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October 2019

Judicial Reforms

[op-ed snap] It’s about benchmarks


From UPSC perspective, the following things are important :

Prelims level : Not Much

Mains level : Challenges to Judicial functioning


  • Justice Arun Kumar Mishra has refused to recuse himself from the Constitution Bench that has to re-examine a controversial judgment that he delivered last year.


  • In 2014, a three-judge bench led by then CJI R M Lodha held in the Pune Municipal Corporation case that compensation under the Land Acquisition Act had to be deposited in the Court.
  • It ruled that a mere deposit of money in the government treasury cannot be regarded as payment made to landowners and the acquisition would lapse.
  • In 2018, another three-judge bench overruled this verdict in the Indore Development Authority case.

Setting aside a verdict

  • This verdict in the Indore Development Authority case did not satisfy the apex court’s criteria for setting aside a verdict.
  • In the Dawoodi Bohra Community case in 2005, the court had said that a verdict can be overruled only by a bench of larger strength.
  • In 2018, another case on land acquisition compensation came up before a SC bench. This bench put a stay on all such cases till the anomalies in the Indore Development Authority case were referred to the CJI.


  • There have been other recusal refusals. CJI Gogoi refused to recuse himself in the Assam Detention Centre case. He observed that the inability, difficulty or handicap of a judge to hear a particular matter is to be perceived by the judge himself and no one else.
  • The law on recusal was laid down by Justice M N Venkatachaliah in Ranjit Thakur where he observed that the proper approach for the judge is not to look at his own mind and ask himself, ‘am I biased’; but to look to the mind of party before him”.
  • A judge should ideally recuse from a proceeding in which his impartiality might reasonably be questioned due to the possibility of personal bias or prejudice or if he has been a lawyer or judge in the matter at some stage.
  • The decision of recusal should be made by the judge as per the dictates of his conscience. But ideally, when a judge recuses himself, he should state the reasons for his decision.
  • A recusal should not become a convenient method to get rid of a judge.
  • Bench hunting must not be permitted through recusal requests and such requests should not be used to intimidate a judge.
  • In the R K Anand case (2009), the Supreme Court said that “a motivated application for recusal needs to be dealt with sternly and should be viewed as interference in the due course of justice leading to penal consequences”.

Way ahead

  • The judicial system should consider changing the system of hearing recusal requests.
  • Ideally, such a request should not be heard by the bench but only by the judge concerned.
  • In the Jewell Ridge Coal Corporation case (1945), the US Supreme Court held that it is the responsibility of the judge in question to hear such a request.
  • In 2014, Justice Antonin Scalia of the US Supreme Court heard the requests for his recusal in in a case pertaining to the country’s Vice President Dick Cheney.

Terrorism and Challenges Related To It

[op-ed snap] The screws tighten


From UPSC perspective, the following things are important :

Prelims level : FATF

Mains level : Terror funding


  • Pakistan escaped for the moment from the black list of the global Financial Action Task Force (FATF) that acts against terror financing in the world.

Implications of the event

  • It reinforces Delhi’s critics, who believe Pakistan can’t be “isolated” even if its army brazenly violates its international legal commitments on fighting terrorism.
  • Criticism arises from the fact that the government had mounted a sustained campaign in the last few years to apply the existing international norms against money laundering and terror financing on Pakistan.

FATF listing

  • It puts countries on notice and seeks time-bound compliance with a range of FATF benchmarks.
  • If countries fail to comply, they get on to a blacklist that calls on nations to take additional measures against financial transactions involving Pakistan’s jurisdiction.
  • At the moment, only two countries are on the blacklist — Iran and North Korea.

Pakistan and FATF

  • Pakistan was first put on the grey list in 2012 but got off it in 2015 when the FATF and its procedures caught India’s serious political interest.
  • The intense Indian effort resulted in Pakistan being put on the grey list again in 2018.
  • FATF acknowledged that Pakistan is in full compliance with only five of the 27 benchmarks Islamabad had to address.
  • The FATF has issued a stern warning to Pakistan that it could get to the black list if there was no progress by February 2020.

