Weekly Page : April 5th – April 12th, 2021
The week that went by!
LAW, POLICY & GOVERNANCE
1. Delhi HC asks Centre to treat CRPF officers’ plea as representation
- The Delhi High Court has asked the Centre to treat as representation a petition by a group of officers of the Central Reserve Police Force (CRPF) raising the issue of acute stagnation suffered by Directly Appointed Assistant Commandants. Petition contends stagnated promotion among cadres.
2. Employer can reject candidate acquitted of serious crime: SC
The Supreme Court has held that a public employer can reject a candidate as unsuitable if he had, in the past, been acquitted of a serious crime merely on the benefit of doubt.
The case concerned a man acquitted of murder after witnesses turned hostile in Rajasthan in 2009. He was part of a group of people who ran a tractor over a woman and later knifed people who tried to resist them.
3. Salary, pension fundamental rights of all employees: HC
- The Delhi High Court said salaries and pension are fundamental rights of employees or retirees while dismissing a plea by North Delhi Municipal Corporation to extend the time for clearing arrears of staff. The court said the non-availability of funds is not a ground to deny salaries and pension to the employees on time.
4. SC to take up report on ISRO frame-up
- The Centre has put its weight behind a report filed by a three member committee chaired by former Supreme Court judge, Justice D.K. Jain, tasked to unravel rogue officials responsible for the infamous Indian Space Research Organisation (ISRO) “frameup” case of 1994 that destroyed the life and reputation of Nambi Narayanan. The Centre has applied to the top court, urging it to accept on record the inquiry report submitted by the Justice Jain Committee and take suitable action on the suggestions made against the “erring officials”.
5. Justice Ramana will be next CJI
- President Ram Nath Kovind appointed Justice N.V. Ramana as the 48th Chief Justice of India with effect from April 24. Justice Ramana has said one of his primary objectives, besides providing easy access to justice, would be to improve the judicial infrastructure through a special purpose vehicle called the ‘National Judicial Infrastructure Corporation’ to act as a nodal agency.
6. Wearing mask mandatory even if driving alone
- The Delhi High Court ruled that wearing a mask, or face cover, in a vehicle is compulsory even if a person is driving alone. Court says mask is a suraksha kavach during the prevailing COVID-19 pandemic. Justice Singh highlighted that a person travelling in a vehicle or car, even if he was alone, could be exposed to the virus in various ways.
7. Centre seeks nod to close Italian marines case
The government asked the Supreme Court to schedule an urgent hearing of its application to close the criminal trials pending in India against two Italian marines accused of killing two fishermen off the coast of Kerala in 2012. SC agreed to schedule hearing after govt. said victims’ families have been compensated.
The Supreme Court said it would order the closure of criminal proceedings against the two Italian marines accused of killing fishermen off the coast of Kerala only after Italy paid Rs 10 crore as compensation for the victims’ families.
The court directed that Italy should transfer the compensation to an account number which would be handed over to it by the Ministry of External Affairs. The Ministry would in turn deposit the money with the court. The SC would directly disburse the compensation to the families.
8. SC refuses to order release of Rohingya
- The Supreme Court refrained from ordering the release of the Rohingyas detained in Jammu. It, however, said they should not be deported without proper procedure. A Bench, led by the Chief Justice of India, held that though rights to equality and due process of law enshrined in the Constitution are available to both citizens and foreigners, the right “not to be deported” is ancillary to citizenship.
9. ASI will survey mosque, orders court
A local court in Varanasi directed the Archaeological Survey of India (ASI) to conduct a survey of the Gyanvapi Mosque, adjacent to the Kashi Vishwanath Temple, to find out whether it was a “superimposition, alteration or addition or if there is structural overlapping of any kind, with any other religious structure”.
The order came on a petition demanding restoration of the land on which the Gyanvapi Mosque stands to the Hindus, claiming that Mughal Emperor Aurangzeb had pulled down parts of the old Kashi Vishwanath Temple to build the mosque.
The order is an unconscionable intervention that will open the flood-gates for another protracted religious dispute. Regardless of the merits of either side’s case, it ought to be clear to anyone concerned with peace and harmony in the country that the attempt to resurrect disputes buried by law is a serious setback to the cause of secularism and peaceful coexistence. That new challenges are emerging to the wisdom of Parliament in giving a statutory quietus to squabbles over religious sites is deeply disturbing.
10. Was exercising my right to protest, Sidhu tells court
- Actor activist Deep Sidhu, arrested in connection with the violence at Red Fort on Republic Day, told a Delhi court that he did not instigate anyone to cause violence and was only exercising his “fundamental right” to protest. “I have not indulged in a single act of violence. I left before the violence broke out,” he claimed.
11. People are free to choose religion: SC
The Supreme Court said people are free to choose their religion, even as it lashed out at a “very, very harmful kind” of “public interest” petition claiming there is mass religious conversion happening “by hook or by crook” across the country.
The petition alleged that the court should direct the Centre and the States to control black magic, superstition and religious conversion being done through threats, intimidation or bribes.
Justice Nariman reminded Mr. Upadhyay of the Constitution Bench judgment which upheld inviolability of the right to privacy, equating it with the rights to life, of dignity and liberty.
12. Public streets should not be blocked: SC
- “Public streets should not be blocked”, observed the Supreme Court while hearing a plea of a Noida based woman alleging difficulties in commuting to Delhi for work due to road blockades by protesting farmers.
13. Live-streaming of court proceedings soon: SC judge
- Supreme Court judge and chairperson of its e-committee, Justice D.Y. Chandrachud said live-streaming of court proceedings was on the brink of becoming a reality. The judge said the idea behind virtual court systems was not to replace physical courts, but, instead, to show the “flexibility” of the Indian judicial system to ensure that access to justice was not denied even during the hardest of times.
14. Rising virus cases pose fresh trial for prisons
The rising number of COVID-19 cases in the Capital has again thrown a fresh challenge at the Delhi prisons where inmate count has touched the 20,000 mark for the first time.
The Delhi prison has a sanctioned capacity of around 10,000 inmates. However, the jail administration said that they are making all possible efforts to keep the prisoners safe and are following all COVID related protocols.
15. Paying extortion money is not terror funding: SC
- Extortion money paid to a terrorist organisation to protect one’s business is not terror funding, the Supreme Court has said in a judgment. A Bench led by Justice L. Nageswara Rao released a Ranchi based coal businessman, booked under the draconian Unlawful Activities Prevention Act, on bail.
16. SC hears plea to decriminalise begging
- The Supreme Court has asked the Centre and four States to file their response within three weeks on a plea seeking a direction to repeal the provisions criminalising begging. The plea filed by Meerut resident Vishal Pathak has referred to the August 2018 verdict of the Delhi High Court which had decriminalised begging in the national capital and said provisions of the Bombay Prevention of Begging Act, 1959, which treats begging as an offence cannot sustain constitutional scrutiny.
17. The abolition of FCAT
On April 4, the Centre notified the Tribunals Reforms (Rationalisation and Conditions of Service) Ordinance, 2021, issued by the Ministry of Law and Justice. The Tribunals Reforms Bill was introduced in the Lok Sabha in February, but was not taken up for consideration in the last session of Parliament.
The President later issued the ordinance, which scraps the Film Certification Appellate Tribunal (FCAT), a statutory body that had been set up to hear appeals of filmmakers against decisions of the Central Board of Film Certification (CBFC), and transfers its function to other existing judicial bodies. Eight other appellate authorities have also been disbanded with immediate effect. The ordinance has amended The Cinematograph Act, 1952, and replaced the word ‘Tribunal’ with ‘High Court’.
The move to abolish the FCAT along with other tribunals follows a Supreme Court order in Madras Bar Association vs. Union of India. Now that the FCAT has been disbanded, it will be left to the already overburdened courts to adjudicate.
With the government tightening its control on over-the-top (OTT) content and ordering players in this area to set up a grievance redressal body to address the concerns of the viewers, many observers point out that the courts will have to play a greater role as an avenue of appeal.
18. Centre to certify shrimp farms
- To bolster confidence in India’s frozen shrimp produce, the country’s biggest sea food export item, the Centre has kicked off a new scheme to certify hatcheries and farms that adopt good aquaculture practices. The move is aimed at building exporters’ confidence in India’s frozen produce.
19. Centre bans export of Remdesivir
- The Centre has prohibited the exports of Remdesivir injection and Remdesivir Active Pharmaceutical Ingredients (API) in an order issued stating there was a sudden spike in the demand for the drug used in COVID-19 treatment. Drug inspectors have been directed to verify stocks and check malpractices.
NATIONAL NEWS/ INTERVENTIONS
1. Lavrov-Jaishankar talks today
An important round of discussion between India and Russia will take place between the visiting Russian Foreign Minister, Sergey Lavrov, and External Affairs Minister S. Jaishankar. Mr. Lavrov, who will be accompanied by Moscow’s Special Envoy on Afghanistan, Zamir Kabulov, is expected to brief the Indian side about the Russian plans regarding the difficult peace process under way in Afghanistan.
The meeting will also provide India with a window to share its frank assessment about the continuing scenario in eastern Ladakh along the Line of Actual Control. Mr. Lavrov’s visit will coincide with the tour of India by the U.S. Special Presidential Envoy for Climate, John Kerry.
The U.S. Embassy’s spokesperson said that Washington viewed “India as an important partner on future clean energy research, development, and deployment”. Another major item that is expected to feature in the talks is the pending delivery of the Russian S400 missile defence system to India. The delivery may attract U.S. sanctions under the Countering America's Adversaries Through Sanctions Act
2. ‘INS Viraat now private property of ship-breaker’
- INS Viraat, the Navy’s decommissioned aircraft carrier, has become the “private property” of a shipbreaker who has already torn down 40% of its body, chiefly for scrap, the Supreme Court told a private company, that wants to turn the vessel into a maritime museum-cum-adventure centre. On February 10, the court had ordered a stay on the process of dismantling the ship. The carrier was bought by the Gujarat based Shree Ram Group, a shipbreaking firm, in a bid. The 67-year old iconic warship was towed to the breaking yard after over three decades’ service in the Navy
3. Russia calls for inclusive solution to Afghan crisis
- A solution to the Afghan civil war should balance the ethnic and religious groups of Afghanistan and no group should be left out of the final settlement, said Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov after holding bilateral discussions with his Indian counterpart Dr. S. Jaishankar. Mr. Lavrov said India and Russia were working for stability and connectivity in the region, and urged that “military alliances'' should not come up in Asia. Apart from the Afghan situation, the major issue on the agenda for talks was expected to be the delivery of the Russian S400 missile defence system and the threat of U.S. sanctions that the delivery could attract.
4. Uttarakhand in the grip of unprecedented forest fire
- In the last 24 hours, according to official sources, 75 incidents of forest fire – 50 in forest reserves and 25 in civil or van panchayat areas – had been reported affecting 105.85 hectares of forest land. In what is being seen as an unprecedented April, 414 incidents affecting 645.3 hectares have been reported in the first six days of the month.
5. India has U.S. as ally in fighting climate change, says envoy
- India is a “redhot” investment opportunity because of its “clean energy” shift, said U.S. special envoy, suggesting that having the U.S. as a partner in tackling climate change is a unique advantage. In his first public address after reaching Delhi for a four day visit to prepare for the U.S. President Joseph Biden’s Climate Change Summit on April 22, Mr. Kerry said the U.S. is committed to bringing emissions to below 1.5 degrees Celsius, and hoped to help India cut emissions as well.
