9 PM Current Affairs Brief – January 18, 2018

GS: 1

Blue, white, maroon and now orange

Blue, white, maroon and now orange


The Hindu Explains: Orange Passports

What is an ‘orange’ passport?

Citizens who fall under the Emigration Check Required (ECR) category will soon have passports with orange jackets, instead of the dark blue that has so far been the colour of all passports under the ECR and non-ECR categories

  • ECR passports are mainly given to non-matriculate workers who wish to work in the Gulf countries and in Southeast Asia

Why has this been introduced now?

The Ministry of External Affairs (MEA) has been taking measures to improve passport services over the last decade

  • The previous government prioritised quick passport delivery. The present government, apart from opening new passport centres, is streamlining the process for passport application and delivery
  • The MEA was also wondering how to make passports more gender-just, especially after a few cases of single mothers applying for their children’s passports came to the Ministry (the address on the last page includes the father’s/ legal guardian’s name)
  • The MEA has done away with the last page to be printed in “due course”. It was while initiating a change in passports that the decision to introduce orange passports for the ECR category was taken

What is different about the ECR category?

Passport holders under the ECR category have faced exploitation, especially in West Asia. Protecting their human rights has become a priority, as the government is reaching out to diaspora Indians and Indians working abroad

  • ECR passport holders are being serviced by the Protector General of Emigrants so that their human rights are safeguarded abroad
  • It is expected that with an orange passport, ECR passport holders will stand out in difficult situations and their passports will allow for quick processing of their documents. However, critics say this could render migrant workers “second-class citizens”

When will the new passports be printed?

When the India Security Press, Nashik, is ready. Till then, blue passports with the last page for both ECR and non-ECR categories will remain in circulation

Apart from blue and orange, what other colours of passports exist?

White for government officials and maroon for diplomats.

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Breastfeeding linked to lower diabetes risk (Deccan chronicle)

Breastfeeding linked to lower diabetes risk (Deccan chronicle)


Women who breastfeed their babies for six months or more may be able to cut their risk of developing diabetes in the future by nearly half, according to a study Tuesday

About the study

  • The findings are from a three-decade US study of more than 1,200 white and African-American women were published in the Journal of the American Medical Association (JAMA) Internal Medicine


  • Women who breastfed for six months or more across had a 47 percent reduction in their risk of developing Type 2 diabetes, when compared to those who did not breastfeed at all
  • For women who breastfed for six months or less, there was a 25 percent reduction in diabetes risk
  • Researchers suggested that breastfeeding may unleash protective effects via hormones that act in the pancreas, controlling blood insulin levels and blood sugar
  • The incidence of diabetes decreased in a graded manner as breastfeeding duration increased, regardless of race, gestational diabetes, lifestyle behaviors, body size, and other metabolic risk factors measured before pregnancy, implying the possibility that the underlying mechanism may be biological
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Left behind

Left behind


ASER (Rural) report 2017

Author’s contention

Author contends that if there is one strong message from the findings of the Annual Status of Education Report (Rural) 2017, it is that the Right of Children to Free and Compulsory Education Act should cover the entire spectrum of 18 years, and not confine itself to those aged 6 to 14

Important takeaways

  • Utilizing the dividend: The ASER sample study estimates that 14% of this age group — a total of 125 million young Indians in this category — are not enrolled. It is absolutely essential for all of them to get an education that equips them with the skills, especially job-oriented vocational capabilities, if the expectation of a demographic dividend is to be meaningful
  • Failure in achieving learning outcomes: Author states that the survey yet again points to the fact that although there is progress being made in raw enrolment of children in school, but we have failed miserably in achieving learning outcomes
  • Enrolment figures often do not mean high attendance: It is not surprising, therefore, that a significant section of secondary level students find it difficult to read standard texts meant for junior classes or locate their own State on the map
  • Differences among states: There are also discrete differences among States on the number of youth who are not on the rolls in appropriate levels of schooling, with 29.4% of both boys and girls aged 17-18 not enrolled in a Chhattisgarh district, compared to 4.5% and 3.9%, respectively, in a Kerala district
  • Digital divide with a gender bias: The ASER data point to a massive digital divide, with 61% of respondents stating they had never used the Internet, and 56% a computer, while mobile telephony was accessible to 73%.