Limitations of FATF

  • There is no guarantee that Pakistan will pay the price four months down the road.
  • FATF is a multilateral mechanism where bilateral political considerations do impact on the outcomes. Pakistan can thank China, Turkey and Malaysia, whose support helped it escape the black list.
  • There is nothing to suggest that the Pakistan policies of the three countries might change any time soon.


  • India’s effort has generated international pressure on Pakistan Army’s support to cross-border terrorism.
  • Sustaining the international mobilisation also turns harsh light on China who talks about opposing terrorism and improving ties with India but refuses to walk the talk.

Regional Comprehensive Economic Partnership (RCEP)

Explained: RCEP trade negotiations


From UPSC perspective, the following things are important :

Prelims level : RCEP

Mains level : India's reservations on the RCEP deal

  • Negotiations on the final agreement under the Regional Comprehensive Economic Partnership (RCEP) are becoming increasingly urgent as the deadline approaches.
  • The final ministerial meeting prior to that concluded recently, but with no final agreement in place.
  • The Leaders Summit, in which PM Modi is taking part, will to be held on November 4 in Bangkok, Thailand.
  • But there are several sticking points that remain preventing a harmonious agreement from taking shape.

What is RCEP?

  • Once finalised, the RCEP trade grouping will be one of the world’s biggest free trade pacts as it includes the 10 ASEAN members, as well as India, China, Australia, New Zealand, Japan and South Korea.
  • These 16 nations account for a little less than half of the world’s population and about a third of the world’s GDP.
  • Trade between the 16 countries also makes up a little more than a quarter of global trade.
  • Talks on finalising RCEP began all the way back in 2012, but have not yet been concluded. The uncertainty in global trade is slowing down talks further.

Potential benefits

  • Once the deal is concluded, it will likely bring stability to trade relations in an area where such ties have historically been unpredictable.
  • The deal — in essence a free trade agreement between the signatories — would open up markets of each of the partner countries to the others.
  • On the face of it, this is a favourable outcome for all involved, but there are some niggling issues, especially between India and China, that are throwing a spanner in the works.


  • There is a fear that, at a time when the U.S. and China are embroiled in a trade war, a trade grouping with China at the helm would mean that the other countries, including India, would be forced to take its side against the U.S.
  • This is a complicated issue since India has been going to great lengths to further bolster trade with the U.S.
  • In fact, the two countries are currently in talks on a bilateral trade deal, which could be put at risk if India is seen to be overtly siding with China.

India’s issues with RCEP

China Factor

  • The main problem Indian industry has with the RCEP trade deal is that it would give China near-unfettered access to India markets.
  • Cheap imports from China have already been seen to be impacting India’s domestic industry, with the Indian government having taken a number of steps to curb such imports.
  • According to reports from the various RCEP negotiations that have taken place, India would, under the agreement, reduce duties on 80% of items imported from China.
  • While this is a smaller percentage of items as compared to what India is prepared to do for other countries, the figure has nevertheless spooked Indian industry, especially the agriculture and dairy sectors.
  • Under the agreement, India would have to cut duties on 86% of imports from Australia and New Zealand, and 90% for products from ASEAN, Japan and South Korea.

Investment issues

  • India’s problems with RCEP are not restricted to China.
  • There are several other aspects to the RCEP agreement which include investments and e-commerce that are of major concern as well.
  • India has agreed to the investment chapter of the RCEP agreement, which would mean that the government can no longer mandate that a company investing in India must also transfer technology to its Indian partners.
  • The investment chapter also says that a signatory government cannot set a cap on the amount of royalties an Indian company can pay to its foreign parent or partner.
  • These aspects have also raised concerns since technology sharing was a major way in which Indian companies were being able to compete globally.

