March 25th-28th, 2021
Your 10 minute read!
LAW, POLICY & GOVERNANCE
1. Justice N.V. Ramana set to take over as 48th CJI
- Chief Justice of India Sharad A. Bobde has recommended Justice N.V. Ramana, the senior most judge of the Supreme Court, as the next top judge. The recommendation to the government was followed by the publication of a short statement, informing that Andhra Pradesh Chief Minister Y.S. Jagan Mohan Reddy’s October 6 complaint to the CJI naming Justice Ramana was dismissed under an in-house procedure after due consideration. Justice Ramana is now set to take over as the 48th Chief Justice of India from April 24.
2. Supreme Court flags concern over misuse of electoral bonds
The Supreme Court flagged its concern that political parties could misuse crores of rupees received as donations through electoral bonds to bankroll violent protests or even terror. The court asked the government whether there was any “control” over how these donations were used by the political parties.
A “little effort” will go a long way in piercing the veil of secrecy about electoral bonds, the Supreme Court said in an order. The court said money spent by companies could be easily traced online on the website of the Ministry of Corporate Affairs.
3. SC tells Param Bir to move to the HC
The Supreme Court refused to intervene in a petition filed by former Mumbai Police Commissioner Param Bir Singh to order a CBI investigation into allegations of corruption and abuse of office levelled against Maharashtra Home Minister Anil Deshmukh.
Bench of Justices Sanjay Kishan Kaul and R. Subhash Reddy asked Mr. Singh, who was represented by senior advocate Mukul Rohatgi, to approach the Bombay High Court with his plea for investigation by an independent agency.
4. Madras HC upset with BJP for ‘accessing’ voter details
The Madras High Court took serious note of a complaint that the Puducherry unit of the BJP had accessed voters’ phone numbers linked to their Aadhaar cards and had been misusing the data for electioneering. It directed the Election Commission of India to file a report by Friday on the steps taken by it to prevent such acts.
The Madras High Court directed the Unique Identification Authority of India (UIDAI) to ascertain immediately if Aadhaar data of citizens had been compromised. The High Court asked the UIDAI to ascertain if the Puducherry unit of the BJP had been able to access mobile phone numbers of voters from the UIDAI database, as claimed by a public interest litigant.
5. LS clears Bill on allied healthcare
- The Lok Sabha cleared the National Commission for Allied and Healthcare Professionals Bill, 2021, which seeks to set up a commission to regulate the allied healthcare sector, standardise training and qualifications across the country. The Bill was passed by the Rajya Sabha last week.
6. Apex court bats for women officers in Army
The Supreme Court in Lt. Col. Nitisha vs. Union of India held that the Army’s “selective” evaluation process discriminates against and disproportionately affects women short service commission officers seeking permanent commission. The evaluation pattern of women officers has caused them economic and psychological harm, the court said.
In a series of directions, the court ordered that the cases of women officers who have applied for permanent commission should be reconsidered in a month and the decision on them should be given in two months. They would be considered for permanent commission subject to disciplinary and vigilance clearance.
7. SC suggests posting retired judges to clear backlog in HCs
- The Supreme Court pushed for the appointment of retired judges to battle pendency of cases in High Courts. CJI says some courts have cases pending for 30 years. The Bench said retired judges who had handled certain disputes and fields of law for over 15 years could deal with them faster if brought back into harness as ad-hoc judges.
8. States told to take up crowd control
- Union Home Secretary Ajay Kumar Bhalla wrote to the States “to take necessary measures to regulate crowds” during upcoming festivals by enforcing COVID-19 appropriate behaviour such as wearing masks and maintaining physical distancing. Mr. Bhalla said the country was passing through a critical juncture.
9. 40% of RTI rejections did not cite valid reason, says analysis
- The Centre has only rejected 4.3% of all Right to Information (RTI) requests in 2019-20, the lowest ever rate, according to the Central Information Commission’s annual report. However, almost 40% of these rejections did not include any valid reason, as they did not invoke one of the permissible exemption clauses in the RTI Act, according to an analysis of report data by RTI activist Venkatesh Nayak. This includes 90% of rejections by the Prime Minister’s Office.
NATIONAL NEWS/ INTERVENTIONS
1. Excluding India from Moscow talks a mistake: Afghan Minister
India should have been included by China-Russia-U.S. “troika” that met in Moscow with regional stakeholders, including Pakistan, last week, said Afghanistan’s Foreign Minister Haneef Atmar during a three day visit to India, where he discussed a new peace plan proposed by President Ashraf Ghani.
According to the plan, Mr. Ghani was prepared to hold early Presidential elections in Afghanistan, if the Taliban agreed to a ceasefire and to take part in the elections. This could set the Ghani government at odds with the Biden administration as it runs counter to a recent U.S. proposal for an interim government in Afghanistan that would include the Taliban.
The Afghanistan government is expected to unveil its full proposal during the upcoming intraAfghan talks due to be held in Istanbul in the beginning of April. The talks are a part of the U.S.’s latest push for intraAfghan talks with the Taliban that appear to have stalled in Doha.
2. CBSE rolls out assessment framework
The Central Board of Secondary Education has rolled out a new assessment framework for Classes 6-10 in English, Maths and Science in collaboration with the British Council. Under the new system, teachers will be trained to create question papers and other assessment methods that test the actual competency of students in these subjects, rather than their ability to memorise chunks of text. Launching the new framework, Education Minister Ramesh Pokhriyal Nishank said it was aligned with the National Education Policy’s vision of achieving a global standard in assessments.
