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November 2019

Foreign Policy Watch: India-ASEAN

[oped of the day] Quad in the spotlight


From UPSC perspective, the following things are important :

Prelims level : Nothing much

Mains level : QUAD - its position; with respect to China


Quad convened on November 4 at the level of senior officials on the margins of the EAS in Bangkok.

China – QUAD animosity

  • The US Secretary of State said that the “Quad” between Japan, Australia, India, and the United States would ensure that “China retains only its proper place in the world”. 
  • The Chinese Foreign Ministry retorted to condemn the American plain-speaking as habitual lies and malicious slandering. 


  • Early origins – Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe proposed in early 2007 to hold a Quadrilateral Security Dialogue.
  • It was endorsed by US Vice President and the governments of India and Australia, leading to the first meeting at the official level.
  • Non- military – There was a general understanding that it would not take on a military dimension against any country. 
  • Chinese response
    • The strategic community in China branded it an emerging “Asian NATO”. 
    • It began with maritime-centric concerns.
    • It is gradually seen by China as a means to involve the use of the wider Indo-Pacific theatre to target China.
  • Growing idea – Abe’s “Confluence of Two Seas” address to the Indian Parliament gave a fresh impetus to the nascent concept. Abe had spoken of a “broader Asia” taking shape at the confluence of the Indian and Pacific Oceans. 
  • Broader Asia – It recognised the economic rise of India and brought Japan and India together as part of a network spanning the entirety of the Pacific Ocean, the US, and Australia. It was seen as a network that would allow people, goods, capital, and knowledge to flow freely.
  • Australia walked away – The Quad dissipated when Australia walked away on account of Chinese sensibilities. 
  • Later, Asia’s “Democratic Security Diamond” was announced – involving Australia, India, Japan, and the US to safeguard the maritime commons from the Indian Ocean to the western Pacific.
  • Reducing differences – differences among the Quad countries have narrowed down in the last two years. They hold a common interest in the creation of a free, open and inclusive regional architecture, rules of the road, freedom of navigation and overflight, and, ASEAN centrality. 


  • Friendships with China – Even as the US has described China and Russia as revisionist powers, Japan has dropped the word “strategy” from its own Free and Open Indo-Pacific to better ties with China. 
  • Dependence on China – Japan’s overwhelming economic dependence on China, Australia’s continued commitment to a Comprehensive Strategic Partnership with China signify the nations’ relationship with China.
  • Chinese response – 
    • China believes that the concept of the Indo-Pacific and Quad is a plot by the US to contain its rise. 
    • It believes that trilateral compacts involving the US, Japan and India and the US, Japan, and Australia are aimed at strengthening the Quad.
    • China believes in “Asia-Pacific” for building an inclusive regional cooperative structure. A switch to “Indo-Pacific” implies erosion of its pre-eminence.
  • Chinese five-point formula for Asia – Pacific
    • making greater efforts to work together on the BRI
    • forging China-ASEAN digital cooperation, including in 5G
    • fully implementing the China-ASEAN FTA
    • finalising regional rules-of-the-road based on the negotiating text of the Code of Conduct 
    • engaging in joint maritime exercises
  • China – ASEAN 
    • China also pitched for synergies between the BRI and ASEAN’s development. 
    • China has signed bilateral agreements with ASEAN countries to advance transportation routes, including the existing economic corridors, China-Thailand Railway, China-Laos Railway, and Jakarta-Bandung high-speed Railway.

India – China

  • India’s commitment to “strategic autonomy” is reassuring to China. It suggests that India would never agree to fully align itself with the US against China.
  • This impression has been reinforced by India holding up Australia’s participation in the annual Malabar naval exercise. 
  • India did not join the Indo-Pacific Business Council.
  • The recent Mamallapuram summit is a positive development as the key to giving strategic guidance to stakeholders on both sides. 

