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GS: 2


International relations:

India, China step up engagement(The Hindu)

Context:

India and China are seeking to step up the pace in improving ties

What are the upcoming engagements?

  1. The government will host Guo Yezhou, Vice- Minister of the International Department of the Communist Party of China (CPC). The dates have not been yet confirmed.
  2. Meeting to improve Trade imbalances:
  • Chinese Commerce Minister Zhong Shan or his deputy is expected to visit for talks with Commerce Minister Suresh Prabhu aimed at improving trade imbalances.
  • The informal ministerial meeting of the World Trade Organisation (WTO) organised by the Commerce Ministry has been scheduled on March 19 and 20.
  • What is the significance of the meeting? The WTO ministerial meeting is being seen as a significant platform of countries worried by the U.S.’s tough position on tariffs and President Donald Trump’s threats of a “trade war”
  1.  India-China strategic economic dialogue:
  • This will be held between officials of the NITI Aayog and China’s top planning body, the National Development and Reform Commission (NDRC)
  • Five working groups will hold detailed discussions on infrastructure, energy, hi-technology, investments and resource conservation.
  1. Boao Forum for Asia (BFA) meeting: India will be participating in the meet in Beijing which is scheduled from April 8th to 11th
  2. Shanghai Cooperation Organisation (SCO) summit:
  • Prime Minister Modi is expected to meet President Xi in June at the Shanghai Cooperation Organisation (SCO) summit in Qingdao.
  • There is also a possibility of an informal summit before that
  1.  High-profile import exhibition in Shanghai: In November, India has agreed in principle to participate in the high-profile import exhibition in Shanghai, despite reservations about China’s Belt and Road Initiative (BRI).

China hikes military budget by 8.1%(The Hindu)

Context:

China has hiked its military budget by 8.1%

China’s Defense Budget:

  • China has hiked its defence budget by a hefty 8.1% over the previous year
  • This has highlighted the country’s intent to build world-class armed forces.
  • The total amount of spending would be $175 billion
  • China has been steadily increasing its military spending, dovetailed to its economic rise.
  • From a budget of $132 billion in 2014, spending rose by 10%, 7.6% and 7% respectively in the following years.

The Road ahead for China:

  • Chinese Prime Minister has highlighted that that China would focus on building strong naval and air defences, bolstered by the infusion of high technology, derived though greater collaboration between domestic military and civilian industry
  • He has underscored that China had fulfilled its earlier goal of cutting troop numbers by 3, 00,000, as part of a road map to build a modern technology driven military force.
  • Further he has stressed that major advances had been recorded in developing military technology and equipment with the help of greater civilian-military industrial integration.

Other Details:

  • China intended to raise its Gross Domestic Product (GDP) by around 6.5%.
  • This is expected to lift 10 million people out of poverty
  • Unemployment rate would be cut to below 5.5%.
  • Made in China 2025’: Chinese Prime Minister has pointed out that the new budgetary allocations were in tune with China’s transition to a innovation-based economy that would leverage Artificial Intelligence, Big Data and Internet of Things to produce world-class products under the ‘Made in- China 2025’ plan.

It’s time to reimagine South Asia(The Hindu Opinion)

Context:

India-China-Pakistan cooperation can transform the situation in South Asia

Examples showing how India and Pakistan, which were part of a single socio-economic and cultural entity before 1947, have now completely drifted apart:

  • There are no direct flights between New Delhi and Islamabad.
  • The frequency of Delhi-Lahore and Mumbai-Karachi flights has become minimal. T
  • The Mumbai-Karachi ferry service was stopped after the 1965 war.
  • The number of phone calls between Indian and Pakistani citizens (including calls between close relatives of divided families) is negligible. This is mostly out of fear of being questioned by their respective security agencies.
  • At less than $3 billion annually, trade with Pakistan accounts for a meagre 0.4% of India’s growing global commerce.

The China Factor:

  • China has become a new factor influencing India’s negative attitude towards Pakistan
  • This has been the case for both policy makers and common people

How can China become a part of the solution, rather than being perceived as a part of the India-Pakistan problem?

A three-way India-China-Pakistan cooperation is the only and necessary solution.

How can this be achieved?

  • The Belt and Road Initiative (BRI) provides a practical framework for such partnership
  • However, India is opposed to BRI

On what ground is this opposition based?

The government’s opposition to the BRI is based, among other things, on the argument that the China-Pakistan Economic Corridor (CPEC), a flagship project under the BRI, violates India’s sovereignty since it passes through Pakistan-occupied Kashmir (PoK)

Does this argument have a strong base?

No

Why?

