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GS-2


Tillerson to have big regional agenda

Context:

U.S. Secretary of State Rex Tillerson will embark on a crucial visit to India and Pakistan next week as part of his week-long five-nation tour that would also take him to Saudi Arabia, Qatar and Switzerland.

Introduction:

  • Mr Tillerson said that trump administration wanted to “dramatically deepen” cooperation with New Delhi, seeing it as a key partner in the face of negative Chinese influence in Asia.

Areas of discussion:

  • In New Delhi, Tillerson will meet with senior Indian leaders to “discuss further strengthening of our strategic partnership and collaboration on security and prosperity” in the Indo-Pacific region.
  • Regional issues could take precedence over bilateral ones.
  • He is also expected to raise Washington’s new South Asia policy with respect to Pakistan and Afghanistan and prospects for more cooperation in the Indo-Pacific.
  • Mr Tillerson will also brief his Indian counterparts on the outcome of the Quadrilateral Coordination Group (U.S.-China-Afghanistan-Pakistan) meeting on talks with Taliban that took place in Oman.
  • Both the sides will discuss pending bilateral issues including enhancing trade, the U.S.’s pitch to sell India UAV drones, F-16s and F-18s, and the outstanding decisions on the “foundational agreements” in defence.
  • China’s OBOR initiative and the Doklam standoff to be discussed.

Significance of visit:

  • The visits of Mr. Tillerson to Delhi indicate that they will provide all three — the U.S., Afghanistan and India — the opportunity to hold talks on crucial regional and security-related issues.
  • Mr Tillerson said “The world’s centre of gravity is shifting to the heart of the Indo-Pacific. The U.S. and India — with our shared goals of peace, security, freedom of navigation, and a free and open architecture — must serve as the eastern and western beacons of the Indo-Pacific.”
  • Tillerson, said both India and Pakistan are “important elements” in the U.S. policy for stabilising South Asia and characterised China a destabilising force.

Tense situation for China:

  • Tillerson also pointedly criticised China, which he accused of challenging international norms needed for global stability.
  • “China’s provocative actions in the South China Sea directly challenge the international law and norms that the United State and India both stand for,” he pointed out.
  • Tillerson also called out China, saying that its rise as a global power had been carried out “less responsibly” than India’s and that the country’s leaders had undermined the “international, rules-based order.”
  • “India and the United States should be in the business of equipping other countries to defend their sovereignty, build greater connectivity, and have a louder voice in a regional architecture that promotes their interests and develops their economies,” Tillerson added.

India-U.S relations:

  • India ranks just 130th on the World Bank’s annual survey on the ease of doing business. Yet Tillerson cited the growth of the two countries’ economic partnership, saying 600 American companies work there and that U.S. investment in the country has risen 500 percent in two years.
  • Bilateral trade will climb beyond the record $115 billion reached last year, noting that a U.S. shipment of crude oil arrived in India this month for the first time.
  • Citing India’s role as the world’s most populous democracy, Tillerson said the two nations “share a vision for the future.” He called for closer defense ties, referring to a range of hardware the U.S. is prepared to sell India

Tense situation for Pakistan:

  • The U.S. decision to expand relations with India almost certainly will upset India’s rival, Pakistan.
  • Pakistan was the main U.S. ally in South Asia for decades, but U.S. officials are frustrated with what they charge has been Pakistan’s failure to cut support for the Taliban insurgency in Afghanistan, where the administration wants India to play a bigger role in economic development.
  • As part of a South Asia strategy unveiled by Trump in August, Tillerson is expected to press Islamabad, which denies aiding the Taliban, to take stronger steps against extremists and allied groups and intensify efforts to pressure them to agree to peace talks with Kabul.
  • We expect Pakistan to take decisive action against terrorist groups based there that threaten its own people and the broader region,” Tillerson said.

India-Afghanistan:

Afghanistan President Ashraf Ghani’s upcoming visit to India:

  • Afghanistan’s President Ashraf Ghani will visit India on October 24.
  • The visit by President Ghani comes within days of a visit to Kabul by National Security Adviser Ajit Doval and recent Taliban attack on the Afghan National Army base in Kandahar province that killed more than 50 security personnel.

Purpose of upcoming visit:

  • Mr Ghani is coming to meet the Indian leadership and hold a strategic consultation, particularly in the wake of the new U.S. policy for Afghanistan and South Asia.
  • The visits will provide India opportunity to hold talks on crucial regional and security-related issues.
  • Ghani’s visit, which is likely to last for half-a-day, is significant as it comes two-months after U.S. President Donald Trump announced his government’s new Afghanistan policy for which he has urged India to do more.

