The HINDU Notes – 02nd July 2019 - VISION

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Wednesday, July 03, 2019

The HINDU Notes – 02nd July 2019

📰 Iran says it has breached stockpile limit under nuclear deal

Iran has threatened to increase its enrichment of uranium closer to weapons-grade levels by July 7

•Iran acknowledged on Monday that it had broken the limit set on its stockpile of low-enriched uranium by the 2015 nuclear deal, marking its first major departure from the unraveling agreement a year after the U.S. unilaterally withdrew from the accord.

•Iran had been expected for days to acknowledge it broke the limit after earlier warning it would do so. It held off on publicly making an announcement as European leaders met on June 28 in Vienna to discuss ways to save the accord. Iran has threatened to increase its enrichment of uranium closer to weapons-grade levels by July 7.

•The announcement comes as tensions remain high between Iran and the U.S. In recent weeks, the wider Persian Gulf has seen Iran shoot down an U.S. military surveillance drone, mysterious attacks on oil tankers and Iranian-backed rebels in Yemen launching bomb-laden drones into Saudi Arabia.

•The State-run IRNA news agency quoted Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif as making the uranium announcement. IRNA reported that Mr. Zarif, answering a reporter’s question whether Iran had broken the limit, said, “Yes.”

•“If Europeans do what they have to do, our measures are reversible,” Mr. Zarif said, according to IRNA.

•Mr. Zarif did not say how much low-enriched uranium had on hand, IRNA said.

•The United Nations’ nuclear watchdog, the International Atomic Energy Agency, declined to say on July 1 whether Iran had broken through the limit.

•“Our inspectors are on the ground and they will report to headquarters as soon as the [low-enriched uranium] stockpile has been verified,” the agency said.

•Breaking the stockpile limit by itself doesn’t radically change the one year experts say Iran would need to have enough material for an atomic bomb, if it to chooses to pursue one. Iran long has insisted its nuclear programme is for peaceful purposes, despite Western fears about it.

•But, by coupling an increasing stockpile with higher enrichment, it begins to close that one-year window and hamper any diplomatic efforts at saving the accord.

•Under terms of the nuclear deal, Iran agreed to have less than 300 kilograms of uranium enriched to a maximum of 3.67%. Previously, Iran enriched as high as 20%, which is a short technical step away from reaching weapons-grade levels. It also held up to 10,000 kg of the higher-enriched uranium.

•At the time of the 2015 deal, which was agreed to by Iran, the United States, China, Russia, Germany, France and Britain, experts believed Iran needed anywhere from several weeks to three months to have enough material for a bomb.

•Mr. Zarif was quoted as also saying that the country remained on track to raise its enrichment if Europe did not take any additional steps toward saving the accord. “The next step is about the 3.67% limitation, which we will implement too,” he warned.

📰 A blatant quest to consolidate power

‘One Nation One Poll’ limits to a single moment the opportunities to judge, evaluate and vote — the essence of freedom

•Just over a month after the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) won an absolute majority in the 17th Lok Sabha, Prime Minister Narendra Modi has now urged parties to fall behind his ‘One Nation – One Election’ (ONOE) proposition: that State and national elections be held at a single point.

•The idea exposes the subversion of democracy. The ONOE puts the nationally incumbent party at an advantage in State elections, a position that the BJP now enjoys. The incumbent can deploy government machinery for State campaigns, a mega persona birthed for a national campaign can be fed into State ones, and a last-ditch sleight-of-hand that wins the Centre may land victories in the States. Perhaps the BJP sees the ONOE as the remedy to the spectre of its losses in Chhattisgarh, Madhya Pradesh and Rajasthan in the 18 months before a national win. Perhaps the party would have won in those States in the currents of an exploitative military nationalism launched in February 2019.

Roots in Gujarat

•The ONOE catchphrase harks back to a moniker from Mr. Modi’s rule in Gujarat, where he introduced the idea of samras village panchayats — sarpanches selected ‘unanimously’ or by ‘consensus’. First floated in 2002, the idea was repeated in 2006. Sarpanches command significant resources, wield power, and deliver development largely through clientelism, echoing the workings of elected leaders at the highest level. Elections give voters the same chance to oust a sarpanch who has skewed the distribution of development, as to expel a ruling party at the State or Centre. Samras gave incumbents an advantage in being reappointed as sarpanch (they were already panchayat leaders, had financial and tactical resources, and were networked with government officials and party actors).