China – other QUAD nations

  • Japan – With Japan, the opportunity for China lies in working together on agreed-upon projects in third countries
  • Australia – it is an alliance partner of the US and is involved in freedom of navigation operations in the South China Sea. China wants to leverage its deep economic engagement to balance the hard line being taken by Australia’s security and intelligence establishment.

China – QUAD : way ahead

  • China remains wary of the Quad and its future contours. 
  • It remains worried about the advantages that the Quad process might offer to India in the Indo-Pacific. 
  • It will seek to use its considerable bilateral engagement with Japan, Australia as well as India to ensure that the Quad does not flip over from a regional coordinating mechanism focused on connectivity and Infrastructure, capacity-building, HADR and maritime security and cyber security and counter-terrorism to become an “Asian NATO”. 
  • Much will depend on China’s actions and how others perceive her capabilities and intentions.





Health Sector – UHC, National Health Policy, Family Planning, Health Insurance, etc.

[op-ed snap] Chasing the cure


From UPSC perspective, the following things are important :

Prelims level : Alzheimer's

Mains level : New drug and its challenges


For nearly two decades, doctors treating Alzheimer’s patients have been frustrated by the lack of advance in medical research. The most advanced drug that is used to treat the disease was developed in 2003. 


  • It was first identified in 1906 by the German physician, Alois Alzheimer. 
  • Drugs currently in use treat the neurodegenerative disorder symptomatically.
  • They leave doctors almost helpless about elderly patients who may forget familiar facts and even the faces of family members.

Latest news

  • Chinese drug regulator approved medicine that improves cognitive functions in patients with mild to moderate levels of the disease. This is a significant breakthrough.
  • Sugar – The new drug, Oligomannate is a sugar derived from a Chinese seaweed.
  • Gut bacteria – It works by modifying gut bacteria to reduce inflammation in the brain. 
  • Clinical trial – A clinical trial on 818 people “demonstrated solid and consistent cognition improvement among those treated versus a control group”. 
  • Different method – The method adopted by Chinese researchers is a departure from Alzheimer’s drug development. Traditionally, it has focussed on attacking the plaque that forms in the brains of patients; this protein build-up interferes with neural signaling. 

Challenges remain

  • In China, the regulatory agency has asked Green Valley to conduct more research on Oligomannate’s safety. 
  • The complete data on how exactly the cognitive function improved for patients on the drug versus those on placebo — and how meaningful that was in the patients’ lives — is still not known outside select circles in China. 
  • Oligomannate must be tested on diverse groups of people to be affirmed as a panacea for Alzheimer’s globally. 
  • These trials need to include many more than 818 individuals. 
  • If the knowledge on the mode of action of Chinese seaweed spreads among medical researchers worldwide, more potent compounds could be developed to target Alzheimer’s.


Alzheimer’s disease is a progressive disorder that causes brain cells to waste away and die. Alzheimer’s disease is the most common cause of dementia — a continuous decline in thinking, behavioral and social skills that disrupts a person’s ability to function independently.

Health Sector – UHC, National Health Policy, Family Planning, Health Insurance, etc.

[op-ed snap] An unwanted booster dose for vaccine hesitancy


From UPSC perspective, the following things are important :

Prelims level : Nothing much

Mains level : Immunisation and its importance


In January, the World Health Organization (WHO) listed “vaccine hesitancy” as among the top 10 threats to global health this year.

Vaccine Hesitancy

  • It is defined as a “reluctance or refusal to vaccinate despite the availability of vaccines”.
  • The repercussions of vaccine hesitancy are playing out globally — as, on October 10, 2019, nearly 4,24,000 children have confirmed measles, as against a figure of 1,73,000 in the whole of 2018.


  • According to WHO, vaccination prevents between two-three million deaths each year.
  • This figure will rise by another 1.5 million if vaccine coverage improves. 
  • A survey of over 1,40,000 people from 140 countries has revealed the striking difference in how people trust vaccines.
    • At 95%, people from South Asia trusted vaccines followed by eastern Africa at 92%. 
    • Western Europe and eastern Europe were just 59% and 52% respectively. 

