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GS: 2


International relations:

India UK to ink illegal migrants pact (The Hindu)

Context

India will sign a pact with the United Kingdom for a return of illegal Indian migrants within a month of their being detected by authorities. The MoU on sharing of criminal records is in line with a similar agreement signed with the U.S

Backdrop

The U.K. has consistently raised the issue of return of illegal migrants — said to number in thousands — with India. The memorandum of understanding comes ahead of Prime Minister NarendraModi’s proposed visit in March

Improved Visa deal

During her visit to India in 2016, British Prime Minister Theresa May said the U.K. would consider an improved visa deal, “if, at the same time, we can step up the speed and volume of returns of Indians with no right to remain in the U.K.”

Delegation to UK

  • Mallya’s extradition: Minister of State for Home KirenRijiju will lead a delegation to the U.K. this week. The team is expected to ask Westminster to “spell out” its position in court on businessman Vijay Mallya’s extradition
  • Concerns over anti-India propaganda: Mr.Rijiju is also expected to convey New Delhi’s concerns on the continuing anti-India propaganda carried out by Sikh and Kashmiri extremist groups based in the U.K.that bear “serious repercussions on India’s sovereignty.”

Benefit of the MoU

  • MoU will streamline the return of illegal migrants to India

The process was not streamlined yet. The British authorities will first identify the illegal migrant, the Indian authorities will be informed and then the verification will be done by police agencies back home. If the claims of the British authorities are found to be correct, then travel documents will be readied and the person deported by the U.K. authorities. This process will have a timeline of one month,” said the official

The Iranian crisis is not yet over (The Hindu Opinion)

Context

The recent protests which spread around Iran in the waning days of 2017 and early 2018 represented the largest public display of discontent in Iran since the 2009 Green Movement

Reason behind the protest

Unlike the 2009 Green Movement, which was largely a product of the urban middle class youth in Tehran,

  • The recent unrest in Iran seems to reflect the economic grievances of the lower and working classes, alienated from institutional politics and suffering heavily from the consequences of an unjust and unequal management of the Iranian economy
  • As a result, these protests have been largely driven by disaffected young people in rural areas, towns and small cities who seized a pretext to express their frustrations with economic woes that are caused by Iran’s foreign policy, as the country has been largely involved in both the Syrian conflict and turmoil in Yemen

Evolutionary trend

The growing generational gap between the Islamic state and the Iranian youth, particularly young women, has never been wider. In the ‘last 25 years Iran has been on a course of major political and societal evolution, as the increasingly young population has become more educated, secular and rebellious’

A divided society

An ‘explosive mix of,

  • Growing population
  • Urbanisation
  • An increasing unemployment rate and
  • The rapid expansion of university education,

Led to new sociological actors in Iran who were essentially young and educated (and mostly women, in fact) but with no political, economic or social future

As a result, a generational gap divided Iranian society between moneymaking and powerful conservatives and young rebels without a cause

  • Iran became a society divided between rich supporters of the regime and poor rebels with no ideology and no political leaders
  • On one side are those who use power to make money, and on the other side are those who disobey the social and political order’

Aspirations of the youth

A large segment of the youth in Iran have access to ‘satellite television and the Internet and see how their counterparts in the rest of the world, particularly in the West, are living, and they long for the same lifestyle’

Against theocracy

It happens that Iranians remain unsurprisingly unreconciled to theocracy. Moreover, even when protests in Iran start over economic issues, as in the past few weeks, it seems that people are not just ‘demonstrating for better working conditions or pay, but insisting on wholesale rejection of the system itself’

  • The widespread waves of protests that have swept Iran practically every ten years suggest the gradual meltdown of the theocratic ideology in Iran.

Failed promises

The Iranian government’s promises to revitalise the Iranian economy after the re-election of Mr.Rouhani as President must be seen against the rise of youth unemployment which stands today at more than 40%

  • Also, those young Iranians who supported the nuclear deal of 2015 between the Rouhani cabinet and the Obama administration considered it as an ‘opportunity for Iranian civic actors to enable and empower Iran’s civil society space’.

