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GS:1


Society related issues:

Haryana Assembly okays death penalty for child rape(The Hindu)

What has happened?

The Haryana Assembly on Thursday unanimously passed a Bill which provides for death penalty to those found guilty of raping girls aged 12 years or less.

Third State to do so

After Madhya Pradesh and Rajasthan, Haryana has become the third State where the Assembly has approved the provision of capital punishment for such sexual offenders

Provisions of the bill

  • Under section 376-AA, in case of rape of a girl up to 12 years of age, there will be a punishment of death or rigorous imprisonment of not less than 14 years which may extend to imprisonment for life that is for remainder period of persons natural life, according to the legislation.
  • A provision 376-DA has also been added after section 376-D of the penal code.
  • Under section–376-DA, if a girl upto 12 years of age is raped by one or more persons constituting a group, each of those persons shall be deemed to have committed the offence of rape and will be punished with death or rigorous imprisonment for a term which will not be less than 20 years, but which may extend to life along with a fine.

Making existing criminal laws stringent

The punishment under Section 354 of the IPC (Assault or criminal force against woman with intent to outrage her modesty) will not be less than two years (earlier not less than one year) but may extend up to seven years (earlier up to five years).

Provision of fine

The new additions also include provisions of fining the convict and any such fine will be paid to the victim.


GS: 2


International relations:

Pakistan asks its envoy to return for ‘consultations’(The Hindu)

Context

Alleged maltreatment of Pakistani diplomats in India

What has happened?

Pakistan on Thursday asked its envoy to return for “consultations” amid growing bilateral tensions over alleged harassment of its diplomats in India

Cause of concern

While the consultations are not unusual, the fact that the Pakistan MFA issued a statement on calling him to Islamabad amid growing diplomatic tension, is significant

India’s view

  • Indian sources maintained that Pakistan has remained unresponsive to their safety-related concerns regarding security of the Indian diplomats
  • Consultations by any resident Ambassador or High Commissioner with their headquarters are matters for that country, so no major comment by Indian authorities in this regard

Facts

  • Over 500 Pakistani nationals including officials, staffers and family members are stationed at the High Commission in New Delhi
  • The Indian High Commission in Islamabad, however, is a ‘non-family’ posting for diplomats

U.S. announces expanded sanctions against Russians(The Hindu)

What has happened?

The U.S. slapped sanctions on 19 Russian individuals and five groups, including Moscow’s intelligence services, for meddling in the 2016 U.S. election and malicious cyber attacks

Additional sanctions in the future

  • There would be additional sanctions against Russian government officials and oligarchs “for their destabilising activities”.
  • The new sanctions also include Russian intelligence services, the Federal Security Service and Main Intelligence Directorate, and six individuals working on behalf of the GRU.

Effect

This would sever the individuals’ access to the U.S. financial system

Why?

U.S. intelligence agencies have concluded that Russia interfered in the 2016 presidential campaign using hacking and propaganda, an effort that eventually included attempting to tilt the race in President Donald Trump’s favour.

How: False personas

The indictment said Russians adopted false online personas to push divisive messages, traveled to the U.S. to collect intelligence and staged political rallies while posing as Americans.

Arresting the drift(The Hindu Opinion)

Context

India-Russia ties:India needs to re-engage with its ally Russia, which is getting closer to China and Pakistan

Russia growing closer with Pakistan

  • Russia signalling its support for Pakistan’s candidature to the Nuclear Suppliers Group.
  • Joint military exercises between Russia and Pakistan, of the kind held in October 2017, are another major concern for India

The Question raised

What are the risks of allowing a historically close bilateral relationship with Moscow to become a relatively lower priority, and can India ever hope to attain the same level of trust with any another ally?

The Answer: NO

The answers to both questions seem to be in the negative, namely that the risks are high and the odds of “replacing” Russian support quite low, at least for now.

Biggest Risk

The ongoing shift in equations with Russia could lead to Russia drifting away from India

Possibility of a Russia-Pakistan-China trilateral

It is easy to imagine that both China and Pakistan would be eager to support such an alliance as it could arrest India’s strategic momentum in the region and globally.

What can be done to stop this from happening?

If people-to-people contact between the two countries is promoted more, it could help ensure deeper linkages and fortify past associations.

Conclusion

The quickest remedy is to reengage with Russia with the specific aim of demonstrating that it is still an important friend of India.

The strategy of conflict(The Hindu Opinion)

Context

India-Pakistan Kashmir dispute: Violence at the border increasing

What has happened?

  • More than 633 ceasefire violations (CFVs) by Pakistan have been reported by New Delhi
  • Pakistan reported 415 CFVs by India which have claimed 20 civilian lives
  • The calibre of weapons used on the border have also graduated from short-range personal weapons to 105 mm mortars, 130 and 155 mm artillery guns and anti-tank guided missiles.

