18 May, 2020 60 Min Read
|GS-II||Getting India back to the Afghan high table||International Relations|
|The new Indian road to Lipu Lekh-Nepal’s protests||International Relations|
|GS-III||Lockdown 4.0 guidelines||Environment and Sustainable development|
|Non-functional FASTag to be charged double toll Fee||Transport|
|5th tranche of Atma Nirbhar Bharat package- Structural Reforms||Economy|
|Defence Testing Infrastructure Scheme||Economy|
|Sovereign gold bond (SGB)-FAQ||Economy|
|PT Pickups||Biodegradable metal implants||Science and Technology|
|BPDS and POMID disinfectant sprays||Science and Technology|
|Severe Cyclonic Storm ‘AMPHAN’||Geography|
|MicroRNA- Why old age make it more difficult to fight COVID-19||Science and Technology|
GS-II : International Relations
Getting India back to the Afghan high table
By, Vivek Katju is a former Indian Ambassador to Afghanistan
India’s foreign and security policy planners must seek to establish open connections with all its political groups, including with those perceived to be in Pakistan’s pocket.
Instead, they continued to rigidly cling to Afghanistan President Ashraf Ghani even as his equities diminished with each passing month.
Cut to the quick
It took the Election commission 5 months to declare Mr. Ghani as President-elect, a result that was rejected by Mr. Ghani’s main rival, Abdullah Abdullah.
It led to two simultaneous swearing-ins; both Mr. Ghani and Mr. Abdullah took oath as President. It is true that the international community ultimately supported Mr. Ghani but qualified it with an insistence that he enters into a real power-sharing agreement with Mr. Abdullah.
That agreement has just been reached. It will inevitably further weaken Mr. Ghani.
How has Mr. Ghani reciprocated India’s such unqualified backing?
His clear and public response came last month in a manner. It could only have been disappointing to Indian decision makers. The United Nations Secretariat organised a meeting on Afghanistan where it invited the six current physical neighbours of Afghanistan—China, Pakistan, Iran, Turkmenistan, Uzbekistan and Tajikistan.
In addition, invitations were extended to the United States, Russia and the Ghani government. Obviously, Mr. Ghani did not invite India.
He should have done so if only for the constructive role New Delhi has played in Afghanistan’s reconstruction since the Taliban were ousted from the country in 2001-2002 after 9/11. Also, for consistently supporting him.
Indeed, if all his fine words of India’s importance to Afghanistan were actually true, he would have lobbied and ensured India’s participation.
Point man’s blunt talk
So much for Mr. Ghani. What truly cut India more to the quick was the U.S. going along with India’s absence. So much for the personal chemistry of the leaders of the two countries.
The day after the meeting, Zalmay Khalilzad, the U.S. point man on Afghanistan and the architect of the Taliban deal, spoke to India’s External Affairs Minister S. Jaishankar to assuage hurt sentiments.
But the balm of good words cannot obscure the basic fact that the U.S. acts to promote its interests in Afghanistan. It obviously expects that if in doing so Indian interests are exposed, India will protect them as best as it can.
Zalmay Khalilzad said “‘India should talk directly to Taliban, discuss terror concerns directly’,”. He noted that despite India’s contributions to Afghanistan’s economic development — and these are undeniably significant covering large parts of the country, and are popular — as well as its long history of contacts with that country, it does not have a place in international diplomacy on Afghanistan.
He patronisingly added that the U.S. wants India to have a more active role in the peace process.
Clearly, as the most significant power in the region, India should have ensured that it had a place on the table and should have devised ways to achieve that end. This is especially so because Afghanistan impacts on India’s interests, especially its security concerns.
The Taliban and Pakistan
Khalilzad believes that dialogue between India and the Taliban are important, and it would be important that issues of concerns like this [terrorism] .Taking Mr. Khalilzad’s views in their entirety, it is clear that he feels that by avoiding open contacts with the Taliban, India has reduced its role in international diplomatic efforts.
That the U.S. is currently crucially dependent on Pakistan for the successful implementation of its Taliban deal aimed at securing as orderly a withdrawal as possible from what is a major strategic reverse for the world’s pre-eminent power is not in doubt.