Silence of the reformists

Strangely, the reformists were totally absent in leading or participating in the recent unrest in Iran. Iranian reformists, like former President Mohammad Khatami, could have provided leadership but decided to stay out of the action. Some have attributed the reformists’ reluctance to their fear of Iran turning into a new Syria, in other words, a war-torn country heading for “failed state” status and threatening the region’s fragile stability

This is certainly not what Saudi Arabia, Israel and Donald Trump’s America are looking for

Global political reaction

As a result, while the recent protests engulfed Iranian cities of all sizes and the country’s lower class population, the reaction among political leaders around the globe has been far from united

  • While Mr. Trump endorsed the protests in Iran, advocating change, the European leaders along with Russia’s Vladimir Putin took a more cautious tone, pointing to the “unpredictable outcome” of the Arab Spring
  • Even Saudi Arabia, Iran’s arch-enemy in the region, stayed unusually quiet

A worrying future

One way or another, both inside and outside Iran, observers are worried about the future. All this as Iran might be leading to a new period of political repression and economic hardship, while its population continues to grow, with few new jobs, and more international isolation. It looks like the Iranian crisis is not yet over.

No change in H1 B rules: US (The Hindu)

Context

Reports had emerged that the Trump administration was considering tightening the H-1B visa rules that could lead to deportation of 7,50,000 Indians

What has happened?

The United States has no plans under consideration to discontinue the extension of H-1B visas beyond six years, when beneficiaries wait for permanent residency, or green card, authorities clarified on Monday

Backdrop

A series of speculative reporting on the issue over the last 10 days that said lakhs of people will be forced to self-deport from the U.S. as a result of this move had caused panic among Indian Americans who comprise a significant portion of green card applicants. Actual numbers are not available

Statement by USCIS

U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS) under the Department of Homeland Security that administers the non-immigrant, temporary worker visa programme said in a statement: “….USCIS is not considering a regulatory change that would force H-1B visa holders to leave the United States by changing our interpretation of section 104(c) of AC-21, which provides for H-1B extensions beyond the 6 year limit.”

  • AC-21 or the American Competitiveness in the Twenty First Century Act is the law passed by the U.S Congress in 2000, which also governs the extension of H-1B visas

Review is under consideration

The USCIS is reviewing the H-1B visa programme, and will come up with changes later this year.  “The agency is considering a number of policy and regulatory changes to carry out the President’s Buy American, Hire American Executive Order, including a thorough review of employment based visa programmes,” Mr.  Withington, chief of media relations for USCIS, said

  • But the Trump administration can change through executive action only those aspects of the H-1B programme that were effected through executive actions. The work permit for spouses of H-1B visa holders and the lottery system that selects beneficiaries of the programme every year are governed by executive decisions. The administration could suggest changes for Congress to consider and legislate, as part of its review

PIOs make ‘mini-world Parliament’ (The Hindu)

Context

First PIO Parliamentarian Conference

What did external affair minister say?

  • Speaking at the “First PIO Parliamentarian Conference”, External Affairs Minister SushmaSwaraj urged the legislators and political figures to consider what kind of contribution they could make for India’s global ambition
  • Introducing the theme of the event, Ms.Swaraj reminded the guests of the contribution of former Prime Minister AtalBihari Vajpayee in starting the annual PravasiBharatiya Divas, and appreciated the political awareness of the people of Indian origin in various countries
  • The PIO Parliamentarian forum was planned last year during a conversation with Prime Minister NarendraModi to connect the lawmakers of Indian origin with their ancestral land, the Minister said
  • Swaraj made special mention of the Indian community in Mauritius which had emerged as the leading player in the island nation. “Gandhiji inspired people in Mauritius to get education and increase political awareness and that is why after a few generations, they have achieved political leadership,” she said congratulating the “girmitiyas” living abroad for their success

What did PM say?

Inaugurating the conference and highlighting the cultural link with the diaspora,

  • Your ancestors had to leave India under various circumstances and that is why when you return to an Indian airport, you are reminded of your ties with this country. You have a desire to return to India and I understand your feelings very well. On the one hand, you have preserved Indian culture. On the other hand your people have excelled in sports, arts, cinema in the global platforms and have contributed to your adopted country’s welfare
  • He mentioned the presence of former Guyanese President Bharat Jagdeo, and noted that from Mauritius to Guyana, there were several Indian-origin individuals who had become leaders of their countries. “We have a mini-world Parliament in front of us today,” he said

Read more: Please visit this link to know more about PIOs and OCIs

No plan to build navel base at Gwadar(The Hindu)

Context

China on Tuesday counselled the “outside world” not to speculate on Beijing’s reported intent to open a naval base in Gwadar, the starting point of the China Pakistan Economic Corridor (CPEC)

No Pak-China discussion

In Pakistan, the daily, Pakistan Today said that Beijing and Islamabad had no plans to build a Chinese naval base in coastal areas of Pakistan, and the matter had never been discussed between the two countries

  • No request by Chinese to build a naval base: Pakistan Todayquoted a senior official at the Pakistan’s Ministry of Foreign Affairs as saying that neither the Chinese government had made any such request (of building a naval base) to the government of Pakistan nor was there any plan being discussed between the two governments

Strategic Security Division

The official mentioned that the security of the Chinese nationals working on the CPEC projects, as well as the Chinese shipments going into the Arabian Sea, would solely be a responsibility of Pakistani law enforcing agencies, and, for the same purpose, a designated division — Strategic Security Division — had been raised.