•In Dahod, a predominantly Adivasi district bordering Madhya Pradesh and Rajasthan where I was feel more adventurous about ousting the State’s incumbent. The germs of many of Mr. Modi’s ideas lie in Gujarat, and their finessed forms have been deployed on a national scale since he emerged as the BJP’s prime ministerial candidate in 2014. The ONOE is the next point in the Prime Minister’s attempt to quash the Opposition that a democratic exercise may throw up.

•Why does Mr. Modi seek to reduce the electorate’s verdict on his performance to a single point in time? Does another spectre, this time viewed from New Delhi, haunt the Prime Minister: that of multiple disenchanted constituencies (rural voters, the poor, Other Backward Classes, Adivasis, Dalits, religious minorities, and others) voicing their verdict in State election after another, and the domino effect this may have on the 2024 Lok Sabha poll? Assembly polls are due in Haryana, Jharkhand and Maharashtra in 2019, Bihar and Delhi in 2020, and West Bengal in 2021. Assembly elections are related to myriad pressing issues, the result of complex interactions of State and national government policies.

•As the BJP enters a second term at the Centre, several crises loom larger than before such as a banking crisis, unemployment, an economic slowdown, agrarian distress, a water crisis, and privatised health care and education systems. Mr. Modi appears to count on the din of a national campaign that the ONOE would invariably produce to carry both State and national elections for the incumbent at the Centre.

•doing fieldwork on how panchayats delivered rural development, bureaucrats confided that samras sprang partly from the Gujarat government’s failure to respond to the floods in Surat in 2006. The government’s incompetence was on display across national TV. Surat could have been the tipping point in a series of anti-people policies, including programmes of purported ‘greening’ and beautification that had displaced the urban poor, and rural schemes such as Vanbandhu Kalyan Yojana remaining largely unimplemented, with funds later found to be ‘unavailable’ and the scheme quietly withdrawn.

•Panchayat elections were due in December 2006, and Assembly elections in 2007. Political parties mobilise votes for Assembly elections through sarpanches, and as the ruling party, the BJP had close ties with incumbents. Perhaps Mr. Modi feared that new sarpanches would be more equivocal about supporting the party in 2007. Perhaps the act of ousting a panchayat incumbent would make people 

Similar justifications

•Mr. Modi justified samras by citing extreme spending by contestants and a drain on the exchequer, rationales now used to justify the ONOE. This, while proposals for State funding of elections languish, the Modi government introduced the electoral bond scheme in 2017 which renders donors to political parties opaque, and the BJP ran the most expensive campaign in India’s history in the 2019 Lok Sabha poll. In Dahod, voters remarked that samras would simply shift contestants’ spending from voters to other contestants to take them off the race. In the lead-up to Gujarat’s panchayat elections in 2006, block development officers, revenue collectors and local BJP leaders pressured candidates to drop out of the race. Defiant candidates were verbally threatened with jail terms, and defiant villages were threatened with the withdrawal of development schemes.

•Despite that, in Mahipura village where I did long-term fieldwork, and many others, contestants rejected samras, knowing that an election rather than ‘unanimous selection’, accorded legitimate power. A common comeback was ‘Why doesn’t Mr. Modi implement samras for his own seat?’ At the end of the panchayat elections in December, Dahod had one of the lowest samras rates across Gujarat. Incidentally, the district is overwhelmingly rural, resource-poor, and inhabited largely by Other Backward Classes, Adivasis and Dalits. Political freedom must appear particularly hard-won to its denizens. One contestant returned to a block development officer, saying, “Consensus pending consent, else not.” Candidates knew that samras gave an edge to an incumbent sarpanch, just as the ONOE would tilt the scale in favour of the nationally incumbent party. Like samras seeks to dismantle the institution of panchayati raj, the ONOE seeks to undermine the institution of a federated government by giving a tailwind to the national incumbent. The question that voters in Dahod posed to Mr. Modi in 2006 inspires another question today: why propose the ONOE a month into an overwhelming national win? Why does the party that has equated punctuated electoral wins with the legitimacy of governance seek to discard punctuated elections?

Thwarting possibilities

•‘One Nation One Poll’ is a blatant quest to consolidate power by limiting, to a single moment, the opportunities for citizens to judge, evaluate and vote — the essence of freedom that an election promises. Mr. Modi announced a ‘development fund’ of ₹5 lakh to every panchayat in Gujarat that eschewed an election in 2006, roundly seen by the public as a bribe. Of 14,292 village panchayats in Gujarat, about 2,500 are currently samras. A fixture in BJP-ruled Gujarat, samras attempts to minimise the points, in space, of democratic choice. ‘One Nation One Election’ seeks to minimise these points, in time, to a single dot. The catchphrase is a giveaway, suggesting the goal of a single election for the country, and a single outcome from it.

