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GS-2


International relations:

Next Door Nepal: Whose dam is it, anyway?(Indian Express)

Context:

The Nepal government recently decided to annul the 1200-MW Budhi Gandaki Hydro project contract awarded to the Chinese firm Gejuwa, citing lack of transparency.

Introduction:

  • The annulment of the contract three weeks prior to the formation of the new government, expectedly, has triggered a debate.
  • In June a Maoist-dominated coalition government awarded a contract to China Gezhouba Group Corp. to build a 1,200MW plant on the Budhi Gandaki river, about 50km west of Kathmandu, to address acute power shortages.
  • The government was following the instruction of a parliamentary committee that had disapproved the deal on the ground of lack of “transparency”.
  • Cancelled project may now go to an Indian company.

India’s past failures:

  • India’s past failures in completing hydropower projects on time has discredited its image as a reliable partner in Kathmandu.
  • China entered Nepal’s hydropower sector, challenging India’s monopoly, only about a decade ago. This was after political changes in Nepal became unmanageable and Beijing began to get suspicious about the role of New Delhi and western powers in the country’s internal politics.
  • On the scrapped of the Gejuwa deal , the investment board of the government extended the deadline for  “financial closure” of two other major hydroprojects undertaken by Indian companies- the 900 MW Upper Karnali undertaken by GMR and Arun three  undertaken by Sutlej Jal Vidhyut Ltd.
  • The much-talked about Mahakali project that was signed between Nepal and India way back in 1996 has not moved an inch as the two sides are still to finalise the detailed project report. The Mahakali project was signed between Nepal and India way back in 1996 has not moved an inch as the two sides are still to finalise the detailed project report.
  • As most projects remain in limbo, power brokers and commission agents lobby on behalf of competing firms for the termination or transfer of contracts.

China’s response:

  • Less than a week after the government decision, China’s Three Gorges International Corporation signed a deal with the Nepal Electricity Authority to form a joint venture company to develop the 750 MW West Seti Project in a time-bound manner.

Reasons for delay in projects:

  • The projects are delayed because of corruption.
  • The delays in the execution of projects and the external interferences.
  • Lack of transparency and accountability in government decisions in their manifestos, including a convergence of interest and method.

About Budhi Gandaki hydropower project:

  • Budhi Gandaki Hydropower Project is a storage type project located in Central/ Western Development region on the Budhi Gandaki River of Nepal.
  • The 1,200 megawatt project was recently listed as a component of the Belt and Road Initiative (BRI), the China-led plan that envisages greater trade and connectivity and supports varied infrastructure projects.
  • The Nepal government had awarded the contract under the engineering, procurement, construction and finance (EPCF) model of project development.
  • Budhi Gandaki has been highlighted as a key project to resolve the country’s perennial power crisis.

Pacific oceans’ 11(The  Hindu Editorial)

Context

  • The US abandoned the 12-nation Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP) following the Paris accord and Iran nuclear deal have raised suspicions about American commitment to well-negotiated treaties

What led to the formation of the CPTPP?

  • The United States solely contributed 60% of the combined Gross Domestic Product of the 12 members of the TPP.
  • Ten months on, trade ministers from the remaining 11 nations agreed in Danang in principle to a new pact, the Comprehensive and Progressive Agreement for the Trans-Pacific Partnership (CPTPP)
  • It revised some of the features of the TPP.
  • The pact however requires domestic ratification, which is expected to be complete by 2019.

What is the implication of the US exclusion?

  • The countries recognise that multilateral free trade, contrary to any misgivings, is beneficial in the long run.
  • The TPP in its current form has significant protections for labour and environment and is in this regard an advance over other free trade agreements.
  • The U.S.’s self-exclusion reflects a failure on the part of the Trump administration as the benefits are not as significant in comparison to its losses
  • Can this step effect the World’s perception of the US?
  • The pact without the U.S. can be interpreted as a step that diminishes American power and the international order
  • Mr. Trump’s decision to pull out of the Paris climate accord and his repudiation of the Iran nuclear deal have raised suspicions about American commitment

How can this benefit India?

