Current Affairs 4th Aug 2022

SC calls for a panel to look into freebies issue #GS2 #Governance

The Supreme Court said Parliament may not be able to effectively debate the issue of doing away with “irrational freebies” offered to voters during elections, saying the “reality” is that not a single political party wants to take away freebies. The court suggested setting up a specialised body composed of persons who can “dispassionately” examine the problem.

The observations from a Bench led by Chief Justice of India N.V. Ramana came even as the Centre said these freebies were paving the way for an “economic disaster” besides “distorting the informed decision of voters”.

The Centre, represented by Solicitor-General Tushar Mehta, said it “substantially and in principle” supported doing away with the practice of promising freebies to voters.

The court directed the parties to make “suggestions for the composition of a body”. It proposed that this body could examine ways to resolve the issue of freebies and file a report before the Centre or the Election Commission of India (ECI). The court said once the parties come up with suggestions on the composition of such a body in a week, it would pass orders.

‘Keep ECI away’

But senior advocate Kapil Sibal said the ECI should be “kept away” from the discussion on freebies. The issue was political and economic in nature and did not just concern elections. The court said the government as well as organisations such as the Niti Aayog, the Finance Commission of India, the Law Commission, the Reserve Bank of India, Opposition, etc., have to be involved in the process of brainstorming on the problem of freebies and come up with constructive conclusions on the issue.

ECI could prepare a “model manifesto” to control freebies. Chief Justice Ramana retorted that if the ECI had taken up the issue, the court would not have had to intervene now. The court said its judgments against violence during elections continued to be ignored

China steps up pressure on Taiwan #GS2 #IR

China’s military will begin one of its largest ever exercises in waters off Taiwan that will effectively seal off its airspace and waters for four days, part of a number of measures Beijing is expected to announce in retaliation for visit by United States House Speaker Nancy Pelosi.

The Chinese military said it will begin large-scale exercises in six areas in the waters and airspace to the north, east, southwest and southeast around the island of Taiwan and also conduct live-fire drills and missile tests. Some of the drills will be in what Taiwan sees as its territorial waters. Chinese analysts described the four-day exercises as an effective “blockade”, which is likely to disrupt both shipping and aviation.

Safety reasons

“For safety reasons, entering of vessels and aircraft to the above-mentioned sea and air space is prohibited,” an official notice said. Taiwan’s Taoyuan International Airport on Wednesday said as many as 51 international flights have been cancelled on Thursday alone as the drills begin.

No merger with India, but Nagas cannot live apart: NSCN (I-M) #GS2 #Governance

Nagas cannot merge with India but cannot live apart from Indians, due to the necessity of the inter-dependent relationship among peoples and nations, the chief of the National Socialist Council of Nagalim or Isak-Muivah faction of the NSCN. In a statement marking seven years of the signing of the Framework Agreement with New Delhi, NSCN (I-M) chairman Q. Tuccu said, the coexistence of the Nagas and Indians is a “natural necessity because no individual or nation exists in total isolation from others”.

The Nagas have been owning some 120,000 sq. km for years while the Indian government claims Nagalim is an integral part of India, he said. Nagalim refers to all Naga-inhabited areas in Nagaland, three adjoining north-eastern States and Myanmar.

But there is neither history nor any agreement in support of that claim and the diametrically opposite stands have made the two peoples fight for decades before the government of India acknowledged that the Nagas are owners of their land – everything on the surface and beneath.

The Framework Agreement signed on August 3, 2015, recognised the unique history of the Nagas, which essentially means the land of the Nagas have never been a part of India despite the occupation of the “Naga country” by British imperialists in 1832.

The Framework Agreement says sovereignty lies with the people. We say sovereignty is our inherent right, and the Nagas are a sovereign people, but it must be recognised by other nation-states. The interlocutors of the government of India are making the Naga flag and Constitution an issue. It is known to all that the flag and the Constitution are components of recognised sovereignty and unique history.

He also said New Delhi and the NSCN (I-M) had mutually agreed that the integration of the Naga areas was the “legitimate right of the Nagas” and that it will be finalised through a political process at the earliest. Arunachal Pradesh, Assam and Manipur are opposed to the idea of integrating all Naga-inhabited areas under one umbrella, a long-term goal of the NSCN (I-M).

India to host UNSC meet on counterterrorism #GS2 #IR

In a first, India will host diplomats and officials from all 15 countries of the United Nations Security Council, including China, Russia and the U.S., for a special meeting on terrorism, in Delhi and Mumbai in October.

The meeting of the Counter-Terrorism Committee (CTC), which India is chairing for 2022 as a member of the UNSC, will focus particularly on challenges such as terrorism financing, cyber threats, and the use of drones.

New Delhi is expected to highlight cross-border threats from Pakistan and Afghanistan at the meeting, which will come two months before India completes its tenure as an elected member of the UNSC (2021-22). In addition, India has been pushing for the UN members to adopt a Comprehensive Convention on International Terrorism (first proposed in 1996), which is likely to be raised during the meeting.

New challenges

Sources said that while terror financing was now recognised and dealt with through mechanisms such as the Financial Action Task Force (FATF), it was necessary to build templates and “codes of conduct” for newer threats, including financing through cryptocurrency and the use of drones for terror attacks. They said the CTC meeting in India could also pave the way for a possible visit to New York by Prime Minister Narendra Modi in December when India will be the President of the UNSC for the entire month.

