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GS- 1


Geography

A cyclone called Ockhi — why this is raising such an unusual storm

Context

Cyclones are no strangers to the Indian coast, our east coast in particular witnessing several cyclonic storms each year. Yet, Ockhi, the latest powerful cyclone, is unlike other recent ones

Where do cyclones originate in India?

In India cyclones originate in both the Bay of Bengal and the Arabian Sea sides of the northern Indian Ocean; there is much more frequency on the Bay of Bengal side though, especially of the stronger cyclones — in fact, the Bay of Bengal side witnesses four times more cyclones than the Arabian Sea side on average

Where did Ockhi originate?

Ockhi originated near the south-western coast of Sri Lanka, and travelled very near the southern-most tip of the Indian mainland, along the coasts of Tamil Nadu and Kerala, towards the Lakshadweep islands, where it was at its most powerful

  • It weakened considerably after that and continued further, taking a north-easterly turn towards the Maharashtra and Gujarat coastlines —cyclones in this area are not a common phenomenon

Why does the Bay of Bengal have more cyclones than the Arabian Sea?

Meteorologists say

  • Colder waters of Arabian Sea: The relatively colder waters of the Arabian Sea are not conducive to the formation and intensification of cyclones
  • Typhoons from the Pacific ocean: Additionally, the eastern coast of India receives cyclones that form not just in the Bay of Bengal, mostly around the Andaman Sea near the Andaman and Nicobar Islands, but also those travelling from the Pacific Ocean, where the frequency of ‘typhoons’, as these are called there, is quite high. Most of these cyclones weaken considerably after encountering a big landmass. Therefore, these do not travel to the Arabian Sea side. The western coast of India thus witnesses only those cyclones that originate locally or the ones, like Ockhi, that travel from the Indian Ocean near Sri Lanka

Severity of cyclonic storms

Cyclones are categorized by the maximum wind speed they generate

Type Wind Speed (Kmph)
Very Severe Cyclonic Storm B/w 155 and 165
Extremely Sever Cyclonic Storm B/w 165 and 220
Super-Cyclones > 220

Example:

  • The most famous instance of a ‘super-cyclone’ was the one that hit the coast of Odisha in October 1999. It was the strongest-ever cyclone recorded in that area, with wind speeds touching 260 km per hour. It was also the most devastating cyclone to have hit India
  • The 2013 Phailin cyclone very nearly got categorized as a super-cyclone. It had maximum wind speeds of around 220 km per hour

Ockhi’s windspeed

Ockhi had wind speeds between 155 and 165 km per hour, touching the upper border for ‘very severe cyclonic storm’

Cyclone forecasts by the IMD in the recent past have been made five to six days in advance, thereby minimizing the damage caused — was the IMD late in issuing a warning for Ockhi?

How early the forecast is depends on how far we are from the place where the cyclone is emerging. Many of the big cyclones in recent years, like Phailin in 2013, Hudhud in 2014 or Vardah in 2016, developed near the Andaman Sea. From there, it took those cyclones about five to six days to hit the Andhra Pradesh or Odisha coasts

How do cyclones form?

Tropical cyclones require certain conditions for their formation.  These are

  • A source of warm, moist air derived from tropical oceans with sea surface temperature normally near to or in excess of 27 °C
  • Winds near the ocean surface blowing from different directions converging and causing air to rise and storm clouds to form
  • Winds which do not vary greatly with height – known as low wind shear. This allows the storm clouds to rise vertically to high levels;
  • Coriolis force / spin induced by the rotation of the Earth. The formation mechanisms vary across the world, but once a cluster of storm clouds starts to rotate, it becomes a tropical depression. If it continues to develop it becomes a tropical storm, and later a cyclone/ super cyclone

Naming of Cyclones

  • Tropical cyclones are named to provide ease of communication between forecasters and the general public regarding forecasts and warnings. Since the storms can often last a week or even longer and more than one cyclone can be occurring in the same region at the same time, names can reduce the confusion about what storm is being described.
  • Names were first used in World War II and were subsequently adopted by all regions. In most regions pre-determined alphabetic lists of alternating male and female names are used. However, in the north-west Pacific the majority of names used are not personal names. While there are a few male and female names, majority are names of flowers, animals, birds, trees, foods or descriptive adjectives. By the mid-1960s names were used for all tropical storms except those in the North Indian Ocean . The names currently in use and those to be used in future years are listed.  Various meteorological organisations have responsibility of naming them.
  • The names of cyclones in Indian Seas are not allocated in alphabetical order, but are arranged by the name of the country which contributed the name. It is usual practice for a storm to be named when it reaches tropical storm strength (winds of 34 knots).The list of names to be used for the North Indian Seas is given below:

The names selected for North Indian Ocean cyclones from 2004 onwards

Cyclone names (Source: IMD Website)


GS-2


Polity and governance

The gag on free speech 

Context

Recent actions by the Indian judiciary suggest a trend of creeping censorship

What has happened?

