The HINDU Notes – 23rd April 2019 - VISION

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Tuesday, April 23, 2019

The HINDU Notes – 23rd April 2019

πŸ“° U.S. ends waiver for India on Iran oil

Exemptions from sanctions for a 180-day period enabled imports of commodity

•The U.S. will not renew exemptions from its sanctions for importing oil from Iran, U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo announced on Monday.

•The exemptions were granted last November for a 180-day period for India and seven other countries, and are due to expire on May 2.

Pressure campaign

•“Today we are announcing the United States will not issue any additional Significant Reduction Exceptions [SREs] to existing importers of Iranian oil. The Trump Administration has taken Iran’s oil exports to historic lows, and we are dramatically accelerating our pressure campaign in a calibrated way that meets our national security objectives while maintaining well supplied global oil markets,” Mr. Pompeo said via a statement released on Monday.

•“We will continue to apply maximum pressure on the Iranian regime until its leaders change their destructive behaviour, respect the rights of the Iranian people, and return to the negotiating table.”

•India, China and U.S. allies Japan, South Korea and Turkey will be the most impacted by the non-renewal of waivers. The other three currently exempted countries — Italy, Greece and Taiwan — have already reduced their imports to zero.

•“We’re going to zero. We are going to zero across the board,” Mr. Pompeo told the press.

Nations warned against trade with Iran

•“Any nation or entity interacting with Iran should do its diligence and err on the side of caution. The risks are simply not going to be worth the benefits,” Mr Pompeo said.

•Earlier in April, India’s Ministry of External Affairs (MEA), had said that India and the U.S. were “ continually engaged” on the issue of India’s oil imports from Iran since sanctions kicked in last November The Hindu had reported. U.S. Under Secretary for Terrorism and Financial Intelligence Sigal Mandelkar, had visited New Delhi in early April to discuss the issue.

•That an announcement of this nature was imminent, was first reported by the Washington Post on Sunday. The price of global benchmark brent crude hit a six month intraday high on Monday.

•Oil exports from Iran hit a low of 1.0 to 1.0 million bpd in March this year – down from 2.5 million bpd in April 2018. The U.S. announced that it would withdraw from the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA) or “ Iran deal” in May.

•The U.S. has tried to allay fears that oil markets will be impacted following the decision to stop exemptions. Organization of the Petroleum Exporting Countries (OPEC), the global oil cartel led by Saudi Arabia, has been coordinating with Russia to cut oil supply since January.

•“Saudi Arabia and others in OPEC will more than make up the Oil Flow difference in our now Full Sanctions on Iranian Oil,” US President Donald Trump tweeted on Monday.

•“We have had extensive and productive discussions with Saudi Arabia, the United Arab Emirates, and other major producers to ease this transition and ensure sufficient supply. This, in addition to increasing U.S. production, underscores our confidence that energy markets will remain well supplied,” Mr Pompeo’s statement said.

•The sanctions have provided the U.S. an opportunity to put more of its own crude on the market. U.S. crude production was 1.6 million bpd higher than it was in 2017, and an additional 1.5 million bpd is expected in 2019, according to Mr Pompeo.

•The White House and State Department have worked closely on the sanctions waiver issue and the White House issued its on statement on Monday.

•“ The President’s decision to eliminate all SREs follows the designation of the Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps as a Foreign Terrorist Organization, demonstrating the United States commitment to disrupting Iran’s terror network and changing the regime’s malign behavior. We welcome the support of our friends and allies for this effort,” the White House Press Secretary Sarah Sanders said via a statement.

πŸ“° IMA threatens agitation over bridge course proposal

The course will allow dentists to practice family medicine

•The allopathic practitioners are up in arms over the NITI Aayog’s proposal to bring in a bridge course between the Bachelor of Dental Surgery (BDS) and the MBBS allowing dentists to practice family medicine with the Indian Medical Association (IMA) threatening nationwide agitation in case the proposal is taken forward.

•The Central government noted that it was “trying to plug the shortage of doctors using the fact that the dental courses follow the same training and curriculum as the MBBS courses for the first three years’’.

•“The human resource created will cater to primary health care,’’ said a senior official. While talks about the bridge course had been around for over a year now, the NITI Aayog had earlier proposed a bridge course for Ayush (Ayurvedic, Homeopathic, Siddha and Unani) doctors in the National Medical Commission Bill meant to replace the Indian Medical Council Act.

