Current Affairs 30th Jan 2022

BSF, Pak. Rangers resume dialogue #GS2 #IR

After three years, the border guarding forces of India and Pakistan have revived sector commander-level talks. The Border Security Force (BSF) and the Pakistan Rangers held two meetings in the past six months. The latest was on January 5.

A senior government official said both meetings were on the request of Pakistan and the first was held on July 24, 2021. The talks were previously held in August 2018. After 2017, talks at the level of the Directors-General have not taken place.

After the January 5 meeting, held at the Octroi outpost in Jammu, the BSF said in a statement that “both sides agreed to conduct such meetings at regular intervals for better understanding and to maintain peace and tranquillity on the border … BSF also strictly objected to the drone operations carried out by Pakistan regularly violating the IB [International Boundary]”.

Last year, the BSF spotted more than 70 drones and two of them were shot down. Dropping of arms and ammunition from unmanned aerial vehicles (UAV) is one of the biggest challenges faced by the BSF. At the meeting, the BSF delegation emphasized the infiltration attempts from the Pakistani side and the regular recovery of arms, ammunition, and narcotics on the IB.

The official said the talks were revived to also ensure accountability. “If the senior officers communicate, then it helps in resolving many issues and any wrong can be pointed out,” he noted.

The sector commander talks are led by an officer of the rank of Deputy Inspector-General of the BSF and a Brigadier rank officer of the Pakistan Rangers. According to D.K Pathak, former Director General (DG) of the BSF, the channel of communication should always be open as it helped in solving issues smoothly.

“Sometimes there are incidents at the border for which one cannot wait for the long chain of diplomatic command. Cross-border incidents could be resolved quickly if officers on both sides are in regular communication.

A small misunderstanding could lead to massive firing and shelling at the IB, that can trouble the local population, if such channels are open, then it can be taken care of,” Mr. Pathak, who led the Director General-level talks with the Pakistan Rangers in 2015 in Delhi, said.

A.P. Maheshwari, former CRPF Director-General, said, “In their true spirit, such mechanisms are purported to evolve smooth operational practices at cutting edge level in consonance with the agreed ground rules. In turn, it helps avoid further conflict of interest. How much do they actually materialise depends on the intent and the content at a given point of time, backed by the credibility quotient.”

India-Israel ties important amid global change: PM #GS2 #IR

The importance of India-Israel ties has further increased in a world facing several major transformations, Prime Minister Narendra Modi said on Saturday. The speech by the Prime Minister marked three decades since New Delhi established formal diplomatic ties with Tel Aviv on January 29, 1992, when P. V. Narasimha Rao was the Prime Minister.

“Thirty years ago, on this day, full diplomatic relation was established between India and Israel, starting a new chapter between two sides. Though the chapter was new, the history of our countries is very old. For hundreds of years, our people maintained close relation. Since time immemorial, the Jewish community has lived in India without any discrimination and flourished here while contributing greatly to our economic growth,” Mr. Modi said.

India launched a logo earlier this week featuring the Star of David and the Ashoka Chakra that will be used in events to celebrate the landmark year in bilateral ties.

The celebration is likely to include several high-level interactions and visits, including a possible visit of Prime Minister Naftali Bennett to India.

To mark the ocassion, prominent landmarks includuing the Gateway of India in Mumbai and the Teen Murti-Haifa Chowk here as well as the remains of the iconic Masada fortress in Israel were lit in the colours of the national flags of both countries.

New goals

Prime Minister Naftali Bennett greeted India on the Republic Day, wishing for “continued peace and prosperity”.

“India-Israel ties have acquired greater significance as the world today is experiencing several major changes. What can be a better moment to frame new goals for our bilateral cooperation than this when India is celebrating its 75th year of independence and Israel will mark its 75th independence next year and both sides are marking three decades of bilateral ties,

Opposition slams govt. as report says India bought NSO spyware #GS2 #Governance #GS3 #Security

A fresh political storm has erupted over a report in the New York Times that said the Indian government had purchased the Israeli NSO group’s Pegasus software in July 2017 to carry out targeted surveillance on citizens. The investigative report claimed that the high-level visits by Prime Minister Narendra Modi and former Israel Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and even a UN vote on a Palestinian organisation were part of a larger back-room deal.

The revelations that come just two days before the Budget session of Parliament, have provided fresh ammunition to Opposition parties to corner the government on the issue.

‘Parliament misled’

They attacked the government on Saturday, accusing it of “misleading” Parliament and the Supreme Court. The Congress said the alleged use of spyware on Opposition leaders, Supreme Court judges, journalists and activists was an “act of treason”, and said the party would raise the issue in the upcoming Budget session.

