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Current Affairs Analysis

17th February 2017 Current Affairs Analysis – IASToppers

HAT-P-2; Spitzer Space Telescope; Great Observatories; Middle Income Group Scheme; Sex Determination Ads; PCPNDT Act; Masala Bond; International Finance Corporation; BBIN agreement; 2016 Vyas Samman award; First Indian genomics beacon; NxGnMiFu-2017; etc.
By IT's Current Affairs Analysis Team
February 17, 2017

Contents

Polity & Governance

  • Supreme Court makes legal services affordable
  • Fundamental rights vs personal laws: Centre wants SC ruling on triple talaq
  • Set up mechanism to delete sex determination ads: SC

Economy

  • Multilateral FIs allowed to invest in ‘masala bonds’

Bilateral & International Relations

  • India hopes for Bhutan’s ratification of BBIN soon

Science & Technology

  • JPL’s Spitzer Space Telescope Hears Stellar ‘Heartbeat’ from Planetary Companion

Key Facts for Prelims

  • 2016 Vyas Samman award
  • First Indian genomics beacon
  • NxGnMiFu-2017

 

Polity & Governance

Supreme Court makes legal services affordable

The Supreme Court has introduced a self-supporting scheme known as Middle Income Group Scheme for providing legal services to the middle and relatively lower income groups.

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Key Facts:

  • Under this scheme, middle class people who cannot afford the expensive litigation in the apex can avail the services of the society for a nominal amount.
  • It is a self-supporting scheme that will provide legal services to the middle income group citizens whose gross income does not exceed Rs.60, 000 per month or Rs. 7, 50, 000 per annum.
  • A case will be registered under the MIG Legal Aid Scheme and forwarded to Advocate-on-Record/ Senior Counsel/Arguing Counsel on the panel for their opinion.
  • If Advocate-on-Record is satisfied that case is fit, then the society will consider that applicant is entitled to legal aid.
  • The view expressed by Advocate-on Record will be final in determining eligibility of the applicant for obtaining the benefit under the scheme.
  • A society will be created with Chief Justice of India (CJI) as Patron-in-Chief. Attorney General will be its ex-officio Vice President, Solicitor General its Honorary Secretary and other senior advocates as its members.
  • If an advocate, appointed under the scheme, is found negligent in pursuing the case entrusted to him, he will be required to return the brief together with the fee received by him from the applicant.
  • The society will not be responsible for the negligent conduct and the entire responsibility will be that of the advocate. The name of the Advocate will be struck off from the panel prepared under the scheme.
[Ref: The Hindu]

 

Fundamental rights vs personal laws: Centre wants SC ruling on triple talaq

A Supreme Court Constitution bench will consider whether practices such as instant triple talaq and polygamy violate the fundamental rights of women to life and dignity and whether Muslim personal law can be construed as valid customary law under Article 13 of the Constitution.

  • The bench will do so based on queries put forth by the government, which asked the court to examine whether “personal law was law” under the Constitution.
  • The government urged the top court to consider whether triple talaq and polygamy were basic tenets of Islam and were therefore protected under the right to religion guaranteed to Muslims under the Constitution.
  • If so, the courts would not be able to intervene in such matters. The bench will also have to decide whether they were violative of international treaties and covenants signed by India.
  • This will be the court’s second attempt at removing what’s perceived by some as the anti-woman biases of personal law.

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Decisive ruling on four questions:

Amid a non-uniform body of Supreme Court decisions on the subject, the government appealed for a decisive ruling on four questions. The questions submitted by the government are:

  1. Whether the impugned practices of talaq-e-biddat, nikaah halala and polygamy are protected under Article 25(1) of the Constitution of India? Article 25(1) deals with freedom to practise religion.
  2. Whether Article 25(1) is subject to part III of the Constitution and in particular Articles 14 and 21 of the Constitution of India? Articles 14 ensures right to equality while Article 21 guarantees right to life and liberty.
  3. Whether personal law is law under Article 13 of the Constitution? Article 13 lays down that all laws should conform to the fundamental rights.
  4. Whether the impugned practices of talaq-e-biddat, nikaah halala and polygamy are compatible with India’s obligations under International treaties and covenants to which India is a signatory?

