IASCLUB Daily Current Affairs : 13 July 2019

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India again abstains at UN vote, draws criticism

Topic: GS –II: International relations

India abstained at the vote for extending the mandate of an important UN official who reports on violence and discrimination against sexual minorities.

More in news:

  • India’s abstention at the resolution for term-renewal of the Independent Expert on Sexual Orientation and Gender Identity in the UN Human Rights Council in Geneva drew criticism from activists, especially since it came after the Supreme Court struck down Section 377 and decriminalized the LGBTQ community.
  • The resolution received support from most member countries at the Human Rights Council but India, Angola, Burkina Faso, Cameron, Congo, Hungary, Togo and Senegal abstained during the final voting. Pakistan, Saudi Arabia, China, Bangladesh, Bahrain, Qatar and Somalia opposed the resolution. Earlier, India had abstained during the 2016 vote on the appointment of the Independent Expert. The current Independent Expert is Victor Madrigal Borlioz of Costa Rica.
  • Activists pointed out that though India abstained, they were surprised to see that the Indian delegation had supported some amendments brought by countries that opposed the work of the Independent Expert. They chose Nepal and Philippines for supporting the resolution which was about opposing violence against the LGBTQ persons, which is essentially a form of gender violence.
  • The Resolution numbered L10 Rev 1 granted an extension of three years to the Independent Expert to carry on reporting on incidents of violence against the LGBTQ community all over the world.

Turkey defies U.S. as S-400 arrives

Topic: GS –II: International relations

Russia began delivery of an advanced missile defence system to Turkey on Friday, a move expected to trigger U.S. sanctions against a NATO ally and drive a wedge into the heart of the Western military alliance.

More in news:

  • The U.S. says the Russian military hardware is not compatible with NATO systems and that the acquisition may lead to Ankara’s expulsion from an F-35 fighter jet programme.
  • At least two Russian Air Force AN-124 cargo planes flew to Turkey on Friday morning, data from plane tracking website Flightradar24 showed. Turkish broadcasters showed footage of one plane parked at airbase and a second one landing at around 12.30 pm.

Possible measures

  • Under legislation known as Countering America’s Adversaries through Sanctions Act (CAATSA), which targets purchases of military equipment from Russia, Mr. Trump should select five of 12 possible measures.
  • These range from banning visas and denying access to the U.S.-based Export-Import Bank, to the harsher options of blocking transactions with the U.S. financial system and denying export licences.
  • NATO said on Friday that it was “concerned” by Turkey’s acquisition of the S-400 system. The alliance has repeatedly warned Turkey that the Russian system is incompatible with other NATO weapons systems.

S-400 missile defence systems:

The Russian Army began using the S-400 missile defence systems, designed to intercept and shoot down any threat from the sky, in 2007.

  • It has a range of 400 km and can be deployed within just five minutes.
  • It consists of several vehicles: a command centre, various mobile radar stations and up to 12 launch vehicles that each carry four missiles.
  • Dozens of S-400s have already been deployed throughout Russia, from the country’s most western point in the Kaliningrad exclave to its far eastern corners.
  • Four S-400s are also stationed in Crimea, the Black Sea peninsula annexed by Russia from Ukraine in 2014.
  • Two have been deployed to Syria, where Moscow intervened militarily on the side of the Damascus regime, to protect Russia’s airbase in Hmeimim and the Tartus naval facility.

Who has bought it?

  • China was the first country to buy the weapon from Russia, ordering several S-400s for an estimated $3 billion. Deliveries began in April 2018 and the first tests took place at the end of June 2019. Few other details of the missile deal were made public.
  • India bought five S-400 systems for $5.2 billion. Their delivery is due to begin at the end of next year.
  • Around a dozen other countries — including Iraq, Qatar and Saudi Arabia — have shown interest in the S-400, in some cases as a means of putting pressure on the United States to lower prices on its weapons systems.
  • The S-400 is one of the most modern air defence systems in the world, and comes at a lower price than its U.S. competitor, the Patriot.
  • The U.S. and NATO have said the S-400 is incompatible with equipment used by other members of the alliance. Moscow has been able to use the S-400 as a political weapon: by selling the system to Turkey, it sows discord between Ankara and its NATO allies, whose ties are already strained.
  • Russia plans to launch the S-500, the successor of the S-400, in the 2020s.

U.S. will consider ‘301 probe’ on India, says trade official

Topic: GS –II: International relations

The U.S. will consider a “301 investigation”, a probe employed as a precursor to tariffs and other trade measures against a country, against India if the trade issues between the two countries are not resolved quickly.

  • Section 301 of the U.S. Trade Act of 1974 authorizes the President to take all appropriate action, including retaliation, to obtain the removal of any act, policy, or practice of a foreign government that violates an international trade agreement or is unjustified, unreasonable, or discriminatory, and that burdens or restricts U.S. commerce.
  • Section 301 cases can be self-initiated by the United States Trade Representative (USTR) or as the result of a petition filed by a firm or industry group. If USTR initiates a Section 301 investigation, it must seek to negotiate a settlement with the foreign country in the form of compensation or elimination of the trade barrier.
  • For cases involving trade agreements, the USTR is required to request formal dispute proceedings as provided by the trade agreements. The law does not require that the U.S. government wait until it receives authorization from the World Trade Organization (WTO) to take enforcement actions, and the President is increasingly focused on enforcing intellectual property (IP) rights (under Agreements that may be outside of the WTO) under the “Special” 301 amendments but the U.S. has committed itself to pursuing the resolution of disputes under WTO agreements through the WTO dispute settlement mechanism, which has its own timetable.

