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GS: 2


International relations:

U.S. expels 60 Russians, shuts consulate in Seattle(The Hindu)

What has happened?

The U.S. on Monday expelled 60 Russian officials and ordered the closure of the consulate in Seattle, as ties between the nuclear powers continue to deteriorate. Of the 60 being asked to leave, 48 are posted at the Russian embassy and 12 are at the Russian mission to the United Nations in New York. U.S. administration officials said the officials and their families have been given seven days to leave the U.S.

Reasons for expulsion

  • Expression of solidarity by U.S towards its NATO ally, i.e. UK: In response to Russia’s use of a military-grade chemical weapon on the soil of the United Kingdom against ex-Russian spy Sergei Skripal and his daughter on March 4
  • Consulate’s proximity to base:Due to its proximity to one of U.S submarine bases and Boeing
    • Russia is required to close the consulate by April 2

India, China plan FTA breakthrough(The Hindu)

What has happened?

Commerce Minister Suresh Prabhu and his Chinese counterpart, Zhong Shan, met here on Monday for the first high-level contact between both sides that decided to “reset” their ties this year in the run-up to a Xi-Modi summit meeting in China.

Background

1th meeting of the India-China Joint Group on Economic Relations, Trade, Science and Technology (JEG)

Improving economic ties with China

Growth in bilateral trade:In 2017, the bilateral trade reached $84.4 billion, registering a growth of 20.3% from the year before and a record high

Import with China increased:China’s import from India soared by 40%, helping ease the bilateral trade imbalance

Consensus Reached in the meeting on following points

Mutual co-operation on OBOR and Indian development initiatives: The two sides would jointly promote the synergy between China’s Belt and Road initiative and India’s development strategies, including the “15-year Development Agenda”, “Make in India” and “Digital India” to deepen mutually-beneficial cooperation and share development experience

Promotion of Indian exports to China: The two sides would promote India’s exports to China so as to address the trade imbalance between the two countries

Special Working Group: The two sides agreed to set up a special working group to draw a road map for developing two-way trade

RCEP agreement:Both sides would demonstrate flexibility to reach at an early date a modern, comprehensive and mutually beneficial RCEP agreement of high standards.

U.S., India hold naval training(The Hindu)

What has happened?

  • Indian Navy’s Talwar class frigate INS Tarkash carried out a “greeting and training” exercise on Sunday with the U.S. Navy’s Theodore Roosevelt Carrier Strike Group (TRCSG) which was until now involved in operations against the Islamic State in the Arabian Gulf.
  • INS Tarkash sailed in formation with aircraft carrier USS Theodore Roosevelt , guided-missile destroyer USS Preble (DDG 88) and other ships on March 25 as part of the exercise

Indian Constitution and Polity:

SC to examine polygamy in Muslim marriage(The Hindu)

What has happened?

Seven months after it declared instant triple talaq unconstitutional, the Supreme Court on Monday decided to look into the constitutional validity of the prevalent practices of polygamy, ‘nikah halala’, ‘nikah mutah’ and ‘nikah misyar’ in the Muslim community.

Petitions challenging the practices

A Bench, headed by CJI issued notices to the Centre and the Law Ministry on a bunch of petitions that have challenged the practices claiming they degrade women to a position inferior to that of men

Offensive to equality

It offends the core ideal of equality of status

Section 494 of IPC rendered useless

The prevalent Muslim Personal Law rendered Section 494 of IPC (which prescribes punishment for marrying again during lifetime of husband or wife) as inapplicable.

No Avenues for a woman to complain against her husband

Muslim wife does not have avenue to complain against her husband for the offence of bigamy

Constitution bench to be set up

The Bench, agreed to set up a five-judge Constitution Bench that will decide whether certain sections of the Muslim Personal Law (Shariat) Application Act go against the Constitution

Principle & procedure(The Hindu Opinion)

Context

The Delhi High Court verdict setting aside the disqualification of 20 Aam Aadmi Party MLAs in Delhi is a searing indictment of the manner in which the Election Commission handled the complaint that they held offices of profit while serving as parliamentary secretaries. For a body vested with the crucial power to determine whether lawmakers have incurred disqualification in certain circumstances and advise the President or the Governor suitably, this is an embarrassing moment.

