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GS: 2


International relations:

India rejects Maldives offer (The Hindu)

Context:

India has rejected an offer by Maldivian President Abdulla Yameen to send a special envoy to discuss the ongoing emergency in Maldives

What has happened?

  • Maldivian President Yameen has sent special envoys to China, Pakistan and Saudi Arabia to brief them about the deepening political crisis in the country.
  •  Questions were raised if Maldives in doing so had ignored its ‘India First’ policy.
  • However, the charges were denied by Maldivian Ambassador to India who further added that the envoy was cancelled on request of the Indian government
  •  Indian sources confirmed that the government had rejected the offer of an envoy because of protocol and scheduling reasons. Indian government has also been unhappy with President Yameen’s declaration of emergency and the military crackdown that followed.
  • India’s response indicates a growing strain in ties between India and Maldives

In different courts(The Hindu)

Context:

  • Nawaz Sharif, the former Prime Minister of Pakistan, who has been debarred from public office by the Supreme Court of Pakistan, is not just fighting back, but has been strengthened by the huge public response that he has been receiving as he takes his case to the people with elections due in the next few months.

The issue:

  • Nawaz Sharif, main argument has been that his dismissal is an outrage to the will of the people, and that the Supreme Court has delegitimised their democratic voice.

Recent disqualifications:

  • It is not only Mr. Sharif who has been removed from the Prime Minister’s Office by the Supreme Court.
  • In recent years  in 2012 so was Yousuf Raza Gilani of the Pakistan Peoples Party (PPP), who had been elected following Benazir Bhutto’s assassination, when the PPP formed the government in 2008.
  • Moreover, following Mr. Sharif’s ouster in July 2017, one Senator of his party, the Pakistan Muslim League-Nawaz (PMLN), has also been disqualified for making statements against Supreme Court judges.
  • And two ministers have been issued notices for contempt of court, and asked to present themselves at the Supreme Court to explain themselves, also for making statements against the Supreme Court judges.

Military dominance:

  • With Pakistan dominated by the military for many decades, all conspiracy theories regarding changes in government, or the dismissal of Prime Ministers, naturally land on the military’s door.
  • Hence, many retired generals and analysts stated, without offering any proof, that Mr. Sharif’s dismissal by the Supreme Court was on the behest of the military, rather than a decision made independently by the court.

‘Doctrine of Necessity’:

  • In the past when the military has rightly been seen as Pakistan’s main anti-democratic institution, it had always been the Supreme Court which provided constitutional cover to military regimes.
  • Under a notion of the ‘Doctrine of Necessity’, the Supreme Court legitimised the three military takeovers — in 1958, 1977 and 1999.
  • Each time, while the military regime differed as did its actions, the Court came to support such anti-democratic intervention, allowing ample space for military rule in Pakistan.
  • For almost all of Pakistan’s history, the Supreme Court has been complicit in military rule in Pakistan.

Inflexion point:

  • But since 2007, following great popular support, the judiciary had acquired considerable respect for its independence and pro-democratic position and statements, declaring on numerous occasions that it would never again support or condone a military takeover.
  • Recent interventions have been made on a number of rape cases, of those regarding the disappeared, and even in cases of extra-judicial killings.
  • Such activism has made the judiciary immensely popular in the public mind.
  • The fact that the military has been publicly criticised — by scholars, social media participants and politicians — in recent years gives some indication of the relative denuding of power and hegemony of the military in Pakistan.

Conclusion:

  • While Prime Ministers have been debarred and dismissed, and Ministers and Senators hauled up in front of the court, an undertrial military dictator is absconding with much ease and living in luxury abroad.
  • Failing to address this key case makes one suggest that it seems that the judiciary has been more concerned with the contempt of court, rather than the contempt of the Constitution.

