Weekly Current Affairs Update for IAS Exam VOL. - 61 (26th January 2015 TO 01st February 2015)


Weekly Current Affairs Update for IAS Exam

VOL. - 61 (26th January 2015 TO 01st February 2015)


Issue : VOL. - 61 (26th January 2015 TO 01st February 2015)

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:: National Portal of India ::

A GLINT OF INDIA

Finance Commission: Modi’s federalism gets leg up as states get a tax-share bonanza

The report of the Fourteenth Finance Commission, tabled in Parliament today, is the first major test of the sincerity of Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s frequent statements about promoting true federalism and making states equal partners in national development.

With his letter to chief ministers saying his government has “wholeheartedly accepted” the core recommendations, Modi has won this round.

The Commission headed by former Reserve Bank of India governor, YV Reddy, has gone a step further beyond the resource sharing recommendations all Finance Commissions do and outlined a new paradigm of Centre-state relations.

The quantum of tax devolution - 42 percent of the taxes (not including sundry cesses and surcharges) collected by the Centre are to go to the states - is itself quite radical. This is a huge hike over the current 32 percent (though it is a little short of the states’ long-standing demand for a 50 percent share). This is also the largest increase in tax devolution since the Seventh Finance Commission doubled the states’ share of excise duties from 20 percent to 40 percent in the mid-eighties. It is also what the Prime Minister’s letter calls “a compositional shift in transfers from grants to tax devolution”.

Along with its other recommendations relating to grants to local bodies — Rs 2,87,436 crore — and grants to states running revenue deficits, the Commission has also asked the Centre to ensure that the prevailing levels of transfers to states remain at around 49 per cent of gross revenue receipts. (The total transfer was 39.5 percent in the case of the Thirteenth Finance Commission.) Ouch. No wonder the Medium Term Fiscal Policy statement, tabled along with the budget in July, had indicated that the awards of the Finance Commission and Pay Commission (which is expected later in the year) could pose “significant downside risk to public finance”.
In one stroke, the Fourteenth Finance Commission has done three things. One, it has provided a check to the Centre’s growing encroachment on the fiscal space of states. Two, it has made the states a little more equal vis-à-vis the Centre, leaving them less at the latter’s mercy dispensed in the form of conditional resource transfers. Three, in doing this, it gives them greater fiscal autonomy and policy space to pursue their own development models. After all, the bulk of developmental expenditure is done by the states. Even in the case of financing of disaster management through the funds envisaged under the Disaster Management Act, 2005, the Commission gives greater discretion to states in deciding the disasters these will be used for, even if they are not in the notified list of disasters.

The Commission has done something similar for the local government institutions vis-à-vis the state governments. Its recommendations are designed to increase the flow of resources to the local bodies in “an assured, objective and untied manner”. With this huge amount for local bodies, states will have little excuse to deny them funds, something that is often done.

But all this is, in a sense, what the Commission itself calls “continuation of the past”. But it has also charted a new course in some crucial respects, based on what it calls “assessment of an evolving environment”.

The Commission has suggested breathing new life into the moribund Inter-State Council to create “a new institutional arrangement consistent with the overarching objective of strengthening cooperative federalism”. This beefed-up Council, with “meaningful participation” by states, will identify sectors that will be eligible for grants from the Centre, help design schemes while providing states enough flexibility to implement them and identify and provide area-specific grants. This, in effect, will free states from the tyranny of cookie-cutter centrally-sponsored schemes, whose design may not be appropriate for their peculiar conditions.

Pointing out “that a compelling case has been made for reforming the existing system of fiscal transfers. . . in a comprehensive manner”, the Commission has minimised the use of conditionalities and incentives in transfers from the centre to the states and in grants to local bodies. It has also increased untied transfers. This, it says, “reflects our trust in all tiers of governments”.

:: Press Information Bureau ::

India Signs Loan Agreement with ADB for US $350 Million Loan to Upgrade District Roads in State of Madhya Pradesh

The Government of India and the Asian Development Bank (ADB) India signed here recently an agreement for a US $350 million loan to upgrade district roads in the state of Madhya Pradesh.

The Madhya Pradesh (MP) District Connectivity Sector project will improve about 1,600 kilometers of major district roads in Madhya Pradesh through lane widening, surface improvements, strengthening of culverts and bridges.