In such a situation, it was essential for India to have maintained its strong links with the Afghan government, built and supported its traditional Afghan allies — perhaps this was discreetly resumed — but also establish open lines of communication with the Taliban.
Echo from the past
It is sad that despite all that India has done in Afghanistan over the past 18 years since the Taliban were ousted from Kabul in 2001, it finds itself on the margins of international diplomacy on Afghanistan.
It is reminiscent of the time in the 1990s when, at Pakistan’s insistence, India was considered a problem and kept out of crucial global forums on Afghanistan.
It did not matter then because along with Iran and Russia, it kept the resistance to the Taliban going through Ahmed Shah Masood.
Mr. Ghani is no Masood and there are no countries on the horizon which are really opposed to the Taliban acquiring a major place in the Afghanistan’s formal power structures.
India needs to take corrective diplomatic action even at this late stage, and even in the time of COVID-19. It must begin openly talking to the Taliban and with all political groups in the country. It must realise that its Afghan policy needs changes.
The new Indian road to Lipu Lekh-Nepal’s protests
Part of: GS-II- International issues (PT-MAINS-PERSONALITY TEST)
(Indian express Explained)
Army Chief General M M Naravane said that Nepal’s protest against a newly built Indian road in Uttarakhand, up to Lipu Lekh pass on the China border, was at “someone else's behest”. His statement has been widely taken to mean that Nepal was acting as a proxy for China, at a time when tensions have spiked sharply on the LAC between the Chinese PLA and and the Indian Army at Ladakh.
It is on the route of the annual Kailash Masarovar Yatra, which goes through Uttarakhand’s Pithoragath district. Defence Minister Rajnath Singh, who inaugurated it on May 8, said the road, built by the Border Roads Organisation, was important for “strategic, religious and trade” reasons. The 80 km road goes right up to the Lipu Lekh pass on the LAC, through which Kailash Mansarovar pilgrims exit India into China to reach the mountain and lake revered as the abode of Siva. The last section of 4 km of the road up to the pass still remains to be completed.
The government has underlined that through this improved route, yatris do not need the alternative routes now available for the pilgrimage, one through the Nathu La border in Sikkim and the other via Nepal, which entailed “20 per cent land journeys on Indian roads and 80 per cent land journeys in China. The ratio has been reversed. Now pilgrims to Mansarovar will traverse 84 per cent land journeys on Indian roads and only 16 per cent in China.”
Importance of the road
The new road is also expected to provide better connectivity to Indian traders for the India-China border trade at the Lipu Lekh pass between June and September every summer. The country, being surrounded by some difficult neighbours, with a view to keeping pace, construction of roads and development of adequate infrastructure along the borders is a vital necessity
Is Nepal's objection new or sudden?
On the day the road was inaugurated, there was an outcry in Nepal. The next day the Nepal Foreign Ministry issued a statement expressing disappointment over New Delhi's “unilateral” act, against the spirit of the bilateral “understanding. Kathmandu has pointed out that it has brought up its concerns on the border issue several times, including in November 2019, when Delhi put out its new political map of India to show the bifurcation of Jammu & Kashmir.
Nepal's objection then was the inclusion of Kalapani in the map, in which it is shown as part of Uttarakhand. The area falls in the trijunction between India, China and Nepal. The publication of the map brought protesters out on the streets. The Nepal government described India’s decision as “unilateral” and claimed that it would “defend its international border”, while the Ministry of External Affairs then said that map “accurately reflects the sovereign territory of India”.
Since the 1962 war with China, India has deployed the ITBP at Kalapani, which is advantageously located at a height of over 20,000 ft and serves as an observation post for that area. Nepal calls it an encroachment by the Indian security forces. Nepal has also been unhappy about the China-India trading post at Lipu Lekh, the earliest to be established between the two countries. Shipkila in Himachal followed two years later, and Nathu La only in 2006.
Nepali youth protested in Kalapani, and there were protests in Nepal's Parliament too when India and China agreed to increase border trade through Lipu Lekh during Prime Minister Narendra Modi's visit to Beijing in 2016. Though China has said nothing about the road construction to Lipu Lekh, it has protested similar road building activity at other places on the Indian side close to the LAC, including Ladakh.
