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Current Events 8 February 2017

 

NEWS

8 FEBRUARY 2017


Sr. No.

Topic

News

1.

GS III : SECURITY

Talks to end Manipur blockade fail

2.

GS II :  POLITY JUDICIARY

Justice Karnan faces contempt action today

3.

GS II : INTERSTATE WATER

‘1892 Cauvery pact an unequal bargain’

4.

GS II : POLITY JUDICIARY

‘Can’t lay down norms on how people should react to jokes’

5.

GS II : CIVIL SOCIETY

Citizens’ forum to take up whistleblower complaints

6.

GS I : SOCIAL WOMEN

Nirbhaya Fund lies unused, apex court told

7.

GS II : POLITY JUDICIARY

SC dismisses TN’s review plea on remission power

8.

GS II : GOVERNANCE

India to frame policy on synthetic biology

9.

GS II : GOVERNANCE

MEA cuts grants for think tank on China

 

10.

GS II : BILATERAL INDIA USA

Uncertainty over U.S. nuclear plants for India

11.

GS II : BILATERAL INDA USA

U.S. changes laws for easy transfer of arms to India

12.

GS II : INTERNATIONAL CHINA

China to the rescue of Pak. again

13.

GS III: ECONOMY

Centre allows PMGKY deposits in parts

14.

GS II : INTERNATIONAL ASIA

Japan eases permanent visa norms to draw global talent

15.

GS III: S&T ROBOTICS

Charting the fascinating path that robots have taken over the years

16.

GS III : S&T - HEALTH

Contraceptive injection for men passes test on a monkey




















 

 

 

 


 

GS III : SECURITY

Talks to end Manipur blockade fail

  • The tripartite talks to end the over three-month-long economic blockade of a crucial highway in Manipur failed to make any headway on 7 February 2017, with the Naga group spearheading it refusing to relent from its position of not allowing seven districts to be carved out.
  • Official sources said the Centre is disappointed with the outcome of the meeting that took place in Imphal where representative from the Union Home Ministry, State government and United Naga Council (UNC) participated.
  • All the three had earlier met in the national capital on February 3 and the Centre had expressed hope that the blockade would end soon.
  • The sources said that earlier the “Manipur government was not cooperating and now the UNC is taking a different stand”. However, they said efforts will be on to end the blockade of poll-bound State at the earliest.

 GS II :  POLITY JUDICIARY

Justice Karnan faces contempt action today

  • For the first time in the country′s history, seven senior most Supreme Court judges led by Chief Justice of India J.S. Khehar are convening in open court, to initiate suo motu contempt action against sitting Calcutta High Court judge, Justice C.S. Karnan, for “scurrilous remarks” made against senior judges of the Supreme Court and the High Courts and impeding the process of justice administration.
  • Justice Karnan, who was a judge of the Madras High Court, was once summoned to the Supreme Court and warned in person by then Chief Justice of India T.S. Thakur for his offensive behaviour towards the Chief Justice of the High Court and for imputing casteist motives on his fellow judges.
  • In February 2016, as a Madras High Court judge, he had turned judicial hierarchy upside down by ‘staying’ his own transfer to the Calcutta High Court, forcing the Supreme Court to authorise a freeze on his functions as a judge.
  • Later, he wrote to the Chief Justice of India, acknowledging that he had passed an “erroneous order due to his mental frustration resulting in loss of mental balance.”
  • The contempt action, an unprecedented move by the highest judiciary to put its house in order and send a strong message that indiscipline would not be tolerated, comes on the very day Justice Karnan is to appear in person to argue his case against his transfer to the Calcutta High Court.
  • He had previously sought and received permission from the Supreme Court to appear in person in the transfer case.
  • Lately, a letter sent by Justice Karnan to the Prime Minister allegedly making serious allegations of corruption against sitting and retired High Court and Supreme Court judges has been doing the rounds.
  • In the past, Justice Karnan had frequently raised the issue of his caste status, complaining to the National Commission for Scheduled Castes and even threatening to file criminal charges under the Scheduled Castes and Scheduled Tribes (Prevention of Atrocities) Act against Chief Justices and other judges.