6. India to receive another batch of Rafale jets
India will receive another 8 to 9 Rafale jets from France by mid-May, with some expected later this month, completing the ﬁrst squadron of the ﬁghters in the Indian Air Force (IAF). In all, around 8-9 jets are expected by mid-May.
Last September, the IAF inducted the batch of ﬁve Rafales, of the 36 contracted from France under a €7.87 billion Inter-Governmental Agreement signed in September 2016. The ﬁrst batch of ﬁve jets, three single seat and two two-seater trainers, were formally inducted into the No. 17 ‘Golden Arrows’ squadron of the IAF last September at the Ambala Air Force station. The second batch of three Rafales arrived in India last November. The third batch of three Rafales arrived in India in January. The fourth batch of three jets arrived on March 31.
Air Chief Marshal R.K.S. Bhadauria said the Force would get three to four Rafales every two to three months till all 36 jets are delivered and added that the ﬁrst squadron would be fully ready by the end of 2021 and the second squadron by 2023. The IAF has 33 fighter aircraft squadrons. Each squadron has 16 aircraft plus two trainer aircraft, which are two-seaters.
7. Arch closure of Chenab bridge
The Railways said it had completed the arch closure of the 1315m Chenab bridge, the world’s highest railway bridge. Terming it one of the biggest civil engineering challenges faced by any project in India, the Railways added that at 359m above the river bed level, the bridge would be 35 metres higher than the Eiﬀel Tower in Paris. The Chenab bridge is part of the Udhampur-Srinagar Baramulla rail link project (USBRL).
The arch consists of steel boxes, which will be ﬁlled with concrete to improve stability. The bridge is being built at a cost of ₹1,486 crore and can withstand high wind speed up to 266 km per hour.
8. Maoist attack in Chhattisgarh
The ﬁght against the Maoists will be intensiﬁed in the coming days, Union Home Minister Amit Shah has said. The remarks came after the April 3 attack at Tarrem in Sukma where 22 security personnel were killed. As many as 14 of the 27 districts in Chhattisgarh are affected by LWE violence.
The deceased include seven from the Commando Battalion for Resolute Action unit (CoBRA) of the CRPF, a unit specially trained for operations in LWE aﬀected areas, and 15 from the Chhattisgarh Police. Thirty one others were injured. A Central Reserve Police Force (CRPF) commando is still missing.
9. Health Ministry not for vaccinating all adults as of now
With a growing public clamor for making vaccines available to all adults, the Union Health Ministry said that India was following a scientiﬁc protocol on administering vaccines and that it wasn’t possible “to suddenly ramp up” vaccinations.
The concerned official said that all countries had employed a restrictive criterion that prioritised the elderly, healthcare workers, and those with comorbidities and India, too, was following a guidance protocol of the World Health Organization (WHO) in prioritising those most at risk.
While it wasn’t established what percentage of a region’s population needed to be vaccinated for ‘herd immunity’, it was a “fact” that vaccines protect against severe disease and reduced mortality, Dr. V.K Paul, Member (Health), NITI Aayog, said.
10. France and the alleged Rafale scandal
French anti-corruption authorities made no serious attempts to investigate the suspicions of corruption and favouritism surrounding the Rafale deal, according to the second of the three-part investigative series by French media. French President Emmanuel Macron and his predecessor François Hollande are also cited in the allegations levelled in the case.
Documents and ﬁrsthand accounts obtained by Media part show that, following the potentially explosive alert ﬁled by Sherpa, PNF chief Éliane Houlette made no serious attempts to investigate the suspicions of corruption and favouritism surrounding the Rafale deal. Sherpa is the French NGO which, based on media revelations, had reported “suspected corruption, including money laundering, inﬂuence peddling and favouritism” surrounding the deal.
11. Assam writer arrested on sedition charge
- Assam writer Sikha Sarma was arrested on the charge of sedition and sent to judicial custody for her alleged comment in the social media on security personnel massacred by Maoists in Chhattisgarh, police said.
12. Incentives for solar energy sector
- The Union Cabinet approved two production linked incentive schemes for white goods (air conditioners and LED lights) and high efficiency solar photovoltaic modules. The Cabinet, at a meeting chaired by Prime Minister Narendra Modi, took another step towards the vision of “Atmanirbhar Bharat” (self reliant India) with the approval for the ₹6,238crore PLI scheme for air conditioners and LEDs, a government statement said.
13. Pandemic offered key lessons: PM
- Though students missed a year of school life and interaction with their teachers and friends due to COVID-19, the pandemic has also taught them many lessons about the true value of essential things and strengthened the emotional bonds between family members at a time of social distancing, Prime Minister Narendra Modi said. He was responding to the only question related to the pandemic in his interaction with students and parents through a virtual Pariksha Pe Charcha event, despite the fact that social media saw a section of students clamouring for examinations to be cancelled due to the spike in cases.
14. ‘China is capable of launching cyberattacks’
- Accepting that there is a capability differential between India and China, Chief of Defence Staff (CDS) General Bipin Rawat said the biggest differential lies in the cyber field and China is “capable of launching cyberattacks on us and it can disrupt a large number of systems”.
15. PM to launch vessel for the Seychelles
Prime Minister Narendra Modi will hand over a fast patrol vessel to the Seychelles Coast Guard. The handing over will be part of a high level virtual interaction between the Indian leader and the President of the Seychelles, Wavel Ramkalawan. This is the first interaction between the two leaders since Mr. Ramkalawan won the October 2020 election in the Seychelles.
The African archipelago nation has been a steady part of India’s policy for the Indian Ocean region and Mr. Modi visited the country in 2015. India gifted similar vessels to the Seychelles in 2005, 2014 and 2016.
16. ‘Double mutant’ strain named B.1.617
The “double mutant” virus that scientists had flagged last month as having a bearing on the spread of the pandemic in India, has a formal scientific classification: B.1.617. The variant is common in India – how much in every State is unclear though – and has a couple of defining mutations, E484Q and L425R, that enable it to become more infectious and evade antibodies.
India has not yet conducted studies on how vaccine efficacy is influenced by variants, except for limited laboratory trials, but international studies have shown reduced efficacy of vaccines – particularly those by Pfizer, Moderna and Novavax – to certain variants. However, the vaccines continue to be significantly protective in spite of this. So far, only three global VOCs have been identified: the U.K. variant, the South African and the Brazilian (P.1) lineage.
17. India protests U.S. naval exercise
India said it has protested the U.S. decision to conduct a patrol in the Indian Exclusive Economic Zone (EEZ) in the western Indian Ocean, rejecting the U.S.’s claim that its domestic maritime law was in violation of international law. In a rare and unusual public statement, the U.S. Navy announced that its ship, USS John Paul Jones, had carried out Freedom of Navigation Operation (FONOP) in the Indian EEZ, adding that its operations had “challenged” what the U.S. called India’s “excessive maritime claims”.
The Ministry of External Affairs (MEA) said in a statement on Friday that the Government of India’s stated position on the United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea (UNCLOS) is that the Convention “does not authorise other States to carry out in the EEZ and on the continental shelf, military exercises or manoeuvres, in particular those involving the use of weapons or explosives, without the consent of the coastal state”.
18. Dolphin boom in Odisha’s Chilika lake
- The population of dolphins in Chilika, India’s largest brackish water lake, and along the Odisha coast has doubled this year compared with last year. The wildlife wing of the State Forest and Environment Department released the final data on the dolphin census conducted in January and February this year, indicating a spectacular growth in numbers.
19. India, China agree to avoid new incidents on border
India and China have agreed at the 11th Corps Commanders talks that the completion of disengagement in “other areas” would pave the way for the two sides “to consider deescalation of forces and ensure full restoration of peace and tranquillity and enable progress in bilateral relations”.
The 11th round of talks were held at Chushul on Friday. The two sides also agreed that it was important to take guidance from the consensus of their leaders, continue their communication and dialogue and work towards a mutually acceptable resolution of the remaining issues at the earliest, the statement added. With disengagement complete on both banks of Pangong Tso in February, the focus of the talks is now on disengagement from patrolling points (PP) at Gogra and Hotsprings.
20. Reduce health inequities to tackle pandemic challenges
A study on the public health situation during the COVID-19 pandemic here has recommended urgent action for reducing health inequities to face the challenges posed by the spread of the infectious disease that has led to the loss of livelihood and productivity, increase in poverty and decline in nutrition levels.
Jaipur based Indian Institute of Health Management Research (IIHMR) has identified some primary aspects of inequities, while underlining the need to integrate and address various determinants at the individual, community and the health system levels. Its study found that 40% of the health outcomes could be measured through social determinants.
21. Gen. Naravane interacts with officers of Bangladesh Army
Indian Army chief General M.M. Naravane interacted with the officers of the Bangladesh Army and witnessed an operational demonstration by the troops. He also planted a tree at Ramu Cantonment in Cox’s Bazar to commemorate the everlasting friendship between the two armies. Gen. Naravane, who is in Dhaka on a five day official tour, visited the 10 Infantry Division of the Bangladesh Army.
The year 2021 marks the 50th anniversary of diplomatic relations between India and Bangladesh, the liberation of Bangladesh from Pakistan and the birth centenary of ‘Bangabandhu’ Mujibur Rahman.
22. Odisha lighthouses hold huge tourism potential
As the Union Ministry of Ports, Shipping and Waterways seeks to develop 65 lighthouses on public private partnership mode, Odisha’s five lighthouses present a huge potential for tourism.
One of the five lighthouses situated along the Odisha coast was the 180-year old functional tower which continues to guide ships. The ‘False Point’ island lighthouse is situated off the Kendrapara coast while the other four are situated on the mainland.
23. Villagers lose grazing grounds at Pangong Tso
The south bank of Pangong Tso (lake), one of the two locations from where Indian and Chinese troops disengaged in February, has become a “no man’s land” for the cattle grazers of Chushul in Eastern Ladakh, the area’s councillor says. The Defence Ministry, in a communication to Konchok Stanzin, Chushul councillor, said that “due to the present operational situation in Ladakh, grazers have been asked to restrict their cattle movements”.
The disengagement at Pangong Tso, where Indian and Chinese troops were in an eyeball to eyeball confrontation on the north and south banks since June and August last year, respectively, was announced by Defence Minister Rajnath Singh in Parliament on February 11.
The process was completed on February 19 after a consensus was arrived at only for one of the friction points – the north and south banks of Pangong – after the 10th round of Corps Commander Level talks.
The 11th round of talks was held at Chushul on April 9. The focus of the talks was to work out a phased disengagement plan for the other friction areas in eastern Ladakh – Gogra, Hot Springs, Depsang and Demchok. Statements issued separately by India and China suggested that no concrete agreement had been reached.
As reported, since April 2020, Chinese troops blocked Indian troops from at least 10 patrolling points, from Depsang Plains in the north to Pangong Tso in the south. In all, there are more than 65 such points from the base of Karakoram to Chumar.
24. Meghalaya villagers oppose dam on Umngot
- Stiﬀ resistance from at least 12 villages in Meghalaya has cast a cloud on a 210 MW hydroelectric project on Umngot, considered India’s clearest river. The dam is proposed upstream in the adjoining West Jaintia Hills district to the East Khasi hills. The locals fear that the project, if executed, would cause irreparable losses by wiping out their areas from the tourism map. The project documents say people of 13 villages along the Umngot are likely to lose 296 hectares of land due to submergence if the dam comes up.
25. Protection from reinfections may last only months : Study
A longitudinal cohort study in India has found that some people who had COVID-19 lacked meaningful immunity against the novel coronavirus to prevent reinfection months later. The study found that 20-30% of infected people had declining virus neutralising activity despite having stable seropositivity six months later. The declining neutralising activity seen in 20-30% of infected people would mean that they might be vulnerable to reinfection.
