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International relations:

Endgame in Syria (The Hindu Opinion)

Context

Unless the peace dividend is visible soon, regression to anarchy cannot be ruled out

Backdrop: Flurry of political activity 

Ceasefire: between government-allied forces and rebel groups

  • Following the defeat of the Islamic State (IS) at Abu Kamal, its last Syrian redoubt, military activities are being framed by the tenuous ceasefire between government-allied forces and motley rebel groups mostly confined to four de-escalation zones

Hezbollah: has the upper hand

  • Backed by support from the Russian Air Force, Iranian experts and fighters from Hezbollah militia of Lebanon, the former have an upper hand

GCC

  • The rebels, with the solitary exception of Kurdish forces, have been losing ground, with their foreign patrons, mainly the U.S. and the Gulf Cooperation Council states, becoming more equivocal

Astana Process

  • The antagonists have been inconclusively engaged in the Astana Process, sponsored and guaranteed by Russia, Iran and Turkey, and the U.N.-sponsored Geneva Peace Talks.

Russia’s role

  • Russian President has pressed the military advantage in Syria to recently launch the search for a lasting political solution

Summit at Sochi

  • His summit with Syrian President Bashar al-Assad at Sochi, Russia, on November 20 produced the broad outlines of a peace process even as the Syrian leader insisted on foreign non-interference

Syrian Peace Congress

  • Following telephonic consultations with his U.S., Saudi, Egyptian and Israeli counterparts, Russian President held a tripartite summit on November 22 with the Presidents of Iran and Turkey
  • They jointly announced the convening of a Syrian peace congress at Sochi to create a framework for national reconciliation

Saudi Initiative

  • In tandem with the Russian initiatives, a Saudi–sponsored two-day meeting in Riyadh of over 140 Syrian rebels concluded with an agreement to field a unified delegation at the Geneva talks on November 28
  • They reportedly dropped their long-standing demand for the removal of President Assad which could help break the stalemate at the talks.

Obstacles still remain

  • The bloodletting and intense foreign involvement have created a bitter legacy to be overcome before meaningful negotiations can commence
  • Entrenched foreign interests often pursue divergent objectives.
  • For instance, while Turkey demands the ouster of Mr. Assad and regards the Kurdish militia as terrorists, Russia and Iran hold opposite stands.
  • Even though Russia and the U.S. have vowed to obliterate the IS, they hold opposite positions on the continuation of Mr. Assad. Similarly, though Israel and Saudi Arabia have their well-known differences, they are both apprehensive about Iranian gains in the Levant
  • Even as a need for a new Syrian Constitution is widely acknowledged, the prescriptions for a future polity range from a continuation of Ba’ath Arab nationalism (aka an Alawite-dominated military-security apparatus) to a Sunni Khilafat, and from a unitary republic to a loose confederation
  • Any peace package would necessarily require the injection of huge funds for reconstruction. Unless the peace dividend is visible soon, regression to anarchy cannot be ruled out.

Whiff of optimism

  • The best one can realistically hope for is a congruence of major players around the incipient(beginning to happen or develop) political process, and progressive withdrawal of foreign military presence and interests
  • Ironically, The Syrian conflict will reach its endgame in the centenary year of the Sykes-Picot Agreement and the infamous Balfour Declaration. As they say, the more things change, the more they stay the same

A place for India

  • By keeping a low profile during the conflict, India has earned wider acceptability across the Syrian social spectrum
  • In normal times, the annual bilateral trade between the two countries was over half a billion dollars, with India enjoying a large trade surplus

Reconstruction

  • In a post-conflict situation, India has a potential role in institution building and reconstruction. Among the possible initiatives to further our prospects could be extending an invitation to Syrian President for a return visit to India, holding a session of the joint commission and an Indian line of credit to finance our exports as well as projects and services

The China plan — On Myanmar-Bangladesh deal on Rohingya(The Hindu Editorial)

Context

The devil will be in the detail of the Myanmar-Bangladesh deal on Rohingya repatriation

China’s 3 point Plan

  • The agreement reached between Myanmar and Bangladesh to repatriate Rohingya refugees suggests that the Chinese proposal has found some traction as a solution to the crisis
  1. Bilateral Talks: Under the plan, Myanmar and Bangladesh were to hold bilateral talks and reach a repatriation agreement – which has been achieved
  2. Ceasefire: However, the first step in Beijing’s approach – which involved a declaration of ceasefire in Rakhine to halt further displacement and bringing immediate relief to the state’s devastated Rohingya – has not taken effect
  3. Economic Assistance: If this were to happen, the third part of the proposal will presumably take effect, with China providing economic assistance for the development of the Rakhine region as part of a long-term solution

Why China is being proactive in this case?

  • Economic Interests: Rakhine is an important link in its Belt and Road Initiative China is building a $7.3 billion deep-water port in the province and has invested $2.45 billion to build an oil and gas pipeline connecting coastal Rakhine to Yunnan.China has put pressure on Myanmar because a protracted conflict in Rakhine will be decidedly against Beijing’s economic interests
  • Status: The signing of a repatriation deal suggests this pressure tactic is working.
  • Good Relations: Beijing enjoys good relations with both Bangladesh and Myanmar

Details of the agreement still blurry

Number/Timeline Unclear

The number of Rohingya who will be sent back, and the timeline, have not been revealed

Will of the Refugees

It is also not clear whether the refugees themselves want to go back to a place they had fled in such perilous circumstances. Or in the event they do, where they will be resettled.

