basis of India’s scoring.” India was ranked 151 out of 158 countries in terms of workers’ rights.
INTERNATIONAL NEWS/EVENTS/ PERSONALITIES
1. Philippines accuses China of ‘incursion’ in disputed sea
- The Philippines accused China of “incursion” after more than 200 militia boats were spotted near a disputed reef in the South China Sea, in a rare rebuke of its superpower neighbour. The Philippine coast guard detected the boats “in line formation” at the boomerang-shaped Whitsun Reef, around 320 km (175 nautical miles) west of Palawan Island on March 7. The U.S. has previously accused China of using maritime militia to “intimidate, coerce and threaten other nations'' over its claims to almost the entire South China Sea.
2. Malaysia expels N. Korean diplomats
North Korean diplomats vacated their Embassy in Malaysia and were expelled, after the two nations cut diplomatic relations in a spat over the extradition of a North Korean criminal suspect to the United States. Malaysian Foreign Minister Hishammuddin Hussein said the expulsion was in response to Pyongyang’s “unilateral and utterly irresponsible decision” on Friday to sever diplomatic ties.
Ties between both countries have been virtually frozen since the 2017 assassination of the estranged half brother of North Korean leader Kim Jongun at Kuala Lumpur International Airport. Two days after Kuala Lumpur extradited a North Korean man to the U.S. to face money laundering charges, a furious North Korea announced it was terminating ties with Malaysia. In response, Malaysia gave North Korean diplomats 48 hours to leave.
3. Thousands join antiNetanyahu protest ahead of general polls
- Thousands of Israelis rallied outside Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s Jerusalem residence to protest his policies and premiership, days before a general election that could see the long standing leader removed from power. Mr. Netanyahu, 71, in power for a record 12 consecutive years, is hoping to remain in office following Israel’s fourth election in less than two years on March 23. His detractors accuse him of corruption and say his management of the coronavirus pandemic, including protracted lockdowns, battered the economy and contributed to job losses.
4. As Congo Republic votes, Nguesso expected to win
- Polls opened in Congo Republic, with President Denis Sassou Nguesso widely expected to extend his 36-year rule despite an economic crisis in the Central African oil producing country. With his grip on power firm, diplomats and analysts doubt any of Mr. Sassou’s six opponents will unseat him or that the election will see a repeat of the sporadic violence that marred the last vote in 2016.
5. Australia’s east faces worst floods in 50 years
- Heavy rain along Australia’s east coast over the weekend has brought the worst flooding in half a century in some areas, authorities said, forcing thousands to evacuate and damaging hundreds of houses. People in parts of Sydney’s northwest were ordered to flee their houses at night as waters caused widespread destruction
6. Bolsonaro critics face ‘intimidation’
- Lawyers and human rights activists warn Brazil is seeing a surge in legal and extralegal moves to stifle dissent against Mr. Bolsonaro, in some cases with legislation and tactics dating back to the country’s 1964-1985 military dictatorship- for which the President is openly nostalgic.
7. China, Russia look to deepen ‘best’ ties
Russia’s relations with China were currently at “the best in their entire history”, Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov said. The visit comes shortly after the March 19 China-U.S. dialogue in Alaska and follows the first leaders’ summit of the Quad – India, Australia, Japan and the U.S. – held virtually on March 12.
This year marks the 20th anniversary of the Treaty of Good Neighbourliness and Friendly Cooperation signed in July 2001, which Mr. Lavrov credited for deepening strategic relations and creating a model of interaction between Russia and China that is absolutely free from any ideological constraint.
Both countries are expected to discuss deepening coordination against the threat of sanctions from the West. Only on Monday, the EU imposed sanctions on four Chinese officials for human rights violations in Xinjiang. Trade ties are also on the agenda, with bilateral trade last year reaching $107 billion. China is Russia’s biggest trade partner.
8. Twitter CEO’s first tweet sold for $2.9 mn as NFT
- Twitter CEO Jack Dorsey sold his first tweet as an NFT for just over $2.9 million. The tweet is in the form of a non-fungible token (NFT) – a kind of unique digital asset that has exploded in popularity so far in 2021. Each NFT has its own blockchain-based digital signature, which serves as a public ledger, allowing anyone to verify the asset's authenticity and ownership. The tweet – “just setting up my twttr” – was Mr. Dorsey’s first tweet, made on March 21, 2006. The NFT was sold via auction on a platform called Valuables.
9. U.K. to unveil global focus in defence modernisation plans
The U.K. government will unveil much anticipated military modernisation plans, vowing to bolster its defence of British interests “across multiple domains and in all corners of the globe”. The long awaited proposals, detailed in a report entitled “Defence in a Competitive Age”, focus heavily on boosting the country’s Navy and global footprint, the Ministry of Defence (MoD) said.
