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14 January, 2020

21 Min Read

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Paper Topics Subject
GS-II Shanghai Cooperation Organisation (SCO)
Tibet’s new law on ethnic unity International Relations
Surrogacy in India
Supreme Court on religious practices
Manual Scavenging
GS-III Inflation targeting framework Economic Issues
5G trials in India
Retail Inflation Economic Issues
GS-II :
Shanghai Cooperation Organisation (SCO)

Syllabus subtopic: Bilateral, regional and global groupings and agreements involving India and/or affecting India's interests

 

Prelims and Mains focus: about the SCO meeting to be hosted by India; likely implications of worsening Indo-Pak relations on the meeting; about SCO: members and significance; about RATS

 

News: Leaders of India and Pakistan are expected to come face-to-face at a meeting of the heads of government of the Shanghai Cooperation Organisation (SCO) to be hosted by India later this year.

 

About the meeting

  • The event will bring together leaders from eight SCO member states—India, China, Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan, Russia, Pakistan, Tajikistan, and Uzbekistan. India and Pakistan joined the SCO as full members in 2017.

 

  • Russia is to host a meeting of the heads of state of SCO countries in July, but this year for the first time India is chairing one of the main SCO bodies, the council of heads of government and prime ministers of the organization’s member states.

 

  • The member states have highly appreciated India’s willingness to host the meeting of prime ministers in autumn 2020.

 

  • Pakistan’s Prime Minister Imran Khan should be attending the meet, according to protocol, as it is a meeting of the heads of government.

 

  • India would need to send an invite to Khan. However, given that tensions have been running high between the two countries for almost a year, the possibility of a high-level visit from Pakistan is far from certain.

 

India-Pakistan deteriorating relations

  • On 1 January, Prime Minister Narendra Modi telephoned leaders of Bhutan, Bangladesh, Sri Lanka, Nepal, and the Maldives to greet them on the New Year but pointedly left out Pakistan.

 

  • Ties between the two countries took a nosedive when a terrorist belonging to the Pakistan-based Jaish-e-Mohammed (JeM) drove an explosive laden vehicle into a security convoy killing 40 personnel of the Central Reserve Police Force in February 2019.

 

  • A few days later India bombed a JeM training camp in Pakistan’s Balakot region. A day later Pakistan launched an aerial raid against Indian military targets in Kashmir, which was repulsed by the Indian Air Force.

 

  • The situation worsened when India revoked a section in its Constitution that bestowed special status on Kashmir in August and integrated the region more closely with the rest of the country.

 

  • Pakistan slammed the Indian move, which took Kashmir off the dialogue table with Pakistan.

 

  • Despite the tensions, India and Pakistan did take part in an SCO military exercise hosted by Russia in September. Pakistan, however, did not send any representative to a military medicine conference of SCO member-states hosted by India in the same month.

 

About Shanghai Cooperation Organisation (SCO)

  • The Shanghai Cooperation Organisation, also known as the Shanghai Pact, is a Eurasian political, economic, and military organisation which was founded in 2001 in Shanghai.

 

  • Founding members: China, Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan, Russia, Tajikistan, and Uzbekistan. The cooperation was renamed to Shanghai Cooperation Organisation after Uzbekistan joined the organisation in 2001.

 

  • The SCO’s main goals are: strengthening mutual trust and neighbourliness among the member states; promoting their effective cooperation in politics, trade, the economy, research, technology and culture, as well as in education, energy, transport, tourism, environmental protection, and other areas; making joint efforts to maintain and ensure peace, security and stability in the region; and moving towards the establishment of a democratic, fair and rational new international political and economic order.

 

  • Presently, the SCO comprises eight member states, namely the Republic of India, the Republic of Kazakhstan, the People’s Republic of China, the Kyrgyz Republic, the Islamic Republic of Pakistan, the Russian Federation, the Republic of Tajikistan, and the Republic of Uzbekistan.

 

  • The SCO counts four observer states, namely the Islamic Republic of Afghanistan, the Republic of Belarus, the Islamic Republic of Iran and the Republic of Mongolia.

 

  • The SCO has six dialogue partners, namely the Republic of Azerbaijan, the Republic of Armenia, the Kingdom of Cambodia, the Federal Democratic Republic of Nepal, the Republic of Turkey, and the Democratic Socialist Republic of Sri Lanka.