China sees this as economic problem

From the details of the plan it is clear that China sees the Rohingya crisis as an economic problem, given that its solution is centred on development

Real problem is political

While economic assistance is essential, the real problem is arguably deeply political, and there needs to be an accompanying political solution.

Conclusion

Any proposal can only make limited headway unless Myanmar is willing to roll back the institutional barriers that render Rohingya second-class people. Unless they are accepted as equal citizens, there is unlikely to be a long-term solution to the Rakhine unrest.

India, Sri Lanka to expedite projects(The Hindu) 

Context

Expediting decisions on joint projects and “solving the problems that have emerged” was at the top of the agenda as Sri Lankan Prime Minister Ranil Wickremesinghe met Prime Minister Narendra Modi, External Affairs Minister Sushma Swaraj and President Ram Nath Kovind during his two-day visit to Delhi, officials on both sides highlighted here

Trincomalee, Hambantota Projects

  • Among the projects discussed in particular were the plans for India to develop the Trincomalee harbour, including the Oil Tank farms project, as well as the Indian bid to lease and manage the Mattala airport in Hambantota

Speeding up of JVs

  • The emphasis on speeding up joint ventures comes after months where there has been no movement on many of the pending decisions on joint ventures.

Delays: Flash Strike

  • Officials were hopeful that the Trinco Oil Farm project, that involves the Indian Oil Corporation taking over more than 70 storage tanks would have been sealed in April, when Mr. Wickremesinghe previously visited, but a flash strike by oil company employees put off any announcement.

The Chabahar Checkmate(Indian Express Opinion) 

Context

Pakistan must abandon isolationism, worry more about trade and development

Backdrop

  • First Consignment: India sent its first consignment of wheat to Afghanistan through the Iranian port of Chabahar; in the following six months it will send six more
  • Changing Relations: This will also take almost all the Afghan trade out of the Afghan Transit Route through Pakistan and give it to Iran, changing the nature of Afghanistan’s relations both with Pakistan and Iran
  • US Reaction: US Secretary of State visiting New Delhi recently, assured India that even if America re-imposes sanctions on Iran in the coming days, it will exempt the Chabahar facility

Pak didn’t pay attention

  • When the Chabahar deal was made between Tehran and India in 2003, Pakistan didn’t feel compelled to revisit the country’s strategic location between India and Central Asia

No Response to MFN

  • It had turned away from the idea of Pak-India free trade and did not respond to India’s award of Most Favoured Nation status in 1996. The idea of being a trading hub didn’t appeal to it

Contrasting views within Pakistan

  • Speaking at a local think tank in Islamabad on “National Security, Deterrence and Regional Stability in South Asia” in 2016, former defence secretary said: “The alliance between India, Afghanistan and Iran is a security threat to Pakistan”
  • Another retired Defence Secretary said the existence of “such a formidable bloc” in the neighbourhood had “ominous and far-reaching implications” for Pakistan
  • In stark contrast, Adviser on Foreign Affairs said that Pakistan did not see Iran’s Chabahar port as a rival and that Pakistan was in fact exploring the possibility of developing links with it from Gwadar.

China thinks differently

  • As far as China is concerned, the CPEC would benefit by joining up with India, Afghanistan and Iran, three countries where China has also invested in a big way

Conclusion

Although it is late in the day, an increasingly unstable Pakistan has to abandon the path of isolationism and worry more about trade and economic development

Internal Security:

Lest 26/11 come(Indian Express Opinion) 

Context

India needs to revamp its security architecture, reform and rejuvenate police forces

India is the third most affected

  • According to the US Country Reports on Terrorism 2016, India is the third most affected country after Iraq and Afghanistan in the number of attacks perpetrated on its soil
  • It is estimated that a total of 52 terrorist groups are active in different parts of India, which is higher than in any other country.

Question Raised

  • Fortunately, there has been no major terrorist attack in the country after 26/11 (2008). Was it because we are much better prepared now and our law enforcement agencies have been able to prevent such an onslaught?

Conclusion: It would be difficult to give an affirmative answer

Factors

  • Pakistan has been under increasing international pressure to rein in its terrorist formations The presence of a strong government in Delhi, which showed the courage to launch a surgical strike across the border, could also have been a deterrent factor.

Complacency seems to have set in

  • The fact is that there has been no substantial accretion (increase) after the slew of measures taken in the wake of 26/11, when National Security Guard units were decentralised, an elaborate coastal security scheme was drawn up and the National Investigation Agency established

Police Force in Shambles

  • The police, who are the first responders to any terrorist crime, continue to be in a shambles. The states have done precious little to reform, rejuvenate or reinforce the capabilities of the police forces
  • The Supreme Court’s directions of 2006 have been treated with contempt
  • The modernisation of police, in fact, suffered a setback when, following the 14th Finance Commission’s recommendations and increase in the share of states’ revenues, the Centre delegated the responsibility to the state governments
  • The “SMART” police conceptualised by the prime minister is nowhere to be seen, thanks to the indifference of the state governments.

