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GS: 2

International relations:

Maldives crisis: India in touch with U.S., China(The Hindu)

With the emergency in the Maldives still in place and worries about a constitutional crisis, New Delhi is in touch with both Washington and Beijing over the situation, officials confirmed on Friday.

Context:

  • With the emergency in the Maldives and worries about a constitutional crisis, India is in touch with both Washington and Beijing over the situation.

Discussions between India and the U.S:

  • Both the leaders of India and the U.S. expressed concern about the political crisis in the Maldives and the importance of respect for democratic institutions and rule of law.
  • They had discussed working together to enhance security and prosperity in the Indo-Pacific region.
  • They also spoke of the situation in Myanmar, the plight of Rohingya refugees and the denuclearisation of North Korea.

MEA caution:

  • The Ministry of External Affairs (MEA) also cautioned the Maldives against any plan to bring in Chinese naval or security reinforcements to Male.

Modi in Ramallah today, to discuss peace process(The Hindu)

Context:

  • Prime Minister Narendra Modi is visiting three West Asia nations namely Palestine, UAE and Oman is effort to expand demographic, political and economic ties with India’s largest trade region.
  •  Prime Minister started visit with stopover at Jordan capital Amman where he met King Abdullah II and on very next day visiting Ramallah in the West Bank, the headquarter of Palestinian Authority to discuss the bilateral issues.

Issues for discussions in Palestine:

  • During the visit of Jordan, the talks between Jordan and India covered the Palestine cause, the Jordan’s role in protecting Islamic and Christian holy sites in Jerusalem, based on Hashemite custodianship over the holy shrines.
  • In Ramallah, the bilateral issues of Indian and Palestine Authority and Israeli- Palestine peace process will be discussed.
  • Earlier in an interview, Palestinian President Mohmoud Abbas said that they would discuss the possible role India could play in the peace process, bilateral relations, regional situations as well as different economical aspects beyond the existing ties with India.
  • The visit of Palestine is historic as Narendra Modi become the first Prime Minister of India to visit Palestine. The visit to Ramallah through Jordan without crossing through any of the Israeli checkpoints is consistent with India’s “dehyphenation policy”.

Oman and UAE Visit:

  • The visit to UAE and Oman presents further opportunities for India to increase trade base. Oman is possibly the most stable nation in the region with stable economy, and relatively peaceful society managed by the region’s longest serving sultan , Qaboos Bon Said al Said, who ruled the nation since 1970.
  • The UAE already has robust relations with India that have strengthened over the past few years. During the visit, Prime Minister will lay foundation stone for Abu Dhabi’s first Hindu temple.

Conclusion:

  • The tri nation visit of Prime Minister is aimed at deepening multifaceted ties with Gulf and West Asian region. The visit to Oman is significant and redefine our neighbourhood from a maritime perspective. The energy and security cooperation, trade and investment and counterterror efforts will top the agenda during February 9 – 12 trip to the region.

PM Modi begins Arab outreach from Jordan(The Hindu)

Prime Minister Narendra Modi held bilateral discussions with King Abdullah II of Jordan on Friday, the External Affairs Ministry said in an official statement. The parleys with the king in Amman was the first of Mr. Modi’s meetings during the four-day trip to the West Asian region, which will include a historic first visit to Palestine scheduled for Saturday.

Context:
Prime Minister Modi began his Arab outreach from Jordan

About the tour:

  • On 9th February, Prime Minister Narendra Modi held bilateral discussions with King Abdullah II of Jordan
  • The visit to Palestine is scheduled on 10th February.
  • It is a de-hyphenated tour as the Indian prime Minister will enter the territory of West Bank without having to go through Israel.
  • He is expected to leave for Ramallah, the Palestinian capital.
  • Following the trip to Ramallah, Prime Minister Modi will leave for the UAE for a two-day trip which is expected to culminate in a number of bilateral agreements.
  • Apart from such military and security cooperation, 12 to 14 agreements are likely to be signed

UAE will ensure freedom of worship, says envoy(The Hindu)

The United Arab Emirates will ensure the freedom of worship for Indian workers and professionals, its Ambassador to India, Ahmed Al-Banna, has said.

