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GS: 2


International relations:

The Asian ripple effect(The Hindu Opinion)

Context:

  • Asia’s three main powers, India, Japan and China are adapting to the possibility of a post-U.S. world order whereby U.S is largely growing protectionism within the brackets of ‘America First’.

Mutual engagements among India, Japan and China:

  • India’s reset of ties with China needs to be viewed as part of a larger Asian reset with Beijing and Japan.
  • China and Japan has begun a conversation on two potentially divisive themes: China’s Belt and Road Initiative (BRI) and Japan’s Indo-Pacific strategy.
  • It is likely that when Chinese Prime Minister Li Keqiang goes to Japan next month, there could be further discussion on:
    • President Xi Jinping’s blueprint of industrialising Eurasia through the BRI, and
    • Japan’s Indo-Pacific strategy covering an engagement with the Indian and the Pacific Oceans, and with Asia and Africa.
  • The cycle of China-Japan re-engagement is likely to conclude with Mr. Xi’s visit to Japan, possibly for the Osaka G20 summit next year.

Way ahead:

  • Even though China has economic capabilities, it is not in pole position to command a new Asian hierarchy.
  • China would need solid partnerships with regional countries such as Japan, South Korea and India, as well as a free trade deal such as the Regional Comprehensive Economic Partnership, to achieve further success.
  • India is also well positioned to forge a new geo-economic relationship with China, which could be coordinated with Tokyo’s growing engagement with Beijing, to establish an extensively collaborative but multipolar Asia.

‘India, China are guardians of multipolar world’(The Hindu)

Context:

  • Ahead of the Shanghai Cooperation Organistaion (SCO), External Affairs Minister Sushma Swaraj and Defence Minister Nirmala Sitharaman met their foreign counterparts in Beijing.

Announcement of a two-day summit:

  • A two-day summit between between Chinese President Xi Jinping and Prime Minister Narendra Modi will be held in Wuhan from April 27, 2018.
  • The two leaders in their meeting in Wuhan will take of long view of their ties, and tailor China-India relations to impact the evolving international situation.
  • The two leaders will also discuss the latest trends of the world so that there is a stable global development.

Indian Constitution and Polity:

RS Chairman rejects motion against Chief Justice Misra(The Hindu)

Context:

  • The notice given by the opposition for the removal of the CJI has received mixed reactions across the political spectrum.

RS Chairman rejects the motion:

  • According to Rajya Sabha Chairman M. Venkaiah Naidu , the petition was based on suspicion, conjectures and assumptions, and doesn’t constitute proof beyond reasonable doubt.
    • As for the CJI’s “misbehaviour”, the chairman noted that the Opposition was “unsure” of its own case.
    • As for the charge of the CJI “arbitrarily assigning politically sensitive cases to select judges,” he quoted a five-judge Bench order of the SC that reiterates the CJI as being ‘master of the roster.’
    • The chairman also said that the petition does not constitute proof beyond reasonable doubt, which is required in a case of ‘proved misbehaviour’ under Article 124 of the Constitution.

‘Cooperation can resolve Mahanadi dispute’(The Hindu)

Context:

  • The Water Initiatives Odisha (WIO) and Mahanadi River Waterkeeper has recently organised the 2nd Odisha River Conference.

2nd Odisha River Conference:

  • Around 150 people from basin communities such as farmers and fisherfolks participated in the programme along with civil society representatives, river and water experts and academicians from across the country.
  • An  Inter-State Cooperation Framework for the resolution of the Mahanadi river water dispute was constituted.

Issues revolving around the Mahanadi water dispute:

  • Competitive politics over the Mahanadi water sharing;
  • Both the States are treating the Mahanadi as a commodity and not a natural resource;
  • Odisha-centric or Chhattisgarh-centric approach to solving the issue.

The guiding principles to solve the water disputes are as follows:

  • Formulation of a comprehensive understanding;
  • availability of water in the basin; and
  • People’s rights on the river.

Mahanadi:

  • Mahanadi is the sixth largest river in India.
  • It originates from Chhattisgarh and enters the Bay of Bengal travelling 851 km, of which 357 km lies in Chhattisgarh and 494 km in Odisha.

Finance Ministers to discuss wider range of issues(The Hindu)

Context:

  • Andhra Pradesh will be soon hosting a second round of Finance Ministers’ conclave on May, 7th in Vijayawada.

Salient features of the second edition of the Finance Ministers conclave:

  • The horizons of the second edition of the Finance Ministers conclave are being widened to pave way for the participation of other States such as Mizoram, Odisha, Punjab and Delhi.
  • Tamil Nadu and Telangana, which skipped the first meeting at Thiruvananthapuram, are also expected to take part in the meeting.
  • The meeting will also decide the course of action such as submitting a representation to Union Finance Minister Arun Jaitley or President Ramnath Kovind.
  • The meeting is aimed at discussing the adverse terms of reference in the 15th Finance Commission.

