Current Affairs 23rd April 2022

India-U.K. defence, trade ties to get a booster shot #GS2 #IR

In the backdrop of the rapid geopolitical turmoil, Prime Minister Narendra Modi and his British counterpart Boris Johnson on Friday agreed on a new and expanded India-U.K. defence partnership and vowed to seal an ambitious free trade agreement by the end of the year.

After his wide-ranging talks with Mr. Modi on the second and final day of his India visit, Mr. Johnson said the U.K. is creating an Open General Export Licence (OGEL) for India to “reduce bureaucracy and slashing delivery times” for defence procurement.

The British Prime Minister said both sides agreed to work together to meet new threats across land, sea, air space and cyber domains and the U.K. will partner with India on new fighter jet technology as well as in the maritime sphere to detect and respond to threats.

‘A beacon in stormy seas’

Ahead of a bilateral meeting at Hyderabad House, the British Prime Minister on Friday described the India-U.K. relationship as a “beacon in stormy seas.”

“Our collaboration on the issues that matter to both our countries, from climate change to energy security and defence, is of vitalimportance as we look to the future.I look forward to discussing these issues with Prime Minister Modi in New Delhi today and working together to deliver a more secure and prosperous future for both our peoples,” said Mr. Johnson in his first statement after a ceremonial welcome at Rashtrapati Bhavan.

The U.K. will also issue an Open General Export Licence (OGEL) to support greater defence and security collaboration in the coming decade. The OGEL will reduce bureaucratic interference and shorten delivery time for India’s defence procurement. This is the first British OGEL in the Indo-Pacific region.

“Today, we have agreed on a new and expanded defence and security partnership, and decades-long commitment to not only forge tighter bonds between us but to support your goal, Narendra, of Make in India (in defence),” Mr. Johnson said, describing Modi as his “ khas dost ” (special friend).

Referring to the free trade agreement (FTA), Mr. Johnson said he wanted negotiators from both sides to close the deal before Diwali in October. In his comments, Mr. Modi said “good progress” is being made in the negotiations for the FTA and that both sides have decided to do their best to close the pact by the end of this year.

“In the last few months, India has concluded Free Trade Agreements with UAE and Australia. At the same pace, with the same commitment, we would like to move forward on the FTA with the U.K. as well,” Mr. Modi said.

“We have also agreed to enhance cooperation in the defence sector…We welcome the U.K.’s support for ‘self-reliant India’ in manufacturing, technology, design and development,” he said. On Ukraine, Mr. Modi stressed an immediate ceasefire and resolution of the problem through dialogue and diplomacy. “We also reiterated the importance of respect for the territorial integrity and sovereignty of all countries,” he said.

Talking about the Indo-Pacific, Mr. Modi emphasised on maintaining a free, open, inclusive and rules-based order in the region and noted that India welcomed the U.K.’s decision to join the Indo-Pacific Oceans Initiative. “We reiterated our support for a peaceful, stable and secure Afghanistan and for an inclusive and representative government. It is necessary that Afghan territory is not used to spread terrorism in other countries,” he said.

https://www.thehindu.com/todays-paper/india-uk-defence-trade-ties-to-get-a-booster-shot/article65346740.ece

Postal ballot facility for NRIs being contemplated’ #GS2 #Governance

Chief Election Commissioner Sushil Chandra, during a recent visit to South Africa and Mauritius, urged Non-Resident Indians (NRIs) to register as overseas electors and told them that a proposal on postal ballots for NRIs was being contemplated, the Election Commission of India said on Friday.

An ECI delegation led by Mr. Chandra visited the two countries from April 9 to 19 and interacted with groups of NRIs, apart from holding meetings with election management bodies of the countries, the statement said.

“During the interaction with members of the Indian community, the CEC urged them to register as overseas voters as the present numbers are abysmally low.

He also shared with the members that extension of Electronically Transmitted Postal Ballot System (ETPBS) facility to overseas voters is being contemplated,” the ECI said.

Election experience

In meetings with NRI groups, Mr. Chandra spoke of the experience of conducting elections in India, which has 950 million voters in over 1 million polling stations.

Mr. Chandra’s visit and interactions with NRIs came after Union Law Minister Kiren Rijiju informed the Lok Sabha in March that the government was exploring the possibility of allowing online voting for NRIs.

The ECI had written to the Law Ministry in 2020 proposing that NRIs be allowed to vote through postal ballots, following which the matter has been under consideration by the government.

While the ECI at present allows NRIs to register as overseas electors as long as they have not acquired the citizenship of another country, they have to reach their respective polling booths to cast their votes in person on voting day. According to an ECI official, as of now there are only 1.12 lakh registered overseas electors.

https://www.thehindu.com/todays-paper/tp-national/postal-ballot-facility-for-nris-being-contemplated/article65346647.ece

ISRO to conduct RLV landing experiment soon #GS3 #SnT

The Indian Space Research Organisation (ISRO) is aiming to carry out a landing experiment (LEX), a critical component of the Reusable Launch Vehicle-Technology Demonstration (RLV-TD) programme, in the next few days.