•Following pressure from the IMA, the course which would enable the Ayush doctors to practice allopathic medicine and reduce the shortage of doctors in rural areas was rejected.

•“It is a criminal offence to let dentists into mainstream medicine by just doing a bridge course,” said IMA president Dr. Santanu Sen.

•“The government is not able to generate jobs for medical graduates. 63,250 MBBS graduates come out of 494 medical colleges and we have only 23,729 post-graduate seats. Every year the unemployment among young medical graduates is a cause for great concern then how can government say that they will give jobs to dentists,’’ he asked.

•Dr. R.V. Asokan, honorary secretary general of the IMA, said across India MBBS graduates were not being absorbed into post-raduate courses and there was also no creation of new posts, new primary health care centres etc with the government stating that budget was a constraint.

•“The IMA demands that medical graduates be given their due, the health budget be flexed to include job creation for them and the government immediately abandon their half-baked proposal to convert dentists, nurses, pharmacists and Ayush practitioners into mid-level medical practitioners. IMA is left with no choice but to initiate a nation-wide protest against the move,’’ he said.

πŸ“° SC seeks replies from Centre, J&K on highway traffic ban

State govt. has barred civilian traffic two days a week

•The Supreme Court on Monday sought responses from the Centre and Jammu and Kashmir on a plea seeking quashing of an order which restricts civilian traffic two days a week on the national highway (NH) stretch from Udhampur to Baramulla for movement of security forces.

Pulwama attack

•The State government issued an order on April 3 in which it said that keeping in view the Pulwama terror attack, another car bomb attack on security forces’ convoy at Banihal and movement of forces during the Lok Sabha elections, no civilian traffic movement would be allowed on the NH stretch from 4 a.m. to 5 p.m. twice a week.

•The order said there would be two “dedicated days every week” — Sunday and Wednesday — for movement of security forces’ convoy when there would be no civilian traffic on the national highway from Baramulla to Udhampur. The regulation of the vehicular movement on the NH would remain in force till May 31.

•A plea challenging the April 3 order came up for hearing on Monday before a Bench headed by Chief Justice Ranjan Gogoi which ordered issue of notice, returnable within two weeks.

•The petition has been filed by Muzzafar Shah, senior vice-president of ‘Awami National Conference’, and social worker Yasmeen Sonaullah.

•The plea alleged that the “absurd and draconian decision” to restrict civilian traffic movement on the 270 km stretch on the highway directly affects lives of lakhs of people and “its indirect economic and social impact is interminable.”

•“The impugned order means a virtual lockdown of the valley two days every week which will directly affect 10,000 vehicles plying every hour, which include vehicles carrying patients, students, tourists, businessmen and government officials,” the plea said, adding, “such an extreme step was not even adopted during the Kargil War in 1999.”

•The petitioner said: “It is further submitted that the illogical, vindictive and notorious order would result in offices, schools, colleges, banks, airports, railway stations shut every two days a week.”

•It alleged that the prohibition on civilian traffic on the highway will have a “disastrous impact” on the tourism industry and it was a “collective punishment” for the people of Kashmir.

πŸ“° Staff entitled to information on defunct company, says CIC

RTI plea on Cambata Aviation likely to help Jet Airways, Kingfisher employees as well

•As Jet Airways’ employees protest their delayed salaries and demand financial support from lenders to revive the airline, the Central Information Commission has delivered a ruling in favour of the employees of another beleaguered aviation company which may empower the former.

•In August 2016, India’s first private ground-handling company Cambata Aviation stopped operations, leaving around 2,700 employees in the lurch with pending salaries and unpaid benefits. Later, allegations of tax fraud and financial irregularities reportedly brought the company under the scanner of the Enforcement Directorate.

Aggrieved employee

•Long-time Cambata employee Subramanian K. Ansari had filed an RTI request demanding financial and regulatory information about the company from the Income Tax department, but was denied on the grounds that it was personal information. On appeal, the I-T Department had asked Cambata permission to release the information, but was promptly denied.

•Last week, the CIC ruled that the information must be released, keeping in mind the larger public interest of not just Cambata employees, but those of Jet Airways and the defunct Kingfisher Airlines as well.