  1. CPEC does not recognise PoK to be Pakistan’s sovereign territory. Article VI in the 1963 China-Pakistan boundary agreement clearly states in that “after the settlement of the Kashmir dispute between Pakistan and India, the sovereign authority concerned will reopen negotiations with the Government of the People’s Republic of China….”
  2. There is little possibility of India ever getting PoK, or Pakistan ever getting the Indian side of Kashmir, through war or by any other means.
  3. Both China and Pakistan have stated that they are open to India joining CPEC. China has also expressed its readiness to rename CPEC suitably to both address India’s concerns and to reflect the project’s expanded regional scope

How will India benefit if it joins CPEC?

India would gain land access, through Pakistan, to Afghanistan, Iran, Central Asia and western China.

How is CPEC beneficial for entire South-Asia?

  • The CPEC-plus-India can be linked to the Bangladesh-China-India-Myanmar Corridor, thus creating a grand garland of connectivity and integration for the whole of South Asia
  • The proposed connectivity initiative, which would create strong new bonds of regional cooperation and interdependence, could also help resolve three long-standing geopolitical problems in the region, — terrorism, Kashmir and Afghanistan.

Way Ahead:

  • The BRI provides an opportunity for India, Pakistan and all other countries in the region to come together and rise in shared progress and prosperity.
  • Its high-time for India and Pakistan to foster regional cooperation and not rivalry

Indian Constitution and Polity:

A gathering storm(The Hindu Opinion)

Context:

Rule of Law Index 2017-18 along with others such as the Amnesty International Annual Report 2017-18, indicates the serious erosion of international human rights law in recent times.

About Rule of Law Index:

  • The Report has been released by the World Justice Project
  • It measures the extent to which 113 countries have adhered to the rule of law in that period
  • The Report assesses every country’s performance in 8 areas including fundamental rights, which is measured by absence of discrimination, right to life and security, due process, freedom of expression and religion, right to privacy, freedom of association, and labour rights.

Highlights of the Report:

  • Denmark ranked first
  • India’s rank was 62
  • India performed better than China, Pakistan, Myanmar and Bangladesh
  • The survey found that 71 out of the 113 countries have dropped in score.

Recent instances of erosion of human rights across the world:

  • In Turkey and China, the assault on civil liberties and freedoms has intensified.
  • There is increasing hostility towards civil society organisations and hardening of attitudes towards minorities in Poland and Hungary.
  • The human rights of refugees are routinely negated, including in Australia and the U.S.
  • The rise of majoritarian attitudes, hate speech and hate crimes is a growing concern, including in India.
  • Mass atrocities (genocide, war crimes, and crimes against humanity) are or have been committed in Iraq, Myanmar, Central African Republic, and Burundi.

Efforts to uphold human rights:

  • In the international arena there have been concerted efforts to advocate the inclusion of international human rights provisions in the local laws of countries and more effective implementation and monitoring.
  • Treaty bodies has been assessing states’ obligations to incorporate these norms into national laws, review compliance, including with main human rights treaties, and provide recommendations.
  • Regional and supranational courts such as the Inter-American, African and European courts of human rights have been looking at the fulfilment of obligations of regional treaties.
  • International and mixed judicial tribunals have been established to provide justice in mass atrocities, culminating in the establishment of the International Criminal Court.

What has been the problem?

In many instances, engagement with these mechanisms has reduced.

Examples:

  1. The Philippines had imposed conditions on the UN Special Rapporteur who was to investigate the alleged extrajudicial killings of suspected drug dealers since President Rodrigo Duterte took office.
  2. In Myanmar, the UN Special Rapporteur who was to investigate the claims of persecution against the Rohingya was denied all access to the country.

Conclusion:

Effective engagement with international human rights law is necessary in an era where rights are increasingly being stifled in many countries.

Cooperative Election Authority soon in Haryana(The Hindu)

Context:

The Haryana government has announced that a Cooperative Election Authority would be set up in the State for supervising the election process in cooperative bodies.

Function of the Cooperative Election Authority:

Cooperative Election Authority will be entrusted with the responsibilities of superintendence, direction and control of the election process in the cooperative organisations

Other announcements:

  • Haryana Governor has also announced that the State government had been giving final touches to a comprehensive State action plan on sexual and gender-based violence to address all major components of crime afflicting women and children in the State.
  • On the controversial issue of the Sutlej-Yamuna Link canal, Mr. Solanki has said the “concerted efforts” of the government have resulted in a favourable verdict from the Supreme Court on a presidential reference
  • He further said that the government has been vigorously pursuing the matter for initiation of the long-pending construction work on the remaining portion of the canal.

Internal security:

Threat of new malware looms over cyberspace(The Hindu)

Context:

Cyber security agencies have detected a new malware called Saposhi

What has happened?

  • Saposhi was detected around 15 days ago, and is currently being watched and studied.
  • Saposhi is similar in its intensity to another malware called Reaper which had taken over millions of devices at the rate of 10,000 devices per day

How does Saposhi work?