What is needed is a vision that will translate the objectives of the RTE Act into a comprehensive guarantee, expanding its scope to cover all levels of education. This will remove the lacuna in policy that awaits remedy seven decades after Independence

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Early menopause results in higher risk of heart disease: study

Early menopause results in higher risk of heart disease: study


A recent UK study published in Heart, an international cardiology journal, has indicated that women who start their menstruation cycle at the age of 11 or earlier, or enter menopause before 47, have a higher risk of heart disease and stroke

About the study

The study included 2,67,440 women and 2,15,088 men without a history of cardiovascular disease (CVD) at baseline

  • Between 2006 and 2010, the UK Biobank recruited over 5,00,000 participants aged 40–69 years across the UK.
  • Participants filled in questionnaires on their lifestyle, environment, and medical history, which included their reproductive history.
  • They were monitored up to March 2016 or until they suffered a first heart attack
  • The study was conducted primarily among white British women. Although possible, further studies are needed to establish whether these findings also apply to women in India

Findings of the study

  • Some other factors that were associated with elevated odds of heart problems in later years were miscarriage, stillbirth, undergoing a hysterectomy, and bearing children at a young age
  • Women who had premature reproductive cycles or a history of adverse events should be screened for heart problems
  • Women who began their periods early, or who had pregnancy complications such as stillbirth or who needed a hysterectomy were also more likely to develop heart issues
  • Women who went through menopause before the age of 47 had a 33% heightened risk of cardiovascular disease, rising to 42% for their risk of stroke
  • Those who entered puberty before the age of 12 were at 10% greater risk of cardiovascular disease than those who had been 13 or older when they started
  • Previous miscarriages were associated with a higher risk of heart disease, with each miscarriage increasing the risk by 6%
  • And having a stillbirth was associated with a higher risk of cardiovascular disease in general (22%) and of stroke in particular (44%)
  • During 7 years of follow-up, a total of 9,054 incident cases of CVD (34% women), 5,782 cases of coronary heart disease (CHD) (28% women), and 3,489 cases of stroke (43% women) were recorded among the participant
  • Policymakers should consider implementing more frequent screening for cardiovascular disease among women with one or more of the risk factors highlighted here in order to put in place measures that can help delay or prevent the development of heart disease and stroke


  • Previous research has suggested that the early onset of periods is linked to obesity, a known risk factor for heart disease in later life.
  • However the findings of this study showed that the risk of developing cardiovascular disease increased for women even if they had a healthy weight
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Make -II promise for arms firms

Make -II promise for arms firms


Indian industry can suggest projects related to sub-systems for innovation and import substitution under the revised Make-II procedure in the Defence Procurement Procedure, the Defence Ministry said on Wednesday

Indian industry can suggest projects related to sub-systems for innovation

The potential ‘Make-II’ projects will be approved by a collegiate comprising the DRDO, Headquarter Integrated Defence Staff and Department of Defence under a committee chaired by Secretary, Defence Production

Start-ups welcome

  • Even start-ups or individuals can propose projects
  • The Service Headquarters will soon come with a list of projects which can be undertaken under the new procedure

No limit

Companies would get design and development time of 12 to 30 weeks to offer prototypes and there is no limit to the number of companies which can respond to the Expression of Interest (EoI).

Raisina Dialogue

Speaking at the ongoing Raisina Dialogue, Secretary, Defence Production said that under the new proposal, the time taken to place orders from the proposal stage would be reduced by 50%

After the development period, the Request for Proposal would be issued to all qualifying companies.