📰 Lessons from Bhutan

The incentive of an enviable income for teachers could mitigate many ills that affect India’s education system

•Bhutan’s teachers, doctors and other medical staff will earn more than civil servants of corresponding grades, if a policy recently announced by the country’s government is implemented. The new salary scales will benefit about 13,000 teachers and doctors. This is a novel move. No other country has accorded teachers and doctors such pride of place in its government service, both in terms of remuneration and symbolism. Remarkably, the proposal was announced by Bhutan’s Prime Minister Lotay Tshering, himself a qualified doctor — which suggests that professional experience informs the policy.

Inspired or fanciful?

•Let us examine the policy’s educational aspect. Is the proposal part of a coherent strategy, or an inspired announcement that is resolute in intent but likely effete in effect?

•The policy’s tonal reference is to be found in Bhutan’s 12th Five Year Plan (2018-23), published by its Gross National Happiness Commission, the country’s highest policy-making body. The commission’s strategy to achieve desired national outcomes through education opens with the notation, “making teaching a profession of choice”. The proposal then is evidently at the core of a larger governmental strategy to achieve the country’s human developmental objectives. The decision also comes in the wake of high levels of teacher attrition, especially the best. Clearly, the government has formulated the policy as a styptic to stop the serious haemorrhage.

•Intuiting the correlation, as Bhutan has, between attracting the best talent to a profession and the renumeration it potentially offers is easy. But importantly, is it possible to demonstrate that improving the status of the teaching profession positively influences educational outcomes?

•The Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development’s Programme for International Student Assessment (PISA) is a worldwide study that measures and compares student ability in reading, mathematics, science and global competence, with financial literacy an option. Accordingly, it ranks educational systems of countries. An independent study led by the economist, Peter Dolton, has demonstrated a distinct correlation between student outcomes in a country, as measured by PISA scores, and the status that its teachers enjoy. The initiative’s latest report, Global Teacher Status Index 2018, based on its own surveys across 35 countries, goes on to make a strong case for high wages to improve teacher status.

•Policies act as levers that governments use to achieve desired results in focus areas. The results of Bhutan’s policy, if implemented, will take a few years to emerge for critical evaluation. It is, however, based on credible research.

The fiscal implications

•Bhutan already spends about 7.5% of its GDP on education. The fiscal implications of the new salary structure are unclear now. Generally, teachers constitute a considerable portion of government employees. Therefore, governments looking to emulate Bhutan’s lead will inevitably be asked questions about the financial viability of such a momentous administrative decision. For instance, the Minister concerned in Tamil Nadu, one of India’s better performing States on educational indices, turned down demands of striking teachers for better pension explaining that wages, pensions, administrative costs and interest repayments already amounted to 71% of the State’s expenditure. He asserted it leaves little for other developmental programmes.

Can India afford a similar policy?

•India currently spends about 3% of its GDP on education, accounting for about 10% of the Centre’s and States’ budgetary expenses. Salaries constitute a large portion of this expenditure. The NITI Aayog in its report last year recommended that India raise this to 6% of GDP by 2022. Paying teachers (and doctors) significantly higher salaries may seem like a tall order, but the Central and State governments could consider rationalising both teacher recruitment and allocation of funds to existing programmes. Some programmes may have outlived their purpose, while others could be pared down or better directed. In fact, improving accountability in the system could free up huge savings. A World Bank study found that teacher absenteeism in India was nearly 24%, which costs the country about $1.5 billion annually. Absenteeism could be the result of many factors, including teachers taking up a second job or farming to boost incomes, providing parental or nursing care in the absence of support systems, or lacking motivation. The incentive of an enviable income which is girded with unsparing accountability could mitigate many ills that plague the system, free fiscal space and help meet important national developmental objectives.

•Piloting a policy of such consequence may also be easier in a smaller State, say Delhi. Education is a key focus area for the Delhi government; the State invests 26% of its annual budget in the sector (much more than the national average). The administration has also worked on improving teacher motivation as a strategy for better educational outcomes. The base has been set. The political leadership in the State, which is unafraid of the bold and big in the social sector, could build on this. Moreover, since the State is highly urban and well-connected, it would be easier to enforce accountability measures, which must underpin so heavy an expenditure.

