Toppers25_Current Affairs 17/03/2018

Toppers25_Current Affairs 17/03/2018

1. India tweaks line of credit plan for Africa 

India has announced specific solar energy projects in parts of Africa in consultation with local governments and is seeking to ensure effective implementation of its Line of Credit of $1billion offered at a time when China is striving to emerge as a partner for much of the developing world.

  • The initiative is part of the external affairs ministry’s efforts to finetune its earlier strategy of extending blanket LoC to African countries for implementing projects. The Modi government, at the International Solar Alliance meet in Delhi on March 11, extended the LoC specifically for 23 solar energy projects in 13 African countries. This was in contrast to the announcement by France, which made a blanket offer of 700 million euros (about $863 million) for solar projects.
  • The goal is to also produce solar panels in India for these projects at rates which at cheaper than those made in China, the person said, speaking on condition of anonymity.

The external affairs ministry has decided to handhold LoC funded projects in Africa and elsewhere to ensure effective implementation and that there is no pilferage of funds. Africa, where more than two dozen projects have been completed during the past two-and-a-half years, has been a  success story of India’s support to development and capacity-building projects through LoC mechanism.

  • While Eastern Africa has been a traditional partner, India now desires to emerge as a significant development partner of countries in Francophone Western Africa.
  • Development partnership is a key instrument of India’s foreign policy. Extending LoC on concessional terms is an important component of India’s development cooperation policy in Africa, Asia and South America.

2. Vietnam marks 50th anniversary of killings

Vietnam marked 50 years since the My Lai massacre in a memorial ceremony yesterday at the site of the killings that was attended by survivors, their families and around 60 US Vietnam War veterans and anti-war activists.

American soldiers killed 504 people on March 16, 1968, in Son My, a collection of hamlets between the central Vietnamese coast and a ridge of misty mountains, in an incident known in the West as the My Lai massacre.

  • The ceremony fell just a week after a landmark visit by a US aircraft carrier to the nearby port city of Danang, evidence of warming ties between the former foes.
  • A delegation of US Vietnam War veterans and anti-war activists met Mr Dung and other officials privately after the ceremony.
  • The veterans and activists said they were preparing to send a letter, on behalf of the US, apologising for the massacre.
  • The massacre, uncovered in 1970 by American investigative reporter Seymour Hersh, polarised public opinion and energised a mounting anti-war movement in the US.

Though it took years for the American public to learn about My Lai – the largest and best documented of several suspected mass killings by the US during the war – the communist North reported the massacre much earlier in broadcasts dismissed as “red” propaganda.

3. Kepler Space Telescope nears the end of its life

After over nine years, the Kepler Space Telescope mission may be coming to an end. The reason: out of fuel. NASA engineers have determined that the unmanned deep space probe has only enough propellant left in its attitude control system to keep it properly oriented for a few more months. When this runs out, the spacecraft will no longer be able to collect data or transmit it to Earth.

  • Launched from Cape Canaveral Air Force Station Launch Complex 17B atop a Delta II rocket on March 7, 2009, the Kepler Space Telescope has already exceeded it first mission life many times. Its original mission estimate was for three and a half years, but this was extended as it continued to seek out extrasolar planets as it circled the Sun in its Earth-trailing orbit about 94 million mi (151 million km) from home.
  • According to NASA, Kepler is now up against a much harder deadline as it runs out of the propellant used to keep it pointing in the right direction for both observation and maintaining contact with mission control back on Earth. Though there’s no way to directly measure how much propellant is left, engineers are monitoring the spacecraft for signs like a drop in tank pressure that will indicate when the end is imminent.

4. State Sponsors of Terrorism

Since 1979, the United States Department of State has routinely designated certain countries as ‘State Sponsors of Terrorism’, where it alleges that the said state had, “repeatedly provided support for acts of international terrorism”. Besides countries, the department also notifies organisations and individuals to expose, isolate and deny them access to the US financial system. These listings can also assist the law enforcement activities of the US agencies and other governments to bear pressure on them.

However, the dimensions and dynamics of the term ‘State Sponsors of Terrorism’ has an exclusive US perspective, as opposed to an unbiased global outlook. From time to time, the list of the ‘rogue’s gallery’ has included countries like Iran, Iraq, Cuba, North Korea, Sudan and Libya. This US-centricity is reflected in the list of ‘State Sponsors of Terrorism’, which today includes North Korea, Iran, Sudan and Syria — all hosting anti-US regimes.

  • Therefore, the covert US-CIA bankrolling and armament supplies to the Afghan mujahedeen in the 1980s, operating and controlled from safe havens in Pakistan did not qualify Pakistan as ‘State Sponsor of Terrorism’, then.
  • Similarly, the fact that the sheikhdoms like the Saudi Arabia and Qatar that are credibly accused of having supported Jabhat Fateh al-Sham, Taliban, Hamas etc, are spared the ignominy of ‘State Sponsors of Terrorism’. This convenient leniency afforded by the US is despite knowing the antecedents of the Saudis, as was exposed in the 2009 Wikileaks cables

Unbiased blacklisting needed

However, a more holistic and unbiased blacklisting of ‘State Sponsors of Terrorism’ should entail countries that impact any other sovereign’s interest and not just that of the US — a fact that spared Pakistan (till recent years), as its proven complicity and support to terrorism in India in the 80s and 90s was either ignored or served motherhood platitudes that basically ensured the continuation of US support for Pakistan, till the ISI-created terror infrastructure started hitting the US interests and lives, directly.

‘State Sponsorship of Terror’ must encompass both the ‘acts of direct commission’ (arming and training terrorists), as also, the equally dangerous ‘acts of omission’ (providing indirect sanctuary, allowing fundraising and recruitment). The complex nature of modern ‘State Sponsorship’ needs a more stringent, sensitive and intolerant appreciation of the passive support systems that could be financial, diplomatic or even moral.

‘Gray’ and ‘black’ lists

This entails the maintenance of a diplomatically embarrassing ‘gray’ and ‘black’ list of countries that are designated “non-cooperative” in the global fight against moneylaundering and terror-financing. Pakistan was put on the ‘gray’ list for three years starting 2012, and it now faces the prospects of re-entering the humiliating list owing to a joint motion proposed by the US, Britain, France and Germany who have blown the lid on Islamabad’s continuing chicanery and incorrigible deceit.

Toppers25_Current Affairs 16/03/2018

Toppers25_Current Affairs 16/03/2018

1. India ranks 133 in World Happiness Report

  • India continues to lag behind most of its neighbours, including Pakistan and Bangladesh, ranking 133 in the latest World Happiness Report released by the UN.
  • The report ranked Finland as the happiest country, closely followed by Norway and Denmark. Burundi was listed as the least happy country.
  • According to the report produced by the United Nations Sustainable Development Solutions Network (SDSN), India’s happiness score fell by 0.698 points, bringing it down from its last year’s position of 128. In the report that included 156 countries, Pakistan was ranked 75, Bhutan at 97, and China at 86.
  • Nepal, Bangladesh and Sri Lanka were ranked 101, 115 and 116 respectively.
  • The US and the UK were in 18th and 19th place respectively.
  • All of the top ten countries for overall happiness 2015-2017 are in the top 11 countries for immigrant happiness based on surveys covering 2005-2015.

2. US drags India to WTO over six export subsidy schemes

  • The Trump administration has mounted a fresh offensive against India by dragging it to the World Trade Organisation (WTO) for providing what it termed as export subsidies through half-a-dozen schemes, including SEZs and the Merchandise Exports from India Scheme.In its request to hold consultations with India, the first step before legal action, the US has argued that the incentives violate WTO agreements as India is no longer below the economic benchmark of $1,000 per capita gross national income (GNI).
  • While Indian authorities said they would respond to the US request for consultations within the specified 60 days, they argued that like other countries in the past, India should be allowed a transition period of eight years.
  • When the WTO was set up, developing countries that had a GNI of over $1,000 per capita were allowed eight years to wind up their export promotion schemes.
  • Indian officials pointed to the anomaly in the WTO treaties and said a country which had $950 per capita GNI may not be allowed a transition period, while a country above the threshold at the time the agreement came into force got eight years to wind up incentives.
    The US accused India of not just continuing with the incentives, which were allowed till the limit was exceeded in 2015, but said the government expanded the scope of the programme.


Seeking to replace the country’s 30-year-old national forest policy, the Centre has come out with a new draft policy which calls for promoting urban greens, public private partnership models for afforestation, strengthening forest fire prevention measures and plantations in catchment areas to rejuvenate water bodies among many proposals to protect India’s green cover.
The draft National Forest Policy (NFP) 2018, released by the environment ministry on Wednesday for stakeholders’ comments and suggestions within a month, also takes into account the role of forest in addressing the challenge of climate change.

It seeks to sync it with the country’s forestry-related ‘Nationally Determined Contribution’ targets under the Paris Agreement where India has promised to rapidly increase its forest cover so that an additional carbon sink of 2.5 to 3 billion tonnes of carbon dioxide equivalent is created by the year 2030.


