Current Affairs 10th March

Over 72% rise in UAPA cases registered in 2019 #GS2 #Governance

There has been an over 72% increase in the number of persons arrested under the UAPA (Unlawful Activities [Prevention] Act) in 2019 compared to year 2015, data provided by the Ministry of Home Affairs (MHA) in the Lok Sabha show.

As many as 1,948 persons were arrested under the UAPA in 1,226 cases registered across the country in 2019. From 2015 till 2018, the cases registered under the Act annually stood at 897, 922, 901 and 1,182 respectively, while the number of arrests was 1,128, 999, 1,554 and 1,421.

In 2019, the highest number of such cases were registered in Manipur (306), followed by Tamil Nadu (270), Jammu & Kashmir (255), Jharkhand (105) and Assam (87) cases. The highest number of arrests in the same year were made in Uttar Pradesh (498), followed by Manipur (386), Tamil Nadu (308), Jammu & Kashmir (227) and Jharkhand (202).

Cases under the UAPA are investigated by the State police and the National Investigation Agency (NIA). As far as the NIA is concerned, so far 48 special courts have been constituted across the country for the speedy trial of terror-related cases.

Under the UAPA, getting bail is rare and the investigating agency has up to 180 days to file a charge sheet. After abrogation of Article 370, the number of terrorist incidents in Jammu and Kashmir have reduced significantly.

The data provided shows that in J&K, 244 terrorist incidents were reported and 221 terrorists killed in 2020, while in 2019, the numbers were 594 and 157 respectively. Till February 28 this year, there were 15 incidents and eight terrorists killed.

The government had declared 42 organisations as terrorist organisations and listed their names in the First Schedule of the UAPA, the Minister said and added that “terrorism has largely been sponsored from across the border.”

Earlier, a reply by the government in the Lok Sabha shows that only 2.2 % of cases registered under the UAPA between 2016-2019 ended in convictions by court.

https://www.thehindu.com/todays-paper/tp-national/over-72-rise-in-uapa-cases-registered-in-2019/article34032260.ece

Parliamentary panel flags Centre’s meagre pensions #GS2 #Governance

The Centre must increase the “meagre” pensions provided for poor senior citizens, widows and disabled people, said the Parliamentary Standing Committee on Rural Development in its report submitted to the Lok Sabha.

The panel also slammed the government’s “laxity in raising the amount”, pointing out that recommendations to increase the sums had been made in the last two years as well. “The relevance of a marquee Scheme like National Social Assistance Programme (NSAP) in reaching out to the poor and downtrodden section of society does not go amiss in the eyes of the Committee.

Panel baffled

However, the Committee is baffled to observe the meagre amount of assistance ranging from Rs. 200 to Rs. 500 per month under the different components of this Scheme. The committee pointed out that it had previously urged the increase of these miniscule pensions in its reports on the Department of Rural Development’s (DoRD) demand for grants in 2019-20 and 2020-21.

“However, to the utter dismay of the Committee, nothing much has been forthcoming so far. The Committee does not endorse the non-serious approach of DoRD on this issue. In view of this laxity, the Committee again vehemently recommends the DoRD to look into this issue with utmost sincerity and hasten their processes for bringing an increase in the assistance amount under NSAP.

https://www.thehindu.com/todays-paper/panel-flags-centres-meagre-pensions/article34032335.ece

Cyber volunteer programme rolled out, MHA informs LS #GS3 #Security

The Ministry of Home Affairs (MHA) informed the Lok Sabha that a “cyber volunteer” programme has been rolled out for “cyber hygiene promotion” and the services of volunteers would be utilised by the State police as per requirement.

The MHA, through its cyber crime grievance portal- cybercrime.gov.in, aims to raise a group of “cyber crime volunteers” to flag “unlawful content” on the Internet. Various groups, including the Internet Freedom Foundation (IFF), have expressed concern that the programme enables a culture of surveillance and could create potential social distrust by encouraging civilians to report the online activities of other citizens.

