Bills/Act/LawsDOMRExplainedGovt. SchemesHistorical Sites in NewsIOCRMains Onlyop-ed of the dayop-ed snapPIBPrelims OnlyPriority 1SC JudgementsSpecies in NewsStates in News
April 2019
M T W T F S S
1234567
891011121314
15161718192021
22232425262728
2930  

Innovations in Biotechnology and Medical Sciences

Scientists create speech from brain signals

Note4Students

From UPSC perspective, the following things are important :

Prelims level : Synthetic Specch

Mains level : Read the attached story

  • Scientists have created a virtual vocal tract – completes with lips, jaw and tongue – that can generate natural-sounding synthetic speech by using brain signals.
  • The brain-machine interface is created by neuroscientists at University of California, San Francisco in the US.

Synthetic Speech

  1. The apparatus comprised:
  • two “neural network” machine learning algorithms:
  • a decoder that transforms brain activity patterns produced during speech into movements of the virtual vocal tract, and
  • a synthesizer that converts these vocal tract movements into a synthetic approximation of the participant’s voice.
  1. The algorithms produced sentences that were understandable to hundreds of human listeners in crowdsourced transcription tests.

How it works

  • Patients are implanted with one or two electrode arrays: stamp-size pads, containing hundreds of tiny electrodes that were placed on the surface of the brain.
  • As each participant recited hundreds of sentences, the electrodes recorded the firing patterns of neurons in the motor cortex.
  • The researchers associated those patterns with the subtle movements of the patient’s lips, tongue, larynx and jaw that occur during natural speech.
  • The team then translated those movements into spoken sentences.Native English speakers were asked to listen to the sentences to test the fluency of the virtual voices.
  • As much as 70 percent of what was spoken by the virtual system was intelligible, the study found.

Utility of the project

  • The interface could one day restore the voices of people who have lost the ability to speak due to paralysis and other forms of neurological damage.
  • Many people with epilepsy do poorly on medication and opt to undergo brain surgery.
  • Stroke, traumatic brain injury, and neurodegenerative diseases such as Parkinson’s disease, multiple sclerosis, and amyotrophic lateral sclerosis often result in an irreversible loss of the ability to speak.
  • We can hope that individuals with speech impairments will regain the ability to freely speak their minds and reconnect with the world around them coming days.

Overcoming challenges

  • The biggest clinical challenge may be finding suitable patients: strokes that disable a person’s speech often also damage or wipe out the areas of the brain that support speech articulation.
  • Still, the field of brain-machine interface technology, as it is known, is advancing rapidly, with teams around the world adding refinements that might be tailored to specific injuries.
  • Before operating, doctors must first locate the “hot spot” in each person’s brain where the seizures originate which may take weeks.

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

Dentists can practise as General Physicians after bridge course

Note4Students

From UPSC perspective, the following things are important :

Prelims level : Not Much

Mains level : Adressing shortage of doctors in India

  • The Niti Aayog has agreed to a Dental Council of India proposal to allow dentists to practice as general physicians after a bridge course.

Meeting shortage of doctors

  • The DCI had last year also sent a proposal to the medical education regulator—Medical Council of India — but the previous council did not take it forward.
  • It was urged that unconventional methods be adopted to address the shortage of doctors in the country, particularly in rural areas.
  • Country’s largest body of private doctors—Indian Medical Association—which had earlier opposed a similar course for AYUSH practitioners has vehemently protested the proposed move too.

About the bridge course

  • The DCI has proposed a post Bachelor of Dental Science (BDS) bridge course running for 3 years.
  • The admissions would be either through a common entrance exam or through cumulative marks secured in the BDS course, or even a combination.
  • As per the DCI, the syllabus curriculum, scheme of examination, method of evaluation, degrees and registration all these criteria will be the same as recommended for MBBS.

Food Safety Standards – FSSAI, food fortification, etc.

India extends ban on import of Chinese milk products, chocolates

Note4Students

From UPSC perspective, the following things are important :

Prelims level : Melanin

Mains level : Preventing Adulteration of Milk

  • The government has extended the ban on import of milk and its products, including chocolates, from China till laboratories at ports for testing presence of toxic chemical melamine are upgraded.

Ban over Melamine

  • Food regulator FSSAI had recommended extending the ban until all labs at ports are modernized to test the chemical.
  • The ban was first imposed in September 2008 and extended subsequently from time to time.
  • Although India does not import milk, milk products from China, it has imposed the ban as a preventive measure.
  • However, it has not mentioned any timeline for upgradation of that capacity of all laboratories.

Why Ban?

