Part 1: Week Page: June 3rd – June 7th, 2021



Daily snippets

(i). New IT rules don’t apply to us, Google tells HC

  • Google told the Delhi High Court that the new Information Technology Rules 2021, which came into effect late last month, did not apply to the U.S. based tech giant as it was a “search engine” and not a “social media intermediary” like Facebook, Twitter or Instagram. The bench said it was not going to issue any interim order at this stage and posted the case for further hearing on July 25.

(ii). Tejpal case order seems a ‘manual’ for rape victims: HC

  • Hearing an appeal against the lower court judgment that acquitted journalist Tarun Tejpal of rape and sexual assault charges, the High Court of Bombay at Goa observed that “it seems like a manual for rape victims”. The court quipped, “It is a kind of manual for rape victims, on the behaviour of victims. There is a case for considering leave for appeal.”

  • The judgment acquitting Tarun Tejpal by a Goa court will deter women from fighting rape cases as it puts the survivor, and not the accused, in the dock, say over 300 women’s groups, activists and academics in a joint statement.

(iii). Paid vaccination policy arbitrary, irrational: SC

  • The Supreme Court has called the Union government’s paid vaccination policy for citizens 18- 44 years of age as “prima facie arbitrary and irrational”. The Bench asked whether the Centre had taken a “means test” to ascertain beforehand whether even 50% of the 18-44 age group could afford to pay for their vaccines.

  • The court sought the complete data on the Centre’s purchase history of COVID-19 vaccines till date (Covaxin, Covishield and Sputnik V).

(iv). ‘Journalists need protection against sedition charges’

  • The Supreme Court quashed a sedition case registered against senior journalist and Padma Shri awardee Vinod Dua for his critical remarks against the Prime Minister and the Union government in a YouTube telecast, underscoring its 59­ year-old verdict that “strong words” of disapproval about the ruling regime did not amount to sedition.

  • The time is long past when the mere criticism of governments was sufficient to constitute sedition. The right to utter honest and reasonable criticism is a source of strength to a community rather than a weakness, the judgment said. “Every journalist is entitled to protection under the Kedar Nath Singh judgment.”

(v). WhatsApp obtaining ‘trick consent’: govt.

  • The Centre has informed the Delhi High Court that WhatsApp was indulging in “anti users practices” by obtaining “trick consent” from users for its updated privacy policy. The Ministry has urged the court to give a direction to WhatsApp to “desist from any action of ‘pushing notifications’ to existing users related to updated 2021 privacy policy”. The Competition Commission of India had called for an investigation into WhatsApp’s new privacy policy.

(vi). Govt. advised the split in MGNREGA wage benefit

  • The decision to split the Mahatma Gandhi National Rural Employment Guarantee Act (MGNREGA) wage payments by caste categories was done on the advice of the Union Finance Ministry in order to assess and highlight the benefits flowing from budgetary outlay towards Scheduled Castes (SCs) and Scheduled Tribes (STs).

  • “The rationale was very simple. It is not as if the payments made to SC and ST are not reported on the NREGA website, but overall, in terms of the budgetary outlay, people don’t have that intricate information about how much benefit is flowing from the Budget to the SC and ST [communities].”

(vii). Push for citizenship to minority migrants

  • Migrants belonging to six non-­Muslim minority communities from Pakistan, Afghanistan and Bangladesh who came to India on valid documents before 2014 are eligible to apply online for citizenship from any part of the country. The officials asserted that this particular awareness drive was not related to the Citizenship (Amendment) Act, 2019 (CAA).

(viii). Govt. sends ‘one last notice’ to Twitter to adopt new IT Rules

  • The government sent out “one last notice” to U.S.­based social media platform Twitter to immediately comply with the new IT Rules that came into effect on May 26, and warned that failure to do so will lead to the platform losing exemption from liability under the IT Act.

  • Such non­compliance will lead to unintended consequences, including Twitter losing exemption from liability as intermediary available under Section 79 of the Information Technology (IT) Act, 2000.

(ix). U.S. delays tariffs against digital services tax

  • During the past week, the United States announced and then immediately suspended a 25% tariff on $2 billion of imports from six countries, including India, as a retaliatory measure against each of these countries’ imposition of a digital services tax impacting the giant tech corporations of Silicon Valley, including the likes of Alphabet, Amazon, Apple, Facebook and Microsoft. The purported logic of suspending the tariff for up to 180 days after announcing it is to allow time for ongoing international tax negotiations to continue.

  • The essence of the argument made by the USTR office is that a “Section 301” investigation initiated by the Trump administration in June 2020 found digital services taxes imposed by each of these countries to be discriminatory against U.S. tech firms. The Biden administration was likely aware that the deadline for authorising tariff action based on these investigations would have lapsed this week, thus necessitating the approval of the 25% tariff.

  • The Finance Bill, 2021, introduced an amendment imposing a 2% digital service tax on trade and services by non resident e-commerce operators with a turnover of over ₹2 crore. According to reports, early estimates by the USTR suggest this tax could yield approximately $55 million annually. Negotiations with Washington that may result in the scaling back of this tax would imply that a part of this revenue would be lost to the exchequer, depending on the final rate agreed. On the other hand, close to $118 million of India’s exports to the U.S. would be subject to the tariff proposed by the USTR, impacting 26 categories of goods.

(x). Media and sedition

  • In a significant judgment, the Supreme Court has quashed a criminal case registered in Himachal Pradesh against journalist Vinod Dua by invoking the narrowed down meaning of what constitutes an offence under Section 124A of the IPC, the provision for sedition, set out in Kedar Nath Singh.

  • Every journalist, the Court has ruled, is entitled to the protection of that judgment, which said “comments, however strongly worded, expressing disapprobation of actions of the Government, without exciting those feelings which generate the inclination to cause public disorder by acts of violence, would not be penal”. The Court’s verdict brightens the hope that the section’s validity will be re-examined.