  • A special Central Bureau of Investigation (CBI) Court, hearing the Sohrabuddin Sheikh and Tulsiram Prajapati fake encounter cases, has issued a gag order prohibiting the press from reporting on the court proceedings
  • This order, allegedly issued at the behest of the lawyers for the defence has come only a few days after the Allahabad High Court gagged the media from reporting on an ongoing case concerning an alleged instance of hate speech by the Chief Minister of Uttar Pradesh, Yogi Adityanath, in 2007, who was then a Bharatiya Janata Party parliamentarian from Gorakhpur, Uttar Pradesh

Author’s contention

These two instances, which are not isolated, are representative of an alarming trend of creeping judicial censorship, increasingly across large domains

Growing trend

Instances which indicate a growing trend of judicial censorship,

  • Constitution of a committee to recommend cuts to a satirical film called “Jolly LLB 2”
  • The Madras High Court telling condom manufacturers to have the illustrations on their packets cleared by the Advertising Standards Council of India
  • The Supreme Court directing cinema halls to play the national anthem before the screening of every movie

However, the CBI Court and the Allahabad High Court’s gag orders, are significantly more serious because they strike at the heart of our system of democratic governance. Why?

The task of courts under the Constitution is to deliver justice, and a functional democracy is defined by a justice system that is open, transparent, and, above all, public

The authority of judges and courts originates not from popular consent and periodic elections, but from their loyalty to the laws and the Constitution, and the strength and quality of their legal reasoning. For these reasons, “secret justice” — bringing to mind the infamous trials of the Star Chamber in medieval England — is a paradox in terms

How SC played an enabling role in wrt gag orders in question?

In 2012, the Supreme Court held that in certain circumstances, courts could pass “postponement orders” barring coverage of specific judicial proceedings. The court framed the issue as requiring a balancing of two competing rights: the right to free speech, and the right to a fair trial. Observing that sometimes excessive publicity could jeopardize a fair trial, the court held that to the extent it was reasonable and proportionate, “prior restraints” on court reporting could be imposed.

Problem with SC’s rationale

  • A judge is immune against Media trials: e idea that “media trials” might distort the outcomes of cases makes sense in a jury system, where guilt or innocence is decided by a jury of twelve men and women who do not possess specialised legal training, and need to be immunised from undue forms of influence
    • No jury trials in India: In India, however, we abolished jury trials more than 40 years ago, and it is judges now who decide cases on their own. Judges, by definition, are not only supposed to apply the law but also have to have the relevant training and temperament to apply the law regardless of whatever public outcry that might exist outside the courtroom
    • The argument for fair trial, therefore, displays a startling lack of faith in the judiciary’s own ability to decide controversial cases objectively
  • Failure to set limits, scope of subjecitivty: The 2012 Supreme Court judgment failed to adequately limit the kinds of cases in which these exceptional “postponement orders” could be passed; it failed to limit the duration for which they could be passed
    • In fact, by using subjective words such as “reasonable” and “proportionate”, it left the door wide open for future courts to issue sweeping gag orders, insulating themselves from public reporting and, thereby, public criticism. It has the potential to transform into a gag writ

Impact of such SC orders

Author, rightly states that, the trial courts and the High Courts also take their cue from the Supreme Court, which is the ultimate driver of jurisprudence so SC should be very careful in what decisions come out of its ramparts

So, how to deal with misreporting of court proceedings?

  • Contempt of courts act: There are laws to deal with inaccurate reporting, especially the Contempt of Courts Act, which the judiciary has never shied away from invoking
  • Making proceedings public: Make written transcripts and audio or video recordings of court proceedings available to the public

Emergency cases

Author states that in cases where inaccurate reporting could cause imminent damage, a temporary halt on reporting could be justifiable, but it should be limited to a single hearing, and only in the most exceptional of situations

Conclusion

The CBI Court and the Allahabad High Court’s gag orders demonstrate an urgent need for some conscious course-correction by the judiciary. They come with a democratic cost that is simply too high to pay: sunlight, they say, is the best disinfectant. Often, it is the only disinfectant

Social Issues

Capturing crime — on the NCRB data for 2016 

Context

NCRB Data for 2016

Author’s contention

The National Crime Records Bureau data for 2016 on two important aspects, violent crime and crime against women, should prompt State governments to make a serious study of the underlying causes

Data

Not all States are equally affected from violent crimes and crimes against women

  • Uttar Pradesh and Bihar record the maximum number of murders
  • The national tally on crimes against women, which includes rape, abduction, assault and cruelty by husband and relatives, is up by 2.9% over that of 2015
  • There is a distinct urban geography as well for violence against women, with Delhi and Mumbai appearing the least safe: Delhi recorded a rate of crime that is more than twice the national average
  • Murder rate akin to 1950s: The murder rate today has declined to the level prevailing in the 1950s, which was 2.7 per 100000 people, after touching a peak of 4.62 in 1992
    • Regional variations: But that macro figure conceals regional variations, witnessed in U.P. and Bihar, where 4,889 and 2,581 murder incidents took place during 2016, respectively, while it was 305 in densely populated Kerala.