It promises more ships, submarines and sailors and the transformation of the Royal Marines into a new unit called the Future Commando Force. The force will be deployed on “an enduring basis” to secure shipping lanes and uphold freedom of navigation, the MoD said. However, reports said the size of the Army would be reduced by around 10,000 to about 70,000 soldiers, the latest in a series of reductions in the last decade.
The cut comes as the military shifts towards investment in robots, drones, and cyber warfare, the reports added. Despite that, the Army will create a new special operations Ranger Regiment, which would “be able to operate discreetly in high risk environments and be rapidly deployable across the world,” the MoD said.
10. ‘Russian jets hit gas facilities, civilian areas near Turkey border’
- Russian jets hit a gas facility, a cement factory and several towns and cities in northwestern Syria near the Turkish border on Sunday, as Syrian army artillery killed seven civilians and injured 14 medics in an attack on a hospital in the area. The spokesman for the National Army, a Turkish backed rebel alliance in the northwest, said Russia, which backs the government in Damascus, sought to destabilise the last rebel stronghold in Syria and disrupt commercial activity but the strikes did not signal an imminent major assault against Idlib.
11. China, Russia propose new security dialogue platform
China and Russia have proposed setting up a new “regional security dialogue platform” to address security concerns of countries in the region, as their Foreign Ministers hit out at the United States for “forming small circles to seek bloc confrontation”. The proposal came following a meeting between Foreign Minister Wang Yi of China and his Russian counterpart Sergei Lavrov, and days after the March 19 U.S.-China summit in Alaska and the March 12 leaders’ summit of the Quad (India, Australia, Japan and the U.S.), grouping that both Beijing and Moscow have viewed warily.
China and Russia are already part of the Shanghai Cooperation Organisation (SCO) security grouping, which includes India. The two day dialogue covered a range of issues, including Afghanistan, the Iranian nuclear issue, climate change and the AsiaPacific situation. Both sides called for a summit of the UN Security Council’s five permanent members to be held. Both Ministers, in remarks to the press, criticised the U.S. and the EU for their recent sanctions on Russia and China.
12. Rejecting U.S. peace plan, Ghani to propose election in 6 months
- Afghan President Ashraf Ghani will propose a new presidential election within six months, under a peace plan he will put forward as a counter-offer to a U.S. proposal that he rejects. Mr. Ghani will unveil his proposal at a gathering in Turkey next month, signalling his refusal to accept the U.S.’s plan for his elected government to be replaced by an interim administration. The U.S. agreed last year to withdraw its troops from Afghanistan by May 1. Mr. Ghani is opposed to any solution that requires his government to step aside for unelected successors.
13. Israel voters take fourth shot at deciding Netanyahu’s fate
Israelis were voting in their fourth election in less than two years, with the nation deeply split on whether veteran Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu should stay in power. Mr. Netanyahu, 71, is Israel’s longest serving premier but his inability to unite a stable governing majority behind him has mired the country in political gridlock.
He hopes to be rewarded by voters for establishing ties with a series of Arab countries, and for a COVID-19 vaccination campaign that has inoculated half of Israel’s roughly nine million people. That means Israel is looking at three possible outcomes: another coalition under Mr. Netanyahu, an ideologically divided government united only by its opposition to him, or a looming fifth election. He is on trial over corruption charges – allegations he denies, but which have helped fuel a protest movement with weekly rallies outside his Jerusalem residence. To form a government, Mr. Netanyahu would have to strike deals with small factions that control a handful of seats, possibly including Religious Zionism, a new extremist, farright alliance
14. Xi, Kim exchange messages to reaffirm China-N. Korea alliance
- The leaders of China and North Korea are reaffirming their traditional alliance following contentious talks between top diplomats from Washington and Beijing and diplomatic isolation and economic problems in the North that have left it ever more dependent on the Chinese. The exchange came as the Biden administration stepped up diplomatic efforts to strengthen cooperation with Asian allies South Korea and Japan to deal with the North Korean nuclear threat and China’s growing regional influence.
OPINION & ANALYSIS
STORY : Iran deal could be rescued by the IAEA
- Even as the chicken and egg game is being played between the U.S. and Iran on the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action ( JCPOA) as to whether Iranian compliance comes first or the lifting of sanctions by the U.S., the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) is back on the stage to rescue the JCPOA. If the stalemate continues on JCPOA, because of the U.S. pressure, public opinion may shift towards the Indian model of creating a deterrent and then seeking a special dispensation to avoid severe sanctions. But the risks involved in such a policy will be grave, including the possibility of military action by Israel.