•Ultimately, no investment that enables an educated, healthy, responsible and happy community can be deemed too high by any society. The short-term GDP-minded would do well to consider these words in OECD’s ‘Education at a Glance 2018’ report: “The quality of education can be a strong predictor of a country’s economic prosperity. Shortfalls in academic achievement are extremely costly, as governments must then find ways to compensate for them, and ensure the social and economic welfare of all.” Governments intent on improving the quality of education they offer must step out of incrementalism in policy-making. Improving teacher status by offering top notch salaries to attract the best to the profession could be that revolutionary policy-step forward, which Bhutan has shown a willingness to take.

📰 Imitation registry: on Nagaland NRC

Nagaland should take note of the minefield that is Assam’s NRC process

•Nagaland is following on the footsteps of its western neighbour, Assam, in the task of setting up a Register of Indigenous Inhabitants of Nagaland (RIIN). This is a variant of the National Register of Citizens (NRC) that Assam has adopted with decidedly mixed results so far. Nagaland claims to have watched the process unfold in Assam, followed it closely, and it will now complete the task of identifying and registering indigenous inhabitants in less than five months, by December 10, 2019. This is more or less the kind of time-line that was followed by Assam, which is yet to publish its final NRC a year after the process began. In two months from July 10, Nagaland hopes to have a list of indigenous inhabitants, after which it will be published and time given till October 10 to file claims and objections, before finalisation. It sounds simple, and Nagaland is considerably less populated than Assam. But the Assam experience shows that in the complex demographies of the Northeastern States, it may not turn out that way. As many as 40 lakh people were left out of the NRC listing in Assam, which seemed aimed to filter out ‘illegal immigrants’. Indeed, in Nagaland, various local attempts have been made to determine non-locals, non-tribals and non-Nagas, and identify what some people refer to as the ‘Illegal Bangladeshi Immigrant’. Two years ago, a town not farther than 15 km from Dimapur, the largest city and the commercial capital of the State, passed a resolution to place curbs on IBIs and devised ways to prevent them from integrating, living or trading in the town. When such is the situation on the ground, in an already volatile region where the Armed Forces (Special Powers) Act is routinely extended, it is best that Nagaland proceeds with caution in this enterprise. The RIIN should not ultimately become a vehicle to make outsiders of insiders.

•The Assam experiment has no clear end-point. Bangladesh has repeatedly suggested that the process going on in Assam is “an internal matter” of India, implying that there is no deportation possibility here. Other than deepening the existing fault-lines in its own State and rendering the situation even more volatile, it is unclear what the Nagaland government hopes to achieve through the exercise. What happens to the people who are in the end found to be on the wrong side of the Nagland list? The right to appeal and a humane hearing should be in-built in this exercise. The NRC experiment in Assam witnessed extremely divisive political posturing. Other Northeastern states are sure to be watching with keen interest what is unfolding in Assam and Nagaland. Emotive political issues cannot be allowed to drive the compiling of a registry of citizens.

📰 Miles to go: self-care medical interventions

India has some distance to cover before making self-care interventions freely available

•Self-care, which mostly happens outside the formal health system, is nothing new. What has changed is the deluge of new diagnostics, devices and drugs that are transforming the way common people access care, when and where they need them. With the ability to prevent disease, maintain health and cope with illness and disability with or without reliance on health-care workers, self-care interventions are gaining more importance. Millions of people, including in India, face the twin problems of acute shortage of healthcare workers and lack of access to essential health services. According to the World Health Organization, which has released self-help guidelines for sexual and reproductive health, over 400 million across the world already lack access to essential health services and there will be a shortage of about 13 million health-care workers by 2035. Self-help would mean different things for people living in very diverse conditions. While it would mean convenience, privacy and ease for people belonging to the upper strata who have easy access to healthcare facilities anytime, for those living in conditions of vulnerability and lack access to health care, self-help becomes the primary, timely and reliable form of care. Not surprisingly, the WHO recognises self-care interventions as a means to expand access to health services. Soon, the WHO would expand the guidelines to include other self-care interventions, including for prevention and treatment of non-communicable diseases.

•India has some distance to go before making self-care interventions for sexual and reproductive health freely available to women. Home-based pregnancy testing is the most commonly used self-help diagnostics in this area in India. Interventions include self-managed abortions using approved drugs — morning-after pills taken soon after unprotected sex, and mifepristone and misoprostol taken a few weeks into pregnancy — that can be had without the supervision of a healthcare provider. While the morning-after pills are available over the counter, mifepristone and misoprostol are scheduled drugs and need a prescription from a medical practitioner, thus defeating the very purpose of the drugs. The next commonly consumed drug to prevent illness and disease is the pre-exposure prophylaxis (PrEP) for HIV prevention. India is yet to come up with guidelines for PrEP use and include it in the national HIV prevention programme. Despite the WHO approving the HIV self-test to improve access to HIV diagnosis in 2016, the Pune-based National AIDS Research Institute is still in the process of validating it for HIV screening. One of the reasons why people shy away from getting tested for HIV is stigma and discrimination. The home-based testing provides privacy. India has in principle agreed that rapid HIV testing helps to get more people diagnosed and opt for treatment, reducing transmission rates.

