Current Affairs 31st Jan 2022

Pegasus issue to roil Budget session #GS2 #Governance

The Budget session of Parliament, which begins on Monday, is expected to start on a stormy note as the Opposition is all set to corner the Narendra Modi government over the latest revelations on the Pegasus spyware issue.

On Sunday, Congress leader in the Lok Sabha Adhir Ranjan Chowdhury wrote to Speaker Om Birla to demand a privilege motion against Information Technology (IT) Minister Ashwini Vaishnaw for “deliberately misleading the House on the Pegasus issue”. Mr. Chowdhury cited a report in the New York Times that claimed that the Modi government had purchased the Pegasus spyware from the Israeli group, NSO, in July 2017.

In July last year, making a statement on the Pegasus issue, the IT Minister had told Parliament that “no unauthorised surveillance can occur”.

President’s Address

On Monday, the Budget session will formally get under way with President Ram Nath Kovind addressing a joint sitting of the Lok Sabha and the Rajya Sabha at the Central Hall.

However, in view of the Omicron wave, members will be seated in the chambers of both the Houses. The Lok Sabha and the Rajya Sabha will return to separate sittings in shifts with members seated across both chambers of Parliament to ensure distancing norms.

The first part of the Budget session will be held from January 31 to February 11 after which it will go into recess to examine the budgetary allocations for different departments. The session will resume on March 14 and conclude on April 8. In all, there will be 29 sittings, with 10 of them being planned for the first part of the Budget session .

Union Finance Minister Nirmala Sitharaman will present the Economic Survey 2021-22 on Monday and the Union Budget on Tuesday.

Supreme Court advocate Manohar Lal Sharma has circulated in the media a signed online copy of a plea he claims to have filed in the Supreme Court for an investigation into an allegation made n a New York Times report that India bought Pegasus spyware from NSO of Israel.

“This Hon’ble Court be pleased to allow present application to issue necessary direction to register FIR for investigation to recover public money paid for the impugned deal and prosecute persons concerned, including Nagendra [Narendra] D. Modi, in accordance of law as prayed in the interest of justice,” the application circulated by Mr. Sharma said.

The advocate is one of petitioners who had earlier approached the Supreme Court seeking a probe into whether the Indian government possessed the spyware and had used it to snoop on citizens, including parliamentarians, journalists, activists, court staffers and even its own Ministers.

SC panel

A Bench led by Chief Justice of India N.V. Ramana had, in a 46-page order on October 27, set up an expert technical committee monitored by a retired judge of the Supreme Court, Justice R.V. Raveendran, to inquire into the allegations of spying and file a report.

The order came after the Union government did not file a “detailed affidavit” in the court in response to the petitions, citing national security reasons, among others.

The Justice Raveendran committee recently invited persons who suspect themselves of being snooped on to come forward and hand over their electronic equipment for technical examination to detect the presence of the spyware.

‘Breach of trust’

Mr. Sharma alleged the “deal was not placed in the House for approval and breach of trust for personal political interest by the Prime Minister and BJP party is illegal, attract criminal breach of trust embezzling of public money…”

The application further said the “petitioner has also filed application to issue letter of rogatory to Israeli court for securing necessary evidence secured by the government during its raid upon NSO office and other places. Which is still pending”.

https://www.thehindu.com/todays-paper/pegasus-issue-to-roil-budget-session/article38351395.ece

Migratory birds find winter home in Bengal #GS3 #Environment

During the winter months, migratory birds from the Himalayan and Central Asian highlands come to water bodies of south-central Bengal.

The rivers of Sunderbans and the Santrgachi Jheel in Howrah and the Kulik Bird Sanctuary are a few of the well-known spots where thousands of migratory birds visit every year in winter.

State survey

A survey by the West Bengal Forest Department has revealed that the water bodies of Bankura and adjoining areas, which are considered arid regions of the State, have emerged as new havens for migratory birds.