  • Melamine content of more than 1 ppm in infant formula and more than 2.5 ppm in other foods should be viewed with suspicion of adulteration.
  • Addition of melamine into food is not approved by the FAO/ WHO Codex Alimentarius (food standard commission), or by any national authorities.
  • Chinese milk scandal: In 2008, at least four babies in China died and around 100,000 became sick after consuming powdered milk baby food laced with melamine.

About Melamine

  • Melamine is a chemical compound that has a number of industrial uses, including the production of laminates, glues, dinnerware, adhesives, molding compounds, coatings and flame retardants.
  • It is a name used both for the chemical and for the plastic made from it. In this event, all references are to the chemical.
  • It is illegally added to inflate the apparent protein content of food products.
  • Because it is high in nitrogen, the addition of melamine to a food artificially increases the apparent protein content as measured with standard tests.

Back2Basics

Milk Production in India

  • India is the world’s largest producer and consumer of milk. It produces around 150 million tonne milk annually.
  • Uttar Pradesh is the leading state in milk production followed by Rajasthan and Gujarat.

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

WHO guidelines on physical activity for children under 5 years of age

Note4Students

From UPSC perspective, the following things are important :

Prelims level : Details of the Guidelines

Mains level : Global obesity crisis

  • The WHO issued guidelines as part of a campaign to tackle the global obesity crisis and ensure that young children grow up fit and well, particularly since development in the first five years of life contributes to children’s motor and cognitive development and lifelong health.

Recommendations at a glance:

Infants (less than 1 year) should:

  • Be physically active several times a day in a variety of ways, particularly through interactive floor-based play; more is better. For those not yet mobile, this includes at least 30 minutes in prone position (tummy time) spread throughout the day while awake.
  • Not be restrained for more than 1 hour at a time (e.g. prams/strollers, high chairs, or strapped on a caregiver’s back). Screen time is not recommended. When sedentary, engaging in reading and storytelling with a caregiver is encouraged.
  • Have 14–17h (0–3 months of age) or 12–16h (4–11 months of age) of good quality sleep, including naps.

Children 1-2 years of age should:

  • Spend at least 180 minutes in a variety of types of physical activities at any intensity, including moderate-to-vigorous-intensity physical activity, spread throughout the day; more is better.
  • Not be restrained for more than 1 hour at a time (e.g., prams/strollers, high chairs, or strapped on a caregiver’s back) or sit for extended periods of time. For 1-year-olds, sedentary screen time (such as watching TV or videos, playing computer games) is not recommended. For those aged 2 years, sedentary screen time should be no more than 1 hour; less is better. When sedentary, engaging in reading and storytelling with a caregiver is encouraged.
  • Have 11-14 hours of good quality sleep, including naps, with regular sleep and wake-up times.

Children 3-4 years of age should:

  • Spend at least 180 minutes in a variety of types of physical activities at any intensity, of which at least 60 minutes is moderate- to vigorous intensity physical activity, spread throughout the day; more is better.
  • Not be restrained for more than 1 hour at a time (e.g., prams/strollers) or sit for extended periods of time. Sedentary screen time should be no more than 1 hour; less is better. When sedentary, engaging in reading and storytelling with a caregiver is encouraged.
  • Have 10–13h of good quality sleep, which may include a nap, with regular sleep and wake-up times.

Police Reforms – SC directives, NPC, other committees reports

[op-ed snap] Just recompense

Note4Students

From UPSC perspective, the following things are important :

Prelims level : Nothing Much

Mains level : Compensation to victims should be institutuionalised.

CONTEXT

Compensation for Bilkis Bano underlines the state’s obligation for horrific crimes. In ordering the Gujarat government to pay ₹50 lakh to Bilkis Yakoob Rasool Bano, a gang-rape survivor of the 2002 communal pogrom in the State who has bravely fought her case, the Supreme Court has endeavoured to achieve restitutive justice.

Compensation to victim

  • Less recognised in Criminal Justice System – Compensation to victims is a relatively less recognised component of criminal justice.
  • State’s obligation to victims – In a system that focusses mainly on the accused, an order of compensation is as recognition of the state’s obligation to victims of crime, especially horrific acts.
  • Handing over the fine amounts paid by the accused as part of their sentence is one aspect of such justice; another aspect is for the court to ask the government to compensate the victim from its own coffers.

Judgement by the court in Bilkis Bano Case

The court was told that she was leading an itinerant, hand-to-mouth existence. It is in these circumstances that the Bench headed by Chief Justice of India Ranjan Gogoi awarded her ₹50 lakh, besides asking the State government to provide her with a government job and a house.