Condition of the Central Armed forces not the best

  • There are rumblings of discontent, particularly in the BSF and CRPF, over the quality of leadership at different levels, promotional opportunities, irrational deployments, inadequate infrastructure in insurgency-affected states and aspects of service conditions

Intelligence in doldrums

  • Intelligence at the state level is generally in doldrums
  • Implementation of the coastal security scheme has been tardy
  • The National Counter Terrorism Centre has been conveniently forgotten.

The threat from terrorism continues to escalate

  • There is a concerted move to see that Assam is engulfed in turbulence in the same way as it happened in Kashmir in 1989
  • The ISI is working on this plan and is said to be coordinating strategies with radical elements among the Rohingyas and illegal Bangladeshi immigrants in Assam
  • Al Qaeda had declared its plans to intensify its activities in Assam as far back as 2014
  • The Jamaat-ul-Mujahideen Bangladesh has been steadily setting up units in Assam as well as West Bengal
  • Chief of Jamiat Ulema-e-Hind, recently said that Assam will burn if 50 lakh Muslims were left out of the National Register of Citizens.
  • In WB and Kerala, the ruling establishment has been following policies which have emboldened the fundamentalists
  • In J&K, the Pakistan-sponsored terrorist groups, particularly Jaish-e-Mohammad and Lashkar-e-Toiba, are determined to keep the pot boiling
  • The release of Lashkar chief, Hafiz Saeed, on the eve of 26/11 is ominous and betrays Pakistan’s continued support to cross-border terrorism.

IS ideology

  • The ministry of home affairs has been complimenting itself over the small number of Muslims who have joined the Islamic State but, as pointed out by several experts, even a small percentage of Muslims in India gravitating to the ideology would be a formidable number and pose a serious challenge to the security of the state

Suggestions

  • It is high time that the security architecture is revamped
  • The Government of India recently approved a Rs 25,000 crore scheme to strengthen the law and order apparatus
  • It will have to be ensured that money is utilised for the purpose for which it has been sanctioned
  • The Centre must initiate measures to move “police” to the Concurrent List of the Seventh Schedule of the Constitution
  • The anti-terror law would also need to be given more teeth

Conclusion

India has repeatedly given a call at international fora for united efforts to combat terrorism. However, first we must set our own house in order. Even otherwise, the future of democracy and our capacity to sustain the momentum of economic progress would depend in no small measure on our ability to reinforce and strengthen internal security.

Terror games(Indian Express Opinion) 

Context

Hafiz Saeed walks free again, posing another question mark on Pakistan’s commitment to tackle extremism

Backdrop

  • This was the seventh time that Saeed, head of the terrorist Jamaat-ud-Dawa/Lashkar-e-Toiba, was arrested, and the sixth time he was released by the Lahore High Court
  • Saeed, who was designated under the UN Security Council’s 1267 resolution, and further, carries a $10 million US bounty, was placed under house arrest at the end of January 2017

Reactions within Pakistan

  • Then minister of defence of Pakistan, said he could “pose a serious threat to society”
  • The Pakistan Army said Saeed was detained in “national interest”
  • The house arrest came days after US President’s inauguration.
  • As US President’s rhetoric against Pakistan grew shriller over the months, Saeed’s detention kept getting extended.

US Connection

  • Notably, the court’s order for his release came a few days after the US Congress dropped the LeT from a provision in a bill linking financial aid to Pakistan with action by Islamabad against terrorist groups
  • The provision now mentions only the Haqqani Network by name

Non-serious Pakistan

  • The timing of this is especially telling — India marks the ninth anniversary of the Mumbai attacks on Sunday
  • The trial of those arrested by Pakistan’s Federal Investigation Agency, all members of LeT, remains pending
  • If Pakistan could fast track this case even now, something could be salvaged in relations between the two countries

Conclusion

Pakistan says it is the worst victim of terrorism It only underlines that there is nothing to be gained by differentiating between “good” and “bad” terrorists.

Doval for cooperation on cybersecurity(The Hindu) 

Context

National Security Adviser Ajit Doval said all stakeholders, including States and the private sector, need to cooperate to mitigate the negative effects of cyberspace, especially amid emergence of technologies such as artificial intelligence and internet of things

Key Point

  • Faster exchange of information key

Suggestions

  • The security agencies of geographies also need to have better cooperation and they should have very specific cybersecurity structure which are able to do faster exchange of information, identify the defaulters, to see against them give support to law enforcement agencies so that the cybernorms and laws are adhered to

Artificial intelligence

  • The situation would get more complex as “we are entering into domain of artificial intelligence, machine learning, IoTs, robotics… are going to create and compound these problems manifold. So we have got to… think of the structures, systems, methodologies, inter-operability, governmental support, multilateral and bilateral cooperation, which will be able to cope

Caution warranted

  • Never before has there been any change which is so wide in its expanse, and which can affect the lives of so many people… [but] if it provides you global connectivity, it also provides global connectivity to terrorists and criminals. It also provides connectivity to the people who want to subvert the minds and hearts of young generation and take them to a certain path of thinking,

Social Issues:

 States of healthcare(The Indian Express)

Context

Data from Global Burden of Disease study will help states chart their individual trajectories. They need to beef up disease monitoring systems?

