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GS:2


International relations:

The French connections (The Hindu Opinion)

Context

Growing partnership and cooperation between India and France

Long relationship

  • Both India and France share a similar world view
  • Cooperation in the space sector has continued since the 1960s when France helped India set up the Sriharikota launch site, followed by liquid engine development and hosting of payloads
  • France was the first P-5 country to support India’s claim for a permanent seat in an expanded and reformed UN Security Council

Concerns regarding China

There has been a growing convergence of interests in maritime cooperation. Like India, France has expressed concern about China’s growing presence in the Indian Ocean Region

Indo-French Cooperation

Nuclear agreement

  • The agreement on the industrial way forward between NPCIL and EdF affirms that work at Jaitapur will commence before the end of 2018
  • Equally significant are the two agreements signed between EdF and other French entities and L&T and Reliance, respectively, reflecting the engagement of Indian industry

Growing trade: The signing of nearly $16 billion worth of agreements at the business summit indicates that private sectors in both countries are beginning to take notice.

Entry point to Europe: Now with Brexit approaching, Mr. Macron cleverly pitched that India should look at France as its entry point for Europe and Francophonie (French speakers, collectively; the French-speaking world)

Smart Cities: The flagship programme of Smart Cities in which France is focussing on Chandigarh, Nagpur and Puducherry is taking shape as more than half the business agreements signed related to electric mobility, water supply, waste management and smart grids

Educational links

  • Currently about 2,500 Indians go to France annually to pursue higher education, compared to more than 250,000 from China.
  • A target has been set to raise it to 10,000 by 2020.
  • The agreement on mutual recognition of academic degrees and the follow-on Knowledge Summit, where 14 MoUs between educational and scientific institutions were signed, is a welcome move.

Tourism

  • A target of a million Indian tourists and 335,000 French tourists has been set for 2020.

Conclusion

The Strategic Partnership has already created a solid foundation; other aspects have now received the much needed focus and with proper implementation, it can add to the growing strategic convergence that draws India and France together.

Indian Constitution and Polity:

SC shuts the door on foreign law firms(The Hindu)

What happened?

Keeping India’s legal market exclusively for Indians, the Supreme Court on Tuesday ruled that foreign law firms or foreign lawyers cannot practise law in the country either on the litigation or non-litigation side.

What this means?

This means overseas lawyers or firms cannot open offices in the country, appear in courts or before any authority or render other legal services such as giving opinions or drafting documents.

Casual visit

The expression ‘fly in and fly out’ will only cover a casual visit not amounting to ‘practice’, and  adding that any dispute in this issue would be decided by the Bar Council of India.

No absolute right

  • The court also ruled that foreign law firms and lawyers did not have an “absolute right” to conduct arbitration proceedings and disputes arising out of contracts relating to international commercial arbitration.
  • Though they might not be debarred from conducting arbitration in India arising out of international commercial arbitration, they would be governed by the code of conduct applicable to the legal profession in India.

Legal BOPs exempt

The court said Business Process Outsourcing (BPO) companies providing a range of services to customers like word processing, secretarial support, transcription and proof reading services, travel desk support services and others would not come under the Advocates Act.

Why foreign firms can’t be allowed to practice?

  • Sections of the legal fraternity have been opposing their entry, contending that Indian advocates are not allowed to practise in the U.K., the U.S., Australia and other nations, except on fulfilling onerous restrictions like qualifying tests, experience and work permit
  • It was also argued that foreign lawyers cannot be allowed to practise in India without reciprocity

Legal experts divided over SC ruling on foreign law firms(The Hindu)

Context

SC’s recent ruling of not allowing the foreign firms to practice in India

Arguments against the ruling

  • Liberalization of legal sector: There is a question that pertains to liberalization of the legal sector in accordance with WTO initiated global trade negotiations
  • No intent to practice in the first place: Their entire object is to handhold foreign clients or Indian clients from abroad coming into India or foreign and Indian clients doing legal work abroad. In all cases involving appearances in Indian courts or all cases of opinions on Indian law, such law firms always do and must engage Indian lawyers

Arguments in support of the ruling

View of the BCI: Judgment welcomed

  • Since it allows foreign lawyers with international expertise to come and offer their advice.
  • But the judgment protects Indian law firms and lawyers

GS: 3


Economy:

Aadhaar link deadline extended indefinitely(The Hindu)

What happened?

In a relief for citizens, the Supreme Court indefinitely extended the deadline for linking Aadhaar with mobile phones, tatkal passports and for opening bank accounts from March 31, 2018 till the Constitution Bench led by Chief Justice of India Dipak Misra pronounces its final verdict on the validity of the Aadhaar scheme.