📰 LS passes Bill for quota in teachers’ posts

It will replace an ordinance issued in March and help fill about 7000 vacancies in Central varsities

•The Lok Sabha on Monday passed the Central Educational Institutions (Reservation in Teachers’ Cadre) Bill 2019, which seek to replace an Ordinance issued in March and help fill about 7,000 existing vacancies in 41 Central universities.

•The House unanimously passed the Bill, a first for the 17th Lok Sabha, though some members of the Opposition demanded that it be referred to the standing committee for a comprehensive review. The Bill will make University a unit, rather than a department, for the purpose of providing reservation in teachers’ positions in Central educational institutions.

•“After passing this Bill, a new chapter will open,” said HRD Minister Ramesh Pokhriyal. “The Bill also has provision for 10 per cent reservation for Economically Weaker Section (EWS). The government has already approved allocation of ₹770 crore for reservation for EWS.”

•The Minister, while moving the Bill for passage, said it aimed to provide for reservation in appointments by direct recruitment of persons belonging to the SC, ST, Socially and Economically Backward Classes and Economically Weaker Sections (EWS) to the teachers’ cadre in certain Central Education Institution.

Urgency questioned

•Participating in the debate, Congress leader Adhir Rajan Chowdhury said his party was not opposed to the contents of the Bill, but questioned the urgency of issuing an Ordinance days before the announcement of Lok Sabha elections. “I would oppose invocation of the ordinance... this kind of arbitrary invocation of ordinance does not augur well for a vibrant democracy,” he said.

•Mr. Chowdhury said the BJP-led government had invoked the largest number of ordinances in the history of the country’s Parliamentary democracy. He demanded that the Bill be referred to the Standing Committee for a comprehensive examination.

•Mr. Pokhriyal said the urgency came from the need to fill these seats/vacancies at the earliest.

Sule sceptical

•Raising questions on the implementation of the Bill, Supriya Sule (NCP) wondered how reservation would be provided for the post of Vice-Chancellor. “We are not opposing the Bill, we are supporting the Bill. But we need to know the truth behind ordinances. The Bill is not the success of the government, but of the common man who went ahead agitating, forcing the Centre to bring an ordinance.” She said 26% of Maharashtra government posts were vacant. “How will this Bill help fill these vacancies?”

•Earlier in March, the Cabinet had cleared an Ordinance on reservation mechanism for appointment of faculties in Universities. The University Grants Commission had announced in March last year that an individual department should be considered as the base unit to calculate the number of teaching posts to be reserved for the Scheduled Castes and Scheduled Tribes candidates, following an order by the Allahabad High Court in April 2017.

•The Supreme Court had in February dismissed a review petition filed by the HRD Ministry after its special leave petition against the court order was rejected by the apex court. This was met with protests from teachers and students across the country.

📰 Violation of reservation in top posts at universities

The OBCs occupy only around 1% of top teaching posts

•The introduction of the Central Educational Institutions (Reservation in Teachers’ Cadre) Ordinance, 2019, which is meant to “provide for the reservation of posts in appointments by direct recruitment of persons belonging to the Scheduled Castes, the Scheduled Tribes and the socially and educationally backward classes, to teachers’ cadre in certain Central Educational Institutions established, maintained or aided by the Central Government”, redresses the anomaly found in the recruitment of Other Backward Class (OBC) candidates at higher levels of teaching positions.

•The ordinance indicates that reservation to OBCs shall be provided at all levels of teaching, leaving no space of misinterpretation by some universities that had arbitrarily restricted reservation for OBCs to the level of ‘Assistant Professor’.

•However, recent advertisements by 13 central universities are in clear violation of the ordinance. Of these, only Allahabad University and Dr. Harisingh Gour University have followed fully the reservation policy by earmarking positions for OBCs at all levels, while the Central University of Kashmir has reservation at all levels except that of ‘Professor’.

Representation of OBCs

•Further, even after a clarification issued by the Ministry of Human Resource Development last month, only the Central University of Himachal Pradesh issued a revised notification providing OBC reservation at all levels of teaching.