‘Russian military relations with Pakistan very minimal’(The Hindu)

Context:

  •  Russia’s new Ambassador to India Nikolay Kudashev takes over at a tough time for bilateral ties.
  • Nikolay Kudashev in an interview said that the priority for New Delhi and Moscow would be sealing several defence agreements this year.
  • Bigger priority is young generation in contributing to our joint projects and bilateral relations, he said.
  • Is India-Russia military cooperation keeping pace, given India’s move to diversify its hardware procurement?
  • Both the countries expect the defence cooperation by signing of contractual obligations of anti-aircraft systems S-400, Ka-226T helicopters, and joint manufacture of frigates.
  • The joint development and manufacture of the Sukhoi/HAL Fifth Generation Fighter Aircraft (FGFA) is also on the agenda as is the supply of Mi-17 helicopters and upgrade of Mig-29 fighters.

On Afghanistan, is there any common ground between India and Russia today?

  • Both India and Russia need a peaceful and democratic Afghanistan free from terrorism, crime and drug trafficking.

Why has Russia shifted its stand on not dealing with Pakistan in the past ?

  • Nikolay said that “our relations with Pakistan in the military sphere are of a very minimum nature, and are strictly limited to anti-terrorism operations.
  • He also said that Russia’s ties with Pakistan cannot be viewed as an attempt to change the regional strategic balance.

A disquieting silence(The Hindu Opinion)

Context:

  • In the case of Rohingya, other than inking an “agreement” with Naypyidaw that normalcy and development would be promoted in the restive Rakhine state, government’s only public position has been to announce that it intends to send the nearly 40,000 Rohingya in India back to Myanmar.

India, Myanmar and China’s take on the issue:

  • According to Minister of State for Home Affairs, Kiren Rijiju, far as India is concerned, Rohingya people are all illegal immigrants and anybody who is an illegal immigrant has to be deported.
  • While India argues that it is not a signatory to the 1951 Refugee Convention, which forbids a country that accepts asylum seekers from returning them to a country.
  • Myanmar has neither said nor done anything to indicate that it is willing to recognise the now stateless Rohingya as citizens with basic rights, the first step to giving them a secure future.
  • In terms of regional geopolitics, India has ceded the diplomatic high ground to China, never famous for welcoming refugees.
  • With China taking a lead in bringing Myanmar and Bangladesh together in exploratory talks for the eventual return of the Rohingya, South Block must realise that both Dhaka and Naypyidaw are paying more attention to Beijing than they are to India.

Cease fire(The Hindu Opinion)

Context:

  • The 2003 ceasefire agreement between India and Pakistan is now alive only in the breach, with violations intensifying in number and much damage to life and livelihood along the border.
  • 2003 ceasefire agreement:
  • It is important to see the 2003 agreement in the immediate context of the time.
  • It came just four years after the Kargil war, and soon after India and Pakistan almost went to war following the December 13, 2001 terrorist attack on the Indian Parliament.

Current scenario:

  • In the latest incident, four Indian soldiers, including an Army Captain, were killed in the Bhimber Gali sector in cross-border firing.
  • These casualties are a natural extension of what has been unfolding along the International Boundary as well as the Line of Control for the past several months.
  • As a result, 2017 has turned out to be the worst year since the agreement brought calm to the border 15 years ago.
  • By way of comparison, in 2015 there had been 152 incidents, and in 2016 there were 228.
  • January 2018 recorded the highest number of ceasefire violations in a month since 2003, according to estimates.

Conclusion:

  • Peace on the border is difficult to achieve at the tactical level by military leaders.
  • Restoring the ceasefire requires real statesmanship, not brinkmanship.

Indian Constitution and Polity:

SC flags exclusions under Aadhaar(The Hindu)

Context:

  • The Centre on Thursday maintained before the Supreme Court that nobody would be excluded or denied any entitlement due to inability to link Aadhaar.

Court’s opinion:

  • The government’s assurance came after Justice D Y Chandrachud, sitting in the bench, asked if it was not their obligation to ensure that ordinary people, especially pensioners and the marginalised sections of the community, were not denied their benefits till an adequate mechanism for authentication of identity under the Aadhaar Act was put in place.
  • Justice D.Y. Chandrachud, termed exclusion of people from their rightful entitlements because of biological reasons like old age was of a “permanent nature” unlike exclusion due to infrastructural failure like lack of electricity, Wi-Fi or biometric scanners in certain regions of the country.
  • He submitted that the elderly were unable to get their pension because the scanners were unable to read or scan their fingerprints or irises.