Reduction in crime

  • Public places should be made safer for women
  • Educating juveniles: A focussed programme to universalise education and skills training would potentially keep juveniles from coming into conflict with the law
  • Modernizing the police, recruiting the right candidates and teaching them to uphold human rights will also help
  • The orders of the Supreme Court on police reforms issued in 2006 have not been implemented in letter and spirit by all States. They should be implemented precisely
  • Elimination of political interference in the working of police. This would lead to a reduction in crimes committed with impunity and raise public confidence in the criminal justice delivery system

Data improvement

As a measure of data improvement, it should be mandatory to record not just the principal offence in a case, as the NCRB does, and list all cognizable offences separately

Conclusion

Rather than view the available data passively, governments would do well to launch serious studies that result in policies and measures for freedom from violence

A misleading hunger index:

Context

In its calculations, the Global Hunger Index assigns a disproportionate value to child undernourishment

What has happened?

Recently, International Food Policy Research Institute released Global Hunger Index

IFPRI

The International Food Policy Research Institute (IFPRI) provides research-based policy solutions to sustainably reduce poverty and end hunger and malnutrition in developing countries

Author’s contention

The Global Hunger Index (GHI) prepared by the International Food Policy Research Institute (IFPRI), shows India’s hunger level in very poor light by assigning disproportionate value to child undernourishment

  • A casual reading would create the impression of India being among the worst performers and underachievers in addressing food and nutrition security, closer scrutiny shows that it should not be taken at face value as it is neither appropriate nor representative of hunger prevalent in a country

India’s rank

The 2017 GHI score has India ranked 100 out of the 119 countries listed

Calculation of GHI
The GHI for 2017 is calculated as a weighted average of four standardized indicators

  1. The percentage of population that is undernourished
  2. Percentage of children under five years who suffer from wasting
  3. Percentage of children under five who suffer from stunting
  4. Child mortality

Respective weights

  • Undernourishment and child mortality each make up a third of the GHI score
  • Child stunting and child wasting make up a sixth of the score, and together make up a third of the score

Why the index should be named as ‘Global Hunger and Child Health Index’?

  • Three of the four indicators, refer only to children below five who constitute only 11.5% of India’s population
  • Further, the percentage of the undernourished population is inclusive of undernutrition among children
  • This way, the GHI assigns 70.5% weightage to children below five who constitute only a minor population share and 29.5% weightage to the population above five, which constitutes 81.5% of the total population

Therefore, the term “Hunger Index” is highly biased towards undernutrition of children rather than representing the status of hunger in the overall population. It would be more appropriate to term the conceptualisation and composition of this composite index as a “Global Hunger and Child Health Index” than as a “Global Hunger Index”

Ranking improves in absence of child indicators

As per authors’ calculations, if child health indicators are not included in the GHI, India will move to the 77th spot. India’s ranking in terms of child mortality, child stunting and child wasting is 80, 106 and 117, respectively

Incidence of hunger

The incidence of hunger is taken as the proportion of the population whose food intake provides less than its minimum energy requirements

Minimum energy requirement

There is still inconclusive debate on the cut-off for minimum energy requirement calculation

  • At a global level, the Food and Agriculture Organisation of the United Nations (FAO) has an average norm of 1,800 kcal
  • The Indian Council of Medical Research-National Institute of Nutrition (ICMR-NIN) specified average norm of 2,400 kcal for rural areas and 2,100 kcal for urban areas in India, varies across age, gender and activity-level

Revision of the ICMR norms needed: There is a strong case to revise the ICMR-NIN norms as the actual requirement of energy is decreasing due to a shift towards mechanization and more congenial work conditions and environment

Large variations in data

There is a large difference in the incidence of undernourishment (hunger) reported by the FAO and estimates prepared by various experts. It follows from the large variation in the choice of norm and methodology and data used for such an estimation

NSSO Data: Even rich people undernourished

The unit-level National Sample Survey Office (NSSO) data on Household Consumption Expenditure for the latest year (2011-12) indicate that 72% of India’s population consumed less food than required to meet the calorie norm specified by ICMR-NIN. Applying the ICMR-NIN norm, a significant percentage of the population even in rich income households is undernourished

  • This shows that either the ICMR-NIN norm is on the higher side or these people voluntarily chose to eat less

FAO data

If we apply the FAO norm to the household consumption data of the NSSO, the proportion of the population with calorific deficit was 37.32% in 2004-05 and 29.55% in 2011-12

  • On the other hand, the FAO’s State of Food Security and Nutrition in the World report has placed the incidence of undernourishment in India at 20.9% for 2004-06 and 17.5% for 2010-12. The much lower estimate here is because it overestimates the proportion of food crops used as food and underestimates the share going for non-food uses such as feed and industrial use
  • The FAO approach underestimates hunger and undernutrition in those countries where exact and up-to-date estimates of food output diverted to non-food uses are not available

