[op-ed snap] A natural next step

Mains Paper 2 : Bilateral, Regional and Global Groupings and agreements involving India |

Note4Students

From UPSC perspective, the following things are important :

Prelims level : AUSINDEX

Mains level : India Australia Partnership


CONTEXT

This month was a historic moment in the India-Australia bilateral relationship. Under our joint naval exercise known as AUSINDEX, there was the largest ever peacetime deployment of Australian defence assets and personnel to India.The deepening India-Australia security relationship must be seen against the backdrop of expanding bilateral ties.

AUSINDEX

  • The third iteration of our bilateral naval exercise, AUSINDEX, which has just concluded (April 2-16), builds on a fourfold increase in our defence engagement — from 11 defence exercises, meetings and activities in 2014 to 38 in 2018.
  • The Indian Navy’s Eastern Naval Command hosted an impressive array of high-end Australian military hardware, including the Royal Australian Navy’s flagship, HMAS Canberra and the submarine, HMAS Collins.
  • The Canberra is the size of a small aircraft carrier. She can carry over 1,000 troops and 16 helicopters. These vessels were joined by frigates, aircraft and around 1,200 sailors, soldiers and airmen and women.
  • As well as being Australia’s largest defence deployment to India, the exercise was the most complex ever carried out between  defence forces. For the first time, navies undertook anti-submarine warfare exercises.
  • And in a similar show of trust and cooperation, Indian and Australian maritime patrol P-8 aircraft flew coordinated missions over the Bay of Bengal.

Mark of greater alignment

1.Shared Values –

When Australia’s Foreign Minister, Marise Payne, visited India earlier this year, in January, she emphasised on shared outlook as free, open and independent democracies, as champions of international law, as supporters of an open and inclusive Indo-Pacific and as firm believers that ‘might is not right’.

2.Indo- Pacific Region –

  • A key element of Australia’s Indo-Pacific strategy is partnering with India in the vibrant Indian Ocean Region.
  • India is a leader in this region and Australia is a natural partner for addressing shared challenges.
  • Together they  must continue to work together to combat transnational crime, terrorism, people smuggling, and illegal fishing, in order to  enjoy a peaceful and prosperous Indian Ocean Region.

3. Indian Ocean Concerns – As the nation with one of the longest Indian Ocean coastlines and with more than half of our goods trade departing Indian Ocean ports, Australia is committed to addressing humanitarian and environmental challenges inIndian Ocean neighbourhood.

Australia’s initiatives in Pacific –

  • Development Aid- In November 2018 Australia announced the Australian Infrastructure Financing Facility for the Pacific. This AU$2 billion initiative will boost Australia’s support for infrastructure development in Pacific countries.
  • Security Relationship –Australia will establish a Pacific Fusion Centre to provide real-time surveillance data for countries across the region as well as enhancing policing and military training both bilaterally and through regional centres.
  • Australia is  building diplomatic and economic relationships with Southeast Asia to build resilience and prosperity in region.
  •  The recently announced Southeast Asia Economic Governance and Infrastructure Initiative, worth AU$121 million, will help unlock Southeast Asia’s next wave of economic growth.

Growing links

  • All this activity is happening against the backdrop of a rapidly expanding India-Australia relationship.
  • People-to-people and economic links are on the rise.
  • The Indian diaspora in Australia is both strong and growing.
  • One in 50 Australians today was born in India; almost 90,000 Indian students studied in Australia last year; and over 350,000 tourists visited Australia from India in 2018.
  • We are working together to see India become a top three trading partner for Australia by 2035.

Way Forward

  • So on the one hand, we should welcome the successful AUSINDEX exercise as a step up in our strategic partnership.
  • At the same time, we should recognise it also as the natural next step in a friendship between Australia and India that is marked by growing trust, understanding and camaraderie.

 

Foreign Policy Watch: India-Australia

[op-ed snap] In an oil slick

Mains Paper 2 : Bilateral, Regional and Global Groupings and agreements involving India |

Note4Students

From UPSC perspective, the following things are important :

Prelims level : Nothing Much

Mains level : Impacts of USA's ban on Iran oil on India's Interests


CONTEXT

Faced with the U.S.’s intransigent demand that all countries put a full stop to oil imports from Iran or face sanctions, the Indian government has indicated it will ‘zero out’ oil imports after the May 2 deadline.

What next?

