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GS-2


International relations:

Bizarre diplomacy (Indian Express) 

Context

Trump’s decision on Jerusalem has no redeeming features. Instability in West Asia, which it will fuel, is bad news for India

A bad decision

  • Trump has eliminated all prospects of an Israel-Palestine deal by recognising Jerusalem as Israel’s capital
  • No conditions: The decision is not conditioned on Israel stopping its programme of building settlements in occupied land. It does not call on Tel Aviv to take steps towards recognising the Palestinian state. Israel has not even been obligated to protect the rights of the approximately 100000 Palestinian residents of East Jerusalem who live beyond the city’s so-called “separation barrier”, cut off from city services

Anti-Muslim rhetoric

How does one make sense of this bizarre action?

  • Inexperienced core team: Trump’s core Israel-Palestine team — Jason Greenblatt, David Friedman and son-in-law Jared Kushner — is remarkable for its lack of experience on West Asia
  • Israel supporter and tycoon Sheldon Adelson, a darling of the United States far-right, has been amongst Trump’s biggest campaign donors
  • Pandering to Israel’s policies: Facing heat from many United States Jews for his failure to condemn neo-Nazis, Trump may well see pandering to Israel’s policies as a way of winning their support
  • In addition, the Christian right-wing sees freeing Jerusalem of Muslims as a religious imperative

Both sides suffer

Palestinians suffer under occupation; Israel, in turn, faces a volatile region and global isolation

  • Unsustainable occupation: In the long term, moreover, Israel’s occupation is unsustainable; no nation-state can indefinitely maintain second-class status for half of those living in territories it rules

Pragmatic stand by India

New Delhi’s decision to avoid following the United States’ lead reflects well on Prime Minister diplomatic team: Instability in West Asia, which Trump’s action will fuel, is bad news for India. Pragmatism and ethics both converge in this case — and Trump’s action fails both tests

Capital crisis (The Hindu Editorial) 

Context

By recognising Jerusalem as Israel’s capital, the U.S. has endangered the peace process

Author’s contention

President Donald Trump’s decision to recognise Jerusalem as the capital of Israel, despite warnings at home and abroad, will worsen the Israel-Palestine conflict

Jerusalem: At the heart of conflict

  • Jerusalem, which houses holy places of all three Abrahamic religions and is claimed by both Israelis and Palestinians, is at the very heart of the dispute
  • Israel built its seat of power in West Jerusalem decades ago and occupied the East during the 1967 war, and later annexed it. Palestinians insist that East Jerusalem should be the capital of their future state

Decision by Mr Trump

Mr. Trump has in effect endorsed the Israeli claims to East Jerusalem

Possible motivation

The decision will likely help bolster Mr Trump’s image among the Jewish lobby in Washington as well as American evangelical groups, his social base

Relevant questions

Mr. Trump’s move raises vital questions about U.S. diplomacy in the region besides putting new roadblocks in the peace process

Move can be viewed as illegal

  • It could be viewed as illegal as the Israeli claim that Jerusalem “complete and united” is its capital has been declared “null and void” by UN Security Council Resolution 478, which also asks member-countries to “withdraw diplomatic missions from the Holy City”
  • The U.S. is now acting against the spirit of this resolution

Impact of the move

  • The move might trigger another cycle of protests and repression in the Occupied Territories
  • In 2000, Ariel Sharon’s visit to the al-Aqsa compound in the Old City sparked the second intifada. Palestinians are expressing similar distress today. Hamas has already called for a third intifada

Possible solution

  • The Israeli-Palestine conflict can be settled only after an agreement is reached on the status of Jerusalem. The city was not part of Israel in the original 1947 UN plan to partition Palestine. Jerusalem, which was supposed to be ruled by an international trusteeship, was conquered by Israel. This is why the UN has not recognised it as Israel’s capital

Conclusion

With his latest announcement, Mr. Trump has endorsed the occupation. And in doing so, he has undermined the U.S.’s position as a neutral broker in Israeli-Palestinian talks. In short, he has dealt a blow to the peace process

Indian Constitution and Polity:

A women doesn’t mortgage herself to a man with marriage, asserts CJI (The Hindu) 

What has happened?