Background of the case

  • Ms. Bano’s case is indeed a rare one: criminal prosecution resulted in conviction and life sentences to 11 persons.
  • The sentences were upheld by the Bombay High Court.
  • Inaction on the part of the police – Further, the court found deliberate inaction on the part of some police officers and that the autopsies were perfunctory and manipulated.
  • The Supreme Court has asked for the pension benefits of three police officers to be withdrawn.
  • State’s Inaction – In short, this is a concrete instance of state inaction and negligence that would normally justify the payment of a hefty compensation.

Existing provision  on Victim Compensation

  • Not every crime would have a similar set of circumstances.
  • While convictions are not easy to come by in cases of mob violence, victim compensation may often be the only way to ensure some justice.
  • Section 357A – The Code of Criminal Procedure was amended in 2008 to insert Section 357A under which every State government has to prepare a scheme to set up a fund from which compensation can be paid to victims of crime and their dependants who have suffered loss and injury and who may require rehabilitation.
  • Central Victim Compensation Fund – The Centre has a Central Victim Compensation Fund.
  • Compensation Scheme – On Supreme Court directions, the National Legal Services Authority has prepared a compensation scheme for women victims and survivors of sexual assault and other crimes. Many States have notified schemes on these lines.

Conclusion

While on paper there is a mechanism to assess rehabilitation needs and pay compensation, there is a need to streamline the schemes and ensure that the compensation process is not done in an ad hoc manner, but is based on sound principles.

 

Foreign Policy Watch: India-China

[op-ed snap] Taking advantage of BRI

Note4Students

From UPSC perspective, the following things are important :

Prelims level : BRI

Mains level : Reasons why should India Participate in BRI

CONTEXT

The China-led initiative’s global reach signals the advent of a new order led by Asia, which cannot exclude India.

Reasons To participate in BRI

  1. Rise of Asian Century
  • The defining feature of the 21st century is that Asia, not China, is at the centre of the world.
  • The BRI is part of a transformation triggered by colonialism and industrial capitalism from the 1840s and influenced by the UN institutions and global rules from the 1950s.
  • Of the estimated $30 trillion increase in middle-class consumption growth estimated by 2030, only $1 trillion is expected to come from Western economies and most of the rest from Asia.
  • China’s population is nearly one-third of the total population of Asia but by 2050 its population of working age will shrink by 200 million people while in India the working-age population will increase by 200 million.
  • Asians are not subscribing to a “China-led Asia”, which would imply returning to the colonial order.

2. Change of Global Order

  • The global spread of the BRI signals the political end of the old order where the G7 shaped the economic agenda.
  • Italy, a member of the G7, is joining the BRI, despite the publicly voiced objection of the U.S., just as Britain joined the Asia Infrastructure Investment Bank in 2015. Asians are gravitating to the new as it better meets their needs, not because the old is crumbling.

3.Meeting infrastructure needs

  • The Asian Development Bank, not China, drew global attention to infrastructure as the key driver of economic growth in Asia and the financing gap of $26 trillion.
  • The most visible feature of the BRI is the network of physical and digital infrastructure for transport, energy transmission and communications, harmonised with markets for advanced manufacturing and innovation-based companies.
  • Two-thirds of the countries funded by the initiative have sovereign debt ratings below investment grade, and their being part of supply chains is a catalyst for growth.
  • A recent analysis identified only eight out of 68 countries at risk of debt default, which does not affect the overall viability of the $3 trillion reserves of China for potential investment.
  • There are cases of excess debt, political corruption and policy shifts following change in governments but overall the BRI remains popular.
  • For example, Nepal has just chosen the Chinese gauge over the Indian one for its rail network.

4. Towards Multilateralism

  • The BRI, faced with criticism over lack of transparency and insensitivity to national concerns, is evolving towards standards of multilateralism, including through linkages with the United Nations Sustainable Development Goals.
  • The International Monetary Fund describes it as a “very important contribution” to the global economy and is “in very close collaboration with the Chinese authorities on sharing the best international practices, especially regarding fiscal sustainability and capacity building”.

5.Strategic Objective

  • For the BRI to have strategic objectives is not unusual.
  • The Marshall Plan in the 1950s also required recipients to accept certain rules for deepening trade and investment ties with the U.S. Chinese control over supply-chain assets like ports provides the ability to project naval power, which will however remain minuscule compared to that of the U.S. — comprising 800 overseas bases.
  • The BRI’s commercial advantage has certainly increased China’s international weight and India needs to shape the new standards to benefit Indian technology companies .