Shri Tarun Bajaj, Joint Secretary (Multilateral Institutions), Department of Economic Affairs, Ministry of Finance, who signed the loan agreement on behalf of Government of India said that the project will lead to improved road transport connectivity in Madhya Pradesh (MP) through reconstruction and rehabilitation of major district roads to all-weather standards. The project will have innovative elements like creation of State Highways Fund on PPP model, toll plus annuity on hybrid model of BOT (Toll) & BOT (Annuity), Border Checkposts, also on PPP model to increase the revenue and control overloading and damage to state roads.

Speaking on the occasion, Ms. Teresa Kho, Country Director of ADB’s India Resident Mission, who signed the agreement for ADB said that the loan is ADB’s first in the district roads sector in India, and will address a neglected part of ongoing road network upgrades in the country for these secondary roads, which provide a key link between rural roads and state highways. She further said that this will help to cut travel times, improve traffic flow and road safety, and provide better access to markets and social services for poor and remote communities. The project agreement was signed by Sh. Vivek Aggarwal, Secretary, Public Works Department, Government of Madhya Pradesh, and Shri Arun Paliwal, General Manager, Madhya Pradesh Road Development Corporation (MPRDC).

:: Ministry of External Affairs ::

Brief on India-U.S. Relations

Overview:

India-U.S. bilateral relations have developed into a “global strategic partnership”, based on shared democratic values and increasing convergence of interests on bilateral, regional and global issues. The emphasis placed by the new Government in India on development and good governance has created new opportunity to reinvigorate bilateral ties and enhance cooperation under the new motto — “Chalein Saath Saath: Forward Together We Go”, which was adopted following Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s first summit with President Barack Obama on 30 September 2014 in Washington DC.

Regular exchange of high level political visits has provided sustained momentum to bilateral cooperation, while the wide-ranging and ever-expanding dialogue architecture has established a long-term framework for India-U.S. engagement. Today, the India-U.S. bilateral cooperation is broad-based and multi-sectoral, covering trade and investment, defence and security, education, science and technology, cyber security, high-technology, civil nuclear energy, space technology and applications, clean energy, environment, agriculture and health. Vibrant people-to-people interaction and support across the political spectrum in both countries nurture our bilateral relationship.

Prime Minister’s visit in September 2014:

Prime Minister Modi visited the U.S. on 26-30 September 2014. He held meetings with President Obama, met with members of the U.S. Congress and political leaders, including from various States and cities in the U.S., and interacted with members of President Obama’s Cabinet. He also reached out to the captains of the U.S. commerce and industry, the American civil society and think-tanks, and the Indian-American community. A Vision Statement and a Joint Statement were issued during the visit.

Key outcomes of Prime Minister’s visit include new mechanisms to enhance trade and investment, particularly in infrastructure; new modalities to implement cooperation in energy, including nuclear and renewable energy, and climate change; new initiatives in knowledge, education and skill development; new approaches to defence trade, security and counter-terrorism collaboration; and new areas of cooperation between India and the U.S. in third countries.

Other Major Exchanges in 2014:

In March 2014, U.S. Energy Secretary Dr. Ernest Moniz visited India for the Energy Dialogue. Soon after the inauguration of the new Government in India, U.S. Secretary of State Mr. John F. Kerry, U.S Commerce Secretary Ms. Penny Pritzker (in July 2014) and U.S. Secretary of Defense Mr. Chuck Hagel (in August 2014) visited India. The momentum of high-level exchanges was maintained by the visit of U.S. Trade Representative Mr. Michael Froman to India in November 2014 for the Trade Policy Forum, and that of U.S. President’s Science Adviser Dr. John Holdren —also in November 2014 — for the meeting of the Ministerial Joint Commission on Science and Technology. From India, Minister of Health & Family Welfare Dr. Harsh Vardhan (in June 2014) and MoS(Home) Shri Kirin Rijiju (September 2014) have visited the U.S.. EAM Smt. Sushma Swaraj visited the U.S. in September-October 2014 in connection with the UNGA and also as part of Prime Minister’s delegation to the U.S. National Security Adviser interacted with key U.S. interlocutors in the fields of foreign policy, defence and security during his visit to the U.S. in October 2014. There have been numerous visits of parliamentarians and senior officials in both directions. 