In view of all this, Kalapani and the approach to Lipu Lekh has only grown in strategic importance for India, especially as relations between the two countries have remained uneven over the last few years, and China has upped its game for influence in India’a neighbourhood.
India's tacit support to a blockade of the landlocked country during protests over the new Constitution in Nepal by the Madhesi community was an inflection point in the relationship. Despite the open border with India and the people to people contact through the hundreds of thousands of Nepali people who live and work in this country, the levels of distrust in Nepal about India have only increased.
For its part, India perceives Nepal to be tilting towards China under the leadership of Prime Minister K P Oli and his Nepal Communist Party. Responding to Nepal’s protests, India has said it is ready to discuss the matter at foreign secretary level talks between the two countries.
Lockdown 4.0 guidelines
Lockdown measures in place since March 24, 2020 have helped considerably in containing the spread of COVID-19. It has therefore been decided to further extend the lockdown till May 31, 2020. Ministry of Home Affairs (MHA), Government of India (GoI) issued an order, today, under the Disaster Management (DM) Act, 2005, in this regard.
Salient features of the new guidelines are as follows:
States to decide various Zones
Activities Prohibited throughout the Country
A limited number of activities will continue to remain prohibited throughout the country. These include
However, online/ distance learning shall be permitted and encouraged; and, restaurants will be allowed to operate kitchens for home delivery of food items.
Opening up of Sports Activities
Activities permitted with restrictions
Stipulations regarding Shops and Markets
Protection for Vulnerable Persons
States to decide on activities within various Zones
Use of Aarogya Setu
State/ UT Governments shall continue to strictly enforce the lockdown guidelines and they shall not dilute these guidelines issued under the Disaster Management Act, 2005, in any manner.
Vehicles with invalid or non-functional FASTag to be charged double toll Fee applicable to their category
The Ministry of Road Transport and Highways has issued notification for amendment in the National Highways Fee (Determination of Rates and Collection) Rules, 2008 which provide that if a vehicle which is not fitted with FASTag or the vehicle is without a valid or functional FASTag, enters into “FASTag lane” of the Fee plazas, then they shall pay a fee equivalent to two times of the fee applicable to that category of vehicles.
What is FASTag?
5th tranche of Atma Nirbhar Bharat package- Structural Reforms
Part of: GS-III- Economy- Economic reforms (PT-MAINS-PERSONALITY TEST)
Finance Minister in her announcement of the fifth tranche of measures to address the economic situation in the country amid COVID-19, outlined structural reforms with focus on seven areas of MNREGA, Health and Education, Business during COVID, Decriminalisation of Company Act, Ease of doing business, Policy related to Public Sector Units, State government and resources related to it.
Finance Minister highlighted that, the improvement in rankings in starting a business and in terms of insolvency resolutions have together contributed to an overall improvement in India’s ranking in Ease of Doing Business. She added that the further reforms will include Indian public companies being able to directly list securities in permissible foreign jurisdictions.
Under the Prime Minister Garib Kalyan package, free food grains were provided to 80 crore people and under the PM Kisan Yojana more than Rs 16 thousand crore have been given to the 8.19 crore people through direct benefit transfer.
She said, more than Rs 10 thousand crore were released to 20 crore Jan Dhan accounts of women and construction workers got Rs 3 thousand 950 crore. She said 6.81 crore beneficiaries got the cylinder under the Ujjawala scheme and 12 lakh EPFO holders have withdrawn the advance amount. She said, Shramik Special trains were operated for the migrant workers and 85 per cent of the cost was borne by the Central Government.
The Finance Minister announced a slew of measures to help the Micro, Small and Medium Enterprises, MSMEs sector that employs an estimated 11 crore people. The announcements ranged from Non-Banking Finance Companies (NBFCs), real estate, power distribution sector, to relaxations on contribution to Employees’ Provident Fund (EPFO). In her second announcement the focus was on migrant workers, street vendors, small traders, the self-employed and small farmers. Third announcement saw major relief packages for agriculture and allied activities, while yesterday key sectoral reforms were announced in the sectors of coal, minerals, defence production, civil aviation, power distribution companies, space sector and atomic energy.