British agencies worked with the CBSE team to analyse the current setup in Indian schools and identify how competency based approaches can be integrated into the assessment system. They have developed materials to train teachers in new styles of pedagogy and lesson plan preparation and will hold capacity building workshops.
In the first phase, the framework will be implemented in select Kendriya Vidyalayas and Navodaya Vidyalayas, CBSE schools in Chandigarh, and a few private schools. By 2024, it will be rolled out to 25,000 CBSE schools across the country, with 1.32 lakh teachers and two crore students.
3. In signal to China, U.S. raised India ties during Alaska talks
The Joe Biden administration highlighted the strength of the U.S.-India ties in its March 19 meeting with Chinese officials in Alaska, underlining how it has increasingly come to view India as central to its broader objectives in dealing with China in the Indo-Pacific region.
The reference to India, it is learnt, was not favourably received by China’s two officials in Alaska – top diplomat and Politburo member Yang Jiechi and Foreign Minister Wang Yi – and is being seen as reflecting how U.S. India relations, only two months into the new administration, are developing robustly.
4. Asha Bhosle to be honoured with Maharashtra Bhushan
The Maharashtra government said singer Asha Bhosle has been selected for the Maharashtra Bhushan award, the State government’s highest honour. The award, instituted in 1996 by the State government to recognise distinguished work and achievements of eminent persons from the State, representing different walks of life, carries a cash prize of ₹10 lakh and a citation.
Ms. Bhosle, whose sister Lata Mangeshkar won the award for 1997, said she got to know from Mr. Thackeray that she has been selected for the award for 2020. Ms. Bhosle received the Dadasaheb Phalke Award for 2000. The first Maharashtra Bhushan awardee was Marathi writer P.L. Deshpande and the last winner of this award was historian Babasaheb Purandare who got it for the year 2015
5. Vaccine export may be curbed
Amidst a fresh surge in COVID-19 cases in India, and the rollout of vaccines for those above 45 years from April 1, the government has hinted it may need to “calibrate” its supply schedules to other countries, although it has not proposed a full ban on exports at this time.
According to Global vaccine alliance GAVI, which runs the COVAX programme, Indian vaccine supplies to lower income countries are being delayed “as the Government of India battles a new wave of COVID-19 infections”.
According to the Ministry of External Affairs, India has exported more than 60 million doses of COVID-19 vaccines since January 20 this year. While about 8 million were grants from the Government of India to other countries, most of the supplies have been procured by the international GAVI alliance that runs the COVAX facility (17.86 million) and commercial orders (34.17 million).
6. India, Bangladesh must fight terror together: PM
- Contemporary Bangladesh was created with the blood of the freedom fighters, and of the Indian soldiers who were martyred in the War of Liberation of 1971, Prime Minister Narendra Modi said in Dhaka on Friday. Addressing a special gathering on the National Day celebrations that marked the 50th anniversary of the country’s independence, Mr. Modi said the creation of Bangladesh received support from all sections of the Indian political class. Mr. Modi spoke at the National Day Programme in the presence of Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina and President Abdul Hamid. Recollecting the atrocities unleashed by the Pakistani military, Mr. Modi blamed “Operation Searchlight” of March 25, 1971 for unleashing a reign of terror in the country.
7. Double mutant virus variant in India
A unique “double mutant” coronavirus variant – with a combination of mutations not seen anywhere else in the world – has been found in India, the Union Health Ministry said. However, it is still to be established if this has any role to play in increased infectivity or in making COVID-19 more severe.
Genome sequencing of a section of virus samples by a consortium of 10 laboratories across the country, called the Indian SARS-CoV-2 Consortium on Genomics (INSACOG), revealed the presence of two mutations, E484Q and L452R together, in at least 200 virus samples from Maharashtra, as well as a handful from Delhi, Punjab and Gujarat. While the two mutations have been individually identiﬁed in other variants of SARS-CoV-2 globally and have been associated with a reduction in vaccine eﬃcacy, their combined eﬀect and biological implications have not yet been understood. So far, only three global VOCs have been identiﬁed: the U.K. variant (B.1.1.7), the South African (B.1.351) and the Brazilian (P.1) lineage.
Separately, genome variation studies from Kerala have revealed the presence of other mutations associated with the ability to help the coronavirus evade neutralising antibodies.
8. Earth hour
- Earth Hour is a worldwide movement organized by the World Wide Fund for Nature (WWF). The event is held annually encouraging individuals, communities, and businesses to turn off non-essential electric lights, for one hour, from 8:30 to 9:30 p.m. on a specific day towards the end of March, as a symbol of commitment to the planet. It was started as a lights-off event in Sydney, Australia, in 2007.
9. Mizoram group on MHA order
- A group representing ethnically related communities across the India-Myanmar border said the Centre’s order to prevent Myanmar nationals from entering India was discriminatory. The Zo Reuniﬁcation Organisation (ZORO) asked the Ministry of Home Affairs to revoke its March 10 order directing four North-eastern States bordering Myanmar to deport people from the neighbouring country who have taken refuge in India following the military coup in February.
