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GS: 2


International relations:

Towards an endgame(The Hindu Opinion)

Context:

Turkish President has announced that Turkish forces alongside the Free Syrian Army had begun armed operations in the Syrian town of Afrin

What is in the news?

  • With the conflict with the Islamic State (IS) almost coming to an end, Turkey has taken a major step against the Kurdish fighters on Syrian borders.
  • This will bring the US- backed Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF)in direct war with Turkey.
  • This a mere extension of the already ongoing war against the Kurds within Turkey’s southern provinces.

What is SDF?

  • The Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF) was created in 2015 by the various Syrian Kurdish political forces and their military wing, the People’s Protection Units (YPG), and the Women’s Protection Units (YPJ).
  • The SDF was created as a platform for the Syrian Kurds to join with these other groups into an anti-IS military alliance

What is the background of the conflict?

  • Turkey has always ideologically opposed the SDF as it considers it as a Kurdish resurrection movement
  • SDF with air support from the U.S., routed the IS from Raqqa in October 2017.
  • Subsequently, the Kurdish leadership asked Raqqa’s people to join the Kurdish-run state of “Democratic Federation of Northern Syria (Rojava).
  • Rojava is essentially the heart of the conflict
  • “Rojava” which means “Western Kurdistan” highlights the Kurdish ambitions of a greater Kurdish state that would include land in Iraq (Eastern Kurdistan) and Turkey (Northern Kurdistan).
  • The attempt by Iraqi Kurds in 2017 to declare independence was curtailed by the armed intervention of the Iraqi army into the Kurdish autonomous region.
  • A similar attempt by Syrian Kurds to produce an autonomous region on the Syria-Turkish border gave rise to conflicts in Ankara.

Less nationalism more connectivity(The Hindu)

Context:

  • Ahead of the ASEAN-India Summit 2018, Thailand’s Ambassador to India and a key official convening the ASEAN-India summit, highlighted the importance of a conducive political atmosphere and reduction in “national rhetoric” to ensure growth of the connectivity projects in the region.

What is the importance of connectivity?

  • Strengthening connectivity, including land and sea connectivity, with ASEAN is one of the strategic objectives of India and ASEAN Member States.
  • During the ASEAN-India Business and investment Meet and Expo in January 2015, several officials and delegations from the ASEAN will be travelling Assam and other northeastern States to inspect the possibilities for industry and trade.
  • These would connect to South-East Asia through projects in the pipeline like the India-Myanmar-Thailand trilateral highway and the Kaladan Multi-Modal Transport Corridor.
  • To yield optimum benefit from the infrastructure, it is necessary for India and ASEAN to work out reservations on free trade, including the Regional Comprehensive Economic Partnership (RCEP) agreement

What has been India’s concerns over China factor in trade?

  • India has concern over unchecked Chinese entry into Indian markets through free trade with ASEAN countries.
  • Lately, RCEP negotiations have floundered largely over India’s concerns related to Chinese entry in Indian markets
  • Countries in the negotiations are at present calling for a deadline to end talks by April 2018
  • The failure to forge an agreement could hamper bilateral trade between ASEAN and India. This is expected to be a major issue of discussion during the upcoming Summit.

Former Maldives President accuses China of land grab(The Hindu)

Context:

Exiled Maldives opposition leader Mohammed Nashid has accused China of seizing land in Maldives and also undermining its sovereignty

What are the accusations?

  • The leader has voiced his concerns over the increasing Chinese presence in Maldives
  • He has accused that Chinese interests had leased around 16 islets and were constructing ports and other infrastructure there.
  • He is also concerned over Maldive’s foreign debt owed to China and fears that the country being unable to repay its loans, could end up providing more land and infrastructure to China

Indian Constitution and Polity

Take interim steps to tribunal postings:SC(The Hindu)

Context:

  • The Supreme Court directed attorney General K.K. Venugopal and amicus curiae Arvind Datar to discuss an agreement for the committee appointing judicial members to key tribunals.

What is in news?

  • Questions have been raised whether the Central Tribunal, Appellate and other Authorities (Qualifications, Experience and other conditions of Service of Members) Rules of 2017 is a violation to the independence of the tribunals.
  • This came in the light of the major petition by Congress MP Jairam Ramesh, challenging the provisions of the 2017 Rules and the Finance Act, 2017.
  • He introduced the modifications in key tribunal appointments.

Suggestions provided:

  • Firstly, the committee appointing the judicial members to the National Green Tribunal (NGT) and other tribunals should comprise only two members from the Centre instead of the present three, and two with judicial background.
  • Secondly, the tenure of the chairperson of the tribunals should be extended to five years instead of the present three.

EC pulled up for backing simultaneous polls(The Hindu)

Context:

  • Questions have been raised by lawmakers about Election Commission’s recent statements endorsing simultaneous elections to the Lok Sabha and the Assemblies.