GS II : INTERSTATE WATERS

‘1892 Cauvery pact an unequal bargain’

  • The 1892 agreement between the erstwhile Mysore and Madras Governments was an “unconscionable bargain” to share the Cauvery river water, Karnataka told the Supreme Court on 7 February 2017.
  • The submission was made before the Supreme Court bench on the first day of day to day hearing of appeals filed by Karnataka, Tamil Nadu and Kerala against the final award on the Cauvery Water Dispute Tribunal’s decision on water sharing.
  • Tamil Nadu had in the tribunal traced the correspondence between the State of Mysore and Madras for nearly two years culminating in the agreement to the satisfaction of both the States.
  • Mr. Nariman, for Karnataka, had even then claimed before the tribunal that Mysore could have been pressured to enter the agreement.
  • Mr. Nariman submitted that the 1892 agreement, which, he said, was the parent of the 1924 pact, dictated that Mysore could not develop any irrigation infrastructure on the river without the previous consent of the Madras government.
  • The Supreme Court will resume hearing on the appeal on March 21.

 GS II : POLITY JUDICIARY

‘Can’t lay down norms on how people should react to jokes’

  • Some people laugh when they hear jokes, some become all the more reserved. People have various reactions. The Supreme Court cannot frame moral guidelines on how people should react to jokes.
  • This is the point the Supreme Court made on 7 February 2017, on a writ petition filed by advocate Harvinder Chowdhary against how the Sikh community is stereotyped and bullied in schools and colleges, and made the butt of jokes on social media.
  • Another petition by a student of Amity Law School complained of how the Gorkha community is typecast with “a topi and khukhri” on the Internet.
  • “This court cannot lay down moral guidelines for citizens. People must have mutual restraint. The law is the same for all in this country,” a Bench of Justices Dipak Misra and R. Banumathi said.
  • The Supreme Court said the Gorkha community earned its respect for its martial valour and contributions to the nation.
  • Its history dated back to the invasion of Alexander the Great. “The whole of India respects them. You are actually bringing them down by filing such a petition,” Justice Misra observed.
  • Ms. Choudhary pointed out that if the Scheduled Castes and the Scheduled Tribes had a “vigorous law” to protect them from insult, why not the Sikh community.
  • “Yes, that is a law. Parliament made it. It is in the domain of the legislature. We cannot issue guidelines. And to whom do we issue guidelines,” Justice Misra asked.

 

 GS II : CIVIL SOCIETY

Citizens′ forum to take up whistleblower complaints

  • Disappointed by the government’s track record in implementing anticorruption measures, a group of eminent citizens has decided to take the initiative of setting up a forum to hear complaints of corruption or malfeasance from whistleblowers.
  • Called the Citizens Whistleblowers Forum (CWF), it would “act as a unique, credible platform to provide much-needed confidence to whistleblowers” to expose, without fear, “cases of corruption or wilful misuse of powers”, said a statement released by the founders.
  • The founding members of the CWF include Justice (retd) A.P. Shah, who is also its chairperson, advocate Prashant Bhushan, former Chief Information Commissioner Wajahat Habibullah, social activist Aruna Roy, Admiral L. Ramdas (retd), former bureaucrat E.A.S. Sarma and founding member of the Association of Democratic Reforms Jagdeep Chhokar.
  • The CWF would, if needed, protect the identity of the whistleblowers who reach out to them.
  • After scrutinising the information received, it would decide on a course of action, the activists said.
  • “This could include taking up the matter with the authorities concerned, filing a public interest litigation in the courts, and/or making the case public,” said Justice Shah.
  • “It has been three years since the Whistleblowers Protection Act, 2011, was passed in both houses of Parliament. It has also received the President’s assent. But a government that came to power on an anti-corruption plank is still not notifying this important anti-corruption law.”

 

 

 GS II : SOCIAL WOMEN

Nirbhaya Fund lies unused, apex court told

  • Crores allocated for the Nirbhaya Fund for initiatives to support women′s safety and dignity lie unused as crime against women continue to peak, amicus curiae and senior advocate Indira Jaising informed the Supreme Court.
  • The government had announced the Nirbhaya Fund in 2013 to accelerate programmes for women safety after the December 16, 2012 brutal gang rape of a 23-yearold which had shocked the entire nation.
  • Counsel for the Centre, however, refuted the claim and gave last year’s figures saying that of the ?.2,195 crore in the fund, 16 proposals amounting to ?.2,187 crore had been recommended.