(xi). Govt. keen on implementing labour codes

  • The four labour codes are likely to see the light of day in a couple of months as the Centre is now keen on going ahead with the implementation of these laws, which, among others, will result in a reduction in the take home pay of employees and a higher provident fund liability for the companies. These four labour codes will rationalise 44 Central labour laws.

  • Labour is on the Concurrent List of the Constitution and, therefore, both the Centre and the States have to notify rules under these four codes to make them the laws of the land in their respective jurisdictions.

(xii). Delhi hospital revokes ban on Malayalam

  • An order banning the nursing staff of the Govind Ballabh Pant Institute of Post-graduate Medical Education and Research (GIPMER), a Delhi government run hospital, from speaking in Malayalam in the hospital has been revoked, said its medical director. The person added that the order was issued without the hospital management's knowledge.


Daily snippets

(i). Palestine flays India’s abstention

  • India’s abstention from the latest resolution on the Palestinian issue suppresses human rights of “all people”, Palestine’s Foreign Minister Riad Malki has said. In an unusually strong letter sent to External Affairs Minister S. Jaishankar, Dr. Malki said the resolution titled “Ensuring respect for international human rights law and humanitarian law in Occupied Palestinian Territory including East Jerusalem and in Israel” was a product of long years of multilateral negotiation.

  • India abstained in the voting on the resolution at the Human Rights Council [HRC] on May 27 that came up against the backdrop of the latest round of conflict between Israel and Gaza strip, the coastal part of the Palestinian territories.

  • India had condemned the death of an Indian citizen in the rocket attacks by Hamas from Gaza but in a rare United Nations Security Council meeting on May 17, Permanent Representative T.S. Tirumurti expressed India’s support to the “just Palestinian cause”. India has maintained that a two­-state solution to equal sovereign rights is the way forward to resolve the century old crisis.

(ii). UNGA head: India to vote for Maldives

  • India will vote in support of Maldives’ Foreign Minister Abdulla Shahid in the election of the President of the United Nations General Assembly next week, a decision which will disappoint another close neighbour, Afghanistan, which has former Foreign Minister Zalmai Rassoul in the running. The race between the South Asian neighbours for the post, which is being chosen this time from the Asia-Pacific grouping, will be decided in the election on June 7.

  • Given major global moves on Afghanistan as the U.S. prepares to pull out all troops in September this year, New Delhi is keen that its stand is not seen as taking a position against Afghanistan, and officials stressed that the vote was not an indicator of bilateral ties with either country.

(iii). DAC nod for building 6 conventional submarines

  • The Defence Acquisition Council (DAC), headed by Defence Minister Rajnath Singh, approved the issuance of a Request For Proposal (RFP) for the construction of six conventional submarines under Project­75I at an estimated cost of ₹43,000 crore.

  • With this approval, India would be enabled to achieve its 30­ year submarine construction programme envisioned by the government to acquire national competence in their building and for Indian industry to independently design and construct them, he noted. The SP model of the Defence Procurement Procedure (DPP) aims to promote the role of Indian industry in manufacturing and build a domestic defence industrial ecosystem.

(iv). INS Sandhayak decommissioned

  • Hydrographic survey ship INS Sandhayak, the first of its class indigenously designed and built, was decommissioned after 40 years of service, at the Naval Dockyard Visakhapatnam in a low­key event attended only by in-­station officers and sailors, in line with COVID­-19 protocols.

  • The ship was conceptualised by the then Chief Hydrographer to the Government of India, Rear Adm FL Fraser, who had a strong desire for indigenously designed and built hydrographic survey vessels in India, the Navy said. The design was finalised by Naval Headquarters and the construction began at Garden Reach Ship Builders Limited (GRSE) Kolkata (then Calcutta) by laying the keel in 1978. The ship was commissioned into the Navy on February 26, 1981, by Vice Adm M.K. Roy, then FOC­in­C, ENC.

(v). 60 Lakh people affected due to cyclone YAAS

  • A week after very severe cy­clonic storm, Yaas, struck Odisha coast, the State go­vernment said 60 lakh people in 11,000 villages were affected while the natural disaster caused loss to the tune of ₹610 crore. The loss of government infrastructure in the cyclone was to the tune of ₹520 crore while private assets worth ₹90 crore were lost. The total loss was ₹610 crore while ₹66 crore is required for car­rying out relief work, The cyclone had made a landfall in Bala­sore district affecting many northern and coastal dis­tricts.

(vi). Maharashtra announces financial help for kids orphaned by COVID-19

  • The Maharashtra Cabinet announced a scheme of financial assis­tance for children who lost their parents to COVID­-19, in which a sum of ₹5 lakh per child would be set up as a fixed deposit.

  • The scheme will cover those below 18 years who have lost both parents to CO­VID-­19 since March 1, 2020. Children who had already lost one parent and lost the surviving parent to the virus will also be covered by the scheme.

  • The Maharashtra govern­ment scheme will be in addi­tion to the special PM­CARES initiative announced by the Centre. The amount kept as a fixed deposit will be handed over to the individual after the completion of 21 years of age. Apart from the financial assistance, chil­dren would be offered psychological support and skill development training.

(vii). Caste categories for NREGS pay

  • The Centre has asked the States to split wage payments under the Mahatma Gandhi National Rural Employment Guarantee Act (MGNREGA) scheme into separate catego­ries for the Scheduled Castes, the Scheduled Tribes and others from this finan­cial year. States were asked to verify if job cards for SC and ST benefici­aries were being properly al­located at the field level. They were told they would be given fund allocations ac­cording to this criteria, indi­cating that labour budgets would also be segregated on a caste basis.

  • Workers’ rights ad­vocates said this will compli­cate the payment system, and expressed fears that it may lead to a reduction in scheme funding. “All NREGA workers have the same rights. Segregating them into three groups for purposes of budgeting and wage payments serves no purpose,” they added.

(viii). Only delta is a variant of concern : WHO

  • The World Health Organi­sation (WHO) has said only B.1.617.2, one of the three strains of the B.1.617 CO­VID-­19 variant first detect­ed in India, is a “variant of concern” now and noted that lower rates of transmission have been ob­served for the other two lineages. The B.1.617 variant was first detected in India and was divided in three lineag­es – B.1.617.1, B.1.617.2 and B.1.617.3.