Korea to take part in Olympics (The Hindu)

Context

North and South Korea kicked off their first formal talks in more than two years on Tuesday, with both sides expressing optimism ahead of discussions on how the North’s athletes can attend the Winter Olympics in the South despite tensions

Backdrop

The talks come after North Korea’s Kim used his New Year’s Day speech to announce he was open to sending a delegation to the Olympics as well as reducing tensions on the Korean peninsula, while vowing to never give up his nuclear weapons programme

A closely watched affair

Regardless of its narrow, primarily sporting agenda, the meeting is being closely watched by world leaders eager for any sign of a reduction in tensions on the Korean peninsula amid rising fears over North Korea’s development of nuclear weapons and defiance of United Nations Security Council resolutions

Optimism & seriousness

  • North Korea entered the talks with a “serious and sincere stance,” said Mr.Ri, chairman of the North’s Committee for the Peaceful Reunification of the Fatherland
  • His counterpart, South Korea’s Unification Minister Cho Myoung-gyon, also expressed optimism

What all resultsare expected out of the meeting?

  • Participation in Olympics: The two sides are discussing North Korea’s participation in the Pyeongchang Winter Olympics and the Paralympics as well as the improvement of inter-Korean relations
  • Resumption of reunion: Mr. Cho has said his delegation is also preparing to discuss resuming reunion of family members separated by the Korean War, which ended in a ceasefire and technically left the two Koreas still at war
  • Marching under a single flag: Some South Korean officials are hoping the two Koreas may even march under a single flag at the Winter Games, which would be the first time in more than a decade that the two Koreas united under one flag at a sporting event opening

Reaction of the US
The United States, which has 28,500 troops stationed in South Korea as a legacy of the 1950-1953 Korean War, initially responded coolly to the idea of inter-Korean meeting

  • North Korea trying to weaken Washington-Seol relationship: The State Department had said Pyongyang “might be trying to drive a wedge” between Washington and Seoul and weaken a U.S.-led campaign to force North Korea to give up its development of nuclear-tipped missiles capable of hitting the United States

Trump’s reaction

  • Trump called the new talks “a good thing” and said they were prompted by his “firm, strong” stance.
  • Trump has said he would like to see talks go beyond the Olympics and added: “At the appropriate time, we’ll get involved.”

Denuclearisation: A major concern

U.S. Secretary of State Rex Tillerson reiterated last week that any future talks between the U.S. and North Korea must be aimed at denuclearisation, and warned that diplomatic efforts were backed by a strong military option if necessary

Delay in military exercises

South Korea and the U.S. have agreed to delay joint military exercises until after the Olympics in a bid to reduce tensions and possibly create room for diplomacy

Delhi Male set to reboot bilateral ties (The Hindu)

Context

Maldivian foreign ministers’ India visit

What has happened?

In a sign of a possible thaw in India-Maldives ties, Maldivian Foreign Minister Mohamed Asim will arrive in Delhi on Wednesday to meet Prime Minister NarendraModi and External Affairs Minister SushmaSwaraj on Thursday. The visit was announced by the External Affairs Ministry and the Maldives government on Tuesday

What matters might be discussed?

There would be discussions on the MoUs that were signed during President Abdulla Yameen’s visit to Delhi in April 2016

Why this visit is important?