Background:

  • There had been simultaneous elections until 1967, but the pattern changed after the dissolution of some Assemblies through the imposition of President’s rule under Article 356.
  • Since then, there have been instances of two general elections within a year.
  • The next Lok Sabha election is scheduled for 2019.
  • In 2018, 13 States will go to the polls, nine in 2019 and one in 2020.

What are the arguments put forward by the law makers?

  • Firstly, the election commission does not have the permission to decide on the issue.
  • Secondly there is no guarantee that all the State governments and the Union government elected on the same day will survive for the next five years.
  • Thirdly, our parliamentary system of governance does not permit simultaneous elections.

Steps needed to amend the Constitution to facilitate simultaneous elections:

  • A constitutional amendment would have to be cleared by both Houses of Parliament.
  • It would have to be ratified by the Assemblies of half of the States.
  • The other way was for all Assemblies and the Union government to agree to the plan voluntarily.

Chelameswar calls for free judiciary(The Hindu)

Context:

  • Justice J. Chelameswar, called for an independent judiciary, saying it was necessary for a liberal democracy.

What is the measures to taken for a liberal demoracy?

  • Firstly, for the survival of a liberal democracy, an impartial and independent judiciary is essential.
  • Secondly, for the welfare of the country, a constant examination was required on how exactly the judiciary was functioning,
  • Thirdly, even though the backlog of cases in various courts appears to be almost impossible to clear, but a solution must be found.

The perilsous march of Hindistan(The Hindu Opinion)

Context:

  • Congress leader Shashi Tharoor recently questioned in Lok Sabha the purpose of making Hindi an official language at the United Nations.

The three-language policy:

  • Parliament passed the Official Language Resolution in 1968, stipulating that a modern Indian language (MIL), preferably one of the southern languages, be studied in Hindi-speaking areas (along with Hindi and English) and that Hindi be studied in areas where it is not spoken (along with the regional languages and English).
  • The three-language policy was meant for the entire country.
  • However, the policy took a whole different shape as if it was a prescription for non-Hindi-speaking States alone.
  • While non-Hindi-speaking States (except Tamil Nadu) adhered to the three-language policy, Hindi-speaking States too not only gave up on teaching a non-Hindi language in their schools but effectively delegitimised English.

What of those recommendations has the Centre accepted?

  • Firstly, Students in colleges and universities in non-Hindi-speaking States will henceforth have the option of taking exams and interviews in Hindi.
  • Secondly, it asks that government advertisements in Hindi newspapers be of “bigger size” and “at starting pages”, while those in English newspapers be of “relatively smaller size” and “in middle or ending pages”.
  • Thirdly, it mandates the purchase of more Hindi newspapers and magazines in all Central government offices, public sector undertakings, institutions funded by the government, and private companies engaged in public service.
  • Fourthly, In order to end the dominance of English, such schools should not be given recognition by the government which do not impart education in Hindi or mother tongue.

Factors responsible to Indian language policy:

  • Firstly, English has become a global language and a certain fluency in it is taken as a given for mobility as well as for access to global knowledge.
  • Secondly, many non-Hindi Indian languages are older than Hindi and their speakers are justly proud of their rich cultural and literary heritage.
  • They strive to make their respective languages prominent in governance and education, while keeping English for what it is.
  • These States lack both the desire and the need to learn Hindi.

Getting back on the democratic path(The Hindu Opinion)

Context:

  • India and countries worldwide find existing governmental systems unable to cope with contemporary challenges or people’s expectations, some even with basic needs.
  • Particularly alarming is the condition in democracies, where the ideals and concepts, the very essence of their being, are threatened.

What are the roots of democracy?

  • Democracy depends on the Enlightenment’s ideals.
  • These ideals are the ceaseless expansion of liberty and equality, the impartial functioning of impersonal law and institutions, the reconciliation of society’s differences by accommodative compromise, above all the primacy of reason.

What needs to be done to uphold democracy?

  • We need a organised body to make the Indian system work and modernise.
  • We need to forget the excuse that politics is the art of the possible but remember leadership is the art of making even the impossible possible.
  • The common mass is ultimately responsible to uphold democracy but political leaders have to lead.

GS: 3


Economy:

Indians feel CEOs should be paid less(The Hindu)

Context:

  • Oxfam’s report titled ‘Reward Work, Not Wealth’ found that the richest 1% in the world owns more wealth than the whole of the rest of humanity.
  • 82% of all growth in global wealth in the last year went to the top 1%, while the bottom half of the world’s population saw no increase at all.

What are the findings of the Oxfam’s report?

  • According to report, the richest 1% in India accounted for 73% of the wealth generated in the country last year.
  • The wealth of India’s richest 1% increased by over 20.9 trillion during 2017 which is an amount equivalent to the total budget of the Central government in 2017-18.
  • Across all countries, respondents think CEOs should on average take a 40% pay cut.
  • In countries like the U.K., U.S. and India, respondents think CEOs should take a 60% pay cut.
  • Because, CEOs in India earn a shocking 483 times more salary.
  • It has been further calculated that approximately two-thirds of billionaire wealth is the product of inheritance, monopoly and cronyism.
  • In countries like India and the Philippines, at least one in every two workers in the garment sector are paid below the minimum wage.

