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GS: 1


Art and culture:

Artefacts of ‘pre-Iron Age’ excavated in Odisha (The Hindu)

Context

Archaeological Survey of India, which has been excavating a mound at Jalalpur village of Odisha’s Cuttack district, has now come across stone and bone tools believed to be of early Iron Age.

ASI discovery in Jalalpur includes stone tools, potteries

  • The discovery includes faunal remains, carbonised grains and stone and bone tools of early iron age to prehistoric period
  • Yellow and dark grey colour soil noticed during the excavation signifies the rural settlement flourished in different eras
  • Circular wall, semi-circular wall, crescent shape wall and mud platforms of different size and shape have been discovered

Other items retrieved

  • Among the artefacts retrieved from the site include red ware, red slipped ware, grey and black wares, pots of different shapes, bowls, bowl-on-stand, ring based bowls, miniature pots, storage jars, pots.
  • Similarly, other antiquities retrieved from the site are polished stone axes and adzes, terracotta sling balls.

Society related issues:

SC seeks data on child sex abusers (The Hindu)

Context

As an eight-month-old rape survivor from Delhi battles for her life at the AIIMS, the Supreme Court on Monday ordered a nationwide inquiry into how many child sex abusers had actually been punished

What happened?

A three-judge Bench, led by Chief Justice of India Dipak Misra, ordered data from the High Courts on the number of pending cases of child abuse booked under the Prevention of Children from Sexual Offences Act, 2012

Fresh figures

  • Chief Justice Misra said the court wanted fresh and independent data collected by a team constituted under the supervision of the Chief Justices of the High Courts
  • The court gave the High Courts four weeks to submit the data to the Supreme Court Registry.

Deadline for completion of trials

The Bench said it wanted to know the status so as to set a deadline for the completion of trials in special courts

The cost of education (The Hindu Opinion)

Context

Fee regulation of the Private schools by balancing their autonomy and their public welfare function

Right to freedom: The issue of fee regulation finds itself at the intersection of constitutionally protected freedoms enjoyed by private schools and the need for making quality education affordable and accessible

Private schools claim: The managements of such schools claim that these hikes are reasonable and justified as the costs of maintaining a fully functional private school with quality teaching and world-class infrastructure are quite steep

The Question: Can private schools arbitrarily hike fees?

SC’s view: Two cases

  • In M.A. Pai Foundation v. State of Karnataka (2002), the Supreme Court held that regulatory measures imposed on unaided private educational institutions must, in general, ensure the maintenance of proper academic standards, atmosphere and infrastructure and the prevention of mal-administration by the school management.
  • In Islamic Academy of Education and Anr. v. State of Karnataka and Ors (2003), a Constitution Bench of the Supreme Court held that these institutions have the autonomy to generate “surplus” which must be used for their betterment and growth.
    • While private schools are ‘entitled to a reasonable surplus for development of education and expansion of the institution, there has to be a balance between autonomy of such institutions and the measures taken to prevent commercialisation of education’.

Terms not clarified

However, there is not much clarity on what the terms “surplus”, “reasonable surplus” or “commercialisation of education” entail.

Weak laws in the States

  • In order to prevent private schools from charging unreasonably high fees and to prevent misuse of funds, several State governments have either enacted fee regulation laws or are in the process of framing them.
  • These models are affected by the challenges of weak implementation, a lack of capacity and constant legal challenges posed by private school associations
  • Existing legislative efforts have made an incomplete assessment of the deeper problems with financial management and accounting practices adopted by private schools.

CAG slammed private schools

  • In 2010, the Comptroller and Auditor General slammed 25 well-known private schools in Delhi for arbitrary fee hikes.
  • According to the report, money was being collected from parents under false heads, while at the same time, teachers were being underpaid, and accounts misrepresented.

Accounting standards

  • In order to make these laws more effective, the solution would be to address the disease of financial mismanagement and misreporting, and not the symptoms
  • In Modern School v. Union of India (2004), the Supreme Court recommended accounting standards for private schools.

Other measures

Further, measures such as regular government supervised audits, generating capacity in State-level Departments of Education, regular inspections, and stricter sanctions for fraudulent reporting could be considered.