Violation of Principles of Natural Justice

The court has not reviewed its decision on merits but it has ruled that the EC violated the principles of natural justice, examples

  • Commissioner O.P. Rawat, who had recused himself at an earlier point, rejoined the process without intimation to the legislators
  • Election Commissioner Sunil Arora, who had not heard the matter and assumed office only in September 2017, had signed the order

Basic feature violated:It is a basic feature of judicial or quasi-judicial processes that someone who does not hear a matter does not decide on it.

EC should have tread lightly

  • A pre-eminent constitutional body should be found wanting in ensuring natural justice while answering a reference from the President is a sad comment on its functioning
  • It ought to have treated the matter with abundant caution, given the ease with which political parties tend to question the EC’s impartiality
  • The high court has acknowledged the EC’s “latitude and liberty” in matters of procedure, but cautioned that any procedure should be sound, fair and just.

Conclusion

In proceedings that may result in unseating elected representatives, fairness of procedure is no less important than finding an answer to the question whether they have incurred disqualification


GS: 3


Economy:

A perfect storm in the cotton field(The Hindu Opinion)

Context

Why India is the only Bt cotton-growing country facing the problem of pink bollworm infestation

The issue: Pink bollworm’s resistance to Bollgard 2

  • Bollgard 2, or BG-2, Monsanto’s second generation insecticidal technology for cotton, was supposed to protect crops against the pink bollworm, the pest has grown resistant to the toxins produced by this trait
  • Farmers now spend more on pesticides to control infestations
  • This, along with the high cost of Bt seeds, is driving farmers to indigence.

No other country faced this problem

  • They mainly grow open-pollinated cotton varieties rather than hybrids
  • They strictly terminate the crop within 160 days

Why the problem is unique to India

The pink bollworm grew resistant because India restricted itself to cultivating long-duration hybrids since the introduction of Bt cotton in 2002

What are Hybrids?

Hybrids are crosses between two crops that often see higher yields than their parents, in a genetic phenomenon called heterosis

Reasons:

  • Traits were restricted to hybrids only: When Monsanto licensed its BG and BG-2 traits to Indian seed companies, the agreement restricted the introduction of these traits to hybrids only.
  • Hemizygous hybrids:
    • Introduction of the Bt gene into only one parent of Indian hybrids results in hemizygous hybrids, which means that they express only one copy of the Bt gene
    • So, they produce cotton bolls that have some seeds toxic to the pink bollworm and some that are not
    • This can be contrasted with the homozygous seeds of open-pollinated varieties in the U.S., China or Australia, which have 100% toxic seeds.
    • Problem: Hemizygous hybrids allow pink bollworms to survive on toxin-free seeds when they are vulnerable newborns (although only a hypothesis till now)
  • Hybrids more profitable to companies:
    • Hybrids are financially more attractive to Indian seed companies because they offer a “value capture mechanism”
    • Hybrids lose their genetic stability when their seeds are replanted
    • This compels farmers to repurchase seeds each year, protecting corporate revenues.
  • Shifting to Bt cotton all together:
    • As there was no open-pollinated Bt option, the farmers were forced to shift en masse to hybrids
    • From 2002 to 2011, the area under cotton hybrids rose from 2% in north India and 40% elsewhere to 96% across the country.

Effect of this shift:

  • Low density cultivation: Not only are hybrids expensive, they are also bigger and bushier, forcing farmers to cultivate them at low densities
  • Result:To make up for these low densities longer duration is needed for the cotton crop which in turn gives more time to the pest to develop resistance

Proposed Solution

  • Only solution to the problem is to move swiftly to short-duration varieties
  • Seed companies cannot develop open-pollinated varieties with BG-2, but they can with BG, since Monsanto didn’t patent BG in India

Arguments against the above proposed solution

  • Even if BG-2 doesn’t fend off the pink bollworm, it still protects against other pests like the tobacco cutworm and the American bollworm
  • The presence of two Bt genes in BG-2 means it will be more effective than BG in delaying resistance against these pests.

Questions raised

When the whole world is moving to BG-3, why do we want to go back in time?

Even if the government incentivizes a return to BG, will all seed companies stop making BG-2 seeds?

