The HINDU Notes – 12th April 2019 - VISION

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Friday, April 12, 2019

The HINDU Notes – 12th April 2019

πŸ“° Voters needn’t know source of political funding: govt.

Voters need not know the funding source of parties, A-G tells court

•Voters do not need to know from where political parties get their funds, the government argued in the Supreme Court on Thursday.

•The court cannot “kill” the electoral bonds scheme for the sake of transparency, Attorney General K.K. Venugopal said. He argued that the bond was an experiment to eradicate black money and the court should not intervene now. The government position was in contrast to the stand of the Election Commission of India.

•Twenty-four hours ago, the ECI submitted to the court that electoral bonds had legalised the anonymity of political donors and the parties receiving contributions. It said the right to vote meant the right to make an informed choice. Knowing the candidate was only “half the exercise.” The voters should also know the source of funding of parties who put up these candidates. “It is more important to know the principal than the agent,” its counsel and senior advocate Rakesh Dwivedi submitted.

•To this, Mr. Venugopal countered on Thursday: “Their contention is that voters have a right to know. Right to know what? Voters do not need to know where money of political parties comes from.”

Black money in polls

•The Attorney-General said “transparency cannot be used as a mantra”. He said elections are being fuelled by black money, which is democracy’s greatest evil. “You can see the way black money is seized day after day,” he addressed a Bench led by Chief Justice of India Ranjan Gogoi.

•Advocate Prashant Bhushan pointed to how earlier there was anonymity in political funding through cash donations, and now, electoral bonds, allow anonymity in political funding through banking channels.

•“And cash donations can still continue...” Chief Justice Gogoi added.

•But the Bench asked Mr. Venugopal whether the bank would be able to identify the donor and the political party concerned from the electoral bonds. If not, the entire exercise of trying to fight black money would be futile.

•Justice Sanjeev Khanna, on the Bench, said merely knowing KYC [Know Your Customer] information would not block the entry of black money into political funding. KYC only covered the identity of the bond purchaser and would not be able to tell whether the money he used to buy the bond was black or white. Besides, Justice Khanna said black money could be converted to white by routing it through multiple shell companies.

•The arguments were heard on a batch petitions of petitions challenging the legality of the electoral bonds scheme. The court reserved the case for orders. Chief Justice Gogoi informed in court that the order would be pronounced on April 12.

πŸ“° Brexit: A crisis that resists hasty solutions

As the EU extends the Brexit deadline, it is still anybody’s guess if London will finally get its act together

•On Wednesday, 12 days after the U.K. had initially been due to leave the European Union (EU), Prime Minister Theresa May headed to Brussels to persuade leaders of the remaining 27 member states to grant Britain an extension that would enable Brexit to happen by June 30 at the latest. With the ultimate decision on this lying with Brussels (and the member states, each of which has the ability to veto an extension outright), it felt a far cry from the picture of a Britain “taking back control” that the government and Leave supporters had propounded in the wake of the 2016 referendum. In the end Britain’s suggested date was brushed aside as EU leaders — following an epic five-hour meeting — opted for October 31, with Britain able to leave earlier if a deal is reached.

Amid accusations

•After it became clear that the original March 29 Brexit deadline was no longer tenable, accusations over who was responsible have come thick and fast. Ms. May herself faced a backlash from MPs when she appeared to blame them for the chaos, accusing them of “political games” and “arcane political rows” that she and the public had tired of. Ironically for Ms. May, her comments were also seen as bolstering the determination of MPs to continue to block her withdrawal deal within Parliament, which has now thrice been rejected by MPs.

•As with the results of the 2016 referendum, the causes of the current political crisis in Britain are manifold, though the starting point surely has to be the open-ended nature of the question put to the public: “Should the United Kingdom remain a member of the European Union or leave the European Union?” The question, which itself was open to generous interpretation, was used as a launch pad for all sorts of arguments by the Leave campaign, ranging from the need to end free movement from the EU and immigration more widely, to having the opportunity to strike trade deals independently, to ending payments to the EU, to challenging the establishment. All these and other reasons played into the result: a Nuffield study published last year noted that immigration was the main reason that people voted to leave, followed by sovereignty, though the economy and the desire to teach politicians a lesson also played in.

