A breakthrough and a gamble(The Hindu Opinion)
North Korea’s offer
- Promised to discuss giving up nuclear arsenal if it’s security is assured
- To hold off from missile or nuclear tests while talks are under way
- To accept that the annual U.S.-South Korea military exercises will continue
Restrictions will continue on North Korea
South Korea and the U.S. have rightly promised that sanctions will remain firmly in place, until a deal is in place
Devil is in the detail
Security guarantee could lead to destabilization: What if North Korea seeks, as it has in the past, a deeper guarantee of security, the dissolution of the U.S.-South Korea alliance and the removal of American troops from the peninsula? Such a move would be hugely destabilising, potentially nudging South Korea towards acquiring nuclear weapons of its own
Kim Jong-un’s commitments are not reliable:
- In the past, the regime has signed up to deals and then walked through loopholes.
- In 2012, North Korea agreed to halt missile tests in exchange for U.S. food aid. But a few weeks later, it announced a satellite launch which uses the same technology as ballistic missiles
Regional Interests: While Mr. Trump’s personal involvement is significant, it is important that diplomacy take into account the range of regional interests.
Beijing must be brought along rather than kept in the dark because it’s role in enforcing sanctions is crucial, as it contributed to a huge fall in North Korean exports last year
Japan, which hosts U.S. bases and would be deeply affected in any regional war, is also a key partner.
North Korea may have promised to discuss getting rid of his weapons, but this is unlikely to happen
American forces on the Korean peninsula and the alliance they uphold should not be treated as a bargaining chip. Mr. Trump should proceed with extreme caution
Saving Ghouta(The Hindu Opinion)
Under the deal, the Jaish al-Islam, the main rebel group, will evacuate militants linked to the Hayat Tahrir al-Sham (HTS), formerly an al-Qaeda front, from Ghouta on the outskirts of Damascus
Regime and Russian forces continue attack
The regime’s argument was that it was seeking to liberate Eastern Ghouta from terrorist occupation. But about 400,000 people are stuck in the enclave
Ceasefire yet to take effect
- Last month, the UN Security Council unanimously passed a resolution calling for a ceasefire in Eastern Ghouta.
- Thereafter, the Syrian government eased the siege of the city, allowing aid groups to supply assistance. But the ceasefire is yet to take effect.
An opportunity to engage with armed groups
With HTS fighters now being evacuated, it is an opportunity for Russia and the Syrian regime to cease hostilities and engage with the other armed groups, including Jaish and Faylaq al-Rahman, an affiliate of the Free Syrian Army.
Prolonging the conflict
- In Ghouta, the rebels do not have any meaningful support coming from outside that could allow them to resist regime forces.
- What they do now to deter regime advances is to shell the government-controlled parts of Damascus and its suburbs, killing more civilians and giving further reason for the regime to justify its military operations.
Given the Aleppo example and the reality on the ground in Eastern Ghouta, the sooner the government forces and the armed gangs reach an agreement for evacuation, the better it will be for the hundreds of thousands of people in the enclave.
Indian Constitution and Polity:
‘Centre finalising Cauvery scheme’(The Hindu)
Precedent of Krishna Water Disputes Tribunal-1
There was also a precedent of the decision of the Krishna Water Disputes Tribunal–I being implemented without any mechanism (The order of this Tribunal, popularly called Bachawat Award, was published in the gazette in May 1976)
Implementation mechanisms available
Two models — the Bhakra Beas Management Board (BBMB) and the Narmada Control Authority (NCA)
Under the BBMB, assets including dams were being operated and maintained by the Board.
In the case of the NCA, operation and maintenance of the assets were with States concerned —Madhya Pradesh and Gujarat — and the Authority’s role was limited to regulatory work and control over the release of water so that “everybody gets his share of water.
Bifurcation and blame(The Hindu Opinion)
Not mentioned in the Constitution
The Finance Commission, which was formed under Article 280 of the Constitution, has no business to make any recommendations on the issue of categorisation of States into the “special category” and “non-special category”.
The Question now
Did it really make such a recommendation as alleged, or has the FFC simply been made a fall guy as it no longer exists?
- The status was accorded to some States by the National Development Council on the recommendation of the erstwhile Planning Commission on the basis of five important criteria, namely, hilly and difficult terrain; low population density and/or sizeable share of tribal population; strategic location along borders with neighbouring countries; economic and infrastructural backwardness; and non-viable nature of State finances.
An executive decision
There are asymmetric arrangements laid down in the Constitution, such as Article 370 for Jammu and Kashmir, and in Articles 371A to H for the States in the Northeast, and even these are under the “temporary, transitional and special provisions” (Part XXI).
Ruling political parties to blame
- Asymmetric arrangements on discretionary and political grounds will only weaken the fabric of federalism
- All ruling political parties are guilty of misdemeanour.