Privacy matters

Biju Janta Dal Member of Parliament Pinaki Misra asked whether “concerns of infringement of privacy due to surreptitious and malafide intrusion into an individual’s online activities are addressed in this programme and its operating protocol.”

The challenges of cyber space are many which flow from its vastness and borderless character. … Cyber Crime Volunteer Framework has been rolled out as an initiative as a part of cyber hygiene promotion to bring together citizens to contribute in the fight against cybercrime in the country and assist State/UT LEAs (law enforcement agencies) in their endeavour to curb cyber crimes. The volunteers will be enrolled and their services utilized by the respective State/UT Police Authorities, as per their requirement.”

The Minister observed in another reply that the MHA had operationalised the National Cyber Crime Reporting Portal on August 30, 2019 to provide a centralised mechanism to the citizens for online reporting of all types of cyber crime incidents, with a special focus on cyber crimes against women and children.

The reply said that as per the data maintained, since its inception, 3,17,439 cyber crime incidents and 5,771 FIRs have been registered up to February 28 in the country. The conversion of complaints received into FIRs stood at 1.81%.

The Minister stated in a third reply that the government had approved the setting up of 1,023 Fast Track Special Courts (FTSCs), including 389 exclusive POCSO Courts, for expeditious trial and disposal of cases related to rape and the Protection of Children from Sexual Offences (POCSO) Act.

https://www.thehindu.com/todays-paper/tp-national/cyber-volunteer-programme-rolled-out-mha-informs-ls/article34032273.ece

‘Covaxin enhanced immune response #GS3 #SnT

Covaxin, India’s indigenous COVID-19 vaccine, showed enhanced immune response as well as better reactogenicity (reaction symptoms) and safety outcomes in the phase 2 trial, interim results that have now been published in the journal Lancet Infectious Diseases said.

The publication comes days after Covaxin maker Bharat Biotech said the vaccine demonstrated an interim clinical efficacy of 81% in its later phase 3 clinical trial. Developed in collaboration with the Indian Council of Medical Research (ICMR), it is a two dose vaccine, given 28 days apart.

Tracing the vaccine’s performance, the research article said in the phase 1 trial, Covaxin (BBV152) “induced high neutralising antibody responses that remained elevated in all participants at three months after the second vaccination.

In the phase 2 trial, BBV152 showed better reactogenicity and safety outcomes, and enhanced humoral and cell-mediated immune responses compared with the phase 1 trial. However, the results from the Phase 2 study do not permit efficacy assessments.

“The evaluation of safety outcomes requires extensive phase 3 clinical trials. We were unable to assess other immune responses (that is, binding antibody and cell-mediated responses) in convalescent serum samples due to the low quantity. Besides interim results of the double-blind, randomised, multi-centre, phase 2 trial, the publication also covered a 3-month follow-up of the phase 1 trial.

The publication in the Lancet journal said the phase 2 trial to evaluate immunogenicity and safety of the vaccine was conducted in 380 healthy children and adults (aged 12–65 years) at nine hospitals in India. Two-intramuscular doses of the vaccine were given four weeks apart.

Due to the difference in dosing regimens between phase 1 (two doses given two weeks apart) and phase 2 (two doses, 4 weeks apart) trials, neutralisation responses were significantly higher in the phase 2 trial than in the phase 1 trial. Immunological differences between men and women, and across age groups were not observed.

https://www.thehindu.com/todays-paper/tp-national/covaxin-enhanced-immune-response/article34032294.ece

Army to showcase counter-terror skills #GS3 #Defence

At Exercise Dustlik-II between India and Uzbekistan from March 10-19, the Army will showcase its Counter Insurgency (CI) and Counter Terrorism (CT) skills. The focus will be on people-centric intelligence based surgical operations, incorporating technological advancements to minimise collateral damage.

The broad aim of the exercise is CI,CT operations in mountainous, rural and urban scenarios under United Nations (UN) mandate and the Army will share the experiences and lessons it has gained in Kashmir.

