Week Page : March 3rd-7th, 2021
The week that went by!
LAW, POLICY & GOVERNANCE
(i). Centre garners ₹77,815 crore in spectrum auction, Jio top bidder
- The telecom spectrum auctions concluded after bidding for a day and a half, with the Centre garnering ₹77,814.8 crore in revenues. The Mukesh Ambani led Reliance Jio was the biggest bidder, acquiring 488.35 MHz of spectrum for ₹57,122.65 crore. The spectrum will be assigned to bidders for a period of 20 years.
(ii). Mullaperiyar case hearing
- The Supreme Court scheduled a hearing on March 9 of the case concerning the safety of the 126-year old Mullaperiyar Dam. Recently, Tamil Nadu had filed an affidavit assuring that the dam was safe hydrologically and protected from earthquakes. In its affidavit, Kerala had informed the court of Central Water Commission (CWC) inspection report which said that 70% of the installed instruments for monitoring the safety and health of the dam were not working properly.
(iii). Cybercrime volunteer plan
- The Ministry of Home Affairs “cybercrime volunteers” (https://rb.gy/aqg2w3) plan targets to rope in around 500 persons to flag unlawful content on the Internet for “improvement in the cybercrime ecosystem of India”.
(iv). Women’s rights activists ask CJI to step down
Over 3,500 concerned citizens, representatives of women’s movements and feminists issued an open letter to Chief Justice of India S.A. Bobde demanding that he step down and issue an apology for his remarks in court where he asked a man, accused of raping a minor girl, if he was willing to marry her.
“From the towering heights of the post of CJI of the Supreme Court, it sends the message to other courts, judges, police and all other law enforcing agencies that justice is not a constitutional right of women in India. This will only lead to the further silencing of girls and women.“
(v). U.S. think tank report classifies India as ‘partly free’
- Freedoms in India have reduced, according to a report from a U.S. think-tank, Freedom House, resulting in India being classified as ‘partly free’. “The government of Prime Minister Narendra Modi and its State Level allies continued to crack down on critics during the year,” the report said.
(vi). Voicing dissent against govt. is not sedition: SC
- Voicing dissent against the government does not amount to sedition, the Supreme Court said while rejecting a plea to “terminate” the Lok Sabha membership of National Conference leader Farooq Abdullah and book him for sedition. The Bench dismissed the case levying costs on the petitioners to the tune of ₹50,000 to be deposited with the Supreme Court Advocates Welfare Fund in four weeks.
(vii). Free education: Centre told to reply on contempt petition
- The Delhi High Court asked the Central government to respond to a contempt petition against the authorities for not taking decision on extension of free education under the Right To Education (RTE) Act to children of Economically Weaker Section (EWS) beyond Class 8 and up to Class 12 in school. Advocates appearing for the NGO said due to inaction on the part of the Centre, private schools across India are throwing several EWS students out every year after they pass Class 8.
(viii). SC asks for NIA response on Navlakha’s bail petition
- The Supreme Court asked the National Investigation Agency (NIA) to respond to a plea filed by activist Gautam Navlakha for bail in the Bhima-Koregaon case. Mr. Navlakha, represented by senior advocate Kapil Sibal, appealed after the Bombay High Court refused him bail on February 8.
(ix). Bombay HC asks Amazon to take down Telugu film
- The Bombay High Court directed Amazon Seller Services Private Ltd., to take down the Telugu film V within 24 hours until the image of actor Sakshi Malik is completely deleted from it. Actor Sakshi Malik alleges unauthorised use of her image.
(x). NHRC asks for report in Naudeep case
- The National Human Rights Commission (NHRC) has asked the Haryana police for a report on a complaint that labour activist Naudeep Kaur, who was arrested on January 12 after a stir to demand workers’ wages in Kundli, was harassed and tortured in custody. The Sonipat Superintendent of Police (SP) was on February 18 given four weeks to respond.
(xi). OTT platforms will not have to register : Centre
The Ministry of Information and Broadcasting has clarified that over-the-top (OTT) platforms will not have to register with the government, and no government nominee will be present in the self regulatory body. The statement, quoting Mr. Javadekar, said “the rules focus on self classification of content instead of any form of censorship”. The platforms were expected to develop a grievance redressal mechanism to tackle complaints about content.
The Supreme Court made it amply clear to over-the-top (OTT) platforms such as Netflix and Amazon Prime Video that it is in favour of “screening” the content shown by them. It said some of the films hosted by the platforms were pornographic. The hearing was based on a plea by Ms. Aparna Purohit, Amazon Prime’s commercial head, against the Allahabad High Court decision to deny her pre arrest bail in connection with the probe into Tandav, a web series hosted by the platform.
The Supreme Court said the government’s new rules to regulate OTT platforms lacked teeth to punish violators or to screen offensive content, even as it protected Amazon Prime Video India commercial head Aparna Purohit from arrest in the Tandav web series row. The court order said the new rules were “more in the nature of guidelines” and there was “no effective mechanism for screening or to take appropriate action” against violators.
(xii). HC seeks reply on vaccine eligibility
- The Delhi High Court asked the Union government to explain the rationale behind limiting the current category of people eligible for receiving COVID-19 vaccination to those over the age 60 and to those above 45 with comorbidities. The court directed the Serum Institute of India and Bharat Biotech to disclose their capacities to manufacture their Covishield and Covaxin vaccines respectively and if they could scale up capacity to include the legal fraternity for vaccination.
(xiii). SC quashes notifications by Maharashtra EC
- The Supreme Court held that reservation for Other Backward Classes in Maharashtra’s local bodies should not exceed the aggregate 50% of the total seats reserved in favour of SCs/STs/OBCs taken together. The judgment further quashed the notifications issued by the State Election Commission in 2018 and 2020, providing reservation exceeding 50% in local bodies of some districts. The top court clarified that the OBC members who benefited from this reservation would “be deemed to have vacated their seat upon pronouncement of this judgment, prospectively”.
(xiv). HC upset with police over leak of chargesheet in Delhi riots case
The Delhi High Court expressed displeasure at the Delhi Police for leak of supplementary charge sheet filed in a case related to north east Delhi riots to the media even before cognisance was taken by the court concerned.
Justice Mukta Gupta asked the Delhi Police Commissioner to give an affidavit fixing responsibility on the person instrumental in leaking the information to the media.
(xv). Funds for SCs and STs remain largely unused
- Funds allocated for schemes meant to benefit Scheduled Castes (SCs) and Scheduled Tribes (STs) remained largely unutilised in the fiscal year 2020-21, according to the State Economic Survey presented in the Assembly of Maharashtra. In previous years too, the Maharashtra government was unable to spend most of the proposed funds.
(xvi). ‘Lift ban on blood donation by transgenders’
The Supreme Court asked the government to respond to a plea challenging blood donation guidelines, which ban transgender persons, members of the gay community and sex workers from donating blood.
Ms. Kothari said the guidelines perpetuated a stigma that these communities were “less worthy and subordinate in social participation and healthcare”.
(xvii). Prioritise the elderly, SC tells private hospitals
- The Supreme Court has directed that private hospitals should give priority to senior citizens in admission. On August 4 last year, the court declared that government hospitals should give priority to elderly people as they are vulnerable to COVID-19 virus. On Thursday, senior advocate and former Union Law Minister Ashwani Kumar urged a Bench led by Ashok Bhushan to extend the August 4 order to private hospitals.
(xviii). Look into petition alleging chopping of trees by DIAL’
The National Green Tribunal (NGT) has directed the Delhi Forest Department to look into a plea alleging chopping trees by the Delhi International Airport Authority Limited (DIAL) and the GMR group for expansion of a runway at the Indira Gandhi International Airport.
An NGT Bench directed the Principal Chief Conservator of Forest, Delhi to verify the factual position and take remedial action in accordance with law after due verification. According to the petition, the felling of trees had taken place in noncompliance of requisite rules.
(xix). Free entry for women at ASI sites on March 8
- Women visitors, both domestic and foreign, will not be charged entry fee at the Centrally protected monuments and ancient sites maintained by the ASI on the International Women’s Day on March 8.
(xx). Now, a help desk for transgenders
- In what is claimed to be the first of its kind gender inclusive community policing initiative in the country, the Cyberabad police inaugurated a ‘Transgender Community Desk’ at Gachibowli Police Station. The desk will provide support to file cases in offences related to violence or discrimination against any transgender person.
(xxi). ‘Put off IT rules, consult stakeholders’
- The Editors Guild of India (EGI) has called upon the government to put the Information Technology (Intermediary Guidelines and Digital Media Ethics Code) Rules, 2021 in abeyance, saying the guidelines can undermine media freedom. It said some provisions of the rules could put unreasonable restrictions on digital news media.
(xxii). First woman convict on death row in Independent India : Shabnam Ali
- For the first time ever, a woman will be hanged to death in independent India. This has come as President Ram Nath Kovind turned down the mercy petition of Shabnam, who has been accused of killing seven members of her family along with her lover Salim.