 

About Regional Anti-Terrorist Structure (RATS)

  • The Regional Anti-Terrorist Structure (RATS), headquartered in Tashkent, Uzbekistan, is a permanent organ of the SCO.
  • It serves to promote cooperation of member states against the three evils of terrorism, separatism and extremism.
  • The Head of RATS is elected to a three-year term. Each member state also sends a permanent representative to RATS.
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GS-II : International Relations
Tibet’s new law on ethnic unity

Syllabus subtopic: Effect of policies and politics of developed and developing countries on India's interests, Indian diaspora.

 

Prelims and Mains focus: about the new law passed by Tibet and its significance; the dalai lama tradition

 

News: For the first time, Tibet has passed a law making ethnic unity mandatory, reflecting the significant role it plays in the sensitive remote Himalayan region's economic and social development.

 

About the new law

  • The People's Congress of Tibet on Saturday passed the legislation, which will take effect from May 1, guaranteeing ethnic unity in the territory.
  • The new law makes it clear that Tibet has been an inalienable part of China since ancient times, and it is the common responsibility for the people of all ethnic groups to safeguard national reunification, strengthen ethnic unity and take a clear-cut stand against separatism.
  • This is the first legislation on ethnic unity at the autonomous region level across China.
  • The law reflects the important role of ethnic unity in the region's economic and social development.

 

Tibet’s demography

  • There are more than 40 ethnic minorities accounting for 95 per cent of Tibet's over three million population.
  • Official figures released by China in March last year on Tibet said the region's population has grown from 1.23 million in 1959 to 3.44 million in 2018, with Tibetans accounting for over 90 per cent.

 

All is not well in Tibet

  • China says Tibet for centuries has been its territory well before the People's Liberation Army (PLA) took control of the region in 1950.

 

  • Overseas Tibetan groups allege large scale migration from Chinese mainland to Tibet to exploit the abundant natural resources in the Himalayan region which is resented by the local population.

 

  • About 150 Tibetans have committed self-immolation since 2009 calling for the return of the Dalai Lama from his exile in India and improvement of human rights conditions in the homeland of the top Tibetan Buddhist leader.

 

  • China terms Dalai Lama as a splittist and a separatist.

 

  • In November, China objected to the US plans to take up the issue of the successor to the 84-year-old Dalai Lama to United Nations saying that Washington is misusing UN platform to interfere in its internal affairs. Beijing asserts that his successor should be endorsed by it.

 

Similar law introduced in Xinjiang 4 years ago

Like Tibet, Xinjiang is a region of China that houses multiple ethnic minorities. Legislation to promote ‘ethnic unity’ was passed in Xinjiang four years ago.

Since then, China has faced severe international criticism for detaining mainly Uighur Muslims from Xinjiang in camps that Beijing says are meant to give employment training. The ethnic unity law has been used to crack down on Uighurs in Xinjiang.

 

 

The Dalai Lama Tradition

Dalai means Ocean and Lama mean Monk. The spiritual leader of Tibetans is therefore called the Dalai Lama since they are assumed to be Oceans of Compassion. They belong to the latest school of Tibetan Buddhism, the “Gelug” or “Yellow Hat” School.

 

Selection of dalai lama

The process of their selection is also a very unique one. Legend goes that Dalai Lamas are “found” not selected. A few years after the first Dalai Lama passed away, a child proclaimed that he had the spirit of the Dalai Lama. After strong proofs of his enlightenment, the High Lamas took him seriously. He was announced to be the next Dalai Lama. Since then, it is believed that Dalai Lamas are tulkus, enlightened beings who can control when they will be reincarnated and as whom. This is different from popular Hindu belief where reincarnation is due their Karma

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GS-II :
Surrogacy in India

Syllabus subtopic: Government policies and interventions for development in various sectors and issues arising out of their design and implementation.

Prelims and Mains focus: about the RS committee’s visit; details of the bill and the concerns raised against the bill

News: With appeals for review of provisions in the proposed surrogacy law, members of the Rajya Sabha select committee, which is examining the Bill, will visit Anand in Gujarat, known as the surrogacy capital of India, to consult stakeholders, even as there are signals that the panel may consider prospects of allowing single parents and live-in couples to opt for surrogacy.

 

Background

  • The Surrogacy (Regulation) Bill, 2019 was introduced by the Minister of Health and Family Welfare, Dr. Harsh Vardhan in Lok Sabha on July 15, 2019.
  • When the Bill came up in Rajya Sabha, MPs had expressed reservation on the provision that only a close relative can be a surrogate mother, as also the clause that surrogacy will be permitted for couples after at least five years of marriage. They argued that having a close relative to act as a surrogate will be difficult in a changing society. Many MPs had said the Bill has some “unjust provisions” and impracticalities, and is silent on the question of prior informed consent.