SC made certain observations while hearing a petition filed by a Parsi, who was barred by her community from offering prayers to her dead in the Tower of Silence for the sole reason that she married a Hindu under the Special Marriage Act

What is Special Marriage Act?

The Special Marriage Act of 1954 is seen as a statutory alternative for couples who choose to retain their identity in an inter-religious marriage

Petition against HC judgement

The petition is against the Gujarat High Court’s March 23, 2012 judgment, which held that Ms. Goolrokh Adi Contractor ceased to be a Parsi as she had married Mahipal Gupta, a Hindu, under the provisions of the Special Marriage Act

Observations

  • Nobody could presume that a woman has changed her faith or religion just because she chose to change her name after marrying outside her community
  • The very fact that petitioner Goolrookh M. Gupta, married under the Special Marriage Act, did not choose to convert showed that she had intended to retain her religious identity as a Zorastrian. A decision in favour of the woman would uphold the fundamental right to religion, dignity and life and create a paradigm shift for women within the minority community

Observations specific to the petition

  • The Tower of Silence is not a mutt or a citadel of a cult. It is a place to offer prayers to the dead. Can such a right of a woman be guillotined? It is part of her constitutional identity
  • The Bench, prima facie,disagreed with the widespread notion in common law that a woman’s religious identity merges with that of her husband after marriage
    • Indicating that this amounted to discrimination on the ground of gender, Chief Justice Misra asked, “How can you [Parsi elders] distinguish between a man and woman singularly by a biological phenomenon… If a woman says she has not changed her religion, by what philosophy do you say that she cannot go to the Tower of Silence? No law debars a woman from retaining her religious identity.”

Question before the bench

  • The 5-judge Bench, is deciding the question whether a Parsi woman can keep her religious identity intact after choosing to marry someone from another faith under the 1954 Act
  • The court said it had to decide whether a religious principle had dominance over the constitutional identity of a Parsi woman

Petitioners’ argument

Petitioner side has argued that,

  • Every custom, usage, customary and statutory laws had to stand the test of the Fundamental Rights principle. Article 372 (continuance of existing laws) of the Constitution was subject to Article 13, which mandated that laws should not violate the fundamental rights of an individual
  • The fundamental right enshrined in Article 14 of the Constitution guaranteed equality before the law and the equal protection of the laws. It prohibited discrimination on grounds of religion, race, caste, sex or place of birth
  • Denying a woman respect and the right to observe her religion merely because she married outside her faith was violative of her fundamental right to religion enshrined under Article 25 of the Constitution
  • There was a difference of opinion on the issue within the Parsi community itself. While some pockets allowed women who chose inter-religious wedlock into the Tower of Silence, others did not
  • The ‘doctrine of coverture’, which held that a woman lost her identity and legal right with marriage, was violative of her fundamental rights. ”The doctrine is not recognised by the Constitution

Directions to Parsi Trust

The court asked the Valsad Parsi Trust to inform by December 14 whether it would allow Ms. Goolrokh to attend the last rites of her parents

No law provides change of woman’s religion after marriage: SC (Indian Express) 

Context

The bench said it was only the woman who can decide about her religious identity by exercising her right to choice

What has happened?

A five-judge Constitution Bench headed by Chief Justice Dipak Misra while dealing with a legal question whether a Parsi woman loses her religious identity if she marries a man from a different religion, has said that the law does not sanction the concept of a woman’s religion getting merged with her husband’s faith after an inter-religion marriage

Bench’s directions

Court has asked senior advocate Gopal Subramanium, representing the ‘Valsad Parsi Trust’, to take instruction and apprise it on December 14 as to whether it can allow Goolrokh M Gupta, a Parsi woman who had married a Hindu, to attend the last rites of her parents.