GS: 2


International relations:

Indo-French harmony: on President Macron’s visit to India (The Hindu Opinion)

Context

PM Modi and President Macron deepen ties to work around global uncertainties

French President’s visit

  • Joint Vision Statement:  The Joint Vision Statement on the Indian Ocean Region is clearly aimed at countering China’s growing presence in the region.
  • Climate Change cooperation: The International Solar Alliance, recommitment to starting the Jaitapur nuclear power plant, and joint ventures on climate change cooperation are reactions to the U.S. abdicating its role by announcing its pullout from the Paris accord.
  • Reciprocal logistics support agreement: The “reciprocal logistics support” agreement, which Prime Minister Narendra Modi called a “golden step” in defence cooperation, is a signal to Russia and to the U.S.-led alliance that partnered in the “Quadrilateral”, that both New Delhi and Paris feel the need to diversify strategic postures beyond their current choices.

ISA challenging geopolitical power structure

  • Finally, by bringing 61 countries into the ISA, India and France are proposing an alternative leadership model for the less developed world, challenging the geopolitical power structure configured around fossil-fuel energy resources.
  • The daunting task ahead is made clear by Mr. Macron’s assertion that $1 trillion is needed to reach the ISA goals by 2030: India and France have so far committed $1.4 billion and $1.3 billion, respectively

Problems

India

  • Solar power tariffs low in India: India’s solar power tariffs stand at about ₹2.40 a unit and there is little scope to make the domestic industry profitable, unless the cost of solar panels and other components are brought down drastically.
  • More thermal power being produced: At the same time, more thermal power, for which tariffs are higher but which is less fickle than solar or wind power, is being produced than the demand.

France

  • Jaitapur plant progress is slow: France’s nuclear power story is a success, but negotiations between EDF and NPCIL for the Jaitapur plant, billed as the world’s biggest, have made very slow progress. While the two countries have committed to start construction by end-2018, they have missed deadlines multiple times.
  • Indian Ocean Region cooperation might be symbolic
  • Bilateral cooperation in the Indian Ocean Region too is more symbolic than substantive today, and much will depend on how closely the Indian and French navies and intelligence work together in the future.

Engagement with China also

The presumed joint message to Beijing may also be blurred by Mr. Macron’s parallel commitment to help “lead” the Belt and Road Initiative with China.

Conclusion

As two democracies with a firm belief in a multipolar world order and in the future of Eurasia, India and France have numerous strategic convergences. But common ambitions to cooperate on the world stage, as projected by Mr. Macron and Mr. Modi, must be grounded in some hard realities as well

Always a rule-maker (The Hindu Opinion)

Context

The inaugural International Solar Alliance (ISA) summit underlines India’s place in the new world order. Global equitable sustainable development, which is the basis of the ISA, suggests a ‘third’ way to the inequality and environmental damage characterising the current U.S. and China-led models.

US and China weakening multilateral rules

  • There is an emerging clash in the United Nations, World Trade Organisation, and the climate treaty with the U.S. weakening multilateral rules by redefining what is ‘fair’
  • It is also becoming clear that in a multipolar world China cannot shape rules for the ‘Asian Century’ by itself

India should fill in the gap

The shift fills the gap in the thrust of the ‘Chinese dream’ and ‘America first’, both of which ignore sustainable development.

ASEAN considers India as a balancing factor

  • In January, the big takeaway from the ASEAN-India Summit was that countries in the region questioned the benefits of China’s model of a new order and the U.S.’s commitment to the existing order and considered India as a balancing factor.
  • This is also why China and the U.S. are seeking to work with India.

Challenge for India

  • The challenge for India is to take advantage of global trends and push infrastructure, e-commerce, human capital and technology development to position itself in the emerging global economic triumvirate, which must operate within global ecological limits, and as a cyber global power
  • India should now give primacy to rules that will chart a path for its own sustainable prosperity rather than seek similar interests.

Importance of Indo China cooperation realized

  • The two sides have just recognised “sensitivity to each other’s concerns, interests and aspirations” and China has suggested they “meet halfway”
  • New opportunities are emerging with Beijing’s willingness to discuss Delhi’s concerns about Pakistan and the BRI
  • The aim should be to demarcate the border, a colonial legacy, and for the Shanghai Cooperation Organisation to develop Asia-specific rules for non-aggression to institutionalize China’s stated support for non-hierarchical relations.

What India needs to do?

  • Working with China jointly to set new multilateral rules: Questions around the existing political and economic order suggest that India should not reject collaboration in the Belt and Road Initiative (BRI), which is the framework for a new order. Rather, it should work with China to jointly set the new multilateral rules. Examples: RCEP, BRICS Development Bank, ADB
  • India needs to extend its influence in Asia: A U.S. withdrawing from economic multilateralism needs India to shore up its strategic influence in Asia

Conclusion

In 2018, India will have to make hard choices. It will need to strike a balance between being a part of the Quad and partnering with Russia and China, as they are now considered the biggest threat by the U.S.

