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GS: 2

International relations:

India, U.K. resolve to lower trade barriers(The Hindu)

What has happened?

India and the U.K. on Wednesday decided to build on the recommendations of a joint trade review to reduce barriers. At his meeting with his British counterpart Theresa May, Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi pledged that there would be no dilution in the importance of the U.K. to India post-Brexit.

Modi offers to discuss freetrade agreement

  • India ready to commence negotiations on a free trade agreement based on “mutual benefit.”
  • In an oblique reference to the cases of Vijay Mallya and Lalit Modi, the Prime Minister also discussed “consular issues including the issue of economic offenders”
  • The two sides also signed a statement of shared values, emphasising support for a “global outlook and commitment to a rules-based international system”

Still using chemical weapons(The Hindu Opinion) 

Context

On the latest suspected attack in Douma, Syria

What has happened?

The Organisation for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons (OPCW) is a Hague-based intergovernmental body that works for the elimination of chemical weapons. It was formed after the Chemical Weapons Convention — an arms control treaty that bans the production, stockpiling and use of chemical weapons — entered into force in 1997

OPCW

  • The OPCW is the implementing body of the Convention
  • All its 192 member states are required to destroy their existing stockpiles of chemical weapons and stop large-scale production
  • These actions are subject to verification by the OPCW
  • According to the OPCW, over 96% of the world’s declared chemical weapons stockpiles have been destroyed
  • The OPCW has the powers to inspect chemical production facilities
  • Israel has signed the agreement but is yet to ratify it. The countries that have not signed it are Egypt, South Sudan and North Korea.

What is its mission in Syria?

  • A team of inspectors from the OPCW recently arrived in Damascus, the Syrian capital, to probe a suspected chemical weapons attack in the neighbouring town of Douma
  • Earlier, OPCW had concluded that chemical weapons were used in Syria’s Eastern Ghouta (2013) and Khan Sheikhoun (2017)

Can the OPCW prevent further attacks?

  • After the Eastern Ghouta attack, the U.S. and Russia joined hands to take Syria’s chemical weapons out of the country. The operation was carried out under the OPCW’s watch.
  • But Syria continued to see chemical attacks, which have been blamed both on the regime of President Bashar al-Assad and the rebels, raising questions on whether Syria has indeed got rid of its arsenal
  • The main problem is that even the OPCW has only limited access to Syria. Even with the Douma investigation, there are allegations that Russia has tampered with evidence on the ground. In theory, the OPCW should be allowed to destroy Syria’s entire chemical weapons stockpiles.

The soft power of India(The Hindu Opinion) 

Context

A mere wish to be praised as a global or regional power should not be allowed to guide our foreign policy

What has happened?

There is a lot of talk these days, not so much among government circles as among the ‘strategic community’, about India being a major or even global power, with the capability, even responsibility, to play an ‘important role’ on the world stage as a balancing power between major powers and as a ‘security provider’ to others

Author view

We have to be realists and check the inexplicable urge to play a big role in international relations 

Questions that we should ask ourselves

What kind of role do we want to play? Where and how do we want to play the role? Do we have the means to play such role?

Status and responsibility

Often the leaders do not realize that playing a role carries with it responsibilities which we may not be able or keen to accept but which we might be dragged into

  • Questions galore
    • Are we clear about the kind of role we wish to play internationally?
    • Do we have a role model for it?
    • Do we wish to emulate what Vladimir Putin’s Russia is doing in West Asia?
    • Or, what the Soviet Union did in Afghanistan in the 1980s or what America did in Iran in 1953, in Indo-China in the 1950s and 1960s, and frequently in Central and South America?
  • No benign intentions
    • All those operations lacked legitimacy and for the most part cost the countries concerned dear in human and material terms
    • Nor did they bring them glory
    • One will look in vain for an example when such a role was played with benign intentions.

Regional aspirations

  • Given our firm commitment not to use force and to non-interference in internal affairs in other states, our neighbors do not feel threatened by us
  • If intervention does not succeed, as in Sri Lanka, the ensuing loss of prestige more than offsets whatever prestige we might have gained in the other operations like, in Maldives or Seychelles

The real goals: Strengthen our economy

  • The principal criterion in the conduct of foreign policy for India ought to be lifting the poor from poverty
  • Whatever brings concrete benefits to our people should be encouraged
  • A mere wish to be praised as a global or even regional power should not be allowed to guide the policy
  • Our single minded focus should be on economic development
  • Without the necessary economic strength, we cannot strengthen our military. We do need a strong military but for that we need undisturbed double digit economic growth for a generation 

Why India should avoid getting entangled globally?