Merchant Discount Rate

Topic: GS -III: Economic Development

 Finance Minister in recent Budget announcement proposed that the business establishments with annual turnover more than 50 crore shall offer low cost digital modes of payment to their customers and no charges or Merchant Discount Rate shall be imposed on customers as well as merchants.

In other words, the government has mandated that neither the customers nor the merchants will have to pay the so-called Merchant Discount Rate (or MDR) while transacting digital payments.

Merchant Discount Rate

  • Merchant Discount Rate (alternatively referred to as the Transaction Discount Rate or TDR) is the sum total of all the charges and taxes that a digital payment entails. For instance, the MDR includes bank charges, which a bank charges customers and merchants for allowing payments to be made digitally. Similarly, MDR also includes the processing charges that a payments aggregator has to pay to online or mobile wallets or indeed to banks for their service.

Who will bear the MDR costs?

  • If customers don’t pay and merchants don’t pay, some entity has to pay for the MDR costs. In her speech, the FM has said: “RBI and Banks will absorb these costs from the savings that will accrue to them on account of handling less cash as people move to these digital modes of payment…Necessary amendments are being made in the Income Tax Act and the Payments and Settlement Systems Act, 2007 to give effect to these provisions.“

Then why are non-bank payment service providers complaining?

  • Contrary to public perception, the MDR has not been made zero. The FM’s decision has just shifted its incidence on to the RBI and banks. However, if banks pay for the MDR it will adversely their likelihood to adopt the digital payments architecture. Moreover, many payments providers apprehend that the banks will find a way of passing on the costs to them. In turn, this will negatively impact the health of a sector that needs nurturing.

Pro-Khalistan group banned by Indian government.

Topic: GS -III: Security

Centre banned a separatist group, Sikhs for Justice, on grounds of secessionism. Operating out of the United States, the group has been trying to build a campaign for secession of Punjab.

 The group

  • Sikhs for Justice (SFJ), formed in 2007, is a US-based group seeking a separate homeland for Sikhs — a “Khalistan” in Punjab.
  • Gurpatwant Singh Pannun, a law graduate from Panjab University and currently an attorney at law in the US, is the face of SFJ and its legal adviser. The secessionist campaign, called ‘Referendum 2020’, seeks to “liberate Punjab from Indian occupation”. In Pannun’s words, “SFJ in its London Declaration [in August 2018] has announced to hold the first ever non-binding referendum among the global Sikh community on the question of secession from India and re-establishing Punjab as an independent country. SFJ has announced to hold polling for referendum in November 2020 which it has planned to hold in Punjab along with major cities of North America, Europe, Australia, New Zealand, Malaysia, Philippines, Singapore, Kenya and the Middle Eastern Countries.”
  • ‘Referendum 2020’ has a dedicated website, which notes: “Once there is a consensus within the Punjabi people that independence from India is desired, we will then approach the UN and other international forms and bodies with the goal of re-establishing Punjab as a nation state.”

 The ban

  • While banning SFJ under the Unlawful Activities (Prevention) Act, the Home Ministry noted: “In the garb of the so-called referendum for Sikhs, SFJ is actually espousing secessionism and militant ideology in Punjab, while operating from safe havens on foreign soils and actively supported by inimical forces in other countries.”

 Gurpatwant Singh Pannun, SFJ legal adviser.

  • A dossier prepared by Punjab Police lists various secessionist posts on social media by SFJ over the years, from asserting that the Pulwama attack “cannot be termed as an act of terrorism” to backing Kashmiri separatists; from extending legal help to stall extradition of fugitives wanted by India including UK resident Paramjit Singh Pamma from Portugal and Nabha jailbreak mastermind Ramanjit Singh Romi from Hong Kong. In the World Cup semifinal, pro-Khalistani supporters with ‘Referendum 2020’ T-shirts in Manchester may have been another flashpoint leading to the ban.
  • Nearly a dozen cases are registered against SFJ and Pannun, including three sedition cases in Punjab.

The Pakistan link

  • Punjab Police have said SFJ and ‘Referendum 2020’ are supported by Pakistan. Intelligence officials said the websites of SFJ share their domain with and source content from a Karachi-based website. Pannun himself had issued a statement, which is a part of the Punjab Police dossier, where he had called upon Pakistan’s Prime Minister Imran Khan to politically support ‘Referendum 2020’, citing the “fall of Dhaka in December 1971 with the intervention of Indian army” and urging Pakistan to “undo its failure to support Sikhs” during the events of 1984.