The Global Burden of Disease study 

  • It was initiated 26 years ago to chart the changing patterns of disease-related death and disability from 1990 onwards
  • Since then, estimates are periodically provided for years of life lost to premature mortality as well as for years of disease-related disability that is weighted for severity
  • DALYs: A combined measure of these two metrics is expressed as the loss of Disability Adjusted Life Years (DALYs) attributable to any disease or risk factor. In recent years, national and sub-national estimates are emerging to provide greater focus to action within countries.

Indian Effort

  • The first-of-its-kind Indian effort to map state-level disease burdens was undertaken by over 1,000 experts led by Lalit Dandona of the Public Health Foundation of India, in partnership with the Indian Council of Medical Research and the team that leads the global study
  • The results, highlight significant trends common to all states as well as important differences between them

Results of the Indian Study

Life expectancy

  • Life expectancy at birth improved in India from 59.7 years in 1990 to 70.3 years in 2016 for females, and from 58.3 years to 66.9 years for males
  • However, life expectancy of women in Uttar Pradesh is 12 years lower than that of women in Kerala, while the life expectancy of men in Assam is 10 years lower than that of men in Kerala

Per person disease burden

  • The per person disease burden, from all causes, dropped by 36 per cent in the same period
  • However, there was an almost two-fold difference between the states in 2016, with Assam, Uttar Pradesh, and Chhattisgarh having the highest rates, and Kerala and Goa the lowest rates

Under-five mortality rate

  • The under-five mortality rate has reduced substantially in all states in these 25 years
  • But there was a four-fold difference in this rate between the highest, in Assam and Uttar Pradesh, as compared with the lowest in Kerala in 2016

Child and maternal malnutrition

  • Despite a decline from 1990 levels, child and maternal malnutrition remains the single largest risk factor, contributing to 15 per cent of the disease burden in 2016
  • With its under-five mortality six times higher than Sri Lanka and burden of child and maternal malnutrition 12 times higher than in China, India has wide gaps to bridge.

Communicable, maternal, neonatal, and nutritional diseases

  • Communicable, maternal, neonatal, and nutritional diseases contributed to 61 per cent of India’s disease burden in 1990
  • This dropped to 33 per cent in 2016.

Non-communicable diseases

  • But the share of non-communicable diseases in the disease burden increased from 30 per cent in 1990 to 55 per cent in 2016, and that of injuries increased from 9 per cent to 12 per cent
  • While all states show this trend, Kerala, Goa, and Tamil Nadu have the largest dominance of non-communicable diseases and injuries over infectious and associated diseases, whereas this ratio is much lower in Bihar, Jharkhand, Uttar Pradesh, and Rajasthan.

Causes of Disease Burden

  • Five of the 10 individual leading causes of the disease burden in India in 2016 are a carry-over of past threats:
  • Diarrhoeal diseases, lower respiratory infections, iron-deficiency anaemia, neonatal pre-term birth, tuberculosis
  • Though the disease burden due to poor water and sanitation decreased in these 25 years, the per capita burden due to these factors is 40 times that in China.

Earlier Causes

  • In 2016, three of the five leading individual causes of disease burden in India were non-communicable, with ischaemic heart disease and chronic obstructive pulmonary disease being the top two causes and stroke the fifth leading cause
  • A group of risks including unhealthy diet, high blood pressure, high blood sugar, high cholesterol, and overweight, which mainly contribute to ischaemic heart disease, stroke and diabetes, caused about 25 per cent of the total disease burden in India in 2016, up from about 10 per cent in 1990
  • Ambient air pollution and household air pollution both rank high as risk factors in 2016, the former rising and the latter declining in the past 25 years.

Variations between states

  • There were large variations between states in the degree to which these risks are rising
  • States in early stages of the health transition were coping with both the persisting challenge of infectious, nutritional and pregnancy-related health threats and the rising magnitude of non-communicable diseases
  • States in the advanced stage of the transition were grappling largely with non-communicable disorders

What now?

  • These data, of time trends and inter- state variations, highlight the need to develop specific strategies to address the major contributors to disease burden within each state
  • Disaggregated data, as provided in the recent report, will help to tailor customised state-level responses while summated time trends will help the National Health Policy to set and track the progress towards country-level targets
  • Since the present report provides modelled estimates derived from multiple and often limited data sets, it is imperative to strengthen vital registration mechanisms and beef up disease and risk factor surveillance systems in every state.

Conclusion

The broad national agenda should be elimination of malnutrition, reduction of child and maternal mortality, control of infectious diseases and containment of risk factors contributing to non-communicable diseases. This report provides each state the GPS to chart their individual journeys towards those goals, from different starting points.

Who’s hiding behind Padmavati?(Indian Express) 

Context

The violent assertion of Hindu masculinity is masked as concern for a woman

Sati being Evangelised

  • All disputes about history and myth are about the present. Nearly two centuries after sati was abolished, the myth of a woman who embraced death to protect medieval honour is being evangelised by an upper-caste establishment. Madhya Pradesh Chief Minister has hailed her as “rashtramata Padmavati”, the mother of the nation.