UIDAI:

  • The Unique Identification Authority of India (UIDAI) is a statutory authority under the provisions of the Aadhaar (Targeted Delivery of Financial and Other Subsidies, Benefits and Services) Act, 2016 (“Aadhaar Act 2016”) .
  • It was established on 12 July 2016 by the Government of India, under the Ministry of Electronics and Information Technology (MeitY).
  • Prior to its establishment as a statutory authority, UIDAI was functioning as an attached office of the then Planning Commission (now NITI Aayog.

Purpose:

  • UIDAI was created with the objective to issue Unique Identification numbers (UID), named as “Aadhaar”, to all residents of India that is
  1. robust enough to eliminate duplicate and fake identities, and
  2. can be verified and authenticated in an easy, cost-effective way.

Functions:

  • Under the Aadhaar Act 2016, UIDAI is responsible for Aadhaar enrolment and authentication, including operation and management of all stages of Aadhaar life cycle.
  • Developing the policy, procedure and system for issuing Aadhaar numbers to individuals and perform authentication and also required to ensure the security of identity information and authentication records of individuals.

Why Supreme Court action in Goa is nudge to honour rights to commons(Indian Express)

Context:

  • The Supreme Court quashed all iron ore mining leases in Goa, two days before the deadline for public feedback to the draft National Mineral Policy (NMP) 2018.
  • The court had mandated the National Mineral Policy on September, 2017 saying the older, 2008 policy was not being enforced perhaps due to the involvement of very powerful vested interests or a failure of nerve.

Background:

  • Back in October 2012, the top court had suspended iron ore mining and transportation in Goa, following the report of the Justice M B Shah Commission on illegal mining.
  • In April that year, the court had ordered a 10% levy on the sale value of ore to set up a Goa Permanent Fund (GPF) for protection of intergenerational equity.
  • So when the SC directed the Centre to revise NMP 2008, it was looking for a fresh, more effective, meaningful and implementable policy.

What draft says and doesn’t say:

  • The draft National Mineral Policy 2018, made public on January 10, calls for a long term export policy for the mineral sector.
  • It aims to bring stability and incentivize investments in large-scale commercial mining.
  • And proposes to offer mineral exploration companies the right of first refusal when mines explored by them are auctioned.
  • But there is not much in line with global best practices such as the Extractive Industries Transparency Initiative (EITI), whistleblower protection, Wealth Accounting and the Valuation of Ecosystem Services (WAVES), etc.
  • The draft also does not spell out the strategy to protect Intergenerational Equity, a doctrine that the Economic Survey 2016-17 has acknowledged while referring to the apex court’s orders.

The miners’ objections:

  • Mining companies have challenged the creation of the General Provident Fund (GPF).
  • They argued that with the District Mineral Foundations (DMFs) aimed at intergenerational equity and livelihood support for families affected by mining already in place, the GPF amounted to a double levy.

The global benchmarks:

  • Norway and 50 other countries/sub-nations have created permanent funds based on extracting economic rent from oil and other natural resources.
  • In North America, Alberta and Alaska set up Oil Funds in the mid-1970s.
  • Alberta and Alaska used the bulk of revenues to cut or abolish taxes, and allocated only a fraction to their Funds.
  • Chile set up its Copper Stabilisation Fund in 1985. During the 1997-98 financial crisis, it channelled $ 200 million from the Fund to the national economy.
  • Botswana established the Pula Fund in 1994 to save part of the income from diamond exports for future generations.
  • In 2008, Mongolia created a Human Development Fund, making every citizen eligible to own an equal share of the national mineral wealth.

Fundamentals of intergenerational equity:

  • The fundamentals of intergenerational equity demand some nonnegotiable principles: zero-waste and zero-loss mining, judicious capping, conserving reserves, minimum environmental damage under the polluter-pays principle, free informed consent of the mining-affected, funds for future and, most importantly, transparency.

Should States have their own flags?(The Hindu Opinion)

Context:

The committee constituted in Karnataka to design a flag for the State is said to have finalised a design.

What is the issue?

  • The government in Karnataka constituted a nine-member committee to design a state flag and look into the legalities of it.
  • The Committee is said to have finalised the design
  • The flag is reportedly a tricolour, modifying the popular yellow and red one seen in the State.