  • The ASEAN-plus-six Regional Comprehensive Economic Partnership (RCEP) could benefit from complementarities with the CPTPP.
  • India must utilise this opportunity to win concessions on services trade liberalisation as part of the plan.

Indian constitution and polity:

SC lets kin join terminally-ill Ukrainian prisoner(The Hindu)

Context:

The Supreme Court allowed a prayer by a terminally-ill Ukranian prisoner in Chennai that his fundamental right to life includes the right to die with dignity in the company of family members.

Introduction:

  • A Bench led by Chief Justice of India  Dipak Misra has allowed the wife and family members of an Ukrainian national, diagnosed with cancer, to be with him in Chennai’s Apollo Hospital.
  • The court’s decision was an outcome of the petition filed by Dudnyk Valentyn, serving his sentence for offences under the Arms Act.
  • Valentyn’s vessel was found stationed 10.8 nautical miles from the Thoothukudi port on October 11, 2013.
  • The judgment on his appeal has been pending in the Madras High Court for over a year.
  • The CJI Bench asked the Madras HC to deliver the judgment on the appeal as expeditiously as possible.

Arguments sighted in petition:

  • The right to live with human dignity under Article 21 of the Constitution by included “some of the finer graces of human civilization, which makes life worth living”.
  • The concept of life also found that the right to live with human dignity included the right to co-mingle with fellow human beings.
  • The petition argued that the right to life for the petitioner, who is a foreign national, would also include the right to be repatriated to his country of origin to spend his last few days.

Article 21 of the Constitution:

  • The Constitution of India does not specifically guarantee a “right to privacy”
  • However, Article 21 of the Constitution of India states that “No person shall be deprived of his life or personal liberty except according to procedure established by law”.
  • Article 21 interprets that the term ‘life’ includes all those aspects of life which go to make a man’s life meaningful, complete and worth living.

Making caste slur on SC/ST over phone an offence, says SC(The Hindu)

Context

  • The Supreme Court (SC) has ruled that using casteist remarks over phone in a public place against the Scheduled Caste and Scheduled Tribe category will amounts to criminal offence, warranting a jail of a maximum five years.

What was the case?

  • The SC refused to stay criminal proceedings and annul an FIR against a person, who allegedly used derogatory casteist remarks over phone to a woman from the the SC/ST category.
  • The bench declined to interfere with the August 17 order of the Allahabad High Court, which rejected the plea of a Uttar Pradesh resident, seeking quashing of the FIR against him by the woman.
  • The SC dismissed his plea saying he has to prove during the trial that he had not talked to the woman over phone in a public place.
  • Advocate Vivek Vishnoi, appearing for the accused, claimed that at the time of the said conversation, both the woman and his client were in different cities and it could not be stated that it was in public view, thus his client cannot be booked under section 3(1)(s) of SC/ST Act.
  • “Both persons were in different cities and the conversation took place over the phone, which can’t be said to be in a public view. This was a private conversation. The apex court had already settled what ‘public view’ means in its earlier verdict of 2008,” Advocate Vishnoi said.
  • The bench, however, refused to agree with the argument and said it was only in the trial that the accused could prove if he was talking on phone in public view or not.

New J&K surrender policy to target local militants(The Hindu)

Context

  • The Army and the J&K Police, in a joint appeal asked all local militants to give up arms and assured them “full cooperation” to join the mainstream under the fresh surrender policy framed by the government as over 130 local militants are still active in the Valley.

Start of a new phase

  • Army is after foreign terrorists; therefore they want to give the local boys a chance to surrender.
  • The coming home of Majid Khan, who had joined Lashkar-e-Taiba will embark this new phase.
  • “I hope mothers of other militants will follow suit in making an appeal. I foresee a violence-free and disturbance-free Kashmir soon,” said J&K DGP S.P. Vaid.
  • Army suggested that the local militants could use the helpline if they want to come back.

The fresh surrender policy

  • The government has taken inputs from all security agencies to frame the fresh policy
  • Earlier, the surrender policy was limited to those who crossed the Line of Control into Pakistan-occupied Kashmir in the early 1990s and were stuck there.
  • The new surrender policy is considering provision of “passports and jobs to any local youth who gives up the gun” and “support for his full assimilation into society.”