 

GS II : POLITY JUDICIARY

SC dismisses TN′s review plea on remission power

  •  The Supreme Court dismissed a review petition filed by the Tamil Nadu government against a 2015 Constitution Bench judgment that a State government has no suo motu power to remit sentences of persons convicted under a Central law and cases investigated by a Central agency like the CBI.
  • The verdict was based on a challenge by the Centre to Tamil Nadu′s move to remit the life sentence of seven convicts in the Rajiv Gandhi assassination case.
  • The review petition was also filed by one of the convicts in the case, Perarivalan.

 

GS II : GOVERNANCE

India to frame policy on synthetic biology

  • India is taking its first steps to evolve a policy on synthetic biology, an emerging science through which new life forms can potentially be made in labs and existing life forms, such as bacteria and other microbes, tweaked to produce specific proteins or chemically useful products.
  • The Environment Ministry will be convening a group of experts on biodiversity and biotechnology, to assess synthetic biology work pursued in Indian labs, potential benefits and risks, and the implications of the trans-boundary movement of such life forms.
  • Synthetic biology in microbial systems holds promise for production of drugs, vaccines, fuel components and other chemicals.
  • A popular example is the production of artemisinin, a powerful anti-malarial drug, in yeast, at a commercial level.
  • Microorganisms have also been constructed to act as sensors that can detect a toxin in vitro (outside a living organism) or in vivo (inside a living organism).
  • There are assorted labs in India that work on synthetic biology.
  • In December 2016, officials from the Environment Ministry participated in the United Nations Biodiversity Conference of the Convention on Biological Diversity (CBD) at Cancun, Mexico, where about 8,000 delegates from 180 countries discussed matters related to biodiversity.
  • India, so far, has no policy on synthetic biology, and according to a presentation made at the venue, it has promised to “put in place a Synthetic Biology Team for articulating India’s view” at a forthcoming meeting.

 

GS II : GOVERNANCE

MEA cuts grants for think tank on China

  • Despite proclaiming that its policy projects will not suffer on account of budget cuts, the Ministry of External Affairs (MEA) has dealt a death blow to India’s premier China studies institute this year, axing a ?. 1 crore annual grant it has received since 2010.
  • The Institute of Chinese Studies (ICS), the only think tank on Chinese studies to partner the US-based Harvard University and MIT, has been asked to adjust and take “project by project” approval for funding from MEA.
  • Sources said the ICS, which has maintained an independent platform to discuss various China-related issues like OBOR (One Belt, One Road), had disapproved of the government’s position on certain issues.

 

GS II : BILATERAL INDIA-USA

Uncertainty over U.S. nuclear plants for India

  • There is uncertainty surrounding the construction of U.S. nuclear reactors in India after Toshiba Corp decided to move out of the reactor building business.
  • Following the Indo-U.S. nuclear deal, India has been in discussion with Toshiba’s U.S.-based Westinghouse since 2005 to build six AP1000 nuclear reactors.
  • After protracted negotiations and concerns on the nuclear liability there were hopes that a deal would be concluded soon.
  • Toshiba had acquired the U.S.-based Westinghouse, which specialises in nuclear reactors, in 2006.
  • Last week, it was reported that Toshiba was planning to withdraw from building nuclear plants in the U.K. and India.

 

GS II : BILATERAL INDIA-USA

U.S. changes laws for easy transfer of arms to India

  • Recognising India’s status as a ‘Major Defence Partner,’ the U.S. has made changes in its export control laws that will benefit India by facilitating smoother transfer of technologies and arms.
  • The new rule that makes changes in the export control laws “creates a presumption of approval” for Indian firms seeking to import the Commerce Department controlled military items, except weapons of mass destruction- related goods.
  • Only in the rarest circumstances will India be denied licences, a source said.