Indo-Pacific Picture

  • India’s China dilemma, as it ends its ambivalence towards China, revolves around assessment of the extent the Asian giants need each other for the Asian century.
  • Prime Minister has declared a cooperative vision of the ‘Indo-Pacific’, contrary to the containment-based view of the United States.
  • Need for India’s support – China also recognises the difficulties inherent in the interlinked international and domestic agenda of the BRI, and needs India’s support for reform of global governance, which was an important part of last year’s discussion at Wuhan.
  •  Pakistan-occupied Kashmir Concerns –India should respond to the strategic complexity arising from the BRI, a key part of which cuts through Gilgit-Baltistan and Pakistan-occupied Kashmir, through three related but distinct diplomatic initiatives.

Way Forward

  • Highlight Territorial Concerns – India needs to highlight that a British-led coup by the Gilgit Scouts led to Pakistani occupation of this territory and seek appropriate text recognising India’s sovereignty — a drafting challenge but not an insurmountable one.
  • South Asian Character to BRI – New Delhi should give a South Asian character to the two BRI corridors on India’s western and eastern flanks, by linking them with plans for connectivity in the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN) region. Third, India needs work towards ‘multilateralising’ the BRI with a set of rules.

Electoral Reforms In India

[op-ed snap] In defence of hung House

Note4Students

From UPSC perspective, the following things are important :

Prelims level : Nothing Much

Mains level : Coalition Government Can be stable when operate with consultation.

CONTEXT

Campaign planners the world over have woven veritable fables and fictions around themes like “chaotic coalitions” and virtues of “strong” leaders. Which is more preferable — unstable minority governments or elected dictatorship?

Political History of coalition Government

  • Were all the previous minority regimes so weak and indecisive?
  • 1991 Economic Reforms – In 1991, economic reform was launched by the Narasimha Rao government, which at that point of time did not even enjoy a legislative majority.
  • Pokhran 2 – Pokhran 2 was ordered by a minority PM who also stood up to the rigours of the subsequent US embargo.
  • Kargil War – The Kargil war was fought in 1999 when Atal Bihari Vajpayee was a caretaker PM without the backup of surgical strikes.
  • Nuclear Deal – The contentious nuclear deal with US was valiantly pushed by a “weak” PM. In the process, the lacklusture PM managed to stage Indian political history’s darkest cloak and dagger operation to rope in the most difficult anti-Congress politician.
  • The millennium’s first decade was India’s golden era of investment and growth.
  • It happened under two politically-riven coalitions.

Reasons for the desirability of the coalition –

1.Political Consensus Culture

  • What makes minority governments desirable is that they prevent extremes and create a culture of political consultation and consensus.
  • A crippling demonetisation or surgical bravado might not have happened under the constraints of a hung Parliament.

2.More federal – By their very nature, the coalitions tend to be more federal and allow wider scrutiny of the executive’s decisions.

3. Voice to Civil Society

  • Such governments allow more say to the members of civil society and social activists.
  • Initiatives like the RTI, RTA and Land Acquisition Act might not have been possible under an all-powerful supremo.

Why did coalition Governments fall in the past?

  • Coalitions are not inherently unstable and growth is not synonymous with strong leader.
  • The fall of the Deve Gowda government was not due to the dissensions in the UF.
  • It was triggered by outside supporter Sitaram Kesri’s prime ministerial aspirations.
  • The Congress pulled down the I K Gujral government in the hope of a return to office in 1998 on an elusive Rajiv sympathy wave.
  • Yet all the 14 UF parties stood together with their two PMs and went to the next elections as an alliance.
  • Rainbow coalitions under Atal Bihari Vajpayee (six years) and Manmohan Singh (10 years) together held office from 1998 to 2014.
  • This was a credible achievement.
  • The dispute resolution mechanism under the 20-month UF of federal and left parties calls for a deeper appraisal for its institutionalised functioning founded on pre-decision consultations and consensus.
  • Vajpayee worked under constant pressure from Chandrababu Naidu, J Jayalalithaa and Mamata Banerjee.
  • Within his Parivar, the RSS under K S Sudarshan, an ardent adherent of swadeshi economics, tried to put hurdles to Vajpayee’s reform initiatives.
  • It objected to privatisation, labour reform, the patents bill and FDI in retail and insurance. Yet Vajpayee was hailed as a successful liberaliser.

Working of Populism And Authoritarianism

  • In India, populism meant bestowing preferred vote banks with economically unjustifiable freebies.
  • It is not so in the global context.
  • Elected dictators world over display a tendency to short-circuit the functioning democratic institutions to establish a direct communication with voters.
  • They avoid making a statement on floor of the House, but address people directly.
  • Constitutional bodies are treated as hurdles and must be seized or rendered comatose.
  • Media control is their forte.