Non retractable

Once issued, the RFP cannot be retracted. The company which wins the bid, is assured of an order

Single Vendor situation has no effect

Even in the case of a single vendor situation, the tender would go through

Estimated Time has come down

The estimated time to finish the whole process has come down to 69 to 103 weeks

No negotiations

There would also be no negotiations under the Contract Negotiation Committee (CNC).

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Terror disrupts, says Sushma

Terror disrupts, says Sushma


Hitting out at the sponsors of international terrorism, India on Wednesday urged for greater consensus among countries for devising a global strategy.

Backdrop: Raisina dialogue

Theme: “Managing Disruptive Transitions: Ideas, Institutions and Idioms.”

  • The 3rd annual Raisina Dialogue was launched on Tuesday by Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu where he described terrorism as a major threat to the democracies in the twenty-first century

Terrorism from governed spaces more dangerous

The Minister said that while international terrorism by Islamic State, which grew out of ungoverned territories, is dangerous, more dangerous, she said, is terrorism from “governed spaces.”

Maritime movement

Ms Swaraj also pointed out that another emerging disruptor is the concern over maritime movement.

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Talking over a law

Talking over a law


There should be a frank public conversation on the judiciary — an internal patch-up is not enough

Lack of transparency

The immediate trigger for the press conference was the apparent arbitrariness of the Chief Justice of India (CJI) in allocating benches for disposal of cases

Question arises

Assuming such credence, the question that any well-wisher of the judiciary, whether inside or outside it, must ask is this: What is the institutional design that facilitated such seemingly arbitrary decision-making?

Possible answers

Opaque internal structure: One possible answer lies in the opaque internal structure of the judiciary founded on a combination of unquestioning trust in the office of the CJI along with an instinctive distaste for any interference by Parliament or government in judicial functioning.

Ambedkar warned against supreme position of the CJI

  • At the time of the formulation of the Constitution, B.R. Ambedkar warned that no matter how upright the CJI might be, like any other mortal he too would have frailties. Thus no absolute power should be vested in him
  • Admittedly, Ambedkar was speaking about not giving the CJI a veto power in appointing judges; but the same sentiment rings true in case of the convention of allocating benches as well

Fears of politicisation

The second premise justifying complete judicial insulation that makes arbitrary decision-making in the judiciary possible is the fear of politicization

Legitimate fear

This is undoubtedly legitimate — a politicised judiciary might well suffer from a lack of public confidence

But comes in the way of genuine judicial reform

Whenever any move towards reforming the judiciary is made by politicians, commentators are quick to hark back to the Emergency and the supersession of three judges for the CJI that preceded it.

A misdirected fear

  • Equally critically, this fear of politicisation is misdirected, being based on a naïve view that overt parliamentary law is the sole method of interference with the judiciary
  • Other nefarious methods exist and thrive in opacity

Need a ‘Supreme Court Act’

While internal resolution might be a palliative (of a medicine or medical care) relieving pain without dealing with the cause of the condition) to tell the world that all is well with the Indian judiciary, it will, at best, be a band-aid solution

Press conference showed that there is no space for internal resolution

Instead, what is needed now is a Supreme Court Act to be passed by Parliament after an open public discussion involving all stakeholders — civil society, the judiciary, the Bar and members of all shades of political opinion.

Entry 77 of List I of the Seventh Schedule

  • As a precursor to such reform, it is important to clarify that the Constitution envisages the powers and jurisdiction of the Supreme Court to be the possible subject matter of a parliamentary law
  • This is clear from Entry 77 of List I of the Seventh Schedule which makes the aforementioned a legitimate subject of law-making
  • Passage of such a law is critical to rectify the discourse of any parliamentary law relating to the judiciary being anathema (something or someone that one vehemently dislikes.).