The homecoming

  • Parents of two more militants have appealed through the media to their sons to give up militancy and rejoin the family.
  • Around 60 boys have already been brought back into the fold, said the police.
  • This is being considered a remarkable change in the situation. The agitation that peaked earlier this year has been brought under control.

GS-3


Economy:

In Fact: Ratings upgrade lifts mood, but key economic tasks remain(Indian Express)

Context:

  • Historically Global credit rating agency Standard & Poor’s and Moody’s has not been soft on India, but recently India’s credit rating has been upgraded.

What are the ratings based on?

The ratings are based on:

  • economic growth and prospects;
  • the ability to repay debt obligations on time;
  • the level of public debt, especially compared to peers;
  • political stability which, in turn, is believed to have the potential to lead to economic and institutional reforms;
  • strength of the financial sector and banks;
  • monetary policy and the size of foreign exchange reserves, which determine the ability to repay foreign debt, etc.

What are the resaons behind the degration of India’s credit rating?

  • As the size of the country’s economy and its foreign exchange reserves have grown and many sectors have been deregulated, the reluctance of the agencies to raise India’s credit rating has displeased successive governments.
  • During the 2008 financial crisis, the agencies were widely criticised for failing to foresee the housing mortgage collapse which added to the distrust.
  • As the agencies’ credibility took a beating, and abundant capital flowed to emerging markets, actions taken by the raters were seen as having only limited impact.
  • A disconnect has been visible between the ratings and the perception and investment behaviour of foreign investors in Indian stocks and debt.
  • The global ratings agencies have been inconsistent in their treatment of China and India.
  • The agencies have been criticised for being detached from ground realities in India, and suggested that they introspect.

Over 200 govt. websites made Aadhaar details public: UIDAI(The Hindu)

Context

  • More than 200 Central and State government websites publicly displayed details such as names and addresses of some Aadhaar beneficiaries
  • The Aadhaar-issuing body had however taken note of the breach and got the data removed from those websites

What happened?

  • It was found that approximately 210 websites of Central and State government departments, including educational institutes, were displaying the list of beneficiaries along with their name, address, other details and Aadhaar numbers for information of general public

Mandatory Aadhaar

  • The Centre is in the process of making Aadhaar mandatory to grant benefits of various social service schemes.

Is the UIDAI quipped?

  • UIDAI has a well-designed, multi-layer approach and a robust security system in place and the same is being constantly upgraded to maintain the highest level of data security and integrity
  • The architecture of the Aadhaar ecosystem has been designed to ensure data security and privacy which is an integral part of the system from the initial design to the final stage

Continuous updates

  • Various policies and procedures have been defined, these are reviewed and updated continually thereby appropriately controlling and monitoring any movement of people, material and data in and out of UIDAI premises
  • The security audits are further conducted on a regular basis to further strengthen security and privacy of data.

RBI to launch multimedia campaign(The Hindu)

Context

  • The Reserve Bank is planning to launch a full-fledged multimedia and multilingual campaign to create general awareness among citizens of its regulations and initiatives.

What is the campaign about?

  • The campaign will be in 14 languages such as Hindi, Assamese, Bengali, Gujarati, Kannada, Malayalam, Marathi, Oriya, Punjabi, Sindhi, Tamil, Telugu, Urdu, and English with focus on regional languages
  • The media mix will include traditional ones such as newspapers, magazines, radio, television channels and cinema halls and new ones that include digital.
  • The RBI is planning close to 15 TV commercials, 15 radio spots and 15 print advertisements each year.
  • It also plans to create an awareness campaign Suno RBI Kya Kehta Hai through SMSs to warn the public against falling prey to unsolicited and fictitious offers from fraudsters.

Pan India Awareness campaign

  • The RBI’s communication department has sought applications from advertising agencies for designing the creatives for the pan-India awareness campaign.

‘Wilful defaulters must not buy IBC assets’(The Hindu)

Context

  • To ensure the success of the bankruptcy process under the Insolvency and Bankruptcy Code (IBC), the Finance Ministry has asked banks to be vigilant to ensure that wilful defaulters are prevented from buying stressed assets

What is the present scenario?