NATIONAL NEWS/ INTERVENTIONS
(i). India and Japan back in new Sri Lanka port project
Sri Lanka said it will develop the West Container Terminal (WCT) at the Colombo Port, along with India and Japan. The decision comes a month after the Rajapaksa government ejected the two partners from a 2019 tripartite agreement to jointly develop the East Container Terminal (ECT), citing resistance to “foreign involvement”. The approval had been granted to develop the WCT with investors nominated by India and Japan.
While the High Commission of India had “approved” Adani Ports, which was to invest in the ECT project earlier, Japan is yet to name an investor. Neither India nor Japan has officially commented on the offer, or on the said private investment from the countries.
The Rajapaksa government has offered India and Japan the WCT as an alternative, allowing higher stakes. In the ECT project agreed upon earlier, the Sri Lanka Ports Authority (SLPA) was to hold majority 51%, but in the WCT proposal, India and Japan will be accorded 85% stake, as is the case in the nearby Colombo International Container Terminal (CICT), where China Merchants Port Holdings Company Limited holds 85%, the government said. Colombo’s alternative offer also comes at a time when Sri Lanka is seeking support at the ongoing UN Human Right Council session, where a resolution on the country’s rights record will soon be put to vote.
(ii). Emergency was a mistake, says Rahul
- Congress leader Rahul Gandhi said the Emergency imposed by former Prime Minister Indira Gandhi was a “mistake” but sought to differentiate the situation in 1975 and now in terms of “capture of democratic institutions”. He said what happened in 1975 was “wrong” but it was fundamentally different from the present where, he alleged, the fundamentalists had “penetrated every institution, including judiciary, bureaucracy, election commission and the press”.
(iii). Army to induct 6,000 new light machine guns for frontline troops
The Army will begin inducting the first lot of 6,000 new Light Machine Guns (LMG) from Israel, with frontline troops on the borders set to receive them later this month. These are part of the 16,497 Negev LMGs contracted from Israeli Weapons Industry (IWI) in March 2020 under fast track procurement to meet the immediate requirement.
The larger share of the overall requirement, 70% or 40,949 LMGs, would be procured domestically from the private sector. The process for that has been initiated and the Field Evaluation Trial (FET) at the pre trial stage is progressing. The Army has an urgent requirement for a range of small arms and after repeated delays in the procurement process is now in the process of inducting them.
(iv). Covaxin shows 81% efficacy, also works against variants
Covaxin, India’s first COVID-19 vaccine, has demonstrated an interim clinical efficacy of 81% in the phase 3 clinical trial, vaccine maker Bharat Biotech said. The vaccine demonstrated high clinical efficacy and significant immunogenicity against variants, the company’s CMD, Krishna Ella, said.
A statement from Bharat Biotech, which developed the vaccine in collaboration with the Indian Council of Medical Research (ICMR), said 25,800 participants between ages 18 and 98 were enrolled for the phase 3 study. It included 2,433 over the age of 60 and 4,500 with comorbidities. The first results from phase 3, called the primary endpoint, are based on the first occurrence of Polymerase Chain Reaction confirmed symptomatic (mild, moderate, or severe) COVID-19 with onset at least 14 days after the second dose.
(v). 14 Trojans found in servers, says Minister
Two days after Maharashtra Home Minister Anil Deshmukh submitted a report prepared by the State’s cyber cell on a possible cyberattack that caused the October 12 power outage in Mumbai and parts of Mumbai Metropolitan Region (MMR), Power Minister Nitin Raut said the report found 14 Trojan programs that had entered the Maharashtra State Electricity Transmission Company (MahaTransco) servers.
“According to observations in the report, the firewalls of the information technology [IT] and operational technology [OT] servers, which are essential for power transmission, were affected by these Trojan horses. Suspicious codes and software programs that can affect the cybersecurity ecosystem at the State Load Dispatch Center [SLDC] at Kalva had found its way into the system,” Mr. Raut said in a statement in the Assembly. Similar Trojan programs were part of bigger cyberattacks in the past, he added.
(vi). ‘Linguistic barriers to education must go’
The country’s education system should break through linguistic barriers in order to ensure that those in rural areas or from poor homes were not deprived of opportunities to let their talent flourish, Prime Minister Narendra Modi.
Addressing a webinar on education initiatives in the Union Budget, he stated that the focus on learning in local languages was one of the most important improvements being brought through the new National Education Policy. Mr. Modi pointed out that limiting knowledge and research was a big injustice to the country’s potential. In fact, opportunities were opening in sectors such as space, atomic energy and agriculture for talented youth.
(vii). Jagan launches ‘AP Fact Check’ website
- Andhra Pradesh Chief Minister Y.S. Jagan Mohan Reddy on Friday launched ‘AP Fact Check’ website and Twitter account which are intended to counter the “fake news being spread against the government by some interests”. The State would tackle malicious content through these platforms duly backed by evidence, he said.
(viii). Pochampally rainbow woven into six yards
- Boga Balaiah, a traditional handloom weaver from Pochampally village in Telangana’s Yadadri Bhuvanagiri district, has put the colour wheel to shame with his effort in creating a sari. He has woven magic with an amazing 121 hues and an equal number of motifs to embellish the sari he has created after two years of strenuous work. With the Ikat dyed mercerised cotton sari, which holds one motif in each box of separate shade as part of the design, Mr. Balaiah is aiming for a national award from the Ministry of Textiles. The 61year old says it had been his dream for 10 years to create such a sari. “I could not spare time owing to my financial expediencies and family responsibilities. Now that my children are settled in their own jobs, I can give shape to my dream.” He used 11 eco friendly colours each in warp and weft, namely, green, golden yellow, blue, brown, parrot green, grey, orange, Ananda (a shade in blue), lemon yellow and Rani Pink (fuchsia), which gave the sari its 121 shades. (https://rb.gy/8m0nhm)
(ix). Farm laws an internal matter of India: envoy
Maintaining that the new agricultural laws are an “internal matter” of India, new U.K. High Commissioner to India Alexander Ellis said the debate in the British House of Commons set for Monday was part of issues linked to India that were quite “regularly debated” there. Mr. Ellis told journalists, explaining that the farm laws and the protests were being discussed as a result of a petition that crossed 1,00,000 signatures, though the U.K. government’s position was that the issue was an internal one for the Modi government to resolve in India.
One of the highlights of the visit is the possible beginning of India-U.K. Free Trade agreement negotiations, which Mr. Johnson is understood to be keen to announce post-Brexit, even before Prime Minister Narendra Modi travels to Portugal in May for an EU-India summit.
Mr. Johnson’s earlier planned visit for Republic Day in January had to be put off, and he will also receive Mr. Modi in June as India is a special invitee along with Australia and South Korea to the G7 summit of the world’s biggest economies. Mr. Ellis said he hoped for a “swift resolution” of the dispute between the Indian government and the British company Cairn Energy that won an arbitration settlement of $1.2 billion from India.
(x). More Myanmar nationals take refuge in Mizoram
- Villagers in Mizoram’s border districts said more than 100 people have crossed over from Myanmar to escape a military crackdown there. Local authorities have, however, confirmed the arrival of 23 people who fled the Tatmadaw – as the Myanmar military is called – that took control of the country following a coup on February 1. At least 50 people have been killed in clashes with the army since
(xi). Nirmala dismisses report on human rights issues
Finance Minister Nirmala Sitharaman lashed out at the U.S. think tank Freedom House – which has downgraded India’s status from “free” to “partly free” – accusing the body of not even getting the “Indian map” correct. The Information and Broadcasting Ministry on behalf of the government also issued a statement calling the report “misleading, incorrect and misplaced.
The Information and Broadcasting Ministry, in a statement said, that the think tanks’s “Democracy under siege” is misleading, incorrect and misplaced. The statement pointed out that there are many States, which have nonBJP governments, elected through a free and fair process.
(xii). Quad to hold leadership summit
- Leaders of Australia, India, Japan and the United States will soon meet virtually for the first ever summit under the quadrilateral security arrangement, Australian Prime Minister Scott Morrison has said. Speaking to reporters in Sydney on Friday, Mr. Morrison said the four power security dialogue was “central” to the U.S. and the Australian point of view of the Indo-Pacific region. In his comments, Mr. Morrison said that he had discussed the summit among the leaders of the “Quad” countries in recent telephone conversations.
(xiii). Three member expert panel takes stock of turtle conservation
A three member panel constituted by the Orissa High Court made a field trip to the Gahirmatha marine sanctuary here and assessed the measures taken for the conservation of endangered olive ridley sea turtles, Forest officials said. The panel, comprising wildlife and environment activist Kartik Shankar, Director (Environment) Sushant Nanda and advocate Mohit Agarwal, made an on the spot assessment of the conservation measures at Gahirmatha nesting ground, they said.
The olive ridley turtles turn up in millions for mass nesting along the Odisha coast every year. Gahirmatha beach off Bay of Bengal coast in Kendrapara district is acclaimed as the world’s largest nesting ground of these turtles.
