Current Affairs 29th Jan 2022

Willing to talk to Pakistan on pilgrim flights: India #GS2 #IR

India is “positive” and “willing to engage” in talks with Pakistan on upgrading the 1974 joint protocol on religious pilgrimages to allow air travel and increase the number of shrines that pilgrims from both countries could visit, the Ministry of External Affairs (MEA) said on Friday.

The government’s response follows a report in The Hindu earlier this week that the Pakistan government had sent a proposal from the Pakistan Hindu Council (PHC) to allow a group of 170 pilgrims to fly directly from Karachi and Lahore to places of worship in India.

The MEA also confirmed that it hoped to secure clearances to transport food aid to Afghanistan over the land to Pakistan, which is otherwise closed, shortly.

“There is an interest on both sides to expand the agreed list of shrines and mode of travel. Let me underline that India has a positive approach on this matter and is willing to engage the Pakistani side,” said MEA spokesperson Arindam Bagchi in response to a question from The Hindu. 

The government hoped that the current time period when COVID-19 restrictions were in place could be “utilised to hold discussions under the bilateral protocol”, he said and hoped to facilitate “early exchange of visits to all shrines of interest to pilgrims”. While the MEA’s statement indicates the permissions requested for flights beginning January 29 have not been granted at present, the offer of talks with Pakistan on renegotiating the joint protocol is a rare departure from other issues where both sides have suspended talks for several years.

Sources noted that India had conveyed its position to Pakistan through formal channels as well, and officials on both sides could meet early next week to iron out the details of how to upgrade the protocols. The new proposal, sent by the PHC, calls for pilgrim flights every month from each country to the other side, to give a push to its “faith tourism initiative”. “Even if there is some delay in agreeing to the flights, it is heartening that both governments are positive about the proposal

States must decide on SC/ST quota in promotions: court #GS2 #Governance

The Supreme Court refused to lay down the “yardstick” for determining the inadequacy of representation for granting reservation in promotions for Scheduled Caste and Scheduled Tribe candidates in government jobs. It held ‘cadre’, and not class or group or the entire service, as the unit for the purpose of collection of quantifiable data for giving promotion quotas.

The court stuck firm by the decisions of its Constitution Benches in the Jarnail Singh and M. Nagaraj cases that the question of adequate representation of SC/ST communities ought to be left to the respective States to determine.

“Determination of inadequate representation of SCs and STs in services under a State is left to the discretion of the State, as it depends upon myriad factors which this Court cannot envisage… Laying down of criteria for determining the inadequacy of representation would result in curtailing the discretion given to the State governments,” a Bench of Justices L. Nageswara Rao, Sanjiv Khanna and B.R. Gavai noted.

“In addition, the prevailing local conditions, which may require to be factored in, might not be uniform… In the light of Jarnail Singh and Nagaraj, we cannot lay down any yardstick for determining the inadequacy of representation,” the Bench said.

In respect of the unit of collection of quantifiable data, the court held that the State is “obligated to collect quantifiable data on the inadequacy of representation of Scheduled Castes and Scheduled Tribes” for reservation in promotions in public employment.

The court underscored that the “collection of information on inadequacy of representation of SC/ST communities cannot be with reference to the entire service or class/group, but it should be relatable to the grade/category of posts to which the promotion is sought”.

Explaining why ‘cadre’ should be the unit for the purpose of collection of quantifiable data in relation to promotional posts, the court said otherwise the entire exercise of reservation in promotions would be rendered meaningless if data pertaining to the representation of SCs and STs is done with reference to the entire service.

The term ‘cadre’ means the strength of a service or part of a service sanctioned as a separate unit. It is the choice of a State to constitute cadres. The entire service cannot be considered to be a cadre for the purpose of promotion from one post to a higher post in a different grade. Promotion is made from one grade to the next higher grade, in relation to which cadres are constituted

Don’t want wars, but won’t let interests be ignored: Russia #GS2 #IR

Russia on Friday sent its strongest signal so far that it is willing to engage with U.S. security proposals and reiterated that it does not want war over Ukraine.