Way forward

  • However, time is running out. China has already said that the grouping should go ahead without the nay-sayers, with a clause allowing them to join later.
  • This suggestion was echoed by Malaysia as well, but was ultimately rejected.
  • It does not seem a good idea for India to be out of the agreement from its inception, only to join it later.
  • This would mean it would have missed out on the chance to frame the discussions and the precedents from the beginning and would have to accept them later.
  • India should make clear its stance and stick to it.

Foreign Policy Watch: India-United States

US-India Defence Technology and Trade Initiative


From UPSC perspective, the following things are important :

Prelims level : DTTI, STA-1

Mains level : India-US defence cooperation

  • The ninth India-US Defence Technologies and Trade Initiative (DTTI) group meeting is scheduled to happen in New Delhi next week.


  • DTTI came about to expedite the scope of cooperation on defence technology that become narrow due to the presence of differing bureaucratic processes and legal requirements.
  • Essentially, DTTI is an initiative to provide increased US senior level oversight and engagement to get beyond these obstacles.
  • It is led by Undersecretary of Defence for Acquisition and Sustainment from the United States and Secretary for Defence Protection.

What are its aims?

  • While DTTI is not a treaty or law, it is a flexible mechanism to make sure that senior leaders from both countries are engaged consistently to strengthen the opportunities in the field of defence.
  • Its central aims include strengthening India’s defence industrial base, exploring new areas of technological development and expanding U.S.-India business ties.
  • India’s defence industry was in a growing stage and that India was looking to acquire niche technology in manufacturing defence weapons and equipment.



  • In August 2018, the US granted to India the designation of Strategic Trade Authority Tier 1 or STA-1.
  • This is providing India with greater supply-chain efficiency by allowing US companies to export a greater range of dual-use and high-technology items to India under streamlined processes.
  • This authorisation is the equivalent of NATO allying with Japan, South Korea and Australia.

Police Reforms – SC directives, NPC, other committees reports

Indian Penal Code


From UPSC perspective, the following things are important :

Prelims level : IPC

Mains level : Need for revamping the colonial era IPC

  • The Home Ministry is all set to overhaul the Indian Penal Code (IPC).

About IPC

  • The Indian Penal Code (IPC) is the official criminal code of India.
  • It is a comprehensive code intended to cover all substantive aspects of criminal law.
  • The code was drafted in 1860 on the recommendations of first law commission of India established in 1834 under the Charter Act of 1833 under the chairmanship of Macaulay.
  • It came into force in British India during the early British Raj period in 1862.
  • However, it did not apply automatically in the Princely states, which had their own courts and legal systems until the 1940s.
  • The Code has since been amended several times and is now supplemented by other criminal provisions.

Why IPC needs revamp?

  • The rebooting of IPC introduced by the British in 1860 was necessary as it is primarily based on the spirit of “master and servant.”
  • In the British era, the police were raised to protect their interests, but now their duty is to “protect the people”.
  • There is uneven punishment for crimes of grievous nature. For example — snatching of chains or bags on road. It could be life-threatening in some cases but the punishment is not commensurate with the gravity of the crime.
  • Depending on the whims of the police, it is booked under robbery or theft. We have to standardize the punishment.

Earlier amendments

  • In 2016, the Home Ministry had proposed insertion of two stricter anti-racial discrimination provisions in the IPC.
  • The two amendments — Section 153A and Section 509A “to deal with racially motivated crimes” received lukewarm response from the States.

Innovations in Sciences, IT, Computers, Robotics and Nanotechnology

WiS and WiBS


From UPSC perspective, the following things are important :

Prelims level : WIS, WIBS

Mains level : Applications of Lithium ion battery

  • The Johns Hopkins Applied Physics Laboratory has developed a Lithium-ion battery that will not catch fire.

WiS and WiBS

  • Lithium-ion batteries are vulnerable to fire and explosion, which often happens without warning.
  • This is because they are built with flammable and combustible materials.
  • The researchers has announced the discovery of a new class of “water-in-salt” and “water-in-bisalt” electrolytes—referred to as WiS and WiBS.
  • The new class of electrolytes, when incorporated in a polymer matrix, reduces water activity and elevates the battery’s energy capabilities and life cycle.
  • This rids it of the flammable, toxic, and highly reactive solvents present in current Li-ion batteries. It’s a safe, powerful alternative.