:: National News ::

No changes to civil liability law, says Sujatha Singh

  • Foreign Secretary Sujatha Singh and other External Affairs Ministry officials have said that no changes to the Civil Liability for Nuclear Damages (CLND) Act, 2010, have been made, and no assurances given to the U.S. on its contentious Section 46 that opens suppliers to tort liability, either.

  • But given the lack of clarity on just how the government was able to convince U.S. officials who have held out against the law since 2010, many are sceptical about how viable the breakthrough will be if there is legal or political opposition to the deal in India.

  • Former Atomic Energy Regulatory Board Chairman A. Gopalakrishnan was doubtful that the deal would benefit Indian consumers or taxpayers, given the cost of setting up the insurance pool of $244 million. “If so, the financial burden of this will eventually be on the Indian tax-payers. It is the foreign reactor manufacturer, who escapes payment and the public who suffer from the damaging consequences end up also paying for all rectification,” he said demanding more clarity from the government.

R K Laxman Passes Away

  • The messy business of the democracy that was India was unforgettably captured in the iconic creation, labelled simply The Common Man , of R.K. Laxman, died .

  • Mr. Laxman, who was awarded the Padma Vibhushan and the Magsaysay Award, was a complex man, who defined his métier with an ingenious lightness of touch as evinced in his autobiography, Tunnel of Time.

  • His astonishing career was a paradox in the Chestertonian sense — often interviewed in public, he fiercely guarded his private life. “There was an unmatched brilliance and warmth in his wit. He was inimitable. He could be many things to many people at the same time,” reminisced friend and fellow cartoonist Mangesh Tendulkar.

  • Balding, clad in a tattered jacket and donning an eternally bemused expression through his spectacles, the Common Man was the first sight of millions of newspaper readers in Mr. Laxman’s pocket cartoon, You Said it, since 1951 in The Times of India.

  • Be it Gattu, the tousled boy mascot of Asian Paints, or the masterly Malgudi illustrations,Mr. Laxman’s dab hand portrayed the tokenism of politicos and the existential angst of the Indian commoner with a devastating effectiveness.

Chandigarh launches Smart City app

  • In the first major step towards making Chandigarh a “Smart City,” the city administration launched its “official mobile app” to create awareness of consumer rights and responsibilities and provide all types of citizen-centric and public utility services and information to the residents.

  • Launching the scheme, Vijay Dev, Adviser to the Administrator of Chandigarh, said various departments would be directed to route all information and updates through the app and appoint a link officer for the work.

  • The app would become an important platform for redressing grievances.

  • Speaking at the launch of an app of the Food and Supplies and Consumer Affairs Department, Mr. Dev described it as a single “e-window” to all information related to the department and various citizen-centric services.

  • The app is now available free at Google Play store for Android phone users. Its iOS and Windows Phone versions would be released soon.

  • Important addresses, contacts, helpline numbers and e-mail ids of the consumer forum and various departments of the Chandigarh Administration are available on the app.

Two Harappan sites being excavated

  • Excavations have begun at the two Harappan sites of Binjor in Rajasthan, close to the India-Pakistan border, and Rakhigarhi in Haryana.

  • While the Archaeological Survey of India’s Excavation Branch at Purana Quila, New Delhi, is excavating Binjor, the Deccan College Post-Graduate & Research Institute, Pune, and the Haryana Department of Archaeology is excavating the Rakhigarhi site, 25 km from Jind. About 350 km separate Binjor from Rakhigarhi. As the crow flies, Binjor is situated seven km from the border, in Anupgarh tehsil of Sri Ganganganar district.

  • There are about 2,000 Harappan sites in India, Pakistan and Afghanistan, with 500 in India and 1,500 in Pakistan.

  • At its glory, the Harappan civilisation flourished over two million square km, from Sutkajendor on the Makran coast of Balochistan to Alamgirpur in Uttar Pradesh, and from Manda in Jammu to Daimabad in Ahmednagar district of Maharashtra.

  • Sanjay Manjul, Director, Institute of Archaeology, New Delhi, who is director of the excavation at Binjor, said the excavation was being jointly done by the ASI’s Excavation Branch at Purana Quila and the Institute of Archaeology.