In the report published on Friday, the NYT said ties between Mr. Modi and Mr. Netanyahu had “warmed” because of their agreement for the sale of “a package of sophisticated weapons and intelligence gear worth roughly $2 billion — with Pegasus and a missile system as the centrepieces”.

Several countries in list

The NYT did not divulge sources for the claim that India had bought the Pegasus system, and did not respond to an e-mail from The Hindu asking for any details used to verify the report. In their detailed investigation, the paper’s reporters named several countries including India, the UAE, Hungary, Poland and Mexico on the list of those who had purchased the spying software, and said these countries had not just strengthened ties with the Netanyahu government, but also shifted positions on support to Palestine and muted opposition to Israel at the United Nations.

“In June 2019, India voted in support of Israel at the U.N.’s Economic and Social Council to deny observer status to a Palestinian human rights organisation, a first for the nation,” the report said.

Syed Akbaruddin, India’s Ambassador to the UN at the time, however, denied the last claim. “The vote was a decision taken by me locally (as UN Permanent Representative in New York). No one talked to me about it before or after,” Mr. Akbaruddin, now retired, said in response to a query from The Hindu , adding that “The NYT seems to have wrongly made an insinuation.”

‘No transaction’

The government, including the Ministry of Home Affairs and the Ministry of External Affairs did not respond to the NYT report.

In August 2021, after the original revelations of the extent of Pegasus spyware found on thousands of telephones worldwide were published by online news publication, The Wire, and international news agencies, the Ministry of Defence had said in Parliament that the “Ministry of Defence has not had any transaction with NSO group technologies.”

Use externment orders with caution: SC #GS2 #Governance

The Supreme Court has held that a person cannot be barred by authorities from entering a place on mere suspicion. The court said authorities can pass an order of externment against a person only under extraordinary circumstances.

‘Very sparingly’

The discretion should be used “very sparingly” as it deprived a person of his or her right of free movement in the country. An externed person may not even be able to stay with his family or home.

“There cannot be any manner of doubt that an order of externment is an extraordinary measure. The effect of the order of externment is of depriving a citizen of his fundamental right of free movement throughout the territory of India,” a Bench of Justices Ajay Rastogi and Abhay S. Oka observed in a recent judgment.

There is even a possibility that an order of externment would deprive a person of his livelihood.

SDM order

“Such an order also prevents the person even from staying in his own house along with his family members during the period for which this order is in subsistence. In a given case, such order may deprive the person of his livelihood,” Justice Rastogi observed.

The court was hearing a challenge against a Sub Divisional Magistrate’s (SDM) order of a two-year externment against the appellant, Deepak, under the Maharashtra Police Act. Two years is the maximum period of externment under the Act. The Bombay HC had refused to intervene, following which Deepak had moved the apex court.

Reminding the authorities on the conditions before ordering externment, the court said there should be “objective material on record on the basis of which the competent authority must record its subjective satisfaction that the movements or acts of any person are causing or calculated to cause alarm, danger or harm to persons or property”.

Fundamental right

Noting that clause (d) of Article 19(1) of the Constitution provides citizens a fundamental right to move freely throughout the territory of India, the court said an externment order “must stand the test of reasonableness”.

“These reasons which necessitate or justify the passing of an extraordinary order of externment arise out of extraordinary circumstances,” the court noted, quashing aside the SDM’s order.

J&K govt. to delineate smaller waterbodies, canals #GS2 #Governance

In a first, the Jammu and Kashmir government on Saturday decided to delineate and demarcate smaller water streams and canals termed as “gair mumkin khads, daryas, nallahs” etc. recorded in revenue records, which do not form a part of water channels but have been recorded in revenue records.

The decision was taken during a meeting of the Administrative Council chaired by Lieutenant Governor Manoj Sinha held in Jammu. The Council approved 3-tier committees mandated to conduct khasra-wise surveys of all lands recorded as such.

‘Delineate lands’

Officials have been tasked with preparing maps and delineate lands that do not form part of any water course, source or annual drainage system as per spot verification, to establish baseline for conducting the delineation exercise as per the status of the land in records of 2010.

They were also directed to take remedial action for the illegal encroachments, constructions actually obstructing the natural flow of water in the channel. The decision will give a major relief to the people who are put to hardship because of erroneous and misleading entries of such water bodies in their revenue records.

Land transcations

“This will put an end to litigations pending in various courts, besides allowing owners of such lands to transact and carry out various economic, non-economic activities allowed as per land use under the Master Plans of development of local areas,” the government spokesperson said.

Officials have been directed to use a global positioning system for generation of digital maps, conducting actual spot verification to establish the desirable width of water course and channels especially in the proprietary lands and removal of illegal encroachments on identified water courses through remedial action.

“The exercise will be conducted in a phased manner in districts of Jammu, Samba and Kathua in three months and remaining districts in one year.