 

GS II : INTERNATIONAL CHINA

China to the rescue of Pak. Again

  • China has opposed a U.S.-led proposal in the UN Security Council to designate Pakistan-based Jaish-e-Mohammad’s founder Masood Azhar a global terrorist, more than a month after it vetoed an earlier proposal for the same.
  • The “technical hold” put by China on the proposal jointly moved by the U.S., the U.K. and France indicates its continued eagerness to shield Pakistan.
  • Pakistan had recently said the JeM leader had been put under house arrest, even as it became clear that the outgoing Obama administration had renewed the proposal to designate Azhar terrorist, immediately after the Chinese veto in December.
  • The new Donald Trump administration in the U.S. has also signalled it would be tough on questions of terrorist designations.
  • When the UNSC meets as al-Qaeda, Taliban & IS Sanctions Committees, it works on the principle of ‘unanimity and anonymity’ — a single member’s opposition amounts to a veto, and the deliberations and the voting will remain secret.
  • India had last year opposed this practice which it called the “hidden veto”.
  • Last year, China put the proposal on hold, first for six months, and then extended it for three months before finally blocking it altogether. Once it is ‘blocked,’ a new proposal can be moved.
  • The JeM is already a UN designated terrorist organisation and China has so far refused to explain how it distinguishes the leader from the organisation.
  • The question of Azhar — who was among the terrorists released by India following the hijacking of IC-814 in 1999 — came to the foreground last year after India held him responsible for the Pathankot attack.
  • “We have been informed of this development and the matter has been taken up with the Chinese government,” MEA spokesperson Vikas Swarup said in response to the latest move by China.
  • The new proposal has removed the mention of Pakistan, which the Chinese had cited as reason for its objection to the earlier one.
  • Diplomatic sources at the UN told that China has been trying to persuade Pakistan to roll back its support for Azhar, but the JeM leader is far too influential in the Pakistani establishment to be abandoned.
  • India hopes that the Trump administration policy at the UN will signal continuity with the Obama administration on the issue.

 

GS II : SOCIAL SCHEMES

Centre allows PMGKY deposits in parts

  • The Centre has allowed those disclosing unaccounted income under the Pradhan Mantri Garib Kalyan Yojana to make deposits under the scheme on more than one occasion, the Finance Ministry said.
  • Introduced after the demonetisation of high-value currency notes in November 2016, the scheme permits tax evaders to voluntarily disclose their unaccounted income, pay 50% tax on it and park another 25% into a four-year interestfree deposit.
  • “In this connection, the Government of India has decided to allow declarants to make deposits on one or more occasions in the PMGKDS, 2016,” according to the Ministry.

GS II : INTERNATIONAL ASIA

Japan eases permanent visa norms to draw global talent

  •  Japan is wooing foreign direct investment through a slew of measures such as an easier visa regime and lower corporate taxes, at a time when the proposed visa curbs and other protectionist measures by developed nations, including the U.S., continue to trouble Indian firms.
  • In a bid to attract global talent, from India and other nations, Japan has said it will soon introduce a new Green Card programme —billed as the fastest such system in the world — and expedite the granting of permanent residency to highly skilled foreign professionals.
  • The new ‘Japanese Green Card for Highly Skilled Foreign Professionals’ will substantially reduce the period of stay required — before highly skilled foreign professionals can apply for permanent residence — from the current five years to just one year in cases where the applicant secures the required points.
  • Incidentally, there is a fall in native-born population in Japan, a country where foreign workers account for a minuscule 1-2% of its total workforce.
  • Time period cut Shigeki Maeda, the Executive Vice President of the Japan External Trade Organisation (JETRO) said that the Japanese government is planning to reduce the time period of five years to 1-2 years provided the applicant meets the qualification norms.
  • JETRO is a Japanese government- related organisation working to promote trade and investment between Japan and the rest of the world.
  • Mr. Maeda said currently there is an “investment imbalance” between Japan and India.
  • The investments by Japan in India as at the end of 2015 were $14.1 billion, while investments from India into Japan were worth only $0.074 billion.
  • He also pointed out that FDI (2015 figures) from India to Singapore ($5.27 billion), to the U.S. ($3 billion) and to the U.K. ($779 million) were much more than to Japan (just $27 million).
  • He said Japan is looking to attract investments from Indian companies in sectors including IT/ITeS, pharmaceuticals and tourism.
  • In a bid to send a message that Japan is open to the world, the Japanese government had also said it will make the Points-based System for highly skilled foreign professionals more user friendly by revising requirements and promoting further awareness.
  • In the case of significant investors and human resources in growth fields such as IT and regenerative medicine, Japan is looking at expediting applications for permanent residence by highly skilled foreign professionals.
  • To lure more investments, Japan is also opening up its electricity market and carrying out reforms in sectors such as medicine, medical equipment and agriculture, JETRO said in a presentation to promote investments into Japan.
  • Besides, there is a plan to reduce corporate real tax rate from 34.62% in 2014 to 29.74% in 2017.
  • To address the issue of language barrier, Japanese laws and regulations will be translated into foreign languages.
  • The country is also planning to make infrastructure better for foreign residents.
  • Referring to the increase in visitors from India to Japan from around 70,000 in 2012 to 1.23 lakh in 2016, Mr. Maeda said there is huge scope for Indian companies in the tourism sector to open offices and make investments in Japan.
  • He said while Japan may not be among the easiest markets to gain entry and operate, joint ventures and collaborations with Japanese companies as well as handholding from organisations like JETRO can help Indian companies. 