 

About the committee’s visit to Anand in Gujarat

The 23-member House committee will begin their four-day field visit from January 21 and meet stakeholders, including surrogate parents and doctors at IVF clinics and try to study the clinic system

 

 

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GS-II :
Supreme Court on religious practices

Syllabus subtopic: Indian Constitution- historical underpinnings, evolution, features, amendments, significant provisions and basic structure.

Prelims and Mains focus: about the seven points referred to larger bench; concerns raised by the lawyers; sabarimala case

News: A nine-judge Bench led by Chief Justice of India (CJI) Sharad A. Bobde on Monday said its objective was not to review the Sabarimala women entry case but examine “larger issues” of law like the prohibition of women from entering mosques and temples to genital mutilation among Dawoodi Bohras and the banning of Parsi women who married inter-faith from entering the fire temple.

 

  • The Bench, however, clarified that it would not go into the legality of issues such as the practice of polygamy and ‘nikah-halala’ in Islam.

 

Basis of judicial enquiry

Chief Justice Bobde explained that the basis of the Bench's judicial enquiry would be seven questions referred to a larger Bench by a five-judge Bench on November 14, 2019.

 

 

Background

  • On November 14, the five-judge Bench led by then Chief Justice Ranjan Gogoi, instead of deciding the Sabarimala review entrusted to it, sought an “authoritative pronouncement” on the Court's power to decide the essentiality of religious practices.

 

  • Framing seven questions, the Bench referred them to a seven-judge Bench. These referral questions included whether “essential religious practices” be afforded constitutional protection under Article 26 (freedom to manage religious affairs).

 

  • Chief Justice Bobde, who succeeded Justice Gogoi, formed a Bench of nine rather than seven judges to examine these referred questions which concern multiple faiths.

 

  • On Monday, Solicitor General Tushar Mehta said the referred questions were too broad and needed fine-tuning.

 

Directive to lawyers

The CJI asked lawyers involved in the case to hold a conference on January 17 to reframe/add issues to be examined by the nine-judge Bench. The court posted the case for hearing after three weeks.

 

When lawyers sought to remind the court that the case challenging the Citizenship (Amendment) Act was scheduled for January 22 and the hearing before the nine-judge Bench ought to be heard without a break, the CJI said cases were being heard “chronologically”.

 

The CJI explained that the nine-judge Bench was only examining propositions of law raised about religious practices believed to be essential to various religions. The Bench would not go into the individual facts of the various petitions that make the body of the case before it.

 

Concerns raised by the lawyers

  • The Supreme Court cannot decide on the essentiality of religious practices. It was outside its jurisdiction.
  • Shrirur Mutt judgment of the Supreme Court of 1954: according to the 62-year-old verdict, the essentiality of religious practices should be decided in accordance with the religious doctrines of each faith. The Supreme Court has limited power of judicial review.
  • The 1954 judgment held that any regulation could only extend to religious practices and activities which were economic, commercial or political in their character.
  • Lawyers even asked whether the numerically stronger nine-judge Bench was formed to test the Shrirur Mutt verdict delivered by a seven-judge Bench, which had reduced the court's role and left the question of essentiality of religious practices to the wisdom of religious texts.
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GS-II :
Manual Scavenging

Syllabus subtopic: Welfare schemes for vulnerable sections of the population by the Centre and States and the performance of these schemes; mechanisms, laws, institutions and bodies constituted for the protection and betterment of these vulnerable sections

 

Prelims and Mains focus: about the report of NCSK and its findings; the menace of manual scavenging and the efforts of the govt. to curb it

                                                                                                        

News: Of the 926 deaths inside sewers in the country, from 1993 till December 31, 2019, families of 172 victims were yet to receive compensation, with Gujarat having the highest number of cases where the amount was not paid or the payment was unconfirmed (48), while Maharashtra was yet to pay or confirm payment of compensation in any of its 32 cases, according to data from the National Commission for Safai Karamcharis (NCSK).

 

 

Status report of the states

  • During a meeting of the Central Monitoring Committee (Chaired by Minister of Social Justice and Empowerment) under the Prohibition of Employment as Manual Scavengers and their Rehabilitation Act, 2013, which is meant to review the implementation of the law, on January 8, States that were found lagging behind in the rehabilitation of manual scavengers were asked to comply soon.