•Curiously, while the Indira Gandhi National Tribal University — Amarkantak has reserved positions for ‘Economically Weaker Sections’ (EWS) at the levels of ‘Associate Professor’ and ‘Professor’, it has no reserved positions for OBCs. The Tata Institute of Social Sciences, which is known for its commitment to issues related to social justice, too has no reservation at higher levels of teaching positions. The rapidity with which the Central University of Rajasthan has almost reached the last step of recruitment is questionable.

•Though OBCs account for about 50% of the country’s population, their representation in all faculty positions in all central educational institutions is only 9.8%. According to a recent report by the University Grants Commission, only 13.87% of positions at the Assistant Professor-level in central universities were occupied by OBCs. The representation became almost negligible at higher levels, i.e. those of Associate Professor and Professor, accounting for just 1.22% and 1.14%, respectively.

•Noticeably, the representation of OBCs was less than that of Muslims at higher levels of teaching. Certain communities of Muslims are recognised as OBCs, and if we exclude them, the representation of non-Muslim OBCs in the institutions would become negligible.

In case of violations

•Generally, the decision-making power at universities rest upon the Professors and Associate Professors. Professors, who play a significant role in the recruitment process, at times misinterpret the constitutional provisions.

•Even if a violation is found, the maximum a court does is to order a correction to the institution’s advertisement, without awarding any compensation to the petitioner or punishment to the violators. Moreover, legal procedure is tedious and hence is generally avoided.

•Noticeably, implementation of reservation for SCs, STs and OBCs in higher educational institutions funded by the Centre was delayed for more than 15 years after the announcement, while the same for EWS was done within a month of the announcement. Such differential treatment results in imbalanced representation of a social group at higher levels of teaching and decision-making.

📰 EWS quota: SC to hear pleas for Constitution Bench on July 30

A Constitution Bench will examine the validity of an amendment providing 10% economic reservation in government jobs and educational institutions.

•The Supreme Court on Monday agreed to consider on July 30 a batch of petitions to have a Constitution Bench examine the validity of a constitutional amendment providing 10% economic reservation in government jobs and educational institutions.

•A Bench led by Justice S.A. Bobde said the pleas would be taken up for hearing on July 30, a non-miscellaneous day on which the case could be heard at length.

•Senior advocate Rajeev Dhavan made a strong pitch for referring the issue to a Constitution Bench.

•Mr. Dhavan argued that the economic reservation violated the 50% reservation ceiling limit fixed by a nine-judge Bench in the Indra Sawhney case. Further, the 1992 judgment had barred reservation solely on economic criterion.

•In a 6:3 majority verdict, the apex court, in Indra Sawhney, had held that “a backward class cannot be determined only and exclusively with reference to economic criterion... It may be a consideration or basis along with and in addition to social backwardness, but it can never be the sole criterion”. After a gap of 27 years, the Constitution (103rd Amendment) Act of 2019 has provided 10% reservation in government jobs and educational institutions for the “economically backward” in the unreserved category.

•The Act amends Articles 15 and 16 of the Constitution by adding clauses empowering the government to provide reservation on the basis of economic backwardness. This 10% economic reservation is over and above the 50% reservation cap.

Pleas from Kerala

•The court on Monday also allowed a petition filed by Kerala Munnoka Samudaya Aikya Munnani, represented by advocate V.K. Biju, who argued against a stay of the constitutional amendment. Mr. Biju submitted that the “real situation of the social and educationally backward general category and their living condition in the country, especially in Kerala, is extremely poor, therefore there cannot be any stay at this stage without hearing all the aggrieved parties”.

•Justice Bobde responded that a stay had not been sought for in this hearing.

•The court also allowed a plea by P.K. Santhosh Kumar, general secretary of the Federation of Central Government SC & ST Employees of Kerala, represented by advocate Kaleeswaram Raj, who argued that the amendment clearly excluded the citizens belonging to OBC/SC/ST who are economically weaker.

📰 Trump bets big on diplomacy to solve Korean nuclear crisis

After meeting the N. Korean leader in DMZ, the U.S. President said ‘speed is not the object’ of his outreach but a ‘good deal’ is

•On Sunday, Donald Trump became the first sitting American President to have stepped into North Korea. After a historic handshake with North Korean leader Kim Jong-un at the demilitarised zone (DMZ) that divides the two Koreas, President Trump crossed the demarcation line. The two leaders walked a few metres on the North Korean side and then crossed back and had talks. They have decided to resume stalled nuclear talks.

•Mr. Trump’s visit to the DMZ, which followed his surprise offer for talks via Twitter a day earlier, suggests that he is keen on pursuing the diplomatic option to achieve his goal — denuclearisation of the Korean Peninsula.