  • Vasant Shinde, Vice-Chancellor, Deccan College, is the director of the excavation at Rakhigarhi. Professor Shinde said that with the discovery of two more mounds last year at Rakhigarhi, the site had staked claim to be the largest Harappan site. One of the two newly discovered mounds would be dug this season.

:: International News ::

Colombia’s Paulina is Miss Universe

  • Colombia’s Paulina Vega was crowned Miss Universe , beating out contenders from the United States, Ukraine, Jamaica and the Netherlands among the top-five at the world’s top beauty pageant in Florida.
  • The 22-year-old model and business student triumphed over 87 other women from around the world, becoming only the second beauty queen from her nation to take home the prize.
  • The last time Colombia won the crown was in 1958, when Luz Marina Zuluaga took the title.
  • A beaming and tearful Vega, wearing a long silver-sequinned gown, accepted her sash and crown from the reigning Miss Universe, Gabriela Isler, from Venezuela.
  • She hugged first runner-up, Nia Sanchez, from the United States as the win was announced.
  • London-born Vega dedicated her title to Colombia and to all her supporters.

Church of England: first woman Bishop consecrated

  • The Church of England ended centuries of male-only leadership as Reverend Libby Lane became its first woman bishop in a ceremony briefly disrupted by a traditionalist priest’s protest.
  • Around 100 bishops gathered around the 48-year-old to perform the traditional “laying on of hands” at the ceremony’s climax in the Gothic splendour of York Minster, northern England.
  • The congregation of some 2,000 people broke into applause and cheers and some shed tears. Highlighting the divisions which dog the Church despite a painstaking reconciliation process, a lone conservative opposed to women as bishops had earlier disrupted the ceremony.

WikiLeaks accuses Google of handing over e-mails to U.S.

  • Whistleblower site WikiLeaks accused Google of handing over the e-mails and electronic data of its senior staff to the U.S. authorities without providing notification until almost three years later.
  • Google was apparently acting in response to warrants issued by the U.S. Department of Justice, which is investigating WikiLeaks for publishing hundreds of thousands of classified military and diplomatic files.
  • WikiLeaks said that Google could and should have resisted complying with the warrants, as well as immediately informing those whose data it handed over.
  • The information was handed over to the U.S. authorities on April 5, 2012, but Google did not inform the WikiLeaks staff until December 23, 2014, according to documents obtained by AFP.

Ajmer, Allahabad can turn into religious tourism hubs

  • The decision to set up task forces to push plans for the three smart cities was taken at a meeting between Union Urban Development Minister M. Venkaiah Naidu and visiting U.S. Secretary of Commerce Penny Pritzker.
  • India and the U.S. had signed three memoranda of understanding (MoUs) for developing Ajmer, Allahabad and Visakhapatnam.
  • Mr. Naidu said Ajmer and Allahabad were chosen because they were centres of religious significance and drew tourists in large numbers.
  • Visakhapatnam was picked because being a coastal city it had the potential to develop into a tourist destination.
  • The Minister said Andhra Pradesh (after the bifurcation) was trying to develop itself, and the government was keen to offer aid and logistical support to it.
  • Each of the three task forces would formulate concrete action plans in the next three months.
  • Each team would have three representatives each from the Centre and respective State governments and the U.S. Trade and Development Agency (USTDA). These task forces would discuss city-specific features, requirements of the project and how to raise funds.

:: Business and Economy ::

Saradha scam: accused say bribes paid to SEBI official

  • Some of the accused in the multi-crore Saradha chit fund scam, in their disclosures to the Enforcement Directorate, have levelled bribery allegations against an official of the Securities and Exchange Board of India (SEBI).

  • The ED has been told by the accused that the official, then holding a senior position, was paid bribes regularly to ensure smooth conduct of operations of the Saradha Group companies that were allegedly involved in the scam.

  • Following Supreme Court observations last year, the Central Bureau of Investigation has also initiated investigations into the matter. “Investigation conducted so far puts a question mark on the role of SEBI, Registrar of Companies and officials of the RBI within whose respective jurisdictions and areas of operation the scam not only took birth but flourished unhindered,” said a Supreme Court Bench.