Mr.Asim’s visit is the first high-level visit between the two countries in nearly a year, since Minister of State for External Affairs M.J. Akbar visited in February 2017, and the first since the Maldives and China signed a Free Trade Agreement (FTA) in November 2017

  • India’s concerns: Shortly thereafter, India had indicated its displeasure at the speed with which the FTA was passed in the Maldivian parliament, followed by President Yameen’s state visit to Beijing. “It is our expectation that as a close and friendly neighbour, Maldives will be sensitive to our concerns, in keeping with its India First policy,” External Affairs Ministry spokesperson Raveesh Kumar had said at the time
  • Male is the only SAARC capital Mr.Modi has not visited since he took office, having cancelled a planned visit in March 2015 over the Yameen government’s crackdown on political protests, putting a strain on bilateral ties
  • An official invitation last year by New Delhi to former President Mohammed Nasheed, who faces a jail term in the Maldives, had further widened the perceived rift

Fact

Counter-terrorism exercises between armed forces called “EKUVERIN” were held in Karnataka

FTA dialogue

On the issue of the Free Trade Agreement negotiations, Mr. Mohamed admitted that “no serious negotiations” had taken place between India and the Maldives yet, but that his government “would like to have an FTA in place” at the earliest. The FTA was only one of a series of issues between New Delhi and the Maldives in the past few months, however

Other issues b/w India & Mauritius

  • Strictures against officials meeting Indian diplomats: In December, the Yameen government passed strictures against local councillors, who met High Commissioner of India Akhilesh Mishra, and restricted local officials from meeting diplomats
  • An editorial in a government-friendly newspaper, the Vaguthu, criticising the Modi government’s “pro-Hindutva” policies had also caused concern in New Delhi. The editorial, which was condemned by the Opposition, was subsequently withdrawn, but Mr.Nasheed had also alleged that President Yameen’s actions were spoiling ties with India
    • “President Yameen’s reckless foreign policy is destroying our relationship with India. The Maldives must be sensitive to India’s security and safety,” he said in a tweet last month

 

Indian Constitution and Polity:

Playing of national anthem in cinema halls made optional (The HinduBusinessline)

Context

The Supreme Court today made the playing of national anthem in cinema halls before screening of movies optional, modifying its earlier order

Modification in 2016 order

The apex court modified its November 30, 2016, order by which it had made the playing of the anthem mandatory in cinema halls before the screening of a film

Committee would take final decision

A bench headed by Chief Justice DipakMisra said a 12-member inter-ministerial committee, set up by the Centre, would take a final call on the playing of national anthem in the cinemas

  • Changes to Prevention & Insult to National Honor Act: The top court accepted the government’s affidavit which said the 12-member panel has been set up to suggest changes in the 1971 Prevention of Insults to National Honour Act. Attorney General K KVenugopal told the bench that the committee will submit its report within six months
  • The bench, also said that the committee should comprehensively look into all the aspects relating to the playing of national anthem and allowed the petitioners to make representations before the panel
  • Representatives in the committee: The inter-ministerial committee headed by Additional Secretary (Border Management), Ministry of Home Affairs, with representatives from various other ministries, including the Ministries of Defence, External Affairs, Culture, Woman and Child Development and Parliamentary Affairs
    • It would also have representatives of the Ministries of Information and Broadcasting and Minority Affairs, Department of Legal Affairs, Department of School Education and Literacy and the Department of Empowerment of Persons with Disability, the affidavit filed by Centre said

Why this committee?

The Centre’s decision had come after the top court had in October last year observed that the people “cannot be forced to carry patriotism on their sleeves” and it cannot be assumed that if a person does not stand up for the national anthem, he or she is “less patriotic“

Supreme Court’s observations

  • No need for moral policing: Observing that the society did not need “moral policing”, the court had then said that next time, “the government will want people to stop wearing T-shirts and shorts to cinemas saying this would disrespect the national anthem.”

Exemptions to disabled to continue

The bench, while disposing of the petitions pending before it, made it clear that the exemption granted earlier to disabled persons from standing in the cinema halls when the national anthem is being played, shall remain in force till the committee takes a decision.

Strong remarks by the SC

The apex court had on October 24 last year observed that people do not need to stand up in the cinema halls to prove their patriotism and had asked the Centre to consider amending the rules for regulating playing of the national anthem in the theatres.

People go to cinema halls for undiluted entertainment. Society needs entertainment. We cannot allow you (Centre) to shoot from our shoulders. People do not need to stand up in cinema halls to prove their patriotism,” the bench had said

Desireability is one thing but making it mandatory is another. Citizens cannot be forced to carry patriotism on their sleeves and courts cannot inculcate patriotism among people through its order,” it had said.