  • 1. Public private participation for afforestation in degraded forest areas
  • 2. Promoting urban greens
  • 3. Measures to safeguard ecosystems from forest fire (map the vulnerable areas; develop and strengthen early warning systems)
  • 4. National Community Forest Management Mission for participatory forest management
  • 5. Afforestation in catchment areas for river rejuvenation and water recycling
  • 6. Economic valuation of forests

4. The global solar alliance must catalyse innovation

Lack of lowcost finance is now the principal barrier to rapid deployment of clean energy technologies

  • The world’s newest intergovernmental organisation — the International Solar Alliance (ISA) — was born on December 6, 2017. First announced during the Paris climate meetings in 2015, so far 61 countries have signed the ISA Framework Agreement, and 32 have ratified it. At the ISA Founding Conference in New Delhi on March 11, representatives of 46 countries converged along with the senior members of 10 development banks. India and France, ISA’S co-sponsors, should be congratulated for their commitment to the cause.
  • The alliance now needs concrete actions to follow through on its promise. It has three aims: to aggregate demand to reduce solar technology costs, to lower the cost of finance for rapid solar deployment, and to pool resources for next generation of solar R&D. What would that mean in practice? Any ISA programme should be respectful of national sovereignty, applicable in various regulatory environments, and yield maximum returns on limited amounts of public funds. These ideas could demonstrate that ISA is truly an action-oriented organisation.
  • In principle, if solar-rich but capital-poor developing countries plan for solar power, a big global market would emerge. ISA could work with its members towards a coordinated tender for large-scale solar deployment.
  • Keeping in mind that ISA is not a multilateral bank, its role would be best demonstrated if it facilitated market-ready financial instruments, which crowded in large volumes of private investment. ISA members should politically signal their readiness to work with existing public and private institutions.
  • Rather than act like a laboratory, ISA should design targeted and time-bound innovation prizes for the developing world. Participating countries should contribute initial funds with co-financing from private research consortia. Advanced market commitments to procure products meeting defined parameters would give added incentives for private investment. In fulfilling niche but strategic roles, ISA must work closely with industry, investors and civil society. As a nimble newbie on the international block, ISA could chart a new course.

5. Dalai Lama event: Not Delhi or Dharamsala stadium, but temple zone 

  • Tibetans in exile have moved the venue of an event to mark 60 years of Dalai Lama’s stay in India from the cricket stadium in Dharamsala to a temple complex in the region.
  • The event was to be held in New Delhi initially but was shifted to Dharamsala shortly after a government note asked senior leaders and officials to refrain from attending it.
  • The Tibetan government in exile had approached the administration for permission to use the cricket stadium but the organisers later decided to hold the programme in the temple complex where the Dalai Lama and his followers have been living for decades.
  • Foreign secretary Vijay Gokhale had sent out a note last month to Cabinet Secretary P K Sinha, following which the latter issued a directive that it was not ‘desirable’ for senior leaders and government functionaries of the Centre or states to participate in programmes of the Tibetan government in exile.
    China has described the Dalai Lama as a ‘dangerous separatist’.
  • External affairs minister Sushma Swaraj and defence minister Nirmala Sitharaman are set to make separate visits to China next month.

6. Collegium selection & ensuring integrity (Article 124)

THE Constitutional design under Article 124 was of both separation and checks. The appointing authority for higher judiciary was the executive, whilst the power to remove was given to the legislature. Though appointments and transfers were largely isolated from the political executive, the judiciary overlooked the need to create an adequate inhouse mechanism to discipline errant behaviour of brother judges after appointment. It was a fallacy to presume that collegium appointments would not require disciplining measures short of removal proceedings.

Writ of Scire Facias

The English courts had developed an alternate mechanism to expedite judicial self-disciplining through the Writ of Scire Facias. It was a seldom used writ which failed to find its mention in the Blackstone Treatise, therefore, not finding its place in Indian praxis. Its adoption could have enabled the courts to hear legitimate public grievances on judicial misconduct.

  • The judiciary tries to exercise limited self-discipline by not allocating cases to an impugned judge.  under the Judges (Protection) Act 1985, the sanction is no longer needed to prosecute a retired judge, successful convictions do not eschew continuing benefits. Therefore, Justice Karnan or Justice Qudussi would continue to hold their benefits.
  • Article 121 prohibits the Parliament from discussing the conduct of a judge, except to follow a laborious route under Article 124(4). The Hamilton-Brutus consensus on the American Constitution understood that there was a need to only keep extreme cases of integrity lapses as suitable ground to call misbehavior under a removal motion. Therefore, substantive misbehaviour for a judge follows a high threshold under the Judges (Inquiry) Act 1968. Mandates of a Motion of 50 (or 100) MPs, a three-member inquiry committee, a quasi-trial, and separate special majorities of both the Houses of Parliament, makes the removal route arduous.

The limitations identified with the existing disciplining mechanisms are threefold.

  • First, removal proceedings are elaborately slow and can be easily frustrated.
  • Second, self-disciplining does not keep the Judge out of public office.
  • Third, even criminal indictment doesn’t sever public benefits that Judges enjoy. Therefore, reforms are required which address all these concerns.Procedural difficulties under Article 124(4) can be relaxed without diluting the institutional boundaries between the judiciary and the legislature. The default mechanism can be used by the Parliament to initiate suo motu removal.

7. Arresting the drift

India needs to re-engage with its ally Russia, which is getting closer to China and Pakistan

  • Through the vicissitudes of the past 70 years since Independence, Russia has been a time-tested ally of India. Since the Soviet era, both countries have shared such amicable relations that the U.S. and its allies often registered their suspicions about India being a part of the Soviet camp during the Cold War, despite New Delhi’s affirmations that it was a leader of the Non-Aligned Movement.
  • Although India has traditionally sought to maintain a delicate balance between superpowers and refrained from groupism for its own advantage, in recent years this position appears to have shifted in favour of finding new allies, based on India’s self-perception as an emerging power in the global system, and its calculations about the changing alignments of power across the world. This change has, to an extent, fuelled India’s interest in joining the Quad.
  • India’s traditional equations with Russia have shifted, and Russia’s interest in getting closer to Pakistan and China has grown. Indeed Russia-Pakistan relations seem to be on an upward trajectory, with Russia signalling its support for Pakistan’s candidature to the Nuclear Suppliers Group. Joint military exercises between Russia and Pakistan, of the kind held in October 2017, are another major concern for India, given the long history of India-Russia defence ties and the depth of mutual trust that it has engendered between the two militaries.
  • The immediate concern regarding this drift is that a Russia-China-Pakistan trilateral could emerge if India doesn’t play its cards well. It is easy to imagine that both China and Pakistan would be eager to support such an alliance as it could arrest India’s strategic momentum in the region and globally. Russia’s new Ambassador to India, Nikolay Kudashev, has taken charge at this critical juncture, a tough time for bilateral ties yet a positive opportunity to broaden areas of cooperation. If people-to-people contact between the two countries is promoted more, it could help ensure deeper linkages and fortify past associations.

8. Guillotine: Fast-track lawmaking

The guillotine is a large, weighted blade that can be raised to the top of a tall, erect frame and released to fall on the neck of a condemned person secured at the bottom of the frame, executing him by instant decapitation. It was widely used during the French Revolution, including on King Louis XVI and Marie-Antoinette, and was a method of execution in France until the country stopped capital punishment in 1981.

  • In legislative parlance, to “guillotine” means to bunch together and fast-track the passage of financial business. It is a fairly common procedural exercise in Lok Sabha during the Budget Session.
  • After the Budget is presented, Parliament goes into recess for about three weeks, during which time the House Standing Committees examine Demands for Grants for various Ministries, and prepare reports. After Parliament reassembles, the Business Advisory Committee (BAC) draws up a schedule for discussions on the Demands for Grants. Given the limitation of time, the House cannot take up the expenditure demands of all Ministries; therefore, the BAC identifies some important Ministries for discussions. It usually lists Demands for Grants of the Ministries of Home, Defence, External Affairs, Agriculture, Rural Development and Human Resource Development. Members utilise the opportunity to discuss the policies and working of Ministries.
  • On Wednesday, therefore, all Demands for Grants were “guillotined”: the Finance Bill and Appropriation Bill (containing the consolidated Demands for Grants) with a spending plan of Rs 89.25 lakh crore, were introduced, voted on, and passed by voice vote, all within 30 minutes.
  • It was an unusual step because there were still three weeks left in the Budget Session. While the government is technically within its rights to fast-track legislative business, the Opposition has criticised it for “stifling the voice of democracy”, and unfairly bypassing convention.


9. To seize and punish: Taking on fugitive economic offenders

  • The Fugitive Economic Offenders Bill, 2018, which was introduced in the Lok Sabha this week, aims to provide for measures to deter fugitive economic offenders from evading the process of law in India. It is a deterrent for those offenders who continue to stay outside the jurisdiction of Indian courts. The larger objective of the proposed legislation is to “preserve the sanctity of the rule of law”.
  • In its statement of objectives and reasons, the government refers to the “several instances of economic offenders fleeing the jurisdiction of Indian courts anticipating the commencement of criminal proceedings or sometimes during the pendency of such proceedings”. Fugitive businesspersons Vijay Mallya and Nirav Modi have resisted the jurisdiction of Indian courts.
  • The absence of such offenders from Indian courts has several deleterious consequences, such as obstructing investigation in criminal cases and wasting the precious time of courts.
  • The Bill adds teeth to the existing civil and criminal provisions, which have been rather inadequate in dealing with the problem. It is armed to ensure that fugitive economic offenders return to India to face action in accordance with the law. Bill defines a “fugitive economic offender” as an individual who has committed a scheduled offence or offences involving an amount of Rs. 100 crore or more and has fled abroad or refused to return to India to avoid or face criminal prosecution.
  • The proposed law empowers authorities to survey, search and seize. Under this law, the competent authorities can confiscate the property and crime proceeds of a fugitive economic offender and disentitle him from putting forward or defending any civil claim for his assets.


  • Rejuvenate: restore (a river or stream) to a condition characteristic of a younger landscape
  • Collegium:  an advisory or administrative board
  • Fallacy:  failure in reasoning which renders an argument invalid.
  • Writ: a form of written command in the name of a court or other legal authority to act, or abstain from acting, in a particular way.
  • Impugned: dispute the truth, validity, or honesty of (a statement or motive); call into question.
  • Eschew: deliberately avoid using; abstain from.
  • Indictment: a formal charge or accusation of a serious crime.
  • Decapitation: an attempt to undermine a group or organization by removing its leaders.
  • Stifling: making one feel constrained or oppressed.
Toppers25_Current Affairs 15/03/2018

Toppers25_Current Affairs 15/03/2018

1. Stephen Hawking, science’s brightest star, dies aged 76

Tributes poured in on Wednesday to Stephen Hawking, the brightest star in the firmament of science, whose insights shaped modern cosmology and inspired global audiences in the millions. He died at the age of 76 in the early hours of Wednesday morning.