Studies are now under way to understand the presence and activity of memory T cells which can prevent the infection from progressing to severe disease.
The study shows that if previously infected people are exposed to high viral loads months after infection, then 20-30% of people may not have immunity against the virus as they are unable to neutralise the microbes and might get reinfected. Similar observations have been made in a study undertaken in Denmark. The IgG antibodies [that can neutralise the virus] continue to increase and peak weeks after infection and then begin to decline. Since the IgG levels tapers after some time, a signiﬁcant number have the neutralising activity below the ﬁrst observed level at six month follow-up.
26. Indus and Ganges dolphins
Detailed analysis of South Asian river dolphins has revealed that the Indus and Ganges River dolphins are not one, but two separate species. The study estimates that Indus and Ganges river dolphins may have diverged around 550,000 years ago. The international team studied body growth, skull morphology, tooth counts, colouration and genetic makeup and published the ﬁndings last month in Marine Mammal Science.
The Ganges dolphin is a Schedule I animal under the Indian Wildlife (Protection) Act 1972, and has been included in Annexure – I of Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species (CITES), so you cannot transfer any tissue or sample to foreign countries without getting CITES permission from the Competent Authority of Government of India. The Indus and Ganges River dolphins are both classiﬁed as ‘Endangered’ species by the International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN).
27. MS Swaminathan felicitated for work towards TB eradication
Eminent agricultural scientist M.S. Swaminathan was felicitated for his contribution towards eradication of tuberculosis. Professor Swaminathan pointed out the three steps to tackle an issue as crucial as TB – the ﬁrst was to identify the problem, then to understand the nature of the issue and third, to mobilise and organise people to work together towards the common goal of TB elimination.
Soumya Swaminathan, Chief Scientist, World Health Organization, said that TB eradication needed more than a biomedical approach; nutrition, gender and livelihood issues also need to be addressed.
28. Vaccines aimed at curbing severe COVID-19
COVID-19 vaccines are not infection preventing but disease modiﬁer vaccines, said Samiran Panda, member of the government’s National Expert Group on Vaccine Administration for Covid-19 (NEGVAC). He said both the vaccines now available in India will prevent the asymptomatic stage from moving in to symptomatic stage and from symptomatic stage to developing severe disease where one requires intensive care.
N.K Arora, head of the operations research group of the Indian Council of Medical Research’s National Task Force for COVID-19 noted that “vaccine coupled with COVID appropriate behaviour is the way forward.”
29. Pandemic and northeast citizens
A study commissioned by the Indian Council of Social Science Research (ICSSR) on racial discrimination and hate crimes against people from the north-eastern States found that the “northeast India seamlessly ﬁts an Indian’s imagination of a Chinese person”. Amid the COVID-19 outbreak last year, people from the region “faced an increased number of acts of hate and prejudices against them”. A series of attacks were reported in various parts of the country, where people from the region were “harassed, abused, and traumatised” and were disparagingly called “coronavirus”, the study said.
Around 1,200 people, mostly women from Arunachal Pradesh, Assam, Meghalaya, Manipur, Mizoram, Nagaland and Tripura, were interviewed for the research. Majority of those interviewed faced discrimination when it came to renting accommodation, visiting a restaurant and even while ﬁnding transportation. The highest number of incidents was reported from Mumbai (44.7%). Interestingly, 78% of the northeast people believed that physical appearance was the most important reason for prejudice. More than 60% of those interviewed said their studies and work were seriously hampered by such experiences. The M.P. Bezbaruah Committee in 2014 recommended amendments to the IPC by creating new oﬀences under Section 153C and 509A to deal with comments, gestures and acts intended to insult a member of a particular racial group.
30. Boosting yield from poppy
- The Union government has decided to rope in the private sector to commence production of concentrated poppy straw from India’s opium crop to boost the yield of alkaloids, used for medical purposes and exported to several countries. India currently only extracts alkaloids from opium gum at facilities controlled by the Revenue Department in the Finance Ministry. This entails farmers extracting gum by manually lancing the opium pods and selling the gum to government factories. However, higher extraction of alkaloids have been observed using concentrated poppy straw (CPS).
31. Chandra appointed Chief Election Commissioner
- President Ram Nath Kovind appointed Election Commissioner Sushil Chandra as the next Chief Election Commissioner. The incumbent CEC Sunil Arora’s tenure ended on Monday. Mr. Chandra took office as an Election Commissioner on February 15, 2019, after retiring as the chairman of the Central Board of Direct Taxes. A 1980 batch Indian Revenue Service officer, Mr. Chandra had worked in the areas of international taxation and investigation.
32. Military exercise in Bangladesh ends
Multinational military exercise Shantir Ogrosena, under way in Bangladesh for the past 10 days, concluded on Monday. Army chief General Manoj Naravane, who is on a visit to the neighbouring country, witnessed the validation phase of the exercise.
The exercise, which started on April 4 at Bangabandhu Senanibas, saw participation by four countries, along with observers from the U.S., the U.K., Russia, Turkey, Saudi Arabia, Kuwait and Singapore. The aim of the exercise was to strengthen defence ties and enhance interoperability among neighbourhood countries to ensure effective peacekeeping operations, the Army said.
INTERNATIONAL NEWS/EVENTS/ PERSONALITIES
1. Jordan Prince Hamzah under ‘house arrest’
Jordanian authorities said they foiled a plot to “destabilise” the kingdom involving a half-brother of King Abdullah II and arrested at least 16 suspects. Hamzah bin Hussein – a former Crown Prince stripped of that title by the monarch in 2004 – and the others had worked with foreign parties to “undermine the security” of Jordan, Deputy Prime Minister Ayman Safadi said.
Prince Hamzah, 41, had on Saturday released a video message via the BBC, in which he accused Jordan’s rulers of nepotism and corruption and charged that he had been placed under house arrest.
2. Philippines accuses China of plans to occupy more areas
The Philippines’ Defence Secretary said on Sunday that China was looking to occupy more areas in the South China Sea, citing the continued presence of Chinese vessels that Manila believes are manned by militias in disputed parts of the strategic waterway.
An international tribunal invalidated China’s claim to 90% of the South China Sea in 2016, but Beijing does not recognise the ruling and has built artificial islands in the disputed waters equipped with radar, missiles batteries and hangars for fighter jets.
3. Hafiz Saeed’s 5 aides jailed
A Pakistani antiterrorism court has sentenced five accomplices of Mumbai attack mastermind Hafiz Saeed’s Jamaat-ud-Dawah ( JuD) to nine years of imprisonment each in a terror financing case.
The ATC had sentenced the LeT founder, Saeed, for a collective imprisonment of 36 years on terror finance charges under sections 11N of AntiTerrorism Act 1997 in five cases so far. Saeed’s jail terms will run concurrently. That means he will not stay in jail for many years. He is serving his term in Lahore’s Kot Lakhpat jail along with other convicted JuD leaders
4. NASA’s chopper dropped on Mars’ surface
- NASA’s Ingenuity mini helicopter has been dropped on the surface of Mars in preparation for its first flight, the U.S. space agency said. The ultra-light aircraft had been fixed to the belly of the Perseverance rover, which touched down on the Red Planet on February 18. Ingenuity had been feeding off the Perseverance’s power system but will now have to use its own battery to run a vital heater to protect its electrical components.
5. Japan expresses concerns to China on Hong Kong, Uighurs
Japanese Foreign Minister Toshimitsu Motegi expressed strong concerns to his Chinese counterpart about Chinese incursions into territorial waters, the situation in Hong Kong and the human rights situation of China’s Uighur minority.
China’s extensive territorial claims in the East and South China Seas have become a priority issue in an increasingly testy Sino-U.S relationship and are a security concern for Japan. China claims a group of uninhabited Japan-controlled islets, called the Senkaku in Japan and Diaoyu in China. The issue has plagued bilateral relations for years.
6. Putin signs law that could keep him in office till 2036
Russian President Vladimir Putin signed a law allowing him to potentially hold onto power until 2036, a move that formalises constitutional changes endorsed in a vote last year. The July 1 constitutional vote included a provision that reset Mr. Putin’s previous term limits, allowing him to run for President two more times. The change was rubber stamped by the Kremlin Controlled legislature and the relevant law signed by Mr. Putin was posted on an official portal of legal information.
The 68-year old President, who has been in power for more than two decades – longer than any other Kremlin leader since Soviet dictator Josef Stalin – said he would decide later whether to run again in 2024. The constitutional amendments also emphasised the primacy of Russian law over international norms, outlawed same-sex marriages and mentioned “a belief in God” as a core value. Nearly 78% of voters approved the constitutional amendments during the balloting that lasted for a week and concluded on July 1. Turnout was 68%
In January, Russia imprisoned the country’s most prominent opposition figure, Alexei Navalny upon his return from Germany, where he spent five months recovering from a poisoning that he blamed on the Kremlin. Authorities have rejected the accusation.
7. Vietnam’s PM Phuc sworn in as President
The man behind Vietnam’s successful handling of the coronavirus pandemic, Nguyen Xuan Phuc, was formally sworn in as President in Hanoi on Monday. Mr. Phuc, 66, was Vietnam’s PM for the last five years, a period in which the economy boomed, and his government’s COVID-19 response won plaudits at home and abroad.
Vietnam is run by the Communist Party and officially led by the party general secretary, President, and Prime Minister Pham Minh Chinh, who was a former deputy minister of public security, and was sworn in as PM on Monday.
8. Palma ‘safe’ from jihadists, says Mozambique Army
Mozambique’s military has said a “significant” number of militants were killed in fighting for the northern town and gas hub of Palma, seized by Islamic State-linked jihadists last month. Palma was taken in a coordinated attack on March 24, in a major escalation of an insurgency that has been raging in Cabo Delgado province for more than three years.
Thousands have fled the town of some 75,000 people and dozens killed, according to an early government toll, and French energy giant Total has abandoned a site where a multibillion dollar gas project is underway.
9. Talks begin to revive Iran nuclear deal
Iran and world powers will meet after their experts flesh out concrete plans on how the United States would lift sanctions and Iran return to its obligations, as part of indirect talks aimed at reviving the 2015 nuclear deal.
European intermediaries have started shuttling between Iranian and U.S. officials in Vienna as they seek to bring both countries back into full compliance with the accord that Washington abandoned three years ago, diplomats said. The 2015 deal lifted sanctions on Iran in return for curbs to its nuclear programme. Then President Donald Trump withdrew from the deal in 2018, prompting Iran to steadily overstep the accord’s limits.
10. Palace row: Jordan’s Prince pledges loyalty to King
- Jordan’s Prince Hamzah pledged loyalty to the King as the monarch accepted mediation over a rift within the royal family that saw the Prince placed under house arrest, the palace said. The government has accused the former Crown Prince Hamzah, halfbrother of King Abdullah II, of a “wicked” plot and involvement in a seditious conspiracy to “destabilise the kingdom’s security”
11. Beijing holds aircraft carrier drills near Taiwan
China is holding naval drills involving an aircraft carrier battle group near Taiwan, which it said were aimed at safeguarding Chinese sovereignty, an apparent allusion to Beijing’s claim to the self governed island. The navy said the exercises involving the Liaoning, one of its two aircraft carriers, were routine and assigned under an annual schedule.
China has been upping its threat to take control of the island militarily with exercises and routine incursions into the island’s air defence identification zone by Chinese warplanes. The Navy’s statement did not say when the exercises began, but it said more such drills would be held in future.