PIL seekinga mandatory playing of national Anthem in cinema halls

The court’s strong remarks had come during the hearing on a PIL filed last year by Shyam Narayan Chouksey seeking a direction that the national anthem be played in all cinema halls before the start of screening of a film

  • The apex court had in its November 30, 2016, order said that “love and respect for the motherland is reflected when one shows respect to the national anthem as well as to the national flag
  • It had also barred printing of the anthem or a part of it on any object and displaying it in such a manner at places which may be “disgraceful to its status and tantamount to disrespect“
  • Passing a slew of directions, the court had said that fundamental duties in the Constitution “do not allow any different notion or the perception of individual rights that have individual thought, have no space. The idea is constitutionally impermissible
  • It had also said proper norms and protocol should be fixed regarding its playing and singing at official functions and programmes where those holding constitutional office are present

No viable alternative to hanging, centre tells court (The Hindu)

Context

There is no viable method at present other than hanging to execute condemned prisoners. Lethal injections are unworkable and often fail, the Centre told the Supreme Court on Tuesday

Backdrop

  • The government was responding to a query from the court on alternative modes of execution
  • Dignity in death: The court had previously said a condemned convict should die in peace and not in pain. A human being is entitled to dignity even in death

Adopt painless methods

Issuing notice, the court had asked the government to consider the the “dynamic progress” made in modern science to adopt painless methods of causing death

Centre’s response

Additional Solicitor-General PinkyAnand, while seeking more time to file a detailed affidavit, orally submitted that “today, there is no viable method other than hanging.”

Petitioner’s view

Petitioner-in-person and advocate Rishi Malhotra countered that death by lethal injection is practised in several States in the U.S. and even the Law Commission of India had recommended lethal injection

Death penalty unquestioned

The court has already clarified that it is not questioning the constitutionality of death penalty, which has been well-settled by the apex court, including in Deena versus Union of India and earlier in the Bachan Singh case reported in 1980

  • Section 354 (5), which mandates death by hanging, of the Code of Criminal Procedure has already been upheld
  • A relook: However, the Bench had, in an earlier hearing, favoured a re-look at the practice of hanging to death as “the Constitution of India is an organic and compassionate document which recognises the sanctity of flexibility of law as situations change with the flux of time”.

What is the petitioner seeking?

The court is hearing a writ petition filed by Delhi High Court lawyer Rishi Malhotra, who sought the court’s intervention to reduce the suffering of condemned prisoners at the time of death

  • Malhotra said a convict should not be compelled to suffer at the time of termination of his or her life

“When a man is hanged to death, his dignity is destroyed,” Mr. Malhotra submitted

Question of equality (The Hindu Editorial)

Context

The Supreme Court has an opportunity to reconsider its 2013 order criminalising gay sex

Earlier verdict

A reconsideration of the flawed verdict in Suresh Kumar Koushal  is now in prospect

A three-judge Bench has opened up an opportunity to reconsider that verdict, which came to the disturbing conclusion that the LGBT community was just a “minuscule fraction” of the population and also ruled that those having sexual intercourse “against the order of nature” constituted a separate class on which the law could validly impose penal sanctions

Fresh petition apart from the curative petition already in the court

Although the matter is already before a Constitution Bench by way of a curative petition against the earlier judgment, the latest order is on a fresh petition challenging Section 377

The Petition draws observations from Right to Privacy judgement

It draws from the observations in the nine-judge Bench judgment in the ‘right to privacy’ case

  • The majority observed in Justice K.S. Puttaswamy v. Union of India that “equality demands that the sexual orientation of each individual in society must be protected on an even platform
  • The right to privacy and the protection of sexual orientation lie at the core of the fundamental rights guaranteed by Articles 14, 15 and 21 of the Constitution.”
  • The Bench has rightly observed that social morality changes from age to age, that “the morality that public perceives, the Constitution may not conceive of,” and that what is “natural to one may not be natural to another”.

New hope

Thus, there is fresh hope that the Delhi High Court judgment of 2009, which read down Section 377 to decriminalise consensual sex between adults, may be restored

Support for the case

Ever since the court, in National Legal Services Authority v. Union of India (2014), concerning the rights of transgender persons, questioned the Koushal reasoning, there has been a body of jurisprudence that sees gender identity and sexual orientation as an aspect of privacy, personal freedom and dignity

Curative petition

It is not yet clear if the present petition and the curative petition will be heard together

A curative petition is normally allowed only on the limited grounds of violation of principles of natural justice and circumstances suggesting possible bias on the part of judges

Contrast with the latest petition

  • In contrast, the latest petition has paved the way for a comprehensive hearing on all dimensions of the right of individuals to affirm their sexual orientation
  • In this, the court must not confine itself to the issue of privacy, but also address the discrimination inherent in Section 377 on the basis of sexual orientation

Conclusion

The formulation in Koushal  that constitutional protection is not available to a tiny fraction of the population can be overturned only on the touchstone of Article 14, which protects the right to equality.