  • “It has become evident that greater public health risks are cur­rently associated with B.1.617.2, while lower rates of transmission of other li­neages have been ob­served,” WHO said. It said the B.1.617.1 strain has been reclassified to a Variant of Interest.

(ix). Norms for foreign made vaccine eased

  • To ease the supply of import­ed COVID vaccines, the Drug Controller General of India (DCGI) waived the requirement of conduct­ing bridging clinical trials and testing of every batch of vaccine by the Central Drugs Laboratory (CDL), Kasauli for foreign made vaccines.

  • The DCGI said that as millions of individuals have already been vaccinated with them, the requirement of conducting post approval bridging clinical trials and of testing every batch of vac­cine by CDL, Kasauli can be exempted, if the batch/lot has been certified and re­leased by the National Con­trol Laboratory of the coun­try of origin.

  • The Health Ministry said with the aim of vaccinating the entire eligible population at the earliest, domestic produc­tion is being steadily ramped up. As part of this initiative, three public enterprises are being supported by the De­partment of Biotechnology under Atmanirbhar Bharat 3.0 Mission Covid Suraksha.

(x). Progress in SDGs on clean energy, health : NITI index

  • India saw significant im­provement in the Sustaina­ble Development Goals (SDGs) related to clean ener­gy, urban development and health in 2020, according to the NITI Aayog’s 2020 SDG Index. There has been a major decline in the areas of industry, innovation and infrastructure as well as decent work and economic growth. The SDGs on eradi­cation of poverty and hun­ger both saw significant improvement. The SDGs that do deal di­rectly with wages and indus­trial growth better reflect the fact that India’s econo­my has taken a beating over the last year.

  • Kerala retained its posi­tion at the top of the rank­ings in the third edition of the index, with a score of 75, followed by Tamil Nadu and Himachal Pradesh, both scoring 72. At the other end of the scale, Bihar, Jhark­hand and Assam were the worst performing States.

  • Developed by a global consultative process on ho­listic development, the 17 SDGs have a 2030 deadline. The NITI Aayog launched its index in 2018 to monitor the country’s progress on the goals through data­ dri­ven assessment and to foster a competitive spirit among the States and Union Territo­ries in achieving them.

  • Metrics for income inequality : Gini coefficient – The Gini coefficient measures the inequality among values of a frequency distribution (for example, levels of income). A Gini coefficient of zero expresses perfect equality, where all values are the same (for example, where everyone has the same income). A Gini coefficient of one (or 100%) expresses maximal inequality among values (e.g., for a large number of people where only one person has all the income or consumption and all others have none, the Gini coefficient will be nearly one).

  • Palma Ratio : The Palma ratio is a measure of inequality. It is the ratio of the richest 10% of the population’s share of gross national income (GNI) divided by the poorest 40% 's share.

(xi). Delta variant and rise in post-vaccine infections

  • Variant Delta (B.1.617.2), the most pervasive variant of the coronavirus in India, constituted nearly three in four breakthrough infec­tions in Delhi. The variant was al­so characterised by high transmissibility, an acceler­ated surge in infections and, the scientists say, prior infections, high seropositivi­ty and partial vaccination were insufficient impedi­ments to its spread. Breakthrough infections are instances of people test­ing positive for the virus af­ter getting vaccinated.

  • However, the international var­iant Alpha, that in previous studies has been associated with a spike in cases in Delhi in February and March was absent in vaccination break­through ­cases analysed. The study also reports a new mutation in Delta called T478K that the scien­tists believe has a role to play in allowing the corona­ virus to better infiltrate human cells. Anurag Agrawal, Direc­tor, CSIR IGIB and among the authors of the paper said that while the variant was extremely transmissi­ble, there was no single sup­er spreader event that con­tributed to the rise of the Delta variant in Delhi.

(xii). Since February pact, all quiet on Line of Control

  • There has been no exchange of fire nor infiltration attempts from across the Line of Control (LoC) for over 100 days since the commitment by India and Pakistan to adhere to the 2003 ceasefire. As per data from the Army, last year there were over 4,600 ceasefire violations (CFV) and 592 CFVs this year till the commitment came into effect on February 25. For comparison, till June 1, 2020, there were 1,531 CFVs.

  • However, smuggling continues as there are several villages ahead of the LoC fence. In these 100 days, there have been major seizures of narcotics and improvised explosive device materials, grenades and pistols.

(xiii). Odisha's forest produce hit hard

  • For the second year running, forest dwellers across Od­isha have been deprived of the right price for the non­ timber forest produce (NTFP) gathered by them. With the COVID­-19 pan­demic disrupting local eco­nomies across the country, the NTFP market in Odisha has also suffered due to the absence of adequate buyers this year.

  • Around this time, tribals collect sal leaves, siali leaves, mohua flowers, man­go kernel, karanja seeds, char seeds and tamarind. The hard cash earned by for­est dwellers and tribals in the summer helps them sur­vive the critical four months and use the money in agricultural activi­ties.

  • Tribal activists also ex­pressed anguish over the al­leged apathetic approach of government agencies in en­suring the right price for NTFP. Tribal Cooperative Marketing Development Federation of India (TRIFED) promoted Van Dhan Vikash Kendra, which was introduced to create a market for minor forest pro­duce while ensuring mini­mum support price, but it could not perform to its potential.

(xiv). Punjab, Tamil Nadu and Kerala top education index ranking

  • Punjab, Tamil Nadu and Ker­ala have all scored higher than 90% in the Education Ministry’s Performance Grading Index for 2019-­20. The index monitors the progress that the States and Union Territories have made in school education with re­gard to learning outcomes, access and equity, infras­tructure and facilities, and governance and manage­ment processes.

  • Punjab overtook the Union Territory of Chan­digarh, which topped both previous editions of the in­dex, but has now slid to se­cond place with a score of 912. This is the third edition of the index and uses 70 indi­cators to measure progress. Through all three editions, as they are based on data from the 2017 National Achievement Survey, which tested students in Classes 3, 5,8 and 10. The next NAS was sche­duled to be held in 2020, but was postponed because of the pandemic.