The Indian perspective

  • Vaccine hesitancy has been a concern in India. 
    • One of the main reasons for the five times low uptake of oral polio vaccine in the early 2000s among poor Muslim communities in Uttar Pradesh was the fear that the polio vaccine caused illness, infertility and was ineffective.
    • In 2016, Muslim communities in two districts in north Kerala reported low uptake of the diphtheria vaccine. One of the reasons was propaganda that the vaccine may contain microbes, chemicals, and animal-derived products which are forbidden by Islamic law.
  • Wrong propaganda – Tamil Nadu and Karnataka have traditionally seen high vaccine acceptance. They witnessed low uptake of the measles-rubella vaccine because of fear, spread through social media, of adverse effects from vaccination.
  • Fear of adverse consequences – A December 2018 study points out that vaccine hesitancy continues to be a huge challenge for India. The study found nearly a quarter of parents did not vaccinate their children out of a fear of adverse events. 
  • Priority districts – This was in 121 high priority districts chosen by the Health Ministry for intensified immunisation drive to increase vaccine coverage.
  • Cultural influence – A yogi in India, Jaggi Vasudev tweeted a dangerous message. “The significance of vaccination against many debilitating diseases should not be played down. It is important it is not overdone, without taking into consideration the many side-effects or negative impacts of vaccinations.”
  • Blaming vaccines – falsely blaming vaccines for unrelated diseases is the bedrock of the anti-vaccination movement across the globe. Even today, the message by British physician Andrew Wakefield, who linked the measles, mumps, and rubella (MMR) vaccine with autism, is used in spreading vaccine doubts and conspiracy theories.

Flu vaccine

  • Children older than six months and younger than five years belong to the high-risk category and are recommended a “vaccination against flu each year”. 
  • WHO too recognises children below five years as a high-risk group and recommends vaccination each year.
  • Influenza should be taken seriously because in the U.S. alone, since 2010, an estimated 7,000-26,000 children younger than five are hospitalised each year. Many end up dying. 
  • It is proven that vaccination offers the best defence against the flu and its potentially serious consequences, reduces flu illnesses, hospitalisations and even deaths.
  • H1N1 (swine flu) became a seasonal flu virus strain in India even during the summer. The uptake of the flu vaccine in India is poor. 
  • Several studies have shown that flu vaccination can reduce the risk of flu illness by 40-60% when there is a good match between the strains used in the vaccine and the circulating virus. 
  • A study in 2017 found that vaccination reduced flu-associated deaths by 65% among healthy children. 
  • The vaccine can also prevent hospitalisation, reduce the severity of illness and “prevent severe, life-threatening complications” in children.

Judicial Appointments Conundrum Post-NJAC Verdict

Explained: Second Judges Case, 1993


From UPSC perspective, the following things are important :

Prelims level : Collegium system

Mains level : Issues over Judicial appointments and transfers

  • A Bench of the Supreme Court, led by CJI Ranjan Gogoi, has dismissed a bunch of petitions seeking a review of the court’s judgment in the Second Judges Case in 1993, which led to the Collegium system of appointment of judges.

Collegium System

  • The Collegium of judges is the Indian Supreme Court’s invention.
  • It does not figure in the Constitution, which says judges of the Supreme Court and High Courts are appointed by the President and speaks of a process of consultation.
  • In effect, it is a system under which judges are appointed by an institution comprising judges.
  • After some judges were superseded in the appointment of the CJI in the 1970s, and attempts made subsequently to effect a mass transfer of High Court judges across the country.
  • Hence there was a perception that the independence of the judiciary was under threat. This resulted in a series of cases over the years.

What was the Second Judges Case of 1993?

