Current Affairs 15th April

FASTag does not violate right to free movement: Centre #GS2 #Governance

The Union government recently told the Bombay High Court that making FASTag (electronic toll collection system) mandatory for all vehicles plying on the national highways does not breach a citizen’s fundamental right to freedom of movement in any way.

The government made its stand clear in an affidavit filed on April 6 in a public interest litigation (PIL) challenging the decision to make FASTag mandatory at toll plazas on all national highways. It says FASTag was made compulsory to ensure seamless traffic movement and cut travel time short.

All decisions had been taken in accordance with the Central Motor Vehicles (CMV) Rules. In cases where it was not possible to fit vehicles with the tag for any reason, they were permitted to still ply on the extreme left of the FASTag lanes.

FASTag was not made mandatory overnight and incentives, including a 10 to 25 per cent cashback, were given to users from 2016 to 2020. We amended the CMV Rules in 2017 to make FASTag mandatory for all vehicles sold after December 1, 2017.

In November 2020, the CMV rules were further amended to make FASTag compulsory for all vehicles on toll plazas along all national highways, beginning January 1, 2021.”

The Centre went on to say that the double user fees or penalties imposed on vehicles without FASTag on national highways were in accordance with the National Highway Fee (determination of rates and collection) Rules, 2008.

It said the Reserve Bank of India had announced the enhancement of national electronic toll collection and would allow easy payment options, including Unified Payments Interface.

India, Russia committed to S-400 deal: envoy #GS2 #IR

India and Russia are “committed” to completing their contract for the S-400 missile system, due to be delivered to India at the end of the year. He said both countries opposed U.S. sanctions on the issue.

Together with India we do not recognise bilateral sanctions as they are illegal tools of unfair competition, pressure and blackmail. This was clearly stated by the two Foreign Ministers in their exchange.

The Hindu had reported that the S-400 contract is on track for a delivery of the systems in November, despite America’s repeated threat that the $2.5-billion deal could attract sanctions under its CAATSA law. Washington has already sanctioned China over its purchase of the S-400, and on April 7, sanctions against Turkish defence institutions and certain officials also went into effect over a similar purchase.

Stressing that there was a “meeting of minds on a majority of issues”, Mr. Kudashev pointed to differences on approaches to the Indo-Pacific strategy where India is a part of the Quad with Australia, Japan and the U.S.

We want to call the attention of our Indian partners and friends to the dangers emerging from the Western Indo-Pacific strategy aimed at a revival of the Cold War era thinking and Cold War era structures.

However, speaking at the MEA’s annual Raisina Dialogue conference a few hours later, Mr. Jaishankar contested the comparison to Cold War terminology, saying the Indo-Pacific represented a more historical, seamless geographical entity that ranged from Africa to the U.S. coast.

No veto: Jaishankar

Mr. Jaishankar also said no other nation could have a “veto” over India’s partnerships, and called terms such as Asian NATO a “mind game” being played by other countries. “That kind of NATO mentality has never been in India, if it has been in Asia, that would be other countries, not mine.”

Speaking to the media, Russian Deputy Chief of Mission Roman Babushkin also addressed speculation over a strain in India-Russia ties during Mr. Lavrov’s visit, particularly over the Russian Foreign Minister’s next stop in Islamabad where he discussed supplying Pakistan with military equipment for counter-terrorism, as well as over Afghanistan’s future.

Mr. Babushkin said fighting terrorism was part of a “common agenda”, and as members of the Shanghai Cooperation Organisation, which Russia, India and Pakistan are, cooperation on a number of areas, including regional security and countering threats, had been discussed.

He said India and Russia both agreed on an “Aghan-owned Afghan-led” solution for the conflict, and that India should be part of the regional mechanisms to discuss this.

‘Hope India reviews stand on pacts #GS2 #IR

Singapore’s Foreign Minister Vivian Balakrishnan said he hoped India would ‘reassess’ its stand on regional trading agreements such as the Regional Comprehensive Economic Partnership (RCEP) pact that India withdrew from in 2019.

