Current Affairs 3rd March

India, Japan back in Sri Lanka port project #GS2 #IR

Sri Lanka said it will develop the West Container Terminal (WCT) at the Colombo Port, along with India and Japan. The decision comes a month after the Rajapaksa government ejected the two partners from a 2019 tripartite agreement to jointly develop the East Container Terminal (ECT), citing resistance to “foreign involvement”.

While the High Commission of India had “approved” Adani Ports, which was to invest in the ECT project earlier, Japan is yet to name an investor, according to officially published Cabinet decisions. Neither India nor Japan has officially commented on the offer, or on the said private investment from the countries.

According to official sources in New Delhi, Colombo had been in talks directly with the Adani Group, while the government “was not part of” the discussions.

Official sources in Colombo expressed surprise at the mention of the Indian High Commission in the Cabinet decision, pointing out that it was the Government of Sri Lanka, and not a foreign mission, that would “approve” investments coming into the island nation.

Both India and Japan had expressed displeasure about Colombo “unilaterally” pulling out of the 2019 agreement.

The deal had been signed by the former Maithripala Sirisena-Ranil Wickremesinghe government. The February 1 decision came amid mounting opposition from port worker unions and sections of the clergy to “foreign involvement” in the country’s national assets.

The Rajapaksa government has offered India and Japan the WCT as an alternative, allowing higher stakes. In the ECT project agreed upon earlier, the Sri Lanka Ports Authority (SLPA) was to hold majority 51%, but in the WCT proposal, India and Japan will be accorded 85% stake, as is the case in the nearby Colombo International Container Terminal (CICT), where China Merchants Port Holdings Company Limited holds 85%.

Asked how authorities had convinced the unions of foreign investment at another terminal in the same port, Mr. Rambukwella said their opposition was specific to the ECT, which was partially in use. The terminal’s further development, which is now to be undertaken by the Sri Lanka Port Authority (SLPA), is aimed at augmenting operations at an estimated cost of upto $700 million.

The West Container Terminal, however, has to be built from scratch, requiring a much higher investment.

The WCT is adjacent to the China-run CICT and just a couple of kilometres away from the China-backed Port City being built on reclaimed land, making it a strategically desirable spot for India, whose concerns over China’s presence in Sri Lanka are well known.

Colombo’s alternative offer also comes at a time when Sri Lanka is seeking support at the ongoing UN Human Right Council session, where a resolution on the country’s rights record will soon be put to vote. The government recently wrote to Prime Minister Narendra Modi. Asked if the two developments were linked, Mr. Rambukwella said they were “two different areas — one is commercial, other one, more of international relations.”

Benefit of the NewsIndia-Sri Lanka Japan relations

https://www.thehindu.com/todays-paper/india-japan-back-in-sri-lanka-port-project/article33975491.ece

‘Cyber volunteer plan will create social distrust’ #GS3 #Security

The Ministry of Home Affairs’s (MHA) controversial “cybercrime volunteers” programme targets to rope in around 500 persons to flag unlawful content on the Internet for “improvement in the cyber-crime ecosystem of India”.

The programme will include 200 “cyber awareness promoters” and 50 “cyber experts”, according to the output outcome monitoring framework of the MHA’s budget 2021-22. The output outcome framework developed by the NITI Aayog was adopted in the 2019-20 budget to define and evaluate government schemes below Rs. 500 crore in terms of outcomes.

The Internet Freedom Foundation (IFF), a digital liberties organisation, has written to the MHA that the scheme will lead to a “culture of surveillance and constant suspicion in society creating potential social distrust”.

The IFF said in a representation to the MHA that there is no information available on how the Ministry will ensure that programme is not misused by certain elements to extract misguided personal or political vendettas. It should also be noted that there is no process in place for withdrawal of complaints once submitted. 

The MHA’s framework says under the “Cyber-crime Ecosystem Management Unit”, it aims to hold regular consultation with “government bodies, academia, NGOs, private bodies, technical companies, etc.”.