12. Don’t team up, China cautions Japan ahead of Biden-Suga meet
- China’s Foreign Minister cautioned Japan against teaming up with the U.S. to counter Beijing, as Japan speaks up more on human rights in the Xinjiang region in China and Hong Kong ahead of a U.S.Japan summit next week. Japan shares U.S. concerns about China’s military buildup and claims to territory in the South and East China Seas. However, its major trade and investment interests in China have at times reined in its criticism of its larger neighbour.
13. Ukraine urges NATO to speed up membership
Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky urged NATO to speed up his country’s membership in the alliance, saying it was the only way to end fighting with pro-Russia separatists. Mr. Zelensky spoke with NATO Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg after an increase in clashes and Russian military movements on the border raised fears of an escalation of the separatist conflict in eastern Ukraine.
Fears have been mounting of a major escalation of the conflict in eastern Ukraine, where government forces have battled separatists in the mainly Russian speaking Donbas region since 2014. Ukraine last week accused Russia of massing thousands of military personnel on its northern and eastern borders as well as on the Crimean peninsula annexed by Moscow in 2014. Kiev’s Western allies have rushed to its defence, with a series of statements warning Russia against taking further action
14. Wildfires rage across Nepal
- Nepal is experiencing its worst fire season in almost a decade, as huge blazes rage across the country’s forests, engulfing the Himalayan nation in a shroud of brownish haze. Air quality in the capital Kathmandu was ranked on Tuesday as the worst in the world, according to monitoring site IQAir. More than 2,700 wildfires have been reported in Nepal since November, 14 times higher than in the same period last year, the government said.
15. Russia to supply military gear to Pakistan
Russia’s Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov said Moscow and Islamabad would boost ties in the fight against terrorism, with Russia providing unspecified military equipment to Pakistan and the two holding joint exercises at sea and in the mountains. It’s the first visit by a Russian Foreign Minister in nine years, part of an effort to improve ties. It comes as Moscow seeks to increase its stature in the region, particularly in Afghanistan. There, it has sought to inject itself as a key player in efforts to find a peaceful end to decades of war.
Russia is also building a gas pipeline between the southern port city of Karachi and eastern Lahore. Pakistan’s Foreign minister Shah Mahmood Qureshi said Islamabad will also buy 5 million doses of the Russian made COVID-19 Sputnik V vaccine, and expressed a desire to eventually manufacture it in Pakistan. He said Pakistan also wanted Russian expertise to modernise its antiquated railway system as well as its energy sector.
The visit underlines the waning influence of the U.S. in the region, while Russian and Chinese clout grows, says Michael Kugelman, deputy director of the Asia Program at the U.S.based Wilson Center. Pakistan also is a key player in China’s Belt and Road Initiative – a massive, crosscontinental infrastructure development project aimed at expanding China’s commercial connections globally.
16. U.S. military cites rising risk of Beijing’s move against Taiwan
The American military is warning that China is probably accelerating its timetable for capturing control of Taiwan, the island democracy that has been the chief source of tension between Washington and Beijing for decades and is widely seen as the most likely trigger for a potentially catastrophic U.S.-China war.
The worry about Taiwan comes as China wields new strength from years of military buildup. It has become more aggressive with Taiwan and more assertive in sovereignty disputes in the South China Sea. Beijing also has become more confrontational with Washington; senior Chinese officials traded sharp and unusually public barbs with Secretary of State Antony Blinken in talks in Alaska last month.
17. Iranian ship attacked in Red Sea, report says it was Israeli payback
An Iranian freighter was hit by an “explosion” in the Red Sea, Tehran said, after U.S. media reported Israel had struck the ship in retaliation for past Iranian strikes on its vessels. Iran was at pains to stress that the freighter was a civilian ship, although other sources said it had been used by Iranian commandos as a base for shipping protection and other duties in the area.
The explosion comes at a sensitive time as the U.S. President Joe Biden attempts to revive a 2015 nuclear deal with Iran which was strongly opposed by Israel and abandoned by his predecessor Donald Trump in 2018.
18. Rouhani says Vienna talks open ‘new chapter’
- Iranian President Hassan Rouhani said that talks in Vienna on rescuing a troubled 2015 nuclear deal had opened a “new chapter”. An Iranian delegation met with representatives of the remaining parties to the agreement to discuss how to bring Washington back into it and end crippling U.S. sanctions and Iranian countermeasures. U.S. President Joe Biden has said he is ready to reverse the decision of his predecessor Donald Trump to withdraw from the agreement and reimpose unilateral sanctions. But differences remain over the mechanics of the move as Tehran has since responded by suspending compliance with some of its own obligations under the deal.
19. Biden govt. restores aid to Palestinians
In a significant reversal to the Trump administration’s policy towards Palestine, the U.S. State Department announced the restoration of at least $235 million in financial assistance to the Palestinians. The administration had already announced $15 million in coronavirus relief to the Palestinians in March. The new economic announcement includes $75 million in economic assistance to the West Bank and Gaza, $10 million towards ‘peacebuilding’ programmes of the U.S. Agency for International Development (USAID) and $150 million in humanitarian assistance to the UN Relief and Works Agency (UNRWA)
The Trump administration had almost ended all funding to the organisation in 2018. Mr. Trump’s policies towards West Asia, which included the relocation of the U.S. Embassy to Jerusalem, were criticised for being heavily tilted towards Israel.
Welcoming the move, the Prime Minister of the Palestine Authority, Mohammed Shtayyeh, called for “a new political path that meets the rights and aspirations of the Palestinian people based on international law and UN resolutions”. Israel, which has accused UNRWA of antiSemitism, objected to the funding plans.
20. U.S. commits to withdrawal of combat troops from Iraq
- The U.S. committed to move remaining forces from Iraq, although the two sides did not set a timeline in what would be the second withdrawal since the 2003 invasion. Iraq’s national security advisor, Qassem al-Araji, promised efforts to protect foreign forces and confirmed that the United States would move ahead with a pullout.
21. All options open on South China Sea’
The Philippines defence department said it was keeping its options open as a diplomatic row with Beijing grows over hundreds of Chinese vessels in the contested South China Sea. Tensions over the resource rich waters have spiked in recent weeks after over 200 Chinese boats were detected at Whitsun Reef in the Spratly Islands, where China and the Philippines have rival claims.
China, which claims almost the entirety of the sea, has refused repeated appeals by the Philippines to withdraw the vessels, which Manila says unlawfully entered its exclusive economic zone.
22. No U.S. decision yet on Afghan pullout
President Joe Biden seems ready to let lapse a May 1 deadline for completing a withdrawal of U.S. troops from Afghanistan. Orderly withdrawals take time, and Mr. Biden is running out of it. At Least for some months, a stay of the remaining 2,500 troops and continuing support of the Afghan military at the risk of a Taliban backlash seems to be the order. Removing all the troops and their equipment in the next three weeks – along with coalition partners – would be difficult logistically.
Mr. Biden had said during the 2020 campaign that if elected, he might keep a counterterrorism force in Afghanistan but also would “end the war responsibly” to ensure U.S. forces never have to return.
23. U.K. to set up £43 million fund for migrants from Hong Kong
The British government said it is setting up a £43 million ($59 million) fund to help migrants from Hong Kong settle in the country as they escape increasing political repression in the former colony. The offer extends to holders of British National (Overseas) passports who have been offered special visas, opening a path to work, residency and eventual citizenship to up to 5 million of Hong Kong’s 7.4 million people.
The integration programme will provide funding to help arrivals in accessing housing, education and jobs. Around 10% of the funds will go towards establishing 12 “virtual welcome hubs' ' across Great Britain and Northern Ireland to “coordinate support and give practical advice and assistance”, the British ConsulateGeneral said.
China has sharply criticised what it labels British abuse of the passports, saying it will no longer recognise them as travel documents or as a form of identification. But most residents also carry Hong Kong or other passports, so it’s not clear what effect that would have.
24. Britain’s Prince Philip passes away at 99
Prince Philip, the longest serving royal consort in British history who was a constant presence at Queen Elizabeth II’s side for decades, died on Friday aged 99, Buckingham Palace has announced. The death of the Duke of Edinburgh is a profound loss for the 94-year old monarch, who once described him as her “strength and stay all these years”. Military teams across the U.K. and on ships at sea fired 41 gun salutes on Saturday to mark his death, honouring the former naval officer and husband of Queen Elizabeth II.
Prior to this year’s crisis over relations with the Queen’s grandson Prince Harry and his wife Meghan, the monarchy had to weather the 1997 death in a car crash of Prince Harry’s mother Princess Diana.
25. China, Pakistan to back each other’s ‘core interests’ at UN
China and Pakistan have pledged to back each other’s “core and major interests” in the United Nations after holding bilateral consultations on UN affairs. The countries, which describe their relationship officially as one of “allweather partners” and “iron brothers”, have in recent months stepped in to provide crucial support to the other on issues they see as sensitive, with Beijing raising the Kashmir issue at the UN Security Council and Islamabad backing China on Hong Kong and Xinjiang.
China in 2019 and 2020 raised the Kashmir issue at the UNSC on at least three occasions, calling for discussions in the wake of India’s dilution of Article 370, reorganisation of Jammu and Kashmir and revocation of special status.
Pakistan, meanwhile, has lobbied for China’s support amid increasing criticism from western countries over Xinjiang. In October, Pakistan also made a joint statement on behalf of 55 countries at the UN ``opposing interference in China’s internal affairs under the pretext of Hong Kong.
26. Bhutan, China to schedule boundary discussions soon
Bhutan and China have agreed to set up the next round of much delayed boundary talks between them “as soon as possible” and discussed a roadmap for expediting the boundary resolution, a joint release of the 10th Expert Group Meeting (EGM) on the Bhutan-China Boundary held in Kunming announced.
The upcoming talks, the 25th round of the boundary talks mechanism, will be the first since the Doklam standoff in 2017, and the first since China made new claims on Bhutan’s eastern boundary bordering Arunachal Pradesh in June 2020.
The talks have thus far focused on two areas of dispute: Pasamlung and Jakarlung valleys to the North of Bhutan and Doklam to the West of Bhutan, along the trijunction with India. However, at a UN environmental meeting in June 2020, China raised an objection to a grant for Bhutan’s Sakteng Sanctuary to the East frontier as well, saying that it was disputed as well.
27. Iran unveils advanced nuclear centrifuges
Iran announced it has started up advanced uranium enrichment centrifuges in a breach of its undertakings under a troubled 2015 nuclear deal, days after the start of talks on rescuing the accord. Earlier, the United States had said that it had offered “very serious” ideas on reviving the accord but was waiting for Tehran to reciprocate.
President Hassan Rouhani inaugurated the three cascades of 164 IR6 centrifuges, 30 IR5 and another 30 IR6 devices at Iran’s Natanz uranium enrichment plant in a ceremony broadcast by state television. Iran has demanded that the U.S. first lift all sanctions imposed by Trump, which include a sweeping unilateral ban on its oil exports, before it falls back in line with obligations it suspended.
28. At least 80 killed in Myanmar as UN envoy calls for ‘action’
- Reports emerged of more than 80 killed in the latest bloodletting by Myanmar’s military, as the country’s own Ambassador to the United Nations called for “strong action” against the junta. Myanmar has been in turmoil since the military ousted civilian leader Aung San Suu Kyi in February, with protesters refusing to submit to the junta and demanding a return to democracy. After over two months of military rule, efforts to verify deaths and confirm news of crackdowns have been greatly curtailed by the junta’s throttling of mobile data – shunting most of the population into an information blackout.