Why it matters

  • Li-ion batteries have emerged as the energy storage vehicle of choice for portable electronics, electric vehicles, and grid storage.
  • These safety advancements, the university release, mark a significant step forward in transforming the way Li-ion batteries are manufactured and used in electronic devices.
  • Li-ion batteries are already a constant presence in our daily lives, from our phones to our cars, and continuing to improve their safety is paramount to further advancing energy storage technology.

International Space Agencies – Missions and Discoveries

Meteor shower


From UPSC perspective, the following things are important :

Prelims level : Meteor shower

Mains level : Not Much

  • The Orionids meteor showers will make their yearly appearance this and the next weekend, reaching their peak on October 22.

Orionids meteor showers

  • These meteor showers are known for their brightness and speed, travelling at about 66 km/s into the Earth’s atmosphere.
  • Orionids meteor shower is believed to originate from the constellation Orion The Hunter. This point of origination is referred to as the radiant.
  • Even so, this does not mean that the meteor showers originate from a particular constellation, but the name is given only for the purposes of identification.
  • The Orionids meteor shower is not the only one that occurs annually. For instance, the Perseid meteor shower occurs every year in August and was first observed over 2000 years ago.
  • Other meteor showers include Quadrantis, that happen between December-January, Lyrids in April, Leonids in November and Geminids in December.

What are meteor showers?

  • Meteors are bits of rock and ice that are ejected from comets as they manoeuvre around their orbits around the sun. The Orionids meteors emerge from the comet 1P/Halley.
  • Meteor showers, on the other hand, are witnessed when Earth passes through the trail of debris left by a comet or an asteroid.
  • When a meteor reaches the Earth, it is called a meteorite and a series of meteorites when encountered at once, is termed as a meteor shower.
  • As it falls towards the Earth, the resistance makes the space rock extremely hot and as the meteorite passes through the atmosphere, it leaves behind a streak of hot glowing gas that is visible to the observers and not the rock itself.

Why do meteor showers happen on an annual basis?

  • Like the Earth orbits around the Sun, comets orbit around it as well. Although they may not be as circular as Earth but maybe lop-sided.
  • Therefore, when comets come closer to the Sun, their icy parts melt and break off, forming the debris that the Earth may encounter around the same time every year as it makes way around its own orbit.
  • In the case of the Orionids, each time the Halley comet, that takes 76 years to orbit around the Sun, reaches the inner solar system the icy and rocky dust is released into space.

Wildlife Conservation Efforts

Tasmanian Tiger


From UPSC perspective, the following things are important :

Prelims level : Tasmanian Tiger

Mains level : NA

  • Several mentions of sightings of the ‘extinct’ Tasmanian Tiger are being reported these days.

Tasmanian tiger

  • The Tasmanian tiger or thylacine (a dog headed pouched dog) was an exclusively carnivorous marsupial that is considered to be extinct.
  • It has resemblance to a dog, with its distinguishing features being the dark stripes beginning at the rear of its body and extending into its tail, its stiff tail and abdominal pouch.
  • The last known thylacine died in captivity over 80 years ago, in Tasmania’s Hobart Zoo in 1936.
  • It may also be the only mammal to have become extinct in Tasmania since the European settlement.

Why did they become extinct?

  • It was confined to Tasmania in recent times and disappeared from mainland Australia over 2000 years ago, mainly because of over-hunting by humans, diseases and competition from the Dingo (Canis lupus), a wild dog native to Australia.
  • The Thylacine was also persecuted because it was believed to be a threat to sheep and in its latter years it was hunted for the purposes of collection by museums and zoos.
  • As per some accounts, the introduction of sheep in 1824 led to a conflict between the settlers and thylacine.