•The ambiguity of the question has meant that politicians across the political spectrum have been able to interpret the results to pursue pretty much any vision of Brexit. There’s Ms. May, who has put immigration controls at the heart of her vision of Brexit. This position on free movement is also adopted to a certain extent by the Labour party, to the fury of many of its supporters. However, while Ms. May has insisted on ending membership of the EU customs union to enable Britain to forge independent trade deals on goods, Labour believes remaining in part of these arrangements is the only way to enable businesses to get the tariff and hassle-free relationship with Europe they require to continue thriving, while ensuring that no hard border develops on the island of Ireland between the Republic of Ireland (the EU nation) and Northern Ireland (part of the U.K.).

Across party lines

•These visions have not held across party lines, with some MPs choosing to leave their parties over their differences. While some Conservative MPs believe Ms. May’s plan to transform the relationship is excessive, there are others who have condemned it as tantamount to a betrayal, relegating Britain to “vassal” status to the EU, particularly because of the backstop arrangements for Ireland that would put the U.K. into a customs union with the EU that couldn’t be ended unilaterally were future talks to break down. Labour, on the other hand, has faced critics who believe it should be doing more to represent the 48% who voted to remain in the EU, as well as from others who have warned that fighting Brexit would amount to abandoning some of the most deprived communities in northern England which voted overwhelmingly to leave. These tensions — which have pervaded the party membership, discussion between MPs and even the cabinet and shadow cabinet — have made achieving political consensus on all sides particularly difficult.

•But what has been particularly striking is the government’s refusal to compromise. It had become increasingly clear that the government’s vision of Brexit wasn’t one that would pass through Parliament — indeed, 230 MPs voted against it in January in the biggest defeat for a U.K. government in parliamentary history. Ms. May has plodded on regardless, even as some pointed out the double standards: she insisted that she should be able to bring her vote to MPs over and over again; but at the same time she robotically insisted on respecting the referendum result, despite the fact that so much had changed and so much more had become known in the past two years.

•However, Ms. May is not the only one to refuse to compromise. Some Brexiteers and the Conservative party’s parliamentary ally, the Democratic Unionist Party (DUP) of Northern Ireland, have dug in. The DUP’s intransigence will be particularly painful for Ms. May, whose impetuous decision to call a snap general election in 2017 gave them the crucial powerful hand over Brexit decisions. Indeed, had that election not been called, it is quite possible that the government would not have struggled with the numbers in getting its deal through, and Brexit could have happened on the scheduled date.

Muddle along

•Advocates of a public vote too have not covered themselves in glory. The Independent Group of MPs who left the Conservative and Labour parties earlier this year courted criticism when they failed to help push the customs union and other softer options over the line in a series of indicative votes recently. Had they done so, MPs could have got the majority they needed for a road ahead to show that there was an alternative road to Ms. May’s, but instead they have continued to cling to the hope of either revocation or a public confirmatory vote.

•It has been particularly unfortunate for the U.K. that given the fundamental issues that were apparent from the start of the Brexit process that Article 50 of the Treaty on European Union was triggered in March 2017 well before the type of Brexit they wanted to pursue had been agreed upon. This has forced the debate to happen against the backdrop of a deadline and cliff-edge that has made it possible for the government to threaten, “it’s our deal or no deal”, or “it’s our deal or a long delay”, making it more into a game of chicken than a country trying to forge the right road ahead. For this Parliament itself bears much responsibility, voting overwhelmingly to trigger the exit process back in 2017 with pretty much nothing to go on.

•If the Brexit process was Britain’s first opportunity to flout its prowess as a rational, independent trading nation, capable of holding its own on the global stage, it is a chance that has so far been missed by miles and the sense of frustration among EU leaders has been palpable. The October 31 deadline has given Britain time to find the “best possible solution,” Donald Tusk, President of the European Council, said, urging Britain to “not waste this time”. Whether Britain manages to do so and finally comes up with a solution acceptable to Parliament and the EU remains to be seen.