What’s needed in the act

Restructuring of the SC

The substance of a proposed Supreme Court Act must be the restructuring of the Supreme Court itself

  • It is vital that a court of 31 judges, if it is to function as an apex court, must develop some degree of institutional coherence
  • Such coherence is impossible when the court sits in benches of two judges each
  • Further this structure allows the CJI to become the master of the roster, vested with the absolute discretion of allocating judges to particular cases, leading to crises like the present one

Three divisions

An antidote to both the aforementioned problems is a restructuring of the Supreme Court into three divisions: Admission, Appellate and Constitutional

Admission division

  • All special leave petitions under Article 136 ought to be first considered by the Admission division
  • The division will comprise five randomly selected judges who for one quarter every year will deal only with admission cases.
  • Like the Supreme Court of the United States, making this process work by circulation and without oral hearing needs to be strongly considered

Constitution Division

  • The Constitution Division should be a permanent Constitution Bench of the five senior-most justices of the Court
  • They will hear all matters of constitutional importance and authoritatively pronounce the Court’s views on it.

Appellate division

  • The Appellate division should comprise the remaining 21 judges (on the basis of the sanctioned strength of 31) with seven three-judge benches
  • They will hear all matters admitted by the Admission Division and any other writs or appeals which lie as a matter of right to the Supreme Court.

Advantages of the above restructuring

Such restructuring will have three advantages

More coherence: It will yield more coherent jurisprudence, particularly in constitutional matters, taking us closer to certainty and the rule of law

Careful contemplation: It will allow for more careful contemplation of which matters actually deserve admission to India’s apex court

Reduce the discretion of CJI: It will reduce the discretion available to the CJI to select benches, since this will be limited to the appellate division alone

A public conversation

  • At this point of time, the proposed law is critical to start a frank public conversation around what the judiciary needs to restore public confidence
  • Such a public conversation is necessary to underline that the judiciary is part of a republican constitutional framework, not the preserve of lawyers and judges alone
  • An internal resolution will be its antithesis, which might defuse the present crisis, but will exacerbate the deeper wound.
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Four Supreme court judges in talks with colleagues

Four Supreme court judges in talks with colleagues


Even as the second round of talks between Chief Justice of India Dipak Misra and his four senior-most colleagues did not take place on Wednesday, “each of the four judges” — Justices Jasti Chelameswar, Ranjan Gogoi, Madan B. Lokur and Kurian Joseph — is “speaking” to other Supreme Court judges on the issues raised by them in public on January 12.

Meeting with CJI Misra likely today

  • The four judges are talking to their colleagues even as some judges felt that the four should have “taken them into confidence” before going public.
  • The source said the judges may have “naturally different ideas” about the issues but they “understand the problem.”
  • The Chief Justice took the initiative on January 16 to meet his four colleagues and break the ice. The meeting also coincided with an order passed by a Bench of Justices Arun Mishra and Mohan M. Shantanagoudar to put up two PIL petitions seeking a probe into the death of CBI judge B.H. Loya before an “appropriate Bench.”
  • Besides, Justice Gogoi, Justices U.U. Lalit and D.Y. Chandrachud also called on Justice Chelameswar
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MPs panel debates proxy voting for migrant workers

MPs panel debates proxy voting for migrant workers


If proxy voting is meant to make it easier for NRIs to exercise their franchise and save up on travel costs, then why the same facility shouldn’t be extended to a migrant worker within India? This and many other questions were raised at a meeting of the Parliamentary panel on External Affairs headed by Congress leader Shashi Tharoor

Meeting headed by Shashi Tharoor deliberates on why electoral provision meant for NRIs should not be extended to others

The committee was briefed on “Voting Rights to NRIs” by MEA Secretary (Economic Relations) and Secretary, Legislative Department.

Amendment to Representation to the People Act

The Cabinet in August last year had cleared an amendment to the Representation of the People Act, which allows NRIs to vote by proxy, a facility only available till now to armed personnel and certain offices notified by the Election Commission

Government’s reply

Cost not the same: It does not cost the same to travel within India compared to flying in from abroad

Proxy voting can be misused: According to sources, except for one BJP MP all others on the panel were unanimous in their opinion that proxy voting can be easily misused.