In August 2021, due to the COVID-19 pandemic, Mr. Modi chaired a UNSC special session on Enhancing Maritime Security virtually, in which several leaders, including Russian President Vladimir Putin, attended. Officials said India’s UN Mission, where Permanent Representative Ruchira Khamboj presented her credentials on Tuesday, would be working on ensuring maximum participation at the event, in case the Prime Minister decides to travel.

An earlier plan to travel to Washington in December for the Democracy Summit to be convened by U.S. President Joe Biden may be put off, as the summit is likely to be postponed.

Announcing the visit of the delegates, the United Nations said that the special meeting had been convened on October 29 in India, in view of “the increasing threat posed by the misuse of new and emerging technologies”. “The special meeting will specifically focus on three significant areas where emerging technologies are experiencing rapid development, growing used by the Member States (including for security and counter-terrorism purposes), and the increasing threat of abuse for terrorism purposes, namely (a) the Internet and social media, (b) terrorism financing, and (c) unmanned aerial systems.

LS passes Bill to set up Gati Shakti University #GS2 #Governance

The Lok Sabha passed the Central Universities (Amendment) Bill, 2022, which seeks to establish the Gati Shakti Vishwavidaylaya as a Central University, changing the form of the National Rail and Transportation University which is currently a deemed to be institution in Vadodara. The Bill also seeks to expand the scope of the deemed university from beyond the railways to cover the entire transport sector to support the ambitious growth and modernisation in the field.

Education Minister Dharmendra Pradhan said the Gati Shakti Vishwavidyalaya would be a multi-disciplinary and multi-dimensional institute, and the first Central university after the roll-out of the National Education Policy.

The plan is to unify different departments to create a new infrastructure where various transport sector elements — railways, road, waterways, aviation and port along with information and technology — will coordinate with each other on the platform of Gati Shakti Mission. The proposed global standard institute aimed at not producing job-seekers but job-creators.

The establishment of the Vishwavidyalaya would address the need of talent in the strategically important and expanding transportation sector and meet the demand for trained talent to fuel the growth and expansion of the sector.

Cabinet nod for climate pledges #GS3 #Environment

India ratified pledges made by Prime Minister Narendra Modi in Glasgow last November to accelerate the country’s reliance on renewable energy to power the economy and be effectively free from use of fossil fuels by 2070. However, the approved pledges were fewer than those Mr. Modi committed to.

The Union Cabinet, chaired by Mr. Modi, approved an update to India’s Nationally Determined Contribution (NDC). Mr. Modi had laid out five commitments, or Panchamrit , as the government references it, namely:

  1. India will increase its non-fossil energy capacity to 500 GW (gigawatt) by 2030;
  2. Will meet 50% of its energy requirements from “renewable energy” by 2030;
  3. Will reduce the total projected carbon emissions by one billion tonnes from now till 2030;
  4. Will reduce the carbon intensity of its economy by more than 45%; and
  5. Will achieve the target of “net zero” by the year 2070, when there will be no net carbon dioxide emitted from energy sources.

A press statement, following the Cabinet approval, only mentions two of these promises, namely that India is committed to reduce emissions intensity of its GDP by 45% by 2030, from the 2005 level and achieving 50% cumulative electric power installed capacity from non-fossil fuel-based energy resources by 2030.

India’s NDC did not “bind it” to any sector-specific mitigation obligation or action and that India’s goal was to reduce overall emission intensity and improve energy efficiency “while protecting the vulnerable sectors of economy and society.

Independent experts said that while the NDCs reflected India’s commitment to sustainable development they were a climbdown from the ambition India had expressed at Glasgow. India’s updated NDC does not include all the promises made at COP26 in Glasgow.

Services growth slides to 4-month low #GS3 #Economy

India’s services sector growth hit a four-month low as demand weakened amid inflation pressures, as per the S&P Global India Services Purchase Managers’ Index (PMI) which moderated to 55.5 in July from an 11-year high of 59.2 in June. A reading of 50 on the PMI indicates no change in business activity levels.

While the domestic market remained the key source of sales growth, international demand for Indian services worsened further, S&P Global said, with new global orders seeing the sharpest drop in six months.

‘Inflation still a concern’

Input cost inflation remained a concern for businesses, rising sharply even though at the slowest pace since February, as respondents for the survey-based index reported higher expenses on food, fuel, materials, staff, retail and transportation as the key sources of inflationary pressures.

Firms continued to raise prices to pass on these costs to customers, even though the output charge inflation came off a five-year high in June. “The latest rise was solid and the seventeenth in successive months,” S&P Global said. While job creation was negligible in services sectors across India, it was the second month in a row that new jobs were reported after a decline in employment numbers in May.

“The rate of job creation was fractional and broadly similar to June. The vast majority of firms left payroll numbers unchanged amid a lack of need to raise workforces,” S&P Global noted.

While sales growth in July was dampened by fierce competition and unfavourable weather, overall business sentiment tanked further, with only 5% of companies forecasting output growth in the year ahead, compared with 9% in June. A majority 94% of firms predicted no change in business activity from current levels.

‘Loss in momentum’

“In line with concerns that economic growth has weakened as we enter the second fiscal quarter, service providers signalled subdued confidence towards the medium-term business outlook,” said Pollyanna De Lima, economics associate director at S&P Global Market Intelligence, who flagged ‘a noticeable loss of momentum for the Indian service economy’ in July.

“Demand was somewhat curtailed by competitive pressures, elevated inflation and unfavourable weather. Both output and sales increased at the weakest rates for four months.