“Nearly 133 species of birds were spotted from 20 water bodies in these regions and many of them are migratory. We were spreading awareness against poaching of wild animals during Sikhar Utsav and decided to hold a survey on these water bodies,” S. Kulandaivel, Chief Conservator of Forest, West Bengal Forest Department, told The Hindu .

He said that some of key water bodies of the region where different species of migratory and non-migratory birds have been spotted are Mukutmanipur Dam, Kadamdeuli Reservoir, Gangdua Dam and Lalbandh in Bankura district and Saheb Bandh and Futiyari Dam in Purulia district.

The species recorded include lesser whistling duck, red-crested pochard, common pochard, tufted duck, northern pintail, great crested grebe and different species of wagtails.

Ecosystem health

Anirban Patra, secretary of the Green Plateau, an organisation involved in the survey, said bird presence is an indicator of the ecosystem health of the region. Mr. Patra said some of the birds are so sensitive to the changes in the region that they can sense changes in the pollution and other external factors.

“A bird called rufous tailed lark left Mukutmanipur due to construction work and use of a particular kind of paints in 2018. The bird returned in 2020 when the situation improved,” he said. Dr. Kulandaivel said it is an initiative of the State government to restore water bodies in different areas to boost tourism.

https://www.thehindu.com/todays-paper/tp-national/tp-newdelhi/migratory-birds-find-winter-home-in-bengal/article38351688.ece

Gehri dosti, says Israel PM about ties with India #GS2 #IR

Israel and India have a “ gehri dosti ” (deep friendship), Israeli Prime Minister Naftali Bennett has said and thanked his Indian counterpart, Narendra Modi, for his “deep commitment” to the “strong and robust friendship”.

Describing the opportunities of collaboration between the two countries as “endless”, Mr. Bennett, in a special video message released on Saturday evening, stressed that “the ties between Israel and India are strong and together they will only grow stronger”, as the two nations celebrated 30 years of establishment of diplomatic relations.

“There is something I wanted to tell to all of the people of India,” Mr. Bennett said.

Wonderful partnership

“Israel and India have a “ gehri dosti ”, Deep Friendship. Today we honour 30 years of diplomatic relations between Israel and India. Thirty years of a wonderful partnership, a deep cultural connection, and military and economic cooperation,” he said.

Though India had recognised Israel on September 17, 1950, full-fledged diplomatic relations between the countries were established on January 29, 1992.

“I would like to thank my dear friend, Prime Minister Modi, for his leadership and deep commitment to this strong and robust friendship,” Mr. Bennett added. “Our countries may be different in size but we share much in common — our rich history, the inherent warmth of our peoples, and our cutting edge innovation and technology”.

https://www.thehindu.com/todays-paper/tp-national/gehri-dosti-says-israel-pm-about-ties-with-india/article38351301.ece

Another BrahMos deal in the pipeline #GS3 #Defence

While the Philippines signed a $375 million deal for BrahMos supersonic cruise missiles last week to be operated by the Philippines Marines, there is another long-pending deal under discussion for BrahMos missiles for the Philippines Army, which could see progress in the near future, according to defence and diplomatic sources.

In an ironic situation, while India has signed its biggest defence export contract with the Philippines, it does not have a full-fledged Defence Attaché (DA) at its embassy in Manila. The proposal for increasing the number of DAs at several Indian missions abroad, including the Philippines, has been pending for some time, at least two officials independently said.

“The Marines deal is done, next will be of the Philippines Army. The Philippines Army (PA) will push through with the project,” two diplomatic sources stated.

Acquisition of BrahMos by the PA is programmed in the Horizon 3 Modernization programme of Philippines (Year 2023-2027), one of the sources stated. This deal was in the works before the Philippines Marines, which is under the Navy, initiated its project but got delayed and was held in abeyance. Philippines Defence Secretary Delfin Lorenzana had stated in December 2019 that the PA was looking to procure two BrahMos missile batteries.