Repressing Freedom of Women

In India today, the clan and the community are more powerful than the individual

Current Events

  • We have seen the marriage of a 25-year-old annulled by a court because she was once Akhila and now Hadiya, who chose to marry a Muslim
  • In Kerala, again, Shruti Meledath was confined to a “reconversion centre” that coerces Hindu women who have relationships with men of other religions to “return” to the fold
  • Sanal Kumar Sasidharan’s film, S Durga, was first refused a CBFC certificate and dropped from the IFFI, without explanation. The ministry of information and broadcasting went to court to stop its screening. The film follows the journey of a Muslim man, Kabeer, and his Hindu girlfriend, Durga, on a road trip through misogynistic India.
  • Politics: The political imagination that has tarred all inter-faith love as “love jihad” is doubling down on all forms of expression and imagination. It is especially troubled by women’s sexual choices.

The Irony: Patriarchal Deception

  • The men fighting for Padmavati and threatening the actress with bodily harm. But that is the very nature of patriarchal deception
  • It pretends to protect women when its agenda is to control and subjugate her, to decide who she can have a relationship with and whether she can board a bus alone to go to college
  • It pretends to place her on a pedestal and worship her, when it is building a wall, or maybe a pyre, around her

Questions Galore: The Real Issue

  • In a country with a shocking record on gender equity, who is worried about the real-life Padmavatis? What of the Padmini struggling to be born in Rajasthan, a state with an appalling sex ratio? What of the girl who has managed to enter college, despite all the odds stacked against her?

What needs to be done?

  • These flesh-and-blood women don’t need the protection of Kshatriyas.
  • They need the right to health, equality and justice, which a feudal order has always denied them — and which a democratically-elected government owes them
  • They need the freedom to make their own sexual choices.

Conclusion

For these young women of India, Rani Padmavati is best left behind as a myth, mothballed and made obsolete. They have many more tales of courage to write

Indian Constitution and Polity:

Plea contests jury trial in Parsi special courts(The Hindu) 

Context

Half a century after the case of a young Parsi war veteran, Commander K.M. Nanavati, sounded the death knell for the jury system in India, the Supreme Court on Friday agreed to take up the case of a Parsi woman, who has challenged the jury system still followed by her community’s special matrimonial courts as a violation of her fundamental right to life and dignity.

Backdrop

A petition filed by 33-year-old Naomi Sam Irani of Panchgani in Maharashtra against the pre-Independence Parsi Marriage and Divorce Act of 1936, which provides an opportunity for the “local Parsi people” to voice their opinion as jury on the family and marital affairs of an estranged couple

Triple Talaq referred

The counsel for Ms. Irani referred to how the apex court intervened on the behalf of Muslim women to strike down triple talaq as a practice in violation of their fundamental rights of life and dignity.

Against Privacy

Ms. Irani argued that involving the local populace in an intensely private dispute is a gross violation of her fundamental right to privacy.

Pre-independence era

The Act under challenge has been enacted in the pre-independence era, which also pre-dates the abolishment of the jury system in the jurisprudence of the country

Family Courts Act

Though the Parliament had enacted the Family Courts Act in 1984, the Parsi community is compelled to take their matrimonial disputes to the special courts, namely Parsi Chief Matrimonial Courts and the Parsi District Matrimonial Courts, established under the 1936 Act.

No Freedom

Even then,  the 1936 Act does not allow a woman the freedom to file her divorce case in the Parsi matrimonial court in her neighbourhood.

The mandates of natural justice(The Hindu Opinion) 

Context

Questions for the judiciary on the anniversary of India’s adoption of its Constitution

Purpose in designating 26th November as Law Day (Constitution Day)

  • To emphasise the role and importance of law in the life of our Republic
  • To review the state of law and administration of justice, to suggest ways and means of improving our laws and our legal and judicial system
  • To establish better and more meaningful equations between the Bench and the Bar
  • To strengthen the principle of the independence of the judiciary… and to maintain, reinforce and augment public confidence in our legal and judicial system

A necessary appraisal

  • A first information report in which a retired Orissa High Court judge, I.M. Quddusi, was implicated for allegedly taking bribes to secure favourable orders from the Supreme Court. These matters which Justice Quddusi is alleged to have claimed he could fix were heard by a bench presided by the Chief Justice of India (CJI)

Justice seen to be done?

If we were to view the controversy rationally, the entire issue ought to boil down to these questions:

  • Under what circumstances does a litigant’s claim in court translate into a claim that interests a judge? Does the CJI ever have a duty to recuse himself as the “master of the roster”?

Guided by precedent

  • To determine these questions, the court has no explicitly binding rules to apply; it’s guided partly by precedent, but mostly by discretion. In ordinary circumstances, this discretion would be governed by the general principle expressed by Lord Chief Justice Hewart of the King’s Bench nearly 100 years ago: that “justice should not only be done, but should manifestly and undoubtedly be seen to be done.”

Petition dismissed

  • But, on November 14, when a three-judge bench constituted by the CJI, which included a judge who had originally heard the cases that Justice Quddusi claimed he could influence, conducted a hearing, it barely considered the basic tenets of this principle. Instead, it dismissed Ms. Jaiswal’s petition, as an attempt at “bringing disrepute” to the court. What’s more, the bench also held that the petitioner’s request for a recusal by one of the judges hearing the case amounted virtually to a contempt of the court.