(ii). How the story stands
A technical ‘understanding’ reached on February 21 by IAEA Director General Rafael Grossi allowing monitoring by the IAEA to continue in Iran for three months augured well for a possible IAEA effort in case the JCPOA talks broke down. Mr. Grossi expects that in the event of the present efforts to renew the JCPOA failing altogether, it should be possible to consider a fresh initiative by the IAEA to deal with the issue.
At the broadest level, the IAEA provides two service functions under the NPT (Non Proliferation Treaty). It facilitates and provides a channel for endeavours aimed at the “further development of the applications of nuclear energy for peaceful purposes, especially in the territories of non-nuclear weapon States Party to the Treaty, with due consideration for the needs of the developing areas of the world.” Its other major function is to administer international nuclear safeguards, in accordance with Article III of the Treaty, to verify fulfillment of the non-proliferation commitment assumed by the non nuclear weapon States party to the Treaty. The IAEA, thus, may provide an alternative venue to open discussions on Iran’s obligations under the NPT, which do not have a time limit.
ANALYSIS : No rights despite reforms
- Qatar, the richest of the six countries in terms of per capita GDP, is the most dependent on migrant labour. Nationals count for less than 15% of the 2.6 million population and about 7% of the labour market. About 60% of the population lives in labour camps.
(ii). Policy and its shortcomings
The main reason for the growing demand to boycott Qatar as the host of the FIFA World Cup for 2022 is that the country treats its migrant workers poorly, resulting in destitution and unexplained deaths. The problem is viewed as one of inadequate legal protection, and the solution is framed as reforming or abolishing the Kafala (sponsorship) system, without acknowledging the many facets of various laws and practices that are the foundation of this system.
The global scrutiny and demand for accountability does affect the emirate’s reputation, but not enough to lose its rich and influential friends. There is no attempt to curb the unchecked powers of the kafeel, who can have the workers they sponsor arrested, detained and deported without due process.
From domestic and care work, construction and hospitality, to nursing and maintenance, even if a quarter of the employed stop work for a week, Qatar will come to a standstill. It is this fear that drives the GCC countries to exercise control over the most essential of their labour. So, celebrating reforms is questionable. What Qatar is doing is making exploitative laws that enable forced labour more palatable.
COMMENTARY : Recalibrating India-Taiwan ties
- India and Taiwan are celebrating 25 years of their partnership. However, the growing relationship has been a lowkey affair as India has been hesitant to acknowledge the improving ties in public. Though mutual efforts between Delhi and Taipei have enabled a range of bilateral agreements covering agriculture, investment, customs cooperation, civil aviation, industrial cooperation and other areas, the time has come to recalibrate India-Taiwan relations.
(ii). Cultivating political framework
- Both sides can create a group of empowered persons or a task force to chart out a road map in a given time frame. India and Taiwan already collaborate in the area of traditional medicine. The time is ripe to expand cooperation in the field of healthcare. Maintaining air quality has become a mammoth challenge for the Indian government and stubble burning is an important reason for severe air pollution. Taiwan could be a valuable partner in dealing with this challenge through its biofriendly technologies. Further, New Delhi and Taipei can also undertake joint research and development initiatives in the field of organic farming. With the Taiwan Tourism Bureau partnering with Mumbai Metro, Taiwan is trying to raise awareness about the country and increase the inflow of Indian tourists.
(iii). Deepening economic ties
- Trade relations have grown. India’s huge market provides Taiwan with investment opportunities. Taiwan’s reputation as the world leader in semiconductor and electronics complements India’s leadership in ITES (Information TechnologyEnabled Services). The signing of a bilateral trade agreement in 2018 was an important milestone. There are around 200 Taiwanese companies in the field of electronics, construction, petrochemicals, machine, Information and Communications Technology and auto parts operating in India. Policymakers need to coordinate better with the business community to help them navigate the regulatory and cultural landscape for better ties.
STORY : The surge of geopolitics in South Asia’s power trade
- India has released new rules governing the trade of electricity across its borders. They define the contours of the South Asian electricity market, placing clear limits on who can buy from and sell into India. This has ramifications for the electricity markets of Bangladesh, Bhutan, and Nepal, which, to varying degrees, have aligned their energy futures with the Indian market. The new rules show that India’s approach is unmistakably political. It attempts to balance China’s growing influence in the region with developmental aims, both its own and the region’s.
(ii). Rules on ownership
- Of central importance is the ownership of power plants wishing to sell to India. In masterful legalese, the rules strongly discourage the participation of plants owned by a company situated in “a third country with whom India shares a land border” and “does not have a bilateral agreement on power sector cooperation with India”.