 

Judicial Reforms

Explained: What happens when judges face allegations?

Note4Students

From UPSC perspective, the following things are important :

Prelims level : Grounds for removal of SC Judges

Mains level : Grounds for removal of SC Judges

Background

  • Recently allegations of sexual harassment were made by a former employee of the Supreme Court against the CJI.
  • However it was later claimed by a litigant that he was offered to “frame” the CJI.
  • While judges indeed require powerful protection against motivated accusations, due process demands that an expeditious, thorough, fair and impartial probe is carried out in the matter.
  • The extraordinary developments at the country’s highest seat of justice offer an opportunity to revisit some larger questions around its accountability.

The question of ‘good behaviour’

  • Constitution protects judges against the will of the masses, of Parliament, and of the all-powerful executive.
  • A judge of the SC cannot be removed except by an order of the President passed after an address by each House of Parliament supported by a majority of the total membership of that House and by a majority of not less than two-thirds of the members of that House present and voting has been presented to the President in the same session.
  • Such removal can be initiated on the ground of proved misbehaviour or incapacity.

The question of ‘good behaviour’

  • The Constitution does not define ‘misbehavior’ and ‘incapacity’.
  • The Judges (Inquiry) Bill, 2006 sought to establish a National Judicial Council to inquire into allegations of incapacity or misbehavior of judges of the HC and SC.
  • It defined misbehavior as willful or persistent conduct which brings dishonour or disrepute to the judiciary; or willful or persistent failure to perform the duties of a judge; or wilful abuse of judicial office, corruption, lack of integrity; or committing an offence involving moral turpitude.
  • The Judicial Standards and Accountability Bill, 2010, tried to lay down enforceable standards of conduct for judges.
  • It proposed to widen the definition of ‘misbehaviour’ by adding “corruption or lack of integrity which includes delivering judgments for collateral or extraneous reasons, making demands for consideration in cash or kind”, or “any other action… which has the effect of subverting the administration of justice”.
  • Failure to declare assets and liabilities, or wilfully giving false information was also included within the definition of ‘misbehaviour’.

No single definition yet on ‘misbehaviour’

  • In C Ravichandran Iyer vs Justice A M Bhattacharjee & Ors (1995), the Supreme Court said ‘misbehaviour’ could not have a straitjacketed definition.
  • But if the conduct of a judge leads to the credibility of the judiciary being called into question, it should be considered misbehaviour.
  • Misconduct prior to assuming office is not exempt — in 2009, Rajya Sabha passed an impeachment motion against Justice Soumitra Sen of Calcutta High Court for allegedly misappropriating funds several years before he became a judge.

What should be the standard of proof for ‘misbehaviour’?

  • While rejecting the Opposition’s notice for impeachment of CJI, RS chairman cited the “lack of substantial merit”, and said the charges had not been proved beyond reasonable doubt.
  • But impeachment is not a criminal trial.
  • In all civil matters, the standard of proof is the “preponderance of probabilities”.
  • In Australia and South Africa, this is the standard of proof in the impeachment process of judges.
  • India does not currently have a statutory mechanism to examine the misconduct of judges, and short of the complex process of impeachment, there is no mechanism available to make judges accountable.

Allegations against judges

  • While no judge has so far been removed by impeachment, several have faced allegations of corruption, and a couple of them of sexual harassment as well.
  • An allegation of corruption or sexual harassment, if proved, ought to count as misbehaviour or misconduct.

Addressing Sexual harassment at Courts

  • In 1997, the Supreme Court noted that “the present civil and penal laws in India do not adequately provide for specific protection of women from sexual harassment in work places”, and laid down the ‘Vishakha Guidelines’.
  • Sixteen years later, Parliament enacted The Sexual Harassment of Women at Workplace (Prevention, Prohibition and Redressal) Act, 2013.
  • The Supreme Court has a Gender Sensitization and Internal Complaints Committee headed by a woman judge, with a majority of woman members.
  • The committee has a laid-down procedure for dealing with complaints of sexual harassment on the premises of the court.
  • But it has no power to deal with complaints against the CJI or judges. In respect of misconduct by judges, the in-house process can be initiated only by the CJI.
  • The Regulations are silent on a situation where the allegation is against the CJI himself.