Challenge to Gujarat HC judgement

Gupta has challenged the customary law, upheld by the Gujarat High Court in 2010, that a Parsi woman marrying a Hindu loses her religious rights in the Parsi community and hence, loses the right to visit the ‘Tower of Silence’ in the event of her father’s death to perform the last rites

Bench’s observations

  • There is no law which says that a woman loses religious identity after marrying a man from another faith… Moreover, the Special Marriage Act is there and allows that two persons can marry and maintain their respective religious identities
  • A man marries outside the community and is permitted to retain his religious identity and a woman is not allowed to marry outside and retain her religious identity. How can a woman be debarred
  • it was only the woman who can decide about her religious identity by exercising her right to choice
  • The presumption that a woman changes her religion according to the faith of her husband does not exist if the marriage has been solemnised under the Special Marriage Act
  • the short issue was whether a woman can be allowed to visit and pay respect to her parents after death and asked Subramanium to seek instruction from the Parsi trust and apprise it on December 14, the next date of hearing

Petitioner’s argument

  • Common law doctrine: Petitioner’s side referred to the Common Law doctrine of merger of religion which says that the religion of a woman gets automatically merged with the faith of the husband after marriage
  • Can we adopt the Common Law doctrine of merger of religion in India when it has not been followed in the country of its origin? Adding that the constitutional validity of the Common Law principle would also be required to be tested
  • Test of constitutionality: Even if it was presumed that the doctrine of merger had the customary sanction, the customs will have to pass the test of constitutionality and no custom can be allowed to infringe the fundamental rights of a person.

Backdrop

  • On October 9, the apex court had referred to to a five-judge constitution bench the legal question whether a Parsi woman loses her religious identity after marrying a man of different religion
  • The bench was hearing a plea filed by Gupta challenging the High Court judgement holding that a Parsi woman is deemed to have converted to Hinduism after she marries a Hindu man
  • The woman, in her appeal filed in 2012, said she had married a Hindu under the Special Marriage Act and should be allowed to retain her place in Parsi community. She had assailed the high court finding that a woman universally loses her paternal identity just because of her marriage with a man practising the Hindu religion
  • She had also sought the right to visit the ‘Tower of Silence’ in the event of her father’s death to perform last rite

Usage of the tower

The Tower is used for funerary purposes by the adherents of the Zoroastrian faith, in which the traditional practice for disposal of the dead involves the exposure of the corpse to the sun and vultures

On ‘populist steps’, tricky mandate for new Finance Commission (Indian Express)

Context

The primary remit of a Finance Commission is to work out the distribution of the net proceeds of taxes between the states and the central government, and the allocation among states

Mandate of 15th FC

  • This Commission has been mandated to recommend a fiscal consolidation roadmap for sound fiscal management, taking into account the responsibility of the central and state governments to adhere to appropriate levels of general and consolidated debt and deficit levels, while fostering higher inclusive growth in the country, guided by the principles of equity, efficiency and transparency
  • It will look at the “impact on the fiscal situation of the Union Government of substantially enhanced tax devolution to states following the recommendations of the 14th Finance Commission, coupled with the continuing imperative of the national development programme including New India, 2022”

Test for 15th FC

This Commission will be tested on how it re-works the record devolution recommended by its predecessor panel

Challenging federalism

  • This Commission could get into tricky territory — politically and otherwise — on measurable performance-based incentives for states: say, for expanding and deepening the tax net under GST, boosting tax and non-tax revenues, promoting savings by adopting direct benefit transfers, promoting digital economy, removing layers between the government and beneficiaries, making strides in sanitation, solid waste management and behavioural changes, eliminating losses in the power sector, and improving the ease of doing business
  • However, proposing a measurable performance-based incentive on the “control or lack of it in incurring expenditure on populist measures”, is bound to raise questions on whether it challenges the spirit of federalism

Impact

  • It would mean defining a “populist scheme”, and whether spending on social welfare by a democratically elected state government can be penalised. It will also lead to questions on the nature of schemes being run by the central government — some of which can be seen as “populist” as well

An Oversight Problem (Indian Express) 

Context

For now, Parliament is ill-equipped to oversee economic issues in an integrated way