India, Oman to hold 10th military cooperation meeting #GS2 #IR

After a gap of three years, India and Oman are set to hold a meeting of the Joint Military Cooperation Committee (JMMC) during the visit of Mohammed Nasser Al Zaabi, Secretary General, Ministry of Defence of Oman, here from Sunday to Tuesday.

This will initiate a series of high-level defence engagements between the two countries next month, officials said. Mr. Zaabi would be co-chairing the JMCC with Defence Secretary Ajay Kumar, an official source said.

The JMCC is the highest forum of engagement between India and Oman in the field of defence that evaluates and provides guidance to the overall framework of defence exchanges between the two sides.

The JMCC was to hold discussions annually, but a meeting could not be organised since 2018, when the meeting of the 9th JMCC was held in Oman, it has been learnt.

Given the three-year gap, the 10th edition is expected to “comprehensively evaluate” the ongoing exchanges and “provide a road map for further strengthening the defence ties in the coming years”.

Mr. Zaabi is expected to call on Defence Minister Rajnath Singh, and in line with India’s emphasis on boosting exports, will get insights into the Indian defence manufacturing capabilities to explore possible opportunities for procurement and joint production.

More talks to follow

His visit will be followed by a series of high-profile engagements in February that includes visits by Navy and Air Force chiefs of Oman encompassing staff talks between the Indian Navy and the visiting Navy chief as well as a bilateral Air Force exercise in Jodhpur. The annual bilateral Air Force exercise this year will see the participation of over 150 personnel from Oman.

Visits of the naval and Air Force chiefs of Oman are taking place after five years and would enable a high-level re-engagement between the forces of two sides, officials noted.

While India’s defence engagement with the Gulf region has significantly expanded in the last few years, Oman remains India’s closest defence partner in the region. It is the only country in the region with which all the three services of India conduct regular bilateral exercises and staff talks.

Defence exchanges between the two countries are guided by a framework MoU (Memorandum of Understanding), which was renewed in 2021.

As part of its anti-piracy patrols in the Gulf of Aden, the Indian Navy has deployed its P-8I long-range maritime surveillance aircraft for anti-piracy patrol sorties from Salalah in Oman on few occasions, extending the reach and operational turnaround. Oman also actively participates in the Indian Ocean Naval Symposium (IONS).

Parasitic plant found in Nicobar eco hotspot #GS3 #Environment

A new genus of a parasitic flowering plant has recently been discovered from the Nicobar group of islands. The genus Septemeranthus grows on the plant species Horsfieldia glabra (Blume) Warb. The parasitic flowering plants have a modified root structure spread on the stem of the tree and are anchored inside the bark of the host tree.

The plant was found on the periphery of the tropical forest in one of the biodiversity hotspots referred to as the Nicobar group of islands separated from the Andaman group of Islands by a wide gap of 160 km with heavy tidal flows.

Heart-shaped leaves

The genus Septemeranthus has a distinct vegetative morphology, inflorescence architecture and floral characters.The leaves of the plant are heart-shaped with a very long tip and the ovary,fruit and seeds are ‘urceolate’ (earthen pot-shaped). The flowers have five persistent bracts having conspicuous margins.

The name Septemeranthus is derived from the Latin word ‘septem’ meaning ‘seven’, referring to the arrangement of flowers.The details of the discovery were published in the Journal of Botanical Taxonomy and Geobotany Feddes Repertorium .

The genus belongs to the family Loranthaceae, a hemi-parasite under the sandalwood order Santalales and is of widespread importance. Plants which are hemi-parasites are partially dependent on their host plants for nutrition.For instance, the newly discovered plant that derives nutrients from its hosts has green leaves capable of photosynthesis.

Feeds birds

Loranthaceae is currently represented by nine genera and are found all across the country.What makes the new genus unique is that it is endemic only to the Nicobar group of islands. Lal Ji Singh, Joint Director, Botanical Survey of India, who has discovered the genus, said, “ During field studies, I found the birds consume viscous seeds of this new genus and seeds have potential of pseudo viviparous germination that deposit on the leaves and branches of their same plant which is already attached to host plants. After germination, the life cycle of the genus starts all over again.”

Hemi-parasites include are commonly referred to as mistletoes that contain 18 families, 160 genera and over 2,200 species.They need a host tree or shrub in order to thrive and exhibit a worldwide distribution in tropical as well as temperate habitats that evolved approximately five times in the order and are important in forest ecology, pathology and medicine.

They play an important role as they provide food for frugivorous birds.In addition to Septemeranthus,four other genera on non-parasitic plants, Nicobariodendron (Hippocrateaceae), Pseudodiplospora (Rubiaceae), Pubistylis (Rubiaceae), Sphyranthera , (Euphorbiaceae) have also been discovered earlier from Nicobar group of islands, highlighting the ecological significance of the region. Recently a new species in the hemiparasitic family Loranthaceae, Dendrophthoe laljii have also been discovered from the Nicobar group of islands.