  • In The Supreme Court Advocates-on-Record Association (SCARA) Vs Union of India, 1993, a nine-judge Constitution Bench overruled the decision in S P Gupta, and devised a specific procedure called ‘Collegium System’ for the appointment and transfer of judges in the higher judiciary.
  • The Case accorded primacy to the CJI in matters of appointment and transfers while also ruling that the term “consultation” would not diminish the primary role of the CJI in judicial appointments.

CJI’s role

  • The role of the CJI is primal in nature because this being a topic within the judicial family, the executive cannot have an equal say in the matter.
  • Here the word ‘consultation’ would shrink in a mini form.
  • Should the executive have an equal role and be in divergence of many a proposal, germs of indiscipline would grow in the judiciary.
  • Ushering in the collegium system the recommendation should be made by the CJI in consultation with his two seniormost colleagues, and that such recommendation should normally be given effect to by the executive.
  • It added that although it was open to the executive to ask the collegium to reconsider the matter if it had an objection to the name recommended.
  • If, on reconsideration, the collegium reiterated the recommendation, the executive was bound to make the appointment.

Criticisms of the Judgement

  • Critics argue that the system is non-transparent since it does not involve any official mechanism or secretariat.
  • It is seen as a closed-door affair with no prescribed norms regarding eligibility criteria or even the selection procedure.
  • There is no public knowledge of how and when a collegium meets, and how it takes its decisions.
  • Lawyers too are usually in the dark on whether their names have been considered for elevation as a judge.

What efforts have been made to address these concerns?

  • The government of 1998-2003 had appointed the Justice M N Venkatachaliah Commission to opine whether there was need to change the Collegium system.
  • The Commission favoured change, and prescribed a National Judicial Appointments Commission (NJAC) consisting of the CJI and two seniormost judges, the Law Minister, and an eminent person from the public, to be chosen by the President in consultation with the CJI.
  • The NDA 2 regime had NJAC as one of its priorities, and the constitutional amendment and NJAC Act were cleared swiftly.
  • In 2015, a Constitution Bench declared as unconstitutional the NJAC Bill.
  • The Bench sealed the fate of the proposed system with a 4:1 majority verdict that held that judges’ appointments shall continue to be made by the collegium system in which the CJI will have “the last word”.
  • Justice J Chelameswar wrote a dissenting verdict, criticising the collegium system by holding that “proceedings of the collegium were absolutely opaque and inaccessible both to public and history, barring occasional leaks”.


Explained: Collegium of Judges

International Space Agencies – Missions and Discoveries

Voyager 2 Spacecraft


From UPSC perspective, the following things are important :

Prelims level : Voyager Mission, Heliosphere

Mains level : Particulars of the space mission

  • NASA’s Voyager 2 has become the second human-made object in history to reach the edge of our solar system.
  • The spacecraft exited the protective bubble of particles and magnetic fields created by the Sun.

Voyager 2

  • Voyager 2 was launched in 1977, 16 days before Voyager 1, and both have travelled well beyond their original destinations.
  • The spacecraft were built to last five years and conduct close-up studies of Jupiter and Saturn.
  • As the spacecraft flew across the solar system, remote-control reprogramming was used to endow the Voyagers with greater capabilities than they possessed when they left Earth.
  • It carries a working instrument that will provide first-of-its-kind observations of the nature of this gateway into interstellar space.
  • It is slightly more than 18 billion kilometres from Earth. Its twin, Voyager 1, crossed this boundary in 2012.
  • Their five-year lifespans have stretched to 41 years, making Voyager 2 NASA’s longest running mission.

What is Heliosphere?

  • The heliosphere is the vast, bubble-like region of space which surrounds and is created by the Sun.
  • In plasma physics terms, this is the cavity formed by the Sun in the surrounding interstellar medium.
  • The “bubble” of the heliosphere is continuously “inflated” by plasma originating from the Sun, known as the solar wind.
  • Outside the heliosphere, this solar plasma gives way to the interstellar plasma permeating our galaxy.
  • The boundary, called the heliopause, is where the tenuous, hot solar wind meets the cold, dense interstellar medium.