“If it depends on Russia, then there will be no war. We don’t want wars. But we also won’t allow our interests to be rudely trampled, to be ignored,” Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov told Russian radio stations in an interview.

Russia has massed tens of thousands of troops near the Ukrainian border as it presses demands for a redrawing of post-Cold War security arrangements in Europe. Mr. Lavrov said the West was ignoring Russia’s interests but there was at least “something” in written responses submitted by the U.S. and NATO on Wednesday to Russia’s proposals.

Mr. Lavrov said he expected to meet U.S. Secretary of State Antony Blinken again in the next couple of weeks. Their last meeting in Geneva produced no breakthrough but both sides agreed to keep talking.

Mr. Lavrov said, without giving details, that the U.S. counter-proposals were better than NATO’s. Russia was studying them and President Vladimir Putin would decide how to respond.

While the U.S. and NATO responses have not been made public, both have stated they are willing to engage with Moscow on a series of topics, including arms control. The U.S. Ambassador to Moscow, John Sullivan, said Washington had raised the possibility of “reciprocal transparency measures… including on offensive weapons systems in Ukraine, as well as measures to increase confidence regarding military exercises and manoeuvres in Europe.”

The head of Germany’s BND foreign intelligence agency told Reuters that Russia was prepared to attack Ukraine but added: “I believe that the decision to attack has not yet been made”. Belarusian leader Alexander Lukashenko, a close ally of Russia, said his country had absolutely no interest in a war and that conflict would break out only if Belarus or Russia were directly attacked.

The Kremlin said Mr. Putin would spend a “lot of time” discussing European security issues with Chinese President Xi Jinping when he visits Beijing next week for the opening of the Winter Olympics. Mr. Putin also plans a meeting with German business people, following talks with Italian executives on Wednesday at which he underlined the importance of energy ties between Russia and Italy.

Intranasal booster trials get DCGI nod #GS3 #SnT

The Drugs Controller General of India (DCGI) has given vaccine manufacturer Bharat Biotech approval for conducting Phase 3 clinical trials of an intranasal booster dose for those who have received both doses of Covaxin.

Only the batches certified by the Central Drugs Laboratory, Kasauli, shall be used in the clinical trials, which will be conducted at nine sites, including the All India Institutes of Medical Sciences in New Delhi and Patna. The trial sites include institutes in Gujarat, Maharashtra, Haryana and Uttar Pradesh.

The chimpanzee adenovirus vectored COVID-19 vaccine (BBV154) will be administered through an intranasal route, and each single dose is 0.5 ml.

Subject to conditions

The DCGI has stated that this permission is subject to the conditions prescribed in Part A of Chapter V of the New Drugs and Clinical Trials Rules, 2019 under the Drugs and Cosmetics Act, 1940.

“It may kindly be noted that merely granting permission to conduct clinical trials with the vaccine does not convey or imply that, based on the clinical trial data generated with the vaccine, permission to market this vaccine in the country will automatically be granted to you,” the DCGI said.

The controller explained that the Phase 3 clinical trials should be conducted as per protocol titled “A Phase III randomised open label multi-centre study to compare immunogenicity and safety of BBV154 with Covaxin and to assess lot-to-lot consistency of BBV154”.

‘Easier to administer’

Experts have noted that an intranasal vaccine as a booster will be easier to administer in mass vaccination drives. By reducing the need for needles and syringes, among others, such vaccines would also impact the overall cost of a vaccination drive.

Engage in debates in the House, not in ridiculing each other: SC #GS2 #Governance

A nation aspiring to be a “world leader” should debate on the welfare of its citizens rather than make Parliament a stage to exchange jeers and launch personal attacks on one another, the Supreme Court said in a judgment on Friday.

To see Members of Parliament and Legislative Assemblies ridicule each other instead of engaging in constructive debates in Houses is hardly worthy of the claim that “we are the oldest civilisation on the planet and the world’s largest democracy”.

With the completion of 75 years of Independence and ambitions of becoming a world leader, elected members should at least know that they are expected to show statesmanship and not brinkmanship in the House.

