Indian Constitution and Polity:
Union Law Minister Ravi Shankar Prasad in his sharp criticism of the National Judicial Appointments Commission (NJAC) judgment urges to appoint a “fair judge.”
- Mr Prasad hard-pressed on the trust of the people of India on the Prime Minister with the obligation to secure the unity and integrity of India.
- Mr Prasad considers that the Prime Minister through his Ministers can do so much work, yet the Prime Minister through the Law Minister cannot be trusted to have a fair judge appointed.
Trust in PM
- Chief Justice of India Dipak Misra responded to Mr. Prasad by pointedly saying that the judiciary reposed as much trust in a popularly elected PM as the public does.
- Under the now struck down Article 124A of the Constitution, the Law Minister was an ex officio member of the NJAC and the Prime Minister was part of the three-member panel which nominated the two eminent persons to the NJAC, which was meant to give the political class an equal say in judicial appointments to the Supreme Court and the High Courts.
- In the gathering at Vigyan Bhawan was former Chief Justice of India J.S. Khehar, who authored the majority judgment in the NJAC case in October 2015.
Messy fix (The Hindu Opinion)
The President of India recently gave his assent to an amendment in the Insolvency and Bankruptcy Code that barred a majority of defaulting promoters from buying back their assets.
- The changes via an ordinance made at least nine categories of persons ineligible for submitting a resolution plan for the indebted companies facing insolvency action at the National Company Law Tribunal.
- The move came at a time when about 50 of the India’s biggest defaulting companies face insolvency proceedings.
- Amendments to the code said that those whose accounts have been non-performing for a year will not be allowed to participate in the resolution plan.
- Those who have not have settled overdue amounts on the said accounts will also not be permitted.
- The newly introduced provisions indicate that promoters of at least the first list of 12 large cases referred to the IBC under direction by the RBI would not be allowed to bid.
Purpose of introducing changes:
- The aim of the code is to strengthen further the insolvency resolution process, it has been considered necessary to provide for prohibition of certain persons from submitting a resolution plan, who on account of their antecedents, may adversely impact the credibility of the processes
- The ordinance then specifies the categories of persons who are deemed ineligible to participate in resolving a corporate entity’s debt once it has been put under the process of insolvency resolution by creditors.
- It would prevent the ‘unscrupulous’, undesirable persons from misusing the provisions of the IBC and would promote the sale of distressed assets to global investors.
- It will include promoters and those in management whose loan accounts are classified as non-performing assets for one year or more, as well as any person disqualified to act as a director under the Companies Act.
About Insolvency and Bankruptcy Code:
- The Insolvency and Bankruptcy Code, 2016 (IBC) is the bankruptcy law of India that administers the insolvency proceedings and establishes a framework for insolvency resolution processes effectively.
- It provides en enabling legal framework for the “reorganization and insolvency resolution of corporate persons in a time bound manner for maximization of values of assets of such persons and to promote entrepreneurship.
- The Code outlines separate insolvency resolution processes for individuals and companies
- The Code acts as a regulator by establishing the Insolvency and Bankruptcy Board of India.
- The board oversees the insolvency proceedings in the country and regulates the entities registered below it. The Board has 10 members, which includes representatives from the Ministries of Finance and Law, and the Reserve Bank of India.
- The insolvency process is accomplished by licensed professionals. These professionals also control the assets of the debtor during the insolvency procedure.
- The Code proposes two distinct tribunals to supervise the process of insolvency resolution, for individuals and companies:
- The National Company Law Tribunal for Companies and Limited Liability Partnership firms;
- The Debt Recovery Tribunal for individuals and partnerships
A toolkit to think local (The Hindu)
Policymakers in India need reliable disease burden data at subnational levels.
- The findings of the India State-Level Disease Burden Initiative will aid in decentralised health planning.
- Till now, a comprehensive assessment of the disease causing the most premature deaths and ill health in each State, the risk factors responsible for this burden and their time trends have not been available.
- To address this knowledge gap, India State-Level Disease Burden Initiative has analysed and described these trends for every State from 1990 to 2016.
- The report was recently published in the journal Lancet.