The FAO norm applied to NSSO data on Household Consumer Expenditure indicates that in 2011-12, about 30% of India was undernourished or suffered from hunger, as per the UN definition of hunger

Conclusion

To avoid confusion about the status of hunger and undernourishment, India should regularly prepare and publish official estimates of hunger, like that of poverty. It will also help in tackling hunger

Disability rights over time:

Context

A quick recap of how legislation for disabled persons has evolved

Disability movement

  • Disability as a social rights issue: The disability rights movement gained momentum in the 1970s when disability was started to be seen as a human rights issue. This is when the UN General Assembly proclaimed in 1976 that 1981 would be the International Year of Disabled Persons
  • UN Decade of Disabled Persons: Later, 1983-1992 was marked as the United Nations Decade of Disabled Persons
  • The UN Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities (UNCRPD), 2006 was a big step towards viewing persons as “subjects with rights” and not “objects of charity”. (India is a signatory to the UNCRPD and ratified it in 2007)
  • SDG: Further, the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development pledges to “leave no one behind”. It states that persons with disabilities must be both “beneficiaries and agents of change”. However, attitudinal, institutional, and infrastructural barriers remain, with the World Bank stating that 15% of the world’s population experience some form of disability and that they “on average, as a group, are more likely to experience adverse socioeconomic outcomes than persons without disabilities”
  • In 2011, the World Health Organisation came up with a world report on disability for the first time. Its introduction showed how disabled persons aren’t “other people”, but that all of us at some point will be “temporarily or permanently impaired” and those “who survive to old age will experience increasing difficulties in functioning.”

Situation in India

In India, according to the 2011 Census, 2.21% of the population has one or multiple types of disabilities, making the country home to one of the largest disabled populations in the world

  • World Bank Data: World Bank data suggest that the numbers are nearly four-five times higher
  • Disabilities act: Legislation moved forward last year in India when the Rights of Persons with Disabilities Act was passed, replacing the Persons with Disabilities Act, 1995
    • The 2016 Act recognises 21 kinds of disabilities compared to the previous seven, including dwarfism, speech and language disability, and three blood disorders
    • The new Act also increased the quota for disability reservation in higher educational institutions from 3% to 5% and in government jobs from 3% to 4%, for a more inclusive society

Poor implementation

However, legislation alone is not enough; implementation remains abysmal

    • Data from the National Centre for Promotion of Employment for Disabled People show that 84% of seats for persons with disabilities lie vacant in top universities

Conclusion

While we have a long way to go in implementing these laws, we must also keep in mind that a one-size-fits-all approach is unhelpful for disabled persons. Levels and types of disabilities differ and so do needs.

International relations

How Chabahar Port could bring India and its partners a new spring

Context

Chabahar Port, inaugurated on Sunday, has been jointly developed by India, Iran and Afghanistan. The port, noted by both Al Biruni and Alexander the Great, could be a game-changer for its developers now

Chabahar

Modern Chabahar came into being in the 1970s. It became strategically important when Tehran realised its value and in the 1980s, during the Iran-Iraq war, it was developed as a strategic-economic port

  • “Chabahar” literally means a place where all four seasons of the year are like spring

What has happened?

The first phase of the port project was inaugurated, which is expected to increase its capacity by over three times

  • 1st phase completed: While the first phase of Chabahar has been completed, India, Iran and Afghanistan are committed to developing the port into a massive project that can handle a cargo of 80 million tonnes — the existing capacity is just 2.5 million tonnes

Background

  • It began in 2002: The story of India’s involvement in the development of Chabahar Port began when Hassan Rouhani, Iran’s National Security Advisor under President Syed Mohammad Khatami, held discussions with his Indian counterpart, Brajesh Mishra, in 2002
  • Agreed upon in 2003: A few months later, in January 2003, when Iran’s President Khatami visited India as the chief guest for the Republic Day celebrations, he and then-Prime Minister Atal Bihari Vajpayee signed on an ambitious roadmap of strategic cooperation. Among the key projects agreed on was Chabahar, which held the potential to link the South Asian subcontinent to the Persian Gulf, Afghanistan, Central Asia and Europe
    • New Delhi declaration: In the New Delhi Declaration they signed, the two leaders recognised that their “growing strategic convergence needs to be underpinned with a strong economic relationship”. In boosting the economic content of ties, the focus was on building transport corridors and deepening energy cooperation

Need for Chabahar

Backdrop: This strategic-economic cooperation between India and Iran took place in the backdrop of both countries being against the Taliban regime

  • To add to that, India’s ambition of reaching Afghanistan — since Pakistan had blocked land transit and access through its territory — fuelled the need for developing the strategic project of Chabahar

Why did Delhi abandon its push for Chabahar?