  • The CBI has also questioned several SEBI officials in view of allegations that the regulating body initiated action against Saradha Realty swiftly after receipt of complaints regarding the company’s alleged illegal activities.

  • A few days ago, the agency also sought clarifications from a SEBI member in connection with the probe conducted into the complaints and action taken by the body.

  • The probing agencies have found that the Saradha Group of companies collected funds of Rs.2,459 crore from lakhs of investors spread across 14 States, including West Bengal, Assam and Odisha, between 2008 and 2013.

  • Of the collected funds, Rs.1,983 crore — apart from the interest earned — remained outstanding and has, therefore, been marked as proceeds of crime committed by the accused persons for attachment of their properties under the Prevention of Money Laundering Act. The ED has already attached properties worth about Rs.500 crore.

Kenstar ties up with Amazon

  • Consumer electronics and appliances manufacturer Kenstar has made a foray into the air conditioner segment, and launched its range of split ACs. In a first, Kenstar has tied up with e-commerce player Amazon.in to distribute the ACs exclusively.
  • A statement from the company said it aims to revolutionise the AC segment and plans to capture 5 per cent of the total market share by the close of 2014-15.

Ashok Leyland gets ready for electric play

  • Ashok Leyland (AL) has indicated that the company is actively focused on developing electric and ethanol-powered vehicles in preparation for the emerging opportunities in the alternative transport solution segment.
  • The Hinduja flagship, showcased full-fledged working prototypes of three electric zero emission vehicles (that include the all-electric light commercial vehicle Dost, 10-tonne electric truck and midi bus) and an ethanol-driven Dost.
  • AL expects first major opportunity for plug-in electric vehicles to come in the bus segment. Its upcoming electric bus is being developed in-house with some parts sourced from Ashok Leyland’s UK subsidiary Optare, which is a pioneer in bus making.
  • Though the commercial launch of electric vehicles and alternate fuel-powered vehicles may take some more years, AL is seeing some green shoots in terms of subvention schemes under the National Electric Mobility Mission Plan (NEMMP) 2020.
  • The transportation sector accounts for a third of total crude oil consumption in the country and road transportation accounts for over 80 per cent of total consumption.

Xiaomi to set up first R&D base in India

  • Handset maker Xiaomi will set up a research and development unit in Bengaluru, its first such facility outside of China, as it looks to beef up presence in the booming Indian smartphone market.
  • The company, which expects the centre to be operational in the next few months, will focus on localising its products and features for the Indian market through the unit.
  • Work on the facility is expected to commence by the end of March and in the next few months, it will be operational, Xiaomi India Head Manu Jain told .

:: Science and Technology ::

Sahyadri joins Swacch Bharat Mission

  • Sahyadri Industries Ltd., joined the PM’s Swacch Bharat Mission with the launch of Cemply Swachalay, first-of-its-kind and fast to build green toilets.
  • The company plans to install one lakh toilets in Chennai during 2015-16. These toilets can be installed in any terrain and are ready in less than an hour, said a company release.

Drones’ key roles in precision farming

  • Drones are being used by scientists in site-specific research related to irrigation, plant growth, nutrient management, herbicide application and with more potential applications.

IIT-B launches mass open online courses

  • In a step that could significantly push the bar for quality online education in the country, IIT Bombay has embarked on a mass online education programme that will provide free online courses and give access to high quality, IIT-style education to students in Indian languages.

  • On Republic Day, Devang Khakhar, Director of IIT Bombay, launched Mass Open Online Courses (MOOC) in computer programming, thermodynamics, and signals and systems from the institute’s IITBombayX platform developed in collaboration with edX, a not-for-profit initiative by MIT and Harvard.

Agni-V to be test-fired from canister today

  • Agni-V, India’s most powerful strategic missile, developed by the Defence Research and Development Organisation (DRDO) will lift off from a canister mounted on a TATRA truck stationed on the Wheeler Island off Odisha.
  • This is the third launch, but the first from a canister, a method that will allow the missile to be fired even from roads. Avinash Chander, Scientific Adviser to the Defence Minister and DRDO Director-General, has called Agni-V “a game changer.” Mr. Chander, the architect of the Agni series, will be present at the launch scheduled for 8 a.m. Agni-V can carry a 1.1-tonne nuclear warhead over 5,000 km

:: Sports ::

Delhi Open tennis from Feb. 16

  • The cream of Indian tennis, spearheaded by defending champion Somdev Devvarman, is scheduled to compete in the Delhi Open $100,000 Challenger tennis tournament to be played at the R.K. Khanna Stadium here from February 16 to 22.

