(Sample Material) Weekly Current Affairs Update for IAS Exam

Weekly Current Affairs Update

Sample Material


NOTA option

  • The Supreme Court in its recent judgment has refused to direct the Election Commission to hold fresh polls if the majority of the electorate exercises ‘None of the Above Option’ (NOTA) in the electronic voting machines while casting their votes.
  • A three-judge of Chief Justice P. Sathasivam and Justices Ranjana Desai and Ranjan Gogoi told the counsel for the petitioner that it was for the legislature to amend the law as it was too early to pass such a direction.

  • The petitioner Jagganath sought a direction to the Election Commission not to declare the results when the majority of electorate opted for NOTA in the electronic voting machine.
  • The apex court had held that the voters had a right to exercise the option to reject all the candidates contesting in an election by exercising the NOTA option and the Election Commission has introduced it in the Assembly recent elections in phases.

Shoma Chaudhury quits as Tehelka Managing Editor

  • Coming under fire from various quarters, including the media, for the way she handled a junior colleague’s sexual harassment charge against Tehelka founder-editor Tarun Tejpal, managing editor Shoma Chaudhury decided to resign from the post . Deputy Editor Ramesh Sharma was appointed acting Executive Editor in the evening.
  • Conceding that several things could have been done differently and in a more measured way, she rejected allegations of a "cover-up" and not standing up to the "feminist positions" she has otherwise taken on such issues.
  • After resigning, Ms. Chaudhury visited the office of the National Commission for Women (NCW) to present her case. The NCW member in charge of the case, Shamima Shafique, however told that there can be no justification for the absence of an internal complaints committee in Tehelka. Ms. Shafique also found fault with the three colleagues the complainant confided in.


India starts issuing visas from Ramallah

  • India has started issuing visas from Ramallah in Palestine instead of Tel Aviv, a step Ministry of External Affairs (MEA) officials say will cut down on the waiting period as well as costs.
  • India is perhaps the first country from South Asia to begin issuing visas in Ramallah from September.Mr. Ahamed interpreted this move as India’s continuing support to the Palestinian cause.
  • Strategic analyst Qamar Agha described it as another step forward in India’s support for the Palestinian cause, especially its right to statehood. India had been in the forefront of the Palestinian cause and was among the first lot of countries outside the Arab world to recognise the Palestine Liberation Organisation as the legitimate representative of the Arab people in 1974 followed by full diplomatic relations.


Secret talks, and P5+1 discussions, led to pact

  • Quantum leap in negotiations with Iran over its nuclear programme was made possible by a series of quiet, back-channel bilateral discussions between Tehran and U.S. Media outlets such as the Associated Press and Al-Monitor quoted unnamed U.S. officials confirming that high-level, face-to-face talks over the past year had taken place out of sight of even Washington’s closest allies such as France and Israel.

  • Despite the clandestine nature of the talks, U.S. emphasised the Obama administration’s intention that these talks tied in to the mainstream P5+1 discussions involving the broader group of western nations in negotiations with Iran.

  • In terms of the justification for holding direct bilateral talks over and above the P5+1 platform, U.S. officials said to Al-Monitor, that so much of the economic pressure on Iran comes from the U.S… it was important to establish this direct channel. It is also to be known that P5+1 partners also had their own independent channels of communication with Tehran.

Iran invites IAEA inspectors to Arak

  • Iran has invited U.N. inspectors to visit its Arak heavy-water plant, in tune with the spirit of the Geneva agreement signed which, after three decades of hostility, promises a détente between Tehran and the West.

  • The head of the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA), Yukiya Amano announced in Vienna during a meeting on Thursday of the agency’s 35-member board that inspectors have been invited for the visit .

  • The Arak facility produces heavy water for the nearby research reactor that is under construction. During the Geneva talks, Iran’s interlocutors—United States, Russia, China, Britain, France and Germany-- wanted Tehran to halt all work on the facility related to the production of plutonium that can be used to develop an atomic bomb.