Monitoring the economy

Parliament uses two mechanisms for monitoring the national economy

  • Debate
  • Committee

Debate

  • The first is the most common way of highlighting issues. But there is hardly ever a focussed debate on the economy in Parliament
  • The last time a discussion reviewed the economic situation was in 2008 and lasted for five hours in Lok Sabha. The subject is usually brought up during the debate on the Union budget, and over the years the duration of budget discussions has been steadily decreasing
  • During Parliament’s first decade, the debate on the budget lasted for an average of 123 hours. In the last decade, this number has come down to 40 hours
  • The other occasion when economic issues come up for discussion is when MPs are locking horns debating rising prices in the country
  • During the last decade, it is a subject which forms part of Parliament’s agenda almost every year. The debate on it remains inconclusive and follows a familiar pattern of ascribing blame and political rhetoric

Committee

The second forum for discussing the health of the economy is parliamentary committees

  • These committees focus on holding specific government ministries accountable. They scrutinise the finances, legislation, and working of ministries
  • Their mandate does not extend to scrutinising cross-cutting macroeconomic issues
  • For example, in the last 10 years, the governor and the deputy governors of RBI have testified at least 15 times before the committee on finance. Their testimony was always limited in scope since the committee mostly examines policy issues and legislation being dealt with by the finance ministry
  • It is only on one occasion that their testimony was on the overall economic situation. Parliament has three finance committees — the Public Accounts, Estimates, and Public Undertakings committee

Parliament needs a specialised committee

Therefore, the existing parliamentary mechanisms are limited. They have ensured that Parliament does not have a handle on the economic situation in the country. The institution requires a specialised committee concentrating on the broader economic issues facing the country

The idea of such a committee is not new for our country

National Commission

In 2002, the national commission to review the functioning of the constitution highlighted the absence of a parliamentary committee to oversee major economic issues in an integrated manner

  • Recommendation: The commission recommended the setting up of a Nodal Standing Committee on National Economy supported with adequate resources
  • Vision: The commission envisioned that the committee would conduct an ongoing analysis of the national economy. It was of the opinion that the findings of this committee “would help both government and parliament in orchestrating opinion on important policy issues for building a national consensus.”

Conclusion

If such a committee is constituted it could invite the RBI Governor and other government functionaries like the chief economic adviser to testify and enrich its proceedings. With a broad mandate of examining the national economy it would be able to connect and comment on a range of interconnected policy issues impacting the economy

Hadiya mustn’t be in the dock (Indian Express) 

Context

We need to fortify constitutional freedoms against sectarian challenges

A prone constitution

Seventy years after Independence, we may have legislated to give the country a common market, but there still seems doubt that the provisions of the Constitution may operate without a dominant sect seeking to subjugate them to customary perceptions and discrete traditions

Multiple courts

Time may come when it will be demanded that we have as many courts as we have sentiments, and that in all cases, individual choices must remain subservient to the diktats of the custodians of those sacrosanct sentiments

Time to implement 1st amendment

It is time to say that India’s democracy will never be truly credible until the republic adopts a provision akin to the American First Amendment

  • That provision secures to the citizen the absolute right to freedom of expression, which includes, most crucially, religious freedom so long as the exercise of this right does not occasion violence
  • The provision enjoins the state to enforce laws to protect every citizen’s right to profess and practice any religious faith. Think how much bigoted mayhem was caused in the US when Malcolm X and Cassius Clay embraced Islam; yet, they had the full protection of the law of religious freedom

Way forward

Thought must be given to reforming Article 19(2) which, in its present form, more often than not, renders the exercise of this freedom a hazard more than a right. But this ideal is unlikely to work even after legislation is passed unless India’s investigating agencies—the CBI, NIA —are rendered autonomous of the government of the day, like the FBI and justice-enforcing institutons in the USA


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Economy:

Aadhaar link deadline a subsidies to be March 31 (The Hindu) 

Context

Aadhaar linking deadline

What has happened?