Data shows that only 10,000 to 12,000 NRIs have voted because they do not want to spend foreign currency to come to India for this purpose.

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Can govt. mandate sharing of biometric data, asks SC

Can govt. mandate sharing of biometric data, asks SC


The Supreme Court asked whether the state could compel citizens, including children, to part with their biometrics in public interest even as petitioners described the Aadhaar “project” as a “giant electronic leash,” which reduces individuals to mere numbers.

Court begins hearing on 27 petitions against the Aadhaar project

A five-judge Constitution Bench, led by Chief Justice of India Dipak Misra, began hearing 27 writ petitions filed by people from all walks of life and across the country.

Enrollments without statutory regime

Senior advocate Shyam Divan, with advocates Vipin Nair and P.B. Suresh, argued that enrolment for Aadhaar went on from 2009 to 2016 — when the Aadhaar Act came into existence — without a statutory regime

Data transfer to UIDAI without any legal framework

The captured personal data of crores of citizens were transferred from private enrolment agencies to the UIDAI without any legal framework, the petitioners contended.

No opt out option

“There was no free consent. There was no ‘opt-out’ option.

Questions asked

Can the state’s right of eminent domain extend to the human body? Can the state encroach on personal body autonomy?

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Bonhomie with China back: Rawat

Bonhomie with China back: Rawat


Chinese troops continue to remain in the Northern part of Doklam in reduced numbers and have built temporary infrastructure, Army Chief Bipin Rawat said on Wednesday. However, he said the border mechanisms were working well in resolving issues even as reports surfaced of Chinese military build-up near the Doklam area.

Reduced troops present in Doklam’

As far as Doklam area is concerned, People’s Liberation Army (PLA) troops are there in part of the area, in the North part

Although not in the numbers we saw initially. They have carried out some infrastructure development most of it temporary in nature

Collective action

Calling for collective action against terrorism, Gen. Rawat warned that mass destruction weapons, including nuclear, biological and chemical weapons, falling in the hands of terrorists “would be disastrous for the humanity.”

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India needs to focus eastword

India needs to focus eastword


India has “realised” that its future lies in Asia, said BJP general secretary Ram Madhav, making a distinction from the “American way” of conducting foreign policy, in comments seen as a rare departure from the government’s traditionally close ties with the U.S. and Western allies.

‘American Way’ will no longer be at work in region, says BJP leader Ram Madhav

India has to make cultural and civilisational linkages an important part of its diplomacy

Strategic shift

  • “[India] has to completely reorient its strategic mindset. Strategic shift is needed from Westward to Eastward Thinking; from Land-based thinking to Ocean-centric thinking,” he added.
  • Mr. Madhav said the “global power axis” had now moved from the Pacific-Atlantic to the Indo-Pacific with almost half of the world’s population, half the container traffic, 40% of off-shore oil reserves, and most of the world’s defence spending coming from the Asian region.

A Neo-Marshall Plan

  • The BJP leader also called for support for India’s “proactive role in the region”, saying New Delhi would not be a “spectator” as China pushed its Belt and Road initiative forward
  • He called the project a “Neo-Marshall plan” in a veiled reference to the carving up of post-war Europe as akin to Chinese infrastructure projects in Asia and Africa.
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Spike missile deal back on the table

Spike missile deal back on the table


Israeli PM says scrapped $500 million deal is being revived. Agreement seen reflecting burgeoning defense, business ties

Deal is still on

India will buy Israel’s Spike anti-tank guided missiles, the Israeli media quoted Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu as saying, weeks after New Delhi scrapped the $500million defence deal.

Major strategic achievement

The deal was cancelled a few weeks ahead of Mr. Netanyahu’s visit to India and its renewal is considered a “major strategic achievement”, the reported.