Can a Russia-Ukraine conflict be averted? #GS2 #IR

The story so far: Russia has mobilised some 1,00,000 troops on its border with Ukraine. Russia says the North Atlantic Treaty Organization’s eastward expansion (which the alliance calls “enlargement”) threatens its interests and has sought written security guarantees from the West. The crisis has unleashed a flurry of diplomatic moves with the U.S., NATO and the European Union holding talks with Russian officials.

What are Russia’s demands?

Russian President Vladimir Putin has demanded a ban on further expansion of NATO to include Ukraine, Georgia or other countries in Russia’s neighbourhood. Since the German unification in 1990, NATO has added new members five times. If the alliance had 12 founding members in 1949, it now has 30 members, including the three Baltic countries of Estonia, Latvia and Lithuania — all sharing borders with Russia — and Hungary, Poland, Romania and Bulgaria, all members of the former Soviet-led Warsaw Pact.

Explained | Can a Russia-Ukraine conflict be averted?

Mr. Putin has also asked NATO to roll back its military deployments to the 1990s level and ban the deployment of intermediate range missiles in areas that would allow NATO to reach Russia. Further, Moscow has asked NATO to curb its military cooperation with Ukraine and other former Soviet republics. In other words, Mr. Putin wants not just a halt to NATO’s future expansion but also its roll-back from Russia’s rim land.

What is the U.S. response?

The U.S. has given a written response to the Kremlin, which hasn’t been released. But public remarks made by President Joe Biden, Secretary of State Antony Blinken and other top officials suggest that the U.S. has taken a mixed approach of diplomacy and economic deterrence. The U.S. has ruled out changing NATO’s “open door policy” — which means, at least in theory, NATO could induct more members.

The U.S. also says it would continue to offer training and weapons to Ukraine. But Washington is open to discussing missile deployment in Eastern Europe and a mutual reduction in military exercises. Also, it is highly unlikely that Ukraine and Georgia, both fighting separatist conflicts, would be taken into NATO in the foreseeable future. The U.S. has ruled out sending troops to Ukraine or taking other direct military measures against Russia in the event of an invasion. But Washington has threatened to impose severe economic sanctions on Russia if it makes any military move.

What are Putin’s options?

Russia says it won’t attack Ukraine. But the situation on the ground remains tense. Russia has already annexed Crimea, the Black Sea peninsula that was part of Ukraine, through a referendum. Russia is also backing separatists in the self-declared Luhansk and Donetsk republics (Donbas) in eastern Ukraine. Besides, Moscow has mobilised troops on Ukraine’s eastern border with Russia and northern border with Belarus, southern border with Crimea and south-western border with Transnistria (Moldova).

It’s not clear what Mr. Putin will do next. If he goes for a full-throttle invasion, Russian troops could make swift moves into Ukraine from three sides. Another theory is that Russia could annex Donbas and launch limited incursions, capturing more territories along the Sea of Azov, establishing a land bridge from its border to Crimea.

Or, Russia could provide further military assistance to the rebels in Donbas to push the frontline further into Ukraine without triggering a major international response. The other option is to de-escalate, claiming a diplomatic victory which would be based on guarantees from the West or a revival of the Minsk process that seeks constitutional amendments in Ukraine, giving more autonomy to the Russia-backed rebels.

What is India’s position?

India broke its silence on Friday, calling for “a peaceful resolution of the situation through sustained diplomatic efforts for long-term peace and stability in the region and beyond”. This was the standard position India had taken during the Crimean crisis as well. But the decisions it took after the annexation of Crimea offer insights into the thinking of policy-makers in New Delhi on Ukraine. Immediately after the annexation, India abstained from a vote in the UN General Assembly on a resolution that sought to condemn Russia.

In March 2014, Mr. Putin praised India’s “restraint and objectivity”. In December that year, Sergey Aksyonov, the head of the Crimean Republic, visited India as part of Mr. Putin’s delegation, which had triggered an unusual criticism of India by the then Ukrainian President, Petro Poroshenko. In November 2020, India voted against a Ukraine-sponsored resolution in the UN General Assembly that sought to condemn alleged human rights violations in Crimea. So while India’s position is largely rooted in neutrality, New Delhi has adapted itself to the post-2014 status quo on Ukraine.

Is war imminent?

Russia says the U.S.’s written response doesn’t address its core concerns, but sees room for more dialogue. Top Russian and American diplomats would meet again in two weeks. French President Emmanuel Macron held talks with Mr. Putin to revive the Minsk process, which would be followed up with more talks in the coming weeks. The continuing diplomatic activities suggest that a military conflict is not imminent. But it’s too early to say whether de-escalation is in the offing.