(xiv). NSD likely to get Institute of Importance status
The government is actively considering giving the Institute of National Importance tag to the National School of Drama (NSD), as well as redeveloping its campus in Delhi, NSD Society chairman and actor Paresh Rawal said on Saturday. Mr. Rawal, appointed chairman in September, “flagged concerns regarding some of the pending issues”, an NSD statement said. He said the status of Institute of National Importance would strengthen NSD, allowing it to award degrees, start new courses and set up new centres.
The NSD, which has four regional centres in Varanasi, Bengaluru, Agartala and Gangtok, had received a request from Jammu and Kashmir Lieutenant Governor Manoj Sinha recently for setting up a centre in J&K, he said. He added that this would be discussed by NSD Society members and the government. He added that the NSD was planning to digitise its archive of inhouse productions and plays to be used as study material or for viewing by the public.
(xv). Himalayan serow spotted in Assam
A Himalayan mammal, somewhere between a goat and an antelope, has been conﬁrmed as the newest creature to be spotted in Assam. It was spotted in the 950sq.km Manas Tiger Reserve. The animal is a high altitude dweller usually found 2,000-4,000 metres above sea level. It was spotted close to the border with Bhutan in Manas’s Bansbari Mathanguri forest.
The sightings of rare animals and birds in Manas is an outcome of better access to remote parts of the protected area where extremists and hunters once ruled. The Reserve is contiguous with 1,057sq. km. Royal Manas National Park in Bhutan. The black necked crane was also recently sighted in Manas. The critically endangered white bellied hero was also seen a few weeks ago. In February, birders had sighted the colourful Mandarin duck in the Maguri Motapung wetland near eastern Assam’s Dibru Saikhowa National Park.
(xvi). Haryana's job reservation in private jobs
The Confederation of Indian Industry (CII) urged the Haryana government to “relook” at the legislation that provides for reservation in private jobs for local candidates, saying reservation impacts productivity and competitiveness. CII Director General Chandrajit Banerjee said, “At a time when it is important to attract investments at the State level, the Haryana government could have avoided imposing restrictions on industry.” Other Indian Industry bodies like ACMA, NASSCOM also stressed that this may force a rework of their expansion plans in the State, adding that it could also provide a shield to some ﬁrms indulging in unethical practices to retrench the existing workforce. NASSCOM added that the move would impact the business friendly image of the State and be detrimental to Gurugram’s growth trajectory as an Information Technology Business Process Management hub.
Haryana Governor Satyadeo Narain Arya has given assent to the Bill providing 75% reservation in the private sector to job seekers that pay less than ₹50,000 per month from the State. Apart from tackling unemployment among local people, the State government said the law will discourage the inﬂux of migrants seeking low paid jobs, which has a signiﬁcant impact on local infrastructure and leads to the proliferation of slums. The Bill covers private companies, societies, trusts and partnership ﬁrms in the State.
(xvii). Field trials for Census-NPR to begin soon
The Registrar General of India (RGI) is preparing to conduct ﬁeld trials of the ﬁrst phase of the Census and the National Population Register (NPR) using a mobile application in all the States and Union Territories. The app will contain questionnaires on house listing and housing census and the NPR. The ﬁrst phase involving house listing and housing census, along with updating the NPR, was scheduled from April 1 last year. The second phase of the census is population enumeration. The questions for NPR have not been made public yet.
In 2010 and 2015, NPR collected details on 14 parameters only. It already has an electronic database of more than 119 crore residents. On February 10, Union Minister of State for Home Nityanand Rai informed the Rajya Sabha that “an app for the collection of data and a Census portal for the management and monitoring of various Census related activities has been developed”.
(xviii). The ongoing vaccination drive
Health Minister Harsh Vardhan reiterated that the government had done away with the 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. timeline for giving COVID-19 vaccination and that beneﬁciaries could take the vaccine round the clock.
Antibodies against the novel coronavirus begin to appear signiﬁcantly only 14 days after a vaccine injection. But in people who have already been infected by SARS-CoV-2 before, the increase can be observed in a week, a study has found. According to several serology surveys, anywhere from 21% to 60% of India may have been exposed to the virus since March. The results also showed that antibodies in those infected earlier started to stabilize, even decline, after day 14 but were still substantially higher. Currently, the longevity of antibodies after a COVID-19 infection has not been ﬁrmly established, nor is the immunity after being exposed to a particular strain of the virus.
(xix). Political talks back on the table
- The Isak Muivah faction of the National Socialist Council of Nagaland, or NSCN (IM), has said the “Indo-Naga political talks are back on the table” and progressing. The extremist group, which had declared ceaseﬁre with Indian security forces in 1997, blamed Nagaland Governor R.N. Ravi for creating “unnecessary confusion” and almost derailing the peace process with his “reckless statements”. The publicity wing of the NSCN (IM) said that the Framework Agreement signed on August 3, 2015, had been “brought back to life” for removing any misinterpretation and hastening the signing of the Naga solution agreement.
(xx). Bengaluru, Shimla 'most liveable' cities
Bengaluru and Shimla were ranked as the most liveable in the categories of cities with more than and less than 1 million population respectively by the Union Housing and Urban Affairs Ministry’s Ease of Living Index.
The Ease of Living Index 2020, in which 111 cities participated during the assessment in 2020 that included citizens’ feedback, had Bengaluru at the top, followed by Pune in the category of cities with over 1 million population. In cities with less than a million population, Shimla topped the list, followed by Bhubaneshwar.
The Ministry also released the Municipal Performance Index 2020, which rated 111 municipalities on their services, ﬁnance, policy, technology and governance. Indore topped the ranking of municipalities with over 1 million population. New Delhi Municipal Council was the best among civic bodies with under a million population, followed by Tirupati.
(xxi). Delhi to get its own school education board
The Delhi Cabinet approved the setting up of the Delhi Board of School Education (DBSE). The move follows the government’s decision to commence the ‘Deshbhakti Curriculum’ in schools from the new academic year. The proposed board will conduct assessments throughout the year to develop holistic learning instead of once in a year assessment that focuses on rote learning, the Chief Minister said. He added that assistance would be sought from international outﬁts, and global practices as well as teaching methods had been analysed so they can be incorporated in the DBSE. The board’s governance and coordination will be overseen by a governing body under the chairperson ship of the Education Minister.
In a related development, Delhi government was preparing to allocate separate funds for the installation of the National Flag at various locations across the national capital. The government was also preparing to hold cultural events based on the lives of Dr. B.R. Ambedkar and Shaheed Bhagat Singh under the ‘Deshbhakti’ head for which it is likely to allocate funds in the 2021-22 Budget.
(xxii). EVMs for the first time
- The use of electronic voting machines (EVMs) in some booths of the Paravur Assembly constituency in Ernakulam (Kerala) is etched in the electoral history as they were introduced in the constituency in the 1982 polling, a ﬁrst in the country. In 1992, Parliament inserted Section 61A in the representation of People Act, 1951 and Conduct of election rules validating the use of the EVM and paving way for their use in elections. The Election Commission started using EVMs widely since 1998. The new generation of EVMs has Voter Veriﬁed Paper Audit Trail (VVPAT), which prints a small slip of paper that carries the name, symbol and the serial number of the candidate.
INTERNATIONAL NEWS/EVENTS/ PERSONALITIES
(i). ‘National consensus govt. is in the interest of Nepal-India ties’
Forming a national consensus government in Kathmandu is in the interest of Nepal-India relation, said former Nepal Prime Minister Baburam Bhattarai. Mr. Bhattarai said a national consensus government will be able to amend the Constitution of Nepal to make it more representative and hold more effective dialogue with India on difficult issues.
Mr. Bhattarai said Prime Minister K.P. Sharma Oli has not shown respect to the ruling of the Supreme Court which reinstated the lower house of the Nepalese Parliament (Pratinidhi Sabha) on February 23. He said there are four political formations in Nepal at present. The first two are led by the two factions of the Nepal Communist Party of Mr. Oli, and his rivals party co-chair Pushpa Kamal Dahal ‘Prachanda’ and Madhav Kumar Nepal. The other two formations are led by the Nepali Congress and the Janata Samajwadi Party ( JSP) of Mr. Bhattarai.
Mr. Bhattarai said that in near future, Nepal may even discuss the Hindu culture of the country at a political level but asked not to conflate monarchy with Hinduism.
(ii). ‘Pfizer, Oxford shots effective for elderly’
The Pfizer and OxfordAstraZeneca vaccines for COVID-19 are highly effective in reducing severe coronavirus infection among people aged 70 years and above, according to a study. The research, posted as a preprint and yet to be peer reviewed, estimated the effect of both the COVID-19 vaccines on laboratory confirmed symptomatic disease in individuals aged 70 years or older in England.
Data suggests that in the over 80s, a single dose of either vaccine is more than 80% effective at preventing hospitalisation, around 3 to 4 weeks after the jab, PHE said in a statement. Evidence for the Pfizer vaccine suggests that it leads to 83% reduction in deaths from COVID-19, it said.