Findings of the study:
- The findings of the study are based on analysis of data from all available sources. This includes vital registration, the sample registration system, large-scale national household surveys, other population-level surveys and cohort studies, disease surveillance data, disease programme data, administrative records of health services, disease registries, among others.
- The estimates were produced as part of the Global Burden of Disease Study 2016, which uses standardized methods in a unified framework.
- The key metric used to access burden is disability-adjusted life years(DALY), which is the sum of the number of years of life lost due to premature death and a weighted measure of the years lived with disability due to a disease or an injury.
State wise picture:
- The per person disease burden, measured as DALY rate, has dropped in India by 36% from 1990 to 2016, but there are major inequalities among States with the per person DALY rate varying almost two fold between them.
- The burden of most infectious and childhood disease has fallen, but the extent of this varies substantially across India.
- Diarrhoeal diseases, lower respiratory infections, iron-deficiency anaemia, neonatal disorder, and tuberculosis still continue to be major public health problems in many poorer northern States.
- The contribution of major non-communicable disease categories to the total disease burden has increased in all States since 1990.
- These include cardiovascular disease, diabetes, chronic respiratory diseases, mental health and neurological disorders, musculosketal disorder, cancers, and chronic kidney disease.
- The high burden of infectious and childhood disease in poorer States along with non-communicable disease poses challenge for these States.
- State-specific DALY rates for many leading individual disease varies five to tenfold between States.
- The findings of the study reveal that three types of risks-under nutrition, air pollution, and a group of risks causing cardiovascular disease and diabetes-are akin to national emergencies as these have the potential to significantly blunt the rapid social and economic progress to which India aspires.
Reasons responsible for disease burden:
- There is declining trend in child and maternal undernutrition, still this is the single largest risk factor in India, responsible for 15% of the total disease burden in 2016.
- Undernutrition increases the risk of neonatal disorders, nutritional deficiencies, diarrhoeal disease, and lower respiratory and other common infections. This is 12 times higher per person in India than in China.
- The risk factor is relatively worse in the major northern poor States and Assam; it is amazingly the leading risk in over three-fourths of the States across India.
- Air pollution levels in India are among the highest in the world, making it the second leading risk factor in 2016, responsible for 10% of the total disease burden in the country.
- Air pollution causes risk of cardiovascular diseases, chronic respiratory disease, respiratory infections, and cancer.
- The unacceptably high disease burden due to undernutrition and air pollution in most of India must be brought to an end through systematic large-scale interventions with robust short-and long-term goals.
- A group of risks that include unhealthy diet, high blood pressure, high blood sugar, high cholesterol and overweight, which increase the risk of ischaemic heart disease, stroke and diabetes, contributed a tenth of the total disease burden in India in 1990, but increased to a quarter of the total burden in 2016.
The new knowledge base and the annual updates planned by the India State-Level Disease Burden Initiative will provide important inputs for the date-driven and decentralized health planning and monitoring recommended by the National Health Policy 2017 and the NITI Aayog Action Agenda 2017-2020.
- There is need for State-specific health planning instead of generic planning.
- The disease burden can be reduced by addressing the risk factors for major diseases.
- Planning based on local trends can improve the health of populations more effectively.
- The World Health Organisation has formulated clinical guidelines on responding to children and adolescents who have been sexually abused.
- The guidelines put forward recommendations for the frontline health care providers-general practitioners, gynaecologists, paediatricians, nurses and others-who may directly receive a victim of sexual abuse or may identify sexual abuse during the course of diagnosis and treatment.
- The guidelines highlight that child sexual abuse has a short-term as well as long-term mental health impact like lifetime diagnosis of post-traumatic stress,, anxiety, depression, externalizing symptoms, eating disorders, problems with relationship, sleep disorder and suicidal and self-harm ideation and behaviours.
- Health consequences of the abuse include the risk of pregnancy, gynaecological disorders such as chronic non-cyclical pelvic pain, menstrual irregularities, painful periods, genital infections and sexually transmitted infections, including HIV.
- Center may concluding a final agreement with the NSCN(IM) before Christmas.