  • Consequently, the deal signed in Geneva halts work on the production of reactor fuel, as well as the reprocessing unit, which is necessary for separating plutonium from the spent reactor fuel. Iran has also agreed not to fuel the reactor, or transfer fuel and heavy water to the reactor site. Besides, it will not install any additional reactor components at Arak.


Youth to drive India’s growth

  • According to Ratan Tata, Chairman of Tata Trust,the young generation has the potential to build a more prosperous India.India can be a real economic power in the future and make other countries to look up to it.
  • Tata, however, has a word of caution. He warned of a civic unrest if the country fails to provide food, nutrition, education and jobs to the growing population.
  • India houses as many as 700 R&D centres and all business schools in the world look up to Indian businessmen.India is the future of the world because it is a knowledge-driven country, however, it needs a strong policy support to achieve this.
  • An Indian Impact representative said about 1,500 children die every day due to malnutrition and about 42 per cent of Indian children are still impacted by malnutrition which makes the matter even worse.

India to have third-largest GDP by 2030

  • India will become the third-biggest economy in the world by 2030, according to the Deputy Chairman of the Planning Commission Montek Singh Ahluwalia . By the year 2030, India will have the third-largest GDP in the world. China will be No. 1, the US will be No. 2 and India will be third.

  • It is the challenge of defence forces to defend and protect the interests of the nation that will have the third-largest GDP in 17 years. However it is a well known fact that when the size (of the economy) increases, the challenge also increases.

  • Underlining the importance of safeguarding India's access to energy supplies in the context of West Asia, our oil import dependence is likely to increase, especially if our growth rate and GDP go up.

  • India, with a GDP of USD 1.84 trillion, was ranked the 10th-largest economy in 2012, according to the World Bank. The US, at USD 15.6 trillion, is the largest economy.

Green Corridor’’ from Jalandhar to Bangalore

  • Gail India chairman B.C. Tripathi has announced setting up of a “Green Corridor’’ comprising a natural gas highway from Jalandhar to Bangalore aimed at providing opportunities to inland transportation to operate on natural gas by extending reach of CNG beyond cities.

  • This corridor will pass through and benefit eight States - Karnataka, Maharashtra, Madhya Pradesh, Uttar Pradesh, Rajasthan, Delhi, Haryana and Punjab.

  • The proposed Green Corridor of natural gas pipeline will add to the already 13,000 Km long gas pipeline infrastructure at present. However, the pipeline density is yet to cover vast stretches of the country leaving a significant market segment out of prospectively for the natural gas market. It was felt that the refuelling infrastructure needs significant investments to progressively increase the spread of natural gas as a fuel of choice in the transport sector.

  • Green Corridor basically aims to establish the “Natural Gas Highway’’ in the country. The refuelling infrastructure across the green highway will encourage long haul transporters in adopting natural gas due to increased availability of gas stations. The gas pipelines from right from Bangalore to Jalandhar/Ludhiana will provide an opportunity to transform inland transportation to operate on natural gas vehicles and expand the reach of CNG beyond cities.

India’s corporate tax rates among highest globally: World Bank report

  • Tax rates for companies in India are among the highest in the world and the number of payments is also more than the global average, putting the country at a low 158th rank on the ‘Paying Taxes 2014’ list.

  • However, the time taken for tax payments is relatively less in India, which is rated ahead of China and Japan where it takes 318 hours and 330 hours, respectively, to comply with tax regulations, according to a World Bank and PwC report.

  • According to the report, the total tax rate in India can be as high as 62.8 per cent, there are as many as 33 payments under the head of profit, labour and other taxes, and the time taken to comply with taxation requirements could be as much as 243 hours.

  • India was placed 158th position in the overall ranking of paying taxes, above Brazil (159th) and below the Russian Federation (56th) and China, which was ranked 120th.