πŸ“° Closed road: Udhampur-Baramulla highway ban

The ban on civilian traffic on the Udhampur-Baramulla highway must be rescinded

•The ban on civilian traffic for two days a week on the 271-km stretch of National Highway 44 between Udhampur in Jammu and Baramulla in Kashmir, which came into force on April 7, is an ill-advised move. The ban, which is to last till May 31, is supposedly to enable the orderly conduct of the Lok Sabha elections in Jammu and Kashmir, in the light of the tragic February 14 suicide attack on a CRPF convoy on NH 44 at Pulwama, that killed 40 personnel. On Sundays and Wednesdays, between 4 a.m. and 5 p.m., only pre-determined categories of civilian traffic will be allowed on the highway with clearance from the authorities. For the rest of the time, the highway will be given over to the movement of troops. As a measure to prevent another Pulwama-type attack, this is draconian. NH 44 is the lifeline of the State — it is vital to move goods (including perishable agricultural produce), and along it lie many educational and medical institutions. In many cases, avoiding the stretch would greatly multiply the time and distance between two points. The government is at pains to emphasise that exceptions are in place for those in medical emergencies, lawyers, doctors, tourists, government employees, students, and so on. But such a system of permits and bans militates against the freedom of movement at the heart of a democratic society. To be sure, even before the ban, civilian traffic has not moved on the highway unfettered by checks. Such is the security challenge in J&K. But to officially segregate civilian traffic is to put people’s lives at the mercy of a calendar, and to invite confusion about the organising principles of Indian troop deployment.

•The Pulwama attack was a wake-up call about the security drills in place to prevent terrorist strikes. It demanded an appraisal, so that the lives of soldiers and civilians alike can be secured. To throw civilians out of gear — as they were on the first day of the highway ban, on April 7 — defies logic. It also positions the administration against the people, as has become clear from the political and legal challenges to the traffic restrictions. In a State that is already under President’s Rule, it has pushed the political class and the administration farther apart. The State’s parties such as the National Conference and the Peoples Democratic Party have led the voices of protest. Petitions have been filed in the J&K High Court arguing that the restrictions violate Articles 14, 19 and 21 of the Constitution. The effect of any response to the Pulwama attack ought not to be an increased alienation that places troops and local people in an us-versus-them timetable. It must, instead, be a doubling up of the security protocol to make life more secure and hassle-free for civilians and soldiers alike.

πŸ“° Netanyahu’s Israel

As he tries to clinch a fifth term as PM, hopes for peace in Palestine dim further

•The April 9 parliamentary elections in Israel have underscored the structural shift in the country’s democracy — the right wing reigns supreme. Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu had faced serious challenges during the campaign. He faces corruption allegations that could lead to his indictment. The Blue and White party, formed a few weeks ahead of the election, had quickly risen to become the principal opposition force, giving Mr. Netanyahu a scare. He had lost some allies even before the elections. In the event, Mr. Netanyahu has emerged victorious. While both Mr. Netanyahu’s Likud party and the Blue and White got 35 seats each (after 98% of the votes were counted), he could become Prime Minister for a fifth time with support from rightwing parties. Likud has markedly improved its performance from 2015, when it had won 30 seats and still formed the government. The orthodox Jewish parties Shas and United Torah Judaism, which won seven and six seats respectively in 2015, secured eight each this time. The Union of Rightwing Parties and the right-nationalist Yisrael Beytenu have won five seats each, while the centrist Kulanu has got four. With the support of these potential allies, Mr. Netanyahu would have the backing of 65 MPs, well past the halfway mark in the 120-member Knesset.