  • Hawking was driven to Wagner, but not the bottle, when he was diagnosed with motor neurone disease in 1963 at the age of 21. Doctors expected him to live for only two more years. But Hawking had a form of the disease that progressed more slowly than usual. He survived for more than half a century.
  • Hawking once estimated he worked only 1,000 hours during his three undergraduate years at Oxford.
  • Hawking’s first major breakthrough came in 1970, when he and Roger Penrose applied the mathematics of black holes to the universe and showed that a singularity, a region of infinite curvature in spacetime, lay in our distant past: the point from which came the big bang.

2. Russian spy: UK to expel 23 Russian diplomats

The UK will expel 23 Russian diplomats after Moscow refused to explain how a Russian-made nerve agent was used on a former spy in Salisbury, the PM says.

  • Mr Allen said the UK government has asked the Organisation for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons, an independent watchdog, to verify its identification of the substance used in Salisbury.
  • The US ambassador Nikki Haley said Washington stood in “absolute solidarity” with Britain, citing the “special relationship” between the two countries and saying the US would “always be there” for the UK.
  • The mass expulsion is the largest since 31 were ordered out in 1985 after double agent Oleg Gordievsky defected.
  • Former spy Sergei Skripal, 66, and his daughter, Yulia Skripal, 33, remain critically ill in hospital after being found slumped on a bench on 4 March.

Moscow refused to meet Mrs May’s midnight deadline to co-operate in the case, prompting Mrs May to announce a series of measures intended to send a “clear message” to Russia.

These include:

  • Expelling 23 diplomats
  • Increasing checks on private flights, customs and freight
  • Freezing Russian state assets where there is evidence they may be used to threaten the life or property of UK nationals or residents
  • Ministers and the Royal Family boycotting the Fifa World Cup in Russia later this year
  • Suspending all planned high-level bilateral contacts between the UK and Russia
  • Plans to consider new laws to increase defences against “hostile state activity”

3. Finance Bill, 2018 passed in Lok Sabha

Finance Minister Arun Jaitley moved the Finance Bill 2018, which contains taxation proposals of his fifth and final budget, as well as the appropriation bill that details spendings in various departments, amid din created by slogan-shouting opposition.

  • The bills were passed by voice vote. Ruling BJP-led NDA has an absolute majority in the Lower House of Parliament.
  • the two Bills also have to go to Rajya Sabha but since they are money bill they would be considered approved if the Upper House of Parliament does not return them within 14 days. The Opposition has an upper hand in the Rajya Sabha.
  • The functioning of both houses of Parliament has been stalled since the second half of the Budget session began on March 5 as opposition parties raised issues ranging from India’s biggest bank fraud to division of Cauvery river water and special package to Andhra Pradesh.

The provisions of Finance Bill, 2018 relating to direct taxes seek to amend the Income-tax Act, 1961 (hereafter referred to as ‘the Act’) to continue to provide momentum to the buoyancy indirect taxes through deepening and widening of the tax base, reducing the corporate tax rate for micro, small and medium enterprises, promoting horizontal equity in personal income-tax and enhancing the effectiveness, transparency and accountability of the tax administration.

4. Different Forms of Cyber-Bullying Explained

  1. Harassment

It involves the bully sending offensive and malicious messages to an individual or a group and is often repeated multiple times. Cyberstalking is one form of harassment that involves continual threatening and rude messages, and can lead to physical harassment in the real, offline world.

  1. Flaming

Flaming is similar to harassment, but it refers to an online fight exchanged via emails, instant messaging or chat rooms. It is a type of public bullying that often directs harsh languages, or images to a specific person.

  1. Exclusion

Exclusion is the act of intentionally singling out and leaving a person out from an online group such as chats and sites. The group then subsequently leave malicious comments and harass the one they singled out.

  1. Outing

Outing is when a bully shares personal and private information, pictures, or videos about someone publicly. A person is “outed” when his information has been disseminated throughout the internet.

  1. Masquerading

Masquerading is a situation where a bully creates a fake identity to harass someone anonymously. In addition to creating a fake identity, the bully can impersonate someone else to send malicious messages to the victim.

5. What sparks an India-Pakistan crisis?

The “surgical operation” earlier this month killing the mastermind of the Sunjuwan Army camp attack (Jammu) was lauded as a major victory for Indian security forces, but for some observers, it is surprising that such a seemingly provocative episode closed with such a measured response.

  • The comparison was worrisome. Uri sparked Indian retaliation that could have easily escalated and Kaluchak triggered the second “peak” of the 2001-02 crisis that brought India and Pakistan to the brink of all-out war. Whenever such an audacious attack occurs, analysts hold their breath anticipating a major military confrontation between two nuclear powers, something the world has not witnessed in almost 20 years.
  • A crisis involves three properties — acute threat, significant abnormality, and temporal pressure — and factors that shape perceptions of these can increase or decrease the risk of crisis onset. In our analysis, we found that features of a provocation typically assumed to precipitate escalation — high fatalities, civilian or iconic targets, critical geography, or government leaderships — do not appear to be correlated with the onset of crisis. Instead, provocations correlated with crises exhibit intensified abnormality, like attacks involving complex assaults over an extended duration.
  • Sunjuwan involved an extended duration complex attack to draw attention and provoke Indian overreaction. Nevertheless, the attack was missing some important correlates of a crisis. It did not follow after cumulating cross-border attacks and occurred amidst the backdrop of National Security Adviser dialogue.

6. The right to live and the right to die

GOING a step further after its historic judgment in Aruna Ramchandra Shanbaug v. Union of India (2011), a five-judge Constitution Bench of the Supreme Court in Common Cause v. Union of India made it legal for a terminally ill patient to decline to prolong his/her life with life support measures and provided for the “living will” which is “advance directive” in which an individual can express his/her will in advance whether s/he would like to live with life support system in a vegetative state or would like to die. In case the person has not left such a will,  families of the incurably comatose will be entitled to give consent to withdraw life support to reduce the period of suffering.

The court has given detailed guidelines to check its misuse.

  • The living will (advance directive) can be executed only by an adult of sound mind who is in a position to communicate, relate and comprehend the purpose and consequences of executing the document.
  • It must be voluntary and executed after full knowledge about it, and it shall be stated in writing in clear words when the treatment is to be stopped.
  • Procedure has been laid down regarding the execution of the will.

Requirements set out in Aruna Shanbaug’s case, which also allowed passive euthanasia, were quite rigorous. Only a high court Bench of at least two judges could allow the plea for passive euthanasia after bona fide consent of patient’s relatives and the opinion of an expert panel of “reputed doctors” comprising a neurologist, a psychiatrist and a physician.

This judgment is also an extension of the privacy judgment delivered last year in which the Supreme Court held that the right of the individual to decide how to use his/her body is embedded in the Constitution. Justice DY Chandrachud, in his separate but concurring judgment, has written that “the right not to accept medical treatment is essential to liberty. Medical treatment cannot be thrust upon an individual, however, it may have been conceived in the interest of the individual”.

Many cases of vegetative illness are reported when the patient or his relative wants to pull out the life support system but remains helpless as the law did not permit.

  • In 2004, Vankatesh of Hyderabad died a disconsolate man. Suffering from muscular dystrophy, he wished to donate his organs before they got infected and for this he pleaded for mercy killing. The Andhra Pradesh High Court rejected his mother K. Sujatha’s petition to remove his ventilator after doctors rejected the plea as it went against their Hippocratic Oath.
  • In August 2009, Jeet Narain, a marginal farmer of Mirzapur, UP, filed a mercy death plea for his four sons aged between 10 and 16, all suffering from muscular dystrophy. It sent shockwaves among similar patients struggling against odds to live a life of hope

Toppers25_Current Affairs 14/03/2018

1. RBI bans all Indian banks from issuing LoUs, LoCs

Rs 12,700-crore fraud at Punjab National Bank has prompted the Reserve Bank of India to ban the use of letters of undertaking (LoUs) and letters of comfort (LoCs). LoUs and LoCs are two of the instruments issued by Indian banks to domestic importers to get foreign exchange from banks abroad at a cheaper rate.

  • RBI issued the directive on LoUs and LoCs on Tuesday, about a month after it was discovered that diamond merchants Nirav Modi and Mehul Choksi had misused LoUs issued by PNB to defraud the bank of over $2 billion. An LoU is a type of guarantee between two banks that allows the issuer bank’s customer to get foreign exchange from another Indian bank’s foreign branch in the form of short-term credit.

The RBI decision could potentially push up the cost of imports by up to half a percentage point, besides putting foreign banks on an even keel with Indian banks in financing imports. The RBI directive is effective immediately. However, “letters of credit and bank guarantees for trade credits for imports into India may continue to be issued subject to compliance with” existing regulations

  • Ban on the use of LoUs and LoCs could inconvenience some Indian corporates that have a longer working capital cycle—meaning those companies which take several months to get back the money used in their business by selling their goods, compared to other companies that can recover their money in weeks.
  • Indian corporates use LoUs to make payments to those companies from which they buy goods to send to India. It is alleged that Modi and Choksi had used LoUs much beyond the limit they were eligible to and finally defaulted on the payments to PNB.

2. SC shuts the door on foreign law firms

Keeping India’s legal market exclusively for Indians, the Supreme Court on Tuesday ruled that foreign law firms or foreign lawyers cannot practise law in the country either on the litigation or non-litigation side. This means overseas lawyers or firms cannot open offices in the country, appear in courts or before any authority or render other legal services, such as giving opinions or drafting documents.

“We hold that the expression ‘fly in and fly out’ will only cover a casual visit not amounting to ‘practice’,” the Bench said, adding that any dispute in this issue would be decided by the Bar Council of India. 

The court also ruled that foreign law firms and lawyers did not have an “absolute right” to conduct arbitration proceedings and disputes arising out of contracts relating to international commercial arbitration. Though they might not be debarred from conducting arbitration in India arising out of international commercial arbitration, they would be governed by the code of conduct applicable to the legal profession in India. Sections of the legal fraternity have been opposing their entry, contending that Indian advocates are not allowed to practise in the U.K., the U.S., Australia and other nations, except on fulfilling onerous restrictions like qualifying tests, experience and work permit. It was also argued that foreign lawyers cannot be allowed to practise in India without reciprocity. The closely watched case saw 32 law firms from various countries participating.