GS: 3


Economy:

Agriculture needs a reforms package (The Hindu Opinion)

Context

Only an overhaul resembling the industrial liberalisation of 1991 will work

Agriculture sector in a mess

With rural economic anxieties acquiring a political voice, the expectation is that the Budget will focus on agriculture. For some time, the country has been in denial over the extent of the mess in the sector.

Farm incomes unattractive

Farm incomes are unattractive for a variety of reasons:

  • The absurdity of policies features among them
  • The overriding objective of price stability, over time, has tilted farm policy in favour of the consumer, the numerically larger vote bank
  • Trade and price controls are highly restrictive, and mostly anti-farmer
  • Protection afforded to the inefficient fertilizer industry ensures that input costs are high. The farmer is forced to sell in the domestic market where prices tend to be lower than global agricultural prices

Anti-agriculture bias

Research papers have quantified the degree of anti-agriculture bias in the system

Farmers’ economic viability is rarely the primary consideration, although political rhetoric would suggest otherwise. Increasingly though, incompetence and politics have ensured that policies are failing to serve even consumers.

Agri markets not free

Agri-markets are not free. Governments seek to influence prices, to smoothen them out. In the absence of state intervention, prices soar in bad weather years and plunge in good weather years, hurting consumers and farmers. The levers in governments’ hands are import and export controls, buffer stocks management and minimum support prices (MSPs)

About MSPs

Prime Minister NarendraModi is under pressure to deliver on the 2014 poll promise of higher MSPs.

Economy and politics of MSP

The centrality of MSPs in vote-bank politics is well-known, but the economics of it is not sufficiently appreciated. The MSP, the price at which the government offers to procure from farmers, is an economic policy tool which requires technical acumen.

Sensible approach

  • A sensible policy would be to buy from farmers when market prices are depressed and sell stocks in the open market when prices are elevated
  • In the first scenario, if the MSP is pegged higher than the market price, the procurement will raise the market price, boosting farm incomes
  • In the latter, by offloading its stocks at a price lower than the market price, government can cushion consumers against excessive inflation

Effect:The buyers of the subsidised sales (an efficient Public Distribution System) are directly benefitted, but as the sales also lead to lower prices in the open market, all consumers gain.

Trade Controls and Stocks management should be aligned perfectly

Procurement works effectively only if trade controls and stocks management are aligned with it

Employed counterproductively in 2016-17

How these tools tend to be deployed in a counterproductive manner was evident in the example of pulses in 2016-17

  • Despite a bumper harvest, after a steep MSP hike and good rains, export controls and stocking limits for private traders were retained and a record volume of imports allowed to be shipped in
  • The resulting glut sent the market price down, below the MSPs, rendering it pointless. The looming losses set off farmer protests seeking even higher MSPs.

Poor Management of Stocks

Former Chief Economic Adviser KaushikBasu has written about the mindset behind the reluctance to release stocks to cool rising prices

  • The argument was that selling at a price lower than the purchase price (MSP plus carrying costs) would inflict losses on the exchequer and add to the fiscal deficit
  • Since procurement spending is a sunk cost, not selling implied even higher fiscal losses. International wheat prices were 30% lower than in India, yet consumers were forced to pay more

A bias

  • Agricultural economist Ashok Gulati’s calculations show that even after four years of systematically aggressive hikes, Indian MSPs of rice and wheat are less than support prices in China and other Asian countries, betraying India’s bias in favour of consumers
  • This bias explains the deepening economic divide between the farm-dependent and the rest of the population, reflected in insecurities of even traditionally land-owning people.

Chinese experience

The narrative is that the bulk of agriculture is not sufficiently productive to be able to gainfully engage young rural Indians and so policy attention must be on building industry

China’s experience challenges such notions

  • The Chinese economic reforms were kicked off in 1978 with an overhaul of agriculture
  • As farm prices were decontrolled, real per capita incomes began rising and, in just six years Chinese poverty levels halved, from 33% in 1978 to 15% in 1984
  • In contrast, India’s 1991 reforms bypassed agriculture altogether and instead focussed completely on industrial liberalisation. Indian poverty halved in 18 years from 45% in 1993 to 22% in 2011.

Conclusion

The Budget presents an opportunity to revisit strategic choices. Nothing short of an overhaul of agriculture, resembling the industrial liberalisation of 1991, will work.

New Industrial policy in a few months: Commerce Minister

Context

The new industrial policy, which seeks to promote emerging sectors, will be released within a few months, Commerce Minister Suresh Prabhu said on Tuesday.