- Thus, nowhere has the FFC referred to the issue of desirability or of according special category status in its report
- Therefore, attributing blame to the FFC for the inability to accord special category status is clearly misleading
- The decision to give and not accord special category status in the past was taken by the erstwhile National Development Council on the recommendation of the Planning Commission based on aforementioned factors and this was entirely an executive decision
- Neither the Constitution nor the FFC have had anything to do with this.
Under a humane Constitution(The Hindu Opinion)
What is Passive euthnasia?
The removal of life-support mechanisms from persons who, for the most part, have slipped into a persistent vegetative state in order to allow them to die in the natural course of things
Practice of Passive Euthnasia upheld by the SC
Case: In Common Cause v. Union of India
- That every individual has the right to die with dignity.
- It upheld the practice of passive euthanasia and laid down a set of detailed procedural guidelines to facilitate this process
- These include “advance directives” and “living wills”, which are instructions issued by a person specifying what should be done to her in the event of a terminal illness, and who will decide if she herself is incapacitated from giving or withholding consent
Terminal ill patients also addressed
- The court also addressed situations where a patient was terminally ill, but had not issued an advance directive.
- In such situations it held that the consent of the patient’s close family, subject to the supervision of and concurrence by trained medical personnel, would substitute for the advance directive.
The individual’s choice
- SC ruling organised around the constitutional values of personal autonomy, bodily integrity and human dignity
- And these values, in turn, are expressed in the language of an individual’s choice to receive or decline medical intervention or medical treatment.
Principle of technological self-determination
- Individuals have the right to engage with technological systems on their own terms, the right to opt into or opt out of such systems without suffering for it, and the right not to be subjected to technological intervention without being given meaningful choice.
- Common Cause,is an emphatic recognition of the basic principle that, in today’s world, individuals must be empowered to engage with technological systems on their own terms.
Medical Treatment cannot be forced
- Medical treatment cannot be thrust upon an individual, however, it may have been conceived in the interest of the individual
- Such arguments cannot override human freedom and human choice
- The principles of autonomy, bodily integrity, and human dignity “enable an adult human being of conscious mind to take decision regarding extent and manner of taking medical treatment.”
The court laid down detailed procedures for the implementation of the advance directives.
Vishakha Judgement cited: These safeguards are quasi-legislative in nature, and the court justified them by citing the famous Vishaka judgment, which had held that when there is a legislative vacuum, the court can step in and fill the gap until a law comes into force.
- That principle, however, may merit some reconsideration, because even with the best of motives, it involves the court stepping into the legislative sphere.
Constitutional device: suspended declaration of invalidity
- The Constitutional Court of South Africa is empowered to declare a legal provision unconstitutional, but also give the legislature some breathing space to remedy the defect before the judgment actually comes into force.
- Similarly, in cases where the Indian Supreme Court finds a legislative vacuum, it could (like it has done in Common Cause ) issue guidelines, but suspend their operation for a period of a few months, giving Parliament an opportunity to consider the guidelines, and take action.
- If, then, Parliament fails to take action, it could be presumed to have tacitly endorsed the court’s guidelines, and they could then acquire legal force.
- Such a model would promote dialogue between the different branches of government, and strengthen the court’s legitimacy and competence to act in difficult cases of this kind.
A welcome quietus(The Hindu Opinion)
The Supreme Court finally ends unjustified curbs on Hadiya’s personal freedom
- Supreme Court’s categorical ruling that the high court was wrong in invalidating a marriage under its writ jurisdiction constitutes a welcome end to the unjustified curtailment of her freedom of movement and her life choices.
- The verdict, for which detailed reasons are yet to be pronounced, restores the liberty of Ms. Hadiya, who chose to convert to Islam more than a year ago and later married a Muslim man.
- The implications of her ordeal are disquieting: it is not difficult in this country to question the life choices of an adult woman by casting doubts on her volition and personal autonomy, and her freedom to choose her way of life can sometimes be judicially curtailed.
While a lawful investigation into organised recruitment by radical groups must not be impeded, courts should strive even harder to protect personal freedoms without being swayed by mere suspicion.
India on Sunday announced one of the world’s largest investment plans in solar energy at the Founding Conference of the International Solar Alliance (ISA). The $1.4 billion line of credit will cover 27 projects in 15 countries and boost the much-required financial power to the solar sector
France has already committed to providing an additional €700 million in loans and support by 2022 to emerging economies for solar energy projects
Issues to be addressed as per French President
He identified three issues to be addressed —
- The solar energy potential in each country should be identified
- Mobilisation of finance; and
- The provision of a favourable framework
Occasion: ISA founding Conference in New Delhi
What is this alliance?