(iii). Khashoggi killing: U.S. tells Saudi Arabia to take action
The U.S. pressed Saudi Arabia to take further measures after the killing of journalist Jamal Khashoggi as Washington faced growing criticism that it did not directly target Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman. President Joe Biden released an intelligence report that found that Prince Mohammed approved the 2018 killing of Khashoggi, a U.S.based contributor to The Washington Post who was lured into the Saudi consulate in Istanbul where he was strangled to death and dismembered.
The report — classified under former president Donald Trump, a close ally of the Saudis — found that seven of the 15 members of the hit squad that flew to Istanbul came from the Rapid Intervention Force, which it said “exists to defend the Crown Prince” and “answers only to him.”
He also called on Riyadh to act on other fronts, including lifting a travel ban on Loujain al-Hathloul, an advocate for women’s right to drive in the ultraconservative kingdom who was provisionally freed in January after nearly three years in jail. Asked why no action was taken against the Prince, also known by his initials MBS, White House press secretary Jen Psaki said that the U.S. does not typically sanction foreign leaders. But she hinted that Prince Mohammed was not permanently off the hook.
(iv). ‘Pak. needs legislation to meet FATF benchmarks’
Pakistan will have to make further legislation on at least two counts to meet three outstanding benchmarks of the 27-point action plan of the global money laundering and terrorist financing watchdog FATF before the new June deadline.
The Paris-based Financial Action Task Force (FATF) placed Pakistan on the grey list in June 2018 and asked Islamabad to implement a plan of action to curb money laundering and terror financing by the end of 2019 but the deadline was extended later on due to COVID-19 pandemic. The new deadline was set by the watchdog last month.
Pakistan has been scrambling in recent months to avoid being added to a list of countries deemed non compliant with anti money laundering and terrorist financing regulations by the FATF, a measure that officials here fear could further hurt its ailing economy.
The three outstanding action points include: First, demonstrating that Terrorism Financing (TF) investigations and prosecutions target persons and entities acting on behalf or at the direction of the designated persons or entities; Second, demonstrating that TF prosecutions result in effective, proportionate and dissuasive sanctions; Third, Pakistan has to demonstrate effective implementation of targeted financial sanctions against all designated terrorists, specifically those acting for or on their behalf.
(v). India, 17 countries face U.S. anti-dumping tax
The U.S. Department of Commerce is preparing to tax aluminium sheet exporters from 18 countries after determining that they had benefited from subsidies and dumping. The US International Trade Commission (ITC), an independent body, must approve the final decision by April 15 to impose anti-dumping or countervailing duties.
The investigation, launched under the Donald Trump administration, had been requested by nearly a dozen U.S. aluminium alloy manufacturers, including Arconic and Aleris Rolled products, which felt they were being harmed by competing imports at lower prices.
President Joe Biden’s administration determined that imports from Germany in particular ($287 million in 2019) benefited from dumping, ranging from 40% to 242%. The same is true for aluminium alloy sheets from Bahrain ($241 million), which the administration said benefited from pricing below the cost of production or the local market of 83%. Imports from India ($123 million in 2019) have benefited from subsidies for 35% to 89%, according to the U.S. investigation.
(vi). Blinken calls China the ‘biggest geopolitical test’ for U.S.
- Secretary of State Antony Blinken said that the United States was ready to confront China where need be, calling the Asian power the “biggest geopolitical test” of the century. He promised to champion the rights of Hong Kong and the ethnic Uighurs, saying that if not, “China will act with even greater impunity”.Mr. Blinken indicated that Mr. Biden would be sparing in military action despite ordering an air strike last week in Syria against Iranian-linked Iraqi Shiite paramilitaries.
(vii). ICC opens probe into war crimes in Palestinian areas
The International Criminal Court opened a formal investigation into alleged war crimes in the Palestinian territories, in a move blasted by Israeli premier Benjamin Netanyahu as the “essence of anti-Semitism”.
Palestinian authorities hailed the decision by ICC chief prosecutor Fatou Bensouda as an “urgent and necessary” probe into the situation in the blockaded Gaza Strip, along with the Israeli-occupied West Bank and east Jerusalem since June 2014. Ms. Bensouda said she had decided there were “admissible potential cases” on both sides, with the investigation focusing on the 2014 Gaza conflict, which left more than 2,000 people dead.
(viii). China targets 6% growth, tech supremacy
China’s government on Friday announced a 6% growth target for 2021 and unveiled a five year plan and vision for 2035 that aims to expand the country’s global footprint as a major technology power. The plans, unveiled at the start of the annual weeklong convening of the Communist Party controlled legislature, the National People’s Congress (NPC), outlined a push for China to consolidate the positions of its supply chains in key strategic industries, and to significantly increase China’s spending on research and development (R&D) to achieve self reliance in key high tech sectors. Besides the economic plans, the NPC this week is also expected to approve sweeping new changes to Hong Kong’s electoral system.
Hong Kong only directly votes for half of its 70 Legislative Council members. Under the new plan, Hong Kong media reported, the size of the council could be increased to 90 with the additional members chosen by the Election Committee. This would decrease the proportion of directly elected members and further dilute the presence of pro democracy parties. On account of the changes, September’s polls in Hong Kong, which were delayed last year because of pandemic, could be further pushed to 2022.
(ix). China’s defence budget to cross $200 billion
China’s defence budget will for the first time cross $200 billion with the government announcing a 6.8% hike in defence spending for 2021. The budget for 2021 was announced as 1.35 trillion yuan ($209 billion), up from 1.27 trillion Yuan ($179 billion) last year. This will take China’s defence spending to more than four times India’s $49.75 billion budget, not including pensions. India’s budget last month announced a modest 1.48% hike in total defence spending to ₹4.78 lakh crore ($65.7 billion) including pensions, or ₹3.62 lakh crore ($49.75 billion) minus pensions. India also announced a record 18.5% increase in capital outlay to ₹1.35 lakh crore ($18.4 billion).
China’s defence spending has in recent years evolved to reflect its ongoing modernisation of the People’s Liberation Army (PLA), with a shift away from the traditionally dominant army and a greater share going to the PLA Navy, the Rocket Force which is in charge of missiles, and the Strategic Support Force, which includes cyber warfare. This year, China will launch its third aircraft carrier, which will be its second homegrown one.
(x). More bloodshed in Myanmar as UNSC set to meet on crisis
- Despite an increasingly brutal crackdown by the military authorities that has seen more than 50 people killed, protesters took to the streets again in towns around the country to denounce the February 1 coup. The violence has brought condemnation from around the world, with the UN rights chief demanding the junta “stop murdering and jailing protesters”, and the Security Council is set to discuss the crisis later Friday. But despite the mounting international pressure, the Generals have shown no sign of heeding calls for restraint.
(xi). India reaffirms Lanka defence ties
With the participation of the Indian Air Force Chief and 23 aircraft in the three day event in Colombo to mark the 70th anniversary of the Sri Lanka Air Force (SLAF), India sought to reaffirm its strong defence cooperation with Sri Lanka. The last time Indian aircraft took part in such an event was in 2001, on the occasion of the SLAF’s 50th year.
A team of 4 Sarang Advance Light Helicopters, Surya Kiran (Hawks), Tejas Fighter Aircraft, Tejas Trainer and the Dornier Maritime Patrol Aircraft from India were in Sri Lanka this week, to participate in a fly past and acrobatic display event with the SLAF, held by Colombo’s seafront. Air Chief Marshal Rakesh Kumar Singh Bhadauri called on Prime Minister Mahinda Rajapaksa, and met senior defence officials.
(xii). ‘World is no closer to answer on virus origins’
Despite a high profile visit to China by a team of international experts in January, the world is no closer to knowing the origins of COVID-19. “At this point we are no further advanced than we were a year ago,” said Nikolai Petrovsky, an expert in vaccines at Flinders University in Adelaide, Australia, and one of 26 global experts who signed the open letter, published on Thursday.
The WHO mission to Wuhan, where the coronavirus was first identified, has come under fire, with critics accusing the WHO of relying too much on Chinese fieldwork and data. Team members also said China was reluctant to share vital data that could show COVID-19 was circulating months earlier than first recognised.
(xiii). Pakistan PM survives confidence vote
- Pakistan Prime Minister Imran Khan survived a vote of confidence by the country’s Parliament on Saturday, days after his party lost a key Senate seat to an opposition candidate. Ruling party and opposition cadres clashed briefly outside the Parliament ahead of the vote. Mr. Khan secured 178 votes in the 340 seat National Assembly through an open ballot, boycotted by the main opposition parties, the Pakistan Muslim League Nawaz (PMLN) and the Pakistan Peoples Party (PPP).
(xiv). Pope, top Shia cleric plead for ‘peace’ in historic Iraq meet
Grand Ayatollah Ali al Sistani, spiritual leader of most of the world’s Shia Muslims, told Pope Francis in a historic meeting in Iraq that the country’s Christians should live in “peace”. The meeting, on the second day of the first-ever papal visit to Iraq, marked a landmark moment in modern religious history and a milestone in the Pope’s efforts to deepen interfaith dialogue.