- It has arisen fresh apprehensions in Assam, Arunachal Pradesh and Manipur that large chunks of their territories may be lost to a “Greater Nagalim”.
Why is it in news?
- “The Framework Agreement” signed with the government of India in August 2015 “recognises the legitimate right of the Nagas to integration of all Naga territories”.
- However, it took over two years after the signing of the Framework Agreement, until November 17, 2017 for a Working Committee of six Naga National Political Groups to sign another agreement with R N Ravi, the government interlocutor for the Naga peace process, as part of the run-up to the final accord.
The map of Greater Nagalim:
- The map of Greater Nagalim comprising “all Naga-inhabited areas” shows a 1,20,000 sq km sprawl across the Northeast and Myanmar.
- It covers a sizeable portion of:
- Assam’s Tinsukia, Charaideo, Sivasagar, Jorhat, Golaghat, Karbi Anglong and Dima Hasao districts;
- all of Longding, Tirap, Changlang, Lohit and Namsai districts in Arunachal; and
- large parts of Manipur’s Ukhrul, Senapati, Chandel and Tamenglong districts.
- The area of Nagaland state is only 16,527 sq km, a fraction of the NSCN(IM)’s “Greater Nagalim”.
What is the conflict between Assam and Nagaland?
- Assam has complained of encroachment by Nagaland.
- Assam says Nagaland has set up three civil subdivisions on Assamese territory.
- Friction over the boundary has led to several rounds of violence, leading to over a hundred deaths.
- Nagaland insists that more land that has “historically” belonged to the Nagas continues to remain under Assam’s “occupation”.
- The state says that the 16-point agreement of 1960 that led to its creation included the “restoration” of all Naga territories transferred out of the Naga Hills after the British annexed Assam in 1826.
- The stand of the Assam government is clear.
- They will not allow any change to the state’s geography.
Lessons unlearnt (Indian Express)
- Nine years have passed since the grim events of 26/11 but India has forgotten nothing and learned nothing.
What is are the impacts of 26/11 tragedy?
- 26/11 caused two key ruptures in India’s politics and public discourse:
- It led to a distillation of public frustration with police and intelligence services, which seemed unable to protect India’s citizens.
- It crystallised the rage of citizens against the Indian state’s inability to act on Pakistan’s sponsorship of terrorist groups.
What are the drawbacks India’s security and defence?
- New organisations meant to fight terrorism, mostly are chronically under-resourced.
- India’s intelligence services remain desperately short of resources.
- There are chronic shortages from language and area specialists, to personnel with specialist technology skills.
- India has been unable to fulfil its commitment to modernise basic policing and emergency services.
- Forensics, investigation and intelligence capabilities are abysmal.
- The next 26/11 will always lurk just around the corner unless the elements which went into its making are addressed.
Understanding Bitcoin: fraud, or the future of money? (Indian Express)
- In 2009, the first block of that currency, known as Bitcoin, went online.
- To this day, it has undergone a wide range of changes.
Change in opinion about Bitcoin:
- Opinion on Bitcoin is divided on:
- whether its value is a sign of a growing rebellion against a monetary system controlled by corrupt, predatory governments, or, alternately whether it is providing a haven for criminals.
- There are also those who believe that Bitcoin and other digital currencies that have since emerged are simply a giant, collective delusion.
Changes in Bitcoin over eight years:
- The principles underlying Bitcoin make it a democratic alternative to the commercial banking network, and even central banks.
- Bitcoin appealed to a spectrum of libertarians and anarchists, whose value would be determined purely by demand and supply, not by the actions of central banks.
- Bitcoin uses cryptography to securely conduct a transaction between a sender and a recipient.
What is Blockchain?
- Each confirmed transaction is recorded on a public ledger, called a blockchain.
- The blockchain is shared between all users of the Bitcoin network, and updated in real time.
- The underlying mathematics makes it impossible to make duplicate copies of Bitcoin, or use it for more than one transaction at a time.
- Each time a new block or set of transactions is consolidated into a blok, it verifies all those before it. In general, six verifications mean a transaction is 99.99% likely to be genuine.