“For becoming world leaders and self-dependent/reliant, quality of debates in the House ought to be of the highest order,” a three-judge Bench led by Justice A.M. Khanwilkar said in the judgment. Legislature is the first place where justice is dispensed to the common man through a democratic process, it observed.

Intransigent place

The order dealt with the year-long suspension of 12 BJP MLAs from the Maharashtra Legislative Assembly for disorderly conduct.

Parliament or the State legislatures are no places to create a ruckus. “It is a place where policies and laws are propounded for governing the citizenry. It is here that the entire range of activities concerning the masses until the last mile, are discussed and their destinies are shaped,” Justice Khanwilkar, who authored the judgment, wrote. The goal of the House was to ensure the welfare and happiness of “we the people of this nation”.

The court pointed out that Parliament and Assemblies were becoming more and more an intransigent place. “The philosophical tenet that one must agree to disagree is seldom seen during debates… It has become common to hear that the House could not complete its usual scheduled business and most of the time had been spent in jeering and personal attacks against each other,” it noted.

The Bench, including Justices Dinesh Maheshwari and C.T. Ravikumar, said disheartened observers felt it was high time to take corrective steps.

Justice Khanwilkar observed, “Aggression during the debates has no place in the setting of country governed by the Rule of Law. Even a complex issue needs to be resolved in a congenial atmosphere by observing collegiality and showing full respect and deference towards each other”.

India closely following developments in Ukraine #GS2 #IR

The Ministry of External Affairs (MEA) has said India is monitoring the situation in eastern Ukraine where a tense military situation has erupted after Russia placed a large number of troops and heavy weapons along Ukraine’s frontiers, triggering worldwide fear of imminent military action.

India’s comments come against the backdrop of Russia’s discussion with the permanent members of the UN Security Council. The Embassy of Russia in a statement said the military situation is linked with the West’s quest for dominating the energy sector.

“We have been closely following the developments relating to Ukraine, including ongoing high-level discussions between Russia and the U.S. Our Embassy in Kyiv is also monitoring local developments. We call for a peaceful resolution of the situation through sustained diplomatic efforts for long term peace and stability in the region and beyond,” said MEA spokesperson Arindam Bagchi.

The military situation has prompted the United States and the United Kingdom to evacuate their officials from Ukrainian capital Kyiv, though India has not evacuated its diplomats.

Deputy Chief of Mission of the Embassy of Russia Roman Babushkin on Friday said that tension is being generated to prevent Europe from collaborating with Russia on the energy front.

‘Artificially created’

“Tensions are artificially created provoking the conflict to disable Europe from cooperating with Russia which is being increasingly sanctioned. This is a clear act of unlawful competition and narrow-minded geopolitics,” said Mr. Babushkin.

“The West is yet to respond to the Russian red lines with regard to the non-expansion of NATO eastwards, non-deployment of offensive weapons near the Russian borders and refusal of provocative military activities. Russia has no logic and interest to attack anyone — we are for pragmatic and mutually respectful dialogue.

Philippines inks $375 mn BrahMos missile deal #GS2 #IR

The Philippines on Friday signed a $374.96-million deal with BrahMos Aerospace Private Ltd. for the supply of shore-based anti-ship variant of the BrahMos supersonic cruise missile. This is the first export order for the missile, a joint product of India and Russia.

The contract was signed by Delfin N. Lorenzana, Defence Secretary of the Philippines, and Atul Dinkar Rane, Director General of BrahMos Aerospace Pvt. Ltd., in a virtual ceremony.

Speaking at the signing ceremony, Mr. Lorenzana said it was an absolute honour to be the first foreign nation to acquire the supersonic cruise missile system.

“As the world’s fastest supersonic cruise missiles, the BrahMos missiles will provide deterrence against any attempt to undermine their sovereignty and sovereign rights, especially in the West Philippine Sea,” he said. “Equipping our Navy with this vital asset is imperative as the Philippines continues to protect the integrity of its territory and defend its national interests.”