•In his ruling last Thursday, Central Information Commissioner Bimal Julka ruled that the exemption given to “personal information” under the RTI Act referred to an individual human being and not a corporate entity. He added that the details sought were in the larger public interest of the company’s employees.

•“The issue of non-payment of salary/ wages and other statutory dues to employees was certainly a grave matter which could not be brushed aside especially taking into consideration the turmoil and hardships faced by similar employees of Companies such as Kingfisher Airlines and recently Jet Airways, which were once considered as behemoths of the Civil Aviation Sector/ Industry in the wake of the losses incurred by such companies,” said the ruling.

•The RTI applicant had alleged that Cambata had wilfully defaulted in payment of statutory dues of Provident Fund, medical and life insurance and other employee benefits, apart from depriving workers of their salaries, resulting in extreme financial hardship. It had also not issued Form 16 to employees from 2014-15, he said.

•“The Commission cannot be a mute spectator to the pitiable conditions being faced by the employees,” said Mr. Julka’s ruling.

πŸ“° A half-written promise

Political parties must steer public debate to crucial issues relating to women’s health and reproductive rights

•The 2019 general election has brought to the forefront hotly contested political issues and promises. But one area of reform that has just not been an important electoral issue is the sexual and reproductive rights of women. While all major parties make some piecemeal promises to women, the recognition of sexual and reproductive rights is almost negligible. This is despite the recent progressive legal work in courts.

The fine print

•It is revealing to examine the narrow ways in which political parties have addressed reproductive rights. For example, the Congress manifesto says the party will pass suitable legislation to make registration of marriages compulsory and to enforce the law prohibiting child marriages. The Bharatiya Janata Party’s manifesto interestingly focusses on women’s menstruation and says it will ensure that all reproductive and menstrual health services are easily available to all women across India. Further, with the expansion of the Suvidha scheme, sanitary pads at a cost of ₹1 will be provided to all women and girls. The CPI(M) has promised to make marital rape an offence and to ensure strict implementation of the Pre-conception and Pre-Natal Diagnostic Techniques (Prohibition of Sex Selection) Act (PCPNDT) Act, which prohibits sex determination tests and female foeticide.

•This is the extent to which reproductive rights are understood in India — child marriage, female foeticide, sex selection and menstrual health and hygiene. These are extremely important issues but are selective.

•Sexual and reproductive rights in India must include a concern with maternal deaths, access to maternal care to safe abortions, access to contraceptives, adolescent sexuality, prohibition of forced medical procedures such as forced sterilisations and removal of stigma and discrimination against women, girls and LGBTI persons on the basis of their gender, sexuality and access to treatment.

Data on India

•India has among the highest number of maternal deaths worldwide (which UNICEF India and World Bank data put at an estimated 45,000 maternal deaths every year, or an average of one maternal death every 12 minutes). Unsafe abortions are the third leading cause of maternal deaths in India. Research by Susheela Singh and others (The Lancet, January 2018) shows that half the pregnancies in India are unintended and that a third result in abortion. Only 22% of abortions are done through public or private health facilities.

•Lack of access to safe abortion clinics, particularly public hospitals, and stigma and attitudes toward women, especially young, unmarried women seeking abortion, contribute to this. Doctors refuse to perform abortions on young women or demand that they get consent from their parents or spouses despite no such requirement by law. This forces many women to turn to clandestine and often unsafe abortions. The Medical Termination of Pregnancy Act, 1971 provides for termination only up to 20 weeks. If an unwanted pregnancy has proceeded beyond 20 weeks, women have to approach a medical board and courts to seek permission for termination, which is extremely difficult. The MTP Act is long overdue for a comprehensive reform.

•The Supreme Court, on the other hand, has been extremely progressive on women’s reproductive rights. The court in decriminalising adultery and in the Navtej Johar judgment striking down Section 377 held clearly, that women have a right to sexual autonomy, which is an important facet of their right to personal liberty. In the landmark Puttaswamy judgment in which the right to privacy was held to be a fundamental right, the Supreme Court held: “Privacy includes at its core the preservation of personal intimacies, the sanctity of family life, marriage, procreation, the home and sexual orientation... Privacy safeguards individual autonomy and recognises the ability of the individual to control vital aspects of his or her life.”