For more reading: Refer 15 to 17th May DNA www.aspireias.com
Defence Testing Infrastructure Scheme
Part of: GS-III- CULTURE (PT-MAINS-PERSONALITY TEST)
Recently, the government has approved the launch of ‘Defence Testing Infrastructure Scheme (DTIS)’ in order to give a boost to domestic defence and aerospace manufacturing.
The Government has accorded high priority to development of the manufacturing base of Defence and Aerospace sectors in the country under “Make in India” initiative to reduce dependence on imports.
Finance and Cooperation:
Location of DTISs
The Scheme aims at setting up Greenfield Defence Testing Infrastructure mainly in DICs but is not limited to setting up Test Facilities in the DICs only.
Sovereign gold bond (SGB)-FAQ
What is a sovereign gold bond (SGB)?
Sovereign gold bond is a substitute for holding physical gold. The bonds are issued by the Reserve Bank of India (RBI) on behalf of the government and is a bond denominated in gold. The government issues such bonds in tranches at a fixed price that investors can buy through banks, post offices and also in the secondary markets through the stock exchange platform.
What are the benefits of buying SGB?
hese bonds are backed by a sovereign guarantee and can also be held in demat form. Further, they are priced as per the underlying spot gold prices. Hence, investors who want to invest in gold can buy the bonds without worrying about safekeeping of physical gold along with locker charges, making charges or purity issues. Plus, these bonds offer an interest at the rate of 2.5% per annum on the principal investment amount. While the interest on the bonds are taxable, the capital gains at the time of redemption are exempt from tax. These bonds can also be used as collateral for availing loans from banks and NBFCs.
How are the bonds structured?
SGB has a fixed tenure of eight years, though early redemption is allowed after the fifth year from issuance. Since the bonds are listed on the exchange, these can be transferred to other investors as well. The bonds are priced in rupees based on the simple average of closing price of gold of 999 purity, published by the India Bullion and Jewellers Association for the last three business days of the week preceding the subscription period. At the time of redemption, cash equivalent to the number of units multiplied by the then prevailing price would be credited to the bank account of the investor.
How was the latest tranche priced?
The latest tranche, which closed for subscription last week, was priced at ?4,590 per gram. Those who apply online were eligible for a discount of ?50 per gram. Reports suggest that RBI will again issue such bonds in June, July, August and September.
Are there any risks in investing in SGB?
Capital loss is a risk since the bond prices would reflect any change in gold prices. If gold prices fall, the principal investment would fall proportionately.
PT Pickups : Science and Technology
Biodegradable metal implants
Scientists at the International Advanced Research Centre for Powder Metallurgy and New Materials (ARCI) and Sree Chitra Tirunal Institute of Medical Sciences, Thiruvananthapuram both autonomous institutes under the Department of Science & Technology (DST) have jointly developed new generation Iron-Manganese based alloys for biodegradable metal implants for use in humans.
Benefits of biodegradable implants
BPDS and POMID disinfectant sprays
Scientists at CSIR-Central Mechanical Engineering Research Institute (CMERI), Durgapur, have developed two mobile indoor Disinfection Sprayer units. These units can be used for cleaning and disinfecting pathogenic micro-organism effectively, especially in hospitals.
Called Battery Powered Disinfectant Sprayer (BPDS) and Pneumatically Operated Mobile Indoor Disinfection (POMID), these units can be used to clean and disinfect frequently touched surfaces such as tables, doorknobs, light switches, countertops, handles, desks, phones, keyboards, toilets, faucets, sinks, and cardboards. Intermittent usage of these disinfecting units can help minimize the risk of transmitting coronavirus to people who inadvertently come in contact with those surfaces.
Advantages of BPDS and POMID
Severe Cyclonic Storm ‘AMPHAN’
The depression over southeast Bay of Bengal (BoB) intensified into a deep depression in the same afternoon, into cyclonic storm ‘AMPHAN’ (pronounced as UM-PUN)’in the same evening over the central parts of south BoB.
It further intensified into a severe cyclonic storm about 990 km south of Paradip (Odisha), 1140 km south-southwest of Digha (West Bengal) and 1260 km south-southwest of Khepupara (Bangladesh).
MicroRNA- Why old age make it more difficult to fight COVID-19