Flag in Karnataka:

  • Karnataka has had an unofficial flag since the mid 1960s.
  • The red and yellow flag was created by Kannada writer and activist Ma Ramamurthy for a pro-Kannada political party called the Kannada Paksha.
  • For years, there has been a demand to recognise it as the state’s official flag.

Legal sanctity:

  • The existing legal provisions do not prohibit states from having their own flags
  • Under the Constitution, a flag is not enumerated in the Seventh Schedule. However, Article 51A ordains that every citizen shall abide by the Constitution and respect its ideals and institutions, the national flag, and the national anthem.
  • There is no other provision regulating hoisting of flags, either by the States or by the public.
  • The Parliament has framed legislations regulating the hoisting of the national flag: Emblems and Names (Prevention of Improper Use) Act, 1950 and the Prevention of Insults to National Honour Act, 1971.
  • Under the 1950 Act the statutory prohibition is only against “use for any trade, business, calling or profession, or in the title of any patent, or in any trademark of design, any name or emblem specified in the Schedule”.
  • The 1971 Act prohibits insulting the national flag by burning it, mutilating it, defacing it, etc. However, there is no prohibition against any State hoisting its own flag
  • Also, the Flag Code of India, 2002 does not impose prohibitions on a State flag.
  • Further, the Code provides space for a State flag as long as it does not offend the dignity and honour of the national flag

What is the problem?

  • The only state so far to have a separate official flag is Jammu and Kashmir, which enjoys special status under the Indian constitution.
  • The Karnataka government’s decision to form a committee to look into the demand is a departure from the stand taken by the state’s earlier BJP government.
  • The earlier BJP government in Karnataka had argued that having a separate flag would be “against the unity and integrity of the country”.

Opinion in Favour of states having their own flags:

  • Having a separate flag is not going to be a hurdle to national integration.
  •  A separate flag for each State would strengthen the federal structure and serve as a symbol for a much more specific identity.
  • Karnataka is justified and constitutionally empowered to adopt its own flag to uphold the pride of the State without infringing the law.

Examples from other countries:

  •  Most countries around the world that follow a federal system allow regional flags.
  • All the 50 States in the U.S. have separate and distinct flags, apart from the national flag.
  • In the U.K., the political units of England, Scotland, Wales, and Northern Ireland have their own flags without offending or affecting the integrity of the U.K.

SC to handle Ayodhya title dispute only as a ‘land issue’(The Hindu)

Context:

The Supreme Court has said that the Ram Janmabhoomi-Babri Masjid dispute will be decided as any other land dispute based on evidence on record.

What has happened?

  • The Hindu parties and sects involved in the dispute believe Lord Ram was born on this land in Ayodhya.
  • Kar sevaks razed the 15th century Babri Masjid on December 6, 1992.
  • In September 2010, a three-judge Lucknow Bench of the Allahabad High Court directed a three-way partition of the disputed site in Ayodhya.
  • But this judgment led to appeals and cross-appeals filed by parties in the Supreme Court.
  • Recently, the Supreme Court has chose to keep pending all intervention applications filed by those who were not parties to the dispute before the Allahabad High Court
  • The Supreme court has also decided to treat this controversial case as a land dispute issue.

GS: 3


Economy:

‘No curtailment in demand for funds under MGNREGA’(The Hindu)

Context:

  • No curtailment in demand for funds under MGNREGA, says Government to Supreme Court.

Why in news?

  • The Centre told the Supreme Court on Thursday that the Mahatma Gandhi National Rural Employment Guarantee Act (MGNREGA) was a “demand-driven scheme” and it has not curtailed the demand for funds made by the States.

Arguments:

In favour:

  • Attorney General (AG) K K Venugopal told a bench that there were no instances where the Centre has either capped number of days of employment under the Act or not released funds to the states.
  • The MGNREGA is a demand-driven scheme and at no stage, the demand (of the states for funds) has been curtailed by the Union of India.
  • Venugopal put forwards the arguments while countering the submissions of advocate Prashant Bhushan, appearing for the NGO-turned-political party Swaraj Abhiyan.