India had “a crucial role” to play in helping the region build an inclusive architecture at a time of increasing global instability, he said, on Wednesday at the Raisina Dialogue, held virtually this year and hosted by the Observer Research Foundation in partnership with India’s Ministry of External Affairs.

On the trade deal, Mr. Balakrishnan said he was “making a plea” for India to revisit its stand.

Regional trade pacts

“I hope India will reassess regional trade pacts like RCEP and even the CPTPP [Comprehensive and Progressive Agreement for Trans-Pacific Partnership]. “These trade pacts will give Indian companies a platform to showcase their strengths across even larger markets.”

The RCEP came into force in November 2020 without India and is the world’s largest trading agreement, covering the 10 ASEAN nations, China, Japan, South Korea, Australia and New Zealand. The CPTPP, successor of the Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP) which the U.S. withdrew from, includes Singapore, Brunei, Malaysia and Vietnam from ASEAN, along with Australia, New Zealand, Japan, Canada, Mexico, Chile and Peru.

India withdrew from the RCEP largely because of concerns it would open it up to Chinese goods amid an already wide trade imbalance with China, and the failure of the agreement to adequately open up to services.

Mr. Balakrishnan said Singapore hoped India could play a role to help build a regional architecture that was ‘open’ and ‘inclusive’.

ASEAN centrality

Rising U.S.-China tensions were “deeply worrying” for the region with the pandemic resulting in “heightened tension” which had “implications for us all”, with a contest over emerging technologies, divergence on human rights and ensions related to defence and cyber security issues.

“The U.S.-China relationship is a lynchpin for regional and global stability,” he said. “In Southeast Asia, it is all the more crucial to maintain ASEAN centrality and unity amid geopolitical competition.”

On Myanmar, what ASEAN wanted was to stop the violence and then have direct dialogue between the military leadership and Aung San Suu Kyi’s National League for Democracy (NLD).

Saying that the sanctions route needed to be carefully considered as COVID-19 had already inflicted a grievous blow on Myanmar’s economy, he said “the worst thing we could do” is to “add the burden on to ordinary citizens”.

“Not only ASEAN but immediate neighbours, like India and China, have strategic interests at stake and they can play a constructive role behind the scenes,” he said.

The Singapore Foreign Minister praised India’s strong support to global vaccine cooperation, at a time when the pandemic had “turbocharged protectionism and nationalism all over the world, significantly disrupted trade flows and supply chains, and sharpened the tendency for policymakers to turn inwards”.

Efforts were on by Singapore, he said, for mutual recognition of health certificates with other countries, with interoperability across borders to gradually facilitate a resumption of travel.

Quad navies enjoy high degree of interoperability #GS2 #IR

The Quad navies of India, the U.S., Japan and Australia “already” enjoy a “high degree of interoperability” and have the capability and capacity to come together in an “almost plug and play mechanism” if the opportunity arises. He stated that it would not be surprising to see a Chinese naval expansion in the Indian Ocean region.

“We have seen regular Chinese naval presence in the Indian Ocean region for over a decade now. If the Chinese look west from where they are, their energy, markets and resources are located to their west. So, it won’t be surprising that soon they would be coming into the Indian Ocean, as there is a saying that the flag follows the trade.

The Chinese Navy has seen massive expansion in recent years, with rapid addition of frontline warships. It has two aircraft carriers and a more capable one is under construction. In 2017, China opened its first overseas base at Djibouti in the Horn of Africa.

Talking of the Quad and possible military cooperation, Adm. Singh said the Quad was “evolving organically”, referring to the vaccine cooperation announced recently, among others. “As far as the military part is concerned, navies of Australia, Japan, U.S. and India already enjoy a high degree of interoperability. If an opportunity arises, we have the capability and capacity to come together in an almost plug and play mechanism,” he said.

Stating that as India emerges a more confident nation on the global stage, the Indian Navy was ready to do its bit to contribute to the Indo-Pacific’s security and stability, Adm. Singh stressed the idea of “collective maritime competence” where each nation brings something to the table and can learn from each other and harness individual capabilities.