Accountability must persist with conscience

  • In K Veeraswami vs Union Of India And Others (1991) the Supreme Court ruled that in case of an allegation of corruption against a judge of the Supreme Court, the President would order an investigation in consultation with the CJI.
  • And, if the allegation is against the CJI himself, the President would consult other judges and act on their advice.
  • Prior to this judgment, the Prevention of Corruption Act was applicable only to public servants.
  • Justice K Jagannatha Shetty wrote: “The judiciary has no power of the purse or the sword. It survives only by public confidence.
  • The judge whose character is clouded and whose standards of morality and rectitude are in doubt may not have judicial independence and may not command the confidence of the public.
  • He must voluntarily withdraw from the judicial work and administration.
  • Veeraswami was only about allegations of corruption, but it is being followed for all allegations, including the commission of crimes against judges of constitutional courts.

No man is above the Law

  • The rule of law demands judicial accountability. Accountability makes the exercise of power more efficient and effective.
  • The British constitutional theorist A V Dicey wrote that “no man is above the law [and] every man, whatever be his rank or condition, is subject to the ordinary law of the realm and amenable to the jurisdiction of the ordinary tribunals”.
  • Legal equality is the cardinal principle of the rule of law, and everyone including judges, must respect it.

Should CJI undergo trial?

  • To place judicial performance beyond scrutiny would be myopic, as liberty without accountability is freedom of the fool.
  • Power without responsibility is the anti-thesis of constitutionalism. Accountability of public officials, including judges, is the very essence of a mature democracy.

Way Forward

  • Judicial accountability promotes at least three discrete values: the rule of law, public confidence in the judiciary, and institutional responsibility.
  • Both judicial independence and judicial accountability are purposive devices designed to serve greater constitutional objectives.
  • Though the independence of the judiciary is a part of the basic structure of the Constitution, it is not an end in itself.
  • In fact, it is an instrumental value defined by the purposes it serves.

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

Worlds first Malaria Vaccine: RTS,S (Mosquirix)

Note4Students

From UPSC perspective, the following things are important :

Prelims level : About the vaccine

Mains level : Malaria and its incidence in India

  • The WHO welcomed a pilot project in Malawi of administering a malaria vaccine to children below the age of 2 years.

RTS,S vaccine (Mosquirix)

  • The vaccine has been developed by GSK — the company is donating about 10 million doses of the product for the pilot.
  • It was created in 1987 by GSK, and was subsequently developed with support from the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation.
  • RTS,S aims to trigger the immune system to defend against the first stages of malaria when the Plasmodium falciparum parasite enters the human host’s bloodstream through a mosquito bite and infects liver cells.
  • The vaccine is designed to prevent the parasite from infecting the liver, where it can mature, multiply, re-enter the bloodstream, and infect red blood cells, which can lead to disease symptoms.
  • In 2014, the vaccine cleared phase III clinical trials which certified that it was both effective and safe for use in humans.

Why fear Malaria?

  • Malaria is a potentially life-threatening parasitic disease caused by the parasites Plasmodium viviax (P.vivax), P.falciparum, P.malariae, and P.ovale transmitted by the female Anopheles mosquito.
  • Malaria, according to the WHO, remains one of the world’s leading killers, claiming the life of one child every two minutes.
  • Children under the age of 5 are at greatest risk from its life-threatening complications.

Why trials in Malawi?

  • A total 3, 60,000 children across three African countries — Malawi, Ghana and Kenya — will be covered every year with the vaccine.
  • Most of these deaths are in Africa, where more than 2,50,000 children die from the disease every year.
  • Malaria is a constant threat in the African communities where this vaccine will be given. The poorest children suffer the most and are at highest risk of death.

How badly is India affected by malaria?

  • India ranks very high in the list of countries with a serious malaria burden.
  • In 2018, 3,99,134 cases of malaria and 85 deaths due to the disease were reported in the country, according to data from the National Vector Borne Disease Control Programme.
  • Six states — Odisha (40%), Chhattisgarh (20%), Jharkhand (20%), Meghalaya, Arunachal Pradesh, and Mizoram (5-7%) — bear the brunt of malaria in India.
  • These states, along with the tribal areas of Maharashtra and Madhya Pradesh, account for 90% of India’s malaria burden.

Capital Markets: Challenges and Developments

[pib] Investor Education and Protection Fund (IEPF)

Note4Students

From UPSC perspective, the following things are important :

Prelims level : IEPF

Mains level : Investers education

  • In a major success, the IEPF Authority has been able to enforce a company to transfer deposits worth about Rs 1514 Cr to IEPF.
  • This depositor’s money was pending with the company for the last 15 years.

Investor Education and Protection Fund (IEPF)

  • IEPF is a fund where unclaimed dividend, refunded application money, matured company deposits and debentures, as well as the interest on them, is used, provided it is not claimed within seven years.
  • It is a fund set up under the Ministry of Corporate Affairs to help promote investor awareness and protection of investor interests.