A lot of technology has been incorporated in CI, CT operations and efficiency has considerably gone up in operations which also helps in minimizing collateral damage which would also be showcased, the source stated.

India has a series of joint exercises scheduled in the next financial year beginning April 2021 including with Central Asian Republics — Kyrgyzstan and Kazakhstan — in addition to Mongolia and Russia as part of its growing engagement with the region.

Uzbekistan is important to India for security and connectivity to Central Asian region and also Iran, underscoring the importance and adding that it is also one alternative India has with respect to Afghanistan.

The Army’s 13 Kumaon regiment, also called the Rezang La battalion for its heroic action in the 1962 war with China, has been nominated from the Indian side for the company level CI, CT exercise being held at Chaubatia, near Ranikhet in Uttarakhand. The validation exercise is scheduled on March 17 and 18 and the closing ceremony on March 19.

https://www.thehindu.com/todays-paper/tp-national/army-to-showcase-counter-terror-skills/article34032290.ece

The tale of two terminals in Colombo #GS2 #IR

In a Cabinet decision on February 1 this year, Sri Lanka booted India and Japan out of a 2019 deal to jointly develop the East Container Terminal (ECT) at the Colombo Port, as trade unions and sections of the Buddhist clergy vehemently opposed foreign involvement in the strategic national asset. Further, some raised questions about the possible conflict of interest, given that the Adani Group operates about a dozen ports in India.

Both India and Japan expressed displeasure at the Sri Lankan government’s “unilateral” decision.

As an alternative, the Rajapaksa administration offered the West Container Terminal (WCT) at the Port to India and Japan for joint development on new terms, with higher stakes of 85 % for the foreign partners. On March 1, the government approved a joint venture with the Adani consortium to develop the WCT, on a build-operate-transfer basis for 35 years. But Sri Lanka’s change in course has been far from smooth.

Both India and Japan have distanced themselves from the decision. New Delhi has termed Colombo’s statement that the Indian High Commission had approved the Adani Group’s proposal to develop the WCT “factually incorrect”. Japan is yet to name an investor, according to Sri Lanka’s Cabinet spokespersons.

Colombo’s response

Asked about New Delhi’s reaction to Colombo’s March 1 Cabinet decision, that the Indian government had “nominated” the Adani Group to invest in the ECT. Therefore, the Sri Lankan government “assumed” that the Group was the nominee for the WCT project too, as it was “the very same investment”, and only a “change in investment location”.

Two projects

The Colombo Port has five terminals at present — South Asia Gateway Terminal (SAGT), Jaya International Terminal (JCT), Colombo International Container Terminal (CICT), Unity Container Terminal, and the ECT. The proposed WCT is to come up at the Port’s western end.

Although both ECT and WCT are located in the same port, there are crucial differences in their proposed development.

The ECT is partially functional with a 600-metre quay wall, backyard, and gate complex. It awaits further development to augment operations and cargo transfers, at an estimated cost of $700-800 million. The WCT, on the other hand, exists only as an idea with no physical infrastructure, such that its development would require greater investment and take more time to be profitable.

In the ECT deal, the Sri Lanka Ports Authority (SLPA) was to hold a majority stake of 51%, while Indian and Japanese investors were to hold 49% together. The more recent WCT deal that Sri Lanka’s Foreign Secretary called a “compromise” envisages 85% for the Indian and Japanese investors, for 35 years, while the SLPA would hold the rest. The arrangement is similar to the CICT, where China Merchants Port Holdings Company holds an 85% stake.

The “nationalist forces” as well trade unions “strongly” view the ECT as “a strategically important terminal” and it should not be developed by a company with a conflict of interest. “But WCT is not considered as important as the ECT, therefore, their [Adani Group’s] experience in the port sector would be considered as a positive factor, not a negative factor.”

Questions about the deal

In terms of foreign relations, the government’s abrupt exit from an existing international agreement surprised, and even shocked, many. Domestically, too, the government faces several questions.