  • It takes over electronic devices and turns them into “bots”
  • It creates a network of bots called a botnet
  • It then uses the botnet to ping a single server at the same time.
  • As the numbers of pings are far beyond the server’s capacity, the server crashes and denies service to its consumers.
  • After this, it can be used for any purpose, including a Distributed Denial of Service attack which, with enough firepower, can cripple entire industries.

Instances of DDoS Attacks:

  • In July 2016, small and medium internet service providers in Maharashtra fell prey to a DDoS attack, which caused disruption in the services of several Internet Service Providers (ISP) in the State.
  • Another malware, Mirai, using a botnet of 5 lakh devices, had caused the servers of Dyn, a leading domain name service provider, to crash, affecting services of popular websites like Twitter, Netflix and Reddit

GS: 3


Economy:

Opacity in the banking sector(The Hindu Opinion)

Context:

  • The Nirav Modi case, of bank fraud, has once again brought into focus the deficiencies in procedures and supervisory and regulatory controls in the banking sector.

Under the RTI

  • In 2011-12, the Central Information Commission (CIC) considered appeals from applicants concerning bank regulatory functions after they had been denied information, under the Right to Information (RTI) Act, by the Reserve Bank of India (RBI) and the National Bank for Agriculture and Rural Development (NABARD) .
  • The denial of information was on the ground that disclosure would prejudicially affect the economic interests of the state by causing loss of public faith in some banks.

Landmark judgment:

  • These decisions by the CIC were considered and upheld by the Supreme Court on the basis of transfer petitions filed by the RBI and NABARD, in its landmark judgment in Reserve Bank of India v. Jayantilal N. Mistry and 10 other cases.
  • The court ruled that the regulatory bodies were not in a fiduciary relationship with the banks that had provided the information to them and that by attaching a “fiduciary” label to the statutory duty, they had “intentionally or unintentionally created an in terrorism effect”.
  • The Supreme Court also rejected the ground of information disclosure hurting the economic interest of the country.

Stop the opacity

  • The CIC has also directed disclosure of information in respect of wilful defaulters and absconders.
  • Overriding the ground of the fiduciary relationship of banks with their customers.
  • Institutions that take the responsibility of managing public funds have to be answerable to the people.
  • Transparency in the banking sector
  • Legal provisions that prevent disclosure of full details of loans of willful defaulters and absconders need to be suitably modified.

Rolling back free trade?(The Hindu Opinion)

Context:

  • At the World Economic Forum in Davos, announcement of steep metal tariffs leaves no one in doubt about the meaning of U.S. President Donald Trump’s “America first” agenda.

Announcements:

  • A 25% duty on steel and 10% on aluminum imports for an unspecified period.
  • These blanket tariffs are the most comprehensive of the recommendations by the U.S. Commerce Department, compared to the targeted levies and quotas against specific countries that were overruled by an instinctively protectionist President.

Justifying the measures:

  • The administration has invoked a national security law, departing from an international consensus not to impose trade barriers.
  • Countries are allowed recourse to that means under the General Agreement on Tariffs and Trade in times of war and other emergencies.
  • However, Trump did not heed suggestions that the national security argument should exempt member states of the North Atlantic Treaty Organisation.

Concern for EU:

  • A concern for the European Union would be to deal with the fallout from the U.S. levy on the bloc’s bloated steel industry.
  • The current escalation could be defused depend on the chances that countries can negotiate their way out of the tariffs, and corporations can win exemptions for their products.

Effect on US:

  • The latest levy is expected to put at risk millions of manufacturing jobs that rely on these metals.
  • It is unlikely to create significant new employment in these two sectors given that current U.S. steel and aluminum production remain close to a 10-year average.
  • The hefty tariffs could undermine recent tax initiatives to lure investment.

Conclusion:

Seeking to roll back the U.S. liberal trade regime is hardly the way to influence other economies to open their markets. Instead, Brussels would have to show leadership to defend the current open trading system. Experts have opined that the spike may have contributed to Washington’s 2017 trade deficit, which widened to its highest level since the global financial crisis.

RBI to inject extra liquidity of ₹1 lakh cr.(The Hindu)

Context:

  • The Reserve Bank said it would inject additional liquidity of 1 lakh crore in banks through longer tenor instruments to enable flexibility towards meeting their fund needs.

Introduction:

  • This will be in addition to normal Liquidity Adjustment Facility (LAF) operations.
  • The RBI will conduct four variable rate term repo auctions of 25,000 crore each in March 2018.

Rationale behind this decision:

  • To address additional demand for liquidity.
  • To providing flexibility to the banking system in its liquidity management.
  • The proposed injection of additional liquidity will help cap the short-term rates and also aid in lowering the rate volatilities for the rest of the month.

Liquidity adjustment facility (LAF) :

  • Liquidity adjustment facility (LAF) is a monetary policy which allows banks borrow money through repurchase agreements.