ISRO chairman S. Somanath told The Hindu on Friday that RLV-LEX, the second in the series of experimental flights for the RLV-TD programme will be held in April itself.

“We don’t want to announce the date yet, but it will be held before the month-end. The final phase of tests are in progress at Chitradurga,’‘ Mr. Somanath, who chaired a review of LEX at the Vikram Sarabhai Space Centre (VSSC), Thumba, confirmed.

The experiment

RLV-LEX involves taking an unmanned, winged prototype to an altitude of about 2.3 km to 2.4 km on a helicopter and releasing it to land at a Defence Research Development Organisation (DRDO) airstrip at Chitradurga, Karnataka.

”The prototype will be released 3.7 km away from the airstrip and it must travel the distance autonomously, gain velocity, maintain control and come in like any typical aircraft, touching down with the rear wheels first. A parachute will then be deployed for braking,” Mr. Somanath explained.

ISRO is planning to release the prototype from a lower altitude than earlier planned. But altitude is not a pertinent issue in this experiment, Mr. Somanath said. ”The height has been reduced to maximise velocity,” he said. LEX will be repeated a number of times in the months ahead for testing various parameters.

Cheaper access to space is what makes an RLV attractive. Currently, ISRO employs expendable rockets such as the Polar Satellite Launch Vehicle (PSLV) and the Geosynchronous Satellite Launch Vehicle (GSLV) for space missions.

Cost-effective

A major hurdle in space exploration is the prohibitive cost, which can be slashed if the launch vehicle is a reusable one, which means it returns to earth intact after a mission. The RLV-TD programme comprises a series of experimental missions aimed at making India’s dream of owning a reusable, two-stage-to-orbit (TSTO) vehicle, come true.

That said, ISRO still has some distance to go before it can boast such a vehicle in its stable.

On May 23, 2016, ISRO carried out the hypersonic flight experiment (HEX), the first in the series of RLV-TD programme, which was designed to ‘land’ in the Bay of Bengal on a ”hypothetical runway.”

LEX constitutes the second in the series and subsequent missions include a return flight experiment and a scramjet propulsion experiment.

On fast track

Forced to put off missions due to the COVID-19 pandemic, ISRO is aiming to step up the pace in 2022. Around ten missions are planned this year, including four flights of the PSLV, and the RLV-LEX. The list also includes one mission each of the GSLV Mk-III and GSLV Mk-II and the maiden flight of the Small Satellite Launch Vehicle.

The delayed Gaganyaan human space flight mission will be given top priority, Mr. Somanath said. The next GSLV Mk-II will fly with modifications to its cryogenic upper stage as recommended by the Failure Analysis Committee which studied the failed GSLV-F10/EOS-03 mission.

https://www.thehindu.com/news/national/kerala/isro-to-conduct-rlv-landing-experiment-soon/article65344990.ece

Rajnath rolls out schemes for defence start-ups #GS3 #Defence

Defence Minister Rajnath Singh on Friday launched Innovations for Defence Excellence (iDEX) Prime and the sixth Defence India Start-up Challenge (DISC–6) meant to encourage defence start–ups during DefConnect 2.0. The iDEX-Prime aims to support projects, requiring support beyond Rs. 1.5 crore up to Rs. 10 crore, to help the ever-growing start-ups in the sector, the Defence Ministry said.

“The iDEX has provided an opportunity to our science and technology professionals to understand futuristic technologies such as AI, Augmented Reality, block-chain and space technologies. The start–up ecosystem has also been promoted and encouraged through order placement,” Mr. Singh said. He noted that the iDEX has, so far, introduced more than 100 winners to the market, providing direct & indirect employment to thousands of skilled and semi–skilled people.

The DISC–6 with 38 problem statements was also launched by Mr. Singh which relate to Artificial Intelligence (AI), advanced imaging, sensor systems, among others. Mr. Singh stressed on continuous strengthening of all sectors, especially the security apparatus, to deal with the challenges that may emanate from the fast–changing world order.

Stating that every new threat is becoming more complex and challenging than the previous one, Mr. Singh said, “After the COVID-19 pandemic, the world is now witnessing the Ukrainian conflict. We have also witnessed instability in the Middle East [West Asia], in Afghanistan and now in Pakistan. One way or the other, such events impact our country as well. There is a need to equip the country in every area to ensure peace and stability. The development of disruptive technology is a key requirement to handle new threats and challenges of the future.”

https://www.thehindu.com/todays-paper/tp-national/rajnath-rolls-out-schemes-for-defence-start-ups/article65346664.ece

Food Ministry official flags shortage of staff #GS3 #Economy

Shortage of Central Secretariat Service (CSS) officials is adversely impacting the functioning of the Department of Food and Public Distribution, Union Secretary Sudhanshu Pandey has said in a letter to his counterpart in the Department of Personnel and Training (DoPT), adding that Prime Minister Narendra Modi in an interaction with Union Secretaries earlier this month had emphasised that employment generation should be given a high priority.