The then US administration under George Bush declared Iran as one of the “axis of evil” — along with Iraq and North Korea which pushed New Delhi to abandon its strategic relationship with Tehran. Chabahar became an unintended casualty

Gathering Momentum in 2015

While there was a glacial pace in developing the Chabahar project, it gathered momentum in 2015 as the Iran-P-5+1 talks bore fruition and geopolitics took a new direction

  • About three weeks after Iran and world powers announced the framework deal on April 2, 2015, committing themselves to finalising a comprehensive deal by June-end, on April 27-29, 2015, the Afghan President Ashraf Ghani visited India — and stressed the importance of the Chabahar Port
  • Vow to work together: Afghan president and Indian PM vowed to work closely with Iran to make the Chabahar Port a reality and develop it as a viable gateway to Afghanistan and Central Asia. They agreed that routes beyond the existing ones would provide a major impetus to Afghanistan’s economic reconstruction efforts. That set the ball rolling
  • Over the next year, coordination between the three countries led to the signing of the trilateral agreement between India, Iran and Afghanistan in May 2016 and in the year and a half since, the Indian shipping ministry has worked at a brisk pace towards developing the project

India determined on Chabahar

  • What has complicated matters in 2017 has been the new US administration’s attitude towards Iran. New Delhi has been cautious but it appears determined to stay the course since it believes the benefits of the Chabahar project are clear
  • Countering China’s aggressive push on OBOR: Delhi’s approach also stems from the fact that China is aggressively pursuing its own Belt and Road Initiative (BRI) under Chinese President Xi Jinping’s One Belt One Road (OBOR) project —many in Delhi view this as one of India’s projects to counter Xi’s BRI

How to make Chabahar commercially and strategically viable?

To make it a commercially and strategically viable option, Indian policymakers will have integrate Chabahar project with its larger connectivity project — the International North South Transport Corridor (INSTC)

  • INSTC: The INSTC, initiated in 2000 by Russia, India and Iran, is a multi-modal transportation route linking the Indian Ocean and the Persian Gulf to the Caspian Sea via Iran, and onward to northern Europe via St Petersburg in Russia
    • The INSTC envisages the movement of goods from Mumbai, India to Bandar Abbas, Iran, by sea, from Bandar Abbas to Bandar-e-Anzali, an Iranian port on the Caspian Sea, by road, from Bandar-e-Anzali to Astrakhan, a Caspian port in the Russian Federation, by ship across the Caspian Sea, and thereafter into the Russian Federation and further into Europe by Russian Railways
    • Significance: INSTC and Chabahar Port will complement each other for optimizing Indian connectivity with Russia and Eurasia. The multiple transport corridors intersecting the region can be easily accessed from the south. According to some estimates, the Chabahar route plus INSTC could boost trade to a total of US$ 170 billion from India to Eurasia (60.6 billion in export and 107.4 billion in import

 

INSTC

‘Resolve Rohingya refugee crisis through diplomacy’ 

Context

Even though the crisis concerning Rohingya refugees in India seems to have subsided, veteran experts on statelessness and refugees have called for resolving the issue through diplomacy

On Rohingya crisis

Pointing out that the Rohingyas form a category distinct from stateless people in the country, K.M. Parivelan, associate professor and chairperson of the Centre for Statelessness and Refugee Studies at the School of Law, Rights and Constitutional Governance (SLRCG) Tata Institute of Social Sciences (TISS), says the Rohingya issue need not be linked to problems regarding the stateless people

Rohingyas in India

According to an estimate, there are 40,000 Rohingyas living in different States of India

What should be done by India, as per experts?

  • Convince Myanmar: Using its goodwill with Myanmar, India can convince the latter of the need for resolving the problem in a ‘humane way’ and providing to the affected people rights on a par with citizens of the south-east Asian country
  • Persuade Bangladesh: Indian government should persuade Bangladesh to “look after them, after all they came through that country.” The problem with Bangladesh is that it “does not provide job opportunities,” as a result of which Rohingyas migrate to other countries

No uniform criteria

Experts point out that in India there are different categories of stateless people without any uniform criteria, like

  • Illegal migrants” from Bangladesh; Sri Lankan refugees in Tamil Nadu whose ancestors were taken to the neighbouring country during the British Raj and refugees in Jammu and Kashmir who came from Pakistan. Hence, there is a need for proper identification of stateless people
  • Legal reforms: Legal reforms, based on 1954 UN Convention on the Status of Stateless Persons and the 1961 Convention on Reduction of Statelessness, be made

Statelessness bound to stay

Some experts say that the problem of statelessness will never end in the south Asian region as countries in and around India are making policies based on religions and languages of the majority

Citizenship Bill to the rescue

Those affected by ethnic conflicts can hope to get Indian citizenship in future in the event of the 2016 Citizenship Bill getting passed. The legislation has sought to reduce the number of years for getting citizenship by naturalisation from 11 years to six years