  • Alternative Energy Sources – Statements from the Petroleum and External Affairs Ministries suggest the government’s focus is now on finding alternative sources of energy, and minimising the impact on the Indian market.
  • At last count, India was importing about 10% of its oil needs from Iran, although it had considerably reduced its intake over the last few months.

Reasons

  1. US’s Directions-
  • The U.S. has made it clear that Indian companies that continue to import oil from Iran would face severe secondary sanctions, including being taken out of the SWIFT international banking system and a freeze on dollar transactions and U.S. assets.
  • In response, Indian importers, including the oil PSUs, have decided that sourcing oil from Iran is unviable at present.

2. India’s Interests –

  • As a result, the government is seeking to explain the decision as a pragmatic one, taken in India’s best interests.
  • Officials point to the six-month reprieve, from November 2018 to May 2019, that they received from the U.S. in the form of sanctions waivers to import Iranian oil, and the exemption to continue developing the Chabahar port, as positive outcomes of the negotiations over the past year.

Caving under pressure

  • Such arguments are, however, not very convincing. India has, in effect, now decided to cave in to U.S. pressure on the issue less than a year after External Affairs Minister Sushma Swaraj said that India would recognise only UN sanctions, not “unilateral” ones.
  • In fact, last February Prime Minister Narendra Modi vowed in Iranian President Hassan Rouhani’s presence in Delhi to increase India’s oil intake from Iran.

Costs Due to ban

  • There are other real costs attached to the U.S. ultimatum that India may have to bear.
  • High Costs – The price of oil has already shot up above the $70 mark in April.
  • The threat to oil shipments – In addition, Iran has threatened to shut down the Strait of Hormuz, a key channel for global oil shipments, which would further lead to inflationary trends, not just for oil but other commodities too.
  • Other Interests – Any direct backlash from Iran for its decision will also jeopardise India’s other interests in the country, including its considerable investment in the Chabahar port, which India is building as an alternative route for trade to Central Asia.

Conclusion

  • In the larger picture, India isn’t just testing its traditional ties with Iran, but also giving in to President Donald Trump’s blatant bullying after his administration withdrew from the Iran nuclear deal.
  • Building a counter – Instead of engaging in what appear to have been fruitless negotiations with the U.S. over the past year, India, China, the EU and other affected entities could have spent their time more productively in building a counter with an alternative financial architecture, immune to the U.S.’s arbitrary moves.

[op-ed snap] Outer space lessons

Mains : Achievements Of Indians In S&T |

Note4Students

From UPSC perspective, the following things are important :

Prelims level : Gaganyaan

Mains level : Lessons for Gaganyaan from USA's lunar mission


CONTEXT

In furthering its outer space ambitions, India must study the experiences of other space powers.

Comparison with lunar Mission

  • As scientists at the Indian Space Research Organisation (ISRO) work toward ‘Mission Gaganyaan’, to send three Indian astronauts into space, one can’t but make comparisons with the U.S.’s lunar mission in the 1960s.
  • At the time, U.S. President John F. Kennedy made a public statement about his administration’s determination to place an American on the moon by the end of that decade.
  • The U.S.’s objective, therefore, was to have a definite public-relations edge over the U.S.S.R. in the space race, which was marked then by intense rivalry between two Cold War powers
  • A breakthrough in space was thus a matter of prestige.
  • In the context of ISRO’s plan, the prestige value of ‘Mission Gaganyaan’ is sky-high, possibly in the same league as the American National Aeronautics and Space Administration’s Apollo Mission to the moon.

Lessons  From Lunar Mission

1.High Costs –

  • A key lesson for India from NASA’s lunar mission is that a programme of that scale and magnitude often comes at a steep cost, monetary and non-monetary.
  • More than the monetary loss, it is the non-monetary loss that matters more, as it can lend currency to the idea that such a failure indicates a waste of time and resources.

2.Hurting the image of the country –

  • A failed mission deeply hurts the image of the country in the eyes of the outside world.
  • It raises doubts about the capability of the nation-state in question.

 

3. Political Cost  –

  • Politically, a failed mission of such magnitude could give voices in the opposition an opportunity to level criticism, perhaps weakening the incumbent domestically.
  • The diplomatic costs arise from the fact that losses in space missions can seriously impact the future of cooperation between space powers.
  • For instance, during the Cold War, both the U.S. and the then U.S.S.R. exaggerated each other’s failures in space missions considerably in order to influence the overall mood among and inclinations of other nations in their favour.
  • This was most easily achieved by making the rival look as weak as possible. Historically, the media played an active role in participating in such an agenda-driven propaganda.