•In the case of Independent Thought v. Union of India in the context of reproductive rights of girls, Justices M.B. Lokur and Deepak Gupta held, “The human rights of a girl child are very much alive and kicking whether she is married or not and deserve recognition and acceptance.” These judgments have an important bearing on the sexual and reproductive rights of women. The right of women and girls to safe abortion is an important facet of their right to bodily integrity, right to life and equality and needs to be protected.

•Political parties, which also represent India’s women, have an obligation to take forward the debates on reproductive rights, equality, and access to abortion in political debates as well as in framing laws and policies.

Safe abortions

•The responsibility also lies with civil society and development actors to bring up these issues for public debate and in demands. The silence around unsafe abortions is leading to deaths of women and hides important problems that lie at the intersection of these concerns, such as the formidable barriers for adolescent girls to access reproductive health services, including abortion services. The right to safe abortion is an important political issue that must be addressed and widely debated, particularly if parties and leaders are committed to women’s human rights.

•Access to legal and safe abortion is an integral dimension of sexual and reproductive equality, a public health issue, and must be seen as a crucial element in the contemporary debates on democracy.

πŸ“° Sunday, bloody Sunday: On Sri Lanka Easter blasts

Preventing further attacks and keeping the peace are vital in Sri Lanka

•The serial blasts on Easter Sunday rank as the worst bloodbath Sri Lanka has seen since the end of the civil war in 2009. It is a monumental tragedy for a country that is trying to live down the strife that lasted more than a quarter century. In what could be the handiwork of a local Islamist radical group, as many as 290 people are dead, and nearly 500 wounded in multiple blasts, a few of them involving suicide bombers. The targets chosen as well as the occasion suggest that the bombings were aimed at gaining maximum global attention. The coordinated blasts took place while guests were having breakfast in three luxury hotels frequented by foreign tourists close to the seafront in the capital, and worshippers had gathered for Easter in a church each in Colombo, Negombo on the western coast and the eastern town of Batticaloa. The most immediate impact will be on the economy, to which the well-run tourism industry is a huge contributor. Already the economy is going through a rough patch, as the country grapples with the aftermath of the political instability that prevailed a few months ago. The spectre of ethnic relations between various communities deteriorating also looms. The small Muslim minority, caught in the crosshairs of the conflict in the past, and Christians, an even smaller minority, have faced violent attacks by hardline Sinhala Buddhist groups. However, nothing in such incidents suggested any acrimony that could have led up to the sort of savagery seen on Easter day.

•Reports that specific overseas intelligence inputs were not taken seriously are disturbing. The inquiry ordered by President Maithripala Sirisena will, it is hoped, address the concern voiced by Prime Minister Ranil Wickremesinghe, that he and his ministers were kept in the dark about these inputs. However, the administration responded admirably to the situation, especially in preventing the spread of rumours and any backlash against sections of society. Possibly following the New Zealand example, the government and the security establishment sought to deny the group any immediate ideological mileage and any claim to putative martyrdom by not identifying the group involved. It has now been named as the ‘National Thowheed Jamaat’. However, intriguingly, no group has owned responsibility for the blasts, something extremist outfits are wont to do to attract recruits and strike terror on a global scale. Given the scale and sophistication of the operation, which would have involved reconnoitring targets, assembling and transporting explosives and detonators, it does not seem likely that a solely indigenous group would have the wherewithal to carry it out. The neighbourhood will closely watch the investigation, as it may reveal the extent to which the shadow of the Islamic State is falling on the South Asian region.

πŸ“° Line of caution: On suspension of cross-LoC trade

The suspension of cross-LoC trade will cause hardship — it must be revoked

•The Central government’s decision to suspend trade across the Line of Control between Jammu and Kashmir and Pakistan-occupied Kashmir is bad in conception, and comes at a particularly fraught time. On April 18, the Ministry of Home Affairs announced the suspension from midnight of trade at the two designated points at Salamabad and Chakan-da-Bagh, citing concerns about “illegal weapons, narcotics and fake currency” being transported into India. It is also being argued that the zero-tariff barter arrangement is being violated through under-invoicing and the exchange of third party items such as U.S.-origin California almonds. The first is presumably a way to transfer funds; and the second would be to exploit the zero-tariff trade, something brought up by traders who operate via the Wagah border. The government’s concerns may be well-founded, but the solution to violations of a trade agreement is to enforce the rules stringently, not stop exchange of goods and put at risk the livelihood of countless people on both sides of the LoC. At a protest in Srinagar against the trade suspension, for instance, a leader of the cross-LoC traders association argued that they had, in fact, themselves been seeking a “foolproof mechanism” to enforce the terms of the agreement.