U.K. fumes at French offer to Indian students (The Hindu)

Context

French President Emmanuel Macron’s overtures to India during his four-day visit have hit a raw nerve in Britain, particularly as he sought to reach out to Indian students, encouraging them to study in France.

Post-Brexit stand on issue unclear

British Foreign Secretary Boris Johnson took to Twitter to defend Britain’s record, pointing out that over 14,000 came to study in Britain in the first quarter of 2017 alone — a rise from the year before.

British concerns

His comments touch upon a couple of contested political issues in Britain — concerns around its stance on international students, and fears that European markets will seek to capitalise on Brexit-related uncertainty to lure businesses and others out of the U.K.

Recovery but numbers still low

  • The issue of international students remains particularly sensitive in the U.K., with the total numbers of Indian students making a modest recovery last year, but still below 2010 figures
  • Meanwhile, the numbers of Indian students in other European countries such as Germany have risen sharply.

S-400 deal may be finalised by March 31 (The Hindu)

Context

India and Russia could be just weeks away from signing one of the biggest defence deals between the two sides in recent history, said two senior defence sources this week

S-400 Triumf

  • The contract negotiations for the purchase of the S-400 Triumf long range air defence systems are in the final stages, and are expected to be closed by March 31
  • India is planning to buy five systems that is expected to cost about Rs. 39,000 crore

What is Triumf?

  • It is considered one of the most potent Surface to Air missile systems in the world
  • It can track and shoot down a range of incoming airborne targets at ranges of upto 400km.
  • In 2016, the two countries had concluded the Inter-Governmental Agreements for five S-400 systems and four stealth frigates after which the contract negotiations began to conclude a commercial contract.

No offset clause

Russia has already conveyed to India that the deal should not have any offset clause as it is a strategic system

Noted positive remarks by India, says China (The Hindu)

Context

China on Monday stepped up the ongoing messaging between Beijing and New Delhi, highlighting a steady improvement in their post-Doklam ties

Centre had spoken of developing bilateral relations

  • To a question during his routine briefing, Foreign Ministry spokesperson Lu Kang said that China had noted “positive remarks by the Indian side”.
  • Lu was apparently referring to observations by Raveesh Kumar, the spokesperson for the External Affairs Ministry.

Indian Constitution and Polity:

Ineffective and arbitrary (The Hindu Opinion)

Context

The amendments to the Indian Penal Code passed by Rajasthan and Madhya Pradesh introducing the death penalty as a possible punishment for the rape of a girl below the age of 12 years is a perfect example of lawmaking that is as thick on rhetoric as it is thin on empirical evidence

What is the purpose of these amendments?

Statements from politicians in the two States will reveal the three interests that drive this move:

  • First, there is the belief that harsher punishments will deter people from committing child rape;
  • Second, justice for child survivors demands that the law provide for the death penalty;
  • Third, our abhorrence for the crime makes the perpetrator ‘deserving’ of the death penalty

The Deterrence argument: Does it even hold?

  • For: Fear of the harshest punishment will prevent individuals from committing child rape
  • Against: By diverting resources to the death penalty, we are taking away from developing strategies like risk assessment and management, cognitive behavioral treatment and community protection measures that have proven to have far greater preventive potential
  • Research: In 2012, the National Research Council of the National Academy of Sciences in the U.S. published a comprehensive analysis of deterrence studies and came to the conclusion that it is impossible to determine whether the death penalty is a deterrent or not

What are the real reasons that prevent justice to the child survivors?

Death penalty as justice to the child survivor is a disingenuous argument because it seeks to cover-up the real reasons that prevent justice to survivors:

  • Low Conviction Rates: Child rights groups have often expressed grave concerns over the manner in which investigations and criminal prosecutions take place under the Protection of Children from Sexual Offences Act, 2012, and low conviction rates.
  • Lack of specialized personnel: The lack of specialised investigators, prosecutors, judges, mental health professionals, doctors, forensic experts and social workers working on cases of child rape specifically has been repeatedly cited as the need of the hour.
  • Inadequate Rehabilitation Services: Further, our efforts to ensure justice for child survivors have suffered from grossly inadequate child protection and rehabilitation services, lack of compliance with child-friendly legal procedures, and no real system of positive measures to reduce vulnerabilities of children in this context
  • Family members are largest perpetrators: Research on child sexual violence in India shows that a large proportion of perpetrators are family members or those close to or known to the family.
    • Underreporting: This results in massive underreporting of such crimes.
    • So Might not want to send one’s own family member to the gallows: This concern will only intensify with the death penalty because we are effectively asking the child’s family to risk sending a family member or a known person to the gallows.