  • In a release issued , the organisers have stated that Yuki Bhambri, Saketh Myneni and Ramkumar Ramanathan would also be seen in action, apart from top players like James Duckworth of Australia and Yuichi Sugita of Japan, ranked 120 and 136 respectively.

  • Vishnu Vardhan will get a wild card into the main draw by virtue of having won the Fenesta National championship, while the runner-up Sidharth Rawat will get a wild card for the qualifying event, along with the national junior champion Vidit Vaghela.

  • In the concurrently hosted $25,000 ITF women’s tournament, Prerna Bhambri will gain entry as a wild card as the national champion.

  • Karman Kaur Thandi who had finished runner-up will get a wild card for the qualifying event. Incidentally, she had also won the junior title in the national championship.

Boxing India to introduce new league, ranking system

  • In order to work in line with International Boxing Association (AIBA)’s ambitious leagues such as AIBA Open Boxing (AOB), AIBA Pro Boxing (APB) and World Series of Boxing (WSB), Boxing India (BI) has decided to launch the Indian Series of Boxing (ISB) and a national ranking system in the second half of the year.
  • The apex body has been making an effort for the synergy of amateur and professional boxing by allowing pugilists from professional leagues to qualify for the Olympics. BI’s new step will help the Indian boxers be part of the reforms “that will bring fresh value to boxers and boxing in India”.

Debashis Das holds Topalov

  • Grandmaster Debashis Das came up with his best performance ever to hold former world champion Veselin Topalov of Bulgaria to a creditable draw in the second round of the Masters’ section of Tradewise Gibraltar Chess festival.

  • On a day of upsets, Indian Grandmaster Vishnu Prasanna defeated Grandmaster Emil Sutovsky of Israel while former world junior girls’ champion Soumya Swaminathan beat American Kayden Troff to maintain a clean slate after two games. Also ending on a high was Indian GM M.R. Venkatesh who scored a fine victory over Simen Agdestein of Norway.

  • With eight rounds still to come, it was business as usual for some of the higher-ranked players.

  • But highest rated Indian P. Harikrishna had to show his endgame-magic before he could secure his second victory in the tournament.

‘Revive defunct IBPWA’

  • Olympian and former National badminton champion U. Vimal Kumar, said that shuttlers should revive the defunct Indian Badminton Players Welfare Association (IBPWA) and approach the Badminton Association of India (BAI) instead of floating a new body.

  • He also expressed anguish over the players’ attitude as many thought of floating an association only when they were left out of the Indian team. “This way, they can never be united. Players should have a clear agenda and not be there for selfish reasons,” he remarked.

  • Vimal said active players and recently-retired ones should take the responsibility of running the association.

  • Vimal explained how players revolted against BAI in the mid-90s when All England champion Prakash Padukone had formed the Indian Badminton Confederation.

  • He said BAI permitted players to send entries directly for National-ranking tournaments, and also for international events through BAI for forwarding it to the respective organisers. “The State associations, players and BAI functioned with better understanding,” he pointed out.

Gold for Bindra

  • Former World and Olympic champion Abhinav Bindra shot gold with a spectacular finish in air rifle in the IWK Hockbrueck shooting championship in Munich .
  • The 32-year-old Bindra beat Vitali Bubnovich of Belarus by 0.4 points with a total of 208.0. Bindra shot a perfect 10.9 on the penultimate shot after having led by 0.1 points, before the last two shots of the 20-shot final series.
  • While Bindra ended with a 10.3, the Belarussian finished with 10.4 and 10.5, that saw him fall short of gold.