SC view

There should be a sense of certainty that citizens would not be harmed or their services curtailed even as the very Aadhaar scheme is under the apex court’s microscope.

Not all services included in the deadline

The court restricted its relaxation of the deadline to services outside Section 7 but gives no reason why.

Section 7

  • Section 7 of the Aadhaar Act says that the Centre and State governments can insist on Aadhaar “for the purpose of establishing identity of an individual as a condition for receipt of a subsidy, benefit or service for which the expenditure is incurred from the Consolidated Fund of India.”
  • To undergo authentication to access services under Section 7, an individual has to either produce his Aadhaar card or Aadhaar enrolment application.

Statutory protection

Lawyers for the petitioners hint that the court may have excluded Section 7 benefits from the extension because it is statutorily protected by the Aadhaar Act itself, whereas the other linkings like mobile phones are based on other statutes or even executive notifications.

Post-scam, RBI stops issue of LoUs(The Hindu)

What happened?

  • In the wake of an escalating controversy over the Nirav Modi-centred scam at the Punjab National Bank (PNB), the Reserve Bank of India (RBI) has decided to discontinue the practice of providing guarantees by issuing letters of undertaking (LoUs) and letters of comfort (LoCs) for trade credits for imports to India with immediate effect.
  • The decision will apply to AD (authorised dealer) category-I banks.

CAG flags Railways’ parlous finances(The Hindu)

Context

High Operating Costs of Indian Railways

Wrong value reported in 2016-17

The reported operating ratio of 96.5% in 2016-17

Correct Value

99.54% if the actual expenditure on pension payments was taken into account, according to the CAG report tabled in Parliament.

What does this mean?

An operating ratio of 99.54% means that Railways is spending 99.54 paise to earn 100 paise.

Reasons according to CAG

One of the factors for not recovering full cost from these classes could be the issue of free and concessional fare passes [or] tickets to various beneficiaries in good numbers, this practice needs to be scaled down

Other recommendations of the CAG

Fares should be based on Cost involved

The CAG said passenger fares and freight charges should be based on the cost involved so that it brings both rationality and flexibility in pricing, considering the financial health of Railways and the current market scenario.

Insufficient funds in the Depreciation Reserve Fund

  • Non-availability of sufficient funds in Depreciation Reserve Fund to replace the overaged assets is indicative of weak financial health of Indian Railways
  • The huge backlog of renewal and replacement of over aged assets in railway system needs to be addressed for safe running of trains

Strengthen Control mechanisms

There is a need to strengthen internal control mechanisms to reduce instances of misclassification of expenditure

Disclosing accounting policies

Further, the CAG said that the Indian Railways should follow the system of disclosing significant accounting policies forming the basis of preparation of financial statements such as accounting of fixed assets, depreciation and investments.

‘Laws on location services shouldn’t hit innovation’ (The Hindu)

Context

Geospatial Information Regulation Bill or GIRB

New features rolled out by Google

  • Multilingual voice navigation: Google rolled out new features to aid easier navigation using Google Maps, including voice navigation in six languages – Bengali, Gujarati, Kannada, Telugu, Tamil and Malayalam
  • Plus Codes: It also unveiled ‘Plus Codes’ – a system based on dividing the geographical surface of the earth into tiny ‘tiled areas’.

Geospatial Information Regulation Bill or GIRB

According to the draft, it will be mandatory to take permission from a government authority before acquiring, disseminating, publishing or distributing any geospatial information of India.

Even though the Bill is only in the draft stage and has been opened up for suggestions, it is important to understand its salient features:

What does “geospatial information” mean?

According to the draft it means:

  • Geospatial imagery or data acquired through space or aerial platforms such as satellite, aircrafts, airships, balloons, unmanned aerial vehicles
  • Graphical or digital data depicting natural or man-made physical features, phenomenon or boundaries of the earth
  • Any information related thereto including surveys, charts, maps, terrestrial photos referenced to a co-ordinate system and having attributes;

What does the Bill say?

In simple terms, any addition or creation of anything that has to do with any geospatial information – or location – within the territory of India will need the permission of the government or, in this case, a Security Vetting Authority.

What does Security Vetting Authority do?

It grants licenses to organisations/individuals who want to use geospatial data. It will check the content and data provided and make sure it is well within national policies, “with the sole objective of protecting national security, sovereignty, safety and integrity”

Who will this impact?

Every person, every business which uses location as a major feature to function. Apart from the usual Google, this includes other apps like Ola, Uber, Zomato, AirBnB and Oyo. It also includes Twitter and Facebook which can track your location

What happens if I violate this law (if it becomes one)?