  • They had argued that there was no bar on a company carrying on consultancy or support services. The Bar Council of India contended that even non-litigious practice came under the term ‘practice of law’, and that could be done only by those enrolled under the Advocates Act in the country

3. Oppn protests as govt pushes finance bills amid stalemate in Lok Sabha

The government on Tuesday brought key elements of the Budget for passage in Lok Sabha amidst the ongoing stalemate in Parliament prompting complaints from opposition parties that it is trying to bulldoze its way through without discussion.

The proposed list of business signalled the intent of the government to aggressively push these issues through parliament which has hardly seen any business done this session, with the Congress and a few other opposition parties seeking a debate on the fraud at Punjab National Bank, the Telugu Desam seeking special status for the state of Andhra Pradesh, and the AIADMK and the DMK, the appointment of the Cauvery Management Board.

Opposition parties such as the Congress, Trinamool Congress, the CPI (M), the DMK and the NCP wrote to Lok Sabha Speaker Sumitra Mahajan arguing that the time was allotted for discussions on the Demand for Grants of six ministries but the schedule of debate was yet to be finalised. “Without deciding/ informing the date and time of Guillotine and passing of Finance Bill to all Party leaders, it is quite unusual to include them in List of Business,” the letter said.

4. In mystery attack on Russian double agent, tactics of Cold War and a new aggression

British Prime Minister Theresa May Monday served an ultimatum on Russia, seeking an explanation by end of the day Tuesday, over how former spy Sergei Skripal was poisoned in Salisbury, Southwest England. May said evidence suggested Skripal was targeted by a “military-grade nerve agent of a type developed by Russia”. Home Secretary Amber Rudd has announced investigations into attacks on as many as 14 people, allegedly by Russia’s security services or mafia groups.

  • He is a former Colonel who was part of the Russian army’s intelligence wing until 1999. He then worked for the Russian foreign ministry in Moscow until 2003. He was arrested in Moscow in December 2004 for spying for Britain, and sentenced to 13 years in prison in August 2006. Russian prosecutors said British intelligence, the M16, had paid Skripal $ 100,000 for “sensitive” information he had been supplying since the 1990s. In July 2010, Skripal was the beneficiary of a spy swap, and had since been living a quiet life in the UK.

———> What is the basis of the UK’s accusations against Russia?

Skripal was a double agent, a spy who had double-crossed colleagues in the Russian intelligence wing, betrayed fellow army veterans, and provided information to Britain that inflicted considerable damage on Russian intelligence. Also, British investigators have identified the nerve agent used in the attack as belonging to a family of deadly substances known as Novichok, believed to have been developed by the Soviets in the 1970s. A number of high-profile deaths linked to Russia have taken place on British soil.

———->  Why do dissidents in the UK seem particularly vulnerable?

The UK is home to a large number of oligarchs fleeing the Putin regime. While May was prompt in her response on this occasion, she had, as Home Secretary in 2006, delayed a public inquiry into Litvinenko’s death, citing the need to protect “international relations” with Russia. The inquest that finally began in 2011, concluded in 2016 that the Kremlin “probably” ordered the hit on Litvinenko. 

  • On Monday, Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov denied that his country had any role in the Skripal incident .Russia has also been quick to respond to May’s statements, rejecting the allegations and terming them as a “provocation”.

5. FinMin rules out happiness index

The finance ministry on Tuesday told Rajya Sabha that it had no plan  to implement Gross Domestic Happiness (GDH) for measuring the overall growth of the country.

  • Critics have long pointed out that the GDP doesn’t capture overall well being of the citizens  and there should be another index which also capture spiritual, physical, social and environmental health of its citizens.
  • Member of Parliament Amar Shankar Sable had asked whether the government is contemplating to implement the process of fixing the criteria of Gross Domestic Happiness (GDH) for measuring the overall growth. “There is no such proposal at present with the Ministry of Finance,” MoS (finance) Pon Radhakrishnan said.
  • Since World War II, a nation’s success has been measured by the country’s economic output in monetary terms called GDP. However there has been also attempts to measure a country’s success through alternate means.

It was Bhutan which first evolved the concept of Gross National Happiness. Infact it was former Bhutan King Jigme Singye Wangchuck who had coined the term “Gross National Happiness”.

In 2011, the UN general assembly passed a resolution inviting member states to consider measures that could better capture the “pursuit of happiness” in development.

6. What was the 20:80 gold import scheme?

In response to a stressed current account deficit in 2012-13 due to a surge in gold imports, the government at the time introduced an import scheme in 2013, which mandated that 20% of all gold imports would have to be exported.

At the time of its implementation, the 20:80 scheme was open only to banks and to public sector companies such as the Metals and Minerals Trading Corporation and the State Trading Corporation of India. In May 2014, the RBI in consultation with the government widened the scheme to also allow Premium Trading Houses (PTH) and Star Trading Houses (STH), both private sector entities, to import gold.

  • According to the Commerce Ministry, a review of the scheme found that since liberalisation in May 2014, gold imports had increased substantially, averaging about 140-150 tonnes a month. Within this, the government found that gold imported by STHs and PTHs increased 320% following the May 2014 decision compared with the earlier period.
  • The share of these entities in the total gold imported into the country also increased from 20% before May to 60% after, according to the government.
  • The government on November 28, 2014 scrapped the 20:80 scheme and removed all restrictions on gold imports.
  • The Centre, citing the Comptroller and Auditor General of India, said that the average monthly import of gold fell to 71.5 million tonnes in the months following the abolition of the 20:80 scheme [December 2014 to March 2015] from the monthly average of 92.16 million tonnes in the period following the widening of the policy [June 2014 to November 2014].

7. Massive solar storm slamming into Earth on March 14, could cause power outages and stunning views of the Northern Lights

  • Two gigantic solar flares erupting from the sun have been recorded by NASA.
  • The space agency has said the resulting solar storm could strike Earth today and tomorrow and may disrupt satellites and cause power outages in some places.
  • However, the charged particles that make up the solar storm could create stunning views of the Northern Lights as they interact with our atmosphere..
  • The arrival of the solar storm coincides with the formation of ‘equinox cracks’ in Earth’s magnetic field, which form around the equinoxes on March 20 and September 23 each year. Space weather is caused by the behaviour of the sun and can occur in the form of radiation storms, solar flares and, the one to worry about, coronal mass ejections – which sends scores of solar material into space, and sometimes hurtling towards Earth.


  • Bulldoze: use force insensitively when dealing with
  • Dissident: in opposition to official policy
  • Provocation: action or speech that makes someone angry, especially deliberately.
  • Hurtling: move or cause to move at high speed, typically in an uncontrolled manner

Toppers25_Current Affairs 13/03/2018

1. Rise in average temp causing more forest fires across country

The death of nine trekkers in Tamil Nadu’s Theni district was a tragedy waiting to happen with rising forest fires emerging as a threat to environment and life in the state and across the country.

In Tamil Nadu alone, the number of reported forest fires has increased from 89 in 2013 to 301 in 2017. In the same period, forest fires almost doubled in India, from 18,451 in 2013 to 35,888 in 2017. Increasing average temperatures across India, particularly in TN, and dry foliage because of lack of rainfall, according to experts. “The year we get less winter rainfall, the summer temperatures are higher, forests become highly prone to fires especially those that are near human habitation,” said Amit Kumar Verma, a researcher at the Forest Reported forest fires almost doubled three times Fires went up Research Institute. Tamil Nadu has seen both rising temperatures and dry conditions.

2. Rise of violent Buddhist rhetoric in Asia defies stereotypes

Buddhism may be touted in the West as an inherently peaceful philosophy, but a surge in violent rhetoric from small but increasingly influential groups of hardline monks in parts of Asia is upending the religion’s tolerant image.

  • Buddhist mobs in Sri Lanka last week led anti-Muslim riots that left at least three dead and more than 200 Muslim-owned establishments in ruins, just the latest bout of communal violence there stoked by Buddhist nationalists.
  • Despite centuries of largely peaceful co-existence and trading, Buddhist fundamentalist groups portray Islam as invasive, toppling ancient Buddhist empires in Malaysia and Indonesia and now threatening the same for modern Buddhist nations through jihad or high birth rates.
  • In Sri Lanka, Buddhist militancy has gone mainstream, with clergy seen clashing with riot police and leading anti-government protests.
  • During the brutal 26-year civil war, the ire of ultra-nationalists among the mainly Buddhist Sinhalese majority was focused on the island’s Tamil Hindus.
  • Myanmar’s Wirathu has built a following railing against Muslims in incendiary sermons both in person and on Facebook — which closed down his page in January.
  • While Muslims make up less than four percent of Myanmar’s population, Wirathu paints a millenarian portrait of an Islamic plot to eradicate Buddhism.

3. Macro data signals an economic turnaround

India’s factory output grew at a robust pace for the third straight month, at 7.5% in January, while retail inflation surprisingly slowed for the second consecutive month to 4.4% in February, signalling that the economy may be set on a strong recovery path.

  • In December, the index of industrial production (IIP) grew 7.1%, while consumer price index (CPI)-based inflation had slowed to 5.1% in January.

The economy regained its momentum in the December quarter, recovering from disruptions caused by demonetization and implementation of the goods and services tax, to expand at 7.2%, the fastest in five quarters. Slower inflation may also dissuade the central bank from taking a hawkish stance in the upcoming monetary policy review on 5 April. In February, the Reserve Bank of India (RBI) kept interest rates unchanged and warned that inflation risks were skewing upwards. It raised its March quarter CPI inflation forecast to 5.1% and projected an inflation range of 5.1-5.6% in the first half of the next fiscal year.