:: In The News ::

R.K. Laxman

  • Legendary cartoonist and creator of the Common Man, R.K. Laxman, one of post-Independence India’s greatest caricaturists, died of a cardiac arrest at Deenanath Mangeshkar Hospital on Monday26 january 2015 evening. He was 93. Mr. Laxman, born in the then Mysore on October 24, 1921, was the youngest of six sons of a school headmaster and the only one among his siblings to share fame with his brother, writer R.K. Narayan. Growing up in the city’s idyllic environs, Mr. Laxman was influenced by the scathing caricatures of the New Zealand-born Sir David Low, then the pre-eminent caricaturist of the Western world.

S.Jaishankar

  • The government has appointed S. Jaishankar as the new Foreign Secretary, replacing Sujatha Singh about seven months before her tenure comes to an end. Sources say that Mr. Jaishankar was chosen for his role in rebuilding India-U.S. ties after the Devyani Khobragade incident, capped by the visit of U.S. President Barack Obama to New Delhi. He was India’s longest serving Ambassador to China, and his appointment will be seen as a positive sign for India-China relations. Significantly, as Joint Secretary in-charge of the Americas in the years 2004-2007, he was also one of the architects of the Indo-U.S. nuclear deal that saw a “breakthrough” in progress during Mr. Obama’s visit.

Rakhigarhi & Binjor

  • Excavations have begun at the two Harappan sites of Binjor in Rajasthan, close to the India-Pakistan border, and Rakhigarhi in Haryana. While the Archaeological Survey of India’s Excavation Branch at Purana Quila, New Delhi, is excavating Binjor, the Deccan College Post-Graduate & Research Institute, Pune, and the Haryana Department of Archaeology is excavating the Rakhigarhi site, 25 km from Jind. About 350 km separate Binjor from Rakhigarhi. As the crow flies, Binjor is situated seven km from the border, in Anupgarh tehsil of Sri Ganganganar district.

:: Selected Editorials of Importance ::

TAKING TIES BEYOND THE BELTWA

Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s visit to the United States has to be measured against the principal challenge he faced: how to engage with an already preoccupied partner. He overcame this challenge by interacting with a much broader American audience than any of his predecessors. A very special feature of his visit was his determination to open new doors in the U.S. and take the relationship beyond the beltway in Washington DC. All previous Summit level U.S. visits by Indian leaders featured a mandatory speech at a think tank, interaction with a few Congressional leaders, and a meeting each with businessmen and the Indian community. The public diplomacy effort this time included multiple energetic exchanges with business and industry leaders, the Indian-American community, and U.S. lawmakers, surpassing all previous efforts.

U.S President Barack Obama commented about Mr. Modi’s “rock-star performance” at the Madison Square Garden arena. Far from being just a “tamasha,” the spectacle mobilised the Indian community across the U.S. and imparted to them a sense of pride and hope. Several Congressmen and Senators were present at the event, including some who have been critical of India on IT visas and compulsory licensing. These lawmakers saw at first hand the size, scale and connectedness of the Indian-American community to India, as also Mr. Modi’s crowd-pulling power. The message that this community is now a force whose expectations cannot be ignored, including for better India-U.S. ties, is a positive asset.

While engaging new audiences, Mr. Modi did not ignore his host, with whom he established an excellent entente, overcoming the negative overhang of visa-denial since 2002. Moreover, he did not use the visit for inventorying deliverables, but to convey to all his interlocutors, within and outside the U.S. government, India’s aspirations for the future contours of the relationship. Much of this is encapsulated within the Joint Statement, the joint editorial by the two leaders published on the website of The Washington Post, and the Vision Statement of the India-U.S. Strategic Partnership — cleverly captioned by a new “mantra”: “Chalein Saath Saath: Forward together we go.” Such a vision could help in taking steps towards its progressive concretion.

The National Security Agency (NSA) revelations hurt U.S. credibility with its partners. Long-established U.S. ascendancy in the China-Russia-U.S. triangular relationship passed to China. Mr. Obama announced the strategic defeat of al-Qaeda, the same way Mr. George W. Bush had announced success in Iraq, but the rise of the Islamic State shows that Islamists are arguably stronger and more spread out than at any other time in history. Relative neglect, fear of over-commitment, and waging the wrong wars with the wrong local partners have led to the crises in Iraq and Syria and the resurgence of the Taliban in Afghanistan. With added tensions in Ukraine and the East and South China Seas, the environment for rebuilding India-U.S. relations has become even more complex.