India and Afghanistan present relations:

  • Defence and security ties between India and Afghanistan have been on an upswing.
  • India has given four military helicopters to Afghanistan which has been trying to strengthen its air power following a significant cut in NATO forces there.
  • The last of the four Mi 24 attack choppers was given in November 2016.
  • Afghanistan has also been seeking India’s assistance in making functional Soviet-era helicopters and transport aircraft which were not in a flying condition.
  • In 2016, India had announced taking up 116 new developmental projects in 31 provinces of Afghanistan, weeks after US President Donald Trump sought New Delhi’s help in the economic development of that country.
  • India has been playing a key role in the reconstruction of Afghanistan and given it assistance worth $2 billion in the last few years.

PUCL seeks repeal of ordinance

Context:

The People’s Union for Civil Liberties (PUCL) on Saturday demanded repeal of a controversial ordinance promulgated by the Rajasthan government which has made public servants immune to investigation.

Introduction:

  • Rajasthan government has passed an ordinance which seeks to protect both serving and former judges, magistrates and public servants in Rajasthan from being investigated for on-duty action without its prior sanction.
  • The Criminal Laws (Rajasthan Amendment) Ordinance, 2017 has been promulgated in this regard.
  • The PUCL has decided to challenge the ordinance in the Rajasthan High Court.

Key features of Ordinance:

  • The ordinance, promulgated on September 6, attempts to silence the media and prevent the judiciary from exercising its function of setting the criminal law in motion.
  • The ordinance bars the media from disclosing names of officials until prior sanction is granted for their prosecution.
  • The ordinance amends the Criminal Code of Procedure, 1973 and also seeks curb on publishing and printing in any case the name, address, photographs , family details of the public servants.
  • No magistrate shall order an investigation nor will any investigation be conducted against a person, who is or was a judge or a magistrate or a public servant.
  • The Ordinance made additions to section 156(3) and 190(1) of the Code of Criminal Procedure (CrPC) which empower a magistrate to take cognizance of an offence and order an investigation.
  • Two years imprisonment will be awarded in case of violation.
  • It provides 180 days immunity to officers as it has provision mentioning no magistrate can order an investigation nor will any investigation be conducted against person who is or was a judge or magistrate or public servant.

Controversy:

  • PUCL national vice-president Radha Kant Saxena said the amendments to the Criminal Procedure Code and Indian Penal Code brought the ordinance went against  the Supreme Court’s ruling in Lalita Kumari’s case, in 2014.
  • In its judgment, the Constitution Bench of apex court had held that an FIR has to be lodged and investigation initiated by the police officer on a complaint about a cognizable offence. In the cases of non-cognisable offences, the investigating officer is empowered to initiate a preliminary enquiry and seek the court’s direction to obtain sanction for prosecution.

Ordinance making powers of the executive in India:

Ordinance making powers of the President

  • Article 123 of the Constitution grants the President certain law making powers to promulgate Ordinances when either of the two Houses of Parliament is not in session
  • An Ordinance may relate to any subject that the Parliament has the power to legislate on.
  • It has the same limitations as the Parliament to legislate, given the distribution of powers between the Union, State and Concurrent Lists.
  • The following limitations exist with regard to the Ordinance making power of the executive:
  • Legislature is not in session: The President can only promulgate an Ordinance when either of the two Houses of Parliament is not in session.
  • Immediate action is required: The President cannot promulgate an Ordinance unless he is satisfied that there are circumstances that require taking ‘immediate action.
  • Parliamentary approval during session: Ordinances must be approved by Parliament within six weeks of reassembling or they shall cease to operate.  They will also cease to operate in case resolutions disapproving the Ordinance are passed by both the Houses.

Ordinance making powers of the Governor

  • The Governor of a state can issue Ordinances under Article 213, when the state legislative assembly (or either of the two Houses in states with bicameral legislatures) is not in session.

GS-3


The lowdown on one year of note ban

Context:

November 8 will mark one year of NDA government’s radical plan to demonetize 86% of the currency in circulation in a bid to fight black money, counterfeiting and terrorism.

Background:

  • On November 8, 2016 Prime Minister announced that Rs 500 and Rs 1000 denomination notes will become invalid.
  • The government introduced new notes of Rs 2,000 and Rs 500 .
  • There was also no change effected in any other form of currency exchange like cheque, Demand draft (DD), payments made through credit cards and debit cards.
  • The move was taken to curb the menace of black money, fake notes and corruption by reducing the amount of cash available in the system.

What were the reasons for announcing demonetization?