August draft envisaged attracting $100 billion in annual FDI

  • The proposed policy, a draft of which has been prepared by the Ministry, will completely revamp the Industrial Policy of 1991
  • It would endeavour to reduce regulations and widen the purview to new industries currently in focus.
  • In August, the Department of Industrial Policy and Promotion had floated a draft industrial policy whose aim is to create jobs over the next two decades, promote foreign technology transfer and attract $100 billion in FDI annually.

AI task force

The 18-member panel was constituted to explore possibilities to leverage artificial intelligence for economic transformation.

The Ministry said in a statement that the members drafted preliminary proposals that were discussed at the meeting

WTO Mini ministerial meet in March

Mr.Prabhu said WTO’s mini-ministerial meet to be organised by India would be held in March.

Environment:

Avoiding road kill (The Hindu Editorial)

Context

Roads must be kept out of wildlife corridors to protect tigers and other animals

Recent Incident

The tragic death of Bajirao, one of India’s breeding tigers from the Bor reserve in Maharashtra, on a highway is a reminder that building unsuitable roads through wildlife habitats has a terrible cost

Contradictions in policy

Yet, the fate of the big cat, and that of so many other animals such as leopards, bears, deer, snakes, amphibians, butterflies and birds that end up as roadkill, highlights the contradictions in development policy

Roads should be kept out of the wildlife corridors

After all, protected areas are just 4% of the land

India is committed to such an approach under Article 14 of the Convention on Biological Diversity

NHAI and the Centre should listen

The Centre and the National Highways Authority of India have been repeatedly advised by the National Board for Wildlife, as well as independent researchers, to realign or modify sensitive roads. They should heed their sound advice.

Wildlife Institute of India

An assessment by the Wildlife Institute of India states that tigers in at least 26 reserves face the destructive impact of roads and traffic

Measures to take

  • The National Tiger Conservation Authority should insist on modification of existing roads to provide crossings for animals at locations identified in various studies
  • A more robust approach would be to realign the roads away from all such landscapes
  • Users can be asked to pay a small price for the protection of vital environmental features, and more areas for nature tourism can also raise revenues
  • This would ensure that tigers and other animals are not isolated, and can disperse strong genetic traits to other populations
  • Also, curbs should be imposed on traffic on existing roads passing through sanctuaries. This can be done using speed restraints and by allowing only escorted convoys, with a ban on private vehicular movement at night. Restrictions should be applicable to religious tourism as well.

Roads can block flow of genes?

In one well-studied case of two populations of breeding tigers in the Kanha-Pench corridor, which also forms part of the sensitive central Indian belt, scientists commissioned by the Environment Ministry found that a national highway could block flow of genes between regions

Remedy suggested

The remedy suggested for NH7 was a combination of realignment and creation of long underpasses for animal movement

Steps consistent with the Wildlife Action Plan 2002-2016

  • That is the sustainable way forward, and the Centre should order the modifications without delay wherever they are needed
  • It would be consistent with the Wildlife Action Plan 2002-2016 announced by AtalBihari Vajpayee as Prime Minister

Conclusion

Without a determined effort, roadkill will severely diminish India’s conservation achievements.

Goa bird festival to offer pelagic avian tour (The Hindu)

Context

Naturalists, guides and other resource persons to host workshops at Cotigao Wildlife Sanctuary

Goa Bird Festival

The second edition of the Goa Bird Festival will be held from January 12 to 14 at Cotigao Wildlife Sanctuary, Canacona.

Organizers

The State Forest department is organising the event with the support of Goa Tourism, the Goa Bird Conservation Network (GBCN) and Birderpics.com

Over 440 Species

Goa is said to have over 440 species of birds out of over 1,200 in the country. Some of the birds are endemic to the region as the State offers a unique confluence of two diverse ecosystems — tropical forests and marine

Bird walks planned

Bird walks are being planned with experts and guides in Cotigao and the adjoining Netravali Wildlife Sanctuary

Oceanic bird tours

The oceanic birds tour will be on the Arabian Sea.

Vibrant discussion

  • A special edition of Indian Birds with articles on the birds of Goa will be released
  • The findings of the long-term bird survey and monitoring in Cotigao Wildlife Sanctuary, undertaken by the Forest Department and GBCN, will also be released.