 The man behind SFJ

  • Pannun claims ‘Referendum 2020’ is “a peaceful and democratic movement”. In a letter to the US Ambassador to India last year, Pannun wrote, “There is strong and growing apprehension that India’s unfounded negative propaganda against Referendum2020 campaign based on concocted factual predicates; illegal detention and torture of Referendum activists and charging them with sedition/terrorism is a prelude to India’s preparation for violently crushing the peaceful and democratic movement for independence of Indian occupied Punjab”.
  • Over the years, the law graduate and MBA has made headlines for initiating lawsuits in various against Indian politicians. In the US, he filed cases against visiting Prime Ministers Manmohan Singh and Narendra Modi on the issues of 1984 anti-Sikh riots and 2002 Gujarat riots, respectively. He has also sued actor Amitabh Bachchan. In 2016, Punjab Chief Minister Amarinder Singh had to cancel a visit to Canada following a case filed by SFJ.

After the ban

  • Amarinder Singh has hailed the ban, describing it as the “first step towards protecting the nation from the anti-India / secessionist designs of the ISI-backed organisation”. Punjab Jails Minister Sukhjinder Singh Randhawa, whom Pannun once threatened, said, “We should demand extradition of Pannun as he is named in FIRs.”
  • Pannun has reacted by uploading a video in which he is seen setting the Indian flag on fire, with a message to India that “you cannot stop Referendum”.

Chandrayaan-2

Topic: GS -III: Science and Technology

Context:

Chandrayaan-2’s lander and rover were tested on a simulated surface.Indian Space Research Organisation (ISRO) also released new images of Chandrayaan-2 satellite.

  • Its lander and rover, called Vikram and Pragyan respectively, are presumed to touch down on the Moon’s surface on September 6, 2019.
  • Chandrayaan-2 is an Indian lunar mission that will go where no country has ever gone before – the Moon’s South Polar Region. The aim of the mission is to improve our understanding of the Moon – discoveries that will benefit India and humanity as a whole.

What makes Chandrayaan-2 special?

  1. it’s the first space mission to conduct a soft landing on the Moon’s South Polar Region.
  2. First Indian expedition to attempt a soft landing on the lunar surface with home-grown technology.
  3. First Indian mission to explore the lunar terrain with home-grown technology.
  4. Fourth country ever to soft land on the lunar surface.

Vikram Lander

  • The lander of Chandrayaan-2 is named Vikram after Dr Vikram A Sarabhai, the father of the Indian Space Programme. It is designed to function for one lunar day, which is equivalent to about 14 Earth days.
  • The lander has the capability to communicate with Indian Deep Space Network (IDSN) at Byalalu near Bangalore, as well as with the orbiter and rover and is designed to execute a soft landing on the lunar surface.

Pragyan Rover

  • Chandrayaan-2’s rover is a six-wheeled robotic vehicle named Pragyan, which translates to ‘wisdom’ in Sanskrit. It can travel up to 500m and leverages solar energy for its functioning. It can only communicate with the lander.

Chandrayaan-2 Orbiter

  • At the time of launch, the Chandrayaan-2 orbiter will be capable of communicating with Indian Deep Space Network (IDSN) at Byalalu as well as the Vikram lander. The mission life of the orbiter is one year and it will be placed in a 100X100km lunar polar orbit.

About GSLV Mk III launch vehicle

  • GSLV Mk III is a three-stage heavy-lift launch vehicle developed by ISRO. The vehicle has two solid strap-ons, a core liquid booster, and a cryogenic upper stage.
  • GSLV Mk III is designed to carry four ton class of satellites into Geosynchronous Transfer Orbit (GTO) or about 10 tons to Low Earth Orbit (LEO), which is about twice the capability of GSLV Mk II.

IIP dips to 3.1% in May owing to slowdown

Topic: GS -III: Economic Development

Growth in industrial activity slowed in May to 3.1%, driven by an across-the-board deceleration, especially in consumer durables.

More in news:

  • Retail inflation in June quickened marginally to 3.18% — from 3.05% in May — owing to a rise in food price inflation, a separate release said.
  • Growth in the Index of Industrial Production (IIP) slowed in May from 4.32% in April. Within the index, the mining sector slowed to 3.16% in May from 5.07% in April. The manufacturing sector saw growth slowing to 2.46% from 3.98% over the same period.
  • Driven by increased demand during the summer months, the electricity sector saw growth accelerating in May.

India, Russia discuss space cooperation

Topic: GS –II: International relations

India and Russia explored the “possibilities for production of space systems in India” during the discussions between National Security Adviser Ajit Doval and the visiting Director General of Russia’s space agency ROSCOSMOS and former Deputy Prime Minister Dmitry Rogozin.

More in news:

  • Cooperation in futuristic technologies, including new space systems, rocket engines, propellants and propulsion systems, spacecraft and launch vehicle technology were also discussed.
  • The discussions covered all aspects of India-Russia space cooperation.

Strategic approach

  • Both sides will take a strategic approach to “elevate bilateral cooperation to the next level keeping in mind the privileged partnership and India’s priorities such as Make in India programme,” the MEA said.

Editorial section:

A case of confused thinking-The Hindu

Game of chicken that can end in disaster-The Hindu

Aftershocks in Goa-The Hindu

 

 

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