Against:

  • Bhushan claimed in the court that the Centre has no authority in law to reduce the “person days” from the projection made by the states under the Act.
  • Due of lack of funds, the states were unable to give employment to the people.
  • State is denying statutory rights to the people by not providing 100 days of employment.

Mahatma Gandhi National Rural Employment Guarantee Act (MGNREGA):

  • It is a social security scheme that attempts to provide employment and livelihood to rural labourers in the country.
  • The scheme was designed to provide any adult who registers for rural employment a minimum job guarantee of 100 days each financial year.
  • This includes non-skilled work, making it one-of-its-kind across the world.
  • The MGNREGA is an entitlement to work that every adult citizen holds. In case such employment is not provided within 15 days of registration, the applicant becomes eligible for an unemployment allowance.

A boost to rural entrepreneurship(The Hindu Opinion)

Context:

Amendments to the NABARD Act

Introduction:

  • The NABARD 1981 Act was enacted to establish a development bank to provide and regulate credit and other facilities in order to promote and develop agriculture, small-scale industries, cottage and village industries, handicrafts, and allied economic activities in rural areas.

Why amendments were made to the NABARD Act?

  • The amendments support the government’s push to boost the rural and agricultural sector.
  • The amendments recognise the vital role of micro, small and medium enterprises (MSMEs), as defined under the MSME Development Act of 2006, in rural entrepreneurship and are intended to make financing easier for them.
  • With its expanding activities, NABARD needed to be provided with additional equity from time to time to enable it to meet its objectives of promoting rural development and sustainable rural prosperity.
  • Certain existing commitments of NABARD relating to the long-term irrigation fund and enhanced refinance support to cooperative banks required urgent infusion of equity.
  • The current authorized capital of NABARD is fully paid-up, there was a need to increase it to enable the Central government to infuse additional equity as and when required.
  • The Reserve Bank of India (RBI) holds 0.4% of the paid-up capital of NABARD. The remaining is held by the Central government. This causes conflict in the RBI’s role as banking regulator and shareholder in NABARD.
  • The government said its focus was on the employment potential in rural areas, medium enterprises, and handlooms. It proposed to include these enterprises in the ambit of refinance activities of NABARD.

The NABARD (Amendment) Bill, 2017:

  • The amended Bill provides for empowering the Central government to increase the authorised capital of NABARD from Rs. 5,000 crore to Rs. 30,000 crore in consultation with the RBI.
  • The amendments primarily seek to transfer the RBI’s balance equity of Rs. 20,000 crore in NABARD to the Central government.

Science and Technology:

Big discoveries have small origins(The Hindu Opinion)

Context:

The Economic Survey 2017-2018 has called for doubling research and development expenditure from its current level of about ₹1 lakh crore, amounting to 0.8% of the gross domestic product (GDP).

Economic Survey:  Transforming Science and Technology in India.

Key Highlights

  • As per the Survey, investments in science in India – measured in terms of Gross Expenditure on R&D (GERD) – have shown a consistently increasing trend over the years.
  • However, as a fraction of GDP, public expenditures on research have been stagnant over the past two decades. It is also well below that of major nations like US and China
  • The Survey also states that private investments in research have severely lagged public investments in India.

The Problem:

  • The issue of diminishing funds for exploratory small-scale science research has escaped amidst the debate based on comparative GDP figures.
  • Seminal innovations often result from the efforts of scientists working alone or in small groups with a tight budget rather than in well-funded mega projects.
  • In India, as elsewhere, a significant fraction of the science budget goes to mission-oriented projects in the areas of defence, space, nuclear and environmental sciences.
  • The mission-oriented work in these areas need not be diluted to favour small research grants.
  • The operational missions are important but so is the research ecosystem that provides human resources and feeds the innovation pipelines connected to these missions.

Way Forward:

  • Enhanced competitive research grants for the Indian Institutes of Technology, the Indian Institutes of Science Education and Research, and universities will help address the needs of a larger pool of scientific talent and will also bring in returns by way of publications, patents and innovations
  • The Economic Survey has highlighted the issue. It has stated that India “gradually move to have a greater share of an investigator-driven model for funding science research”.
  • The Report has also called for expansion through more resources and creative government structures.
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