•Mr. Netanyahu ran a contentious, ultra-nationalist campaign to drum up support for Likud and its allies. He had publicly aligned with Jewish Power, a fringe party known for its racist, anti-Arab views. If Mr. Netanyahu had said there wouldn’t be any Palestinian state under his watch during the 2015 election campaign, this time, a few days ahead of the poll, he said he would annex parts of the West Bank to bring Jewish settlements under Israeli sovereignty. He also exploited the security concerns of Israeli voters by presenting himself as the only leader capable of keeping them safe from “Palestinian terrorists” as well as Iran. Mr. Netanyahu is credited with stabilising the Israeli economy and, more controversially, clinching major diplomatic coups such as the U.S. recognition of Jerusalem as Israel’s capital and the occupied Syrian Golan as Israeli territory, thanks to American President Donald Trump. Mr. Netanyahu is now set to become the longest-serving Prime Minister, overtaking David Ben-Gurion, the country’s founder. But the Israel he leads today is totally different from what even Ben-Gurion and the early socialist Zionists had imagined. With Mr. Netanyahu showing no interest in the peace process and the occupation of Palestine being deepened both militarily and through Jewish settlements in the West Bank, Israel, which is described by a Basic Law passed last year as “the nation state of the Jewish people”, is a de factoapartheid state. Given his record, there is little reason to hope that Mr. Netanyahu will break the status quo during his next term.

πŸ“° Jallianwala Bagh massacre: ‘Deep regret’ is simply not good enough

Britain’s refusal to squarely apologise for the Jallianwala Bagh massacre is expected but disappointing

•Though no one was holding their breath, there was some expectation of a British apology on the occasion of the centenary of the horrific Jallianwala Bagh massacre, more so since the demand came this time not from Indians alone but also from a strong contingent of British MPs across political parties. British Prime Minister Theresa May finally came out with: “We deeply regret what happened and the suffering caused.”

•Words are important, especially in the heavily-nuanced English language, and those who invented that language certainly know how to use them. One can imagine the careful drafting in Whitehall that would have gone into formulating the Prime Minister’s statement. For comparison, in a press conference in Brussels the next day, Ms. May said that she “sincerely regretted” her failure in delivering a Brexit deal so far. “Deeply” is admittedly stronger than “sincerely”, but the nature of contrition expressed is identical.

•The second aspect of the statement that stands out is its passiveness — “what happened”, “the suffering caused”. There is no hint of agency here; this could well be the statement of any observer and not of inheritors of the empire that committed the atrocity. The blandness too is disturbing: one would have expected some sympathy for the victims or their descendants and some reference to the brutality of the massacre.

•Let us recall “what happened”. On April 13, 1919, Baisakhi day, following unrest in Amritsar after protests against the Rowlatt Act, Brigadier General (temporary rank) Reginald Dyer took a strike force of 50 rifles and 40 khukri-wielding Gurkhas into an enclosed ground, Jallianwala Bagh, where a peaceful public meeting of 15,000-20,000 was being held. Immediately and without warning, he ordered fire to be opened on the crowd. The firing of 1,650 rounds was deliberate and targeted, using powerful rifles at virtually pointblank range. The “suffering caused” included several hundred dead and many times more wounded. The officially accepted figure of 379 dead is a gross underestimate. Eyewitness accounts and information collected by Sewa Samiti, a charity organisation point to much higher numbers. Non-Indian writers place the number killed at anything between 500 to 600, with three times that number wounded.

•More was to follow after the proclamation, two days after the massacre, of Martial Law in Punjab: the infamous crawling order, the salaam order, public floggings, arbitrary arrests, torture and bombing of civilians by airplanes — all under a veil of strictly enforced censorship.

A history of evasion

•Let us look next at what was done. After calls for an investigation, including by liberals in Britain, a Disorders Inquiry Committee, soon to be known by the name of its Chairman, Lord Hunter, was set up. In his testimony, Dyer asserted that his intention had been to punish the crowd, to make a “wide impression” and to strike terror not only in Amritsar but throughout Punjab. The committee split along racial lines and submitted a majority and minority report. The majority report of the Hunter Committee, using tactically selective criticism, established Dyer’s culpability but let off the Lieutenant Governor, Michael O’Dwyer. The minority report written by the three Indian members was more scathing in its criticism. By then Dyer had become a liability and he was asked to resign his command, after which he left for England. This decision for a quiet discharge was approved by the British Secretary of State, Edwin Montagu, and, after an acrimonious debate, also by the House of Commons. The conservative Lords however took a different tack and rebuked the government for being unjust to the officer. Similar sentiments in Dyer’s favour came from the right-wing press — the Morning Post started a fund for him which collected £26,000 — as well as from conservative sections of the public who believed he had saved India for the empire. Rudyard Kipling, who had contributed £10 to the fund put an ambivalent comment on the wreath he sent to Dyer’s funeral in 1927: “He did his duty as he saw it.”