  • As many as 12 accounts, each having more than ₹5,000 crore of outstanding loans, and accounting for 25% of total NPAs of banks are under the insolvency and bankruptcy resolution process.
  • The total outstanding of these accounts, taken together, is ₹1.75 lakh crore.
  • Banks are in the process of taking other large non-performing accounts to the National Company Law Tribunal (NCLT) under the insolvency and bankruptcy code.
  • The resolution is crucial to the entire banking sector and therefore banks have been advised to be vigilant so that wilful defaulters do not get benefits of the process.
  • Non-performing assets of public sector banks have increased to ₹7.33 lakh crore as of June 2017, from ₹2.78 lakh crore in March 2015.

Environment:

BS-VI emission norms for vehicles: So near and yet so far, here is why(Indian Express)

Context:

Recently, the Union Petroleum Ministry decided to advance the introduction of BS-IV grade petrol and diesel in Delhi by two years to April 2018 in order to fight against air pollution.

Introduction:

  • The attempt was to leapfrog one stage-BS-V- altogether, and makes the switch to BS-VI that much more difficult for both the oil companies and automobile makers.
  • This is the second time that the government has shifted the goalposts — in January 2016, it had decided to skip BS-V and go directly to BS-VI, but only by 2020.

What is BS?

  • BS stands for Bharat Stage and is set by the central pollution control board. BS standard is generally applicable to all the vehicles that are running in the country.
  • BS is the emission standards given by Government of India to regulate the air pollutants coming from internal combustion engine.

What is BS-4?

  • BS-4 is regulation for everything that is emitted from vehicle.
  • The regulations not only cover exhaust emission but for evaporation emission, light emission, noise emission, tyre gas emission and perhaps a few more.

What is the significance of BS-4 fuel?

  • BS-IV fuels contain far less sulphur than BS-III fuel. Sulphur in fuel makes it dirtier and lowers the efficiency of catalytic converters, which control emissions.
  • The BS-IV compliant vehicles release less pollutants Carbon Mono-oxide (CO), Hydrocarbon (HC), Oxides of Nitrogen (NO), Sulphur (SO) and particulate matter (PM) compared to BS III compliant vehicles.
  • BS4 demands for lower limits of air pollutants like oxides of nitrogen, carbon monoxide, hydrocarbons and particulate matter, lower decibel of idle and pass, lower release of fuel vapour in atmosphere.

Reasons for shift:

The current BS-VI fuel in the current BS-VI engines, or running BS-VI engines on the current-grade fuel, may be ineffective in curbing vehicles pollution, and may damage the engine in the long run.

What is the significance of BS-6 fuel?

  • The proposed BS-VI fuel limits the amount of sulphur to 10ppm from 50ppm in BS-IV.
  • The fuel specifications of petrol and diesel have been aligned with the Corresponding European Fuel Specifications for meeting the Euro II, Euro III and Euro IV emission norms.
  • The introduction of BS-VI fuels in NCT by April 2018 will also give auto firms opportunities to market-test their models before the pan-India rollout happens in April 2020.

Difference between BS-IV and BS-VI:

  • The main difference between BS-IV and BS-VI (Which is comparable to Euro 6) is in the amount of sulphur in the fuel.
  • BS-VI fuel is estimated to bring around an 80% reduction in sulphur content –from 50 parts per million (ppm) to 10 ppm.
  • According to analysts, NOx emissions from diesel cars are expected to come down by nearly 70% and, from cars with petrol engines, by 25%.

Big hurdle :

  • For automakers, the big hurdle in jumping directly from BS-IV to BS-VI norms lies in equipping cars with two key fitments, and road-testing them within the same the time schedule.
  • Implementation of the intermediate BS-V standard was originally set to come in by 2024, was advanced by four years, in line with India’s promises at the 2015 Paris Climate Change Conference.
  • Automakers insist that BS-VI norms may not bring perceptible change in air quality but may increase the prices of vehicles and that it will be a challenge to upgrade technologies to meet the higher norms in the time available.