Daily snippets

(i). Remembering the Tulsa race massacre 100 years later

  • This week, U.S. President Joe Biden became the first sitting American head of state to officially recognise one of the worst incidents of violent racial hate in the country’s modern history – the Tulsa Race Massacre of May-June 1921. The widespread killings in Tulsa, Oklahoma, targeting relatively well­to­do African Americans, and the extensive damage to their property by rampaging white mobs at the time shocked the nation and world. Over the decades since then, it has led to introspection and policy actions that have sought to bridge the racial chasm that continues to haunt American society.

  • In 1921, it was the affluent, predominantly African American neighbourhood of Greenwood, Tulsa, founded by descendants of slaves and having earned a reputation as the “Black Wall Street” of the U.S., that faced the carnage unleashed on May 31 and June 1.

  • For years, the massacre was barely mentioned in government circles, and in newspapers and textbooks.While the Tulsa “Race Riot” Commission was formed to investigate the events in 1997 and officially released a report in 2001, it is clear that much has remained buried – quite literally.

(ii). China, Pakistan, Afghanistan to hold talks amid U.S. withdrawal

  • China will chair a meeting with the Foreign Ministers of Afghanistan and Pakistan, as Beijing looks to step up its engagement with both Kabul and Islamabad amid the withdrawal of U.S. forces. China’s Foreign Ministry said the fourth meeting between the three countries’ Foreign Ministers will be held via video link and will be chaired by China.

  • The U.S. Central Command said this week between 30­-44% of the withdrawal of troops had been completed, with President Joe Biden announcing in April a complete withdrawal by September 11 this year.

(iii). Pandemic pushes 100 mn more into poverty

  • The pandemic has pushed over 100 million more workers into poverty, the UN said, after working hours plummeted and access to good quality jobs evaporated. The UN’s International Labour Organization cautioned that the labour market crisis was far from over, with employment not expected to bounce back to pre-pandemic levels until 2023 at the earliest.

(iv). Russia House adopts Bill to bar critics from polls

  • Russia’s Upper House backed legislation expected to be used to ban allies of Kremlin critic Alexei Navalny from running in elections. The Bill would make it impossible to run in parliamentary elections for leaders, sponsors and rank-and-­file members of “extremist” groups.

(v). Massive fire breaks out at Iran oil refinery

  • A massive fire broke out on Wednesday night at the oil refinery serving Iran’s capital, sending thick plumes of black smoke over Tehran. It wasn’t immediately clear if there were injuries. The fire struck the state owned Tondgooyan Petrochemical Co. to the south of Tehran, said Mansour Darajati, the director general of the capital’s crisis management team.

(vi). Labour veteran Herzog elected Israel President

  • Israel’s Parliament elected the even keeled Labour veteran Isaac Herzog as its 11th President, a vote that came as Opposition lawmakers scrambled to forge a coalition to unseat Benjamin Netanyahu. The presidency exerts little power, primarily meeting with party leaders after legislative elections and tasking candidates with forming governments. It is the Prime Minister who wields actual executive authority.

  • The son of Chaim Herzog – Israel’s sixth President and a former Ambassador to the United Nations – and nephew of the famed diplomat and statesman Abba Eban, the new President supports the two­-state solution to the conflict with Palestinians.

  • Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s opponents pushed for a quick Parliament vote to formally end his lengthy rule, hoping to head off any last­minute attempts to derail their newly announced coalition government. The latest political manoeuvring began just hours after opposition leader Yair Lapid and his main coalition partner, Naftali Bennett, declared they had reached a deal to form a new government and muster a majority in the 120­member Knesset, or Parliament.

  • The coalition consists of eight parties from across the political spectrum with little in common except the shared goal of toppling Mr. Netanyahu after a record setting 12 years in power. The alliance includes hardliners previously allied with Mr. Netanyahu, as well as centre left parties and even an Arab faction – a first in Israeli politics

(vii). Modi, Harris discuss nitty gritty of U.S. offer on vaccine doses

  • Prime Minister Narendra Modi spoke on the phone with the U.S. Vice­President Kamala Harris to discuss the U.S. announcement of how it would share the first tranche of 25 million vaccine doses out of the 80 million doses it has committed to sharing by the end of June. It is not yet clear what the specific allocation for India will be. The U.S. has committed to donate 13% of its vaccine supply or 80 million doses by the end of June to other countries.

(viii). Biden intends to overhaul Trump’s China blacklist

  • U.S. President Joe Biden intends to this week overhaul a list of Chinese firms that U.S. investors are allowed to own shares in, as the President re-evaluated the world powers’ post­Trump relationship while maintaining pressure on Beijing. Donald Trump prohibited Americans from buying stakes in 31 Chinese companies that were deemed to be supplying or supporting China’s military and security apparatus. The list included major telecoms, construction and technology firms such as China Mobile, China Telecom, video surveillance firm Hikvision, and China Railway Construction Corp.

  • The measures by the White House aimed at quelling the Asian giant’s rise and which has left ties between the two severely strained.

(ix). Sri Lanka braces for oil spill from sinking cargo vessel

  • Sri Lankan authorities said they were bracing for a possible oil spill, as a fire damaged cargo vessel was sinking off the island’s main port in capital Colombo. Singapore­ registered MV X-Press Pearl, carrying chemicals and plastic, has been in news since a fire incident on May 20 and subsequent explosion aboard, following which tonnes of plastic pellet deposits were found deposited along the country’s beaches.

  • The country’s Marine Environment Protection Authority (MEPA), which termed the incident one of Sri Lanka’s worst ecological disasters in history, has readied oil spill containment booms, to tackle a possible leak from the vessel that officials said carried 350 tonnes of oil in its fuel tanks.