About IEPF Authority

  • IEPF Authority has been set up under the Ministry of Corporate Affairs, Government of India as a statutory body under Companies Act 2013 to administer the IEPF with the objective of promoting Investor’s Education, Awareness and Protection.
  • The Authority takes various initiatives to fulfil its objectives through Investor Awareness Programmes and various other mediums like Print, Electronic, Social Media, and Community Radio etc.
  • Secretary Ministry of the Corporate Affairs is the Chairperson of the Authority.
  • Joint Secretary Ministry of the Corporate Affairs is the Chief Executive Officer of the Authority.

Climate Change Impact on India and World – International Reports, Key Observations, etc.

Global Deal for Nature (GDN)

Note4Students

From UPSC perspective, the following things are important :

Prelims level : GDN, Mass extinction

Mains level : Climate change and associated threats

  • Saving the diversity and abundance of life on Earth may cost $100 billion a year, say scientists who have proposed a policy to prevent another mass extinction event on the planet.
  • There have been five mass extinctions in the history of the Earth.

Global Deal for Nature (GDN)

  • Scientists have proposed new science policy to reverse the tide, called A Global Deal for Nature (GDN).
  • It is a time-bound, science-based plan to save the diversity and abundance of life on Earth.
  • The GDN campaign is being driven by One Earth, an initiative of the Leonardo DiCaprio Foundation that aims to gather support from international institutions, governments, and citizens of planet Earth to support ambitious conservation goals.
  • The policy’s mission is to save the diversity and abundance of life on Earth — for the price tag of $100 billion a year.

WHat would GDN do?

  • Societal investment in the GDN plan would, for the first time, integrate and implement climate and nature deals on a global scale to avoid human upheaval and biodiversity loss.
  • The study outlines the principles, milestones and targets needed to avoid the disastrous extinction threats of a two degrees Celsius global warming forecast.

Why GDN?

  • Scientists now estimate that society must urgently come to grips this coming decade to stop the very first human-made biodiversity catastrophe.

Goals

  • To protect biodiversity by conserving at least 30% of the Earth’s surface by 2030;
  • Mitigate climate change by conserving the Earth’s natural carbon storehouses; and
  • Reduce major threats.

Foreign Policy Watch: India-Australia

AUSINDEX

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.

 

[op-ed snap] In an oil slick

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.

ISRO Missions and Discoveries

[op-ed snap] Outer space lessons

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.

Oil and Gas Sector – HELP, Open Acreage Policy, etc.

Explained: Life without Iranian oil

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

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.

Waste Management – SWM Rules, EWM Rules, etc

Kumbh brought Allahabad to verge of an epidemic, says NGT

Note4Students

From UPSC perspective, the following things are important :

Prelims level : Kumbh, NGT

Mains level : Solid Waste Management; Prospects and Challenges

  • 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.

History- Important places, persons in news

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

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

  • 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.

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

Sexual Assault Evidence Collection Kits

Note4Students

From UPSC perspective, the following things are important :

Prelims level : About the kit

Mains level : Women safety measure

  • 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

Foreign Policy Watch: India-Sri Lanka

[op-ed snap] Terror next door

Note4Students

From UPSC perspective, the following things are important :

Prelims level : Nothing Much

Mains level : Reasons for Serial blasts in Sri Lanka

CONTEXT

The Easter Sunday bombings in Sri Lanka could widen ethnic faultlines, threaten to disrupt a decade of calm.

Background

  • Sri Lanka’s decade of peace after the LTTE’s military defeat in May 2009 has been shattered with a diabolical plan to drag the country back into its darkest days.
  • The death toll is nearly 300 from the chain of eight bombings on Easter Sunday targeting churches and hotels across the island nation, worse than anything it has experienced at the hands of the LTTE in the three decades of civil war.
  • The scale and the ferocity of the attack has no precedent in Sri Lanka’s troubled history, one from which it believed it had finally emerged.
  • In the last decade, a generation of Sri Lankans has come of age for whom conflict was history, who have no experience of curfews and emergency regulations or the Prevention of Terrorism Act.
  • Now all this is threatening to engulf Sri Lanka again.

Fault in action on intelligence

  • it is Prime Minister Ranil Wickremesinghe’s acknowledgment that the country’s security apparatus had “prior information” on the attacks that causes more anguish.
  • The differences between President Maithripala Sirisena and Prime Minister Wickremesinghe appear to have played a good part in the security warning not being taken seriously.
  • The PM has alleged that he was not kept in the loop about the intelligence warnings.
  • If so, the inability of the country’s top functionaries to get along has had deadly consequences. It casts their leadership abilities in extremely poor light. However, the administration has done well to prevent any backlash on the Muslim community.