What is Bitcoin?
- Bitcoin is a worldwide cryptocurrency and digital payment system called the first decentralized digital currency, as the system works without a central repository or single administrator.
- It was invented by an unknown person or group of people under the name Satoshi Nakamoto and released as open-source software in 2009.
- The system is peer-to-peer, and transactions take place between users directly, without an intermediary.
- These transactions are verified by network nodes and recorded in a public distributed ledger called a blockchain.
Memo to the World Bank (Indian Express)
- India has been admitted to the top 100 nation club for Ease of Doing Business by the World Bank league.
Why is in news?
- For the first time ever, India has jumped 30 positions to become the top 100th country in terms of ease of doing business ranking this year.
- This was announced by the World Bank Group’s latest Doing Business 2018: Reforming to Create Jobs report in Delhi on 31, October 2017.
- The World Bank has attributed the change in India ranking to the sustained business reforms it has undertaken.
What India needs to do to be a part of top 80 nation club?
- India’s policymakers need to find the weaknesses of the countries above it and make a strong case to press for India’s competitive advantage.
- The country strictly needs to go by the parameters of the World Bank for it insists on its own formula regardless of the country’s rich history.
- India has to compete with Bhutan for a higher ranking and for precious foreign investment.
- There are broader injustices that should be addressed in the memo to the World Bank.
In an Australian project, Coral bred in one part of the Great Barrier Reef was successfully transplanted into another area, hoping they could restore damaged ecosystems around the world.
- In a trial at the reef’s Heron Island off Australia’s east coast, the researchers collected large amount of coral spawn and eggs late last year, grew them into larvae and then transplanted them into areas of damaged reef.
- When they returned eight months later, they found juvenile coral that had survived and grown, aided by underwater mesh tanks.
- The success of the research not only applies to the Great Barrier Reef but has potential global significance.
- The results are very promising and the work shows that adding higher densities of coral larvae leads to higher numbers of successful coral recruits.
- It showcases that one can start to restore and repair damaged coral populations where the natural supply of coral larvae has been compromised.
- Although the larval-restoration approach contrasts with the current “coral gardening” method of breaking up healthy coral and sticking healthy branches on reefs, scientists hope that they will regrow coral in nurseries before transplantation.
- The same approach was earlier successfully trialled in the Philippines in an area of reef highly degraded by blast fishing, which helped reefs recover on a larger scale.
- The Great Barrier Reef is reeling from an unprecedented second-straight year of coral bleaching because of warming sea temperatures linked to climate change.
- Recently studies say that a boost in levels of oxygen may have caused a three-fold increase in biodiversity during between 445 and 485 million years ago.
Why is it in news?
- This study suggests that atmospheric oxygen levels did not reach and maintain modern levels for millions of years after the Cambrian explosion.
- In fact, the oxygenation of the atmosphere and Shallow Ocean took millions of years.
- And it was only when shallow seas became progressively oxygenated were the major pulses of diversification able to take place.
What has been found?
- Researchers were able to identify an oxygen increase during the Middle and Late Ordovician periods.
- They also found:
- 80% increase in oxygen levels where oxygen constituted about 14% of the atmosphere during the Darriwilian Stage (Middle Ordovician 460-465 million years ago) and
- Increased to as high as 24% of the atmosphere by the mid-Katian (Late Ordovician 450-455 million years ago).
The three fold increase:
- The explosion of diversity, recognised as the Great Ordovician Biodiversification Event, brought about:
- the rise of various marine life,
- tremendous change across species families and types,
- as well as changes to the Earth, starting at the bottom of the ocean floors.
Great Ordovician Biodiversification Event:
- The Ordovician radiation, or the great Ordovician biodiversification event (GOBE), was an evolutionary radiation of animal life throughout the Ordovician period, 40 million years after the Cambrian explosion.
- The distinctive Cambrian fauna fizzled out to be replaced with a Palaeozoic fauna rich in suspension feeder and pelagic animals.
- It brought about rise of various marine lives, tremendous change across species families and types, as well as changes to the Earth, starting at the bottom of the ocean floors.