(iii). India Centricity no advantage
- India will thus enjoy preeminent rulesetting powers, but continually attract the ire of its smaller neighbours who feel their economic growth is being stunted by decisions in Delhi.
(iv). Mega solar project
- These rules provoke some larger questions that must be tackled soon. India’s ambition of anchoring a global supergrid called One Sun One World One Grid, or OSOWOG needs an institutional vision. It aims to begin with connections to West Asia and Southeast Asia and then spread to Africa and beyond.
(v). Countering China
- It is worth considering releasing the vice-like grip on South Asia, aimed at countering China, by creating a rule based regional institution that can counter Chinese offerings in other theatres.
ANALYSIS : Scrappage policy for automobiles
- Vehicle scrappage policy announced by the transport Ministry, coming after the move for a green tax on ageing and polluting automobiles, promises economic beneﬁts, a cleaner environment and thousands of jobs. It will take until April 1, 2022 for vehicles belonging to the government and the public sector to be scrapped, another year thereafter to identify junk heavy commercial vehicles through mandatory ﬁtness checks, and ﬁnally other vehicles by 2024.
(ii). The execution paradigm
To put in place a credible system of automated ﬁtness checking centres with help from States to assess whether commercial and private vehicles are roadworthy after 15 and 20 years, respectively, as the policy envisages. After that, to get them scrapped once they are found unﬁt for use and to stop them from moving to smaller towns.
States have to come on board to provide road tax and registration concessions, while the automobile industry is expected to provide discounts on new vehicles.
Heavy commercial vehicles, which contribute disproportionately to pollution – 1.7 million lack ﬁtness certiﬁcates – pose the biggest challenge. Many of these cannot be replaced quickly in the absence of ﬁnancial arrangements for small operators.
(iii). Why the policy
Vehicle scrappage and replacement is seen internationally as a route to rejuvenate COVID-19aﬀected economies by privileging green technologies, notably electric vehicles (EVs), and also as an initiative to achieve net zero emissions by mid-century under Paris Agreement commitments.
India's automobile ecosystem is complex, with dominant, legacy motors spanning fossil-fuel driven vehicles and a nascent EV segment. The industry’s share pre-COVID-19 was about 7.5% of GDP with signiﬁcant downstream employment and it also imposes a fuel import burden.
ANALYSIS : Treating unpaid work
Women everywhere carry a disproportionately higher burden of unpaid work. Though this work contributes to overall well-being at the household level and collectively at the national level, it is invisible in the national database and particularly in national policies. The unequal division of unpaid work between women and men is unfair and unjust and it deprives women of equal opportunities as men.
For political parties to recognise this work is a positive development and the demand for wages for house-wives has emerged from this concern. However, its implementation may create problems such as affordability of the government and calculation of the amounts.
(ii). The government can
Recognise this unpaid work in the national database by a sound time use survey and use the data in national policies. Also, they could relieve women’s burden of unpaid work by improving technology, better infrastructure, shifting some unpaid work to the mainstream economy and by making basic services accessible to women. Also, they could redistribute the work between men and women by providing different incentives and disincentives to men and financial incentives for sharing house-work. These measures will give free time to women and open up new opportunities to them.
By excluding this work from the economy, macroeconomics shows a clear male bias. There is an urgent need to expand the purview of economics not only for gender justice but mainly for moving towards a realistic economics.
ECONOMICS & FINANCE
1. District-wise export promotion
The government has readied a draft district-wise export promotion plan for 451 districts in the country after identifying products and services with export potential in 725 districts. Aiming for double-digit export growth from 500 districts over 3-5 years, the Commerce Ministry has asked States to prepare an annual ‘export ranking index’ of districts on export competitiveness with the assistance of the Directorate General of Foreign Trade (DGFT). While foreign trade constitutes 45% of India’s GDP, most export promotion efforts are driven by the Centre.
The district speciﬁc approach that perforce involves the States in identifying potential export sectors and the logistics bottlenecks to be ﬁxed, was taken up after Prime Minister Narendra Modi pushed for each district to aim to be an export hub.
2. RBI names panel for bank licenses
The Reserve Bank of India (RBI) has named members of the Standing External Advisory Committee (SEAC) for evaluating applications for universal and small ﬁnance banks. Shyamala Gopinath, former Deputy Governor, RBI, has been appointed as the chairperson of the Committee.
The members are Revathy Iyer, director, Central Board, RBI; B. Mahapatra, Chairman, NPCI; T.N. Manoharan, former chairman, Canara Bank; and Hemant G. Contractor, former MD, SBI and former Chairman, Pension Fund Regulatory and Development Authority. Secretarial support will be provided by the Department of Regulation, RBI.