What India and the U.S. need to do together is clear; they simply have been unable to do it. The areas of strategic convergence are known. A growing, pluralistic and democratic India is a constructive force in Asia and the world. India needs U.S. investments and technology. The U.S. needs Indian markets and skilled service providers. The gap between promise and performance of the two countries lies in the mutual timidity of their governments in treading the path signposted after considerable effort. Roadblocks need to be removed by resolving differences, for which both sides must sit and talk. The renewal of the 2005 Framework for the India-U.S. Defense Relationship is a reminder that in the 10 years of its operation, nothing whatsoever was done to “increase opportunities for technology transfer, collaboration, co-production, and research and development.” India’s contingent and reactive defence policy, including on procurement, compromises security and is a drain on national resources. India has stepped up buying of U.S. weapons; but has not so far co-developed or built them.

Similarly, the absence of energetic pursuit of U.S. support for “a reformed UN Security Council with India as a permanent member,” and the U.S. resolve “to continue work towards India’s phased entry into the Nuclear Suppliers Group (NSG), the Missile Technology Control Regime (MTCR), the Wassenaar Arrangement and the Australia Group” — almost exactly the same words used when Mr. Obama had visited India in 2010 — persuade many Indians that inaction on these commitments might be a sign of equivocation.

Mr. Modi was well briefed in addressing areas of contention, including climate change and World Trade Organization (WTO) issues, indeed, a range of bread-and-butter issues of concern to both countries on which equitable solutions must be explored. In his self-confident interactions on these, he showed his hand on what gives and what does not. On agricultural subsidies, he put across that a large and populous country like India needs flexibility to take care of food security, rural employment, and livelihood concerns through continued domestic support. At the joint press briefing with Mr. Obama, he made public advocacy for “continued openness and ease of access for Indian services companies in the U.S. market.”

At the very least, this visit restored a degree of confidence to a neglected relationship. It has prepared the ground for a lift to bilateral ties, while ensuring in the meanwhile that India and the U.S. get on with operationalising what they can from our multilayered agenda, bridging differences on managing the global commons, resolving bilateral roadblocks on commercial exchanges and investments, building cooperation in science and technology and defence production, and forging a closer strategic partnership in the Indo-Pacific region. Notwithstanding shared values and interests, the real traction in India-U.S. relations lies ahead, perhaps with a new U.S. President just over two years away, as India begins to realise its economic potential and augments all aspects of what the Chinese describe as comprehensive national power.

:: MCQs ::

:: National ::

Q. 1

1. Obama received 27 gun salute at Rashtrapati Bhavan; Guard of Honour led by woman officer Ujjawala Thakur.
2. Accompanied by Union Power Minister Piyush Goyal, who is the Minister-in-company for the visiting dignitary, Mr. Obama observed a moment of silence at the Mahatma’s samadhi .

Which of the following statements is/are true-?

a) Only 1
b) Only 2
c) Both 1 & 2
d) Neither 1 nor 2

Q. 2

1. External Affairs Ministry officials have said that no changes to the Civil Liability for Nuclear Damages (CLND) Act, 2010, have been made, and no assurances given to the U.S.
2. Given the lack of clarity on just how the government was able to convince U.S. officials who have held out against the law since 2010, many are sceptical about how viable the breakthrough will be if there is legal or political opposition to the deal in India.

Which of the following statements is/are true-?

a) Only 1
b) Only 2
c) Both 1 & 2
d) Neither 1 nor 2

Q. 3

1. The city administration in Delhi launched its “official mobile app” to create awareness of consumer rights and responsibilities and provide all types of citizen-centric and public utility services and information to the residents.
2. Various departments in Chandigarh would be directed to route all information and updates through the app and appoint a link officer for the work.

Which of the following statements is/are true-?

a) Only 1
b) Only 2
c) Both 1 & 2
d) Neither 1 nor 2

Q. 4

1. Central Government appointed S. Jaishankar as the new Cabinet Secretary of India.
2. It is unclear if the sudden move will upset other officers in the way the surprise appointment of Shiv Shankar Menon did in 2006, with several officers resigning in protest.

Which of the following statements is/are true-?

a) Only 1
b) Only 2
c) Both 1 & 2
d) Neither 1 nor 2

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