Earlier, in 2019 the PA had activated its first land-based missile unit under the its Army Artillery Regiment in preparation to induct the BrahMos. In the absence of a full-fledged DA at the embassy in Manila, the DA at the Indian mission in Singapore currently functions as a non-resident DA to the Philippines.

https://www.thehindu.com/todays-paper/tp-national/another-brahmos-deal-in-the-pipeline/article38351312.ece

Industry seeks Budget sops for jobs #GS3 #Economy

Ahead of the Union Budget 2022-23, Indian industry has urged the government to offer incentives for creating jobs, including special sops under the Production Linked Incentive (PLI) schemes already announced.

The plea assumes significance amid growing concerns about high unemployment levels in the country, even as a FICCI survey of manufacturing firms showed that 75% of firms don’t plan to hire in this quarter despite a marked increase in business volumes and orders in the October to December 2021 quarter.

“With the imperative to support jobs and create new employment as the country recovers from the pandemic, the Confederation of Indian Industry (CII) suggests that the Budget add a job-creation component to the PLI incentives for 13 sectors,” the industry chamber’s director general Chandrajit Banerjee said.

CII has also argued for raising outlays on the MGNREGS to help rural unemployed workers hit by the COVID-19 pandemic and spur consumption. It has also mooted a hike in the Rs. 25,000 monthly wages ceiling under the Income Tax Act for granting benefits to firms hiring new workers.

Separately, FICCI’s latest quarterly survey of the manufacturing sector revealed that average capacity utilisation was in the range of 65%-70% in the third quarter of 2021-22, but firms’ outlook towards hiring remained ‘subdued’ with three of four firms not looking to hire in the current quarter.

“The cost of doing business remains a cause for concern (with) high raw material prices, cost of finance, uncertainty of demand, shortage of working capital and logistics costs, combined with low domestic and global demand due to supply chain disruptions,” the survey found, adding that large volumes of cheap imports and high power tariffs are further constraining business expansion plans.

https://www.thehindu.com/todays-paper/tp-national/india-inc-seeks-budget-sops-from-govt-for-creating-jobs/article38351343.ece

SC judges irked by the use of social media to troll their work #GS2 #Governance

Supreme Court judges seem to have a mixed view about what is said on social media. They have often faulted social media of being a pliant tool at the hands of forces who want to “villainise” judges, launch personal attacks and troll them for their work. There are some who believe that an attack on judges is an attack on the institution itself. The government has rushed to support the court.

In his Constitution Day speech in November 2021, Chief Justice of India N.V. Ramana drew attention on the “attacks on the judiciary in the media, particularly social media”.

“Physical attacks on judicial officers are on the rise. Then there are attacks on the judiciary in the media, particularly social media. The law enforcing agencies, particularly the Central agencies, need to deal with such malicious attacks effectively,” the CJI exhorted.

The very next month, in December 2021, the Chief Justice, speaking at the RedInk Awards in the Mumbai Press Club, emphasised that “the judiciary is a robust pillar”. But the top judge said the “recent trend to sermonise about judgments and villainise judges needs to be checked”.

The refrain about the use of social media to attack judiciary can be found in the annals of 2019 when Justice (retired) Arun Mishra said a concerted campaign was on in the social media to “malign” him. He was at the time heading a Bench which was re-examining Justice Mishra’s own judgment on the grant of compensation under Section 24 of the land acquisition law of 2013.

‘Bid to sway opinion’

Solicitor General Tushar Mehta had at the time noted that “a pattern has emerged whereby articles and social media posts appear a couple of days before an important hearing is due in the Supreme Court in a bid to influence opinion outside the court about the issue at stake… Your Lordships should consider this”.

Concerted campaigns

In March 2021, the then Minister of Law and Information Technology, Ravi Shankar Prasad, flagged the government’s concern about “social media campaigns” conducted against individual judges for their judicial opinions and judgments.