How a dust storm from 3,000 km away smothered Delhi this month (Indian Express)
The System of Air Quality and Weather Forecasting and Research (SAFAR) under the Ministry of Earth Science published a ‘Scientific Assessment of Delhi Winter Air Quality Crisis’, which listed two “Extreme” events behind the smog that had smothered Delhi and its neighbourhood.
- Extreme 2 was the much discussed burning in Punjab, Haryana, and Uttar Pradesh
- was a “large multi-day dust storm that emerged at Iraq, Kuwait, and Saudi Arabia
- The report blamed this storm much more than the burning of stubble for Delhi’s air quality crisis during that period –“the pollution contribution of Gulf dust storm on peak day was around 40% and from stubble burning was 25%.
- The Visible Infrared Imaging Radiometer Suite (VIIRS) aboard the NOAA/NASA Suomi NPP satellite captured images of a massive dust and sand storm over Saudi Arabia and Iraq .
- Moderate Resolution Imaging Spectroradiometers(MODIS) aboard NASA’s Terra and Aqua satellites released images of skies over Saudi Arabia and Iraq ,red with a thick blanket of dust.
- Scarce rain and advancing desertification are the key reasons.
- Climate change is the main reason which led to drastic changes in annual rainfall and temperature besides other reasons such as drought, mismanagement of water, and abandonment of agriculture lands.
Highlights of the report:
- According to the SAFAR assessment, the late October-early November dust storm “was carried by relatively cool winds”.
- The report pointed out that “As air temperatures dropped, winds and dust were likely to slowly diminish, but that time, it got into the upper part of atmosphere and direction became towards India and dust affected the larger region of NCR including Delhi.
- The strong NW shaman winds entrained an enormous amount of mineral particles into the atmosphere.
Pollution in Delhi:
- A high-pressure centre developed above the Gulf of Oman and the strong anticyclonic flow at 5,500 metres above sea level transported atmospheric dust into the direction of Delhi.
- Meteorologists in India have said that a high-pressure zone over Delhi and its neighbourhood and the absence of strong winds kept pollutants trapped close to the surface.
- During the second week of November, anti-cyclonic weather conditions were observed in North India, which helped in building up of pollutants in the lower troposphere.
- The calm surface wind conditions which do not allow to disperse pollution was due to anti-cyclonic circulation connected with late withdrawal of monsoon, persisting at about 700 hPa lower troposphere over northwest India with its centre near Delhi.
- Stubble burning, which , the SAFAR report said, was very high and upper air winds become north-westerly with high speed and started pumping pollution in Delhi.
‘Drought, heatwaves increasing in frequency’ (The Hindu)
- Drought and heat waves all together has been engaging several researchers in India.
Why is it in news?
- Analysing rainfall and temperature data of 50 years, researchers have found that:
- the frequency of heatwaves accompanied by drought has increased not only in magnitude but in area too over the past three decades
- While heatwaves and droughts are destructive even when occurring in separate events, their concurrence is far more serious.
- A single extreme event may not be critical, but two extremes occurring at once is much more significant in the distress it causes.
What is the reason behind the phenomena?
- Researchers believe this could be due to the intricate relationship of land surface processes, soil moisture, evapo-transpiration and local climate.
- A spatial analysis reveals the area affected by the twin calamities is starkly increasing.
- With certain accuracy, these incidents can be predicted.
- This could contribute to policy making and ensure preparedness.
- Both phenomena have a serious bearing on water resources, affecting agriculture and human settlements.
Smart- balancing China (The Hindu Editorial)
The recent revival of the ‘Quadrilateral’ and the consequent talk of an ‘Asian NATO’ have brought the India-China rivalry back to the limelight.
- The alleged China connection to the recent ‘regime change’ in Zimbabwe is a harbingerof things to come.
- It would ensure that its access to overseas resources/markets and the oceanic trade routes are unhindered.
- Denying India’s entry into the Nuclear Suppliers Group, blocking UN sanctions against Pakistan-based terrorists, and ignoring India’s sensitivity over the China-Pakistan Economic Corridor are outcomes of this vision.