29. UAE names 2 astronauts, including woman
- The United Arab Emirates named the next two astronauts for its space programme, including the country’s first woman astronaut. Sheikh Mohammed bin Rashid Al Maktoum, the ruler of Dubai who also serves as the Prime Minister, named the two astronauts. He identified Noura al-Matroushi as the UAE’s first woman astronaut, with her male counterpart as Mohammed alMulla. A promotional video described Ms. al-Matroushi, born in 1993, as an engineer at the Abu Dhabi based National Petroleum Construction Co. Mr. AlMulla, born in 1988, serves as a pilot with Dubai police and heads the training division.
30. ‘Suspicious’ blackout hits Iran nuclear site
Iran’s underground Natanz nuclear facility lost power on Sunday just hours after starting up new advanced centrifuges capable of enriching uranium faster, the latest incident to strike the site amid negotiations over the tattered atomic accord with world powers. Iran described a blackout at its Natanz atomic facility an act of “nuclear terrorism,” raising regional tensions.
If Israel caused the blackout, it further heightens tensions between the two nations, already engaged in a shadow conflict across wider West Asia. Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, who on Sunday met with the U.S. Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin, has vowed to do everything in his power to stop the nuclear deal.
Israel typically doesn’t discuss operations carried out by its Mossad intelligence agency or specialised military units. In recent weeks, Mr. Netanyahu has repeatedly described Iran as the major threat to his country. Natanz was built largely underground to withstand enemy airstrikes. It became a flashpoint for Western fears about Iran’s nuclear plant in 2002, when satellite photos showed Iran building its underground centrifuges facility at the site.
31. ‘Mars chopper flight delayed for tech check’
- NASA has delayed by at least several days the first flight of its mini-helicopter on Mars after a possible technical issue emerged while testing its rotors, the U.S. space agency said. Ingenuity's trip, which is to be the first-ever powered, controlled flight on another planet, was set for Sunday but is now on hold until at least April 14. A high-speed test of the 1.8-kg helicopter’s rotors on Friday ended earlier than expected due to a potential issue.
32. China considers mixing vaccine to boost efficacy
China is considering the mixing of different COVID-19 vaccines to improve the relatively low efficacy of its existing options. Authorities have to “consider ways to solve the issue that efficacy rates of existing vaccines are not high”, Chinese media outlet The Paper reported, citing Gao Fu, the head of the Center for Disease Control and Prevention.
China has administered around 161 million doses since vaccinations began last year, and aims to fully inoculate 40% of its 1.4 billion population by June. But many have been slow to sign up for jabs, with life largely back to normal within China’s borders and domestic outbreaks under control. Sinopharm’s vaccines have efficacy rates of 79.34% and 72.51% respectively, while the overall efficacy for CanSino’s stands at 65.28% after 28 days.
33. UK vaccine panel issues caution on oxford shots
Britain should not give Oxford/AstraZeneca’s COVID-19 vaccine to under 30s where possible, Britain’s Joint Committee on Vaccination and Immunisation ( JCVI) said. It advised people aged under 30 with no underlying conditions to be oﬀered an alternative to the AstraZeneca vaccine where available.
It said that for younger people, for whom chances of hospitalisation were much lower, the risk/beneﬁt calculation of the Oxford/AstraZeneca shot meant other vaccines were preferable. Medicines and Healthcare products Regulatory Agency (MHRA) said that the beneﬁts of the shot outweighed the risks for the vast majority.
The committee stressed that there was no increased risk of blood clots in general from the shot developed by Oxford and AstraZeneca. However, it has been investigating small numbers of reports of a brain blood clot, known as cerebral venous sinus thrombosis (CVST), that have occurred in combination with unusually low blood platelet levels after the shot.
34. Iran blames Israel for nuclear plant outage, pledges revenge
- Iran blamed Israel for a sabotage attack on its underground Natanz nuclear facility that damaged its centrifuges and vowed it would take “revenge”. Israel has not claimed responsibility for the attack. It rarely does for operations carried out by its secret military units or its Mossad intelligence agency. However, Israeli media widely reported that the country had orchestrated a devastating cyberattack that caused a blackout at the nuclear facility.
35. Suu Kyi hit with criminal charge
- Myanmar’s ousted civilian leader Aung San Suu Kyi was hit with a fresh criminal charge. “Amay Suu has been charged again under section 25 of the natural disaster management law,” lawyer Min Min Soe said after a court hearing. “She has been charged in six cases altogether – five charges in Naypyidaw and one in Yangon.” In Tamu, near Myanmar’s border with India, a six year old girl was shot dead while walking to the shop to buy snacks on Monday, a local said.
36. ‘REGENCOV prevents symptomatic infection’
Regeneron will seek U.S. approval for its COVID-19 antibody cocktail as a preventative treatment after a trial showed it helped reduce the risk of symptomatic infections in households where someone else is ill, the U.S. drugmaker said.
REGENCOV, as the combination shot of casirivimab and imdevimab is called, reduced the overall risk of progressing to symptomatic COVID-19 by 31%, and by 76% after the third day. The trial also demonstrated that it shortened symptom duration and markedly lowered viral levels, Regeneron said in a statement. The drug has emergency U.S. approval for mild to moderate COVID-19 patients, and the company is hoping the latest trial convinces regulators to expand its deployment.
EU regulators have voiced some support and are letting countries decide if they want to use it. Beyond reducing symptomatic infection risk, the total number of weeks patients experienced symptoms was nearly halved (45%) with REGENCOV, and the viral burden was cut by 90%plus, potentially helping halt the disease’s spread.
37. Pakistan human rights icon I.A. Rehman dead
- Pakistani Human rights crusader and former journalist Ibn Abdur Rehman, who won the Ramon Magsaysay award for his work on fostering India-Pakistan relations, passed away in Lahore on Monday aged 90. I.A. Rehman, as he was called, had several run ins with the Pakistani establishment as he took a bold stand against atrocities by Pakistani forces in East Pakistan (later Bangladesh) in 1971, marital law under General Zia ul Haq and later the emergency imposed by General Pervez Musharraf, and fought for several causes, including minority rights and excesses by security forces
38. Save the deal
The Vienna talks between the remaining members of the Iran nuclear deal – China, Russia, the U.K., France, Germany and Iran – have raised hopes for the revival of the agreement from which then President Donald Trump unilaterally withdrew the U.S. in May 2018.
The U.S. wants Iran to end its uranium enrichment and centrifuge development programmes and return to the 2015 agreement, while Tehran has demanded the U.S. lift all sanctions imposed by Mr. Trump and still enforced by President Joe Biden.
The agenda at Vienna, therefore, is to produce a road map for the revival of the JCPOA by addressing these two critical issues – Iran’s nuclear enhanced programme and American sanctions. If security tensions rise in the region involving Iran and its proxies, it could derail the diplomatic efforts.
OPINION & ANALYSIS
Analysis : Fund support from govt. is vital for continual treatment of those with rare diseases
(i). The story so far
- Securing the wellbeing of everyone, particularly those unable to help themselves, irrespective of whether they constitute a critical mass or not, is important. The recent notification of the National Policy for Rare Diseases 2021 after various interventions, including the court, is pegged on this principle of inclusion. A good start, it offers financial support for one time treatment of up to ₹20 lakh, introduces a crowdfunding mechanism, creates a registry of rare diseases, and provides for early detection. In its final form, however, the policy has left the rare diseases lobby sorely disappointed on a crucial note.
(ii). What are Rare diseases
These are broadly defined as diseases that infrequently occur in a population, and three markers are used – the total number of people with the disease, its prevalence, and the availability/nonavailability of treatment options.
WHO defines rare disease as having a frequency of less than 6.510 per 10,000 people. As per an estimate, there are 7,000 known rare diseases with an estimated 300 million patients in the world; 70 million are in India. According to the Organization for Rare Diseases India, these include inherited cancers, autoimmune disorders, congenital malformations, Hirschsprung’s disease, Gaucher disease, cystic fibrosis, muscular dystrophies and Lysosomal Storage Disorders (LSDs).
Analysis : U.S. and China need each other
Former U.S. President Donald Trump accused China of unfair trade practices and pursued a dual policy of offering deals and threatening sanctions, but China continued to extend its influence and counter American increases in military funding by expanding its own military power.
The U.S. and Europe have imposed sanctions against China, Russia and others. The U.S.sponsored Quad with Japan, India and Australia will prove an uphill effort because even some of the U.S.’s formal allies have reshaped their foreign and economic relations with China.
(ii). Confrontation and competition between the U.S. and China
It will dominate this century. Mr. Biden has censured China for human rights abuses in Hong Kong and Xinjiang, aggression in the South and East China Seas, intimidation of Taiwan, intellectual property theft, currency manipulation, and cyberattacks, but these homilies are incidental to U.S.China tension, which is due to China’s rise that is transforming power settings and the U.S.’s attempts to constrict China before it becomes a peer competitor.
To this, Chinese Communist Party leader Yang Jiechi countered that China would strongly oppose interference in China’s internal affairs, referred to the U.S.’s struggling democracy and poor treatment of minorities, and criticize U.S. policies as seeking military and financial hegemony to impose extraterritorial jurisdiction and suppress other countries.
(iii). China’s rise
China will surpass the U.S. as the world’s largest economy, has established a worldwide network of economic ties and set up multilateral and financial institutions like the Shanghai Cooperation Organisation, New Development Bank and Asian Infrastructure Investment Bank to compete with the West Dominated International Monetary Fund and World Bank.
The U.S.-China rhetoric masks the reality that both countries need each other not only for world stability but growth, supply chains, jobs, services, investments and market access.
Analysis : Building an equitable post-COVID India
- A recent Pew Research Report shows that India’s middle class may have shrunk by a third due to the novel coronavirus pandemic while the number of poor people earning less than ₹150 per day more than doubled. International organizations like the World Bank, the International Monetary Fund and the International Labour Organization have also warned about rising inequalities in several countries including India due to the pandemic.
(ii). The condition in India
India’s large informal sector is particularly vulnerable. Inequalities were increasing earlier also but the pandemic has widened them further. The quarterly net proﬁt of the BSE200 companies reached a record high of ₹1.67 trillion in the third quarter of FY21 and was up by 57% year-on-year. But the informal sector and workers have suﬀered a lot with loss of incomes and employment in the last one year.
According to the Centre For Monitoring Indian Economy, the employment rate is still 2.5 percentage points lower now as compared to the level before the lockdown last year. Women lost more jobs and many are out of the workforce. Inequalities have increased in health care and education.
(iii). What can be done
From an economic perspective too, reduction in inequality is important for its own sake and for improving demand which can raise private investment, consumption and exports for higher and sustainable economic growth. The focus should be on – employment and wages; raising human development, and quasi universal basic income and other social safety nets.
Employment and wages : Creation of quality or productive employment is central to the inclusive growth approach. The investment rate which declined from 39% in 2011-12 to 31.7% in 2018-19 has to be improved. Investment in infrastructure including construction can create employment. Correcting the mismatch between demand and supply of labor (only 2.3% of India’s workforce has formal skill training). Structural change challenge, manufacturing should be the engine of growth because of its labour intensive nature. Focusing on micro, small & medium enterprises and informal sectors including rights of migrants. Raising real wages of rural and urban workers and guaranteeing minimum wages and getting ready for automation and technology revolution.
The second approach is in creating equality of opportunity by improving human development. Increasing public expenditure on health and education is another form of redistributive measure. Public expenditure on health is only 1.5% of GDP. Apart from spending on vaccines and other related measures, we need to move towards universal health care and spend 2%3% of GDP on health. Education and health achievements are essential for reducing inequality of opportunities. We also have the experience of a digital gap in education during the pandemic that needs to be looked at.