Prabhu urges better India ASEAN connect(The Hindu)

Context:

  • The government called for greater trade and investment engagement between India and the ten-member ASEAN bloc, especially in agriculture as well as minerals and ocean resources.

What are the steps to be taken by India for a stronger Indo-ASEAN relation?

  • There needs to be an easier movement of professionals and skilled workers between India and ASEAN countries to boost services trade as well as investment.
  • An improvement in India-ASEAN physical connectivity through better infrastructure is much needed.
  • A creation of India-ASEAN regional value chains in agriculture as well as minerals and ocean resources is suggested.

IMF raises global growth forecast, sees US tax boost (The Hindu)

Context:

  • The International Monetary Fund revised up its forecast for world economic growth in 2018 and 2019.

What are the findings of the report?

  • United States and China: Pointing to growth in the United States and China, the IMF forecast global growth to accelerate to 3.9% for both 2018 and 2019, a 0.2 percentage point increase from its last update in October.
  • Spain: The IMF cut its forecast for Spain’s growth for 2018 by 0.1 percentage point.
  • Japan: The IMF revised up its growth forecast for Japan to 1.2% this year and 0.9% in 2019.
  • Britain: It maintained its projection for Britain’s growth at 1.5% this year.
  • Middle East, North Africa, Afghanistan and Pakistan: It said growth in the Middle East, North Africa, Afghanistan and Pakistan was also expected to pick up in 2018 and 2019 but remain subdued at 3.6% this year.
  • South Africa: The IMF revised down its growth estimate for South Africa to 0.9% for this year and next amid concerns over political uncertainty.
  • Latin America: In Latin America, it said growth would be weighed down by an economic collapse in Venezuela despite a pick-up in economic activity in Brazil and Mexico.

What are the major takeaways from the report?

  • Firstly, sweeping U.S. tax cuts were likely to boost investment in the world’s largest economy and help its main trading partners.
  • Secondly, U.S. growth would likely start weakening after 2022 as temporary spending incentives brought about by the tax cuts began to expire.
  • Thirdly, Political leaders and policymakers must be aware that the current economic momentum reflects a confluence of factors that is unlikely to last for long.
  • Fourthly, there is a troubling increase in debt levels across many countries and warned policymakers against complacency.
  • Fifthly, a sudden rise in interest rates could lead to questions about the debt sustainability of some countries and lead to a disruptive correction in “elevated” equity prices.

Science and Technology:

Detecting the change early on(The Hindu Opinion)

Context:

A study by the researchers from the Indian Institute of Science Education and Research (IISER), Pune, published in the Journal of Cell Science demonstrates how normal cells change into cancerous ones.

What is the method used in the study?

  • For the study, breast epithelial cells grown in 3D cultures have been used.
  • An alkylating agent (a drug used in chemotherapy) was used to induce the transformation of breast epithelial cells into cancerous cells by activating the DNA-PK gene.
  • To confirm that activation of DNA-PK was causing the phenomena of transformation, a small molecule was used to inhibit the activity of DNA-PK.

What does the study reveal?

  • The study shows how the normal cells transform into cancerous cells.
  • The activated DNA-PK was found to disrupt the structure and function of the Golgi.
  • Due to the disruption of the Golgi morphology, the movement of proteins from the endoplasmic reticulum to the cell membrane via Golgi was found to be restricted.
  • This further resulted in the disruption of the polarity which caused the epithelial cells transforming into cancerous cells.

Note: Polarity is the ability to distinguish the top and bottom sides of the epithelial cells

Environment:

Fourth tiger estimation begins in AP (The Hindu)

Context:

The fourth All-India Tiger estimation began in the Nagarjunsagar-Srisailam Tiger Reserve (NSTR) on 22nd January 2018

What is the method used in the survey?

  • An app, named, Monitoring System for Tigers-Intensive Protection and Ecological Status (M-StrIPES) is being used for the tiger estimation
  • The new app is used for the carnivore sign survey and transect marking to record details such as pellet density, vegetation status etc.

How is the new method better than the previous method?

  • The new app is being used to avoid human error involved in the traditional recording system of pugmarks and other signs.
  • Previously, data was collected manually in the pro forma on paper, which is prone to human errors.
  • Also, the new estimation is being done in grids of 2 sq.km each, unlike in 4 sq.km grids done earlier. This is expected to yield more accuracy.

What other surveys will be done?

  • The carnivore estimation will be followed by an herbivore estimation to ascertain whether the reserve has enough prey for the tigers.
  • There will also be enumeration of panthers, bears and wild dogs.
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