Consequences of implementing terms of reference (ToR) in the 15th Finance Commission :

  • Every State would be at the receiving end if the ToR were to be considered.
  • The ToR is considered as a deliberate attempt to forcibly impose conditions on and cut down tax devolutions.
  • It was expected that States would lose about Rs 80,000 crore per annum.
  • Tamil Nadu would be the worst affected by the ToR’s recommendation to use the 2011 census.

Way ahead:

  • The Centre has plans to do away with the revenue deficit grant, a constitutional right of the States.
  • Mere appeals to the States to reduce the tax would not suffice, the Centre should also bring down duties on petroleum products.

SC notice to govt. on petition to outlaw Section 377(The Hindu)

Context:

  • The Supreme Court has recently asked the government to respond to a plea to strike down the colonial Section 377 of the Indian Penal Code which criminalizes homosexuality.

Background:

  • December 2013: Supreme Court dismissed the LGBT community as a negligible part of the population while virtually denying them the right of choice and sexual orientation.

A bench headed by Chief Justice Dipak Misra observed the following points:

  • ‘Right to choice of sexual orientation’ needs to be declared as part of the fundamental right to life and personal liberty under Article 21 of the Constitution;
  • A section of people cannot live in fear of a law which atrophies their right to choice and natural sexual inclinations;
  • Societal morality changes with time and the law should change pace with life, adding that the concept of consensual sex may require more protection; and
  • Individual autonomy and individual natural inclination cannot be atrophied unless the restrictions are determined as reasonable.

GS: 3


Economy:

Threefold solution for sugar payments crisis(The Hindu)

Context:

A Group of Ministers has suggested a three-fold solution to the sugar payment crisis

Background of the Crisis:

  • Following higher sugarcane production and crash in prices dues to sugarcane farmers from mills have piled up
  • Payment to sugarcane farmers is considered ‘due’ when it is delayed by more than 14 days after supplying raw cane to a mill
  • As of March 2018, sugar mills had pending dues worth Rs.13, 899 crore
  • According to Indian Sugar Mills Association, the due has presently crossed Rs. 20,000 crore

What suggestions have been put forward?

  • Sugar cess
  • Production subsidy for cane farmers
  • Reduction of the Goods and Services Tax on ethanol from 18% to 5%

The risks in fracking(The Hindu Opinion)

Context:

Prospects and risks associated with the process of fracking for extraction of shale gas.

What is shale gas and oil?

  • Unconventional natural resources
  • Found at 2,500-5,000 m below the earth’s surface within a special form of sedimentary rock termed shale rock.

What is fracking or hydraulic fracturing?

  • Process used for extracting shale gas and oil
  • High volumes of water mixed with certain chemicals are pushed down to break the rocks release the trapped energy minerals.

India Scenario:

  • In 2013, GoI approved the policy guidelines for the exploration and exploitation of shale gas and oil
  • It permitted national oil companies to engage in fracking.

India has identified six basins as areas for shale gas exploration:

  • Cambay (Gujarat),
  • Assam-Arakan (North East),
  • Gondwana (Central India),
  • Krishna Godavari onshore (East Coast),
  • Cauvery onshore, and
  • Indo-Gangetic basins

What are the benefits of commercial exploitation of Shale Deposits for India?

  • Meet energy demands
  • Decrease oil and gas imports
  • Improve balance of payments

What are the concerns associated?

Commercial exploitation of shale deposits by fracking have social and environmental concerns associated

  • Water pollution: As chemically-treated water is used to bring out the gas, fracking will lead to surface and groundwater pollution
  • Increased air emissions
  • Increased seismic activity
  • Conflict: High water requirements for fracking may clearly put shale gas explorers in conflict with the local population.

What are the legal hurdles involved?

  • Right to clean and healthy environment is a fundamental right under right to life
  • Further, the state has the duty to protect its natural resources from harm
  • If the risks of fracking to groundwater materialises, the judiciary can hold state responsible for it and order for preventive and corrective measures
  • The government is also obliged to adopt measures in accordance to the ‘precautionary principle’
  • The principle states that where there is a significant risk to the environment or human health, precautionary measures must be undertaken, irrespective of any scientific uncertainty
  • Further, the Model Bill for the Conservation, Protection, Regulation and Management of Groundwater, 2016 has set certain priority uses of groundwater- right to water for life, water for food security, supporting sustenance agriculture, sustainable livelihoods and eco-system needs
  • Only after meeting these needs groundwater can be used for other purposes

Way Ahead:

  • Countries like Germany and France; sub national governments like Scotland have banned fracking
  • Keeping in mind the risks involved, the government should impose a prohibition on fracking

India highest recipient of remittances(The Hindu)

Context:

According to World Bank’s Migration and Development Brief, India has retained the top position as a recipient of remittances.