UN Convention on Status of Stateless persons

  • Adopted in 1954: 9The Convention relating to the Status of Stateless Persons was adopted on 28 September 1954 and entered into force on 6 June 1960
  • Codification of rights of stateless persons: It establishes a framework for the international protection of stateless persons and is the most comprehensive codification of the rights of stateless persons yet attempted at the international level
  • The 1954 Convention’s most significant contribution to international law is its definition of a “stateless person” as someone “who is not considered as a national by any State under operation of its law.”
    • For those who qualify as stateless persons, the Convention provides important minimum standards of treatment
    • It requires that stateless persons have the same rights as citizens with respect to freedom of religion and education of their children
    • For a number of other rights, such as the right of association, the right to employment and to housing, it provides that stateless persons are to enjoy, at a minimum, the same treatment as other non-nationals

Convention on Reduction of statelessness

  • Adopted in 1961: The Convention on the Reduction of Statelessness was adopted on 30 August 1961 and entered into force on 13 December 1975
  • It complements the 1954 Convention relating to the Status of Stateless Persons and was the result of over a decade of international negotiations on how to avoid the incidence of statelessness
  • The 1961 Convention is the leading international instrument that sets rules for the conferral and non-withdrawal of citizenship to prevent cases of statelessness from arising
  • By setting out rules to limit the occurrence of statelessness, the Convention gives effect to article 15 of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights which recognizes that “everyone has the right to a nationality.”

Together, these two treaties form the foundation of the international legal framework to address statelessness, a phenomenon which continues to adversely affect the lives of millions of people around the world

The Brahmaputra conundrum

Context

Proposed water diversion of Brahmaputra’s upper stream i.e. Yarlung Tsangpo by China

Author’s contention

Author contends that the news of China planning to divert the waters of the Yarlung Tsangpo (the upper stream of India’s Brahmaputra) to its water-starved Xinjiang province is hardly surprising. It has been a long-standing part of the grand South-North Water Transfer project conceptualised as early as in the 1950s by Mao Zedong and somewhat grandly restated in Li Ling’s 2005 book Tibet’s Water will Save China.

Present situation

At present China has denied any all claims of going ahead with the proposal on account of engineering difficulties and high-cost implications

  • However, as per the latest development, despite denials from the Chinese authorities, there is strong speculation that plans for a 1000 km-long tunnel are being tested in order to transfer water from the Yarlung Tsangpo in Tibet to Xinjiang

Relevant question

Given this mix of Chinese denial and Indian apprehension, how should Indian strategists react?

History of water interaction

Understanding the Chinese psyche vis-à-vis its transboundary rivers and political relations is a prerequisite to informing the Indian response. There are four critical points that emerge from the history of interactions over water between China and India,

  1. Brahmaputra agreement: The Brahmaputra agreement between China and India is a suboptimal arrangement within broader bilateral relations
    1. As per the current agreement, China has thus far agreed to share hydrological data on the Yarlung Tsangpo/Brahmaputra (YTB) during the monsoon season
    2. Why did China agree to cooperate in the first place when it has clearly resisted doing so for years, and with other riparian countries through which the Mekong flows? One of the explanations could be that this gesture of cooperation aligns well with China’s broader political strategy of portraying an image of a ‘responsible neighbour’
    3. Further cooperation is in limbo: Despite two decades of negotiation, further cooperation on water, however, is in a state of a deadlock. The agreement, at best, is a piecemeal discount offered by China
  2. Border disputes: Discussions over the YTB have often been overshadowed by the border dispute. Sino-Indian history is filled with examples wherein despite tense bilateral relations, cooperation over transboundary rivers has occurred. For instance, despite border incursion by the Chinese army in the Depsang Valley in Ladakh in 2013, China and India went ahead to sign the extension of the 2002 Memorandum of Understanding on data sharing on the Brahmaputra river. However, there has been no progress in discussing more pressing issues of who has the right to how much water and the impact of dams and diversions on the upper reaches of the river. In the past couple of years, instances of border incursions before ministerial-level meetings between India and China have often been witnessed
  3. Shift towards multilateral agreements: Departing from the past, China’s approach to transboundary water sharing is shifting towards multilateral arrangements
    1. In 2015, China signed the Lancang-Mekong Cooperation (LMC) framework along with five other countries through which the Mekong flows. This China-led multilateral agreement is an alternative to the Asian Development Bank-led Mekong River Commission, which China never signed. The LMC aligns with China’s Belt and Road Initiative and focuses on land and water connectivity, besides river management
    2. In South Asia, China has been insistent in establishing greater ties with Bangladesh on flood forecasting, water technologies, and water management
    3. Encircling India by luring in Bangladesh: India, on the other hand, prefers bilateral relations, as it has with Pakistan, Nepal, Bhutan, and Bangladesh. India and Bangladesh already have a stressed relationship over Teesta River sharing, whereas China is cooperating more with Bangladesh on water issues. China charges approximately $125,000 for the data it provides to India; at the same time, it sends similar data to Bangladesh for free. By way of improving relationship with Bangladesh, China could well be aiming to encircle India to reach a deal on the sharing of YTB that favours China’s objective of economic expansionism
  4. The Indian approach to the YTB issue is influenced by developmental imperatives and domestic politics. The Brahmaputra is an important resource for India’s own water diversion plans – the national river interlinking project – and is considered a powerhouse to meet India’s energy demands in the future. India tends to play the lower riparian card to gain sympathy from its domestic political constituencies, especially of Assam and Arunachal Pradesh. Bangladesh and Pakistan have criticised India for being hypocritical in its approach with China, as India has been seen as an ‘alleged bully’ in sharing waters with them. While the concerns regarding Chinese diversion plans may be genuine, India also maintains the ‘China threat’ to a certain extent to veil its own administrative lapses and justify dam-building activities to its domestic audience.