  • When other countries flatter us by describing us as a major power, it is invariably because they want to rope us into some schemes of their own
  • It is best not to get too entangled in the chess moves of other countries
  • The principal interest of most of them is to sell very expensive military hardware to us.
  • We do have to think critically about allocating our scarce resources among alternative uses, and since we are a democratic polity with a multi-religious and multi-ethnic society with a large number of poor, we have to think more than twice about defence spending. 

Conclusion

An internally divided India cannot play any role externally. The ‘strategic community’ should concentrate on reinforcing this real soft power of India which is what the rest of the world appreciates and not lose time and resources in peripheral ventures that bring no lasting benefit

Indian Constitution and Polity:

Make BCCI a public body: law panel(The Hindu) 

Context

Commission also wants the cricket board to be brought under RTI Act for scrutiny by any citizen

What has happened?

The 90-year-old Board of Control for Cricket in India (BCCI) should be declared a public body. The board and all its member cricket associations should be brought under the Right to Information law regime, the Law Commission of India recommended to the government on Wednesday 

Commission’s observations

  • The board’s monopolistic activities, directly and indirectly, affect the fundamental rights of citizens, players, and other functionaries.
  • A private citizen should be able to move the highest court against the BCCI for any violation of his fundamental rights
  • Commission concluded that the BCCI exercises ‘state-like’ powers in the regulation of cricket, and thus, comes under the definition of ‘state

Why it’s concluded that BCCI is a “limb of the State”?

  • Cricket board, as an entity, is permitted de facto by the state to represent the country at the international stage
  • It selects the Indian cricket team
  • The selected players wear the national colours and are the recipients of Arjuna awards
  • The ICC recognises BCCI as the ‘official’ body representing India and neither the government, nor BCCI have ever challenged, discussed or changed the status.

Corruption concerns

It has created “an impression in the minds of the general public that corruption and other forms of malpractices are adversely affecting one of the most popular sports played in India.”

Minority institutions panel gets court relief(The Hindu)

Context

NCMEI has jurisdiction to determine minority status: SC

What has happened?

The Supreme Court on Wednesday held that the National Commission for Minority Educational Institutions (NCMEI) has original jurisdiction to determine which institution should be granted minority status

SC observed

  • Constitution granted a fundamental right to all minorities, whether based on religion or language, to establish and administer educational institutions of their choice
  • NCMEI Act empowered the Commission “to decide all questions relating to the status of an institution as a minority educational institution and to declare its status as such.”
  • The court held that the NCMEI had the power to decide any question that might arise, which relate directly or indirectly, with respect to the status of an institution as a minority educational institution.

At all stages

The Supreme Court held that the NCMEI could declare an establishment as a minority educational institution “at all stages.”

2006 amendments

  • Amendments to the NCMEI Act introduced a “sea change” to the Commission’s powers
  • The 2006 amendments even conferred powers of appeal against orders of the competent authority to the NCMEI
  • A power of cancellation was also vested in the NCMEI to cancel a certificate granted either by an authority or the NCMEI

GS: 3

Economy:

More to cash crunch than supply issues(The Hindu)

Context

Currency in circulation has grown slower in the past 2 years than GDP growth; digitisation has not helped cut the demand 

What has happened?

The unusual cash crunch situation in several States has thrown up a conundrum. Is this due to an unmet demand in cash supply or an unusual drop in the circulation of currency due to high withdrawals that have dried up ATMs? A look at data related to cash in circulation and GDP growth shows that there are both supply and demand issues that have resulted in the cash crunch in some States 

Reasons

  • Demand related issues that have lingered since demonetisation, exacerbated by upcoming elections in various States
  • Government’s desire to keep the cash-GDP ratio low, one of the justifications for demonetisation
  • There has not been an appreciable growth in the digital payments
  • Possible hoarding of Rs. 2000 notes. Hoarding could not only be a cause for the unmet demand but could also be a consequence of it, as people tend to hoard if they perceive that it is difficult to access or withdraw money 

State specific reasons for cash crunch

  • Karnataka has elections scheduled next month and cash use has been known to be high during polls
  • P., Telangana, Rajasthan and Madhya Pradesh also have elections scheduled later this year or within a year from now
  • Bihar figuring in this list must have to do with the fact that it has the lowest ATM density among major States; this means a relative lack of supply to a large population.

Supply issues

  • Beyond reasons of demand, there is also the fact that the RBI has either halted or slowed down its supply of Rs. 2,000 notes and has instead supplied lower denomination notes to meet cash requirements
  • Since April 2017, more than 48% of the new notes supplied have been of lower denominations, according to a reply by the Ministry of Finance in the Lok Sabha.