•The benefits to the local economies from the cross-LoC trade are beyond doubt. It is estimated that since the barter trade commenced along two routes across the LoC in October 2008, employment to the order of more than 1.6 lakh days had been created. The volume of trade over the decade has crossed ₹6,000 crore. It must be kept in mind that the trade is mostly of local goods, and those employed, including in the transportation, are from border communities. The opening of cross-LoC trade was among the confidence-building mechanisms that followed the 2003 India-Pakistan ceasefire along the line, and that included a bus service between Srinagar and Muzaffarabad (in PoK). The hope of the mid-2000s that people-to-people contact between those living in J&K and PoK would over time become obstruction-free has, for now, faded. But the LoC trade has held, with just the occasional disruption. The current suspension comes in the course of a shrill election campaign that the ruling BJP is relentlessly pulling towards its hard line on subjects such as Article 370 on the special status of J&K. The government has sent unsettling signals by closing the National Highway between Udhampur and Baramulla to civilian traffic for two days a week to secure the movement of troop convoys. To now summarily suspend LoC trade is to invite suspicion that the step has been taken without careful consideration of the consequences and also for political reasons. The suspension must be urgently revoked.

πŸ“° The court is not above the Constitution

The expectation of citizens is that the Supreme Court will lead by example, not by arbitrary diktat

•In the midst of the political turmoil of a testing election season, a former junior court assistant at the Supreme Court sent copies of a sworn affidavit to 22 judges of the Supreme Court alleging sexual harassment by the Chief Justice of India and intimidation of her family members. The nature of the allegations is serious, and for a lesser citizen, it would prima facie have set the ball rolling on investigations, inquiries and appropriate actions by duly appointed committees. The fact that this is the correct course of action need not in this case detract from the cardinal principle of criminal law on the burden of proof — innocent until proven guilty.

Derailing fair procedure

•The immediate response of the Secretary General of the Supreme Court to the affidavit goes along predictable lines: “The allegations... are completely and absolutely false and scurrilous and are totally denied... The motive... is obviously mischievous... It would be extremely relevant to mention that the concerned individual and her family have criminal antecedents... It is not only mischievous but a complete afterthoght (sic) of her to make these false allegations at this time... In fact there were complaints made against her... to the Secretary General on account of her inappropriate behaviour... Apart from the misconduct formally recorded, there were other counts of misconduct on her part... Its (sic) is also very possible that there are mischievous forces behind all this, with an intention to malign the institution.”

•In her affidavit, the complainant spoke of specific incidents, harassment of a specific nature, and against a specific person. Nothing in her sworn affidavit can on the face of it be construed as a general derogatory statement of the Supreme Court as an institution, nor as the general behaviour of judges of the Supreme Court. If there is an allegation against a specific person who occupies a high office, it is not an assault on the office. Construing it as such would pave the way to arbitrariness and impunity, and would undermine the Constitution that binds the court in irredeemable ways. On the other hand, it is possible that a thorough, impartial and fair investigation that is mindful of the asymmetries of power between the complainant and the respondent might find the complaint without basis. Instead, we find the first response on behalf of the respondent taking easy resort to “criminal antecedents” of the complainant and her family, as if that by itself negates the possibility of her being subjected to sexual intimidation. To derail the mere possibility of fair procedure is unacceptable by any standards.

•The order passed shows the case as a ‘Suo Motu Writ Petition (Civil) No. 1’ and lists the Advocate General and the Solicitor General as Parties. The result of the special hearing was a gag-like order on the media signed by two judges, Justices Arun Mishra and Sanjiv Khanna: “Having considered the matter, we refrain from passing any judicial order at this moment leaving it to the wisdom of the media to show restraint, act responsibly as is expected from them and accordingly decide what should or should not be published as wild and scandalous allegations undermine and irreparably damage reputation and negate independence of judiciary. We would therefore at this juncture leave it to the media to take off such material which is undesirable.” The CJI was not one of the signatories, although he was present and spoke at the hearing.