Conclusion –

  • Outer space is often referred to as the ‘final frontier’ by major world powers, with the prize for conquering it being even more greatness on the world stage.
  • While India’s credentials were bolstered after the successful anti-satellite mission recently, significant success in ‘Mission Gaganyaan’ might provide India with that stamp of authority in outer space that it so keenly desires.
  • For that to happen, the lessons from the experiences of other space powers must be heeded.
ISRO Missions and Discoveries

Explained: Life without Iranian oil

Mains Paper 2 : India & Its Neighborhood - Relations |

Note4Students

From UPSC perspective, the following things are important :

Prelims level : Not Much

Mains level : Heated US-Iran relation and its impact of India and the World


News

Background

  • India has said the country is “sufficiently prepared” to deal with the impact of the US decision to curtail the temporary exemption from sanctions on the purchase of Iranian oil.
  • India has “a robust plan” that has been put in place for adequate supply of crude to refineries.
  • In the past several months India has worked hard to significantly diversify its energy sources in preparation for this situation.
  • But its ties with Iran are significant and historic, and New Delhi will work hard to maintain some links.

Iran and India’s oil basket

  • India, the world’s third-biggest oil consumer, meets more than 80% of its crude oil requirements and around 40% of its natural gas needs through imports.
  • India is Iran’s top oil buyer after China.
  • In 2018-19, it imported 23.5 million tonnes from Iran; in the previous year, almost 10% of its total 220.4 million tonnes of crude imports was from Iran.
  • Iran was the fourth largest supplier of oil to India in 2018-19, and other suppliers may not provide the same benefits in the form of price and credit facilities.
  • The US move comes at a time when the price of the Indian crude basket — an average of the Dubai, Oman and Brent crude benchmarks — has been rising, and the country is in the middle of gemeral elections.

Amidst US sanctions

  • Indian refiners have almost halved their Iranian oil purchases since Nov 18, when the sanctions came into effect.
  • At the time, the US had granted waivers for six months until May 2 to eight countries — India, China, Japan, South Korea, Taiwan, Turkey, Italy and Greece.
  • According to market players, Indian refiners are increasing their planned purchases from the OPEC, Mexico, and even the US to make up for the loss of Iranian oil.

Diversification efforts

  • As part of the diversification, India imported crude from the US for the first time two years ago.
  • The first US crude consignment reached Paradip on October 2, 2017.
  • Also, Indian oil companies had until February 2018 acquired stakes in 27 countries including Australia, Brazil, Canada, Colombia, Indonesia, Iraq, Kazakhstan, Libya, Mozambique, Nigeria, Russia, and the UAE.
  • Recently, an Indian consortium picked up 10% in the Lower Zakhum offshore oil field in UAE, and IOCL acquired 17% in Oman’s Makhaizna oilfield.

No comparison for Iranian Oil

  • The big concern is that the substitute crude suppliers — Saudi Arabia, Kuwait, Iraq, Nigeria and the US — do not offer the attractive options that Iran does, including 60-day credit, and free insurance and shipping.
  • The challenge is to secure an alternative supplier at competitive terms in an already tightening global situation.
  • The OPEC and allied producers including Russia have voluntarily cut output, which has pushed up oil prices more than 35% earlier this year.
  • The projected drop in Iranian exports could further squeeze supply in a tight market.

Potential impact on India

Analysts point to key metrics that could be impacted by the current situation:

I. Current account deficit:

  • Higher crude oil prices will widen the trade deficit and current account deficit, given that the value of imports goes up with crude oil.
  • A permanent increase in crude oil prices by 10% under ceteris paribus conditions could translate into the current account deficit increasing by 0.4-0.5% of GDP.
  • Given that each dollar increase in the price of oil raises India’s annual import bill by over Rs 10,500 crore.
  • Any spike in global crude prices could have a bigger impact on India’s deficit numbers in the absence of the Iranian cushion.

II. Rupee:

  • The currency could be impacted if the trade and current account deficits were to widen. An increase in the import bill will tend to put pressure on the rupee.
  • The coefficient of correlation between the absolute value of exchange rate and Brent between April 1, 2019 and April 22, 2019 was high at 0.62, the data show.