While the government claims that a “majority” of trade unions are on board with the new proposal, a section of unions see the WCT offer to India, as being as problematic as the former ECT deal. Their opposition was principally to foreign involvement in national assets.

The government’s political rivals, including the main opposition party Samagi Jana Balawegaya and the leftist-nationalist Janatha Vimukthi Peramuna are also opposing the decision, accusing the government of back-tracking.

Implications

Industry representatives, who favoured private partnerships to develop the Colombo Port as an international hub, are unconvinced of Colombo’s policy switch. Rohan Masakorala, maritime shipping expert and CEO of the Shippers’ Academy Colombo, said it was “a big mistake”. 

“Making the ECT a 100% public terminal without a partnership with international consortiums or port operators is purely a political decision, not an economic one,” he said, adding that the move could cost the Colombo Port in its efficiency in the medium to long term. 

“It also gives potential investors here mixed signals, because the government’s position was volatile and not direction driven. The latest WCT proposal also begs the question that if there is no governmental agreement from India or Japan this time, why didn’t Colombo choose the investor through a competitive international bidding process? Observing that “ideally” Colombo should have gone for such a bid, Mr. Masakorala said: “But we walked into a situation that required damage control.”

Experts have for long maintained that if the Colombo Port is to become an international hub it would need to collaborate with foreign shipping companies, port operators and logistics companies. Especially because 81% of the total cargo arriving at the Colombo Port is transhipment cargo, while only 19% accounts for domestic cargo. Over 70% of the transhipment business is linked to the Indian market — a reason that successive governments cited for Indian involvement in the terminal development projects.

https://www.thehindu.com/todays-paper/tp-international/the-tale-of-two-terminals-in-colombo/article34032237.ece

India asks refiners to diversify, cut reliance on Middle East oil after OPEC+ decision #GS3 #Economy

India has asked state refiners to speed up the diversification of oil imports to gradually cut their dependence on the Middle East after OPEC+ decided last week to largely continue production cuts in April, two sources said.

India, the world’s third biggest oil importer and consumer, imports about 84% of its overall crude needs with over 60% of that coming from Middle Eastern countries, which are typically cheaper than those from the West.

Most of the OPEC+ producers, led by world’s top exporter Saudi Arabia, last week decided to extend most output curbs into April.

India, hit hard by the soaring oil prices, has urged producers to ease output cuts and help the global economic recovery. In response, the Saudi energy minister told India to dip into strategic reserves filled with cheaper oil bought last year.

We have asked companies to aggressively look for diversification. We cannot be held hostage to the arbitrary decision of Middle East producers. When they wanted to stabilise the market we stood by them.

India had not cancelled any shipment of crude oil from the Middle East in 2020 when oil demand collapsed due to COVID-19, the source said. Already OPEC’s share in India’s oil imports declined to a historic lows during April 2020-January 2021, the first ten months of this fiscal year.

While initial costs could be high, the strategy will pay off in the long term. Two oil refiners confirmed that the government had asked them to expedite efforts to diversify crude import sources.

One plan is to import oil from new producer Guyana, the sources said. The country’s top refiner Indian Oil Corporation (IOC) has also renewed its oil import contract with Russia, they added. India hopes to resume Iranian oil imports this year.

India’s Oil Ministry and IOC did not respond to requests from Reuters for comment. Iraq and Saudi Arabia are the two biggest oil suppliers to India. This year, Iraq has cut annual supply volumes while Kuwait has shortened the duration of contracts with Indian buyers to nine months.

After OPEC’s last week decision, crude oil prices rose to over $71 per barrel although the prices eased to $69.08 a barrel by 1027 GMT. Saudi has also raised April official selling price of its oil for Asia.

“A beginning has to be made. No one had imagined that U.S. oil will account for a significant share in our crude basket. We are trying for shorter-term contracts with new countries and sellers. The world was together during the pandemic but now it seems some producers are working for their own economies

https://www.thehindu.com/business/india-asks-refiners-to-diversify-cut-reliance-on-middle-east-oil-after-opec-decision/article34028141.ece