Context:

  • The United Arab Emirates will ensure the freedom of worship for Indian workers and professionals.

United Arab Emirates realizes the religious rights of Indians:

  • United Arab Emirates was one of the first to realize the need for the religious rights of the Indian community in West Asia.
  • With the arrival of Indian workers and professionals during the 1950s, the country facilitated the construction of the first Hindu temple in Dubai a decade later.
  • Soon, a Gurdwara was built between Abu Dhabi and Dubai.
  • A construction of temple would begin shortly.
  • Once ready, the temple will be the second Hindu place of worship in the UAE.

Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s visit to Palestine, the UAE and Oman:

  • Prime Minister Modi arrived in Amman, Jordan, on Friday at the start of the February 9-12 tour of Palestine, the UAE and Oman.
  • His visit to these countries is crucial in the backdrop of tensions within the Cooperation Council for the Arab States of the Gulf, also known as the Gulf Cooperation Council, and the economic sluggishness which has frequently affected the Indian workers in the Arab economies.
  • Security and counter-terror cooperation are likely to get a boost during Prime Minister Modi’s visit as both sides have emerged as key players in countering threats to security and regional instability.

For here or to go?(The Hindu Opinion)

For the estimated 1.5 million Indian Americans waiting for a green card, or permanent residency, in America, this is more than a question about a meal.

Context:

Indian Americans are now mobilising for legal reforms that would allow them to pursue their American dream

The issue of ‘Dreamers’:

  •  ‘Dreamers’ are undocumented immigrants brought to the U.S. as children
  •  Recently the Trump administration has announced that it planned to scrap Daca, the program that gives temporary protection to undocumented migrants who arrived in the US as children.
  • Nearly 800,000 dreamers currently face a dire situation as they will begin to lose their legal status beginning early March

What is Daca?

Daca is a federal government program created in 2012 under Barack Obama to allow people brought to the US illegally as children the temporary right to live, study and work in America.

The issue of Green Card for skilled Indian-Americans:

  • Amidst this urgent debate on dreamers, skilled Indian Americans are trying to get their voice in.
  • According to U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services (USICS) data, in the 11 years until 2017, of the 34 lakh applications for H-1B visas, 21 lakh were from Indians
  •  Of the million-plus green cards issued by the U.S. every year, around 140,000 are employment-based — the category that most Indians already in the U.S. are eligible for.
  •  But according to the existing system, only about 9,800 of these can go to immigrants from any particular nation. Therefore, each year, at least 50,000 new Indians join the queue for Green Card, creating an ever-bulging backlog of applicants.

Legislations to address the issue:

Fairness for High-Skilled Immigrants Act

Yoder (a district with significant number of Indians) has been pushing a legislation called the Fairness for High-Skilled Immigrants Act, which will remove country caps in green card allocations.

Immigration Innovation Act or the I-Squared Act:

  •  Immigration Innovation Act has been released by Senators Orrin Hatch and Jeff Flake, both Republicans, in the last week of January.
  • The proposed law will link the number of H-1B visas each year to market conditions, make the visa permanent (thereby reducing the worker’s dependency on employers), increase their mobility, and clear the existing backlog for green cards.
  • To address concerns regarding the misuse of the programme, it proposes to raise wages, ensure stricter enforcement, and provide funds for training American science and technology talent.

H-1B Programme:

  • The H1-B visa is a non-immigrant visa given by the United States to employ skilled workers from other countries for various specialised fields of occupation for a certain period of time.
  •   The Trump administration has been reviewing the H-1B visa programme and it is likely to bring new restrictions in its administration. Democrats and American businesses also agree that the current H-1B programme needs to be reworked to plug loopholes for misuse.

‘We need India’s help to solve the impasse’(The Hindu)

International actors may intervene to try and resolve the current crisis in the Maldives, but India alone can be the game changer, according to the island nation’s exiled former President Mohamed Nasheed.

Context:

Exiled Maldivian ex-President Mohamed Nasheed has said that India has a crucial role to play in solving the ongoing political crisis in Maldives.