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No extra year

No extra year


By approaching the court, the Sri Lankan President looked too keen to extend his term

By approaching the court, the Sri Lankan President looked too keen to extend his term

The Sri Lankan Supreme Court’s ruling that President Maithripala Sirisena’s term will end when he completes five years in office comes as no surprise

Why the doubt about the tenure ?

What was surprising was how such a doubt had arisen in the first place

Sirisena wanted to clarify the tenure

Mr. Sirisena, who was elected President in January 2015, had wanted the court to clarify whether he would have a six-year term as the law stood on election day or whether it would be five years in accordance with the 19th constitutional amendment adopted in April 2015

But he had asserted voluntarily to shortening of his tenure

That the Sri Lankan President could suddenly harbour such a doubt is inexplicable given his frequent assertions that he was that rare head of state who had voluntarily agreed to a shortening of his tenure

Amendment diluting powers of the presidency

It is the National Unity government that he heads along with Prime Minister Ranil Wickremesinghe that brought in the amendment containing provisions that considerably dilute the powers of the executive presidency

Transitional provision

Second, the amendment has a clear, unambiguous transitional provision that the incumbent President and Prime Minister will continue to hold their respective offices “subject to the provisions of the Constitution as amended by this Act”

A trend in SrI Lanka

  • There appears to be an unfortunate trend in Sri Lanka of presidents using constitutional provisions for political ends. Mr. Sirisena’s predecessor, Mahinda Rajapaksa, had sought the court’s opinion on whether there was any impediment to his contesting a third term
  • Another former president, Chandrika Kumaratunga, had a ‘secret’ swearing-in one year into her second term, but the court denied her bid for an extra year in office.

Looking for a loophole

Even though Mr. Sirisena’s supporters say he was exercising his right to approach the Supreme Court for a clarification based on a valid doubt, the rationale behind his reference could only have been political

Benefits of an extra year in office

  • He was obviously looking for a loophole that would give him another year in office
  • If he had an extra year, his term would go on till early 2021, and he would still be president at the time of the next parliamentary election, due in 2020
  • Mr. Sirisena possibly thought he needed more time to consolidate his position in the power-sharing arrangement between his Sri Lanka Freedom Party and Mr. Wickremesinghe’s United National Party, as well as with respect to the joint opposition that backs Mr. Rajapaksa

Strain in the coalition

  • The developments come at a time when there are signs of a strain in the coalition
  • The SLFP and UNP are set to contest next month’s local government polls separately
  • The President recently unveiled the findings of an inquiry into a bond scam that has indicted a UNP minister as well as the Central Bank governor, an appointee of Mr. Wickremesinghe


Far from strengthening his position, Mr. Sirisena has ended up looking desperate to remain in office. He could have done without this setback to his image.

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Long game in Syria

Long game in Syria


The U.S.’s decision to create a new Kurdish-led border force in northeastern Syria to defend the areas captured from the Islamic State (IS) could open a new phase of conflict in in the country. Swathes of territory on the Syrian-Turkish border, mostly populated by the Kurds, are now controlled by the U.S.-backed Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF), a Kurdish-Arab militia that was in the forefront of the land war against the IS.

The U.S.’s planned Kurdish-led border force would set the stage for a prolonged presence in the country

With the planned 30,000-strong border force, which will mostly draw fighters from the SDF, the U.S. is not only institutionalising the militia, but also setting the stage for a prolonged stay in Syria.

US has been on the losing side

From the outset of the Syrian civil war, the U.S. has been on the losing side

  • The Obama administration had called for the resignation of President Bashar al-Assad and was supporting anti-Assad rebels as well as running a clandestine CIA-run programme to unseat him.
  • But the 2015 Russian intervention in Syria sabotaged those plans and helped Mr. Assad consolidate power and recapture most of the territory lost to rebels and jihadists.