10. India has less than 50% mask compliance : Survey
Almost 90% of the COVID-19 deaths in India continue to be in the category of those aged above 45. Internal surveys showed that while 90% people were aware of the importance of masks, only 44% actually wore them, a statement from the Health Ministry said. India has seen the sharpest rise in weekly COVID-19 cases and fatalities since May 2020.
The total vaccination coverage in India approached six crore, with India being the third largest vaccinator in the world behind the United States and China. States were advised to increase testing in all districts and increase RT-PCR tests, to more than 70% of total. About 70% of cases could be controlled through COVID appropriate behaviour, States were told.
11. Teesta River issue : India-Bangladesh
Bangladesh reiterated that the livelihood of “millions'' of its citizens depended on Teesta river and the country should receive a proper share of its waters. The two leaders also instructed their Ministries of Water Resources to ﬁrm up the Framework of Interim Agreement over the six common rivers – Monu, Muhuri, Khowai, Gumti, Dharla and Dudhkumar.
The two Prime Ministers also agreed that the incidents of killings along the settled Indo-Bangladesh borders is a matter of concern. The leaders have expressed their desire to bring the number of such incidents involving civilians to ‘zero’. India reiterated its demand for completion of border fencing by Bangladesh “at the earliest”. Bangladesh has called upon India to revive the jute sector with investment and through public private partnership.
On connectivity, Bangladesh also oﬀered the airports of Sylhet and Chittagong for the passengers of the North-eastern States, especially of Tripura saying these airports will help in improving connectivity in the region.
12. SC allows poll bond sale of electoral bonds for now
The Supreme Court refused to stay the sale of electoral bonds prior to the Assembly elections in crucial States such as West Bengal and Tamil Nadu. Chief Justice Bobde, who read out the judgment, said the court found no reason to stall the sale of the electoral bonds now. The petition that was filed voiced serious apprehension that the sale of bonds before the elections would “further increase illegal and illicit funding of political parties through shell companies”.
The court agreed that the scheme protects the identity of purchasers of electoral bonds in a cloak of anonymity, but highlighted that such purchases happened only through regular banking channels. The State Bank of India would eventually know the identity of the buyer. It is also ensured that unidentiﬁed/unidentiﬁable persons cannot purchase the bonds and give it to the political parties. Under Clause 7 of the scheme, buyers have to apply in the prescribed form, either physically or online, disclosing their particulars. Anyone buying bonds would have to fulﬁl KYC (Know Your Customer) norms, the court said. Mr. Prashant Bhushan had argued that electoral bonds purchased using white money through banking channels could be repurchased by an anonymous entity using black cash.
The court debunked fears that electoral bonds would help foreign corporate houses inﬂuence domestic electoral politics. It said the bonds could be purchased only by a person who was a citizen of India or incorporated or established in India.
13. Fall in TB notifications due to pandemic disruptions
In 2020, there were 18.05 tuberculosis notiﬁcations, which was a fall of 24% from 2019 due to the disruptions caused by the pandemic, according to the India TB report released by the Health Ministry. The report said between January and February 2020, the notiﬁcations were on an upward trajectory, with 6% more cases reported in the same period in 2019. As a result of the lock down, notiﬁcations in the public sector fell by 38% and 44% in the private sector in April and May.
The approved bud gets toward the programme have increased substantially, from ₹640 crore in 2016-17 to ₹3,333 crores in 2019-20, however, there was a fall in budget to ₹3,110 crore in 2020-21.
14. Status-quo on supply of Yamuna water
- The Supreme Court ordered the States of Haryana and Punjab and the Bhakra Beas Management Board to maintain status quo in the supply of water to Delhi till March 26. A Bench led by Chief Justice Sharad A. Bobde passed the order on a plea ﬁled by the Delhi Jal Board (DJB) alleging that Haryana would cut 20% of its water supply to Delhi due to repair work in one of its canals. Chief Justice Bobde, said the issue is a matter of access to clean water, which is a fundamental right. The court agreed to hear the case on March 26 on an urgent basis.
15. Centre insists on DBT for welfare boards
- The Centre has ordered State welfare boards for building and other construction workers (BOCW) not to distribute household and other articles to workers and instead stick to transferring monetary assistance into their bank accounts. The Labour and Employment Ministry said in a statement that it issued an order to States directing the boards not to distribute articles. The BOCW boards are meant to carry out welfare activities for workers from the cess on construction collected by States.
INTERNATIONAL NEWS/EVENTS/ PERSONALITIES
1. China lashes out at U.S. and EU
China lashed out at the U.S. over racism, financial inequality and the federal government’s response to the COVID-19 pandemic, in an annual report that seeks to counter U.S. accusations of human rights abuses by China’s ruling Communist Party.
The 28-page report opens with “I can’t breathe”, a reference to George Floyd, a Black American who died last May after a police officer pressed his knee against Floyd’s neck for about nine minutes. The document also highlighted the January 6 attack on the Capitol, as well as gun violence and health disparities. China issues the report every year in response to U.S. criticism of its record on issues such as abuses against minority groups and a crackdown on opposition voices in Hong Kong. Separately, China also hit out at the European Union, accusing it of “hypocrisy” after the two sides summoned each other’s envoys in an escalating row over the treatment of China’s Muslim Uyghurs.
2. Biden calls for ban on assault weapons
Hours after a gunman opened fire in a supermarket in Boulder, Colorado, U.S. President Joe Biden asked Congress to ban assault weapons and mandate stricter background checks for those buying guns. The House of Representatives had passed two laws earlier this month that would require more background checks for potential gun buyers.