•Now what has already been said: The speech that carried the day in the House of Commons in 1920 was that of Winston Churchill, no fan of Gandhi and his satyagraha. He called Dyer’s deed “an extraordinary event, a monstrous event, an event which stands in sinister isolation”; privately he wrote that the “offence amounted to murder, or alternatively manslaughter”. Significantly, Churchill, likening the event to “Prussian” tactics of terrorism, said that this was “not the British way of doing things”. In other words, he was resorting to British exceptionalism: he was hanging out Dyer to dry as a rogue officer, while saving the larger colonial enterprise as benign.

•Dyer was certainly rogue, but he was not alone. He was one of a line of several such — John Nicholson, Frederick Cooper, J.L. Cowan — who resorted to severe disproportionate violence in 1857 and after the 1872 Kuka rebellion; he was also part of the despotic administration led by O’Dwyer (later assassinated by Udham Singh in 1940) which emboldened and then exonerated him. In 2013, then Prime Minister David Cameron quoted the same Churchill epithet of “monstrous”, adding that this was a “deeply shameful event in British history” and “we must never forget what happened here.” The Queen had earlier termed it as a “distressing example” of past history. Again, general homilies with hands nicely off and no admission of a larger culpability of racialised colonial violence that underpinned imperialism.

Healing a wound

•Deep regret is all we may get instead of the unequivocal apology that is mandated. The expectation could be that time will add more distance to the massacre, making these calls for apology increasingly an academic exercise. We will no doubt also be advised to forgive and move on. The fact remains that there are many ways to heal a festering wound between nations, as Canada’s apology for the Komagata Maru shows; clever drafting is not one of them.

πŸ“° Fighting fake news: can social media be kept on a leash?

The Bombay High Court has said that the various platforms are expected to follow the voluntary code of ethics of the IAMAI

•Facebook recently said in a statement that the company had spent more than 18 months assessing “risk” across its platforms to help ensure that the Lok Sabha election was free from interference, both foreign and domestic.

•In a post on its website, Facebook’s managing director and vice-president, India, Ajit Mohan said the company had focussed on key areas “including blocking and removing fake accounts; fighting the spread of misinformation; stopping abuse by domestic actors; spotting attempts at foreign meddling; and taking action against inauthentic coordinated campaigns”.

•While Facebook’s statement on what it has done ahead of the polls could be viewed as a suo motu initiative, the larger question of whether and how exactly social media platforms could be regulated under Indian law in the context of their apparent vulnerability to be used for disseminating fake news and manipulating opinions in the crucial run-up to the election, remains a rather grey area according to legal professionals.

•And late in March, on a public interest litigation petition seeking the imposition of curbs on social media use to ensure “the purity of election process”, the Bombay High Court directed that social media platforms would be expected to follow the voluntary code of ethics that had been developed by the Internet and Mobile Association of India (IAMAI) and had been accepted by the Election Commission.

•Nonetheless, existing legal provisions may be less than adequate to address the unique challenges posed by social media.

•Former Supreme Court judge Asok Kumar Ganguly said Section 126 of the Representation of the People Act (RPA) was incapable of regulating social media. “Section 126 is inadequate to deal with evolving problem of fake news and misinformation. [Section] 126 was enacted in 1996, when the problem did not surface,” he said.

•“We know scientific developments take place fast, whereas legislation is always slow,” the former judge said. Section 126 places an embargo on the publishing and broadcasting of content that is likely to affect the election only when the content is being aired with 48 hours or less to go before voting.