What has happened?

  • On February 5, the Maldivian government declared a state of emergency after Supreme Court’s order to release opposition leaders from the prison.
  • The declaration was followed by a spate of high-profile arrests
  •  Even media has been receiving threats following the coverage of the February 1st Supreme Court ruling that set off the crisis. However, security is provided to government- backed media stations.

What has been the international response?

The U.S., the U.K., the European Union, India and the UN have all criticised President Yameen’s government for defying a Supreme Court order.

Ex-President Nasheed’s Comments:

  • The former President had appealed to India, asking for military intervention in the Maldives.
  • According to him, international actors may intervene to try and resolve the current crisis in the Maldives, but India alone can be the game changer

Beijing calls for ‘home-grown’ solution(The Hindu)

Context:

  • The political crisis in Maldives could lead to serious geopolitical consequences as the Yameen government is known to have friendly relations with China.
  • Maldives is also a member of China’s ambitious Belt and Road Initiatives.
  • In July 2015, Maldives had also pressed for an amendment in constitution allowing foreign ownership of freehold land amid concern that it could lead to increased Chinese military presence in the island nation.

China’s approach on the Maldives crisis:

  • In this context, the Chinese foreign Minister has speeded up its efforts to find home grown solution to end crisis in Maldives, to avoid tension with India and ensure further improvement of post Doklam ties with India.
  • Foreign Minister of China, Mr. Wang Yi stressed that China will not interfere in the internal affairs of Maldives. “China will not interfere in the internal affairs of the Maldives.
  • It was unlikely at this stage that China will embark on active mediation to ease the situation in Maldives.
  • The Chinese Foreign Minister backed the Yameen administration by saying that the “Maldives government and people have the ability and wisdom to properly resolve the current issue and restore the normalcy in the country in accordance with law”.

‘India factor’ for China’s strategy:

  • China’s activism in the Maldives was significantly driven by the “India factor”. According to China, the Maldives development should not become another problem between China and India.
  • Post Doklam border crisis, ties between India and China were now advancing well, and the momentum of this improvement had to be taken forward by China.
  • The two visits in December to India — by Foreign Minister Wang and Politburo member Yang Jiechi — had built on the “fresh start” talks in September between Chinese President Xi Jinping and Prime Minister Narendra Modi during the BRICS summit in Xiamen.
  • In a timely gesture, the Chinese side has re-opened the gates of the Kailash-Mansarovar pilgrimage for Indian travellers through Nathu La in Sikkim. The route was closed last year in the wake of the Doklam stand-off.

Conclusion:

  • In this contest, China has advocated an inclusive domestic dialogue by pointing out that Beijing supported the “Maldives government to properly resolve the issue through dialogue and consultation with relevant parties and uphold the independence, sovereignty and the legitimate rights and interests of Maldives.

GS: 3


Economy:

Are fiscal risks increasing?(The Hindu)

Context:

  • Budget 2018-19 has proposed amending the FRBM Act again, which will shift the target of 3% fiscal deficit-GDP ratio to end-March 2021.

New framework:

  • The new statutory anchors relate to the general and Central government debt-GDP ratios that are to be reduced to 60% and 40% of GDP, respectively, by 2024-25, based on the recommendations of the report by the FRBM Review Committee.
  • No target has been set for revenue deficit.

Background:

  • After the enactment of the Fiscal Responsibility and Budget Management (FRBM) Act in 2003 and the related FRBM Rules in 2004, the target fiscal deficit to GDP ratio of 3% for the Union government was achieved only once, in 2007-08, when it was 2.5%.
  • The FRBM Act was amended twice, in 2012 and 2015.
  • The revisions in 2015 shifted the date for achieving the 3% target to 2017-18. By this year, the amended revenue deficit target was put at 2% of GDP.

Fiscal and revenue deficits relative to GDP:

  • The average rate or margin by which different governments have reduced the fiscal and revenue deficits relative to GDP has been quite low.
  • The average margin of reduction over two periods, namely 2009-10 to 2013-14 and 2014-15 to 2018-19, for fiscal deficit relative to GDP was 0.3 percentage points per year in the first period and 0.2 percentage points per year for the second period.
  • For the Centre’s debt-GDP ratio, the average reduction margin was 1.1 percentage points and 0.5 percentage points per year for the two periods, respectively.