(x). NASA announces two new missions to Venus

  • NASA announced two new missions to Venus that will launch at the end of the decade and are aimed at learning how Earth’s nearest planetary neighbors became a hellscape while our own thrived. “These two missions both aim to understand how Venus became an inferno-like world, capable of melting lead at the surface,” said Bill Nelson, the agency’s newly confirmed administrator.

(xi). Hong Kong seals off Tiananmen vigil site

  • Hundreds of people gathered near a Hong Kong park despite a ban on an annual candlelight vigil remembering China’s deadly crackdown in Beijing’s Tiananmen Square, and the arrest earlier in the day of an organiser of previous vigils. Hong Kong police banned the vigil for a second straight year, citing COVID­-19 social distancing restrictions, although there have been no local cases in the city for more than six weeks.

  • China’s ruling Communist Party has never allowed public events on the mainland to mark the anniversary and security was increased at the Beijing square. Chinese officials say the country’s rapid economic development in the years since what they call the “political turmoil” of 1989 proves that decisions made at the time were correct.

(xii). 17 cases of use of chemical weapons by Syria: OPCW

  • The head of the international chemical weapons watchdog told the UN Security Council that its experts have investigated 77 allegations against Syria, and concluded that in 17 cases chemical weapons were likely or definitely used.

  • Fernando Arias called it “a disturbing reality” that eight years after Syria joined the Chemical Weapons Convention, which bans the production or use of such weapons, many questions remain about its initial declaration of its weapons, stockpiles and precursors and its ongoing programme.

  • He said that the Organization for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons (OPCW) will be taking up a new issue at its next consultations with Syria – “the presence of a new chemical weapons agent found in samples collected in large storage containers in Sept. 2020.”

(xiii). Amid U.S. withdrawal, Beijing seeks closer Afghan ties

  • China is urging closer security and economic cooperation with Afghanistan in an apparent effort to bolster its influence in the region as the U.S. and its allies prepare to withdraw their forces from the country. The official Xinhua News Agency reported that Foreign Ministers from China, Afghanistan and Pakistan met via video conference and agreed that the withdrawal of foreign troops from Afghanistan should be carried out in a responsible and orderly manner to prevent the deterioration of the security situation in Afghanistan and the return of “terrorist forces.”

  • China has long resented the presence of U.S. and allied forces in Afghanistan, but is equally wary of the country becoming a haven for insurgents that could threaten security in its Xinjiang region that shares a narrow border with Afghanistan. The U.S. is withdrawing the last of its 2,500-­3,500 troops by September 11.

(xiv). U.K. regulator approves Pfizer vaccine for 12­ to 15year olds

  • The U.K.'s medicines regulator approved the Pfizer/BioNTech coronavirus vaccine for 12 to 15year olds, saying it is “safe and effective” in this age group and the benefits outweigh any risks. Until now, COVID-­19 vaccines being administered in the U.K. have been approved for adults aged 16 and over.

(xv). Nigeria suspends Twitter 'indefinitely’

  • Telecom operators in Nigeria said they had complied with a government directive to suspend access to Twitter indefinitely, two days after the U.S. social media giant deleted a tweet from President Muhammadu Buhari’s account for violating its rules.

  • International human rights groups and diplomats have condemned the move, which followed previous attempts by the government of Africa’s most populous country to regulate social media.

  • Twitter on Wednesday deleted a remark on the President’s account after he referred to the country’s civil war four decades ago in a warning about recent unrest. Twitter is popular in Nigeria, and has played a role in public discourse with hashtags #BringBackOurGirls, after Boko Haram kidnapped 276 schoolgirls, and #EndSARS, during anti police brutality protests last year.

(xvi). China hits out at U.S., EU consulates in Hong Kong

  • China berated the U.S. and EU consulates in Hong Kong for displaying candles to commemorate the June 4 Tiananmen crackdown, slamming it as a “clumsy political show'' to destabilise the city. Candles were seen lit in the windows of the U.S. consulate building, which is next to the residence of Hong Kong’s Beijing Appointed leader Carrie Lam, and the European Union’s office.

  • For three decades in Hong Kong, huge crowds, often tens of thousands strong, have held candlelight vigils on June 4 for those killed in 1989 when tanks and troops crushed pro-democracy protests in Beijing. However this year’s vigil was banned at a time when Hong Kong authorities are carrying out a sweeping clampdown on dissent following huge and often violent democracy protests two years ago.

(xvii). 114 killed in Burkina Faso attacks

  • Suspected jihadists have massacred at least 114 civilians in Burkina Faso’s volatile north in the deadliest attacks since Islamist violence erupted in the west African country in 2015. President Roch Marc Christian Kabore denounced an attack near the borders with Mali and Niger where jihadists linked to Al­Qaeda and Islamic State have been targeting civilians and soldiers.

(xviii). Church slams Austrian government’s ‘Islam Map’

  • The Austrian Catholic church became the latest religious group to criticise a government backed online map of hundreds of Muslim organisations which sparked violence against the Muslim minority. The map shows details of over 600 Muslim associations – from youth groups to mosques – including details on their location and photos of members.

  • The controversial map was first presented by a government ­funded group monitoring Muslim extremism and by Austria’s Integration Minister Susanne Raab, a member of Austrian People’s Party (OeVP), who called it a tool to “fight political Islam as a breeding ground for extremism”.

  • Cardinal Christoph Schoenborn, the head of the Austrian Catholic church, wrote in an op­-ed that it was “dangerous to give the impression that one of the religious communities is under general suspicion”, and asked why one of the many religious communities was singled out. The Council of Europe’s Special Representative Daniel Hoeltgen urged the government to take down the map.

(xix). Pakistan makes progress on terror finance ratings

  • Pakistan improved its ratings with the Asia Pacific Group (APG) on Money Laundering, a 41-country grouping that is a regional associate of the Financial Action Task Force, ahead of a decision on its grey listing status later this month.

  • Of the 40 parameters, Pakistan has made progress in about 21 and was downgraded on 1, the APG’s Mutual Evaluation Report (MER) published on June 4 said, adding that this meant Pakistan moves ‘up’ one category in its evaluation at the APG. The Paris­ based FATF, has thus far cleared Pakistan on 24 of 27 points on the action plan it has been tasked with since 2018, leading its Industries Minister Hammad Azhar to declare in February 2021, that being downgraded to the FATF blacklist is “not an option” any longer.