Conclusion

The cash crunch seems a consequence of both demand and supply issues.

Centre proposes relaxation of coastal regulation zone norms(The Hindu)

Context

States to get leeway in developing tourism, industrial infrastructure 

What has happened?

The Centre has allowed India’s coasts to be made more accessible to tourism and industrial infrastructure and given individual States considerable leeway to decide how they should plan such development, according to a draft version of the proposed modification to India’s coastal regulation zone plan made public on the Environment Ministry website on Wednesday

CRZ  2011

  • The coastal regulation zone, or CRZ, 2011, refers to regions in the proximity of India’s 7000-km-long shoreline where buildings, tourism facilities, industrial projects, residential facilities etc are highly regulated
  • In most cases it begins from the high tide line (HTL) to about 500 metres towards the landward side. The zone is subdivided into regions, with varying leeway for infrastructure development, depending on population and ecological sensitivity

CRZ-1

CRZ-1, for instance, includes the most ecologically sensitive areas and according to current laws is off-limits for tourism activities and infrastructure development except for defence, strategic and rare public utilities projects

New CRZ 2018 Notification: Nature trails and eco-tourism activities may be permitted in CRZ-1 regions provided they conform to state-approved coastal zone management plans

Changes in 2018 notification

Earlier:  CRZ, 2011 also defines as ‘coastal zone,’ the region from the HTL to 100 m of the creek along ‘tidal-influenced bodies’ such as bays, estuaries, rivers, backwaters, lagoons and ponds etc. that are connected to the sea

Change: The proposed laws relax this to 50 metres.

Earlier: Rural habitations or relatively undisturbed areas close to the shore, called CRZ-II, possessed a 200 metre ‘no development zone’

Change: This has now been reduced to 50 metres, provided the area has a population density exceeding 2161 per square kilometre as per the 2011 Census.

Concerns expressed by environmentalists

Environmentalists say that the new regulations have been framed without a transparent public consultation process.

Committee report wasn’t made public

  • A committee headed by Shailesh Nayak, former secretary, Ministry of Earth Sciences, had framed a report to reconsider the limits of the existing coastal zone regulations.
  • The report however wasn’t made public by the Environment Ministry
  • It was only after several Right to Information requests that the policy was made available and that too, after pressure from the Central Information Commissioner

Government Policies:

National portal to share research facilities soon(The Hindu) 

Context

Easy access to expensive equipment

What has happened?

The portal — Indian Science, Technology and Engineering Facilities Map (I-STEM) — will soon become operational. The government green signaled the project last month

Online reservation system

The institutions and organizations that have the equipment and facilities will provide access to researchers for both academic and non-academic work through an online reservation system.

Many benefits

  • It will provide access to researchers to any equipment or facility that has been procured using public funds, the equipment will be better utilized and it will avoid duplication of expensive equipment as much as possible
  • Sharing expensive equipment can bring down the cost of doing research in India

Environment:

No pollution-reduction targets in Central plan(The Hindu)

What has happened?

In a strange move that is unlikely to impress anyone concerned over the worsening air quality in our cities, the government has refrained from specifying pollution-reduction targets in its draft National Clean Air Programme (NCAP)

Key points

  • The draft NCAP will be open to public comments until May 17
  • It envisions setting up 1,000 manual air-quality-monitoring stations (a 45% increase from the present number) and 268 automatic stations (triple the current 84). It also, for the first time, plans to set up pollution-monitoring stations in rural areas
  • The NCAP follows from the Environment Ministry’s submissions to the Supreme Court on March 8, 2018.

Olive Ridleys return for rare mass nesting(The Hindu)

What has happened?

In a rare occurrence, Olive Ridley turtles turned up for mass nesting for the second time at the Rushikulya rookery on the Odisha coast in the early hours of Wednesday, where mass hatching of eggs of these endangered marine turtles is still continuing

Needs study

  • Though sporadic nesting of a few Olive Ridley turtles was observed at the coast, a recurrence of mass nesting was never expected.
  • As per past records, mass nesting had never occurred during the month of April on the Odisha coast
  • The reason behind this late recurrence of mass nesting should be studied by wildlife experts

Earlier incidences of two phases of mass nesting

  • In 2006, the Rushikulya rookery witnessed two phases of mass nesting of Olive Ridley turtles, but at short intervals
  • A similar event occurred in 2009 when mass nesting took place in February as well as in March. But in both cases, the second phase of mass nesting occurred when eggs laid by the first group of turtles were incubating under the sand

But Different

Mass nesting had never occurred during mass hatching on this coast

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