The third approach is in providing a quasi-universal basic income and other safety nets. A combination of cash transfers and an expanded guarantee scheme would provide income support to the needy. Increasing farmers’ income, especially for small and marginal farmers is needed to reduce inequalities and create demand. States have to be given a bigger role in Agri marketing reforms. The terms of trade for agriculture have to be improved.
On the financial front : Enhancing tax and non-tax revenues of the government is needed to spend on the above priorities. The inequalities between the Centre and States in ﬁnances should be reduced. Apart from economic factors, noneconomic factors such as deepening democracy and decentralisation can help in reducing inequalities.
Commentary : A way forward for trans persons
- No less than 13 members of the transgender community have been selected recently as constables under the Chhattisgarh police. This is truly historic and thrilling for a community that had no legal recognition till the Supreme Court in NALSA vs. Union of India (2014) ruled that transgender persons have the right to decide their self identified gender. The binary notion of gender, which denied equal protection of law to transgenders, was rejected and the required relief was provided by the top court.
(ii). Where the journey stands
The journey of transgender people has indeed been a long struggle. However, soon after the 2014 Supreme Court judgment, the Chhattisgarh government constituted the Third Gender Welfare Board to take up various welfare measures in favour of trans people. Instructions were issued to all departments to include ‘third gender’ as an option (along with male and female) in official documents that require mentioning the gender or sex of a person.
The recently enacted Transgender Persons (Protection of Rights) Act, 2019, which paved the way for issuing a certificate of transgender identity, is in spirit with international conventions, particularly the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, 1948, the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights, 1966, and the Yogyakarta Principles, 2006.
The Act recognises that transgender persons have a legal right to self-perceived gender identity in accordance with the principle of the “Psychological Test” instead of the “Biological Test”. According to law, transgender persons cannot be discriminated against in any matter relating to employment by any establishment.
Analysis : Explaining Pakistan’s flip flop on trade with India
Pakistan's double U-turn on resuming trade with India highlights the internal differences within Ministries, between business and political communities, and the emphasis on politics over economy and trade. It also signifies Pakistan cabinet’s grandstanding, linking normalisation of ties with India to Jammu and Kashmir.
On March 31, Pakistan’s new Finance Minister Hammad Azhar, announced Pakistan’s Economic Coordination Committee (ECC)’s decision to import cotton, yarn, and 500,000 metric tons of sugar from India. The media dubbed it as a political breakthrough but the ECC’s decision was not on bilateral trade; it was about importing only three items – cotton, yarn and sugar. A day later, Pakistan’s cabinet overruled the decision.
(ii). Practical and economic considerations
For the textile and sugar industries in Pakistan, importing from India is imperative, practical and is the most economic.
The sugar industry in Pakistan is also in crisis. When compared to cotton, the sugar industry’s problem stem from different issues – the availability for local consumption and the steep price increase
(iii). The way forward
Three takeaways can be identified from the above. The first relates to the ECC’s decision to import only three items from India, namely cotton, yarn and sugar. It was based on Pakistan’s immediate economic needs and not designed as a political confidence-building measure to normalise relations with India.
The second takeaway from the two U-turns – is the supremacy of politics over trade and economy, even if the latter is beneficial to the importing country.
The Kashmir link The third takeaway is the emphasis on Jammu and Kashmir by Pakistan to make any meaningful start in bilateral relations. This goes against what it has been telling the rest of the world that India should begin dialogue with Pakistan.
Story : HAMZAH BIN HUSSEIN The rebel prince
When Jordan’s King Hussein was on his deathbed, fighting cancer, he surprised the nation by dismissing his brother Hassan bin Talal as Crown Prince in favour of his son Abdullah. Prince Hassan had been Crown Prince for more than three decades and was almost sure to ascend the throne.
But he accepted the King’s decision and when Hussein died on February 7, 1999, Abdullah became the new monarch. As per the dying wishes of his father, King Abdullah II appointed his half brother Hamzah bin Hussein as the new Crown Prince. Hussein, who sacked his brother from the line of throne for his son, may have hoped that power would transfer from his one son to another in the future. But history repeated itself in a few years. In 2004, after consolidating power both within the royal court and the Hashemite family, King Abdullah stripped Hamzah of the Crown Prince status. In 2009, the King named his 15-year old school going son, Hussein bin Abdullah, the new Crown Prince
The Hashemite Kingdom has long projected itself as an oasis of stability in a volatile region. Jordan has been an important American ally for years. The palace feud has cut open the long simmering wounds within the Hashemites, who claim their ancestry to the Prophet Mohammed.
King Abdullah now says the crisis has been resolved. But it is unlikely. Even when he was detained, Prince Hamzah remained defiant, as the leaked messages show. He refused to keep quiet and accused the government of corruption, nepotism and misrule.
Analysis : Why the Personal Data Protection Bill matters
- The Personal Data Protection Bill, 2019, now under scrutiny by a Joint Parliamentary Committee, could play a big role in providing robust protections to users and their personal data.
(ii). No effective protection
- How different entities collect and process users’ personal data in India is mainly governed by the Information Technology Act, 2000, and various other sectoral regulations. However, this data protection regime falls short of providing effective protection to users and their personal data. The need for more robust data protection legislation came to the fore in 2017 post the Supreme Court’s landmark judgment in Justice K.S. Puttaswamy (Retd) v. Union of India that established the right to privacy as a fundamental right.
(iii). The upcoming regime
- The proposed regime under the Bill seeks to be different from the existing regime in some prominent ways. First, the Bill seeks to apply the data protection regime to both government and private entities across all sectors. Second, the Bill seeks to emphasise data security and data privacy. While entities will have to maintain security safeguards to protect personal data, they will also have to fulfill a set of data protection obligations and transparency and accountability measures that govern how entities can process personal data to uphold users’ privacy and interests. Third, the Bill seeks to give users a set of rights over their personal data and means to exercise those rights. Fourth, the Bill seeks to create an independent and powerful regulator known as the Data Protection Authority (DPA).
(iv). The way forward
- The time is ripe for India to have a robust data protection regime. The Joint Parliamentary Committee that is scrutinising the Bill has proposed 86 amendments and one new clause to the Bill – although the exact changes are not in the public domain. The Committee is expected to submit its final report in the Monsoon Session of Parliament in 2021. Taking this time to make some changes in the Bill targeted towards addressing various concerns in it could make a stronger and more effective data protection regime
Commentary : Abortion is a woman’s right to decide
- The central government’s amendment to the abortion laws not only retains the traditional notion that the state must intervene and decide for women as to when and in what circumstances abortions may be carried out, but even the pathetic measures set out in the Medical Termination of Pregnancy (Amendment) Act 2021 are too little and have come too late.
(ii). Medical Termination of Pregnancy (Amendment) Act 2021
The Medical Termination of Pregnancy (Amendment) Act 2021 fails miserably on the main count while introducing few collateral progressive measures.
First, the Act fails to recognise the absolute right of a woman over her body in taking decisions regarding abortions and reproductive health. It still reserves to the state the right to dictate to the woman that she cannot have an abortion at will.
Second, even though the limit has been pushed back from 20 to 24 weeks, this comes with the same state conditionalities as before. Third, 24 weeks is not rational given today’s technology where abortions can be done safely up to full term.
(iii). What else stands
Enacting section 3(2B) which requires the pregnant woman to approach a medical board in cases of substantial foetal abnormalities and where she has crossed the 24 week limit. These boards impose insurmountable obstacles to the woman seeking late abortions.
First, what used to be an exchange between the pregnant woman and her gynaecologist who would take a decision as to safety, has now been replaced by a board of a minimum of three doctors. This is totally unnecessary and breaches privacy.
Second, the Act provides in section 3(2C) for a single board for a State. Given the millions of abortions taking place in India past the deadline, it is impossible for one board to handle all cases.
Third, assuming multiple boards will be established, the records show that no State has the finances or the human resources to maintain the operation and functioning of these boards.
Fourth, the right to seek termination is restricted to “such category of women as may be prescribed by rules”.
(iv). Conclusion and way forward
- The main objection remains; that boards are totally unnecessary and an invasion of privacy, and pregnant women, like they used to do, should be left alone to consult their gynaecologist in late term pregnancies and carry out their abortion under the certificate of their own gynaecologist that the abortion can be performed safely. This is the trend worldwide and in the courts. The Indian government needs to wake up and educate itself on women’s emancipation worldwide.
Story : On Climate Change
- Paris agreement for climate change is based on three pillars – temperature goals, carbon neutrality, and equity. The temperature goal referred to is the intent of limiting temperature rise to well below 2°C and further pursuing eﬀorts to restrict it to 1.5°C above pre-industrial levels. However, Is the achievement of carbon neutrality compatible with achieving the 1.5°C or 2°C goal is the real question. Also, the principle of equity states that the Paris Agreement will be implemented to reﬂect equity and the principle of common but diﬀerentiated responsibilities and respective capabilities, in the light of diﬀerent national circumstances.
(ii). Are the current pledges adequate
According to the The Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change Special Report on Global Warming of 1.5° warming what remains of the global carbon budget from 2018 onwards, for a 50% probability of restricting temperature rise to less than 1.5°C, is 480 Giga tonnes (billion tonnes) of carbon dioxide equivalent (GtCO2eq). At the current rate of emissions of about 42 GtCO2eq per year, this budget would be consumed in 12 years. To keep within the 480 Gt budget, at a steady linear rate of decline, global carbon neutrality must be reached by 2039.
For a 50% probability of restricting temperature rise to below 2°C, the budget is considerably more generous, amounting to about 1,400 GtCO2eq, which provides considerably greater room for manoeuvre. The hollowness of nation level carbon neutrality declarations by developed countries is not helping the cause.
For example – Emissions in the U.S., peaked in 2005 and have declined at an average rate of 1.1% from then till 2017, with a maximum annual reduction of 6.3% in 2009, at the height of a recession. Even if it did reach net zero by 2050 at a steady linear rate of reduction, its cumulative emissions between 2018 and 2050 would be 106 GtCO2, which is 22% of the total remaining carbon budget for the whole world. Similarly, the European Union, to keep to its fair share of the remaining carbon budget would have to reach net zero by 2033, with a constant annual reduction in emissions.
(iii). India and her carbon debt
India’s current low carbon footprint is a consequence of the utter poverty and deprivation of a majority of its population, and not by virtue of sustainability. India’s emissions are no more than 3.5% of global cumulative emissions prior to 1990 and about 5% since till 2018.
Any self-sacriﬁcial declaration of carbon neutrality today in the current international scenario would be a wasted gesture reducing the burden of the developed world and transferring it to the backs of the Indian people. India’s twin burden of low carbon development and adaptation to climate impacts, is onerous and requires serious, concerted action.
Analysis : Lok Adalats
Lok Adalats (literally, ‘People’s Court’) were established to make justice accessible and aﬀordable to all. It was a forum to address the problems of crowded case dockets outside the formal adjudicatory system. As of now, Lok Adalats have been functioning for 38 years.
Lok Adalats had existed even before the concept received statutory recognition. In 1949, Harivallabh Parikh, a disciple of Mahatma Gandhi, popularised them in Rangpur, Gujarat.
Constitutional Mandate : The Constitution (42nd Amendment) Act, 1976, inserted Article 39A to ensure “equal justice and free legal aid”. To this end, the Legal Services Authorities Act, 1987, was enacted by Parliament and it came into force in 1995 “to provide free and competent legal services to weaker sections of the society” and to “organise Lok Adalats to secure that the operation of the legal system promotes justice on a basis of equal opportunity”.