  • The last three outstanding action points on which Pakistan claims it will also be cleared are:

  • demonstrating that terrorist financing (TF) investigations and prosecutions target persons and entities acting on behalf or at the directive of the designated persons or entities;

  • demonstrating that TF prosecutions result in effective, proportionate and dissuasive sanctions;

  • and demonstrating effective implementation of targeted financial sanctions against all designated terrorists, particularly those acting for.

(xx). Ahead of summit with Putin, Biden backs European allies

  • The U.S. will stand with its European allies against Russia, President Joe Biden has promised ahead of the first face to face meeting with Vladimir Putin. Mr. Biden will head to Europe, and is set to attend both the G­7 and NATO summits as well as holding a high stakes meeting with the Russian leader in Geneva on June 16. The summit comes amid the biggest crisis in ties between the two countries in years, with tensions high over a litany of issues including hacking allegations, human rights and claims of election meddling.

  • Since taking office in January, Mr. Biden has ramped up pressure on the Kremlin, and his comments likening Mr. Putin to a “killer” was met with fierce criticism in Moscow. But both leaders have expressed hopes that relations can improve, with the Russian President saying he expected a “positive” result from the talks. Mr. Biden in his weekend op-ed also stressed that Washington “does not seek conflict” – pointing to his recent extension of the New START arms reduction treaty as proof of his desire to reduce tensions.

(xxi). ‘Delta variant 40% more transmissible’

  • Britain’s Health Secretary said the delta variant, which is fast becoming the dominant coronavirus variant in the U.K., is 40% more transmissible compared to the country’s existing strains. Matt Hancock acknowledged that the rise in delta variant cases may delay the government’s plan to lift most remaining lockdown restrictions on June 21. He also said he wouldn’t rule out continuing measures, such as face masks in public settings and working from home where possible. On Friday, the country recorded 6,238 new coronavirus cases, the highest number since late March.

(xxii). Nepal Deputy PM stirs controversy with demand for ‘multi-nation state’

  • Newly appointed Deputy Prime Minister of Nepal Rajendra Mahato has kicked up a controversy soon after taking over, saying he is committed to building a ‘multi­-nation state’. Mr. Mahato is one of the three Deputy Prime Ministers (Raghuvir Mahaseth and Bishnu Prasad Paudel are the other two) appointed by Prime Minister K.P. Sharma Oli, who reshuffled his Cabinet this weekend.

  • The comment drew quick criticism on social media, with many accusing Mr. Mahato of trying to play divisive politics. CPN-­UML leader Yogesh Bhattarai urged Prime Minister Oli to advise his ministerial colleagues to exercise restraint while making public comments. A protest was organised by the All Nepal National Free Students Union (ANNFSU) that demanded Mr. Oli to step down over the comments.

(xxiii). Pained over Canada school deaths: Pope

  • Pope Francis expressed his pain over the discovery in Canada of the remains of 215 Indigenous students of church-run boarding schools and pressed religious and political authorities to shed light on “this sad affair.” But he didn’t offer the apology sought by the Canadian Prime Minister.

  • Pope Francis, in remarks to the faithful gathered in St. Peter’s Square, also called on the authorities to foster healing but made no reference to PM Justin Trudeau’s insistence that the Vatican apologize and take responsibility. From the 19th century until the 1970s, more than 1,50,000 Indigenous children were forced to attend state funded Christian schools, the majority of them run by Roman Catholic missionary congregations, in a campaign to assimilate them into Canadian society.

  • The Canadian government has admitted that physical and sexual abuse was rampant in the schools, with students beaten for speaking their native languages. Mr. Trudeau blasted the church for being “silent” and “not stepping up,″ and called on it to formally apologize and to make amends for its prominent role in his nation’s former system of church-run Indigenous boarding schools.

(xxiv). New database for missing persons

  • The Interpol has launched a new global database named ‘I­Familia’ to identi­fy missing persons through family DNA and help the police solve cold cases in member countries. It applied cutting-edge scientific re­search and used the DNA of relatives to identify mis­sing persons or unidenti­fied human remains around the world.

  • DNA kinship matching is used mostly in cases where a di­rect sample of the missing person is not available. “I­ Familia is the first global database to automatically control for such differenc­es without requiring know­ledge of the missing per­son’s genetic ancestry and provide standardised gui­delines on what constitutes a match,” the Interpol said.


Daily snippets

(i). Brazil's economy expands 1.2%, returns to pre-pandemic size

  • Brazil’s economy expanded by 1.2% in the first quarter as rebounding services and in­vestments took Latin Ameri­ca’s largest economy to its pre-pandemic size at the end of 2019. It was the third consecu­tive quarter of growth, and although the rebound has slowed, some underlying figures suggest stronger foun­dations for a continued re­covery this year.

  • The economic recovery has accelerated inflation in Brazil, prompting one of the world’s most aggressive string of ongoing interest rate increases. The central bank has raised its benchmark rate by 75 basis points at each of its last two policy meetings.

(ii). FICCI and economy unlock

  • With the number of coronavirus infections declining in the country, industry cham­ber FICCI has urged the go­vernment to follow a graded approach in unlocking eco­nomic activities. It said any unit that is able to create an isolation bubble should be allowed to oper­ate at all times even if it does not qualify as essential.

  • It said that there should be surveillance testing on a continuous basis, even if the number of cases comes down sharply. It added that units that have vaccinated at least 60% of the workforce with a single dose can be ex­empted from restrictions.

(iii). NASSCOM favours tech transfer for vaccines

  • Given the extraordinary sit­uation due to the global pandemic, the National As­sociation of Software and Service Companies (NASSCOM) is in favour of transfer of technology for COVID­-19 vaccines, its newly elected chairperson Rekha M. Me­non said.