Arbitrariness in our Constitution: How will a judge decide?

  • Under our Constitution, a legislation has to always give a sentencing judge the option of choosing between life imprisonment and the death penalty; death penalty cannot be declared as the only punishment for any crime.
  • How is a judge to choose which child rapist deserves or which one doesn’t deserve to die?

The Death Penalty India Report

The Death Penalty India Report of 2016 found that

  • Poverty: A very large proportion of death row prisoners (over 75%) are extremely poor and belong to marginalised groups with barely any meaningful access to legal representation

Why the death penalty is not a solution?

  • Easy way out: Governments are looking for the easy way out on an issue that requires sustained planning, engagement, and investment of resources
  • Targeting the poor: While there is widespread agreement that child rape is a concern across all sections of society, by choosing the death penalty as a response we are focussing on a punishment that structurally targets the poor
  • Arbitrariness in imposing death sentences: It has been explicitly discussed in judgments of the Supreme Court and also led the Law Commission to recommend the gradual abolition of the death penalty in its 262nd report

Conclusion

  • Governments should take steps that are very different from steps meant to convey our extreme dislike at such crimes

SC admits plea on lawmaker-lawyers (The Hindu)

Context

The Supreme Court on Monday admitted a PIL petition to ban MPs and MLAs from doubling up as lawyers

What does the petition say?

The writ petition said “They also utilise their position as MPs/MLAs to be visible in the public domain, including on television where they give interviews or participate in shows. This essentially amounts to advertising, as their ‘brand’ is promoted among the public, many of whom are potential litigants. This virtually seamless transition between the two spheres by these legislators is causing irreversible harm to both the profession and public interest,”

Issues

  • Violation of law: The petition said the practice was in violation of Rule 49 of the Bar Council of India Act, which forbade an advocate to be “full-time salaried employee of any person, government, firm, corporation or concern, so long as he continues to practice”
  • Employees of state: Petitioner also contended that as MPs and MLAs drew their salaries from the Consolidated Fund of India, they were “employees of the State”
  • Legislators are public servants: Under Section 21 of the Indian Penal Code and Section 2(c) of the Prevention of Corruption Act, MLAs and MPs were public servants. Hence, allowing them to practice as an advocate and restricting other public servants was arbitrary, irrational and violation of Articles 14-15 of the Constitution
  • Professional misconduct: Petition further contended that it amounted to “professional misconduct” that MLAs and MPs who got salary and other benefits from the public fund, appeared against the government

GS: 3


Economy:

Not by fear alone (The Hindu Opinion)

Context

The GST (goods and services tax) Council chaired by Finance Minister Arun Jaitley has decided to stick to the prescriptions of the group of ministers on the rollout of the e-way bills system

What is happening?

Starting April 1, all inter-State movement of goods above the value of Rs. 50,000 will require the generation of an e-way bill to help track their movement

  • Phased rollout: As proposed by the ministerial group, the e-way bill system for tracking intra-State movement will be launched in a phased manner, with all States to be on board by June 1
  • From April 1 onwards, every week a few States will start the system for internal trade

Issues

  • Compliance difficulties: While such an approach may give the government an opportunity to fix the chinks in the system, this is a compliance nightmare in the making for taxpayers with operations in multiple locations
  • Doubts over the capacity of the IT system to cope with e-way bills
  • Return of the checkpost system:  Tax experts have voiced concern about some of these rules, including one that empowers commissioners to notify those officers who can intercept any mode of conveyance to carry out physical verification of e-way bills while goods are in transit, akin to the old physical checkpost system
  • failure of the GST Council to finalise a simplified tax form for assessees

Banks need better governance: IMF (The Hindu)

Context

The recent instance of fraud in the banking sector has brought to the fore the issue related to governance in banks, especially public sector entities that need to put in place tighter controls and improve their balance sheets, according to a top official of the International Monetary Fund (IMF)

IMF’s deputy directors’ views

  • While the asset size is increasing in India, there is a deteriorating trend in terms of asset quality
  • The efficiency of the sector can be made better and risk management and culture strengthened
  • Even while India had been a leader in terms of growth rates, financial inclusion was a challenge as access to finance had been low compared with other developing countries

What is FSAP?