(ii). The structure
As an alternative dispute resolution tool, Lok Adalats are regularly organised to help parties reach a compromise. The State Legal Services Authorities (SLSAs) have been organising Lok Adalats on a daily, fortnightly and monthly basis. Lok Adalats organised across the country from 2016 to 2020 disposed of 52,46,415 cases. Similarly, National Lok Adalats (NLAs) organised under the aegis of NALSA settle a huge number of cases across the country in a single day. NLAs have disposed of a total of 2,93,19,675 cases.
As per the National Judicial Data Grid, 16.9% of all cases in district and taluka courts are three to ﬁve years old; for High Courts, 20.4% of all cases are ﬁve to 10 years old, and over 17% are 10-20 years old. Furthermore, over 66,000 cases are pending before the Supreme Court, over 57 lakh cases before various HCs, and over 3 crore cases are pending before various district and subordinate courts. As a result, litigants are forced to approach Lok Adalats mainly because it is a party driven process, allowing them to reach an amicable settlement.
Lok Adalats oﬀer parties speed of settlement, as cases are disposed of in a single day; procedural ﬂexibility, as there is no strict application of procedural laws such as the Code of Civil Procedure, 1908, and the Indian Evidence Act, 1872; economic aﬀordability, as there are no court fees; ﬁnality of awards, as no further appeal is allowed. This prevents delays in settlement of disputes. More importantly, the award issued by a Lok Adalat, has the status of a civil court decree. Data show that the average number of cases disposed of per NLA since 2017 has gone up even when the number of NLAs organised each year has reduced. This proves that on average, the system is certainly eﬃcient.
To overcome the challenges posed by the COVID-19 pandemic, e-Lok Adalats were organised at both national and State level. However, the performance of the NeLA was less eﬃcient than physical National Lok Adalats organised in 2017, 2018, and 2019.
(iii). Have they lived up to the mandate
Besides eﬃciency and speed, Lok Adalats both online and oﬄine should focus on the quality of justice delivered. The Supreme Court, in State of Punjab vs Jalour Singh (2008), held that a Lok Adalat is purely conciliatory and it has no adjudicatory or judicial function.
In a majority of cases, litigants are pitted against entities with deep pockets, such as insurance companies, banks, electricity boards, among others. In many cases, compromises are imposed on the poor who often have no choice but to accept them. Similarly, poor women under the so-called ‘harmony ideology’ of the state are virtually dictated by family courts to compromise matrimonial disputes under a romanticised view of marriage.
Analysis : India's refugee problem
- Refugee protection in India debate. The current plight of the Myanmarese coming into Manipur and Mizoram has been preceded by that of another group of Myanmarese, the Rohingya. And not too long ago, the debate was dominated by the Citizenship (Amendment) Act. Refugee ﬂows to India are unlikely to end any time soon given the geopolitical, economic, ethnic and religious contexts of the region.
(ii). Refugees versus immigrants
India has emphatically argued, particularly in the recent past, that illegal immigration from the neighbouring countries to India must come to an end. Illegal immigration is a threat to the socio-political fabric of any country, including India, with potential security implications.
The reality is that much of the debate in the country is about the illegal immigrants, not refugees, the two categories tend to get bunched together. Thus, our policies and remedies to deal with these issues suﬀer from a lack of clarity as well as policy utility. In the legal discourse in India, both categories of people are viewed as one and the same and are covered under the Foreigners Act, 1946, which oﬀers a simple deﬁnition of a foreigner – “foreigner” means “a person who is not a citizen of India”. Needless to say that there are fundamental differences between illegal immigrants and refugees.
India is not a party to the 1951 Refugee Convention and its 1967 Protocol, the key legal documents pertaining to refugee protection. The absence of such a legal framework also leads to policy ambiguity whereby India’s refugee policy is guided primarily by adhocism. The absence of a legal framework increases the possibility of the domestic politicisation of refugee protection and complicates its geopolitical fault lines.
(iii). Legal-Moral complexities
New Delhi has been one of the largest recipients of refugees in the world in spite of not being a party to the 1951 Refugee Convention and its 1967 Protocol. A proper interpretation of the text of the 1951 Convention, a person, under the deﬁnition of the convention, could be considered if he/she is deprived of political rights, but not if he/she is deprived of economic rights. If the violation of economic rights were to be included in the deﬁnition of a refugee, it would clearly pose a major burden on the developed world. The West’s lopsided obsession with civil and political rights at the cost of economic rights is a convenient excuse with little moral backing.
The non entrée (no entry) regime of the west : It is constituted by a range of legal and administrative measures that include visa restrictions, carrier sanctions, interdictions, third safe country rule, restrictive interpretations of the deﬁnition of ‘refugee’, withdrawal of social welfare beneﬁts to asylum seekers, and widespread practices of detention.
(iv). The way forward
A new domestic law aimed at refugees. It is morally untenable to have a discriminatory law like the CAA to address the concerns of refugees who are ﬂeeing their home country. A domestic refugee law should allow for temporary shelter and work permit for refugees because in the absence of proper legal measures, refugee documentation, and work permit, refugees may end up becoming illegal immigrants using illicit means.
India should also make a distinction between temporary migrant workers, illegal immigrants and refugees and deal with each of them diﬀerently through proper legal and institutional mechanisms.
Commentary : US and freedom of navigation
- India’s strategic community was agitated last week when the USS John Paul Jones carried out a freedom of navigation operation (FONOP) 130 nautical miles west of the Lakshadweep Islands. Some described it as an unnecessary provocation by the U.S. Navy. U.S. 7th Fleet commander, said the operation, which was carried out in India’s exclusive economic zone (EEZ), “asserted navigational rights and freedoms without requesting India’s prior consent”.
(ii). Strategic interpretations
In the aftermath of the incident, the U.S. Pentagon defended the military operation oﬀ India’s waters terming it “consistent with international law”. For the U.S. Navy, FONOPs are a way of showing that the maritime claims of certain states are incompatible with international law. India’s requirement of prior consent for the passage of foreign warships through Indian EEZs, U.S. oﬃcials believe, is a violation of the United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea (UNCLOS).
India interprets the maritime convention diﬀerently. Indian experts note that the UNCLOS does not explicitly permit the passage of military vessels in another state’s EEZ. This position is consistent with India’s domestic law – the Territorial Waters, Continental Shelf, Exclusive Economic Zone and Other Maritime Zones of India Act of 1976 – and remains unchanged.
Indian observers have come to accept U.S. FONOPs as an instrument in Washington’s military and diplomatic tool kit that gives the U.S. Navy leverage in the contest with China in the South China Sea. Washington knows New Delhi’s real concern is the possibility of greater Chinese naval presence in Indian waters. U.S. FONOPs in Indian EEZs have been relatively low key, serving mainly to check a box on the U.S. Navy’s record of activity in Asia. Since 2016, the U.S. Navy has carried out three forays through Indian EEZs keeping well outside Indian territorial waters.
To guard against any misreading of intent, the U.S. Navy coupled its FONOP in Indian waters with another sail through the territorial seas of the Maldives, a country with which the U.S. signed a defence agreement in 2020. The idea, ostensibly, was to signal to China that the U.S. Navy is committed to uphold the rules based order in the waters of opponents and partners alike.
(iii). The way forward
The U.S. must recognise that FONOPs have implications for New Delhi that go beyond the infringement of Indian jurisdiction in the near seas. Such operations normalise military activism close to India’s island territories that remain vulnerable to incursions by foreign warships. It encourages other regional navies to violate India’s domestic regulations in the waters surrounding the Andaman and Nicobar Islands.
New Delhi, too, must rethink its stand on freedom of navigation in the EEZs. India’s domestic regulation is worryingly out of sync with international law. India’s declaration of straight baselines delineating zones around the Andaman and Nicobar Islands (on the Western edge), in particular, is a discrepancy that cannot be explained as a minor departure from the provisions of the UNCLOS.
ECONOMICS & FINANCE
1. SC judgement may cost PSU banks around 2000 crores
The public sector banks may have to bear a burden of ₹1,800 crore₹2,000 crore arising out of a recent Supreme Court judgment on the waiver of compound interest on all loan accounts which opted for moratorium during March-August 2020. The judgment covers loans above ₹2 crore as loans below this got blanket interest on interest waiver in November last year.
The RBI on March 27 last year announced a moratorium on payment of installments of term loans falling due between March 1 and May 31, 2020. It was later extended to August 31.
2. Airtel to sell spectrum to Jio
- Bharti Airtel said it had entered into an agreement with Reliance Jio Infocomm to transfer ‘Right to Use’ for some of its 800 MHz spectrum in three circles. Following this agreement, Bharti Airtel will receive a consideration of ₹1,037.6 crore from Reliance Jio for the proposed transfer. In addition, Reliance Jio will assume future liabilities of ₹459 crore relating to the spectrum.
3. IMF warns on India's growth outlook of 12.5%
After an estimated contraction of 8% in the 12 months ended March 31, India is projected to grow at 12.5% in the current ﬁscal year, an outlook that, however, now faces signiﬁcant downside risks because of the ongoing wave of COVID-19 in the country, the IMF said. The International Monetary Fund’s ‘World Economic Outlook (WEO): Managing Divergent Recoveries’ – released ahead of the virtual World Bank IMF Spring Meetings – also forecast India’s economy to expand by a relatively more sedate 6.9% in the next ﬁnancial year. Gita Gopinath, IMF Chief economist, said that these forecasts had preceded the current wave of COVID-19 in India, “which is quite concerning”.
On the global economy, the IMF said it expected growth to rebound to 6% this year, after an estimated contraction of 3.3% in 2020 (calendar year), before easing to 4.4% in 2022. Projections for 2021 were slightly higher than they were in October 2020 due to ﬁscal support in some large economies and a vaccine supported recovery. The Euro Area is projected to grow at 4.4% and 3.8% over these time periods; China, at 8.4% and 5.6%.
Global growth is projected to settle at 3.3% in the medium term due to damage inﬂicted on supply potential as well factors that predate the pandemic. The average annual loss in per capita GDP over the 2020-24 period relative to pre-pandemic forecasts is expected to be 5.7% in low-income countries and 4.7% in emerging markets. For advanced economies, this number is lower at 2.3%. Such losses are reversing gains in poverty reduction, with an additional 95 million people expected to have entered the ranks of the extreme poor in 2020.
4. SEBI bats for more transparency post COVID
Securities and Exchange Board of India (SEBI) chairperson Ajay Tyagi has highlighted the need for adequate level of disclosures, risk assessment, sound digital infrastructure and high standards of data protection as well as cybersecurity during the COVID-19 era. SEBI had issued an advisory providing an illustrative list of information that should be disclosed about the impact of the COVID-19 crisis.
Companies must avoid selective disclosures while revealing material information. “A critical area that emerged during this pandemic was the need to provide adequate level of disclosures to stakeholders about the health and performance of the company amid the uncertainty,” he said. He said company boards must critically consider if they were looking at the right risks, by remaining active in their risk assessment activities.
5. Flexible inflation targeting working well
The ﬂexible inﬂation targeting monetary policy regime has been successful in leashing the inﬂation rate within a range along with providing a favourable environment for economic growth, the ﬁnance ministry said. The government last week retained the 4% inﬂation target with upper and lower tolerance bounds of 6% and 2% respectively, adopted ﬁrst in 2016.
The ﬂexible inﬂation targeting led to a decline in price ﬂuctuations, halved the volatility of core inﬂation, and moderated the median inﬂation expectations of urban households over a one year ahead horizon. Volatility in interest rate and exchange rate also decreased during 2017-20. Until the pre-COVID period, there was only one occasion [Q4 of 201920] when inﬂation exceeded the upper tolerance level.