The Department under the Ministry of Consumer Affairs is responsible for implementing the flagship schemes of the government such as the National Food Security Act, Pradhan Mantri Gareeb Kalyan Anna Yojana and One Nation One Ration Card among others.

The CSS comprising middle to senior management rank officials in various Union government ministries play a key role in government functions as files, documents and orders are processed by them. There are a total of 6,210 posts in the rank of section officer, under secretary, deputy secretary, director and joint secretaries drawn from the CSS pool.

Of this total strength, as many as 1,839 positions are vacant as officials have not been promoted for the past six years and many have retired without being promoted. On Friday, DoPT wrote to all ministries to send vigilance clearance of 145 CSS officials, of which many section officers have already retired.

PM interaction

In an April 20 letter, Mr. Pandey drew the attention of DoPT Secretary P.K. Tripathi to a letter by Cabinet Secretary regarding the Prime Minister’s interaction with Union Secretaries on April 2.

“….wherein it is emphasized by Hon’ble Prime Minister that employment generation should be given a high priority and should be the focus of Government interventions across public and private sectors. Every Ministry/ Department should immediately take steps to fill up the existing vacancies against sanctioned posts. There is shortage of Officers at various grades under Central Secretariat Service and Central Secretariat Stenographers’ Service in this Department,” Mr. Pandey said. Out of the 324 sanctioned posts in the Department, 87 are vacant.

It added that the Department is engaged in discharge of essential services including during the Covid-19 pandemic. During the pandemic, work of this Department has become more critical and has multiplied manifold in order to implement National Food Security Act, Pradhan Mantri Gareeb Kalyan Anna Yojana, One Nation One Ration Card, Fortification of Rice and its distribution in various States/UTs, Scheme for extending financial assistance to set up distilleries for producing first Generation (IG) ethanol from feed stocks etc.

“These vacancies are adversely impacting the functioning of Department and will hamper timelines and effectiveness in providing the essential services to the public,” Mr. Pandey said.

https://www.thehindu.com/todays-paper/tp-national/food-ministry-official-flags-shortage-of-staff/article65346669.ece

Ukraine war shifted focus from key issues, says German envoy #GS2 #IR

One of the repercussions of (Russian President) “Putin’s war” apart from the misery and death is that the international focus is sort of going away from huge challenges for mankind which are climate change, poverty reduction, infrastructure and moving towards military spending and towards concentrating on war and peace, said German envoy in India Walter J. Lindner on Friday.

Visiting German State Secretary of the Federal Ministry for Economic Cooperation and Development Jochen Flasbarth said Germany is looking for a broader green and sustainable development partnership with India and an agreement is in the works. The agreement covers a broader range of subjects related to sustainable development goals, he told the media.

Outlining the German plan to phase out fossil fuels and become carbon neutral, Mr. Flasbarth said the Russian war has brought a different world.

“Germany is phasing out nuclear power by 2030 when the last facility will be shut down. We are phasing out coal earlier than we intended to do so. Under the previous government, the final closing year for coal facility was expected to be 2038. Now in the new coalition, we agreed to have it in 2030.”

Germany has set a carbon neutrality target by 2045 and Mr. Flasbarth said in the interim they need gas. He said they woke up now to a situation where one of the partners, Russia, which provided the gas decided to “violate what we see as a key fundamental of countries living together”. “We are looking for new partners now… We are in a geopolitically not an easy situation,” he said.

https://www.thehindu.com/todays-paper/tp-national/ukraine-war-shifted-focus-from-key-issues-says-german-envoy/article65346662.ece

India extends duration of currency swap #GS2 #IR

India on Friday extended the duration of a $400 million currency swap facility with Sri Lanka which it had concluded with the island nation in January.

This was the first extension of an international debt instrument to Sri Lanka after the government led by President Gotabaya Rajapaksa on April 12 temporarily suspended debt servicing.

“India’s unstinted and multi-faceted support to Sri Lanka continued. As ongoing currency support, @RBI extended the duration of the $400 million currency swap for @CBSL which was concluded in #January this year,” India’s High Commission in Colombo said on Twitter.

The debt default came as the island nation was grappling with economic crisis, forex shortages and a balance of payments crisis. Sri Lanka had also drawn on Indian credit lines worth $1 billion for essential imports and separate ones for the importation of fuel. Meanwhile, PM Mahinda Rajapaksa expressed Sri Lanka’s gratitude to Chinese premier Li Keqiang for Beijing’s assurances of support.

“Had a very productive conversation with Chinese Premier Li Keqiang. I reiterated #SriLanka’s gratitude to #China for the longstanding friendship and for assuring support to address some of the crucial needs affecting peoples’ livelihoods and well-being in these difficult times.