 

  • Tamil Nadu, which had the highest number of such deaths, had paid compensation in all but seven of the 234 cases. Gujarat was yet to pay or confirm payment in 48 of the 162 sewer deaths recorded in the State, and in 31 of those cases, the legal heir could not be traced, the data showed.

 

  • One- time cash assistance had been disbursed in 35,397 cases, with Uttar Pradesh accounting for 19,385 such people.

 

  • Capital subsidy and skill development training had been provided to 1,007 and 7,383 of the identified manual scavengers, respectively, the data showed.

 

  • According to the NCSK, a total of 53,598 people, of which 29,923 were in Uttar Pradesh alone, had been identified as engaged in manual scavenging after surveys in 2013 and 2018.

 

  • As per the provisions of the Act, District Vigilance Committees had been constituted in 21 States/Union Territories, State Monitoring Committees in 26, and State Commissions for Safai Karamcharis in eight.
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GS-III : Economic Issues
Inflation targeting framework

Syllabus subtopic: Indian Economy and issues relating to planning, mobilization of resources, growth, development and employment.

 

Prelims and Mains focus: about the inflation targeting framework, repo rate; CPI; MPC

 

News: Last year, there were calls to review RBI’s inflation targeting framework. With the term of the current monetary policy committee ending in September, it’s time to review the performance of the rate-setting framework

 

 

What are the terms of the policy framework?

In 2016, the government amended the Reserve Bank of India Act (1934) and institutionalized a framework for a monetary policy committee (MPC), which was mandated to maintain price stability while keeping the objective of growth. MPC was given a policy tool of the repo rate in order to ensure inflation was within a target level. The inflation target given to MPC was 4%, with 6% as the upper tolerance level and 2% as the lower tolerance level. That is, MPC was supposed to adjust the repo rate in order to ensure that inflation stayed within two percentage points of the target of 4%.

 

How does the current framework function?

MPC meets every two months and decides the policy rate based on the available data. MPC’s primary mandate is to curb inflation and it looks at consumer price index (CPI) figures as the preferred indicator of inflation. There is a neutral real repo rate, which is the policy rate at which monetary policy is neither accommodative nor contractionary. Therefore, in the event of higher inflation (or higher than potential growth), MPC would have a real policy rate higher than the neutral real rate. That is, it will increase the interest rates. Conversely, in the event of lower-than-target inflation, MPC would cut the repo rate.

 

Okay, so what is India’s neutral real repo rate?

There is no official paper on India’s neutral real rate. When Raghuram Rajan was RBI governor, it was believed to be 1.5-2%. Since the adoption of the monetary policy framework, in response to a question during the first MPC press briefing, one of the members indicated that the rate could be 1.25%. The neutral real rate is not a constant and changes from time to time.

 

Why are our real rates higher than the target?

Focusing solely on retail inflation targeting would be problematic at a time when the food inflations is high and actual GDP growth is lower than the potential GDP growth. This could very well be the case in January and next month. Figures released on Monday showed December retail inflation at 7.35%, driven primarily by onions and vegetables. There’s evidence to suggest that monetary policy has little or no impact on food inflation. The framework thus needs to be revised to look at our real policy rates.

 

What are the changes being argued for?

The current inflation target given for five years expires in 2021. With MPC’s term ending in September, it is time to objectively look at the performance of the framework. Many believe we have sacrificed growth due to an overtly hawkish stance and that a target for growth rate should be included, besides a mandate for financial stability. Else, revisit the 4% inflation target and mandate that MPC considers wholesale price inflation with CPI while framing monetary policy.

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GS-III :
5G trials in India

Syllabus subtopic: Science and Technology- developments and their applications and effects in everyday life Achievements of Indians in science & technology; indigenization of technology and developing new technology.

 

Prelims and Mains focus: about the concerns raised by the operators and the vendors; 5G technology; its advantages and challenges for the govt. in its rollout

 

News: The build-up to introducing 5G services in India is likely to be marred by more acrimony as operators and vendors claimed that onerous conditions laid out by the government will make 5G trials a costly affair even as commercial uses for the new technology have not been established.

 

What are the requirements set by the govt.?