The Question asked

Is this sheer mindless violence, or is there a strategy behind this violence? And if there indeed is a strategy, is it a carefully calibrated one and what are its likely outcomes?

Three Strategies

Ever since the ceasefire agreement (CFA) of 2003, New Delhi seems to have followed three broad strategies to deal with the violence on the J&K border—

  • ‘talks over bullets’,
  • ‘talks and bullets’, and
  • ‘disproportionate bombardment’

These have identifiable costs and benefits associated with them.

‘Talks over bullets’ strategy

Relative calm in Kashmir from 2003 till 2008, PM Modi’s visit to Lahore which resulted in period from December 2015 to February 2016 which hardly witnessed any CFVs

  • Benefits: Engagement with Pakistan and quiet on the border are strongly correlated.
  • Downside:New Delhi feels that it tried the strategy of peace and talks several times in the past and failed to get a positive response from Pakistan.
  • Effect:This has led to a great deal of bitterness in India.
  • Analysis: The costs of ‘talks over bullets’ strategy, in New Delhi’s calculation, seem to outweigh the benefit

‘Talks and bullets’ strategy

To engage in talks while proportionately responding to Pakistani provocations e.g. period from 2010 to 2012

Benefits:

  • Both talks and firing persisted, though at moderate levels
  • Very little risk of escalation, fewer casualties and limited destruction.

Downsides: Major Political costs;

Analysis:The political costs of not upping the ante against Pakistan seemed to outweigh its military benefits

‘Disproportionate bombardment’ strategy

Disproportionate bombardment of the Pakistani side using high calibre weapons while not showing any desire for talks, negotiations or concessions, and shunning Pakistani suggestions thereof

Example:India’s reported rejection, in January, of a Pakistani proposal for a meeting between the two Directors General of Military Operations (DGMOs), saying it first wanted to see a drop in infiltration levels is a direct outcome of this strategy

Benefits

  • Surprisingly few questions being asked of the government about the rising civilian and military casualties.
  • The ‘we kill more than they do’ argument, combined with the ‘surgical strikes’ narrative, creates a powerful political discourse laden with potential electoral benefits for the ruling dispensation in New Delhi.

Costs:

  • The disproportionate bombardment strategy could potentially escalate to worrying levels — a rising toll could reverse popular support for the current muscular approach
  • More killing and destruction would also steadily shrink the space available for negotiated outcomes with Pakistan.
  • Finally, the current media frenzy surrounding the border violence and the associated nationalist sentiments could become a worry for the government if and when it wishes to negotiate with Pakistan.

Pakistan’s three-fold strategy

  • Keep the violence on the border carefully calibrated without upping the ante
  • Seek meaningful talks on Kashmir to turn down the rhetoric on Kashmir and infiltration into J&K
  • Propose tactical measures to reduce violence on the borders such as DGMO talks and reduction in the calibre of weapons, without giving up its claims and interests in Kashmir

A mismatch

Whereas India is looking for an end to cross-border infiltration and Pakistani involvement in Kashmir in return for an end to shelling on the border, Pakistan is desirous of a resolution of or meaningful talks on Kashmir in return for calm borders and cracking down on anti-India terror groups in Pakistan.

Conclusion

The two sides must therefore try and find a via media between these two differing sets of expectations if they wish to bring down the violence on the J&K border that is increasingly spiraling out of control

Indian Constitution and Polity:

CoA curtails powers of BCCI officials(The Hindu)

What happened?

  • The Supreme Court-appointed Committee of Administrators (CoA), steered by Vinod Rai issued fresh directives that conveyed to BCCI acting president C. K. Khanna, acting secretary Amitabh Choudhary and treasurer Anirudh Chaudhry that their role would henceforth be very limited in the matter of running the day-to-day administration.
  • In its seventh status report submitted recently, the CoA has informed the court that the three elected office-bearers completed their three year term on March 1, 2018.
  • It cited the court’s January 2, 2017 order to supervise the BCCI administration with the ultimate aim of making the BCCI and its members implement the Justice Lodha Committee reforms in cricket.