Attorney General of India K.K. Venugopal has submitted before the Supreme Court that the government intends to issue a notification on December 8, extending the deadline for mandatory linking of Aadhaar with services from December 31 to March 31, 2018

Extension

  • This extension would include 139 government subsidies, benefits or services, which are funded out of the Consolidated Fund of India as per Section 7 of the Aadhaar Act of 2016. The deadline for Aadhaar linkage for these services is currently December 31, 2017
  • The extension would, in all likelihood, include the mandatory linking of Aadhaar with bank accounts. Government lawyers in the Supreme Court said the extension of the deadline to March 31, 2018 in the case of Aadhaar-bank accounts linkage may be done in the next few days as this involved consultations with the Reserve Bank of India. So far, private citizens run the risk of being locked out of access to their own bank accounts if they do not link them with Aadhaar by December 31
  • It does not include the linking of mobile phone numbers with Aadhaar. The deadline for this is February 6, 2018

Judicial order

It would require a judicial order from the Supreme Court itself to extend the deadline to March 31, 2018. This is because the government is complying with a February 6, 2017 order of the court in the Lok Niti Foundation case to tighten up the verification process of mobile phone users through Aadhaar linkage, citing national security

Panel report by February

The Data Protection Committee, led by Justice Srikrishna, would submit its final report on sprucing up the Aadhaar Act to make it safe from data theft by February 2018.

Petitions in limbo

  • The Aadhaar petitions are in limbo in the Supreme Court since 2014
  • The petitions have been challenged Aadhaar as a violation of the fundamental right to privacy
  • A Constitution Bench may be set up to decide all the Aadhaar issues once and for all

The decision to set up a Constitution Bench comes despite Justice Rohinton Nariman’s separate judgment in the nine-judge Bench declaring right to privacy as a fundamental right. The order directed that the Aadhaar petitions to be posted for hearing before the “original” three-judge Bench

  • This ‘original’ Bench, led by Justice J. Chelameswar, had referred the petitions for hearing before a five-judge Bench, ehich found it necessary to first decide whether privacy was a fundamental right or not before hearing the Aadhaar petitions
  • It referred the legal question to a nine-judge Bench, which came out with the historic judgment in favour of the common man’s fundamental right to privacy against State intrusions

Petitioners’ argument

  • The petitioners argue that mandatory requirement of Aadhaar for these schemes “constrict rights and freedoms, which a citizen has long been enjoying unless and until they part with their personal biometric information to the government”
  • The petitions have termed the Aadhaar Act of 2016 unconstitutional and contrary to concept of limited and accountable governance

Getting back on track (The Hindu Editorial) 

Context

GDP data for 2nd quarter

What has happened?

The national income numbers for the second quarter of 2017-18 has come as a relief. Gross Domestic Product (GDP) has grown at 6.3% year-on-year compared to 5.7% in the first quarter

What are the encouraging signs flowing out of the data on GDP for the July-September quarter? 

  • The most encouraging sign is the performance of the manufacturing sector which grew at 7% against 1.2% in the previous quarter
  • In the corresponding quarter in the previous year, the growth rate was 7.7%. It appears that the manufacturing sector has come out of the disruptions caused by demonetisation and more particularly, the implementation of the goods and services tax (GST)
  • Three other sectors which have grown strongly are the two subsectors under services — trade, hotels, etc., and public administration — besides electricity and other utility services
  • Public administration grew at 6%, much lower than the previous quarters but still reasonably high
  • Some calculations show that excluding agriculture and public administration, the GDP growth rate in Q2 was 6.8% compared to 3.8% in Q1. The electricity sector has done well with a growth rate of 7.6% compared to 7.0% in Q1
  • Agriculture: The growth rate in agriculture was low at 1.7%. This was to be expected because the growth rate in agriculture was very strong the previous year. Even though the monsoon has been good, one should not expect a much stronger growth over a good year

Construction sector: Lesser growth

The construction sector grew at 2.6% only. It is yet to recover from the impact of demonetisation. But that should not come as a surprise as demonetisation was directly meant to hurt the way business was being done in this sector

Discouraging signals

  • GFCF: The most discouraging sign is the behaviour of the Gross Fixed Capital Formation (GFCF)
    • Growth in 2nd quarter: It is true that GFCF at current prices grew at 6.3% in Q2 against 2.9% in the corresponding period last fiscal. This shows an improvement in terms of sentiment
    • Fall in the ratio of GFCF to GDP: However, as the growth rate of GFCF fell below the growth rate of GDP, the ratio of GFCF to GDP has fallen from 27.1% to 26.4%. This is truly disturbing

Why the fall?