However, apex court judges like Justice D.Y. Chandrachud, as witnessed in a recent hearing, offers a counter view. He observed that the shoulders of the judges are “broad” enough to bear the barbs shot at them. The judge does his duty and remains faithful to the Constitution.

https://www.thehindu.com/todays-paper/tp-national/social-media-trolls-irk-sc-judges/article38351338.ece

Amid chill in relations, new PLA history returns spotlight to 1962 war #GS2 #IR

Ahead of the 60th anniversary of the 1962 India-China war which falls in October this year, official Chinese military researchers have compiled a new history of the war reassessing its significance and legacy, bringing the spotlight back to the war amid the current tensions in relations.

Previous anniversaries of the war received only modest attention in China — far less than in India — and some Chinese military scholars have in the past viewed the war with India as one of China’s forgotten wars. Unlike the Korean War or war with Japan, the India-China war hasn’t been covered as extensively in Chinese films, television dramas or in the media.

That is now changing. There has been renewed attention on 1962 following the Line of Actual Control (LAC) crisis which began in April 2020 and particularly after the June 15, 2020 clash in Galwan Valley. If the normalisation of ties with India was one reason for downplaying 1962 in the past, the recent plunge in relations has coincided with greater interest both in 1962 and on the boundary dispute.

To mark the 60th anniversary, Zhang Xiaokang, daughter of the former PLA General Zhang Guohua who headed the Tibet military region and planned the Chinese offensive in the eastern sector in October 1962, brought together Chinese military researchers to compile a new history of the war, titled One Hundred Questions on the China-India Border Self-Defence Counterattack . Extracts of the book were published this month in the popular Chinese website Guancha . The book is based on interviews with PLA veterans and focuses on Chinese military strategy as well as on the legacy of the war.

In China, high-profile books on military history, a sensitive topic, cannot be published without a green light from the PLA’s Central Military Commission, which is headed by President Xi Jinping. The extract said although it had been many years since the war “it has not been forgotten with the passage of time, and generations of soldiers and military fans have always been interested in this counterattack.”

One reason why the 1962 war hasn’t received wide attention is that unlike the war against Japanese occupation, China was the aggressor, despite the often repeated claim by the Communist Party that China had never invaded or occupied any country.

‘Counterattack’

Officially, China still calls its massive attack on India as a “self-defence counterattack”. The book reveals that the CPC under Mao, very shortly after the offensive, decreed that all references to the war in China could only describe it as a “counterattack”, reflective of how the leadership looked to immediately turn on its head China’s act of aggression.

The extract notes that on December 3, 1962, less than two weeks after the unilateral ceasefire declared by China, the PLA’s General Staff department issued a telegram to all troops on “The Question of Naming the Operation Against the Invading Indian Army,” which stipulated that the war would only be referred to as the “China-India Border Self-Defence Counterattack”, a description that is still used today.

The book also looks at Mao’s decision to go to war and says he believed the offensive would, somewhat counterintuitively, “create conditions for a peaceful settlement of the Sino-Indian border issue” by bringing India to the negotiating table after Nehru’s “refusal” to acknowledge a dispute. That both sides subsequently began negotiating, the book argues, proved him right.

It also says Mao was initially concerned about the capabilities of the Indian Army but was reassured by his generals, including General Zhang. It quotes Mao as saying “if we don’t win, we won’t blame heaven and earth but our own incompetence”. He also told General Zhang that if China lost “sacred territory in Tibet” in the war that it would “take it back one day”.

The book focuses on the Eastern Sector, which General Zhang headed, and discusses the significance of the capture of Tawang in 1962, which it said was aimed to “demonstrate that China would not accept the McMahon Line” as well as its sovereignty over Tibet.

It attributes China’s military success in 1962 to the fighting experience gained by the military first in the war against Japan and subsequently in the war in Korea fighting U.S. troops. Those wars have occupied the spotlight in official Chinese military histories. But with the resurgence of tensions along the India-China border and ahead of the upcoming anniversary, the India-China war is now back in the spotlight.

https://www.thehindu.com/todays-paper/tp-international/amid-chill-in-relations-new-pla-history-returns-spotlight-to-1962-war/article38351291.ece