3. Workers in government contract to possess skill certificate
- All workers executing government contracts must have oﬃcial certiﬁcation for their skills, the government has decided. Only 2.4% of India’s workforce is formally trained as per the Periodic Labour Force Survey of 2018-19. The Ministry of Skill Development and Entrepreneurship has told all government departments to mandate this requirement for all contracts issued under their watch. Government contractors’ preference for low wage informal workers, was creating a dichotomy where the government was trying to promote skilling in the workforce without insisting on the use of skilled manpower for its projects.
4. Return to normalcy not till 2022, KPMG
As several countries grapple with the second wave of COVID-19, almost half of global CEOs surveyed have said they did not expect to see a return to ‘normal’ until 2022. As per the ﬁndings of the 2021 KPMG CEO Outlook Pulse Survey, 45% of global top honchos executives said ‘normal’ course of business would not return until sometime in 2022, as opposed to 31% who anticipated this would happen later this year.
About 55% of CEOs remained concerned about employees’ access to a COVID-19 vaccine, which is inﬂuencing their outlook as to when employees will return to the workplace; while 90% were considering asking staﬀ to report for duty after they are vaccinated. 34% of global executives remained worried about misinformation on COVID-19 vaccine safety and the potential this might have on employees choosing not to have it administered.
5. States to get 30,000 crores in GST dues
- The Centre will release ₹30,000 crore as GST compensation to States this month, from the compensation cess collections during the year. The pending compensation dues to States for 2020-21 are expected to be more than ₹77,000 crore. The GST Compensation due to States from April 2020 to January 2021 is ₹2,17,844 crore, and back-to-back loans released to States to meet the compensation shortfall are ₹1,10,208 crore.
- World Cup : It was a consistent ﬂow of gold medals, both in Olympic and non-Olympic events, as India continued to assert its shooting prowess in the World Cup. India leads the medals table with seven gold, three silver and four bronze. USA follows with two gold, one silver and one bronze, while Kazakhstan, Iran, Denmark and Britain have at least one gold each.
2. Sabre Title
- Bhavani Devi, who recently became the first Indian fencer to secure an Olympic berth, won ninth successive individual National sabre title on Saturday.
3. National Para athletics
- The 19th National para athletics Championship is scheduled to be held in Bengaluru from March 24 to 27. The competition has been moved from Chennai owing to cancellation of permission by the Govt. of Tamil Nadu. Events will be held at the Sree Kanteerava and Vidyanagar stadiums.
4. Tokyo Olympics rules
Volunteers from abroad will not be allowed into Japan for the postponed Tokyo Olympics, organisers said. The announcement came two days after Tokyo organizers said they would ban international fans from coming into Japan. Both measures are aimed at preventing the spread of COVID-19. Earlier, Organisers had planned to use about 80,000 unpaid volunteers. The Tokyo Metropolitan government had lined up 30,000 more. Japan's Kyodo news agency, quoting “sources close to the matter,” said around 500 overseas volunteers would be given exemptions to enter Japan.
The ﬁrst big test for the Olympics begins on Thursday with the torch relay starting from north-eastern Japan. The relay will last 121 days, involve 10,000 runners, and end at the opening ceremony in Tokyo’s new National Stadium.
5. Khelo India scheme extended till 2025-26
The Khelo India scheme has been extended to 2025-26, Sports Minister Kiren Rijiju announced in the Rajya Sabha. He said “an amount of ₹8750 crore has been estimated as the financial implication of the new Khelo India Scheme (2021-22 to 2025-26) in the EFC memorandum furnished to the Ministry of Finance”.
The Khelo India programme has been introduced to revive the sports culture in India at the grass-root level by building a strong framework for all sports played in our country and establish India as a great sporting nation. Link to article
6. Profile : Nikhat Zareen
- Nikhat Zareen, returning to competition after a year, beating two World champions in a row to land a bronze medal in the Bosphorus tournament in Turkey is a huge conﬁdence booster. A former World junior champion and an Asian championships bronze medallist, Nikhat now wants to build on this performance and prepare herself for the Commonwealth Games and Asian Games in 2022.
1. Reservation and Caste https://www.thequint.com/neon/kaafi-real-when-reservations-are-more-unequal-than-caste
2. On CAA : People, Religion and discrimination https://thewire.in/rights/caa-religion-unconstitutional-former-sc-judge
3. Places of Worship Act https://thewire.in/law/places-of-worship-act-ashwini-kumar-supreme-court-ayodhya
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Sources referred to : The Hindu, The Indian Express, Live Law, Bar & Bench