Is active euthanasia the next step?(The Hindu Opinion)

Context

The right declared in ‘Common Cause’ extends to active euthanasia in certain circumstances

The observation

If passive euthanasia is a guaranteed fundamental right, a rigid “active” versus “passive” euthanasia distinction (APD) is analytically unsustainable

The problem

  • It may unjustly deny a recognised fundamental right to those who need assistance to access it
  • There is no reasonable basis for negating the right vis-à-vis a patient whose circumstances warrant assistance to exercise it

Example: A UK case: Diane Pretty, while mentally competent, was in the terminal stages of incurable motor neurone disease, which left her completely paralysed from the neck down. Faced with the prospect of progressive suffocation as her breathing and swallowing muscles failed, Pretty required assistance to effectuate a dignified and bearable death in a manner and time of her choosing

Against APD

  • The inherent contradictions in APD are the inevitable outcome of fragmented rule-making by courts hamstrung by the lack of a comprehensive and coherent legislative and policy framework
  • APD is an elaborate and flawed judicial construct arguably necessitated by overarching policy concerns, namely, potential for abuse by unscrupulous individuals;

Conclusion

These complex issues cannot be addressed without the legalisation and regulation of active euthanasia


GS: 3


Economy:

Credit tangle(The Hindu Opinion)

Context

Aftermath of PNB fraud

What has happened?

In the wake of PNB fraud, RBI has decided to ban instruments like Letters of Undertaking (LoU) as well as letters of comfort issued by bankers to businesses for international transactions. It should be noted that LoUs are among the most popular instruments to secure overseas credit by importers

What will be the impact of this decision?

  • Rise of the funding cost for importers: It is estimated that overall, bank finance for imports into India is around $140 billion, of which over 60% is funded through such buyers’ credit. Hence RBI’s recent decision would raise the cost for importers, who will now need to rely on more expensive instruments such as bank guarantees and letters of credit. The move will also impact the competitiveness of exporters who import raw materials for their products.

A better way

As per author, a much better way could have been to tighten the norms for LoUs and introduction of safeguards based on the learnings from PNB incident

U.S. challenges Indian export programmes at WTO(The Hindu)

Context

Indo-US trade disputes

What has happened?

United States has challenged India’s export subsidy programmes at the World Trade Organisation (WTO)

Backdrop

The move comes after a recent string of statements accusing India of “unfair” trade practices, by President Donald Trump

How this dispute is different from earlier ones?

This move is broad and sweeping, as it targets whole range of Indian export subsidy programmes unlike earlier ones which used to be product or sector specific

  • The U.S. and India regularly use the World Trade Organization as a platform to resolve trade disputes. Per the WTO website, there appears to be 16 active cases, with the U.S. being the complainant in 6, and the respondent in 10
  • However, most of these disputes are for a product or group of products, and less about India’s larger policy programmes. That has changed with the current dispute initiated by the United States, which raises concerns about multiple wider trade programs issued by the Indian government

Which schemes and programmes have been challenged?

US has listed the following schemes as distorting trade in a way that allows Indian exporters to sell their goods more cheaply to the detriment of American workers and manufacturersby creating an uneven playing field on which they must compete

  • Merchandise Exports from India Scheme
  • Export Oriented Units Scheme
  • Electronics Hardware Technology Parks Scheme
  • Special Economic Zones
  • Export Promotion Capital Goods Scheme
  • a duty free imports for exporters programme

To seize and punish(The Hindu Opinion)

Context

The Fugitive Economic Offenders Bill, 2018

What is the objective behind the bill?

The bill aims to provide for measures to deter fugitive economic offenders from evading the process of law in India. It is a deterrent for those offenders who continue to stay outside the jurisdiction of Indian courts

  • Examples include: Fugitive businesspersons Vijay Mallya and Nirav Modi have resisted the jurisdiction of Indian courts

Need of the bill

  • Obstruction justice: The absence of such offenders from Indian courts has several harmful consequences, such as obstructing investigation in criminal cases and wasting the precious time of courts. In effect, it undermines the rule of law in India
  • Financial health is affected: Further, cases of economic offences involving non-repayment of bank loans impact the financial health of the banking sector and erode the government’s declared fight against corruption

Definition of fugitive economic offender

Bill defines a “fugitive economic offender” as a person against whom an arrest warrant has been issued in respect of a scheduled offence and who has left India so as to avoid criminal prosecution, or being abroad, refuses to return to India to face criminal prosecution

  • A scheduled offence refers to a list of economic offences contained in the Schedule to this Bill

Provisions of the bill

  • Power to survey, search and seize: Under this law, the competent authorities can confiscate the property and crime proceeds of a fugitive economic offender and disentitle him from putting forward or defending any civil claim for his assets
  • Burden of proof on the authorities: The burden of proof for establishing that a person is a fugitive economic offender or that a property is the proceeds of crime shall be on the authorities concerned
  • Appeal will lie to High Court:An appeal shall be to the High Court concerned against the orders issued by the Special Court
  • Attachment of the property:Bill contains provisions allowing the attachment of the property of a fugitive economic offender and proceeds of crime
  • The cases where the total value involved in such offences is Rs.100 crore or more, will come under the purview of this Bill
  • Special court: The Bill makes provisions for a Court (‘Special Court’ under the Prevention of Money-laundering Act, 2002) to declare a person as a Fugitive Economic Offender

MoF declines 3% GDP allocation for defence(The Hindu )

Context

The Finance Ministry has declined a recommendation from the Parliamentary Standing Committee on Defence to have a fixed allocation of 3% of GDP for the Defence Ministry, a report of the Committee has stated

Rationale given by MoF

MoF said that since government resources come with definite cost, resource allocation is made among various competing priorities.