Pope Francis later addressed the rich spectrum of Iraq’s religious communities at Ur, the birthplace of the Prophet Abraham, a central figure in the Christian, Jewish and Muslim faiths, where he made an impassioned plea for “unity” after conflict. The 84year old pontiff’s trip to Iraq is an effort to both comfort the country’s ancient but dwindling Christian community and deepen his dialogue with other faiths.
(xv). Intense fighting in Yemen’s Marib leaves at least 90 dead
Fierce fighting between Yemeni pro-government forces and Iranbacked Houthi rebels has killed at least 90 combatants on both sides in the past 24 hours. The Shia rebels launched an offensive last month to seize Marib, the last stronghold in northern Yemen of pro-government forces who are backed by a Saudi-led military coalition.
The loss of Marib would be a huge blow for the Yemeni government, but would also threaten catastrophe for civilians, including hundreds of thousands of displaced people in desolate camps. It would also be a major setback for Saudi Arabia, which has been the target of increasingly frequent Houthi missile attacks in recent weeks. U.S. Secretary of State Antony Blinken on Monday urged the Houthis to halt their offensive in Marib, as he announced $191 million in aid.
(xvi). U.S. Senate clears Biden’s $1.9 tn COVID-19 aid plan
The U.S. Senate on Saturday passed President Joe Biden's $1.9 trillion COVID19 relief plan in a party line vote after an all night session that saw Democrats battling among themselves over jobless benefits and the Republican minority failing to push through some three dozen amendments.
The final Bill includes $400 billion in one time payments of $1,400 to most Americans, $300 a week in extended jobless benefits for the 9.5 million people thrown out of work in the crisis, and $350 billion in aid to state and local governments that have seen the pandemic blow a hole in their budgets.
(xvii). Bangladesh border killings are due to crime : EAM
Criminal activities are responsible for the killings along the India Bangladesh border, External Aﬀairs Minister S. Jaishankar said and stressed that the aim should be of a no crime no death border. The Indian statement comes in the backdrop of increased incidents of killings of Bangladesh nationals in 2020. Dhaka Tribune, in a report last December, said the incidents of killings was the highest in 2020 within a decade.
On India-Bangladesh partnership, he said India was partnering with the neighbouring country in economic and health related recovery in the wake of the COVID-19 pandemic. He pointed out that 9 million doses of Covishield vaccine had reached Bangladesh from Pune’s Serum Institute of India. Mr. Jaishankar is paying a daylong visit to take stock of bilateral ties ahead of Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s planned March 26 vi sit, during which he will participate in the independence day celebrations in Dhaka that will mark the half century of the country’s independent existence.
(xviii). UN tells Myanmar military to stop using force on protestors
At least 54 people have been killed and over 1,700 detained since Myanmar’s February 1 coup, the United Nations rights chief said. UN rights chief Michelle Bachelet urged security forces to “halt their vicious crackdown on peaceful protesters”. She said in a statement. “It is utterly abhorrent that security forces are ﬁring live ammunition against peaceful protesters across the country”.
Meanwhile, deﬁant protesters returned to the streets on Thursday after Wednesday’s violence. At Yangon’s San Chaung township, known for its hip cafes, restaurants and bars, the streets were transformed with barricades.
(xix). India wants Chabahar port on key corridors
- India wants Chabahar port to be included in the 13nation International North South Transport Corridor (INSTC) that extends from India to Russia, and expand INSTC membership by including Afghanistan and Uzbekistan. Pitching for Chabahar in the INSTC which goes via Iran’s biggest port Bandar Abbas, EAM Mr. S. Jaishankar proposed that the land route via Kabul and Tashkent would form the INSTC’s “Eastern corridor”. The Port has already handled 123 vessels and 18 lakh tons of cargo, said a statement.
OPINION & ANALYSIS
Analysis : The path to peace in Ethiopia
(i). The story so far
- The cataclysm in Ethiopia’s Tigray region and the country’s humanitarian crisis give rise to concerns of long term regional deterioration. Without a clear framework for peace building, post conflict reconstruction and transitional justice, the country is at risk of drastically postponing both political and economic recovery. This has implications not only for Ethiopia but also the entire Horn of Africa region which is already plagued by low level conflicts, uneven economic development, border disputes, continued food insecurity, climate change, a precarious political situation, and a dire refugee crisis.
(ii). The crisis in Ethiopia
- The breakdown in the already strained relations between the federal government in Addis Ababa and the Tigray People’s Liberation Front (TPLF)’s leaders in Tigray has resulted in the national crisis. In 2018, anti government protests by the marginalised Oromo population forced the TPLF to step down, resulting in the election of Prime Minister Abiy Ahmed and his subsequent crackdown on Tigrayan politicians for corruption and human rights abuses. Internal conflict in Ethiopia has resulted in the death of 52,000 people and the displacement of over 2 million, over 60,000 of whom have taken refuge in Sudan’s eastern border. This has triggered an influx of Sudanese and Eritrean military personnel near Ethiopia’s northern frontier.
(iii). How Ethiopia is holding up
Currently, Ethiopia is attempting to tackle its domestic emergency. This phase includes securing a military conflict-free environment, addressing increased displacement, allowing access to basic needs assistance for citizens at risk of famine, and strengthening humanitarian capacity in conflict-ridden areas.
The focus of regional and international media has been heavily geared towards Ethiopia’s immediate alleviation of humanitarian strains. But meeting short-term security and humanitarian needs, although extremely important, should not be the sole focus of a sustainable recovery agenda. It is imperative to recognise a broader view and develop successful post-conflict reconstruction policies.
Commentary : Recalibrating relations with EU
(i). EU and Self-reliant India
- Realising the vision of a self reliant India would entail localising an increasing share of value added along supply chains through investments and phase wise reduction of import tariffs with strategic partners such as the European Union (EU).
(ii). India-EU export potential
- India has an untapped export potential of $39.9 billion in the EU and Western Europe. The top products with export potential include apparel, gems and jewellery, chemicals, machinery, automobile, pharmaceuticals and plastic. India benefits from tariff preferences under the EU’s Generalized System of Preferences (GSP) for several of these products.
(iii). Product graduation
- However, there are several products where India has export potential in the EU, but these have “graduated” or are at the brink of “graduation” under EU GSP. Product graduation applies when average imports of a product from a beneficiary country exceed 17.5% of EU-GSP imports of the same product from all beneficiary countries over three years. India’s exports of products such as textiles, inorganic and organic chemicals, gems and jewellery, iron, steel and their articles, base metals and automotives are already out of the ambit of EU-GSP benefits.
(iv). Approach to FTAs
- India’s negotiation for a Broadbased Trade and Investment Agreement* (BTIA), which commenced in 2007, is yet to materialise due to lack of concurrence in areas like automotives and dairy and marine products. India’s cautious approach to FTAs derives from its past experience of an unequal exchange of benefits in several FTAs signed by the country. Therefore, a thorough assessment of the benefits from FTA for domestic producers is warranted, with due consideration to the impact on sensitive sectors, and possibility of inclusion of safeguards such as sunset clauses on concessions for some items.
(v). Non-Tariff measures (NTMs)
There should also be provisions for aspects such as investment and non-tariff measures (NTMs). China has already negotiated a comprehensive agreement on investment. India also needs to negotiate on investment related aspects with the EU to enhance bilateral investments and foster stronger value chains, especially in technology intensive sectors in which the EU has a comparative advantage. As far as NTMs are concerned, India faces as many as 414 NTMs in the EU, in a wide array of sectors. FTAs have some institutional arrangements for NTMs.
India should critically review the availability of such arrangements in its negotiations, as also their operationalisation and effectiveness. Post Brexit EU finds itself in the midst of a growing need for recalibrating ties with its partner countries. Forging stronger ties with the region through a mutually beneficial agreement could help strengthen Indian manufacturing and revitalise the flailing exports.
Analysis : The perils facing Britain
- Over four years after the historic referendum held in 2016, where citizens of the United Kingdom (U.K.) decided to leave the European Union (EU), in December 2020, the U.K. and the EU finally struck a provisional free-trade agreement as part of their Brexit deal. While the recently concluded trade and cooperation agreement charted out the key aspects of everyday governance and the rules for enforcement between the two parties, at a broader level, the U.K. may now be forced to face the constraints it had originally escaped.
(ii). Glorious past
- Since the beginning of the 19th century, Britain had the unique advantage of relieving its constraints on land, energy, and (localised) power. But with Brexit in place, the country may have to evaluate its limitations. As historian Kenneth Pomeranz argues in his book The Great Divergence, Britain, in the 19th century, solved its land problem by anchoring “ghost hectares” in the Americas, where it could exploit the land, labour and capital of the continent to “relieve its hard pressed land”, and “turn a demographic and protoindustrial expansion that (unlike in East Asia) far outpaced advances in agriculture into an asset for further development”. With Brexit, however, the U.K. may now have to find contemporary ‘ghost hectares’ through its trade deals.