  • The United Arab Emirates was in first place, followed by Qatar and Saudi Arabia in second and third positions in the overall ranking.The report noted that in South Asia, India is the only economy (of eight) with a complete online system for fling and paying taxes.

  • ‘’Paying Taxes 2014’’ investigates and compares tax regimes across 189 economies worldwide, ranking them according to the relative ease of paying taxes. The period covered by the study was 2004 to 2012.


As strong as the Sun: Vikramaditya

  • The long-delayed and much-awaited $2.3 billion aircraft carrier INS Vikramaditya was inducted into the Indian Navy in a strategic boost to India's maritime warfare capabilities.

  • The mammoth 44,500-tonne warship was commissioned into the Indian Navy at the Sevmash Shipyard in the northern Arctic port at a handing over ceremony attended by defence minister AK Antony and Russian deputy prime minister Dmitry Rogozin and senior government and naval officials of the two countries.

  • During the several weeks that the Vikramaditya aircraft carrier underwent trials, a Norwegian NATO intelligence vessel kept company, steadily building up an electronic dossier.This was a follow-up to last year when a NATO maritime surveillance aircraft heavily buzzed the same ship, dropping buoys to pick up an acoustic profile.

  • The game is not just old, it is one that Vikramaditya has played in an earlier avatar — as Soviet aircraft cruiser Baku, patrolling the Mediterranean in the late 1980s. However, the intense interest inVikramaditya — whose name literally translates as Strong as the Sun — now comes from the extensive refit and modernisation it has gone through.

  • For a Navy that is proud of its legacy of operating aircraft carriers, the Vikramaditya is like no other ship it has had in the fleet before. It is the Navy's biggest ship for one — surpassing INS Viraat by 10,000 tonnes — and one of the most potent aircraft carriers in this side of the world, in fact the first 'new' ship of its class to be based in the Indian Ocean in over two decades. While India had to acquire older technology often in the past due to non-willingness of nations to share strategic assets, the Vikramaditya with its MiG-29K fighters is top of its game.

China Moon probe: Chang’e-3

  • China recently announced plans to launch its third lunar probe soon, which will, attempt to carry out the first “soft landing” on the Moon by any nation in more than three decades.
  • The Chang’e-3 probe will carry a moon rover – named Jade Rabbit, or Yutu in Chinese – and conduct a soft-landing on the lunar surface in the middle of December. The rover, which takes its name from a popular Chinese mythological story about a rabbit that lives on the moon, will spend three months exploring the surface.
  • This would mark the first “soft landing” on the moon since 1976, when the former Soviet Union achieved the feat. If successful, China’s space mission will be only the third to do so, with the U.S. also carrying out soft landings in the 1960s. China, a decade ago, joined the U.S. and Russia in another landmark feat by sending its first astronaut into space.
  • The mission reflects the fast-growing ambitions of China’s space programme, which launched its fifth manned space mission, after also achieving its first docking exercise in space with a laboratory module – a key step in its plans to launch its own space station by 2020.
  • India and the European Space Agency, like China, have carried out lunar missions ending in impact crash landings on the moon’s surface.
  • India’s Chandrayaan-1, its first unmanned lunar probe, carried out an impact landing after its landmark mission, while the Chandrayaan-2, scheduled to launch in around three years’ time, is slated to attempt the more complex soft landing on the lunar surface.
  • The first Chang’e probe in 2007 mapped the moon, and crash landed on its surface after a 16 month-long mission. The Change'e-2 probe in 2010 improved the resolution of the map.

Insurance regulator asked to extend cover to those with HIV

  • The Union Health and Family Welfare Ministry asked the Insurance Regulatory and Development Authority (IRDA), the national insurance regulator, to remove, from its draft circular, provisions that exclude people living with HIV (PLHIV) from purchasing health insurance products.

  • The Department of AIDS Control (DAC), formerly the National AIDS Control Organisation (NACO), told in a letter to the IRDA, that the draft circular’s standard underwriting guidelines for life insurance products perpetuated the exclusion of PLHIV from current and new products, as well as the standard waiting period for PLHIV.