•A war with North Korea would be catastrophic. North Korea is a nuclear power that boasts of long-range ballistic missiles, with the U.S. in their range.

•The North has also stationed thousands of pieces of ready-to-fire artillery along the DMZ that could target Seoul, the South Korean capital with a population of 10 million that lies roughly 50 km from the border. U.S. troops deployed in East Asia could also be targeted.

•Ever since his Singapore summit with Mr. Kim last year, Mr. Trump, otherwise known for his incendiary tweets and threats, has stayed away from attacking North Korea. On Sunday, after holding talks with Mr. Kim for nearly an hour, he said “speed is not the object”, but a “good deal” is.

•Mr. Kim, on the other side, has shown interest in engaging with the U.S. and opening up the North’s economy, which needs relief from sanctions. Also, North Korea’s nuclear programme is primarily rooted in deterrence, not in expansionism. So, at least in theory, a deal is possible if the North’s security concerns are addressed and sanctions are removed. In this context, Mr. Trump’s persistent diplomatic outreach appears to be a practical approach in dealing with the Korean nuclear crisis.

Two challenges

•Mr. Kim has in principle agreed on denuclearisation. When negotiating teams of both countries sit down to address this issue, they are likely to face two key challenges.

•One is the historic mistrust between the two nations. North Korea, especially, believes that they were betrayed by the U.S. several times beginning the Korean war. In the 1990s, North Korea and the U.S. (Clinton administration) had signed the ‘Agreed Framework’ to freeze the North’s nuclear activities. But Pyongyang pulled out of it when the George W. Bush administration turned hostile towards it. So the North needs guarantee that another administration would not turn against it even if it reaches an agreement with President Trump.

•Two, Mr. Trump’s other foreign policy decisions would hardly assure the North Koreans. He pulled the U.S. out of the Iran nuclear deal, which his predecessor Barack Obama had signed with Tehran and other world powers. Iran agreed to scuttle its nuclear programme under the agreement in return for the lifting of sanctions. The Trump administration is now on a warpath with Iran, with U.S.-imposed sanctions squeezing the country.

•For the North Korean regime, its nuclear weapons are its greatest insurance against a potential regime change war. While Mr. Trump’s diplomatic outreach keeps the possibility for a deal alive, he may have to address the contradictions in his foreign policy doctrine to clinch it.

📰 ‘Thermal plants are wasting water’

•With the monsoon nearly a third less than what’s normaland the government on Monday launching a massive awareness campaign exhorting people to conserve water, key thermal plants across the country are wasting water and contravening a 2015 order by the Union environment ministry to use water efficiently, according to a compilation of Right To Information queries by activist group Manthan.

•“Just about 51% of the plants were found to be in compliance with the regulations. Out of the total 156 plants/units, 66 claimed that they complied with the water consumption limits, while 30 admitted that they were non-compliant. For another 46 plants, either data was not available, or replies were ambiguous or the plants were closed. As other 14 plants were using sea water, they are exempted from the regulations,” Manthan said in a statement.

•Thermal power plants consume, on an average, 5-7 cubic metres/MWh of water. Every reduction of 0.5 cubic metres/MWh in the specific consumption of a 1000 MW plant could save enough water in a year to irrigate 700 ha of land; or provide drinking and domestic use water to 68,000 people for an entire year, said a Central Electricity Authority report from 2012.

📰 5G trials: Chinese official urges India to include Huawei

India must not over react to reports on security threats, says former diplomat as US-China tussle on 5G technology heats up

•Calling for India to include Huawei in its 5G trials despite the U.S. government’s opposition to the Chinese telecommunications major, a senior Chinese official said New Delhi must not be “exclusive” in its choice.

•“Huawei enjoys cutting edge technologies and I think it will best facilitate India’s realisation of its dream of building a digital economy,” said Yang Yanyi, former diplomat and a current Committee Member of the Foreign Affairs Committee of the 13th CPCC (Chinese People's Political Consultative Conference) National Committee.

Move to control access

•“We need to guard against the attempt of forces in the west to keep control of science [and] technology, and they cannot stomach the fact that developing countries can also excel in technology,” Ms. Yang said. She added that she had full confidence India would take “independent decisions in the best interests of India” and of bilateral relations with China.

•The official, who led a delegation to discuss trade issues in Delhi this week, spoke to members of the Delhi-based Indian Association of Foreign Affairs Correspondents (IAFAC) on Monday.