The Gajendragadkar way

  • Here, it may have been instructive for the court to hark back to an incident from August 1964, when a group of intervenors represented by the lawyer Purushottam Trikamdas — a ‘tiger’ at the bar, by Fali Nariman’s reckoning — made what was at the time an odd request to a bench presided by the CJI, P.B. Gajendragadkar, which was hearing a case concerning the validity of a Bombay land acquisition law. Gajendragadkar, they argued, should not hear the case, since its outcome would affect a cooperative housing society of which he was a member.

Rajnath to chair meet on Centre-State ties(The Hindu) 

Context

Home Minister Rajnath Singh will chair a meeting of the Standing Committee of the Inter-State Council (ISC)  to discuss the recommendations made by the Punchhi Commission on Centre-State relations.

Punchhi Commission

  • The Government of India constituted a Commission on Centre-State Relations under the chairmanship of Justice Madan Mohan Punchhi, former Chief Justice of India on 27th April 2007 to look into the new issues of Centre-State relations keeping in view the changes that have taken place in the polity and economy of India since the Sarkaria Commission had last looked at the issue of Centre-State relations over two decades ago.
  • The Punchhi Commission submitted its report in 2010
  • Its recommendations pertaining to national security, communal harmony, Centre-State financial relations and planning are expected to be discussed.

ISC

  • The Inter State Council is an Indian constitutional body set up on the basis of provisions in Article 263 of the Constitution of India. The body was formed by a Presidential Order dated 28 May 1990 on recommendation of Sarkaria Commission

Recommendations of the Commission

  • According to the Report ‘National Security’ as a subject was not specifically listed in any of the three Lists: the Union, the State or the Concurrent List.
  • The subject of Security under the Article 352 and under the Emergency Provisions in Part XVIII of the Constitution has been assigned to the Union Government. Though it is an overriding executive power of the Union, in Constitutional practice, however, ‘Security’ is a subject in which the States and the Union have a common interest and are expected to act in a coordinated manner”
  • The Commission also said that in case of communal riots, which has a potential of causing widespread violence within a territory, “the use of Article 355 may be in order.”
  • A clarificatory line in this regard, if required, may be inserted making the provision explicitly clear that the Centre can depute paramilitary forces to such trouble spots in exceptional circumstances even if a request from the State government is not received. The aim has to be to ensure quick control of the situation, bring it back to normal, hand over the area to the local administration as quickly as possible and then withdraw the Central forces.

No fresh polls if NOTA votes exceed candidates’(The Hindu) 

Context

Supreme Court rejects PIL petition, says elections are costly in the country

Petitioners’ View

  • If NOTA got the highest number of votes, it would amount to an expression of public dissatisfaction with the candidates in the fray.
  • If this happened, the result should have to be nullified by the Election Commission.

SC view

  • A voter had the right to express his dissent by staying at home
  • Can’t hold an election each time a candidate gets less than 51% of the votes polled

GS-3


Economy

S&P stands pat on its rating(The Hindu) 

Context

Standard & Poor’s (S&P) retained its BBB- rating for India’s sovereign with a ‘stable’ outlook, belying expectations that it may take a cue from rival Moody’s, which upgraded the country’s credit rating for the first time in 13 years

Factors cited by S&P

  • S&P cited India’s low per capita income, the sizeable fiscal deficit and high general government debt as factors that continue to weigh down the country’s credit profile and reiterated its stable outlook — indicating that the rating is unlikely to see a change in the near future.

BBB- rating

  • A BBB- rating denotes the lowest investment grade rating for India’s sovereign debt.
  • Despite one-off factors like demonetisation and the introduction of the Goods and Services Tax denting growth for two quarters, S&P expects India’s economy to grow robustly over the two-year period from 2018-20 with foreign exchange reserves rising further.

Rationale for the Rating: Low wealth levels

  • Ratings are constrained by India’s low wealth levels, measured by GDP per capita, which estimate at close to $2,000 in 2017, the lowest of all investment-grade sovereigns that S&P rates
  • India’s GDP growth rate is among the fastest of all investment-grade sovereigns, and  S&P expects real GDP to average 7.6% over 2017-2020

Moody’s Rating

  • By contrast, Moody’s had raised India’s sovereign rating by one notch, citing the country’s high growth potential compared with similarly rated peers and economic and institutional reforms that had been undertaken or were in the pipeline
  • Key difference: S&P would like to see the results of the reforms initiated before a ratings revision while Moody’s has taken the call based on the reforms initiated

Electoral gains

  • S&P said the government’s reform agenda could be bolstered by electoral gains for the ruling coalition

Reforms Noted

  • Reforms to address long-standing impediments to the country’s growth’ such as GST, the Bankruptcy Code and a framework for resolving bad loans while recapitalising state-owned banks, S&P also referred to the government’s focus on improving the ease of doing business as a positive for the investment climate

Teething Problems

  • The July 1, 2017, introduction of the GST, which combines the central, state, and local-level indirect taxes into one, has also led to some one-off teething problems that have dampened growth

In the medium term

  • In the medium term, the growth will be supported by the planned recapitalisation of state-owned banks, which is likely to spur on new lending within the economy
  • Public-sector-led infrastructure investment, notably in the road sector, will also stimulate economic activity, while private consumption will remain robust
  • The removal of barriers to domestic trade tied to the imposition of GST should also support GDP growth

Fallacious arguments by S&P?