The fall must be due to a decline in private investment, as public investment during this period has done reasonably well. Without a rise in the private investment rate, sustained high growth cannot be maintained

Doubt over high growth in manufacturing

There are some doubts about the high growth in manufacturing. In this context, analysts draw attention to the disparities between the rate of growth in the index of industrial production (IIP) and national income statistics

  • For example, in Q2 of 2017-18, manufacturing under IIP grew at 2.2%. There is, of course, a difference between the national income and IIP figures, the former dealing with value added and the latter with total production

Such sharp differences raise some concerns

  • Incorrect approach: In the new methodology in estimating value added in the manufacturing sector, corporate data play a major role. This approach is not incorrect
  • National Statistical Commission: The government has set up the National Statistical Commission to give credibility to the Indian Statistical System. It must make effective use of it. Perhaps a clear statement from the National Statistical Commission will help to put the doubts at rest

The road ahead

What do the numbers say about the future?

Decline in growth bottomed out: After staying at the same level for two quarters, gross value added (GVA) has moved up. This may be broadly taken to mean that the decline in growth rate has bottomed out. Perhaps the glitches caused by GST have been overcome. Therefore, the immediate prospect is some improvement in the growth rate in the next two quarters

No substantial increase in growth rate in second half: In the next two quarters, there is not much space for public administration to push the economy. Last year, a reasonable rate of growth was achieved because of the strong growth of government expenditure in all quarters. This year, at the end of the third quarter, fiscal deficit has almost reached the budgeted level. Even after allowing for some slippage, it is unlikely that government expenditure can act as a driver of growth. Thus, while one can expect the growth rate to pick up in the second half, any substantial increase depends on the behaviour of private investment which remains intractable

Exports

Yet another factor influencing growth is exports

  • India’s export performance has picked up in the current year. In terms of growth rate, it was doing reasonably well
    • During April-September, exports grew by 11.52%. But there was a setback in October with the export growth rate turning negative. However, the world economy is generally looking better this year
    • World trade in 2017 is expected to grow at 1.7% compared to 0.8% in 2016. Improvement in the external environment may help to raise our exports.
    • This may be another positive factor influencing growth, even though it is difficult to say how strong it will be. All in all, it appears that the GDP growth for the year as a whole may be around 6.5%.

Issues to be addressed

  • Address declining investment rate: For growth to pick up in a strong way, policymakers need to address the issue of declining investment rate. As pointed out already, the GFCF ratio has fallen to 26.4%. As late as 2014-15, the GFCF rate was 30.8%. Only when the reversal of this trend happens can we be assured of a sustained high growth of 7% plus. The excess capacity built up during the boom period must have been used up by now. A complex set of factors is keeping down the private investment rate

Conclusion

These factors need to be addressed in order to push up private investment, even as the pace of public capital expenditures, which have shown a pick up recently, is maintained

‘FRDI Bill does not adversely alter depositor protection’ (The Hindu)

Context

In an attempt to clear the air about bank deposit protection under the proposed Financial Resolution and Deposit Insurance  (FRDI) Bill 2017, the government on Thursday said the provisions in the Bill do not adversely modify existing protections granted to depositors at all, adding that the legislation would be far more depositor-friendly than those in other jurisdictions

What did the government say?                                                                  

Government said that

“The FRDI Bill will strengthen the system by adding a comprehensive resolution regime that will help ensure that, in the rare event of failure of a financial service provider, there is a system of quick, orderly and efficient resolution in favour of depositors”

  • Misgivings: “Certain misgivings have been expressed in the media regarding ‘bail-in’ provisions of the FRDI Bill,” the statement added. “The provisions contained in the FRDI Bill, as introduced in the Parliament, do not modify present protections to the depositors adversely at all. They provide additional protections to the depositors in a more transparent manner
  • The FRDI Bill will not limit the scope of powers for the government to extend financing and resolution support to banks, including public sector banks, saying that the Government’s implicit guarantee for public sector banks remains unaffected

Backdrop

This statement comes against the background of increasing criticism in the media and on social media of the perceived nature of the ‘bail in’ clause, which allows a Resolution Corporation to cancel or modify the liabilities of a failing bank, something analysts have said could extend to bank deposits as well