•The issue over whether to include Huawei in the 5G trials, which the government has promised to start by September this year, became a centrepiece for talks between Prime Minister Narendra Modi and both his Chinese and American counterparts during the recently concluded G-20 summit in Osaka. U.S. President Donald Trump, who spoke specifically about Huawei with Mr. Modi, agreed that India and the U.S. must cooperate on research on 5G technologies in the future. During Russia-India-China (RIC) talks subsequently, President Xi also suggested that the three countries “expand cooperation in 5G network, high technology, connectivity, energy and other areas.”

•Shortly after being sworn-in as part of the Modi government, Minister of Communications Ravi Shankar Prasad had said that “whether a company is allowed to participate [in the 5G trials] or not is a complex question, including security issues,” indicating that India is yet to take a final call on whether Huawei constituted a security threat.

•Officials have been particularly worried about the potential for 5G networks to be used for mass surveillance, as well as the potential for a foreign agency to disrupt systems run by the high-speed, next generation telecom technology, especially from a company like Huawei, that has connections to the Chinese government.

‘No evidence’

•Reacting sharply to the U.S. allegations, Ms. Yang said the Washington “should be ashamed for trying to exert state power to suppress a Chinese company and other companies from developing countries from excelling in [telecommunications]. They have no evidence to prove that there is a security threat, and are working on people’s fears.”

•Pointing out that Huawei already employs more than 8,000 Indians at its plant and R&D facilities in India, Mr. Zhu Feng, an academic accompanying Ms. Yang, said Indians “must not overreact” to reports on security threats to India.

•When asked about India’s continuing objections to China’s Belt and Road Initiative, primarily over the China-Pakistan economic corridor (CPEC) component running through Pakistan-occupied Kashmir (PoK), Ms. Yang said India must not allow its bilateral ties with Pakistan to affect ties with China.

•“The issue of [PoK] is a historical leftover, and this should be addressed by the two countries through talks. It is illogical to turn India’s Pakistan bilateral problems into a problem between China and India and let this stand in the way of building better ties,” Ms. Yang, suggesting that India’s trilateral cooperation with China on Afghanistan should serve as a template for future cooperation on BRI.

📰 Finally, aircraft carrier Viraat to be scrapped

Navy has been incurring expenditure on its upkeep such as the provision of electricity and water, and repairs till date, says Minister of State for Defence Shripad Naik .

•Over two years after it was decommissioned from service, aircraft carrier Viraat is going to be scrapped, Parliament was informed on Monday. Efforts to keep it intact by converting it into a museum or other means have not been successful.

•“INS Viraat could not be handed over to any State Government because of non-receipt of a self-sustaining financially complete proposal. Thus, in view of considerations of safety, security etc., a decision to scrap INS Viraat has been taken in due consultation with Indian Navy,” Minister of State for Defence Shripad Naik said in a written reply in the Rajya Sabha.

•The Navy had been incurring expenditure on its upkeep such as the provision of electricity and water, and repairs till date, Mr. Naik said.

•The carrier was in the news in the run-up to the Lok Sabha elections a few months back as Prime Minister Narendra Modi claimed in an election speech that former Prime Minister Rajiv Gandhi had used Viraat for a personal holiday in 1987 along with his family. However, this was promptly rejected by the top brass of the Navy a day later. They stated that Rajiv Gandhi was onboard on an official trip en route to Lakshadweep.

•There had been demands from various quarters to not let Viraat go the Vikrant way, India’s first carrier that was eventually scrapped. Several States had submitted proposals, but none of them fructified. Andhra Pradesh, headed by former Chief Minister Chandrababu Naidu, had made several attempts. It submitted a proposal in October 2016 for the conversion of Viraat as an aircraft museum, including tourist and hospitality components on a commercial basis through a joint venture with the Centre. But the Defence Ministry rejected the proposal two months later.

Maharashtra’s prtoposal

•In 2018, the Maharashtra Cabinet approved a proposal to convert the carrier into a museum and hospitality centre on a public-private partnership (PPP) basis, but there were no takers.

•Viraat, a Centaur class aircraft carrier weighing 27,800 tonnes, had served in the British Navy as HMS Hermes for 25 years from November 1959 to April 1984 and after refurbishment was commissioned into the Indian Navy in May 1987. It was decommissioned from the Navy in March 2017 at Naval Dockyard, Mumbai.

•Vikrant, also a Centaur class, too, was maintained by the Navy in Mumbai for 17 years as various proposals to convert it into a museum went back and forth unsuccessfully before the ship was eventually sent to a scrapyard in 2014.

•The Navy has stated on several occasions that it cannot keep Viraat indefinitely as it would block space in the already crowded Mumbai dockyard.