  • The seasonal trend of rising food prices as summer approaches may prevent further easing of food inflation (3.26% in February) in the ongoing month, said Aditi Nayar, principal economist at rating company ICRA Ltd.
  • In terms of industries, 16 out of the 22 industry groups in the manufacturing sector showed positive growth in January. The highest positive contributors to the robust IIP growth continued to be digestive enzymes and antacids, followed by diesel, electricity, sugar and two-wheelers.

4. Why Nasa is going two million kilometres to mine an asteroid

Asteroids are known to be treasure troves of precious minerals. A Nasa mission is under way to test the feasibility on a nearby asteroid, and a niche group of companies is ramping up to claim a piece of the pie.

Nasa’s Osiris-Rex, launched from Cape Canaveral in Florida in 2016, has travelled over 1.3 billion km since, orbiting the sun for a year and hurtling past Earth to change course toward near-Earth asteroid Bennu

  • Bennu comes very close to Earth every six years and scientists estimate asteroids of its type are made of about 10% iron and nickel

    Shape & chemistry
    During its time at Bennu, the spacecraft will analyse the asteroid’s shape and chemistry, sample its surface materials and collect data on its orbit so scientists can determine the likelihood of it crashing into Earth in the future

    Back in 5 years
    Osiris-Rex will begin its return journey back to Earth in March 2021. When it nears Earth in September 2023, it will eject the sample capsule, which will parachute to the surface.

Industry barons see a future in finding and harnessing water on asteroids for rocket fuel, which will allow astronauts and spacecrafts to stay in orbit for longer periods. Investors, including Richard Branson, China’s Tencent Holdings and the nation of Luxembourg, see a longerterm solution to replenishing materials such as iron and nickel as Earth’s natural resources are depleted.

5. Indo-French harmony: on President Macron’s visit to India

Much like the pioneering India-France strategic partnership of 1998, the agreements signed during President Emmanuel Macron’s visit are set to strengthen bilateral cooperation at a time of global flux. The Joint Vision Statement on the Indian Ocean Region is clearly aimed at countering China’s growing presence in the region. And the International Solar Alliance, recommitment to starting the Jaitapur nuclear power plant, and joint ventures on climate change cooperation are reactions to the U.S. abdicating its role by announcing its pullout from the Paris accord. The “reciprocal logistics support” agreement, which Prime Minister Narendra Modi called a “golden step” in defence cooperation, is a signal to Russia and to the U.S.-led alliance that partnered in the “Quadrilateral”, that both New Delhi and Paris feel the need to diversify strategic postures beyond their current choices.

  •  The daunting task ahead is made clear by Mr. Macron’s assertion that $1 trillion is needed to reach the ISA goals by 2030: India and France have so far committed $1.4 billion and $1.3 billion, respectively.

France’s nuclear power story is a success, but negotiations between EDF and NPCIL for the Jaitapur plant, billed as the world’s biggest, have made very slow progress. While the two countries have committed to start construction by end-2018, they have missed deadlines multiple times. Bilateral cooperation in the Indian Ocean Region too is more symbolic than substantive today, and much will depend on how closely the Indian and French navies and intelligence work together in the future. The presumed joint message to Beijing may also be blurred by Mr. Macron’s parallel commitment to help “lead” the Belt and Road Initiative with China. As two pluralistic democracies with a firm belief in a multipolar world order and in the future of Eurasia, India and France have numerous strategic convergences.

6. India world’s largest importer of major arms in the last four years 

India was the world’s largest importer of major arms between 2012–16, accounting for 13 per cent of the global total sales, according to a new data released by Stockholm International Peace Research Institute (SIPRI), an independent institute that tracks arms proliferation among other issues in conflict studies.

India increased its arms imports by 43 per cent, between 2007–11 and 2012–16. In the last four years India’s imports were far greater than those of its regional rivals China and Pakistan, SIPRI said in its report released today on international arms transfer.

  • Increase in arms transfers are driven by demand in Middle east and Asia, with imports by countries in South East Asia going up by 6.2 per cent from 2007–11 to 2012–16. Vietnam was another in South East Asia that made a big jump with its arm imports. Being the 29th largest importer in 2007–11 to the 10th largest in 2012–16, a 202 percent jump in its arms imports.

    Middle East has doubled its imports, as between 2007–11 and 2012–16 arms imports by states in the region rose by 86 per cent and accounted for 29 per cent of global imports in 2012–16.


Rhetoric: the art of effective or persuasive speaking or writing

Toppers25_Current Affairs 12/03/2018

1. India, France launch solar alliance, promise funds

Declaring that India wanted a solar revolution not just in the country but across the world and announcing the establishment of a “Solar Techn-ology Mission”, Prime Minister Narendra Modi on Sunday announced the allocation of $1.4 billion as part of India’s Line of Credit (LoC) for 27 solar projects in 15 developing countries.

  • Prime Minister Modi and French President Emmanuel Macron co-chaired the founding conference of the International Solar Alliance (ISA) in the Capital that is being attended by over 20 heads and deputy heads of government, a majority of them African.
  • 23 out of these 27 projects for which Mr Modi offered financial assistance are in African countries where observers point out that India has been trying its best to counter Chinese influence.
  • The remaining four projects are in India’s neighbourhood of which two each are in Bangladesh (worth a total of $180 million) and Sri Lanka ($100 million).
  • This is apart from 13 solar development projects — either completed or under implementation — under Indian LoC worth $143 million in African countries.

Some of the solar projects that will be undertaken by India in other countries include setting up of Mollahat 100 MW Solar PV power plant worth $150.26 million in Bangladesh, electrification by photovoltaic solar system of 550 social community infrastructures (health centres, high schools and hand-pumped boreholes) worth $ 21 million in rural areas of Benin (Africa), Solar powered water stations for semi-urban water supply worth US$ 36.50 million in Burkina Faso (Africa), solar PV Renewable Micro-Utility (REMU) in six political zones in Nigeria (Africa) worth $8.36 million and 50 MW solar power plant in Bauchi State, again in Nigeria, worth $ 66.60 million and three projects in Seychelles with whom  India had inked an agreement in January

2. What is International Solar Alliance?

The International Solar Alliance (ISA) was unveiled by Prime Minister Narendra Modi and then French President Francois Hollande at the U.N. Climate Change Conference in Paris on November 30, 2015. Towards this, the ISA has set a target of 1 TW of solar energy by 2030, which current French President Emmanuel Macron said would require $1 trillion to achieve.

  • The ISA is open to 121 prospective member countries, most of them located between the Tropics of Cancer and Capricorn as this is the region worldwide with a surplus of bright sunlight for most of the year.
  • So far, however, only 56 countries have signed the ISA Framework Agreement
  • Apart from being a founding-member, India plays a significant role in the alliance in terms of being a host as well as a major contributor to the achievement of the target. The ISA is the first international body that will have a secretariat in India. India, with a target to produce 100 GW of solar energy by 2022, would account for a tenth of ISA’s goal. 


3. Elon Musk Says Hyperloop Will Give Pedestrians Priority Over Cars

The ‘urban loop’ would involve thousands of small stations about the size of a parking space. The billionaire technology entrepreneur said his tunneling startup, Boring Co., will prioritize pedestrians and cyclists in its hyperloop plan. The system “will still transport cars but only after all personalized mass transit needs are met,” Musk wrote on Twitter. “It’s a matter of courtesy and fairness. If someone can’t afford a car, they should go first.”

Musk published a white paper in 2013 outlining a transportation system using sealed tubes allowing for airplane-like speeds. He had once said he didn’t want to get into the business himself but changed his mind last year. The Boring Co. has begun digging test sites in Hawthorne, California, where Musk’s Space Exploration Technologies Corp. is located. Musk has said he would like to build a tunnel along the west side of Los Angeles. The startup is seeking approval from local jurisdictions, including Culver City, where his proposed tunnel would run.

The Boring Co. has secured a permit for a few miles between Baltimore and Washington but hasn’t begun construction. The route could be part of a system that one day connects Washington to New York

4. Now an ‘action plan’ in place of policy for electric vehicles

A month after India dropped the idea of an electric vehicle policy, the government’s think-tank NITI Aayog has tasked at least seven ministries with framing guidelines to encourage the use of such vehicles.

  • Once framed, the NITI Aayog will put these guidelines together as an action plan for promoting the use of electric vehicles (EVs). The government had earlier made a surprising U-turn on an EV policy after some carmakers protested that they were unprepared for an abrupt shift and that government policy should encourage all clean-fuel technologies. The ministries that have been asked to formulate guidelines are those of heavy industries, power, new and renewable energy, road transport and shipping and highways, earth sciences, urban affairs and information technology.
  • While the road transport ministry has been asked to form guidelines on non-fiscal incentives, public transportation and last-mile connectivity in the context of EVs and sustainable mobility solutions, the power ministry has been tasked with framing rules for charging infrastructure.

The Indian government is not in favour of procuring lithium from other countries and companies will have to source lithium for battery packs by entering an arrangement with countries that have lithium and cobalt deposits. 

5. Reshaping Indo-Pacific

The expansive prospect for India’s strategic partnership with France unveiled in Delhi on Saturday by Prime Minister Narendra Modi and the visiting President, Emmanuel Macron, underlines the growing importance of middle power coalitions that transcend the traditional alliance frameworks and new geopolitical fault lines. Amidst America’s uncertain external orientation and China’s effort to reshape the global order, second-tier powers like India and France seek a greater say in world affairs through more intensive collaboration. In that process, they are breaking down the old stereotypes of East versus West and North versus South.

  • In taking the lead on mitigating climate change, through the International Solar Alliance, India and France are demonstrating their potential for shared global leadership. France, a long standing military ally of the United States, is also looking beyond NATO to forge security partnerships with Asian democracies like India. Delhi, in turn, appreciates that its quest for a larger role in the world can’t be founded in exclusive security partnerships with either Russia or America. 

The Indo-Pacific has emerged as the new arena for cooperation between Delhi and Paris. Although India’s strategic partnership with France is the oldest and dates back to the late 1990s, it lacked a regional anchor. The focus was mainly on expanding bilateral defence and high technological cooperation. With their long standing national advantages in the Indo-Pacific threatened by the global power shift, they have chosen to band together.