(iii). Coal’s rise and decay
The mainstreaming of coal and oil in the 20th century ensured that Britain’s phantom land could be maintained in other ways. While this dependency on energy ‘ghost hectares’ continues even today, the discovery and development of high quality coal in England and Wales led to the creation of its own energy system.
Nevertheless, an analysis reveals that for the first time in 2019, the U.K. generated more electricity from renewables than fossil fuels. While this is a welcome step, and the U.K.’s presidency at the 2021 United Nations Climate Change Conference indicates its commitment towards the Paris Agreement, a lot is yet to be achieved.
(iv). Post- Brexit
- Lastly, by the end of the Cold War and the fall of the Soviet Union, it was argued by many scholars that a liberal democracy with access to a free market is the best way to organise societies. An idea that all nations should pursue unequivocally is globalisation. It was envisaged that the infinite expansion would last forever and national citizens will eventually become ‘global citizens’. It was in this swell that the Maastricht Treaty (https://rb.gy/ps36ju) of the 1990s led to the creation of the European Union – a Europe without frontiers. But with Brexit, where do the citizens of the U.K. go?
Commentary : Protecting personal liberty
- Recent rulings – the first was the acquittal of the journalist, Priya Ramani, on charges of criminal defamation. A Delhi court, in discharging her of the accusations, recognised that a woman’s right to dignity superseded any claims over reputation. The court also held that a survivor of sexual harassment had the freedom to place her grievance at any point of time after the occurrence of the event and on any platform of her choice. The second was the grant of bail to Disha Ravi, a 22-year old woman who was arrested in Bengaluru and taken to New Delhi on charges of sedition.
(ii). Case analysis
- Ms. Ramani spent months on end participating in a trial, not for being a perpetrator of any crime but for speaking out about sexual harassment at the workplace. Ms. Ravi spent 10 days in custody on the basis of evidence that the court found, at best, “scanty and sketchy”. in Aparna Purohit v. State of U.P., gave us a scantling of the disdain with which the higher judiciary views issues of personal liberty.
(iii). Where the law stands
The Constitution permits reasonable restrictions on speech on a variety of stated grounds. Determining what is reasonable and what falls within the bounds of those permitted limitations can sometimes be an exercise fraught with difficulty.
The cases concerning Ms. Ramani, Ms. Ravi and Ms. Purohit each emanate out a law that is categorically unconstitutional, but that has nonetheless been upheld by the Supreme Court. It ought to be self evident that the punishment, even the very idea of prosecution, for libellous speech is disproportionate to the offence. Criminal law does not exist to make prosecutable acts that are essentially private in nature.
By making ostensibly slanderous talk a punishable offence, the state imposes a chilling effect on all manners of legitimate speech. It is for this reason that almost every democratic nation of the world has revoked laws criminalising defamation. But in India. It remains a tool for the powerful and is routinely invoked not just by individuals and governments in positions of authority but also by corporations looking to protect their commercial interests.
India’s blasphemy laws, Section 153A, which deals with speech that seeks to promote enmity between different communities, and Section 295A, which criminalises speech that outrages religious feelings, are also vestiges of colonialism.
In Arnab Manoranjan Goswami vs State of Maharashtra, The judgment noted: “Our courts must ensure that they continue to remain the first line of defence against the deprivation of the liberty of citizens.“
Story : The Kremlin’s buzzword now is Russia looking East
- Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov declared last month that although the European Union (EU) was Russia’s biggest trading and investment partner, Moscow was “ready to break ties” with the EU after criticism of the jailing of Opposition figure Alexei Navalny.
(ii). Russia and the EU
He added that Russia worked with the EU in only a few areas, dealings with the EU were “sporadic” and related mainly to energy and foreign policy issues such as Syria and Iran. The Kremlin later mitigated the Minister’s comments, denying that severance of diplomatic contacts was imminent, though such steps might be considered in response to EU sanctions affecting sensitive areas of the economy.
After its transitory revival in the 1990s, the objective of a common European home remains as unrealisable as ever. On the contrary, it seems that after 300 years, Russia will end its West-oriented approach although Europe and the United States have yet to acknowledge this historic shift.
(iii). Fallout of Russia’s West-oriented approach
- The West’s support for the 2014 Ukraine uprising, and the NATO and EU’s relentless forward policy in States bordering Russia are intensely resented in Moscow, and the EU’s claim to a monopoly of European values and identity fuels this animosity. The Kremlin’s Greater Europe concept has now been replaced by the more feasible Greater Eurasia Initiative, with Russia looking East for economic connectivity and institutional integration.
Story : Cybersecurity challenge ‘Red Echo’ over India
(i). The story so far
- On March 3, Maharashtra Power Minister Nitin Raut announced that a State Cyber Cell probe had found 14 Trojan horses in the servers of the Maharashtra State Electricity Transmission Company. These malwares had the potential to disrupt power distribution in the State. The announcement came in the wake of a report from Recorded Future, a U.S.based cybersecurity firm, stating that a group linked to the Chinese government, which it called ‘Red Echo’, had targeted 10 vital nodes in India’s power distribution system and two seaports. Recorded Future claims the cyber intrusions from China began in May 2020 amid heightened tensions at the border. It also suggested that these malwares could be the cause of the massive power outage in Mumbai last October.
(ii). How did Recorded Future track malware in Indian systems?
- Recorded Future did not look directly into the servers of India’s power system. Instead, it found a large number of IP addresses linked to critical Indian systems communicating for months with AXIOMATIC ASYMPTOTE servers connected to Red Echo. AXIOMATIC ASYMPTOTE servers act as command and control centres for a malware known as ShadowPad.
(iii). What is ShadowPad?
- ShadowPad is a backdoor Trojan malware, which means it opens a secret path from its target system to its command and control servers. Information can be extracted or more malicious code delivered via this path.
(iv). What were Red Echo’s targets?
- Recorded Future lists these as suspected targets: Power System Operation Corporation Limited, NTPC Limited, NTPC Kudgi STPP, Western Regional Load Despatch Centre, Southern Regional Load Despatch Centre, North Eastern Regional Load Despatch Centre, Eastern Regional Load Despatch Centre, Telangana State Load Despatch Centre, Delhi State Load Despatch Centre, DTL Tikri Kalan (Mundka), Delhi Transco Ltd (substation), V. O. Chidambaranar Port and Mumbai Port Trust.
(v). What is the objective of Red Echo?
- Recorded Future says the kind of infrastructure sought to be accessed by Red Echo, such as Regional Load Despatch Centres, has minimal espionage possibilities. However, it adds, “we assess they pose significant concerns over potential pre-positioning of network access to support Chinese strategic objectives.” Prepositioning in cyber warfare means to have malware assets in crucial places that can be called on when an actual attack is launched.
Story : India and Pakistan ceasefire agreement
The February ceaseﬁre has triggered widespread speculation about its durability, signiﬁcance and implication for bilateral relations in general. The announcement by the two Director Generals of Military Operations (DGsMO) coming in the wake of over 5,000 ceaseﬁre violations in 2020, significant. What makes this different is its two distinct features: one, this was a joint statement by the two DGsMO, and that unlike the previous declarations, the recent agreement mentions a speciﬁc date, i.e., the night of February 24-25, to begin the ceaseﬁre.
The February ceaseﬁre is arguably one of the most signiﬁcant military measures by India and Pakistan in over 18 years to reduce violence along the LoC in Kashmir.
(ii). Explored further
The ceaseﬁre is signiﬁcant because this helps New Delhi to defuse an ugly two front situation and a feeling of being boxed in by an inimical Pakistan and an aggressive China. The back channel process for the same started much before the recent India-China disengagement on the LAC.
The Karachi agreement of 1949, which ended the ﬁrst war between newly formed India and Pakistan, was the ﬁrst ceaseﬁre agreement between the two countries. The United Nations Military Observer Group in India and Pakistan (UNMOGIP) was mandated to monitor the ceaseﬁre along the CFL (Ceasefire Line).
The 1965 India-Pakistan war also ended in a ceaseﬁre, but since status quo ante bellum was restored after the Tashkent Agreement, the CFL in Kashmir remained unaltered.
The India-Pakistan war of 1971 changed that. The December ceaseﬁre which ended the 1971 war was enshrined into the Simla Agreement the following year. But unlike 1965, status quo ante bellum was not restored by the Simla Agreement, a decision that would have important implications for bilateral relations. The Suchetgarh Agreement of 1972 delineated the ‘line of control’ in Jammu and Kashmir which resulted from the ceaseﬁre of December 1971 thereby renaming the CFL as the LoC.
The UN force was mandated to ensure a ceaseﬁre on the CFL, but there was no CFL after 1972, and, more so, the UN was not even a party to the Simla Agreement unlike the Karachi Agreement. The 2003 agreement between the DGsMO, was a reiteration of the December 1971 war termination ceaseﬁre. Even the February 2021 ceaseﬁre too is a reiteration of the 1971 ceaseﬁre agreement.