  • On the impact of the CO­VID-­19 second wave on the information technology (IT) sector, Ms. Menon said while the first wave of the pandemic had been more of a business continuity plan­ning crisis for companies, the second wave had turned out to be a humanitarian crisis for the industry.

  • “We had asked the go­vernment to allow the im­port of WHO approved vac­cines and have also offered to work with manufacturers directly to support them with supply chain issues”.

  • The IT association, which recently wrote to Prime Mi­nister Narendra Modi urging a temporary relaxation of the Foreign Contribution Regulation Act (FCRA) norms, has also sought a comprehensive data utilisa­tion strategy with a focus on quality, access, responsible usage, and security around vacci­nation, supply of emergen­cy medical equipment, hos­pital beds and testing.

(iv). RBI holds rates and cuts GDP forecast

  • The Reserve Bank of India (RBI) on left bench­mark interest rates un­changed and reiterated that it would retain its ac­commodative stance for “as long as necessary to re­vive and sustain growth on a durable basis”, as it cut its GDP growth forecast for the fiscal year by 100 basis points to 9.5%. The bank also marginal­ly raised its projection for CPI inflation during 2021­-22 to 5.1%.

  • The RBI’s Monetary Poli­cy Committee, voted unanimously to keep the policy repo rate unchanged at 4%, Gover­nor Shaktikanta Das said. Ramping up the vaccina­tion drive and bridging the gaps in healthcare infras­tructure could mitigate the pandemic’s devastation, he stressed.

  • Noting that the retail inflation reading for April at 4.3% had brought some re­lief and policy elbow room, Mr. Das said a normal south­ west monsoon along with comfortable buffer stocks should help to keep cereal price pressures in check.

  • Rising trajectory of interna­tional crude prices within a broad-based surge in inter­national commodity prices and logistics costs was wor­sening cost conditions. He also asserted that the RBI had no plans to print more money. The Governor’s state­ment comes amid sugges­tions from some quarters that the RBI print more mo­ney to support the economy ravaged by the spread of CO­VID­-19 and to protect jobs.

(v). RBI's view on cryptocurrency

  • RBI Governor Shaktikanta Das made it clear that the central bank’s view on cryptocurrencies such as Bitcoin remains unchanged and it continues to have ‘ma­jor concerns’ on the volatile instruments. The RBI had first come out with a circular on the is­sue in 2018, cautioning peo­ple against investing in cryp­tocurrencies, that do not have sovereign character. However, the Supreme Court, in 2020, struck down the circular.

  • Mr. Das said the central bank is not into investment advice, but added that one should make one’s own ap­praisal and do due diligence before taking a call on in­vesting in cryptocurrencies.

(vi). G7 nations agree on uniform minimum corporate tax

  • A group of the world’s rich­est nations reached a landmark deal to close cross border tax loo­pholes used by some of the world’s biggest companies. A minimum global corporation tax rate of at least 15%, and put in place measures to ensure that taxes were paid in the countries where businesses operate.

  • The accord is aimed at ending a decades long “race to the bottom”, in which countries have competed to attract corporate giants with ultra­low tax rates and ex­emptions. That has, in turn, cost their public coffers hun­dreds of billions of dollars.


Daily snippets

(i). Strong policies on Black carbon can sharply cut glacier melt

  • Black carbon (BC) deposits produced by human activity which accelerate the pace of glacier and snow melt in the Himalayan region can be sharply reduced through new, currently feasible poli­cies by an additional 50% from current levels.

  • The research covers the Himalaya, Karakoram and Hindu Kush (HKHK) moun­tain ranges, where, the re­port says, glaciers are melt­ing faster than the global average ice mass. The rate of retreat of HKHK glaciers is estimated to be 0.3 metres per year in the west to 1.0 metre per year in the east. BC adds to the impact of cli­mate change.

  • Black Carbon is a short-lived pollu­tant that is the second ­lar­gest contributor to warming the planet behind carbon dioxide (CO2). Unlike other greenhouse gas emissions, BC is quickly washed out and can be eliminated from the atmosphere if emissions stop. Some of the ongoing poli­cy measures to cut BC emis­sions are enhancing fuel efficiency standards for vehicles, phasing out diesel vehicles and promoting electric vehicles, accelerat­ing the use of liquefied pe­troleum gas for cooking and through clean cookstove programmes, as well as up­grading brick kiln technolo­gies.

  • With all existing measures, water from glacial melt is still projected to increase in absolute volume by 2040, with impacts on downstream activities and communities. Glacier melt produces flash floods, landslips, soil erosion, and glacial lake outburst floods.

  • Deposits of BC act in two ways hastening the pace of glacier melt: by decreasing surface reflectance of sunlight and by raising air tem­perature. The WB publication says “Industry, primarily brick kiln and residential burn­ing of solid fuel together ac­count for 45–66% of regional anthropogenic BC deposition, followed by on road diesel fuels (7–18%) and open burning (less than 3% in all seasons)” in the region.

(ii). H10N3 bird flu human infection

  • China has confirmed the first instance of human infection from H10N3, a rare strain of a virus that normally infects poultry. China's National Health Commission said the strain has low pathogenesis – the ability to cause disease – among birds, implying that the virus did not spread easily among poultry and was likely to be restricted to limited populations.

  • “As long as avian influenza viruses circulate in poultry, sporadic infection of avian influenza in humans is not surprising, which is a vivid reminder that the threat of an influenza pandemic is persistent,” the World Health Organization (WHO) said.

  • H5N1 is the most common virus causing bird flu, or avian influenza. Though largely restricted to birds, and often fatal to them, it can cross over to other animals, as well as humans. According to the WHO, the H5N1 was first discovered in humans in 1997 and has killed almost 60% of those infected. Though it is not known to transmit easily among humans, the risk remains.

  • All known subtypes of influenza A viruses can infect birds, except subtypes H17N10 and H18N11, which have only been found in bats. Only two influenza A virus subtypes (i.e., H1N1, and H3N2) are currently in general circulation among people. So far, the H10N3 appears mild and not very transmissible, and hence, its categorisation status remains unclear.