  • Beyond their effort to influence the high politics of the Indo-Pacific, Delhi and Paris have agreed to address a huge gap in the bilateral relationship — the limited contact among the peoples of the two countries. Macron has promised to make France a major destination for Indian students, engineers, scientists and artists. At a time when borders are closing elsewhere in the world, this is a huge opportunity for the new generation of globalising Indians. Macron’s unbridled enthusiasm for India connects with his effort to rejuvenate France and revitalise Europe. 

6. Macron in Delhi: Russia appears to be cooling towards India, can France replace it?

French President Emmanuel Macron’s India visit has helped highlight a bilateral relationship that is far too understated for its own good. It is worth remembering that France was the only western nation that unambiguously supported India after its Pokhran II nuclear tests, refusing to impose any bilateral sanctions on New Delhi. As of now, Macron has emerged as a key force behind the European Union and is looking to increase French heft in the international arena.

  • After the Logistic Exchange Memorandum of Agreement with the US, the pact with France will increase options for Indian maritime operations in the Indo-Pacific, countering the threat of a potential Chinese encirclement of India. Macron did sound a discordant note in hard selling Rafale fighter jets to India, of which India has already agreed to buy 36 despite doubts in the country about the expense of the deal. He is a man of ideas and one hopes he sees more in the relationship with India than a transactionalist view where India is merely a market for expensive fighter jets or nuclear power plants.

In that regard the memorandum of understanding on mutual recognition of academic qualifications with India is an encouraging step, as is Macron attending the founding conference of the International Solar Alliance in Delhi with Prime Minister Narendra Modi. One hopes this can lead to transfer of technology and joint production deals in renewable energy and other high tech fields, as well as in stepped up trade and investment ties

7. M&A rebound is a good sign for Indo-Japan ties

  • A resurgence of Japanese interest in India is worth meditating on. Nippon Steel is part of a bid for its bankrupt rival on the subcontinent, Essar Steel. That would mark a revival of high-profile dealmaking in India after several big flops. The two countries share a spiritual affinity through Buddhism; healthier financial relations will also help create the harmonious, democracy-led region that Tokyo and Washington both want.
  • India’s rapidly growing middle class represents a huge opportunity for Japan, a rich country with a shrinking population. 
  • The Indian embassy in Tokyo shows foreign direct investment peaked around 2008 and 2009, with mega-deals including NTT DoCoMo’s $2 billion purchase of a stake in Tata Teleservices and Daiichi’s Sankyo’s $3 billion-plus acquisition of drugmaker Ranbaxy Laboratories
  • Both deals were disasters. Tata Teleservices performed badly and then, to exacerbate the pain, the RBI tried to prevent DoCoMo from recouping half of its original investment as part of a pre-deal insurance policy agreed upon between the two companies. Meanwhile, Ranbaxy ran into big trouble with U.S. regulators. Daiichi Sankyo alleged that the previous Indian shareholders hid information; it eventually sold the company to a domestic rival. Both Japanese groups took their cases to international courts.

The two cases are not the best advertisement for big bets on the subcontinent. It is against this backdrop that Nippon has teamed up with Luxembourg-based ArcelorMittal to bid around $6 billion for Essar Steel. The Japanese probably hope that investing alongside the Mittal family, as a quasi-local partner, will help avoid nasty surprises. A deal would follow smaller investments by Japan’s SoftBank into tech start-ups and a 50-year loan from Tokyo to build a bullet train linking Mumbai with Ahmedabad.

  • More investment will also lend credibility to the idea of a “free and open Indo-Pacific”.

Toppers25_Current Affairs 11/03/2018

1. China on mind, India, France step up ties

Two decades since India, then facing heat from western nations in the aftermath of nuclear tests, signed its first strategic partnership with France in 1998, the partners today stepped up cooperation in the Indian Ocean significantly. French President Emmanuel Macron and PM Narendra Modi at delegation-level talks agreed on a reciprocal logistics agreement between their armed forces as well as a joint strategic vision document on the Indian Ocean region.

  • This is along the lines of a vision document announced with the US on the Indo-Pacific in 2015. India has a coastline of 7,500 km, more than 1,380 islands and 2 million sq km of exclusive economic zone (EEZ) in the region.
  • France has a military base in Reunion Island and 1.6 million of its citizens reside in the territory owned in the Indo-Pacific, including a 9.1 million sq km of EEZ.
  • Indian and French space agencies will now provide end-to-end solution for detection, identification and monitoring of vessels in the region.
  • On counter-terrorism, the joint statement names groups including Al-Qaida, ISIS, Jaish-e-Mohammed, Hizbul Mujahideen and Lashkar-e-Toiba with an agreement to strengthen counter-terrorism efforts at multilateral fora such as the UN, Financial Action Task Force) and G20.

2. 14 agreements signed; Jaitapur N-plant, counter-terrorism on list

  • In all, 14 pacts were signed between the two sides, including one on finding a way forward to expedite the stalled Jaitapur nuclear power plant contract
  • To be built by the French State-controlled EDF, it will be the largest nuclear power plant in the world with a capacity of 10,000 MW
  • Pact on strengthening counter-terrorism efforts at multilateral fora, such as the UN, Financial Action Task Force and G20

3. What is Special Category status (SCS)?

While the Constitution does not have any provision for categorisation of any state as a Special Category Status (SCS) State, but considering the fact that some areas in India are historically disadvantaged as compared to others, the Centre has assisted states with funds in the past allocated by the former Planning Commission body called the National Development Council (NDC). 

In the past, the NDC considered factors such as difficult and hilly terrain, low population density and/or a sizeable share of tribal population, strategic location along borders, economic and infrastructural backwardness, and non-viable nature of state finances. The NITI Aayog, which has replaced the Planning Commission, has no power to allocate funds  — therefore, the discretion that the ruling party at the Centre had to dole out special favours to states through the Plan panel, no longer exists.

  • The Centre pays 90 per cent of the funds required in a centrally-sponsored scheme to special category status category states as against 60 per cent in case of normal category states, while the remaining funds are provided by the state governments. 
  • However, the Centre has agreed to give “special assistance” to AP for five years, which would make up for the additional central share the state might have received during these years — 2015-16 to 2019-20, as envisaged by Singh’s 2014 statement. 
  • AP is demanding that special assistance funding should be in the 90:10 ratio (Centre: state) for both EAPs and centrally-sponsored schemes — which adds up to about Rs 20,010 crore of central assistance.
  • Aside from Andhra Pradesh, Odisha and Bihar had demanded SCS status. However, they have not been granted the status as they did not fulfill the criteria to be qualified as an SCS State.
  • The NDC  first accorded SCS in 1969 to Jammu and Kashmir, Assam and Nagaland. Over the years, eight more states were added to the list — Arunachal Pradesh, Himachal Pradesh, Manipur, Meghalaya, Mizoram, Sikkim, Tripura and, finally, in 2010, Uttarakhand. 

4. India lost 40% of its mangroves in the last century. And it’s putting communities at risk

The sight of the Sundarbans, the world’s largest mangrove forest, straddling India and Bangladesh, is humbling. This biodiversity hotspot is home to 180 species of trees and plants growing within its marshy boundaries, the Gangetic dolphin, estuarine crocodiles, river terrapins, hawksbill turtles, horseshoe crabs and of course the iconic Bengal tiger. The tides in this 10,000 swamp are so dramatic that about a third of the land disappears and reappears every day. It has been happening for centuries, but the changes have become more extreme in the past few decades.

In this delta of the Ganga, Brahmaputra and Meghna rivers, the sea is rising more dramatically than in other parts of the world, research shows. Known as the biggest carbon sink in South Asia, these mangrove forests are recognised as a world heritage site.

One of the major obstacles to the growth of mangroves is rapid and largely unregulated coastal development. Although India has framed laws to protect its coastline, they are honoured mostly in the breach. For instance, Mumbai has less than 45 of mangrove forests left. This is all that remains after almost 70% was lost to land reclamation and other developmental projects. India has lost 40% of its mangrove area in the last century, mainly due to agriculture, aquaculture, tourism, urban development and overexploitation, researchers from the Indian Institute of Science have found.

TheState of Forest Report 2017, released last month by the Forest Survey of India, says that the mangrove cover in the country is increasing only marginally in the past two decades and now covers some 4,921 

5. ISA: International Solar Alliance

India proudly hosted ISA conference on 11 March ,Rashtrapati Bhavan. ISA is Prime Ministr Narendra Modi ‘s Vision of bringing world together for harnessing solar energy towards the objective of providing universal energy access at affordable rates to the masses.

Toppers25_Current Affairs 10/03/2018

1. A man, an ideology: The importance of EV Ramasamy Periyar

Born in 1879, Periyar is remembered for the Self Respect Movement to redeem the identity and self-respect of Tamils. He envisaged a Dravida homeland of Dravida Nadu, and launched a political party, Dravidar Kazhagam (DK).

  • Periyar started his political career as a Congress worker in his hometown Erode. He quarrelled with Gandhi over the question of separate dining for Brahmin and non-Brahmin students at Gurukkulam, a Congress-sponsored school owned by nationalist leader V V S Iyer in Cheranmahadevi near Tirunelveli.
  • After failing to bend the Congress to his view, Periyar resigned from the party in 1925, and associated himself with the Justice Party and the Self Respect Movement, which opposed the dominance of Brahmins in social life, especially the bureaucracy.
  • Periyar’s fame spread beyond the Tamil region during the Vaikom Satyagraha of 1924, a mass movement to demand that lower caste persons be given the right to use a public path in front of the famous Vaikom temple. Periyar took part in the agitation with his wife, and was arrested twice. He would later be referred to as Vaikom Veerar (Hero of Vaikom).
  • He reconstructed the Tamil identity as an egalitarian ideal that was originally unpolluted by the caste system, and counterposed it against the Indian identity championed by the Congress. He argued that caste was imported to the Tamil region by Aryan Brahmins, who spoke Sanskrit and came from Northern India. In the 1940s, Periyar launched Dravidar Kazhagam, which espoused an independent Dravida Nadu comprising Tamil, Malayalam, Telugu, and Kannada speakers. Periyar died in 1973 at the age of 94.