According to the output outcome monitoring framework of 2021-22, the “number of cyber volunteer unlawful content flaggers applying” to achieve the “improvement in the cybercrime ecosystem of India” is stated to be 500. The National Cybercrime Ecosystem Management Unit is part of the Indian Cybercrime Coordination Centre (I4C) scheme launched by Union Home Minister Amit Shah.

The project was approved in October 2018 at an estimated cost of Rs. 415.86 crore. The I4C scheme, which also includes other components, has been allocated Rs. 69.80 crore in the budget. Under the National Cyber Research and Innovation scheme, Rs. 9 crore will be provided to institutions to solve the problems of law enforcement agencies, the budget document said.

As reported by The Hindu on November 1 last year, the MHA through its grievance portal, cybercrime.gov.in, aims to raise the “cyber crime volunteers” group.

Benefit of the NewsCyber initiatives

https://www.thehindu.com/todays-paper/tp-national/cybercrime-volunteers-plan-is-fraught-with-dangers-says-iff/article33975438.ece

Himalayan serow spotted in Assam #GS3 #Environment

A Himalayan mammal, somewhere between a goat and an antelope, has been confirmed as the newest creature to be spotted in Assam.

A couple of nature guides had spotted the Himalayan serow, a goat-antelope, in the 950-sq.km Manas Tiger Reserve on December 3. The animal — a high-altitude dweller usually found 2,000-4,000 metres above sea level — was seen being chased by wild dogs.

We have now confirmed the animal as the Himalayan serow, spotted close to the border with Bhutan in Manas’s Bansbari-Mathanguri forest. The sighting augurs well for the health of the tiger reserve.

According to Mr. Swargowari, the sightings of rare animals and birds in Manas is an outcome of better access to remote parts of the protected area where extremists and hunters once ruled. “There are chances of more faunal species, found in the higher reaches, being spotted in the park.”

The Reserve is contiguous with the 1,057-sq. km. Royal Manas National Park in Bhutan. The black-necked crane was also recently sighted in Manas. A pair each of such cranes was sighted on January 10 and February 18. The Buddhists revere the bird that nests in the Tawang region.

Officials in Manas said the critically endangered white-bellied heron was also seen a few weeks ago. In February, birders had sighted the colourful Mandarin duck in the Maguri-Motapung wetland near eastern Assam’s Dibru-Saikhowa National Park. This duck was last spotted in Assam 118 years ago.

Benefit of the News– About Himalayan Serow; White- Bellied Heron; Mandarin Duck;

https://www.thehindu.com/todays-paper/tp-national/himalayan-serow-spotted-in-assam/article33975443.ece

Exports dip 0.25% after rising for 2 months, imports grow 7% #GS3 #Economy

India’s merchandise exports dipped 0.25% in February to $27.67 billion dollars, while imports of goods rose almost 7% to $40.55 billion. The trade deficit widened by 25.8% from February 2020 to $12.88 billion.

Within the trade basket, exports of items excluding petroleum, and gems and jewellery rose 5.65%, while imports of such items rose 7.4%. Exporters blamed the marginal dip in exports in February — following two straight months of growth — to container shortages across the country and supply disruptions in the last week of the month due to an increase in COVID-19 cases in certain States.

Oil meals, iron ore

The biggest surge in exports was recorded in other cereals (542%), followed by oil meals (244.1%) and iron ore (167.8%). However, petroleum product exports fell 27.1%, followed by declines in several employment-intensive sectors such as leather (-21.6%), gems and jewellery (-11.2%) and readymade textile garments, whose shipments contracted 8.5%.

Rising exports from China have led to a shortage of containers in the region as most of the empty containers are available only for exports from China as the shipping lines and container companies are being paid hefty premiums for bringing empty containers back to China.

Mr. Saraf urged the Centre to address long-pending demands of exporters urgently, including the notification of the rates under the Remission of Duties and Taxes on Export Products to remove uncertainty and allow new contracts to be taken up.

https://www.thehindu.com/todays-paper/tp-business/exports-dip-025-after-rising-for-2-months-imports-grow-7/article33975360.ece