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Background:

  • In a number of cases, it has held that personal laws are not subject to Part III of the Constitution that deals with fundamental rights and hence, they cannot be challenged for violating rights guaranteed under Articles 14, 15 and 21.
  • In Krishna Singh Vs Mathura Ahir, 1980, the top court held that “Part III of the Constitution does not touch upon the personal laws of the parties.”
  • On the other hand, in a line of other judgments, the apex court has tested personal laws on the touchstone of fundamental rights and read down these laws or interpreted them so as to make them consistent with fundamental rights.
  • In Anil Kumar Mhasi Vs Union of India, 1994, the court tested the validity of some sections of the Indian Divorce Act (a personal law for Christians) on the touchstone of fundamental rights.
[Ref: Indian Express, Economic Times]

 

Set up mechanism to delete sex determination ads: SC

The Supreme Court has ordered three Internet giants — Google, Microsoft and Yahoo — to immediately set up their own in-house expert bodies to keep tabs on and delete online pre-natal sex determination advertisements.

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  • The court said the intent of the order was to make these search engines “responsive to Indian law.”
  • This step is in addition to the Ministry of Health and Family Welfare’s move to set up a nodal agency to receive complaints on violation of Section 22 of the 1994 Act.

What’s the issue?

Section 22 of the Pre-conception and Pre-natal Diagnostic Techniques (Prohibition of Sex Selection) Act of 1994 prohibits advertisements relating to pre-natal determination of sex and imposes punishment. However, ads continue to appear online, rendering the law toothless.

Court’s ruling:

  • The court ordered that the search engines “shall appoint their ‘In-House Expert Body’ which shall take steps to see that if any words or any key words that can be shown on the Internet which has the potentiality to go counter to Section 22 of the 1994 Act, should be deleted forthwith.”
  • It also said that the in-house expert body “shall on its own understanding” delete anything that violates the letter and spirit of language of Section 22 of the 1994 Act.
  • In case of doubt, they are free to approach the Ministry’s nodal agency and be guided by the latter.

About PCPNDT Act, 1994:

Pre-Conception and Pre-Natal Diagnostic Techniques (PCPNDT) Act, 1994 is an Act of the Parliament of India enacted to stop female foeticides and arrest the declining sex ratio in India. The act banned prenatal sex determination.

  • The main purpose of enacting the act is to ban the use of sex selection techniques before or after conception and prevent the misuse of prenatal diagnostic technique for sex selective abortion.
  • Offences under this act include conducting or helping in the conduct of prenatal diagnostic technique in the unregistered units, sex selection on a man or woman, conducting PND test for any purpose other than the one mentioned in the act, sale, distribution, supply, renting etc. of any ultra sound machine or any other equipment capable of detecting sex of the foetus.

Main provisions in the act are:

  • The Act provides for the prohibition of sex selection, before or after conception.
  • It regulates the use of pre-natal diagnostic techniques, like ultrasound and amniocentesis by allowing them their use only to detect:
  1. Genetic abnormalities
  2. Metabolic disorders
  3. Chromosomal abnormalities
  4. Certain congenital malformations
  5. Haemoglobinopathies
  6. Sex linked disorders.
  • No laboratory or centre or clinic will conduct any test including ultrasonography for the purpose of determining the sex of the foetus.
  • No person, including the one who is conducting the procedure as per the law, will communicate the sex of the foetus to the pregnant woman or her relatives by words, signs or any other method.
  • Any person who puts an advertisement for pre-natal and pre-conception sex determination facilities in the form of a notice, circular, label, wrapper or any document, or advertises through interior or other media in electronic or print form or engages in any visible representation made by means of hoarding, wall painting, signal, light, sound, smoke or gas, can be imprisoned for up to three years and fined Rs. 10,000.
  • The Act mandates compulsory registration of all diagnostic laboratories, all genetic counselling centres, genetic laboratories, genetic clinics and ultrasound clinics.

Act amended in 2003:

Pre-Natal Diagnostic Techniques (Regulation and Prevention of Misuse) Act, 1994 (PNDT), was amended in 2003 to The Pre-Conception and Pre-Natal Diagnostic Techniques (Prohibition Of Sex Selection) Act (PCPNDT Act) to improve the regulation of the technology used in sex selection.