Highlights of the Report:

Remittances inflows:

  • Global remittances which includes flows to high income countries grew 7 per cent to USD 613 billion in 2017 from USD 573 billion in 2016
  • India ranked first as the recipient of remittances ($69 billion in 2017)
  • India’s remittance inflows increased 9.9% in 2017 after a steep decline in 2016
  • India is followed by China, Philippines, Mexico, Nigeria and Egypt
  • Remittances to South Asia grew a moderate 5.8 percent to $117 billion in 2017.
  • Flows to Bangladesh and Pakistan remained largely flat in 2017
  • Small decline in remittances flowing to Sri Lanka

What factors contributed to increase in India’s remittance inflows?

  • Economic growth in Europe, Russia and US
  • Increase in oil prices

Average cost of Sending:

  • The global average cost of sending $200 was 7.1 per cent in the first quarter of 2018.
  • Highest average cost: 9.4 percent in Sub-Saharan Africa
  • Lowest average cost: 5.2 percent in South Asia.
  • The average cost is higher than the Sustainable Development Goal target of 3 percent in all regions

Barriers to Reducing cost:

  • Derisking by Banks
  • Exclusive partnership between national post officers systems and money transfer operators
  • These hinder the introduction of technologies, such as mobile apps and the use of crypto currency and Blockchain in remittance services

Predictions for 2018:

Global remittances are expected to grow 4.6% to $642 billion in 2018.

Government Policies:

PM to launch Gramin Swaraj Abhiyan from M.P. today(The Hindu)

Context:

Prime Minister Narendra Modi will launch the Rashtriya Gramin Swaraj Abhiyan in Mandla district of Madhya Pradesh on the National Panchayati Raj Day

What is Gramin Swaraj Abhiyan?

  • Campaign that is being organised on the occasion of Ambedkar Jayanti during the period 14th April to 05th May, 2018.
  • Undertaken under the name of “Sabka Sath, Sabka Gaon, Sabka Vikas”.

What are the objectives of the campaign?

  • To promote social harmony
  • Spread awareness about pro-poor initiatives of government
  • Reach out to poor households to enrol them in various welfare programmes
  • To obtain their feedback on different welfare programmes

Internal Security:

AFSPA lifted in Meghalaya(The Hindu)

Context:

AFSPA has been revoked from Meghalaya and parts of Arunachal Pradesh owing to improvement in security situation.

What has happened?

  • The Armed Forces (Special Powers) Act (AFSPA) has been revoked from Meghalaya since 1st April
  • In Arunachal Pradesh, the impact of AFSPA has been reduced to eight police stations instead of 16 police stations

What is AFSPA?

  • AFSPA came into force due to rising insurgencies in the north-eastern states
  • Armed Forces Special Powers Act was introduced in 1958
  • It gives armed forces the power to maintain public order in “disturbed areas”.

Gives armed forces the power to:

  • kill anyone acting in contravention of law,
  • Arrest and search any premises without a warrant
  • Provide cover to forces from prosecution and legal suits without the Centre’s sanction.

What is a ‘disturbed area’?

  • It is declared by notification under Section 3 of the AFSPA.
  • An area can be disturbed due to disputes between members of different religious, racial, language or regional groups or castes or communities.

Who can declare a ‘disturbed area’?

Central Government or the Governor of the state or administrator of UT

Which states are/had been under AFSPA?

  • Effective in the whole of Nagaland, Assam, Manipur (excluding seven assembly constituencies of Imphal)
  • In Arunachal Pradesh it was in force in 16 police stations and in Tirap, Longding and Changlang districts bordering Assam
  • In Meghalaya,it was effective in a 20 km area along the Assam-Meghalaya border
  • Tripura withdrew the AFSPA in 2015
  • Jammu and Kashmir has a similar Act

Changes in Protected Area Permit (PAP):

  • Under the Foreigners (Protected Areas) Order, 1958, all areas falling between the Inner line and the International Border of some States were declared as protected areas.
  • PAP for foreigners visiting Manipur, Mizoram and Nagaland has been relaxed
  • The PAP will be valid for five years with effect from 1st April
  • However, residents from Pakistan, Afghanistan and China will not be allowed to visit these areas.

Science and Technology:

For a digital library of life(The Hindu Opinion)

Context:

Similar to Human Genome Project, scientists have proposed Earth BioGenome Project, a massive project to sequence, catalogue and analyze the genomes of all eukaryotic species on the planet

About Human Genome Project:

  • The Human Genome Project was an international research effort to determine the sequence of the human genome and identify the genes that it contain
  • The project operated from 1990 to 2003

Significance of the Project:

  • It gave scientists a way to link networks of genes with disease and well-being
  • The project had major impact in the fields of medicine, biotechnology, and the life sciences.

About Earth BioGenome Project:

  • The Project has been envisaged in the paper titled “Earth BioGenome Project: Sequencing life for the future of life” published in the journal Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences.
  • It proposes a detailed genome-sequence draft of all eukaryote species
  • The project has a 10-year road map and hopes to sequence about 1.5 million eukaryote species in three phases.

Prerequisites for the project:

  • Innovative computations
  • Storage solutions
  • Global collaboration

Way Ahead:

  • The BioGenome Project has the potential to transform our understanding life on Earth.
  • It can pave the way for new innovations in medicine, agriculture, conservation, technology and genomics.
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