•It is important to understand that although this issue has sent a shudder all around and gasps of disbelief and shock, the manner in which the complaint has been received and handled by sections of the Bench and sections of the Bar has been disconcerting to many in the legal profession. The Bar Council of India’s statement speaks eloquently of its own standard: “The cock and bull story has been cooked up to plot some big conspiracy against the institution. Bar is fully standing with our CJI and the Judges of Supreme Court.” The fact is that the Bar Council of India does not speak for all lawyers in the country, as the response of the Women in Criminal Law Association (WCLA) makes evident. The WCLA published a detailed statement demanding a free and fair investigation by a panel that excluded the three judges who constituted the Bench in the first sitting and demanded that the CJI not hold office till the inquiry is completed.

•The Supreme Court Advocates on Record Association and the Executive Committee of the Supreme Court Bar Association passed resolutions on April 22 disapproving the manner in which the complaint was dealt with and asserting the urgency of an independent impartial inquiry. These resolutions must be viewed in the light of conspiracy theories alluded to by the Bar Council of India and Finance Minister Arun Jaitley’s statement that this was the work of “institution destabilisers” who represent “Left or ultra Left views”. This attempt to impute a conspiracy jeopardises the security of the complainant, her family and anyone who provides support in securing redress.

•The court is unlike other institutional settings — the Supreme Court is sequestered and the constitutional office of the Chief Justice of India is deemed sacred and inviolable. The argument is that an independent judiciary is indispensable to check arbitrariness on the part of the legislature and government. What is often forgotten is that an independent judiciary also importantly acts as a check on itself, and must apply the principles of natural justice and fair procedure to itself with greater rigour than it would to the parties that appear before the court. The expectation of citizens is that the court will lead by example, not by arbitrary diktat. The expectation also is that constitutional morality will guide the court, especially the Justices of the court, at all times; the constitutional presumption is that the court is not above the Constitution.

The time to dissent is now

•This very court, in the judgment on the right to privacy, observed unequivocally that judges have in the past erred in judgment, in an understanding of their powers and in their understanding of the Constitution and the rule of law. Can we forget Justice Rohinton Nariman’s emotionally charged recall of the “three great dissents”? Can we forget Justice D.Y. Chandrachud’s statement, “When histories of nations are written and critiqued, there are judicial decisions at the forefront of liberty. Yet others have to be consigned to the archives, reflective of what was, but should never have been…”? And it is the thin line of judicial dissents that has moved centre stage in our understanding of India’s constitutional history today. Given the recent resurrection of dissents by the Supreme Court, it is important not to foreclose the possibility of judicial dissent by generalising the actions of the three justices to all the judges of the court. For, after all, to borrow in part from Justice Chandrachud, judicial dissent is the safety valve of constitutionalism. And dissent must be seen to be done. The time is now.

πŸ“° U.S. warns nations against trade with Iran

•U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo on Monday warned nations against interacting with Iran in violation of the sanctions. “Any nation or entity interacting with Iran should do its diligence and err on the side of caution. The risks are simply not going to be worth the benefits,” Mr. Pompeo said.

•Earlier in April, India’s Ministry of External Affairs (MEA), had said that India and the U.S. were “continually engaged” on the issue of India’s oil imports from Iran since sanctions kicked in last November, The Hindu had reported.

•U.S. Under Secretary for Terrorism and Financial Intelligence Sigal Mandelkar had visited New Delhi in early April to discuss the issue.

•That an announcement of this nature was imminent, was first reported by theWashington Post on Sunday. The price of global benchmark brent crude hit a six-month intraday high on Monday.

•Oil exports from Iran hit a low of 1.0 to 1.0 million bpd in March this year – down from 2.5 million bpd in April 2018. The U.S. announced that it would withdraw from the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA) or “ Iran deal” in May.

•The U.S. has tried to allay fears that oil markets will be impacted following the decision to stop exemptions. Organization of the Petroleum Exporting Countries (OPEC), the global oil cartel led by Saudi Arabia, has been coordinating with Russia to cut oil supply since January.