As for the wider Indian Ocean region, Adm. Singh said the Navy’s aim was to be the “preferred security partner”, be credible and forward-leaning in engagements and first responder in the region.

‘Powerful signal’

Speaking on the churn in the Indo-Pacific, Commander of the U.S. Indo-Pacific Command Admiral Phil Davidson said the Quad had gained momentum and called it the “diamond of democracies in the region”.

He said one should think about the Quad in the broadest possible terms and realise its potential to create global economic opportunities, including diversification of supply chains, and address common interests such as cybersecurity concerns and space cooperation and other advanced technologies in future.

This coming together in this multilateral form sends a very powerful signal in support of the rules-based order, reflects our common values and mutual trust,” he said. The alternative, he said, was a stark contrast to a free and open region.

Several samples show mutation, says Uddhav #GS3 #SnT

Maharashtra Chief Minister Uddhav Thackeray said mutations of the novel coronavirus had been found in a number of samples and the administration was working on a war footing to make oxygen available at medical facilities across the State.

“Several samples have revealed mutations of the virus. The rate of infection is much higher than it was last year, with many among the younger generation now getting infected. Reining in the contagion will be even more challenging this year and all restrictions announced by the government must be strictly enforced as a result.

Oxygen use

He urged all doctors at the district level to adhere to the norms laid out by the State task force on the changed treatment modalities in tackling the fresh surge, especially the rational use of oxygen.

Health Minister Rajesh Tope earlier said Maharashtra had approached neighbouring States for medical oxygen supply but they had expressed their inability due to high domestic demand.

We have approached all neighbouring states like Chhattisgarh, Madhya Pradesh and Gujarat to supply medical oxygen, for medical purpose, but owing to their own rising demand, they have expressed their inability to supply oxygen. Hence, Maharashtra needs to reduce wastage and work on fixing its leakages.

Doctors in the State task force had expressed concern over the availability and usage of oxygen at the meeting with the Chief Minister on April 12.

They have laid down a set of rules for rational usage which include stopping of high flow nasal oxygen (HFNO) machines until further notice as the HFNO machines consumed a very large quantity of oxygen, sometimes up to 80 litres per minute.

The task force recommended that those patients who may need HFNO should be managed on non-invasive ventilation (NIV).

Imported Sputnik V to be available this quarter #GS3 #SnT

A day after India accorded emergency use authorisation to Sputnik V, the marketing partner for the Russian COVID-19 vaccine, Dr. Reddy’s Laboratories, said the imported product will be available in the country by this quarter.

It will start this quarter, via the import route, and the availability will be ramped up next quarter once the ‘Made in India’ Sputnik V comes on stream. Discussions with the government and other stakeholders on pricing are under way, the Hyderabad-based pharma major’s senior leadership said on Wednesday.

The contract with the Russian Direct Investment Fund (RDIF), which has partnered with Dr. Reddy’s for clinical trials and distribution, is 250 million vaccine units (125 million people doses). This number is expandable.

Separately, the RDIF has entered into production pacts with six vaccine makers in the country, he said. About 60%-70% of the global volumes of Sputnik V will be made in India. Most of it will be used in the country, he said, adding that Sputnik is being made in Russia and a few other countries.

In a presentation during the interaction, in which chairman Satish Reddy and co-chairman and managing director G.V. Prasad participated, Mr. Sapra said the vaccine had storage requirement of minus 18-22 degrees Celsius and a shelf life of six months.

Dr. Reddy’s has lined up the cold chain and made logistics arrangements to ensure delivery up to the last mile throughout the country. It will be collaborating with the government and leverage some of the infrastructure of the immunisation programmes.

The vaccine will be imported in a frozen form. Additional stability data is also being generated on the 2-8 degrees Celsius temperature range.

‘NATO to exit Afghanistan along with U.S.’ #GS2 #IR

Foreign troops under NATO command will withdraw from Afghanistan in coordination with a U.S. pull-out by September 11, after Germany said it would match American plans to leave after two decades of war.