The International Solar Alliance (ISA) was unveiled by Prime Minister Narendra Modi and then French President Francois Hollande at the U.N. Climate Change Conference in Paris on November 30, 2015
Intention behind creation of ISA
The idea was to form a coalition of solar resource-rich countries to collaborate on addressing the identified gaps in their energy requirements through a common approach
- Target: Towards this, the ISA has set a target of 1 TW of solar energy by 2030, which current French President Emmanuel Macron said would require $1 trillion to achieve.
Who are the member countries?
The ISA is open to 121 prospective member countries, most of them located between the Tropics of Cancer and Capricorn as this is the region worldwide with a surplus of bright sunlight for most of the year (sunshine countries)
- So far, however, only 56 countries have signed the ISA Framework Agreement
What is India’s role?
Apart from being a founding-member, India plays a significant role in the alliance in terms of being a host as well as a major contributor to the achievement of the target.
- The ISA is the first international body that will have a secretariat in India
- India, with a target to produce 100 GW of solar energy by 2022, would account for a tenth of ISA’s goal. “India will produce 175 GW electricity from renewable sources by 2022 and 100 GW will be from solar energy,” Mr. Modi said, addressing the ISA
What has happened?
RBI has initiated special audit of State-owned lenders with focus on trade financing activities, especially relating to issuance of letters of undertaking (LoUs) by them
- In addition, the RBI has asked all banks for details of the LoUs they had issued, including the amounts outstanding, and whether the banks had pre-approved credit limits or kept enough cash on margin before issuing the guarantees
Major frauds & wilful defaults in: Trade Finance
In view of the recent Rs. 12,646-crore PNB scam, perpetuated through fraudulent issuance of LoUs with the connivance of the bank’s staff, it was pertinent for the regulator RBI to examine the issue of trade finance which also included issuance of letters of credit (LC) and LoUs
The government recently asked the State-owned banks to scrutinise all cases of non-performing assets (NPAs) exceeding Rs. 50 crore for possible fraud and report the matter to the Central Bureau of Investigation.
- Pre-emptive action plan: Banks have also been asked by Finance Ministry to come up with a “pre-emptive” action plan in a fortnight to combat rising operational and technical risks, and assign clear accountability to senior functionaries
The IMF has said that the recapitalisation of India’s public sector banks should be part of a broader package of financial reforms to speed up the resolution of their massive non-performing assets, which has attracted attention in the backdrop of the Nirav Modi case
Situation of NPAs
According to a recent Assocham-Crisil study, India’s banking sector will be saddled with gross non-performing assets (GNPAs) worth a staggering Rs. 9.5 lakh crore by March-end, up from Rs. 8 lakh crore a year-earlier
Mr Zhang said that “IMF thinks that the PSB recapitalisation should be part of a broader package of financial reforms to speed up the resolution of NPAs, improve PSB governance, reduce the role of the public sector in the financial system, and enhance bank lending capacity and practices”
International Monetary Fund Deputy Managing Director Tao Zhang’s visit to India
A majority IT professionals in India expect their organisations to start using two-factor authentication to protect enterprise applications in the future, with almost half expecting this to happen within the next year, according to a private survey
Benefit of two-step verification
Two-factor authentication would be able to contribute towards their organisation’s ability to comply with data protection regulations and pass security audits
- The use of two-factor authentication method is a part of organisations’ efforts to ‘consumerise’ the login process to ensure ease of use while strengthening the security
U.S. tariffs: ‘India must raise dispute at WTO’ (The Hindu)
India should drag the United States into the World Trade Organisation’s (WTO) dispute mechanism against the latter’s move to hike import duties on steel and aluminium, as the decision will impact exports and is not in compliance with the global trade norms, experts said
The decision of the U.S. is protectionist in nature and it would not only impact India’s export of these goods to America but also affect global trade
Where are disputes settled in WTO?
Dispute Settlement Body (DSB)
- The General Council convenes as the Dispute Settlement Body (DSB) to deal with disputes between WTO members
- Such disputes may arise with respect to any agreement contained in the Final Act of the Uruguay Round that is subject to the Understanding on Rules and Procedures Governing the Settlement of Disputes (DSU)
- The DSB has authority to establish dispute settlement panels, refer matters to arbitration, adopt panel, Appellate Body and arbitration reports, maintain surveillance over the implementation of recommendations and rulings contained in such reports, and authorize suspension of concessions in the event of non-compliance with those recommendations and rulings
There is one appellate body to file appeals against decisions of DSB
- The Appellate Body was established in 1995 under Article 17 of the Understanding on Rules and Procedures Governing the Settlement of Disputes (DSU)
- It is a standing body of seven persons that hears appeals from reports issued by panels in disputes brought by WTO Members
- The Appellate Body can uphold, modify or reverse the legal findings and conclusions of a panel, and Appellate Body Reports, once adopted by the Dispute Settlement Body (DSB), must be accepted by the parties to the dispute
- The Appellate Body has its seat in Geneva, Switzerland
Additional info: Complete procedure of dispute settlement in WTO
Science and Technology:
A curse to science (The Hindu Opinion)
Observations made regarding predatory journals in noted a 2015 paper published in BMC Medicine
- Alarming increase: In the last decade, predatory journals, which publish papers for a fee with little or no peer review, have become a curse to science. Despite the unethical business practices adopted by publishers of such journals, the number of researchers who publish in them has been increasing at an alarming rate. From about 53,000 in 2010, the number of papers published in these journals increased to 420,000 in 2014
- India is an epicenter of predatory journals publishing: Around 35% of authors in such journals were from India, and 27% of predatory journal publishers were also based here, thus making India the number one country in both categories
Who coined the term ‘predatory journals’?