Stating that BrahMos missiles would certainly beef up the firepower of the Philippine Navy, particularly the Philippine Marine Corps coastal defence regiment, Mr. Lorenzana said the system would provide counter-attack capabilities within the Philippine exclusive economic zone.

Study raises concerns on NeoCov #GS3 #SnT

A single molecular change in the lab enabled a coronavirus called NeoCov to “efficiently infect” human cells using the same pathway that the SARS-CoV-2 uses to infect human cells, researchers from Wuhan University, Wuhan, China said in a report that is yet to be peer-reviewed.

NeoCov has so far only been seen in bats and no instances have been reported in people. With NeoCov closely related to the Middle Eastern Respiratory Syndrome (MERS) coronaviruses — traditionally more lethal but less transmissible than SARS-CoV-2, the study has raised concern that this too may lethally proliferate in people.

In their study, which is available on the online pre-print server, the scientists set out to find out the ways in which NeoCov, a coronavirus known to be 85% similar to MERS coronaviruses, infected animal cells.

The SARS-CoV-2, for instance, spreads the way it does because it has figured out a way to use the enzyme called human angiotensin converter 2 (hACE2) to infect cells. The scientists reported that they have, for the first time, shown NeoCov too uses bat ACE2. However this ACE2 is specific to the sub-species of bat and when the scientists checked if the NeoCov could use hACE2, it turned out to be a “less favourable” mode of entry.

A single molecular barrier, close to where the virus bound to cells, “restricted” the human ACE2 from aiding a NeoCov infection. However when a mutation was artificially introduced, it made the NeoCov 15-30 times more efficient at infecting human ACE2. Moreover, the study said, the infection could not be suppressed by antibodies targeting SARS-CoV-2 or MERS-CoV.

Vinod Scaria, principal scientist, CSIR-Institute of Genomics and Integrative Biology, told The Hindu that an artificially created mutation in the lab didn’t imply the same could easily occur in natural settings.

Rajeev Jayadevan, physician and former president of the Indian Medical Association, in a Twitter thread said that NeoCov was discovered in 2013-14 and “nothing has happened”. Despite similarities, the ACE2 receptors of bats and people were different and the odds of a sudden jump were low.

FTA dialogue productive: U.K. and India #GS2 #IR

India and the United Kingdom concluded the first round of discussion for the ambitious Free Trade Agreement (FTA) on Friday. The discussion was conducted over two weeks and included 32 sessions that dealt with 26 policy areas, including trade in goods, services, telecommunications, investment and intellectual property.

“The negotiations were productive and reflected our shared ambition to secure a comprehensive deal to boost trade between the 5th and 6th largest economies in the world. The positive discussions in round one have laid the groundwork for the U.K. and India to make positive and efficient progress,” a joint outcome statement has announced.

The discussion also covered customs and trade facilitation, and technical barriers to trade.

RBI’s accommodative approach has served country well: Patra #GS3 #Economy

Reserve Bank of India Deputy Governor Michael Debabrata Patra on Friday said the central bank’s decision to continue with an accommodative policy stance, despite criticism, had served the country well and that time would tell whether the approach had been ‘correct’.

“In a situation in which several Emerging Market Economies (EMEs) were jumping on to the bandwagon of tightening monetary policy and Advanced Economies (AEs) were announcing normalisation or joining their EMEs in raising policy rates, India held its ground and is among a few countries that have retained an accommodative monetary policy, despite some views that we have fallen behind the curve,” he said in a virtual speech delivered at the C.D. Deshmukh Memorial Lecture Series organised by the Council for Social Development, Hyderabad.

‘Time will tell’

“Only time will tell whether or not India has got it right but so far, this approach has served us well and helped in charting a course into the future which is different from the world,” he asserted.

“To summarise, the RBI’s measures have contributed significantly in engineering the turnaround in the Indian economy, supported by rising financial inclusion and digitalisation,” he said.

“We are on course to becoming among the fastest-growing economies of the world, but there is far to go. Private consumption and investment are still work-in-progress. The restoration of livelihoods and the revival of MSMEs is a formidable task that lies ahead