For the average Tamil, Periyar today is an ideology. He stands for a politics that foregrounded social equality, self-respect, and linguistic pride. As a social reformer, he focused on social, cultural and gender inequalities, and his reform agenda questioned matters of faith, gender and tradition. He asked people to be rational in their life choices. He argued that women needed to be independent, not mere child-bearers, and insisted that they be allowed a equal share in employment. C N Annadurai, who was Periyar’s dearest pupil at one time, broke with him, split the DK, and formed the Dravida Munnetra Kazhagam (DMK) in 1949.

The universal condemnation of BJP leader H Raja’s social media remarks — he has since removed the post and apologised — underlines the iconic status Periyar enjoys in Tamil Nadu. DK now has limited political influence in Tamil Nadu, but Periyar has grown beyond the DK and even Tamil Nadu. While caste discrimination continues to be prevalent in the state, every political party pays at least lip service to Periyar’s ideals of social and political justice. Periyar is seen as an icon of OBC political assertion. Any attempt to deride him will be seen as an attempt to undermine the gains made by OBCs even beyond Tamil Nadu.

2. ‘Dotard’ Trump to meet ‘rocket man’ Kim

  • US President Donald Trump said he was prepared to meet North Korea’s Kim Jong Un in what would be the first face-to-face encounter between leaders from the two countries and could mark a breakthrough in a standoff over the North’s nuclear weapons. Kim and Trump have engaged in an increasingly bellicose exchange of insults over the North’s nuclear and missile programmes, which it pursues in defiance of UN Security Council resolutions, before an easing of tension coinciding with last month’s Winter Olympics in the South. Chung said Trump agreed to meet by May in response to Kim’s invitation.
  • Both Russia and China, who joined years of on-again, off-again “six-party” talks, along with the United States, the two Koreas and Japan, aimed at ending the standoff, welcomed the new, positive signals after months of deteriorating relations between North Korea and the US

Road to peace

  • Signs of a thaw emerged this year, with North and South Korea resuming talks and North Korea attending the Winter Olympics. During the Pyongyang talks this week, the two Koreas agreed on a summit in late April, their first since 2007
  • Japan, however, remained cautious. Japanese PM Shinzo Abe and Trump, in a call on Thursday, vowed to continue to enforce sanctions until Pyongyang took “tangible steps … toward denuclearisation,” the White House said in a statement

3. SC Constitution Bench holds passive euthanasia, living wills permissible

In a historic decision, the Supreme Court on Friday declared passive euthanasiaand the right of persons, including the terminally ill, to give advance directives to refuse medical treatment permissible.

A Constitution Bench, led by Chief Justice of India Dipak Misra, in three concurring opinions, upheld that the fundamental right to life and dignity includes right to refuse treatment and die with dignity.

  • The fundamental right to a “meaningful existence” includes a person’s choice to die without suffering, it held.
  • Chief Justice Misra spoke about how societal pressure and fear of criminal liability by relatives and medical doctors ultimately led to the suffering and the undignified death of the patient. Chief Justice Misra, in a common judgment with Justice A.M. Khanwilkar, said it was time to “alleviate the agony of an individual” and stand by his right to a dignified passing. A dignified death should follow a meaningful existence, the five-judge Bench agreed in a unanimous voice.
  • Justice Sikri said an advance directive or living will from a patient to stop medical treatment at a particular stage — “particularly when he is brain dead or clinically dead or not revivable” — quelled apprehensions of future regret for relatives and criminal action against doctors.Free will includes the right of a person to refuse medical treatment,” he said.
  • A person need not give any reasons nor is he answerable to any authority on why he should write an advanced directive.
  • But the judge held that active euthanasia is unlawful.
  • For this reason, he said the reasons given by a two-judge Bench of the Supreme Court in the Aruna Shanbaug case, allowing passive euthanasia,were “flawed” as the convoluted procedure to get a go-ahead for passive euthanasia made the dignity of a dying person dependent on the whims and will of third parties.

4. What is active, passive euthanasia and ‘living will’?

The Supreme Court, in a landmark judgement on Friday, decided that passive euthanasia will be legally allowed henceforth in India.

What is active and passive euthanasia?

The apex court, in the Aruna Shanbaug case, said that active euthanasia “entails the use of lethal substances or forces to kill a person, e.g. a lethal injection…”. This means that a terminally-ill patient is administered a lethal drug or substance intentionally in order for them to pass away peacefully, in this case, in the event of terminal illness.

  • While legalising passive euthanasia on Friday, the chief bench defined Active euthanasia as “a positive act or affirmative action or act of commission entailing the use of lethal substances or forces to cause the intentional death of a person by direct intervention, e.g., a lethal injection given to a person with terminal cancer who is in terrible agony.”
  • Passive euthanasia also called negative euthanasia or non-aggressive euthanasia, on the other hand, was defined by the apex court, as that which “entails withholding of medical treatment for continuance of life, e.g. withholding of antibiotics where without giving it a patient is likely to die…”.

What is ‘living will’?

The “living will” is a person’s right to issue advance directive on the course of his/her treatment, including withdrawal of life support, should such a situation arise. However, there is no way a living will provision can be made foolproof requiring no intervention of the doctor or immediate decisionmakers around a person.

5. SC recognises living will by terminally-ill patients for passive euthanasia

The apex court said that it has laid down guidelines on who would execute the will and how nod for passive euthanasia would be granted by the medical board. The court said its guidelines and directives shall remain in force till a legislation is brought to deal with the issue. The court observed that patients have a right to die with dignity.

  • A five-judge constitution bench headed by Chief Justice Dipak Mishra, also comprising justices A.K. Sikri, A.M. Khanwilkar, D.Y. Chandrachud and Ashok Bhushan, had reserved its verdict on a plea on October 11. The CJI, while reading out the judgment, said that though there were four separate opinions of the bench but all the judges were unanimous that the ‘living will’ should be permitted since a person cannot be allowed to continue suffering in a comatose state when he or she doesn’t wish to live. The bench was hearing a PIL filed by NGO Common Cause, saying safeguards were needed while taking a decision by medical boards to withdraw life support of a terminally-ill patient.
  • On January 15, 2016, the Centre had said the 241st report of the Law Commission stated that passive euthanasia should be allowed with certain safeguards and there was also a proposed law—Medical Treatment of Terminally Ill Patient (Protection of Patients and Medical Practitioners) Bill, 2006.

6.Turtle Tales

  • Nearly one lakh female olive ridley sea turtles have turned up on the tranquil nesting ground of the gahirmatha beach off the Bay of Bengal
  • 6.04 lakh olive ridley sea turtles ,the world largest rookery of these species ,crawled their way to the Gahirmatha Beach for mass nesting over the past 24 hours as the dug out nests to lay eggs. The mass nesting process begin after the day break and continues till the wee hours.
  • It is expected to continue for atleast 5-6 more days.

7. CISF Raising DAY

Central Industrial Security Force Raising day is celebrated on March 10. This year 2018  ,it celebrated 50th Year of excellence in securing the national assets.

  • Over 1,54,000 strong CAPF
  • CAPF having largest interface
  • CAPF having highest percentage of women workforce
  • Providing security and fire consultancy services



Toppers25_Current Affairs 09/03/2018

1. Macron’s India visit: India, France to unveil Pacific cooperation plan

India and France will come up with a joint vision statement on the Indo-Pacific– on the lines of a similar US-India declaration– to coordinate their strategic objectives in the region during a visit by French President Emmanuel Macron starting on 9 March.

  • The ambitious blueprint envisions a trilateral naval exercise separately with the United Arab Emirates and Australia, and a logistics agreement with France for the Indian Ocean region that would give India access to French naval bases.
  • A pact between the national security councils of the two countries to protect the security and sanctity of documents pertaining to national security will also be signed after a meeting between Prime Minister Narendra Modi and Macron on March 10 Macron will take part in the founding conference of the International Solar Alliance on March 11. France has offered India 36 more Rafale fighter jets and to build six more advanced stealth submarines in India that will be an upgraded version of the Scorpene submarine.

The term Indo-Pacific has gained currency recently across diplomatic and security circles in the US, Australia, India and Japan as the countries devise ways to deal with an aggressive China in the region.

2. PM launches nutrition mission

Prime Minister Narendra Modi today launched National Nutrition Mission-2022 (Poshan Mission) to provide the best nutrition to newborns and expanded “Beti Bachao, Beti Padhao” to every district of the country.

  • Modi asked people to pledge to create an atmosphere of equality for the girl child and to end gender-based discrimination in the country. He said the “Beti Bachao, Beti Padhao” programme was expanded from the existing 161 to 640 districts of the country.

The Poshan Mission  would be a comprehensive project involving Rs 9,000 crore, covering not only nutrition, but all issues related to children.

  • Union Minister for Women & Child Development Maneka Gandhi said the Centre would bring a Bill on curbing women trafficking. A new widow shelter home would be set up in Varanasi on the pattern of Vrindavan.

3. Ockhi was the deadliest storm that hit after ’99 supercyclone

Cyclone Ockhi that struck the Indian coast in the end of November 2017 killed 365 persons, according to information shared by the ministry of home affairs in Parliament this week, making it the deadliest since the Odisha supercyclone of 1999 that claimed around 10,000 lives.