Jeffrey Beall, a librarian at the University of Colorado in Denver, first coined the term “predatory journals” and maintained a listing of predatory journals which was later taken down
What is a predatory journal?
A predatory journal is a publication that actively asks researchers for manuscripts. They have no peer review system and no true editorial board and are often found to publish mediocre or even worthless papers. They also ask for huge publication charges.
Why do academics publish in such journals?
In research environments, there is usually more value for quantity over quality. Hiring and promotion of academics is based largely on their number of publications. Predatory journals has helped many pseudo-researchers to prosper.
What is the harm caused by predatory journals?
Predatory and low-quality journals corrupt the literature. Medical science has been particularly hit hard, with journals now devoted to unscientific medicine
- “Peer review is at the heart of academic evaluation. Publishing without peer review [while pretending that peer review was done] gives poor and mediocre academics a chance for jobs and promotions which should go to better qualified researchers,” says Prof. Sunil Mukhi, J.C. Bose Fellow and Chair, Physics Programme, IISER Pune
How does one find out if a given journal is predatory or not?
“It requires a bit of work. If one is lazy about this, it is easy to come to the wrong conclusion. For example, some people think any journal from an unknown publisher, or a journal that charges for publication, is necessarily predatory. That is not necessarily correct. The important thing is to dig deeper and find ….the quality of submitted manuscripts….and its standards,” he adds
Here is a curated list of Beall’s criteria for identification of predatory journals and publishers
- No single individual is identified as specific journal’s editor with no formal editorial/review board or the same editorial board for more than one journal.
- The editor and/or review board members do not have academic expertise in the journal’s field
- Provides insufficient information or hides information about author fees, offering to publish an author’s paper and later sending an unanticipated ‘surprise’ invoice.
- No proper indexing
- The name of a journal is unrelated with the journal’s mission
- The name of a journal does not adequately reflect its origin (e.g. a journal with the word ‘Canadian’ or ‘Swiss’ in its name when neither the publisher, editor, nor any purported institutional affiliate relates whatsoever to Canada or Switzerland)
- The publisher has poorly maintained websites, including dead links, prominent misspellings and grammatical errors on the website
- The publisher makes unauthorised use of licensed images on their website, taken from the open web, without permission or licensing from the copyright owners
- Re-publish papers already published in other venues/outlets without providing appropriate credits
- Use boastful language claiming to be a ‘leading publisher’ even though the publisher may only be a start-up or a novice organisation
- Provide minimal or no copyediting or proofreading of submissions
- Publish papers that are not academic at all, e.g. essays by lay people, polemical editorials, or pseudo-science
- Have a ‘contact us’ page that only includes a web form or an email address, and the publisher hides or does not reveal its location
- The publisher publishes journals that are excessively broad (e.g. Journal of Education) or combine two or more fields not normally treated together (e.g. International Journal of Business, Humanities and Technology) in order to attract more articles and gain more revenue from author fees
Whose responsibility is this?
From initially being duped into publishing papers in these journals, researchers in India, particularly those from State universities, are now actively seeking out such journals. The University Grants Commission (UGC) is singularly responsible for this
- Non-existent research infrastructure in most colleges and State universities
- API system: The Academic Performance Indicators (API) system introduced by the UGC has mandated that every PhD scholar publish at least two papers prior to thesis submission. A similar condition exists for teachers in colleges and universities at the time of recruitment and assessment for promotion
- Impact: This policy of the UGC has unwittingly led to a sudden and huge demand for journals that willingly publish substandard papers for a small fee
- Defective White list: Bowing to pressure, in January 2017 the UGC introduced a white list of journals where researchers could publish to meet the API conditions. If the introduction of the API was done without any application of mind, the white list prepared without the scientific community’s involvement has led to the inclusion of at least 200 predatory journals. Worse, universities may suggest new journal titles for inclusion in the list, and the criteria for inclusion are not only vague but loose
- Impact: Owing to the UGC’s incompetence, at least 200 predatory journals have been legitimised
It’s time it abandons the list altogether and follows standard white lists prepared by competent organisations, which, even if not perfect, are far better than this one