(iii). How the ceasefire agreement might turn out
- A ceaseﬁre does not observe itself – it requires a clearly articulated and mutually agreed upon set of rules and norms. The Simla Agreement or the Suchetgarh Agreement do not have those rules. The Karachi Agreement, on the other hand, has clearly laid down provisions on how to manage the CFL which was overtaken by the LoC. The next logical step is to arrive at a set of rules to govern that ceaseﬁre. Piecemeal agreement, however, does not create durable stability unless followed by progress in other domains.
Story : Global climate change events
This year’s Himalayan glacier ﬂooding that overwhelmed Uttarakhand, or the cold snap that paralysed Texas.
The melting of the Himalayan glaciers that prompted the ﬂoods and landslides in Uttarakhand have the ﬁngerprints of global warming. Furthermore, as glacier cover is replaced by water or land, the amount of light reﬂected decreases, aggravating warming – a contributor to the sweltering heat in cities like Delhi and Hyderabad, or the epic ﬂoods in Chennai or Kerala.
The extreme cold weather in Texas, like the double digit negative temperature seen in Germany earlier this year, is connected to Arctic peninsula warming, at a rate almost twice the global average. Usually, there is a collection of winds around the Arctic keeping the cold locked far to the north. But global warming has caused gaps in these protective winds, allowing intensely cold air to move south – a phenomenon that is accelerating.
2. Building climate change consciousness
When the public connects cause and eﬀect, responses are usually swift. But global warming is still seen as a danger that lies over the horizon.
For India, the third largest carbon emitter after China and the United States, a decisive switch is needed from highly polluting coal and petroleum to cleaner and renewable power sources. China has announced carbon neutrality by 2060, Japan and South Korea by 2050, but India is yet to announce a target. While HSBC ranks India at the top among 67 nations in climate vulnerability (2018), Germanwatch ranks India ﬁfth among 181 nations in terms of climate risks (2020).
Budgetary allocation : A vital step should be explicitly including policies for climate mitigation in the government budget, along with energy, roads, health and education. Speciﬁcally, growth targets should include timelines for switching to cleaner energy. The government needs to launch a major campaign to mobilise climate ﬁnance.
Climate adaptation needs to be a priority. India’s Central and State governments must increase allocations for risk reduction, such as better defences against ﬂoods, or agricultural innovations to withstand droughts. Few examples include ignoring studies that ﬂagged ice loss across the Himalayas, and the dangers to densely populated catchments, but policy response has been lacking. Similarly, Kerala ignored a landmark study calling for regulation of mining, quarrying and dam construction in ecologically sensitive places, which contributed to the massive ﬂoods and landslides in 2018 and 2019.
Analysis : The Yemen Crisis
- One of the ﬁrst key foreign policy decisions that President Joe Biden took after assuming oﬃce was to end the U.S.’s support for Saudi Arabia’s six year long war on Yemen. He halted weapons sales to Saudi Arabia, appointed a Special Envoy for Yemen, and removed the Shia Houthi rebels, who control the northwestern parts of the Arab country, from the list of foreign terrorist organisations.
(ii). The war
The crisis in Yemen is not only about the Saudi-Houthi conﬂict. It has many more dimensions: humanitarian, civil, geopolitical and sectarian. When Saudi Arabia, the UAE and their allies went to Yemen in March 2015, they had a clearly deﬁned objective: drive the Houthis, who are backed by Iran, out of the capital Sana’a and stabilise the country under the government of Abdrabbuh Mansur Hadi that they support. The Saudi-led coalition imposed a blockade on Yemen, which they hoped would eventually weaken the Houthis, and started a bombing campaign aimed at wrecking the rebels militarily.
The campaign has not yielded significant results. The only success the Saudis can claim from a tactical point of view is that the Houthis were limited to the northwest. A separatist group, the Southern Transitional Council (STC), has established its rule in southern Yemen. The UAE, which backs the STC, has pulled out of the Saudi-led coalition.
The war has killed over 10,000 people and pushed Yemen to the brink of a famine. According to the UN, 50,000 Yemenis are starving to death and 16 million will go hungry this year. Many more are dying due to preventable diseases as Yemen lacks proper health infrastructure and essential medicines. This week, the UN held a conference to raise up to $2.41 billion for aid works in Yemen, but got pledges only for $1.35 billion. The last six years of war prove that the Saudi strategy of blockade and bombing was a failure.
The Biden administration should use its leverage to pressure Riyadh to lift the blockade. Once a ceaseﬁre between the two main rival blocs is achieved, the U.S. and its regional allies could call for a multilateral conference involving all stakeholders to discuss Yemen’s future.
Story : Spectrum Auction
Tuesday saw the end of India’s ﬁrst auction of telecommunications spectrum in ﬁve years, with the government generating a revenue of ₹77,815 crore from the exercise. Mukesh Ambani led Reliance Jio accounted for close to 60% of the spectrum bought, followed by Bharti Airtel and Vodafone Idea. In the last few years, there has been a consolidation in the industry, as a result of which there are only three major players now – Reliance Jio, Bharti Airtel and Vodafone Idea.
In recent years, while the user base has grown, the industry itself has witnessed unforeseen ﬁnancial stress in the form of an important court case against it. The reference is to the Supreme Court verdict last September that ordered telecom players to share revenues coming from even non telecom services with the government.
2. About the Spectrum roll-out
In the auction, the government oﬀered spectrum for 4G in the following bands: 700 MHz, 800 MHz, 900 MHz, 1,800 MHz, 2,100 MHz, 2,300 MHz and 2,500 MHz. ‘Spectrum’, in this context, stands for the portion of the electromagnetic wave range that is suitable for communication purposes. As this is a huge economic resource, which also provides unimaginable beneﬁts to any population, it is controlled by the government.
Spectrum bands have diﬀerent characteristics, and this makes them suitable for diﬀerent purposes. In general, low frequency transmissions can travel greater distances before losing their integrity, and they can pass through dense objects more easily. Less data can be transmitted over these radio waves, however. Higher-frequency transmissions carry more data, but are poorer at penetrating obstacles.
3. Indian telecom scene
The auction is largely seen as an opportunity to renew expiring spectrum, analysts say Reliance Jio’s “higher than expected” spend is an attempt to improve network experience. The Edelweiss report says Reliance Jio could have gone for it because “in recent quarters, Bharti Airtel has on boarded a disproportionately higher share of smartphone subscribers leveraging its superior network”. Vodafone Idea’s lowkey presence in the auction is linked to its balance sheet constraints.
In 2016, about 40% of the 2,355 MHz of spectrum (at a reserve price of ₹5.6 lakh crore) was sold, giving the government ₹65,789 crore in revenue. This time, the Centre has managed to get more. The government said the revenue generated by the auction has exceeded its expectations, which was about ₹45,000 crore
ECONOMICS & FINANCE
(i). Private investment missing from economy : RBI
Only private investment is ‘missing in action’ at a time when all engines of aggregate demand are starting to ﬁre to boost economic growth, according to a Reserve Bank article. Observing that a recovery based on a revival of consumption is underway.
The article in the RBI’s February Bulletin, further observed that “the time is apposite for private investment to come alive”. Fiscal policy, with the largest capital expenditure (capex) Budget ever and emphasis on doing business better, has oﬀered to crowd it in. According to RBI, The Indian economy is estimated to contract by 8% during the current ﬁnancial year, The economy is expected to stage a V-shaped recovery in the next ﬁscal year and record a double digit growth.
Authors of another article – Sectoral Deployment of Bank Credit in India: Recent Developments – said muted credit oﬀtake in the recent past needed to be seen in the context of economic slowdown coupled with the COVID-19 linked lockdown. Bank credit growth, which had already started decelerating in the last ﬁnancial year, experienced a further setback in 2020-21 in the wake of the pandemic.
(ii). Ambani tops Indian billionaire list with $83 billion
The world added 607 new billionaires, while India added 55 new billionaires. Tesla’s Elon Musk added $151 billion to become the richest man in the world for the ﬁrst time with a net worth of $197 billion, followed by Amazon’s Jeﬀ Be zos ($189 billion), the chairman and CEO of LVMH Moet Hennessy – Louis Vuitton, Bernard Arnault ($114 billion), Microsoft’s Bill Gates ($110 billion) and Facebook’s Mark Zuckerberg ($101 billion).
Reliance Industries Chairman Mukesh Ambani, who emerged as the richest man in India with a net worth of $83 billion, came in at number eight. Mr. Ambani was followed by Adani Group’s Gautam Adani and family with his wealth almost doubling to $32 billion.
Despite the disruption caused by COVID-19, this year has seen the biggest wealth increase of the last decade. “The world has never seen this much wealth created in just one year, much more than perhaps could have been expected for a year badly disrupted by COVID-19,” Hurun Report chairperson Rupert Hoogewerf said.
(iii). Spectrum will boost Jio, Bharti's market share
The strengthening of spectrum footprints by Bharti Airtel and Reliance Jio in the just concluded auctions is expected to yield market share gains for the two telcos. Analysts across the board concurred with the government’s view that at ₹77,814 crore of total bids, the spectrum auction outcome and response had surpassed expectations.