The U.S. Constitution’s Second Amendment grants the right to bear arms. According to a Gallup poll published in the autumn of 2020, 57% percent of Americans felt that gun laws need to be more strict and 42% of respondents said they kept a gun at home. More than 43,500 people died due to gun violence in 2020, according to the Gun Violence Archive
3. Uncertainty hangs over Israel election outcome
Israelis will have its fourth general election in less than two years, there was still no clear indication of who would form the next government. Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s right wing Likud party won the most votes, boosting his chances of building a coalition with a majority in the 120-seat Knesset.
Mr. Netanyahu, 71, Israel’s longest serving premier after 12 years in power, had hoped that Tuesday’s election would finally allow him to unite a stable right wing coalition behind him, after three inconclusive elections since 2019.
4. Taliban slam Afghan President’s proposal for new election
- The Taliban rejected a proposal by Afghan President Ashraf Ghani to hold elections later this year, after months of peace talks between the two sides have made little progress. Although he hasn’t made details public, Mr. Ghani will announce the election plan at a stakeholder conference in Turkey next month. The move is likely an attempt to undercut a U.S. proposal, supported by Russia, for the formation of an interim government involving the Taliban to rule the country once the last U.S. troops withdraw.
5. Ship blocks Suez Canal after running aground in sandstorm
- Tug boats worked on Wednesday to free a giant ship stuck in the Suez Canal after it veered off-course in a sandstorm, creating huge tailbacks on one of the world’s busiest trade routes. Egypt’s Suez Canal Authority (SCA) said it was working to refloat the Taiwan-run but Panama-flagged MV Ever Given, a 400-metre long and 59-metre wide vessel, which was lodged at an angle across the waterway. Historic sections of the canal were reopened to ease the bottleneck of marine traffic, with dozens of ships waiting on both Mediterranean and Red Sea sides
6. Suez Canal temporarily halts navigation
The Suez Canal Authority (SCA) said it was trying to refloat the Panama-flagged MV Ever Given, a 400-metrelong vessel that veered off course and ran aground in a sandstorm on Tuesday. Satellite pictures released by Planet Labs Inc show the 59-metre wide container ship wedged diagonally across the entire canal.
As shipping specialists warned it could take days or even weeks to budge the vessel, the Suez Canal Authority announced it was “temporarily suspending navigation”. A MarineTraffic map showed large clusters of vessels circling as they waited in both the Mediterranean to the north and the Red Sea to the south.
Historic sections of the canal were reopened in a bid to ease the bottleneck, with dozens of ships waiting at both ends of the waterway. It is an “absolutely critical” route because “all traffic arriving from Asia goes through the Suez Canal”. Nearly 19,000 ships passed through the canal last year carrying more than one billion tonnes of cargo, according to the SCA. Egypt earned $5.61 billion in revenues from the canal in 2020.
7. Social media giants to testify on misinformation, speech
The CEOs of social media giants Facebook, Twitter and Google will face a new grilling by Congress, focused on their efforts to prevent their platforms from spreading falsehoods and inciting violence. This has been a familiar theme for lawmakers over the past few years. But the pressure is even higher following the January 6 insurrection at the U.S. Capitol, the rise in COVID-19 vaccine misinformation and United Democratic control of Congress and the White House. The latter could make legislative action more likely, although it remains far from a sure thing.
Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg, Twitter chief Jack Dorsey and Google CEO Sundar Pichai, whose company owns YouTube, will testify in a virtual hearing before the House Energy and Commerce Committee. The session’s title is: “Disinformation Nation: Social Media’s Role in Promoting Extremism and Misinformation.”
8. As crackdown widens, Belarus opposition to restart protests
- Opposition activists in Belarus were preparing for fresh protests to breathe life into a movement against President Alexander Lukashenko that fizzled out in the face of a severe crackdown. The resumption of the protests coincides with Freedom Day in Belarus, which the Opposition marks each year on the anniversary of the country’s declaration of independence in 1918. Officials have said the planned protests are illegal and have moved to crack down on dissent this week, accusing a group representing Polish people in Belarus of stirring up racial hatred and the “rehabilitation of Nazism”
9. Bangladesh protest turns violent, 4 dead
Four supporters of a hardline Islamist group were shot dead in Bangladesh on Friday in violent demonstrations over Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s tour to Dhaka. It comes as Bangladesh marks 50 years of independence from Pakistan with celebrations focused on its economic achievements, which activist groups say have been overshadowed by rights abuses.
The former East Pakistan emerged as a new nation in 1971 after a brutal war involving India marked by horrific abuses that Bangladesh says killed as many as three million and displaced many more.
10. Eritrea will pull out troops from Tigray: Ethiopian PM
Eritrea will pull its troops out of Ethiopia’s northern Tigray region, Ethiopian Prime Minister Abiy Ahmed said, a potential breakthrough in a drawn out conflict that has seen atrocities carried out against civilians. The announcement comes as Mr. Abiy, winner of the 2019 Nobel Peace Prize, faces mounting pressure to end fighting, in which both Eritrean and Ethiopian troops stand accused of abuses, including mass killings and rapes.