  • Chief economic adviser at the State Bank of India, said S&P’s rating action was not unexpected going by history but questioned its comments on India’s per capita income
  •  The argument given by S&P that India has low per capita income which is acting as a detractor from the sovereign rating upgrade, is fallacious as Indonesia which was upgraded seven times between 2002 and 2011 had a low per-capita GDP of $1,066 in 2003 when its credit rating was upgraded and India’s GDP per capita is now $1,709.4

Capital Infusion needed for PSBs

  • The rating agency estimated public sector banks would need a capital infusion of about $30 billion to make large haircuts on loans to viable stressed projects and meet the rising capital requirements under the Basel III norms

Constraints on India’s Rating

  • The bank capitalisation program and the planned ramp-up in public-sector-led infrastructure investments as well as persistent fiscal deficits at the State level would have a bearing on India’s large general government debt and overall weak public finances,  these continued to constrain India’s ratings.

Centre to seek 20,000 MW of solar bids(The Hindu) 

Context

2,000 MW of wind power auction announced; solar manufacturing EoIs coming

What

  • The government is planning bids for a total of 20,000 MW of solar energy plants projects in this financial year, of which 3,600 MW have already been completed
  • The Ministry is planning bids for 30,000 MW of solar projects in 2018-19 and 2019-20, each. In wind energy, the Centre announced the third wind power auction of 2,000 MW, the largest of its kind in India so far

Solar Component Manufacturing

Government would soon invite expressions of interest for the setting up of end-to-end solar component manufacturing in India of 20 GW capacity

SEC

Solar Energy Corporation of India (SECI) will invite two separate bids for 3,000 MW of solar projects in December 2017 and January 2018 each

NTPC

NTPC is to invite a bid for 5,000 MW of solar projects in February 2018, and another 6,000 MW will be bid out in March 2018 by SECI and other Central PSUs

50% of 2022 target met

In wind energy, the Ministry said it had already received bids for 32 GW of projects, which is more than 50% of the 60 GW target set for 2022 The government is expecting bids for a total of 8-9 GW this year, and 10 GW each in 2018-19 and 2019-20.

No proof required: Making RBI accountable(Indian Express) 

Context

The first year of operation of the Monetary Policy Committee has imposed considerable costs on the economy with very few benefits. What explains its decisions?

Facts today

The CPI inflation this fiscal year, at 2.7 per cent, is the lowest in the last 40 years, real policy rates are the highest in the last 14 years and industrial production, the fifth lowest in 21 years. GDP growth is at sub-6 per cent levels, from an 8.5 per cent level just two years ago

Controversial decision of the MPC to stubbornly raise the real repo rate

One of the most cited reasons for the RBI being so obstinate in not lowering real repo rates is that the MPC, being a new institution, had to show its independence from the Centre. Then why, just one month into the job, did the MPC cut rates in October 2016?

MPC defended its action as follows: Last month (August 2016) inflation data came in at 5 per cent, the repo rate is at 6.5 per cent, and unlike Raghuram Rajan, the MPC believes that the appropriate real repo rate for the Indian economy, in a world of declining and low inflation, is 1.25 per cent, some 50 basis points lower than the Rajan rate

Possible Explanation: One popular explanation for the MPC acting in this high-handed manner is that it was “forced” into the decision of demonetisation, much against its wishes. However, it is very unlikely that RBI Governor Urjit Patel was not told about the impending demonetisation — we know that Rajan knew, and opposed, it. We can easily infer that if Patel had opposed demonetisation, he would not have accepted the job.

Gainers

Gainers — behind the MPC scene:

  • It is easy to identify the winners with real rates being the third highest in the world (behind Brazil and Russia)
  • The regulator (RBI) sets real interest rates so high that bankers find it worthwhile to safely loan to the government by buying more government securities than mandated by the SLR
  • Presently, the banks’ share of government securities is about 10 percentage points higher than mandated

Foreign Investors

The second group that benefits are foreign investors: They borrow at less than 2 per cent in their home countries, buy Indian government bonds (thanks to the MPC) yielding an exorbitant 7 per cent, do not hedge exposures, and laugh their way to the bank.

Political Opposition

  • The third group that benefits from high real interest rates is the political Opposition.
  • You have to be living in a cave not to have noticed the spring in the step of every Opposition politician since the announcement, end of August, of 5.7 per cent GDP growth
  • This ammunition is just in time for state elections
  •  It is universally-acknowledged that PM Narendra Modi’s popularity remains very high; also universally accepted is the fact that the only way for the Opposition to dent this popularity is if India has slow GDP growth, and low employment growth
  • And it is also universally acknowledged that employment and GDP growth are correlated — that is high real interest rates are an important cause of low GDP growth.
  • Not so curiously, the political opposition failed to mention RBI policy in their critical comments about the effect of demonetisation on GDP growth. The opposition chose to mention the tail (demonetisation) affecting growth, and not the biggest elephant (high interest rates) obstructing GDP growth.