Area of concern:
- Chinese revisionist claims in the land and oceanic space have been a major source of concern.
- Beijing’s deployment of naval assets to enforce its claims across the South China Sea, construction of artificial islands in the region, and the rejection of a UN tribunal judgment on a complaint filed by the Philippines, last year have only strengthened this feeling.
- China has also been increasing its naval presence, including dispatching its nuclear submarines on patrol, in the Indian Ocean.
- Along with military assertion, Beijing has also been stepping up its political and economic footprint in the region, dismissing New Delhi’s protests.
- Ever-strengthening China-Pakistan military alliance and its implications for the country.
India’s strategies to ‘checkmate’ China
- The current Indian strategies to ‘checkmate’ China seem more zero-sum and less efficient.
- New Delhi has chosen to adopt an unequivocal U.S.-centric strategy to deal with Beijing, most recently the Quad.
Problems with this :-
- The U.S. is a quickly-receding extra-regional power whose long-term commitment to the region is increasingly indeterminate and unsure.
- U.S.-China relations are far more complex than we generally assume and Australia is caught between the U.S. and China.
- While India may have shed its traditional reticence about a strategic partnership with the U.S., it would still not be what Japan is to the U.S., nor should it.
- The second broad policy direction seems to be to compete with China for regional influence in South Asia.
- India should use its $70 billion-strong trading relationship with China as a bargaining chip to check Chinese behaviour. However, doing so would hurt both sides.
- India-China bilateral trade is heavily skewed in favour of China, let’s not forget that China’s exports to India comprise under 3% of its total exports (and India’s exports to China is 3.6% of its total exports).
- New Delhi would be better served by adopting a more nuanced balancing strategy, a strategy of ‘smart-balancing’, towards Beijing, one that involves deep engagements and carefully calibrated balancing, at the same time.
A possible road map:
- It would involve co-binding China in a bilateral/regional security complex: that is, view China as part of the solution to the region’s challenges (including terrorism, climate change, piracy, infrastructural/developmental needs) than as part of the problem, or the problem itself.
- Some efforts in this direction are already under way such as India-China joint anti-piracy missions in the Gulf of Aden.
- The two countries could consider initiating regular, structured consultations in this regard.
- In other words, enhancing security cooperation with China is a sure way of alleviating the persistent security dilemma between them.
- A mutual ‘complex interdependence’ in economic, security and other domains should be strengthened and front-loaded over zero-sum competition
- Security cooperation should most certainly be enhanced in the Indo-Pacific where India should, even while being part of the Quad, talk of cooperating with China
- India urgently needs to develop a clear vision for a stable regional security order and work out what role India would like China to play in that vision and how it can nudge China towards that.
Science and Technology:
IAF banks on Tejas, new fighter to bolster fleet (The Hindu)
Indian Air Force (IAF) is focusing at Tejas, the indigenously developed light combat aircraft, and a single-engine fighter to be procured soon to seize the dramatic fall in its squad strength.
- As the deal with the French government for 36 Rafale jets lands in the middle of political turmoil, the rate of decommissioning of aircraft gets way higher than the planned and even proposed inductions.
- Total 123 Tejas will be inducted in the force as planned.
- The IAF has a sanctioned strength of 42 squadrons and a projected requirement of 45 to face the anticipated threat of a two-front war. Now, the force has 33 squadrons and by December-end, it will be down to 31.
- With the planned induction of 36 Rafales between 2019 and 2022, the remaining Sukhoi-30MKIs and some Tejas jets, the strength will be 30 till 2027.
- In the subsequent five-year term, it will fall to 27. If there are no new inductions, it will slide further to 19 by 2042.
- The IAF is upgrading most of the aircraft in its inventory. But from 2025, most of those aircraft such as the Jaguars and the MiG-29s will start going out.
- In a month, the IAF is expected to issue the Request for Information (RFI) for over a 100 single-engine fighter aircraft under the Strategic Partnership model.
- Lockheed F-16 and Saab Gripen are in the race for the order and have already tied up with the Tatas and the Adani group, respectively, to build the jets locally with technology transfer.