The Financial Sector Assessment Program (FSAP) is a joint program of the International Monetary Fund and the World Bank

  • Launched in 1999 in the wake of the Asian financial crisis, the program brings together Bank and Fund expertise to help countries reduce the likelihood and severity of financial sector crises
  • The FSAP provides a comprehensive framework through which assessors and authorities in participating countries can identify financial system vulnerabilities and develop appropriate policy responses

The FSAP follows a three-pronged approach when looking at the country’s financial sector:

  1. The soundness of a financial system versus its vulnerabilities and risks that increase the likelihood or potential severity of financial sector crises.
  2. A country’s developmental needs in terms of infrastructure, institutions and markets.
  3. A country’s compliance with the observance of selected financial sector standards and code

IIP quickens to 7.5%, inflation softens (The Hindu)

Context

Industrial activity accelerated in January to 7.5% on the back of strong manufacturing growth and a rebound in the consumer durables sector, according to official data released on Monday

Other observations

Inflation

  • Retail inflation, as measured by the Consumer Price Index (CPI), eased to 4.4% in February, following two months of figures above 5%
  • Inflation as measured by the CPI slowed to 4.44% in February from 5.07% in January, mostly due to easing food and fuel prices
  • Inflation in the food and beverages segment slowed to 3.38% in February from 4.58% in the previous month
  • Inflation in the fuel and light segment slowed to 6.8% from 7.73% over the same period

IIP

  • Growth in the Index of Industrial Production quickened to 7.5% in January from 7.07% in December
    • The manufacturing sector saw growth quickening marginally to 8.7% in January from 8.4% in the previous month
  • Electricity also saw growth accelerating to 7.6% from 4.43% in December
  • Primary goods saw growth accelerating to 5.8% in January from 3.73% in December
  • The capital goods sector continued to witness strong growth of 14.6% in January, although this was lower than the 16.44% seen in the previous month
  • Growth in infrastructure and construction quickened slightly to 6.8% in January from 6.68% in the previous month
  • The consumer durables sector saw growth accelerating sharply to 8% from 0.86% over the same period

PMI weakened

  • The only concern is that the Purchasing Managers’ Index data for February showed a weakening

Why the easing in indices?

This easing appears to have come largely on the back of a slowdown in the food price inflation. Whether this easing sustains or not depends on multiple factors, including the agricultural production as well as the threat of rising crude oil prices

Impact

It is expected that RBI will not deviate from status quo due to inflationary risks

What is IIP?

The index of Industrial Production (IIP) conveys the status of production in the industrial sector of an economy in a given period of time, in comparison with a fixed reference point in the past.  IIP shows the change in production volume in major industrial subsectors like manufacturing, mining and electricity

  • Computed and published by: Central Statistical Organisation (CSO)
  • Duration: Monthly basis

What is PMI?

It is an indicator of the economic health and investor sentiments about the manufacturing sector (there is services PMI as well)

  • Variables used in PMI’s construction: The variables used to construct India’s PMI are: Output, New Orders, Employment, Input Costs, Output Prices, Backlogs of Work, Export Orders, Quantity of Purchases, Suppliers Delivery Times, Stocks of Purchases and Stocks of Finished Goods. Similar variables (but less in number) are used for the construction of services PMI
  • Published by: For India, the PMI Data is published by Japanese firm Nikkei
  • Compiled and constructed by: Markit Economics

What does PMI actually reflect?

It shows the investor sentiment in an economy’s manufacturing sector

IIP vs PMI

In terms of composition, we can say the PMI is a sentiment tracking index. On the other hand, the Index of Industrial Production indicates changes in production volume or output

Internal security:

India’s arms imports from U.S. up by 550%: report (The Hindu)

Context

Report on global arms sales by the Stockholm International Peace Research Institute (SIPRI)

Observations

  • US is now India’s 2nd largest arm supplier: The U.S. recorded a blazing growth in its arms exports to India, recording over 550% growth in 2013-17 compared with the previous five years. As a result, the U.S. has become India’s second largest supplier
  • Pakistan is largest recipient of Chinese arms exports: Pakistan’s imports from the U.S. dropped by 76% in 2013-17 compared with 2008-12, while it emerged as the largest recipient of Chinese arms exports
  • Russia continued to be India’s largest arms supplier, accounting for 62% of India’s arms imports between 2013 and 2017
  • India was the world’s largest importer of major arms in 2013-17 and accounted for 12% of the global total. Its imports increased by 24% between 2008-12 and 2013-17

China

  • China’s arms imports fell by 19 per cent between 2008-12 and 2013-17
  • While it was the world’s fifth largest arms importer in 2013-17, China has also emerged as the fifth largest arms exporter, with exports rising by 38% between 2008-12 and 2013-17
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