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GS: 2


International relations:

Afghanistan, on a slow fuse (The Hindu Opinion)

Context:

  • The attack by the Taliban gunmen at the Intercontinental Hotel in Kabul depicts the deteriorating security environment in Afghanistan.
  • The siege at the hotel lasted more than 12 hours and claimed 22 victims, including 14 foreigners, before the gunmen were neutralised.

What is the present day scenario of Afghanistan?

  • Afghanistan is under siege, with 21 international terrorist groups operating in this country and factories producing suicide bombers.
  • Without U.S. support, the Afghan national army would not last more than six months and the government would collapse.
  • Over the last 16 years, civilian casualties have mounted to 31,000, increasing progressively to over 4,000 a year.
  • The Afghan security forces are losing nearly 7,000 men a year.

Assistance provided to Afghanistan:

  • The U.S. has contributed significant blood and treasure, spending over a trillion dollar and losing more than 2,400 lives in pursuing the longest war in its history.
  • Of this amount, about $120 billion has been spent on reconstruction and development.
  • India is also a significant partner, having spent over $2 billion on humanitarian assistance, infrastructure building and human resource development, with an additional billion dollars committed.
  • U.S. President Donald Trump is determined to bring about a change in American policy and while authorising a limited increase in U.S. troop presence by 4,000 soldiers, has also been critical of Pakistan.

Why is the biggest looming threat?

  • After the fall of the Taliban in 2001, there was an international consensus on rebuilding Afghanistan.
  • It was ensured that it should not become a source of regional and global instability.
  • That consensus has eroded over the last 16 years.
  • Further, the Afghans who had returned in large numbers determined to reclaim their country and rebuild it are frustrated at the steady decline in both security and governance.
  • The newly created Afghan institutions are unable to address the challenges without significant international support, both financial and material.
  • However, with a breakdown in the international consensus, it may not be long before the slow fuse reaches ignition point and 2019 may well become the critical year.

The arc to Southeast Asia (The Hindu Opinion)

Context:

  • India will host heads of 10 nations of the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN) for the Republic Day celebrations to boost India’s ties with Southeast Asia.

Where does India lack to strengthen the India-ASEAN relationship?

  • India’s capacity to provide development assistance, market access and security guarantees remains limited.
  • Also ASEAN’s inclination to harness New Delhi for regional stability remains restricted by its sensitivities to other powers.
  • There has been a shift in emphasis, with India moving away from the South Asian Association for Regional Cooperation (SAARC) to the Bay of Bengal Initiative for Multi-Sectoral Technical and Economic Cooperation (BIMSTEC) and asserting its centrality in the evolving geography of the Indo-Pacific.
  • India’s economic focus too is not in tune with other regional powers which view ASEAN as an important market for exports and investments.
  • India’s export sector remains weak and the government’s focus has shifted to boosting manufacturing domestically.
  • As India’s gaze shifts to the Bay of Bengal, Myanmar and Thailand have emerged as key players in its southeastern outreach.
  • The hope is to use these nations as a bridge to ASEAN.
  • The temptation to prioritise these countries over others in ASEAN may also prevent others from looking at India as a regional stakeholder.

What is the way forward?

  • It is important for India and ASEAN to chart out a more operational, though modest, agenda for future cooperation.
  • The three Cs of commerce, connectivity and culture have been highlighted but a more coarse perspective is needed in terms of a forging a forward-looking approach.
  • India as a facilitator of the ASEAN-wide digital economy would not only challenge China but also emerge as an economic guarantor of its own.
  • India needs to focus on more effective delivery of projects it is already committed to.
  • In this context, prompt completion of the India-Myanmar-Thailand Trilateral Highway, which will run from Moreh in Manipur to Mae Sot in Thailand via Myanmar, is key.
  • With China having three times more commercial flights than India to Southeast Asia, improving air connectivity between India and ASEAN countries should also be high on the agenda.
  • While India offers scholarships to students from ASEAN states to study at Nalanda University, this initiative should be extended to the IITs and the IIMs.
  • Tourism too can be further encouraged between India and the ASEAN with some creative branding by the two sides

New Delhi brims with ‘Look east’ vibes (The Hindu)

Context:

  • India celebrates the 25th year commemorative summit of the ASEAN-India dialogue partnership on 25th January, 2017.
  • Security issues in the Indo-Pacific will be the focus of discussions.

What are the highlights of the summit?

  • The ASEAN-India discussions will focus on the “three Cs of connectivity, commerce and culture”.
  • Along with the issues of maritime security, cybersecurity and cooperation on fighting terrorism will also be discussed.
  • India’s difficulties with the 16-nation Regional Comprehensive Economic Partnership (RCEP) will also be on the agenda for talks.
  • India is also keen to discuss its concerns over China’s Belt and Road Initiative.