Around 7,000 non-U.S. forces from mainly NATO countries, also from Australia, New Zealand and Georgia, outnumber the 2,500 U.S. troops in Afghanistan, but still rely on U.S. air support, planning and leadership for their training mission.

U.S. Secretary of State Antony Blinken said in Brussels that it was time for NATO allies to make good on their mantra that allies went into Afghanistan together and would leave together.

“I am here to work closely with our allies, with the (NATO) secretary-general, on the principle that we have established from the start: In together, adapt together and out together.

Resolute Support

An integral part of NATO’s current mission, Resolute Support, is to train and equip Afghan security forces fighting the Islamist Taliban, which was ousted from power by a U.S. invasion in late 2001 and has since waged an insurgency.

With non-U.S. troop numbers reaching as high as 40,000 in 2008, Europe, Canada and Australia have moved in tandem with the U.S., also providing long-term funding to rebuild Afghanistan despite the resurgence of Taliban-led violence and endemic official corruption in the country.

“We will work very closely together in the months ahead on a safe, deliberate and coordinated withdrawal of our forces from Afghanistan.

9/11 anniversary

September 11 is a highly symbolic date as it will be 20 years since al-Qaeda attacked the United States with hijacked airliners, triggering military intervention in Afghanistan.

After withdrawing, the United States and NATO aim to rely on Afghan military and police forces, which they have developed with billions of dollars in funding, to maintain security though peace talks are struggling and the insurgency is resilient.

A key reason for a coordinated withdrawal is the fact that NATO relies on U.S. airlift capabilities and shipping to move valuable equipment back home out of landlocked Afghanistan. NATO also wants to avoid any hardware falling into the hands of militants, as happened after the U.S. withdrawal from Iraq.

“A lot of a lot of armoured vehicles, helicopters and ammunition have been put into Afghanistan and four months is not a lot of time to get them home,” said Jamie Shea, a former NATO official and now an analyst at the Friends of Europe think-tank.

“Many European forces won’t want to abandon that equipment worth billions of dollars. NATO Foreign and Defence Ministers will discuss their plans later on Wednesday via video conference.

German Defence Minister Annegret Kramp-Karrenbauer said no NATO ally was expected to oppose U.S. President Joe Biden’s announcement, expected later on Wednesday, for a complete U.S. withdrawal by Sept. 11.

‘India can be hardware manufacturing hub’ #GS3 #Economy

There is an opportunity for India to become a hardware manufacturing location as the world’s technology majors have been moving their supply chains out of China over the past 18 months, Microsoft president Brad Smith said.

Urging India and the U.S. to join the Paris Call for Trust and Security in Cyberspace that now has 75 countries on board to deal with new cybersecurity threats facing the world, he also emphasised the need to train more professionals to cope with these threats.

Terming the changing relationship between China and the U.S. and some other countries as one of the most significant geopolitical developments of this decade, the Microsoft official said the change was certainly impacting the technology sector.

“We are seeing not a decoupling, but some drifting apart. We are definitely seeing an impact in terms of hardware supply chains, with many companies moving parts to, (or) in some instances, perhaps, almost all, or all of their hardware manufacturing out of China to other countries. That has been underway for the last 18 months, even though it is not discussed as much by companies publicly as it might.

“I do think this is something that creates potential new opportunities from a longer-term perspective for say, India, as well as others to make themselves more of a location for hardware manufacturing,” he said, adding that capacity had been shifting to Mexico, Vietnam, South Korea, and some southeast Asian countries.

‘Wake-up call’

Terming the recent spate of cyberattacks a wake-up call for tech companies as well as governments, Mr. Smith said the world was more secure when networks ran in the cloud as opposed to servers. Many cybersecurity problems, he said, also emerged from the lack of IT administrators’ compliance with best practices.

“We need to keep making this simpler, but the other problem is there is simply a shortage of cybersecurity professionals in the workplace. We are going to need a global initiative to really accelerate all kinds of training to put more cybersecurity professionals in place.

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