Key recommendations were not accepted:

  • The committee had not given up on the desirability of achieving revenue account balance. It had specified a revenue deficit glide path, reaching 0.8% by 2022-23. This too was not accepted.
  • The Central government did not accept another recommendation of setting up a fiscal council, which could independently examine the economic case and justification for deviating from the specified targets.
  • In the committee’s recommendations, the debt-GDP levels of 60% and 40% of GDP for the general and Central governments, respectively, were to be achieved by 2022-23. These target dates have been shifted to 2024-25.

Fiscal risks

  •  Fiscal risks may also be higher with the reliance on extra-budgetary resources for financing a number of ambitious government spending programmes.
  • In the Budget for 2018-19, the total outlays for three focus areas, namely, agriculture and rural livelihoods, infrastructure and education, and health and social sectors, amount to 11.6% of GDP.
  • Budgetary resources constitute only 16.4% of the total outlay.
  • The balance, 83.6%, is to be raised as an extra-budgetary resource by the public sector enterprises concerned, special purpose vehicles and other similar institutions.

Science and Technology:

Testing the diagnosis(The Hindu Opinion)

Traditional and scientific medical systems cannot be integrated.

Context:

  • Desiring the integration of all medical systems is naive and unrealistic.
  • Traditional and scientific medical systems cannot be integrated.

Doctrine of traditional way:

  • All cultures wanted explanations on why some fell ill while others did not, and, what remedies cure different illnesses.
  • All had come up with concepts, dogmas and beliefs, as well as many treatment modalities.
  • Three examples that have survived the test of time are the ancient Indian and Chinese traditional systems and the more recent homoeopathy.
  • All of them are together called ‘traditional medicine’.

Doctrine of homeopathy:

  • In homoeopathy, the basic doctrine is that molecules of chemicals that simulate symptoms similar to those in illnesses, given in minute and non-toxic quantities, are the remedies.
  • The principle “similia similibus curentur” (likes cure likes) is implied in the name homoeopathy, in contrast to allopathy (synonym of scientific medicine), in which antidotes counter the causes of diseases.

Doctrine of Chinese system:

  • The major doctrine in the Chinese system is that Qi, life’s vital energy, flows via ‘meridians’ that connect all organs and tissues.
  • If any gets blocked, illnesses result.
  • Acupuncture, acupressure, massages, specific exercises and special diets and herbal medicines are applied as remedies.

Doctrine of Ayurveda:

  • Ayurveda has the Thridosha doctrine.
  • Imbalances between three hypothetical doshas cause illnesses; remedies are herbal concoctions, oils, oil massages, special diets, purgation, deworming, etc.

Doctrine of Scientific medicine:

  • Scientific medicine developed and grew in Germany, Austria, France, Britain and the U.S. during the 18th and 19th centuries through an iterative and cumulative process.
  • Natural sciences (physical and biologic, including microbiology, biochemistry and genetics) with their methods of inquiry and emphasis on objective evidence heavily influenced its growth, which continued in the 20th century and is still continuing.
  • Scientific medicine can and must question and revise dogmas, concepts, explanations and therapeutics through research inquiries.

Question of accountability (scientific system):

  • Since the scientific system is open to verification, physicians have accountability to make evidence-based diagnosis and formally recommended remedies.
  • Any two independent physicians are required to make the same diagnosis and the same guidelines of therapy.
  • All diseases have been named, numbered and classified into a compendium — the International Classification of Diseases, the 10th edition being in current use and 11th edition in the making.
  • If one physician makes a diagnosis and treats as such, the patient has the right to ask if both are based on evidences available in books and periodicals.
  • In case the physician had not followed such norms, he/she is liable to be tried for medical negligence and the patient compensated, if so proven.