  • Speculation about the origin of the SARS-­CoV-­2 has heightened worries about animal­ and bird borne viruses. An outbreak of the H5N8 virus in birds led to hundreds of thousands of poultry being culled in various European countries. In February, Russia reported that seven poultry workers in a plant were infected by the H5N8 strain.


Daily snippets

(i). Boxer Amit Panghal at the Asian Championship

  • Olympic bound Indian boxer Amit Panghal (52kg) described his silver winning performance at the Asian Championships as the best of his career. The 25­ year ­old was the defending champion before he lost to his nemesis, Uzbe­kistan’s reigning World and Olympic champion Shakho­ bidin Zoirov in Dubai. Panghal said there are some chinks in the armour that he hopes to iron out before the Olympics.

(ii). Manpreet Kaur's Indian Women's Hockey team debut at the Olympics

  • Young de­fender Manpreet Kaur wants to stay on top of her game by putting in the hard yards. After gaining useful expo­sure representing the junior team, the 22 ­year­ old earned a maiden call­up to senior group in January last year. She was also a part of In­dia’s recent Argentina tour.

  • “It is bringing the best out of me in training and I would like to continue doing it without bothering about selection”.

(iii). Indian official kits for Tokyo Games unveiled

  • Indian officials expect at least 25 more athletes to qualify for the Tokyo Olym­pics by the end of June and the contingent to return with at least 10 medals from the Games. So far 100 athletes have qualified, including the two hockey teams. “We are estimating to touch 125 to 135 by the time the qualification process is over”, IOA president Narinder Batra said.

  • The sports kits are spon­sored by Li Ning while the ceremonial kits are by Raymonds. Regular video interactions with their fami­lies are planned for all ath­letes during the Olympics.

(iv). Chess : Harikrishna and Vidit confirmed for World Cup

  • Grandmasters P. Harikrish­na and Vidit Gujrathi have received confirmation from the International Chess Fed­eration (FIDE) to be part of the World Cup beginning in Sochi from July 10. Harikrishna and Vidit, ranked 20 and 22, gained the berths that fell vacant owing to the withdrawal of the seeded players.

  • The confirmation from FIDE also helped All India Chess Federation nominate B. Adhiban – the highest ranked Indian after Viswa­nathan Anand, Harikrishna and Vidit – for the World Cup. In all, FIDE allows 91 countries to nominate a player each apart from those already qualified.

  • In the 206­ player men’s field, India will be represented by P. Harik­rishna, Vidit, Adhiban, Ara­vindh Chithambaram and P. Iniyan. In the 103 ­player wo­men’s section, as reported earlier, it will be K. Humpy, D. Harika, Padmini Rout, Bhakti Kulkarni and P. Vaishali.

(v). Vijeylaxmi, Harini chosen for ICC programme

  • Two Indians – match referee Vijeylaxmi Narasimhan and media person­ turned­ sports­ management professional Harini Rana – have been se­lected as India’s representa­tives for the ICC 100% Crick­et Future Leaders Programme. The programme, accord­ing to a statement by the In­ternational Cricket Council, is the world cricket govern­ing body’s “long-term com­mitment to accelerate the growth of women's cricket and women in cricket”.

(vi). Football : India goes down to Qatar

  • A 10 ­man India defended creditably but still suffered a 1­0 defeat to Asian champion Qatar in their World Cup qualifying round match. The two sides had played out a goalless draw in their first leg match here in September 2019. Sunil Chetri is the captain of the Indian national football team. India may have suffered a bigger defeat had it not been for goalkeeper Gurpreet Singh Sandhu, who pulled off as many as nine saves in the group E match.

(vii). Wrestler fails dope test for Olympics

  • 125kg freestyle wrestler Sumit Malik has tested positive for the banned substance methylhexanea­mine (MHA). According to a Wrestling Federation of India (WFI) of­ficial, United World Wres­tling (UWW) in its communi­cation said Malik had been provi­sionally suspended for the doping violation. As per the World Anti­ Doping Agency (WADA) list, MHA is prohibited in compe­tition only as a specified stimulant.

  • The WFI official said if Ma­lik was held responsible for the doping violation (during the hearing process), then India would lose the Olym­pic quota place earned by him.

(viii). Chess : Koneru Humpy to skip World Cup

  • Koneru Humpy will not play at the chess World Cup, which gets underway at Sochi, Russia, from July 10. She said she was hopeful of returning to tournaments after a few months. Humpy is the reigning women’s World rapid champion.

(ix). Football : Team India in a desperate situation

  • India desperately needs a positive result against neighbour Bangla­desh in its joint World Cup and Asian Cup qualifiers match. India is already out of contention for a World Cup berth but still in the reckon­ing for a place in the 2023 Asian Cup.

  • With just three points from six matches India is fourth in Group E and is not yet guaranteed an automat­ic berth in the third round of the Asian Cup qualifiers. Only the best four fourth­ place finishers in each of the eight groups directly qualify for the third round of the Asian Cup qualifiers. The other four fourth­ place finishers and all the bottom place finishers of the eight groups will play in a play­off round from which eight will re-enter the quali­fying process again.

(x). Athletics : Srabani Nanda

  • Srabani Nanda, currently the most active Indian athlete in the world, has emerged as the fastest Indian woman this year. The 30-year-old from Odisha clocked a personal best 11.36s. Nanda had clocked a faster but wind assisted 11.29s in the preliminary round.

  • With her 11.36s, Nanda replaces S. Dhanalakshmi, who clocked 11.38s in the Federa­tion in March, as the Indian leader in the event this season. Dutee Chand (11.44) and Hima Das (11.63) occupy the next two spots.


(i). Police brutality and police accountability in India

(ii). Artificial intelligence in jurisprudence

(iii). Lakshadweep's Draft regulations

(iv). World Environment Day 2021, Ecocide law in India

(v). Supreme Court on sedition, journalism

(vi). Vaccine for all and the Supreme Court

(vii). Madras High Court on LGBTQIA+ Issues

(viii). Laws governing social media influencers

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Sources referred to : The Hindu, The Indian Express, Live Law, Bar & Bench