  • Illegal acquisition of geospatial information of India – Fine ranging from Rs. 1 crore to Rs. 100 crore and/or imprisonment for a period up to seven years.
  • Illegal dissemination, publication or distribution of geospatial information of India – Whoever disseminates, publishes or distributesany geospatial information of India in contravention of section 4, shall be punished with a fine ranging from Rs. 10 lakhs to Rs. 100 crore and/or imprisonment for a period up to seven years.
  • Use of geospatial information of India outside India – Fine ranging from Rs. 1 crore to Rs. 100 croreand/or imprisonment for a period up to seven years.

What was the 20:80 gold import scheme?  (The Hindu)

Context

The Centre on Monday announced its intention to probe the circumstances behind the extension of the 20:80 gold import scheme, previously restricted to banks and PSUs, to private parties in the final days of the previous government’s term in 2014

What prompted the scheme?

In response to a stressed current account deficit in 2012-13 due to a surge in gold imports, the government at the time introduced an import scheme in 2013, which mandated that 20% of all gold imports would have to be exported

  • Restrict gold import to curb CAD: The scheme was designed to restrict the import of gold, conserve foreign exchange by imposing export obligations, and ensure that the premium from purchase and sale of gold resided in the hands of public agencies
  • It stated that an importer would be allowed to import gold only after he exported 20% quantity of gold from his previous import.

Who could import gold under the scheme?

At the time of its implementation, the 20:80 scheme was open only to banks and to public sector companies such as the Metals and Minerals Trading Corporation and the State Trading Corporation of India

  • Scope widened: In May 2014, the RBI in consultation with the government widened the scheme to also allow Premium Trading Houses (PTH) and Star Trading Houses (STH), both private sector entities, to import gold

How did the scheme fare?

According to the Commerce Ministry, a review of the scheme found that since liberalisation in May 2014, gold imports had increased substantially, averaging about 140-150 tonnes a month

  • Within this, the government found that gold imported by STHs and PTHs increased 320% following the May 2014 decision compared with the earlier period.
  • The share of these entities in the total gold imported into the country also increased from 20% before May to 60% after, according to the government.
  • The government on November 28, 2014 scrapped the 20:80 scheme and removed all restrictions on gold imports

What was the impact of the abolition?

The Centre, citing the Comptroller and Auditor General of India, said that the average monthly import of gold fell to 71.5 million tonnes in the months following the abolition of the 20:80 scheme [December 2014 to March 2015] from the monthly average of 92.16 million tonnes in the period following the widening of the policy [June 2014 to November 2014].

  • Gold imports averaged 33.6 million tonnes per month before STHs and PTHs were allowed to import under the 20:80 scheme [from August 2013 to May 2014], according to the government

Science and Technology:

ICMR wins the 2017 Kochon Prize for TB research (The Hindu)

Context

The 2017 Kochon Prize was awarded to the Indian Council of Medical Research (ICMR) in New Delhi for building a tradition of excellence in TB research and development

Kochon Prize

The $65,000 Prize is awarded annually by Stop TB Partnership to individuals and/or organizations that have made a significant contribution to combating TB. The ICMR emerged the winner from amongst 18 nominations

Impact

  • The Prize sends a strong message that investing in research is critically important to end TB epidemic. The recognition comes at a crucial time when the Indian government is increasing its commitment to end TB
  • The award will improve the profile of ICMR, bring more awareness and funding for research and attract more people to take up research on TB

What is TRC?

Since its inception in 1956, Chennai’s National Institute of Research in Tuberculosis (NIRT) [which was formerly known as the Tuberculosis Chemotherapy Centre and later as Tuberculosis Research Centre (TRC)] has undertaken several trials that had had impact internationally

  • BCG trial: The BCG vaccine trial by TRC, the largest ever to be conducted, followed-up 350,000 volunteers for 15 years
  • TRC has also conducted more than 50 drug combination and duration trails for both pulmonary and extra-pulmonary TB, and undertaken pharmacokinetic studies for dosing. It has developed new diagnostics, and tested and validated diagnostics developed elsewhere

An urgent prescription (The Hindu Opinion)

Context

Declining public sector capacity for manufacture of essential drugs and vaccines

Why public sector is needed for manufacture of essential drugs and vaccines?

  • Affordable cost: Public sector capacity for manufacture of essential drugs and vaccines is very much needed to ensure that our population is not denied access to drugs that the Indian private sector is unable to produce or supply at affordable cost
  • National security & disruptions in markets: Active pharmaceutical ingredients (APIs), which are needed for drug manufacture (formulation), are now mostly imported from China. This makes India highly vulnerable to disruptions in supply and cost escalations in import. National security demands that we develop both public and private sector capacity within the country, with suitable government support and incentives, to ensure uninterrupted and inexpensive availability of APIs
  • The High Level Expert Group Report on Universal Health Coverage for India (2011) clearly articulated the need for strengthening public sector units (PSUs) which have drug manufacturing capability
    • The report stated: “The use of PSUs will offer an opportunity to produce drug volumes for use in primary and secondary care facilities as well as help in ‘benchmarking’ drug costs. The existence of PSUs would also provide an opportunity to utilise the provision of Compulsory Licensing under TRIPS
  • Effective implementation of the Ayushman Bharat initiative calls for investment in expanding public sector capacity for producing essential drugs and APIs. This also embodies the spirit of Make in India

What kind of drugs are we talking about?