Reasons for attack

1.Rise of extremism and fundamentalism –

Given that investigators believe this was the handiwork of radicalised local Muslims, there have been straws in the wind of such radicalisation for years, as a reaction to attacks by the LTTE on Muslims through the 1990s, and after the war, to the rise of Buddhist fundamentalism that began targeting Muslims.

2.Spread of Wahabism

Sri Lanka, where nearly 10 per cent of the 22 million population is Muslim, has also not been insulated from the global spread of Wahabism.

3. Politicisation

Mainstream Muslim parties, major players in Sri Lanka’s robust democratic political space, had managed to keep the radicals at bay all these years despite the failure of the political class to repair the ethnic faultlines.

4.Local Grievances

The targeting of Christians, who are an even smaller minority in Sri Lanka than Muslims, and in a manner similar to anti-Christian incidents in other parts of the world, also points to more than a local grievance.

Conclusion

But it seems too early to say if the Easter bloodbath was the handiwork of ISIS, which would be searching for new spaces to compensate for its total loss of territory. Solving these puzzles will help Sri Lanka, also the rest of South Asia, to craft responses that ensure there will be no repetition of this nightmare.

Foreign Policy Watch: India-China

[Op-ed Snap] Sovereignty And A Road

Note4Students

From UPSC perspective, the following things are important :

Prelims level : BRI

Mains level : Wuhan summit alone will not fasten India-China Relationship. Other Stepa are required.

Background

India has, once again, decided to not participate in China’s second Belt and Road Forum (BRF) due on April 25, which is likely to be attended by around 40 heads of government.

Situation after Wuhan Summit

  • The admiration of India’s attempt to engage China through the Modi-Xi Wuhan informal meeting has faded away in recent months
  • For instance, for the fourth time in a row, China blocked India’s bid to designate the Jaish-e-Mohammad Chief Masood Azhar as a global terrorist at the UNSC, the CPEC is going on regardless of India’s stern objections vis-à-vis PoK, and the balance of trade is still hugely in China’s favour.

Loopholes in criticism

  1. High Expectations –
  • First, thanks to the overpublicising of the Modi-Xi meeting, the expectation bar was set to an unrealistically high level.
  • The Wuhan meeting was not about resetting India-China relations. It was an initiative to engage each other in a constructive dialogue.
  • Wuhan and subsequent steps were intended to only manage the differences and prevent relations from getting derailed.
  • The popular perception in the Indian media that because of Wuhan, China would not go ahead with the CPEC or support India on Masood Azhar and the belief in the Chinese media that it would lead India to join the BRI, are misinformed at best.

2. Not a stand-alone dialogue –Second, Wuhan was not a stand-alone dialogue, it was deeply embedded with the Doklam standoff. For the two countries, facing an eyeball-to-eyeball situation in Doklam, Wuhan came as an opportunity to re-start the dialogue.

India’s response to BRI

  • India’s response to the BRF is not linked with the Wuhan spirit.
  • Territorial Concerns – It is deeply rooted in its territorial sovereignty concerns vis-à-vis China and Pakistan. The Chinese investments in Pakistan are complicating the matter with each passing day. India’s main concern remains the much-controversial CPEC that passes through the PoK.

Current Relationship

  • It is clear that China has been selective in addressing India’s concerns, and India too has adopted a similar approach.
  • China is mindful of the fact that without India’s participation, BRI will remain an incomplete project at best.
  • That is perhaps why China is keen to have another Wuhan-like dialogue. We do need more such meetings but only to facilitate the negotiation processes.

Way Forward

  • Pragmatic Approach- Considering the asymmetry in its relationship with China, India needs to continue its pragmatic and balanced policy of engaging China through dialogues while actively looking for ways to deal with the possible scenarios.
  • The institutionalisation of regional groups –The quest to institutionalise the Quad and Indo-Pacific seems to be turning into reality with the restructuring of the MEA’s ASEAN Multilateral Division and the Indian Ocean Region Division into the Indo-Pacific Division.
  • Trilateral Dialogues – Trilateral dialogues and search for avenues to normalise and improve regular healthy conversations with China are the best way forward.
  • Balance of relationships – Self-doubt over peace initiatives or hesitation in moving forward on the Quad are detrimental to India’s interests. One should not happen at the cost of the other. A careful balancing of both tracks will contribute to India’s stronger positioning in the region.