  • Approximately 21 lakh people are living with HIV in the country who are denied health and life insurance for other diseases if they test HIV-positive. According to the proposal , insurance products of both group and individual type should also be available for widows and children and they should be able to purchase it without getting excluded. Since widows and children are more vulnerable, special efforts should be made so that they are not excluded.

  • The DAC had set up a technical working group to work out the means of including PLHIV under insurance products. The technical working group had recommended that there should be at least one health insurance product offered by each insurance company where HIV/AIDS is removed from the exclusions.

  • PLHIV shall not be excluded from the group health insurance plans, which are generally offered by insurance companies to employers and must be included in the government-funded mass health insurance schemes targeted at the poor and other vulnerable sections of society.

Global summit on illegal wildlife trade

  • The British Prime Minister, David Cameron, will be hosting the highest level global summit to date on combating the illegal wildlife trade in London.The summit next February, to which 50 heads of state have been invited, aims to tackle the $19 billion-a-year illegal trade in endangered animals, such as elephants and rhinos, by delivering an unprecedented political commitment along with an action plan and the mobilisation of resources.

  • Elephant ivory and rhino horn are worth more than illegal diamonds or gold, and the proceeds have been used by rebel groups in African countries, such as al-Shabaab in Somalia and the Lords Resistance Army in the Democratic Republic of Congo.

  • Heads of state from many African countries are expected to attend and the countries where the products are sold, including China and Vietnam, will be represented, though the level of representation is not yet finalised.

  • The summit will be chaired by Foreign Secretary William Hague and Environment Secretary Owen Paterson.

  • The level of wildlife crime has soared in recent years, driven by demand form the rapidly expanding middle classes in Asia who value tiger, elephant and rhino products as status symbols. In South Africa 13 rhinos were killed in 2007, but the tally to date in 2013 is 860. 2012 was the worst year for ivory seizures, with the equivalent of the tusks of 30,000 elephants confiscated.

  • There have also been efforts to tackle the popularity of shark fin soup in Asia, which is one of the reasons that around 100 million sharks are killed annually. Wildaid, a group that uses donated advertising to change public attitudes, has run a campaign on state TV in China featuring movie star Jackie Chan and basketball legend Yao Ming, against shark fin soup.


Malala Yousafzai

  • Malala Yousafzai, the Pakistani teenager shot in the head by the Taliban for campaigning for girls' education, has been named as Britain's most influential Asian .

  • At the 'GG2 (Garavi Gujarat2) Leadership Awards 2013' Malala, along Kainat Riaz and Shazia Ramzan, who were shot and wounded by the Taliban in Swat Valley last year, were chosen for the GG2 Hammer Award, for their bravery.

  • British Deputy Premier Nick Clegg was the chief guest on the occasion where she was ranked Number 1 in the latest edition of 'GG2 Power 101' list.

Silvio Berlusconi

  • The Italian Senate expelled Silvio Berlusconi over his tax fraud conviction , drawing a defiant response from the veteran centre-right leader who vowed to continue leading his party and fight on outside parliament.

  • The vote, after months of political wrangling, opens an uncertain new phase in Italian politics, with the 77-year-old media billionaire preparing to use all his extensive resources to attack Prime Minister Enrico Letta's coalition government.

  • Berlusconi, who has dominated politics in Italy for two decades, has already pulled his party out of Letta's coalition after seven months in government, accusing leftwing opponents of mounting a "coup d'etat" to eliminate him.

  • Stripped of his parliamentary immunity from arrest, he is more vulnerable in a series of other cases, where he is accused of offences including political bribery and paying for sex with a minor.

  • However he no longer commands enough support in parliament to bring down the government, which easily won a confidence vote on the 2014 budget late on Tuesday with the support of around 30 dissidents who split off from Forza Italia .