  • The key requirement for 5G trials is that it has to be stand-alone, which means all the equipment has to be dedicated for 5G only and none of the existing 4G network and IT infrastructure can be integrated and used for trials.
  • This means equipment vendors, who are bearing the entire cost of the trials, will have to import stand-alone gear, which will come into the market only later this year. The cost of a single trial could go up to Rs.80 crore.

 

Background

  • In June, DoT had approved a one-year 5G trial period and a one-time fee of Rs. 5,000 for entities seeking experimental spectrum to conduct trials.

 

  • The government also announced its intention to focus on three big social sectors for deployment of 5G—education, agriculture, waste management and healthcare.

 

  • Department of Telecommunications (DoT) initiated the process for deploying 5G in the country on 31 December by meeting major operators and vendors to discuss the broad road map for the trials, which are expected to happen in January-March.

 

  • The government will allocate the trial spectrum to its licensees, which are telecom service providers that can then choose to partner with vendors such as Nokia, Huawei, Ericsson and Samsung. Operators have to team up with vendors and submit trial proposals by 15 January.

 

Challeneges for operators and vendors

  • The biggest worry for vendors is that operators in India are not keen to buy 5G spectrum this year.

 

  • Plus, globally, 5G use-cases are emerging for industrial applications and not for consumer-centric solutions. Why will an Indian consumer pay more to download a movie in three seconds with 5G when he can do it in one or two minutes with cheaper 4G service?

 

  • No ready use-cases are available for rural areas, which the government is pressing for in trials.

 

  • Earlier this month, DoT approved prices for the next spectrum auction that will happen by April. Of the 8,300 megahertz (MHz) of airwaves the government plans to offer, 6,050MHz have been allocated for 5G. The 3,300-3,600MHz band allocated for 5G has been priced at Rs.492 crore per megahertz. The Cellular Operators Association of India (COAI), which represents operators Bharti Airtel, Reliance Jio and Vodafone Idea, believes that these airwaves are too expensive.

 

  • Moreover, each operator and each vendor has to look at three scenarios for 5G trials—rural, semi-urban and urban use-cases. They want DoT to allows more flexibility on this requirement.

 

India’s 5G ambition vis-a-vis other countries

  • To be sure, India’s 5G trials and commercial rollout are already far behind those of global peers, which have even deployed commercial networks.

 

  • South Korea was the first to commercially start 5G services in April. China’s state-run telecom operators China Mobile, China Unicom and China Telecom rolled out 5G services in November to consumers in 50 Chinese cities, including Beijing and Shanghai.

 

  • The US’s Verizon Communications kick-started 5G services in October 2018 in Houston, Indianapolis, Los Angeles and Sacramento, using non-standard gear.

 

About 5G technology

5G is the next generation of wireless technology and will boost data speeds and propel the Internet of Things, with the potential to bring radical changes in agriculture, manufacturing, healthcare and education.

 

Note: to read about India’s 5G rollout in detail, click on the link below:

https://www.thehindu.com/business/how-will-a-5g-network-power-the-future/article27698653.ece

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GS-III : Economic Issues
Retail Inflation

Syllabus subtopic: Indian Economy and issues relating to planning, mobilization of resources, growth, development and employment.

Prelims and Mains focus: about the spike in retail inflation; its causes and implications

News: Retail inflation soared to a five and a half year high of 7.35% in December 2019, with the shortage of onions driving the surge.

 

Background

The last time retail inflation was this high was the 7.39% recorded in July 2014, just after PM Modi began his first term in office.

 

 

What led to this spike in retail inflation?

  • According to information released by the National Statistical Office on Monday, retail inflation based on the Consumer Price Index was only 2.11% in December 2018 and 5.54% in November 2019.

 

  • The hike in inflation in the ‘vegetables’ category was at 60.5% last month in comparison to December 2018. Onion prices were above the Rs. 100 per kg mark in many major cities last month, due to a 26% fall in production.

 

  • Overall, food inflation rose to 14.12 per cent in December as against a negative rate of -2.65 per cent in the same month of the previous year. It was also significantly higher than the 10.01% recorded in November 2019. Along with vegetables, high prices of pulses, meat and fish also contributed to last month’s spike.

 

Inflation targeting by the RBI

  • The Centre has mandated the Reserve Bank of India to keep inflation in the range of 2-6%.

 

  • The RBI, which mainly factors in the CPI based inflation, is scheduled to announce its next bi-monthly monetary policy on February 6.

 

  • In its December policy, the central bank, which had been reducing rates, had kept the repo rate unchanged citing inflationary concerns.
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