What India needs to do?

India will need to be more adept in responding to Brahmaputra river-related issues

  • Chalking out a strategy: It needs to clearly envision the desired end goal and strategic outcomes for dealing with impending water conflicts
  • Engage Bangladesh: t needs to de-emphasise China’s role for the time being and restrengthen its relationship with Bangladesh. It needs to push the impending Teesta river agreement and restore its image as a responsible upper riparian
  • A show of strength to China: India needs to mirror its strength and firmness in negotiations with China on water rights, as it did in the case of the Doklam stand-off and in opposing the Belt and Road Initiative, rather than projecting itself as a victim

GS-3


Economy

GST effect: shaky Budget in offing?:

Context

‘With no clear number for targeted GST collections, is the Centre raking in as much as it should?’

News

Revenue uncertainty due to the implementation of the Goods and Services Tax could pose very real problems for the government when the time comes for it to prepare the Budget for financial year 2018-19, according to tax analysts and government officials alike

Reforms

The GST Council, in its latest meeting on November 10, announced several moves to ease the compliance burden on businesses, including

  • Deferring return filing deadlines for both small and large businesses
  • Allowing small businesses to file quarterly returns
  • Removing the need to file the GSTR-2 and GSTR-3 forms, and
  • Expanding the Composition Scheme to include more businesses

The Council also drastically reduced the tax rate on more than 200 goods, including most of the items in the highest 28% tax bracket

Uncertainty due to GST

In a normal year, businesses are well-versed with the tax processes, and so know their tax liability, so the collections are usually in line with what is anticipated. However, this year, the uncertainty surrounding GST procedures and the leeway the government has given in terms of extended deadlines has meant that the indirect tax collections for the particular period are still being updated

Impact:

  • Change in GDP figures: This means the GDP growth figure stands to change considerably in the next revision when the final GST collection data comes in
  • Estimate of Potential GST collections could go wrong: The bigger issue is the uncertainty could pose a problem for the government in estimating the potential GST collections for the entire 2018-19 financial year as it doesn’t have a trend to base its projections
  • Effect on budget: Now that we have advanced the Budget-making date to actually November — by the middle of November they must start the process, so that it’s complete by the middle of December — government will have only four months’ data of GST, and even that data will not be complete. This is a problem. Government doesn’t have complete data, it hasn’t verified  input tax credit claims, so we really doesn’t know what the net effect is going to be
  • Drastic rate reductions: Another issue is the Budget-making process will not be able to incorporate the recent and drastic rate reductions, since they came into effect on November 15. So, a full month’s data with the new rates will be available too late to incorporate in the Budget. The frequent changes in rates have made determination of ‘ideal’ revenue from GST even more difficult
  • The government will not have the benefit of using last year’s Budget Estimates of indirect tax revenue to gauge collections in the next year, either

Science and Technology

What’s behind the bitcoin boom? 

Context

As the price of the bitcoin leapt past $10,000 this week, marking a tenfold gain in 2017, many investors seemed to nurse a ‘missed-out’ feeling

No valuation metric

Bitcoin has no valuation measure. Its price is therefore decided mainly by demand-supply dynamics

Limited stock

Satoshi Nakamoto, the creator of bitcoin, while creating the original algorithm to ‘mine’ blocks of bitcoins (new bitcoins are created when you use computers to solve complex mathematical problems set by the system), set a finite limit on the bitcoins that could be mined for all time to come. He also ensured that the algorithm got more complex over time and that the bitcoin yield shrank in geometric proportion with each new block

  • This has effectively set a hard limit of 21 million on total bitcoin supply, of which an estimated 16.7 million (80 per cent) has already been mined. Mining new blocks now entails gigawatts of electricity and computing power

Uncertain supply

There’s uncertainty about the existing bitcoin supply as well. About a million bitcoins are said to have been spirited away by Nakamoto himself, a few million have gone missing due to lost hard disks and forgotten passwords, and a good number are out of circulation because they’re stockpiled by investors

This scarcity factor and the lack of a fair value measure makes the bitcoin a great playground for speculators, but a very uncomfortable one for long-term investors

Highly volatile

Bitcoin returns for the last five years are drool-worthy. The rupee-equivalent price of a bitcoin has zoomed from under ₹600 in November 2012 to more than ₹6.8 lakh by November 2017, a cool 300% annualized return. In the same period, the BSE Sensex has produced a staid 11.5% despite a bull market