  • The Senate declared Berlusconi ineligible for parliament after he was convicted of masterminding a complex system of illegally inflated invoices to cut the tax bill for his Mediaset television empire.

Gen Raheel Sharif

  • Career infantry officer Gen Raheel Sharif, considered to be a moderate and an old India hand, has taken over the command of the 600,000-strong Pakistan Army from Gen Ashfaq Parvez Kayani.

  • Gen Kayani, the longest serving army chief under a civilian government, passed the baton of command to 57-year- old Gen Sharif at an impressive ceremony held at the General Headquarters (GHQ) in Rawalpindi.

  • Gen Sharif was chosen by Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif as the 15th chief of the Pakistan Army .

  • The army chief is considered to be the most powerful person in Pakistan, with the military having ruled the country for more than half its 66-year history.

  • Gen Sharif, who holds the Hilal-i-Imtiaz award, is the younger brother of highly decorated Major Shabbir Sharif, who was killed in the 1971 war with India.

  • He had superseded senior most military officer Lt Gen Haroon Aslam to the post. Aslam took early retirement .

  • Before his last posting as a Principal Staff Officer in General Headquarters, Sharif commanded the Gujranwala-based XXX Corps, which is responsible for the Line of Control and the international border in Punjab, between 2010 and 2012.

  • He is considered an old India hand and played a key role in framing Pakistan's response to the Indian Army's new doctrines.

:: SPORTS ::

Nadal voted greatest ever Spanish sports personality

  • Rafael Nadal was named the greatest Spanish sports star in history by readers of Spanish sports daily.
  • The winner of 13 Grand Slam’s and the current number 1 in the ATP world ranking, received the award at the Gala for the 75th anniversary of the Spanish sports paper Diario Marca.
  • The Spanish player was voted for by readers of the paper ahead of five times Tour de France winner, Miguel Indurain and basketball star, Pau Gasol, who is without doubt the greatest Spanish basketball player of all time.

  • Nadal’s feats had been recognised by Diario Marca’s readers in 2007 when he won the Marca Legend award.
  • The tennis ace has enjoyed a fantastic 2013, coming back from a career threatening knee injury to win events such as the French Open, as well as claiming his 25th and 26th ATP Masters 1000 titles in Montreal and Cincinnati, before then winning the US Open, beating Novak Djokovic in the final.
  • Djokovic would have his revenge by beating Nadal in the China Open, but the fact he reached the final of the event meant Nadal ends 2013 back at the top of the world rankings once again.

Vettel wins season-ending Brazilian GP

  • Sebastian Vettel won Formula One’s season-ending Brazilian Grand Prix , matching Michael Schumacher’s record of 13 victories in a year and equalling the nine consecutive wins of Alberto Ascari.

  • Vettel’s Red Bull teammate Mark Webber was second in his final F1 race. Fernando Alonso of Ferrari was third.

  • Vettel, who had already wrapped up a fourth straight F1 title, was overtaken by Nico Rosberg of Mercedes at the start but regained the lead on the second lap and cruised to his second victory in Brazil, and 39th of his career. He crossed the line 10.4 seconds in front of Webber.

  • Jenson Button was fourth for McLaren’s best finish of the season. Rosberg was fifth.

  • The win capped an impressive season by Vettel, who had already broken Schumacher’s 2004 mark of seven straight wins in the same season last week at the United States GP. Vettel matched the 13 wins by Schumacher that same year, and equaled Ascari’s record of straight victories from 1952-53. The 26-year-old Vettel clinched the title at the Indian GP, becoming the youngest driver to win four world championships.

  • Webber, who had won two of the last four races in Brazil, will be joining Porsche in a sports car series in 2014. The 37-year-old Australian spent 12 seasons in F1, winning nine times and reaching the podium 33 times in 216 races.