GS:3


Economy:

Will biometrics help fight crimes, asks Supreme Court(The Hindu)

Context:

  • The Supreme Court on Wednesday questioned the argument put forth by petitioners in Aadhaar cases that collection of personal information of citizens by the state would lead to totalitarianism.

Court’s argument:

  • Justice D.Y. Chandrachud, one of the five judges of the Constitution Bench led by Chief Justice of India Dipak Misra hearing the challenge to the Aadhaar scheme as a violation of the fundamental right to privacy, said an individual ought to have no objection if the state accessed his or her personal data to check if he was paying taxes.

What is Aadhaar?

  • Aadhaar is a 12 digit unique-identity number issued to all Indian residents based on their biometric and demographic data.
  • The data is collected by the Unique Identification Authority of India (UIDAI), a statutory authority established by the Government of India, under the Ministry of Electronics and Information Technology, under the provisions of the Aadhaar (Targeted Delivery of Financial and other Subsidies, benefits and services) Act, 2016.
  • To obtain an Aadhaar number, an individual has to submit his, (i) biometric (photograph, fingerprint, iris scan) and (ii) demographic (name, date of birth, address) information.  The Unique Identification Authority (UID) may specify other biometric and demographic information to be collected by regulations.

Aadhaar as a threat to the fundamental right to privacy:

This increased ambit of usage of Aadhaar has also raised privacy concerns.

  • It put threat on personal information of an individual. The term “personal information” (not used in the Act) can be understood in a broader sense, which includes not only identity information but also other information about a person, for instance where she travels, whom she talks to on the phone, how much she earns, what she buys, her Internet browsing history, and so on.
  • One more concern is that the Aadhaar Act includes a blanket exemption from the safeguards applicable to biometric and identity information on “national security” grounds.

Benefit of using personal information:

  • To combat terrorism
  • To counter money-laundering cases.
  • To deal with corruption.

UDAN to link 73 airports, helipads (The Hindu)

Context:

  • The Centre on Wednesday said 73 underserved and unserved airports and helipads would be connected under the phase 2 of the regional connectivity scheme UDAN.

Target:

  • The scheme will provide around 26.5 lakh seats per annum that will be covered with [an] airfare cap of ₹2,500/hr of flying.
  • In addition, around two lakh RCS (regional connectivity scheme) seats per annum are expected to be provided through helicopter operations.
  • The States with maximum number of airports and helipads which will see activation under UDAN 2 scheme include Uttarakhand (15), Uttar Pradesh (9), Arunachal Pradesh (8), Himachal Pradesh (6), Assam (5) and Manipur (5).
  • Some of the cities that would now be connected include Kargil, Darbhanga, Kasauli, Bokaro, Dumka, Hubli, Kannur and Pakyong, among others.
  • This was the first time bids were received from helicopter operators under the scheme.

Viability gap funding

  • These proposals would required a viability gap funding (VGF) of ₹487 crore per annum for fixed wing operations and ₹130 crore per annum for helicopter operations in the priority areas — which include the north-eastern and hill States,
  • The Centre decided not to increase the ₹5,000 regional air connectivity levy charged from airlines flying on major routes to fund the UDAN scheme.

Regional connectivity scheme UDAN.

  • UDAN-RCS, UDAN (Ude Desh ka Aam Naagrik) is a regional airport development and “Regional Connectivity Scheme” (RCS) of Government of India.

Objective:

  • Making air travel affordable and widespread,
  • To boost inclusive national economic development
  • Job growth and air transport infrastructure development of all regions and states of India.

Components:

The scheme has two components.

  1. The First component is to develop new and enhance the existing regional airports to increase the number of operational airports for the scheduled civilian flights from 70 (in May 2016, total 98 operational including army airports) to at least 150 airports (by December 2018) with regular scheduled flights.
  2. The Second component is to add several hundred financially-viable capped-airfare new regional flight routes to connect more than 100 underserved and unserved airports in smaller towns with each other as well as with well served airports in bigger cities by using “Viability Gap Funding” (VGF) where needed.

Capital adequacy ratio to rise 44bps (The Hindu)

Context:

  • Capital adequacy ratio will go up by 44 bps.

Introduction:

  • The state-run banks that will receive capital from the government will use it to meet provisioning requirement for accounts that facing bankruptcy proceedings.
  • This was mandated by the banking regulator, State Bank of India (SBI)- the country’s largest lender.
  • SBI will receive ₹8,800 crore capital from the government this financial year out of ₹88,139 crore allocated to 20 banks.
  • SBI’s capital adequacy ratio was 13.56% as on 30 September, 2017.