Implications of the amendment are

  • Amendment of the act mainly covered bringing the technique of pre conception sex selection within the ambit of the act
  • Bringing ultrasound within its ambit
  • Empowering the central supervisory board, constitution of state level supervisory board
  • Provision for more stringent punishments
  • Empowering appropriate authorities with the power of civil court for search, seizure and sealing the machines and equipments of the violators
  • Regulating the sale of the ultrasound machines only to registered bodies.
[Ref: The Hindu]

 

Economy

Multilateral FIs allowed to invest in ‘masala bonds’

The Reserve Bank of India (RBI) has permitted multilateral and regional financial institutions to invest in rupee-denominated bonds.

  • This decision aims to provide more choices of investors to Indian entities issuing rupee-denominated bonds abroad.
  • With this, agencies like the Asian Development Bank and the BRICS led New Development Bank can also invest in these bonds.

What are Masala Bonds?

  • Masala bond is a term used to refer to a financial instrument through which Indian entities can raise money from overseas markets in the rupee, not foreign currency.

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Background:

  • The International Finance Corporation (IFC), the investment arm of the World Bank, in November 2014, issued a Rs. 1,000 crore bond to fund infrastructure projects in India.
  • These bonds were listed on the London Stock Exchange (LSE). IFC then named them Masala bonds to give a local flavour by calling to mind Indian culture and cuisine.

Features of the Masala Bond:

  • Analysts say that if the masala bonds take off it could lower India Inc’s the cost of capital over a period of time, which remains one of the highest in Asia. Also, inflows from these financial instruments could also support the rupee.
  • They are issued to foreign investors and settled in US dollars. Hence the currency risk lies with the investor and not the issuer, unlike external commercial borrowings (ECBs), where Indian companies raise money in foreign currency loans.
  • While ECBs help companies take advantage of the lower interest rates in international markets, the cost of hedging the currency risk can be significant.
  • If unhedged, adverse exchange rate movements can come back to bite the borrower. But in the case of Masala bonds, the cost of borrowing can work out much lower.

About the International Finance Corporation (IFC):

The International Finance Corporation (IFC) is an international financial institution that offers investment, advisory, and asset management services to encourage private sector development in developing countries.

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  • It is a member of the World Bank Group and is headquartered in Washington, D.C., United States.
  • It was established in 1956 as the private sector arm of the World Bank Group to advance economic development by investing in strictly for-profit and commercial projects that purport to reduce poverty and promote development.
  • The IFC is owned and governed by its member countries, but has its own executive leadership and staff that conduct its normal business operations.
  • It is a corporation whose shareholders are member governments that provide paid-in capital and which have the right to vote on its matters.

Functions of the IFC:

  • It offers an array of debt and equity financing services and helps companies face their risk exposures, while refraining from participating in a management capacity.
  • The corporation also offers advice to companies on making decisions, evaluating their impact on the environment and society, and being responsible.
  • It advises governments on building infrastructure and partnerships to further support private sector development.
[Ref: The Hindu]

 

Bilateral & International Relations

India hopes for Bhutan’s ratification of BBIN soon

Ahead of the implementation of Bangladesh, Bhutan, India, Nepal Motor Vehicles Agreement (BBIN MVA), India remains hopeful that Bhutan would ratify the accord soon.

Background:

  • The four South Asian nations have already signed the BBIN Agreement in June 2016 in Thimphu and the accord was seen as a significant symbol of sub-regional unity.
  • Despite ratifications by three partner countries, Bhutan’s Upper House has not yet ratified the deal, citing environmental as well as livelihood concerns.
  • A large cross-section of people in Bhutan, including lawmakers, have expressed concerns over the environmental impact of allowing large number of vehicles enter the country after it ratifies the pact.

About the BBIN agreement:

iastoppers-bbin-mva-1

  • The BBIN Motor Vehicle Agreement was signed at the BBIN transport ministers meeting in Thimpu, Bhutan, on 15 June last year.
  • It is aimed to facilitate cross border movement of both passengers and cargo vehicles.
  • Protocols to implement the agreement are being negotiated by the four countries for passengers and cargo vehicles separately.
[Ref: The Hindu]

 

Science & Technology

JPL’s Spitzer Space Telescope Hears Stellar ‘Heartbeat’ from Planetary Companion

NASA’s Spitzer Space Telescope has detected unusual pulsations in the outer shell of a star called HAT-P-2.