Bitter harvest of sugarcane in Uttar Pradesh (THE HINDU)

  • The Uttar Pradesh (UP) Government’s move to book eight sugar mills for not starting crushing operations in the current 2013-14 season is unprecedented and highly questionable. It is one thing to lodge FIRs for not paying growers against their cane supplies; there is a law requiring that such payments be made within 14 days of delivery at the factory gate. The issue this time is, however, different as the mills haven’t bought a single quintal of cane; in fact, not even placed purchase indents. Action has been taken against them for refusing to crush under the Essential Commodities Act 1955, which gives the Government powers to regulate “the production, supply and distribution” of certain commodities in the public interest.

  • The above statute was intended to ensure that certain commodities and food products reached the general public at a reasonable price by coming down on hoarding and other malpractices. Its origins go back to World War II, when regulations were framed to empower the Government to take drastic measures to address shortages. In this case, there is no emergency and no malpractice — the issue is only one of pricing. Millers are being coerced to start crushing and also pay a State ‘Adviced’ Price (SAP) of Rs 280/quintal for cane, which pushes up sugar production costs to over Rs 36 a kg against current realisations of Rs 29-30. In other words, they are being asked to run their factories at a loss or face arrest for violating a legislation that is a wartime relic. Just as there is no law that gives business the right to make profits, there is none giving the State the right to force business to operate at a loss. It isn’t as if the UP mills are unwilling to crush. Many of them are listed companies with huge capacities; the last thing they would want is idling plants. But it makes no sense to run them if even operational costs cannot be covered — leave alone interest on borrowed capital, depreciation and return on equity.

  • Sugarcane is no different from wheat, mustard or milk. The Government may want farmers to receive remunerative prices, but millers or processors cannot be made to pay a price that makes their operations unviable. If the UP Government wants cane growers to receive the SAP, it should foot the difference over what mills can afford to pay as per a transparent formula linked to sugar realisations. This excess can be directly credited to farmers’ bank accounts. This is implementable for cane as farmers have bank accounts and mills maintain records of purchases made from each farmer for transferring payments.

India: still one of the worst performing nations, when it comes to Education (The Telegraph)

  • One of the worst- kept secrets of the human resource development ministry is the fact that education in India is in a mess. Explosive expansion over the last two decades has failed to mask appalling standards of quality: in this, indeed, we are now at the very bottom of the global ladder.

  • In 2011, India first participated in world- wide tests of the reading and arithmetical ability of school children. In every test, in every grade tested, India competed desperately with Kyrgyzstan for the last two places. These tests confirmed the results obtained earlier by another organization: in schoollearning outcomes, in 2003, India was among the five worst countries in the world. In the eight years between the tests, we had only deteriorated.

  • The reactions of the government were entirely predictable. It did nothing about the facts revealed. Claiming that the tests were biased against us, it withdrew India from future world- wide testing. Unfortunately for the government, a very Indian NGO, Pratham, was also testing educational outcomes.

  • Its revelations were every bit as shocking. To cite just one, less than 20 per cent of Vadodara fourth graders could do sums required for average first- grade competency. We had flunked at the primary level. Our performance at the other end of the spectrum was reflected in the recent QS rankings of universities world- wide. No Indian university figured in the top 200. Some IITs appeared in the 200- 350 range, but the only other Indian institutions in the top 800 were the Universities of Delhi, Bombay, Calcutta and Pune, which sneaked in near the bottom of the distribution. The rankings done by the Times Higher Education Supplement, the US News and World Report and the Shanghai- based Centre for World Class Universities were similar. Our ranks were abysmal — not because these rankings were dominated by the affluent West or Japan or the ' tiger economies'. Kazakhstan alone had 9 universities in the top 800. We were outranked by dozens of universities from China, Indonesia, Malaysia, Thailand, the Philippines, South Africa and — yes — Pakistan. Nor did our predicament reflect the overwhelming pressure of numbers.

  • Jawaharlal Nehru University ranked among the top 50 universities of the world in faculty- student ratio ( the inverse of overcrowding), yet had little else to show for it. In academic accomplishment, as in sports, India, for all its 1.2 billion people, was a cipher.