Question of accountability (traditional system):

  • In other words, scientific medicine demands ‘accountability’ on the part of the physician — for ‘correct’ diagnosis and treatment.
  • Since such verifications and detailed classifications are not present in traditional medical systems, a physician diagnoses and treats as best as he/she could, but without verifiability or accountability.
  • Fortunately, therapies in traditional medicines are generally harmless — hence patients do not face much risk.

Mars on earth: simulation tests held in remote desert of Oman(The Hindu)

Two scientists in spacesuits, stark white against the auburn terrain of desolate plains and dunes, test a geo-radar built to map Mars by dragging the flat box across the rocky sand.

Context:

  • The desolate desert in southern Oman, near the borders of Yemen and Saudi Arabia, resembles Mars so much that more than 200 scientists from 25 nations chose it as their location for the next four weeks, to field-test technology for a manned mission to Mars.

The Dhofar Desert:

  • On the eastern edge of Dhofar Desert is the Oman Mars Base.
  • It is a giant 2.4-ton inflated habitat surrounded by shipping containers turned into labs and crew quarters.

Base of Dhofar Desert:

  • Seen from space, the Dhofar Desert is a flat, brown expanse.
  • Few animals or plants survive in the desert expanses of the Arabian Peninsula, where temperatures can top 51 degrees Celsius.
  • The desert’s surface resembles Mars so much, it’s hard to tell the difference because the types of geomorphology, all the structures, the salt domes, the riverbeds, the wadis, it parallels a lot of what can be seen on Mars.

AMADEE-18:

  • The Omani government offered to host the Austrian Space Forum’s next Mars simulation during a meeting of the UN’s Committee On the Peaceful Uses of Outer Space.
  • Scientists from across the world sent ideas for experiments and the mission, named AMADEE-18, quickly grew to 16 scientific experiments.

A walk on Mars:

  • SpaceX founder Elon Musk declared humans would walk on Mars in a few decades.
  • New challengers like China are joining the U.S. and Russia in space with an ambitious Mars program.
  • Aerospace corporations like BlueOrigin have published schematics of future bases, ships and suits.

Personal spaceship:

  • The cutting-edge spacesuit, weighing about 50 kg, is called a “personal spaceship” because one can breathe, eat and do hard science inside it.
  • The suit’s visor displays maps, communications and sensor data.

Next step to Mars:

  • The next step to Mars, is to tackle non-engineering problems like medical emergency responses and isolation.
  • While cosmonauts and astronauts are learning valuable spacefaring skills on the International Space Station and
  • The U.S. is using virtual reality to train scientists, the majority of work to prepare for interplanetary expeditions is being done on Earth.

Environment:

Murky mining(The Hindu Opinion)

The Supreme Court order to halt the murky course that mining has taken in Goa should help restore some balance to the exploitation of iron and manganese ore in the ecologically fragile State.

Context:

The Supreme Court has cancelled 88 mining leases given by Goa government for violating procedure

What has happened?

  • The Supreme Court has cancelled 88 mining leases granted by the Goa government for violating procedure and ordered that fresh licences be granted through a bidding process
  • These leases, which were renewed for the second time, would run till March 15 after which they would lapse
  • The court said the government’s process of renewing the mining permits was “in violation of law”.
  • The apex court also directed setting up of a special investigation team (SIT), which would include a chartered accountant, for recovery of money the companies made after the mining permits were renewed.
  • The court was responding to a public interest litigation (PIL) filed by Goa Foundation in 2015, questioning the lease renewal

Significance of Court’s Decision:

  • The environmental impact of mining is colossal
  • The Supreme Court’s decision to halt mining is expected to help restore some balance to the exploitation of iron and manganese ore in the ecologically fragile state.

Way Forward:

  • Goa has argued that the mining industry is crucial to its economy as it brings in foreign exchange, provides employment and supports a transport industry.
  • However, it is also true that the ore mined in the State is low in iron, reducing its value to the domestic steel industry.
  • Given that mining has a severe destructive impact on the ecology, resumption of large-scale activity should await a scientific audit of how sustainable it is.
  • Further, the Supreme Court’s decision has given Goa the opportunity to change the course and become a mainstream tourist state.

 

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