These include drugs where compulsory licences may need to be issued by the government for patent protected drugs or even off-patent drugs which are commercially unattractive to private manufacturers

What is Compulsory licensing?

Compulsory licensing (CL) is a mechanism permitted by the Trade-Related Aspects of Intellectual Property Rights (TRIPS) agreement to enable countries to issue licences to domestic drug manufacturers to produce and market affordable generic versions of life-saving drugs needed for meeting serious public health challenges that are of extreme urgency

  • This allows countries to overcome patent restrictions to assure availability of such drugs when the situation demands
  • Drugs effective against multi-drug resistant tuberculosis and anti-cancer drugs are clear examples of such a need, which should be addressed through compulsory licensing

Has India utilised the compulsory licensing provision earlier?

India has used the CL route previously to permit two Indian companies, Natco and Cipla, to produce a potent anti-cancer drug Nexavar manufactured & patented by Bayer. This enabled a 32-fold reduction in the cost of the drug.

Why private companies are hesitant to manufacture generic versions of the new anti-tubercular drugs?

The simple reason is the expensive litigation that followed the Nexavar case due to action initiated by Bayer

Measures by WTO

The World Health Organisation (WHO) has now invited expressions of interest from drug manufacturers to produce generic versions of two effective but expensive anti-tubercular drugs, bedaquiline and delamanid

  • Patients with drug-resistant TB require a combination of both these drugs

UN High Level Panel Access to Medicines (2016)

  • A report of the UN High Level Panel Access to Medicines (2016) called upon countries to safeguard and fully utilise the rights conferred by the TRIPS as confirmed by the Doha Declaration of the WTO
  • It also urges member states of WTO to adopt a permanent revision of Paragraph 6 of the TRIPS agreement to enable “swift and expeditious export of pharmaceutical products produced under compulsory license”

Conclusion

India should take the lead in ensuring universal access to affordable drugs through such measures. Investment in public sector capacity is essential to ensure that the country can exercise that leadership even on occasions when the private pharmaceutical sector is hesitant to assume a leading role

First, the basic sciences (The Hindu Opinion)

Context

Investment by India in scientific enterprise

Are Indians investing enough in science, and how should this investment be divided?

As per data provided by the UNESCO Institute for Statistics,

  • India invests about 0.8% of its GDP on research and development, and supports 156 researchers per million of population
  • China: The figures for China are 2%, and 1,113, respectively. China’s investment is now comparable to any developed country, with Germany standing at 2.9% and 4,363 researchers and the U.S. at 2.8% and 4,231

A steady increase

  • In 2000, China had invested only about 0.9% of its GDP on research and development, but this was steadily ramped up and in 2010 stood at 1.71%
  • India invested 0.74% in 2000, and increased this to 0.82% in 2010. While China took it up to 2.1% in 2016, in India it came down to 0.63% in 2015

These figures ignore the reality of what science has become in the last two decades

Author’s contention

Author contends that science has undergone a fundamental change in last two decades. The discovery of Raman effect by CV Raman was made with relatively meagre resources available at that time in 1928 but today while there is theoretical and even experimental work that can be done by small groups with a low budget, many pressing problems in science demand larger investments, including resources, funding and human capital

How bigger science projects require an entirely different mindset?

Bigger projects involve coordination of the work of several hundred people and international collaborations; they need physical space and funding. They challenge the mindset of doing science in isolation, within labs, and as unnoticed by society as possible. Canada made this transition in the late 1980s with its first big investment in science — the Sudbury Neutrino Observatory. Since then, it has not looked back

Conclusion

To develop a meaningful and scientific handle over impending crises, India needs to invest more widely and deeply in scientific enterprise

TB elimination goal advanced by five years(The Hindu)     

What happened?

India’s TB elimination goal advanced by five years ahead of the global target by the Prime Minister

Background

He was speaking at the inauguration of the Delhi End TB Summit

Launched “TB Free India Campaign”

The Prime Minister also launched the TB Free India Campaign on the occasion.

States’ role

State governments played a very important role in the elimination of TB

Thus strengthening the spirit of cooperative federalism states should join in the mission with the Central government

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