GS III: S&T ROBOTICS

Charting the fascinating path that robots have taken over the years

  •  Introductory speeches are commonplace at press launches, but far rarer is for one of them to be delivered by a robot.
  • RoboThespian, a lanky, luminescent, human-like robot, who will be on display at the London Science Museum’s blockbuster exhibition charting the history of robots, is a charismatic speaker, with the animated intonation of a confident orator, and digital eyes that focus and look around in an eerily-human way.
  • On display is one of the earliest automated pieces: an automaton monk from 1560, created for Philip II of Spain, which could pray and walk across the table, moving its lips and raising its crucifix.
  • There’s a spectacular silver swan from the 18th century that attracted huge crowds at the time with its ability to elegantly sway and pick up ornamental fish and lots of other fascinating mechanical pieces from across the world.
  • However it wasn’t till the 20th century that the word “robot” was coined: derived from the Czech word “robota” which means forced labour, and which was used by author Karel Capek in his 1920 play about artificial humans, Rossum’s Universal Robots.
  • It was also at this stage that robots began to take the shape that we traditionally associate with them —the metallic, somewhat humanoid figures that have dominated literature and film.
  • There’s a replica of one of the earliest — the Maria’ robot used in Fritz Lang’s film Metropolish in 1927, and Eric, one of the earliest ones made in the U.K.
  • It was in the 1950s that the quest to imbue robots with intelligence and the ability to operate without remote control or a microphone began.
  • On display is a cybernetic tortoise from 1951 that had the ability to find its own way.
  • The exhibition also highlights the huge range of ways robots are capable of aiding human life: from those used in factories to the home, and even one capable of acting as a mediator for children with autism, helping them learn about human interaction.
  • However, many challenges remain, as the exhibition carefully sets out. It highlights some of the current research under way, in particular efforts to create robots that are able to learn from humans and its surroundings.
  • There’s Lucy, a British robot with 50,000 artificial neurons that over a period of years has learned to distinguish bananas and apples, and iCub, one of an Italian series of 30 robots that mimic toddlers, as they learn to discover the world around them, through their senses, learning as they go.
  • However, surprisingly to many, the biggest challenge, lies not in artificial intelligence, but in something more fundamental, says Will Jackson, the director of Engineered Arts, the British company behind RoboThespian.
  • “Software is way ahead but the biggest challenge is mechanical,” he says, noting that we are yet to have a robot capable of sustained and close human interaction and replicating the preciseness of human beings, or the strength of our muscles.

GS III: S&T - HEALTH

Contraceptive injection for men passes test on a monkey

  •  An injectable male contraceptive that blocks sperm flow with a gel has been successful in monkey trials, scientists have said, bringing the prospect of an alternative form of birth control for humans closer.
  • The contraceptive called Vasalgel provided effective birth control in rhesus monkey groups for more than one year, according to researchers from the California National Primate Research Center in the U.S.
  • Vasalgel is a high molecular weight polymer that consists of styrene-altmaleic acid (SMA) dissolved in dimethyl sulfoxide and could be the first long-acting, non-hormonal, potentially reversible male contraceptive to reach market,” the company behind the gel said.
  • With proof of efficacy in monkeys and rabbits, preparations are being made for the first clinical trial in humans, researchers said.
  • Male contraceptive options have not changed in over a century, and are currently limited to condoms and withdrawal (with high pregnancy rates), or vasectomy (meant to be permanent), they said.
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