Focus shifted to defeating the IS

Then the U.S. shifted its focus to defeating the IS and establishing its influence in the country

In that bid, Kurds, who were facing IS advances, proved helpful.

Three major camps

At present, the country is divided into three major camps

  • Most cities and population centres, including the Mediterranean coast, are controlled by the regime
  • While rebels and al-Qaeda-linked jihadists run Idlib province (which is now under attack by regime-Russian forces)
  • In northeastern Syria, Kurds have carved out a semi-autonomous region. It’s here that the U.S. is cultivating its proxies.

The US plan

  • The U.S.’s plan is to carve out a sphere of influence in the middle of West Asia’s most dangerous conflict and have it guarded by the battle-hardened Kurdish forces
  • This enclave could help the U.S. in designing future plans in the region.

But this plan has great risks

But the move carries great risks

Unhappy Turkey

  • Turkey, an American ally and a NATO member, is already angry
  • Turkey, which fights a Kurdish militancy on its soil, sees any further empowerment of the Syrian Kurds as an immediate threat to security, and has vowed to fight the new “terrorist” arm
  • If Ankara attacks the border force, that would raise tensions between the U.S. and Turkey further.

Complicated relationship:

  • Throughout the civil war, the Syrian regime and the Kurds maintained a complex relationship. They were hostile to each other, but never fought against each other, barring some isolated incidents
  • Syrian Kurds, unlike their Iraqi counterparts, do not demand independence
  • Rather, they emphasise on autonomy and a federated post-war state structure


These are the issues that should be discussed as part of any final settlement between the regime and the Kurds. But the latest U.S. plans pre-empt any such future deal. This will keep Syria divided forever, leaving the Kurds fully dependent on U.S. aid in the wake of increased regional tensions, while the U.S. gets another foothold for its West Asian geopolitical maneuvering.

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GS: 3

Link rivers Gadkari urges States

Link rivers Gadkari urges States


Union Water Resources Minister Nitin Gadkari has asked officials to work on ways to “better utilise” water from non-Himalayan rivers that are emptying out into the sea

Polavaram project example

  • He cited the Polavaram project as an example of where water was being transferred from the Godavari to the Krishna river and how parts of it going into the sea could be diverted to water-deficit regions
  • Polavaram is a major irrigation project being constructed on the Godavari River across Andhra, Odisha and Chhattisgarh.




  1. Ruse: an action intended to deceive someone; a trick
  2. Palliative: (of a medicine or medical care) relieving pain without dealing with the cause of the condition
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Bengal’s rivers in a bad shape

Bengal’s rivers in a bad shape

A dip in the Ganges is, generally speaking, synonymous with the idea of purification. But that shall no longer be so in Bengal, where the river is so polluted that it is now officially unfit for bathing

17 of them have high levels of bacteria found mainly in human faeces, it says

According to the latest State of Environment Report, published by the West Bengal Pollution Control Board (WBPCB), in 17 major rivers of the State, including the Ganges:

Coliform bacteria above normal

  • The levels of coliform bacteria (found mainly in human faeces) are much higher than the permissible limit of MPN (most probable number) per 100 ml
  • The permissible limit as per the Central Pollution Control Board (CPCB) guideline is 500

Bhagirathi and Hooghly affected

The report states that several stretches of the Ganges, known as Bhagirathi and Hooghly in the region (two tributaries of the Ganges), have a total coliform count (TCC) much higher than the permissible level of 500

Significant increase

According to the WBPCB, compared with 2014, all the four main rivers of north Bengal recorded a significant increase in TCC, while the ones in south Bengal had TCC levels much higher than the permissible limit


These include:

  • Damodar river at Asansol in Paschim Bardhaman district (90,000)
  • Barakar river at Tarapith in Birbhum district (17,000 TCC)
  • Kansai river in Paschim Medinipur district (17,000)
  • Dwarka at Tarapith (3,400)
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Google to make AI accessible to every firm