Still in the solar system

  • While the probes have left the heliosphere, Voyager 1 and Voyager 2 have not yet left the solar system, and won’t be leaving any time soon.
  • Mission operators still can communicate with Voyager 2 as it enters this new phase of its journey, but information —moving at the speed of light — takes about 16.5 hours to travel from the spacecraft to Earth.
  • By comparison, light travelling from the Sun takes about eight minutes to reach Earth.

Future missions of NASA

  • NASA also is preparing an additional mission — the upcoming Interstellar Mapping and Acceleration Probe (IMAP), due to launch in 2024 — to capitalise on the Voyagers’ observations.

Electric and Hybrid Cars – FAME, National Electric Mobility Mission, etc.

Ethanol production in India


From UPSC perspective, the following things are important :

Prelims level : Ethanol, EBP programme

Mains level : Ethanol production in India

  • The MoEFCC announced that mills would not require separate environmental clearance to produce additional ethanol from B-heavy molasses.
  • The ministry clarified that the proposals to undertake additional ethanol production from B-heavy molasses/sugarcane juice/sugar syrup/sugar would be considered under the provisions of the EIA Act, 2006.

What are ethanol and molasses?

  • Ethanol, or ethyl alcohol, is a liquid that has several uses.
  • At 95% purity, it is called rectified spirit and is used as the intoxicating ingredient in alcoholic beverages. At 99%-plus purity, ethanol is used for blending with petrol.
  • Both products are made from molasses, a byproduct of sugar manufacturing.
  • For making sugar, mills crush sugarcane which typically has a total fermentable sugars (TFS) content of 14%.
  • The TFS component consists of sucrose along with the reducing sugars glucose and fructose.
  • Most of this TFS component gets crystallized into sugar, and the remaining part is called molasses.

Molasses stages

  • The molasses go through three stages — A, B, and C, the last one being where the molasses are most un-crystallised and non-recoverable.
  • The ‘C’ molasses roughly constitute 4.5% of the cane, and have a remaining TFS of 40%.
  • After C-molasses are sent to the distillery, ethanol is extracted from them. Every 100 kg of TFS yields 60 litres of ethanol.
  • Thus, from one tonne of cane, mills can produce 115 kg of sugar (at 11.5% recovery) and 45 kg of molasses (18 kg TFS) that gives 10.8 litres of ethanol.

How more ethanol can be produced?

  • Mills can also produce only ethanol from sugarcane, without producing sugar at all.
  • In this case, the entire 14% TFS in the cane is fermented. Here, a mill can make 84 litres of ethanol and zero kg of sugar.
  • In between the two extreme cases, there are intermediate options as well, where the cane juice does not have to be crystallised right till the final ‘C’ molasses stage.
  • The molasses can, instead, be diverted after the earlier ‘A’ and ‘B’ stages of sugar crystal formation.
  • Mills, then, would produce some sugar, as opposed to fermenting the whole sugarcane juice into ethanol.

What new clearance aims?

  • If ethanol is manufactured using ‘B’ heavy molasses (7.25% of cane and with TFS of 50%), around 21.75 litres will get produced along with 95 kg of sugar from every 1 tonne of cane.
  • The latest move by the government is to waive the environmental clearance required to produce ethanol at this stage.
  • In the press release, it has been explained that this was done since this process does not contribute to the pollution load.

Why focus on more ethanol?

  • Mills currently have all-time-high stocks of sugar, and they have been at loggerheads with farmers over non-payment of dues.
  • Mill owners insist that the reason behind their woes is excess production of sugar and fall in its price.
  • Under the circumstances, ethanol is the only real saviour — both for mills and cane growers.
  • Ethanol production has been additionally facilitated with the government mandating 10% blending of petrol with ethanol.

Air Pollution

Indian Air quality Interactive Repository (IndAIR)


From UPSC perspective, the following things are important :

Prelims level : IndAir

Mains level : Combating urban air pollution in India

  • The National Environmental Engineering Research Institute (NEERI) along with the CSIR has launched India’s first web repository documenting air quality studies done in the last 60 years.