III. Inflation:

  • There could be significant impact on inflation, given how crude oil prices move and the extent to which the government allows the pass-through to the consumer.
  • Analysts do not expect a full pass-through until the elections are over.
  • The crude oil price could be an important consideration when the Monetary Policy Committee meets for its bi-monthly meeting in June.

IV. Fiscal impact:

  • There could be a two pronged impact on government finances — both on the revenue side and on the expenditure side.
  • On the revenue side, higher oil prices mean more revenue for the states as tax is ad valorem; for the Centre, though, it may not materially impact the fiscal math as the duty rates are fixed.
  • According to CARE data, subsidy provided on LPG was Rs 32,989 crore and kerosene was Rs 4,489 crore for FY20.
  • The expenditure impact would primarily be on account of fuel subsidy outlays.

Geopolitical Impact

I. Strait of Hormuz: world’s most critical oil choke point

  • After the US said it would prevent five of Iran’s biggest customers including India from buying its oil, Tehran threatened to close the Strait of Hormuz.
  • The strait is a neck of water between its southern coast and the northern tip of the sultanate of Oman, and the lane through which a third of the world’s seaborne oil passes every day.
  • It is a threat that Iran has made earlier, too and this strategic area has seen several flashpoints erupt in Tehran’s fraught relationship with the West over the years.

II. State of play

  • Iran cannot legally close the waterway unilaterally because part of it is in Oman’s territorial waters
  • However, ships pass through Iranian waters, which Iran’s Islamic Revolutionary Guards Navy controls (recently named terror organization by US).
  • Annual war games by Iran involve missile tests. The Guards have warned that the security of the US and US interests are in Iranian hands
  • The US fifth fleet in Bahrain protects commercial shipping in the area. The US has said closing the Hormuz Strait would amount to crossing a “red line”

III. A test of Hostility

  • Massive stakes give Iran leverage, but closing the Hormuz Strait will amount to an escalation with unknown fallout.
  • This is one reason Iran has, in 40 years of hostility with the West, never yet acted on its threats to close the Strait.

IV. Choking trade routes

  • International energy markets are critically dependent on reliable transport.
  • Over 60% of the world’s petroleum and other liquids production moves on maritime routes.
  • The seven choke points in the map above are critical nodes of the world’s energy security grid.
  • Blocking them can lead to huge increases in energy costs and world energy prices.
  • Choke points are also the places where tankers are most vulnerable to pirates, terrorist attacks, political unrest, war, and shipping accidents.
Oil and Gas Sector – HELP, Open Acreage Policy, etc.

Kumbh brought Allahabad to verge of an epidemic, says NGT

Mains Paper 2 : Health & Education |

Note4Students

From UPSC perspective, the following things are important :

Prelims level : Kumbh, NGT

Mains level : Solid Waste Management; Prospects and Challenges


News

  • Both the governments, at the Centre and Uttar Pradesh, claimed to have organised a ‘swachh’ — clean — Kumbh in the winter of 2018-19, but the NGT seems to differ.
  • In fact, the quasi judicial body rang alarm bells about host city Allahabad being on the the verge of an epidemic.

Alarms raised by NGT

  • While predicting a rise in case of acute diarrhoea, enteric fever, viral hepatisis and cholera, the NGT said responsibility needs to be fixed so an epidemic can be prevented.

Why Kumbh left an epidemic behind?

I. Poor solid waste management

  • The green bench flagged poor solid waste management during the months-long religious gathering.
  • The NGT said 60,000 metric tonnes (mt) of solid waste had been collected at nearest SWM Plant which was lying untreated.
  • Of this, 18,000 mt was generated in Kumbh, but the plant was not operational since September 2018.

II. Polluted Groundwater

  • Also, the tribunal pointed out that groundwater too has been polluted.
  • Dirty water from toilets was being collected in kutcha pits.
  • The base of the soak pits had not been lined and the dirty water could percolate underground.

III. Ganga , the ultimate sufferer

  • The NGT found that a large number of toilets were constructed very close to the river.
  • The nearby geotubes had more sewage than it could treat.
  • The geo tube was not working satisfactorily and 50 per cent of the sewage from the drain was trapped and the rest was going into the Ganga.