Both BG and BG-2 can’t be cultivated together

If India cultivates both BG and BG-2, simultaneously, that can accelerate resistance among pests, studies predict. This could trigger the emergence of new cotton pests.

Conclusion

India erred by not clamping down on long-duration crops when Bt cotton was first introduced. At least now it must base its policy on sound science and implement it stringently

Residue of doubt(The Hindu Opinion)

Context

Effects of Glyphosate exposure on humans

What is Glyphosate?

Glyphosate is the most popular herbicide in the world

Since the 1970s, Monsanto has been marketing it to farmers under the trade name Roundup

Glyphosate resistant seeds developed

  • While glyphosate was initially welcomed by farmers because it saved them the cost of employing labourers to pluck out weeds, its popularity grew exponentially after Monsanto developed genetically engineered seeds that were resistant to the herbicide.
  • Effect: farmers could blanket-spray their fields with Roundup and be rest assured that it wouldn’t harm their cotton or corn

A recent study conducted

  • Glyphosate exposure in pregnancy and shortened gestational length: a prospective Indiana birth cohort study
  • In the peer-reviewed Environmental Health, proffered evidence for glyphosate in the urine samples of 71 pregnant women in Central Indiana

Key Findings: Shortened gestational lengths

  • Of the women, 93% had glyphosate “above the limit of detection” in their urine
  • The only way the glyphosate had made its way was through their diet as Indiana is known for heavy cultivation and consumption of genetically modified corn
  • No correlations with foetal growth indicators such as birth weight percentile and head circumference
  • Higher glyphosate urine levels were significantly correlated with shortened gestational lengths

Conclusion

What makes the study significant is the fact that this is a rare instance of a common crop chemical being detected in people. The Indiana study shouldn’t set alarm bells ringing in India yet, but it certainly merits an equivalent follow-up here.

Internal security:

The non-politics of outrage(The  Hindu Opinion)

What has happened?

We are witnessing mass outrage over certain actions or non-actions of Facebook (FB) and a British political consulting firm, Cambridge Analytica (CA), regarding the use of personal data for political messaging during the U.S. presidential elections.

CA’s role is long known

Now after a whistle-blower’s account and an undercover investigation, if those responsible for data and digital policies behave as if any of this is news to them, it is either disingenuous or unacceptably naive and incompetent

Why the outrage?

  • As FB has clarified, the only illegal element here is that a research company transferred data to CA against FB policies.
  • But both the company concerned and FB itself could have legitimately used the same user data for the same purpose of psychometrics-based micro-targeted political messaging for any of their paying clients
  • Question: What exactly do we then have a problem with? Just with violation of FB’s policies, or with psychometrics-based political messaging and the collective national damage that it causes? Is it, for instance, alright if FB itself did similar things for its paying clients, which it has provisions for

Cause of Concerns

Complete Control by major companies:Complete data-based control over all activities and actors in a sector by platform companies e.g. uber

Informational Warfare:

  • Countries such as the U.S. have extensive informational warfare projects based on social media and other micro-informational sources for various countries
  • Global digital companies such as Microsoft and Google are known to cooperate closely with the American establishment, and, when insisted upon, prioritise the latter’s interests even over their own economic ones.

No Control on data being transported abroad from India

  • As this data gets converted into digitally-intelligent services in all sectors — from transport, commerce and tourism, to education and health, to agriculture and manufacturing, we are getting structurally sucked into foreign-controlled digital value chains from which any attempts to escape may soon become too difficult and costly

What needs to be done?

Regulating data:An enabling cover of jurisprudence and political economy being thrown over critical data and digital intelligence such data, which ensures assertion of collective rights to it, and, where needed, the corresponding laws and regulation

Checks on platform companies: Platform companies, when exceeding certain data sizes, need to be closely regulated like utility companies.

Compulsory reporting

Is the Indian government willing to come up with a white paper on such extensive data markets that also exist in India?

Threat: A Utopian Dream of upper middle class

  • Are we as a nation ready to develop the needed political response to this new age of data?
  • The biggest roadblock in this necessary direction is the same upper middle-class that is currently outraged on the CA issue, but resists due regulation of the digital sector because it threatens its hyper consumptive culture and runs counter to its anti-political biases.
  • It still wants to savour for some more time the utopian dream that the Internet finally delivers them of governments.