  • The FRDI Bill was introduced in the Lok Sabha on August 10, 2017, and is currently under the consideration of the Joint Committee of the Parliament

World awaits ‘fair winds’ as Buenos Aires hosts trade talks (The Hindu)

Context

India is set to retain food security right and the protection of poor farmers and fisher-folk as top priorities at the upcoming meeting of the World Trade Organisation’s (WTO) highest decision-making body in Buenos Aires

Ministerial conference

The WTO Ministerial Conference, to be held in South America for the first time, will see Argentina hosting the biennial event from December 10-13 in its capital, Buenos Aires

Agenda

The agenda for the multilateral trade negotiations would also include discussions on ways to advance e-commerce, investment facilitation and measures to help small firms participate effectively in the global marketplace

TFS proposal

In addition to prioritising farm issues, India is keen to push forward its proposal on a Trade Facilitation in Services (TFS) Agreement

  • Aim: The TFS proposal aims to ensure relaxation of norms for movement of skilled workers and professionals across borders for short-term work
  • In its comments to the WTO on December 5, India proposed “a well-structured post-Buenos Aires meeting work programme on services” incorporating the TFS elements

Public Stockholding

India is among the many countries which feel that the current WTO norms on public stockholding are very restrictive and prevent governments from meeting their people’s food security needs

Special Safeguarding Mechanism (SSM)

Another outstanding agricultural issue India wants to see resolved is a Special Safeguard Mechanism (SSM) for developing countries

  • The SSM would permit developing nations like India to temporarily raise tariffs to counter import surges or price declines of farm items, and thereby protect their farmers. While India is learnt to be backing the Philippines’ proposal for adoption of a price-based SSM

E-commerce

On e-commerce, a WTO note said the focus is on four areas:

  • The future of the Work Programme (covering issues related to trade arising from global e-commerce)
  • The moratorium (practice of agreeing at every Ministerial Conference to not impose customs duties on electronic transmissions, until the next Ministerial Conference)
  • Possible negotiations on e-commerce, and
  • The setting up of a working group or other institutional structure

Limiting harmful fisheries

On the negotiations to limit harmful fisheries subsidies, India is batting for continuation of subsidies to small and subsistence fisher-folk

Science and Technology:

World’s smallest Mona Lisa ‘painted’ with DNA (The Hindu)

What has happened?

Researchers from California Institute of Technology in the US developed an inexpensive method by which DNA origami self-assembles into large arrays with entirely customisable patterns, creating a sort of canvas that can display any image

DNA Origami assembles itself

Researchers from California Institute of Technology in the US developed an inexpensive method by which DNA origami self-assembles into large arrays with entirely customisable patterns, creating a sort of canvas that can display any image

Excellent chemical block

While DNA is perhaps best known for encoding the genetic information of living things, the molecule is also an excellent chemical building block

  • A single-stranded DNA molecule is composed of smaller molecules called nucleotides – abbreviated A, T, C and G – arranged in a string, or sequence.
  • The nucleotides in a single-stranded DNA molecule can bond with those of another single strand to form double-stranded DNA, but the nucleotides bind only in very specific ways: an A nucleotide with a T or a C nucleotide with a G.
  • These strict base-pairing “rules” make it possible to design DNA origami

DNA canvas

  • A large DNA canvas is assembled out of many smaller square origami tiles, like putting together a puzzle.
  • Molecules can be selectively attached to the staples in order to create a raised pattern that can be seen using atomic force microscopy

Software

  • Researchers developed software that can take an image such as the Mona Lisa, divide it up into small square sections, and determine the DNA sequences needed to make up those squares
  • They then got those sections to self-assemble into a superstructure that recreates the Mona Lisa
  • The online software tool converts the user’s desired image to DNA strands and wet-lab protocols
  • The protocol can be directly read by a liquid-handling robot to automatically mix the DNA strands together. The DNA nanostructure can be assembled effortlessly
  • Using the online software tool and automatic liquid- handling techniques, several other patterns were designed and assembled from DNA strands, including a life-sized portrait of a bacterium and a bacterium-sized portrait of a rooster
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