IV. No lesson learnt from past

  • This is not the first Kumbh to have come under criticism for poor managment.
  • Things were far from perfect during the last Kumbh as well.
  • The CAG of India’s audit report of the event read, that no effective planning for protection of environment and pollution control was made for the Maha Kumbh.
Waste Management – SWM Rules, EWM Rules, etc

Soon, heritage by-laws for Purana Qila, Khair-ul-Manazil

Mains Paper 1 : Arts & Culture |

Note4Students

From UPSC perspective, the following things are important :

Prelims level : National Monuments Authority, Purana Qila, Khair-ul-Manazil

Mains level : NMA and its mandate


News

  • The heritage by-laws, drafted in accordance with the provisions of the Ancient Monuments and Archaeological Sites and Remains (Amendment and Validation) Act, 2010, for Purana Qila and the Khair-ul-Manazil mosque, will be out in the public domain

NMA drafting rules

  • The Archaeological Survey of India (ASI) can only carry out repairs in the 100 metre-span from a protected area, which is called the prohibited area.
  • The area starting from 100 metres from such a monument till 300 metres away from it is the “regulated area”, as per the Act.
  • For the regulated areas, the NMA is drafting heritage by-laws for each monument or group of monuments that will determine the nature of new construction activity.
  • The proposed by-laws will lay down restrictions on the height of new constructions, among other features.

Purpose

  • The by-laws would be aimed at ensuring new constructions are “in harmony” with the protected monuments.
  • After these two monuments in Delhi, the NMA will be working towards finalising by-laws for several monuments in MP and UP, for which drafts have been received from regional officials.

Back2Basics

National Monuments Authority (NMA)

  • NMA under the Ministry of Culture, Govt. of India has been setup as per provisions of The Ancient Monuments and Archaeological Sites and Remains AMASR (Amendment and Validation) Act, 2010 which was enacted in March, 2010.
  • Several functions have been assigned to the NMA for the protection and preservation of monuments and sites through management of the prohibited and regulated area around the centrally protected monuments.
  • One amongst these responsibilities of NMA is also to consider grant of permissions to applicants for construction related activity in the prohibited and regulated area.
  • The NMA and the Competent Authorities (CA) were setup and now all applications for construction related work in the prohibited and regulated area are to be submitted to the CA and then to NMA for consideration of the application.

Functions of NMA

  • Statutory provision for the ‘prohibited’ and regulated areas.
  • Complete ban on construction (including public projects) in the prohibited area.
  • Providing statutory procedures for applications seeking permission for construction/repair/renovation.
  • The authority shall make necessary scrutiny of the Heritage bye laws and accord approval after inviting objections/suggestions from the public
  • Grading and classification of monuments.
History- Important places, persons in news

Sexual Assault Evidence Collection Kits

Mains Paper 2 : Laws, Institutions & Bodies Constituted For The Vulnerable Sections |

Note4Students

From UPSC perspective, the following things are important :

Prelims level : About the kit

Mains level : Women safety measure


News

  • Over 3,100 special kits for collecting blood and semen samples, besides other evidence to carry out immediate investigations into sexual assault cases have been distributed among the States and UTs by the MHA.

Sexual Assault Evidence Collection Kits

  • The Sexual Assault Evidence Collection Kits (SAECK) or ‘rape investigation kits’ are designed to carry out immediate medico-legal investigation and aid in furnishing evidence in sexual assault and rape cases.
  • Each of these kits comprises essential items that will aid in furnishing evidence such as blood and semen samples in sexual assault and rape cases, thus helping the prosecution gather evidence against the accused.
  • The kit has a set of test tubes and bottles, which mention contents and specifications.
  • These kits also contain instructions on collection of evidence from the crime scene.
  • The SAECKs would be sent to the closest laboratory and within two months the results would be out.
  • Police and medical officers are being given training on how to use the kits in the event of any such case happening in their area of jurisdiction.
  • The kits are expected to help law enforcement agencies to ensure effective investigation in a timely manner for better prosecution and convictions in sexual assault cases.

Why such move?

  • The SAECKs or ‘rape investigation kits’ were procured with financial support under the central government’s ‘Nirbhaya Fund’, which was named after the 2012 Delhi gang-rape victim.
  • Incidents of crime against women rose from 3,29,243 in 2015 to 3,38,954 in 2016.
  • In 2015, as many as 34,651 cases of rape were registered in the country. The figure increased to 38,947 in 2016, according to the data of the National Crime Records Bureau.

With input from:

The Quint

Women Safety Issues – Marital Rape, Domestic Violence, Swadhar, Nirbhaya Fund, etc.