South Asia, a fertile ground(The Hindu Opinion)

Context

Expansion of ISIS

What makes ISIS different from other jihadist groups?

A proto-state

  • It’s an insurgency as well as a proto-state at the same time.
  • Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi, established a proto-state that at one point of time was as big as the United Kingdom, ruling over about 2 million people
  • ISIS used both asymmetric and conventional warfare tactics in the battlefield.

A global terrorist force

  • Boko Haram in Nigeria

In Nigeria, Boko Haram, the jihadist group that controls parts of the country, has declared allegiance to ISIS.

  • Sirte in Libya

In Libya, a branch of the Islamic State controlled Sirte, the assassinated former dictator Moammer Gaddafi’s home town, for months and has presence in other cities and the country’s deserts

  • Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant in Afghanistan: Centre of its South Asia operations
    • In Afghanistan, ISIS members and sympathisers have already set up a wilayat called the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant — Khorasan Province in the eastern Nangarhar province
    • The group has carried out several suicide attacks, mainly targeting Shias in the already troubled country
    • It’s from Khorasan that ISIS is handling its South Asia operations, including in India, Pakistan and Bangladesh

Why South Asia might be a fertile ground for ISIS?

The history of jihadist insurgency, high Muslim population and growing tensions between communities may all have prompted the group to focus on the region in its quest for expansion.

India on ISIS’s agenda

  • India has also been high on the group’s agenda
  • In the 13th issue of ISIS’s online English magazine Dabiq , Hafiz Saeed Khan, the Wali of Khorasan [who was later killed], said it won’t be long before Kashmir is run by the organisation.

Kerala affected the most

  • Surprisingly, one of the most-affected States by this ISIS influence was India’s most socially advanced one
  • In fact, ISIS’s India connect became national headlines when 21 people, including women and children, from the southern State of Kerala went missing in 2016

No link with illiteracy: As educated and well to do youth linked to ISIS

Most of the youth who went missing are educated professionals hailing from middle class or upper middle class families, nullifying the argument that lack of education and poverty drive extremist ideas among the youth

Conclusion

All these developments, from establishing wilayats in Afghanistan and Libya to attracting youth from India and Pakistan, suggest that ISIS may have been weakened at its core but it’s far from defeated.

Science and Technology:

Gene panel challenge(The Hindu Opinion)

What has happened?

In Nalgonda district of Telangana, Sai Chaitanya, 21, has been waiting for advancement in Indian genetic research. He has Ichthyosis, a condition caused by the mutation of a single gene, which has led to the growth of fish-like scales on his skin. Like him, many others are virtually locked into disease-prone gene pools and yearn for early detection and treatment.

The problem

  • Inefficient and expensive screening for genetic diseases: Across India, screening for genetic diseases is a painstaking, expensive, and less-than-efficient process
  • No indigenous genetic panels developed by India:This is because the country has not yet developed indigenous genetic panels specific to its native populations but continues to depend on European genetic panels, except for prenatal genetic testing, which is specific to Indian populations

Genetic Panels

  • A genetic panel is developed when scientists identify mutant genes that cause diseases in specific populations
  • Each panel comprises already identified genes that mutated in patients, causing specific health conditions, say, a type of diabetes
  • Once the panel is created, screening any number of individuals for specific diseases becomes cost-effective and efficient

Why European panels prove ineffective?

  • The European panels against which Indian DNA is screened mostly prove ineffective because genes that mutate and cause abnormalities are not the same among the two geographical-genetic regions.
  • Also, about 60-70% of the mutations found in European population clusters, with reference to a single disease, might not occur among Indian people.

What India needs?

  • A pan-Indian, whole-genome sequencing exercise that will determine the genetic types which exist within its geographical boundary
  • India should develop a baseline genetic data for each of its social groups.

Research so far

  • Genetic research so far has identified four linguistically defined whole population groups in India: Indo-European (North), Dravidian (South), Tibeto-Burmese, and Austroasiatic (Northeast)
  • Each of these is further divided into 4,635 identified social groups with a specific genetic make-up
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