Mr. Abiy sent troops into Tigray on November 4 after accusing the region’s once dominant ruling party, the Tigray People’s Liberation Front (TPLF), of attacks on Army camps. Ethiopia and Eritrea fought a border war beginning in 1998 that left tens of thousands dead and resulted in a two decade stalemate. Mr. Abiy won his Nobel in large part for initiating a rapprochement with Mr. Afwerki after taking office in 2018, but Eritrea and the TPLF remained bitter enemies.
11. Beijing sanctions Britons over Xinjiang
China slapped sanctions on several British politicians and organisations on Friday after the U.K. joined the European Union and others in sanctioning Chinese officials accused of human rights abuses in the Xinjiang region. The U.K. responded by accusing China of violating human rights on an “industrial scale.”
British Prime Minister Boris Johnson condemned Beijing’s move, saying the sanctioned individuals “are performing a vital role shining a light on the gross human rights violations being perpetrated against Uighur Muslims”.
Meanwhile, China on Thursday launched a PR war on Western brands critical of rights abuses against Uighurs and other minorities in Xinjiang, with celebrities severing ties to Nike and Adidas, H&M facing a boycott and Burberry dumped from a deal with a gaming giant. Celebrities, tech brands and state media – aided by outrage on China's tightly controlled social media – piled in on several global fashion brands, as China's vast consumer market was mobilised against critics of Beijing's actions in Xinjiang.
12. ‘Brazil virus deaths biggest genocide in our history
- Brazil’s over 3,00,000 deaths from the coronavirus amount to the “biggest genocide” in the Latin American country’s history, former President Luiz Inacio Lula da Silva said in a scathing attack on current leader Jair Bolsonaro. As Brazil surpassed 3,00,000 deaths from the virus on Wednesday, Mr. Lula called on Mr. Bolsonaro to apologise to the families of victims. Mr. Lula, 75, led Brazil through an economic boom from 2003 to 2010 before being sentenced to 26 years in prison on graft charges in 2017. The conviction was annulled earlier this month.
13. China, Iran sign a 25-year ‘strategic pact’
China and Iran signed what was described as a 25-year “strategic cooperation pact”, during Chinese Foreign Minister Wang Yi’s ongoing six nation tour to West Asia. The deal, which has been in the works for five years, was signed between Mr. Wang and his Iranian counterpart Javad Zarif, AFP reported from Tehran.
The agreement comes amid a major push from China to back Iran, which counts on Beijing, its largest trading partner, as it deals with the continuing weight of sanctions reinstated following the then U.S. President Donald Trump’s decision to withdraw from the Iranian nuclear deal.
Earlier this week, China and Russia called for the U.S. to “unconditionally return to the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA) as soon as possible and revoke the unilateral sanctions against Iran'' as their Foreign Ministers met in China. In this context, they proposed “the establishment of a regional security dialogue platform to converge a new consensus on resolving the security concerns of countries in the region”
14. Alternative to China’s BRI needed, Biden tells Boris
U.S. President Joe Biden said he told British Prime Minister Boris Johnson that democratic countries should provide an alternative to China’s infrastructure strategy, the Belt and Road Initiative (BRI).
The White House said the two leaders discussed COVID-19 and global health security, climate, China, Iran and the preservation of political stability in Northern Ireland. Earlier in March, the U.S. and its Quad partners (India, Australia and Japan) had committed to another initiative between democratic states- providing up to one billion vaccines in South East Asia and the Pacific.
15. Currents on Enceladus
- Enceladus, Saturn’s moon, its diameter about one seventh that of our Moon, attracted space scientists when the Cassini spacecraft sampled water from its polar regions, making it a rare extraterrestrial spot. A study published in Nature Geoscience has found beneath its frozen surface, currents similar to those on the Earth
OPINION & ANALYSIS
STORY : Arts and awards
(i). What happened
- The announcement of the 67th National Film Awards on Monday, to recognise films certified in 2019, quite predictably drew its share of controversies. While some attributed a few of the awards to the political alignment of the personalities and films concerned, there were others who thought that deserving candidates were overlooked. However, there was no disputing the fact that the awards acknowledged both well known and less known films from different pockets of the country.
(ii). Who won
Dhanush being declared the Best Actor for Asuran, which was also acknowledged the Best Tamil Film, and Sethupathi winning Best Supporting Actor for Super Deluxe, have been lauded widely.
Sharing the Best Actor honours with Dhanush is Manoj Bajpayee for his performance in Bhonsle. The Kannada film Avane Srimannarayana was chosen for Best Action Direction.
The Malayalam period magnum opus Marakkar: Lion of the Arabian Sea bagged Best Feature Film. The award that drew the fiercest criticism was that of Kangana Ranaut for being declared Best Actress for Panga and Manikarnika: The Queen of Jhansi.
(iii). All around recognition
The National Awards put the spotlight on films from the Northeast region — the Khasi film Iewduh for Best Audiography (Location Sound Recordist) and Water Burial, in Arunachal Pradesh’s tribal Monpa language, for Best Film for Environment Conservation.
For film industries that rarely enjoy their place in the sun, a National Award should ideally help winning films find a wider audience. It has not always been the case, but there is hope, in a world where cinema may increasingly be consumed on digital platforms
ANALYSIS : Adani’s Carmichael coal project
- India has reaffirmed its commitment to bold plans for switching to renewable energy. Yet, one of the world’s largest new coal investments is Adani’s $16.5 billion dollar Carmichael coal mine project in Queensland. That this project is going ahead despite coal’s declining competitiveness raises valid concerns that the new coal investments are viable only because they are supported by the Australian government’s subsidies or incentives.