  • To counter black money, corruption, fake notes, and terrorism.
  • The idea was that unaccounted wealth would come out with the mandatory depositing of the withdrawn notes.
  • Stop terrorist funding.
  • One of the aims was to bring about a shift from a cash based economy towards more digital or electronic forms of transactions for the benefit of e-wallet and credit card companies.
  • One of the objectives was that the quantum of cash operating in the system must gradually come down.
  • One of the objectives of demonetization was to put identity on the cash holdings in the economy.
  • Destablished the funding of rival political in the run-up to key Assembly elections.

What is the meaning of demonetization?

  • Demonetization is the act of stripping a currency unit of its status as legal tender.
  • It occurs whenever there is a change of national currency.
  • Demonetization is necessary whenever there is a change of national currency. The old unit of currency must be retired and replaced with a new currency unit.
  • The opposite of demonetization is remonetization where a form of payment is restored as legal tender.
  • Demonetization can also be referred to as the process of moving people from a cash-based system to a cashless system

Was this the first time the government has introduced demonetization?

  • This is not the first time the government is following the policy of demonetisation of high-value currency.
  • The first instance of demonetisation by the government was implemented in 1946 when the RBI demonetised Rs 1,000 and Rs 10,000 notes.
  • Later, higher denomination bank notes (Rs 1000, Rs 5000 and Rs 10000) were re-introduced in 1954.
  • However, Morarji Desai government demonetised these notes in 1978.
  • According to data provided by RBI Rs 10,000 note was printed in 1938 and 1954 and was subsequently demonetised in 1946 and 1978 respectively.

What are the consequences of demonetization?

Positive consequences:

  • The growth in the direct tax base.
  • The switch in the financial holdings of households from cash to bank deposits
  • The increased use of digital payment

Negative consequences:

  • The main negative economic consequence of demonetisation has been the disruption of unorganized supply chains that are dependent on cash transactions.
  • Demonetisation lead to decline in economic growth to a three year low of 5.7 per cent.
  • RBI report had revealed that nearly 99 per cent of the scrapped currency notes had come back to the banks, and it would become 100 per cent if cash in the pipeline is accounted for.
  • In its biannual economic update in October, the World Bank said disruptions by demonetisation and the Goods and Services Tax (GST) had affected India’s growth momentum.
  • The World Bank said growth was expected to slow to 7% in 2017 from 8.6% in 2015, the International Monetary Fund projected the GDP growth at 6.7% in 2017, slower than China’s 6.8%.
  • “While the macro-economic impact of demonetisation has been relatively limited, the distribution of costs is uneven as the informal economy is likely to have been hit especially hard,” the World Bank said in a report in May.
  • The liquidity crisis that followed demonetisation impacted the investment climate. By June, the economy’s four growth engines, including exports and private investment, slowed down.

What next?

  • According to the RBI’s annual report released on August 31, 98.96% of the withdrawn notes had been returned by June-end.
  • While defending demonetisation, the government and its then Attorney-General Mukul Rohatgi had said ₹3 trillion would not return to the banks as they were in the form of black money and were unaccounted for.
  • RBI data show cash transactions are nearly at their pre-demonetisation levels, though new methods of payments such as UPI have seen a sharp increase in usage.
  • However, one upside is that demonetisation forced companies to document transactions. When the Centre initiated action against 2 lakh shell companies as part of Operation Clean Money, their bank accounts came under scrutiny.
  • According to the government, it has identified 18 lakh bank accounts in which the amounts deposited during demonetisation did not match the income profiles of the account holders.
  • The banks are also starting to compile and release data on the deposits and accounts.

More species of snakehead fish found

Context:

Confusions over snakehead fish species identity need not bother ichthyologists any more, as a global digital database of the species has been developed.

Introduction:

  • A global collaborative initiative involving as many as 10 scientific institutions has barcoded these freshwater fish varieties, which got their name from their unique snakelike snout.

Locations:

  • The members of the species are found distributed from the Middle East to eastern Asia, Central and West Africa and the Nile.
  • Earlier, it was widely believed that there were 38 species in this group.
  • However, DNA-level analysis showed that there were several more species than first thought.
  • The species strength of snakeheads could be 53 or even more, said Rajeev Raghavan, Assistant professor of the Kerala University for Fisheries and Ocean Studies, Kochi, which is one of the partnering institutions in the project.

Snakeheads:

  • The snakeheads are members of the freshwater perciform fish family Channidae, native to parts of Africa and Asia.
  • These elongated, predatory fish are distinguished by their long dorsal fins, large month, and shiny teeth.
  • They breathe air with grills, which allows them to migrate short distance over land.
  • They have suprabranchial organs developing when they grow older.
  • Snakeheads are of great demand in the domestic market for food as well as for ornamental purposes
  • It’s mostly the brightly coloured ones from northeastern India that find their way into aquaria.
  • The barcoding also succeeded in identifying new species Channafrom Assam, foothills of Bhutan, Myanmar and another one from Congo.
  • The analysis of the data revealed that the eastern Himalaya and the adjoining region of Myanmar were hotspots for snakehead diversity, as up to 10 snakehead species described during the last quarter century originated from this region.