What was the main objective of this capital infusion?

  • The purpose of funding credit growth is to secure capital for next financial year. This will help in taking care of further growth capital requirement.
  • This capital is not for regulatory purpose but for growth.

What will be the impact on capital adequacy post this fund infusion?

  • The impact on capital adequacy ratio is about 44 bps points.

Capital adequacy ratio:

  • Capital Adequacy Ratio (CAR) is also known as Capital to Risk (Weighted) Assets Ratio (CRAR), is the ratio of a bank’s capital to its risk.
  • It is a measure of a bank’s capital.
  • It is expressed as a percentage of a bank’s risk weighted credit exposures
  • This ratio is used to protect depositors and promote stability and efficiency of financial systems around the world.
  • Two types of capital are measured: tier one capital, which can absorb losses without a bank being required to cease trading, and tier two capital, which can absorb losses in the event of a winding-up and so provides a lesser degree of protection to depositors.
  • Capital adequacy ratio is the ratio which determines the bank’s capacity to meet the time liabilities and other risks such as credit risk, operational risk etc.

Govt. unveils 2.1 lakh crore bank recapitalisation plan

Context:

  • Govt. unveils details of recapitalisation plan for public sector banks

Introduction:

  • The government has moved proposal to infuse additional grant of Rs 88,139 crore – Rs 80,000 crore through Recap Bonds and Rs 8,139 crore as budgetary support – for 2018 under the public sector banks recapitalisation plan.
  •  The government last year announced the capital infusion plan to pump in Rs 2.1 lakh crore in PSBs – burdened under huge Non-Performing Assets (NPA) – in the course of two years (FY18 and FY19).

Bank’s recapitalization:

  • The recapitalisation initiative will be accompanied by a strong reforms package across six themes incorporating 30 action points.
  • Major agendas under the action plan are Enhanced Access and Service Excellence (EASE) focusing on six themes of customer responsiveness, responsible banking, credit off-take, PSBs as Udyami Mitra, deepening financial inclusion and digitalisation and developing personnel for brand PSB.  
  • A strict watch will be kept on the PSBs’ lending and recovery systems to ensure clean consortium loans with only 10 per cent exposure.
  • The PSBs will have to keep in mind they follow a rigorous process for corporate lending and make post-sanction follow-ups in loans above Rs 250 crore.
  • In addition to flagging loan defaults in time, the PSBs will initiate stringent loan recovery methods.

Why does recapitalizing PSBs a more effective remedy?

  • With India’s economic growth faltering in the last couple of years, the government has been casting about for ways to galvanise the economy like Demonetisation and introduction of GST.
  • Its economic benefits will be long in coming while the short-term disruption has been very real.
  • Recapitalising public sector banks (PSBs) and enhancing the flow of credit is critical for revitalising India’s growth momentum at a time when the global economy is recovering.
  • The move is vital for the slowing economy as private investments remain elusive in the face of the “twin-balance sheet problem” worrying corporate India and public sector banks reflected in slow bank credit growth.
  • The PSB’s are reeling under the huge burden of Non-performing Assets (NPAs)

Measures:

  • The government has a prime responsibility of keeping the PSBs in good health.
  • The government’s job is to create an institutional mechanism to ensure what happened in past is not repeated.
  • Steps needed to ensure that banks follow the highest standard of governance in future.
  • Bank’s recapitalization is the best exercise in the extensive reform plan.
  • The necessary compliance standards need to follow to make the banks strong, professional and accountable institutions.

UdyanMitra decision:

  • The government has put a special focus on the Micro Small and Medium Sector by providing credit support and easy application loan facility.
  • On UdyanMitra, decision on a loan application will be taken in 15 days, and GST-registered MSMEs will be able to avail enhanced working capital.

Recalculating ease of doing business (The Hindu Opinion)

Context:

Recently, the World Bank announced that it would revise the methodology it uses to calculate the ease of doing business index.

What is the controversy?

  • This move that is expected to affect the rankings of countries in the last four years.
  • The index ranks countries based on how welcoming they are to businesses, as measured by criteria like the number of days it takes to start a business or obtain a licence.
  • The decision to revise the methodology comes after the Bank’s chief economist Paul Romer raised concerns that the rankings could have been influenced by politics.

Why is it significant?

  • The ease of doing business index has become a popular tool tracked by governments trying to show the world that they offer a favourable investment climate for private businessmen.

What are the other issues?

  • It limits its sample size to just a few major cities, thus projecting an imperfect picture of overall business conditions.
  • The bank is right to measure a country’s business environment based on written legal rules rather than investigating the actual ground conditions in which businesses operate.