  • The IndAIR has archived approximately 700 scanned materials from pre-Internet era (1950-1999), 1,215 research articles, 170 reports and case studies and 100 cases.
  • It aims to provide the history of air pollution research and legislation.
  • Such a repository on air pollution is one of the first in the world.

Why need such a repository?

  • Though air pollution is one of the most widely deliberated issues, little is known about it in India as far as the statistics or the history is concerned.
  • The general belief has been that not much is being done to tackle the problem.
  • IndAIR will help the academicians understand the issue better and also enable policymakers to frame legislation that encourages development.

International Space Agencies – Missions and Discoveries

Space Taxi: CST-100 Starliner


From UPSC perspective, the following things are important :

Prelims level : Starliner

Mains level : Space Taxies

  • Boeing announced that an unmanned safety test flight of its CST-100 Starliner crew capsule being developed to ferry astronauts to and from the International Space Station (ISS) had been successful.


  • Boeing is developing the CST-100 Starliner jointly with NASA’s Commercial Crew Programme (CCP).
  • It is one of two companies that CCP has agreements with to develop new private spaceships meant to ferry astronauts to space and back; the other is Elon Musk’s SpaceX.
  • It carried no crew, but both NASA and Boeing said any astronauts that might have been on board would not have been put in danger due to the failure of one parachute.
  • The crew transportation systems will be owned and operated by the companies, which, in addition to ferrying US astronauts, will be able to sell their services to other customers as well.

Built design

  • Unlike the SSP vehicles that landed on a runway like an aircraft, the Boeing capsule uses its parachutes and an airbag system to descend to the ground.
  • The landing mechanism is designed to absorb the shock of the impact, and allow the capsule to be reused 10 times.
  • The capsule is not designed for a water-based return.

Need for space taxis

  • NASA wants to reduce dependence on Russia’s fleet of Soyuz space shuttles.
  • Soyuz have been used by US since the retirement of its Space Shuttle Program (SSP) in 2011, the only spacecraft that can ferry astronauts (and cosmonauts) to the ISS and back.
  • All Soyuz spacecraft are launched from the Baikonur Cosmodrome in Kazakhstan.
  • NASA expects the first mission to carry humans using these capsules to take off by 2020.

About NASA’s Space Shuttle Program

  • In the 30 years beginning 1981, NASA’s space shuttle fleet under its SSP — Columbia, Challenger, Discovery, Atlantis, and Endeavour — flew 135 missions.
  • Many of these helped construct the ISS, the largest manmade structure in space.
  • The shuttles were reusable spacecraft that could carry humans into orbit. The final space shuttle mission was carried out by Atlantis in 2011.

Foreign Policy Watch: India-Bangladesh

[pib] Feni River


From UPSC perspective, the following things are important :

Prelims level : Feni River

Mains level : Outstanding water sharing issues with Bangladesh

  • The Union Cabinet has given its approval for the MoU between India and Bangladesh on withdrawal of 1.82 cusec of water from Feni River by India for drinking water supply scheme for Sabroom town Tripura.

Feni River

  • Feni River is a river in southeastern Bangladesh.
  • It is a trans-boundary river with an ongoing dispute about water rights.
  • The Feni River originates in South Tripura district and flows through Sabroom town and then enters Bangladesh.
  • Muhuri River, also called Little Feni, from Noakhali District joins it near its mouth.
  • The river is navigable by small boats as far as Ramgarh, about 80 kilometres (50 mi) upstream.

Why such agreement?

  • The question of sharing of the waters of the river between India and Pakistan was first discussed in 1958.
  • As on date, there is no water-sharing agreement on Feni River between India and Bangladesh.
  • The present supply of drinking water to Sabroom town is inadequate. The ground water in this region has high iron content.
  • Implementation of this scheme would benefit over 7000 population of Sabroom town.