  • But while in sports the reasons are in part genetic, there is no genetic explanation of our pathetic scholastic achievements. Children of Indian ( and Chinese) immigrants are the highest performers in American schools. And while immigrants naturally constitute a biased sample, a genetically handicapped group cannot possibly register such spectacular success. The problem lies not in us but in our educational system. Innumerable deficiencies of the latter have been highlighted — from mass teacher absenteeism to lack of infrastructure and of teaching and study materials.

  • Pratham's studies, however, suggest that, while absenteeism certainly affects outcomes, infrastructural expenditure does not. The crucial factor is the match between the student's absorptive capacity and the level at which he or she is taught. Pratham's tests conclusively establish that when weaker students are taught separately ( as in Pratham's Balsakhi programme), their scores improve dramatically.

  • Teaching needs to be tailored to the ability of the specific student. A heterogeneous class needs to be stratified according to ability levels with those at each level being taught separately.

  • This elementary educational principle has eluded the authors of the Right to Education Act and its judicial interpreters. If resource constraints preclude several teachers teaching at different levels in each class, the class must itself be homogenized. The only way of doing so is to deny promotion from lower classes to those who have not attained the minimum standard required.

  • Instead, the act mandates automatic promotion up to Class VIII. In consequence, laggards learn nothing at all: they fall further and further behind the general level with each successive promotion and reach Class VIII with an educational backlog of many wasted years. En route , they enact shockers like the Vadodara drama that Pratham recorded. Teachers who are sensitive to the plight of laggards have to reduce their teaching standards; the better students are then no longer intellectually stimulated so that their intellectual potential is undermined.

  • Our passion for political correctness, for the symbols, not the substance, of equal opportunity perpetuates mass ignorance under the garb of the right to education. We establish our egalitarian credentials by giving educationally backward children access to an educational process that, we have ensured (again in the name of equality), is completely opaque to them.

  • Precisely the same problem bedevils our universities. The gradual expansion of reservations has increased diversity in each class, not only in student backgrounds but also in their academic preparedness — with no provision however for parallel teaching at different levels.

  • The teacher therefore faces an invidious choice: he can teach at a level commensurate with proclaimed course content and confront the blank, uncomprehending stares of half the class or pitch his teaching several levels lower, inducing boredom in the other half and ensuring that they cannot compete with students of their own age educated in university systems less pseudo- egalitarian than ours. The politician's solution: dilute standards of evaluation and admission everywhere, turning universities into factories for mass production of degrees not worth the paper they are written on. Meanwhile, as education expands, semi- literate degree- holders become teachers, transmitting their ignorance to posterity.

  • Israel, with its inflow of Jewish immigrants from quite incredibly diversified backgrounds, not only the affluent US and western Europe, but regions like Yemen, Ethiopia, Zimbabwe and Mizoram, has heterogeneity problems as complex, though not as numerous, as ours. Unlike us, however, Israel has a solution. Students below minimum general standards are allowed an additional year for their degrees.

  • This is a preliminary year of compulsory intensive preparation to catch up with the general average. At year- end, they take next year's admission tests and join the general stream if they reach the minimum standards required — and 95 per cent of them do. Could we, for the sake of the future of our education, implement such a scheme? One doubts that the politicians in government and in education will permit it: it offers no electoral dividend.

Landmark in Tehran: nuclear accord finally signed!! (INDIAN EXPRESS)

  • The interim nuclear accord between Iran and the international community, announced after tense negotiations in Geneva, is historic for two reasons. Taken to its logical conclusion in the coming months, the deal promises to end Iran's prolonged nuclear confrontation with the world, strengthen the global non-proliferation regime and reduce the dangers of war in the Middle East. Second, emerging from secret talks between Washington and Tehran over the last many months, the deal lays the foundation for a long overdue rapprochement between America and Iran.