(ii). Gains and losses
- Coal mining provides incomes for Australia’s local economy, but the health and environmental harm from mining and combustion represents a big net loss for the world. CO2 emissions, the chief cause of climate change, totalled 36 billion metric tonnes globally in 2019, of which nearly 40% came from coal. The Carmichael mine is set to become Australia’s largest coal mine, producing up to 60 million tonnes of coal annually and 2.3 billion tonnes over its 60-year lifespan. As India is the primary buyer of the Carmichael coal, the project will significantly add to its emissions.
(iii). Leaving Coal underground
- After facing heat waves, bushfires, and intense rainfall that are linked to climate change, Australia should be deeply concerned and so should India. The Government of India is drawing up plans for carbon neutrality, following several others that have announced 2050 as their target date for this. Achieving a zero carbon target will require vast investments in the production, storage, and distribution of renewable energy. But the approval for Adani to mine and export coal to India makes reaching those targets much harder.
ANALYSIS : Israel’s democracy is facing a stress test
- Israel is past its fourth election in less than two years, is in search of political stability and, once again, faces the crisis of not having a leader who can form a coalition government and survive a full term. The election results now have highlighted a fractured mandate where there are 13 parties, most with single digit seats; it is only the Likud party (rightwing, nationalist and neoliberal) led by Benjamin Netanyahu that has 30 seats out of 120 seats in Parliament. Mr. Netanyahu has lost his political magic but Israel is unable to go beyond him.
(ii). Coalitions are the reality
The Likud party could very well be in a position to get to 61 seats with its meagre 30 seats by forming a coalition with other smaller parties that share the same ideological leanings. However, several parties are opposed to Benjamin Netanyahu, as he is the first Israeli Prime Minister on trial for three criminal cases – bribery, fraud and breach of trust.
The Prime Minister in Israel does not have to resign when charged and indicted in court – any other Minister or the President of state has to step down. This strange legal loophole has given a very long rope to Mr. Netanyahu who not only is in office but could contest election after election. Israel does not have a full drawn Constitution; it does not have an institutional mechanism therefore to uphold public trust and the legal dignity of the highest political office.
Since 1996 (the year Mr. Netanyahu became Prime Minister for the first time), governments in Israel have lasted for an average 2.3 years. Once a unifier and a decisive leader, he has now become the dividing figure in Israeli domestic politics. For a long time, the issue of its conflict with neighbours and the Palestinians has served as a catalyst for national politics. But now, societal cleavages and ideological and cultural divisions have resulted in an offensive and antagonistic politics.The President of Israel, Reuven Rivlin, has been expressing his anguish over this situation for a long time now.
(iii). India must take note
- The inner political crisis of Israel is a wakeup call for Indian democracy. There are many in India who look up to the Israeli model of a military-led national security, its abilities to retaliate and carry out surgical strikes as well as its aggressive pursuit of power. This model may not serve Indian national security in the long run as the Israeli story unfolds. Strong nations are often those with social cohesion, common values and an inner-capacity for dialogue and compromise.
STORY : The Afghan endgame
(i). The story so far
- As the May 1 deadline for pulling out all American troops from Afghanistan nears, United States President Joe Biden faces some difficult decisions.
(ii). What is the U.S. likely to do
- The plan proposes that Mr. Ghani step up negotiations with the Taliban for “power sharing”, discuss principles of future governance with the Taliban, and step aside eventually for a “more inclusive” or interim government. The tone of the letter seems to make it clear that the U.S. is not in favour of completely scrapping the 2020 agreement. Therefore, it is most likely to pursue the option of negotiating for an extension of the agreement, according to experts, as it builds other dialogue platforms.
(iii). What are those platforms
- Apart from the intra-Afghan negotiations in Doha, the U.S. revealed this month that it has been part of a “Troika” with Russia and China that have met several times since March 2019 along with Pakistan in search of a regional solution. The extended Troika met last on March 18 in Moscow, where Turkey, Qatar and Afghan and Taliban leaders were also invited.
(iv). What is President Ghani’s plan
- Mr. Ghani has proposed his own peace plan. The plan was announced by Afghan Foreign Minister Haneef Atmar during his visit to Delhi this week, where he reached out for support. It would involve a full ceasefire, inviting the Taliban to participate in early elections in Afghanistan, and then for Mr. Ghani to hand over power to the elected government.
(v). Where does India stand
- India’s position has been to back an “Afghan-owned, Afghan-led, Afghan-controlled” peace process, backing the elected government in Kabul, and it has not yet held talks with the Taliban directly. The government has not yet announced a special envoy on Afghanistan who could be a part of the UN-led process for regional countries, but it has made it clear that it seeks to be an integral part of the process, as the outcomes will have a deep impact on India’s security matrix as well.
STORY : The Suez Canal
- M.V. Ever Given got stuck in a dust storm and strong winds on March 23 and ran aground in the channel blocking off the traffic. The 193-km long canal across Egypt’s Isthmus of Suez connecting the Mediterranean Sea in the north and the Red Sea in south – thereby bringing the Atlantic Ocean and the Indian Ocean closer – has been a critical artery for global trade since the mid-19th century. If the channel is blocked, ships from Europe will have to sail around the Cape of Good Hope in southern Africa to reach Asia, and vice versa.