  • Times as volatile as Sensex: Bitcoin, on its bad days, has proved five times as volatile as the Sensex. On its worst day in the last five years, its price tanked by 28% in dollar terms. At its most euphoric, it shot up by 41% in a single session. Also, 10% single-day losses were not unusual for the bitcoin, with 36 such occasions in the last five years

Uncertain events

  • In 2014, thousands of bitcoins were stolen from the leading exchange Mt Gox which had to be shuttered. The event saw a two-year lull in the bitcoin bull market. In August, a breakaway faction Bitcoin Cash, ‘forked’ off from the main bitcoin blockchain
  • This week, global bitcoin exchanges reported outages and flash crashes unable to handle the sharp surge in traffic

Due to such volatility, though it has proved a blockbuster investment, the bitcoin hasn’t really made headway as a global alternative to conventional money

Regulatory approval

When originally introduced, virtual currencies, backed by the ultra-democratic blockchain technology, were expected to offer a border-less alternative to fiat currencies but trading volumes in cryptocurrencies have tended to become quite concentrated in a few regions lately. They’ve also proved quite sensitive to governmental actions

  • Exchanges banned: After galloping fivefold between January and September 2017, bitcoins suffered a 30% blip this September after the Chinese government, wary of capital flight, ordered the shut-down of leading bitcoin exchanges
  • Japan: n April, markets cheered Japan’s decision to officially recognise bitcoins as legal tender and license 11 exchanges
  • Trading volumes have also flown from one region to another depending on how favourably disposed regulators have been towards bitcoins. Chinese exchanges dominated bitcoin trading a couple of years ago with a more than 80% volume share. But after the clampdown, Japanese and U.S. exchanges now control over two-thirds of volumes.
  • In India, the RBI is still undecided on the issue of how and if at all it will regulate virtual currencies. Meanwhile, it has issued disclaimers that it hasn’t authorised bitcoins as a medium of exchange, warning investors of potential ‘financial, operational, legal, customer protection and security-related risks’ if they dabble in them.

Security issues

Watch out for ransomware in 2018: report:

Context

The McAfee Labs 2018 Threats Predictions Report

What does the report say?

  • Ransomware attacks in the cyberspace are likely to increase and become more sophisticated in 2018 targeting high net worth individuals and corporates
  • Individual home users having greater inter-connected home devices will surrender consumer privacy to corporates

Observations

  • The profitability of traditional ransomware campaigns will continue to decline as vendor defenses, user education, and industry strategies improve to counter them. Attackers will adjust to target less traditional, more profitable ransomware targets, including high net-worth individuals, connected devices, and businesses
  • The evolution of ransomware in 2017 should remind us of how aggressively a threat can reinvent itself as attackers dramatically innovate and adjust to the successful efforts of defenders
  • As consumers increasingly network their homes, the report warns that connected home device manufacturers and service providers will seek to overcome “thin profit margins by gathering more of our personal data—with or without our agreement—turning the home into a corporate store front.”
  • As customers rarely read privacy agreements, corporations will be tempted to frequently change them after the devices and services are deployed to capture more information and revenue
  • There will be regulatory consequences for corporations that make the calculation to break existing laws, pay fines, and continue such practices, thinking they can do so profitably

BSF doubles down on Rohingya 

Context

A total of 167 vulnerable points were identified along the Bangladesh border, and additional forces deployed to detect and push back the Rohingya

What has happened?

The Border Security Force, manning the 4096.7-km border, has asked the Union Home Ministry to sanction recruitment of 5,000 more men so as to identify and stop the Rohingya. The BSF has said that most Rohingya had entered India through three points: South 24 Parganas and Hili in Dakshin Dinajpur of West Bengal and Karimganj in Assam

Backdrop

  • In mid-October 2017, after the Supreme Court put on hold the Centre’s plan to deport the Rohingya, security agencies convened a high-level meeting to enhance deployment on the eastern border to stop the refugees from crossing over to India
  • A total of 167 vulnerable points were identified along the Bangladesh border, and additional forces deployed to detect and push back the Rohingya
  • The Supreme Court is hearing a petition by two Rohingya — Mohammad Shamiullah and Mohammad Shaqir — against the Centre’s plan to deport the illegal immigrants. The next date of hearing is December 5

Difficult to distinguish

BSF director has said that it is difficult to distinguish between the Rohingya and the Bangladeshis as they have similar facial features, and BSF soldiers were not equipped to differentiate between the two on the basis of their dialect. He said that so far, none of the Rohingya apprehended on the border carried arms, ammunition or any objectionable item

Rohingyas in India

By the Home Ministry’s estimate, there are around 40,000 Rohingya in India, including 5700 in Jammu

  • Few have registered: Only 16,000 of them are said to have registered themselves with the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees
  • Rohingya came to India in large numbers during 2012-13.

Identification of illegal immigrants

On August 9, the Home Ministry asked all the States, through a circular, to identify undocumented immigrants and deport them as per procedure

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