  • As it creates possibilities for new geopolitical equations in a very critical region, the nuclear agreement has already stirred a big backlash in the United States and the Middle East. Hardliners and ideologues in America and Iran will accuse their governments of giving away too many concessions. Some of the predictable hostility is rooted in the demonisation of each other over many decades. But a close look at the terms of what is being called the "first step" nuclear agreement suggests sensible give and take that would instil mutual confidence and facilitate talks for a final resolution of the nuclear dispute. For its part, Iran has agreed to freeze some of the sensitive activities of its nuclear programme and roll back others. Iran is now open to unprecedented international inspections to verify its commitments under the accord. The international community, in turn, has given modest relief from the massive sanctions regime that has been constructed in recent years against Iran. To be sure, the terms of the deal are reversible in practice. The deal, however, opens the door to a comprehensive settlement which would ensure that Iran's nuclear programme remains peaceful, in return for an end to the international economic blockade against Tehran.

  • Time is of the essence for Iran's President Hassan Rouhani, who is acutely aware that the present window of political opportunity at home to negotiate with the US will not last too long. President Barack Obama is under fire from Israel and the Gulf Arab states, especially Saudi Arabia, who fear that a US-Iran détente will make them vulnerable to Tehran's rising regional clout. Meanwhile, the US Congress threatens to undermine the deal by pushing for more sanctions against Iran. As Obama and Rouhani move forward in a political minefield, India has a major opportunity to raise its diplomatic profile in the region, where it has so much at stake. Delhi, which has welcomed the nuclear deal, must step up its engagement with all the major players in the region, for the Middle East will not be the same as the prospects for Iran's reconciliation with America improve.

The Talwar tragedy: Parents acquitted of their only daughter’s Murder

  • The story of Rajesh Talwar and his wife Nupur Talwar is a modern-day tragedy: from a successful professional couple who doted on their teenage daughter, they have now come to be described as filicidal freaks who “extirpated” their own progeny. The two dental surgeons have been sentenced to life terms for murdering their 14-year-old daughter Aarushi, and domestic worker Hemraj, in May 2008 after detecting a sexual liaison between the girl and the live-in help. And, according to the verdict, they hid the servant’s body on the terrace, dressed up the crime scene, secreted the weapons used — a golf club and a surgical scalpel that surfaced long after the probe began — and misled the police by giving a complaint that Hemraj was missing and was therefore the culprit. The investigation begun by the local police was widely seen as a botch-up: it took them a whole day to come to know that the body of the ‘suspect’, Hemraj, had been lying on the terrace all along; the crime scene was largely unprotected. The judgment caps a see-saw investigation in which more than one theory was probed and none could be confirmed with cogent evidence. At one stage, the Central Bureau of Investigation, which took over the probe from the Noida police, gave other suspects a clean chit and said the Talwars were indeed involved, but it had no prosecutable evidence against them. It filed a closure report, but the court rejected it and went ahead with the trial based on available circumstantial evidence.

  • The defence raised several doubts about the prosecution version, including the absence of a motive, and claimed that alternative possibilities were ruled out without adequate investigation. Ultimately, the court went by the fact that they had no explanation for the “incriminating circumstances” in which they found themselves. They were the only ones in the house at the relevant time, as the two remaining occupants were dead. And there was no sign of a forced entry. The trial court’s conclusions will be tested in the High Court on appeal. Like other sensational cases — a term that invariably refers to ones on which the media bestow extra attention — this case too saw the mainstream and social media resorting to wild speculation and heated discussions. Normally, trial court judgments are expected to give a quietus to all doubts about the guilt or innocence of suspects, but given the media frenzy, it is doubtful whether the outcome turns only on evidence in such cases. Alternative theories abound in the public domain, making it difficult for investigators and judges to go solely by the quality and adequacy of the evidence, and not be influenced by public opinion. They have a duty to convince the public at the end of the trial that they have allayed all reasonable doubts.

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