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  • Vibrations were detected from the outer shell of a star, dubbed HAT-P-2, by the Spitzer Space Telescope.
  • Scientists think the pulsations are caused by a closely orbiting planet called HAT-P-2b.

Key facts:

  • Exoplanet, HAT-P-2b, is a hotter version of Jupiter, weighing around eight times the gas-giant and its star is comparatively 100 times more massive.
  • The pulsation effect is an outcome of the size difference between the star and the exoplanet.
  • The exoplanet, HAT-P-2b, was fascinating for the astronomers because of its elliptical orbit. The planet close in on the star every 5.6 days and receives 10 times more luminosity when it’s at the closest point compared to the farthest.
  • Gravitational energies of both the celestial bodies interact with each-other which results in making the star emit heartbeat-like pulsations.

Background:

NASA’s Kepler space telescope had discovered a similar phenomenon between numerous binary star systems that orbited each other, termed “heartbeat stars”.

About Spitzer Space Telescope:

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  • The Spitzer Space Telescope (SST), formerly the Space Infrared Telescope Facility (SIRTF), is an infrared space telescope launched in 2003.
  • It is the last mission of the NASA Great Observatories program, which saw four specialized telescopes (including the Hubble Space Telescope) launched between 1990 and 2003.
  • Spitzer focuses on the infrared band, which normally represents heat radiation from objects.
  • Spitzer’s highly sensitive instruments allow scientists to peer into cosmic regions that are hidden from optical telescopes, including dusty stellar nurseries, the centers of galaxies, and newly forming planetary systems.
  • Spitzer’s infrared eyes also allows astronomers see cooler objects in space, like failed stars (brown dwarfs), extrasolar planets, giant molecular clouds, and organic molecules that may hold the secret to life on other planets.

About Great Observatories:

NASA’s series of Great Observatories satellites are four large, powerful space-based astronomical telescopes.

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They are:

  1. Hubble Space Telescope (HST),
  2. Compton Gamma-Ray Observatory (CGRO),
  3. the Chandra X-Ray Observatory (CXO)
  4. Spitzer Space Telescope (SST)
  • The goal of the Great Observatories is to observe the universe in distinct wavelengths of light.
  • Spitzer focuses on the infrared band, which normally represents heat radiation from objects.
  • The other observatories looked at visible light (Hubble, still operational), gamma-rays (Compton Gamma-Ray Observatory, no longer operational) and X-rays (the Chandra X-Ray Observatory, still operational.)
[Ref: The Hindu]

 

Key Facts for Prelims

2016 Vyas Samman award

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  • Renowned Hindi writer Surinder Verma was awarded “Vyas Samman” for 2016, for his novel “Kaatna shami ka vriksha padma-pankhuri ki dhar se”.
  • Instituted by the K K Birla Foundation, the award carries an amount of Rs 2.50 lakh and is given to outstanding literary work in Hindi authored by an Indian citizen.
  • The Foundation has also instituted other awards like the Saraswati Samman, given every year for an outstanding literary work written in any of the Indian languages.

 

First Indian genomics beacon

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  • Global Gene Corp and Global Alliance for Genomics and Health (GA4GH) launched the first-ever beacon for Indian genomics data, which is expected to help scientists develop more effective drug delivery systems.
  • A beacon is an online web service that allows researchers to determine whether an institution has particular genomic data in its data set.
  • The aim of the Indian beacon is to address the gap in shared Indian genomics data, which helps scientists better understand disease and develop more effective drug delivery systems and therapeutics.

 

NxGnMiFu-2017

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  • Union Minister for Science & Technology and Earth Science Dr. Harsh Vardhan has inaugurated the International Conference on “NexGen Technologies for Mining and Fuel Industries” [NxGnMiFu-2017] in New Delhi.
  • It was organised by CSIR-Central Institute of Mining and Fuel Research, Dhanbad as a part of CSIR’s platinum jubilee (completing 75 years) celebration.
  • The event is aimed to deliberate and identify the R&D needs to innovate new techniques, technologies and applications for clean, safe, symbiotic sustenance of society, environment and industries in post-2020 era.

 

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