  • Ockhi claimed 203 lives in TN, taking into account those who died and those still missing, and presumed dead. Kerala reported 60 dead and 102 missing, all of whom have now been presumed dead by the state government.
  • Cyclone Phailin that struck the Odisha coast in 2013 attained maximum wind speeds of 215km/ hour while Ockhi reached maximum wind speeds of 185 km/hr. Phailin caused 23 deaths. The 1999 super cyclone in Odisha attained maximum wind speeds of 260km/hr.
  • Under the second phase of the National Cyclone Risk Mitigation Project (NCRMP), which started in July 2015 and ends in March 2020, six states, including Kerala, are supposed to develop earlywarning dissemination systems for cyclones.
  • According to an audit by the World Bank, which is funding the project, of the ₹158.95cr that is allocated, the state government had spent no money till July 2017. Kerala had not even signed an agreement with Telecommunications Consultants India Limited (TCIL), its knowledge partner, in setting up an early warning dissemination system.
  • The other five states who are part of the project, including Goa, Gujarat, Karnataka, Maharashtra and West Bengal, haven’t done any better.

4. Lanka president strips PM of law and order post

Sri Lankan President Maithripala Sirisena on Thursday replaced Prime Minister Ranil Wickremesinghe as the Law and Order Minister amidst fresh violence between majority Sinhala Buddhists and minority Muslims in the Kandy district despite imposition of nationwide emergency.

Wickremesinghe’s 11-day tenure as the law and order minister was marred by racial tension in the central district of Kandy since Monday. Muslim-owned businesses and religious sites came under attack from majority Sinhala mobs, forcing the government to enforce curfew. The Sri Lankan government on Wednesday suspended Internet services and blocked access to social networking websites.

5. Solar Alliance meet: India seeks place in the Sun

India is looking for significant gains from the International Solar Alliance(ISA) summit to be held here this weekend which will be attended by not less than 25 heads of government and state. The event, which will be held in the Rashtrapati Bhavan Convention Centre is close to the scale of the India-Africa summit a few years ago. The ministry of external affairs (MEA) has summoned some of its brightest officials from distant countries to handle the protocol and diplomatic details.

  • Since a bulk of the countries who are part of the ISA are from Africa, India has decided to use about $2 billion of the $10 billion line of credit promised to Africa for renewable energy projects in these countries. India is currently identifying a list of projects in the signatory countries — a number of these projects have been asked for by the countries themselves. So MEA will be involved in marrying Indian tech and finance capabilities with specific projects around the world.
  • At the moment, India is looking at four types of solar-powered projects — off-grid power supply hubs, street lighting, irrigation, green buildings, in addition to everyday products like solar cookers etc.

6. Why Andhra Pradesh, Centre can’t agree on special category status

Hours after the Centre ruled out “special status” for Andhra Pradesh, the TDP pulled out its ministers from the NDA government, with its chief Chandrababu Naidu saying he has only been asking for what has been provided for in the AP Reorganisation Act.

The Act, under which the state of Andhra Pradesh was bifurcated in 2014, doesn’t mention ‘special category’, but mentions that the Centre would help Andhra Pradesh bridge any resource gap. Apart from the legislation, former Prime Minister Manmohan Singh had in the Rajya Sabha assured that Andhra Pradesh would be granted special category status. But the BJP, which came to power at the Centre in 2014, has been saying that the 14th Finance Commission doesn’t provide for such treatment to Andhra Pradesh.

  • YV Reddy-headed Fourteenth Finance Commission — a body that defines financial relations between the Centre and individual state governments — redefined the financial relationship between the Centre and the states for the five-year period ending 2019-20. The Commission did away with the ‘special category’ status for states, except for the Northeastern and three hill states. Instead, it suggested that the resource gap of each state be filled through ‘tax devolution’, urging the Centre to increase its share of tax revenues to the states from 32% to 42%. If devolution alone could not cover the revenue gap for certain states, the Commission said, the Centre could provide a revenue deficit grant to these states.
  • The Commission stated that Andhra Pradesh would end up as a revenue deficit state, and recommended that the Centre provide a revenue deficit grant for the period of the 14th Finance Commission.
  • If the special category status provision had survived and had been granted to AP, the state would have received funding for Centrally sponsored schemes (CSC) in the 90:10 ratio — with 90% of the funds coming from the Centre as against 60% for normal category states.

7. PNB fraud: The 80:20 gold import controversy

The 80:20 bullion rule has been in the news in recent days, and formed one part of the Union government’s efforts to deflect criticism from its handling of the fraud at the Punjab National Bank (PNB) and turn up the heat on the opposition United Progressive Alliance (UPA).

  • On 21 May 2014, five days after the UPA government was defeated at the polls and five days before the new National Democratic Alliance (NDA) government took over, the UPA took a decision allowing so-called star trading houses (STHs), premier trading houses (PTHs), and units located in special export zones (SEZs) to import gold and sell up to 80% of the imports in the local market.
  • Until then, the rule had been that such firms could only import gold under the condition that all of it would be exported (after converting it to jewellery). The change resulted in a spike in gold imports. In the six months between June 1 and November 30, 2014, gold imports rose to 553 tonnes. Of these imports, almost 60% was accounted for by 13 PTHs and STHs.
  • The 13 trading houses that increased their imports during the period for which the scheme was active are: Rajesh Exports, MD Overseas, Kundan Rice Mills, Kanak Exports, Edelweiss Commodities, Zaveri & Co, Riddhi Siddhi Bullions, Khandwala Enterprise, Jindal Dyechem, Gopal Jewels, Reliance Industries, Gitanjali Gems, and Su-Raj Diamonds.

Toppers25_Current Affairs 08/03/2018

1. Gender gap in employment has put India behind China

According to World Bank data, China’s per capita GDP was 2.4 times that of India in 2016. In terms of per worker GDP, this ratio is just 1.7. The gap between China’s lead over India in terms of per capita GDP and per worker GDP has been increasing in the last three decades.  almost one-third of the gap between per capita GDP of India and China is because fewer people are working in India than China. This is due to a much bigger gender gap in employment in India. The share of men aged 15 years and above who are employed in India and China was 76.4% and 73.5% respectively in 2017. For women, these numbers were 25.9% for India and 60.4% for China.

More than half of Indian women still do not enjoy free mobility. Statistics from the fourth round of National Family and Health Survey (NFHS) show that more than half of Indian women do not even enjoy the freedom to go out of their homes without anybody’s company. Freedom of mobility is the most curtailed for younger women.

2. Cabinet relief package for telecom sector to attract investment, enhance ease of doing business

The Union Cabinet gave its nod to a relief package for the stressed telecom sector in India. During its meeting on Wednesday, the government agreed to allow more time to the telecom operators to pay for the spectrum bought in auctions, and relax the spectrum holding limit for telecom companies.

  • According to the new decision, the telecom operators will have a one-time opportunity to pay for the spectrum bought in auction within 16 years instead of the present limit of 10 years. Till now, a portion of spectrum auction amount was taken as upfront payment by the Department of Telecom (DoT). The balance, after a two-year moratorium, used to be paid out in 10 annual instalments.

The Cabinet, based on recommendations from the Telecom Commission and Trai, has agreed to remove every ceiling for individual or combined spectrum holding in above 1 GHz band. A cap of 50 per cent has been imposed on combined holding of sub-1GHz bands. The revised spectrum caps limits may be revisited after Final Acts of World Radio-communication Conference (WRC) 2019. Revising the limit for spectrum holding is likely to facilitate consolidation of telecom operators and may encourage their participation in future auctions.

  • Telecom operators have traded charges on multiple occasions, blaming each other for the sector’s financial difficulties. Reliance Jio accused incumbent operators of milking the sector using borrowed money while older players (Airtel, Vodafone and Idea) blamed free voice and data offering by the Mukesh Ambani’s telecom firm for bleeding the sector.

3. Balkrishna Doshi wins architecture’s top Pritzker Prize, first Indian to do so

  • His designs include the IIM-Bangalore; Centre for Environmental Planning and Technology, Ahmedabad; cultural spaces in Ahmedabad such as Tagore Memorial Hall, the Institute of Indology, and Premabhai Hall; and private residence Kamala House (Ahmedabad), among many others.
  • Nonagenarian architect and reputed urban planner Balkrishna Doshi has been named this year’s winner of architecture’s highest honour — the Pritzker Prize, becoming the first Indian to do so.
  • His designs include the IIM-Bangalore; Centre for Environmental Planning and Technology, Ahmedabad; cultural spaces in Ahmedabad such as Tagore Memorial Hall, the Institute of Indology, and Premabhai Hall; and private residence Kamala House (Ahmedabad), among many others.
  • Tom Pritzker, chairman of the Hyatt Foundation that sponsors the award made the ammouncement in Chicago, selecting Doshi as the 2018 Pritzker Architecture  Prize Laureate.

4. Why has WTO warned of the possibility of recession?

The United States announced last week that it will impose tariffs on the import of aluminium and steel. The tariff is essentially a tax on the manufacturers of foreign steel and aluminium who, unless they find other ways to cut down their costs, could possibly be outplayed by their American competitors. U.S. President Donald Trump justified the decision arguing that free trade is the reason why the U.S. suffers a huge trade deficit. He also believes that tariffs can help protect American businesses and jobs from the threat posed by foreign competition. Most economists support free trade because it allows free competition without any of the protective barriers imposed by governments. Such competition is believed to give consumers access to cheaper and better products from across the world, thus improving their standard of living over time. Mr. Trump, however, hopes to protect American manufacturers who have failed to keep up with global competition through the means of restrictive tariffs. Naturally, this will affect consumers across the world, which includes ordinary Americans, who will no longer be able to enjoy the full benefits of free trade across borders.

  • Unfortunately, except for special interest groups who can influence the trade policy of their respective governments, there are likely to be no winners as a result of a global trade war. In fact, ordinary consumers of all countries are likely to lose as a result of any trade war between countries.

A major global trade war in the 1930s had disastrous results as it deepened the Great Depression. Yet the European Union (EU) has vowed to hit back by imposing retaliatory tariffs on the import of American goods.

5. Safety Issues at Fukushima

A Government-Commissioned Group of experts has concluded that a costly underground that a costly underground ice wall is only partially effective in reducing the ever-growing amount of contaminated water at Japan’s destroyed Fukushima Nuclear plant and other measures are needed as well

35 bn yen ice wall helps, but doesn’t solve the problem

1.5 kms coolant filled underground structure was installed around the wrecked reactor buildings to create a frozen soil barrier.

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