Ease of doing business index:

  • The ease of doing business index is an index created by Simeon Djankov at the World Bank Group.
  • A high ease of doing business ranking means the regulatory environment is more conducive to the starting and operation of a local firm.
  • The World Bank included the “post-filing index” criteria for the first time in its 2017 Doing Business report under the “Paying Taxes” head.
  • This restricted India’s improvement in ranking to just one place—to 130 out of 190 countries—despite a slew of reforms undertaken by the government.

India’s ranking:

  • India came in at 100th place (out of 190) in the World Bank’s Ease of Doing Business Report 2018.

Internal security:

Fraud case in India surged 21% in 2017 (The Hindu)

Context:

  • According to Kroll Annual Global Fraud & Risk Report 2017-18 India witnessed a significant increase in fraud cases.

What are the findings of the report?

  • According to Kroll Annual Global Fraud & Risk Report 2017-18, India witnessed the highest incidence of fraud globally across three categories:
  • Theft of physical asset or stock (40%), IP theft, piracy or counterfeiting (36%) and corruption and bribery (31%).
  • Last year existing and former employees were the main perpetrators of fraud within a company.
  • This year, junior employees were the second most common perpetrators causing fraud incidents (43% respondents), as per the report.
  • Cyber security remained an area of concern with 84% of Indian respondents saying they had experienced a cyber-attack in the past 12 months.
  • The Kroll Report reveals that respondents are experiencing a heightened sense of vulnerability to fraud, cyber, and security risks, with information-related risks now being the area of greatest concern.

Environment:

Submit time-bound action plan on Bellandur lake: NGT(The Hindu)

Context:

  • The National Green Tribunal (NGT) questioned the Karnataka government for not taking measures to prevent recurring fires at the severely polluted Bellandur lake.
  • A Bench, headed by NGT directed the government to submit a time-bound action plan by January 29.

What are the causes of the recurring fire?

  • The State government representative contended that local residents were in the habit of venturing into the lake to collect grass for cattle feed, and that the dry grass was resulting in the fire.
  • Fire in Bellandur Lake is due to froth generated in the lake as a result of unregulated discharge of domestic and industrial sewage.

HPV vaccine gets immunisation nod(The Hindu)  

Context:

  • The National Technical Advisory Group on Immunization (NTAGI) has given the green signal to the introduction of the Human papillomavirus (HPV) vaccine in the Universal Immunization Programme.
  • The decision of who will make the HPV vaccines will depend on the outcome of a 2012 Supreme Court case.

What is the controversy in 2012 about the vaccine?

  • In 2009 a clinical trial conducted by the American non-profit PATH, in partnership with the Andhra Pradesh and Gujarat governments, went wrong.
  • Around 24,000 pre-adolescent girls were given MSD and GSK vaccines in the trial.
  • When eight of these girls died, health activists said PATH and others had violated research-ethics by giving the girls the vaccine without informed consent from their parents.
  • They also pointed out that trial-researchers had not set up a system to track the vaccine side-effects.
  • These allegations led to a 2012 writ petition in the Supreme Court by the activists.

What does the Opponents of the HPV has to say about the vaccine?

  • Opponents of the HPV vaccine say it is unnecessary, because screening for cervical cancer alone can prevent many deaths.
  • Proponents say that while screening is important, it is difficult to implement this in Indian healthcare settings.
  • Vaccine opponents have also raised the issue of rare side-effects.

First India-designed vaccine passes WHO test (The Hindu)

Context:

  • For the first time, a vaccine conceived and developed from scratch in India has been “pre-qualified” by the World Health Organisation.
  • While several vaccines from India have been pre-qualified, this is the first that was entirely developed locally and, according to experts, is a sign that there is a credible industrial, scientific and regulatory process in place to develop vaccines in India.

About Rotavac vaccine:

  • The Rotavac vaccine, developed by the Hyderabad-based Bharat Biotech Limited last year, was included in India’s national immunisation programme.
  • To be “pre-qualified” means that the vaccine can be sold internationally to several countries in Africa and South America.
  • The Rotavac vaccine protects against childhood diarrhoea caused by the rotavirus.
  • Some medics have raised concerns that the rotavirus vaccine carried a small chance of causing infants to develop a bowel disorder; but the Rotavac vaccine, having been tested in the field for over a year, have not shown any negative effect.
  • The Pune-based Serum International also has developed a rotavirus vaccine called Rabishield that has also been included in India’s immunisation programme.
  • Rotavirus is responsible for an estimated 36% of hospitalisations for childhood diarrhoea around the world and for an estimated 200,000 deaths in low- and middle-income countries.
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