‘Does not apply’

•Chief Election Commissioner (CEC) Sunil Arora has acknowledged the Act’s limitations in terms of empowering the EC to act against social media. “Section 126, at the moment, does not apply to print media … social media, that is the law,” Mr. Arora had admitted, while releasing the poll schedule. A proposal to amend the law had been sent to the Law Ministry, he said.

•However, the volume of fake news spread via social media is massive. Facebook said it had removed more than 1.5 billion fake accounts globally in April-September 2018, a jump from the 1.3 billion such accounts it had purged in the previous six months.

•Besides churning out massive volumes of fake content, it is now evident that individual operators on social media are trying to influence minds and voting patterns.

•Legal options are limited for now, Justice Ganguly said. “The voluntarily developed code by the stakeholders is the only alternative for free and fair elections, and the court can always fill the gaps in law by providing suitable directions,” he said.

•But does the “voluntarily developed code” really work? Facebook, which counts India as its biggest market with 300 million users, asserts it does.

•To check the authenticity of content on its platforms in India, the company appointed seven fact-checkers, who, Facebook’s public policy director in India Shivnath Thukral said, follow “international norms of fact-checking” to ensure credibility of the process.

Expenditure check

•But former CEC S.Y. Quraishi contends that there are provisions to curb the misuse of social media.

•“Using the existing provisions, a candidate or a party’s expenditure can be monitored by the EC. The political advertisements also need to be cleared by the Commission,” said the former poll panel chief. “It is a continuing cat and mouse game,” he added.

•However, he acknowledged the logistic challenge. Even hundreds of media monitoring committees, “decentralised and spread across the country may not be enough” to monitor the material churned out every second on social media. “It is an evolving process,” Mr. Quraishi said.

•Alok Prasanna, senior fellow, Vidhi Centre for Legal Policy, Bangalore, flags another issue — freedom of expression. “How much you control and whether that infringes one’s right to talk or campaign on social media ... is not for the EC to decide. Thus, the debate has to take place on another level relating to intermediary liability,” he said.

•Jurisdiction was also a concern. “All of these social media companies are based outside India … regulating them is an issue. Perhaps it is better to talk to them [and] work with them within the law of the land to ensure fair elections,” Mr. Prasanna opined.

•Referring to the Bombay High Court order and the three-hour response time that social media firms had been allowed to remove flagged items, Mr. Prasanna pointed to a provision in Germany.

•“In Germany, if any content is posted on any platform by any individual [that] violates law and if the particular social media platform does not remove it... then the platform would be liable for such violation. We are yet to have anything of that sort.”

πŸ“° Parley | Is India’s anti-satellite test a game-changer?

India must help shape the global governance of outer space

•On April 1, the Indian Space Research Organisation (ISRO) successfully launched a PSLV C45 rocket with a payload of 29 satellites. Days before this, on March 27, in an operation called ‘Mission Shakti’, the Defence Research & Development Organisation demonstrated India’s ability in offensive defence capability, using a missile to destroy a satellite in Low Earth Orbit. In a discussion moderated by V. Sudarshan, D. Raghunandan and Rajeswari Pillai Rajagopalan look at India’s options and its role in the global governance of outer space. Excerpts:

•Rajeswari Pillai Rajagopalan: The anti-satellite (ASAT) test has been in the making for more than a decade actually. Ever since the first Chinese anti-satellite test in January 2007, there has been concern over India’s own space assets and what kind of damage and destruction could happen should China decide to shoot down or temporarily disable one of our own satellites. That was the first time we recognised the importance of preserving outer space in a big way. A second important factor is that we did not want to repeat the experience of what happened in the nuclear domain. We don’t want a Treaty on the Non-Proliferation of Nuclear Weapons or NPT-like mechanism to come about in the space domain that would actually lead to a ban on India’s future ASAT tests.

Raghunandan, how does knocking out a satellite in Low Earth Orbit actually promote deterrence?

•D. Raghunandan: My own feeling is the U.S., Russia and China have come to realise the somewhat limited nature of deterrence offered by anti-satellite weapons. None of them has developed large inventories of ASAT missiles or targeted a whole range of satellites of adversary nations. One must understand that all these nations have a few hundreds of satellites up in space which are used for military or dual purposes.