(ii). The History & where it stands
The idea of linking the Mediterranean Sea to the Erythraean Sea (today’s Red Sea) had excited both Egypt’s rulers and colonisers from ancient to modern times. In the mid-19th century, French diplomat and engineer Ferdinand de Lesseps won permission from Egypt’s Ottoman-appointed ruler Said Pasha to start building the canal. In 1858, Universal Suez Ship Canal Company was formed to execute the project and construction work began a year later. In 1869, the canal was officially opened for traffic.
France and Britain operated the canal, until Egypt’s socialist President Gamal Abdel Nasser nationalised it in 1956. By March 1957, the invading troops were fully withdrawn and Egypt’s authority over the canal was recognised. Interestingly, the Suez crisis also marked Great Britain’s dwindling influence in West Asia, a region it controlled since the fall of the Ottoman Empire, and the arrival of the U.S. as the new great power in the region. The canal was closed again during the 1967 war.
It reopened in 1975 after Egyptian-Israeli relations started warming following the 1973 Yom Kippur War. Egypt’s President Abdel Fattah al-Sisi, who came to power through a coup in 2013, launched an ambitious $8.5billion expansion project at the canal in 2014 as part of which a second line was dug along its northern section, allowing two-way traffic. The canal is an important source of revenue for Egypt’s battered economy. Last year, Egypt generated $5.61 billion in revenues from the canal and the authorities expect this to double by 2023. About 19,000 ships passed through the channel in 2020 carrying 1.2 billion tonnes of cargo, according to the Suez Canal Authority. As much as 13% of all maritime trade, from oil to automobiles, pass through the canal every year.
ECONOMICS & FINANCE
1. Definition of unfair trade practice for e-commerce
A parliamentary panel has recommended that the government should oﬀer a more clear-cut deﬁnition of what constitutes ‘unfair’ trade practice as well as spell out a practical legal remedy to tackle the issue, warning that there was a risk that predatory pricing by ecommerce ﬁrms may result in competition being wiped out and prove detrimental to consumers in the long run.
The panel, headed by Partap Singh Bajwa, in its report on ‘The Consumer Protection (ECommerce) Rules, 2020’ tabled in Parliament, has also recommended ﬁxing a cap on delivery charges levied by e-commerce ﬁrms, as well as providing for penal provisions for violation of rules related to misinformation.
What is predatory pricing? It is a short-term strategy, adopted by some of the market giants with deep pockets to sustain short-term losses and reduce the prices of their products below the average variable costs.
The panel also recommended the ministry to clearly deﬁne ‘drip pricing' – wherein the ﬁnal cost of the product goes up due to additional charges, and provide for protecting consumers against this by including penal provisions for violation.
2. No digital tax for goods sold via India arm
In a bid to provide a level playing ﬁeld, the government has decided not to levy 2% digital service tax if goods and services are sold through an Indian arm of foreign e-commerce player. The amendment to the Finance Bill 2021 clariﬁes that oﬀshore e-commerce platforms don’t have to pay the levy if they have a permanent establishment or they pay any income tax in India.
The digital tax, introduced in April 2020, applies only to non-resident companies with annual revenues in excess of ₹2 crore, and covers online sales of goods and services to Indians.
3. Bank ratings and privatisation
- Privatisation of two public sector banks can impact their ratings as the government support to the two entities will disappear, India Ratings and Research (IndRa) said. The rating agency said the Budget proposal to privatise the as yet unidentiﬁed PSBs “could lead to material negative migration of the long-term issuer ratings (mapped to senior instruments such as infrastructure bonds) and the ratings on tier 2 instruments of the banks.” The impact will be more if the government chooses to privatise weaker banks.
4. Infection surge and vaccine exports from India
- India has put a temporary hold on all major exports of the AstraZeneca coronavirus shots made by the Serum Institute of India (SII). The move will also aﬀect supplies to the GAVI/WHO backed COVAX vaccine sharing facility through which more than 180 countries are expected to get doses. COVAX has so far received 17.7 million AstraZeneca doses from the SII, of the 60.5 million doses India has shipped in total. COVAX has a deal to buy 1.1 billion doses of the AstraZeneca and Novavax shots that the SII is making.
5. RBI firm on FY22 forecast
Despite the fresh threat from rising COVID-19 cases, the Reserve Bank of India (RBI) chief maintained the central bank’s forecast for GDP growth in FY22 at 10.5%. He said the Reserve Bank remained ‘fully committed’ to use all policy tools to secure a robust recovery of the economy from the debilitating eﬀects of the pandemic.
To a question on keeping rising bond yields in check, Mr. Das said, “The relationship between the central bank and bond markets need not be combative, it has to be cooperative.” The government’s borrowings for the next year would remain in the same range as it had been this year. RBI would manage the borrowings and that there should not be any disorder in the yield curve.
6. Twitter firm on ensuring all voices are heard
Regulations are beneﬁcial when they safeguard citizens’ fundamental rights and reinforce online freedom; however, regulating online content requires striking a careful balance between protecting from harm while preserving human rights, including freedom of expression, privacy and procedural fairness for everyone, said Kathleen Reen, senior director, Public Policy and Philanthropy, APAC, Twitter. She added that Twitter's purpose was to serve public conversation. Twitter supported a forward-looking approach to regulation that protected the open Internet, drove universal access, and promoted competition and innovation.