•“Saudi Arabia and others in OPEC will more than make up the Oil Flow difference in our now Full Sanctions on Iranian Oil,” U.S. President Donald Trump tweeted on Monday.

πŸ“° Down to earth on the ASAT test

India has neither achieved a higher level of deterrence nor enabled a more stable strategic security environment

•Shortly before noon on March 27, India carried out a successful test of an Anti-Satellite (ASAT) weapon, launching an interceptor missile from the Balasore range in Odisha to hit a live satellite in Low Earth Orbit. It thus became the fourth country in the world to develop an ASAT capability.

Not a game changer

•An ASAT test is hardly a game-changer as far as space warfare is concerned. Yet, the element of triumphalism seen in the Prime Minister’s announcement on television regarding the test seemed to send out a message that India was on the threshold of embarking on a new era of weaponisation of outer space. Official circles may have preferred to project the test as a technology demonstrator, but the Prime Minister’s claim that India was now capable of performing as a ‘chowkidar’ in space, and several claims that India now had a “credible deterrence” against attacks on the country’s growing number of space assets seemed to suggest that India was not averse to weaponisation of outer space.

•India has, no doubt, sought to reassure the global community that it has not violated any international treaty or understanding with this test. India has also taken great pains to advertise the fact that the international community, especially the U.S., had not faulted India for carrying out this test, in marked contrast to what had happened when China had carried out an ASAT test in 2007. Nevertheless, it would be facile to think that the world endorses India’s claims regarding its peaceful intentions.

•India’s demonstration of ASAT capability comes a little more than a decade after China’s, and nearly six decades after that of the U.S. and Russia. An ASAT test is, undoubtedly, less threatening than a nuclear explosion, but the world is likely to ask why India decided to demonstrate its capability at this time, though it possessed the ability much earlier. The implications of carrying out a test of this nature, as also the concerns that previously existed about doing so, are no secret from the global community of space experts. Why India chose to ‘cross the Rubicon’ by testing an ASAT weapon at this juncture is, hence, likely to cause consternation among many, given the tacit agreement among nations not to weaponise outer space. The international community cannot be faulted if it were to think that India had deliberately breached an unwritten convention against weaponisation or militarisation of outer space.

•ASAT capabilities are generally perceived as integral to ballistic missile defence programmes. This clearly identifies an ASAT test as a military programme. In turn, it implies an intention to embark on weaponisation of outer space. It is, perhaps, for this reason that countries such as Israel and France, which are believed to have this capability, have so far refrained from carrying out such tests.

Cold War phenomenon

•Given the hype surrounding ASAT weapons, it is also germane to mention that their strategic importance in providing effective deterrence in space is highly debatable today. ASAT was essentially a Cold War phenomenon whose strategic importance has declined over the years. Currently, none of the other three countries which possess an ASAT capability extol its strategic value and importance. The U.S., Russia and China, all seem to demonstrate less and less interest in pursuing ASAT weaponry. These countries are increasingly focussing on laser and cyber capabilities to achieve the objective of neutralising killer satellites. Countries are experimenting with directed-energy weapons, radio frequency weapons, etc. rather than concentrating on shooting down satellites in space. The last named also carries the danger of hitting satellites that may not be on an offensive mission, apart from the issue of space debris.

•It is again a moot point whether India’s ASAT test, and its positioning as a critical element in India’s strategic defence capability, will have the desired impact that the nation’s leaders hope for. It could well result in something very different. It is almost certain, as was the case with India’s nuclear test, that Pakistan will immediately try to acquire the same capability, in all likelihood with generous assistance from China. China can also be expected to become increasingly wary of India’s intentions in space, and take appropriate counter-measures. The bottom line is that by carrying out the March 27 test, India has neither achieved a higher level of deterrence nor is it likely to lead to a more stable strategic security environment.

•India would, hence, do well to play down the military objective of its ASAT test, all the more so given that the Indian Space Research Organisation (ISRO) recently indicated that it has, of late, carried out certain new launches such as the Microsat-R and EMISAT satellites which are intended for ‘strategic use’. More ‘defence satellites’ are reportedly in the offing. This could only fuel concerns about where India is headed. Countries not too well disposed towards India such as Pakistan and China — and perhaps some others as well — may well be carried away by our professed capabilities, and be inclined to fear the worst. This could give a country such as Pakistan ‘itchier trigger fingers’.