  • Thus, defence expenditure as definite percentage of total government expenditure/GDP cannot be ensured considering the fact the resource allocations are made on need basis
  • Also, rationalisation of the expenditure is the prime objective of the government while finalising the revised estimates during mid-year review

India likely to push for dropping ‘Asian premium’ on oil prices(The Hindu)

Context

India is likely to lobby heavily for an end to the discriminatory “Asian premium” on oil prices and a “responsible” price mechanism, as it prepares to host a major conference for oil producing and consuming countries

Backdrop

International Energy Forum (IEF) April 10-12

  • India has made repeated demands to the IEF countries to remove what is called the “Asian premium” on prices that was pioneered by Saudi Arabia, which distinguished consumers in Asia from the U.S. and European countries thereby charging more per barrel of crude oil from them. However, the demands have met with little success and the issue is expected to be raised on the sidelines of the event, if not during the conference with Saudi Arabia and others

IEF

The IEF represents 90% of world consumption and production of oil and gas. All 92 member countries of the IEF are expected to send delegations, with about 40 participating at a ministerial level

‘RBI norms may push power projects worth ₹2.5 lakh crore into bankruptcy’(The Hindu)

Context

RBI’s move: The RBI has recently scrapped all loan restructuring programmes and it’s recent guidelines on ‘Resolution of Stressed Assets — Revised Framework’ mandates the banks to classify even a day’s delay in debt servicing as default

Impact

More than 50,000 MW of stressed power projects, worth more than ₹2.5 lakh crore, with bank exposure of more than ₹1.75 lakh crore, are likely to face bankruptcy proceedings

What are the underlying problems that need to be resolved?

Underlying stress factors include,

  • Resolution of change in law cases
  • Coal supply and its restrictive usage policy
  • Absence of power offtake agreements

Government’s response

The government has called for a high-level meeting of all the stakeholders, including public and private sector power firms, lenders, coal suppliers and railways on Friday to discuss the gravity of the situation

Science and Technology:

Antibiotic resistance: vultures wintering in India show pattern(The Hindu)

Context

Escherichia coli, a pathogen seen in over 90% of Egyptian vultures that migrate to northwest India to spend the winter, tend to show significant difference in resistance to antibiotics within a single season, a study has found

Study subjects

A team studied vultures that arrived in Bikaner in October 2011 and left in March 2012. The birds fed on cattle carcasses dumped in Jorbeer in Bikaner

Observations

  • Development of antibiotic resistance: The vultures were resistant to certain antibiotics when they arrived and developed resistance to certain other antibiotics when they left. Their sensitivity to certain antibiotics also changed within a few months. The resistance to multiple antibiotics was as high as about 71.5% in E. coli collected from vultures. Resistance of 12-13 bacterial strains to 13 commonly used antibiotics was studied
  • The vultures that use human-dominated landscapes as part of their life cycle were likely to act as reservoirs of bacterial resistance
  • Vultures were able to incorporate and reflect resistance at the site of wintering and during the period of sampling. So guidelines to restrict antibiotic use in both humans and animals by one country or region alone will be inadequate when wild birds can spread drug-resistant bacteria

Importance of the study

The findings of the study are significant because migrating wild birds can spread drug-resistant pathogens and cause disease

Space travel causes changes to genes(The Hindu)

Context

NASA’s Twins Study brought ten research teams together to accomplish one goal: find out what happens to the human body after spending one year in space

Comparing the data
Research includes data on what happened to Scott Kelly, physiologically and psychologically, while he was in space, and compared the data to Mark Kelly, his brother

Significance: A stepping stone towards long missions to Mars

NASA knew as to what happens to the body after the standard-duration six-month missions aboard the International Space Station (ISS), but astronaut Scott Kelly’s one-year mission is seen as a stepping stone to a three-year mission to Mars

Observations made

  • Spaceflight is associated with oxygen deprivation stress, increased inflammation, and dramatic nutrient shifts that affect gene expression
  • Scott Kelly’s telomeres — end caps of chromosomes that shorten as one ages — actually became significantly longer in space. This finding was made in 2017
  • A new finding is that the majority of those telomeres shortened within two days of Scott’s return to the earth. Researchers now know that 93% of Scott’s genes returned to normal after landing
  • However, the remaining 7% points to possible longer term changes in genes related to his immune system, DNA repair, bone formation networks, hypoxia and hypercapnia.
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