Losers from MPC actions

  • Losers from MPC policy are the Indian economy, the Indian government, and the politicians in charge of the economy
  • In addition, interest payments are affected by RBI policy, and such payments account for over 96 per cent of the budgeted fiscal deficit for 2017-18; in 2015/16, they accounted for “only” 83 per cent.

Conclusion

The independence of the RBI, and MPC, is sacrosanct. But other countries have also encountered the problem of an institution not adhering to its mandate, going astray as it were. The most prominent example of an independent institution being made answerable to the people is the US FED

Science and Technology:

Sagardhwani retraces historic Indian Ocean expedition routes(The Hindu) 

Context

Marine acoustic research vessel INS Sagardhwani is riding a wave of history that charted the course of oceanographic research in the Indian Ocean.

What

Research to look at impact of monsoon and human activity on marine resources

INS Sagardhwani

The Kochi-based ship, operated by the Navy and equipped with eight scientific laboratories, recently joined an international campaign to revisit the first major interdisciplinary ‘International Indian Ocean Exploration (IIOE)’ undertaken by 13 countries with 46 vessels in the 1960s

History

Indian Naval Ships Kistna and Varuna had taken part in the expedition held under the United Nations

Kistna

  • Kistna, a frigate which was converted for ocean surveys for want of a dedicated vessel for the purpose, had conducted 29 cruises carrying scientists from various organisations, including the then fledgling Naval Physical and Oceanographic Laboratory (NPOL), a DRDO laboratory which now owns the state-of-the-art Sagardhwani.
  • The massive drive also covered a large part of the Arabian Sea and the Bay of Bengal, including the coastal seas
  • Sagardhwani’s present cruise retraces certain routes followed by Kistna in its mission that lasted till 1965. Between November 17 and 20, Sagardhwani followed the sixth cruise track of Kistna in the southern Bay of Bengal in 1963.

IIOE-2

  • As the ongoing commemorative expedition is known, is organised by the Intergovernmental Oceanographic Commission (IOC) under the UN.
  • It hopes to furthering the scientific community’s understanding of the Indian Ocean biophysical variability in response to monsoon and human activity
  • A total of 52 nations are taking part in IIOE-2, carrying out oceanographic research in designated areas in the Indian Ocean.

IIOE-1

  • It was a watershed event for ocean research in India
  • Four Indian vessels, including two small trawlers, from Kochi, had taken part in it
  • But it triggered the formation of several ocean-based research institutions in India like the NIO, NIOT, INCOIS and NCAOR & ocean studies departments in various universities
  • The event was among the factors instrumental in rechristening the Indian Naval Physical Laboratory in 1968 to NPOL

In Future

  • Between now and 2020, the DRDO would be carrying out extensive scientific research along four tracks covered by Kistna in the maiden expedition
  • The research carried out by NPOL scientists on Sagardhwani has been immensely useful in enabling a better understanding of our littoral (relating to or situated on the shore of the sea or a lake) waters as well as the seabed, which are of vital maritime and security interest to India
  • A monograph on the scientific contributions of Sagardhwani over the past two decades was brought out in August this year, when the ship completed its 200th scientific mission.

World’s smallest tape recorder built from bacteria(The Hindu) 

Context

Researchers have converted a natural bacterial immune system into the world’s smallest data recorder, laying the groundwork for a new class of technologies that use bacterial cells for everything from disease diagnosis to environmental monitoring

CRISPR-Cas

  • The Team created the microscopic data recorder by taking advantage of CRISPR-Cas, an immune system in many species of bacteria
  • CRISPR-Cas copies snippets of DNA from invading viruses so that subsequent generations of bacteria can repel these pathogens more effectively.
  • As a result, the CRISPR locus of the bacterial genome accumulates a chronological record of the bacterial viruses that it and its ancestors have survived
  • When those same viruses try to infect again, the CRISPR-Cas system can recognise and eliminate them.

E Coli

The researchers at the Columbia University Medical Center (CUMC) in the US modified an ordinary laboratory strain of the ubiquitous human gut microbe Escherichia coli, enabling the bacteria to not only record their interactions with the environment but also time-stamp the events

How it works

  • To build their microscopic recorder, the researchers modified a piece of DNA called a plasmid, giving it the ability to create more copies of itself in the bacterial cell in response to an external signal.
  • A separate recording plasmid, which drives the recorder and marks time, expresses components of the CRISPR-Cas system.
  • In the absence of an external signal, only the recording plasmid is active, and the cell adds copies of a spacer sequence to the CRISPR locus in its genome.
  • When an external signal is detected by the cell, the other plasmid is also activated, leading to insertion of its sequences instead.
  • The result is a mixture of background sequences that record time and signal sequences that change depending on the cell’s environment.
  • The researchers can then examine the bacterial CRISPR locus and use computational tools to read the recording and its timing.

Earlier

Synthetic biologists have previously used CRISPR to store poems, books, and images in DNA, but this is the first time CRISPR has been used to record cellular activity and the timing of those events

Applications

  • Such bacteria, swallowed by a patient, might be able to record the changes they experience through the whole digestive tract, yielding an unprecedented view of previously inaccessible phenomena
  • Environmental sensing and basic studies in ecology and microbiology, where bacteria could monitor otherwise invisible changes without disrupting their surroundings
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