Neighbourhood concerns

•India’s strategic planners also would not be oblivious to the fact that it does not take much imagination, given the plethora of information coming from drone feeds, satellite data and claims made by responsible leaders, for countries to develop a totally distorted picture of an adversary’s capabilities and threat. The mere existence of such a situation could lead to heightened tensions. Based in one of the most dangerous neighbourhoods in the world, India needs to do everything in its power to convince other nations that space is not part of India’s overt defence calculations.

•Instead, India should highlight the fact that its enormously successful space programme, unlike those of many other countries, is notable for being conceived and implemented as a civilian programme, quite distinct and separate from any military programme or objective. It is this which distinguishes India’s space programme from that of countries such as the U.S., Russia and China. India’s space programme — totally civilian in nature — was conceived back in the 1960s. ISRO was set up in 1969, and the Space Commission came into existence in the early 1970s. Vikram Sarabhai is credited with creating India’s vision for exploration of space and, following his untimely demise in 1971, the mantle fell on Satish Dhawan.

•It would be useful to stress that both Sarabhai and Dhawan, especially the latter, were particular that India’s space programme should steer clear of any military dimension, and that it should solely concern itself with communications, weather forecasting and the like. Consequently, India’s space programme had always steered clear of any military objectives.

•India’s achievements in space have been many and it has several milestones to its credit. ISRO launched its first Indian satellite, Aryabhatta, in April 1975. In April 1982, ISRO launched the first Indian National Satellite System (INSAT-1A). The first Geosynchronous Satellite Launch Vehicle (GSLV) took off from Sriharikota in 2001. In October 2008, ISRO launched Chandrayaan-1, the first Indian planetary science and exploration mission to the moon. In November 2013, ISRO launched the Mars Orbiter Mission (Mangalyaan) spacecraft. Since then there have been many more launches.

Sarabhai’s legacy

•A generation of internationally recognised Indian space scientists (among whom may be mentioned U.R. Rao and K. Kasturirangan) after Sarabhai and Dhawan have scrupulously adhered to the same peaceful mission of the earlier preceptors, and seen to it that India steered clear of weaponisation of space, remaining committed to non-military applications.

•It is critically important for those in authority to take up this task in all earnestness lest the view prevails, as is already evident in some circles, that India is keen to embark on weaponisation and militarisation of outer space. There is little strategic advantage accruing from an ASAT test; on the other hand the damage that could be caused to India’s image as a peaceful and responsible nation intent on, and committed to, peaceful uses of space could be immense.

πŸ“° Earth Day: saving the planet may cost $100 billion per year

Scientists propose a policy to prevent another mass extinction event

•Saving the diversity and abundance of life on the earth may cost $100 billion a year, say scientists who have proposed a policy to prevent another mass extinction event on the planet.

•There have been five mass extinctions in the history of the earth. Scientists now estimate that society must urgently come to grips this coming decade to stop the very first human-made biodiversity catastrophe.

•“The sixth extinction is on our society’s shoulders; it really is,” ecologist Greg Asner, of Arizona State University in the U.S., said in a statement on the occasion of Earth day.

•Mr. Asner is one of 19 international authors with a bold new science policy proposal to reverse the tide, called “A Global Deal for Nature” (GDN). The policy’s mission is to save the diversity and abundance of life on the earth — for the price tag of $100 billion a year.

Companion pact

•Societal investment in the GDN plan would, for the first time, integrate and implement climate and nature deals on a global scale to avoid human upheaval and biodiversity loss.

•While the 2015 Paris Climate Agreement was the first major accord to take global action toward climate change policies, the international team of GDN scientists believe a similar companion pact is desperately needed to implement the very first global nature conservation plan to meet these challenges.

•“The Global Deal for Nature is a time-bound, science-based plan to save the diversity and abundance of life on Earth. Achieving the milestones and targets of the Global Deal for Nature is the best gift we can offer to future generations—an environmental reset, a pathway to an Eden 2.0,” said Eric Dinerstein, of the U.S.-based nongovernmental organisation Resolve.

•The study, published in Science Advances, outlines the guiding principles, milestones and targets needed to avoid the extinction threats of a two degrees Celsius warming forecast.