•How many satellites are you going to target and is knocking out one satellite going to really be a deterrent? Is it good to continue with killer missiles or are there other ways to disable adversary satellites? So I have my doubts about the deterrent capabilities of ASAT missiles, particularly as you may have noticed that all nations are extremely cagey about blowing up satellites in orbit because of the debris created. And if you have multiple such things going on, then you are obviously going to create multiple sets of problems. If the conflict between nations were to reach a stage where you are knocking out each other’s satellites, then I think it would have already reached nuclear weapon threshold and then we are in a different ballgame entirely.

Rajeshwari, is the deterrence in space as complex as Raghunandan says it is?

•R.P.R.: It is. And I would start with the fact that, so far, the established space players who have demonstrated the ASAT capability have not adopted deterrence as part of their space policy. So we are still in a good space right now where states have not made space a part of their deterrence policy. So that is an encouraging sign and that must be continued.

D.R.: I agree.

•R.P.R.: As Raghu mentioned, there are other technologies available. Increasingly, the electronic and cyber warfare capabilities, any number of technologies that can be used through cyber through lasers to create temporary disruptions, and disabling somebody else’s satellite and communications services to creating more permanent damage. So there are many ways of addressing this issue.

Raghunandan, in terms of evolution of our space military posture, how integrated are we in our capabilities?

•D.R.: Fortunately, ASAT capabilities have not fully been weaponised by all the countries. And, therefore, I think it affords a good opportunity to move forwards towards demilitarisation of outer space. The second aspect is that while India has articulated a doctrine with regard to nuclear weapons, which includes a declaration of no-first-use and so on, we do not as yet have a strategic doctrine with regard to the weaponisation in space. I think it would be good if India develops a doctrine for weaponisation in space as well as an integrated security doctrine which brings together nuclear, space and other advanced technologies so that you do have an integrated posture. The third point is that there is an added complication with regard to ASAT weaponry. That is, not all countries have their own dedicated military satellites which a third country can knock out and therefore disable that country’s network-centric platforms and weapons systems. Many countries use third-party satellites. Many countries use dual purpose satellites. So it is not at all clear, for example, if India shoots down ‘x’ number of satellites belonging to a country, we have disabled that country’s military communications. And this applies to any country.

Where are we in terms of disparities between us and China? What are we up against?

•D.R.: India has barely begun development of ASAT missiles. China has been at this for more than a decade. They are believed to have worked on missiles targeting high latitude satellites at 36,000 km above the earth whereas we have only conducted the test at the Low Earth Orbit. China has also been doing considerable work experimenting with laser-based weaponry and cyber weaponry which are likely to prove to be more effective than a whole battery of missiles targeting satellites. We are way behind.

Isn’t there an inherent contradiction between our position on no weaponisation of space that we have adopted and a steady accrual of military assets in space that we are also doing at the same time?

•D.R.: There is, in the sense that these two impulses are contrary. But I think that the real question to be asked is whether India’s statement about weaponisation in space, wanting to dial back weaponisation, is more for public consumption than for actual pursuit of de-weaponisation in space. If India is serious about wanting to de-weaponise space, then India should take active measures in the conference on disarmament along with other countries like Russia or China which have already initiated some proposals there. All of these have been completely stonewalled by the U.S., which disagrees with even the term ‘weaponisation of space’ and has resisted attempts to look for de-weaponisation of space, claiming that any moves in that direction denies the U.S. the ability for self-defence. But if India is serious, India should declare no-first-use of the ASAT weaponry as we have done for the nuclear [weapons], and adopt a strong domestic doctrine on weaponisation of space just as we have a declared doctrine for nuclear weapons.

We are launching a lot of satellites for other countries. How much do you think our military programmes are being cross-subsidised by these launches?

•D.R.: I doubt it is very much. The major reason why India is popular as a launch destination is because of its lower costs. The incomes also will be correspondingly not very high. The second aspect is that all satellites we have launched have been Low Earth satellites. The real money in international launches lies in the communication satellites, the heavier satellites at 36,000 km above the earth. That’s where the money is for telephony, television and the rest. We haven’t yet broken into that league in terms of satellite launching.