“A global cross functional team with local, cultural and language expertise is in place and has been tasked with keeping the service safe from attempts to incite violence, abuse, and threats that could trigger the risk of oﬄine harm,” Ms. Reen said.
7. India eyes cape of good hope after Suez Canal blockade
With $200 billion of India’s trade ﬂows with Europe, North America and South America at risk due to the blockage of the Suez Canal, the Department of Commerce has worked out an action plan to cope with the crisis, including possibly re-routing shipments through the Cape of Good Hope. Export promotion agencies have been asked to identify cargo with perishable items that need priority movement. Container Shipping Lines Association was advised to explore the option of re-routing ships via the Cape of Good Hope.
Shipping ﬁrms have promised to honour existing freight contracts, while ports have been advised to be ready for a bunching up of vessels once the canal is unblocked
8. Finance Commission chairperson advises to move Health to concurrent list
Health should be shifted to the Concurrent list under the Constitution, and a developmental ﬁnance institution (DFI) dedicated to healthcare investments set up, Fifteenth Finance Commission Chairman N.K. Singh said. Making a case for enhancing government spending on health to 2.5% of GDP by 2025, Mr. Singh said primary healthcare should be a fundamental commitment of all States in particular and should be allocated at least two thirds of such spending.
He also emphasised the importance of universalising healthcare insurance as a large section of the society still remained uncovered. While the PMJAY covers the bottom two income quintiles, commercial insurance largely covers the top income quintile, thereby creating a ‘missing middle’ class in between.
9. Chief Economic Advisor hopeful of achieving disinvestment target
Asserting that the disinvestment target of ₹1.75 lakh crore for 2021-22 was ‘eminently achievable,’ Chief Economic Adviser (CEA) K. V. Subramanian on Saturday said the proposed initial public oﬀering (IPO) by LIC itself could garner ₹1 lakh crore for the government. He also said targeting retail inﬂation by the Reserve Bank of India (RBI) has helped bring down the volatility and level of inﬂation.
The RBI’s Monetary Policy Committee has been mandated to maintain annual inﬂation at 4% until March 31, 2021, with an upper tolerance of 6% and lower limit of 2%. Mr. Subramanian also emphasised that India needed a lot more banks for meeting its growth potential.
10. Requirement of DFIs for India's growth
The Rajya Sabha cleared the legislation to establish the National Bank for Financing Infrastructure and Development (NBFID), which was announced in the Budget speech by Finance Minister Nirmala Sitharaman as the principal development ﬁnancial institution (DFIs) for infrastructure ﬁnancing. The infrastructure that it planned to fund was not only roads but also social infrastructure like schools and hospitals.
The opposition pointed out that the ﬁrst such institution was set up in 1948. In 1991, Manmohan Singh, as Finance Minister, had set up the Narsimham committee, which came to the conclusion that the era of the DFIs was over. Criticism was made following despite the government having a 26% stake in this bank, the Bill did not provide for an oversight mechanism. The other lacuna was the protection provided to management for the decisions it takes as an “act of good faith”.
1. Olympic torch relay sets off
The Tokyo Olympics torch relay got underway on Thursday after a year's coronavirus delay, with oﬃcials hoping it will be a “ray of light” after the problems caused by the pandemic. It will be a 121day relay, which will criss-cross Japan and involve 10,000 runners before the torch lights the Olympic cauldron on July 23.
Azusa Iwashimizu, one of Japan's 2011 World Cup winning women's footballers, was the ﬁrst to carry the rose gold, cherry blossom shaped torch, accompanied by former teammates.
2. Para athletics fiasco
Paralympic Committee of India (PCI) president Deepa Malik has said it was the athletes who had forced organisers to conduct some events of the National Para Athletics Championship at night, under the light of mobile phone torches. Deepa stated that since many tournament oﬃcials did not show up, there were delays that forced organisers to hold some events at night.
Deepa also dismissed concerns raised by the Sports Authority of India (SAI) regarding COVID-19 Standard Operating Procedures like physical distancing not being followed at the championship.
3. Tour-de-France to start from Bilbao in 2023
- The 2023 Tour de France will set off from Bilbao, marking the sixth time in 10 editions that the world’s most famous cycling race starts outside France, its organisers said. This year’s race will set off in home territory, beginning in Nice on June 26 and the next year in Copenhagen.
4. Sakshi wins trials
- Olympic bronze medallist Sakshi Malik won the women’s 65 kg selection trials to earn a place in the upcoming Asian wrestling championships in Almaty, Kazakhstan.
1. Permanent Commission for women officers https://www.livelaw.in/top-stories/supreme-court-armys-evaluation-criteria-permanent-commission-women-officers-arbitrary-171703
2. Discrimination at Apple https://www.thequint.com/neon/gender/discrimination-at-apple-woman-moves-us-court
3. National Judicial Infrastructure Corporation https://www.barandbench.com/news/litigation/justice-nv-ramana-national-judicial-infrastructure-corporation-infrastructure-demands-judiciary
4. Supreme Court and electoral bonds https://www.livelaw.in/columns/supreme-courts-refusal-to-stay-electoral-bonds-undermines-transparency-in-electoral-process-171836
5. Goa and Uniform Civil Code https://thewire.in/law/goa-has-what-constitutional-makers-envisaged-cji-hails-uniform-civil-code-of-state
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Sources referred to : The Hindu, The Indian Express, Live Law, Bar & Bench