Goldman Sachs noted that Bharti and Jio had “signiﬁcantly” bolstered their spectrum footprints, and that strengthening of radio wave holdings “could aid their market shares while at the same time keeping capex under check”. The more than expected participation from telcos in the auctions increases the probability of a price hike as a way to oﬀset the increase in leverage, market watchers said. Moody’s Investors Service said spectrum renewals will help incumbents protect their market positions while additional bandwidth purchases will drive improved network coverage.
(iv). Trade with Iran
Indian merchants have almost entirely stopped signing new export contracts with Iranian buyers for commodities such as rice, sugar and tea, due to caution about Tehran’s dwindling rupee reserves with Indian banks. Iran’s rupee reserves in India’s UCO and IDBI Bank, the two lenders authorised to facilitate rupee trade, have depleted significantly and exporters are not sure whether they would be paid on time for new shipments.
Under U.S. sanctions, Tehran is unable to use U.S. dollars to transact oil sales. Iran previously had a deal to sell oil to India in exchange for rupees, which it used to import critical goods, including agricultural commodities, but New Delhi stopped buying Tehran’s oil in May 2019 after a U.S. sanction waiver expired. Tehran continued using its rupees to buy goods from India, but after 22 months of no crude sales, Iran’s rupee reserves have fallen.
(v). FDI equity inflow crosses $51 billion
- Foreign direct investment (FDI) inﬂows into the country grew 24% to $9.2 billion in December 2020, taking the total in the ﬁrst nine months of 2020-21 to a record $67.54 billion, 22% higher than the same period in 201920, the Commerce and Industry ministry said. FDI equity ﬂows accounted for a large chunk of this inﬂow, growing 40% in the same period to $51.47 billion in the April to December 2020 period, compared with $36.77 billion dollars during the same months in 2019.
(vi). Fuel prices to drop if brought under the ambit of GST
Bringing petrol and diesel under the GST regime could lead to a loss of as little as ₹1 lakh crore in annual revenue for the Centre and States while bringing pan India prices of the fuels to ₹75 and ₹68 a litre, respectively, as per an SBI Research report. Assuming a GST rate of 28%, cess of ₹30 and ₹20 for a litre of petrol and diesel respectively (shared equally between the Centre and the States), crude oil price of $60 per barrel and a rupee dollar exchange rate of 73, SBI Research has reckoned the Centre and States would, together, face a revenue deviation from Budget estimates of only ₹1 lakh crore, or 0.4% of the GDP, in FY22.
The 2020-21 ﬁscal deﬁcit may turn out to be lower than the revised estimate of 9.5% of GDP, at about 8.7%, and the government might lower its borrowings, SBI Research said.
(vii). Delhi's budget to be over 65,000 crores
The Delhi government is likely to present a budget with allocations over and above ₹65,000 crore for the 2021-22 ﬁscal, making it the highest allocation by any government in the state since its ﬁrst ever session in 1993. To focus primarily on the health and education sectors, the Delhi government would add the ‘Deshbhakti’ head as a signiﬁcant component to the budget this year.
Under the 'Deshbhakti' head, the government will not only highlight the role of Delhi in India’s freedom struggle, but also present its own vision of India at 100 in reference to Independence Day celebrations in 2047.
(viii). Pandemic and household income
- Households have lost a whopping ₹13 lakh crore of their incomes from the pandemic induced job losses, according to a report that also warns of the economy losing momentum by mid-2021 on a likely slow down in consumption demand that has propped the economy in recent months. Describing the growth momentum seen in the second and third quarters of FY21 as a positive surprise, economists at UBS Securities India said the economy could slow by mid-2021 as households that lost incomes during the pandemic to the tune of ₹13 lakh crore could drag consumption with a lag.
(ix). Cryptocurrency regulations
There is some amount of ‘secrecy’ around the Crypto currency and Regulation of Oﬃcial Digital Currency Bill, 2021, a new regulation expected to be cleared by the Centre soon, the Internet and Mobile Association of India (IAMAI) said. “What makes it more strange is, not a single ecosystem player, industry representative or members of the public were consulted before its draft was prepared,” IAMAI added. India has more than 10 million buyers and sellers of cryptocurrency (mostly in bitcoins) constituting 10-15% of the global user base.
In a separate statement, Union Minister Anurag Thakur said the government is open to evaluate and explore new technologies, including cryptocurrencies, for improving governance. “Cryptocurrency is a form of virtual currency. I ﬁrmly believe that we must always evaluate, explore and encourage new ideas with an open mind,” he added. A high-level inter ministerial committee (IMC) was constituted under the chairmanship of the economic aﬀairs secretary on digital currencies and it has submitted its report. The government would take a decision on the recommendations of the IMC and the legislative proposal, if any, would be introduced in Parliament.
Reserve Bank of India Governor Shaktikanta Das had last week said the apex bank had certain “major concerns” over the impact cryptocurrencies may have on the ﬁnancial stability in the economy and had conveyed the same to the government. The RBI had virtually banned cryptocurrency trading in 2018. The Supreme Court had asked the Centre in 2019 to frame policies for crypto, and in 2020, struck down the curbs imposed by the RBI.
(x). India wary of OPEC+ production cuts
India, the world’s third biggest oil importer, said the decision by major producers to continue with output cuts as prices move higher could threaten the consumption led recovery in some countries. The Organization of the Petroleum Exporting Countries (OPEC) and its allies, a group known as OPEC+, agreed not to increase supply in April as they await a more substantial recovery in demand amid the COVID-19 pandemic. Crude prices rose after the announcement and are up 33% this year.
India, hit hard by the soaring oil prices, urged producers to ease output cuts and help the global economic recovery from the pandemic. Rising oil prices are posing ﬁscal challenges for India, where heavily taxed retail fuel prices have touched record highs, threatening the demand driven recovery. India imports about 84% of its oil and relies on West Asian supplies to meet over three ﬁfths of its demand.
(xi). Production Linked Incentives to lead recovery : PM
- Prime Minister Narendra Modi said that the Production Linked Incentive (PLI) scheme, introduced by the government for about 13 sectors, will lead to production worth $520 billion in the country over the next five years. He added the government was also working towards enhancing ease of doing business as well as reducing the compliance burden for the industry as he believed government interference in everything created more problems than solutions.
(xii). Venezuela plans 1-million bolivar bill
- Venezuela’s central bank said that it would introduce a banknote worth 1million bolivars beginning next week, as years of incessant hyperinﬂation continue to batter the value of the crisis stricken South American country’s currency. The new banknote will be worth just 52 U.S. cents at the current oﬃcial exchange rate. Interannual inﬂation was running at 2,665% as of January, the central bank said. The OPEC nation’s economy has been in a tailspin for the past 7 years, spurred by a collapse in oil prices that led to a drop in imports and a gaping ﬁscal deﬁcit, prompting the central bank to print more bolivars.
SCIENCE, TECHNOLOGY & ENVIRONMENT
(i). Printing neurons
- Scientists from Northwestern University, U.S., have discovered a new biomaterial that mimics the brain tissue and can be made by 3D printing. Developed, this can treat neurodegenerative diseases, for instance, by transplanting the tissues. Earlier, the group had shown they can design materials that self-organize to form ‘superstructures’. Now they find these can enhance the growth of neurons.
(i). Mary Kom to head AIBA panel
- M.C. Mary Kom has been picked as the chairperson of the AIBA (International Boxing Association) Champions and Veterans Committee, a panel created last year by the world body as part of its reforms. The 37 year old 2012 Olympic bronze medallist was named for the position after voting by the AIBA’s board of directors.
(ii). Indian Grand Prix
Neeraj Chopra, the brightest prospect to bring India’s ﬁrst ever Olympic medal in athletics, proved that he is right on track for Tokyo by bettering his own javelin throw National record in the Indian Grand Prix3 on Friday. The 23 year old’s 88.07m in his season opener bettered his previous best – the 2018 Asian Games gold winning throw – by a centimetre.
The consistent Annu Rani, the Asian silver medallist, was also impressive in the women’s event, coming close to 62m twice before winning with 61.98m. Avinash Sable was just three seconds oﬀ his National record in the 3000m steeplechase while shot putter Tajinderpal Singh Toor came up with a 20mplus throw. Amoj Jacob improved his 400m personal best for the second successive week, bringing it down to 45.70s. Hima Das, the only runner in the women's 100m clocked a personal best 11.67s.
(iii). Silver for Sarita, Broze for Kuldeep
- Sarita Mor won silver, while Kuldeep Malik bagged bronze at the Matteo Pellicone wrestling event in Rome on Friday. India now has ﬁve medals in the Greco-Roman category.
1. Nepal and Constitutional Reforms
2. District courts and protection of human rights
3. The 'path of law'
4. India's sustained benevolent racism
5. Patching the gaps in India's cybersecurity
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Sources referred to : The Hindu, The Indian Express, Live Law, Bar & Bench