Rajeshwari, can you give us an overview of what we are up against in terms of their militarisation in terms of space?

•R.P.R.: China has shown it has much greater space competitiveness. For the longest time, India was just doing four to five launches per year; on the other hand, the Chinese were doing this on an average of 20 a year. That has a certain consequence not just for the overall competitiveness in terms of the launch market... but when you look at the global commercial space market that is available (and that you don’t want to lose it completely) and if you are not able to increase competitiveness, that’s a serious problem. Second, there is another important component which is about how much of the growing requirements of the military are from the security sector within India that ISRO will be able to provide.

•There is a capacity gap. Even as China talks the language of peaceful uses of outer space, the reality has been that there is a flourishing military programme under the PLA leadership. The Chinese are also setting up a space station some time in the 2022-2024 time frame when the International Space Station is possibly winding down. This also leads to concerns as to how space activity in the future might shape [up].

Is there is a contradiction between the impulse towards disarmament and the impulse towards militarisation?

•R.P.R.: Again I would emphasise that our deterrence capability is not a war-fighting capability. We are still looking at a non-weaponisation of space. On militarisation I want to refer to a point that Raghu mentioned. Raghu said we need to prevent space militarisation. I like the idea of preventing space militarisation but I think there is a big difference between space militarisation and space weaponisation. And I think these two concepts are used in a very interchangeable manner. Space militarisation is something that has happened from the 1990s.

•In the first Gulf War, for instance, you actually saw technology playing a major role in warfare. Since then, most militaries around the world have come to recognise and acknowledge the possible use of space assets for military operations. What they call intelligence gathering, surveillance, reconnaissance, military communications, drone programmes. We cannot go back on all these developments. But what we are trying to prevent today is the early trend towards weaponisation. We don’t want to weaponise outer space. For that again we do not have to put weapons in outer space.

•ASAT capabilities are the best example. That is warfare, that is weaponisation and that is something we are trying to see — if that can be stopped, that process can be halted. But again, we have been going back and forth, there are different understandings of what a space weapon is. How do you define these terms? There are major differences of opinion.

•Now that India has demonstrated this capability, India needs to play an even more active role in the global governance of outer space. But I have a slightly different opinion when it comes to who we partner with if India feels that we alone cannot go out into the global domain and create new rules of the road. We can certainly partner with like-minded countries.

πŸ“° A genetic method to empower conservation

Could be put to several uses using very low-quality DNA

•Scientists have been using genetics to study wild animals for several years now. However, a new genetic method developed by a team, including scientists from Bengaluru’s National Centre for Biological Sciences (NCBS), hopes to make studying as well as conserving wild species quicker, easier and cost-effective by deriving information from animal sources containing extremely low-quality DNA — including faeces and cooked meat.

•Their method, described in the study published in the international journal Methods in Ecology and Evolution, relies on identifying multiple, short portions of DNA segments in a single experiment (a ‘multiplex PCR’), followed by ‘next-generation sequencing’, in which multiple fragments of DNA can be decoded simultaneously, and several times, in an automated process.

•The team tested their method on Caribbean queen conches and tigers, two “extremely different species that had strong conservation needs,” to “show how this approach could be used generally,” said co-author Dr. Stephen Palumbi (Stanford University) in a press release.

•The team obtained DNA from the faeces, hair and saliva of 75 wild and captive tigers to identify individuals and close relatives, and RNA from 279 queen conch samples. They then decoded between 60 to 100 single nucleotide polymorphisms or SNPs, one of the most common types of change seen in genetic material, in these samples. The team was also able to identify the geographic regions these individuals belonged to. Apart from using this for animal monitoring, it could also potentially be used to obtain intelligence on wildlife trade, co-author Dr. Uma Ramakrishnan (NCBS) said.

•Testing several hundred samples simultaneously and decoding up to 1000 SNPs per sample would cost as low as $5 (less than ₹350). The biggest advantage is that this would take just five days while older methods take at least a month, she added.