Present status:

  • India is presently home to 15 species of Channa and the species diversity could go up as more studies would be undertaken.
  • Four currently known species — Channa bank anensis found in Indonesia and Malaysia, Channa marulius, Channa striata and Channa gachua — found in the Indian subcontinent and parts of Southeast Asia, are considered species complexes, where different species are currently known under a single name because their taxonomy is poorly known or studied.

Conservation:

  • More taxonomic studies on the species complexes are required for conservation purposes as many of the currently wide ranging species are listed as of “least concern” in the Red List of IUCN.
  • One of the criteria for assessing a species as of least concern is its wide distribution.
  • The breaking down of the species complex into individual species may have a different story to tell about its distribution which may prompt the scientific community to think for more species-specific conservation programs, felt researchers.

Prize control on Drugs is a lazy thinking

Context:

The government is increasingly relying on imposition of price controls on medicines and devices to check rising health-care costs.

Introduction:

  • Last month, the National Pharmaceutical Pricing Authority capped the prices of 37 more medicines raising their number to 821.
  • It has already capped the prices of coronary stents and orthopaedic implants.
  • Presently around 20% of medicines by volume are subject to price controls. More medicines and devices are likely to come under it.
  • The policy also seeks to raise import duties on active pharmaceutical ingredients (API) to encourage the indigenous industry.

Impacts:

  • This will increase the input cost for manufacturers.
  • Restrictions on loan licensing will further raise manufacturing costs and bring down the margins of pharma companies.
  • It will impact companies’ ability and willingness to fund research and development of innovative medicines.
  • Research and Development spends by Indian pharma companies are already low, at 8-10% of their sales revenue as compared to a figure of 20% of multinationals.
  • Subjecting 74 notified bulk drugs to price control via the Drugs (Price Control) Order 1995 led many pharma companies to opt out of their production.
  • This forced manufacturers of formulations to import bulk drugs and APIs from China which now supplies two-thirds of India’s requirements.
  • The frequent imposition of price ceilings creates uncertainties, caps expected profit and deters investors.
  • Trade-off between price and quality.

Reasons for rising health care costs:

  • Profiteering by private hospitals.
  • Low per capital availability of medical practitioners.
  • Doctor’s consultation fees, cost of operation procedures, diagnostic tests and hospital bed rentals are the factors responsible for rising health care costs.
  • Increasing supply of cheaper medical seats in government medical colleges will make doctors less vulnerable to unethical profiteering by private hospitals.

Problems government hospitals facing:

  • The lack of competition from under-staffed.
  • Over crowded government hospitals
  • Lack of funds
  • Lack of infrastructures

Solutions:

  • The key to bring down medicine (or device) prices lies in increasing competition among pharma (or device) companies.
  • Unlike oligopolistic airline or telecom industries which may require price regulation, there are 15,000 pharma companies in India competing with each other for market share. That makes collusion and price rigging difficult.
  • Improving facilities at government hospitals.
  • Increasing government spending on health care which is low at 1.4% of India’s GDP when compared to 3% in China and 4.3% in Brazil.
  • The government should also instruct all health-care providers to display all charges and fees on their websites so that buyers of their services can compare and decide where to go and which facilities to use.
  • This will improve transparency and will be more patient friendly.
  • The government can directly procure medicines from manufacturers and distribute them through Jan Aushadi outlets to reduce medicine prices.

New National Health Policy 2017:

  • The government has approved the National Health Policy, 2017 (NHP, 2017).
  • The Policy seeks to reach everyone in a comprehensive integrated way to move towards wellness.

Key objectives of  New National Health Policy:

  • It aims at achieving universal health coverage and delivering quality health care services to all at affordable cost.
  • It focus on Preventive and Promotive Health Care and Universal access to good quality health care services
  • This Policy looks at problems and solutions holistically with private sector as strategic partners.
  • It seeks to promote quality of care; focus is on emerging diseases and investment in promotive and preventive healthcare. The policy is patient centric and quality driven. It addresses health security and make in India for drugs and devices.
  • The main objective is to achieve the highest possible level of good health and well-being, through a preventive and promotive health care orientation in all developmental policies, and to achieve universal access to good quality health care services without anyone having to face financial hardship as a consequence.
  • The policy advocates extensive deployment of digital tools for improving the efficiency and outcome of the healthcare system and proposes establishment of National Digital Health Authority (NDHA) to regulate, develop and deploy digital health across the continuum of care.
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