6. RBI keeps policy rates unchanged
The Reserve Bank of India’s Monetary Policy Committee (MPC) voted unanimously to leave the policy repo rate unchanged at 4%. It was also unanimously decided to continue with the accommodative stance as long as necessary to sustain growth on a durable basis and continue to mitigate the impact of COVID-19 on the economy.
RBI governor Shaktikanta Das stressed that the focus must now be on containing the spread of the virus as well as on economic revival by consolidating the gains achieved so far and sustaining the impulses of growth in the new ﬁnancial year. He added that rural demand remains buoyant and record agricultural production in 2020-21 bodes well for its resilience. Urban demand has gained traction and should get a ﬁllip with the ongoing vaccination drive.
The RBI also stressed that as part of retaining its accommodative policy stance, it would stick to its commitment to ensure ample system liquidity. As part of its liquidity measures it said it was putting in place a secondary market G sec acquisition programme or GSAP 1.0 whereby the central bank would commit upfront to a speciﬁc amount of open market purchases of government securities with a view to enabling a stable and orderly evolution of the yield curve amid comfortable liquidity conditions. RBI’s decision to maintain its high GDP growth forecast also helped calm the market over its fears about the second wave of infections.
7. SEBI fines Ambani brothers 25 crores
- SEBI has imposed a total penalty of ₹25 crore on Mukesh Ambani, Anil Ambani, other individuals and entities for noncompliance with takeover norms in a Reliance Industries case dating back to 2000. In 2005, Mr. Mukesh and Mr. Anil had split the business empire built by their father Dhirubhai Ambani. As per the order, RIL’s promoters acquired 6.83% stake in the company during 2000 through conversion of 3 crore warrants issued to them in 1994, these were in excess of the ceiling of 5% prescribed under the takeover norms.
8. Mukesh Ambani tops Forbes rich list
- India has the third highest number of billionaires in the world after the U.S. and China, according to a new list by the Forbes magazine, which said Reliance Industries chairman Mukesh Ambani reclaimed his spot as Asia’s richest person. Forbes’ 35th annual list of the world’s billionaires is topped by Amazon CEO and Founder Jeﬀ Bezos for the fourth year in a row. His net worth is $177 billion, up $64 billion from a year ago.
9. RBI extends 50000 cr to All India Financial Institutions
To help mitigate the impact of the pandemic and aid economic revival, the RBI said it would extend fresh support of ₹50,000 crore to the All India Financial Institutions for new lending in FY22. NABARD will be provided a special liquidity facility (SLF) of ₹25,000 crore for one year to support agriculture and allied activities. An SLF of ₹10,000 crore will be extended to the National Housing Bank for one year to support the housing sector. SIDBI will be provided ₹15,000 crore under this facility for up to one year for funding of micro, small and medium enterprises (MSMEs).
The Central Bank noted that while Asset Reconstruction Companies had grown in number and size, their potential for resolving stressed assets was yet to be realised fully. A six-month extension to September 30 for Priority Sector Lending (PSL) classiﬁcation for lending by banks to NBFCs for ‘on lending’ to sectors that contribute signiﬁcantly to the economy in terms of export and employment – has been approved.
What is Priority Sector lending : It is an important role given by the (RBI) to the banks for providing a specified portion of the bank lending to few specific sectors like agriculture and allied activities, micro and small enterprises, poor people for housing, students for education and other low income groups and weaker sections. This is essentially meant for an all round development of the economy as opposed to focusing only on the financial sector.
10. China fine $2.8 billion on Ma's Alibaba
China’s regulators have imposed a record $2.78 billion ﬁne on the Alibaba Group. The State Administration for Market Regulation (SAMR) in December announced an antitrust probe. There were sharp comments made from Mr. Ma criticising China’s ﬁnancial system, and a broader tug-of-war with the authorities over Alibaba’s amassing of consumer data, which regulators felt gave it an unfair advantage over its rivals.
The SAMR said it had levied an 18.23 billion yuan ($2.78 billion) ﬁne on the Alibaba Group “for indulging in a monopolistic act of abusing its dominant market position”. The regulator concluded from a four month investigation that Alibaba has been abusing its market dominance since 2015 by prohibiting merchants from opening stores or participating in promotional activities on other competitive platforms. It said the prohibition hinders competition in China’s services market, impedes the free ﬂow of goods, services and resources, and infringes the legitimate rights and interests of merchants.
The SAMR said the group had “abused its dominant market position” and “also used market forces, platform rules, data, algorithms and other technical means to ensure the implementation of the exclusive dealing agreement. “
11. Forex reserves drop again by $2.4 billion
- The country’s foreign exchange reserves declined by $2.415 billion to stand at $576.869 billion in the week ended April 2, RBI data showed. The forex kitty had touched a record high of $590.185 billion in the week ended January 29. The decline in the reserves was mainly on account of a fall in foreign currency assets. Gold reserves dropped by $884 million to $34.023 billion, as per RBI data. The special drawing rights with the IMF dipped by $4 million to $1.486 billion.
12. Indian industry seeks vaccination for all age groups
- The industry body CII called for accelerated vaccine production and supply across the country and opening up vaccination for all age groups. It, however, stressed that factories and shop ﬂoors should be kept open for economic reasons. The industry body reiterated that lockdown was not a solution in the present times and requested for maintaining stringent COVID related protocols for public places and workplaces.
13. Flipkart, Adani sign logistics, data unit pact
- Ecom ﬁrm Flipkart has entered into a strategic and commercial partnership with the Adani Group for logistics and data centre related businesses. Under the pact, Flipkart would work with Adani Logistics Ltd. to strengthen Flipkart’s supply chain infrastructure and enhance the ability to serve its customers. Flipkart would also set up its data centre at AdaniConneX Pvt.
1. Former TT international Suhas Kulkarni no more
- Former international table tennis player Suhas Kulkarni passed away. He was 68 and is survived by mother, wife and daughter. According to a release, after retiring, Kulkarni became a coach and also regularly played in Masters’ tournaments.
2. North Korea will not participate in the Olympics
- North Korea will not attend this year’s Tokyo Olympics because of the coronavirus pandemic, Pyongyang’s sports ministry said. The isolated North’s participation in the last Winter Games, hosted by the South in Pyeongchang, was a catalyst in the diplomatic rapprochement by North and South Korea in 2018. All IOC member countries are required to take part in each Games under the Olympic charter.
*3. Women's 4*100 team to make World Relays debut in Poland*
The Indian women’s 4x100m relay team will make its World Athletics Relays debut at the Silesian Stadium at Chorzow, Poland, on May1 and 2. The team includes under20 World champion Hima Das, World University Games gold medallist Dutee Chand, S. Dhanalakshmi, who came with some impressive times in the recent Grand Prix and Archana Suseendran.
Kiran Pahal, who came in to prominence with an impressive 52.73s as a 19-year old at the 2019 National Open in Ranchi and who had consistently ﬁnished second behind M.R. Poovamma in the recent Grand Prix meets, will be making her debut in the women’s 4x400m team.
Wrestling : Eighteen year old Sonam Malik became the youngest Indian female wrestler to qualify for the Tokyo Olympics as the country bagged two quota places. Sonam and Anshu Malik reached the ﬁnals of 62kg and 57kg respectively to book their berths for the Tokyo Olympics.
Doping : Five sports persons, including well-known weightlifter Rakhi Halder and kabaddi player Ajay Thakur, have been provisionally suspended last month for anti-doping rule violation. Other athletes in this list are Greco Roman wrestler Manish, and race walkers Sunil Vishwakarma (20km) and Vishvendra Singh (10km).
Sailing : The pair of Varun Thakkar and K.C. Ganapathy, along with Vishnu Saravanan, qualiﬁed for Tokyo Olympics in the 49er and laser standard classes respectively from the Asian Olympic sailing qualiﬁers. Nethra Kumanan assured herself a spot in the laser radial class category at the Tokyo Olympics, after ﬁnishing races nine and 10 in the ﬁrst and second positions respectively of the Asian Olympic qualiﬁcation sailing championships. The event, called the Mussanah Open, oﬀered two Asian qualiﬁcation spots each in the laser radial and laser standard classes and one in the other classes.
Chess : R. Praggnanandhaa won the prestigious Polgar Challenge and gained a berth to join the elite players in the next Meltwater Champions Chess Tour event. Praggnanandhaa (15.5 points) scored 14 victories, drew thrice and lost twice in the four day online rapid tournament and earned $3,000 for his eﬀorts. Viswanathan Anand hailed the young champion.
5. FIFA suspends Pakistan and Chad
- FIFA suspended the national football federations of Pakistan and Chad amid disputes about how they should be run. The Pakistan federation, known as the PFF, was suspended for “third-party interference” for the second time. The suspension for Chad comes after the African country’s government tried to dissolve the national federation and appoint new officials to run the sport.
6. Russian Olympic champions banned
- Russian Olympic champions Andrei Silnov and Natalya Antyukh have each been banned for four years for doping oﬀences. Silnov and Antyukh were both charged last year with using or attempting to use a prohibited substance or method. The charges stemmed from a World Antidoping Agency investigation into Russian doping in 2016.
7. Davis Cup finals to be held in three cities
- The 2021 Davis Cup Finals will be held in three cities, with Innsbruck and Turin joining Madrid as hosts, the International Tennis Federation (ITF) announced. The ITF said Madrid, Austrian city Innsbruck and Turin in Italy would host two of the six groups each, with the latter two both staging one quarterﬁnal. Madrid will host two last eight ties, the semiﬁnals and the ﬁnal. The 2020 tournament was called oﬀ due to complications posed by the pandemic.
2. Arrest of Hidme Markam https://thewire.in/rights/hidme-markam-chhattisgarh-arrest-adivasi-rights
3. Justice NV Ramana's story https://www.thequint.com/news/law/first-generation-lawyer-to-next-cji-justice-nv-ramanas-story
4. The Uttarakhand forest fires https://www.thequint.com/news/india/all-you-need-to-know-about-the-uttarakhand-forest-fires
5. Lockdown and released convicts https://www.thequint.com/news/law/post-lockdown-released-prisoners-are-struggling-to-make-ends-meet
6. IISc and Prorigo patent software https://economictimes.indiatimes.com/tech/tech-bytes/iisc-prorigo-build-a-homegrown-patent-management-software/articleshow/81917117.cms?from=mdr
7. Saurabh Kirpal's appointment as HC judge https://thewire.in/law/saurabh-kirpal-high-court-judge-appointment-discrimination
8. The Rohingya story https://www.thequint.com/news/law/the-crime-of-seeking-refuge-in-india-rohingyas
10. Phone Tapping and Article 21 https://www.legalindia.com/phone-tapping-violates-article-21-unless-permitted-by-procedure-established-by-law-chhattisgarh-hc/
11. Poll promises and burden on public exchequer https://www.legalindia.com/political-parties-should-be-prohibited-from-giving-election-promises-which-are-capable-of-adding-burden-on-the-public-exchequer-madras-hc/
12. Legality of fantasy gaming https://www.livelaw.in/columns/business-of-fantasy-sports-legality-of-fantasy-gaming-172440
13. Constitutionality of Section 69 of the IT Act https://www.livelaw.in/columns/information-technology-act-2000-ks-puttaswamy-fundamental-rights-172407
14. Incomprehensible writing and Law https://thewire.in/law/wherefore-therein-incomprehensible-writing-thy-name-is-law
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Sources referred to : The Hindu, The Indian Express, Live Law, Bar & Bench