Emission norms:

  • The BS — Bharat Stage — emission standards are norms instituted by the government to regulate the output of air pollutants from internal combustion engine equipment, including motor vehicles.
  • India has been following European (Euro) emission norms, although with a time lag of five years.
  • India introduced emission norms first in 1991, and tightened them in 1996, when most vehicle manufacturers had to incorporate technology upgrades like catalytic converters to cut exhaust emissions.
  • Fuel specifications based on environmental considerations were notified first in April 1996 — to be implemented by 2000, and incorporated in BIS 2000 standards.
  • Following the landmark Supreme Court order of April 1999, the Centre notified Bharat Stage-I (BIS 2000) and Bharat Stage-II norms, broadly equivalent to Euro I and Euro II respectively.
  • BS-II was for the National Capital Region and other metros; BS-I for the rest of India.
  • From April 2005, in line with the Auto Fuel Policy of 2003, BS-III and BS-II fuel quality norms came into existence for 13 major cities, and for the rest of the country respectively.
  • From April 2010, BS-IV and BS-III norms were put in place in 13 major cities and the rest of India respectively.

Before 2020(Indian Express)

Friction over finances forced the Bonn conference to stretch more than half-a-day beyond its scheduled closing date. The CoP 23 declaration did finally mention financial and technology transfers. But that is, at best, a procedural victory for the developing countries.

Context:

  • The 23rd Conference of Parties (CoP) of the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change was expected to be an easy and fast affair.
  • But friction over finances forced the Bonn conference to stretch more than half-a-day beyond its scheduled closing date.

About Conference of the Parties (COP23):

  • The 2017 UN Climate Conference took place in Bonn, Germany, from 6-18 November.
  • Leaders of national governments, cities, states, business, investors, NGOs and civil society gathered to speed up climate action to meet the goals of the Paris Climate Change Agreement. The COP is organized by the UN Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC).

What has been discussed?

Evaluation of actions by the signatories:

  • The meeting assess whether the actions promised by the signatories to the Paris Agreement are adequate to meet the pact’s objectives.

Responsibility on emerging economies:

  • It has been discussed that the pre-2020 commitments are significant for emerging economies like India, China and Brazil.
  • Unlike the Paris pact, the responsibility of fulfilling the pre-2020 obligations i.e. reducing emission and providing finance and technology to the developing countries lies on the developed countries.
  • If these countries do not fulfil their obligations in the next three years, the emerging economies will have to take a greater share of the climate change mitigation burden after the Paris pact comes into force.

Developed countries have always been slow:

  • The developed countries have always been slow about their pre-2020 commitments.
  • Reports say that OECD countries have used creative accounting methods to exaggerate their annual climate mitigation aid to developing countries by more than 50 billion dollars

How succulents survive without water decoded(The Hindu)

Context:

According to scientists, drought- resistant plants such as cacti and succulents make use of an enhanced form of photosynthesis to minimize water loss.

Introduction:

  • The research, published in journal “the Plant Cell”, could be used to help produce new crops that can thrive in previously inhospitable, hot and dry region across the world.
  • Photosynthesis involves taking carbon dioxide from the atmosphere to convert into sugars using sunlight.

Drought –resistant plants:

  • Such plants make use of enhanced form of photosynthesis.
  • Drought-resistant plants, such as cacti, agaves and succulents, make use of an enhanced form of photosynthesis known as crassulacean acid metabolism (CAM).
  • Unlike other plant, CAM plants are able to take up CO2 during the cooler night, which reduce water loss, and store captured CO2 as malic acid inside the cell, allowing its use for photosynthesis without water loss during the next day.
  • CAM photosynthesis is regulated by the plant’s internal circadian clock, which allows plants to differentiate and pre-empt day and night and adjust their metabolism accordingly.
  • Researchers looked at an enzyme called PPCK that is involved in controlling the conversion of CO2 to its overnight stored form.
  • Researchers wanted to know if PPCK is a necessary component for engineering CAM photosynthesis and tested this by switching the PPCK gene off in the succulent CAM plant Kalanchoe fedschenkoi.
  • For CAM to work properly, the cell must switch on PPCK each night driven by internal circadian clock.
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