Google to make AI accessible to every firm


Artificial intelligence is no longer going to remain the secret sauce of giant technology companies

Cloud AutoML

  • Google unveiled ‘Cloud AutoML‘’, which is aimed at helping businesses go beyond limitations of machine-learning expertise and start building their own high-quality custom models using advanced techniques provided by the Internet giant.
  • The applications range from automating product attributes like patterns and necklines styles for clothing companies to helping various organisations conserve the world’s wildlife by analysing and tagging millions of images of various animal species

Helping less skilled engineers

Google said the new platform would help less-skilled engineers build powerful AI systems they previously only “dreamed of”.

Wildlife Conservation

  • Google’s first ‘Cloud AutoML’ release will be ‘Cloud AutoML Vision’, a service that makes it faster and easier to create custom machine-learning models for image recognition
  • Its drag-and-drop interface lets enterprises upload images, train and manage models, and then deploy those trained models directly on Google Cloud.
  • For example, Zoological Society of London (ZSL), is collaborating with Google’s CloudML team to cut costs through automation, and expand the deployment of camera traps in the wild that take pictures of passing animals, such as elephants, lions, and giraffes, when triggered by heat or motion
  • The millions of images captured by these devices are then analysed and annotated according to the species they exhibit, manually.

India strategy

Asked about his firm’s strategy to implement this technology in India, Rajen Sheth, senior director of product management at Google Cloud AI, said the country was “very strategic” and a “priority market” for the firm. He said a lot of firms here were already using machine learning with really interesting applications. “I think we will find a lot of companies in India that would use it,” said Mr. Sheth.

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The price prescription

The price prescription


Post-GST, we need a more targeted taxation and retail policy on tobacco products


India is the second largest consumer and producer of tobacco-based products — categorised as sin goods or demerit goods — and it has become imperative for policymakers to devise measures to effectively curb their use.

Health comes first

  • The Supreme Court recently stayed a Karnataka High Court order setting aside the 2014 amendment rules to the Cigarettes and Other Tobacco Products (Prohibition of Advertisement and Regulation of Trade and Commerce, Production, Supply and Distribution) Act, 2003 that prescribed tobacco packages having pictorial warnings covering 85% of the package space
  • The Supreme Court observed that the “health of a citizen has primacy”

A skewed pattern

The World Health Organisation’s Global Adult Tobacco Survey (GATS 2016-17) highlights India’s distinct pattern of tobacco consumption in multiple forms:

  • In India, bidis, chewing tobacco and khaini form 89% of consumption as against 11% for cigarettes.

Question arises

What explains such a skewed pattern?

Due to Unit level pricing

  • If we look at the competitive dynamics and pricing, a key reason for such disparity is because it is based on the unit-level pricing of multiple forms of tobacco. The average unit price of a bidi or smokeless tobacco is significantly lower than of a cigarette
  • Therefore, the former is a cheaper source for consumers who are mostly from the low-income segment of society.

After GST

The nationwide implementation of the goods and services tax (GST) has not improved the situation either

All tobacco-related products have been placed in the 28% tax slab


Additionally, a National Calamity Contingent Duty (NCCD) and a cess charge have been imposed on cigarettes and smokeless tobacco

Not much effect of the GST

  • The GST roll-out has not had much of an impact either on the pricing of various tobacco products or in reduction of the vast disparity between its different variants
  • The impact has been negligible in the case of bidis.

Way forward

  • The revisions in the taxation policy concerning tobacco products should ideally have a mix: of a removal of all excise and other tax exemptions irrespective of the size of the unit, restrictions on sales of loose sticks and raising taxes/duties on bidis and smokeless tobacco by a significantly higher level to narrow the gap between the price of bidis and smokeless tobacco vis-à-vis cigarettes keeping in mind the increased probability of health-related issues among low-income poor households and the health-care burden.
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