Science and Technology:

ISRO mulls launching 65 satellites for a slew of uses (The Hindu)

Context

The Indian Space Research Organisation (ISRO) has set itself an ambitious to-do list of making and launching around 65 satellites for a slew of uses. They are planned to be realised over the period from 2017 to 2021, according to a top official

They are planned to be realised over the period from 2017 to 2021

  • This post-12th Five-Year Plan pace is stupendous as the number of satellites made in India over the last 40-odd years hit a century only a few days ago.
  • The last three, including two small ones, were rolled out of its Bengaluru centre in late December and are slated to be launched this month

Jump in output

The new goal puts ISAC’s annual asking rate at around 18 satellites a year: ISAC would now need to come out with three satellites every two months.

Old Output

Since ISAC was set up in 1972 and until a few years ago, this used to be its average yearly output.

Varied purposes

  • ISAC’s spacecraft are meant for communication, navigation and Earth observation (EO), for both general and strategic purposes, while new emerging applications are getting added
  • In the four-year list, ISAC counts 26 for communication, 28 for EO and seven for navigation besides the scientific missions Aditya-L1 and XPoSat, apart from a few small experimental satellites.

Awaiting approval

A few proposals made during 2017 are awaiting approval

A satellite launch costs ₹200-₹300 crore depending on its size and the level of technology.

Outsourcing to Indian industries

  • ISAC started to outsource some of the large and critical activities of satellite assembly and testing to Indian industry
  • The second such project for the ninth navigation satellite, IRNSS-1I, is under way at an ISAC campus.
  • ISRO expected industry to give them the additional six satellites a year beyond the 12 that they would build.

Army satisfied with Akash missile (The Hindu)

Context

The Army is fully satisfied with the performance of the indigenously developed Akash short-range surface-to-air missile (SR SAM) system and is looking for further performance enhancements in future

Looks for performance enhancement of indigenously developed system

Last month, the Army carried out the first user trial of the missile system.

Biggest advantage

  • The Army’s AAD celebrated its 25th year of raising on Tuesday.
  • The Army currently has two Akash regiments which it began inducting in 2015
  • Last year, the Defence Ministry cancelled a global tender for additional SR SAMs and approved procurement of two more regiments
  • Each regiment consists of six launchers with each launcher having three missiles. Officials say Akash has an indigenous content of 96%.

25-km range

  • Akash has a range of 25 km and can simultaneously engage multiple targets in all weather conditions and has a large operational envelope from a low altitude of 30 metres to a maximum of up to 20 km.
  • The Army is likely to order more Akash regiments as it is in the process of replacing its legacy systems in service.

Developed by DRDO

Akash was developed by the Defence Research and Development Organisation (DRDO) as part of the Integrated Guided Missile Development Programme initiated in 1984 and is manufactured by Bharat Dynamics Ltd. (BDL).

Disaster management

Kamala mills fire: Robeiro moves High Court seeking probe (The Hindu)

Context

Former city Commissioner of Police Julio F. Riberio moved the Bombay High Court on Tuesday, seeking a comprehensive fire safety audit, a special investigation team (SIT) and a judicial commission to fix accountability for the loss of 14 lives in the recent fire at two restaurants in Kamala Mills

PIL seeks fire safety audit of all eateries, bars, a judicial probe into mishap

  • His PIL claims the “BMC was in complete knowledge of the illegalities and flouting of norms by the licensee and licensor at – 1Above and Mojo’s Bistro.”
  • It mentions how the “BMC chief has frankly admitted that there was immense pressure from the powerful persons to ‘not take action against certain officials’, and that there were people who were insistent that no action should be taken against them”
  • The PIL points out that neither restaurant had fire safety equipment.

Comprehensive fire safety audit

  • Among other requests, Mr.Riberio has sought a direction from the court to the Chief Fire Officer (CFO) to conduct a comprehensive fire safety audit of all eateries, lounges, bas and pubs.
  • He wants the Urban Development Department to depute an officer in all civic wards to aid the CFO in conducting a comprehensive ward-wise fire safety audit, and submit a report to the court in a time-bound manner.
  • Alternate relief through a judicial commission that will fix accountability of public officers and private individuals, which will submit a report to the court.
  • The PIL also sought the constitution of an SIT comprising IPS officers not below the rank of Additional CP (Crime) to continue with the investigation into the Kamala Mills fire

Backdrop

On December 29, a fire broke out after midnight at restaurant 1Above and Mojo’s Bistro next to it. Dozens of patrons were trapped in them as smoke filled the narrow entrances. While most made it safely to the lanes outside, 14 people lost their lives, sparking widespread outrage over alleged violation of fire safety norms by the eateries

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