Go digital ‘hype’ pushing firms to become efficient, responsive(The Hindu)

Context:

  • Companies are facing an “ever-increasing” pressure to be more open, responsive and efficient with more ‘hype’ and emphasis being placed on becoming digital, according to a report on digitalisation by India’s second largest software exporter, Infosys.

Highlights from the report:

  • The report was titled ‘How digital enterprises are steering through digital disruption,’
  • The rules of the game are changing and traditional players are being dislodged from positions of comfort and familiarity.
  • Industries are increasingly being disrupted by new entrants with digital technology at the heart of their business.

Rapid advancements in digital technologies:

  • Rapid advancements in digital technologies are allowing corporations to collect and analyse data and new ways of improving flexibility and efficiency are emerging within the firms.
  • This has the potential to open up new growth areas and revenue streams, according to the report.
  • A vast array of digital trends are emerging and establishing which are really important to each sector hugely depends on where an organisation is currently placed and what they hope to achieve.
  • Organisations must put actions to words and embrace new technologies to evolve to being truly digital.

Environment:

High noon(The Hindu Opinion)

Context:

  • The India Meteorological Department’s forecast of above-normal maximum and minimum temperatures across the country during the pre-monsoon March-May period is a timely alert for State authorities to review their preparedness.

Summer temperature in India:

  • A spike in summer temperatures in India is not new, but some scientists contend that a half-degree rise in average temperature in recent decades has resulted in a higher probability of extreme heat waves and caused a lot of deaths.
  • The advent of hot weather this year is marked by temperatures rising between 1.6° Celsius and 5° C above normal in States such as Rajasthan, Jammu and Kashmir, Uttarakhand, Uttar Pradesh, Himachal Pradesh and Madhya Pradesh.
  • Other northern, central and eastern States also show a small increase.

Reasons for change in temperature:

Temperatures change daily due to many reasons.

1-  Location of the sun and how much sunlight (which changes due to the rotation and tilt of Earth) is received affects temperature levels.

2-Winds and other weather related phenomena has a larger impact on the changing temperature

3-  The absence or abundance of clouds can also affect day to day temperatures

4-  Greenhouse effect – this is a condition where instead of heat escaping into the atmosphere, it is trapped within the Earth’s surface. This normally takes place when there is an excessive amount of certain gases in the atmosphere. The gases as generally referred to as greenhouse gases. Examples of these gases include carbon, sulfur and nitrogen.

Implications on public health:

A heat event has the following implications for public health.

  • It can lead to fatal heat stroke in a small percentage of people, while many more could encounter exhaustion, cramps and fainting.
  • It is vital for governments to ensure that all stakeholders, including the health-care system, are prepared to deal with the phenomenon.
  • Even a marginal rise above the normal will lead to enormous heat stress for millions of Indians.
  • Senior citizens and people and people with pre-existing disease are more prone to health related problems during a heat wave.
  • Scientific estimate of annual mortality attributable to heat waves between 2010 and 2015 ranges between 1,300 and 2,500.

World Health Organization suggestions:

  • The World Health Organisation recommends that countries adopt heat-health warning systems, including daily alerts to ensure that people are in a position to deal with adverse weather, starting with reduction of exposure.
  • Water stress is a common and often chronic feature in many States: arrangements should be made to meet scarcity.
  •  There is some hope that the southwest monsoon this year will benefit from an expected moderate La Niña condition in the equatorial Pacific, marked by cooler-than-average sea surface temperature.
  • Taking the long-term view, India has to pursue mitigation of greenhouse gases vigorously, since there is a perceived link between increases in average temperature caused by climate change and the frequency and intensity of extreme weather events.

Conclusion:

  • It is the responsibility of governments to ensure that community-level interventions are taken up to help vulnerable groups.

Wells, rail tracks turn death traps for Gir lions(The Hindu)

Context:

  • 32 lions died due to “unnatural causes” in two years in Gir Wildlife Sanctuary in Gujarat.

Unnatural cases:

  • In 2016, 12 lions died, while in 2017, 20 lions, including cubs, died due to unnatural cases.
  •  Total of 184 lions died in the State in two years: 104 in 2016 and 80 in 2017.

Safety measures:

  • Parapet walls need to be built around walls as soon as possible.
  • There are 27 open wells in Amreli district near the sanctuary.
  • Construction of fences along the railway tracks passing through Amreli district.
  • Building speed breakers on roads passing through the sanctuary area.
  • As per the 2015 census , there were 523 lions in and around the Gir sanctuary.

Gir Forest National Park:

  • Gir Forest National Park is a wildlife sanctuary in Gujarat.
  • It was established to protect Asiatic lions, who frequent the fenced-off Devalia Safari Park, along with leopards and antelopes.
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